Monster Hunter – Can somebody please take these Capcom properties away from Milla Jovovich and her writer, producer and director husband Paul W.S. Anderson? Really, just take all adaptations away because Anderson has tanked the Resident Evil franchise, made a mess out of the history of Pompeii and even Alexander Dumas has been slighted with his terrible Three Musketeers adaptation. This slogfest that has bright points of action jumps on a game franchise I’m unfamiliar with, following Marine lieutenant Artemis and her loyal soldiers who are transported to a new world and engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers. Co-starring Ong Bak action star Tony Jaa and featuring T.I., Megan Good and Diego Boneta for all of ten minutes, the film is haphazard in plotting and brainless in its script and that’s me going easy on it. Ugh, when will the torture end, Milla? I used to love you!
Fatale – Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy are trying to bring you some sexy thrills before Christmas with this new film that seems to borrow a lot of it’s plot from nineties thrillers, which would be fine if you had a competent filmmaker to bring that to the screen. Instead, you have Deon Taylor, a director who has brought out laughable films like the Dennis Quaid dumbness The Intruder, a film so unintentionally funny that I couldn’t take it seriously for a millisecond. Predictably, this film is about a successful married man who, after an adulterous one-night stand, finds himself entangled in a cunning police detective’s latest investigation. My request for a screening link for this was denied so you know this is going to be craptacular.
The Kid Detective – Usually a comedy favourite of mine, actor Adam Brody seriously brings it in a dramatic performance that hangs its hat on the detective noir style storytelling and does it so well in the feature debut of writer and director Evan Morgan, known for co-writing the sleeper comedy The Dirties. Brody plays Abe Applebaum, a once-celebrated kid detective, now 32 years old and continuing to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity. His world may turn around when a naive client brings him his first ‘adult’ case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend which may end up tying in with a kidnapping case that has dogged him since he was a kid. The movie is so impeccably shot and the noir nature of the film is brilliantly executed with Brody giving the performance of a lifetime. The final shot of this film is a brilliant mix of triumph and sorrow that will stick with me for weeks.
Another Round – One of my most anticipated films of the Vancouver International Film Festival this year, I was already seeing great reactions to this new Thomas Vinterberg film on Twitter before I even got the chance to check it out and they are all very much warranted. Starring one of my favourite international actors of all time, Mads Mikkelsen, the story is about four friends, all high school teachers, who embark on an experiment where they each sustain a certain level of alcohol intoxication during their everyday life, believing that all people, in general, would benefit from a bit higher Blood Alcohol Content. As a result, their working experiences are turned upside down, forcing their lives into deeper turmoil than they were in the first place. The performances are phenomenal as the story keeps descending into a chaotic nose dive until an odd resolution that seems like a conflicted triumph, What a pure cinematic gem this movie is!
Max Cloud – Eighties homages are my total bread and butter, as I adore Stranger Things and Turbo Kid has its own bean bag chair to rest on comfortably in my heart, so this is why I was really gung-ho about this new sci-fi homage that combines the synthy style that many from that generation would love to forget and props it up on classic video gaming too. Also known as The Intergalactic Adventures Of Max Cloud, this follows a video game enthusiast named Sarah who is transported into her favourite game and finds herself in an intergalactic prison, home to the most dangerous villains in the galaxy. The only way to escape the game is to complete it by teaming up with space hero and intergalactic misogynist Max Cloud with Sarah battling the terrifying planet while her best friend, Cowboy, controls the game from her bedroom in Brooklyn. I wanted to love this movie so much and it is admirably made on a micro-budget but it has so much dumb stuff that constantly drags it down and makes it too goofy to even get behind. Maybe I hyped it up too much.
Modern Persuasion – Okay, this might be something more in the vein of holiday viewing as it takes one of the major works from renowned, revered and celebrated author Jane Austen and brings it up to modern times, well, hence the title. Featuring former Twin Peaks resident Alicia Witt and Frasier’s Lilith herself Bebe Neuwirth, this film is about a single woman focused on her career in New York who is forced to deal with the aftermath of a failed relationship when an ex-boyfriend hires her company. I feel like fans of Hallmark movies or more transparent romantic comedies will really dig on this one, but it left me totally out in the cold, pulling apart terrible dialogue and cringing at utterly predictable storytelling. I don’t even know if I can like this one on even a fluff level.
Beyond The Woods – You didn’t think we were going to make it out of the new releases with one horror movie did you? Well, here we go, and I exaggerate a bit with the genre but it’s a little low budgeter that takes you out into the wilderness to bring you its thrills. The feature film debut of Canadian writer and director Brayden DeMorest-Purdy, this is a psychological thriller which follows Detective Reeves’ investigation after Laura Bennett’s death and the disappearance of her brother Jack with the suspect at hand being Laura’s husband Andrew, who seems to be the only one to know where Jack really is. Detective Reeves must solve this never-ending puzzle, as Jack’s odds of survival are against him. Although on the outside, this may look like an under-produced Canadian film that will end up in a Wal-Mart bin, it really isn’t. Instead, it’s an emotionally taut ride that features some really solid performances in it as well.
Tenet – This is the movie that it feels like the pandemic was robbing us of most as Christopher Nolan returns with another mind-bender of a film that looks very akin to one of his previous masterpieces, Inception. With Blackklansman star John David Washington leading a stellar cast including Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kenneth Brannagh and Michael Caine, not much about the central plot was given to the general public, just that it follows our protagonist who is armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world who journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real-time. This description is a whole thing to unlock on its own and if you’ve seen the trailer you know the intense intricacies that it only gives you a taste of. My belief is the best way to enter this movie is without really any knowledge at all and let the brilliance wash over you as I’ve watched it thoroughly and still want to give it another spin to unpack everything I’ve already experienced. I also want to relive it again and again because it is also pure Nolan masterwork and a level that not many filmmakers hit.
Infidel – Former Jesus Christ Jim Caviezel takes the role of the sole star of this new thriller from writer and director Cyrus Nowrasteh who garnered some solid acclaim with his film The Stoning of Soraya M. from over a decade ago. In this film, Caviezel plays an outspoken American journalist who is kidnapped by the Iranian regime while giving talks in Cairo, Egypt and taken to the Middle East and put on trial for erroneous charges. His wife, a State Department official, tries to use her influence to get the American government involved so that they get her husband back but she soon realizes that the American government will not get involved so she is forced to go to the Middle East to search for him by herself. With the “based on a true story” stamp appearing at the beginning, the ‘based’ part feels apropos as there are so many pieces that feel completely unreal. That said, this one really works as a traditionally straight forward thriller.
Chick Fight – On paper, this is a movie I really should have enjoyed. The cast is solid, featuring Malin Ackerman in the lead with Alec Baldwin, Fortune Feimster and Bella Thorne in a story of female empowerment that feels like it is really needed in this day and age. Ackerman plays Anna Wyncomb, a down on her luck woman who is introduced to an underground, all-female fight club to turn the mess of her life around and discovers she is much more personally connected to the history of the club than she could ever imagine. This movie fails almost right out of the gate with easy jokes, contrived and dated plotting and, immediately, I head to the notes to see that this movie was made by two dudes who obviously didn’t get a woman to give them notes because, although it doesn’t go sexually exploitative, it is really apparent that they just had the cliff notes on what it means to be a woman. They also saw way too many Michael Bay films because it comes through in the direction.
Echo Boomers – A really easy way for you to get my interest piqued in a movie is to tell me Michael Shannon is in it. “Hey Steve, there’s a new Smurfs movie but Michael Shannon is in it.” Sold, brother, say no more. Well, this new under-advertised crime story is a heist film with a Robin Hood edge and it brings Alex Pettyfer and Patrick Schwarzenegger along for the ride. Based on a true story, the film follows five college graduates who decide that the best way to get back at the unfair economy that keeps them down and live the life they’ve always wanted is to steal from Chicago’s richest and give to themselves. With nothing to lose, they leave behind a trail of destruction but with the cops closing in, tensions mount and the gang soon discovers they are in over their heads with no way out. I think the worst thing about this movie is how seriously it wants you to take it while it’s doing backflips of narrative goofiness that equate to novice filmmaking. If you want something vapid though with no resonance, then this is your flick right here.
The Beach House – Ah yes, some divisive psychopathic thriller-horror for us to dig into. This has been floating on Shudder for a couple of months now but for those who don’t have the privilege of logging into that library of awesomeness, it is available to you now on disc and VOD. Starring Liana Liberato, a great young actress, this film follows a young couple heading to a beach house to spend some quality time and find it immediately peaceful when they don’t encounter any neighbours around. Their quality time is interrupted by the arrival of unexpected guests and as if that wasn’t bad enough, a mysterious fog along with a mysterious infection is slowly spreading around. Intriguing, right? Well, the great news is all of this setup has so much delicious payoff to it as writer and director Jeffrey A. Brown crafts a brilliant mind twist with a small budget. This guy has a huge future ahead of him.
The Wolf Of Snow Hollow – Jim Cummings is a writer, director, producer and actor who has been carving out a small place of notoriety for himself with his comedy-drama Thunder Road a couple of years back but with his sophomore effort, he has landed with the grace of a horror-loving cat’s with a comedic edge. This film is set in a small mountain town in the grips of terror as mutilated bodies are discovered after each full moon without explanation. Losing sleep, raising a teenage daughter, and caring for his ailing father, officer Marshall, played by Cummins, struggles to remind himself there’s no such thing as werewolves as evidence increasingly indicates the opposite. This movie is quirky, unpredictable and devilishly fun throughout and features Riki Lindholme in a supporting role as well as the legendary Robert Forster in his final performance before passing away towards the end of last year. This is an absolute hit in every way.
The Opening Act – Although this one isn’t horror like the previous two on this list, it could be regarded as social horror because the idea of hitting the stage as a stand-up comedian is pretty scary to me. That’s kind of what is at the heart of this new comedy, following a struggling stand up who works a thankless day job until one of his idols asks him to be the emcee for one of his shows. He then must make a full push to go forth with his dream or let it go completely, something that is very true in that industry because I hear it all the time on podcasts. The cast is pretty solid with Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Wang and one of the original kings of comedy, Cedric The Entertainer but the emotional resonance is where the film starts to falter and it really never recovers from it. As a fluff piece, it entertains.
The Dark And The Wicked – Brian Bertino is here to mess us up again. If you don’t recognize the name then you haven’t been put through the home invasion nightmare of The Strangers movies or his lesser-seen creature feature The Monster. Let it be known here that Bertino is one of the best minds in horror and he does it again with his new flick. He gets real sinister with this film which follows two siblings who are summoned back to the family farm to await the inevitability of their father’s death but what initially appears to be a timeless ritual of loss and remembrance turns out to be something very different, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the family. The cast is unfamiliar in this one unless you saw Michael Abbot Jr. in the phenomenal The Death Of Dick Long but know for a fact that this movie is incredible, chilling and will get under your skin in the best ways. I loved every second of it.
Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2 – Let’s get back into the classic cartoon goodness after I most likely disturbed Shane with a bunch of horror, shall we? Warner Archive digs into the vault for the next volume of Tex Avery originals, an animator who was iconic and carved a side of Saturday morning cartoons out for himself as one of the masters of animation during Hollywood’s golden era. After helping develop Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny for Warner Bros., Avery moved to MGM in 1941 to create a set of comedy masterpieces that defined a new slapstick style for animation which is illustrated in this collection here. For any classic cartoon fan out there, this remastered set is a definite must-have.
Steve’s Blu-Ray and DVD Geek-Outs:
Lake Michigan Monster – Nothing says Christmas time like a weirdo take on Moby Dick set on one of our Great Lakes in a black and white adventure film to the lowest of budget proportions, right? Well, that’s what we’re looking at here as the minds at Arrow Video have come together with this special edition of a 2018 film that became a festival hit at the high profile genre celebration of Fantasia and other subsequent movie fests. The story is pretty simple, writer and director Ryland Brickson Cole Tews plays an eccentric ship captain who forms a crew of specialists to plot revenge against what he believes to be the most mysterious creature of the deep, the Lake Michigan Monster. I feel like this film would be a great chaser for another black and white sea shanty, The Lighthouse, which would cleanse the palate of dark weirdness with a brush of inanity that feels fresh and original. This film was a great surprise, really.
Upside Down Magic – Some locally made Disney landed on my doorstep this week with this Disney Channel original that was filmed in Richmond and has some pretty slick CGI in it from a local effects studio that also did Arrow and is led by a friend of mine. The story follows thirteen-year-old Nory Boxwood Horace who discovers she can flux into animals and that her best friend Reina Carvajal can manipulate flames. Together, they enter the Sage Academy for Magical Studies and Reina’s expert ability to harness the power of fire lands her at the top of her class of “Flares,” but Nory’s wonky magic and proclivity for turning into a “Dritten” -a half-kitten, half-dragon-lands her in a class for those with Upside-Down Magic, otherwise known as UDM. This is a live-action romp that has almost no edge to it whatsoever so it really works for all ages. Don’t expect really any depth to this one but it does lend itself to a larger franchise in the end.
Seniors: A Dogumentary – Documentaries can be a hard sell for a lot of people but when you throw an animal movie at most people they are openly receptive. This is a very divisive film in the fact that it is really pursuing a word-of-mouth outcome after the viewing but it’s definitely one I can get behind. The film is a portrayal of the vitality of senior dogs and features Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, an award-winning forever-foster home-based sanctuary in Mount Juliet, Tennessee and their Border Collie, Chaser known as the smartest dog in the world, all shot through the lens of famed photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky. Yes, this is a totally roundabout way of saying” don’t shop at puppy farms and give an old guy a chance” which I totally agree with. How can you say that message is wrong? Plus, you get to live vicariously through this dog kennel for over an hour! Win!
Chernobyl – One of the most horrific global catastrophes in the last forty years, the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion is still being felt but after the debut of this HBO produced series tourism actually increased there which is an exercise in idiocy in my opinion. That aside, this limited series is incredible, led by stars Stellan Skarsgard, Jared Harris and Jessie Buckley and written by Craig Mazin who will adapt the video game The Last Of Us next for HBO, a long-awaited series. The show is set in April of 1986 when a huge explosion erupted at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine. Following the stories of the men and women who tried to contain the disaster, as well as those who gave their lives preventing a subsequent and worse one, this is a show that is deeply political but is charged by the emotional fallout and tragedy that still marks this Eastern European country. Now on the higher definition of 4K, this is must-see television.
The Untold Story – This movie was a complete mystery to me when it arrived but judging it on its blood-spattered cover and inane looking lead character, I was more than intrigued. It is an Asian slapstick style telling of a Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer style story? Kind of. Released in 1993, this film is set in 1986 Hong Kong, eight years after a grisly murder rocks the city. On this day kids discover the severed hands of a fresh victim on a Macao beach and suspicion falls on Wong Chi Hang, the new owner of Eight Immortals Restaurant, which serves delicious pork bao. This is one of the most disturbing uncovered Chinese classics I have ever come across, a story that rivals something that would have come from the mind of auteur Takashi Miike but even more messed up is that this is based on a true story and you might be able to glean what depths of depravity and savagery that this film goes to. Definitely not for the weak of heart in any shape or form.
Song Exploder: Volume 2 (Netflix) – Have you ever wanted to go deep into the construction of one of your favourite songs? We all remember the VH1 series Behind The Music when we would get in-depth about classic bands, albums or moments in time but this one is even more focused as we get it straight from the artist what it took to put these iconic songs together. This second volume got me immediately as it features an episode about the haunting Nine Inch Nails track Hurt which largely, along with the rest of The Downward Spiral, got me through high school in some semblance of emotional intactness. It’s fascinating to watch Reznor explain exactly what went into creating this final track on that landmark album but shy away from what the song actually means to him. Trust me, that methodology is for the best.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) – Chadwick Boseman gets one more time to shine after tragically and suddenly passing away after a four year battle with cancer that none of us knew he had and the saddest thing about this one is it’s the performance that will most likely give him a posthumous Academy Award. Driven by another great performance from Viola Davis as well and based on an August Wilson play, the story is set in Chicago in 1927 at a recording session with tensions rising between the “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player with a new flair on how she should play her music and the white management looking to satisfy their shareholders and determined to control the uncontrollable and larger than life diva. Thunderous performances command a film that may turn viewers off with its straightforward adaptation of the stage play, but this is a film that hangs on its actors, not set pieces.
The Expanse: Season 5 (Amazon Prime) – Now this is a show that Drex actually got me into, really pushing me to watch the series that I think really reminiscent of a show like Battlestar Galactica where it is the human interaction that really drives the story and the politics of the immediate crisis at hand it keeps you fully engaged and on the edge of your seat. I was immediately so happy that we actually got a Season 4 out of this show as it was cancelled at their original Network, SyFy, which I believe they are already regretting because Amazon has now journeyed out with this new season. Just to give a vague synopsis, the series is set two hundred years in the future and initially follows the case of a missing young woman which brings a hardened detective, played by former Punisher Thomas Jane, and a rogue ship’s captain, played by former heartthrob Steven Strait, together in a race across the solar system to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history. Believe me, if you get the pilot under your belt, you will be immediately hooked on the rest. It’s that simple.
The Stand (Crave) – I feel like I’ve been waiting since the mid-nineties for someone to tackle this epic Stephen King novel and now the timing is really weird for a story about an uncontrollable virus that decimates the earth’s population to be released but, mid pandemic, here we are. Let it be known that this is probably my favourite book of all time and under The Fault In Our Stars filmmaker Josh Green, the potential is huge. The story exists in the mass destruction caused by a manmade virus called “Captain Trips” with a false messiah emerging to gather his like-minded survivors, possessing incredible powers and hellbent to rule the remaining human society. It’s up to a group of people to journey the post-apocalyptic wasteland to stop him and his army or perish in the attempt. With a killer cast, including James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård and many more, the unrated platform of CBS All Access is the perfect way to present this as it can go way deeper than the ABC miniseries ever did. This one is going to be awesome.
A Creepshow Holiday Special (Shudder) – You all know how much I’ve loved everything the Greg Nicotero led reboot of this anthology horror has done and I will continue to sing its praises into the holiday season as Shudder has done it again with an all-new yuletide special to make us genre fans feel the warm and fuzzies. What kind of chills will come from this show that is non-weather related? Well, this holiday-themed, hour-long episode, “Shapeshifters Anonymous,” follows an anxious man who fears he is a murderer so he searches for answers for his “unique condition” from an unusual support group and, according to Nicotero himself, they are “reimagining how we look at the holidays and Santa Claus with an outrageous ensemble cast (featuring Adam Pally and Anna Camp), a myriad of creepy crawlies and a few thrills and chills shouldn’t be missed.” Yes, you’ve definitely got my ticket!