Shazam!: Fury Of The Gods – After a few delays, what appears to be the final part of the DC Cinematic Universe as we know it is ready to debut. It is unknown, in the future, if Zachary Levi will continue to be the super version of young Billy Batson but I really hope he does because the first film was a lot of fun and I expect the same from this one. The film picks up right after the first film where, spoilers, Billy’s entire group home got the same mystical powers of Shazam and became superpowered. This angers two of the fallen gods, Hespera and Kalypso, played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, who decide to do anything to strip them of their newfound abilities and mould the planet into their personal thrones. As I said before, this movie looks like so much fun and the teenage sensibilities of Billy in the adult body of Levi add so much charisma and charm to a different style of superhero films. Director David Sandberg, a guy that started out in the horror genre with Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, has adjusted so well to this superhero genre and I hope that James Gunn and Peter Safran keep him in mind for the new DC rebirth that’s to come in the next few years.
Boston Strangler – I have a weakness for a good serial killer investigation film and this has to be one of the most notorious in the unsolved murders section of mass murders. At the top, the leads of the film got me immediately invested as it stars two personal favourites with Keira Knightley and the always underrated Carrie Coon, an actress on her way to a definite Oscar win in the near future. Knightley plays Loretta McLaughlin, a reporter who always is relegated to the fluff pieces of her newspaper until she starts independently linking murders in the Boston area, creating the narrative of the Boston Strangler. When the case picks up steam, she is paired with undercover reporter Jean Cole to report on the city’s most notorious serial killer and challenge the sexism of the early 1960s in doing so. Written and directed by Matt Ruskin in his big studio debut after a few indie features, and he brings grit and intrigue to this story that had me very enthralled. I also love seeing Academy Award winner Chris Cooper in anything and he is pretty solid as McLaughlin and Cole’s editor who is at the forefront of the public’s outcry against the two’s reporting. I also thought the implications of the investigation were fascinating but that conversation gets into spoiler territory.
Moving On – I think that legendary actresses Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have found a way to constantly and consistently work together for the rest of their movie and television careers after the end of their hugely popular Netflix series Grace & Frankie. It has already proved lucrative with the unexpected success of 80 For Brady so, just a handful of weeks later, they’re going to try it all over again with another comedy. This film has them as estranged friends who reunite to seek revenge on the petulant widower of their recently deceased best friend, played by a personal all-time favourite, Malcolm McDowell. Along the way, Fonda’s character reunites with her great love, the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, and each woman learns to make peace with the past and each other so they can start “moving on”. This is sure to clean up with the same audience that made the Tom Brady film a hit and the fact that both films have received favourable reviews, better than I was ever expecting, with solidify these two stars as the base for successful films going forward. I expect many more films like this to come, starting with the Book Club sequel on Mother’s Day.
Brother – So happy to include some Canadian content this week, especially coming after the big win for Sarah Polley at the Academy Awards so there is hotness in the air for our home and native land in the film department. This one comes from acclaimed filmmaker Clement Virgo, a major television director but also one who brought us the steamy Lie With Me over fifteen years ago. His new film is set in the early nineties and follows two brothers with Caribbean immigrant parents who are growing up and influenced by Toronto’s early hip-hop scene. Exploring themes of masculinity, identity and family, a mystery unfolds during a sweltering summer and escalating tensions set off a series of events that change the course of the brothers’ lives forever. This is a deeply interesting character drama featuring two very strong performances from lead actors Lamar Johnson and Aaron Pierre, two actors I’m only a little familiar with, but Pierre was unforgettable in the M. Night Shyamalan thriller Old and Johnson is having a strong 2023 too with a feature role in HBO’s The Last Of Us. It is also shot gorgeously by Guy Godfree, the cinematographer of Slash/Back, Wildhood and so many other stunning-looking films.
A Man Called Otto – 2023 kicked off in theatres with a trope that Hollywood studio 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 and does a great job of not just adapting the original film by Hannes Holm but honouring it as well with a very Swedish feel to it and a great deal of heart. Because it was one of my favourite comedy-dramas of 2015 and a film I didn’t really feel got the love it deserves, I maybe had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about an English language version but I really enjoyed it.
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. After I read up on it, I saw 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, just another Hollywood drama that suffers from an excessive bland trailer. The story follows the relationship of Ausiello and his husband, photographer Kit Cowan, from its inception through to Kit’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. Jim Parsons plays Michael, an actor I still place in the role of Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, a stigma that this movie helps to clear away in small scoops. The winning formula is it being directed by Michael Showalter who will always have a place in my heart with his partial biopic The Big Sick and a filmmaker who excels with dialogue that feels fresh new and, in this film, heartwarmingly funny. The final result is a film that feels a bit “paint by numbers” but the ending still swoops in to make you shed all your tears as it was handled so beautifully. I’m also starting to really love the actor who plays Kit in this, Ben Aldridge, who was just in the Shymalan thriller Knock At The Cabin a few weeks ago.
The Apology – With the sad news coming before Christmas about the layoffs at AMC it appeared that a major part of the horror-centric streaming service of Shudder had been cut and laid off so I still wonder how much longer we will get Shudder original films like this one, now debuting on Blu-ray. Featuring Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn, Mandy villain Linus Roache and comedian Janeane Garofalo, it has a hell of a roster of talented character performers to give a chilling and thrilling tale. The story follows a recovering alcoholic who is preparing to host her family’s Christmas celebration while still dealing with the trauma of the disappearance of her daughter twenty years earlier, when her estranged ex-brother-in-law arrives unannounced, bearing nostalgic gifts and a heavy secret. The film is the feature debut of a new voice in horror with writer and director Alison Locke and it looks like a successful endeavour as the story looks unsettling and unpredictable with a cutting edge that could lead to a shocking ending. I also appreciate that it is a Christmas-set thriller to join the side nice of holiday horror. It’s something, as a genre fan, that gives me pleasure, especially with my horror podcast Tremble, rate and subscribe!
The Good Fight: The Final Season – Al good shows eventually should come to an end and, as a big fan of the series that this show spun off of, The Good Wife starring Julianna Margulies, I feel it’s finally time to move on from the characters. I have been a fan of this show since it started on the less constrained CBS All Access for two reasons, the carryover star from that show, Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhardt and the always incredible Delroy Lindo but also the returning actors like Alan Cumming and Michael Boatman, make this. For those out of the loop, this series picks up one year after the events of the final broadcast episode of The Good Wife, where an enormous financial scam has destroyed the reputation of a young lawyer, played by Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie, while simultaneously wiping out her mentor and godmother Diane Lockhart’s savings. Forced out of Lockhart and Lee, they join Lucca Quinn at one of Chicago’s preeminent law firms to hopefully rebuild an empire. The show plays heavily on real politics and it is going out with a big one as it tackles the overturning of Roe V. Wade by the Supreme Court. I will miss how biting this show was in current events but glad it’s going out on its own accord.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Goodbye Mr. Chips – It’s all Warner Archive stuff this week on the geek out-side as the good people there hooked me up with a trio of classic films. The first is this romantic drama from the late 30s that earned seven Academy Award nominations, won one of them for Best Actor and was included on the American Film Institute’s top four hundred of the greatest films of all time up until 1998. Starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson, the film follows old classics teacher looking back over his long career, remembering pupils and colleagues, and above all the idyllic courtship and marriage that transformed his life. Playing his one-time wife, Garson ended up earning her Leading Actress nomination with just twenty-five minutes of screen time. She would ultimately lose to Vivien Leigh for Gone With The Wind, the juggernaut of that year, but the accomplishment is still so impressive.
Wife Versus Secretary – Let’s peel it back a few years for the second entry of the week and this one has some heavy star power with Clark Gable leading, Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow rounding out the top cast and James Stewart in a supporting role. This would be the fifth of six films paring for Gable and Harlow, and the fourth picture for Gable and Loy starring together. It was the first film Loy and Harlow appeared in together and they would be cast together again for “Libeled Lady” in 1936, which I’ve covered in this section before. The film follows Loy as the wife of a publishing executive who starts to question the professional relationship between her husband, played by Gable, and his new secretary, played by the alluring Jean Harlow. Pretty standard story here but it ended up a success for MGM at the time, bringing in a profit of $876,000 which would be about $15.2M in modern inflation according to studio records. It is a fun audience pleaser that is definitely trapped in the gender roles of its time but this can’t keep down the star power of the leading ladies who always find little pieces to shine, even dwarfing Gable in some points.
The Long, Long Trailer – When I initially posted this film on my Instagram feed which sends to Facebook as well, I got a lot of feedback on it from some older friends and my mother-in-law as apparently this was a big movie in their childhood and was absolutely cherished. Just on the outside, I can see its charm as it stars one of the greatest husband-and-wife comedy pairings ever, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. It also was directed by one of the biggest filmmakers of the era, the legendary Vincente Minnelli, husband to Judy Garland at one point and the father of the iconic Liza Minnelli. The film follows the hilarious couple as Nicky and Tacy, two bigger-than-life people in the midst of a whirlwind romance, looking to be married. When it comes to their living situation once married, Nicky has a more traditional idea planned out with the house of their dreams but Tacy has bigger thoughts in the more mobile trailer approach that would add some excitement to their young marriage. This was the first film of a multi-picture deal Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz signed with MGM when I Love Lucy was America’s top-rated television show. When their second vehicle Forever, Darling, released two years later, turned out to be a box office and critical disaster, the rest of the contract remained unfulfilled. That film aside, which I have never seen, this one brilliantly showcases exactly why these two were America’s sweethearts for so long.
Shadow And Bone: Season 2 (Netflix) – Let’s head back into a world of fantasy within the Netflix fold that gain a lot of popularity and one that still may catch the attention of rabid streaming fans looking for their next binge. Adapted from the Leigh Bardugo written book of the same name, the first of the Grisha trilogy, the first season of the series drops you in a war-torn world where a lowly soldier and orphan named Alina Starkov has just unleashed an extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her country free. With the monstrous threat of the Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be one and the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. There are dangerous forces at play, including a crew of charismatic criminals, and it will take more than magic to survive. The show has a really great look to it and I loved the solid production value that keeps the fantastical story driven and not waiting on how cheesy it looks. I also have to praise actor Ben Barnes who seems to get better and better every time I see him. He also isn’t a stranger to Netflix as he did the villain thing on the awesome Marvel series Punisher.
Agent Elvis (Netflix) – The animation section on the streaming giant Netflix has become incredibly deep over the years with many different genres of shows for adults so when Matthew McConaughey wants to voice Elvis in a new action-oriented show, I think you have another hit on your hands. That is if the bosses don’t get antsy and axe the show after one or two seasons. Yes, the glorious Texan voices the King in this series that has him trading in his jumpsuit for a jetpack when he joins a secret government spy program to help battle the dark forces that threaten the country. Obviously, Priscilla Presley has spearheaded this new show that is definitely trying to capitalize on the Oscar-nominated biopic from last year bringing Elvis back into the pop culture conversation and I love the supporting cast around McConaughey with Christina Hendricks, Kaitlin Olsen, Simon Pegg, Kieran Culkin and more. I’m really liking the art style of it and the showrunner is Mike Arnold, head writer on Archer for years, so the potential is there.
Ted Lasso: Season 3 (AppleTV+) – Probably one of my most anticipated shows of 2023, the moustachioed Jason Sudeikis is back for one more time as he tries to guide his club, Richmond FC, to the top of the Premier League. Is this doable? well, first he must get over the obstacle of former assistant coach Nathan Shelley who has left the club under bad circumstances and become the coach for the villainous West Ham, run by Richmond owner Rebecca Welton’s ex-husband Rupert. While it feels sad to be saying goodbye to a series that I have loved every single moment of, I am grateful that it is going out on its own terms and not getting itself to a “jump the shark” moment that makes us all turn on the writers and producers. I believe that all of the focus will be shifted onto the new series Shrinking from that same team and I am okay with that as the show is phenomenal. That said, I will be hanging on every second of this final season and I’m guaranteeing that there will be some tears along the way.
Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming With Dave Letterman (Disney+) – My love for the music of Irish rock legends U2 is all owed to my mom, a die-hard fan who has sentimental attachments to a lot of their catalogue. For fans like her, this movie is for you, a special love letter that is unforgettable in both being a celebration of U2’s past and a freshening of some of their greatest songs. The film follows David Letterman on a trip to Dublin for a one-night intimate experience of Bono and The Edge playing some of their greatest songs with a new perspective for a modern time. The film also explores the band’s beginnings and its relationship to their country, beliefs and legacy. I loved this film so much and the new versions of songs like One, Vertigo and A Beautiful Day will stick with me, just as hearing the origins for a forever favorite with Sunday Bloody Sunday.