Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

Something keeps rearing it’s ugly head when it comes to Vancouver limited theatrical releases and, as a film fan, it’s really hard to keep cool about it. During my last few years doing film reviews in a more professional capacity, I’ve noticed that so many of the smaller indie film and foreign releases get pushed out of the way to allow for multiple screens in other theatres. This problem was exacerbated when the Fifth Avenue theatre renovated into being a VIP Cineplex, leaving almost all of the fringe cinema in the dust.

Did a wide audience get to see the beautiful and Oscar-nominated Turkish drama Mustang three years ago? No, it had its release pushed into oblivion before the Rio Theatre picked it up for a couple of nights. How about Land Of Mine, another Academy Award nominee that wasn’t even able to get a one night helping hand. These are just a couple of examples but the problem seems to be snowballing. As a critic, these films are pre-screened for us in some fashion, which makes the whole process frustrating when our coverage become moot.

This all might come off as pretentious bitching but everyone has a certain value of their time and energy, for a lot of people being their number one issue, and when you give your morning or evening to a film that has its relevance to you subscribing audience taken away it gets to a tedious point. On some films, this goes deeper, especially if it’s a film we feel passionately about and wish to give it any sort of word of mouth boost to get it out to the like-minded reader or listener. It makes it all that much more frustrating when a public relations rep has to message you three days before an intended release date to tell you there’s a future date for it that may or may not exist.

The trigger to my post is three films basically sitting in celluloid limbo, waiting to get the mass public’s eyes on it. First is the new documentary from the filmmakers behind Blackfish, rescheduled to next Friday with limited guarantee of that. Then there’s the Lizzie Borden film which was supposed to hit on Friday but has been pulled with no reschedule date. Thirdly, and this one bothers me the most, Skate Kitchen, a brilliant teen drama from The Wolfpack director Crystal Moselle was slated for a mid-August release was shuffled through three different other dates before it fell into radio silence, meaning this will never see the big screen as intended.

Is this the more public death of small cinema and exploring other countries films in a bigger format? Are the movies that aren’t as mainstream with the push of big studios going to be those films we discover later in a Walmart bin? Even worse, is this new system robbing creative minds that inspiration when they discover a film as I did? I know that the last one made me sound like an old man but it feels like the screen is losing its glow due to the money over quality dulling and I’m holding fast to my memories.


Smallfoot – Well, I didn’t get to check this one out this weekend as my daughter opted for us to go see The House With The Clock In Its Walls (my thoughts on this are below) but this animated film is actually trending quite well on the review sites. Now, as we sit on a Monday after the weekend box office has been tallied, the film made an alright opening with a second place debut and I’d like to think that it was with a little helping hand from the internet, Twitter to be more precise.

Gabriel Gundacker, a staff writer for Our Cartoon President, made a little musical video alongside a wall of the character posters, a little ditty that got lodged inside my brain, never to come out it seems. Now, if Gabe did this all on his own accord? Bravo. But if this is some sick marketing ploy I’m suing for damages.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls – Amblin Entertainment made a pretty big gamble. Taking known torture-porn director Eli Roth and putting him at the helm of a family film with a horror storyline. It has to be said, I wasn’t too excited to see this when my daughter pushed for it but I was definitely turned around on it about fifteen minutes in.

Jack Black, doubling down on his Goosebumps success, is so much fun along with the forever charming Cate Blanchett as the kind of parental figures to the orphaned Lewis in this film that drips atmosphere with really great production value. Even though my little one was too frightened to make it to the end, I found myself really engaged, almost forgiving Roth for the awfully tone deaf remake of Death Wish earlier this year. Almost.

Hold The Dark – Those who have followed his work know the greatness in Jeremy Saulnier’s vision and have been rapt in anticipation of his fourth feature film. Thanks to Netflix, we have the absolute privilege to stream this film into our homes but are robbed of the experience of seeing it on that big screen. No matter to me because I was so ravenous about getting this Saulnier film written by his good friend and frequent collaborator Macon Blair.

Roping in some killer talent with Jeffrey Wright taking the lead with Alexander Skarsgard, James Badge Dale and Riley Keough in supporting roles, this is a frozen mystery with Alberta doubling for the harshness of Alaska. People might draw only loose comparisons to last year’s Wind River, another great movie, but, really, only in atmosphere. Hold The Dark holds a death grip on you throughout that is made even more intriguing by the sheer talent of the talent on screen. While it isn’t quite to the calibre of Green Room, this is a worthy entry on Saulnier’s resume, continuing his reign as one of my top directors.

Suicide Squad –I noticed this DC Cinematic Universe film was hitting Netflix this week and, after catching it again recently on the Movie Network, I felt like voicing my displeasure with this one again. Let’s start this one off with some truth: I was really looking forward to it. There had been some stumbles but I was largely behind director David Ayer’s previous films and the cast had shaped up so well. Will Smith is obviously the box office draw, Margot Robbie was and still is a perfect choice for Harley Quinn and the rest of the squad filled out with capable actors and actresses but when the final credits rolled I was supremely disappointed. Every backstory given for each character seemed to slow the movie down, some even stopped the film outright. The action was muddled and confusing, the script seemed pumped full of macho lines with no sense propelling them and, again, it all felt like an echo chamber of confused producers screaming at each other. As a comic enthusiast and a fan of the Suicide Squad in general, we deserved much better.

Truth Or Dare – Based on the premise alone, it’s pretty obvious that this film is a complete dog. Basically, a handful of teen friends go to Mexico for a crazy little vacation and end up bringing a curse back with them that forces them to play a deadly game of truth or dare. Did I mention that they’re asked by people with these creepy plastic grins plastered on their faces? I’d like to say there are some redeeming qualities to Kick-Ass 2 director Jeff Wadlow’s foray into horror but this movie is a total train wreck with no rules or logic at play. The Blu-ray also boasts an “unrated” cut which is really just an extra blood squib and an unnecessary sex scene between Lucy Hale and Tyler Posey in a nowadays rare full body flop from Blumhouse. This is the type of movie that makes me regret being a film critic.

Sorry To Bother You – I’m just going to put this out there but no one is prepared for what writer and director Boots Riley has in store for you with his feature debut and that’s probably my favorite thing. The premise has Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green, an idealistic man living in his uncle’s garage with his charismatic artist girlfriend Detroit, played by the mesmerizing Tessa Thompson. Desperate to make his mark in the world and set a legacy, Cassius lies and embellishes his way into an entry level telemarketing firm but finds the sales tactic of “Stick To The Script” difficult for him to get a foothold into keeping the customers on the phone. After being told to use his “white voice” by an older co-worker, he begins rising up the ranks of sales, catapulting him into the position of being the uncaring one percent, belittling all that he once was. Riley gives voice to a heavy cinematic revolution in this film, at many times bringing the insane and sometimes hysterical comedy of social and racial satire while also presenting the important morals and messages that make this movie absolutely unforgettable and resonant. This is your important movie of 2018, now go out and get it.

Three Identical Strangers – Imagine you had just arrived at college and everyone seemed to know you already, addressing you by a name that’s not your own. This is what happened to Bobby Shafran on his first day, immediately asked if he was adopted and what his birthdate was. Fast forward to the meeting of Shafran and his identical twin brother Eddy Galland, sparking a reunion of two adult men just out of their teens who had no knowledge of each other. Add to that the discovery of David Kellman, you guessed it, a third twin who saw the reunion of his two long lost brothers on television and all three were living in the same state of New York. To be short, this story is insane. How can something of this magnitude just fly so far under the radar? Why was it not national or international news? Diving deeper into this documentary and the story gets more twisted and a real conspiracy starts to rise out of it in a really cold and calculating way. It seems like both of my films this week are really cerebral and will have a lingering on you but this is why I love film.

The First Purge – By the simple fact that I’m including this movie as the number one on my list of dumpster fires it looks like I have a hate on for this franchise which is untrue. I really dug the first two films, an opinion that is definitely not a shared one when it comes to the original Ethan Hawke led first installment. The second film had a real Escape From New York vibe with Frank Grillo dispatching purgers left and right but the third film started well but totally collapsed by the third act, making me wish I was anywhere but the theater watching this mediocrity. I honestly thought that was the end and, in a way, it was. The new film sees the departure of creator James DeMarco, leaving the director’s chair for this prequel that shows the start of the annual Purge and really just acts as an unenthusiastic launching point for the upcoming USA Network series. With a premise that has limitless potential, this is just a hapless disappointment.

The Leisure Seeker – With a one-two punch of Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland leading your cast it should be an automatic win, should it not? So then, what the hell went wrong with this movie? Mirren and Sutherland play a long married couple with quirks that automatically repel the general public who decide to go on a long road trip in their ancient and beaten down RV known as the “Leisure Seeker”. The real problem is that they repel the movie goers as well as neither of these characters come off as likeable as they should and you kind of want a Thelma and Louise finish to the third act. I hope that Michael Zadoorian’s book is as grating because the underlying story is both sweet and endearing.

Weekend At Bernie’s II – Oh boy, talk about a film that is not just a product of its time but only one the was in the microcosm of its predecessor’s release. Just look at the premise of Weekend At Bernie’s. Two basic assholes use their murdered boss’s body to get them the perks that they could get without him, including cash, drinks and unlimited parties all the while his murderer is looking to silence everyone. Even worse, the sequel had the writer promoted to the director’s chair and employed the subplot of voodoo to reanimate Bernie’s surprisingly unrotten corpse to new levels of hilarity. I for one am glad that we have gone beyond this comedy in some good ways. In other ways we are very much still here or possibly a bar lower.

Ant-Man and The Wasp – After the brutal consequences we endured with Avengers: Infinity War, it’s really nice to go back to something fun and light in this Marvel Cinematic Universe that appears to incredibly bleak at the moment. Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly return to the titular roles in a sequel that picks up right where we left off but also ups the ante with the freedom of not having to give the origin exposition. As great as Rudd and Lilly are, for me, again, it’s all about Scott Lang’s trio of friends Luis, Dave and Kurt, played by Michael Pena, T.I. and David Dastmalchian respectively who again steal the show. Luis’s storytelling is a highlight that gets better and better. Don’t think I will glaze over the new additions of Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne who will hopefully now be main pieces in the MCU going forward. My remaining question is how are you feeling about the de-aging CGI in the Marvel films? I think some work and some do not.

Leave No Trace – Someone please tell me why Ben Foster hasn’t won an Academy Award or Golden Globe yet? I’m not sure if he’s had a tough life or hard upbringing but the amount of hidden pain behind his eyes is palpable every time he’s onscreen and this new film is no exception. Coming from Winter’s Bone writer and director Debra Granik, this film is another deep character drama about two people living on the fringes of society. Ben Foster plays Will, a man dealing with some serious PTSD who lives deep in the public forests of Portland, Oregon with his teenage daughter Tom. When discovered by some hikers, they are put into a government-owned home which causes Will to feel trapped and the two flee from the home, against Tom’s budding feelings of wanting a true home. The film is a tragic story of the love between a father and daughter as well as the indoctrination we can inadvertently put on our children. This is definitely one of the most soulful films I’ve seen this year.

A Quiet Place – For a horror film that pushes the boundaries of arthouse as well as being a straight up monster film, this film goes above and beyond in its ability to chill you to the bone and evoke emotion from you. Director and star John Krasinski really comes into his own, solidifying himself as one of the top filmmakers working today. To leave this story fresh for those who haven’t seen it I will tell you that to fully enjoy yourself in this you must turn the lights low and go into the most soundless area of your house and prepare yourself for one of the most unique horror films of the modern era, up there with It Follows, The Babadook and It Comes At Night. Don’t sleep on this one.

Buffalo 66 – It was twenty years ago this week that Vincent Gallo released his crowning career achievement, a dark dramedy about a never do well just freshly released from prison. Best of all, to continue his winning ways he kidnaps a young woman, played by Christina Ricci, to act as his wife to impress his Buffalo Bills fanatic mother (Angelica Huston). This was one of my most prized films in my VHS collection, a video store discovery that was another step in my growing love of independent film. There are chances that Gallo takes in this movie that blew my young mind including a frozen Matrix style moment deep within a sort of dream sequence in the story. It’s a fact that Gallo made no friends making this movie but he made me believe wholeheartedly in his directing style. Well, until The Brown Bunny at least.

Pi – It’s no secret that I absolutely adore Darren Aronofsky and while I’d love to say it was from the moment I got my eyes on this now twenty-year-old film, it wasn’t. That honor belongs to Requiem For A Dream but Pi is just as mind blowing in its own massively complex way. A film that only cost sixty grand to make, the real draw in this film is its complexity from deep within the mind of Aronofsky, Eric Watson and star Sean Gullette. Again to protect you from spoilers I will avoid giving any of the plot away but it’s notable that Aronofsky was collaborating with his staple composer Clint Mansell since this film as well as having a featured role for long time character actor Mark Margolis. Seriously, this whole list this week is filled with total gems but this might be the center point of it all.

Convoy – Didn’t really want to start out my dumpster fires raging on a deceased legend but here goes. I’ve stated before on this site my love for Sam Peckinpah, a thoroughly American auteur with a penchant for cocaine and copious amounts of booze who gifted us films like Straw Dogs, The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid. On the flip side of that and forty years ago this week he released Convoy, a film that, in my opinion, is a shit show and only memorable for its theme song. The documented truth behind making this film was that Peckinpah was using heavy amounts of cocaine, Quaaludes and vitamin shots that left him both irritable and irrational, resulting in no sort of studio control whatsoever. He even, at one point, said that Steve McQueen and the Executive Car Leasing company were conspiring to kill him. Although this is the highest grossing film of his career, I think this is the worst film he made in his storied career, including the one he didn’t fully finish before his death, The Osterman Weekend.

Hancock – Seeing the first trailers for this one when it came out ten years ago, I have to admit I was excited. Will Smith doing a superhero role but not one based on any existing comic book. Instead he was a surly drunk with superpowers who would save his people in distress but create massive amounts of property damage in the process. Sounds pretty solid on that synopsis but the film almost grinds to a halt by failing to go with its momentum and instead going down a far more complex route. The ending result is a muddled second act which leads to a wholly lackluster third one that had me clambering for the exit. If you had told me that I would enjoy Peter Berg’s previous movie The Kingdom MORE than this one I would have called you the filthiest of liars but, alas, here we are.