Trick 'r Treat (VOD) - Oct 18, 2020
Trick 'r Treat

Director: Michael Dougherty

Main Stars: Anna Paquin, Leslie Bibb, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Quinn Lord, Dylan Baker

Rating: 4/5

This is my Halloween pick for the year.

Normally I'm not a big fan of 'modern' horror films. I think I can count on one hand the number that I have liked from the past two decades. That said, I was flipping channels recently and came across this on AMC's Fear Fest - I had it muted in the background while I was putzing around and occasionally watching it.

It peaked my interest when the main character (Bibb) came to an unfortunate demise in the first few minutes, a gimmick that has previously been done before in Scream. But then you see her again later in the film and it dawned on me that they were telling a bunch of different stories all interwoven together. You'd be focused on one group of characters and see something happen to someone else and then later on they'd tell that person's story. So I thought that was a definite cut above most of the dreck horror flicks released lately - most of which consist of just quick edits and lame jump scares.

So because of that I ended up streaming it and watching it in it's entirety.

In addition to the overlapping story lines - of which there are five of them - you are introduced to what I think is one of the most interesting horror 'villains' in recent memory - Samhain, or Sam for short. A clever take on the name for a real phobia consisting of the fear of Halloween. The little guy is equal parts horrifying and adorable. Once you figure out what his 'issue' is you begin to appreciate him even more. Thankfully he's not just another mindless killing machine. There's also a nice mixture of dark humour, creepiness, gore, and prerequisite eye candy resulting in a well rounded and entertaining experience.

For what it's worth, the wife who's normally not into these movies also really enjoyed it.

A pleasant surprise and a standout entry in the genre. Recommended.

Vivarium (VOD) - Sep 9, 2020

Director: Lorcan Finnegan

Main Stars: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Aris, Senan Jennings

Rating: 3/5

Gemma (Poots) and Tom (Eisenberg) are a young couple. Like most young couples they dream of having their own home and living in domestic bliss. In pursuit of that goal they pop into a realtor's office one day. The realtor is only to happy to show them the latest development in suburbia - however there's something extremely 'off' about him. Still, mostly as to not offend they agree to go with him to find their dream house. A decision they soon regret as they become trapped in a nightmarish hell with no escape.

When I watched the trailer for this several months ago I made a mental note to check it out when it was released as it definitely had that 'well this is different' vibe to it.

I believe in one of the promo posters it says something about it being 'straight out of Black Mirror'. Therein lies the problem. I think this probably would have made a better episode in that excellent TV series than as a feature film, albeit one that's only 97 mins long. That said, there's nothing overtly wrong with it as a movie. And days later I find it still echoing around in my head - always the sign of a good flick. And conceptually I think it's great even if the message isn't overly subtle - domesticity and suburbia are living hells. The acting is also fine. I'm somewhat neutral about Eisenberg as an actor, but I really enjoy the lovely Imogen Poots. For one, I just love saying her name, and two she readily worked her way into my heart during her debut in 28 Weeks Later.

So why not rate it higher?

For some reason while watching it just left me feeling somewhat ambivalent about it. Maybe it's the timing. Being isolated during a pandemic makes one less receptive to seeing more of the same on the screen? I don't know. It could also be the monotony of the daily routine which while driving home the overall message doesn't make for overly gripping viewing. Although they do throw in enough sex and outright messed up imagery to pep things up. Maybe they could have spent a bit more time exploring Tom's obsession and mental fragility or Gemma being torn between revulsion and motherly instinct. Or maybe they could have just thrown in more sex - for my benefit at least.

An intriguing, if flawed, premise that may have worked better on television than as a feature film. If you want to watch something different, worth a rental at least.

JoJo Rabbit (Blu-ray) - Aug 1, 2020
JoJo Rabbit

Director: Taika Waititi

Main Stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Archie Yates

Rating: 4.5/5

JoJo (Davis) is a young boy growing up in Nazi Germany. As his Dad is out of the picture having possibly died fighting in some far off country, his sister recently deceased and his Mom often away, he's quite lonely and frequently bullied by others. He only has his pudgy best friend Yorki (Yates) to commiserate with. Actually that's not true. Yorki is really his 2nd best friend. His best (imaginary) friend is none other than the Fuhrer himself who extols the virtues of National Socialism, how to be a better Aryan, and to always be vigilant for those treacherous Jews with their horned heads.

Having seen the trailer and heard some buzz about the film I kind of knew what to expect going in and I had already figured out where the story was going from the beginning. But still, the first few minutes of the film was a bit jarring and uncomfortable. I kept asking myself where it was going. You'd find yourself laughing at something but then the little voice inside your head would remind you that you really shouldn't be laughing at the subject matter. It's a weird juxtaposition of imagery and content. Another reviewer wrote 'What if Wes Anderson made a Nazi comedy?'. That nicely sums up the movie's quirkiness.

Eventually things become more serious although there's still moments of hilarity sprinkled throughout - a sequence involving a bunch of Gestapo agents Heil Hitler'ing each other is especially humorous - and there's one particularly gut wrenching scene near the end. When the end does come I'm glad they wrapped it up the way they did. Had it gone in the other direction I would have been upset not only because I simply wasn't emotionally prepared for it but it would have done a massive disservice to the tone and spirit of the film.

All the actors give great performances. I love Sam Rockwell in anything he's done and once again he shines here. Rebel Wilson is, well, Rebel Wilson, but thankfully she's used sparingly. Scarlett Johansson is effective as the mom and brings that 'old Hollywood' glamour. However the real stars are the two kids - Davis as JoJo and Yates as his friend. But it is Yates that really steals the show.

There's also lots of well thought out details. You wonder why they keep focusing on his Mom's shoes for instance. There's something more to Rockwell's character than is immediately apparent. The film's colour schemes change from an oversaturated and bright palette in the beginning to dull, grey, and dreary by the end - representing not only Germany's waning fortunes in the war, but also JoJo's eventual rejection of Nazism. And so on.

I rated this movie so highly because in today's era of cancel culture, political correctness, and general outrage I'm amazed that this even got made. The important, touching, and life-affirming meaning at the core of the film notwithstanding. But even more so, because of how the director deftly navigated such a minefield of shifting tonality. In lesser hands this would have been an outright disaster.

A terrifically quirky film with a heartfelt message and surprising emotional heft near the end. Recommended viewing if you can reconcile the subject matter and jarring initial tone.

The Lighthouse (Blu-ray) - Jul 17, 2020
The Lighthouse

Director: Robert Eggers

Main Stars: Robert Pattison, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman

Rating: 3.5/5

Having left the life as a lumberjack behind him, Ephraim Winslow (Pattison) now finds himself isolated on a desolate stretch of rock tending lighthouse with a no-nonsense salty sea-dog (Dafoe). As the new guy he gets all the grunt work and is frustratingly kept away from the top where the light resides. It's back breaking work made worse by a growing dislike of each other. A month later, relief is finally in sight when they are scheduled to be replaced by a new crew. But that crew never arrives and they are suddenly faced with the prospect of being stranded for an unknown period of time. To cope with the stress they increasingly turn to booze fueled nights and their grip on reality begins to slip away.

I'll say up front I enjoyed director Eggers follow up effort to The Witch much more. In his debut a big deal was made out of his obsession with historical accuracy which while impressive, it also meant you were forced to endure the film in olde English which frequently made it hard to understand the dialog and took me out of the movie. This time the setting is late 1800's New England and once again historical accuracy is first and foremost. And while the dialog is again sometimes hard to decipher, it was at least mostly understandable.

With only two characters - three if you count the seagull - to watch, the actors must carry the film. Thankfully they are more than up for the challenge. Pattison shows surprising depth and is able to keep up with the ever enjoyable Dafoe who literally chews up the screen in his many long running soliloquys. In fact, the movie sometimes has the feeling of a play to it. In the hands of anyone else Dafoe's character would come across as camp. But he commits wholly to the role and more than pulls it off.

Shot in Black & White and framed in an ancient 1:19 aspect ratio, the cinematography enhances the sense of isolation and claustrophobia the characters are experiencing. Coupled with an excellent score and ever present cacophony of howling wind and blasting fog horn technical merits are top notch.

Ultimately it comes down to the story and I wish the director had stuck with making this a slow burn psychological horror. Instead he throws in moments of humour which is sometimes effective (painting the lighthouse, bickering about the cooking), but also sometimes jarring (fart jokes? really?). You feel like it goes from The Shining to Family Guy in an instant. Which is a shame as I think if he had resisted his scatological impulses this truly could have been a masterpiece. Most people seem to absolutely love or hate it, but I'm left somewhat in the middle as a result.

As a side note, usually the extras on a disc aren't overally enthralling. But I quite enjoyed them this time.

A frustratingly flawed effort that's worth it for the acting and atmosphere and for those who appreciate the bizarre. However not likely to be to everyone's taste.

A Midnight Clear (Blu-ray) - Jun 21, 2020
A Midnight Clear

Director: Keith Gordon

Main Stars: Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, Frank Whaley, Arye Gross

Rating: 4/5

Will Knott (Hawke) leads an intelligence team sent on a mission to setup at an abandoned chateau in the Ardennes and report on German troop movements just prior to their biggest counter attack of the entire war. The army thought they'd get better intelligence if the squad was made up of the smartest people. Unfortunately the smartest people don't necessarily make very good soldiers and their group is soon reduced to only six people. When they finally do encounter the enemy all the rules of warfare are thrown out the window and things take an unexpected turn.

According to the director, this film had the misfortune of being released the weekend of the Rodney King riots and thus came and went without much notice. I myself have this on Laserdisc, but had never gotten around to watching it. There was apparently a release that came out on DVD but the transfer was horrible and it was in a 4:3 aspect ratio. All of which is a shame as I would put this up there with A Thin Red Line and Jarhead as some of the best Anti-war movies - even more so because this was set in WWII which was considered a 'good' war.

Unlike most Hollywood films where the actors are a decade or more older than the characters they're playing, here they all really were just kids - and this was one of the first films for both Ethan Hawke and Gary Sinise. I've always enjoyed Ethan in everything he's done and here he brings a innocence and vulnerability which is just right for the role. The rest of the cast are equally strong. But really it's the story that sets this apart and based on the 1982 novel by William Wharton by all accounts it stays true to the source material.

Sadly I knew where things were headed early on and when it came it was still depressing to watch. However there's enough funny moments, tenderness, and examination of the human spirit to round everything out and prevent it from becoming an overly disheartening experience.

A victim of bad timing and a dearth of quality releases on video - this is a rare gem that deserves to be watched.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Blu-ray) - Apr 4, 2020
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker

Director: J.J. Abrams

Main Stars: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega

Rating: 3.5/5

The Dead Speak! Wait, what? That's what they chose to start the iconic summary scroll with? Forty Two years since the original film mesmerized us with a rollicking adventure of good versus evil set against the vast backdrop of space we now are presented with the final entry. So is it a fitting conclusion to the series?

You could tell trouble was brewing when the studio fired Colin Trevorrow and instead brought back J.J. Abrams to direct. It's obvious they didn't want another repeat of The Last Jedi (TLJ) which sharply divided fans and instead decided to play it safe. For the record I'm one of the few that actually enjoyed TLJ over The Force Awakens. So what does playing it safe get us? An adequate final film that devotes as much time to fan service as to trying to wrap up the story. And the story was my biggest issue. You get the feeling they simply decided at some hastily scheduled writers meeting how things were going to play out. The first half of the film is like a bad version of Relic Hunter and the last half feels like simply a rehash of Return of the Jedi - even going as far as returning to some of the same locations.

Despite all that, on the whole it's still enjoyable to watch. It's still a Star Wars film. It still has that spectacle of awe and wonder. And the two stars Driver and Ridley do the most with what they're given and frankly are far better actors than anyone in the original trilogy. And while some of the sets are a return to the past they as well as others are some of the best set designs of the entire nine films.

There are also some very poignant moments in the film. I can't believe I got a bit misty eyed over a droid of all things. And naturally, seeing Carrie Fisher again brought a flood of emotions. At one point Chewbacca drops to his knees and gives a heart rending roar of grief - and he is merely vocalizing every single person watching that scene.

I also must mention there is some pretty dark and scary stuff going on. While I was personally surprised by it, as an adult I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I'm not so sure how young kids would fare. When I saw the original Star Wars I was six. If I was six seeing this and the way a certain character is portrayed I'd likely end up with nightmares.

At long last the saga comes to a close. While the story is a mess, technical merits and the spirit of the series are enough to mostly satisfy.

Joker (VOD) - Jan 22, 2020

Director: Todd Phillips

Main Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen

Rating: 4/5

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) spends his days working as a clown and his nights taking care of his increasingly unwell mother (Conroy). About his only true enjoyment in life comes from watching his favourite late night talk show. He dreams of one day becoming a famous stand up comic and ending up on that very show. Living with a medical condition that leads him to burst out laughing when nervous leads to numerous misunderstandings and even physical abuse. Never the most stable, as he tells his therapist that 'all he has are negative thoughts', he truly becomes unhinged after getting fired from his job and then learning a deep secret from his mother that she's hid from him all these years.

Again, not having the highest regard for comic book movies I wasn't sure what to expect, but it had good buzz and I really like Joaquin Phoenix. Happy to say this is a must see, not only for fans but also for movie lovers in general. Here we have a gritty, realistic portrayal of mental illness that doesn't shy away from graphic violence (unlike most in the genre) combined with social commentary with the Batman mythos as the backdrop. And I truly got a kick out of how it tied into the beginnings of that story. I always wondered why a random stranger would kill Bruce Wayne's parents. Now it all comes together.

As well, you have to mention the amazing physical transformation of Mr. Phoenix. I would easily put this up there with Christian Bale's jaw dropping appearance in The Machinist. And while I didn't quite have the same visceral rush of just wanting to murder someone like when I came out of the theatre having just watched Natural Born Killers, it was pretty close. It's easy to see why the FBI was concerned this movie would incite the unstable amongst us to violence.

One reviewer said something along the lines of 'This is not the movie America needs right now' - implying that all of that nation's woes are because of the sitting President. I think this is exactly the movie they need right now, but instead of highlighting the disparity between rich and poor it would be applicable to today's cancel culture and the sanctimonious mouthpieces lecturing half the country that they voted wrong. The same fate befalling them as with some in this film would equally bring a smile to my face.

The rarest of comic book movies. One that's actually truly enjoyable and far exceeds your typical CGI crap fest on every level.

Level 16 (VOD) - Jan 5, 2020
Level 16

Director: Danishka Esterhazy

Main Stars: Katie Douglas, Celina Martin, Sara Canning, Peter Outerbridge

Rating: 3.5/5

Young Vivien has spent her life growing up at a boarding school with other girls. Because the air outside is poisoned they have never been or even seen the outside world. She spends her days being taught how to be a good girl learning the virtues of patience, cleanliness, and obedience. All so that when she is old enough she'll find a home with a loving set of adoptive parents. One day one of the other girls implores her not to take her vitamins - a daily requirement to keep them being healthy girls. Hesitantly she does so and quickly discovers that all is not what it seems.

Here we have a decent low-budget Canadian entry in the dystopian near-future genre. I believe I caught wind of it reading one of the year end 'obscure films from the past year that you should watch' lists. As such I didn't know anything about it and purposefully kept myself ignorant as to what it was about.

The director manages to do a lot with a little and crafts a thoroughly engaging story that kept me on edge for most of the runtime. With such a claustrophobic and dreary setting it's up to the actors to carry the film and the main star Katie Douglas doesn't disappoint. Her credits show her mostly doing obscure TV shows, but I hope she ends up in more features as she's simply mesmerizing to watch. The rest of the (small) cast are equally effective.

Unfortunately when the twist is revealed it went a bit downhill for me. Not in terms of the story, but more in terms of how it was executed. And the more I thought about it, the more things began to unravel in regards to believability. Which was frustrating considering the slow burn the rest of the movie was in preparing for that moment. These kind of films drive me crazy because you feel that greatness is tantalizingly close, but then they let it slip away from them. You then put on your directors hat imagining how you'd change things for the better.

Still, a rewarding experience overall that while flawed, at least isn't instantly forgettable.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (VOD) - Dec 25, 2019
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Main Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell

Rating: 4/5

Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a TV star in the twilight of his career in 1960's Hollywood. Commiserating with his stunt double (Pitt) he struggles to keep it together in the face of this harsh reality. He also happens to live next door to new neighbors Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate and is thus uniquely situated to bear witness to one of the most horrific crimes of the era.

Here we have the ninth film and latest testament to director Tarantino's self declared genius. I'll admit for most of movie I was thinking 'here we go again' with his known penchant for self indulgence. I knew (or thought I knew) what the ending would bring and I just couldn't reconcile it with the rest of the story. The Manson murders seemed a macabre subplot that was distracting from everything else. But then the end scene came and everything came together in glorious fashion and I loved every minute of it. Let's just say that much like he did in Inglorious Basterds, he takes liberties with history. Of course the hint is in the title of the film. It's a fairy tale at heart.

Much has been made of Tarantino's obsessive recreation of the time period and I'm guessing it's great, but for me not having lived during that time it didn't have the nostalgic appeal that say an 80's setting would. Of course there's the music, clothes, and cars all accurately represented - but I suspect a lot of attention to detail went into the Hollywood back lot recreations. Considering the director's love for the industry itself I'm sure a lot of insiders appreciated the most. While some of the scenes portraying DiCaprio's character on set could have been cut to trim the typically long run time, one scene in particular involving a young actress discussing her method acting at the ripe age of Eight is quite endearing.

I'm not sure who technically gets top billing in this, but I thought Brad Pitt stole the show and gave a terrific performance. For me DiCaprio seemed a bit cheesy and over the top, but it's also entirely possible he was asked to be that way. The ever lovely Robbie isn't really given much to work with other than to, well, appear lovely and that's a shame. However again, she's not the focus of the story. Tarantino regulars Kurt Russell and Michael Madsen are present although in minor roles and Tim Roth is listed in the credits with a (cut) next to his name as his short scene sadly got dropped.

Unlike the huge disappointment of his last film, this one is much more restrained and refined. While it's a slow burn of a movie that takes it's meandering time, the patient viewer is rewarded with an ending that harkens back to the days of the director's best efforts.

Life Of Pi (Blu-Ray) - Nov 25, 2019
Life Of Pi

Director: Ang Lee

Main Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu

Rating: 5/5

A Canadian writer spending time in Pondicherry, India in a futile attempt to find the creative spark for his next novel is told by a local to track down a former resident now living ironically back in Canada. The writer is assured that after hearing his story that it will make him believe in God. I bought this a few years ago on Blu-ray but never got around to watching it. Recently I happened to end up with the novel and having just finished it decided to check out it's cinematic version. Normally when I read a book I'll end up putting it in the neighborhood 'leave a book, take a book' repository, but this one was special enough that I decided to keep it.

Thankfully the movie is a faithful adaptation of what was considered to be unfilmable - and was almost never made having previously drifted through multiple studios and directors. Let's face it, how would you convincingly pull it off when the two main characters spend almost the entire time stranded on the ocean in a lifeboat - and one of the characters is a Bengal tiger! But somehow Director Ang Lee manages to do it.

As the now older Pi regales the writer with how it all began we see young Pi growing up, visting his father's zoo, mercilessly teased about his real name and how he ended up with his nickname. We then see him exasperate his parents with his foray into religion - all religions - before finally becoming enamoured with a girl. This beginning part is charming enough and on it's own would make a great coming of age or boy meets girl story. But the story really picks up once Pi and his family pack everything up, including all the animals for a new life across the ocean. This is where the movie hits it's stride and takes the viewer on a journey equal parts amazing, scary, and heartbreaking.

The visuals are outstanding and far exceed what my imagination was able to produce while reading the novel. The special effects are top notch and for the most part you'll have trouble distinguishing the CGI tiger from a real one. Like the source material things take a dramatically dark turn near the end and you're left pondering ideas such as the role of religion, man's place in nature, and escapism vs reality. Heady concepts and stunning visuals make for a truly masterful film.

Chernobyl (VOD) - Oct 20, 2019
Capricorn One

Director: Johan Renck

Main Stars: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Ritter

Rating: 5/5

Nuclear scientist Valery Legasov is called in to assist in the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion. Not only must he come up with ways - in many cases brutal - to try and contain the ever expanding radiation, but he must do so while navigating the minefield of Soviet bureaucracy and ever watching KGB handlers. Certain events are always seared into ones memories growing up - for me those are the Challenger disaster, 9/11, and the Chernobyl explosion. I remember as an young teen watching the story on the news, barely able to comprehend the horrors unfolding a continent away.

Co-produced by HBO and British company Sky, I'm not sure where this mini-series was filmed, but they do a stellar job of making you feel like you're back in the Soviet Union of the mid-80's. From the mass produced aparment blocks, to the dated clothing, to the suprisingly accurate Soviet vehicles. Thankfully they don't attempt to do Russian accents but instead just go with the native accents of the mostly British actors. To do otherwise I'm sure would have been a distraction. The two main actors, Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard, are favourites of mine and have appeared in such shows as The Terror and The Expanse and films such as Melancholia and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. They are simply terrific, they own the screen, and I could watch them all day long. Emily Watson plays the scientist Ulana Khomyuk who ultimately convinces Valery to put his own safety at risk and tell the truth of what happened. She acts as a representation of all the other scientists involved in trying to shutdown the disaster.

As such, there's obviously some artistic license taken, and I know that if you search the Internet there's all kinds of sites keen to point out how they think the story presented is incorrect. But that's irrelevant. The core message is what matters and is what's presented in a brutal unflinching manner. There are a few snippets of actual recordings, but it never feels like a documentary - instead it puts the viewer right in the middle of the disaster and as such is all the more powerful to behold.

Despite already knowing the tragic outcome, this is still gripping, yet hugely depressing viewing. However I think it's important this story is told again and presented to a new generation who likely aren't even aware of the horror of that day. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima - the places change, but the results are the same. Humans playing God. But unlike Gods humans are inherantly flawed. The hubris to think we can control such forces is absolute madness.

Currently available to watch via HBO's streaming service, Apple TV, Amazon Prime (via Hulu subscription), or Blu-ray.

Capricorn One (Laserdisc) - Sep 5, 2019
Capricorn One

Director: Peter Hyams

Main Stars: Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Sam Waterston, O.J Simpson, Hal Holbrook

Rating: 4/5

Three brave astronauts are set to attempt the first manned landing on Mars. You'd think such an achievement would capture the attention of the nation, but Joe Sixpack seemingly has other concerns. Even the President can't be bothered to attend the launch, sending the Vice President instead. Regardless, this launch has to be a success as it's been made abundantly clear to Nasa's project director (Holbrook) that another screwup will mean cancellation of the entire space program.

Unfortunately shortly before the launch it becomes apparent that a failed life support system would mean certain death for the crew. So a scheme is divised to spirit them away just prior to lift off and move them to an impromptu sound stage and fake the entire thing - from journey to landing and back. The deception works until a nosy engineer notices something odd about the broadcasts and a pesky reporter (Gould) starts asking questions.

I imagine this film caused quite the stir back in the day, coming only a couple years after the last (supposed) manned landing on the moon. While Mars is the destination here, it's immediately obvious the film is really echoing the long standing belief by some that the moon landings never actually happened.

The cast is stellar and is a who's who of 70's talent - but even with such a plethora of talent, the film is really carried by both Brolin and Gould. As with any thriller type movie there's always certain things which happen that you could nitpick as being unlikely, but where's the fun in that? Best to just go with the flow. And while I may be looking at things through nostalgia coloured glasses, I've found that movies from the 70's have a defined look, a certain narrative flow, and a grittiness that seems to have been lost in later decades. Director Hyams, who went on to helm the excellent Sean Connery sci-fi flick Outland manages to slowly build the tension and suspense throughout until the frenetic conclusion.

Capricorn One is what I would consider a hidden gem and a perfect encapsulation of 70's filmmaking.  And as for the premise, in today's world of pervasive Governmental control coupled with technical advances where you can't really even tell what's real or what's fake anymore the message is more relevant than ever before. While I spun this one up on Laserdisc, it's thankfully available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming (Apple TV) as well. Recommended.

Yesterday (Theatre) - Jul 12, 2019

Director: Danny Boyle

Main Stars: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia Di Martino, Kate McKinnon, Ellise Chappell

Rating: 3/5

Jack Malik (Patel) is a struggling musician and the only person who seems to believe in him is his part time manager (James) a person who he grew up with but despite an obvious attraction she is never able to leave the friend zone. One day everything changes when a global power outage hits. After the lights come back, to his astonishment he discovers that for some reason no one has ever heard of one of his favourite bands - The Beatles. They've seemingly been erased from history. Armed with that knowledge he decides to strike out in a new direction using their songs to propel him to musical stardom. Now he just needs the remember the damn lyrics to Eleanor Rigby.

When I saw the trailer for this I instantly knew I wanted to see it as it was different and it was obviously a feel good movie. Something I was definitely in the mood for. In that respect it didn't disappoint. But while good, I was hoping it'd be one of those movies that achieved greatness and sadly it falls a bit short.

You don't have to be a Beatles fan to enjoy the story as anyone with a passing knowledge of the band and their biggest hits will be humming along and tapping their toes. SNL's Kate McKinnon has an amusing role as the music industry shark ready to discover the next big thing and then promptly devour them while extracting every dollar possible before disposing of them when someone else comes along. While the overall tone of the film is breezy, they do make several digs at the music business - but part of me wishes they would have skewered it a bit more. Ed Sheeran plays himself in a self deprecating role - I'm guessing that's a big deal that he's in it? Who knows as I'm not up on the latest 'artists'. There's an interesting side plot involving a couple of people at his concerts who'd look at him really oddly while he was playing. I thought I knew where that was going to go but they surprised me and I honestly got a good laugh out of it. There's also a cameo from the past which is a bit jaw dropping and it took me awhile to figure out who the actor was. Finally while fairly long at 2 hours the ending felt rushed and tacked on which was a letdown.

A pleasant surprise and mad props for originality in an era of endless remakes and comic book movies that while enjoyable left me wanting more.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (VOD) - Jun 5, 2019
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Director: David Yates

Main Stars: Johnny Depp, Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Jude Law, Zoe Kravitz, Wolf Roth

Rating: 2/5

The dastardly Wizard Grindelwald (Depp) escapes from prison in New York City and flees to Paris!

Back in jolly 'ol England, ever awkward but lovable Newt (Redmayne) is tasked with thwarting his evil plans and um...something or other. What were his evil plans again?

Hmmm. According to IMDB's summary the whole plot point of the bad guy in this film is he's trying to raise an army of pure-blood wizards to rule over non-magical people. After well over 2 hours I had no idea that's what he was trying to do. And here we have my biggest issue with the sequel to Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. My previous review of the first film was generally favourable. Not having read any of the books and not having even seen all the Harry Potter films, I was judging it simply on its entertainment value and not as a convert.

It was different enough and had a plethora of fun CGI'd creatures plus a turn of the century New York City backdrop that I enjoyed it overall.

But with the follow up they dispense with the cute creatures (for the most part) and instead focus on building the story for the presumed third film. And that's always the problem with the middle films in trilogies (which I'm assuming is the plan), you always get that feeling like they exist only to usher in the big climactic final act. There was also casting overload with way to many new people taking away screen time from the main characters from the previous movie. About the only redeeming feature was that Depp toned down his performance for once. Instead of the usual quirky schtick that he does so effortlessly in all of Tim Burton's efforts here he's more subdued and actually fairly effective as as the quiet but menacing villian. Sadly his efforts are wasted.

I suppose people familiar with the source material might be enthralled, but when I found out Grindelwald was the cousin of so and so which I'm sure was super shocking I was like 'ya, so?'. Glad this was just a rental.

For fans only...

Prospect (VOD) - Apr 21, 2019

Directors: Christopher Caldwell, Zeek Earl

Main Stars: Sophie Thatcher, Jay Duplass, Pedro Pascal

Rating: 3.5/5

Cee (Thatcher) spends her days reciting her favourite book from memory while her father chastises her for her lack of focus on the task at hand. That task being prospecting - retrieving valuable fossils? from the goopy innards of an alien species buried in the ground on the moon below them. The task being made all the more challenging as they must also survive the moon's toxic green forest. Her father has the coordinates to the big score and promises her they just need to do this one last job and then they can leave this life behind them. Unfortunately the orbiting space station has informed them that they are leaving shortly for new locales. Will they be able to harvest the goods and make it into orbit again before they are permanently left behind?

I happened to be flipping through the movie trailers on my Apple TV and came across this little Indie offering. It looked different so I decided to give it a watch.

Here we have a great example of not needing a large budget and lots of special effects to craft a decent and engaging sci-fi entry. To be honest there's not a lot of dialog or different sets - everything either taking place in the interior of their drop ship or on the moon's forest. And yet I was surprised when the credits rolled at how fast the movie seemed to fly by. It obviously kept me engaged throughout. If I had anything negative to say it would be that at times the dialog was a bit muddled - not really surprising considering everyone spends almost all their time with helmets on their heads. I'll have to look up the one actor - Pedro Pascal to see what else he has done as I found him to have a commanding screen presence. The girl who plays Cee was equally effective especially considering it was her film debut.

Visually competent although again, there's not a lot of different scenery to be had. The forest manages to look other worldly enough via a constant and dreamy looking colourful dust floating around in the air. I also liked how the story kind of just throws the viewer into the middle of things with barely any exposition and you're left on your own to figure out what's going on. To be honest I was shocked to find that this was an American production as it definitely had a Euro vibe to it. A decent and gritty genre film that while not groundbreaking manages to do a lot with only a little.

Overlord (Blu-Ray) - Mar 25, 2019

Director: Julius Avery

Main Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbaek, John Magaro, Jacob Anderson

Rating: 3.5/5

On the evening before D-Day a group of American paratroopers is tasked with dropping behind enemy lines to destroy a key radio tower, thus helping to ensure success for the coming attack. Thinks quickly go awry when their plane is shot up all to hell, and the survivors scattered all over the French countryside. Private Ed Boyce (Adepo) eventually links up with some members of his squad and they proceed with their mission. However once inside the bunker at the base of the tower they soon encounter something much worse than just enemy troops.

Nazi zombies. I'm not sure why, but combine those two words and you're sure to peak my cinematic interest. For me, the high water mark of this particular sub-genre was the 2009 film Dead Snow. That said, it was your typical low budget indie offering. However, when news broke of Overlord, there was excitement in the air as this was going to be a big budget effort associated with non-other than JJ Abrams. The guy behind the latest Star Wars movies was producing a Nazi zombie movie! So does having gobs of money guarantee a classic? Not really. Another reviewer probably summed it up best - "This is a B-budget movie, with A-budget production values." The opening scenes are stellar. A visual and sonic onslaught leaving you on the edge of your seat. I thought at one point my subwoofer was going to explode. But by the mid-point the film reasserts its horror origins and while never quite descending into camp territory, there were some scenes that looked right out of Re-Animator. I kept expecting Herbert West to make an appearance.

Despite the middling lull, things wrap up nicely with a frenetic finale. While I appreciate the attempts to elevate the story into something more, they perhaps did too good a job at the start as it was a bit of a letdown when things transitioned from war flick to horror flick. And without giving anything away, the whole zombie aspect wasn't quite what I was expecting and as such was a bit disappointing. An interesting effort that doesn't quite achieve its lofty goals, but for fans at least is still worth watching.

Mortal Engines (VOD) - Mar 20, 2019
Mortal Engines

Director: Christian Rivers

Main Stars: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery

Rating: 1/5

Tom Natsworthy spends his uneventful days working at the museum on the tracked city of London hunting down examples of ‘ancient tech’. One day his whole world is turned upside down when he instinctively attempts to catch a would be female assassin who just narrowly missed killing London's de facto leader and champion. Eventually Tom and the girl both end up tumbling to the earth as the city leaves them behind. Will he ever return home and will the mysterious assassin ever avenge the death of her mother?

I'll say up front that I've read the book, and while I wouldn't say I'm a 'fan', I obviously like it enough that I'm currently reading the 4th entry in the series. I knew going in that this didn't have great reviews, but again, having read the book I wanted to see what someone else's vision of the material would look like. And visually, it doesn't disappoint. I wasn't entirely sure how they'd be able to pull off the vast scale of the cities involved but they managed to do a great job. It's worth a rent for this alone. Unfortunately by the end I was furious as they changed several aspects of the story and fates of certain key characters. I hate, hate, hate when studios do that! It's one thing to take a story and base a film on it which expands upon the scope or the characters (think Blade Runner), or even when introducing new characters to advance the plot for various reasons (think Lord of the Rings), but to do so for no apparent reason drives me crazy. What? Idiots they pulled off the street for a test screening couldn't grasp the concept of someone doing something under protest and eventually redeeming themselves - so instead some pinhead exec decided to make them a one dimensional bad guy? I'm itching to go off on a rant about what a joke Hollywood is, but I'll abstain for now.

If you want to see a grand visual spectacle and haven't read it then it's worth a look, however if you even remotely enjoy the book stay far, far away from this travesty.