Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run – For the second week in a row I get to talk about the famous sponge who lives under the sea and, hell, it isn’t even my birthday. Seriously, I absolutely adore this Nickelodeon creation of madness and am totally excited for the arrival of the third movie. The new film had Spongebob on the search for his pet snail Gary who has been kidnapped or, as he puts it, “snail napped”. Spongebob grabs his best friend Patrick and embarks on an epic adventure to The Lost City of Atlantic City to bring Gary home and, from the trailer, I know that he encounters a “sage” played by Keanu Reeves. This is definitely a movie that will appeal to a certain audience but for a parent like me, I buy it all, hook, line and sinker. Yes, that last one is an old fishing adage I thought would work perfectly with this write-up.

Unhinged – On paper, this movie sounds absolutely insane and with the rising tempers in citizens around the world during this pandemic maybe it’s a little ill-timed but what really surprised me is how entertaining this movie was and how absolutely gonzo Russell Crowe is in it, playing the ultimate villain role. This one is super simple, a woman and her son become the target of an unstable man’s rage after a confrontation at an intersection and the proverbial shit hits the fan as he pulls out all the stops to try and force an apology out of her. The film comes from German director Derrick Borte who just released the very dark thriller American Dreamer with Jim Gaffigan on Blu-ray earlier this year and this movie is just far fetched enough to be a total popcorn flick and not as societally damning as the premise would initially suggest. This is a film that is totally pulpy and kind of grindhouse at its core and I totally enjoyed it for that reason.

The Burnt Orange Heresy – Slow burn is the key to this new thriller which has The Square star Claes Bang playing an art dealer who is thrown into a scheme to nab a painting from a reclusive and eccentric artist, embodied brilliantly by the legendary Donald Sutherland but the role was originally written for Christopher Walken and it really shows. This film, directed by Berlin Station lead Giuseppe Capotondi, largely didn’t work for me as Bang’s character’s devious and paranoid underbelly feels constantly on display, making the intrigue part a bit transparent, but Widows star Elizabeth Debicki is the main draw here and is absolutely fire every moment she is on screen.

New On VOD:

Black Water: Abyss – A killer crocodile movie out of Australia and it’s in underground caves? I’m definitely in, but I’m more than a little trepidation because 47 Meters Down: Uncaged did this just last year with sharks and oh to describe the ways I hated it. The good news is that this sequel, following up on a film from 2007 which seems like forever ago, is just enough to satisfy fans of survival horror even if it doesn’t really make any sort of lasting impression. The story, simple horror tropes, follows five friends exploring a remote cave system in Northern Australia and find themselves threatened by a hungry crocodile, and honestly, what more could you want? Notably, this is one of the first new films to be released in the UK cinemas after the COVID-19 outbreak, but it wasn’t big enough here to warrant a theatrical release. I will say that if you have claustrophobia you will not enjoy this movie at all. Consider that the disclaimer.

Crash 4K – Getting the full revamp treatment is this thriller based around car crashes and sex, not the Best Picture Oscar-winning film from Canadian Paul Haggis but from the mind of body horror auteur and Canadian legend David Cronenberg. In case you never had the pleasure of seeing this madness on DVD or playing on Showcase, as I did, this is the perverse story of a TV director who discovers an underground sub-culture after getting into a serious car accident of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce and tries to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife with that new knowledge. There’s no better way to describe this one other than it is totally and utterly screwed up but quite the norm for a guy like Cronenberg and this one has been messing up audiences and been the “oh my god, have you seen this?” movie for almost twenty-five years. I find it fascinating that the studio is bringing it back for another run.

Lucky Grandma – This is a fantastic hidden little gem that I feel so enlightened that it got sent to me. The film stars Tsai Chin, who you may recognize from Memoirs Of A Geisha and Casino Royale, and has her playing Grandma Wong, a chain-smoking widow who is under pressure from her son to give up her longtime apartment to move in with his family. Grandma decides to let it all ride on a senior’s trip to a casino and finds herself with a lapful of gangland money when an old man has a heart attack and dies seated next to her on the trip back. Quickly she finds herself in the middle of a gang war that is both a search for the missing money in her possession as well as a power grab in this quirky comedy of errors that absolutely astounded me with great cinematography and snappy editing. Writer and director Sasie Sealy makes her feature debut with this movie and you can totally see that she is a student of cinema with her beautiful attention to detail and I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.

Blu-Ray:

The High Note – The cast is intriguing with this new music-driven comedy-drama which features Tracy Ellis Ross in her first big-screen lead role which was, unfortunately, shoved to video on demand during this awful pandemic. She plays Grace Davis, an ageing megastar who has left doing new music behind a few years back but is sort of just relying on greatest hits compilations and anniversary concerts as her bread and butter. Dakota Johnson plays her assistant who yearns to one day be a producer and Grace being her main target if she is willing. I would be into this underdog rising/comeback story if it didn’t feel so glossy and cheesy at almost every turn. It’s weird that a bigger production film like A Star Is Born can have an almost raw quality while this movie can avoid being contrived at every turn. Pretty disappointing.

Primal – Ok, I’ve got some brand new Nicolas Cage this week so get ready for something a bit gonzo, probably a bit bad but definitely something that will entertain the hell out of you. Cage plays Frank, a big-game hunter for zoos who has booked passage on a Latin American shipping freighter with a fresh haul of exotic and deadly animals from the Amazon, including a rare white Jaguar and, of course, a political assassin being extradited to the U.S in secret. Two days into the journey, the assassin escapes and releases the captive animals, throwing the ship into chaos and Frank to be the only one who can save them from this mess. Look, if you get into the whole Metacritic or Rotten Tomato search, you won’t like what you find but those of us who love every crazy thing this man does are totally on board.

Archive – As if we aren’t scared enough by the prospect of completely tetherless artificial intelligence, along comes this new sci-fi set eighteen years into the future. The film follows Divergent star Theo James as George Almore, a tech developmental scientist who is working on a true human-equivalent AI and his latest prototype is almost ready but this sensitive phase is also the riskiest, especially as he has a goal that must be hidden at all costs which is this is all a means to an end of being reunited with his dead wife. The film is the debut of writer and director Gavin Rothery, who was the conceptual designer and the visual effects supervisor on Moon, and this movie is very high concept as that one was and I really feel like he nailed it. This is a fascinating story about going beyond the laws of nature, trying to replicate it and the dangerous pitfalls to follow.

Valley Of The Gods – I feel like I brought up how Josh Hartnett had been largely missing in action for a while now and here he is again, leading a brand new film alongside John Malkovich, Academy Award winner Jaime Ray Newman, who netted the statue for a short film she did, Lord Of The Rings star John Rhys Davies and former Bond girl Berenice Marlohe. The film is a warped and insane story that entwines Navajo native lore with a reclusive trillionaire and his would-be biographer, creating a fascinating, mysterious and idiosyncratic vision of America and it’s one of those movies where you wish multiplexes were open just to see the general public’s confusion with an obvious art film like this. To go even deeper on that thought, the film features 2001: A Space Odyssey actor Keir Dullea and he said it was much like filming that movie for Stanley Kubrick which I’m sure is another piece to the added intrigue.

How To Build A Girl – First things first, I absolutely adore Beanie Feldstein right down to her core ever since I saw her in the Seth Rogen sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and that was well before I found out that she was Jonah Hill’s sister so with her leading this new film, well, I’m already very on board. A film that comes from across the pond, this is the story of a teenager living with her working-class family on a council estate in Wolverhampton, England, who grows up and moves to London to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde, a fast-talking, lady sex-adventurer that’s also a popular but conflicted music journalist looking to make the big bucks to save her family from poverty. The movie was made by Harlots series director Coky Giedroyc and is propelled by an incredible performance from Beanie, who shines every second she’s on-screen. This was an absolute delight to watch and is easily one of my favorites of the week.

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation – An action film with a former WWE wrestler in the lead role? You just know I’m one hundred percent behind this as formerly Wade Barrett and now Stu Bennett stars as former special-forces soldier John Gold who is given the opportunity to bring Sean Teague down, played by British badass Vinnie Jones, the man who betrayed his team on their final mission in Eastern Europe several years ago. Is it any good? Hell no, it’s a vapid shoot ’em up under the guise of being a black ops actioner with way more brawn and bravado than brains which will even irk you if you turn off your mind. To add to all of that, this is a sequel which I honestly had no idea about with Bennett in the driver’s seat as well and while I would never recommend this to you, my loyal reader and listener, I eat this dumb crap up, complain about it and move on. Such is the life of a lifelong action fan.

Michael – Warner Archive lands in my new releases this week and while I usually bring films from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s from this distributor, every now and then a nineties film slip in like this John Travolta film that I actually saw in theaters with my parents. The film follows a couple of tabloid writers who are tipped off to an old woman living in her apartment with the archangel, Michael, who is indeed true and played by Travolta. The movie is definitely a sweetheart one that is soft on any sort of drama and completely aims to be a crowd-pleaser at all times, sometimes to its detriment. On the resume of one of the greatest romantic comedy filmmakers of all time, Nora Ephron, I feel like this film barely registers and is easily forgotten because it plays things too light. Just another example of John Travolta grabbing every project he could in the post Pulp Fiction glow.

NCIS New Orleans: Season 6 – The television year on DVD isn’t quite over until I’ve received every iteration of NCIS and it’s spinoffs and now with the arrival of this latest season of the southern fried Louisiana version, well, we are now complete. This one starring Scott Bakula in the lead as Special Agent Dwayne Pride who heads his crew in a colorful city that harbors a dark side and is a magnet for service personnel on leave who often delve into vices that land them in a series of different troubles. The show is your standard fare for these procedurals in the military vein, just factoring in a cajun flavor for the locale, but the charm of Bakula himself, the friendly face of classics like Quantum Leap and Star Trek Enterprise may draw you to it. I like the cast formed around him like stalwart veteran CCH Pounder and former child star Lucas Black.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Unstoppable – Well Go USA is coming through with a couple of new films from a few weeks back and of course I’m going to start off with the South Korean one because it really is the superior one. The debut from writer and director Kim Min-Ho, this action thriller has a pretty simple plot to it, following a happily married couple whose life is thrown into disarray when the wife is kidnapped, sending the husband into a violent adventure to find her. This movie would feel right at home nestled in with all the great actioners from the eighties and I feel that was largely the goal for the filmmaker. The film features a couple of familiar faces if you’re into Asian cinema, like Train To Busan’s Don Lee, who will soon make his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with The Eternals, and The Man From Nowhere’s Sung-oh Kim. Definitely a fun movie that’s highly entertaining.

Chasing The Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch – To finish off my double shot of Well Go USA releases that top my geek outs this week, this sequel is trying to capitalize on the foundation that top Hong Kong action stars Donnie Yen and Andy Lau set up in the first movie. While the first film showed us the rise of an illegal immigrant from Mainland China who snuck into the corrupt British-colonized Hong Kong of 1963, transforming himself into a ruthless and emerging drug lord, this movie feels completely disjointed from that story. Instead, this film follows serial billionaire kidnapper Logan who has been savaging Hong Kong and now his gang is aiming to go bigger by nabbing someone at an affluent Macau regal. The first film was a pretty anemic mobster story that I thought didn’t warrant any sort of follow up but it’s odd to note that this Tony Leung Ka Fai led film actually ups the quality and is a pretty decent little movie, although it comes across kind of goofy and underdeveloped at times.

Strike Up The Band – Getting real classic here with another entry from the Warner Archive vaults and this one features one of the mega pairings of the time, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, two people very important to classic cinema. Rooney is Jimmy Connors who, with his girlfriend, Mary Holden, played by Garland, wants to take part in Paul Whiteman’s high-school bands contest, but they cannot afford the fare. Then, by chance, they meet Paul Whiteman in person and are able to convince him that their band is good enough, getting him to lend them the money. Everything is going according to plan until one of their friends becomes seriously ill and has to be carried to a hospital by plane, and they have to use Whiteman’s money for this. It’s a long and convoluted plot but this one was a favorite in 1940 and even earned an Academy Award for Best Sound and was nominated for Best Song and Best Original Score which seems to imply that it sounded better than it looked.

Abrakadabra – Got a couple of weird cult films from Blue Underground which are always fun to dig into. This first movie was made just two years ago and is a throwback to the Italian Giallo films that Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and others made so insanely popular, this one film following a magician in the early 1970s who finds himself the target of a sadistic serial killer. The film was made by directing duo Luciano Onetti and Nicolás Onetti who make the attempt to revive this genre, which had a little rise with the fantastic movie Berberian Sound Studio with Toby Jones, and I have to say that this one brings that visual thrill back with some pretty solid looking gore and some very slick suspense sequences. I definitely dug it but I’ve been a fan of the genre for a while now.

American Rickshaw – Let’s head back to the end of the eighties for some more Italian Giallo, shall we? Although this film has the word American in the title and takes place in Miami with an all American cast, it is directed and written by an all Italian team and has all of those same horror-thriller proclivities, even though Sergio Martino goes by Martin Dolman for this film. The story follows a college student who finds himself framed for the murder of an evangelist’s son and, of course, hooks up with an Asian witch and a stripper to find the real killer and clear his name. The film was also titled American Tiger at one point which doesn’t make a lot of sense in context so maybe both titles led to this film being totally forgotten but the best reason to watch this movie is for the utterly gonzo performance from Dr. Loomis himself, Donald Pleasence as the nuttier than nutty Reverend Mortom. It’s worth the whole hour and a half run time alone.

Television:

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn (Crave) – Given the frontline and deserved focus of the Black Lives Matter movement right now the release of this documentary is as timely as ever right now and is just another story in the sea of injustices aimed at the black community, put together by one of the best companies at putting out hard-hitting films, HBO. This film tells the story of Yusuf Hawkins, a black teenager who was murdered in 1989 by a group of young white men in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.that the police’s official response to sparked outrage in New York, unleashing a torrent of racial tension and spurring tireless civil rights activism that exposed deep racial prejudices and inequities which continue to plague the country today, very clearly. The film is directed by Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee filmmaker Muta’Ali Muhammad and is brimming with emotion, simmering with justified anger and will get you quite riled up while watching it and will resonate afterwards. We need more documentaries like this because if we can change the system, we must expose it at all costs.

Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix) – My interest in everything that creator Jenji Kohan makes seems to have a bit of shelf life to it is that two of her three shows that I have gotten into went way past their expiry dates and I’m looking directly at you, Weeds and Orange Is The New Black. That aside, I still adore GLOW and hope it continues longer because it is so well written as Kohan’s shows all start out and it’s for this reason that I’m very optimistic about this new series about sixteen-year-old fraternal twin sisters who dive into the world of bail skipping baddies while still navigating the high stakes of teenage life after joining forces with a veteran bounty hunter. The series is headed by Kathleen Jordan, a new name who had previously been a staff writer for the show American Princess and it stars Supernatural’s Maddie Phillips and The Gifted’s Anjelica Bette Fellini alongside Kadeem Harrison, who I swear I haven’t seen since the nineties. Remember Vampire In Brooklyn? Yeah, he was in that.

Project Power (Netflix) – If you told me to judge this movie purely on it’s trailer I would probably say that you have a serious dog on your hands because it is utterly atrocious. Maybe that was a good precursor to getting into this movie because I kind of loved it and I’m really happy about the return of Joseph Gordon Levitt to genre films because between this and the Amazon Prime movie 7500, he’s killing it right now. Starring Jamie Foxx alongside Joe and The Hate U Give actress Dominique Fishback, the story is about a pill that gives its users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes that hits the streets of New Orleans and a teenage dealer and a local cop must team with an ex-soldier to take down the group responsible for its creation. The action in this film is absolutely insane and coupled with beautifully done special effects it is another damn entertaining movie from Catfish and Nerve directors Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman.

Fearless (Netflix) – One of my favorite British actresses for many years has been the unsung power of Helen McCrory, the underrated actress who was in The Queen, Peaky Blinders, Penny Dreadful and was even Draco Malfoy’s mother in the Harry Potter movies. Well, it’s for her and, really, her only that I’m really excited by this new show, commissioned by ITV in the UK, that is now debuting in North America on Netflix for the full binge effect. The show has McCrory as Emma Banville, a human rights lawyer known for defending lost causes who sets out to prove the innocence of her new client, a man who was convicted for the murder of a school girl fourteen years earlier. The show did not perform well in it’s run on the original network, so don’t expect more episodes beyond this six-episode run but it’s kind of cool to see Helen reunite with the second Dumbeldore, Michael Gambon, though I can’t remember if they share a scene in any of the Potter films.

We Hunt Together: Season 1 (Crave) – I guess the last part of this write up has become the British television invasion but, in my experience, they make some of the best products of that medium and they even get remade by Americans and even Canadians pretty often. What drew me to this show was Eve Myles, a main component of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood but the show itself seems massively interesting. The series is a gripping twist on a classic cat-and-mouse story that explores the intoxication of sexual attraction and the dangerous power of emotional manipulation as two conflicted detectives track down a pair of deadly killers. Myles is definitely the veteran among a young cast but the great writing and intrigue is what keeps everything afloat and it was enough to grab the interest of Showtime who is now airing it in the United States. Hopefully, the added viewership from us North Americans can stretch out the longevity of this show as it is quite good.

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