Whether you’re a music lover looking to buff up your knowledge on The BeeGees or are looking for a fun, introspective, and/or otherworldly escape, Queued Up has you covered!
THE BEE GEES: HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART (2020)
Frank Marshall’s documentary chronicles the decades long career of the iconic British group who formed in 1958 (yes, that’s right), released their first album in 1965, and had numerous hits prior to the multi-platinum selling movie soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever which turned them into mega-stars in 1977. Across two hours, this HBO production takes us from the humble beginnings of Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, and how they were destined to make music together, through their heyday during the disco era, their ‘80s forays into songwriting following public backlash, their triumphant revival, as well as the tragic loss of three of the four brothers prematurely. (Their younger sibling Andy Gibb had a successful solo career and sang with his brothers, but he died at age 30.) For casual fans and newbies to the Bee Gees world, this is a great primer that showcases the pre- and post falsetto days of their Saturday Night Fever peak which many people do not know about. When they faced a backlash in the 1980s, the group went into songwriting mode for such people as Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, and Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, all of whom scored major hits with the brothers’ compositions. By the late ‘90s, their big U.S. comeback began. Hardcore fans will notice that there are many aspects of their lives that are underplayed: every brother except Barry struggling with addiction issues, the fact that Barry and Maurice have children who are doing music, and the sad reality of Barry being the last Bee Gee left. (He reportedly has yet to watch the film.) Further, the existence of the 1978 movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which co-starred the band and featured a soundtrack fueled by their covers of Beatles tunes, is completely ignored. It’s infamous for sure, but something that many fans have enjoyed over the years. Let’s face it: No music documentary, unless it’s a miniseries or extended series, can fully capture a band’s career in two hours. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart does a commendable job of introducing them to fans who know nothing about them while reminding longtime fans of why they loved them to begin with. That in itself makes it worthwhile.
DEATH TO 2020 (2020)
From the producers/creators of Black Mirror comes the movie title that you’ve been waiting for all year. Directed by Al Campbell and Alice Mathias, this 68-minute mockumentary offers a satirical and blunt look back at the absolute debacle that was 2020. It covers everything from political mayhem to environmental devastation through interviews with various fictional characters such as a sardonic magazine reporter (Samuel L. Jackson), a stuffy British historian (Hugh Grant), a quietly angry Stepford Wife/Karen (Cristin Milioti), and a couple of hardcore political pundits (Lisa Kudrow and Leslie Jones). Tracy Ullman also appears as Queen Elizabeth II, and Laurence Fishburne is the deadpan narrator. There are some very quotable moments in this Netflix production, although at times it feels like it isn’t funny enough. Still, the film allows us to laugh off the insanity and inanity of last year while making us ponder the extreme narcissism, political myopia, and self interest that led us down this self destructive path. Some quotable gems: “Across the USA, supplies of masks, which unlike guns, cannot be cheaply and easily manufactured, run low.” “The President skillfully placates the situation with some soothing, incendiary comments.” “They said there were more mail ballots than ever, what about female ballots?”
BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC (2020) It felt like a lifetime ago when we watched the second Bill and Ted movie, but nearly 30 years later Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter reunite to bring the beloved Southern California twosome back for one more excellent if darker adventure. At the conclusion of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1991, the goofy dynamic duo were supposed to unite humanity and save the world with their great music. But something happened along the way. They didn’t craft that incredible song, and in middle age find themselves confused as to what they’re doing with their lives. There is some consolation – they have the adoring love of their wives and teenage daughters (who are very much like them) to somewhat boost their sagging spirits. But visitors from our future civilization warn Bill and Ted that they have 77 minutes and 25 seconds to create that epic song or time and space will come undone. Most unfortunate. This leads to three time traveling adventures at once: Bill and Ted leaping forward into different times to find when they finish the tune (thus revealing other Bill and Teds), their daughters (Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine) seeking to assemble the ultimate band for their dads by traveling back in time, and a villainous, Terminator-like robot (sent after the guys from the future by the villainous Great Leader) who’s not as competent as he should be. The first third of Bill & Ted Face The Music is slow going and low key, but once it picks up the series spirit revives with some genuinely entertaining moments including the return of the Grim Reaper played with aplomb by William Sadler. This installment with its grand finale turns out to be a fitting close to this ‘80s trilogy. Props also to Kid Cudi and Dave Grohl for their funny cameos. Numerous Blu-ray bonus features include behind the scenes and Comic-Con panel footage.
DON’T LISTEN (2020) The horror boom of the 21st century has led to streaming services becoming cluttered with scores of new horror movies. Sometimes, it can be very hard to figure out what’s good and what’s not, and it’s admittedly difficult to be truly original with most premises anymore. That being said, a new entry can remain tried and true and still be effective. Coming from Spain and available on Netflix, Don’t Listen is a well done if conventional supernatural thriller in which a couple (Rodolfo Sanchom and Belén Fabra) and their 8 year-old son (Lucas Blas) move into an ominous home. The parents like to restore and flip houses which makes life a bit difficult for their boy who soon becomes sensitive to spectral voices inside the place. After tragedy strikes, the father becomes obsessed with bringing in a paranormal investigator (Ramón Barea) to determine what the hell is going on. You’ll probably figure out what curse lingers over the house soon enough, but Ángel Gómez Hernández’s movie is well executed and includes some solid jump scares that should rattle longtime genre fans. Pay attention to the opening and closing shots as they symbolically mirror the narrative trajectory, and stick around for the mid-credits bonus sequence.
GUEST OF HONOUR (2019)
Oscar-nominated Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan has been making enigmatic films since the 1980s. He often focuses on lonely individuals who are socially isolated and often struggling with events from their pasts. Here, a young woman (Laysla De Oliveira) meets with a priest (Luke Wilson) to discuss funeral arrangements for her deceased father (David Thewlis), a restaurant health inspector who struggled with loneliness, the loss of his wife to cancer, and the fact that his daughter had been imprisoned for a terrible crime. We don’t know what exactly that crime is at the start, and we don’t know what parts all the different characters fully play in the drama until later. In classic Egoyan fashion, the mystery is slowly raveled together – which includes a potentially illicit student-teacher affair – to paint a larger picture of who these people are and why things ended up the way they did. The writer-director takes his time building up the story, but it’s certainly worth waiting for the intense denouement. Perennial Egoyan composer and Oscar winner Mychael Danna provides the properly atmospheric soundtrack for a mystery that focuses more on character flaws and miscommunication than genre expectations.
THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
The first major film from David Lynch following his disturbing cult classic Eraserhead, this exploration into the life of the highly deformed Joseph Merrick (called John here) is exquisitely photographed and incredibly poignant. Set in the late 19th century, the story starts when Dr. Frederick Treves (Sir Anthony Hopkins) rescues Merrick from the hands of an abusive freak show barker (Freddie Jones). He tries to convince his hospital superior Dr. Francis Carr-Gomm (Sir John Gielgud) to admit Merrick on a long-term basis for study and to give him a better home, but as he becomes an unlikely celebrity will his life truly change? Lynch is known for his signature weirdness, and while veteran horror cinematographer Freddie Francis generates the requisite dark hues and surreal shots, he also makes it feel like a very romantic period piece. There’s a reason The Elephant Man was nominated for 8 Oscars; it is perhaps Lynch’s most universally emotional work. The bountiful Criterion reissue features archival interviews with cast and crew, extensive liner notes excerpted from a book by Chris Rodley, a real-life letter to The Times in London by Dr. Carr-Gomm, Lynch and critic Kristine McKenna reading from their 2018 book Room to Dream, and an especially interesting 20-minute documentary (Joseph Merrick: The Real Elephant Man) about the real story and how the film takes liberties with the tale. However, that doesn’t make it any less moving.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (1990)
Claus von Bülow’s two attempted murder convictions over the death of his hypoglycemic wife Sunny made headlines in the early 1980s, and his appeal was a critical case that helped Alan Dershowitz make his name beyond being a Harvard law professor. In this Oscar-winning film, Jeremy Irons stars as the calculating bon vivant, Glenn Close plays his troubled wife, and Ron Silver portrays Dershowitz who assembles a smart team of graduate students to help him dissect the controversial case and figure out what really happened. What makes this a compelling story is that von Bülow, a man who seems to have married for money, is not a very empathetic character; depressed Sunny routinely abuses pills and booze; and Dershowitz, particularly by virtue of 20/20 hindsight, is not the kind of lawyer who does things simply based on principle. He likes a good legal challenge and often walks a dubious moral line even though he’s portrayed more nobly here. Irons won an Oscar for Best Actor for this nuanced performance, although some would argue that he really should have gotten it for his twin role, in David Cronenberg’s controversial Dead Ringers from two years earlier. Either way, this is a well-made, thought provoking film from director Barbet Schroeder, who along with screenwriter Nicolas Kazan provides a commentary track on this Blu-ray reissue.
WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE! (2018)
Hailing from Russia, writer-director Kirill Sokolov delivers one of the latest exercises in cinematic ultraviolence that should appeal to fans of Quentin Tarantino as well as vintage exploitation movies. There’s no really deep story line here, but along the way the film does offer some social commentary on desperate people who take extreme measures to little avail. Basically, a young man (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) wants to kill the detective father (Vitaliy Khaev) of his girlfriend (Evgeniya Kregzhde) because he believes that he wronged her, but as the story progresses and individual backstories are told in flashback, we learn that the daughter, the boyfriend, and the father’s cop partner (Michael Gor) each harbor secrets and/or resentments towards the patriarch. Not everything or everyone are what they seem to be, even when you think you’ve solved the mystery or know where it’s going. Providing some comedic relief, Sokolov also throws in little surprises to keep you guessing while the hyperkinetic energy displayed on screen, and Dmitriy Ulyukaev’s inventive cinematography, keep things barreling forward. This is not a classic, but a fun if brutal crime thriller. If you’re violence adverse, stay away. Sokolov fans will be pleased that Arrow have included four short films from the director, along with a behind the scenes doc and a feature with critic Kim Newman discussing the film’s relation to home invasion and western movies.
THE WIND (1986)
Niko Mastorakis’ low budget horror flick shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it clicks thanks to his assured direction and smart budgeting, the amazing location, creative cinematography from Andreas Bellis, and darkly apropos music from Hans Zimmer and Stanley Myers. It’s a highly watchable indie jam in which a thriller writer (Meg Foster) leaves her partner (David McCallum) behind in L.A. to venture to the solitude of the Greek isle of Monemvasia to write her latest book. But she soon faces two big threats: the creepy next door neighbor (Wings Hauser) who could be a killer, and incredibly strong gusts of wind that could possibly sweep her into the sea. (But hey, they should be inspirational, right?) It’s a simple set-up that plays out well, even if Hauser overacts at times, because of Foster’s intensity and the icy allure of her blue eyes. The simple premise especially works well for the pre-Internet and smart phone era. Cult horror buffs will definitely dig it. Arrow’s bonus features include a 30-minute documentary on Mastorakis narrated by the man himself, the complete soundtrack, and an in-depth essay by Kat Ellinger.
THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984)
Two years after Tron emerged in movie theaters, The Last Starfighter became one of the first movies to use CGI. Back in 1984 these digital effects looked cool, but by today’s standards they are certainly rudimentary. The movie played both to the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom as well as the exploding teen movie craze of the decade. Here, a young man (Lance Guest) trapped in a trailer park life can’t get into the big city college he wants to attend, but he soon finds himself recruited by an alien fighting force seeking great pilots to battle their intergalactic enemies. They pinpoint him using the park’s shoot ‘em up video game as an audition, not realizing that he’s not a real warrior. Now he must face the contest of his life among an unlikely team of strange beings. Directed by Nick Castle (who played The Shape in the original Halloween), The Last Starfighter is kitschy, nostalgic fun from the mid-1980s, although the stakes never really feel that high. Butit has retained a cult following since then. Arrow’s deluxe edition includes a plethora of bonus features – fresh commentaries, cast and crew interviews, and an archival 4-part documentary – that should delight devoted fans.