Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Possessor: Uncut – Let’s mess you up right out of the gate as David Cronenberg’s son Brandon returns with his second feature, a violent sci-fi film that proves once again he is his father’s son and the body horror runs in the family. The film stars Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Abbott and it follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. Riseborough’s character, a veteran assassin is starting to suffer psychotic breaks in her “outside” life which breaks wide open with her latest client. I’ve already had a chance to see this movie and it blew my mind entirely. Disturbing in visuals, this chaotic film is another showcasing of Cronenberg’s boundless imagination and the incredible prowess that cinematographer Karim Hussain has.

Spontaneous – Coming of age is hard as I remember it. Budding sexuality, hormones, high school cliques, exploding bodies… wait, exploding bodies? Yes, this is the direction that this teen horror from com goes in The Babysitter writer Brian Duffield’s directorial debut and although the story seems insane he makes it work for the entire duration. Starring the “it” girl of right now, 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford alongside Charlie Plummer, they play seniors Mara and Dylan two newly found lovebirds who struggle to survive in a world where each moment may be their last as students in their school begin exploding like balloons full of blood. The dynamic of the film is so interesting as the explosions at first come off as comical but when you start putting faces behind the victims the seriousness arises along with the stakes to keep everyone alive. I was honestly surprised by how much I liked this film and the script and lead stars are definitely what keep it afloat.

Save Yourselves – Nothing like a good sleepy little hipster comedy to give you some laughs and make you think about existence but this one has a bit of a twist. Coming from first time writing and directing duo Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, the story follows Jack and Su, a hip Brooklyn couple who, like many of their friends, find themselves dependent on technology and unable to put down their phones. Fearing their mindless scrolling may impact their connection with each other, they seize the chance to head to an isolated cabin in the woods, vowing to unplug from the outside world for a week. Sheltered from texts and push notifications, they are blissfully unaware that the planet is under attack and real danger looms just outside their door. As strange events unfold, the couple must figure out a way back to civilization, or what’s left of it in one of the most surprising comedies of the year. The script of this film is hilarious and although I only recognized the female lead from GLOW, the whole cast delivers no matter how big or how small their role is.

Eternal Beauty – To be honest, the first thing I think of when the name of actor turned writer and director Craig Roberts is his role in the Seth Rogen movie Neighbors in which he was a fraternity pledge nicknamed Ass Juice. Not flattering, I know, but the reality is that he made a great first movie with Just Jim and this new film is nearly a masterpiece. The film stars the amazing Sally Hawkins as Jane who, after being left at the altar, had a breakdown spiralled into a chaotic episode of schizophrenia lasting twenty years in which love, both real and imagined, and family relationships collide. Things change when she begins a darkly comic romance with Mike, played by David Thewlis, a failed musician and fellow lost soul. This movie is intense in its delivery and deliciously shot like it’s completely from Jane’s point of view which gives such a deeper insight into her affliction. Again, Hawkins bats for the fences with a fierce performance that demands to be seen.

On The Rocks – Sofia Coppola has returned during this odd year of movie delays with possibly my favorite movie this year and she brought Bill Murray back with her and I couldn’t be happier with it. The film stars Rashida Jones as a young mother who reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father, played by Murray,  and they embark on a mission to see if her workaholic husband, played by Marlon Wayans, is having an affair. The chemistry between Jones and Murray, first displayed in the Netflix Christmas special A Very Murray Christmas, is so palpable that you just want them to star in absolutely everything together. The script is so snappy and fun, The film charms you in every moment and I would be perfectly content in watching this film every day for weeks on end, I loved it that much. This is a true gem of a movie and I highly recommend it.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 – If one writer gets me hook, line and sinker every time he writes a movie or television series, it’s Aaron Sorkin. I’m just addicted to his stories. For his latest film, that he directed as well as wrote, he takes a bite out of Chicago history as well as adding his own spin with sardonic humor and grandiose moments of grandstanding with a phenomenal cast that includes Oscar-winners Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance, recent Emmy winners Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jeremy Strong as well as Joseph Gordon Levitt, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton and more. Yes, this is a heavyweight. The film is about the fallout after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where there were massive demonstrations against the Vietnam War, which was reaching its peak. When a curfew was finally instated, this led to even further protests, eventually leading to a police riot. and following this, seven of the demonstrators, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner, and David Dellinger, were tried for conspiracy. The meat and potatoes of this film are the trial that followed. This is a big recommendation this week because, though it is heavy on talk and exposition, this could go down as one of the best films this year and when it debuts on Netflix in two weeks it will be the must-watch movie, trust me.

The Boys In The Band – Everywhere you look these days on Netflix you can’t really go through a row of releases and not find a Ryan Murphy written, directed or produced film or television series as the deal he signed with the streaming service must be massively lucrative. This new film feels like it was a long time coming and brings in a cast of actors that have been working with Murphy for quite a while now and it’s an adaptation of a famous gay play and one that was adapted by acclaimed filmmaker William Friedkin way back in 1970, a hugely different and more taboo time for the subject. The film is set in that same time, 1968 New York City, when being gay was still considered to be best kept behind closed doors, following a group of friends gather for a raucous birthday party hosted by Michael, played by Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, a screenwriter who spends and drinks too much, in honor of the sharp-dressed and sharp-tongued Harold, played brilliantly by Zachary Quinto, who could double for Elliot Gould. Other partygoers include Michael’s former flame, Donald, Larry, a promiscuous commercial artist living with a school teacher, Hank, who has just left his wife, Bernard, a librarian tiptoeing around the bro codes of friendship alongside Emory, a decorator who never holds back an opinion to his detriment and a guileless hustler dressed as a cowboy hired to be Harold’s gift for the night. Everything gets upended when Alan, Michael’s straight-laced college roommate, shows up unexpectedly and each man is challenged to confront long-buried truths that threaten the foundation of the group’s tight bond. This film is all about the performances and the dialogue will remind you that it was all based on a play so sometimes the theatrics do hit the ceiling. For those looking for a well put together conversational drama, this is it.

2067 – Self-contained sci-fi and lower budget sci-fi, it can either be great and captivating or it can leak air for ninety minutes and make you wonder why you got into it in the first place. This film hits somewhere in the middle, starring former X-Men’s Nightcrawler Kodi Smit McPhee and former True Blood star Ryan Kwanten and is set, obviously from the title, over forty years into the future following a man sent on a dangerous mission to an unknown world to save the human race when Earth’s air becomes unbreathable, only on the prodding of a mysterious message that was sent out. The film has a detailed plot with several intriguing mysteries at its core but that may be the biggest issue being that it has so many strands going outward that it can’t resolve or make sense of most of them besides our main character’s increasing existential quandaries. It’s still a bold film for former VFX artist turned director Seth Larney to take on.

The Glorias – One of my favorite visual storytellers of all time, Julie Taymor, returns after a ten-year absence to tell a true story in her own way that I feel is sorely needed right now, especially when women’s right once again hold so delicately in the balance. This is the story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s itinerant childhood’s influence on her life as a writer, activist and organizer for women’s rights worldwide as told through multiple timelines, the later two in life played by Academy Award winners Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore. This film is a visual feast, as all of Taymor’s movies are, which at times distract from the reality of the story at hand but the powerfulness of the message is never dulled and the imperative anger that should never stop in the treatment of women is always on display. For whatever shortcomings the film has, and it has more than a few, this movie is massively important and will have a guttural effect on any forward thinker that sees it.

Blu-Ray:

Rogue – For a while, Megan Fox was the it girl, one of the hottest women on screen who made us sweat during Transformers movies until her franchise ending riff with Michael Bay stopped that and I still think her horror film Jennifer’s Body is still a hidden gem. Well, for years she’s been making these little films that don’t get much publicity and this time she made an action film that even critics are saying has some merit. In this new film, she plays O’Hara, a mercenary leading a squad of soldiers on their mission to rescue hostages in a remote part of Africa when, unfortunately, the mission goes wrong and the team are stranded, forced to survive against the local rebels. I was completely shocked by this movie as Fox shows an emotional depth that I honestly thought she was incapable of and, even a production that can’t really shake that B-movie feeling, it all is still effective filmmaking. I also love that a female director was behind the camera for this, MJ Barrett who my favorite work of hers is all the Ash vs The Evil Dead episodes she did.

The Silencing – After the last weirdo film that former Game Of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was in, the deliriously entertaining thriller Exit Plan, I’m feeling like I can finally be on board with each of his projects afterwards because it has wiped the taste of that awful De Palma movie he did. This new action thriller has him playing a reformed hunter living secluded in a wildlife sanctuary after the disappearance of his teen daughter years ago who saves a young girl from being killed by a serial killer but gets caught in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the deranged man he foiled plans for. His path crosses with the town’s sheriff, played by The Mummy’s Annabelle Wallis, who also seems to bring the serial killer to justice after the discovery of a dead body of a teen girl. The story feels like a retread of the familiar but all in all, I still found myself sucked into the film and Coster-Waldau when he has something to work with, always seems to deliver.
The Legend of Tomiris – We’re going international now for this new blood and sword epic from Kazakhstan to get some serious storytelling done before Borat arrives later in October and we’re all sort of mocking them by going “my wife” and other lines. This is the story of the life of the great queen of the steppe, the legendary Tomiris, a woman destined to become a skillful warrior, survive the loss of close people and unite the Scythian and Saka tribes under her authority, simple as that. Lead star Almira Tursyn is fierce in her action scene, as the choreography is quite good and works with the cinematography well, but the dialogue scenes come off a bit cringeworthy at times and maybe that’s just the language barrier or her inexperience as a front and center role. Still pretty entertaining but definitely very long, clocking in at over two and a half hours.

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own – Got to get some sort of informative documentary to this week and this intimate portrait of an artist is a great way to do it, also as a cool way of inspiration. The film is the story of Ursula von Rydingsvard, a woman who has struggled for years to overcome the hardship of her upbringing and to follow her true calling to become an artist and live her dream of painstakingly crafting public sculptures in New York. Sophomore documentary filmmaker Daniel Taub does a great job in giving Ursula the necessary backstory of her plight to the audience but also going fascinatingly in-depth on her process to create her works as well as the scrutinizing harshness that artists always seem to put on their shoulders. This documentary will really only speak to a certain crowd but for them, it will speak volumes.

The Secret: Dare To Dream – Remember that self-help book that everyone was raving about years ago that was supposed to fix your life through the easy steps of listening to the world’s secret messages? It was something like that, I honestly don’t remember but they put out a movie based on that, direct to video and now there’s this one, starring Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas for some reason, that follows a widow struggling to get by who meets a stranger that subscribes to a philosophy of positive thinking and messages of hope, compassion, and gratitude. Needless to say, this movie was awful in every sense, much like a faith-based film, it’s clunky in dialogue, overreaching and overbearing in its need to hammer home the message and a complete was of time if you don’t feel the urge for a browbeating of indoctrination. Holmes may have escaped Scientology but she still landed herself in The Secret which I can’t say is really any better.

Genesis II/Planet Earth – Warner Archive is aiming for those deep Star Trek fans with this new double set of forgotten films that Gene Roddenberry wrote in the mid-seventies. Genesis II follows a scientist, Dylan Hunt, who has been preserved in suspended animation in a NASA cavern in 1979 and wakes up to find himself in a primitive society in the year 2133 because during the 154 years he had slept, war has broken out and the world’s scientists rebelled against the war-loving military and developed a society known as the Pax, whose goal is to keep the spirit of mankind alive. The sequel, Planet Earth, follows Hunt awakening from suspended animation again and awakens in the twenty-second century where women rule the world and men are slaves called Dinks. He is captured and sold as a slave, but escapes and hooks up with a male rebel movement. It’s campy but undeniably from the mind of a science fiction genius.

Variety – Have you ever wanted to see the flip side of Taxi Driver and see the seedy underbelly from a troubled woman? This is sort of what Bette Gordon’s 1983 drama is, following Christine, played by Sandy McLeod, who takes a job selling tickets at a porno theater near Times Square and, instead of distancing herself from the dark and erotic nature of this milieu, she develops an obsession that begins to take over her life. a story of this nature was definitely a taboo of its time and I would argue that the film would still come off as massively controversial today but it is affecting and undeniably hard to look away from, a total forgotten gem of a movie. It was shot by Jim Jarmusch’s guy Tom DiCillo and scored by John Lurie and fits in the pantheon of dirt and seedy New York City films near the top. A must-see.

Penny Dreadful City Of Angels: Season 1 – A pretty sizeable fan base is very excited to get the spinoff to the popular Showtime series that started back in 2014 and ran for three seasons. While the original series followed explorer Sir Malcolm Murray, American gunslinger Ethan Chandler, scientist Victor Frankenstein and medium Vanessa Ives as they combated supernatural threats in Victorian London, this series goes ahead in time to a late 1930s Los Angeles at a time that city expansion was aggressive and pushing out the Latino community and the rise of the Nazi ideals were taking hold in the city. The kick is that an evil and godly entity is responsible for pushing the weaker-minded humans into furthering the agenda of the destruction of humanity. The show stars Game Of Thrones alum Natalie Dormer, Nathan Lane and It Follows and Don’t Breathe actor Daniel Zovatto and I loved episode one. Looking forward to what’s next.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

The Captain – I’m bringing some Asian cinema this week with the newest film from Andrew Lau who is the guy who shot the entire Infernal Affairs trilogy as well as directed the very cool action flick Initial D. Playing back into the action-adventure, this film is based on a real-life incident in May 2018, when the cockpit windshield of a Sichuan Airlines flight shattered while the plane was flying 30,000 feet above the Tibetan Plateau and the co-pilot was sucked halfway out of the cockpit as passengers started losing consciousness due to low pressure, causing our title character to step up and be the hero. The character development and script of this film are definitely lacking but the action and suspense of it keep you on track from beginning to end and some of it seems too crazy to believe. A wild ride but slightly forgettable.

Hiroshima – Coming from Arrow Academy, the classier side of the Arrow Video releasing, this film is an updating of the 1953 film that detailed the day the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In the focused plot of the film, it is the story of Hiroshima seen through the eyes of the targeted civilians, but mostly the children in particular, as they live amidst the war, then as victims of the atomic bomb, and subsequently as they try to subsist in the aftermath on a pile of ash, rubble and corpses. Even made almost seventy years ago, this film is still affecting, tragic and comes packed with world messages and morals all seen through the eyes of youth.

Brute Force – I’m bringing a double shot of Criterions this week because I’m a total geek for them and they’re the definitive versions of the film, those most important to cinephiles like me. Both films coming from director Jules Dassin, this film features Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn and follows Joe Collins, a convict in the State penitentiary who decides he’s had enough and wants to break out. Fed up with the Captain of the Guard, Mr. Muncey, who uses both physical and psychological torture to get his way with the men, Joe and his cellmates are assigned to work in the drainpipe located just outside the prison gate which Joe uses a tactic from the US military during World War II in Italy as the basis of a breakout. This film is incredible but was not well received at the time of release in 1947 due to the brutal violence of it which turned audiences off. The new Blu-ray transfer is gorgeous and I was astounded by this absolute classic

The Naked City – My second Jules Dassin film this week to geek out on, this is an excellent representation of classic film noir and the inspiration for so many filmmakers who make homages to it all the time. The film, at its heart, is a murder mystery, as somewhere in New York’s bustling post-world-war-two metropolis, a beautiful blonde and a former model, Jean Dexter, has been found dead in her apartment, drowned in the bathtub. With the news of her death spreading like wildfire across the city, Irish homicide Detective, Lt. Dan Muldoon, and his young protégé, the rookie Detective Jimmy Halloran, smell out clues all over Manhattan’s tangled asphalt jungle, as the deceased’s crafty boyfriend, Frank Niles, becomes the prime suspect. So many guilty lies and a string of unsolved jewellery robberies cloud Jean’s mysterious case and the two must make or break the case by tossing aside their emotions to keep the city safe from more crime. Again, this is a product of the time so it’s best to keep an open mind about it but I will say that the intrigue of the mystery still holds up over seventy years later.

Television:

Warrior: Season 2 (Crave) – I can’t believe this show flew under my radar as it is based on stories written by Bruce Lee and comes from director Justin Lin, which is great being that he directed the Lee centric comedy satire Finishing The Game, a solid movie if you haven’t seen it. The actors aren’t known but the story will grab you, set during the Tong Wars in the late 1800s, following a martial arts prodigy originating from China who emigrates to San Francisco and ends up becoming a hatchet man for the most powerful boss in Chinatown. The action is phenomenal and the attention to detail feels impeccable. The first season was a great Blu-ray pick-up, a ten-episode series and if you’re a classic martial arts fan then they made this show for you.

Fargo: Season 4 (FX) – It’s honestly funny how much mud I slung at this show before the first season aired saying “why would they do a remake of a perfect Coen brothers movie?” and each season has proved me more and more wrong, each series is a self-contained new story, told masterfully by showrunner Noah Hawley and an ever-changing cast of great performers. The fourth season is set in 1950 in Kansas City and the story follows two crime syndicates as they vie for control. The cast is led by Chris Rock, who plays Loy Cannon, the head of a crime syndicate made up of black migrants fleeing the Jim Crow South who have a contentious relationship with the Kansas City mafia and the supporting cast has I’m Thinking Of Ending Things’ Jessie Buckley, Jason Schwartzman, Ben Whishaw and Jack Huston. I have a good feeling that this season will be incredible and awards caliber as well.

Gangs Of London (AMC) – 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.

The Comey Rule (Crave) – I really love these true story political films and television series like Game Change, Vice or The Loudest Voice and the producer of that last one has made this new series, based on the book by James Comey. Emmy winners Jeff Daniels and Brendan Gleeson star as former FBI Director James Comey and President Donald J. Trump in this limited event series that tells the story of two powerful men, whose strikingly different personalities, ethics and loyalties put them on a collision course. Part one follows the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and their impact on the election while part two is an account of the first months of the Trump presidency where allies became enemies, enemies became friends and truth depended on what side you were on. As it seems the world was paying close attention to everything at this time in history, all of this comes off as an interesting but horrifyingly real as you want to say that it is all satire but it is all terrifyingly true and getting worse by the day.

Monsterland (Crave) – This looks like a really fun new series from Hulu which is still, to this day, unavailable to us Canadians unless Crave decides to pick it up, so my fingers are crossed on this one. The series features Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever, Luke Cage’s Mike Colter and Orange Is The New Black’s Taylor Schilling in an anthology show about encounters with gothic beasts, including fallen angels and werewolves, and broken people who are driven to desperate acts in an attempt to repair their lives, ultimately showing there is a thin line between man and beast. The esthetic is awesome and I’m honestly a real sucker for these types of shows like Creepshow, Tales From The Crypt and Masters Of Horror so this one is definitely up my alley.

Servants – Another black and white film, my second of the festival, proving again that this format has such an immediate ominous tone that given the right circumstances makes you feel uneasy and on edge. This film puts you in that feeling right away, set in 1980, following Michal and Juraj, two students at a theological seminary in totalitarian Czechoslovakia, a school on the verge of dissolution through an investigation by the secret police. All of the students must make the ultimate decision whether they will subject themselves to the surveillance or collaborate with the regime to fight the draconian oppressors, joining in a fight with a mentor priest battling his demons who may or may not be on their side, blackmailed by one of the secret police that helped him cover up a hit and run. This all feels convoluted but it all comes to a head in a tragic ending that felt like a constantly deepening slope that you can’t avoid. This movie may leave a lot of viewers cold and in the dark.

This Is My Desire – One of my favorite things about taking in the international cinema at these festivals is to get immersed in other cultures and other walks of life and this film is a perfect example of that, a deeply intimate insight into a country I know nothing about, Nigeria. This film follows two separate Nigerians, living in Lagos, trying to better the lives of their families. On one side you have Mofe, an engineer and electrician trying to provide for his sister and er family when she tragically passes away leaving him with the problems on his shoulders. On the other side is Rosa, a woman working odd jobs trying to support and care for her pregnant sister which may come at the cost of giving herself up for marriage and negating a relationship that may be a wholesome one with a future. Beautifully shot, the film puts you on the shoulders of two lives that may look bleak in the outcome but are enriched with soul.

THERE IS NO TRAILER FOR THIS ONE

Time – Another black and white shot film but this time it’s an emotionally affecting documentary and for the first time this festival I was extremely grateful that this is a virtual festival this year so other filmgoers wouldn’t see me shedding tears at the end of this film. From filmmaker Garrett Bradley, this is the hard-hitting story of Fox Rich, a black woman and the wife of Rob, a man convicted to a sixty-year prison sentence for a robbery they both committed in the early 90s in a moment of desperation when both of their kids were toddlers. For the last two decades, Fox, now an entrepreneur and a fierce abolitionist has campaigned for the release of her husband and we see this struggle documented with family video and the follow-along that Bradley did with her and the final result is such a powerful story and an indictment on the lopsided nature of the law, the harshness of those who convict black men in America and the justice system as a whole. Another deeply affecting documentary for this festival that can be described no loss then must see.

Another Round – One of my most anticipated films of the festival, 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 favorite 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!

The Reason I Jump – Being the parent of a child that is on the spectrum of ADHD with slight autism, documentaries like this are fascinating to me and I entered this film with a bit of fear but a healthy amount of curiosity as well. Based on a book written by a non-speaking Japanese thirteen-year-old boy named Naoki Higashida this film explores the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world from each kid as well as their parents. It’s so interesting to see the connections between the behaviours of each child and see how culture and global geography influences how differently each child is dealt with, all in good ways, and what the crossover was. It gets pretty emotional any time you are dealing with children and their mental wellbeing.

There Is No Evil – Well, I guess I wanted to start my festival off with something pretty heavy and I found it in this Iranian film, co-produced by Germany and the Czech Republic. Written and directed by Mohammad Rasoulof and the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, this film is divided into four stories set in Iran all dealing with the brutal death penalty sentences that are given out without regard by the authorities. Each of the stories deals with different very distinctive human themes, the first story focusing on a man’s devotion to his family, the second following an executioner who has lost his ability to make these prisoners anonymous like as his co-workers do, the third on how the grief is dealt with in these situations and the fourth focuses on the estrangement of familial bonds that are a direct result of the second story. Beautifully shot and always thoughtful in its repose, Rasoulof leaves you with so much food for thought when the final credits roll.

Last And First Men – So it looks like the next type of movie I wanted to cross off the list immediately was the “hard to unpack” film but this is one I was certainly looking forward to as it was the directorial debut of one of my favorite composers, Johann Johansson, who passed sadly away two years ago. His arrival as a feature filmmaker definitely leaves you for a thirst for what he could have created beyond this as this film presents itself as a documentary shot in black and white with narration from Tilda Swinton but only at first as we slowly realize that the aged stone structures and landscapes we are seeing are of a world where humanity is on the brink of extinction and all that there is left is to beam essentially the codex of humankind to the ethos of the galaxy. The film’s tone comes off as artistically scientific and evoked feelings of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in its visuals mixed with a side of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Knowing how gifted of a composer Johansson is, it’s not hard to feel that this film was completely drafted to the ominous tone in his mind. This movie is definitely a hard sell to any casual viewer.

Special Actors – This is definitely the shift in tone I was looking for and after the last Shin’ichirô Ueda, the incredible One Cut Of The Dead which I caught at the festival three years ago, this is one of my most anticipated films of this year’s collection. Leaving the one-take zombie cinema for a more narrative approach, Ueda still keeps the twists and turns alive for this story of Kazuto, a shy and afflicted young man who has a lifelong dream of becoming an actor, but has been suffering from a special medical condition where he faints and collapses when he gets nervous. His brother presents him with an opportunity to take his hopes and put it into guerrilla-style acting that puts him in real situations to coerce, con or, in the film’s major case, disrupt scams. Ueda is taking an almost Fight Club Project Mayhem styling and using it to juggle multiple themes in it, always keeping you on your toes, and on a shoestring budget. It doesn’t equal up to his last effort but it was a fun ride.

No Ordinary Man – In one of the most effective and soul-bearing documentaries I have seen in recent memory, directors  Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt and writer Amos Mac explore the life of American Jazz musician Billy Tipton who, moments after his death was revealed to be a woman living as a man by his son which then resulted with his family being paraded all over tabloid television as a rating grabbing freak show. In this film, Tipton’s story is reimagined and performed by trans artists as they are brought together in an audition like situation to paint a portrait of a posthumous trans hero and relate their stories to the struggle Tipton went through in his era. The filmmakers also go to Tipton’s son Billy Jr. to reconcile a complicated and contested legacy that has informed his entire adult life without seeing the boundaries his father had broken for trans and non-binary around the world. This documentary was thoroughly fascinating and informative, my first great doc of the festival.

Merkel: Anatomy Of A Crisis – Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t live in Germany or that the orange tyrant we know as Trump is so large and looming over North America but I have to say that I consider Dr. Angela Merkel as one of my favorite leaders on the planet and not just from the cold shoulder she gave to previously mentioned Cheeto Mussolini. This film kind of boosted up that view and also, in small moments, gives the softer side to the German Prime Minister as it follows her decision in the fall of 2015 to open the borders for refugees and how it divided the opinion of the country, some praising the moral stance, others criticizing the surrender of sovereignty. On the outside, it all appeared to be well-planned activity but in reality, it was a policy of muddling along, chance, trial and error, a hair’s breadth from spinning out of control and taking down Merkel’s entire administration with it. The film shows the power struggles and playing against each other that ensued in the time of leading up to the final decision in a way that feels almost surgical in its depiction. If you enjoy a good heady political drama then you will love this one.

New Releases:

Kajillionaire – One of my favorite filmmakers in the last twenty years and a storyteller who is very idiosyncratic in her own right, like Nicholas Winding Refn or Yorgos Lanthimos, I have always been excited about Miranda July’s new projects and this film didn’t disappoint. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Gina Rodriguez, the story follows two con artists who have spent twenty-six years training their only daughter to swindle, scam and steal at every turn to get them by. During a desperate and hastily conceived heist, they charm a stranger into joining them, only to have their entire world turned upside down as she upsets the dynamic that had been working so well for them and starts to show Old Dolio (yes, that’s really what they named her) the real way of the world and the goodness in people. Wood is absolutely incredible in this movie, playing a morose feeling monotone character that reflects so well in every nuanced reaction. Just another phenomenal performance in 2020 that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Last Shift – It’s a glorious double Richard Jenkins week to end the summer and I couldn’t be happier. In this film, he plays Stanley, a long time employee on the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish who is calling it quits after 38 years and must train his young replacement, a talented but stalled young writer who was recently paroled and his provocative politics keep landing him in trouble. Jenkins gives another fantastic performance as he’s done throughout his career but like The Visitor, a film that got him nominated for an Oscar, this is another benchmark in his great career. This is a strong narrative debut for writer and director Andrew Cohn and a really solid supporting role from Shane Paul McGhie as well as former Modern Family star Ed O’Neill.

LX 2048 – Hmmm, a future set movie where the earth is under attack from the damages of climate change? Wow, science fiction, am I right? All jokes with a depressing center aside, this film feels really close to reality right now as certain parallels in the story come up that funhouse mirror our own current pandemic situation. Set in the near future, the sun has become so toxic people can no longer leave their houses in the daytime, and normal life is conducted mostly inside the realm of virtual reality. Against this dystopian backdrop, a dying man seeks to ensure the future well-being of his family, while coping with what it means to be human in this new reality. The film stars Cloud Atlas’s James D’Arcy, Atonement’s Gina McKee and the great Delroy Lindo who makes an appearance again on this list later and it’s written and directed by Guy Moshe who did the entertaining but wholly dumb action film, Bunraku. This one is a decent watch and another cautionary tale wrapped in sci-fi.

The Artist’s Wife – Films dealing with couples going through dementia or late-stage Alzheimer’s are always a rough watch but it is through incredible performances that we get full rounded stories that we can relate to and Bruce Dern delivers one this time that is so full of soul that it’s hard to forget. Written and directed Last Weekend’s Tom Dolby in just his second film, the story follows Lena Olin as the wife of a renowned abstract artist who is plunged into a late-life crisis when her husband is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is in danger of not completing the paintings for his final show. Both Olin and Dern play off of each other so well, which makes the moments of pure devotion between them so beautiful and when the opposite of that happens you are sure to feel it. I also have to say that the feature debut of cinematographer Ryan Earl Parker was a great thing 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 certainly 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.

Blu-Ray:

Tesla – Filmmaker Michael Almereyda is kind of known for making pretty idiosyncratic films, doing an adaptation of Hamlet in modern-day Wall Street, a sci-fi about holograms of the recently deceased or, my personal favorite, a film about a radical psychological experiment based on a true story. For this film, he goes the biopic route with Ethan Hawke taking the title role as Nikola Tesla in a freewheeling take on the visionary inventor, his interactions with Thomas Edison, played brilliantly by Kyle MacLachlan and J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne, through Bridge Of Spies’ Eve Hewson who narrates the film seemingly in the future, and his breakthroughs in transmitting electrical power and light. Hawke is the saving grace in a film that feels disjointed and confused even if the backdrop of the story is as interesting as it is. It made me think of how great Experimenter was the whole time I was watching it. Almereyda has definitely done better work.

Babyteeth – Another under-advertised little indie film, this debut feature from director Shannon Murphy absolutely floored me. The film follows Milla, a seriously ill teenager who falls madly in love with small-time drug dealer Moses and, obviously, it’s her parents’ worst nightmare. But as Milla’s first brush with love brings her a new lust for life, things get messy and traditional morals go right out the window and she soon shows everyone in her orbit, like her parents, Moses, a sensitive music teacher, a budding child violinist, and a disarmingly honest pregnant neighbour, how to live like you have nothing to lose. This movie is driven by fantastic performances in a coming of age story that, in a sea of genre films just like it, rises to the top in a way that demands to be recognized. I highly recommend this movie, one of my favorites this week.

Pizza: A Love Story – Pizza is a common thing that bonds most of us, our love for it, the comradery it makes when we gather around a box to open it for a fresh slice or the fact that any party feels lackluster without it. Well, this new documentary is made for all of us then. This film is about three pizza palaces, Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern, all in the 6 block radius of Wooster square in Elm City, loved by everybody from presidents to rock stars. Hell, even Frank Sinatra used to send his driver all the way from Hoboken just to pick up some pies. The film feature interviews family members that ran Pepe’s, lifelong fans, both famous and not and food critics, intercutting archival footage and vintage photographs, many never before seen publicly, all to explain the passion, the long lines, and how a small town in Connecticut became the pizza center of the universe. This is a great film but be sure to have your own pizza in front of you during it or you will seriously regret it.

The GoodTimes Kid – Azazel Jacobs is a name that is only really bandied around the indie world but those who know his work know how special it is. With the John C. Reilly film Terri, the beautifully written and acted The Lovers and the endearing HBO series Doll And Em, Jacobs should be far more popular than he is. Well, thanks to Kino Lorber, we’re reaching back in his catalogue to 2005 with the director starring front and center as Rodolfo, a brooding slacker who gets a summons from the Army to report for duty even though he did not enlist. He heads to a recruitment office to try and straighten out the mess where he meets another recruit named Punk, a journalist who joined the Army to get away from his life and girlfriend, Diaz who Rodolfo quickly befriends. This film is an early showcasing of Jacobs ability to write characters that find nuance behind their scripted words and have a grounded real emotion to them that bleeds off the screen. Truly great indie filmmaking.

Momma’s Man – Let’s fast forward to 2008 for another one of Azazel Jacob’s early work but this time instead of him starring in it, he cast his mother and father in the pivotal main roles. The film follows a man who flies from Los Angeles to Manhattan for a business meeting and takes a moment to see his graying parents in the dimly lit downtown loft where he grew up. Overcome with nostalgia and a sudden longing for his increasingly distant adolescence,he decides to make himself at home but as the nights wear on, and his father and his wife grow increasingly concerned, he struggles to confront his fears of becoming a full-fledged adult. This film is incredibly moody but still finds that sweet spot of satirizing real life and being totally dedicated to keeping the true emotion of the human condition vibrantly alive. Azazel Jacobs might be one of the prolific voices of our times but he just hasn’t hit that needed level of notoriety for mass attention.

The Dead Ones – This movie landed on my doorstep and once I pulled it out of the packaging I noticed on the cover that Film School Rejects boasted it as the best horror movie of the year. The thing was that I hadn’t heard one thing about it. Now that I’m educated on it, I can tell you it follows four outcast teens who are being punished with summer detention, assigned to clean their high school after a horrific incident. They soon discover they are not alone as a macabre gang wearing guises of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, Famine, Pestilence, War and Death, have locked them inside and are hunting them through the school’s hallways. As the four students battle to survive, each must confront the supernatural echoes of past traumas they have tried to leave in the past. You know what? The Rejects might be on to something as I really dug this film and that it was pretty original to boot. The scares are smart and don’t feel like a jump scare cheapening of the genre. Director Jeremy Kasten has a serious future in front of him and I look forward to what is next, along with writer Zach Chassler.

Beckman – When I got this one I looked at the cast and content and I was pretty intrigued. Then a friend pointed out that the movie was produced by Pure Flix, a faith-based production company that is in love with putting out its religious message over delivering a cohesive film and my heart sank. Starring David A.R. White, William “Can we still call him Billy?” Baldwin, and Rocky’s pal Paulie, Burt Young, Crazily enough, this is an action film following a contract killer who has become the reverend of a LA church living the “good life” until a cult leader and his minions kidnap his daughter. Blinded by vengeance, he cuts a bloody path across the city and, of course, the only thing that can stop him is his newfound faith. These movies always have the audience to a certain point and that’s when the religious message comes in clanging it’s pots and pans and ruining everything that came before it. As this movie seems to go the extra mile in being terrible I ask again, can we get a passable faith-based movie for the love of God?

Christ Stopped At Eboli – I honestly geek the hell out every time Criterion sends me another new release selection from their prestigious collection and when I haven’t heard of the movie they turn out to be that much better because the moment of discovery can never be forgotten. This is definitely true of this 1979 Italian drama from acclaimed writer and director Francesco Rosi about a doctor in Fascist Italy who is exiled to a remote village for his political views. He is sent to a remote region of Southern Italy populated by inhabitants who barely survive on the meagre harvest of the unyielding land. Eboli, the closest train station, is the last outpost of civilization (such as it is) before entering a world that has changed very little since the Middle Ages expresses all the sense of abandonment, neglect, desolation and human despair that weighs on our lead character. This is a fascinating piece of both Italian film history as well as their cultural and political history as well. This is recommended for all cinephiles.

The Good Fight: Season 4 – As a big fan of the series that this show spun off of, The Good Wife starring Julianna Margulies, I have been a fan of this show since it started on the less constrained CBS All Access for two reasons, the carryover star from that show, Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhardt and the always incredible Delroy Lindo. For those out of the loop, this series picks up one year after the events of the final broadcast episode of The Good Wife, where an enormous financial scam has destroyed the reputation of a young lawyer, played by Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie, while simultaneously wiping out her mentor and godmother Diane Lockhart’s savings. Forced out of Lockhart and Lee, they join Lucca Quinn at one of Chicago’s preeminent law firms to hopefully rebuild an empire. The show plays heavily on real politics and it may become exhausting with the consistent anti-Trump message but in this reviewer’s mind, it is all warranted because that guy sucks and makes my blood boil. Hell, maybe I should write for this show, I’ve got a few ideas.

Riverdale: Season 4 – We all know what this show is by now, right? A reimagining of the Archie comics that have been smashed together with the dark elements of Twin Peaks and a little dash of the popular CW series Pretty Little Liars. Yes, the series has definitely carved out its own niche but the latest season had everyone braced for tragedy as we said goodbye to one of the main characters both on the show and in life as Luke Perry passed away last year. This season, amongst that, deals with the residents of Riverdale preparing for the Independence Day parade and Archie receiving that bad news phone call that will change the rest of his life forever. Perry, Skeet Ulrich and the lovely Madchen Amick were the reasons I watched the series so it’s a really tough pill to swallow.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:

Black Rainbow – This was a sweet little forgotten horror flick that got lost in the shuffle of largely the marginalization of a whole genre that has been regarded as fluffy, cheap and just plain bad by a big portion of the critic world. Sad but true. The film follows a young female medium on tour who sees a hitman killing a whistleblower in her vision. Unfortunately for her, the killer finds out about this and plans to kill her as well causing some skeptical police, her manager father and a curious journalist to join forces to try to protect her. I love the top line of this cast that has the always welcome Rosanna Arquette, the legendary Jason Robards and former Academy Award nominee Tom Hulce. Hey, remember Amadeus? The film was written and directed by Mike Hodges who has had some great classics in his career including Flash Gordon, the original Get Carter and that gambling thriller with Clive Owen, Croupier. I liked this quite a bit, it’s a really effective supernatural thriller that feels grounded still.

Zombie For Sale – If you put this movie in front of me a few years ago, a campy little zombie film that plays on the slapstick comedy more than anything, I probably would be on the fence until you told me it was from South Korea but after the brilliance that was Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut Of The Dead, well, you can hook this baby to my veins. The story is very simple, about a strange family named Park, who takes in a zombie inadvertently created by a pharmaceutical company’s illegal experiments hoping to make a profit from it. This is the debut for director Lee Min-Jae and he lands with such an interesting and stylish feature that he is definitely on my list of filmmakers to look out for when his next film lands. In a genre that is really feeling like a dime a dozen in the last decade, he made something original that works on all levels.

Million Dollar Mermaid – Let’s take it back to the classics again for another entry from the Warner Archive and this time it’s an American-made film that is about Australia. The film tells the story of Australian swimming sensation Annette Kellerman, who overcame childhood polio to go on and achieve fame as a professional swimmer and film star in the early decades of the 20th century. At the same time, she also scandalized the world by wearing a one-piece bathing suit on public beaches long before the style was accepted in polite company, a definite sign of those times, and made waves in other ways as well as it kind of became her nature. The lead star, Esther Williams, is really great in this, again, for the time, and it was directed by Mervyn LeRoy who also did The Wizard Of Oz and Gypsy. This is some of that “controversial” filmmaking of the times and it looks great in the new Blu-Ray transfer.

Better Days – Ever since I saw the trailer for this new Chinese drama I have been waiting patiently by my mailbox for it to arrive and, although it was sent to me late, it really didn’t disappoint. The film follows a bullied teenage girl who forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations because in China when it comes to their standardized testing, the entire country comes to a standstill. For nearly ten million high school students, this two-day national college entrance exam will determine where and if they get to study and it is not uncommon for the fates of entire families to hinge on the results. This movie is drenched in soul and you feel the uncertainty of the next moment through these beautiful performances from Dongyu Zhou and Jackson Yee.

Bull: Season 4 – Look, this show may feature a former NCIS star in lead Michael Weatherly but it has more in common with Dr. Phil than it does that crime procedural as this is a show based on the famous television psychiatrist’s life although, I assume, very loosely. Weatherly plays Dr. Jason Bull, a brilliant, brash, and charming observer of jurors, attorneys and witnesses to get the pertinent edge his firm needs to defend their clients and, in some cases, condemn them. Unfortunately, and this is something I still can’t shake, this show has the stink of the bad conduct the star showed towards at the time possible co-star Eliza Dushku but I actually enjoyed the couple of seasons I crammed in leading up to now and the season features some pretty good guest stars like one of my favorites, Oz’s Lee Tergesun, Samantha Mathis, The Wire and The Walking Dead’s Seth Gilliam and the returning Mercedes Ruehl, a character actress I always enjoy seeing.

Television:

Utopia: Season 1 (Amazon Prime) – This is not to be confused with the British series of the same name but damn this looks cool and I’m really a big sucker for the grand arch mystery shows. The series follows a group of young adults, who meet online and get a hold of a cult underground graphic novel, which not only pins them as a target of a shadowy deep state organization but also burdens them with the dangerous task of saving the world. Featuring John Cusack, Rainn Wilson and American Honey’s Sasha Lane among the young cast, this series looks truly awesome and one that people will gather around to check notes and figure it all out. You know the mystery will be deep and delicious as well because it comes from the mind of Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn who dons the showrunner hat for the first time in her career.

Enola Holmes (Netflix) – Netflix is about to have a phenomenal week and this new film is a big reason why, as it is exhilarating, fun and the lead star Millie Bobby Brown shines in it. Set in England, 1884, a world on the brink of change, The film follows Brown as Enola Holmes who, on the morning of her 16th birthday, wakes to find that her mother, played by the always welcome Helena Bonham Carter, has disappeared, leaving behind an odd assortment of gifts but no apparent clue as to where she’s gone or why. After a free-spirited childhood, Enola suddenly finds herself under the care of her brothers Sherlock, played by the human special effect Henry Cavill, and Mycroft, brilliantly played with a sneer by Sam Claflin, both set on sending her away to a finishing school for “proper” young ladies. Refusing to follow their wishes, Enola escapes to search for her mother in London but when her journey finds her entangled in a mystery surrounding a young runaway Lord, Enola becomes a super-sleuth in her own right, outwitting her famous brother as she unravels a conspiracy that threatens to make progression take a back seat. This movie is reminiscent of the family mysteries of a seemingly forgotten era and commands this to continue as a franchise. Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer makes his feature debut here and nails it in every way.

The Chef Show: Season 2 (Netflix) – Cooking is a journey and making a meal is about more than just food, it’s about appreciating friends, family and tradition and Jon Favreau’s Netflix show is indicative of that. In The Chef Show he and award-winning Chef Roy Choi reunite after their critically acclaimed film Chef to embark on a new adventure, experimenting with their favorite recipes and techniques, baking, cooking, exploring and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the entertainment and culinary world including Gwyneth Paltrow, Seth Rogen, Wolfgang Puck and David Chang. From sharing a meal with the Avengers cast in Atlanta to smoking brisket in Texas with world-renowned pitmaster Aaron Franklin, to honoring the legendary food critic Jonathan Gold in Los Angeles, Favreau and Choi embrace their passion for food and make you hungry constantly. I’ve really been enjoying my run through this series and the David Chang episode was so special to me. I love that dude.

Sneakerheads (Netflix) – This brand new original series lands this week and has a slight edge to it that reminds me a bit of Entourage. Coming from the writer of the basketball film Uncle Drew from a couple of years ago with Kyrie Irving, this series follows Devin, a former sneakerhead turned stay-at-home dad, who gets back in the game only to quickly find himself five thousand dollars in the hole after falling for one of old friend Bobby’s get-rich-quick schemes. Desperate to get his money back before his wife finds out he’s fallen off the wagon, Devin enlists the help of a ragtag group of fellow shoe lovers on his global hunt for the elusive “Zeroes,” the holy grail of hard-to-find kicks. Episode one feels like a good establishing point but the whole story feels a bit flimsy to pull off an entire series around and you can kind of see how anemic it is pretty quickly. As I move through the series I might be wrong but it feels faltering.

Tehran: Season 1 (AppleTV) – I was a big fan of the FX series Tyrant which ran for two seasons on the network along with the recently cancelled Netflix show Messiah so when this show appeared on my list of upcoming television I definitely jumped on it. Coming from a handful of new showrunners, this is the story of Tamar Rabinyan, a Mossad computer hacker-agent undertaking her very first mission in the heart of a hostile and menacing city, which also happens to be the place of her birth. Tasked with disabling an Iranian nuclear reactor, her mission has implications not just for the Middle East, but for the entire world order and when the Mossad mission fails, Tamar goes rogue in Tehran as she rediscovers her Iranian roots and becomes romantically entwined with a pro-democracy activist. The only recognizable cast member for me in this is Shaun Toub who played the scientist who helped Tony Stark build the Mark I Iron Man suit in a desert cave but the storyline is intriguing and has a mix of espionage and melodrama embedded with eastern culture and looks really interesting.

The time is upon us to get all immersed in two weeks’ worth of movies as the Vancouver International Film Festival kicks off which will be my fifth year covering it. Obviously it’s very different this year with the COVID-19 pandemic still in effect so for the most part we’re going virtual with a few limited in theater screenings with a reduced crown.

While I am definitely bummed out that I won’t get that full festival feel, talk movies in-depth with filmgoers, have that anticipation of sitting in the theater and waiting for a film to hit the screen that I have been waiting for all year, I am still excited that there is SOMETHING this year to see and I have a five movie highlight of the top picks heading into this year’s festival.

Possessor – Let’s mess you up right out of the gate as David Cronenberg’s son Brandon returns with his second feature, a violent sci-fi film that proves once again he is his father’s son and the body horror runs in the family. The film stars Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Abbott and it follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. Riseborough’s character, a veteran assassin is starting to suffer psychotic breaks in her “outside” life which breaks wide open with her latest client. I’ve already had a chance to see this movie and it blew my mind entirely. Disturbing in visuals, this chaotic film is another showcasing of Cronenberg’s boundless imagination and the incredible prowess that cinematographer Karim Hussain has.

The Father – I love Academy Award winner Olivia Colman with all of my heart and if you don’t or find yourself on the fence with her then I don’t believe you have really seen her before because the feelings for her are infectious with everything she does. This new drama sits her opposite another Oscar winner, Anthony Hopkins, as a man who refuses all assistance from his daughter, played by Colman, as he ages. Trying to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality as he descends into his advancing illness. The buzz on this movie is huge as both stars are gunning for another statue for their mantle, giving stellar performances and the adept direction from French writer and director Florian Zeller might just land him on the A-list as well.

Falling – Viggo Mortensen is a man that can really do no wrong. He’s freaking Aragorn, the king of Middle Earth, for one thing, and all of the projects he has taken since, whether it was for David Cronenberg, a Disney adventure film or the must-see Captain Fantastic, all it does is endear him to us more. Now he steps behind the camera for this film that he wrote and starred in about a conservative father, played by legendary actor Lance Henriksen, who gives up his rural farm life to move to Los Angeles to live with his gay son and his family. The film is described as a beautifully paced melodrama about understanding and relationship rebirth and hopefully will be a kickstart of Lance Henriksen back into the spotlight, although us horror fans know he’s been kicking serious ass for decades in the genre. I have big hopes for this movie.

Black Bear – Christopher Abbot makes his second appearance at the festival and on this blog with this new drama featuring Aubrey Plaza, Canadian actress Sarah Gadon and Under The Dome’s Alexander Koch. written and directed by Wild Canaries filmmaker Lawrence Michael Levine. The story follows a filmmaker with a severe case of a creative block who seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways. Again, this is another film that has all of the critics raving about it, just like the other festival-goers who have seen it and I’m very intrigued to see Plaza, usually a comedic actress, tackle something with a deeply dramatic heart and a film that I hear deconstructs the way melodramas are represented. This is one of those films that make the whole festival worth it.

NO TRAILER FOR THIS ONE YET

Ammonite – Well, all you need to do is say the name Kate Winslett and it’ll get my butt in a seat but you add Saorise Ronan to the mix and now I am just ravenous to get this film into my eyeballs. The acclaimed writer and director of another festival favorite God’s Own Country from a few years back returns with this period drama about an acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter named Mary Anning and a young woman named Charlotte Murchison who was sent to convalesce by the sea who develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever in a time that definitely wasn’t ready for their love. This immediately brings to mind last year’s stellar French film A Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, one of my favorite films of last year and I’m really happy that this LGBTQ+ movie is getting such a grand festival release as one of the draws this year. I’m really excited about this one, as I have been about the rest of these picks, and the critics have been crazy about it already.

Be sure to check if films are streaming or in theater screenings only at viff.org and be sure to chat with me on Twitter about it as well!

New Releases:

Antebellum – Even before the pandemic hit and movie release dates were scattered, I was really looking forward to this new thriller. The film stars Janelle Monae in her first leading role, another piece to a great period in the actress and singer has been having with her involvement in Hidden Figures as well as her great album, Dirty Computer, which was co-produced by Prince before his death. This film has Monae as successful author Veronica Henley who finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality of being deep in a Confederate owned and run plantation in the Civil War era that oddly forces her to confront the past, present and future. Without going too deep into reveals, the story is fascinating and engrossing until the first twist happens and you find yourself questioning how they can resolve it. Once the explanation is revealed I basically tossed this whole film out the window as a totally unsatisfying movie that was supposed to be a project of such promise for Monae. So disappointing.

The Nest – If you would have told me twenty years ago that Jude Law would become an actor that would immediately make a film anticipated for me I would have called you a dirty liar because, honestly, I was never a fan of his earlier work but things have changed big time. In this new film he plays Rory, an ambitious entrepreneur and former commodities broker who persuades his American wife, Allison, played by Gone Girl’s Carrie Coon, and their children to leave the comforts of suburban America and return to his native England during the 1980s. Sensing opportunity, Rory rejoins his former firm and leases a centuries-old country manor, with grounds for Allison’s horses and plans to build a stable but soon the promise of a lucrative new beginning starts to unravel and the couple have to face the unwelcome truths lying beneath the surface of their marriage. Law’s performance is absolutely knockout in this film and his chemistry with Coon is so palpable. Directed and written by Sean Durkin, this is the much anticipated follow up to his only other feature film Martha Marcy May Marlene and it delivers in a big way.

Blackbird – There’s something about a really great ensemble cast that gets me excited for a movie and, while I have been duped before, I’m still a total sucker for it. This one lands in that category as it features Susan Sarandon and Sam Neill as Lily and Paul who summon their loved ones to their beach house for one final gathering after Lily decides to end her long battle with ALS on her own terms. The couple plans a loving weekend complete with holiday traditions but the mood becomes strained when unresolved issues surface between Lily and her daughters Jennifer and Anna, played by Kate Winslett and Mia Wasikowska. Also starring usual comedic actor Rainn Wilson, veteran actress Lindsay Duncan and former The Killing star Bex Taylor-Klaus, the film feels like a sensitive drama with some real backbone to it as the characters never feel like cardboard cutouts and I’d have to credit that to the years of experience from the adept cast as well as the stalwart direction from the always accomplished Roger Michell.

H Is For Happiness – In the mirk that is 2020 and all the horrible events in the world seemingly transpiring at once to drive down our spirits, it’d be really great for something to come along and raise our spirits and that is what this new Australian film is aiming to do. Based on the award-winning book My Life As An Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg, this is the genuinely heart-warming and unflinchingly honest story of one twelve-year-old with boundless optimism and a unique view of the world who is inspired by the strange new boy at school and determined to mend her broken family and spark happiness in their lives. Aside from veteran actors Miriam Margolyes and Richard Roxburgh, you won’t recognize many in this film but comes off as pure pander free joy and sweetness although it sometimes goes for that feeling rather than narrative cohesion.

Radioactive – How has the brave story of Madame Marie Curie, the discoverer of plutonium which was both a life changer and a life ender for her, not told in a biopic yet? Well, thanks to Amazon Prime and Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi, we do have a screen representation of this amazing woman, played by Academy Award nominee Rosamund Pike. This film is a close look at the woman dubbed a pioneer, a rebel and a genius and her relationship with her husband Pierre, played by Control’s Sam Riley, and chronicles her rise to discovery. I love the trailer for this movie and I really hope the full film is a great film about an important woman because the last at-bat for this, Kasi Lemmon’s Harriet, did not hit the mark for me at all.

Alive – For two weeks in a row now there have been horror movies released called Alive and unlike last week’s South Korean zombie film that debuted on Netflix, this one doesn’t have the hashtag in front of it. The story follows a severely injured man and woman who awake in an abandoned sanitarium with massive memory loss only to discover that a sadistic caretaker holds the keys to their freedom and the horrific answers as to their real identity. The small cast is made up of all unknowns except for the antagonist, played with menace by Braveheart actor Angus Macfayden and I was surprised by how effective the film is with its tension and smart gore. This one is a hidden little gem of a movie.

Blu-Ray:

Becky – When comedic actors make the leap from their comfort zone into a dramatic role it is usually pretty shocking but I have to say that nothing caught me off guard more than to see King Of Queens star and Adam Sandler buddy Kevin James playing an escaped white supremacist prisoner with a swastika tattooed on the back of his head. This brand new gory thriller follows a father and his troubled daughter as he brings her up to a remote cabin to drop the news that he is remarrying. This is interrupted by James and his three other escapees as they terrorize the family for something their leader has left behind there. The daughter, Becky, having run out to the woods after her dad’s talk, now must devise a plan to survive and save her family. This movie is brash and ugly in a great survival thriller way and James does a great job being brutally menacing. It may be predictable in parts but the blood and guts of this movie are truly awesome and another great entry for Cooties directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion.

Weathering With You – Oh yay, some more anime to either leave me aloof, confused or just completely out of the loop. The story follows Hodaka who, during the summer of his high school freshman year, runs away from his remote island home to Tokyo, and quickly finds himself pushed to his financial and personal limits. The weather is unusually gloomy and rainy every day, which is seemingly an indicator of his future, he lives his days in isolation but finally finds work as a writer for a mysterious occult magazine. Then one day, Hodaka meets Hina on a busy street corner, a bright and strong-willed girl who possesses a strange ability, the power to stop the rain and clear the sky. I actually feel like I finally understand one of these films and really appreciated this beautifully animated and emotionally rich movie that has a broader appeal than the medium would suggest. I’m not saying that this is a film that will convert the masses but it certainly got a hold of me.

Tommaso – Abel Ferrera may be more known for being a total nutcase, making pervasive films like Ms. 45, The Driller Killer and Bad Lieutenant, giving Christopher Walken one of his best performances in King Of New York or even threatening to murder Werner Herzog over his remake of the aforementioned Bad Lieutenant but he also has been making seriously thoughtful films with one of the best actors on the planet, Willem Dafoe. This one is no different and close to the filmmaker as Dafoe plays opposite the director’s own wife and daughter as a Ferrara-like American artist living in Rome in this improvised drama of doubt and disconnection, shot in a self-reflective documentary style. The film definitely comes off as a sort of cathartic little vanity project but is driven by the soul of Dafoe who is almost anchored to the camera throughout. This one is for the art film fans for sure.

Flying Leathernecks – This is a classic film that I know my John Wayne obsessed uncle is probably well versed on as he did name my cousin after the Duke. Co-starring Robert Ryan, Wayne plays Major Daniel Kirby, a strict military man who takes command of a squadron of Marine fliers just before they are about to go into combat. While the men are well-meaning, he finds them undisciplined and prone to always finding excuses to do what is easy rather than what is necessary, the root of the problem being the second in command, Capt. Carl ‘Griff’ Griffin, played by Ryan, the best flier in the group but a poor commander who is not prepared for the difficult decision that all commanders have to make according to Kirby which could put men in harm’s way knowing that they may be killed. This is a rare great performance from Wayne alongside Ryan and the aerial footage is pretty impressive for the time it was made.

Stephen King 5-Movie Collection – For any Stephen King fan this is going to be a must-own in my opinion as it is a pretty solid collection of some of his better adaptations, along with one of the latest adaptations which actually is a remake as well with the original included in this set too. The five-film set includes two films that had previously been released in special editions, the television miniseries of The Stand and the 1989 version of Pet Sematary as well as the remake from last year, the Corey Haim and Gary Busey led werewolf classic Silver Bullet and, a personal favorite, David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone featuring one of my favorite Christopher Walken performances ever. This is just a treasure trove of greatness right here.

Succession: Season 2 – I used to be so in tune with whatever HBO was releasing because everything had such a stellar quality to it that it was all can’t miss television so the fact that this one has flown outside of my radar is a bit sad. It follows the Roy family who controls one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world and their lives as they start to make power moves in the hopes that their ageing father begins to step back from the company. It stars Brian Cox as the patriarch of the Roys as well as Kieran Culkin, Nicholas Braun and Jeremy Strong but the standout for me is Hiam Abass as Cox’s wife who constantly delivers knockout performance after performance. This is a winner for sure.

Mom: Season 7 – After seven seasons of this popular CBS series, I finally got my hands on my first box set of it and it happens to be the final season that the star, Anna Faris, will appear on as she exits to possibly do something else with her life. For those who don’t know about the show, it follows Faris as single mom Christy who has her hands full with two children, Violet and Roscoe, and maintaining newfound sobriety, when her passive-aggressive, recovering-alcoholic mother re-enters the picture, played by the brilliant Allison Janney, brimming with criticisms about Christy’s life. As the daughter works to be the best mother she can and to overcome mistakes she made, she must also navigate dysfunctional relationships with romantic interests, and with her irresponsible ex-husband, Baxter, played by Breaking Bad’s fan favorite, Badger, Matt Jones. Season seven has Christy just having finished her law degree and pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer, while her mom attempts to have a healthy romantic relationship with her new husband, Adam, played by the wonderful William Fichtner. It’s really pretty standard sitcom stuff so if you’re in that crowd of fans, you’ll probably enjoy it but, you know, start at the beginning.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:

Sunset Boulevard – When it comes to classic Hollywood films this movie is undeniably a top pick as it has become absolutely iconic in stature, story and even the line “Mr. Deville, I’m ready for my close up.” which is just scraping the surface of the film’s allure. The film follows screenwriter Joe Gillis, desperate for cash, who has a chance meeting with a faded silent film star. Norma Desmond, living in her crumbling Sunset Boulevard mansion with only her butler to keep her company. She has become a sad demented recluse convinced that the outside world is clamouring for her dramatic return and, enticing him with the prospect of script work, she puts him up in her mansion and he dangerously becomes more involved and entangled in her life. Celebrating seventy years this year, it might be a great time to get knowledgeable or renewed with this lion of a film that has been beautifully restored for this release.

Midsommar: Director’s Cut – My favorite film of last year has been given a new life with this rare and limited edition from the studio A24 itself and it is now a prized piece of my collection. The sophomore film from Hereditary director Ari Aster, the story is about a couple who travels to Sweden to visit a secluded town’s fabled mid-summer festival and what was thought to be an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. Florence Pugh delivers an incredible performance as the girlfriend, Dani, who is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress from the murder-suicide of her entire family and is afflicted with an aloof and gaslighting boyfriend, played by Jack Reynor. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I will say no more, go watch it. Those who have seen it and love it, well, you probably missed out on this edition which is glorious.

Girl Crazy – I’ve got another throwback movie this week, another pairing of the golden on-screen couple of the bygone era of Hollywood, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Rooney stars as rich kid Danny Churchill, a guy with a taste for wine, women and song, but not for higher education so his father ships him to an all-male college out West where there’s not supposed to be a female for miles. Before Danny even arrives, he lays eyes on the dean’s granddaughter, Ginger Gray played by JudyGarland, who is more interested in keeping the financially strapped college open than falling for Danny’s bag of girl nabbing tricks. The film is actually based on a Broadway play and Garland’s character was named for the original star, Ginger Rogers, and is definitely a vision from a bygone era.

His Dark Materials: Season 1 – 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 forced 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 limited 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 Etruscan Sun – I’m doubling up on the Brian Cox projects this week although, unlike the previously talked about HBO series that landed him a Golden Globe, this was a film that I had really never heard of. Cox is Rory MacNeil, a rugged old Scotsman who reluctantly leaves his beloved isolated Hebridean island for San Francisco to seek medical treatment. Moving in with his estranged son, Rory starts to feel a transformation come over his life through a newly found love for his baby grandson. Cox once again proves why he has been the diamond in the rough for decades now, shelling out another great performance in a film that has a likeable streak just from the sentimentality that Israeli directors Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun bring to the tone of it.

Television:

The Devil All The Time (Netflix) – Following the release of Charlie Kaufman’s latest a couple of weeks ago, this is another one that is swinging for the awards fences and the performances may just be good enough to get them there. Directed and written by Christine filmmaker Antonio Campos, the film is set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, following a cast of compelling and bizarre characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s. There’s Willard Russell, a tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific, who can’t save his beautiful wife, Charlotte, from an agonizing death by cancer no matter how much sacrificial blood he pours on his “prayer log.” There’s Carl and Sandy Henderson, a husband-and-wife team of serial killers, who troll America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate. There’s the spider-handling preacher Roy and his disabled virtuoso-guitar-playing sidekick, Theodore, running from the law. And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin Eugene Russell, Willard and Charlotte’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but also violent man in his own right. Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson deliver blisteringly brilliant turns in a film that is brutally as violent as the nature of all those around Arvin, though we feel like he is warranted mostly. A hard film to digest but an excellent one.

We Are Who We Are (Crave) – Any time I see Luca Guadagnino’s name attached to anything I am immediately onboard and adding to the mix that the show was co-created with The First King writer Francesca Manieri and stars It and Shazam’s Jack Dylan Grazer makes it another great HBO series already. The show follows two American teenagers who come of age while living on an American military base in Italy, exploring themes of friendship, first love, burgeoning identity as well as all the messy exhilaration and anguish of being a teenager, just on foreign soil. One of the things that excite me most about this is the cinematographers which has Force Majeure and The Square’s Fredrik Wenzel on the majority as well as Luca’s A Bigger Splash shooter, Yorick Le Saux.

Challenger: The Final Flight (Netflix) – We’re going back to space this week but we don’t have Hilary Swank in tow this time and it’s a true story that rocked the world and definitely shook America as a national tragedy. From executive producer JJ Abrams, this four-part docuseries delves into the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, unpacking an indelible moment for a generation of Americans with engineers, officials and the crew members’ families providing their perspective on the tragedy and its aftermath. The series is really fascinating as it first takes you to the day that changed everything for NASA and put the crosshairs of blame squarely on their shoulders then goes back to the high profile diversity hire of the “class” of 1978 to start the ball rolling to its catastrophic end. Another great true story docu series from Netflix.

The Third Day (Crave) – It’s a twofer this week with HBO entries which we get on the Crave streaming service here in Canada, and it marks a second one for star Jude Law who also has The Young Pope running, a fantastic show from creator Paolo Sorrentino. This one is a devilish little mystery as it chronicles the individual journeys of a man and woman who arrive on a mysterious island at different times. The story is told over six episodes in two distinct halves, “Summer” sees Sam, Jude Law’s character, a man drawn to the island off the British coast and encountering a group of islanders set on preserving their traditions at any cost. “Winter” follows Helen, played by current Ms. Moneypenny Naomie Harris, a strong-willed outsider who comes to the island seeking answers, but whose arrival precipitates a fractious battle to decide its fate. The third episode is a supposed live event that takes place between the episodes in which I would think the final resolution would be unveiled. It’s weird, but I am totally intrigued, and it comes from one of the minds behind the mystery series Utopia.

Ratched (Netflix) – So, it looks like mega-producer Ryan Murphy and brand new showrunner Evan Romansky have dreamed up one of the most unlikely prequel stories with this series that gives us a look at the younger years of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest villain, Nurse Ratched, played to Academy Award-winning perfection by Louise Fletcher. Starring Murphy’s greatest asset Sarah Paulson in the title role, this is a suspenseful drama series set in 1947, following Mildred Ratched as she arrives in Northern California to seek employment at a leading psychiatric hospital where new and unsettling experiments have begun on the human mind. On a secret mission, Mildred presents herself as the perfect image of what a dedicated nurse should be, but the wheels are always turning and as she begins to infiltrate the mental health care system and those within it, feeding growing darkness that has long been lying with, revealing that true monsters are made, not born. As much hate as the show got immediately on Twitter, I feel like this is another hit for Murphy and people will eventually come around to it. The stellar casting around Paulson is also awesome, including Vincent D’Onofrio, Sharon Stone, Cynthia Nixon and more.

New Releases:

Mulan – With every new Disney animated classic adaptation, I feel a little more trepidation and not because the movies are bad but because they seem to lack the heart and soul of the original films. The pandemic has robbed us of getting the chance to see this new version of Mulan on the big screen and it really is a robbery because this is an incredible film to behold and it’s a total gamechanger for these movies. Directed by Whale Rider filmmaker Niki Caro and shot by the eye behind Baz Luhrman’s Australian, cinematographer Mandy Walker, this movie is vibrant and leaps off the screen at you, a breathtaking experience at all times. The casting is impeccable, featuring an amazing cast including Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Pei Pei Cheung, Jason Scott Lee and Jet Li, gathered around an incredible lead in Yifei Liu who shoulders the load of this lead character amazingly, this may be one of the best films of the year. I adored it thoroughly.

Measure For Measure – As soon as I saw Hugo Weaving’s name appear as the lead of this film I had a feeling that I would be in for a little bit of a treat and when you put in perspective that this is a Shakespeare adaptation, well, the excitement rises a bit more. Written and directed by sophomore director Paul Ireland, the film takes a look at the lives of the inhabitants of a housing commission tower whose paths cross after a shocking event occurs on their front doorstep and, taking a modern approach to this story originally written in the 1600s, this movie reminded me a little bit of the J.G. Ballard book High Rise, which was recently adapted by one of my favorite filmmakers, Ben Wheatley. A lot of the comedic elements of the original play are toned down to reflect the drama more and it definitely pays off with the performances which are worth checking out alone.

Odd Man Rush – With playoff hockey still going during the first week of September, it really doesn’t feel that out of place now to have this new hockey film hitting theaters and with Letterkenny’s resident hockey player Dylan Playfair taking a main role in the film, this all feels very comfortable. The second film from director Doug Dearth, following up his football movie Underdogs, and based on a book by Bill Keenan, the story follows a Harvard hockey player who is sent to Sweden’s minor leagues where his new relationship with the girl at the local market forces him to confront the reality of his childhood NHL dream and if it’s really something he wants anymore. The film is definitely brimming with a lot of heart but not much behind it in smarts, cohesive writing or even a story worthy of occupying your time for even it’s short runtime of an hour and twenty-five minutes.

Parallel Minds – It’s time for some Canadian sci-fi this week featuring Greg Bryk, an actor that some may from the Jason Momoa series Frontier or as the bad guy from the Stephen and Robbie Amell movie Code 8, another very cool sci-fi movie but that’s really the extent of the star power. The film is set in the near future, about a technology firm called Red-Eye which is on the verge of developing a revolutionary contact lens that records human sight to replicate memories but when the company’s lead researcher is murdered a detective and researcher are drawn into searching deeper to apprehend an elusive digital shapeshifter that is possibly responsible for it. The film dials up the world-building and it was really cool to see Victoria born NXT wrestler Chelsea Green feature in it but it just didn’t have enough to keep me going in it.

Feels Good Man – This is a brand new documentary that is destined to make your blood boil as it definitely worked it’s magic on me, just like anything that has to do with the cult of Donald Trump and his far right-wing warriors that seem to appropriate so much good into their murky depths of evil. The film follows artist Matt Furie, the creator of the comic character Pepe the Frog, who begins an uphill battle to take back his iconic cartoon image from those who used it for their own purposes, effectively trying to kill his darling to avoid him being used as a white supremacy symbol. This movie is a horror story set in our harsh reality that seems to be getting worse.

Blu-Ray:

Ava – I know it’s 2020, the year of the weirdest and worst things happening with dull hopes for any normalcy beyond it, but I keep trying to wrap my head around not knowing a single thing about the existence of an action film starring Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common and Colin Farrell but here we are. Chastain, not usually an action star, plays Ava, a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organization, travelling the globe specializing in high profile hits. When a job goes dangerously wrong she is forced to fight for her own survival as is usually the case when it comes to pretty bland, direct to video action flicks which is, unfortunately, exactly what this is. For how great the cast is in this movie, it feels like you can almost see them take and cash their cheques on screen and it’s hard to believe that this film comes from an accomplished filmmaker like The Help’s Tate Taylor as he too gives no substance to this film, falling further after the disappointment that was the thriller, Ma.

Irresistible – John Stewart channels some of his justified rage into his second directed feature film but unlike the last true story drama he made last time he is playing into the comedy satire with hopefully better results. Starring Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne, the film focuses on a Democratic political strategist who works the campaign for a retired veteran’s bid for mayor of a small right-wing Wisconsin town. After the Democratic National Committee’s top strategist Gary (Steve Carell) sees a video of a retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) standing up for the rights of his town’s undocumented workers, Gary believes he has found the key to winning back the Heartland. However, the Republican National Committee counters him by sending in his brilliant nemesis Faith (Rose Byrne) and a local race quickly becomes a fight for the soul of America. This movie really didn’t get a lot of critical love during its VOD release but I actually enjoyed the heck out of it beyond its flaws, which it definitely has a few of them. Carell is so great in this and Byrne proves why she is one of the best comedic actresses working today. She’s such a treat.

Z – Oh no! Got some more creepy kid horror incoming and a lot of people have probably already seen this one as it’s been on the Shudder streaming service for a couple of months now and is a definite audience favorite. the second feature from Still/Born writer and director Brandon Christensen. The film follows a couple whose eight-year-old son Joshua develops an imaginary friend named Z, which they brush off as cute but they soon realize just how wrong they are. Z becomes a terrible influence on Josh and their innocent son turns into someone they barely recognize and it’s only when the mom, played by the wholly likeable Keegan Connor Tracy, starts uncovering her own past and she learns that Josh’s new friend Z, may not be so imaginary after all. I really loved this movie, a horror hit from out of nowhere, totally recommended.

Spooky House – Now, this is one of the weirder films that has crossed my doorway as the packaging would make you believe that this is a brand new movie but it is actually one from almost twenty years ago and finding any information on it is next to impossible. Featuring Sir Ben Kingsley and Canadian horror goddess Katharine Isabelle, right around the time she did Ginger Snaps, the story follows the Great Zamboni, a mysterious and reclusive magician, and his pet jaguar Shadow who reside in the Spooky House, an old mansion that’s rigged with magic tricks and hidden chambers. Young orphan Max unsuccessfully attempts to befriend Zamboni but after a trio of teenage bullies who work for the town’s eccentric crime queen Boss chase Max and his friends into the Spooky House on Halloween, Zamboni is forced to partner with Max to keep his true powers under wraps from the public eye. Corny and definitely meant for the kids, I could see within minutes why this movie had been buried for so long.

Magnum P.I.: Season 2 – Against all my beliefs that they could work, CBS has managed to reboot a handful of their classic line up from decades ago and has made them work. Hawaii Five-O has just ended their run, making it into the double digits in seasons, MacGyver has been sort of a runaway hit and this show has done good numbers for them as well and even crossed over with the first show I mentioned, palling around with McGarrett and Dann-O. Not sporting the Selleck mustache for this, Jay Hernandez steps into the role of Thomas Magnum with a gender switch for his sidekick Higgins in Ready Player One’s Perdita Weeks as it follows the ex-Navy SEAL as he returns from Afghanistan to use his military skills to become a private investigator in Hawaii. It’s your basic procedural, as you would expect it, and Hernandez kind of makes the show his own. I see it getting another few seasons as it’s doing well in the demographic.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Godzilla – Last week I brought the newly released giant box set of Gamera, a cherished Japanese kaiju but this week I bring you the original city destroyer, Godzilla himself in his very first appearance which is part of a beautiful Criterion edition that even features a pop-up section in the packaging that delights the childishness inside of me. The story for this classic Toho masterpiece is very simple at its core, an origin story if you will, about an American nuclear weapons test which results in the creation of a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast. This Criterion set includes this film and the reworked version, retitled Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, not to be confused with the more recent franchise version with Kyle Chandler released last year. This is one of those great genre films, and it’s a must-own for any monster movie fan.

Legion Of Super Heroes: Complete Series – In my movie collection I am proud to own a lot of the animated properties that Warner Bros. and DC Comics has collaborated on over the years, including Batman: The Animated Series, the Adventures Of Superman, The Batman, Batman Beyond and all of the animated movie collection but, I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know about this one. Spanning two seasons, this is the adventures of a young Clark Kent, as Superman, during his time with a team of teenage superheroes when he is sent into the far future. The series was originally developed because of Cartoon Network’s desire to have a Superman-centric series to coincide with the movie Superman Returns in 2006 but ultimately passed on it when it was ready to go. The show was then picked up by the now-defunct Kids! WB which kind of spelt it’s doom, a very unfortunate thing because the show is pretty damn cool.

Wonder Woman: The Complete Collection – As a kid one of my first crushes, along with Princess Leia, Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride and, later Jennifer Connolly from Career Opportunities, Lynda Carter was always on that list as her portrayal of Wonder Woman or Princess Diana of Themyscira was always something that put hearts in my eyes. Now my childhood love has come to my adult life as this new set is the definitive collection of everything she did as the character long before Gal Gadot got to play her on the big screen. The show is definitely dated and is totally cheesy but the iconic nature of it really shines through and it totally broke ground and should have strengthened female-led programming. Heck, Lynda should have been a cameo in Wonder Woman.

Phantom Of The Opera – To add to my already sizable collection of classic Universal monster movies that I have received from Shout Factory, my buddy Rob offered me this blu-ray and I honestly couldn’t pass it up, especially with star Claude Rains in it, doing his iconic thing. The one thing that makes me love this version so much more is, although it is set in an opera, this isn’t a musical and is more of the straight forward horror it’s supposed to be but, of course, one of that time period. The story is the same, an acid-scarred composer rises from the Paris sewers to boost his favorite opera understudy’s career in dastardly and sort of evil ways but it managed to make twists in that source material that was new and different, the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Weber to take this idea and do his thing with it.

Requiem For A Dream – One of my favorite movies of all time, I picked this film up multiple times but have never owned it on blu-ray until now. A dark and depressing film that delves into the sorrow of addiction, this was my first dip into the world of Darren Aronofsky as I didn’t see Pi until after this film and what a showcase of performances from Jared Leto, Jennifer Connolly, Ellen Burstyn and Marlon Wayans, Burstyn earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for it. Based on the novel by Herbert Selby Jr., this is the drug-induced stories of four Coney Island people whose lives are tragically and irreparably shattered when their addictions run deep. This is one of those perfect movies where the cast, script and direction meet up with incredible cinematography from now two time Academy Award nominee Matthew Libatique and music from the ground shaking Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet in possibly my favorite score ever. This movie is amazing and majorly recommended by me.

Television:

Raised By Wolves (Crave) – A brand new series produced by Ridley Scott for HBO Max, this new sci-fi show has massive intrigue surrounding it and I have a Westworld feeling that it may really catch on through word of mouth. The show stars Vikings former leading man Travis Fimmel and takes place on a mysterious plant where androids are tasked with raising human children. Created by The Red Road’s showrunner Aaron Guzikowski, this ten-episode series has an incredible imagination and stunning imagery to it, from what I’ve read, and gives a fascinating look into the scope of artificial intelligence against the backdrop of religion. All of the reviews are praising it but say that there are a few drag points a handful of episodes in.

The Boys: Season 2 (Amazon Prime) – My favorite comic book ever is now a hit television series brought to life by good Vancouver guys Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the same two that brought Preacher to us coincidentally from the same author, and now it returns for another season to push the boundaries even more. Thanks to the sick and twisted mind of Garth Ennis we have a story that is not about the superheroes but a superpowered group put together to keep the massive egos and lust for fun in absolute check. This show is totally over the top with insane violence, crude language and tons of nudity and will probably offend more than a few people, so a lot like Preacher and the second season is fantastic, just like the first is. Binge all of it as soon as possible.

Away (Netflix) – Netflix is taking us to space with this brand new series starring Hilary Swank and Josh Charles from former Penny Dreadful writer Andrew Hinderaker and featuring a handful of solid directors on each episode like The Last Samurai’s Edward Zwick who kicks everything off with the pilot and Bronwyn Hughes, Jet Wilkinson and Charlotte Brändström, who have all done so much great television work. The show has Swank as an American astronaut who struggles with leaving her husband and daughter behind to embark on a dangerous mission with an international space crew and finds herself at the center of a mutiny almost immediately. The first episode sets up some great intrigue and the production level of the show is pretty big budget. As I continue the series myself, I really hope that it hangs on to its strengths.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (Netflix) – People just cruising through Netflix looking for something, anything to watch are going to get seriously duped by the synopsis new film from idiosyncratic and utterly brilliant writer and director Charlie Kaufman who returns after his stop motion animated masterpiece, Anomalisa. Simply stated, the film is about a young woman, full of misgivings, travels with her new boyfriend to his parents’ secluded farm and upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself. I shit you not, that is the description and it sets you up for a mind-bending journey into what might be the most debated film of the year and definitely one of my absolute favorites of 2020. The whole cast, including Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis are incredible and, for the love of God, someone give Toni a frickin’ Oscar already!

Earth To Ned (Disney+) – Since Disney has linked up with National Geographic, which is an understatement as Disney owns them, it has produced fascinating, and informative series and movies and this one takes that idea of discovery with a little twist thrown in and a producer credit for “The King Of The World” James Cameron. Your conduit into this show is Ned, a blue-skinned alien and his lieutenant Cornelius, who were sent to scout Earth for an eventual invasion but instead became obsessed with our popular culture and now, they host a talk show about it. Disney+, as much as people like to hate on it, is a real treasure trove of things for the whole family to enjoy and the addition of this new series is just proof of the longevity it can have.

New Releases:

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 is really known about the central plot is that if follows our protagonist 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.

The New Mutants – I was starting to get to the point that I thought this movie was a big deep state lie or something that I had made up in my mind as it was supposed to come out years ago and now finally its hitting theaters with little notice almost like Disney is just trying to show this Fox property off a ledge. A spin-off of the X-Men, the film follows five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, who fight to escape their past sins and save themselves and features a great cast of then-rising stars who are now very established with Game Of Thrones actress Maisie Williams, Stranger Things actor Charlie Heaton and The Witch’s Anya Taylor Joy. I’m also really excited to see the genre bend director Josh Boone has done with this film as it is definitely a horror film with superpowered characters and a shift for him as a filmmaker, the guy behind The Fault In Our Stars. It’s also a great precursor heading into his next project, the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand.

Bill & Ted Face The Music – Being a pretty much lifelong fan of the two Bill and Ted movies we’ve received so far I am more than overjoyed that we finally get a full trilogy of the continued time travel stories Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan, Esquire, though it is with a twinge of sadness that George Carlin is no longer here to play their guide, Rufus. Now, over thirty years after the original movie, the two would-be rockers from San Dimas, California find themselves as middle-aged dads still trying to crank out a hit song and fulfill their destiny, once told they’d save the universe. This movie seems like a pass off for the daughters played by Ready Or Not’s Samara Weaving and Atypical star Brigette Lundy-Paine to take over the franchise and I’m totally on board for that because they’re both really great in this and their new guide Kristen Schaal is fantastic as always. No matter how this movie turned out I was going to love it unconditionally, like my own child, and to see that it is truly “excellent” makes me feel the warmth of a nostalgic hug.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette – As a huge wrestling fan, I feel like the built-in audience for this movie to find, although beyond that the story of the underdog in David Arquette should be broader in it reach to everyone because I found this documentary so compelling and wholly endearing towards Arquette himself. Regarded mainly in the wrestling fan community of the guy who “killed World Championship Wrestling”, AKA WCW, by winning their heavyweight championship in the early 2000s, this is a story of redemption as Arquette attempts a rocky return to the sport that stalled his promising Hollywood career entirely and left him fighting for scrap roles in B and C grade movies. At first, the mental trauma of the fallout of his first pro wrestling foray is something he wants to correct and as the reimmersion in the industry starts he is bitten by the bug of taking it all seriously for a real run on the independent scene. I absolutely adored this movie and ran the rollercoaster of emotions that it evokes. This might go down as one of my favorite movies this year.

The Eight Hundred – A late addition to the list this week, this Chinese made film hit some controversy when it was initially released earlier this year in China as it was originally scheduled to premiere June 15, 2019 but was called off one day earlier, citing ‘technical difficulty’, with premiere date unannounced but media outlets argued the cancellation was due to producers’ lack of political sensitivity as this year marks the seventieth anniversary of the Communist Party victory against the Nationalists, which is a large piece of this film. The producer company’s stock price also fell by 8% the day the premiere was called off. The film is largely a war epic, set in 1937, following eight hundred Chinese soldiers fighting under siege from a warehouse in the middle of the Shanghai battlefield, completely surrounded by the Japanese army. Beautifully shot, this film is awe-inspiring to behold, and the budget is certainly on display.

Fatima – This is a big movie in my mind as it is an anomaly of sorts, a faith-based film depicting Bible events that is actually, wait for it, good. Not just that but I’d dare to venture that this movie is great. Director and former Game Of Thrones cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo brings us the story of three young shepherds in Fátima, Portugal, who reported visions of the Virgin Mary, inspiring believers and angering officials of the Church and the government, who try to force them to recant their story. The film’s cast features Harvey Keitel, a giant of an actor that I have been missing for a while now and while I contend that this movie will not work with everyone, it takes some bold chances that largely work out for it. It’s either that or I’ve been dulled down by faith-based movies so much that any improvement looks almost… miraculous.

VOD:

Uncle Peckerhead – Demonic horror-comedy rears it’s head this week with this pretty ingenious little film that seriously knocked me through a loop. Featuring a title that will get a large number of giggles that will probably turn a lot of people away from it, the film follows a punk band who scores their first tour, but life on the road proves to be supremely difficult when they are joined by a man-eating demon as their roadie. Now, how weird of a story is that to tackle? You know this movie wasn’t made by any large studio, as no one would take the chance on that but, oh boy, did I love this movie. The film doesn’t feature anyone you’ve heard of or even anyone I have, but it’s fun, deeply evil and disturbed and, best of all, it’s gory as all hell. This is totally a movie that is geared to please genre fans like me, and I sort of expect that this will find a cult status like love, sort of how Return Of The Living Dead did in retrospect.

My Days Of Mercy – You can immediately sell me just by involving Ellen Page in a movie because I have been a massive fan of hers ever since Juno and, yes, I know that she was in Trailer Park Boys too but, really, what did she do in that? Co-starring House Of Cards alum and former Invisible Woman, Kate Mara, this film is an LGBTQ story following the daughter of a man on death row who falls in love with a woman on the opposing side of her family’s political cause. The cast around these two is phenomenal, including Amy Seimetz, fresh off her brilliant film She Dies Tomorrow, one of my favorite movies this year, Elias Koteas and Brian Geraghty and the direction from Tali Shalom-Ezer is another notch on the proving ground of a promising career, telling stories from the fringe that deserve to be more forefront in our eyes, just like the heterosexual romances we see almost weekly.

Tito – Oh boy, I have to say I really enjoy my job when I’m able to bookend a section on here with films like Uncle Peckerhead and this movie as it ultimately delights the genre movie side of me and is a great way to showcase the movies and filmmakers who take chances that almost look like a leap of faith over a pool of razor blades. This film is written and directed by Grace Glowicki who makes her feature debut here which she also stars in, about a desperate man who seeks refuge from the predators hunting him by befriending an oddly cheerful intruder. Featuring another Canadian director in the lead role Ben Petrie, and, yes, this is a Canadian film, this is a truly original and unique film that hinges on these two’s performances which I think they knocked out of the park. If you want something deliciously different then I seriously suggest you check this one out.

Blu-Ray:

The King Of Staten Island – It’s been almost five years minus a month and a few days since Judd Apatow gave us a redemption story of an up and coming comic and comedian basically playing themselves in an over two-hour movie and we are now moving on from the now megastar of Amy Schumer to the rising stardom of Pete Davidson. The film features the Saturday Night Live writer and cast member as Scott, a do-nothing stoner in his mid-twenties who lives with his exhausted widower mom on Staten Island, appalling around with his friends and a childhood pal who has now become a sexual relationship. Deep in Scott’s psyche are the issues left when his firefighter father died in a fire when he was seven, which sort of informed his whole life but through that hurt, his redemption can be seen. This film’s biggest issue is that it feels so bloated, with Scott’s turn as a dynamic character not even hinting at itself until almost an hour and a half in. That said, Davidson is funny at times but it’s the rest of the cast that shines brighter around him. While I wasn’t a huge fan of this movie, it is definitely better than Apatow’s This Is 40 but sits below even a movie like Funny People.

The Trip To Greece – I spent my whole Victoria day long weekend going on trips with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they tour restaurants and wineries in this Michael Winterbottom series that goes from England to Italy to Spain and then, finally, to Greece for what looks to be the final one. In one of the most consistent franchises ever made, in my opinion, Coogan and Brydon’s friendly rivalry of constant impressions, arguments of career stature and even who knows more about the places they are visiting is always so hysterically funny that I revisit it to see parts that I had missed because I’m laughing so hard. These are two of the funniest actors on the planet and I will continuously be doing Michael Caine, Mick Jagger and Roger Moore impressions because of it. I also really hope they keep making more.

The Burnt Orange Heresy – Slow burn is the key to this new thriller which has The Square star Claes Bang playing an art dealer who is thrown into a scheme to nab a painting from a reclusive and eccentric artist, embodied brilliantly by the legendary Donald Sutherland but the role was originally written for Christopher Walken and it really shows. This film, directed by Berlin Station lead Giuseppe Capotondi, largely didn’t work for me as Bang’s character’s devious and paranoid underbelly feels constantly on display, making the intrigue part a bit transparent, but Widows star Elizabeth Debicki is the main draw here and is absolutely fire every moment she is on screen.

Yes, God, Yes – Every now and then I come across a movie where I think “where the hell did this come from?”, something that completely flew under my radar. This is another one of those films, a comedy set in the early 2000s starring Stranger Things actress Natalie Dyer and is one of those rare coming of age films for a woman, following the star as a Catholic teenager who discovers masturbating after an innocent AOL chat turns racy and struggles to suppress her new urges in the face of the indoctrinated punishment of possible eternal damnation. This movie really surprised me, especially based on its premise, for being so sex-positive in its message and Dyer is so fantastic in the film, giving such nuance to her character. The film is the debut behind the camera for Obvious Child writer Karen Maine who continues her knack for creating believable and endearingly fallible female characters. This is a must-see I think this week.

Infamous – An actress on a hot streak with her own very large base is definitely Bella Thorne, hitting on many different platforms with multiple films in the bank, books published, her directorial debut on Pornhub and now her own OnlyFans set to make her millions, I would say that this is an under the radar film of hers but that’s simply untrue if you’re social media savvy, which is where she is queen. This film is an action thriller that has her and co-star Jake Manley from the recently cancelled Netflix series The Order playing two young lovers who rob their way across the southland, posting their exploits to social media, and gaining fame and followers as a result. Probably not the greatest message for the easily led by the nose influencer wannabe but the movie is a pretty entertaining thrill ride with some good twists and turns to keep you going. The film comes from writer and director Joshua Caldwell who takes a page out of the book of hyperactive filmmakers like Joseph Khan or Ariel Shulman and Henry Joost for this.

Without Love – Got some real classic stuff this week from Warner Archive with some old Hollywood hitting Blu-ray for the first time. It all kicks off with this film, a romantic comedy with the star power of Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Lucille Ball about a woman living in Washington, D.C. during World War II who enters a loveless marriage with a scientist and ends up becoming his assistant which eventually brings them closer. The movie was released in the mid-forties and, funny enough, Tracy hated making this movie but did it as a favor to Katharine Hepburn, who had starred in the play and who it was really a passion project for and ended up becoming a sizeable box-office hit, making $619,000 which, adjusting for inflation, works out to be about $8.4 million these days. This is the third time Tracy and Hepburn were paired together in their total of nine times they shared the screen, the final film of director Harold S. Bucquet who passed away the following year.

Pat And Mike – It’s now time for the second round of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn films with this film, another romantic comedy, which saw an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, co-written by actress Ruth Gordon who would go on to star in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, which she would win an Academy Award for, and, of course, one of my favorite movies ever made, Hal Ashby’s Harold And Maude. This film weaves a sports angle into it, following Hepburn as Pat, a fantastic athlete who dominates every sport she is a part of unless her domineering fiancé is around which causes her new devious manager Mike, played by Tracy, to find new ways to keep them apart but quite obviously starts to develop feelings for her. Of the nine movies she made with Spencer Tracy, this was Katharine Hepburn’s favorite and their chemistry beams off the screen with the first meeting of their characters and it’s also interesting to note that this is the debut of The Rifleman star Chuck Conners. It’s no wonder that Hepburn was an easy sell for this role as she was an avid golfer, which is on display when Cate Blanchett played her in The Aviator.

Hell Bent – The classic flicks aren’t over yet as I’m taking you way back to 1918 for this western, harkening to a time when movies didn’t go over an hour-long, probably because the cost of filmmaking was probably exorbitant. The story is simple as most frontier films were back in that day, following a cowboy that must save his girlfriend from captivity and then cross the desert on foot with a single waterhole on the way. Starring a massive western star at the time, Harry Carey who also co-wrote the film, this was an early production of one of the founding fathers of cinema, John Ford, who went by the young name of Jack Ford for this movie. This restoration is one that almost never happened because the original print of it had vanished and then resurfaced in the film archives of Czechoslovakia and now has the glorious distinction of being completely restored for blu-ray by the geniuses at Kino Lorber. this is for those deep historian buff types, for sure.

Reginald Denny Collection – All the movies just seem to get older and older this week as Kino Lorber also sent me this collection of films all featuring actor Reginald Denny, a giant of film in his era during the 1930s with three of his closest regarded movies, The Reckless Age, Skinner’s Dress Suit and What Happened To Jones?. All of these films give deeper insight into the man behind them, a guy who was a jack of all trades in any side of the production and was an avid aviation enthusiast who even used his knowledge many times to help out the military. I really enjoy getting all of these throwback productions as it gives a deeper understanding into the history of a medium I love and shows some of the founding structures that got us there. Again, this stuff may bore a lot of the layman to cinema out there but I know cinephiles will possibly take a keen eye to these films.

Gamera: The Complete Collection – Want a six-disc set of crazy Japanese monster flicks full of city-destroying action? Well, those beautiful people at Arrow Video have meticulously put together this brand new set of films that has all twelve of these celebrated creature features for the first time ever in a worldwide release. This limited edition collectors’ set traces the decades-long evolution of Gamera, from the “friend of all children” in his more lighthearted earlier films to the Guardian of the Universe in the groundbreaking 1990s reboot series, often hailed as three of the best kaiju films ever made, the inspiration for Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, for sure, a movie I love so very much. These movies run the gamut of either being fun or gritty and action-filled and make for an entertaining ride as you go through the films from it’s inception in 1965 to the final film in 2006 which almost becomes a sort of “my monster and me” story of Gamera’s friendship with a young boy. It’s distinctly Japanese but oh so entertaining.

SEAL Team: Season Three – Even though the series ended fifteen years ago I will always see David Boreanaz as the brooding vampire with a soul Angel from the Joss Whedon created Buffy spinoff and that’s even after twelve seasons as Seeley Booth on Bones. His new series is going very well though, a series that follows the lives of an elite Navy S.E.A.L. team as they train, plan and execute the most dangerous, high-stakes missions for the American government. Created by first-time showrunner Benjamin Cavell, this series has compelling characters and has the potential to get better in this vein if they can steer away from being a mission by mission procedural. I have now thoroughly enjoyed every season that Paramount sent me and I look forward to more as this was another easy pick up for a fourth season on CBS.

Gunsmoke: Movie Collection – Well, they’ve sent me most of the back end of the entire series of this long-running western that formulated the frontier filmmakers of yesterday and today so now it’s time for the movies to get their time on home release with three films that played on television well after the end of the show. debuting between the years of 1987 and 1992, this trilogy consists of the films Return to Dodge, The Last Apache and To the Last Man, the first film made at the behest of Matt Dillon himself James Arness who wanted a reunion badly. The second film, The Last Apache, is more of a storyline tie-up from an episode during the 1973 season that actually brought back an actor from that plot, Michael Learned, and the final film, To The Last Man, was made as a tribute to the show’s original creator, John Meston, and to give then retired Marshall Matt Dillon. As a kid who watched these shows with my dad, I was totally into receiving these as the nostalgia just breathes off the screen.

Are You Afraid Of The Dark? – Getting classic with this series who us Canadian kids remember watching on the kid’s television channel YTV and wishing that we could be part of the storytelling group of the “Campfire Society”, a group of kids who love to terrify each other with ghostly tales. This is a total revamp of that show for a modern era and features Blindspotting writer and star Rafael Casal in a three-part, self-contained limited series about the newest member of the Midnight Society, her first scary tale, and what happens to the group when the terrifying events of her story start to actually happen in their small town. Made by Nickelodeon, this is a great way to scare the kids on a level that is accessible for them and won’t scare them for life like some of the scary shows from my childhood. I say this although it definitely helped with my insatiable penchant for horror movies. I actually thank the original series for giving me this love.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:

Bush: Live In Tampa – Being a total product of the nineties when it comes to my beginnings of finding the music sound I liked, I definitely was a huge fan of Gavin Rossdale and his band Bush, notably the album Sixteen Stone, a record I could probably sing along with from front to back. Needless to say, when this live album box set that consists of a blu-ray, a DVD and an audio CD of the entire show recorded at the MidFlorida Amphitheater in Tampa both my wife and I were ecstatic, putting the CD into our car immediately and have been listening to it ever since. Being a big fan of live albums, this one definitely is a new favorite and features classic Bush hits like Machinehead, which kicks off the show, Comedown, Everything Zen, The Sound Of Winter and. of course, the song that makes you want to sing, Glycerine.

What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael – Being a film critic, we definitely feel the brunt of backlash when our opinions of movies or television set people off just simply for the fact that we don’t like said film or that our thoughts don’t jive with the status quo but when you get to certain notoriety the acceptance level is higher. This is the case when it came to Pauline Kael, a controversial and totally outspoken critic and one that helped shape the model of 20th-century filmmaking with her influence. Agree with her opinions or not, Kael is arguably the greatest film critic to grace newspapers and television and is really the model for what all of our work stands on. This documentary is fascinating and well deserved for this legend who was at the top of her game for four decades.

Laurel & Hardy – After Shout Factory hooked me up with the complete set of Abbott and Costello movies I thought I had a pretty good chunk of the classic comedy collection until this definitive set landed on my doorstep, the complete works of combined comedic genius of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, two giants of which everyone else seems to stand in their shadows. For fans of comedy origins, this is a great one to pick up as it features new 2K and 4K digital restorations from original 35mm nitrate of all of their classic comedies in the best quality since their first release, which to me is pretty insane. Two feature films and seventeen shorts, including the legendary pie-fight silent film The Battle of the Century, a massively iconic moment in their career which is making its video debut and nearly complete for the first time in over 90 years. This stuff is totally landmark here.

Batman: Year One – Continuing my new Batman purchases from last week, it really is fitting that I talk about young Batman this week after talking about the old Caped Crusader last week. Again based on a graphic novel from the legendary ad and revered comic writer Frank Miller, this is the story of Batman’s emergence in Gotham City to rise and become the figure that the criminal element fears, all from the point of view of Commissioner Gorden, voiced in this animated feature by Walter White himself, Bryan Cranston. With beautiful animation, headed up by the director of a lot of these DC animated features, Sam Liu, I really liked this adaptation and thought it did a faithful job of bringing the darkness of Batman’s beginnings and Gotham star Ben McKenzie, who played a young James Gordon in that series, ironically voices the world’s greatest detective and Bruce Wayne in this one, a movie that was birthed from Darren Aronovsky’s failed live-action adaptation. I’m glad we got some semblance of this story.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug – Why mess with a good thing unless you are super greedy? This is a broad question to all Hollywood studios but for this purpose, I aim this question at Warner Bros. who decided to rope Peter Jackson into doing more J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations by having him do The Hobbit as a follow up to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Getting hypnotized by more millions, they also had him split the one book into three movies and completely dilute everything of any substance. Yes, you can tell I didn’t like this movie so why own it? Well, it was cheap and rewatching the barrel sequence, which is overly too long, the scene really tests out your home theater in all the best ways including that insane frame rate. I know this part of the blog this week is pretty underwhelming but I just made lemonade from lemons in front of you. Tada!

Television:

Trinkets: Season 2 (Netflix) – This is kind of my wild card this week because it’s a teen drama so it could really go either way depending on your tastes but the first season was really great. Brianna Hildebrand, who played the angsty Negasonic Teenage Warhead in the Deadpool movies, stars in this series as a grieving teenager who finds an unexpected connection with two classmates at her new high school when they all land in the same Shoplifters Anonymous group. The reason I dug into this one was that it kind of gives me a Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist vibe, which is fitting as the creators directed Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, which was based on a book by the same author. Now that the show has been axed and will not get a third season, this season gets more focused on these three girls’ futures beyond school and what goodness possibly awaits them there. I will say already that this series was cut far too short for my liking.

All Together Now (Netflix) – The name of director Brett Haley might not be a household name but, damn, has he made some great films with great actors that deserve far more acclaim than they have been getting. Whether is a Blythe Danner story of rediscovery like I’ll See You In My Dreams, a Sam Elliott led story about mortality or a father and daughter musical duo with Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons, Haley makes character films and that’s what he’s done with this new film featuring Moana herself, Auli’i Cravalho and comedy legend Carol Burnett. Cravalho plays an optimistic high schooler with musical aspirations who must learn to accept help from her friends to overcome her personal hardships and fulfill her dreams. The film has a fantastic supporting cast to it and looks like another notch on the board for Haley who will one day get that top name billing he should get. Mark my words here, he’s phenomenal.

Cobra Kai (Netflix) – Remember that school of bad guys from the Karate Kid movies? Well, they’ve had their own series running for two seasons as a YouTube original and now with this third season, they get the high profile and bigger budget release on Netflix to bump it up to the next level. Featuring a lot of the original cast from the movies, including William Zabka, Martin Kove and even Daniel-san, Ralph Macchio, this Emmy nominated series takes place decades after our mains have had their 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament bout, following a middle-aged Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence who again find themselves martial-arts rivals. This is your chance to get fully acquainted with this critic and audience lauded series all at once and hopefully secure it another season and it’s damn worthy of that.

The Binge (Crave) – I kind of have this really deep love for Elseworlds stories, something off of the beaten path that ventures the question “what if?” just like this one does set in a world where all drugs and alcohol are illegal but the only day anyone can participate in the excess to gain from that is on what’s called “Binge Day”. Leave it to the weirdos at Amazon Prime to greenlight something as wacky as this but, besides the young cast, Vince Vaughn and the hilarious Hayes MacArthur co-star in this series from one of the minds behind the great James Van Der Beek show What Would Diplo Do? a massively underrated show itself. Just looking at the trailer I have high hopes for this one, no pun intended, so it better not let me, or most importantly you, down.

Aggretsuko: Season 3 (Netflix) – I never thought that I would relate so much to an animated red panda but here we are. Yes, Retsuko was a graduate who had everything going for her coming out of university but a mere five years later she sees herself in a thankless job, overworking herself for a sexist boss who minimizes all of her accomplishments causing her to bottle her red hot rage to unleash it every day at the karaoke bar, screaming out death metal songs. Yeah, this show was totally made for my consumption and with the third season landing, it’s there perfect time to pull more of you onto the bandwagon of underappreciated Japanese transplants. Each episode is short, sweet and weirdly intuitive, especially if you’re in the nine to five work grind that makes you feel a little off-kilter. I highly recommend this show, it’s so ingenious.

New On VOD:

The One And Only Ivan – Disney Plus rolls out another pretty big feature film on the platform to try and snag some more subscribers before Mulan hits next month and what better way to do it than with a star-studded talking animal movie. The film is based on the novel by Katherine Applegate and follows a gorilla named Ivan voiced by Academy Award winner Sam Rockwell who tries to piece together his past with the help of an elephant named Stella with the voice of Angelina Jolie as they hatch a plan to escape from captivity. Featuring the on-screen star power of Bryan Cranston and Chaka Khan as well as the additional voices of Helen Mirren, Danny Devito and The Florida Project star Brooklynn Prince, it’s definitely an ambitious second film for Me Before You director Thea Sharrock to take on but the trailer looks solid and I think that the kids will really gravitate towards this one. Heck, they might even read the book after and occupy themselves for longer. It’s a thought.

Summerland – Consistently, British actress Gemma Arterton has been the main selling point for me to watch pretty much anything, a versatile performer who has done great genre films, comedies, historical dramas and romances and for this new film she combines those last two. Writer and director Jessica Swale makes her feature-length theatrical debut with this story, set during World War II, following an Englishwoman who opens her heart to an evacuee after initially resolving to be rid of him when the two realize they have more in common in their pasts than she had once assumed. Arterton is without a doubt the best reason to watch this movie, delivering another stellar performance, further proof that she is one of the most underrated leading actresses today. For another example of this in the same sort of setting, what the film Their Finest, released four years ago.

Euphoria – Another couple of names that will put my ass in a seat for the duration of a movie, no matter what genre, is Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander and the always incredible Eva Green but, that being said, I felt this one was a bit regrettable. The third collaboration between Vikander and Swedish writer and director Lisa Langseth, this is the story of two sisters on a trip through Europe where they try to get close to each other and approach the tough questions in life but seem to be constantly at each other’s throats as only bickering siblings are. I wish I could report back on how fantastic this movie is but as much as the two stars have undeniable chemistry together the movie never seemed to gel with me and all of the drama came across very vapid and without any sort of substance. The setup to the whole story is great but they seem to waste all of that potential very quickly afterwards.

Blu-Ray:

The Outpost – Right from the get-go this brand new war movie feels like it has some lineage to it as it has Clint Eastwood’s son Scott in a lead role, Mel Gibson’s son Milo, Mick Jagger’s son James, Richard Attenborough’s grandson Will and Alan Alda’s grandson Scott Alda-Coffey in supporting roles who all look so much like their famous parents and grandparents. Beyond that, this is an intense and grittily realistic Afghan war story from Rod Lurie, the guy who had the balls to remake Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Also starring Orlando Bloom and Caleb Landry-Jones, this is the story of a small team of U.S. soldiers who battle against hundreds of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan from a base nestled into the bottom of a massive mountain. For the entire duration of this movie, you feel like you’re being piggybacked by the characters you follow and it’s tragic we didn’t get to experience this in theaters. Optimize your home theater, this one is worth it.

Military Wives – Coming from the director of The Full Monty, this film has all sorts of great uplifting British feeling in it and it all starts with the odd couple at its heart, the prim and proper character played by Kristen Scott Thomas and the more free-thinking but frazzled one played by Sharon Horgan. The two are the organizers for a group of army wives looking for an outlet when their spouses are sent to Afghanistan for their tour of duty in the form of a choir. When the group gets selected to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the pressure rises and tempers flare as both ladies try to lead the group while also dealing with issues at home. I felt the warm heart of this movie constantly, a cheerful “all’s well that ends well” story that honestly feels like a cozy cinematic hug that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Sometimes Always Never – This one is a simple film, a story of a father and son, estranged for years, reconnecting to possibly identify the body of Michael, another estranged son who stormed out after a game of Scrabble. Now seemingly obsessed with the game, Nighy’s character is constantly lost in the pieces but is using it to connect with his obtuse son but also the open mind of his grandson. This is basically just a film for Nighy to chew the scenery, which he does brilliantly thanks to the script from Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story writer Frank Cottrell Boyce against some gorgeous and vibrant backdrops. Richard Stoddard’s cinematography is definitely the second star of this movie.

Prevenge – Want to see some new killer kid horror with a significant twist on it? Well, writer, director and actress Alice Lowe has a doozy of a story to tell you in her filmmaking debut, no stranger to this genre with her work with her roles in Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and Sightseers as well as appearing in the recently released Get Duked! and the totally oddball Aaaaaaaah!. This crazy film follows Lowe as a widow named Ruth who is seven months pregnant when, believing herself to be guided by her unborn baby, she embarks on a homicidal rampage, dispatching anyone who stands in her way. If that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will but the best thing about it is that the film is fantastic, so well written, darkly funny and beautifully shot by cinematographer Ryan Eddleston. This is one of those films that will get bandied around by word of mouth leaving you agape after going “why did I just now get told about this?” Get on the bandwagon now, it’s totally worth it.

CRSHD – Something that always feels few and far between when it comes to coming of age teenage romance films is the plight of teenage girls, a complex field of biology, emotion, clique hierarchy and a healthy dose of reality for men that we get it supremely easy. This new film from debuting writer and director Emily Cohn attempts to tell a story of personal growth but with an LGBTQ+ angle to it and for a first time feature filmmaker she has landed with promise. The story follows Izzy who, on the last night of her college freshman year, tries to lose her virginity with the help of her two best friends, their only hope being getting into an exclusive, invite-only “Crush Party.” For a guy that’s been out of the teen lingo for a long time now, this film feels like it has the finger on the pulse of this generation as every line and interaction feels real, sometimes to an almost painful degree. The young cast is also phenomenal with Isabelle Barbier leading the way, an actress with a bright future ahead of her.

Clara’s Heart – Some late eighties goodness this week in new release form from Warner Archive as this Whoopi Goldberg drama hits Blu-ray for the first time and it gave us something else that we didn’t know we needed in the entertainment world at the time, the one and only Neil Patrick Harris who was introduced in this film. Harris plays the lead role, David, a teenager whose parents are in a deteriorating marriage after their infant daughter dies and Goldberg stars as Clara, a chambermaid at a Jamaican resort who’s hired to be a housekeeper. She and David develop a close bond, opening his eyes and heart to new experiences, and eventually leading to a disturbing secret in Clara’s past. This was the penultimate film from To Kill A Mockingbird director Robert Mulligan and it earned NPH a Golden Globe nomination, which is crazy to do in your first time on screen and even crazier sitting on an award-worthy performance as it was filmed in 1986 and not released until two years later.

Blue Bloods: Season 10 – Now that I’ve finished my year for NCIS releases doesn’t mean I’m done with CBS shows or with the traditional procedural, as I now move onto more primetime crime dramas with this Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg led show that is now solidly the double digits in seasons now though with the Black Lives Matter movement in full effect it’s scope show be dramatically different going forward after this. 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 Geekout:

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy – Oh yeah, bringing some of that Hong Kong action this week and yes, it is a sequel and kind of runs like a weaker Infernal Affairs trilogy. For those who are confused by that one, those are the movies that Martin Scorsese adapted to make The Departed. This film deals with the fallout of the first movie in which a deep conspiracy of police corruption was exposed, the film picking up with three cops caught up in the events and trying to figure out who can be trusted as they look to cut off the head of the monster that’s dragging down the law enforcement in Hong Kong. The film is a slick and stylish action flick, just like it’s predecessor, and feels almost like an ode to the high octane films of Asian cinema’s past like all the Chow Yun Fat and John Woo collaborations and I enjoyed both films on that level.

The Cat And The Moon – I feel at a total loss that I had no idea about this movie’s existence, especially as it is the debut of Hereditary actor Alex Wolff as a feature film writer and director. Led by Wolff and also starring Mike Epps, The Righteous Gemstones’ Skyler Gisondo, Krampus’ Stefania LaVie Owen and Moonrise Kingdom’s Tommy Nelson, this film follows a teenager named Nick who comes to New York City to stay with Cal, a Jazz musician friend of his late father’s while his mother seeks treatment in rehab. The film is very Big Apple driven as Nick discovers the metropolis through innocent eyes and it looks really great on high def. I really like this movie and it’s interesting to note that Alex Wolff began writing the script for this film at age 15 and several scenes were shot at the real high school that he attended as a kid. For a first time director, he has the absolute poise of a veteran and I really look forward to whatever project he has next.

Unintended – Another indie flick from the guys at FilmRise, this new film comes from writer and director Anja Murmann, a filmmaker who hasn’t made a new feature in over twenty years and returns with this new psychological thriller. Delving into the psychiatric battlefield of emotional trauma and guilt, the film follows a young woman who had repressed the memory of having killed someone when she was twelve years old and thirteen years later that memory comes back, breaking her mental world wide open. The film stars Elizabeth Lail, who’s on a hot streak after her breakout performance on Netflix’s You, and Nathan Keyes who starred in Kings Of Summer, a movie I absolutely adore, and this movie works based on their fantastic performances, the driving force of it. This is a very self-contained film but those looking for a great drama filled with pretty intense reveals this is very recommended.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – It took me a while to finally get around to it but thanks to a friend’s shrinking blu-ray collection I landed myself a few Batman centric picks that I thought I would bring to this section because, why not? Batman is awesome. Case in point, this animated movie that takes arguably the great non-canon story of the Caped Crusader written by the king of comics, at the time, the legendary Frank Miller. This story, told over two films, follows a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne who is forced back into the cape and cowl after a ten-year absence when a new breed of criminal ravages Gotham City and coaxes out his greatest foe for a final showdown. This movie is absolutely awesome with former Robocop Peter Weller donning the cowl for a pitch-perfect rendition of the Dark Knight in a massively satisfying animated feature, one of the best of the whole series.

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice – Let’s get this out of the way. I saw this movie at an IMAX press screening and totally hated it, so much so that I was seething as I came out of the theater doors and couldn’t even talk to the Warner Bros. rep to give my opinion. That said, in a self-deprecating need to own everything Batman, I somewhat gladly accepted this film into my collection and gave it a rewatch and, yes, it’s still awful but has some really iconic picturesque moments that make you feel like a fan in between all the terrible writing, nonsensical plot, horrible filmmaking and complete character misreads. Of course, there’s the defining horrendous “Martha” moment that should be ridiculed until the end of time but at the end of the day and the end of the rant, this is an impressive watch to behold on a great home entertainment system. Never take this as praise for Zack Snyder. I would never do that.

Television:

Random Acts Of Violence (Shudder) – Canadian star Jay Baruchel returns to his seat behind the camera for his second film after the sequel to the hockey comedy Goon, Goon: The Last Of The Enforcers but this unrelenting and visceral horror film has been in gestation for almost a decade before finally being made. Based on a graphic novel by acclaimed creators Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, the story follows Todd, a comic writer struggling to finish his magnum opus who goes on a book tour and is subsequently followed by a sadistic murderer who is reenacting all of the kills from his book. This movie is balls to the wall and unrelenting in its brutality in an ethereal way that makes you question the reality of these characters. This movie is not for everyone and gives a grindhouse-style that would make the originators of the genre very proud. I loved every moment of this madness but it plays totally into my weirdo proclivities.

High Score (Netflix) – For my YouTube obsessed little daughter this show was a fascinating feast of information on her favorite subject, video games and their history, and a total godsend for me, a father totally sick of hearing her videos yell and scream about Minecraft, Roblox and a myriad of Mario games. Narrated by the voice of Super Mario himself, this series traces the history of classic video games, featuring insights from the innovators who brought these worlds and characters to life like Space Invaders, PacMan and of course the arrival of Mario and Luigi and beyond. The show is filled with deep interviews with the originators of the industry as well as all that they influenced and it is a really fascinating series, even for the old school gamers who feel like they’ve lost touch with the medium. No, I’m not there yet so I can’t relate.

Hoops (Netflix) – Jake Johnson, Ron Funches, Natasha Leggero and Rob Riggle lend their voices to this vulgar and vile new animated series made directly for Netflix and get ready for those Big Mouth vibes because I don’t think there’s a line this show wouldn’t cross but at least the writing is better than that absolute dreck that is called Paradise PD. The show has Johnson voicing Coach Ben Hopkins, a hot-headed, foul-mouthed high school basketball coach who thinks turning around his god awful team will take him to the “big leagues” and will do anything to get them there, including getting the tallest person in high school a hooker just to join the team. The first couple episodes might be a bit of a hard sell but this show starts to hit its stride in the fifth one and Johnson’s delivery of lines is hysterical and it doesn’t feel like he gets to stretch his R-rated legs enough. The Little Man Tate references in the first episode alone had me laughing hard.

Lucifer: Season 5 Part 1 (Netflix) – The show that the fans keep having the ability to revive enters what I thought was going to be the finale for it, split into two parts with the first one debuting this week. The Tom Ellis led series has preemptively earned its sixth season now and the current season will focus on Lucifer’s lineage, his past and those close around him getting the truth of what he is revealed to them. There is also a killer guest spot of 24’s Dennis Haysbert showing up as, wait for it, God himself. Yes, I’m so behind President David Palmer portraying the thing that makes people do the stupidest thing, worship Donald Trump as the savior of the world. Yeah, boom! I just went political but it really was worth it. Let me know on Twitter how much you hated it!

Lovecraft Country (Crave) – This is definitely the most anticipated new HBO shows of the year, with anticipation behind it that is on par with the excitement us television fans had for the Watchmen limited series. Created by Jordan Peele and Underground creator Misha Green, simply put, the series follows a young African-American travelling across the U.S. in the 1950s in search of his missing father but it’s definitely going to get way deeper and far sinister given that Lovecraft is in the title which usually means to me that it will be a continuing spiral of despair and suffering that leads to doom and death. So, yeah, not going to be bright and sunny but it has Birds Of Prey’s Jurnee Smollett Bell and The Last Black Man In San Francisco’s Jonathan Majors in it and after episode one, holy crap, am I ever hooked! Get on the train now for this because you will love it.

New Releases:

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run – For the second week in a row I get to talk about the famous sponge who lives under the sea and, hell, it isn’t even my birthday. Seriously, I absolutely adore this Nickelodeon creation of madness and am totally excited for the arrival of the third movie. The new film had Spongebob on the search for his pet snail Gary who has been kidnapped or, as he puts it, “snail napped”. Spongebob grabs his best friend Patrick and embarks on an epic adventure to The Lost City of Atlantic City to bring Gary home and, from the trailer, I know that he encounters a “sage” played by Keanu Reeves. This is definitely a movie that will appeal to a certain audience but for a parent like me, I buy it all, hook, line and sinker. Yes, that last one is an old fishing adage I thought would work perfectly with this write-up.

Unhinged – On paper, this movie sounds absolutely insane and with the rising tempers in citizens around the world during this pandemic maybe it’s a little ill-timed but what really surprised me is how entertaining this movie was and how absolutely gonzo Russell Crowe is in it, playing the ultimate villain role. This one is super simple, a woman and her son become the target of an unstable man’s rage after a confrontation at an intersection and the proverbial shit hits the fan as he pulls out all the stops to try and force an apology out of her. The film comes from German director Derrick Borte who just released the very dark thriller American Dreamer with Jim Gaffigan on Blu-ray earlier this year and this movie is just far fetched enough to be a total popcorn flick and not as societally damning as the premise would initially suggest. This is a film that is totally pulpy and kind of grindhouse at its core and I totally enjoyed it for that reason.

The Burnt Orange Heresy – Slow burn is the key to this new thriller which has The Square star Claes Bang playing an art dealer who is thrown into a scheme to nab a painting from a reclusive and eccentric artist, embodied brilliantly by the legendary Donald Sutherland but the role was originally written for Christopher Walken and it really shows. This film, directed by Berlin Station lead Giuseppe Capotondi, largely didn’t work for me as Bang’s character’s devious and paranoid underbelly feels constantly on display, making the intrigue part a bit transparent, but Widows star Elizabeth Debicki is the main draw here and is absolutely fire every moment she is on screen.

New On VOD:

Black Water: Abyss – A killer crocodile movie out of Australia and it’s in underground caves? I’m definitely in, but I’m more than a little trepidation because 47 Meters Down: Uncaged did this just last year with sharks and oh to describe the ways I hated it. The good news is that this sequel, following up on a film from 2007 which seems like forever ago, is just enough to satisfy fans of survival horror even if it doesn’t really make any sort of lasting impression. The story, simple horror tropes, follows five friends exploring a remote cave system in Northern Australia and find themselves threatened by a hungry crocodile, and honestly, what more could you want? Notably, this is one of the first new films to be released in the UK cinemas after the COVID-19 outbreak, but it wasn’t big enough here to warrant a theatrical release. I will say that if you have claustrophobia you will not enjoy this movie at all. Consider that the disclaimer.

Crash 4K – Getting the full revamp treatment is this thriller based around car crashes and sex, not the Best Picture Oscar-winning film from Canadian Paul Haggis but from the mind of body horror auteur and Canadian legend David Cronenberg. In case you never had the pleasure of seeing this madness on DVD or playing on Showcase, as I did, this is the perverse story of a TV director who discovers an underground sub-culture after getting into a serious car accident of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce and tries to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife with that new knowledge. There’s no better way to describe this one other than it is totally and utterly screwed up but quite the norm for a guy like Cronenberg and this one has been messing up audiences and been the “oh my god, have you seen this?” movie for almost twenty-five years. I find it fascinating that the studio is bringing it back for another run.

Lucky Grandma – This is a fantastic hidden little gem that I feel so enlightened that it got sent to me. The film stars Tsai Chin, who you may recognize from Memoirs Of A Geisha and Casino Royale, and has her playing Grandma Wong, a chain-smoking widow who is under pressure from her son to give up her longtime apartment to move in with his family. Grandma decides to let it all ride on a senior’s trip to a casino and finds herself with a lapful of gangland money when an old man has a heart attack and dies seated next to her on the trip back. Quickly she finds herself in the middle of a gang war that is both a search for the missing money in her possession as well as a power grab in this quirky comedy of errors that absolutely astounded me with great cinematography and snappy editing. Writer and director Sasie Sealy makes her feature debut with this movie and you can totally see that she is a student of cinema with her beautiful attention to detail and I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.

Blu-Ray:

The High Note – The cast is intriguing with this new music-driven comedy-drama which features Tracy Ellis Ross in her first big-screen lead role which was, unfortunately, shoved to video on demand during this awful pandemic. She plays Grace Davis, an ageing megastar who has left doing new music behind a few years back but is sort of just relying on greatest hits compilations and anniversary concerts as her bread and butter. Dakota Johnson plays her assistant who yearns to one day be a producer and Grace being her main target if she is willing. I would be into this underdog rising/comeback story if it didn’t feel so glossy and cheesy at almost every turn. It’s weird that a bigger production film like A Star Is Born can have an almost raw quality while this movie can avoid being contrived at every turn. Pretty disappointing.

Primal – Ok, I’ve got some brand new Nicolas Cage this week so get ready for something a bit gonzo, probably a bit bad but definitely something that will entertain the hell out of you. Cage plays Frank, a big-game hunter for zoos who has booked passage on a Latin American shipping freighter with a fresh haul of exotic and deadly animals from the Amazon, including a rare white Jaguar and, of course, a political assassin being extradited to the U.S in secret. Two days into the journey, the assassin escapes and releases the captive animals, throwing the ship into chaos and Frank to be the only one who can save them from this mess. Look, if you get into the whole Metacritic or Rotten Tomato search, you won’t like what you find but those of us who love every crazy thing this man does are totally on board.

Archive – As if we aren’t scared enough by the prospect of completely tetherless artificial intelligence, along comes this new sci-fi set eighteen years into the future. The film follows Divergent star Theo James as George Almore, a tech developmental scientist who is working on a true human-equivalent AI and his latest prototype is almost ready but this sensitive phase is also the riskiest, especially as he has a goal that must be hidden at all costs which is this is all a means to an end of being reunited with his dead wife. The film is the debut of writer and director Gavin Rothery, who was the conceptual designer and the visual effects supervisor on Moon, and this movie is very high concept as that one was and I really feel like he nailed it. This is a fascinating story about going beyond the laws of nature, trying to replicate it and the dangerous pitfalls to follow.

Valley Of The Gods – I feel like I brought up how Josh Hartnett had been largely missing in action for a while now and here he is again, leading a brand new film alongside John Malkovich, Academy Award winner Jaime Ray Newman, who netted the statue for a short film she did, Lord Of The Rings star John Rhys Davies and former Bond girl Berenice Marlohe. The film is a warped and insane story that entwines Navajo native lore with a reclusive trillionaire and his would-be biographer, creating a fascinating, mysterious and idiosyncratic vision of America and it’s one of those movies where you wish multiplexes were open just to see the general public’s confusion with an obvious art film like this. To go even deeper on that thought, the film features 2001: A Space Odyssey actor Keir Dullea and he said it was much like filming that movie for Stanley Kubrick which I’m sure is another piece to the added intrigue.

How To Build A Girl – First things first, I absolutely adore Beanie Feldstein right down to her core ever since I saw her in the Seth Rogen sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and that was well before I found out that she was Jonah Hill’s sister so with her leading this new film, well, I’m already very on board. A film that comes from across the pond, this is the story of a teenager living with her working-class family on a council estate in Wolverhampton, England, who grows up and moves to London to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde, a fast-talking, lady sex-adventurer that’s also a popular but conflicted music journalist looking to make the big bucks to save her family from poverty. The movie was made by Harlots series director Coky Giedroyc and is propelled by an incredible performance from Beanie, who shines every second she’s on-screen. This was an absolute delight to watch and is easily one of my favorites of the week.

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation – An action film with a former WWE wrestler in the lead role? You just know I’m one hundred percent behind this as formerly Wade Barrett and now Stu Bennett stars as former special-forces soldier John Gold who is given the opportunity to bring Sean Teague down, played by British badass Vinnie Jones, the man who betrayed his team on their final mission in Eastern Europe several years ago. Is it any good? Hell no, it’s a vapid shoot ’em up under the guise of being a black ops actioner with way more brawn and bravado than brains which will even irk you if you turn off your mind. To add to all of that, this is a sequel which I honestly had no idea about with Bennett in the driver’s seat as well and while I would never recommend this to you, my loyal reader and listener, I eat this dumb crap up, complain about it and move on. Such is the life of a lifelong action fan.

Michael – Warner Archive lands in my new releases this week and while I usually bring films from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s from this distributor, every now and then a nineties film slip in like this John Travolta film that I actually saw in theaters with my parents. The film follows a couple of tabloid writers who are tipped off to an old woman living in her apartment with the archangel, Michael, who is indeed true and played by Travolta. The movie is definitely a sweetheart one that is soft on any sort of drama and completely aims to be a crowd-pleaser at all times, sometimes to its detriment. On the resume of one of the greatest romantic comedy filmmakers of all time, Nora Ephron, I feel like this film barely registers and is easily forgotten because it plays things too light. Just another example of John Travolta grabbing every project he could in the post Pulp Fiction glow.

NCIS New Orleans: Season 6 – The television year on DVD isn’t quite over until I’ve received every iteration of NCIS and it’s spinoffs and now with the arrival of this latest season of the southern fried Louisiana version, well, we are now complete. This one starring Scott Bakula in the lead as Special Agent Dwayne Pride who heads his crew in a colorful city that harbors 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 flavor 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 former child star Lucas Black.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Unstoppable – Well Go USA is coming through with a couple of new films from a few weeks back and of course I’m going to start off with the South Korean one because it really is the superior one. The debut from writer and director Kim Min-Ho, this action thriller has a pretty simple plot to it, following a happily married couple whose life is thrown into disarray when the wife is kidnapped, sending the husband into a violent adventure to find her. This movie would feel right at home nestled in with all the great actioners from the eighties and I feel that was largely the goal for the filmmaker. The film features a couple of familiar faces if you’re into Asian cinema, like Train To Busan’s Don Lee, who will soon make his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with The Eternals, and The Man From Nowhere’s Sung-oh Kim. Definitely a fun movie that’s highly entertaining.

Chasing The Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch – To finish off my double shot of Well Go USA releases that top my geek outs this week, this sequel is trying to capitalize on the foundation that top Hong Kong action stars Donnie Yen and Andy Lau set up in the first movie. While the first film showed us the rise of an illegal immigrant from Mainland China who snuck into the corrupt British-colonized Hong Kong of 1963, transforming himself into a ruthless and emerging drug lord, this movie feels completely disjointed from that story. Instead, this film follows serial billionaire kidnapper Logan who has been savaging Hong Kong and now his gang is aiming to go bigger by nabbing someone at an affluent Macau regal. The first film was a pretty anemic mobster story that I thought didn’t warrant any sort of follow up but it’s odd to note that this Tony Leung Ka Fai led film actually ups the quality and is a pretty decent little movie, although it comes across kind of goofy and underdeveloped at times.

Strike Up The Band – Getting real classic here with another entry from the Warner Archive vaults and this one features one of the mega pairings of the time, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, two people very important to classic cinema. Rooney is Jimmy Connors who, with his girlfriend, Mary Holden, played by Garland, wants to take part in Paul Whiteman’s high-school bands contest, but they cannot afford the fare. Then, by chance, they meet Paul Whiteman in person and are able to convince him that their band is good enough, getting him to lend them the money. Everything is going according to plan until one of their friends becomes seriously ill and has to be carried to a hospital by plane, and they have to use Whiteman’s money for this. It’s a long and convoluted plot but this one was a favorite in 1940 and even earned an Academy Award for Best Sound and was nominated for Best Song and Best Original Score which seems to imply that it sounded better than it looked.

Abrakadabra – Got a couple of weird cult films from Blue Underground which are always fun to dig into. This first movie was made just two years ago and is a throwback to the Italian Giallo films that Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and others made so insanely popular, this one film following a magician in the early 1970s who finds himself the target of a sadistic serial killer. The film was made by directing duo Luciano Onetti and Nicolás Onetti who make the attempt to revive this genre, which had a little rise with the fantastic movie Berberian Sound Studio with Toby Jones, and I have to say that this one brings that visual thrill back with some pretty solid looking gore and some very slick suspense sequences. I definitely dug it but I’ve been a fan of the genre for a while now.

American Rickshaw – Let’s head back to the end of the eighties for some more Italian Giallo, shall we? Although this film has the word American in the title and takes place in Miami with an all American cast, it is directed and written by an all Italian team and has all of those same horror-thriller proclivities, even though Sergio Martino goes by Martin Dolman for this film. The story follows a college student who finds himself framed for the murder of an evangelist’s son and, of course, hooks up with an Asian witch and a stripper to find the real killer and clear his name. The film was also titled American Tiger at one point which doesn’t make a lot of sense in context so maybe both titles led to this film being totally forgotten but the best reason to watch this movie is for the utterly gonzo performance from Dr. Loomis himself, Donald Pleasence as the nuttier than nutty Reverend Mortom. It’s worth the whole hour and a half run time alone.

Television:

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn (Crave) – Given the frontline and deserved focus of the Black Lives Matter movement right now the release of this documentary is as timely as ever right now and is just another story in the sea of injustices aimed at the black community, put together by one of the best companies at putting out hard-hitting films, HBO. This film tells the story of Yusuf Hawkins, a black teenager who was murdered in 1989 by a group of young white men in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.that the police’s official response to sparked outrage in New York, unleashing a torrent of racial tension and spurring tireless civil rights activism that exposed deep racial prejudices and inequities which continue to plague the country today, very clearly. The film is directed by Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee filmmaker Muta’Ali Muhammad and is brimming with emotion, simmering with justified anger and will get you quite riled up while watching it and will resonate afterwards. We need more documentaries like this because if we can change the system, we must expose it at all costs.

Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix) – My interest in everything that creator Jenji Kohan makes seems to have a bit of shelf life to it is that two of her three shows that I have gotten into went way past their expiry dates and I’m looking directly at you, Weeds and Orange Is The New Black. That aside, I still adore GLOW and hope it continues longer because it is so well written as Kohan’s shows all start out and it’s for this reason that I’m very optimistic about this new series about sixteen-year-old fraternal twin sisters who dive into the world of bail skipping baddies while still navigating the high stakes of teenage life after joining forces with a veteran bounty hunter. The series is headed by Kathleen Jordan, a new name who had previously been a staff writer for the show American Princess and it stars Supernatural’s Maddie Phillips and The Gifted’s Anjelica Bette Fellini alongside Kadeem Harrison, who I swear I haven’t seen since the nineties. Remember Vampire In Brooklyn? Yeah, he was in that.

Project Power (Netflix) – If you told me to judge this movie purely on it’s trailer I would probably say that you have a serious dog on your hands because it is utterly atrocious. Maybe that was a good precursor to getting into this movie because I kind of loved it and I’m really happy about the return of Joseph Gordon Levitt to genre films because between this and the Amazon Prime movie 7500, he’s killing it right now. Starring Jamie Foxx alongside Joe and The Hate U Give actress Dominique Fishback, the story is about a pill that gives its users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes that hits the streets of New Orleans and a teenage dealer and a local cop must team with an ex-soldier to take down the group responsible for its creation. The action in this film is absolutely insane and coupled with beautifully done special effects it is another damn entertaining movie from Catfish and Nerve directors Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman.

Fearless (Netflix) – One of my favorite British actresses for many years has been the unsung power of Helen McCrory, the underrated actress who was in The Queen, Peaky Blinders, Penny Dreadful and was even Draco Malfoy’s mother in the Harry Potter movies. Well, it’s for her and, really, her only that I’m really excited by this new show, commissioned by ITV in the UK, that is now debuting in North America on Netflix for the full binge effect. The show has McCrory as Emma Banville, a human rights lawyer known for defending lost causes who sets out to prove the innocence of her new client, a man who was convicted for the murder of a school girl fourteen years earlier. The show did not perform well in it’s run on the original network, so don’t expect more episodes beyond this six-episode run but it’s kind of cool to see Helen reunite with the second Dumbeldore, Michael Gambon, though I can’t remember if they share a scene in any of the Potter films.

We Hunt Together: Season 1 (Crave) – I guess the last part of this write up has become the British television invasion but, in my experience, they make some of the best products of that medium and they even get remade by Americans and even Canadians pretty often. What drew me to this show was Eve Myles, a main component of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood but the show itself seems massively interesting. The series is a gripping twist on a classic cat-and-mouse story that explores the intoxication of sexual attraction and the dangerous power of emotional manipulation as two conflicted detectives track down a pair of deadly killers. Myles is definitely the veteran among a young cast but the great writing and intrigue is what keeps everything afloat and it was enough to grab the interest of Showtime who is now airing it in the United States. Hopefully, the added viewership from us North Americans can stretch out the longevity of this show as it is quite good.