John Wick: Chapter 4 – The anticipation of the most incredible action film of 2023 is so big in my mind right now and seeing the advance reviews from critics I respect online and friends who have gotten the privilege of seeing it last week has me over the moon with excitement. I really can’t be surprised as every film in this series has been awesome but to be reassured of this is very satisfying. Picking up after the events of the last film, John Wick uncovers a path to defeating The High Table but before he can earn his freedom, he must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes. This one will now be admittedly bittersweet after the death of franchise mainstay Lance Reddick but it should serve as a finale to an amazing character actor. The trailer for this film leaves me absolutely jazzed every time I see it and, at almost three hours long, I know we are in for an epic ride in every moment. Buck up, people, this one’s going to get wild.
Babylon – Damien Chazelle has been one of those must-see filmmakers for me ever since I saw his Academy Award-winning drama Whiplash and it’s been about four years since his last film, the awards snubbed Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, so I was eagerly anticipating this one. A sort of old-fashioned filmmaker in a lot of ways, it’s interesting that the La La Land writer and director has done a classic Hollywood film and has one of my favourites in the cast as well with the great Brad Pitt. The main story is a mosaic of three characters, Manny, played by newcomer Diego Calva, a dreamer doing odd jobs to get into the movie industry, Nellie LeRoy, played by Margot Robbie, a seductive bombshell willing to do anything to get in from of a camera and Jack Conrad, Pitt’s character, a legend of the silent era on his way out but clawing tooth and nail. A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess tracing the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood, I thought this movie was a completely unpredictable riot from the go-go and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. The film’s reception landed on the negative side of mixed reviews but I found myself loving ti, almost like it was Damien Chazelle’s sort of Clockwork Orange in his filmography. It pushes boundaries and succeeds with great satire and a biting sense of humour.
The Whale – This is a big one to talk about in the last we, no pun intended, as lead actor Brendan Fraser has completed the full comeback by winning the best actor Academy Award for this character-driven film from one of my favourite filmmakers, Darren Aronofsky. Honestly, it’s a long time coming as Fraser has been giving incredible performances since films like Gods And Monsters but the general public only recognizes things like The Mummy or George Of The Jungle. The film follows Fraser as a reclusive English teacher who is massively obese and descending into dangerous levels of mortality. Feeling like he needs to make amends in his life before his situation kills him, he reaches out to his estranged daughter, played by Stranger Things actress Sadie Sink. When I saw this film at my local theatre I was glad that I was the only person attending it because, no lie, I was bawling my eyes out for possibly the entire film. Fraser is riveting as a man seeking some sort of redemptive closure in his life, trying to rectify the mistakes his lifestyle has presented to his loved ones. This film is special and will be remembered as one of the great performances of this decade, especially that ending. No spoilers here though.
Dragonslayer – Another one of my childhood favourite films has now been immortalized in a special edition restoration from Paramount Pictures. The amount of times I made my mom rent this movie alongside Conan The Barbarian, Conan The Destroyer and more is uncountable but she should be grateful that it led to me appreciating this one today. See, it was all for SOMETHING, Mom! Future Ghostbusters II actor Peter MacNichol stars as a wizard’s young apprentice who volunteers with his master to kill a dragon that has been preying on the girls from a nearby kingdom which the king has made a blood pact with. The film was made by filmmaker Matthew Robbins who only directed a small handful of films but they were memorable, like the Mark Hamill movie Corvette Summer and the underrated Helen Slater action film The Legend Of Billie Jean. The film also has the distinction of being called the greatest dragon on camera by the creator of Game Of Thrones, George R.R. Martin himself. That is a hell of an accolade I think.
Star Trek Strange New Worlds: Season 1 – Well, I have made it a habit to check out everything Star Trek the streaming service of Paramount+ has done, ever since it started as CBS All Access, launching with what would set the flagship assail, Star Trek: Discovery. It was the second season that brought in Anson Mount as Captain Kirk’s processor, Captain Christopher Pike, along with his number two, played by Rebeccas Romijn and this universe’s version of Spock, which served to set up this brand new spin-off that might be the best that the new shows have done. Effectively, this is exactly a prequel to that original series and how close we snug up to the Willaim Shatner and Leanard Nimoy landmark series is really unknown but I do know that what we’ve gotten so far is exciting and colourful stories punctuated by great character work and deep digs in the Star Trek lore. I suggest that viewers get fully emersed in this show as season two is just around the corner and it’s going to get much better, which is a crazy thing to say about an already awesome show.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Training Day 4K – One of the best crime dramas of the past twenty years gets the full 4K treatment from Warner Brothers and I am absolutely elated. An Academy Award winner for lead actor Denzel Washington, I really don’t have to explain how iconic this damn near-perfect thriller is. For those who need a refresher, the film follows a rookie cop’s first day with his new partner, a Los Angeles narcotics detective who has a lot more ties into the system he is supposed to be investigating than is legal. The tension in this film, the sophomore film from action-heavy director Antoine Fuqua, makes it an undeniable rewatch perfect for the upgrade of format. This is easily one of my favourite films of all time and I’m so psyched that I have it in the collection.
Rocky: The Knockout Collection 4K – It feels like a late after-effect to be bringing this one to the geek outs as Creed III has been out for a while now but the upgrade in picture and sound to 4K for the first four Rocky fans can’t be denied. Why didn’t they include the fifth movie? I guess street fighting Rocky wasn’t something they wanted to get into in the restoration department. That said, all the best Rocky films are here including all of his best opponents like Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed, Mr. T’s Clubber Lang or Dolph Lundren’s Ivan Drago and there is no better time to relive this thoroughly entertaining franchise than now. Then you can proceed with V at your own discretion then one to the fantastic remaining four films. A hell of a group of films in my opinion.
D.O.A. A Right Of Passage – On my continued path to being an ultimate film nerd in the collector’s department, I came across the MVD Rewind Collection which a few titles were sent to me by the distributor and as soon as I saw it was a numbered collection of cult hits, well, I was hooked in. The first title in this collection happens to be this High Times-produced documentary. The film chronicles the rise and fall of the punk movement with rare interview footage of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen and also concert footage of the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, The Clash, X-Ray Specs and anymore as well as newsreel stories. I had never seen the film before and after watching Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols series Pistol, I feel like I was in exactly the right frame of mind to watch it. As a kid who grew up with a lot of this music in my headphones, thanks to a mother with some eclectic rock tastes, it combines things I already knew with the context I never had. If I knew about this movie during my video store days I would have been all over it.
Up Here (Disney+) – The biggest reason I wanted to get my eyes on this new series produced by Hulu was that Mae Whitman is the star, an actress I’ve loved for a long time, back to her child star days, and one that has just gotten better and better as her career progressed. The biggest turn off heading into it was that, unknown to me, it is a musical and I’m sometimes allergic to those. The story is set in the late 90s and follows Mae as Lindsay, a woman who decides to give up her boyfriend and home life for New York City for a fresh new start and the same old neurosis of the voices in her head, flesh out as imaginary versions of her parents and the school bully who gave her some obvious lifelong trauma. She eventually comes across Miguel at a party and the possibility of a new romance is high but the quality of the music is low and as soon as the second song rolled around I was pretty much out. Just not for me. The show also has a difficulty finding it’s tone between a sugary sweet musical and a horny bridge from the teen to twenties mind and an adult. If it opted for the second option and leaned away from the Disney Channel feel I definitely would have stuck around for episode two.
The Night Agent (Netflix) – I will admit that this series, on the surface, looks totally bland and something we’ve seen before, a thriller that focuses on the search for a man or woman on the inside of a government organization that must be sought out to save America. Well, this one happens to be written by executive produced by Shawn Ryan, the creator of The Shield starring Michael Chiklis and Walton Goggins, one of my favourite shows of all time. For that reason, I gave this series a chance which follows Gabriel Basso as a low-level FBI agent named Peter Sutherland who works in the basement of the White House manning a phone that never rings. Things are just filling reports and fending off boredom until the night the phone finally does ring, propelling him into a conspiracy that leads all the way to the Oval Office. I was surprised about how much I felt myself getting into the series over the first few episodes and was happy to see 2022’s MVP Hong Chau show up in a supporting and very important role. This isn’t anything insanely awesome but it is entertaining enough to keep me following it.
Yellowjackets: Season 2 (Crave) – Okay, this one is embarrassing because I usually pay close attention to Showtime releases and this one totally slipped my radar. Mere episodes in, it was called one of the best shows of last year and hit Twitter like fandom wildfire. I was already a huge fan of actresses Christina Ricci, Melanie Lynskey and Juliette Lewis and now Jasmine Savoy Brown from Scream and Scream VI but I was unprepared for the awesomeness of this show. The series is set in the nineties and in modern times and follows the lead-up to and fallout of a high school girls soccer team whose plane crashes in the mountains, forcing them to fight for their survival. The show definitely has a Lord Of The Flies angle to it but the originality and depth of character blew me away. Both the young and older cast are fantastic and the intrigue of the storyline gives me a Lost level feel. This is the must-see series right now in my opinion and with a second season now here, it could possibly cement that to an even bigger audience.