Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New to VOD:

Trolls: World Tour – One of the release casualties of COVID-19, this animated sequel is getting the “direct into you home for the kids” treatment, almost like Universal is now giving back to the base demographic in these tough times. I fully expect there to be another Justin Timberlake song like “Can’t Stop The Feeling” for the kids to dance all over the living room but as a rock and metal guy myself I kind of love that the villains for this movie are the “Rock n Roll Trolls” bent on obtaining all of the magical musical strings to make everything rock forever. It doesn’t seem like a problem to me but in this world, it would mean the destruction of everything, whatever. A great voice cast in this one includes the returning Anna Kendrick along with JT, Ron Funches and Kunaal Nayar as well as the additions of Rachel Bloom, Sam Rockwell, Ozzy Osbourne and more. I really hope this is fun.

She’s Allergic To Cats – I’m all for seeing messed up movies, a big part of cinema I enjoy, and experimental cinema can really be hit or miss but I have to say that this one tossed me through a loop and not in a good way. The film is about a struggling filmmaker who moves to Los Angeles to pursue the dream but finds himself instead working a dead-end job as a dog groomer and living in a dingy rat-infested apartment. Things start to spiral out of reality when he wins the affection of the girl of his dreams, putting all of his hopes into their first date, just the beginning of their collective nightmare. This movie was a total fail for me, the narrative tissue of the story being almost nonexistent and they didn’t even seem to know how to end it. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the supporting madness from comedian Flula Borg I would have zero accolades to praise this for.

Why Don’t You Just Die? – In my experience with modern Russian cinema a lot of it is over the top hyper frenetic and in your face from start to finish and with a title like this, you know it fits right into that category easily. The set up is simple, a man knocks on the door of a ruthlessly violent police detective bent on bludgeoning him to death with a hammer he is concealing behind his back. Why? Because the detective’s daughter had told this man, her boyfriend, that her father abused her and, well, that’s just the tip of the twists that cascade from the start. Bloody and absolutely off the rails, this movie is not for the faint of heart at all and hits Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino like crescendos and then tops them like breaking through a glass ceiling. This movie is totally relentless and I really loved it for going so balls out.

Blu-Ray:

Little Women – Louise May Alcott’s book is an iconic story that has been read to many and adapted a few times as well, three times in the last twenty-five years to be precise, including this one. So, why is Greta Gerwig’s version of this story so important? It’s because Gerwig seems to encapsulate the consistent marginalization and generic rut of the female species and show it as the handcuffing of personal growth, free-thinking and creation that it really is. Featuring a stellar cast including Saorise Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet and Tracy Letts, this feels like the definitive screen version of the story, a beautifully created piece of cinema that shows the growth of Greta as a filmmaker between Lady Bird to now while her cast brings such life to a wonderful script, in one of my favorite ensembles from last year.

Dolittle – Its been a long time coming for this brand new version of the Rex Harrison classic and unlike the Eddie Murphy version and its sequel the producers went with a more traditional route. Starring the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, the basic story is then you remember it, as it follows the veterinarian with the ability to speak to animals as he comes out of a state of deep seclusion after the death of his wife to save the Queen by retrieving a mythical cure for her ailment. This would be an interesting film as it comes from Syriana writer and director Stephen Gaghan who steps out of his gritty wheelhouse to do the same on this family film, shot by Pan’s Labyrinth cinematographer Guillermo Navarro but the movie is a horrendous mess in every way with zero redeemable qualities. It reeks of producers arguing over the plot, shoehorning in weird modern lines and a meandering final vision with a performance from Robert Downey Jr. that feels completely nuts and terrible in execution. For the first act of the movie I thought he was being dubbed by someone else and then I couldn’t tell if his accent was Scottish, Welsh or Jamaican. This is a true waste of time, don’t do it.

Cats – Speaking of don’t do it, this horrifying mess is now available. For those who don’t know, this terrifying-looking movie is another Andrew Lloyd Webber original musical getting the big-screen treatment for who knows what reason. Yes, I get that we would have people skipping around in cat-like leotards if it weren’t for the CG look but oh man is the final result unsettling. The cast is a huge ensemble that features Idris Elba, Dame Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson and, yes, the main attraction is probably Taylor Swift in her film debut but this feels bloated, expensive and massively unnecessary throughout its hour and forty minutes run time and if I hadn’t watched it with my wife, constantly riffing like we were on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I don’t think I would have survived. I have heard the word “Jellicle” way too many times and it offends me now.

Camp Cold Brook – Coming from the Scream Factory side of the Shout Factory system, this movie feels like a lampooning of those inane ghost hunter shows that appear on the Discovery Channel or History network but it plays kind of well as if has the cynicism of creating this type of programming hanging above its head. Chad Michael Murray plays the host and producer of one of these types of shows who promises the biggest show in the history of the program when he is threatened with cancellation. This leads him and his crew to Camp Cold Brook, a summer camp that has been abandoned after a tragedy killed many of the kids and counsellors years earlier. The formula is kind of obvious but it mostly works and it has child actress turned scream queen Danielle Harris in it, although the low budget is woefully on display.

The Night Clerk – Tye Sheridan has been a star on the rise if you are looking in the right spot and, yes, the big-budget film involvements like Cyclops in the X-Men franchise or the lead in Spielberg’s Ready Player One didn’t get as much good attention as it should’ve, but Tree Of Life, Mud and Joe paved the way to get these roles. This new film has him in a proper role as well as playing the lead, a hotel clerk who suffers from severe Asberger’s Syndrome and has a voyeuristic penchant for recording the guest’s rooms which lands him in trouble when a woman is murdered in her room. Featuring a solid cast including Helen Hunt John Leguizamo and Knives Out actress Ana De Armas, I really enjoyed this film as a solid character tale and Sheridan is so great in it. I’m excited to watch his career evolve.

Madam Secretary: The Final Season – From what felt like a very divisive premise meant to almost be a sort of love letter to the Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton, this show evolved past its thin feeling premise to be a show that actually had some merit to it, tackled some real-world politics and actually had a voice with something to say beyond political statements. Starring Tea Leoni as the lead character, the show started with her character being shoved into the position as a favor to the current president, played by one of my favorites, Keith Carradine. The premise has her trying to balance her work life with her family life which includes her husband, played by Tim Daly, and her smart college-age daughter and two younger kids and all the scandal she needs to protect them and herself from. Now that this show has come to an end it’s a good time to catch up with it on CBS All Access, free now for sixty days.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:

Salesman – This one has me feeling a bit melancholy as it is probably the last Criterion Collection film that I will receive for the foreseeable future as the company’s offices in New York City, so hopefully everyone is safe there. This is quite the film to take a hiatus on though, a joint effort by three different directors, master filmmakers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, crafting this documentary about four relentless door to door salesmen and the constant rejection, homesickness and inevitable burnout as they go across the country selling very expensive bibles to low-income Catholic families. A fascinating look into one of the older professions in twentieth-century America, this comes from a place of experience as both Maysles brothers worked in the profession themselves.

The Passion Of Darkly Noon – Another deep cut from Arrow Video, reaching back to the mid-nineties for this film starring Brendan Fraser, Ashley Judd and Viggo Mortensen and, just for context, this would be at the height of popularity for Fraser, the same year as Heat for Judd and the same year Viggo played Lucifer in The Prophecy. This is a mysterious film that follows an abandoned man who drifts into the woods after the deaths of his strict and religious parents. Discovered by a trucker and his wife who live in the forest, they take him in and the action starts a deadly sexual obsession in the young man’s mind that starts to drive him insane. After watching this film, I’m really surprised that this is the first I’m hearing about it as I thought it was fascinating and well-acted. It also comes from writer and director Philip Ridley who does have a huge body of work but has made interesting films like Heartless in 2009.

Television:

Brews Brothers (Netflix) – An example of the lower budget side of Netflix and the inclusiveness of its programming, this show is definitely not something that will appeal to a wide audience but those who love things like Super Troopers and the like will definitely find the humor. The story follows a man who’s craft brewery is facing tough times due to his indecisive nature and bad marketing with his line of beers leading him to reunite with his nemesis, his own brother, for an attempt to sell a large batch of beer to a rich restauranteur. There are no stars of note besides guest star Steve Rannazzisi from The League playing the client to impress but the chemistry is good and even though all of the jokes don’t land there are some real gems in there. It’s a quick watch but I enjoyed it.

Tigertail (Netflix) – Parks and Recreation producer and Master Of None co-creator Alan Yang makes his feature directorial debut with this movie that he wrote as well. Starring Vancouver based actor Tzi Ma, this movie moves through the life of Grover, a Taiwanese born American citizen who is going through the motions of grieving for his recently deceased mother, the template for the man he became, a former factory worker who achieved the immigrant’s dream. This lineage has been passed onto his daughter, a life long overachiever who now wants to follow her heart more than what is expected of her. The performances in this film are powerfully felt through how muted they are in what they aren’t saying and Tzi Ma shoulders the majority of it beautifully. Also, as a Twin Peaks fan, it was an incredible treat to see Joan Chen in this movie.

Love Wedding Repeat (Netflix) – Something totally unexpected, I had no idea that this was a comedy I needed right now. Written and directed by the guy who brought us the hilarious Death At A Funeral in 2007, Dean Craig, this is another farce comedy about the wedding of a young woman to her Italian fiance in a picturesque location in Italy that is teetering on the edge of completely falling apart if her brother can’t keep all the moving pieces from ruining everything. Featuring a stellar ensemble cast including Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aisling Bea and Joel Fry, this movie had me laughing hard from start to finish. Start your weekend right with this comedy, trust me.

The Main Event (Netflix) – The theme of this week seems to be WWE collaborations with Netflix as The Big Show Show debuted earlier this week but this one is a series featuring many of the current WWE and NXT roster members. The story is about an eleven-year-old boy named Mason who discovers a magical luchador mask that grants him strength and unbelievable skill. So, what does he do with that? He obviously becomes a WWE superstar just as you thought he would! This movie looks lame but for a wrestling nerd like myself, I will watch it just so I can see stars like The Miz, Beth Phoenix, Sheamus, Kofi Kingston and more. Yes, I’m a mark but at least I own it.

The Good Fight: Season 4 (CBS All Access) – I definitely consider myself a fan of the CBS series The Good Wife, a show that got me from the get-go with great characters and compelling storylines so when it was announced that a spin-off would be made with big wig partner Diane Lockhart leading the way I was excited and I think this show has satisfied in every way. The show picked up where the other series left off, Diane readying for retirement when her investment banker is arrested for fraud and she is left penniless. Now years in at her new firm, she is just as ruthless as you remember but the supporting cast of Delroy Lindo, Audra MacDonald and Game Of Thrones alum Rose Leslie this show is stellar with that same character work as well as making good use of the no rules CBS All Access platform. It may go heavy on the anti-Trump message, which may turn other viewers off with its heavy hand, but I totally love it.

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