Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Frozen II – The long-awaited sequel to the animated blockbuster from 2013 is finally here and the major question at the top is are parents going to have a new song driving them crazy just as “Let It Go” did? This follow up has Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven leaving Arendelle to travel to an ancient, autumn-bound forest in an enchanted land in order to find the origin of Elsa’s powers, the key to saving their kingdom. The great news for parents is the movie is getting great reviews so far, not quite the powerhouse that the first one was, but a worthy second story which I’m happy about because I really don’t think there was the intention to make a sequel after the first one in 2013. I think this is another easy cash cow for Disney.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood – Tom Hanks most likely secures himself an easy Academy Award nomination by playing the most wholesome man to speak kids from the television set ever, Fred Rogers. This film follows the long friendship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, played by The Americans’ Matthew Rhys, a jaded magazine writer who was assigned to do a character piece on the PBS host. As his friendship with Rogers broadens, he overcomes his skepticism and starts to learn about empathy, kindness, and decency from America’s most impassioned children’s entertainer ever. I think this movie is an easy slam dunk for great films and I love that it is directed by Marielle Heller who made the great movies The Diary Of A Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Not opening in Hamilton)

21 Bridges – Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman reteams with the mins behind the last two epic Avengers films, The Russo Brothers, who act in the producer capacity for this new police action thriller. Boseman plays an NYPD detective, the son of a slain police officer, who now dedicates his life to tracking down cop killers when two killers start a police war that starts to take over the entire city. Co-starring Taylor Kitsch and If Beale Street Could Talk’s Stephan James, this looks a bit cookie-cutter to me but the movie could surprises it comes from HBO stalwart director Brian Kirk. I like the trailer for this so I’m hoping for the best.

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project – This is a fascinating documentary about a driven obsession with information through the visual media of televised news. Marion Stokes was an activist being groomed to become a communist leader in America who decided that her crusade would be to expose the truth of unfiltered media in what could be assembled into a comprehensive library of documented history. With everything that is currently going on in America and the media, this movie is an engrossing look at the path that led us to this point with Stokes herself making some very bold predictions of the future back in the 1970s that are chillingly coming to fruition today. A great movie for documentary fans. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)

Blu-Ray:

Blinded By The Light – It’s about time that one of the most influential men to ever grace the rock scene, one of the hardest working blue-collar musicians and an icon that we address as “The Boss” got a film that reflected his incredible appeal in cinematic form. This film takes it right to the plight of a Pakistani British teenager named Javed who is learning to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen in 1987 during the uptight days of Thatcher’s Britain. Right away the blue-collar American nature of The Boss’s music with the sensibilities of a Hindu British family is a very clashing dynamic, especially with his money-hungry father, but the messages also plays to Javed’s daily brush with racism as white supremacy factors prominently in the story. It also should be noted that this film comes from the writer and director of Bend It Like Beckham so this isn’t her first kick at this sort of story but her approach to the story left me a little cold as whatever works in this film as an emotional beat is squandered by a scene that drains the realism from it swiftly. I really find myself on the fence with this one.

Dora And The Lost City Of Gold – It feels like a long time coming for this educational kids franchise to make the leap to a big feature film as I’m unsure what the popularity of this Nickelodeon show is at these days. Sicario: Day Of The Soldado star Isabela Moner stars in as the title character who is in a transitional time in her life as she is being sent out of the jungle and into the public school system to try and normalize her a bit. This is until her parents are captured by greedy treasure hunters and Dora nad her new friends must save them while searching for, you guessed it, a lost city of gold. Moner is a custom fit for this role and brings the sunny exuberance that will entrance kids but it feels like everything else in this film detracts from how fun she is, serving to frustrate and annoy you, especially Eugenio Derbez who is the cancer of this movie, eating up every scene he is a part of. I can get over the kid’s movie corniness but his scenes are egregious.

Cold War – Nominated for a Golden Globe and nominated for three Academy Awards, this movie is was the only real competition for Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. Acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski crafts a love story between two people from totally different backgrounds with completely opposite viewpoints of the world, taking place in Poland, Berlin, Paris and Yugoslavia during the Cold War. This one is a film that will tug at the heartstrings as, from the outside, this relationship looks like a doomed one due to the world these two inhabit. This was one of the best films to be released last year and I believe it gets it’s due now with this expanded Criterion Collection release.

The Divine Fury – A new horror-action making it’s way out of South Korea, all of the elements of this film play itself right into favor with me as I love their foreign cinema and, well, I’m a total genre guy at heart. The movie centres around a mixed martial arts fighter who inherits a gift to destroy demons from a father who was taken from him as a child. Teaming with an experienced exorcist, the two begin destroying the evil entities, all leading to a battle with the source of it. In the hands of a more capable filmmaker, this movie would have been a home run but everything in the production of it clashes with the next. The music is lame, the editing feels haphazard and confusing at times and the fight scenes are boring. The final nail in the coffin of this movie is the bloated run of over two hours and the film really has nothing new to say.

American Dreamer – There’s something very compelling about comedians taking on dark roles and this is Jim Gaffigan’s turn to shine, following up his role in the dark religious dram Them That Follow with this tension-filled thriller with not a single good person in sight. Gaffigan plays a HAIL driver (think Uber or Lyft) who works his off-hours by driving around a low level but dangerous drug dealer. Behind in his child support payments and desperate to see his son, he decides to kidnap the dealer’s kid for a ransom and, not thinking his plan through, everything starts to spiral out of control quickly. Gaffigan is incredible in this film that will give you a stomach ache from the taught moments between him and everyone around him, as the moment of exposure is constantly on the horizon. Just a warning, this movie has some triggerable moments in it.

The Fan – No, this isn’t the Robert DeNiro and Wesley Snipes baseball thriller from the mid-90s, this Shout Factory collector’s edition is of the 1981 horror-thriller about Micahel Biehn as an obsessed fan of an actress played by Lauren Bacall who starts to come after her family and friends. This movie was controversial at the time with many stalking of celebrities cases going on and, of course, the murders of John Lennon, Dorothy Stratten and Sharon Tate. To be honest, this is just your average stalker thriller with a bit of horror spice to it but Biehn is the real reason to watch this. Solid performance.

Rock ‘N’ Roll High School – One of the things I miss most about films from the 70s and 80s is the rebellious break anthemic cinema that was made and this 1979 classic fits the mould perfectly. Hell, The Ramones are in it, how could it not be some rebel shit? Shout Factory has reinvigorated this fun classic in a brand new steelbook edition with a restored picture so you can see the lovely P.J. Soles as the movie gods had intended you too. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or what but I just love this movie so much.

Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll – This was a really nifty little gift to receive this week and it catches me a bit unaware as it is a film from Blood In, Blood Out and The Devil’s Advocate director Taylor Hackford that I did not know existed and it is a special and one of a kind concert experience. This 1987 documentary blends a biography on the legendary Chuck Berry with the two-day celebration of his 60th birthday at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis featuring special guests like Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Bo Diddley, the Everly Brothers and Etta James. If you like some old-time rock ‘n’ roll, kind of like when Scorsese chronicled The Band’s final show in The Last Waltz, then this is something you would probably like to have. Hackford does a dutiful job with this film.

Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection – Every comedy duo to ever perform in the last eighty years owes a debt of gratitude to possibly the most iconic duo ever, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and Shout Factory obviously know this as they have released a box set of absolute gold. Spread across fifteen Blu-ray discs, this complete collection has twenty eight of their brilliant career in a totally restored picture made from a 4K scan of the original film elements and this includes all of the Hollywood monster films that are the most memorable ones to me like Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein, the Wolfman and The Invisible Man, all totally iconic comedy films. Hell, they were the first to perfect the crossover movie.

Catch 22 – Writers David Michod and Luke Davies, known for Animal Kingdom and Lion respectively, have done what is seemingly impossible and adapted this Joseph Heller book which is almost schizophrenic in its focus but with the help of George Clooney and his producer best friend Grant Heslov, who also co-star in this, they knocked this miniseries out of the park. James White’s Christopher Abbott stars in the lead as Captain John Yossarian, an airman bombardier who is over halfway into his flight commitments but is losing his nerve faster and faster and is desperate for a way out. This six-episode miniseries is so well cast and carefully balances its absurd feeling comedy with the realism and consequences of war. This is a great show.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:

My Favorite Year – A new part of the Warner Archive on Blu-ray that landed on my doorstep recently, this movie is a sort of forgotten show biz comedy from 1982 starring eight-time Academy Award nominee, Peter O’Toole, who earned on of those for this one. It was also the directorial debut of actor Richard Benjamin, who would go on to find his niche in comedy filmmaking with The Money Pit, My Stepmother Is An Alien and Mermaids in story that follows O’Toole as a former star of the old matinee films, much like Errol Flynn was. Benjy Stone, played by Perfect Strangers star Mark Linn Baker, is a junior comedy writer who sees the opportunity to use the washed-up star to get one more moment of greatness out of him in a live television variety show. For fans of classic cinema, Peter O’Toole is just on fire in this movie, such a great actor.

An American Werewolf In London – One of the greatest horror of all times with some of the best dark comedy beats that hold up to this day, I have a deep love for this John Landis classic. The title really gives you all the exposition almost immediately, a couple of American college students, played by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, go on a trip to London where they are attacked by a werewolf, leading to one of our guys turning into one in the most iconic transformation film ever put on screen. Seriously, that scene is a work of art. The new Arrow Video special edition is gorgeous, with a brand new transfer of the film, a commentary track with Naughton and Dunne, many brand new featurettes and an interview with John Landis. This is a killer edition but there is only a limited amount of copies.

Nekromantix: 3 Decades Of Darkle – Receiving this new Blu-ray, DVD and CD combo from MVD Visual led to one thing immediately and that was my discovery of who Nekromantix even was in the first place and when I did I kicked myself for not picking their music up sooner. A Danish and American outfit that formed in 1989, the genre of the monster and horror-themed band in the intriguing one of psychobilly. This genre is certainly a way of life, kind of knit in with nihilistic punk rock but Nekromantix seems to kick it up into a whole new gear. This new special edition gives you a whole chronicling of who this band is, their nine album career and a full live performance that is as intimate as it gets. This was definitely a psychobilly crash course education.

Road Games – More Ozploitation hit my collection this week with this recently released collector’s edition from Shout Factory, a big movie at the time because it was one of the first Aussie films to feature two big Hollywood stars in
Jamie Lee Curtis and Stacy Keach. I really dig this movie, about a truck driver and a beautiful hitchhiker who play a cat-and-mouse game with a vicious serial killer on a desolate Australian highway and to me this one still holds up. A great performance from Keach and a young Jamie Lee fresh off the Halloween sequel. This is a cool ass special edition.

Television:

Brittany Runs A Marathon (Amazon Prime) – Sometimes just looking at the lead actress of a movie will totally misrepresent what you think you are going to get with it. Starring comedic actress Jillian Bell, the scene-stealer from 22 Jump Street, Comedy Central’s Workaholics and Office Christmas Party, the immediate thinking is that this will be a romp of a movie, not the inspirational piece that it really is. This film has Bell as the title character, a woman living in New York who takes control of her life by taking control of her weight and her motivation, a beautiful character study that will resonate with many viewers and may push you in your own direction of self-realization. Jillian Bell is incredible in this movie, showing a range that totally surprised me. I really hope this movie catches on with audiences because it is a really special and also true story.

Mortel: Season 1 (Netflix) – It’s been a little while since I’ve showcased any international television and this one plays into the genre game a bit, being a sci-fi show with a dramatic edge. The show is about a group of French teenagers are bound together by a supernatural force and really beyond that, I don’t know too much but I love French cinema and I haven’t been let down by their television programming yet either. I think it’s interesting that this comes from the creator of the long-running teen show Skam France which is kind of like their version of Skins.

Mad About You: Season 1 (Spectrum) – With all of these television revivals like Will And Grace, The Connors and Murphy Brown, this was the show I was actually really interested in because, hot damn, did I ever love the original series. Reprising their roles again, Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt step back into the lives of Paul and Jamie Buchman, again navigating their lives together and all the pitfalls of marriage s well as parenting their now pretty adult daughter Mabel, played by Landline’s Abby Quinn. I have really high hopes for this show so hopefully, it all comes together for the six-episode run.

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (Netflix) – It’s documentary time and with this one we delve deep into a massive fitness craze that has risen in the last decade but most notably it gives exposure to the founder of hot yoga, Bikram Choudhury with his rise and fall. Tracing the line from his rise in the 1970s to his disgrace in accusations of rape and sexual harassment in more recent years, this is a galvanizing look into a horrible monster of a human that created something that is used for spiritual enlightenment, which is just a messed up story of abuse. It was also directed by Eva Orner, who has produced fantastic documentaries, most notably Taxi To The Dark Side, an Academy Award-winning movie.

The Crown: Season 3 (Netflix) – The next evolution of this story of the Royal Family is here as Oscar-winner Olivia Colman takes the reins of the role of Queen Elizabeth II from Claire Foy, who did an incredible job, and I’m so excited for it. The new season is one of more change than just the faces as a new Prime Minister moves into 10 Downing Street as the story moves through the sixties and seventies. Cold War paranoia, the battle to conquer space exploration and the moon and more political adversaries vying for their moment in the sun, the Royals face tumultuous times and a massive tragedy too, a story I’m surprised creator Peter Morgan was going to tackle. This could be the best season yet.

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