Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – It’s crazy to think that the pandemic created a huge rift in the releasing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and we just got Black Widow a couple of months ago after an over a year delay and now we get the first Asian superhero in his own film after a delay of about six months. It’s so cool to note that star Simu Liu got the ball rolling with this film just by shooting his show with Marvel on Twitter saying “Ok Marvel, are we going to talk or not?” with the hashtag Shang-Chi. The film follows the title character’s origins, a man who must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization, AKA The Mandarin who was already eluded to in Iron Man 3. I’m choosing not to get any deeper into my own research into the film but it does have a great supporting cast with Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina and the legendary Tony Leung as the villain. With an already Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m totally psyched for this one.

Cinderella – With the flash mob stunt that was pulled in Los Angeles by James Corden, this fairy tale remake is already skating on thin ice for me as, c’mon, you guys know that Corden is the friggin’ worst, right? Anyways, I really love what Kenneth Branagh did with the Disney live-action version of the story so I feel like this one is highly unnecessary and a musical as well and with the heavyweight that is also coming on blu-ray in that department, this one doesn’t have a chance. This remake stars Camila Cabello, Billy Porter and Idina Menzel and opts to take a modern take on the traditional story you grew up with, even down to the fairy godmother who Porter plays as Fab G. Yeah, I don’t like any of it either but I’m sure this one will find an audience and become a pretty sizeable hit and we’ll all still regret that horrible PR traffic stunt.

Worth – I got really interested in this film when I saw it grace my preview bar on Netflix as it boasts it’s from the producers of Spotlight and it features Michael Keaton in the main role which gave me the utmost hope that it was going to be great. Featuring a supporting cast that has Amy Ryan, Stanley Tucci and Tate Donovan, the more I read about it the deeper I got in my interest. This true story follows Keaton as attorney and renowned mediator Kenneth Feinberg that is appointed to lead the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund by congress following the horrific 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Assigned with allocating financial resources to the victims of the tragedy, Feinberg and his firm’s head of operations face the impossible task of determining the worth of a life to help the families who had suffered incalculable losses. When Feinberg locks horns with Charles Wolf, played by Tucci, a community organizer mourning the death of his wife, his initial cynicism turns to compassion as he begins to learn the true human costs of the tragedy. This film hits me on a fifty/fifty level as a lot of the procedural stuff works but the melodrama feels overly done and takes you out of the story from time to time. The acting from Keaton, Tucci and Ryan is top-notch though and is the reason to check this out.

Mogul Mowgli – Let’s just make it all clear at the get-go. If I see Riz Ahmed’s name attached to a film I immediately become very interested in it because he is one of the best emerging talents of this generation and the projects he picks are always so fascinating. This new film feels very closely connected to Ahmed and his experiences growing up in the United Kingdom dealing with race and culture as a British Pakistani, following him as a rapper on the cusp of his first world tour that is struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break. Learning his lessons the hard way, he realizes that the way he was living his life in excess of ego and forgetting the culture of what made him have slowly deteriorated his soul and his being, leading him to this unfortunate fate. Riz’s performance in this film is riveting and gives dramatic focus to the monkey on his back while we observe him like a living fish tank. That last wistfully triumphant moment in this movie will go down as an unforgettable cinematic moment for me this year.

Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter To Los Angeles – We’ve got a new Billie Eilish documentary here this week but this one is a little different than the intimate AppleTV+ released film The World’s a Little Blurry which debuted about six months ago, a must-see before you even press play on this one. This is more of a concert film that showcases tracks from her new album and has a little bit more dazzle to it than you’re regular concert, thanks to the direction of Robert Rodriguez. The multiple Grammy Award-winning and chart-topping artist debuts on Disney+ with a very cinematic experience, fresh off the heels of her brand-new album, “Happier than Ever,” which features an intimate performance of every song in the album’s sequential order, for the first and only time, from the stage of the legendary Hollywood Bowl. As a fan of hers, I loved the documentary and am digging the new album a lot but for those who are just dipping their toe into the talent of Eilish, this film clocks in at just over an hour so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James – When it comes to popular R&B and pop music in the eighties, Rick James is an artist and producer who was a bigger-than-life persona, especially in his excessiveness. Heck, it was so legendary that Dave Chappelle was able to capitalize it with the stories of CharlieMurphy’s and give a sort of renewal to the “Superfreak” icon. This feels like a documentary film that was a long time coming as it is a profile of the legendary funk/R&B superstar, capturing the peaks and valleys of his storied career to reveal a complicated and rebellious soul, driven to share his talent with the world. The film is in great hands as it comes from writer and director Sacha Jenkins who made the fantastic music docuseries Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, which is another great watch for music fans. I can’t wait to see how deep this goes and how long they focus on Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”.

Yakuza Princess – On the outside of this new action flick and comic book adaptation, it should really be an easy and stylish slam dunk. Based on the indie series Samurai Shiro, this film comes from the guy who did the crazily fascinating horror Motorrad and features singer MASUMI, 13 Assassins actor Tsuyoshi Ihara and life long bad boy and middle-aged trainwreck Jonathan Rhys Meyers and, on paper, has a damn cool storyline. The plot follows an heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate who forges an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger that believes an ancient sword binds their two fates. With his help, she reluctantly must unleash a war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead. I wish the execution on this film was as good as the setup because the movement of this story always feels a little half-baked and not thought out and none of the action scenes feel that exciting or well shot no matter how many moments of good blood and gore that we get. I was left feeling very underwhelmed by this one.

The Madness Inside Me – Mental trauma is a really universal affliction that affects all of us, whether we like to admit it or not, and the more it’s brought up in the mainstream the more it will be de-stigmatized and taken way more seriously. One action is to bring it to film and television which is a piece of this new mystery thriller that stars the immensely talented Merrin Dungey. She plays Madison Taylor, a forensic psychiatrist who spends her days interviewing prison inmates and her evenings with her husband Jeremy. When Jeremy is killed in a home invasion, her world begins to turn itself inside out. Madison’s fascination with morbid crime begins to gnaw away at her character and she becomes sleepless, her evenings spent stalking and photographing strangers. She refuses to identify her husband’s killer and instead chooses to stalk him for revenge and, finding pleasure in her thrill-seeking, dangerous life choices, she starts to put herself in compromising situations for arousal. Yes, this film gets deep into mental fractures and does it well through her performance but the low budget of this production is evident in many ways so if you don’t stay hyper-focused on the character work, you may find the tears in its seams.

Saving Paradise -Remember the oldest kid from the Disney adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia? Well, his name is William Mosely, not to be confused with The Devil’s Rejects horror villain Bill Mosely, and he is definitely not a kid anymore as this new film illustrates. This film is based on true events and has him playing a ruthless corporate raider who s forced to return to his small-town roots where he suddenly inherits his father’s nearly bankrupt pencil factory, which is the heart and soul of the depressed community. With the foreclosure deadline looming, he must decide to either let it close or join the community’s fight to save it. So, yes, if you look at this storyline, it is essentially a real-life Grinch story of a guy who needs his heart to grow a few sizes but the melodrama is the make or break aspect of this film for me. Just like with Worth, sometimes it works to serve the story and other times it pulls you right out of it although, in the latter film’s case, it works more than it doesn’t.

Blu-Ray:

In The Heights – A casualty of the pandemic, this film was supposed to premiere in the summer of 2020 and is the much anticipated new musical created by Hamilton mastermind Lin Manuel Miranda that would definitely have some new viral tracks contained within it. Now we sit almost a year later, and the film’s anticipation still exists, especially with Hamilton being a highly streamed film on Disney+ right now. Coming from Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, the film centers on a variety of characters living in the neighbourhood of Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan. At the center of the show is Usnavi, a bodega owner who looks after the ageing Cuban lady next door, pines for the gorgeous girl working in the neighbouring beauty salon and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina, a childhood friend of Usnavi, has returned to the neighbourhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her parents, who have spent their life savings on building a better life for their daughter. Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighbourhood get a dose of what it means to be home in a film that is, at this point, earning perfect scores from critics who are calling it a joyous and infectious celebration of life and culture. I will be among the naysayers when I say that I felt the movie was a little bit long and meanders here and there but the joy is pretty infectious and Miranda just knows how to make an immensely catchy song with a delicious hook and that’s what this film thrives on.

Spirit Untamed – This was one of those family animated films where I really had to rely on my eight-year-old daughter’s knowledge of the pre-existing Netflix series that proceeded it to get an idea of where it was coming from. Also, being a Dreamworks property, the film was derived from Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron which was one of the animation division’s first films. For this expanded theatrical adventure, the story follows young Lucky Prescott who, after moving to a sleepy little town to live with her father, she befriends a wild mustang named Spirit that shares her rebellious spirit. When a heartless wrangler plans to capture Spirit and his herd, Lucky and her new friends embark on the adventure of a lifetime to rescue the horse that forever changed her life. The story is light and fluffy, great for all the little kids and the animation is gorgeous but I was surprised with some of the star power in the voice cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Andre Braugher and Walton Goggins. With only another weekend and a couple of days to keep the kids occupied before going back to school, this may be a perfect way to have them zone out in front of the television for a bit.

12 Mighty Orphans – Getting some of that era-specific sports dramas in this week with this new football film that has an interesting true story behind it but the execution is a little off to me. The film comes from Texan filmmaker Ty Roberts who always has a lot of pride in shooting his homegrown films in his state but this is his first true-to-the-story movie in this adaptation of Jim Dent’s novel of the same name. The film has Luke Wilson as a devoted high school football coach haunted by his mysterious past who leads a scrawny team of orphans to the state championship during the Great Depression and inspires a nation absolutely devoid of any hope. Wilson is very solid in his leading role and plays well with veteran actor Martin Sheen who also produced this film but their calibre makes everyone else look like they’re struggling to keep up with that kind of gravitas and it is very noticeable. On top of that, I feel like this inspirational sports story of underdogs and ne’er-do-wells rising to the top has been done before and this one doesn’t stand out by any means.

Beasts Of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga made an incredible film six years ago with his Netflix-produced feature that is jaw-droppingly astounding in its vision, execution, cinematography and performances. It even got caught up in critical acclaim and the award season, earning it award nominations everywhere except the Oscars because it was in a weird time that Netflix released films that were still looked down on and didn’t earn that respect for the Academy. The story follows the journey of a young boy, Agu, who is forced to join a group of soldiers in a fictional West African country. Fearing his commander and many of the men around him, his fledgling childhood has been brutally shattered by the war raging through his country, and he is at first torn between conflicting revulsion and fascination. This movie is a damn masterpiece and now has the esteemed honour of being added to the Criterion Collection, the top echelon of film. With incredible special features and in-depth interviews and commentaries, this is the ultimate film lovers brick of gold, trust me.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle Of The Realms – It’s a hot year for Mortal Kombat because after years of teasing it Warner Bros. finally gave us the R-rated film that we fans deserve and, yes, it was a bit cheesy in parts but with a limited story like this, what did you expect? Now, we get a little addition on the animated side, one to follow up the killer Scorpion prequel we got not too long ago. Featuring the voices of Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter and Community’s Joel McHale, the story picks up right after Scorpion’s Revenge where the heroes are attacked by Shao Kahn, which will force “Raiden and his group of warriors into a deal to compete in a final Mortal Kombat that will determine the fate of the realms.” This forces the good guys to travel to Outworld to defend Earthrealm while Scorpion journeys to find the Kamidogu (a mystic relic made by the almighty Elder Gods) before it is used to bring back the mysterious One Being, who would destroy the universe. If you’re a fan of the video game, this series or just animation in general, you will definitely dig what Warner is doing making their own little animated universe of this intellectual property.

The Brotherhood Of Satan – Arrow Video has a couple of notable collector’s editions coming out this week and one of them, to me, is an absolute monster but let us get this one into your eyeballs first. This one will make none horror fans roll their eyes big time but for a guy like me that feels he is discovering pre-1975 genre films almost weekly, this is a fun one. Starring Slapshot’s Strother Martin and Casino’s L.Q Jones, this story follows a widower who is taking his young daughter and new girlfriend to visit a relative when they find a grizzly car accident by the highway. They report the incident to the sheriff in nearby Hillsboro, New Mexico and discover the town in the grips of a deadly fear because in the past 72 hours, 26 people have died, and 11 children have gone missing. As Ben investigates, a local priest (Charles Robinson) informs him that a Satan-worshipping cult is to blame and soon all hell starts to break loose. This film is a cult film and in more than just including a cult-like presence in the movie but a film that is enjoyed and appreciated way more than at the time of release because I will say that it was definitely not well regarded in the release year of 1971.

Dune 4K – Arrow digs up some more unappreciated gold from the past as they have given new 4K life to David Lynch’s attempt at making a Frank Herbert epic that gets the remake treatment this year from Denis Villeneuve. If you’ve seen the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune then you know the strife that has gone into making Dune and through this release, you can see the trouble that Lynch went through to get even a sliver of his vision. For those who don’t know, Dune is loosely about a Duke’s son who leads desert warriors against the galactic emperor and his father’s evil nemesis to free their desert world from the emperor’s rule in the vaguest of description. The film had an incredible cast including Kyle MacLachlan, Sting, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Stewart and so many more and still holds a dear place in my heart but really just for the extended version. Also, the 4K beef-up looks so incredible too.

Bugsy Malone – I have to say that when I saw it in my parcel of movies I definitely laughed my ass off and not because of a young Jodie Foster on the cover but for the guy who plays the title character in it, Scott Baio. Now, living in the times of 2021, Baio’s name has a different connotation besides being Charles In Charge or Chachi because now he is a batshit crazy Trumper who is a bigger joke than he was but I shouldn’t let that affect how I feel about this one. Made in 1976, this was a weird studio experiment that had, essentially, kids playing adult roles as notorious gangsters. Instead of real guns and ammo, they use “splurge guns” that cover the victim in whipped cream in the story of the rise of Bugsy Malone and the battle for power between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. Did I mention that it is also a musical? Yes, the deeper you go on this the weirder it gets but it is still pretty oddly intriguing, right?

NCIS New Orleans: The Complete Series – The television year on DVD isn’t quite over until I’ve received every iteration of NCIS and its spinoffs and now with the arrival of this complete series of the southern fried Louisiana version, well, we can close on this chapter of it forever, although I hear a NCIS Hawaii is coming. This one starring Scott Bakula in the lead as Special Agent Dwayne Pride who heads his crew in a colourful city that harbours a dark side and is a magnet for service personnel on leave who often delve into vices that land them in a series of different troubles. The show is your standard fare for these procedurals in the military vein, just factoring in a cajun flavour for the locale, but the charm of Bakula himself, the friendly face of classics like Quantum Leap and Star Trek Enterprise may draw you to it. I like the cast formed around him like stalwart veteran CCH Pounder and current Fast family star Lucas Black. I find it interesting that the second spin-off of the original series finished its run first of all the NCIS shows.

Blue Bloods: Season 11 – I have another traditional procedural this week for those who love them, as I now move onto more primetime crime dramas with this Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg-led show that has well over two hundred episodes now. Basically, for those uninitiated into this police show, this is like the Charles Bronson series of made for television movies A Family Of Cops but told much better as we have Tom Selleck as the patriarch of the family and also the commissioner of police, his sons Wahlberg and Will Estes as a detective and police sergeant respectively. The cast rounds out with Bridget Moynahan as the sister, an assistant DA, and the great Len Cariou as the grandpa, a former commissioner himself and the show is actually very solid and its long tenure is indicative of that. I know that when I post on social media that I have it, fans come out of the woodwork to like it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek Outs:

The Great – Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult and The Favourite writer Tony McNamara combine for this new series that is filled from top to bottom with great character work, beautiful set pieces and a brilliantly dark humour that will absolutely tickle you if you liked McNamara’s Yorgos Lanthimos film as much as I did. The show follows a royal woman living in rural Russia during the 18th century who is forced to choose between her own personal happiness and the future of Russia when she marries an Emperor. I love that this series takes the stuffiness out of the usual period piece and allows each character to breathe with dialogue that feels quick and totally sardonic. With a second season on the horizon, this may be a dark horse here in Canada as it originally aired on Hulu.

One Crazy Summer – As a huge Bobcat Goldthwait fan, I was over the moon to get this Warner Archive release in the main as I was a huge fan of it when I was a kid and rented it multiple times on VHS and anytime I notice it on television, I really have to watch it all the way through. That is why I was overly ecstatic when I received this new edition in the parcel of Warner Archive titles from this month as I now have it on a high definition in my collection. For those who have never had the pleasure of seeing this one, the film is led by John Cusack and Demi Moore and follows art school hopeful Hoops McCann who struggles to complete his application to the Rhode Island School of Design after graduating from high school. Resigning himself to a summer of boredom, he agrees to go along with his best friend on a family trip to Nantucket but after McCann and his buddy meet rocker-in-distress, Cassandra, boredom takes a back seat. This is some eighties Brat Pack gold here that comes from writer and director Savage Steve Holland who had such a great one-two punch with this and the film before it, Better Off Dead. Classic stuff.

Rock Dog 2: Rock Around The Park – This one is predominantly just for the kids as we head into the final weekend before school starts and you need to park them in front of the television to maintain a grip on your sanity. What better way to do that than with a dog rocking a Stratocaster, I guess. This is a sequel to a Luke Wilson movie no one really cared about, granted, but it follows the main man Bodi who decides to take his newly formed band True Blue out of the comfort zone of his home, Snow Mountain, and takes them on a whirlwind world tour to show off their music but, of course, fame comes with a price. The movie loses all of its actor credit as no one came back to reprise their roles for this but it does have some voice-over royalty as My Little Pony’s Ashleigh Ball lends her very studious and capable talents to this sequel. It is what it is at the end of the day.

Television:

Only Murders In The Building (Disney+) -* Steve Martin and Martin Short are returning in a big way with this brand new series debuting on Disney+ through the Star side of things and it’s something that the legendarily funny actor came up with showrunner and former Grace And Frankie writer John Hoffman. The series is also produced by the stars, along with the third in their trio, Selena Gomez, and I will say that I’m just in the beginning but I already adore it. The story follows three strangers who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one. When a grisly death occurs inside their exclusive Upper West Side apartment building, the trio suspects murder and employs their precise knowledge of true crime to investigate the truth. Perhaps even more explosive are the lies they tell one another. Soon, the endangered trio comes to realize a killer might be living among them as they race to decipher the mounting clues before they possibly become victims themselves.

What We Do in the Shadows: Season 3 (FX) – Following up a phenomenal second season that capitalized on a great season one and brought in some great new characters and visits from old ones, it really delivered on all levels and we have been not so patiently waiting for the return of our favourite vampire roommates. Created by the star of the original film, Jemaine Clement, this show follows a different cast than people who have only seen the movie are used to, led by the brilliant Kayvon Novak and one of my favourite current British comedic actors Matt Berry. The story simply follows three vampires and their night lives living on Staten Island, their home for a century in, by far, one of the most clever new comedies on television and their return is so welcome at this depressing end of the summer season that has us all feeling that step into autumn ennui.

Turning Point: 9/11 And The War On Terror (Netflix) – Time to get your tinfoil hat on, maybe, and turn your clocks back twenty years and get back into the mindset you were when you saw the planes hit the World Trade Center the first time. Netflix has been killing it in the documentary series department for a long time now so honestly, I’m really intrigued to see how this one will play and with what angle. The series claims to be a cohesive chronicle of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., offering illuminating perspectives and personal stories of how the catastrophic events of that day changed the course of the nation. From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to the country’s breathtaking collapse back into the hands of the Taliban just weeks before the twentieth anniversary of the attacks, the show pushes on the real fact that history continues to be made and will continue as nothing has been learned or gained for this horrifying moment in time.

Q-Force (Netflix) – In a mix of Archer meets Space Force meets a kind of depressing gay stereotype, Will and Grace’s Sean Hayes leads this new animated series that comes from Parks And Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place master creator Michael Schur and I think that’s what bums me out the most. Featuring the voices of Gary Cole, David Harbour and Shrill’s hilarious Patti Harrison, I might have placed the bar way too high seeing the voice and creators involved and ruined the experience for myself. I digress though, as the series is about a group of undervalued LGBTQ superspies, and is centred on a gay secret agent who is like James Bond, Steve Marywhether (also known as Agent Mary), as they try to prove themselves on personal and professional adventures. One day, Mary decides to prove himself to the American Intelligence Agency (AIA), solve a case, and get the approval of the agency, but they have to add a new member to their team, a straight guy, which proves to throw off the progress they have going. Easy jokes and lazy writing totally bungled up the pilot for me and I had to muster enough energy to get through the second episode which was only a slight improvement. Maybe it gets better but this one is a miss for me.

Reservation Dogs (Disney+) – Taika Waititi is largely known as the guy who rejuvenated the Thor series for Marvel and directed himself as an imaginary Hitler in Jojo Rabbit but those of us who love New Zealand’s filmmaking know the incredible mark he has made on us through his independent films and with him producing this new series, not from his home country but centred in the Southern United States, it is for this reason that I am fully on board. The series is about four Native American teenagers growing up on a reservation in eastern Oklahoma who try to steal, rob, and save everything they can to get to the exotic, mysterious, and faraway land of California. Not featuring any notable stars or locals you will be used to, the seemingly aimless nature of this series is so endearing and the script is so whip-smart that I really feel that the show has a broader appeal than what you just see on paper. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see this on some top ten lists at the end of the year as the reviews are big for it.

New Releases:

Candyman – For horror fans, we were pretty much robbed of getting the renewal of the Candyman franchise last year due to the pandemic and the buzz around the film made the sting even more intense as it was produced by Jordan Peele and it comes from director Nia Decosta who booked a Marvel gig out of the deal with her now helming Captain Marvel 2 as we speak. That said, there are huge shoes to fill with this movie and the fact that Tony Todd doesn’t reprise his role in any shape or form is an immediate mark against it. This film is set in the present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, following Anthony and his partner who move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. A chance encounter with an old-timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman and anxious to use these macabre details in his studio as fresh ideas for paintings, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence. I really love the trailers for this film which seems to build on the original lore as an almost spiritual sequel while taking the story on in a new and modern way. This one could be really great.

Vacation Friends – John Cena has to be the busiest dude around right now because just at the beginning of this month he starred in The Suicide Squad as Peacemaker who has his own spin-off series that premieres in January next year, he was just challenging for the WWE Universal Title at Summerslam this past weekend and now he has this new comedy on Disney+. Just as busy is the hilarious Lil Rey Howery who many know as the buddy in Get Out but he just starred in the really great Ryan Reynolds movie Free Guy. Now he takes the lead in this raw and raunchy comedy, playing Marcus, a straight-laced dude on vacation with his wife Emily who is befriended by wild, thrill-seeking partiers Ron and Kyla at a resort in Mexico. Living in the moment, the usually level-headed couple lets loose to enjoy a week of uninhibited fun and debauchery with their new “vacation friends” but, months after their walk on the wild side, Marcus and Emily are horrified when Ron and Kyla show up uninvited at their wedding to create more chaos. This is a brainless comedy but I have to admit, this is where Cena is at his best. Funny is his wheelhouse it seems.

Flag Day – Sean Penn returns to the director’s chair for the first time on a feature film since 2016’s The Last Face which was not well received. I’m really hoping that he gets back to the form he was in for Into The Wild and this one is really interesting because it features his daughter Dylan as well who co-stars alongside him in pretty much the main roles. The film has the senior Penn as a father living a double life as a counterfeiter, bank robber and con man to provide for his daughter who struggles to rise above the wreckage of her past while reconciling the inescapable bond between her and her father. Unfortunately, as good as the performances are in the film, Penn keeps falling into the trappings that dogged his last one and that is just plain bad melodrama trying to adhere these talents into something cohesive. I’m still waiting for Penn’s directorial renaissance it seems.

American Sausage Standoff – This is such a weird movie and it isn’t just the crazy title but the Scandanavian lens through which it was shot. To be honest, my draw to this movie was that Antony Starr is the main character in this and I have been absolutely riveted by his performance as Homelander in The Boys. The film is a character-driven comedy about sausages and friendship, set in small-town America, about two hopeless dreamers who join forces in a quest to erect the ultimate German sausage restaurant. Deeper than that, it is also a social satire about the nexus of identity fear, where religion becomes an intellectual cul-de-sac, and racism, homophobia and intolerance reign supreme. The film co-stars Trainspotting star Ewen Bremner and Deadwood’s W. Earl Brown and would have won me over with its quirks but actor turned director Ulrich Thomsen gets a little carried away with his stylings and it never feels like we are in small-town America for a moment, just an exaggerating of it which takes the bite out of any message contained in it. That said, Starr is so great in this movie.

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed – Whenever you think of instructional artist Bob Ross the sayings “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”, “There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.” and “I can’t think of anything more rewarding than being able to express yourself to others through painting” come to mind but behaving the “Joy Of Painting” apparently there was something a little darker. This new Netflix documentary looks to dig in behind the Bob you knew and flush out something a little different but is it something to be skeptical about as well? The Bob Ross we knew encouraged everyone he met to embrace their creativity and believe in themselves with a keen appreciation for nature, and a kind and gentle demeanour but a battle for his business empire cast a shadow over his happy trees and that is the basis of this film. The film comes from director Joshua Rofé who helmed the Lorena Bobbitt docuseries so he has a penchant for turning out interesting character stories already so I have good hopes for this one.

He’s All That – Who thought it was a good idea to remake this nineties classic but do a gender swap in the process? Doesn’t that defeat the original idea? Anyways, Netflix and Mean Girls director Mark Waters has decided to do the unthinkable and at least Rachel Leigh Cook and Matthew Lillard return to make it legit because, honestly, they’re the only reason I’m watching it. In a modern re-imagining, the story follows teen social media influencer Padgett who’s humiliating on-camera breakup goes viral, leading her to make a risky bet to save her reputation, turning scruffy antisocial Cameron into prom king material. Of course, things get complicated when she finds herself falling for him in real life in the most predictable of turns. Is there any hope for this? Probably not and the fact that it’s being led by Tik Tok star Addison Rae gives me no faith in it whatsoever.

Till Death – Megan Fox, again? Yes, two movies in one month on this blog but the good news is that this movie is pretty damn great and I’m not exaggerating. I think it might also be that this is a horror thriller, something I love, and Fox has experienced some audience success in this genre, thinking back to the Diablo Cody film Jennifer’s Body. The story to this one is pretty simple, a woman is left handcuffed to her dead husband as part of a sick revenge plot and, unable to unshackle, she has to survive as two killers arrive to finish her off. Easy peasy. Amazingly the character development and progression are fascinating in this and it is even good enough for you to overlook some of the story and logic gaffs that happen along the way. I know this sounds slightly insane but I hope people give this Megan Fox movie a chance. Again, weird but true.

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf – To hold you off until the new season arrives before the end of the year, the creators of The Witcher have given us a little animated prequel to snack on and when the credits hit at the end I think you’ll be pretty satisfied. I had just finished the first season myself when this landed on my Netflix preview bar and, again, very heady with its lore and back story, this may be the origin story that fans are looking for. Featuring the voices of Theo James and Mary McDonnell, this follows Vesemir, once a beaten and downtrodden orphan servant who becomes a witcher, slaying monsters for coin and glory until a new menace arises, forcing him to confront the demons from his past he was running from. The animation is slick, on par for those who love the DC animated movies, and the action is awesome and just as gory and violent as the series is. At only an hour and twenty-three minutes, it breezes by quickly but it is a lot of fun in the process.

Mosquito State – Shudder has been releasing great content every Thursday on the best streaming platform for horror fans out there and the trend continues with this solid little chiller. This film is interesting from the get-go as it comes from Polish writer and director Filip Jan Rymsza who produced the restoration of the unreleased Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind as well as directed the tripped-out fever dream Dustclouds so the anticipation is real. The film is set in 2007 and stars Beau Knapp as obsessive Wall Street data analyst Richard Boca who, in his austere penthouse overlooking Central Park, starts to see ominous patterns as he further isolates himself from the outside world. His computer models are behaving erratically and swarms of mosquitos start to appear and are breeding in his apartment, becoming an infestation that fuels his psychological meltdown. This film has everything going for it but seems to hit that feverish paranoid pitch too early like it crescendoed way too fast. That said, Knapp is still really good in a film that very much feels like an actor’s experiment.

The Hidden Life Of Trees – Two big documentaries hit theatres this week and it starts with this film, a German-made film that delves into some deeply existential themes that move along with the awe of nature. Seems heady, doesn’t it? The film is a meditation of author Peter Wohlleben’s book of the same name, a best-seller around the world. Through this medium, Wohlleben is able to give his thoughts on life, death, the regeneration of trees and his experience that formed the notion that trees can communicate with each other. It sounds kind of crazy on paper but the final execution, through filmmakers Jörg Adolph and Jan Haft, who did the nature shoots for the film, the message never feels muddled and I think you come out the other side richer for it. I really love thinking person’s documentaries like this, they seem to enrich the soul and the mind.

The Lost Leonardo – The second documentary of the week gives a more focused approach to its subject matter and delves into both the mystery of a stolen masterpiece but also the processes of art sales and the passing down through generations and how the would kind of gets muddied in the transactions. The film was written and directed by Andreas Koefoed who isn’t a stranger to documentary filmmaking by any means but is a new one to me and this film is so well executed that I’m definitely going to have to dig up his establishing work. The film is the inside story behind Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting ever sold at $450 million. From the moment the painting is bought for $1175 at a shady New Orleans auction house, and the restorer discovers masterful Renaissance brushstrokes under the heavy varnish of its cheap restoration, the Salvator Mundi’s fate is determined by an insatiable quest for fame, money and power and s its price soars, so do the questions about its authenticity. Unravelling the hidden agendas of the richest men and the most powerful art institutions in the world, Koefoed masterfully reveals how vested interests in the Salvator Mundi are of such tremendous power that truth becomes secondary in a film that intrigued me far more than any piece of Dan Brown fiction and any Da Vinci Code movie could. Well worth checking out.

Black Conflux – We get some Canadian content this week with a film that has been getting so much great buzz on the festival circuit and it all has to be from the twist on conventional psychological thrillers it gives. A little in-joke for Canadians, the film is also set in 1980s Newfoundland meaning that it is a straight-up Newfie movie so get your jokes ready now. The film is a dreamy account of two converging lives, fifteen-year-old Jackie, who is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood, and Dennis, a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call. It opens with Jackie auditioning for her school choir with a gorgeous rendition of “Hey, Who Really Cares?” by little-known 1970s psychedelic folk singer Linda Perhacs, in a symbolic opening for a promising young woman from a broken home. Raised by her aunt and living under the cloud of all the failures endured by the women in her family, Jackie finds herself giving in to internal and external pressures like partying, skipping school, and hitchhiking in search of her own identity. Her choices leave her speeding inevitably towards Dennis, whose car doubles as a venue for his violent desires. The film is a fantastic debut from filmmaker Nicole Dorsey with a completely unpredictable script and I can’t wait for her next film which looks to be heading into production soon according to IMDB.

They Who Surround Us – A European independent film shot in the Albertan wilderness telling an immigrant’s story. This is a fascinating and deeply human story that involves grief, adjustment to a new land and new people and the raw scabs of a traumatic past and writer and director Troy Ruptash puts it together quite well. The story follows a Ukrainian farmer living in Alberta who loses his wife in a tragic accident and the cascades of guilt and grief afterwards send him into an emotional spiral where mysterious and inexplicable events force him to relive traumatic incidents from his childhood in Ukraine. The film features lots of Canadian actors and actresses that may be recognizable from different locally shot films and television series but this film feels bigger in its emotional scope than any one actor. Not a lot of people will pick up on this one but I will say that Ruptash puts it together in a way the is meant to resonate deeply.

Blu-Ray:

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – Director James Wan has sat on top of the horror game for closing in on twenty years now, starting with his surprise hit Saw that grew into a massive franchise and now with his Conjuring universe which all kicked off almost a decade ago and brought an old school feel with the all-new scares. After doing the sequel, another trip in a based on a true story horror, he steps back into the producer role for this new installment in the originator series, with The Curse of la Llorona director Michael Chaves taking the reins in this adaptation of one of the most sensational cases from the files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. A chilling story of terror, murder and unknown evil, it starts with a fight for the soul of a young boy, then takes the ghost experts beyond anything they’d ever seen before, to mark the first time in U.S. history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defence. The aspect I love about these movies is the fully immersive nature that they bring through sound design and simple visuals and it looks like this third piece of the Warren puzzle brings that style and more. This all said, the film does lack in the style that Wan brings to his particular productions but you have to step away and relinquish the control at some point I guess.

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway – When the first film adaptation of this rolled out of the Sony lineup, I was totally trepidatious but, in the end, my daughter and I both got a solid kick out of this and even adored the human element, being the great tandem of Domnhall Gleeson and Rose Byrne, which makes up for Peter himself being voiced by the often insufferable James Corden. Well, after a lengthy pause in release dates due to the pandemic, Peter is up for another adventure and this one gets into the bunny lineage, really. The film picks up a bit after the first with Bea, Thomas, and the rabbits having created a makeshift family, but despite his best efforts, Peter can’t seem to shake his mischievous reputation. Adventuring out of the garden, Peter finds himself in a world where his mischief is appreciated, but when his family risks everything to come looking for him, Peter must figure out what kind of bunny he wants to be. The great news for adults, beyond being an entertaining and, at times, a silly movie for the kids, is that it works and is enjoyable for adults, is pretty well written, and has a great sense of self-awareness. I’m not saying it’s Paddington levels of great but it still earns your time watching it.

How It Ends – Zoe Lister-Jones has had an interesting career as a filmmaker as the Life In Pieces star releases her third feature and the follow-up to her reboot of a beloved nineties favourite that didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, The Craft: Legacy. The bite of this new comedy looks to me like a total redeemer as it follows a woman named Liza, played by Lister-Jones, who scores an invite to one last wild party before the world ends but making it there won’t be easy after her car is stolen and the clock is ticking on her plan to tie up loose ends with friends and family. Accompanied by her younger self, she embarks on a hilarious journey across Los Angeles, running into an eclectic cast of characters played by a great cast including Helen Hunt, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Lamorne Morris and Nick Kroll. The film is co-directed by Lola Versus filmmaker Daryl Wein and almost has a vignette or skit sort of delivery to it, like a Jarmusch film but I kind of have a thing for the end of the world comedies so I’m on board.

Lansky – Harvey Keitel returning to a leading role for some good character work is a happy thing for any Bad Lietenenant fans out there or, more recently, those who enjoyed Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth with Michael Caine. This also is a double-edged sword as it is a proving ground for new writer and director Eytan Rockaway but at least he has the rock-solid resume of Keitel to rely on. Keitel is the title character, the ageing Meyer Lansky, a man who is is investigated one last time by the Feds who suspect he has stashed away millions of dollars over half a century. Hoping to either throw people off the path or to prove his untouchable nature, the retired gangster spins a dizzying tale, revealing the untold truth about his life as the notorious boss of Murder Inc. and the National Crime Syndicate. Playing the interrogator, Sam Worthington proves to be a good foil to Keitel’s character but the final result leaves a lot to be desired but the skeleton of a good film exists and Rockaway’s start does show promise even if it doesn’t follow through.

Habit – When the preview scene for this new film popped up on Bella Thorne’s Instagram featuring a scene between her and Bush singer Gavin Rossdale, I’m sure we all thought the same thing, “that looks terrible”. The good news is that we are all right and the bad news is that I had to watch it. This film tries so hard to be edgy Tarantino, following an L.A. party girl who gets a gig running drugs for a washed-up Hollywood star. When their cash gets stolen and her boss is popped by a rival drug lord, she and her two friends hideout by dressing up as nuns, which is probably the worst disguise for industrious girls like this. This movie is rough. Underwritten, half baked and more of an excuse for Thorne and her crew to prance around and be raunchy, this made me think of Bell’s claim that she makes so many films a year. Yes, you do, but what is the ratio of good to bad on that list?

The Fatal Raid – Thanks to the people at Well Go USA, I’ve got some martial arts action but don’t be thrown off by the title, it sadly has nothing to do with the Gareth Evans made The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berendal. Digging into that Hong Kong action style, this film comes from writer and director Jacky Lee who is new to making films in this genre but he honestly makes it work for the most part. The story starts with two elite police teams who undertake a secret operation tracking a dangerous gang across the border into Macau which ends in a deadly firefight. Twenty years later, an escort mission brings the survivors back to the scene and reignites a bloodbath of a battle between the two sides. Any fan of Asian cinema and violent actioners is going to latch onto this movie right away because if you love long gunfights and little exposition, character development and the thin netting of a plot then this movie is for you.

The Cat O’Nine Tails 4K – It feels like just a couple of weeks ago I was celebrating the 4K release of Dario Argento’s debut film and now I get to talk about the follow-up to that which now also gets a high definition release. This is an interesting film in the Argento oeuvre as well because it’s a film that the filmmaker really dislikes so it’s interesting that it was chosen. The film is that awesome iconically stylized Giallo mystery noir about a newspaper reporter and a retired, blind journalist who try to solve a series of killings connected to a pharmaceutical company’s experimental, top-secret research projects and in so doing, both become targets of the killer. I find it interesting that Argento hates this one because it is an improved production over his debut. Although it gets pretty convoluted at times, the story is fascinating. I also enjoy Karl Malden’s work in this, a veteran American doing some Italian horror with the same gravitas he always brought.

Blind Beast – Keeping on the same classic international film tangent for another couple of films, this is a 1969 horror film out of Japan that is getting the Arrow collector’s edition treatment this week and, in the cult film circles, this is a deep favourite. It comes from director Yasuzô Masumura who was known as a maverick director whose main legacy was films portraying and promoting individualism, which was the opposite of the norm in Japanese society. I previously brought his work with the film Irezemi and like that one, this one goes the racy route following a blind sculptor who kidnaps a beautiful young model and takes her back to his home, a warehouse that he and his mother live in and has turned into a surreal tribute to the senses. It is filled with huge sculptures of body parts and the female form, a deadly obsession that has snuffed out many a life and will take this model too if she doesn’t have the fortitude to survive. As a newbie to classic Japanese cinema, this is definitely something that feels like an anomaly and not something that was accepted by the societal majority.

Ashes + Diamonds – We’ll finish up the new collector’s editions in the international field with this Polish-made film from the late fifties made by the acclaimed writer and director Andrzej Wajda and through the lens of another impeccably put together Criterion Collection release. This film was influenced by Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and in turn, influenced many others like Martin Scorcese who lists this as one of his favourite films and showed it to Leonardo Dicaprio on the set of The Departed. The story follows the Polish resistance and the Russian forces who turn on each other in an attempt to take over leadership in Communist Poland as World War II and the German occupation ends. This movie was far ahead of its time with mind-blowingly intricate cinematography that would astound burgeoning filmmakers for generations. Now, on an immaculate-looking high def blu-ray, it is just as incredible and will hopefully reach up to a whole new audience.

Prince Of The City – This is a far-off film that many have forgotten about but when Warner Archive announced that it was a new addition to their library, I was really excited to land it in my collection. I don’t know why it isn’t talked about as much because it was so well received and came from the master filmmaker Sidney Lumet but I feel a renaissance is in order. The film stars Treat Williams who plays an NYPD officer who is involved in some questionable police practices and tries to make a deal with internal affairs. In exchange for him potentially being let off he’s instructed to begin looking at the inner workings of police corruption, which he agrees to, as long as he doesn’t have to turn on his partners. Soon he learns he cannot trust anyone and must decide whose side he’s on and who’s on his. This movie is so badass and you can see its influence on other filmmakers throughout, even something as recent as Todd Phillip’s Joker film has pulled from this one. Very cool and definitely a must-see.

NCIS Los Angeles: Season 12 – Well, It looks like it’s that time of the year again when all the previous seasons of television hit DVD and I get all of the naval crime shows that are still miraculously going, like this Chris O’Donnell, and LL Cool J led spin-off and this is just the beginning of the yearly install of NCIS shows in my home release reviews. They play key agents in the Office of Special Projects branch of the organization which puts them undercover to crack cases, utilizing their backgrounds as street kids. I’m fully aware of the dime a dozen nature of crime procedurals but I will admit something about this particular one and that is that I kind of like it and, really, at the end of the day it needs to be somewhat good to make it far past the initial double digits and now into season thirteen, right? Holy crap, that’s a lot of episodes.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Hydra – I’m kicking off a series of very different geek-outs this week with an action flick from Well Go USA to pair up with The Final Raid which I plugged above but this one comes from the Japanese side of the Asian cinema and is the directorial debut of Kensuke Sonomura who is mostly known for stunts. Why should this be significant? Well, former stunt players like Chad Stahelski and David Leitch usually make for incredible action filmmakers as the John Wick series is evidence of. The story is pretty simple, set at a small bar in the middle of Tokyo called Hydra and following Takeshi, a standoffish guy working there who has to hide his other identity of a highly skilled hitman that’s past is catching up with him and he now has to face a brutal killing game that he has been pointed as a target. This movie, although low budget, really packs a wallop that I wasn’t expecting in its action sequences. More than that, there is a care and a method delivered with the character development, giving us some stake in what happens to them, which is rare in this genre. This film was an utter surprise for me.

Nashville – One of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Robert Altman, gets the blu-ray treatment with one of his classic films and, really, this one is just about the treatment of the film itself because, to be completely honest, the better edition is the Criterion Collection with an abundance of special features. This film had Altman weighing in on both the country music scene at the time as well as the political upheaval of the mid-seventies featuring two great actors of the time, Keith Carradine and Karen Black. The film tells the intersecting stories of various people connected to the music business in Nashville with Barbara Jean, the reigning queen of Nashville nearing a total collapse, Linnea and Delbert Reese and their shaky marriage and two deaf children, Opal, a British journalist touring the area as a stranger in a strange land. This is really one of Altman’s underrated masterpieces that was celebrated at its time and was quickly shuffled away as more of his other, more prestigious and Hollywood’s centric productions were released. I really think that as a film fan, this movie is a must-see and that comes from a guy who hates country music. Yeah, I said it.

The Herculoids: The Complete Original Series – I got to add to my growing classic cartoon library this week with an old show that I really hadn’t heard of and now even seeing the case I definitely never saw it as a kid. It originally aired in the late sixties and was later resurrected in the early eighties as part of the Space Stars but this set just contains those first nineteen episodes. A Hanna Barbera production, the show follows King Zandor and a group of bizarre creatures as they protect their futuristic kingdom from creatures from other galaxies. This is definitely a product of its time and the King’s bowl cut hairstyle is really funny but the legacy that it leaves and the influence it had on other cartoons and their creators is definitely evident.

Television:

Clickbait (Netflix) – Adrian Grenier is returning to series form but he isn’t Vincent Chase anymore and this is definitely far from an Entourage style story. This thriller series comes from a couple of creators with some substance as Tony Ayres was a co-creator on the newer Netflix series Stateless, which I feel like got pushed to the side quite quickly even though it was great, and Christian White ho wrote the phenomenal New Zealand horror film, Relic plus it has Zoe Kazan who I adore. The show is an unravelling mystery racing against time that follows a family man who is abducted in a crime with a sinister online twist forcing those closest to him to scramble to uncover who is behind it and why. I’m just a few episodes in and the series is so intriguing to me but I’m getting a little worried that it’s getting a bit convoluted and a wrap-up would have to be huge. I hope it pays off.

See: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – Jason Momoa returns to lead the new season of this Campbell River shot sci-fi series set in a dystopian future about the human race, years into the future, which has lost the sense of sight and society has had to find new ways to navigate the world and survive as a society. Of course, when a set of twins are born with the ability to see everyone’s world is blown wide open, setting off new wars, new alliances and this season brings the big bad of Momoa’s character’s brother, played by the great Dave Bautista. This show obviously features a lot of local talent, like my friend Josh Blacker, but beyond those reasons to get on board, the show is actually pretty damn great and had me engaged entirely from episode to episode. The appeal to me for story elements is that the show makes use of the freeform of Apple’s platform and is gory as hell. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I think it is a hit with me and the ceiling of possibility is so huge.

The Other Two: Season 2 (Crave) – I always feel like I’ve always had a finger on the pulse of what is available of HBO or the new little brother or sister streaming service HBO Max but then a show like this comes along and presents it’s season two and I find myself scrambling to catch up with the first season. I feel like such a dolt for not knowing about this one too because it feature one of my favourite Saturday Night Live players ever, Molly Shannon, and was written by College Humor alumni Sarah Schneider. The show follows an aspiring actor and his sister, a former professional dancer, who try to find their place in the world while wrestling with their feelings about their thirteen-year-old brother Chase’s sudden rise to internet fame. The harder they work on themselves, the more their insecurities and jealousy strike down any progress they make in a show that I’m kicking myself for not knowing about, it’s that good.

Chapelwaite (Crave) – You know if Stephen King’s name is attached to something, I’m going to pick up on it and bring it to this blog, it’s just what I do. I find this one really interesting as it was developed from a short story that the master of horror did for Night Shift called Jerusalem’s Lot and, while it is in the Salem’s Lot novel, it’s a little different than that. The show stars Adrian Brody as Captain Charles Boone, who relocates his family to his ancestral home in Preacher’s Corners’ small, sleepy town in the 1850s. Once there, the secrets of his family start to come to light and he must find a way to confront that darkness and to put it away for good. The great thing about this series is that it was made on the EPIX network and the ceiling is limitless for gore and atmosphere as they don’t have to bend to the basic network constraints so this may be just as awesome as Castle Rock or Mr. Mercedes was. I’m definitely on board for this one.

American Horror Stories (Disney+) – The shift has finally happened after multiple seasons and genre iterations of this Ryan Murphy-created series and I feel like they’ve opened it up to have some endless opportunities for different little short films. I also really like that they’ve opened up the casting a bit more and we have some different stars than the usual Sarah Paulson, Lady Gaga or Evan Peters casting, though I really enjoy them, opening the door for Paris Jackson, Matt Bomer and Merrin Dungey among others. The weekly anthology series features a different horror story in each episode and some of them, it seems, even tie back into the seasons that Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk have already made, like the murder house of season one. I was a little burnt out on this series but this new avenue may get it back on track.

New Releases:

Reminiscence – This is another one of those delayed films due to the pandemic but definitely a push back on not getting sued as the film comes from Westworld series creators Lisa Joy and her husband Jonathan Nolan who’s brother Christopher has left the Warner Bros. family over the release of his film Tenet and the streaming schedule. Just judging by the trailer, this movie looks like it commands a big-screen viewing and has a Tenet or Inception look to it as well. The film is a future-set sci-fi that follows a private investigator of a different sort that navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories. Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client that quickly moves from being a simple lost and found job to a life-altering obsession. The cast is so great in this with Hugh Jackman leading and Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton in supporting roles. I’m excited for this one.

Paw Patrol The Movie – Every nightmare for the parents of the last eight years has finally come true as the gang from the Paw Patrol have now landed themselves in a big-screen film that will have their faithful fan base tugging at their moms and dads begging to see it. Yes, that’s right, Ryder and his team-up pups have been upgraded and become more textured with their feature film debut and, although it has a few jokes that may land with adults, it’s very much business as usual. The story follows the gang as they move to Adventure City to keep tabs on the sleazy Mayor Humdinger who has gained leadership over the big city in an uncontested election. The movie features some guest voice work from Kim Kardashian West, Dax Shepherd, Randall Park and Jimmy Kimmel and, thankfully, doesn’t overstay its welcome to the point that you want to be euthanized. Honestly, I expected a lot worse.

The Night House – Well, it looks like David Bruckner has joined the chat for horror stories infused with real emotion and emotional trauma, joining the ranks of filmmakers like Ari Aster because this new film lands with such resonance that it is completely undeniable. The director of The Ritual and a couple of stories in the horror anthologies Southbound and V/H/S also uses character actress Rebecca Hall so effectively that it will make you mad they killed her off in Iron Man 3 all over again. The film follows her as a recently widowed woman, still reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, who is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep it together but then nightmares come, disturbing visions of a presence in the house calling to her, beckoning her with a ghostly allure. Against the advice of her friends, she begins digging into her husband’s belongings, yearning for answers and what she finds are secrets both strange and disturbing, a mystery she’s determined to unravel for her own peace of mind. This film’s scares are so original and unpredictable, chilling you to the bone in a way that feels incredibly fresh. I’m really jealous of anyone who gets to experience this movie in theatres because atmospherically it is in an elite category in my opinion.

The Protege – When I initially saw this trailer on the big screen before F9 I have to admit that it really did nothing for me at all. You can tell me it’s from the producers of John Wick and use a cool version of Amy Winehouse’s You Know That I’m No Good but you can’t take the generic dime a dozen contract killer action trope out of it, I feel like I’ve seen it all before. The film has a pretty solid cast with Maggie Q, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson follows Anna who was rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody, played by Jackson, and trained in the family business to become the world’s most skilled contract killer. When Moody is brutally killed, Anna vows revenge and is entangled with an enigmatic killer (Keaton with all his greatest nuances) whose attraction to her goes way beyond cat and mouse. This movie quite easily annoyed me as it is just as cookie-cutter as it looks and comes from an older world adage of the only way a strong female character like this can be made is to have her be a femme fatale. I’m so sick of this and it really ruined everything about a film that, besides that, doesn’t really have an ounce of originality and a dumb script to match it.

Sweet Girl – This looks like a movie absolutely geared to hit you emotionally and hit you hard but at least it has Jason Momoa in the lead to help soften the blow a bit. The film features the live-action Dora The Explorer Isabella Merced in the main role alongside Aquaman, an actress with a career on the rise and the large platform of this Netflix dramatic thriller’s release can get her swiftly higher on that ladder. The story follows Momoa as a devoted family man who vows justice against the pharmaceutical company responsible for pulling a potentially life-saving drug from the market just before his wife dies from cancer. When his search for the truth leads to a deadly encounter that puts him and his daughter in harm’s way, his mission turns into a quest for vengeance in order to protect the only family he has left. The film is the debut for director Brian Andrew Mendoza who has been the producer on many of Momoa’s projects so it’s good to see a film that makes lead actor cohesion with this that gives me the ultimate hope for it being great.

Annette – The veteran pop duo Sparks have had a hell of a year with their Edgar Wright-directed documentary becoming a huge success and now their passion project that was decades in the making finally got its release now, directed by the incredibly idiosyncratic filmmaker Leo Carax. The film drew such acclaim that it got a long standing ovation at Cannes Film Festival, which is always a good sign. Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, the story is set in present-day Los Angeles and follows Henry, a stand-up comedian with a fierce humour, and Ann, an internationally renowned opera singer. Together, under the spotlight, they form a happy and glamorous couple but the birth of their first child, Annette, will turn their lives upside down as she is a mysterious girl with an exceptional destiny. This film is an incredible blend of absurd comedy and mindblowing fantasy that meet in the middle of two fantastic performances and, I know it won’t be for everyone, but being on the Amazon Prime platform gives it such a wide arc of roping in the proper audiences which is the deep cinephile. As a person who just discovered Sparks with the documentary, this just solidified my absolute love for them.

Demonic – Neill Blomkamp is a filmmaker who I adored with his first film but has honestly had a series of films afterwards that signified a few diminishing returns creatively. The South African writer and director who is based in Vancouver now debuted with District 9, moved on to the Matt Damon sci-fi action Elysium before his Die Antwoord Short Circuit like story Chappie and now moves to the horror genre for this tech-heavy exorcism movie that has everything aesthetically going for it. Not featuring any big stars, unless you’re Canadian and love Carly Pope, the story follows a young woman who unleashes terrifying demons when supernatural forces at the root of a decades-old rift between mother and daughter are ruthlessly revealed. I really wanted to like this movie a lot but it feels like a better idea within the concept and maybe realized as a short film but a fully pieced feature film just ran out of steam slowly but surely. I can see why this movie was retooled to be a smaller release because it just isn’t to the calibre of the big boys. That said, I still yearn for Blomkamp’s success.

Cryptozoo – I spent the majority of this movie wondering what the hell was going on but I really had to admire the filmmaking scope and imagination I was seeing on screen in this insane little animated film. Definitely borrowing some atmosphere from the Ralph Bakshi films of the late seventies and early eighties, writer and director Dash Show is full of big ideas, existential curiosity and cosmic wonder which is exhibited in every frame of this, tinged with a little dark humour and cynicism. It’s hard to encapsulate this film but I will say that it follows what is called crypto zookeepers as they try to capture what’s known as a Baku, a dream-eating hybrid creature of legend but the ensuing search has them starting to wonder if they should display these beasts or keep them hidden and unknown in their own worlds, safe from outside harm. As I said, this movie is hard to wrangle in any commonly perceived way but the ambition of the storytelling is limitless and it’s hard not to take anything away from it in the end.

Rare Beasts – Being a big fan of the new Doctor Who when it premiered on BBC with Christopher Eccleston. I was introduced to the fresh and beautiful face of Rose Tyler, played by British pop star Billie Piper, an easy to identify crush. I shed tears when she said goodbye to the Doctor and even continued to watch her show afterwards, Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, for obvious reasons. Now she has written and directed this new film, her debut behind the camera and a story she has labelled as an anti-romantic comedy. She stars in it as well as Mandy, a mother, a writer, a nihilist and, above all, a modern woman in a crisis. Raising a son in the midst of a female revolution, mining the pain of her parent’s separation and professionally writing about a love that no longer exists, she falls upon a troubled man, Pete, who is searching for a sense of worth and belonging in a fight to give his perceived mundanity meaning. Oh, I also have to mention that Pete is played by the brilliant Leo Bill who is phenomenal as Charles Darwin in Tarsem’s The Fall. Getting back on point, I really enjoyed this movie and thought that Piper fleshed out a good character story that immediately had us caring about her plight which is always the shortcoming in movies like this. I feel like she has a pretty solid directorial career ahead of her.

I Carry You With Me – Moving for anti-romance to the broken heart of having to leave a romance behind to find your calling, this new drama comes from the acclaimed director of Jesus Camp and The Boys Of Baraka, Heidi Ewing, in her narrative filmmaking debut. The film is a love story that spans decades, starting from a chance meeting between two men in Mexico and after a time being together ambition and societal pressure propel one of them to journey to America to chase his dream of becoming a chef. The distance between the two soulmates starts to change both of their lives in different ways as very separate adjustments start to reshape their souls in a film that is based on a true story. Ewing absolutely nails this film and infuses it with an undeniable emotional richness that resonates long after you’ve finished watching it. What a special film!

Howling Village – The creator of The Grudge series, Japanese writer and director Takashi Shimizu, has returned to give you something more to fear than yowling cat boys, creepy shower scenes and a stair sequence that rivals The Exorcist. Does it have the longevity to kick off another franchise? I would say it’s definitely a possibility if the Americans get their hands on it but I have to say I was intrigued just based on Shimizu’s name. The story follows a young psychologist who visits an infamous haunted and cursed location known as ‘Howling Village’ after her brother goes missing to investigate his disappearance and uncover her family’s dark history that is attached to the legend. I will say that I enjoyed the film for its ingenuity that can only be attributed to the Japanese creator but I feel like he has so many different elements going in the story that it kind of gets lost along the way to his finish. To be honest, I might need another pass at it but the effects are pretty cool.

Blu-Ray:

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – It looks like I’m going to be a bit contrarian to the reviews that have already been given for this Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson action-comedy sequel but it’s a hill I’m willing to die on. It probably helps that I really liked the first movie and think that Reynolds and Jackson have great comedic chemistry and Salma Hayek is pure joy but here we go. Following the events of the first film we pick up with Reynold’s Michael Bryce still unlicensed and under scrutiny from the bodyguard association who is forced into action by Darius’s even more volatile wife, the infamous international con artist Sonia Kincaid. As Bryce is driven over the edge by his two most dangerous protectors, the trio gets in over their heads in a global plot and soon finds that they are all that stands between Europe and a vengeful and powerful madman named Aristotle Papadoulpolis, played by Antonio Banderas. The story isn’t anything new when it comes to odd-couple style action fun but it is riding on the shoulders of these three actors and I feel like it largely works for the duration of it. I’m not burnt out on the comedy stylings of Ryan Reynolds yet, he’s still a British Columbian treasure.

The Water Man – David Oyelowo is an Academy Award-nominated actor who has steadily impressed with every film I’ve seen him in, quickly becoming a favourite. HE impresses further with his debut feature film, which he also plays a supporting role in. The final result is a great family drama adventure driven by imagination, resting on a great thread of hope. The story follows young Gunner, a boy driven on a mission to save his ill mother, played by Rosario Dawson, by searching for a mythic figure who possesses the secret to immortality, the Water Man. After enlisting the help of a mysterious local girl, Jo, they journey together into the remote Wild Horse forest but the deeper they venture, the stranger and more dangerous the forest becomes. Their only hope for rescue is Gunner’s father, played by Oyelowo, who desperately tries to catch up with them as a wildfire bears down on them. This movie had me for the long run, well-plotted, beautifully filmed and with great character development to it. There are really about two minutes at the end of the film that, to me, is its biggest failing but aside from that I thought this was a great debut for a promising filmmaker.

The Truffle Hunters – I really don’t know if you can make a truffle hunting-related film that would have the same resonance as the recent Nicolas Cage film Pig but it’s probably unfair to say of this Italian film, it was made last year. I should also preface this review by saying that this movie is a documentary and definitely not a grief-driven odyssey through the Portland culinary underground and offers a more grounded story of life’s work and legacy. The story takes you deep in the forests of Piedmont, Italy, where a handful of men, seventy or eighty years old, hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle which, to date, has resisted all of modern science’s efforts at cultivation. This movie played at the Vancouver International Film Festival last year and gave an interesting glimpse into a world that I was definitely on the outside of and presents it in a fascinating way. It is gorgeously filmed and, honestly, made me sad that I was watching it at home and not at a venue screening.

Riders Of Justice – Always, always, always trust in Mads Mikkelsen. This is a tried and true mantra but it is doubly affirmed when this incredible actor does films with writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen who he has already collaborated on Men And Chicken and The Green Butchers, both amazing movies. This new film follows Mads as recently-deployed military man Markus, who is forced to return home to care for his teenage daughter after his wife is killed in a tragic train accident. His grief seemingly unattainable. he finds focus when a survivor of the wrecked train surfaces claiming foul play. Markus begins to suspect his wife was murdered in a conspiracy with a ruthless organized crime group and embarks on a revenge-fueled mission to find those responsible. This film is incredible, filled with dark humour, explosive violence and consistent character building in a story that could have come off contrived. Jensen and Mikkelsen have delivered another instant classic and Mads is for sure the most formidable man on screen these days.

Shook – Oh yes, I love it when the Shudder originals make their way to DVD in an almost reverse way because it is an invitation for stragglers who haven’t gotten a subscription to finally make the plunge. Trust me, it’s always worth it and I’ve never regretted mine for a moment. Actually, mine’s free so that’s a moot point. Anyways, this film follows Mia, a social media star who becomes the target of an online terror campaign and has to solve a series of games to prevent people she cares about from getting murdered. Not knowing if she is being pranked or if the game is real, she fights to find the truth as well as for her own survival. To be honest, this movie feels like it was missing a gear in so many different ways. It didn’t have a skilled enough cast, a studious enough execution and the resolution felt so weak compared to the setup. Jennifer Harrington did a great job on her episodes of the AppleTV+ show Dads but this one did not net me anything.

Stay Out Of The Attic – The second Shudder released film to come out this week, I had to censor the title down a bit as the real title is Stay Out Of The Fucking Attic which I like a lot better but for obvious reasons, it couldn’t be used. The film shares a bit with another Shudder releases film with Maisie Williams out of the United Kingdom called The Owners, which I thought was better but let me refocus here anyways. The story follows a group of ex-cons-turned-movers who are are convinced by their new creepy client to pull an all-nighter in his old Victorian mansion but as the night progresses the evil contained in the house starts to unleash on them one by one and, you guessed it, the attic is a real no-go. This movie relied way too heavily on jump scares and gross-out moments to get itself into your head and it felt like such laziness. It was a swift reminder that a little bit of character development can go a long way, especially in the horror genre.

Analog Love – Who didn’t love making mixtapes? As a huge music lover, this medium and the generational improvement of making burnt CDs was a total pastime of mine and seeing this documentary show up on my list filled me with a gleeful nostalgia. Through a series of conversations with people like the legendary Henry Rollins, L7’s bass player Jennifer Finch and more, the film illuminates the art of making mixtapes, the creation of their flow and the construction behind them that gives it meaning plus gives the history of how we got to this form of borrowed art. The film is using a fascinating subject matter to build on but it can’t get past the talking-head style of documentary filmmaking and, doing it on a microbudget, it really seems to lose its kitsch value really quickly and becomes monotonous. This is aside from Henry Rollins who I could listen to talk to for days on end. Seeing his live-spoken word show is still on my bucket list.

Little Q – Nothing wins an audience over quicker than a cute dog movie and, even more so, a cute puppy movie. It’s rare that the international film market jumps into a kind of manipulative film like this but, instead of an American production, this film is from Japan and is based on a novel called Goodbye, Khoru. The story follows a recently blinded chef who reluctantly forms a bond with his seeing-eye dog, conflicted to relinquish any control of his life to anyone, especially a dog. As time passes, the two grow closer in a film that is so endearing thanks to great onscreen animal work as well as a passionate performance from acclaimed actor Simon Lam. This one will really go for your heartstrings.

Midnight Diner – The second piece of Asian cinema to his blu-ray this week is this Hong Kong drama that not only features the legendary Chinese actor Tony Ka Fai Leung in the lead role but he was behind the camera to shoot it as well in his debut as a director. I have to say that the acclaimed actor must be a foodie at heart because the story he chose to make his filmmaker mark with is destined to make you hungry so fill up before you watch, trust me. The film is set in a little restaurant in an inconspicuous lane of Shanghai that opens every night at midnight, run by a fifty-year-old owner who makes a select menu each time and gives every guest their time to tell their story. The film is really bare-bones, wears everything on its sleeve and I think that is where it wins the audience over. It is predicated on the human condition while exuded over a steaming plate of beautiful food and it is evident that Tony has taken little tidbits from all the creators he has worked for over his career to create this special story. Not many people are going to see this one but those who do will be fulfilled.

A Discovery Of Witches: Season 2 – This is a mixed production between Amazon Prime and Shudder that piqued my interest with the involvement of Watchmen’s Matthew Goode and Australian actress Teresa Palmer but I just never got around to it until I was sent this follow up season on blu-ray, prompting me to stream the first one. The story follows Diana Bishop, a scholar and an unwilling witch who discovers a lost manuscript while studying at the Bodleian Library. The discovery invites chaos into Diana’s life as soon she is surrounded by daemons, vampires and other witches who are desperate to gain what she has found. Her only hope is Matthew Clairmont, a doctor, researcher and vampire who becomes a reluctant confidant in a dangerous new life. So far, so good with this show that has definitely caught on with the fantasy crowd and a third season is definitely on the horizon.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek Outs:

La Piscine – I always feel a little bit classier when I start out my geek-outs with a Criterion film as it always lends a bit more credibility in this department. It’s even better when the film is a brand new discovery for me that I can impart to you, my reader, and this week’s leadoff is exactly that. La Piscine, which translates to The Swimming Pool, is a tense romantic drama from 1969 by acclaimed writer and director Jacques Deray that has a rich and insane behind-the-scenes history to it that is too much to contain in this write-up. The film follows lovers Marianne and Jean-Paul who spend their vacation in a villa on the French Riviera near St-Tropez. Marianne invites her former lover, Harry, and his teenage daughter to stay and tension rises between them, especially when Jean-Paul seduces the young woman in a storyline that is definitely more than a little uncomfortable. This is a fascinating piece of French cinema history under the microscope of possibly the greatest release company on earth.

John Wayne 14-Movie Collection – The Duke gets a box set to display every film that made him a star, maintained that status and then secured his legacy as a film legend. Personally, my uncle would be a huge fan of this fourteen film set if he didn’t already own them all on VHS and probably DVD now. I’ve seen his collection and his oldest son is named John Wayne Stebbing just to secure the uber-fan level but that’s enough of my personal history. This set has some of my favourite John Wayne films in it like True Grit, Big Jake, McLintock!, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and others I have yet to discover like Hondo, Donovan’s Reef and Hatari! I will say that the Duke wasn’t the greatest actor by any means but the production level was always top-notch and he was, without a doubt, the biggest draw of his time.

The Descent Part 2 – Neil Marshall’s The Descent is an absolute subterranean masterpiece that is so effective with claustrophobic moments, night vision and pitch-black scares and creature effects that will infuse your nightmares with cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. Yes, I just referenced C.H.U.D. Although not directed or written by Marshall, this film is still pretty cool and brings back star Shauna Macdonald for another cave run. She plays the sole survivor of the last film who is forced to lead authorities back into the cave to prove that her story is the truth. Of course, the reality of her truth comes crashing down on the non-believers as they are picked off one by one in another fun and gory romp that knows when to turn off the lights and freak you out. I still have fun with both of these movies.

Wrath Of Man – The worst thing you can do heading into this new Jason Statham and Guy Ritchie team-up is to watch the trailer which will completely sell a different type of film than you are getting and one totally askew to anything the Snatch filmmaker has made before. The film follows Statham as a new security guard for a cash truck, who surprises his co-workers when he unleashes precision skills during a heist, head-shotting every armed assailant sent to rob the truck. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from and eventually, through intricate flashbacks, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score and exact revenge. This movie is blisteringly violent, takes no prisoners and is filled to the brim with tough-guy bravado and I loved every moment of it. Statham just plain rocks in this movie and the cast around him is immense, including CSI guy Holt McCallany, 2000s heartthrob Josh Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan, Scott Eastwood and more. It’s gritty and brutal but a great two-hour thrill ride.

Super 8 4K – Ten years ago this year writer and director J.J. Abrams was invited into the Amblin family after Cloverfield and allowed to play in that sandbox of mystery and the results were a damn good sci-fi thriller adventure that I don’t think got enough love. Its ad campaign played with the great viral mystery that got the salivation for his previous monster movie to a fever pitch and the fact that trailers steered away from spoilers of any sort was such a refreshing thing, especially now. The story was perfect for movie lovers too as the main characters were young fledgling filmmakers, set during the summer of 1979, who witness a train crash and investigate subsequent unexplained events in their small town which includes the escape of a top-secret government capture. The special effects are incredible and the cinematography from the great Larry Fong brings you back to those movies in the 80s that got you loving blockbuster films. 4K also gives a beautiful hug to this film that I hope gets more love now with this special edition.

Television:

The Chair (Netflix) – With her success on the series Killing Eve, which seemed to lend to co-star Jodie Comer getting all the television awards out there, Sandra Oh is certainly a character of note and one who is kind of must-see which is a long time coming for the Canadian actress. Now she brings her star power to this new Netflix series that comes from debuting creator Annie Wyman and actress and also a debuting creator, Amanda Peet for an interesting new comedy-drama. Oh plays Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, the first woman of colour to be the Chair of the English department at the prestigious Pembroke University. Navigating her new role, she is faced with a unique set of challenges that her race and gender pose and finds herself being the only Asian in the whole faculty. This has so much potential and features a great cast including the stalwart Bob Balaban, indie darling Jay Duplass and David Morse who is always great in everything. This might catch fire and become another big hit for Sandra Oh. She deserves all the acclaim she gets.

Heels (Crave) – I feel like I’ve been waiting for a good scripted series about wrestling and I think it’s finally here. This is not a slight to GLOW at all as I really love that show but it feels like more of a historical microcosm of a series that was playing off something real while this is a look at indie wrestling in a modern world and I am totally here for it. The show is about the men and women who chase their dreams in the world of small-town pro wrestling, set in a close-knit Georgia community. It follows a family-owned wrestling promotion as two brothers and rivals, Jack Spade and Ace Spade, war over their late father’s legacy. In the ring, somebody must play the good guy, and somebody must play their nemesis, the heel but in the real world, those characters can be hard to live up to or hard to leave behind. With only one episode in the bank, it’s maybe a little premature to say that this is one of my favourite shows this year but, as a massive wrestling fan, it just might be and I think non-fans will pick up on it too.

Growing Up Animal (Disney+) – The partnership between Disney and National Geographic has been a total blessing in disguise as the new original shows and movies have all been incredible. Nature filmmaking is seriously at its finest with the expertise and drive of the people behind Nat Geo and the money and scope of Disney and if all the shows are going to be as intriguing as this one, bring it on, please. This show is going for the kids with the cute angle, following the story of baby animals from their time in the womb to their first steps towards independence, showing their characteristics and tenacity. Yes, you read that right, baby animals. I’ve heard that if you give this show a bad review an army of cute baby cubs, ducks and more come and maul you to death. I believe Disney is totally capable of that.

Truth Be Told: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – AppleTV+ is continuing down the path of following up their original shows with second seasons and it continues on with this pretty intriguing show. The show stars Octavia Spencer as a true-crime podcaster who attempts to solve the mystery surrounding a family patriarch’s death and gets roped into a deeper conspiracy along the way. Featuring a great cast around her, including Aaron Paul, Lizzy Caplan and Mekhi Phifer, this show might just be the thing we want to satiate out mystery cravings before Steve Martin and Martin Short take it n a comedic route with Selena Gomez in a couple of weeks on Disney+. Oh, you didn’t know about that? Then consider it a tease. Getting back on track, the show comes from Justified and The Good Wife writer Nichelle D. Tramble who I think learned a lot on those shows and it really comes through on this series.

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens: Season 2 (Much) – An actress that is perpetually always on fire, including Disney films, her role in the Jumanji sequel and an upcoming Marvel film, Awkwafina is worth every moment you are going to give her. This show is a story very close to her heart as it is the embellishment of her true story and has her playing Nora, her real name, a Flushing, New York native who is trying to figure out her life as a young adult with the help of her dad and grandmother. Awkwafina created the show which started as a ten-episode that I thought would be a one-off limited run and became one of my favourite shows of the last ten years. Awkwafina is hilarious, but her dad, played hilariously by BD Wong, and the Grandma, Lori Tan Chinn, constantly steal the show. Chinn is my not-so-low level MVP of every episode.

New Releases:

Free Guy – It feels like we’ve been waiting a long time for this Ryan Reynolds video game-centric film to hit theatres and that’s really because it was supposed to come out more than a year ago and the first trailer for it was probably almost two years prior. The film was originally scheduled to release on July 3rd, 2020 but was delayed to December 11th, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before being shelved indefinitely in November. After getting rescheduled another two times this Shawn Levy comedy is here and follows a bank teller who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game who decides to become the hero of his own story when a user shows him the reality of his world. The movie has been getting a lot of great reviews and a bunch of my reviewer friends have said that they had a smile plastered to their face for its entirety. That’s a pretty great endorsement I think.

Respect – Another victim of the theatre shut down during the pandemic was this biopic that I felt everyone knew was coming after the death of legendary singer Aretha Franklin and just as sure was the casting of Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson in that very special role. It should also be known that Franklin herself hand-picked Jennifer Hudson to play her when the movie was in early development. The film looks to be your standard music biopic, following Aretha Franklin from a singer in her father’s church choir as a child, following her as she grows up to become an international musical superstar and an influential figure on all R&B singers to follow. This movie seems like total Oscar bait for Hudson to at least earn another nomination but I’m really curious about the casting around her that includes Forest Whittaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra MacDonald, Marc Maron and more. That is a seriously stacked cast.

Don’t Breathe 2 – A few years after the breakout hit and original thriller from Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez blew our minds, his long-awaited follow up is now on our doorstep and even if Fede is taking a back seat in this one and producing it his fingerprints are all over it. Now, as far as I see, we don’t get the return of Jane Levy in this but we do get the awesome and formidable Stephen Lang reprising his role as the terrifying old blind man and the trailer gives me goosebumps. The film picks up with his character who has been hiding out for years in an isolated cabin and has taken in and raised a young girl who lost her parents in a house fire. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, their quiet existence is shattered when a group of kidnappers show up and take the girl, forcing the Blind Man to leave his haven to rescue her. I expect the same sort of shocking ultra-violence to permeate this film thoroughly but what I find interesting is that the Blind Man has been shifted in his role as the antagonist in the first movie and now is an almost anti-hero we root for in this one. Honestly, when I think about the original film the turkey baster scene always rises to the top so I hope there is just as memorable of a scene in this one.

Infinite – Fourteen years after their last collaboration Shooter in 2007, director Antoine Fuqua and megastar Mark Wahlberg have re-teamed for this brand new sci-fi thriller for the Paramount+ streaming service and the story looks pretty cool, based on the novel by D. Eric Maikranz called The Reincarnationist Papers, the author’s debut book. The story follows Evan McCauley, a man with skills he has never learned and memories of places he has never visited that haunt his daily life. Self-medicated and on the brink of a mental breakdown, Evan is sought by a secret group that calls themselves “Infinites,” revealing to him that his memories may be real but they are from multiple past lives. The Infinites bring Evan into their extraordinary world, where a gifted few are given the ability to be reborn with their memories and knowledge accumulated over centuries. With critical secrets buried in his past, Evan must work with the Infinites to unlock the answers in his memories in a race against time to save humanity from one of their own, played by the great Chiwetel Ejiofor, who seeks to end all life to stop what he views as the cursed, endless cycle of reincarnation. This movie is basically action hero intrigue to me and I’m totally on board for that as who doesn’t love an expensive-looking sci-fi no brainer, right?

The Comeback Trail – I’m not going to lie, I watched this movie based on the involvement of Zach Braff and him alone as he’s been teasing this film for a long time on his social media accounts. Why is he the only draw? Well, because it comes from writer and director George Gallo who has done great screenplays with Bad Boys and Midnight Run but his directed work, as of late, has been horrible, with The Poison Rose and Vanquish. This film stars Robert De Niro alongside Braff as two movie producers who owe money to the mob that set up their ageing movie star for an insurance scam to have him die on set to try and save themselves from their mountainous debt. The film has Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in supporting and pivotal roles and manages to keep itself on the rails for the most part but the problems, both in script and execution, keep rearing their ugly head and the third act features a resolution that almost infuriated me. That said, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

Naked Singularity – Ever since the British sci-fi action movie Attack The Block I have been a huge fan of John Boyega’s and have just wanted him to succeed in everything. Unfortunately, his Star Wars character got a lacklustre and easy storyline that didn’t pay off and his Pacific Rim sequel just wasn’t anywhere near as good as the first movie and it was left to his Steve McQueen movie to see some of what I wanted. This movie had all the makings of a Steve favourite though as it follows Boyega as an idealistic young New York City public defender, burned out by the system, on the brink of disbarment and seeing signs of the universe collapsing all around him, who decides to rob a multi-million drug deal of one of his clients. Featuring Bill Skarsgard, Olivia Cooke and Ed Skrien, this movie should have been a violent romp with great dialogue but instead is this disjointed mess of a narrative that feels hampered by how cool and edgy it’s trying to be. I kept waiting for something to spark some originality that just never came. I was so disappointed.

Beckett – One of the hottest stars on the planet in my mind is John David Washington who seems to absolutely killing it every time I see him on screen. His last Netflix release was the divisive Netflix two-character study Malcolm And Marie co-starring Zendaya and while I wasn’t a fan of the overarching story and its resolution, both stars were absolutely knock out which has me excited for this new film. Washington plays the title character, an American tourist who becomes the target of a manhunt while vacationing in Greece following a devastating accident. Forced to run for his life and desperate to get across the country to the American embassy to clear his name, tensions escalate as the authorities close in, political unrest mounts, and he falls even deeper into a dangerous web of conspiracy in a film that looks intense and totally predicted on the motions of our lead star. The middling reviews at the time I am writing this are a bit of a deterrent but seriously I don’t think you can go fully wrong with the son of Denzel because he is starting to have the same track record as his rarely miss father.

Nine Days – I hadn’t heard of writer and director Edson Oda before starting his ambitious and deeply philosophical feature-length live-action debut but you can be sure that I know his name now and definitely feel the influence of those who inspired him. It also helps that he had the great talent of Us star Winston Duke to anchor his insanely existential story to and the erratic power of Zazie Beetz to dispel those feelings of narrative control. This film is incredibly hard to describe but to put it into the vaguest of terms, it follows Duke as a reclusive man who conducts a series of interviews with human souls for a chance to be born into existence. Skirting discussions of existence in an umbrella of grand questions, the movie plays as if Terence Malick’s Tree Of Life was a philosophical thriller and manages to not get ugly in its pretentiousness but instead prompts more introversion into the viewer’s own beliefs. This movie is definitely not going to be for everyone and the reward lies not within individual scenes but the entirety of its mosaic and comes out the other side with its own separate narrative on consciousness and what we choose to do with it. I also loved the casting with Benedict Wong stealing every scene he was in.

CODA – This might be my favourite drama this year, a heartwarming little coastal America story that doesn’t rely on big names, with Marlee Matlin and Eugenio Derbez being the biggest ones in the cast, and it left me with the feeling that the Sundance Film Festival still knows how to pick them as the Sian Heder written and directed production won four of the big awards this year. The story follows Ruby, a CODA or Child of Deaf Adults, who is the only hearing person in her deaf family and is, in turn, the sole interpreter for them and a big part of their existence within the hearing world. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. This film is brimming with heart and character building and I felt drawn into the story more and more as it progressed, moving towards a finish that constantly brought tears to my eyes. Stories like this that can hit you in the heart and stay there without feeling manipulative or contrived are so special and I really hope that it picks up a lot of word of mouth because this film deserves a mountain of it. This will most likely be in my top ten at the end of the year.

Materna – Kate Lyn Sheil might be one of my favourite independent actresses working today with the incredible character actor fueled drama Kate Plays Christine and Amy Siemetz’s existential horror film She Dies Tomorrow popping into my head every time I see her. This is why I was immediately interested in checking out this new drama that has her in yet another challenging role, this time under the direction of writer and director David Gutnik in his feature film debut. The story follows the journeys of four New York women who are isolated by city life, separated by class, politics, race and religion, and yet bound by a shared hunger for identity and connection. With their futures at stake, the characters’ lives are upended by a fateful encounter underground, where their stories of personal transformation become a battle for survival. As you can tell from that description, this movie is super heady and isn’t infused with a moment of levity, just the challenge of existence. It is a driven film with a reality to it that resonates far after the credits roll.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – A new true story drama out of Germany, you always pique viewers’ curiosities when you put the name of Adolf Hitler in the title of your movie, it’s just a horrendous reality. Beyond that, I really didn’t know anything about this movie but conducting my research on it before watching, I noticed that the reviews from festivals and the like were pretty good. The film follows a Jewish family that had to flee from the Nazis from Berlin to Zurich to Paris and finally to London in 1933. Sadly, this forces the youngest, Anna, to leave everything behind just like the rest of her family to face a new life full of challenges and privations abroad but this includes her beloved pink rabbit and, in turn, a piece of her soul. This film is a movie piece of cinema but I really couldn’t say that it had anything the set itself apart from the other Nazi Germany exodus stories and will quickly blend into the crowd of more original dramas.

The East – This week we get a war film from the Netherlands to give us a little more foreign flair for the week and it’s an ambitious first solo film from writer and director Jim Taihuttu who is actually one half of a Dutch DJ duo called Yellow Claw whose music is a mix of a wide range of genres and often incorporates elements from trap, hip hop, dubstep, hardstyle and moombahton. So, nothing to do with World War II. For his debut, the film follows a young Dutch soldier who is deployed to suppress post-WWII independence efforts in the Netherlands’ colony of Indonesia and finds himself torn between duty and conscience when he joins an increasingly ruthless commander’s elite squad. I have to say that Taihuttu’s breakout film was a lofty one that really plays out as the character wor is really solid and it shines a glaring light on the moral mistakes of an entire country. I’m sure it wasn’t received that well in his home country because it really elevates an ugly side of their history I’m sure they’re trying to bury.

Whelm – Got to love a dusty old depression-era movie and, to be honest, my wife loves to make fun of me for saying dusty every time I bring up this time in American history but it really was dusty from all I can see. It was called the Dust Bowl Era even. I know I’m right on that. Featuring an unknown cast and a debuting filmmaker, the story follows two Midwest brothers who get tangled in a rivalry between a legendary bank robber and an eccentric young criminal. Through a series of bizarre occurrences, they are forced to claim allegiance to one, as they hunt down the other and, as they dig deeper for the truth, they find that they are part of a larger historic scheme. I really wish this movie had a little more studio presence behind it as the story is fascinating and well-plotted with great reveals but I felt constantly distracted by the shortcomings of the production. It really almost had me fully invested in certain instances during it and I won’t get into that for spoiler reasons.

Blu-Ray:

Queen Bees – This week’s Blu-ray and DVD dive starts with a film definitely geared towards the older adult crowd and easily so as it features some absolute legends with Ellen Burstyn, Jane Curtin, Loretta Devine, James Caan, Ann-Margaret and Christopher Lloyd. I know it sounds like I’m saying “this is a movie for old people” but c’mon, I can say that in tone and also absolutely praise it too, right? The film follows Burstyn as an independent widow who moves into the Pine Grove Senior Community and discovers it’s just like high school, full of mean-girl style cliques and flirtatious suitors. What she initially avoids leads her to exactly what she has been missing as she starts to make new friendships and even gets a chance at love again with a dashing newcomer to the home. The film is entirely corny and goes for the low hanging fruit of easy smiles but it really has such a charming cast to it and I was very relieved that it didn’t feature Diane Keaton in the lead role who, no matter how legendary her status is, seems to be almost insufferable in everything she does these days. I feel like I dodged an ageing bullet here.

Finding You – A music-driven romantic drama set on the sprawling coastline of beautiful Ireland? Well, you just netted a huge part of the P.S. I Love You audience without getting to the plot, so, kudos on that. Oddly, the film comes from American writer and director Brian Baugh but it makes sense when you see that it involves strangers in a strange land. The story follows Finley, a talented aspiring violinist, who meets Beckett, a famous young movie star, on the way to her college semester abroad program in a small coastal village in Ireland. An unexpected romance emerges as the heartthrob Beckett leads the uptight Finley on an adventurous reawakening and she emboldens him to take charge of his future until the pressures of his stardom get in the way. The film has a familiar face to Arrow fans as Mia Smoak herself Katharine McNamara leads the film alongside The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’s Dorian Gray, Jedidiah Goodacre, who is also Canadian. This film will entertain anyone looking for a fluffy little love story but don’t expect good accents.

American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally – I can’t even begin to get into this new film that features Al Pacino without stating that this movie, trying to be a true story examination, comes off like a badly done reenactment done through the prism of a comedy parody. That’s almost enticing enough to give it a hate-watch but I implore you to not do that and just let the sands of time sweep it away. The story follows an American woman named Mildred Gillars who broadcast Nazi propaganda during World War II and was dubbed Axis Sally by the American GIs who simultaneously loved and hated her. The main plot follows Sally’s eventual capture and subsequent trial for treason in Washington D.C. after the war but more closely her relationship with her lawyer who struggles to clear her name and struggles to not ham it up in a terrible Al Pacino performance. He seems to be getting further and further away from the skills that made him an Academy Award-winning actor, except The Irishman because he was great in that. Don’t watch this movie!

The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 – Apparently the Mike Epps spoof comedy Meet The Blacks was lucrative enough to make a sequel because, inexplicably, we are here to talk about this confusion of misspent money. It seems that the movie gods are kicking my ass this week with disappointing movies but this one is no surprise because I suffered through the first film and I failed to see what substance it had beyond being a Purge parody. This film is definitely pulling from Fright Night, a dated reference, The film picks up with returning character and best selling author Carl Black moving his family back to his childhood home and immediately finds that he must team up with oddball neighbours to do battle with a pimp, who may or may not be an actual vampire played by the largely miss or hit, Katt Williams. This movie is complete nonsense, always goes for the lowest of jokes and literally has no redeeming qualities to it whatsoever. The pain I felt in my soul just trying to finish this movie was horrendous. I do not recommend it.

Batman: The Long Halloween Part Two – The finish to possibly my favourite Batman detective-style story ever told is now here thanks to the incredible minds and creators at the DC Comics animated film division of Warner Bros. Picking up where their last film left off a couple of months back. the Holiday killer is still at large, wiping out members of Gotham City’s two major crime families, the Falcones and the Moroni’s with Batman nowhere to be found in the investigation. Why? well, it looks like Falcone has been padding his accounts with some Wayne Foundation money through Poison Ivy’s control over Bruce Wayne. Told with a great animation style and a great voice cast that includes Jensen Ackles, Titus Welliver and the late Naya Rivera, my only gripe with both of these movies is that they are a little too short and seem to cut some corners storywise to make those time constraints. I know a lot of the DC Comics animated films like to make sure they clock in at an hour and fifteen minutes but maybe that template needs to be re-evaluated for the story’s sake. The book is quite thick so a lot is missing in its transition to screen. That said, I’m happy we got what we got.

Occupation: Rainfall – This definitely a weird one as it is a sci-fi film with some recognizable stars like Jason Isaacs, Ken Jeong, Boba Fett himself, Temuera Morrison and more but it is an Australian production that pretty much had absolutely no ad campaign behind it in North America and now lands on our shelves, unceremoniously. It’s an end of the world story, as, two years into an intergalactic invasion of earth, survivors in Sydney, Australia, fight back in a desperate ground war. As casualties mount by the day, the resistance and their unexpected allies uncover a plot that could see the war come to a decisive end and, with the Alien invaders hell-bent on making earth their new home, the race is on to save mankind. Well, I will say that they spent a whole lot of their budget on the special effects because a lot of them look seamless and quite gorgeous but that is as far as the attention to detail goes. The script is terrible, the plotting is predictable and it all feels like a completely hokey little sci-fi story that was better as a concept pitch than a fully fleshed out production.

Profile – Wanted and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter director Timur Bekmambetov is back for probably his most understated films of his career but also one that has been shelved for over three years which is crazy for a movie that only took nine days to film. The film follows a British journalist who goes undercover and infiltrates the digital propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State, which has been mobilizing ever greater numbers of women from Europe, in which her daily Internet contacts with an ISIS recruiter gradually pull her in and push the limits of her investigation and maybe turning her into a conduit for the enemy. This film was screened a couple of years back at the Vancouver International Film Festival and pulled in a mixed bag of reviews, some believing that the twists and turns drew them in but others believing it was silly and far-fetched. I haven’t always loved Timur’s work but this one seems inventive and fun.

Friday The 13th: 8 Movie Collection – It is not unknown that I am a huge horror buff and a box set like this is something I fanboy over without end, especially as I kind of own this set already on DVD so getting an upgrade to blu-ray is sweet. Now, this set doesn’t have all of the Jason films as Jason Goes To Hell, Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason and the 2009 reboot aren’t here but all the classics are. Now is the time to champion your favourite movie in the series. Is it the 3D installment when he got the mask? Is it baghead Jason from part two? Momma Voorhees in the film that started it all? The Corey Feldman “Final Chapter”? There are so many to choose from but I’ll end this by saying my favourite is part seven, The New Blood, which is usually panned but it has so much great stuff going for it including the greatest actor to play the hockey mask-wearing monster, the great Kane Hodder. This set will keep me occupied for a long time.

A Place In The Sun – Talk about the triple threat of the era as director George Stevens, two years before he did the incredible and landmark film Shane, got Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift together for this romantic drama that ended up earning six Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography in 1951. The story follows the nephew of a wealthy industrialist, who is excluded from high society and given a blue-collar job at his uncle’s factory where he becomes romantically involved with his co-worker. However, when he is introduced to socialite Angela Vickers, played by Taylor, he quickly falls for her, leading to a tragic love triangle. Shelley Winters played the other woman and had mixed feelings about the film as she was made to look very downtrodden in comparison to Taylor and developed a complex around it. I’d love to say that this is pure golden age Hollywood but it still definitely happens in the industry.

Are You Afraid Of The Dark: Curse Of The Shadows – Following up the first installment of Nickelodeon’s rebooting of a classic intellectual property that got a lot of young viewers into horror in the early to mid-nineties, the producers are furthering what is so far a good thing with another story told by a new grouping of the Midnight Society. On the heels of the great Carnival Of Doom, Curse Of The Shadows follows the Midnight Society on the search for one of their own when the lead storyteller goes missing and the remaining crew attribute it to an ancient curse that has been hanging over their town. The scares deepen when they start to investigate and the evil forces start to push back. As far as young adult horror goes, these shows are super effective in giving a bridge to those new to the genre and the story is fun and intriguing, crafted very well by showrunner BenDavid Grabinski who definitely has the proper reverence to lead this show.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Chain Lightning – A late arrival from the Warner Archive collection, I had to give this one a geek-out platform just on the fact that it’s led by the biggest star of the time of its release, Humphrey Bogart, a true giant of classic cinema. Funnily enough, this post-World War II action-adventure was the last film Humphrey Bogart did for Warner Bros., effectively ending a twenty-year relationship between the box office star and the giant studio. The film has Bogart playing war hero and flying ace Matt Brennan who takes a position as a test pilot for a commercial aircraft corporation where he bumps into his old girlfriend, Jo Holloway, who now works as a receptionist for the company. His position is to help the production of a brand new and experimental jet but Matt finds himself conflicted as it doesn’t feel safe for release although the company is pushing him to say otherwise. Bogart brings his iconic smoulder to this performance that drips with his style and does not at all give any of his disgruntled feelings towards the studio at all. He went out of the Warner Bros. system with absolute prideful posturing.

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra 4K & G.I. Joe: Retaliation 4K – With the attempted rebooting of this Hasbro made and grown toy franchise has come and gone with Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins disappointing us all with its mediocrity, we can now look back at the two live-action installments with a little more sunshine as I believe they well unfairly maligned. Not to say they were amazing but they weren’t as bad as a lot of people said they were. The first movie is a fun ride, made by Stephen Sommers, the guy behind the Mummy movies, and introduced all the classic characters like Duke, Scarlett and Dr. Mindbender with the stupid mech suits being a major drawback. The second film, Retaliation, tries to reboot it within a retconning but has the benefit of franchise Viagra The Rock to guide it along in his charismatic and charming way. Both being rereleased on glorious 4K, it’s a great opportunity to relive the first fledgling attempt to bring the Real American Heroes to a new generation, for better or worse.

Working Girls – Look, I’ve got to get my Criterion Collection in where I can and when they sent me the physical copy of this unsung drama I knew it was totally Geek Outs worthy. The film operates as a day-in-the-life story of several prostitutes in an upscale Manhattan whore house, a stark portrayal of the women prostitutes, the male customers and the motivations of both. Written and directed by Lizzie Borden, and not the axe-wielding Lizzie you’re probably thinking of right now, this film was in a constant battle with the MPAA over its content with the filmmaker not backing down and subsequently getting an X-rating that meant not many people saw it. Now, with the platform of the greatest home release distributor to film-minded people, the film gets the golden seal it deserves with an incredible revamp of the picture quality and special features the flesh out everything Borden was going for. This movie was a true discovery for me and I hope it gets the attention it deserves between this release and hopefully a streaming one on the Criterion Channel.

Your Honor – When Bryan Cranston does a new series, you take notice, but when he does a new show for Showtime? Get every Breaking Bad fan you know on board because this might be the new binge. A new show from The Night Of creator Peter Moffat, the story has Cranston starring as a judge confronting his convictions when his son is involved in a hit and run that embroils an organized crime family. Facing impossible choices, he quickly discovers how far a father will go to save his son’s life and the boundaries he’ll not only cross but sprint through. Kind of Walter White sounding, right? Look, Cranston is great in this show, as to be expected, but the underlying thread of a father going to the nth degree to save his family is a long threaded trope for him, is it not? I think you’ll enjoy it if you can get past this but otherwise, it’s old hat.

Pixie – Following her career since the sci-fi thriller The Signal in 2014, I’ve always been drawn to the work of actress Olivia Cooke who has since starred in great movies like Thoroughbreds, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and last year’s Sound Of Metal. Her name toplining this crime comedy thriller is why I was drawn to it and the supporting work from Alec Baldwin and Colm Meaney is just icing on the cake. The film has Cooke as the title character, Pixie Hardy, a woman on a path of vengeance for her mother’s death who attempts a heist that will give her the means to leave her small-town life behind afterwards. When the plan goes horribly wrong, she’s forced to team up with a pair of misfits who are clearly in over their heads and, on the run from a criminal gang of priests and nuns, the trio tries to scheme and swindle anyone they come across. The movie definitely feels like filmmakers Barnaby Thompson and Preston Thompson have watched every heist film and nabbed a little tidbit here and there but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter to me, I just enjoyed it thoroughly from top to bottom. This one definitely feels like a crowd-pleaser of gritty crime comedy fans.

Television:

Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 2 (Crave) – The Star Trek universe is ever-expanding under the umbrella of CBS All Access that has since become Paramount+ and going beyond the three and soon to be four seasons of Discovery and the soon to be two seasons of Picard, we also got an animated comedy that exists in that universe as well. Featuring the voices of The Boys’ Jack Quaid, Loki’s Eugene Cordero and Jerry O’Connell, the show follows the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos have to keep up with their duties, often while the ship is being rocked by a multitude of sci-fi anomalies. I thought the first season was really funny but that may be because I have no real investment into the Star Trek universe and don’t feel so reverent to the source material. I know a lot of Trekkies out there who hate all of this new stuff and I don’t have that high bar set for it I guess.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 8 (NBC) – NINE-NINE! Yes, the greatest currently running television series is back for one last ride and I’m deliriously excited about it as I adore every single character on this show, it is simply perfect. With infinitely quotable lines, series long-running in-jokes, characters that ACTUALLY develop, which is rare in these shows, and a cast that brings it with every episode, what’s NOT to love? This show is up in the hall of fame of great shows with absolutely no bad episodes in it and I can’t think of another show like that except for maybe Breaking Bad? I digress though because I will say now that I feel pretty bittersweet about this one because I know that the sadness will creep through my system with each episode as we get closer to the end and we have to say goodbye to these incredible characters created by Michael Shur and Dan Goor, two of the best writers on television now. Let’s all mentally hold hands and say NINE-NINE together one last time, okay?

What If…? (Disney+) – Following WandaVision, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier and Loki, we now get a Disney+ original from Marvel Studios that don’t have implications on the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe but instead wants to play in the sandbox of what could have been. Featuring already established talent within the MCU like Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Samuel L. Jackson and the final performance of Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa the Black Panther, the show has the brilliantly cast Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, an all omnipotent being who spins tales with the express purpose of reimagining noteworthy events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and creating a multiverse of infinite possibilities. I love it when they do this in the comics, so I’m excited to see what they do with it in this form, even if it is just animated. I haven’t been disappointed by any of these shows yet so I’m almost guaranteeing that this is going to be great.

Brand New Cherry Flavor (Netflix) – I’m so excited that we get something totally Lynchian to dig into on Netflix this week as this new series feels totally like a nightmarish Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive spin-off. The cast is another draw to it as it has Alita: Battle Angel’s Rosa Salazar, The Good Place’s Manny Jacinto and Catherine Keener in a way you have never seen her before. The series follows Salazar as Lisa Nova, an aspiring film director who travels to the sun-drenched but seamy world of Los Angeles in 1990 and finds herself embarking on a mind-altering journey of supernatural revenge that gets nightmarishly out of control when a desperate producer takes her short film from her under the pretense of it being made into a feature film. Honestly, if I described the first episode to you it would probably sound like I was lying, it is that insane. I really hope this one catches on because I would love to see multiple seasons of it get made.

Titans: Season 3 (Crave) – DC and Warner Bros couldn’t seem to get their movies to work, but now The Suicide Squad came through to change that and alongside Birds Of Prey, Shazam and Aquaman have given us something to be excited about. Their television division is doing just fine with Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing and this series and now it makes its highly anticipated third season debut. Originally constructed for their DC-centric streaming platform, this is the darker-themed adaptation of the Teen Titans, led by Robin and featuring Cyborg, Starfire and Beast Boy. It also is still deeply connected to the Doom Patrol, which I still think is the heavyweight in their arsenal and the gift that keeps on giving. Heck, it’s part of the reason that we’re getting a renaissance for actor Brendan Fraser.

New Releases:

The Suicide Squad – Some comic book properties are so good and so deep that if you mess up their transition to the big screen it’s really all on you because the potential is all there. This is exactly what happened with David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, a movie totally micromanaged by screaming producers at Warner Bros. and the result was a giant mediocre mess that writer and director James Gunn has to come in now and revamp and retcon to a better result. The Guardians Of The Galaxy filmmaker adds his flair to a new team with some familiar faces from the last film as supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X and are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese on a search and destroy mission. Pushing a hard R rating, this movie is guaranteed to be balls to the wall action with blood, gore and some great lines written by one of my favourite current creators. I’m so excited for this one.

Vivo – Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical genius is back on display for those Hamilton die-hards and people that championed his latest offering In The Heights but this one is for the whole family and the parents who have probably seen Moana in the triple digits by now. Well, hopefully, you can give Maui and “You’re Welcome” a rest for a bit as this new animated feature, originally slated to come out in theatres from Sony Animation which was taken over from Dreamworks, is available on Netflix for the easy repeat viewings at home. The story follows a one-of-kind kinkajou, also known as a rainforest “honey bear”, who spends his days playing music to the crowds in the bustling town square with his beloved owner Andrés and, though they may not speak the same language, the two are a perfect duo through their common love of music. When tragedy strikes shortly after Andrés receives a letter from the famous singer Marta Sandoval, inviting her old partner to her farewell concert with the hope of reconnecting, it’s up to Vivo to deliver a message that Andrés never could which is a love letter to her, written long ago, in the form of a song. To get to Marta, who lives on the other side of the world, Vivo will need the help of Gabi, an energetic tween who bounces to the beat of her own offbeat drum, to fulfill his owner’s wishes. The film is lively, vibrant and full of catchy tunes that threaten to make me far less of the musical hater that I think I am. I so love that the film also has Zoe Saldana, Bryan Tyree Henry and Michael Rooker in main roles.

Val – Love him or hate him, Val Kilmer has been part of the popular film zeitgeist for close to forty years and, personally, I was a huge fan of his all through the nineties until I heard of all of his primadonna antics, especially on the set of The Island Of Doctor Moreau, a film that I think he kind of tanked. This documentary, compiled with footage over the last four decades, attempts to give a bit more understanding of the brash actor all documented by himself and put together by filmmakers Ting Poo and Leo Scott. Amassed from thousands of hours of footage, from home movies made with his brothers to time spent in iconic roles for blockbuster films like Top Gun and Batman, this raw and wildly original documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a heart-filled look at what it means to be an artist. I love films like this and have heard nothing but great things about it from the festival circuit. This is going to be a great one I think.

Dream Horse – More than five years ago today I was treated to a great little documentary that told the story of a group of people in a small Welsh town that pooled their resources to breed a championship-level racehorse and ended up with one of the best in modern times. Now that story has been turned into a theatrical film with the benefit of having Toni Collette as its lead star and Damien Lewis in a supporting role. The story is pretty much the same with a little melodrama thrown in, about an unlikely racehorse named Dream Alliance bred by small-town Welsh bartender Jan Vokes, a woman with no experience in the industry who convinces her neighbours to chip in their meagre earnings to help raise Dream in the hopes he can compete with the racing elites. The film is interesting and endearing but if you have already seen the documentary-like I have, it really doesn’t bring anything new to it and feels more like a dramatic reenactment of the events. That said, Collette is phenomenal as always and is worth the price of admission.


12 Mighty Orphans – Getting some of that era-specific sports dramas in this week with this new football film that has an interesting true story behind it but the execution is a little off to me. The film comes from Texan filmmaker Ty Roberts who always has a lot of pride in shooting his homegrown films in his state but this is his first true-to-the-story movie in this adaptation of Jim Dent’s novel of the same name. The film has Luke Wilson as a devoted high school football coach haunted by his mysterious past who leads a scrawny team of orphans to the state championship during the Great Depression and inspires a nation absolutely devoid of any hope. Wilson is very solid in his leading role and plays well with veteran actor Martin Sheen who also produced this film but their calibre makes everyone else look like they’re struggling to keep up with that kind of gravitas and it is very noticeable. On top of that, I feel like this inspirational sports story of underdogs and ne’er-do-wells rising to the top has been done before and this one doesn’t stand out by any means.

Swan Song – Udo Kier is always known for being a strange actor who has his own unique baseline and usually in the horror genre but this new film may be one of the jewels in the golden crown of his career as it delves into the great chameleon-like nature in his arsenal. Featuring supporting work from the always incredible Jennifer Coolidge, Dynasty actress Linda Evans and Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie, this movie is one of those character-driven movies that become the benchmark in actor’s careers and it is the perfect follow up for Kier after Bacurau. Written and directed by Todd Stephens in his first feature film in thirteen years, the film follows retired hairdresser Pat Pitsenbarger who escapes the confines of his small-town Ohio nursing home after learning of his former client’s dying wish for him to style her final hairdo. Driven with purpose, Pat embarks on an odyssey to confront the ghosts of his past and collect the beauty supplies necessary for the job along the way. I can not stop talking about how great Udo is in this movie but Stephens also imbues this film with a colourful vibrancy that is totally undeniable.

Rising Wolf – Sometimes weird science fiction can just reach through the screen and grab a viewer and it doesn’t need a huge star, big special effects or any sort of existing IP to do it if it’s well written enough. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be from North America like this one that is from the Land Down Under from writer and director Anthony Furlong who makes his feature film debut here and it is an ambitious one for sure, which may get in the way for some viewers. The story follows a young woman who wakes up trapped and kidnapped in an elevator of a super high rise building at the mercy of her tormentors. Set in Shanghai, the film follows as her instinct to survive takes over in a situation out of her control and without any form of escape and cocooned in the belly of the beast, she is forced to adapt her thinking, her beliefs and her endurance to connect to abilities that define who she truly is. The great thing about this film is the freedom that Furlong was granted to make an unconstrained sci-fi thriller but the convoluted nature of his storytelling bites him in the ass a bit as it is, at times, frustratingly hard to follow, like he has seven different stylistic thoughts at the same time. It is a bold debut though and I wonder what he has up his sleeve next.

Blackpink The Movie – K-Pop is a huge music genre and market that has millions upon millions of rabid and loyal fans, some of whom helped disrupt the former President Trump’s rally plans and I will always appreciate them for causing the kerfuffle but I still don’t get the music but my kid does. Along with BTS, Blackpink is a group I do know from the continued use of one of their songs on the app TikTok but this film is a tool to get a deeper understanding of a group that is burning up music sales daily. This documentary is a film to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the debut of the world-loved K-pop group and its members, Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa. Over the last five years, the film features these superstars’ memories through undisclosed special interviews and even gives their processes on hit songs like The Show, In Your Area, and at least a dozen more songs. This played for me as that Justin Beiber documentary did years ago, going over like a lead balloon, but I can definitely see its fan-focused appeal. 

Escape From Mogadishu – Hell yes, a South Korean-made action-adventure to chew on this week thanks to the great international distribution of Well Go USA. The film comes from director Seung-wan Ryoo, a filmmaker that I am shockingly unfamiliar with a lot of his work, but he did do the incredible and brutal action flick, City Of Violence which I enjoyed a lot. This film is set in 1991, Mogadishu when the capital city and most populous part of Somalia was torn by civil war. The story follows the personnel and the families of the South Korean embassy, who are isolated with no communication, enduring hail of bullets and shells constantly. Then one night, personnel from the North Korean embassy come knocking on the door asking for help and together they make a plan with one goal in mind, to escape from Mogadishu. This film movies with such a great feel of action that there isn’t a dull moment to be had in it. I feel like so many American-made action thrillers try hard and fail to give their films the momentum that this movie does effortlessly.

The Swarm – A creepy little French horror flick that doesn’t feel far off of an Elseworlds Monsanto cautionary tale, I caught wind of this new Netflix release late but I knew I had to bring it. The film is the feature debut of filmmaker Just Philippot that is immediately a fantastic blend of social-political issues and deeply insidious eco terror that is helped along by some fascinating special effects. The story follows a single mother who breeds edible grasshoppers to save her farm from bankruptcy but soon develops a strange, obsessive bond with them that will lead her to confront the local farmers and her own children, who can no longer even recognize her. This film is freshly original and doesn’t have a predictable moment in it that leads to an edge-of-your-seat intrigue that extends to the final frame. Much like the gorefest The Platform that was released last year, this cerebral thriller could find the same footing on Netflix.

Pray Away – Netflix’s executive producer and creator darling Ryan Murphy and head Blumhouse honcho Jason Blum have teamed for this new documentary that hits hard and hits fast with its outrage and it was almost enough for me to yell at my television and story the film, never to pick it up again. The film centers around five former leaders of the “pray the gay away” movement that was created in the mid-seventies as Exodus and now contend with the aftermath unleashed by their actions while one of the subjects, a survivor, seeks healing and acceptance from more than a decade of trauma from similar groups. As a non-religious but educated viewer, this film only served to prove the point I always come to in these programs and movies and that’s that religion is a cult and only serves to create fear, shame and depression in their followers unless they keep on a straight (pun intended) and narrow path without deviation or suffering the consequences. This is a movie that prompted constant engagement from me as I cursed angrily, shook my head in disbelief and felt constant resentment to a spirituality that is supposed to make people happy and find their true selves instead of burying it so deeply that they lost all semblance of their soul. This film is like a slap to the face of believers and I am so here for it.

Ailey – This was a midnight hour addition to the releases this week that was so close to not getting on this blog but I love my PR person at Elevation and wanted to make her happy. This one’s for you, Kate! I’m really glad I did get this one as it comes from Neon, a company I really love and is an incredibly immersive and beautiful-looking movie that I did not know heading in. The film is a portrait of Alvin Ailey, a visionary artist who found his own personal salvation through dance. Told in his own words through the creation of a new commission inspired by his life, evocative archival footage and interviews with those who intimately knew him, this is a documentary that centers on the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. Sometimes a movie lands in your lap and it feels like a gift from the movie gods and this was my happy piece of that this week.

Blu-Ray & DVD:

Luca – Pixar is back with their second film released during the theatre shut down and I’m reading reports about how disappointed the animators are that their work hasn’t been able to be displayed on the big screen and I definitely feel their frustration because I would have loved to experience Soul that way and now this beautiful film. Inspired by the works of Studio Ghibli and Hiyao Miyazaki, director Enrico Casarosa, this film is set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera and is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca, voiced by Langley’s own Jacob Tremblay, shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, Alberto, in the voice of Shazam and It star Jack Dylan Grazer, but all the fun is threatened by the deeply-held secret that they are sea monsters from another world just below the water’s surface. This film is an endearing story of friendship and the need for escapism as they chase their dreams and I feel like it’s another strong entry into the library of Pixar who seem to always bring the top calibre of stories and warm and comforting experiences.

Those Who Wish Me Dead – Remember when it seemed that Angelina Jolie was retiring with her vanity project By The Sea with now ex-husband Brad Pitt being her acting swan song? Well, I guess being a Disney villain like Maleficent or a superhero in the upcoming Eternals for Marvel must have renewed her thirst for the medium because she’s back in this new action thriller from Wind River director Taylor Sheridan and alongside Nicholas Hoult. The story follows a teenaged murder witness who finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert and smoke jumper played by Jolie who takes on the task of protecting him as a forest fire bears down on them, wiping out everything in its path. Automatically, with the attachment of Sheridan’s name, I’m immediately drawn in because he hasn’t made a flop yet. The film was also shot by Ben Richardson who’s done pretty much everything that Sheridan has been behind the camera for as well as Beasts Of The Southern Wild. This is most likely one of the better films to see this weekend.

Here Today – It’s a sure thing that if you have Billy Crystal in your cast that I’m going to check out your movie and more often than not the movie is pretty damn good as was evident in the film he did with Ben Schwartz, Standing Up, Falling Down, which is a must-see. This film puts Crystal into another great position as he teams with the hilarious Tiffany Haddish in a film he also wrote and directed. The film has the legendary comedian as veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz who meets New York street singer Emma Payge and the two form an unlikely yet hilarious and touching friendship that kicks the generation gap aside and redefines the meaning of love and trust. The movie definitely has its moments of sappiness that can drag it down from time to time but the performances from these two massively likeable stars who imbue that directly on their characters right the ship and make it a pleasant and light-hearted watch. If anything, it proves that Crystal still has it and it never left.

Seance – One half of the guys who brought us You’re Next, The Guest and so much more, writer Simon Barrett marks 2021 with a new horror flick that oozes with so many of the elements that make fans of this genre, starting with what I felt was the beautiful nods to Dario Argento. Was it the boarding school setting, the beautiful uses of colour or the Giallo-like kills? Yeah, maybe. The story follows Camille, a young woman who arrives at the prestigious Fairfield Academy, an elite boarding school for girls, following one of the student’s untimely and violent death. The tragedy was the result of six of the students jokingly engaging in a late-night ritual, calling forth the spirit of a dead former student who reportedly haunts their halls. Featuring the fantastic Suki Waterhouse in the lead role, this movie is a solid slow burn that keeps its cards to the chest before breaking everything wide open in its third act. I love Barrett and Adam Wingard as a team but while Adam is doing Godzilla things, I’m totally cool with more of these great horror set-pieces. Bring ’em on.

Take Back – I feel like I would have been into a movie like this in the nineties and pretty easily too. Mickey Rourke, a known badass who retired from acting for a stint in boxing for a while and Michael Jai White, the only man up to this point to play the comic book demigod Spawn in live-action form. Older me has seen way too many of these though and it takes a lot to rock my world and this film really doesn’t look like it has that gusto. The story follows a couple named Zara and Brian who are living the perfect small-town life when she heroically foils a robbery and becomes headline news. This unwanted notoriety draws elements of Zara’s mysterious past back into her life, putting the lives of her family in danger. When Zara and Brian’s daughter is kidnapped by a sadistic gang of people traffickers led by the vicious Patrick, the pair face a race against time to save her life. The film has a great setup and keeps you strung along for the duration but that third act came in like a bull in a china shop to destroy all the momentum with a corny desert shoot-out that reeks of them writing themselves into a corner.

Lucky – Brea Grant is an absolute favourite of horror genre fans and that is beyond getting knifed by Michael Myers in the Rob Zombie made Halloween II or her role on Dexter. Just look at her latest venture behind the camera, 12 Hour Shift, which subverts the horror genre in many great ways, and now this new thriller, another Grant-written film, which very much does the same defying of the horror tropes. The story has her as a suburban woman who fights to be believed by the authorities and those around her as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she can’t get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands and the explanations are more rifely existential than she could have imagined. This film has a brilliant subtext to it that isn’t quite apparent until the second act but that transition to the finale breaks it all wide open and I felt a smile creep up on my face in recognition of what was going on. This film is clever and driven by a performance by Brea that is a showcase of her total star power. I loved this movie.

Righteous Blood – Westerns seem to be those types of films that either get great and rich Hollywood attention or are some low-budget affair by filmmakers who cut corners and half-ass their productions to a direct-to-video release. Unfortunately, this one is the latter of the two and it is even a lesser one at that. Featuring former Warriors and Dexter star Michael Pare, this story follows an outlaw gun for hire named Jericho who is on the run from the law when he finds himself tangled in a situation that will challenge his skills and his beliefs. Yes, it makes an ugly swerve into the faith department which wouldn’t be so bad if it had any sort of viewing merit before it got into those entanglements. Spoilers, it doesn’t ever earn a moment where you’re not questioning why you are watching it so let my viewing of it absolve you of yours. It isn’t worth it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Mirror – This was a big geek-out moment for me, hence me including it on this week’s list, as it is the first movie in my collection that was written and directed by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, most known for his sci-fi mindbender Solaris. This is a more grounded film but only in the fact that it has both of its feet planted on the earth but it deals with the very mortal passage in time but on an existential level. The acclaimed and legendary filmmaker mixes flashbacks, historical footage and original poetry to illustrate the reminiscences of a dying man about his childhood during World War II, adolescence and a painful divorce in his family while also interweaving reflections about Russian history and society into the mosaic. This is very much an art film in every way and will only really appeal to the well-versed film connoisseur but if you have the patience for it I really feel the reward is there and the Criterion edition I received for it is absolutely gorgeous. I’m proud to have this incredible film in my possession.

Bringing Up Baby – We’re getting some powerhouse in the classic film department this week as the Criterion Collection recently released this legendary romantic comedy from the powerhouse trio of leading stars Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn and director Howard Hawks, who took it upon himself to studiously coach the legendary actress in her first comedic role. The story follows paleontologist David Huxley who is trying to make a good impression on society matron Mrs. Random who is considering donating one million dollars to his museum. On the day before his wedding, Huxley meets Mrs. Random’s high-spirited young niece, Susan Vance, a madcap adventuress with her pet leopard, Baby. Of course, she immediately falls for the straitlaced scientist and pursues him to no end. This is the perfect example of cast and crew coming together to make timely comedy gold and it’s funny to think that the studio was projecting disaster for the release when it actually did quite well.

Objective, Burma – Delving into some Warner Archive this week with a title that missed my mailbox on the release date, I’m bringing you back to the mid-1940s for a war film that earned itself three Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Score. The film stars one of the era greats, Errol Flynn but the decision of one-eyed director Raoul Walsh to cast him created controversy as Flynn had notorious health problems that barred him from ever serving in a military capacity and audiences saw through it no matter how much he loved the role. The story follows a platoon of special ops who are tasked to parachute into the remote Burmese jungle and destroy a strategic Japanese radar station with no means of escaping afterwards. The film is pretty great but audiences, studios and theatres did all they could to kill the film and they really effectively did as it has been long forgotten now.

Pennyworth: Season 2 – The DC Universe-related television shows keep on coming with this new prequel show that has landed on the American cable channel Epix of all places and now has gotten its season two as well. Not to be confused with the recently finished Fox show Gotham that had a younger Alfred Pennyworth, loyal butler to Bruce Wayne and medic and everyman to the Caped Crusader Batman, this show features British actor Jack Bannon in the role, harkening back to his days working for Bruce’s father Thomas. The show will delve into Pennyworth’s past as a British special forces officer and is really well done with a great look to it that comes from showrunner Bruno Heller who has already gifted us with great television like HBO’s short-lived Rome and, yes, he was the man behind Gotham so he is probably the best guy to do another prequel series.

The Walking Dead World Beyond: Season 1 – Another Walking Dead spin-off arrives on blu-ray a few weeks back just as the final season of the original series has been gearing up to close the first television bloodline of a now-massive entity and this one has definitely a different vibe to it as it seems to combine the themes of Lord Of The Flies a little bit with the shambling flesh, brain and entrail eating ghouls we are oh so familiar with these days. Featuring Nico Tortorella from Scream 4, this series focuses on the first generation to grow up during the zombie apocalypse, centred around a trio of characters and judging by the trailer it looks suspenseful and will carve a new side in this new zombie lore. So far it’s really great, though not as good as Fear The Walking Dead but I will definitely continue to immerse myself in Robert Kirkman’s imagination as season two is on the horizon and the first ends with such a great cliffhanger. Of course, with Kirkman behind it,  I will say that it’s not for the faint of heart at all.

Television:

Cooking With Paris (Netflix) – This is a weird one and I even feel kind of weird for bringing it but the curiosity is too great and I guess I can kind of tell what they mean about that notion and its cat-killing ability. It’s been a while since Paris Hilton was in this kind of reality show position after she and Nicole Ritchie did The Simple Life seasons but now since that cat’s out of the bag from her YouTube documentary, which is really great and dispelled her vapidness as just a created persona, this show will play a little differently. Now she’s turning the traditional cooking show upside down, being a person who can’t really cook. With the help of her celebrity friends, she navigates new ingredients, new recipes and exotic kitchen appliances, taking the viewer from the grocery store to the finished table spread and possibly learning something along the way. The guests include Kim Kardashian West, Demi Lovato, Nikki Glaser, Saweetie, Lele Pons and Nicky and Kathy Hilton, which are really hit or miss for me but I’m still morbidly wondering if she can pull this off. I kind of hate myself for it.

Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami (Netflix) – Some more true crime arrives on Netflix this week but this one is like an old coked-out friend who used to entertain you in the mid-2000s. Following the documentary films Cocaine Cowboys and Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin With The Godmother and Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded, we now get another installment but this time in the form of a six-episode limited documentary series. So, kind of like a dude with bloodshot eyes and an itchy nose telling you his life story, longest form. The show follows two high school dropouts who become South Florida kingpins known as Willy and Sal, aka “Los Muchachos”, two of Miami’s biggest celebrities who were accused of smuggling over 75 tons of cocaine into the U.S. in the 1980s. It’s pretty self-explanatory from the title, I think, and if you’ve watched Scarface more than five times, you’re going to love it.

Mr. Corman (AppleTV+) – The new AppleTV+ originals, at least in the first few years of the streaming platform’s beginnings, feel a lot like shows that were declined by other networks which is definitely the case with Ted Lasso, a series that NBC mistakenly turned down. I feel this is also the case with Rose Byrne’s hard-edged show Physical and this new Joseph Gordon Levitt written, directed and led series which, to me, seem like shows that would belong to a cable network like Showtime. The series follows Josh Corman, a guy who is an artist that has given up on his music career and fallen into the mundanity of being a fifth-grade public school teacher, dealing with the fallout of his ex-fiancé Megan moving out and his high school buddy moving in. Aware that he still has a lot to be thankful for, Josh struggles nevertheless through universal feelings of anxiety, loneliness and self-doubt as he struggles to get back a semblance of a happy existence. A strong and darkly funny pilot episode kept me onboard for a fresh and witty series that shows that Levitt has been able to hone his skills from his great film Don Juan into a compelling character series.

Obama: In Pursuit Of A More Perfect Union (Crave) – If there was anyone I really fanboyed over in politics it is definitely Barack Obama and it is for a whole cornucopia of reasons so when I saw that he was releasing something new and something outside his Netflix deal and on HBO, I was definitely invested in checking it out. The series is an examination of the journey of Barack Obama from his early upbringing to the 44th U.S. President, set against the backdrop of the country’s unfolding racial history. A three-episode show, this is HBO going deep on one of the greatest presidents in history which is I think the best documentary makers in television today. The show features interviews with David Axelrod, Ta-Nehisi Coates, John Lewis and many others who help illustrate the life of an incredible man who, even out of office, isn’t quite finished with leading or inspiring.

New Releases:

Jungle Cruise – The Rock is getting his Johnny Depp style franchise film with Disney as he too is now part of the theme park-inspired movie with this new adventure that was actually supposed to come out last fall but because of the pandemic it all got delayed. Proving that he has such good chemistry with everyone they pair him with, he stars in this film alongside the absolutely loveable Emily Blunt who is on a continuous roll after the phenomenal A Quiet Place Part II which I’ll speak about later on. Playing wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff and intrepid researcher Dr. Lily Houghton respectively, the story follows Lily as she travels from London, England to the Amazon jungle and enlists Frank’s questionable services to guide her downriver on La Quila, his delapidated but dependable boat. Lily is determined to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities–possessing the power to change the future of medicine and, thrust on this epic quest together, the unlikely duo encounters innumerable dangers and supernatural forces, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rainforest. But as the secrets of the lost tree unfold, the stakes reach even higher for Lily and Frank and their fate and mankind’s hangs in the balance. The trailer makes this movie look like so much fun and The Rock has always proven to be a big-screen draw no matter how dumb or ridiculous it is.

Stillwater – Matt Damon thrillers still intrigue as he always picks stories that compel and make you think and this one is no different as it is based on a true story. The other thing that immediately grabs my attention about this film is Spotlight director Tom McCarty, who always seems to bring it in these high drama films, which makes me forgive him for making an Adam Sandler dud like The Cobbler. The story has Damon as unemployed roughneck Bill Baker who travels from Oklahoma to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter Allison that is imprisoned for a murder she claims she did not commit. Focusing on a new tip that could exonerate her, Allison presses Bill to engage her legal team and eager to prove his worth and regain his daughter’s trust, he takes matters into his own hands. Quickly roadblocked by language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system, he gets the help of a French actress and single mother who helps him navigate a path to his daughter’s freedom. The advance reviews are really favourable for this film as it looks like a return to form for Damon who has faltered a bit in his solo films.

The Green Knight – This is one of my most anticipated films of the year and one we should have gotten last year and the best thing about it is I really don’t know that much about the central plot to it besides the vaguest of descriptions. The film is a mesmerizing looking blood and sword epic art film from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story director David Lowery and the trailer leaves me drooling every time I see it. Starring Academy Award nominee Dev Patel, Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton, the film is an epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend that tells the story of Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. This movie, unseen to me at the time of writing, will most likely be my favourite movie of the year next to Dune which I haven’t seen either. I am freaking excited about this.

Ride The Eagle – I have a deep love for usually comedic actor Jake Johnson that started with my affinity for his series New Girl which then led to his buddy comedy he did with Damon Wayans Jr., Lets Be Cops, and his unforgettable turn as the voice of elseworlds Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. He’s really great when he gets the opportunity to shine and this film is kind of a showcasing of that and it is all on his terms too as he co-wrote it with the director Trent O’Donnell, a guy responsible for so many great episodes of television including The Moodys, The Good Place, Single Parents and, of course, New Girl. This film has Johnson with D’Arcy Carden, Susan Sarandon and J.K. Simmons and follows Leif, a guy processing the death of his estranged mother Honey who leaves him a ‘conditional inheritance’. Before he can move into her picturesque Yosemite cabin, he has to complete her elaborate, and sometimes dubious, to-do list. Leif and Nora, his canine BFF, step into Honey’s wild world as she tries to make amends from beyond the grave in a movie that is absolutely charming just from Johnson’s mere presence and is so beautifully written with it’s heart beating loud on it’s sleeve. Not many people are going to be vocal about this movie as it is a very small release but I think it is totally worth searching for.

Lorelai – I seriously adore the work Jena Malone does but the last time I saw her onscreen was a villainous performance in the slavery-based thriller Antebellum and her performance was, to put it delicately, not good. This film looks to be more her speed, especially if you follow her Instagram, as it’s an emotional and artful drama. The film stars Pablo Schreiber as well as a man that is released from prison after fifteen years and reunites with his high school girlfriend, who is now a single mother of three. The story feels a bit bare-bones here but the cohesion of the performances of Schreiber and Malone are the driving force and heart and soul of the whole thing. Writer and director Sabrina Doyle makes quite the sweeping feature film debut here and I think she has a really bright future ahead of her.

The Last Mercenary – I begged and pleaded with my Netflix public relations people to get the screener for this new action film as when I was a child, Jean Claude Van Damme was a personal favorite along with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and more as I gobbled up every action film ever made from the video store. My regrets set in fast once I got about fifteen minutes into this French film that is more a comedy than it is an action flick and it loses that steam quite quickly as well. The film has Van Damme as a mysterious former secret service agent who must urgently return to France when his estranged son is falsely accused of arms and drug trafficking by the government, following a blunder by an overzealous bureaucrat and a mafia operation. The movie goes over the top with terrible dialogue and has Van Damme’s character being a master of disguise but in the campiest and cheesiest ways, at one point having him essentially fight in full drag complete with a flowing wig. I know this was a comedy but I swear I had a scowl on my face for the entirety. This is definitely not what I wanted.

Resort To Love – Remember Christina Milian? She was an R&B star that starred in a Nick Cannon romantic comedy in the late nineties and was the pop star foil in the Get Shorty sequel Be Cool which is what I remember her from but she has the Netflix appeal now as she is the lead in this all-new romantic comedy. Co-starring Saturday Night Live’s Jay Pharoah, the film is about aspiring pop star Erica who ends up as the entertainment at her ex-fiancé’s wedding after reluctantly taking a gig at a luxurious Mauritius island resort while in the wake of a music career meltdown. She tries to keep their past relationship a secret from his bride-to-be Beverly, but Erica rediscovers her feelings for her ex, Jason, despite his brother Caleb’s attempts to keep them from falling back in love. This film is goofy, corny and formulaic and will most likely appeal to a certain audience but for me, it was the dreadful visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Really not my thing.

Nemesis – For the second week in a row Nick Moran makes an appearance on this blog but this time he’s in front of the camera, not behind it, and it’s some familiar territory as it is a British gangster story but it doesn’t go down the comedic route like his Guy Ritchie film, Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. This comes from usual horror filmmaker James Crow who puts aside the things to make you scream and instead opts to get into the gritty criminal underworld for a bit of different violence. The film is a multi-character affair that follows the aftermath as an underworld kingpin’s past catches up with him when he returns to London, igniting a furthering explosive chain of events that ends in revenge and murder. The film is definitely rough around the edges, slightly sophomoric and under-produced but it manages to deliver where it is supposed to, in the gangster quality as a lot of these guys almost feel like the real deal and Crow hired people directly from the streets.

For Madmen Only: The Stories Of Del Close – Improv is something the snagged my interest in my teen years at school and I was even asked to come audition for the Vancouver Theater Sports League when I was eighteen so I have a deep love for it. The pull that it has on many comedians is the reason we have many of our comedy stars creating in Hollywood today so this new documentary is almost a celebration of that, channelling it into a very important figure that many wouldn’t know. The film is about comedy guru Del Close, a mentor to everyone from Bill Murray to Tina Fey, who sets out to write his autobiography for D.C. Comics. As he leads us through sewers, mental wards, and his peculiar talent for making everyone famous but himself, Close emerges as a personification of the creative impulse itself, a muse with BO and dirty needles, offering transcendence despite, or because of, the trail of wreckage behind him. Featuring Ike Barinholtz, Matt Walsh, Patton Oswalt, Jason Sudeikis, Lauren Lapkus and more, this was such a great way to approach the linear biopic documentary that almost kept re-inventing itself over and over again. It was absolutely re-inspiring for me as well.

We Are Many – I would like to say that this is a brand new documentary hitting video on demand this week but that’s not really the case as this film was actually completed five years ago when the world was in definitely a different political climate and is about a time over a decade before that, three years removed from the tragedy of the World Trade Center, an even more different political time. The film is about the global protest against the Iraq War on February 15th, 2003, which was a pivotal moment in recent history, the consequences of which have gone unreported. This documentary looks in-depth at the struggle to shift power from the old establishment to the new superpower that is global public opinion, through the prism of one historic day featuring Susan Sarandon, Mark Rylance, filmmaker Ken Loach, Noam Chomsky and more.

The Five Rules Of Success – This movie was honestly an almost midnight addition to this blog as I got the screener quite late but it seemed too interesting to ignore and not bring to you, my faithful reader. The film is written and directed by Orson Oblowitz who has made some really interesting and character-driven little indie films and this one branches out a little bit in the budget department and pulls it off quite nicely. The story is a mesmerizingly told one about an enterprising ex-convict who sets out to rebuild his life with a bulletproof mindset but when society proves to be more treacherous than imagined, he embarks on a ruthless phantasmagoric journey through the underworld in pursuit of the American Dream. This movie put Oblowicz on the map for me in a big way as he can straddle the line of being a totally tripped-out visual storyteller with incredible flair and a character-driven story that reads as a pain seared poem of how the American youth are failed and never recovered. Fascinating stuff.

Blu-Ray:

A Quiet Place Part II – It’s been over a year since the pandemic robbed us of one of the most anticipated horror sequels of last year and after being pushed to September then pushed to this date that Canadians couldn’t capitalize on at first and now it is on Amazon Prime for everyone and glorious 4K blu-ray. The story picks up pretty much where we left it, following the remaining members of the Abbott family who now face the terrors of the outside world as they are forced to venture into the unknown to see what is left of civilization after their home burns to the ground. They realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path as humanity has fallen to some dark and desperate motives to stay alive. The first film is incredible and a landmark movie really and director John Krasinski continues to make all the right moves as a filmmaker and Emily Blunt’s performance shakes the room once again but I really felt that this movie belongs to the kids, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, who really shoulder the brunt of the plot as is newcomer Cillian Murphy as a pivotal character both from the family’s past and present. This movie, just like the first, kept me on the edge of my seat and the sound design is just exquisite.

Every Breath You Take – Just looking at the cast list on this new mystery thriller draws me into wanting to watch it right away as it features Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan and Sam Claflin in the lead roles, all proven character actors plus it’s a Gone Baby Gone reunion between the first two. The fact that this film is being dogged by bad reviews and comes from director Vaughn Stein, whose last film Terminal was a heinous waste of time, gives me an appropriate pause. The story is about a psychiatrist, played by Affleck, whose career is thrown into jeopardy when his patient takes her own life. When he invites his patient’s surviving brother into his home to meet his wife and daughter, his family life is suddenly torn apart from the inside. This film looks like it would be intriguing but manages to keep making the easy and predictable choices throughout. Very frustrating.

The God Committee – Getting duped by Kelsey Grammer movies might be a new film reviewer gag on me because I was so into his reclusive rock star film The Space Between before it turned into a big pile of crap but he was really one of the best things about this new medical thriller. Writer and director Austin Stark didn’t exactly endear me with his underwhelming Nic Cage drama The Runner but with a nice supporting cast of Julia Stiles, Zola’s Colman Domingo, Janeane Garofalo and Dan Hedaya, he has definitely improved. The film follows an organ transplant committee that is forced to decide which of three patients deserves a life-saving heart with only one hour to put pen to paper. Seven years later, the committee members struggle with the consequences of that fateful decision, questioning the morality of their decision. The leads play the emotions of it well, leaving the viewer to glean the cleanliness of their souls in the wreckage of lives that were destroyed or irrevocably changed in the process and is an interesting narrative on what these decision-makers go through, even if it feels a bit melodramatic at times.

Midnight In The Switchgrass – He we go again because I’m back with a new Bruce Willis direct to video release that he definitely didn’t want to do save for the money and you can even see that on the blu-ray cover as he looks bewildered to even be there. Seriously, look it up, it’s hilarious. Even worse, he’s teamed up with the very lovely but not fantastic by any means Megan Fox who brings her little boytoy Machine Gun Kelly along for a small but pivotal role and, honestly, he’s worse than both of them. The story follows FBI agents Helder and Lombardo who, while in Florida on another case, cross paths with state cop Crawford, played by Emile Hirsch who I adore, who’s investigating a string of female murders that appear to be related. Lombardo and Crawford team up for an undercover sting, but it goes horribly wrong, plunging Lombardo into grave danger and pitting Crawford against a serial killer in a twisted game of cat and mouse. What results is a predictable and underwritten thriller that never earns that title as it is devoid of thrills. Really, this feels like a mediocre cop and killer story from the nineties that would become a forgotten piece on someone’s early resume. Hell, Bruce would have turned it down in the nineties but I guess he wants an easy paycheck that badly.

Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns – Honestly, as a film fan you really have to love and admire the work that Arrow does through their Video and Academy brands of releases because they are truly impeccable and lovingly crafted for their audiences. It shines through big time on their focused box sets and this genre collection is no different as it deals in a beloved cinema area, the westerns. Vengence Trails has four great classics to retell you in blu-ray form with the Franco Nero led Massacre Time, about a prospector and his drunkard half-brother who must fight a rancher and his sadistic son after they seize control of his farm, My Name is Pecos, about a Mexican pistolero who exacts revenge on the man responsible for the murder of his family, Bandidos, about a performing sharpshooter who trains a young man framed for the train robbery that mutilated his hands so they can seek revenge and, lastly, And God Said to Cain starring the great Klaus Kinski, about a man who takes his revenge on the family responsible for his wrongful sentence of ten years of hard labour. These are all violent spaghetti westerns that earn their genre marks but never the acclaim that should have been attributed to them. A very cool discovery for me.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage 4K – Italian horror legend Dario Argento is celebrated with this 4K reissue of his debut film and the start of his leather glove clad and murderous creation of the Giallo film genre. Made in 1970, Argento arrived on the scene with disturbing aplomb as producers wanted him removed from production after watching the dailies and being outrightly disturbed, horrified and actually scared of them which added so much more to the anticipation of this debut. The story follows an American expatriate living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder that is connected to an ongoing killing spree in the city and decides to conduct his own investigation despite the target he and his girlfriend have on their backs by the killer. Argento does a total superhero landing in this film with effective style and cinematography, brilliant uses of colour which he would master years later in Suspiria and establishes himself as a filmmaker who will make bold choices that mean the character you think you’re following as the main might not have the shelf life you think. This is a coo classic to receive.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Pickup On South Street – I’m going for the huge cinephile nerd bell this week as most of the picks I’ve brought this week lend to the art film, early works of prominent directors and not just one but two different Criterion releases that have niche appeals. This first film is a film noir thriller from the early fifties that breezes by as a well-paced and well-told mystery from legendary filmmaker Samuel Fuller and a production that everyone wanted to be a part of, including Marilyn Monroe who read for a part. Fuller reportedly said she was wrong for the part, telling her that her “overwhelming sensuality” was wrong for the story. The film follows a pickpocket who unwittingly lifts a piece of top-secret microfilm destined for enemy agents and then becomes a target for a Communist spy ring. Playing the pivotal role of police informer Moe Williams, actress Thelma Ritter would earn the film’s only Academy Award nomination but lost the Best Supporting Actress to Donna Reed for From Here To Eternity. This is such an influential little spy thriller that definitely inspired a lot to follow.

Pariah – With her film Mudbound, writer and director Dee Rees arrived on the film scene in a big way as the film had huge acclaim behind it and had the great platform of being a widely accessible Netflix release. What people didn’t know was her feature narrative debut from ten years back that was the fully realized version of a short film she did but now it has the glory of being a Criterion release, a massively honorable pedestal to be put on. The film is a drama that follows a Brooklyn teenager who juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak, and family in a desperate search for sexual expression. The film pushes realism in a phenomenally written story that is given a beautiful heartbeat from lead actress Adepero Oduye who wears her emotions so well on her sleeves. Also, as a huge In Living Colour fan, it was so cool to see the great Kim Wayans show up in this film as the main character Alike’s mom. 

The Last Time I Committed Suicide – With a great cast that includes Thomas Jane, Keanu Reeves, Adrien Brody, Claire Forlani, Marg Helgenberger and Gretchen Mol, it bothered me so much that I’d never heard of this movie before. Released quietly in 1997, the film was the feature debut and passion project of New Zealand filmmaker Stephen Kay who adapted this story from the letters written by Beat Generation product Neal Cassady. The film is a biopic about Cassady and his life during the beat life in the 1940s, working at The Tire Yard and philandering around town but with a whistful want for a happy life with kids and a white picket fence. When his girlfriend, Joan, tries to kill herself he gets scared and retreats into his old way of living causing Joan to try and win him back over by finding a new lust for life she can share with him. The reviews were not favourable at the time, most calling it dreadfully boring, but I think it’s fascinating to go back and look at this film as a blip in each of these stars careers, especially Reeves who took so many chances in the nineties with just a select few paying off.

Mr. Jealousy – Noah Baumbach is a personal favourite filmmaker of mine but I am sad to admit that the first couple of films he did before his hugely celebrated debut, The Squid And The Whale, completely skipped me by and I hadn’t gotten around to rectifying that. Kicking And Screaming was his first and this romantic comedy was those films in particular and MVD Visual hooked me up so I could get half of this Baumbach list completed. The film follows a neurotic writer played by Eric Stoltz who becomes obsessed with his girlfriend’s former boyfriend that is now a very successful novelist. To discover if the ex-boyfriend still has feelings for his old love, the writer joins the novelist’s group therapy meetings under an alias to find out if he still has any feelings for her. Like the filmmaker’s other movies, this film is a character study of complex feelings delivered in the morose and mundanity of a self-sabotaging existence and I loved it. Baumbach’s undeveloped style is on display in this film and holding it up to his more polished works like Frances Ha reveals an interesting thread of growth that’s so neat to look at.

Space Jam 4K – After reviewing the soulless IP pushing mess that was Lebron James coming out party as a leading man wanting to do what the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan had already done, it was great to go back and relive the 1994 animation and love action hybrid that still is exactly what it was then, a totally WTF and who cares about the plot showcasing of basketball and the Looney Tunes characters with a damn catchy soundtrack. If you can get past the now cringy R. Kelly song I Believe I Can Fly, the story follows Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes seeking the aid of retired basketball champion, Michael Jordan in a desperate attempt to win a basketball match and earn their freedom. The movie moves by at a breakneck pace and is mercifully over not long after it begins but, heck, Jordan is pretty charming in this and it looks like Bill Murray, playing himself, just kind of did whatever he wanted to and it’s totally fun and absolutely endearing. The kids will still love this movie and it is way better than that new crappy cash grab.

Television:

Centaurworld (Netflix) – I knew just from the trailer for this animated kids show that I was going to have a bit of love for it and maybe it was the hybrid animation that on one side of the story looks like The Dragon Prince, another Netflix series, and the long-running and beloved Adventure Time. Coming from the mind of creator and first-time showrunner Megan Dong, this fantasy series follows a warhorse who is transported from her embattled world to a strange land inhabited by silly, singing centaurs of all species, shapes, and sizes. Desperate to return home, she befriends a group of these magical creatures and embarks on a journey that will test her more than any battle she’s ever faced before. This show is heartwarming, adorable and charmingly and arrestingly funny which kept me engaged past just putting it on to occupy my daughter. True originality is ageless and that’s what Centaurworld is a beautiful reminder of.

Watch The Sound With Mark Ronson (AppleTV+) – Mega producer Mark Ronson is the focus of a great music documentary series this week and if his name isn’t familiar to you then you need to pick up Lily Allen’s Alright, Still, Christina Agulara’s Back To Basics, Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black and more right friggin’ now. This documentary follows Ronson as he tells the untold stories behind music creation and the lengths producers and creators are willing to go to find the perfect sound. Talking about music as the intersection of artistry and technology and how that has influenced their work are Paul McCartney, Questlove, King Princess, Dave Grohl, Adrock and Mike D from the Beastie Boys, Charli XCX, and more and it is a master class in how to make musical perfection and the pitfalls that can happen in getting there. Beitween this and the McCartney series, we are in a golden hour of 2021 for music driven shows.

Outer Banks: Season 2 (Netflix) – A mystery series for the tweens and twenty-somethings that was a low level hit, this show centers around a group of teenagers in the beach vacation destination of the Outer Banks of North Carolina known not so affectionately as “The Pogues” and I don’t mean the Irish band. A hurricane descends on the town and in the wreckage, this group discovers a sunken boat that contains clues to the possible existence of buried treasure. With corrupt police, slimy business owners and ruthless gangsters on their trail, the intrigue is really well told in this show that, honestly, wouldn’t have a lot of eyes on it if it weren’t for the lockdown last year. I’m really enjoyed what I watched of it but I hadn’t finished the first season so this is the perfect time to get reacquainted with a certain group of water rats.

Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life (Disney+) – This one hits me right in the nostalgia as I loved watching Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers when it was on as part of the great Disney cartoon line up that included Gummy Bears, Talespin and DuckTales. The great thing about this new show is it is an easy conduit to bring my nine year old daughter into the fray as I haven’t yet convinced her with the original series. Park Life is a little bit of a shift on the conventional stylings that we know these two for as the show is non verbal in a classic style comedy, following the ups and downs of two little troublemaking creatures living life in the big city. I believe there is a real Rescue Rangers reboot that is coming down to Disney+ with Andy Samberg involved so I think this is just something to tide us over, which I’m totally fine with. It’s alright, not great, but the kids will enjoy the heck out of it.

The Wedding Of The Century (BritBox) – I have just done a rewatch of the most recent season of The Crown on Netflix which focused largely on the courtship, wedding and marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana so this is kind of the perfect time for this documentary to roll out on BritBox. This feature-length film reframes one of the most iconic days in history like never before, with a beautifully restored original film of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding, now presented in full 4k resolution for streaming. Knowing the outcome of the history between this couple and its tragic end, it was fascinating to relive a piece of history that I was too young to truly experience and definitely too uncaring at the time to appreciate. I really hoped my skew from watching The Crown didn’t affect my feelings about the reality of it but I kept staring daggers at Charles every time he was onscreen. It was like muscle memory, I guess.

New Releases:

Snake Eyes – It’s been a bit of a tough go for the IP of G.I. Joe, known by fans for decades as the greatest American heroes, as the film versions, besides the animated one in the eighties, have all kind of flopped on the world stage in live-action form. There were cool elements in them like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Cobra Commander who never got fully realized and the inclusion of box office viagra The Rock as Roadblock in the sequel but nothing fully came together to make an awesome franchise. They’re now going back to the origins for this new film that focuses on the fan-favourite of Snake Eyes, a tenacious loner who is welcomed into an ancient Japanese clan called the Arashikage after saving the life of their heir apparent. After he arrives, the Arashikage teaches Snake Eyes the ways of the ninja warrior while also providing something he’s been longing for, a place to call home. Unfortunately, when secrets from his past are revealed, Snake Eyes’ honour and allegiance will be tested as he turns to fight against those who had taken him in. Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding takes the title role of this film that, let’s face it, will have him go silent and never reveal his face again by the conclusion of this film. Still, it’s great casting and Samara Weaving as Scarlett honestly has me more excited about this film than anything. I’m really hoping it turns out to be good.

Old – After the fizzling third act of his Unbreakable trilogy with the slightly underwhelming Glass, the trickster and twisty filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan returns with a film that looks like straight-up horror and the film looks so deeply disturbing and equally intriguing. Of course, this movie is all contingent on if Night can keep the story going but the cast is really solid with Gael Garcia Bernal, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee and more so I feel a hit here. The story is about a family on a tropical holiday who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly reducing their entire lives into a single day. The tone of the trailer is absolutely delicious as a horror fan so I’m hoping that it comes through as a breakout hit as nobody needs that more at this point than Shyamalan as he has an army of haters looking to disparage his work at every turn.

Joe Bell – A lowkey Mark Wahlberg film makes its quiet debut this week and just reading up on the story, if handled correctly, this movie could earn a lot of acclaim and put director Reinaldo Marcus Green on the A-list track with his second well-received film in a row after Monsters And Men. This film is the true story of a small town, working-class father who embarks on a solo walk across the United States to crusade against bullying after his son is tormented in high school for being gay. From what I’ve read, the relationship between Wahlberg and the youngster that plays his son, Reid Miller, was really important to the blockbuster star and he invited him to his house for breakfast just to tell him in person he booked the role of Jadin Bell. Stories like this are what makes these dramas so important and must-see in my opinion and it has been a few years since Wahlberg made a straightforward drama. I have good thoughts about this movie.

Jolt – I am a sucker for a slightly ridiculous premise, as I do have a deep love for Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank movies, but this film also has the bonus of being an action-comedy starring Kate Beckinsale and directed by Tanya Wexler in her follow up to the insanely fun Zoey Deutch comedy Buffaloed. The film is another tough woman story of a bouncer with a slightly murderous anger-management problem that she controls with the help of an electrode-lined vest she uses to shock herself back to normalcy whenever she gets homicidal. After the first guy she’s ever fallen for is murdered, she goes on a revenge-fueled rampage to find the killer while the cops pursue her as their chief suspect in a wild ride that has a great supporting cast with Jai Courtney, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox. This is probably a great bet to watch if you don’t want to head to the theatre for Snake Eyes and want to get some action in as it comes at you on Amazon Prime.

How It Ends – Zoe Lister-Jones has had an interesting career as a filmmaker as the Life In Pieces star releases her third feature and the follow-up to her reboot of a beloved nineties favourite that didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, The Craft: Legacy. The bite of this new comedy looks to me like a total redeemer as it follows a woman named Liza, played by Lister-Jones, who scores an invite to one last wild party before the world ends but making it there won’t be easy after her car is stolen and the clock is ticking on her plan to tie up loose ends with friends and family. Accompanied by her younger self, she embarks on a hilarious journey across Los Angeles, running into an eclectic cast of characters played by a great cast including Helen Hunt, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Lamorne Morris and Nick Kroll. The film is co-directed by Lola Versus filmmaker Daryl Wein and almost has a vignette or skit sort of delivery to it, like a Jarmusch film but I kind of have a thing for the end of the world comedies so I’m on board.

Creation Stories – I have a deep love for not just British movies but films from the surrounding areas as well from the ard to understand Welsh films, to the brogue-filled Irish movies and the rough Scottish stories as well. Because of this, I was exposed to Irvine Welsh’s works at a young age, at first from the wildly successful Trainspotting then discovering The Acid House on Showcase so that’s why this new film popping onto my radar intrigued me so much and it has Ewen Bremner who is no stranger to the author’s work, appearing in all of his films. For this film, the Scottish madman is going for the biopic, as this tells the unforgettable tale of infamous Creation Records label head Alan McGee and of how one written-off young Glaswegian upstart rose to irrevocably change the face of British culture. Directed by Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels actor Nick Moran, this film has Bremner giving a hell of a performance and the source work getting that beautiful rebellious kick from Irvine who just delivers with this script. I really adored this.

North Hollywood – As a skater boi myself, I was instantly drawn to this sort of coming-of-age film that involves skateboarding in a big way but it didn’t strike me as closely as Jonah Hill’s debut film Mid90s did but that’s not altogether. a bad thing. The film comes from Mikey Alfred who wrote this debut film as well as plays a supporting role and I really loved his dedication to the characters of it even if it sometimes comes at a detriment. The story follows Michael, played by Ballers actor Ryder McLaughlin, as he tries to answer the question every high school kid faces when they graduate: What’s next? Michael’s best friends already seem to have it figured out; one is going to college, and the other is going to work, but Michael is caught somewhere in between. He’s an aspiring professional skateboarder with the talent to back it up, but his blue-collar father, Oliver, played by an excellent Vince Vaughn, thinks it’s a pipe dream. Oliver wants Michael to either get a college degree and pursue a more conventional career, or join him in the construction business. Over the course of the film, Michael is torn in multiple directions. This film resonates in its ability to relate to everyone who’s had to take the next step in life and I really enjoyed it on that level.

The Last Letter From Your Lover – Now probably predominantly known as Taylor Swift’s fiance, I’ve seen Joe Alwyn’s career start with a great leading performance in Ang Lee’s forgotten 3D film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk to his recent villainous work in the Harriet Tubman biopic and I had that in mind when I saw this Netflix romance coming down the line. Featuring a great cast around him including Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley, the story is a pair of interwoven stories set in the present and past that follows Ellie Haworth, an ambitious journalist who discovers a trove of secret love letters from 1965 and becomes determined to solve the mystery of the forbidden affair at their center. As she uncovers the story behind Jennifer Stirling, the wife of a wealthy industrialist, and Anthony O’Hare, the financial journalist assigned to cover him, Ellie’s own love story unfolds with the assistance of an earnest, endearing archivist who helps her track down more letters. The film comes from director Augustine Frizzell who is red hot after directing the pilot of the very popular HBO series Euphoria and it was shot by George Steel who has done great work on the first season of Peaky Blinders. This might become a low-level hit for Netflix.

Alice – A film made on a micro-budget in a totally contained feeling setting, even though it does explore a bit outside, this drama has been garnering buzz at festivals and it definitely comes for the exquisite work that lead star Emilie Piponnier brings as well as the intricate writing and directing from Aussie filmmaker Josephine Mackerras in her debut feature. The story follows the titular character, a happy and perfect wife and mother who has her life turned upside down when she discovers her husband is living a secret life. When her husband steals her money and abandons her and her son, Alice finds herself broke, desperate, and on the verge of losing her house and with time running out, she realizes that the only way to make good money fast is to turn to her husband’s vice and become a prostitute. This movie operates in such a realistic fashion and reminded me of the work of hyperrealistic filmmaker’s The Derdennes, who have been making award-worthy films for decades. With this being just the beginning of Mackerras’ career, the sky is the limit I think.

Beans – One of my regrets at this past year’s online Vancouver International Film Festival was that I didn’t get the chance to check out Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer’s debut film that went on to win Best Canadian Feature Film. Now having gotten the chance to see this stunning film I think it is not just one of the best of 2021 but one of the most important stories I’ve watched this year. The film is a coming-of-age story of an indigenous teen girl at the same time as the 78-day standoff between two Mohawk communities and government forces in 1990 in Quebec. This movie is an engrossing look at the loss of innocence against the backdrop of racial hatred and violence that often left my jaw on the floor. The character development with Beans from the opening scene to a scene in the third act with her mother is mindblowing and I really can’t wait to see what Deer has coming next because she has a fan for life.

Amy Winehouse & Me: Dionne’s Story – I feel like it will be hard to top the documentary we got on this tremendously talented but ultimately tragic singer and songwriter from master filmmaker Asif Kapadia but this one is a little different. Already having debuted in the States on Paramount+, this is a deeply personal, heartfelt film tribute to the late Grammy-Award-winning singer-songwriter and cultural icon, but told through the lens of her goddaughter, singer-songwriter Dionne Bromfield. produced ten years after Amy’s passing, Broomfield opens up for the first time about the impact of Amy’s death on her life but illustrates the woman she remembers in a really well-constructed documentary that is a nice addition to the film that is already on Netflix and is still as important of a music and human template as it was then. That movie moved me to tears and this one did as well, a special piece of filmmaking that was definitely cathartic for those involved.

Stuntman – The unsung heroes of the film world are without a doubt the stunt players who work tirelessly behind the scenes and on camera to handle the carnage. They have dropped off buildings, thrown through glass windows, set on fire, bludgeon for our enjoyment, safely of course, and more things that I can list here. This film celebrates that a bit by showing us the story of legendary stuntman Eddie Braun in documentary form as he attempts one of the most dangerous stunts in history. Contemplating retirement and having survived over three decades of hellacious car crashes, explosions, high falls and death-defying leaps, Eddie decides to complete what his childhood hero never finished, the infamous Snake River Canyon rocket jump, an audacious televised event that almost killed famed daredevil, Evel Knievel. I’d say the biggest bummer of the film’s presentation is being on Disney+ rather than being experienced on the big screen. It really feels like it was intended for that format but just taking it in a story of a remarkable human being is a reward all on its own.

Blu-Ray & DVD:

Spiral: From the Book of Saw – This week in Canada we get to final experience in the proper format of blu-ray the new film in a franchise that was supposed to end after the seventh film, which was a 3D extravaganza. Oh and then a soft reboot with the flick, Jigsaw, but it flopped badly so do we still consider it a cog in the series? Now Chris Rock has stepped up as the executive producer and lead star, director Darren Lynn Bousman is back with writer Josh Stolberg and we get a whole new bag of nightmares to start fresh on. This story focuses on brash detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks who always seems to be working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran played by Samuel L. Jackson. With his rookie partner in tow, he takes charge of a grisly investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past, which we all know now what’s alluded to there. Unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer’s morbid game as more bodies begin to pile up. These movies all used to operate with a bit of torture porn horror wink but the good news is that this film, not without its rough parts, does enough to reinvigorate the fan base and give us a few new threads to follow as far as the continued legacy goes. I’d be interested in more, personally.

Die In A Gunfight – You know, with a title as brash and audacious as this one you better hope you come with all the genre oomph you can muster or those four words will be the best thing about it and you might as well heed that titular advice. A little harsh, I know, but I would say the same thing for comic books as well. Starring Diego Boneta and the IT girl of the last few years, Alexandra Daddario, the story follows the Rathcarts and the Gibbons, very much the modern-day Montagues and Capulets, two rival families who each control their own media empire in New York City. Their teenage kids ignore the feud and fall in love, despite their parents’ efforts to keep them apart and with a hitman, corporate corruption, love, jealousy, revenge and lust all combining to a huge crescendo, all of the characters and emotions come to a head at the wedding in a culmination that falls short on its production level. This usually wouldn’t be an issue but some of the action sequences feel awkward to the point that they seem like a production afterthought. It honestly hurt the movie a lot in my opinion and kept dragging me out of the story. The filmmakers don’t need to go die in a gunfight though. Too harsh.

Jakob’s Wife – Horror writer and director Travis Stevens has had this story in the chamber for a long time and I had no idea that horror icon and Reanimator star Barbara Crampton had such a hand in getting it made as she had been pushing it for years and not only stars as the title character but also produced the film as well. Co-starring another indie horror icon, Larry Fessenden as Jakob himself, the story follows Anne, a woman married to a small-town Minister who feels her life has been shrinking over the past thirty years. Encountering “The Master” one day during a moment of weakness with an old flame, the experience brings her a new sense of power and an appetite to live bolder along with a couple of worrisome bite marks on her neck However, the change comes with a heavy body count and her husband is forced to come to her rescue if he will be able to save their marriage as well. This movie is so well written with great tongue-in-cheek comedy and, even in a vampire film, it manages to bring new and fresh ideas to a subgenre that has been reinvented countless times. It also features a small role for the former wrestler and mixed martial artist CM Punk which made me smile.

Georgetown – Just having Christoph Waltz leading your film will automatically have me interested in it because he always brings such gravitas to every role even if he’s playing a self-conscious villain in The Green Hornet. In this film, he plays an eccentric and smooth-talking social climber who seems to have everyone in Washington, D.C., wrapped around his finger. His momentum seems to be impeded when he is investigated after his wealthy, well-connected and much older wife turns up dead in their home and questions are raised about his true identity. Co-starring formidable actresses Annette Bening and Vanessa Redgrave, the script and plot are what begin to fail this story before any of the performances do and it all works out to be far less than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t call it a bad or so-so movie but I was expecting far more from it and the ending just seems to fizzle.

Take Me Out To The Ball Game – This week Warner Archive is going classic Americana with one of their releases as they’ve got both Frank Sinatra and the have the age-old pastime of baseball. The interesting thing with this film is that it came at a time when Frank Sinatra’s career was struggling and the only time he did well at the box office was when paired with Gene Kelly, so, we have this musical romantic comedy. The story has Sinatra and Kelly as two turn-of-the-century baseball players, who work in vaudeville during the off-season, that run into trouble with their team’s new female owner and a gambler who doesn’t want them to win the pennant. The film would have had the triple head billing of Judy Garland’s star power but due to her developing drug problem she was unreliable so Esther Williams was picked for the role which, in turn, created confusion to the audience as to why there weren’t any swimming sequences, the reason Williams rose to fame. Old Hollywood is so weird yet so fascinating and I love behind-the-scenes stories like this. It gives the films a whole new context.

I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! – For the second of three Warner Archive films this week we head back to 1948 for a film noir mystery that came from a pioneer filmmaker named William Nigh who was in his late sixties making this film with this and Stage Struck, released in the same year, being his final production after a career that started behind the camera in 1914. The story follows a dancer who is pinned for murder after his shoe prints are found at the scene of the crime. After he is convicted to death row and is on the shortlist to execution, his wife follows the trail of clues that don’t quite add up to her husband’s involvement to find the real perpetrator. This film has an ordinary nature to it that is dispelled by the great way in which they tackle the mystery. YOu can really feel Nigh’s veteran capabilities in some parts but also feel that he is a bit tired in others. Still, this was an interesting watch.

Step By Step – I totally geeked out on this blu-ray update of this film noir crime drama as it features Lawrence Tierney in the lead role and my first thought went to his appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s debut film Reservoir Dogs. This is for sure a movie that inspired Tarantino’s own film career and Tierney is so great in this, tough, virile and in his prime as a twenty-five year old man. The story follows him as Johnny, an ex-Marine, who, with Evelyn, a chance acquaintance, find themselves caught up in a plot involving Nazi spies infiltrating sunny California. In a hilarious bit of trivia, retakes were often required as a result of Lawrence Tierney’s showing too much, um, “enthusiasm” for his co-star Anne Jeffreys in his tight-fitting swim trunks. I don’t think I need to explain that one more but I think it’s funny that history discloses that tidbit of information.

Royal Deceit – This was a weird one as MVD Entertainment sent me the blu-ray update of this mid-nineties medieval story with a killer cast including Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Helen Mirren and Gabriel Byrne yet I had never heard of it. The film is a re-telling of Hamlet that goes back to the original Danish source material with the opening scenario remaining the same, Hamlet’s father is murdered by his brother who then weds the widowed mother. Like the original tragedy, Hamlet then must discover his strength and leadership that will allow him to regain his rightful throne but the twist hits in the second and third act as this story chooses to follow a more Viking route of storytelling. This film wasn’t well received at the time as Kate Beckinsale stated that after this movie’s release, she was approached by a man in Paris, praising the movie, saying that he never saw the story of Hamlet work as a comedy. This movie was definitely not meant to be a comedy but it showcases some actors who hadn’t yet hit their star-making stride.

Close Range/Savage Dog – Underrated action star Scott Adkins gets showcased big time in this new blu-ray double feature that features two of favourites of his work according to his fans. Close Range has him as a rogue soldier turned outlaw who is thrust into a relentless fight with a corrupt sheriff, his obedient deputies, and a dangerous drug cartel to protect his sister and her young daughter. The film has a big-budget action quality that really comes through on the fight scenes and the camera just loves Adkins thoroughly. The second film is the late fifties set Savage Dog that has him as a former boxing champion imprisoned in the Den-Dhin-Chan labour camp run by Vietnamese warlords and European war criminals. He makes a name for himself fighting tournaments on which wealthy criminals gamble in high-stakes events in the hopes of earning himself a release but the corrupt forces running the jail will do everything in their power to keep him locked down. This is another consistent action film that delivers on its brutality and is absolutely entertaining throughout. I was surprised by how satisfying this double feature was.

Dead & Buried 4K – One of the minds behind Alien, Ronald Shusett, was the driving force behind this creeper horror film from 1981 that operated a little bit under the radar but gained a huge cult following years later and now, on its fortieth anniversary, is quite revered by horror fans as an original and iconic piece of genre filmmaking. The first film from Raw Meat director Gary Sherman in almost ten years, this film is set in a small coastal town where, after a series of gory murders committed by mobs of townspeople against visiting tourists, the corpses begin to come back to life. The sheriff and his wife start to realize that the town’s coroner, played by Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory actor Jack Albertson, which will come into play later in the blog, is responsible for it and is creating an army of rural zombies. This movie is totally awesome and features some amazing gore and creature effects from a young Stan Winston in an incredible establishment of his work. It was also sadly the final film of Albertson who passed away before the film’s release from cancer that he suffered through while making it.

Star Trek Discovery: Season 3 – Look, I’m not fully caught up on everything in this series yet so for my research I just went as spoiler-free and vague just so I wouldn’t spoil everything for myself but I will say that fans of Star Trek aren’t too happy with the series. I’m enjoying it so far as I’m not as invested in it as everyone else but I can totally get people’s issues with it. The show is set ten years before Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise, as the USS Discovery discovers new worlds and lifeforms with one main Starfleet officer learning to understand all things alien both about herself and those around her starting at the disadvantage of being an accused mutineer for her brash actions. Great casting, exciting adventures and inner politics and an infinite ceiling due to being on the CBS All Access streaming service, I really like what they’re doing with this show and the possibilities are really endless to where they can go.

Gangs Of London: Season 1 – As a network that generally has made great decisions for its line up by picking up British programming like Quiz most recently, they have done it again by nabbing this gritty crime series from the UK network Sky. Coming from the man behind The Raid movies, Gareth Evans, this series tells the story of London being torn apart by the turbulent power struggles of its international gangs and the sudden power vacuum that’s created when the head of London’s most powerful crime family is assassinated. The only recognizable stars in this are Joe Cole who featured in the other British crime saga Peaky Blinders and Colm Meaney who was O’Brien in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine but it’s shot so beautifully and the story is absolutely fascinating for fans of these crime family series. As a guy that usually has my plate full with films most weeks, I was so happy to receive this show on blu-ray, to watch the series at my own pace in hi-def and fell in love with it. The series describes itself as “Game Of Thrones without dragon” and I have to agree that they share the same ruthlessness.

Shameless: Season 11 – A show that I kept feeling was going to abruptly end its run at least four seasons ago is finally drawing to a close and it was without the main star that kicked off the show, Emmy Rossum. The story of the Chicago dirtbag family the Gallaghers are shuffling out the door as there are probably no more stories to tell and the kids are all grown up now. For those who have never seen an episode and can now binge all one hundred and thirty-four episodes, I haven\’t sugar-coated the premise at all. It is an outrageous family drama that is based on the long-running hit UK series and follows a working-class patriarch of an unconventional Chicago brood of six kids headed by the eldest sibling who keeps the home afloat while their dad is out drinking and carousing. I will admit that this final season makes the same mistake as many long-running shows where it really didn’t know where to quit and should have ended with the exit of their major star. Why won’t they ever learn, especially Showtime who already made this mistake with Dexter?

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs – Another incredible collection of films from a powerful but under-recognized filmmaker is now available in beautiful blu-ray quality thanks to the great minds at the Criterion Collection. Marlon Riggs was an American filmmaker, educator, poet, and gay rights activist whose main focus was making hard-hitting documentaries that examine past and present representations of race and sexuality in the United States. This set has the films Ethnic Notions, tracing the deep-rooted stereotypes which have fueled anti-black prejudice, Tongues Untied, about the experiences of black homosexual men living in the United States, Affirmations, a look at what it’s like to be gay and black in America, Anthem, an exercise in dance, music, words and poetry in defiant celebration of the sensual and sexual pleasure of being black and queer and so many more. This is pivotal and important black filmmaking that is just as indelible as the works and works of James Baldwin. Tragically passing away at age 37, Riggs never got the chance to rise to the head of black filmmakers so hopefully, this set will live on and ideas from it are explored.

Adam Resurrected – I know that week to week it’s not a surprise that I’m a total movie nerd, hence this blog and my weekly spot of The Shift as a “movie expert” but I totally geek out, even more, when I receive a film by a great director that I have either never seen or never heard of. This film falls into the first category as it is a film I never had the chance to check out and it comes from acclaimed writer Paul Schrader who has made some of my favourite movies ever. This film stars Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe and follows the story of Adam Stein, a charismatic patient at a mental institution for Holocaust survivors in Israel, 1961. Before the war, in Berlin, Adam was a circus entertainer who was loved by audiences and Nazis alike until he finds himself in a concentration camp, confronted by Commandant Klein. Adam survives the camp by becoming the Commandant’s “dog”, entertaining him while his wife and daughter are sent off to die and years later we see the trauma of his survival in a brilliantly constructed film. Goldblum and Dafoe are electric in this film, one I dub a must-see.

Feed The Gods – Also another arrival from MVD Visual like my previous geek out, this little horror film has not only the distinction of being a Canadian film but it was right here in my backyard of beautiful British Columbia with a lot of local talent. The film comes from the mind of writer and director Braden Croft who absolutely rocks this story that feels deliciously original and, in ways, is completely untethered in the best ways. The story follows two brothers who return to a small mountain town in search of their long-lost parents only to discover that the place has a monstrous taste for tourists in a result the feels as it leans towards the arthouse side of the genre. The plot engaged me and the familiar faces of Resident Evil’s Shawn Roberts, Letterkenny’s Tyler Johnson and a face that pops up in damn near every Canadian production, Aleks Paunovic kept me in it. This is a hidden Canadian gem, I think.

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory 4K – When I was just a kid this movie was a total obsession of mine. Of course, on the surface level, it was for the obvious reasons, a kid winning a contest to go to a fabled chocolate factory. Underneath that was an adaptation of a book I knew, the great Gene Wilder doing what he does best, burn up the screen every moment he was there and odd elements of borderline horror which intrigued me to no end. For those new to this fifty-year-old classic, the story is about candy man Willy Wonka who prompts a worldwide frenzy when he hides five golden tickets inside his infamous candy bars. The lucky ticket holders will become privy to a tour of his eccentric secret world of candy making that involves chocolate rivers and walls that taste like snozzberry. Iconic and a seminal family film, the transition that Warner Bros. made for this to 4K blu-ray is breathtaking and a total treat for anyone who loves movies. This is, pardon the pun, a total treat.

His Dark Materials: Season 2 – I’m going to say something controversial here and reveal that I really like the Chris Weitz made Golden Compass film from 2007 which was the first kick at the Phillip Pullman written series of books and I really wanted to see more. It’s a damn great thing that HBO and BBC joined forces to do a faithful adaptation of these books and cast Dafne Keen, who astounded audiences alongside Hugh Jackman in Logan, as the lead character of Lyra. The potential of this series is unlimited and while being compared to Game Of Thrones is becoming a bit tiresome, the comparison feels a little more real with this one as the book series is popular and perfect for this style of adaptation. The first season set such a great tone for it that separates it from the previous version, immersing it in a great world of realism that is dying to be explored in this new season. I am excited about it.

Television:

Behind The Attraction: Season 1 (Disney+) – As a huge ride junkie but one that has never gotten to experience Disneyland or Disney World as an adult, I feel like this new docuseries on Disney+ was made for me. Narrated by former Criminal Minds star Paget Brewster, this show explores the history of how popular Disney attractions and destinations came to be, how they have changed over time and how fans continue to obsess over them. Each episode follows a different attraction like how Imagineers filled the Haunted Mansion with 999 happy haunts, how the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror transformed into Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT!, with incredible and gravity-defying construction to do so, and why Space Mountain took so long to launch. It even takes a look at the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge which is the thing I’m most interested in. For a nerd like me, this is the perfect show.

Masters Of The Universe: Revelations (Netflix) – A man I consider my personal Gretzky, Kevin Smith, a driving force to me pursuing podcasting, then radio and movie critiquing, anything he puts his name on becomes very special to me and when it was announced that he would be executive producing this new He-Man series I was automatically intrigued. As a fan of the show and toys himself, Smith has the perfect reverence for the source material and he brings all of that with a great voice cast to this show that feels like it picks up where the original series left off with a tone that suits the time that has passed. The story pits our heroic warriors, He-Man, Orko, Cringer, and Man-At-Arms and guardians of Castle Grayskull against Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, Beast Man and the vile legions of Snake Mountain but after a ferocious final battle forever fractures Eternia, it’s up to Teela to solve the mystery of the missing Sword of Power in a race against time to prevent the end of the Universe. This show had so many jaw-dropping moments in just five episodes and it has me absolutely salivating for the next batch of episodes that can’t come fast enough. Rejoice, HeMan fans because we got a show by a cast and crew that totally get it!

Ashes To Ashes (BritBox) – One of my favourite British shows of the modern television era, this series is actually a spin-off of one of my other favourite Brit shows and one that actually got a short-lived American remake, Life On Mars. Named after David Bowie songs, these are actually a weird sort of time travelling sort of sci-fi shows but it’s never quite as simple as that. This complete series takes you back to ‘the decade that taste forgot, the 1980s and revels in nostalgia, providing plenty of sight jokes and, of course, a brand new car for DCI Gene Hunt and his crew who return after Life On Mars where he once again acquires a time-travelling sidekick, this time in the sexy and smart DI Alex Drake. Alex’s journey began back in 2008 when she was shot during a botched kidnapping of her daughter Molly and left for dead. Philip Glenister and Keeley Hawes lead this show that is reliant on incredible mystery, great music and brilliant chemistry to make a three-season series that I couldn’t stop watching when I discovered it. I’m so happy that it can be rediscovered by binge-watchers!

Ted Lasso: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – The best current comedy on any streaming, cable or network platform is back for a second season and just a week after the first season earned an incredible twenty Emmy nominations that it most certainly deserves. Jason Sudekis leads a series that is without a doubt the most feel-good and serotonin filled comedies that I have come across in my life. For those who aren’t on the Lasso bandwagon yet because, I don’t know, you’re scared or don’t want to join the mainstream, the show follows an American football coach who heads to the U.K. to manage a struggling London football team in the top flight of English football for an owner who is using him as a way to tank the team to get back at her ex-husband. This show is amazing in how it makes you care about every character as the whole cast is absolutely stellar and there aren’t any wasted lines or moments and has recurring jokes and moments that will both endear you to the show and have you rolling on the floor with laughter. I can not stress enough how much this show is needed in everyone’s lives. It’s that special.

Turner & Hooch (Disney+) – I’m doubling down on my Disney coverage this week with a new series that I was sure I was going to hate but in the end, I dug it, probably just based on the charm of Josh Peck as the lead character. I had my hackles up against this one as I love the original Tom Hanks comedy but after the first episode had finished, I noticed that the showrunner is Matt Nix who made the awesome Burn Notice which I still consider must-see procedural entertainment. This series, just like the film it’s based on, follows a detective who solves crimes reluctantly with the help of an oversized dog, plain and simple. Is it corny? Yes. Will you roll your eyes a lot? Yeah, probably. But does it still work as an entertaining story? Yes, it really does and the fact that it’s using Vancouver as Chicago is something I can kind of get behind in a ridiculous way. Just like with Mighty Ducks, Disney got me again.

New Releases:

Space Jam: A New Legacy – I feel like a sequel or reboot of the NBA and Looney Tunes collaboration fantasy action film Space Jam was inevitable and with Lebron James being the modern equivalent to Michael Jordan, sidestepping Kobe Bryant who was another player in that echelon, and with King James being so involved in movies these days, he’s the logical choice to lead the charge. The film is about a rogue artificial intelligence that kidnaps Lebron’s son and he must get them home safe by leading Bugs, Lola Bunny and the whole gang of notoriously undisciplined Looney Tunes to victory over the A.I.’s digitized champions on the court made up of a powered-up roster of professional basketball stars. It’s really what you would expect from a reboot but just modernized and with so many other Warner Bros. properties in the background. I think that’s the most fun in the trailer, pointing all of them out. I think I even saw A Clockwork Orange in the crowd which is kind of inappropriate. Will the film be any good though? I think it’ll be passable but not great.

Gunpowder Milkshake – It’s a lady led action extravaganza this week on Netflix with a new film that I think looks totally bad assjust based on the trailer alone. The cast is incredibly likeable as well, with Karen Gillan, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett and Lena Headey facing off against Paul Giamatti and it looks like the stylishness of the film matches the impeccable casting. The film follows Sam, a hardened assassin who was led down the same path of her cold-blooded hitman mother who abandoned her as a child. After a high-stake mission spins out of control, putting an innocent 8-year-old girl in the middle of the gang war she has unleashed, Sam has no choice but to go rogue which ultimately leads her back to her mother and her former hitwomen sidekicks, who all join forces in an avenging war against those who took everything from them. The film comes from writer and director Navot Papushado who follows up his fantastic horror thriller Big Bad Wolves from 2013 and the antipation is huge for those who know his work.

Fear Street Part 3: 1666 – The Fear Street trilogy concludes this week after dazzling us with two decade specific slasher movies preceding this movie that felt like it was channeling a bit of Robert Eggers’ The VVitch but with that same teen centric energy. Utilizing all of the cast from the last two movies but in setter era roles, he origins of Sarah Fier’s curse are finally revealed as history comes full circle on a night that changes the lives of Shadysiders forever. To be honest, some of the back story is a bit of a slog to get through, no matter how necessary it is to the overarching story but the third act goes back to 1994 and it gets totally crazy and I really loved it. The story does get a full resolution but there is a part of me that wants another Fear Street trilogy, a series or even just one movie and the stinger at the end sort of indicates that we may get it. Horror fans got a sweet little gift with the last three weeks and, by the numbers Netflix has projected, it looks like we’re all grateful.

Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions – The original film to this horror sequel was actually a huge surprise to me as I thought it was going to be a badly written cash grab that was honing in on the escape room craze that still runs rampant all over the world. What we got was a cool sort of horror adventure as we see the characters go from elaborate trap to trap in an unpredictable and totally thrilling film. So, was I looking forward to this follow-up? You bet your ass! Joining forces with two of the original survivors, the story follows six people who unwittingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive. AS they move room to room, they soon discover that they are all survivors of a previous game and are now playing on a sort of “championship” level. I’m here for the unique set pieces and the mystery so hopefully, this one can keep it going and we get a franchise out of it.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain – When Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in June of 2018 it, without hyperbole, shook the world. I swear that most people were shaken by the loss of one of the greatest chefs on the planet who took his love of food out of the kitchen and into and all across the world with his incredible travel shows that went much deeper than the surface level in every way. This documentary is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon known to us also as a writer, adventurer and provocateur. The film comes from Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville who curates thousands of hours of footage of Bourdain, dating back to the late nineties, to create a portrait of an absolute legend with the help of his close friends as well. The film never shies away from the darkness and impulsiveness that peppered Bourdain’s life and gives an incredible well-rounded resolution to his story without softening the blow of his end. This movie was incredible.

The Misfits – Well, I got duped pretty bad but the good thing is a knew pretty quickly that I had been but the bad thing is that I had to grit my teeth and continue through it just to see if it improved at all. Spoiler alert, it did not. The interest came with the cast of this con man centric film that includes Pierce Brosnan, Tim Roth, Nick Cannon and Jamie Chung in a Renny Harlin production, the guy behind so many action blockbusters in the 90s, most of them underrated. The film follows renowned criminal Richard Pace who finds himself caught up in an elaborate gold heist that promises to have far-reaching implications on his life and the lives of countless others after being recruited by a group of unconventional thieves. The movie is corny and utterly lazy from the get go, relying on Cannon’s cliche filled narration to impart a false and unearned sense of coolness that the audience never feels. I felt totally bored by everything I was seeing on the screen and as the nonsense of the plot got dumber and dumber I just wished for the merciful end to the film and credits to roll. I dare say I hated this movie.

Pig – It’s a weird week in the new release section as we’ve got two films that are completely pig centric and in a fashion that would surprise no one that knows me, we are starting with the Nicolas Cage movie. The legendary and iconic actor adds another incredible performance to his recent renaissance in his career with a film that fits neatly in the caliber of films like Joe, Mandy and Color Out Of Space, giving me more ammo to call him one of the greatest. The story is fairly simple at first, with Cage playing a truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness that must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped in the middle of the night and the assailants leave him for dead. The story opens itself up as it begins the second act leading to a totally brilliant finale, all with Nic alongside his benefactor, played by Alex Wolff in an equally great performance. This movie had me on the edge of my seat and not just because it is a Nic Cage film but because it was so well presented by writer and director Michael Sarnoski who guides this story with veteran precision. This movie is so damn good.

Gunda – The simplicity of this dialogue free and humanless documentary may not win a lot of favour from the mainstream audience but both my daughter and I found ourselves absolutely captivated from the beginning to its tragic but business as usual ending. This is, without a doubt, experiential cinema in its purest form, as the film chronicles the unfiltered lives of a mother pig, a flock of chickens and a herd of cows with incredible intimacy, shot beautifully in a textured black and white. Director Victor Kossakowsky really invites the audience to slow down and experience life as his subjects do, taking in their world with a magical patience and an otherworldly perspective in a story that asks us to meditate on the mystery of animal consciousness, and reckon with the role humanity plays in it.

The Call – Two horror legends take the shoulder weight of the clout in this new addition to Shudder’s line-up this week as genre favourites Lin Shaye from the Insidious movies and more and Tobin Bell, Jigsaw from the Saw series, feature in this new thriller that was definitely written for them. The film is set in the fall of 1987 and follows a group of small-town friends who must survive the night in the home of a sinister couple, played by Shaye and Bell, after a tragic accident brings them to the couple’s door. This movie only succeeds on the two veterans’ ability to make anything work like the rest of the film gets tied up in tired slasher tropes, predictable reveals and other horror cliches that consistently bring the smaller productions down to their knees. IT’s still awesome to see a Lin Shaye freakout scene and I suspect that will never change.

A Classic Horror Story – Netflix is doubling down on horror this week with not only the conclusion of their high profile trilogy but this little film that features Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz who kicked so much ass the in the bloody and violent film Revenge. The story follows five carpoolers who are traveling in a motorhome to reach a common destination but when night falls, and to avoid a dead animal carcass, they end up crashing into a tree. When they come to their senses, they find themselves in the middle of nowhere and the road they were traveling on has disappeared, leaving only a dense, impenetrable forest and a wooden house in the middle of a clearing, which they discover is the home of a spine-chilling cult. This movie goes balls to the walls for it’s first two acts before kind of faltering with it’s finish but it all still ends up being pretty chilling and original in it’s thrills. If you want a good horror tale that is off the beaten path a little bit, this is a solid bet.

The Loneliest Whale: The Search For 52 – With Gunda finally rolling out this week, it managed to make it in good company of nature documentaries as this beautiful ocean film gets it’s time in a wider release after a small limited one last week. AS much as nature documentaries make you feel uplifted, this film gave me a rollercoaster of emotions that didn’t stop for the entire ninety minute duration. The film is a cinematic quest to find the “52 Hertz Whale,” which scientists believe has spent its entire life in solitude, calling out at a frequency that is different from any other whale. As we search for this elusive creature, we will explore the phenomenon of human reaction to its plight, while revealing its connection to the growing epidemic of loneliness in our interconnected world. This movie is not just an overarching insight into a world of nature that is awe inspiring but also a showcase of a dedicated documentary crew led by writer and director Joshua Zeman who has already brought us amazing Netflix shows and the unshakeable Cropsey which needs to be seen to be believed. This was such a special movie and I feel lucky that I got to experience it.

Blu-Ray & DVD:

Mortal Kombat – Oh man, we are starting with one of my guilty pleasures this year arriving on blu-ray and a revamp of a property that means a lot to me. Why? Well, it may have something to do with how ravenous I was about the original movie, which I saw in theatres multiple times. It may be my disappointment in the sequel to said movie, my insane love for the video game franchise or my whetted appetite that the Legacy YouTube series gave me but, you get the point, I’m into this. The film follows MMA fighter Cole Young, a warrior accustomed to taking a beating for money who is unaware of his heritage and why the mythic Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, played by The Raid’s Joe Taslim, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt Cole down. Fearing for his family’s safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Soon, he finds himself at the temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Here, Cole trains with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano, as he prepares to stand with Earth’s greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high-stakes battle for the universe. This movie is so much fun and I feel like I love it in a Godzilla vs. Kong way where I can just appreciate it for what it is and be dazzled by it. I mean, Sub Zero stabs a dude with a sword made from frozen blood! How awesome is that?

Separation – I have to admit, when I saw the name William Brent Bell attached to this new horror film as it’s director I immediatly had a sort of post trauma stress flashback of having to sit through his films Stay Alive, The Devil Inside, The Boy and it’s awful sequel. Seriously, the guy has made the worst cringe inducing schlock and in not even close to a fun way. For this one he’s got a good lead in actor Rupert Friend, playing the father of a little girl who is processing the lost of her mother by claiming that she can see her ghost everywhere. Co-starring Golden Globe winner Brian Cox and Mamie Gummer, this movie proves it again that Bell is a dreadful writer, an uninteresting director and a creator incapable of making a believable character. I feel like I’m making a long list of times that I want compensation for wasting when it comes to this filmmaker. I don’t want to say that I’m better, having never made my own movie, but I feel like I’m dangerously close.

No Man’s Land – I’ve always stated my man-crush on tough guy Frank Grillo so when this film popped up you just know I’m going to nab it on my list and give it the rundown even though I didn’t know much about it beyond his involvement. The film was written by the Allyn brothers and Conor Allyn took his place behind the camera while Jake puts himself in the lead role for this new border patrol action thriller. The film is a modern Western that is inspired by the real-life “no man’s land” areas along the Texas-Mexico border and follows a father and son border patrol who get into an altercation that results in the son killing an illegal immigrant child. When the father tries to take the blame for the killing, the son flees south on horseback, becoming a “gringo” or illegal alien himself in Mexico. Chased by Texas Rangers and Mexican Federales, he journeys across Mexico to seek forgiveness from the dead boy’s father only to fall in love with the land he was taught to hate in a film that broad bravado makes for a bid of a tedious drama. As great as Grillo and co-star Andie MacDowell are in this movie it isn’t enough to keep a mediocre script afloat and the bloated runtime starts to show more cracks in its foundation. I guess there was a reason I hadn’t heard of this one.

Held – Having been in some form of lockdown isolation for more than a year, it really makes horror based in isolated areas so much more chilling at the present time and this new horror thriller hopes to prey on that weakness. The story follows a couple whose marriage is losing its spark and, in an effort to reconnect, they vacation to a remote high-end rental, complete with automated smart house features and integrated security. However, after suspecting a nighttime intruder they decide to flee, only to become forcibly trapped inside by the automated security system. Emitting from the house, an unknown voice watches their every move through an array of hidden cameras, revealing an intimate and unsettling knowledge of their relationship. While the situation grows increasingly brutal, the couple must work together to uncover the truth and find a way out before it’s too late. This movie was a hidden surprise that has great twists throughout and a crazy ending that I can’t even begin to describe, nor would I want to because it is incredibly satisfying on a storytelling level. This is truly a special film.

A Cinderella Story: Starstruck– Remember the Hillary Duff and Chad Michael Murray film that kicked off this whole elongated franchise and, by no means, was ever supposed to be the basis of a direct to video empire? Well, you might not as that film came out over fifteen years ago but have no fear rapidly aging person because we’re going western with this story in 2021. This new film follows Finley Tremaine, a small town farm girl who longs to spread her wings and soar as an aspiring performer. When a Hollywood film crew arrives in her sleepy town, she is determined to land a role in the production and captures the attention of handsome lead actor, Jackson Stone. Unfortunately, a botched audition forces her to change course. Now, disguised as cowboy “Huck,” Finley finally gets her big break but her evil stepmother and other shenanigans threaten to have her fairy tale come crashing down around her. See what I did here with the “fairy tale” thing? It’s much more attention than this movie deserves as it is really just for the pre-teen girls and it is pretty lame overall.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street – For all the kids that grew up under the tutelage of the Children’s Television Workshop, like me, get ready for a rollercoaster of nostalgia and sweet memories with this new documentary that takes us on the wild ride of our on-screen education. Coming from Mad Hot Ballroom director Marilyn Agrelo, this film takes the viewer inside the minds and hearts of the Sesame Street creators to help us understand not only how they produced this groundbreaking show, but also what it was like to be at the center of a cultural and social phenomenon. Street Gang concentrates on the most experimental and groundbreaking period of Sesame Street with the original surviving creators and archive interviews with those who have since passed to weave together personal narratives and with never before seen behind the scenes footage to reveal how they collaborated to push every boundary that confronted them, changing television and changing the world. Many times in this movie I felt tears of memory and joy rolling down my cheek as I saw the little sketches and vignettes that helped form my childhood brain and then the part dealing with Mr. Hooper came on and I lost it all emotionally. I can’t stress how much I recommend this wonderful movie.

My Fair Lady 4K – Paramount is giving more of the 4K treatment to another classic film that moulded a whole generation with this Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison iconic musical. Now, I’m definitely not a musical fan by any standard but I do recognize that this move is revered by a hugely vocal audience and it did win eight Academy Awards of the twelve it was nominated for, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Cinematography, no small feat at all. The story follows a pompous phonetics professor named Henry Higgins who is so sure of his abilities that he takes it upon himself to transform a Cockney working-class girl into someone who can pass for a cultured member of high society. His subject is the lovely Eliza Doolittle who agrees to speech lessons to improve her job prospects and as the process deepens and the clashes surface, the bind between the two strengthens until it is all threatens by a new aristocratic suitor. I can’t really say anything bad about this film as it is a masterpiece of classic musical cinema, inspired so many more like it and it looks so great in the full 4K transfer.

Almost Famous 4K – One of my favorite movies of all time has gotten the full 4K remastering treatment and it makes it that much better to watch! Honestly, if you’ve never gotten the chance to see Cameron Crowe’s very autobiographical film that has just reached the milestone of a twentieth anniversary this year then you are depriving yourself of one of the greatest music driven cinematic experiences in history I believe and, oh man, just the cast alone should sell it. For those trapped under a rock for two decades, the film follows a high-school boy who is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies them on their concert tour. Featuring Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee and many more, the script, the music, the performances and the aesthetic all converge for a completely unforgettable film that should be talked about forever. I love this movie.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Camino – Zoe Bell is an Aussie bad ass that should be name on everyone’s lips when it comes to the best action stars, male or female, who can deliver believable fights because they are actually trained fighters. The big reason that Bell should be notable is that she was Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill and has an incredible sequence in Deathproof that is still breathtaking but this film is all hers. This film has her playing a photographer on assignment in the Columbian jungle following a group of missionaries as they bring meds to the poor. When her lens captures the leader conducting a cocaine deal and murdering a child witness, the group turns on her and orders her death, sending her on a run for her survival. Bell is so awesome in this movie that is pulse pounding and intense with a great villain turn from Nacho Vigalondo who is usually behind the camera in a directors role.

Horrorpops: Live At The Wiltern – MVD Visual is always sending me interesting films and documentaries and one of the regular installments I get are these three disc sets of live concerts, a lot of the time featuring bands that I’ve heard of fleetingly but never actually heard their music. The Horrorpops are one of them. Horrorpops are a Danish punk band formed in Copenhagen in the mid nineties who’s sound is rooted in psychobilly, rockabilly, and punk rock. What drew me to them immediately was bassist Patricia Day who fronts the band as a vocalist as well and plays a stand up bass which makes me think of one of my favorite bands, The Violent Femmes. I also love some rockabilly like The B52s, The Brian Setzer Orchestra or the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies so this didn’t take a lot to sell me as I was basically into this about two or three songs through the concert. Add to that the gradiosity of The Wiltern as a venue and it’s a pretty damn cool show no matter how you look at it.

The Daimajin Trilogy – Thanks to the creative geniuses at Arrow Video, I have an all new box set full of niche filmmaking to grace the geekouts with and this series of films from 1966 Japan. It starts with Daimajin about a giant stone statue that comes to life to protect the residents of a small town against the depradations of an evil warlord, followed by Return of Daimajin with the giant statue exacting revenge upon those who conquer its worshippers, then it finishes off with Daimajin Strikes Again or Wrath Of Daimajin about the mysterious statue attacking an evil warlord that invades a peaceful lakeside village and enslaves the villagers. These are very cool movies to take in if you like Japanese cinema and it almost feels like a little offshoot of the Godzilla or Gamera movies that started gaining popularity at the time. I also love the artwork on this boxset which is eye popping to say the least. Arrow always rocks their collector’s editions and this one is no different.

Resurrection – I can’t believe I’m putting this one into the geekouts but it was a late arrival from Warner Bros. and I didn’t want to anger the gods of distribution by not talking about a movie they sent me about the son of God. That makes sense, right? I hope so, because it’s going to get terrible now. Featuring veteran actresses Joanna Whalley and Greta Scacchi, the film follows the followers of Jesus who are being mercilessly hunted for their devotion. Their only salvation is the rising of Jesus from his grave which formulates the believe and devotion to him and blah, blah, blah. Sorry, I honestly couldn’t hold it together anymore because this movie was a dreadful mess and it’s all thanks to the producing hands of Touched By An Angel’s Roma Downey and Survivor’s Mark Burnett. As soon as you see that faith based power couple’s names you should probably back out slowly. I wish I did.

Television:

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes (Crave) – A new documentary series arrives this week and usually I bring the murder filled ones to occupy your sick little minds but this time I’m bringing something far more focused and important and it is all thanks to Ronan Farrow and HBO Max. The show is a six parter that brings Farrow’s intimate and revealing interviews with whistleblowers, journalists, private investigators and other sources to the screen in a never before seen larger platform. If you are already an avid reader of all of his column and pieces then nothing new will be revealed here but I found the approach to the series so fascinating and it opens the door for Farrow to tackle more opportunities in the future and maybe a bigger bombshell will land in a future season. I feel like the ceiling for this show is absolutely limitless and I would love to see many more tyrants brought to their knees. It’s time for it.

McCartney 3,2,1 (Disney+) – Being a huge Beatles fan, you just know that I have been chomping at the bit to check this one out, a documentary series that centers around one of the last living members of the greatest group ever, along with Ringo Starr. The film has legend and acclaimed producer Rick Rubin interviewing Paul McCartney on his work with the Beatles, Wings, and as a solo artist, including stories about his personal relationships that inspired his songwriting. As a fans who believes he knows it all, this show blew my mind with new information and new stories about the songs I have been enjoying for my entire life as well as Paul’s process as a singer and songwriter and how that has evolved up until this point. This is a special six episode series that will long live in my memory and may even get a repeat viewing a few months down the road.

Never Have I Ever: Season 2 (Netflix) – From producer Mindy Kaling comes the second season of this smart, funny and John McEnroe narrated teen comedy drama that I fell in love with quickly into the first season. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan leads this show about the life of a modern first-generation Indian American teenage girl navigating love, friendship and sexuality, all based on the formative years of the show creator, Kaling. The second season has Devi now involved in a love triangle and still in the “shunned zone” with her friends Eleanor and Fabiola after her very selfish acts in the latter half of the season. I absolutely love the writing in this show that constantly makes me laugh and smile but also can bring the real drama, the power of loss and grieving and the simple notion that Will Smith taught us all those years ago and that’s the fact that parents just don’t understand.

Schmigadoon (AppleTV+) – I hate musicals, I haven’t ever made a secret of that but someone must have been listening and made a character out of how I feel and plunked them into a musical series as this show speaks to my soul. Starring Cecily Strong, Keegan Michael Key and many more and co-created by Strong as well this show follows a couple in a lull in their relationship who go on a backpacking trip, end up getting lost an then stumble upon a magical town in which everyone acts like they’re in a musical from the 1940s like a bright eyed and sweethearted Twin Peaks. I absolutely love Key’s standoffishness about everything he’s experiencing around him in this show and the biting comedy the lies under each tongue in cheek song had me totally howling, It will keep me watching every episode religiously and I’m probably the most surprised about my drive to watch a musical series.

Wellington Paranormal (The CW) – As a big fan of everything that Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi and their insane New Zealander comedy stylings, I have been waiting for this series to hit North American television screens as it has finished it’s entire run in it’s native country. Following on the heels of the phenomenal What We Do In The Shadows, the series follows Sergeant Ruawai Maaka of the Wellington Police who enlists the aid of Officers Minogue and O’Leary to tackle paranormal events in New Zealand’s capital city. In a police reality show style, the six part series follows these kiwi cops as they investigate cases such as the demon possession of a teenager, a noise complaint at a haunted house and a blood bank robbery in completely irreverant comedic fashion. Seriously, New Zealand might be the funniest country on the planet and I’m pretty sold on that opinion. Prove me wrong, other countries!

New Releases:

Black Widow – It’s been over a year since we were robbed of the next installation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a film that was a long time coming and, honestly, show have been made years earlier. Yes, Scarlet Johansson finally gets her own solo Black Widow movie and I am happy to have it, especially with the supporting cast of Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz and the emergence of Marvel villain Taskmaster. The film follows Natasha in a story that precedes Infinity War and Endgame as she confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger. The action is fast and hard-hitting, the characters are well fleshed out and this is exactly the Black Widow story we have been waiting for and I hope it becomes a massive hit because it really deserves to. This is the real welcome back to theatres thanks to the legends at Marvel.

Fear Street Part 2: 1978 – We continue down the path of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street this week with the next part of the Shadyside curse story and I think I loved this one more than last week’s opener as it pulls from all of those summer camp horror films in all the best ways. The film ties into the 1994 beginning then takes us back to Shadyside in 1978 where school’s out and activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin and get violent as another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival. This movie is full of style, great music and great kills as it features Stranger Things star Sadie Sink in the lead role and she pulls off the scream queen very well. This one directly reminded me of a series of books within Fear Street so it had my attention fully. I am just sweating in anticipation for the finale next week!


Lift Like A Girl – Two very interesting documentaries are getting small releases this week and they both play into the field of being sports related as well as inspirational and it all kicks off with this one that also deals with the gender divide or the continued implying that there is one in reality. The film is about the female weightlifting community training in the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, as it follows the 14-year-old Zebiba as she pursues her dream to become a professional weightlifter. Her coach Captain Ramadan believes so much in her and never takes no for an answer and has been training world champion weightlifters for more than 20 years, including his daughter Nahla Ramadan, a former world champion, an Olympian and the pioneer of weightlifting in Egypt, as well as Abeer Abdel Rahman, the first Arab female two-time Olympic medalist. For 4 years, Zebiba goes through victories and defeats, including major losses that shape her, as she finds her way from dust to gold in a movie that really displays the strength and resolve of a remarkable human. I really enjoyed this film and think that it should be shown widely as a great template for those who doubt their own ability.


Running Against The Wind – This is the second inspirational documentary this week and it is almost like the distributor knew that this would be a great pairing to put together for people. Maybe they’re thinking that audiences need it because I certainly did. The story starts with twelve-year-old boys, Solomon and Abdi,  growing up in a remote village in Ethiopia whose lives are changed by a single photo. Solomon heads for Addis Ababa to become a photographer while Abdi remains at home and trains to fulfil his dream of matching the sport successes of Haile Gebrselassie, a famous Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete. Ten years later, the story picks up when Abdi is nominated for the Ethiopian National Running Team and moves to Addis Ababa. Thinking Solomon might be dead, Abdi is spurned on by a gentle voice in his head to reconnect with his old friend and the result is amazing. The division of this story feels a little disjointed but, just like the last movie, the human drive of this story is enough to keep you looped in from beginning to end and it had me totally captivated.

Bone Cage – There was something about this new Canadian indie drama out of Nova Scotia that had me looped in pretty much immediately and it has to be attributed to the focused drive of British Columbian Taylor Olson who wears multiple hats in this film as the lead star, writer and director, an adaptation of the play from writer Catherine Banks. The film has Olson as Jamie, a gentle soul working as a wood processor, clear-cutting for pulp who, at the end of each shift, he walks through the destruction he has created looking for injured animals, and rescues those he can. Yearning for more meaning in his life, his desire to break free from this world is always thwarted by the very environment and circumstance he’s trying to escape in a story that often feels relatable and devastatingly true. Olson establishes himself well as a filmmaker with this feature and I look forward to what stories he brings in the future, especially being a west coast born and bred creator, which puts him in the win column for me. I guess I’m shallow like that.

Blu-Ray & DVD:

Defending Jacob – What initially weirded me out about this new limited series from AppleTV+ is that Chris Evans is now at an age where he can play the father of a high school teenager and no one will bat an eye at it. Maybe that’s just me that thinks it’s crazy. Anyways, this new show comes from Academy Award-nominated director Morten Tyldum and creator Mark Bombeck, known for penning The Wolverine among others and is based on the best seller of the same name from by novelist William Landay. The story unfolds around a shocking crime that rocks a small Massachusetts town and one family in particular, forcing an assistant district attorney to choose between his sworn duty to uphold justice and his unconditional love for his son who may be the murderer. The show also has Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery and It’s Jaeden Martell and has a great chilling mystery to it that keeps you engaged episode after episode and, let’s face it, Evans will bring so many eyes to it just being his attractive self. I can admit that.

Equal Standard – With the past two decades of his work being dedicated to playing a part of law enforcement on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, it’s probably crazy for the younger generation to think that Ice-T is one of the originators of gangster rap, the lead singer of the rap-metal hybrid Body Count and an outspoken voice against social injustice but he is and always will be. Just take a peep at his Twitter if you don’t agree. This film puts him back into the urban gangster landscape in a real feeling story about communities and gang members coming together to fight for real justice after an NYPD detective shoots a black man in the streets. This film’s voice feels like it’s a little muted as the makers seem to hold back on some of the angrier of opinions and hush them in the need to further the drama. It’s glaringly and frustratingly obvious every time they do it because now is not the time to pump the brakes, especially given the uprise of the last few years. Our art needs to fight as hard as those in the streets are, plain and simple. Anything else is, for lack of a better term, a cop-out.

Space Dogs: Tropical Adventure – I really don’t know how I can talk this one up for adults but for kids it will be a colourful and easy sell. Apparently, this is in a series of films and for this adventure, it follows astronaut dogs Belka and Strelka are sent to investigate a mysterious and dangerous whirlpool that appears in the tropics of the Atlantic Ocean and must complete a daring mission to save the planet along with the distant home of their new alien friends discovered in the process. As I said, a total eye-roller for the adults but you know it will occupy the little ones and that’s what matters in the end, at least an hour and a half of quiet time.

Threshold – Arrow Video is giving exposure to another little indie film and this one is a hidden gem that has a short but sweet runtime of only an hour and fifteen minutes but it’s looking to give your brain a little twist during that time. Coming from writing and directing duo Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young, the story follows a woman who persuades her estranged brother to accompany her on a cross-country road trip because she believes that she is cursed and this is the only way to lift it. The slow burn of this film is a winding road, just like the ones the characters traverse as they bicker the whole time, ending in a gnarly third act that has such a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to get your skin crawling. I really look forward to whatever these guys do next because they’re incredibly talented and with a studio budget they could be unstoppable, like Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.

Silat Warriors: Deed Of Death – Martial arts movies will always get me and that is pretty much the only thing I knew about this film heading in. Upon further investigation, I saw that it was a Malaysian martial arts film which made me pop it on immediately as I still rave about The Raid movies which I think are possibly the greatest of all time. The story follows a reckless young gambler whose wild lifestyle of illegal gambling, drag racing, and betting on brutal street fights pits him against a ruthless criminal betting ring when his luck finally runs out. The gang shows up at his family’s home to collect on the debt, forcing his family to fight to save their land and his life. Unfortunately the lack of experience and low-budget kind of dog this movie at every opportunity to separate itself from the pack and it fails to be memorable at all. I paid the price for jumping the gun on this one so you don’t have to. At least that’s a bonus.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

The Human Condition – Not really just a film and more like a collection of them, Criterion Collection debuted this new set of films from legendary Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi whose oeuvre was mostly based around the Japanese experience in World War II with a strong anti-war sentiment. The set is broken into six parts that make up three films that start with No Greater Love, which follows a Japanese pacifist, unable to face the dire consequences of conscientious objection, that is transformed by his attempts to compromise with the demands of war-time Japan. It is followed by Road To Eternity about a pacifist who is conscripted in wartime Japan’s military that struggles to maintain his determination to keep his ideals. The trilogy concludes with A Soldier’s Prayer as the pacifist fights for survival in the depths of a war he doesn’t believe in, fully bringing the title of the human condition full circle. As with a lot of Criterion-selected films, this is a master class in filmmaking and is a deeply meditative group of films that reflect strife, resolve and ideals beautifully.

Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 – What? I’ve got two film box sets this week? Yes, I do and this one comes from Arrow Video who love to grab niche films off the beaten path of cinema and into the realm of the unknown or forgotten. This set has five films that kick off with Savage Three about three young men, fresh into the world, who work together at a computer analysis company that, through their boss, evolve from well-mannered professionals to violent criminals. Like Rabid Dogs follows an upper-class young man who lives a hectic double life and, under the guise of a good student, stalks and kills prostitutes in the company of a couple of friends. Colt 38 Special Squad tells the story of a police commissioner who forms a secret motorized brigade to fight a dangerous terrorist who is depositing bombs throughout the city of Turin. Highway Racer is about a hot-shot police driver who has more guts than brains which often puts him at odds with his middle-aged mentor who was once a legendary police interceptor responsible for numerous large-scale arrests. Finally, No, The Case Is Happily Resolved is the story of a murderer who turns the tables on an eyewitness and gets them accused of all of his crimes. The set is a barrage of over the to Italian cinema but it’s all still so wildly entertaining and I’m really used to all of their horror and Giallo work so this was a very cool departure from that.

Avatar – I probably don’t need to say a lot about this one but I saw the ultimate edition of this on sale for just twenty bucks and I had to get it. Yes, this is essentially James Cameron ripping off Ferngully by combining it with the Dances With Wolves storyline but it was incredible to see in theatres and has probably the most immersive 3D effects I have ever seen in my life. For those new to this movie, it follows a paraplegic Marine who is dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission, put into the bodies of the native creatures, the Na’Vi, to obtain resources but becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. Cameron knows how to give us breathtaking action sequences and amazing imagery but his script is sometimes lacking. We are eventually getting more stories from this world so it’s a great time to get caught up now.

Mission Impossible – I feel like I talk about this franchise a lot on these blogs as I’ve received all of the films in 4K releases and I also got the original series in it’s fully completed version on blu-ray so where else is there to go? Well, Paramount has the answer to that as they’ve released the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the original Brian De Palma directed film that is a completely 4K remastered version of it, the first time it had been done. For those who haven’t seen Ethan Hunt, AKA Tom Cruise in his first mission, which turns disastrous as his teammates are all killed and he is put in the crosshairs as the prime suspect. In the greatest of De Palma’s twists and turns, Hunt must find the real murderer and clear his name in a movie that still rocks and got this movie franchise going in a big way. I love this film.

Snoopy Collection – For any Peanuts fans out there that have a deep nostalgia for the show like I do and want to show their young kids, nieces, nephews, cousins and whatnot these classic and wholesome movies, well, they are all available in pretty much one place now. This set features four of the big Charlie Brown movies with A Boy Named Charlie Brown,  Snoopy, Come Home, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) which is a fantastic starter kit to get any new viewer going. The Peanuts gang shouldn’t be a hard sell for any kid as my daughter is in love with all the characters and has now moved on to the AppleTV+ original shows that just started in the last couple of years.

Television:

I Think You Should Leave: Season 2 (Netflix) – Produced by Lonely Island, my anticipation for the new season of this sketch comedy series on Netflix was through the roof as it’s from one of my favourite collaborators currently. For those who don’t recognize Robinson’s name and haven’t had the privilege of seeing season one, I get you in on the ground level and tell you that Tim was a main writer for Saturday Night Live and is the co-lead alongside Sam Richardson in the hysterically funny series Detroiters. What can you expect from this show? How about a show where the main goal is for them to get their guest to want nothing more than to leave? That’s the basic premise and they have guests like Vanessa Bayer, Will Forte and Steven Yuen to help out in the first series and pro-wrestler Brody King, John Early and Tim Heidecker.

Gossip Girl (Crave) – One of my guilty pleasures on The CW for a long time was the vapid and high society scandals in the series Gossip Girl which introduced me to the beauty of Blake Lively, more than he role in The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, but also the, at the time, young stars Leighton Meester, Chace Crawford, Penn Badgley and the smarmy anti-charm of Ed Westwick’s Chuck Bass. Now the show looks to reboot with Kristen Bell still providing the voice-over narration of the title character after, let’s face it, a bumpy final season that left a lot to be desired. Is this one going to be better? Well, it’s being made by HBO Max which gives it no tether and the moon to shoot for so I can get behind it even if no other connectable character from the first series is set to appear. I am a completionist, so however bad it is, I’ll be on board.

Cat People (Netflix) – I immediately fell in love with this new docuseries that follows interesting people from around the world and that’s probably because it kicked off with an episode about one of my favourite cat people on the internet. The show tells the stories of some of the most remarkable and surprising “cat people” in the world, defying negative stereotypes while revealing the truth of what it means to love such fiercely independent creatures and, honestly, made me jealous that I can’t have a cat in my own home right now. Episode one is about Moshow, a “cat rapper” who makes songs about his cats like DJ Ravioli and more and, to be totally real, I absolutely adore him. Just watch the first fifteen minutes of it and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Resident Evil Infinite Darkness: Season 1 (Netflix) – If you stick Resident Evil on anything, it will automatically pique my interest because I consider the first video game one of the greatest of all time. It was a real obsession mine in the late 90s and onward. I know the movies were not the greatest but the animated movies have all been awesome and this is that kind of production but in the form of four episodes. The story follows federal agent Leon S. Kennedy who teams up with TerraSave staff member Claire Redfield to investigate a zombie outbreak in a sort of re-ignition of the original story. There’s a brand new live-action film coming as well so I think this is just a small tidbit of Capcom centric zombie horror to tide us over until then.

Atypical: Season 4 (Netflix) – It’s the final season of this slow burn but critically acclaimed series that has a stellar cast to it with Kier Gilchrist, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Rapaport and many rising stars and has cemented showrunner and creator Robia Rashid as a producer of note and someone I’m sure Netflix has under contract for her next project. The show s a coming-of-age story that follows Sam, an 18-year-old on the autistic spectrum as he searches for love and independence. While Sam is on his funny yet emotional journey of self-discovery, the rest of his family must grapple with change in their own lives as they all struggle with the central theme, what does it even really mean to be normal? I’m far late to this show as I currently at the beginning of season two but I reiterate what all the reviews have already said, this is a show that is begging to be watched.

New Releases:

Zola – The anticipation for this movie was absolutely huge  for me as the festival and critical buzz has been looming all over social media since the Sundance Film Festival and now that it’s here I am happy to say that it doesn’t disappoint. The crazy thing, and an indicator of where we can get film stories now, the inception of this story came from Twitter and a story told through a series of one hundred and forty eight tweets that laid the whole insane narrative out. “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” These are the words that start this Florida odyssey, following Zola, a Detroit waitress who strikes up a new friendship with a customer named Stefani that seduces her to join a weekend of dancing and partying in Florida. What at first seems like a glamorous trip full of “hoeism” rapidly transforms into a 48-hour journey involving a nameless pimp, an idiot boyfriend, some Tampa gangsters and other unexpected adventures. This movie is crazy and jaw dropping with it’s developments but still holds on to a rough command of cinema that puts it into the same category as the Sean Baker masterpiece The Florida Project. Oh man, I loved this movie so much.

The Boss Baby: Family Business – Dreamworks Animation is definitely looking to snag that post pandemic family movie money this weekend as they kept this one out of theaters and off of VOD the whole time, patiently waiting for theaters to re-open. It may not look like any sort of an entertaining film but I really enjoyed the first movie about a little businessman baby voiced by Alec Baldwin and that’s probably due to how much I love his 30 Rock Character Jack Donaghey and how he seems to channel it with this character. The sequel picks up with the Templeton brothers, Tim and his Boss Baby little bro Ted, who have become adults and drifted away from each other. Tim is now a married stay-at-home dad and Ted is obviously a hedge fund CEO. The adventures reignite when a new boss baby with a cutting-edge approach and a can-do attitude aims to bring them back together which starts with a quick de-aging process, reverting them back to babies. The animation is goofy and fun and the script feels like a snappy improv of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks which I really like but audiences can sometimes be cold to. It makes me think of how much I was into the Andy Samberg film Storks and how much everyone else hated it.

The Tomorrow War – As proven with the Guardians Of The Galaxy and Jurassic World movies, Chris Pratt is a bankable star when you put a huge franchise on him but with Passengers and the Magnificent Seven remake he didn’t bring that same box office glow with him which is not good for expensive tent pole films. He’s hitting up the sci-fi action thriller genre again to see what falls out with this new film that comes from Tom Cruise’s company Skydance and Chris McKay who’s mostly known for doing The LEGO Batman Movie. The film is set in an alternate version of our world that is changed forever when a group of time travelers arrive from the year 2051 to deliver the urgent message that thirty years in the future mankind is losing a global war against a deadly alien species. The only hope for survival is for soldiers and civilians from the present to be transported to the future and join the fight and among those recruited is high school teacher and family man Dan Forester, played by Pratt. Determined to save the world for his young daughter, Dan teams up with a brilliant scientist, played by Chuck actress Yvonne Strahovski, and his estranged father, in the form of Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons, in a desperate quest to rewrite the fate of the planet and I have to say it looks pretty cool. I’ve been duped by these genre films before but I want to believe that Chris Pratt made a solid film, and he produced it for his first time as well.

America: The Motion Picture – Not since Team America: World Police has the puffed out chest of bravado that makes the American pride been poked so viciously but lets face it, they kind of deserve it. Coming from the producers of Archer, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, The Expendables and Magic Mike comes an animated retconning of history featuring the voices of Channing Tatum, Simon Pegg, Andy Samber, Will Forte, Killer Mike, Jason Mantzoukas and so many more. The film follows a chainsaw-wielding George Washington who assembles a team of rabble rousers including beer-loving bro Sam Adams, famed scientist Thomas Edison, acclaimed horseman Paul Revere, and a very pissed off Geronimo to defeat Benedict Arnold and King James in the American Revolution. Who will win? America, duh. I mean he has chainsaws, just like history intended. Look, with Independence Day on Sunday, this is the perfect way to acknowledge it and give the story a bit of a kick in the pants.

The Forever Purge – They’re still making these movies? Yes, of course they are because they make money, cost little and even spawned a television spin off. Also, it seems like everyone in America kind of wants to kill each other already so the thirst for a horror film about a one night mass killing spree is still pretty appealing. This installment has the fallout from the events of the previous film and instead of improving the world through the main characters heroic actions and the exposing of the elite who created it, all the rules are now broken as a sect of lawless marauders decides that the annual Purge does not stop at daybreak and instead should never end. The imagery is totally gnarly with all of the Purge costumes and this aesthetic is what always brings me back to these movies as a glutton for punishment I guess. Will this be any good? No, probably just towing the line until the next movie as this franchise peaked with the Frank Grillo led second film and has never gotten back to that level.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 – As a pre teen and teenager I got hooked on the works of R.L. Stine but I didn’t start with the younger book series Goosebumps, which has already had the television series and movie treatment, because I was a fan before those books existed. No, I’m talking about the pure horror that was Fear Street and it’s many titles and now, through Netflix, we get our movie version of it with a little trilogy of films. Part one is a nostalgic kick off in the mid nineties that features all the greatest music needle drops you could get and follows a group of teenagers brought together when they accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. The film feels a bit heavy handed with all of it’s horror tropes to a detriment but a few gory minutes in the final act will definitely haunt my dreams and has me gassed up for next week’s follow up that has the Friday The 13th Camp Crystal Lake vibe written all over it.

Summer Of Soul – If I keep receiving music documentaries every week or every other week then I’m going to start becoming a euphorically happy critic from week to week because it is honestly one of my favorite subgenres. This film is a pivotal and important capturing of history with a message and a drive that makes it completely must see and it also happens to be the directorial debut of A Tribe Called Quest member, Jimmy Fallon bandleader and total music legend Questlove, billed in this by his real name, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson. Subtitled “Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised”, the film is a powerful and transporting documentary that is part music film and part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock at The Harlem Cultural Festival in Mount Morris Park, now named Marcus Garvey Park. The footage was never seen and largely forgotten, mothballed in a warehouse basement, until now thanks to Questlove. The film has incredible concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Baretto, Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach and so many more and I found myself grooving continuously to a fantastic soundtrack that I really hope gets a release on vinyl, CD or at least Spotify. This is such a fantastic movie and it really earns that Certified Fresh rating.

Let Us In – Sometimes you know a movie is a horror movie just by the inclusion of certain actors and seeing that Tobin Bell is one of the featured stars of this movie was like a shining beacon of genre specific stories. When I saw who the director of the film was, Craig Moss, I got a little worried to it’s quality as the guy did a couple buddy action films with Danny Glover and Danny Trejo and a spoof movie called The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It and you can probably figure out how good that was. The film follows a spirited twelve year old girl and her best friend who look to uncover the sudden disappearances of several missing teens in their small town and, realizing there might be something deeper happening, they quickly find that they might be up against forces they can’t even imagine. The thing I appreciated most about this film was that they went for more practical effects and in camera tricks to further the horror, which borders on science fiction quite a bit. Unfortunately, that’s where the praise ends as the end product is just not very good and only rises in it’s quality with the appearance of Bell who can only do so much to elevate it.

Vicious Fun – Shudder is a treasure trove for great little indie films from week to week but there’s a little catch, you have to love horror. Not just lie it, love it, because then and only then will you get the full appreciation of the artful on a niche level. This new flick that debuts this week caught my interest immediately and it’s definitely due to the smaller indie medium’s ability to be way more subversive. A story aiming directly for my heart, the story follows a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine named Joe who finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers and, with no other choice, he must try to blend in or risk becoming the next victim. This movie is all sorts of brilliant with incredibly meta threads running through it and never takes itself seriously for a second which just adds heaps more to it’s charm. I really hope that word of mouth drags this one into the stratosphere because it is that damn great.

First Date – This week has a lot of smaller films with great buzz around it and cast members that you won’t immediately recognize but that is certainly no reason to marginalize any of them into unknown just future sleepers I think. Take this film for example, the feature debut of writing and directing duo Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp that channels the great things about Risky Business into the awkwardness of trying to impress someone on their first date. The film follows shy teen Mike who, after being conned into buying a shady ’65 Chrysler, his eagerly-anticipated first date with the girl-next-door, Kelsey, implodes as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops, and a crazy cat lady. This is one of those fun comedies of errors that are reminiscent of the big Hollywood versions like Date Night or the recent Netflix film The Lovebirds with lead actors Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos sharing some really great comedic chemistry. This film is a low level riot that showcases all of the influences of the creators behind it

Black Conflux – We get some Canadian content this week with a film that has been getting so much great buzz on the festival circuit and it all has to be from the twist on conventional psychological thrillers it gives. A little in joke for Canadians, the film is also set in 1980s Newfoundland meaning that it is a straight up Newfie movie so get your jokes ready now. The film is a dreamy account of two converging lives, fifteen-year-old Jackie, who is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood, and Dennis, a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call. It opens with Jackie auditioning for her school choir with a gorgeous rendition of “Hey, Who Really Cares?” by little-known 1970s psychedelic folk singer Linda Perhacs, in a symbolic opening for a promising young woman from a broken home. Raised by her aunt and living under the cloud of all the failures endured by the women in her family, Jackie finds herself giving in to internal and external pressures like partying, skipping school, and hitchhiking in search of her own identity. Her choices leave her speeding inevitably towards Dennis, whose car doubles as a venue for his violent desires. The film is a fantastic debut from filmmaker Nicole Dorsey with a completely unpredictable script and I can’t wait for her next film which looks to be heading into production soon according to IMDB.

The Winter Lake – This new slow burn thriller may not have a big name cast but if you’ve seen Peaky Blinders, Sex Education, Alexandre Aja’s Crawl or recognize Roose Bolton from Game Of Thrones you know the acting is where this one shines. The film is the feature debut of director Phil Sheerin and comes from David Turpin, whose last film The Lodgers was a pretty solid mystery thriller as well. The story follows a young woman whose darkest secrets are accidentally uncovered by her new emotionally unstable neighbor which pulls them into a violent confrontation with her father, who will do anything to keep the secret hidden. This film is quiet and somber but really plays out on the long run and shows the treasure in being patient with your story telling. I feel like Sheerin has a good future ahead of him.

Blu-Ray & DVD:

Body Brokers – Sometimes we just need a middling crime thriller to entertain us for a couple hours to kill some time and we come across something like this on VOD or a streaming service, make sure that Bruce Willis isn’t in it (more on that later) and plunk it on. This is one of those such films that will get the consideration but the good news is that it’s actually quite good which was a total surprise for me. Featuring the tried tested and true Frank Grillo (more on him later too) Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe and The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams, the story follows a recovering junkie brought to Los Angeles for treatment that soon learns that the rehab center is not about helping people, but a cover for a multi-billion-dollar fraud operation that enlists addicts to recruit other addicts. A fresh and boldly original film from writer and director John Swab, it does an incredible job of drawing you into the story by focusing on making that characters work and being worthwhile so you actually care about what’s happening to them, something that usually gets lost in the shuffle. I’m really looking forward to anything Swab has next as this is just his third film.

Here Are The Young Men – As a teen and into my early twenties, stories about people living their lives to excess were really my jam. I was fully into nihilistic authors like Bret Easton Ellis for Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Rules Of Attraction, loved Chuck Pahlaniuk for Fight Club and Survivor and ate everything Irvine Welsh like Trainspotting or The Acid House. This new film might have me changing my tune because for all of its substance< I should love it, but it felt like it tread too much unoriginal ground. Based on the acclaimed novel by Rob Doyle, the film catalogues the last hurrah of three high school graduates intent on celebrating their newfound freedom with an epic, debaucherous bender but when they witness a horrible accident, it sends them spiralling badly and the trio must grapple with the most daunting challenge of their lives which is largely facing their own inner demons and, in some cases, their true nature. My screener for this film was grainy, stuttery and awful which may have led to some of my dislikes but the cast features Anya Taylor Joy, Finn Cole and Dean-Charles Chapman and utterly wastes them with a predictable story full of dumb character decisions and paint by numbers descent into chaos. This should have been way better.

Percy – Speaking of crops in Canada, this film takes it to the plains of Saskatchewan for a real David versus Goliath battle with some great veteran talent taking the screen, led by the legendary Christopher Walken. Directed by actor and filmmaker Clark Johnson, this film is based on events from a 1998 lawsuit and follows small-town farmer Percy Schmeiser, who challenges a major conglomerate when the company’s genetically modified canola is discovered in the 70-year-old farmer’s crops. As he speaks out against the company’s business practices, he realizes he is representing thousands of other disenfranchised farmers around the world fighting the same battle and suddenly he becomes an unsuspecting folk hero in a desperate war to protect farmers’ rights and the world’s food supply against what they see as corporate greed. Featuring co-stars Zach Braff, Christina Ricci and good Canadian Adam Beach, this film is a great character drama that excels over its small flaws to be a compelling story about a real fight that rages on now. I really enjoyed this one.

Wildcat – When I see a movie on the new release list I feel an obligation to let the public know of its existence and give it a little platform for a moment and sometimes that is something I live to regret in the usage of my time. Given the unknown cast and a director, Jonathan S. Stokes, I didn’t know, I felt like this might be another low budget American made half baked Middle Eastern terrorist film but I was happy I watched it in the end. The film follows an ambitious reporter stationed in the Middle East who is taken captive after her convoy is ambushed. She is confronted by the trauma of her past and must find a way to bring down the militants who incarcerated her in a film that has a few cool reveals and twists and turns as she struggles to make choices to ensure her survival. That said, it’s not a movie I would really go out of my way for.

Madame Curie – Warner Archive is bringing us back to the World War II era for a film about the discoverer of radium which, given the upcoming nuclear bomb that would be detonated a few years later, seems either ironic or like foreshadowing. Starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, two of the biggest stars of the era, the film follows poor physics student Marie, studying at the Sorbonne in 1890s Paris as one of the few women studying in her field. Of course, she  encounters skepticism concerning her abilities, but is eventually offered a research placement in Pierre Curie’s lab and the scientists soon fall in love and embark on a shared quest to extract, from a particular type of rock, a new chemical element they have named radium. Unfortunately, history tells us that this eventually ends in tragedy but it is an interesting story that was re-tackled recently with the Rosamund Pike film Radioactive on Amazon Prime. If you like a Turner Classic Movies approach to the story, I would definitely recommend this one.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:

Nightmare Alley – A newer release from the Criterion Collection, those geniuses are pulling on a title from the late forties that is about to become rejuvenated from one of the current masters of horror, Guillermo del Toro, in the form of a remake. slated for next year with Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Bradley Cooper and so many more. This film is celebrated now for the chances it took, including a departure for Tyrone Power from a good guy role and it’s disturbing noir feel, but it was totally hated at it’s time of release and bombed badly, losing the studio heaps of money. The story follows workman Stanton Carlisle who joins a traveling carny and unsuccessfully schemes to figure out the mind-reading act of Mademoiselle Zeena and her alcoholic husband, Pete. When Pete dies, Zeena is forced to take on Stanton as a partner, and he quickly proves more gifted than his predecessor and eventually abandons Zeena and the carny to reinvent himself as “The Great Stanton,” becoming a devious superstar, impressing high-class audiences in a Chicago hotel. This movie’s look and execution are totally ahead of its time and is definitely an inspiration for a lot of filmmakers as so many scenes evoked many cinematic memories for me.

There Was A Crooked Man… – The cast from this recent Warner Archive release grabbed me immediately and the fact that it’s a comedy western is all just excellent extra gravy in my opinion as this epic from the man behind All About Eve and Cleopatra. Starring Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates and Burgess Meredith, the story follows Wild West bandit Paris Pitman Jr. who, after a botched heist, hides his newly stolen money where no one will find it, then loses his entire gang in a blaze of bullets before being captured by the law and given a lengthy sentence in a desert jail. Paris believes that he can buy his way out of his predicament by offering some cash to the guards, but the upstanding Sheriff Lopeman makes sure his men remain honest, forcing the outlaw to begin plotting a jailbreak. I absolutely loved every moment of this classic, a film that was costly for the studio and one that was a constant worry as it was being made and even in how lucrative it would be upon release. Released at Christmas in 1970, the fears would be realized as it would do very poorly over the holiday season but I’m totally confused as to why because it is well written and has great performances. It makes me sad that the pretty racy and sexy scenes are most likely the reason for it’s failure.

Animaniacs: Complete Series – This is one of the greatest animated shows of all time and that’s a stated fact and not an opinion. A staple part of my generation’s preteen and teen years, Yakko, Wakko and Dot’s weekly antics are still an often quoted subject in my household and probably will be until I leave this plane of existence. For those who have never had the extreme pleasure of indulging in these classic episodes and are like “who, who and who?”, the show was about a trio of troublesome cartoon characters from the 1930s that have escaped from the Warner Brothers WaterTower and are unleashing their maniacal energy upon the world. Blending wit, slapstick and pop culture references in an almost variety show format, it was just perfection and it spawned an underappreciated series called Freakazoid that got cancelled far too early. THe show is also back in public perception in the last year or so as Hulu has rebooted the show but, as of yet, it hasn’t been released in Canada.

Rick And Morty: Seasons 1-4 – What? I’m bringing up Rick And Morty again? Yes, but I’ll be brief as it really is just to show off my new box set of all the older seasons of this show that has just entered into season five on Adult Swim. This show is really divisive, a series that is definitely a take off of the relationship between Doc Brown and Marty McFly in Back To The Future which has been thrown into a blend with some really warped ideas. You are either going to ravenously love it or hate it’s frenetic comedy with a passion. I adore it and think creators Justin Roilland and Dan Harmon are absolute geniuses and they should make episodes forever with no break in between. Too much to ask?

Baphomet – This film lands on my geekouts just for being a combination of my heavy metal side with the inclusion of Cradle Of Filth frontman Dani Filth and satanic horror films and if that wasn’t big enough, it has the title of a satanic god to nail it home. Does that mean it’s awesome and hits the spot for horror fans? No, not quite but its execution is so wooden tht it may find itself as a cult hit at some time in the future. The film tells the tale of an American family celebrating their daughter’s pregnancy when things go awry with a Satanic cult leader named Henrik Brandr unexpectedly visiting their ranch. Henrik offers to pay the family a large sum for ownership of their land, claiming it is sacred to his congregation but the father rejects the offer due to the sentimental value of his ranch. Henrik, displeased, begins to put curses on the Richardsons, trying to force them off their own land, even if it means murdering them. After suffering unexplainable tragedies created by the curses, the family seeks help from Marybeth, a white witch high priestess and they soon discover a terrible secret about their house, revealing why their land is so sacred to the cult. This film reminds me of the 90s horror films that had a kicking soundtrack, gallons of blood and a reverence for the dark lord that borders on comical and, really, for that reason I kind of loved it all that much more. I might be alone on that though.

Television:

Monsters At Work (Disney+) – As a big Pixar fan, I was surprised that I only found out about this show just a few short weeks before it’s release this Friday. I love both Monsters Inc and Monsters University and it is definitely due to the great chemistry between John Goodman’s Sully and Billy Crystal’s Mike Wazowski who are now in charge of the whole shebang for this new show. It takes place the day after the Monsters, Incorporated power plant started harvesting the laughter of children to fuel the city of Monstropolis, thanks to Mike and Sulley’s discovery that laughter generates ten times more energy than screams. The main story follows Tylor Tuskmon, an eager young monster who graduated top of his class at Monsters University and always dreamed of becoming a Scarer until he lands a job at Monsters, Incorporated, and discovers that scaring is out and laughter is in. After Tylor is temporarily reassigned to the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT), he must work alongside a misfit bunch of mechanics while setting his sights on becoming a Jokester. The casting is great, with all the big stars returning and Superstore’s Ben Feldman playing Tylor and Mindy Kaling, Lucas Neff and more rounding out his crew. The first two episodes were great and I can’t wait for more. I hope they do this with more of the Pixar properties as I’d love to see a Wall-E related show.

Aya Of Yop City (Criterion Channel) – Kino Lorber usually does a pretty deep dig with their original releases and it definitely is the case with this animated feature from France that now gets a bigger platform to shine on with the renowned Criterion Channel as part of the Arthouse Animation collection. Set in the seventies, the story takes place in Ivory Coast’s working-class district of Abidjan, otherwise known as Yop City, following a nineteen-year-old girl with the hopes of being a doctor against her father’s wishes as this didn’t gel with the gender norms of women marrying and starting a family immediately. The film was created by the original writer of the graphic novel this was based on, Clément Oubrerie, and it really is a pretty astounding feature to look at and an interesting look into the class system of a foreign country.