Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Mulan – With every new Disney animated classic adaptation, I feel a little more trepidation and not because the movies are bad but because they seem to lack the heart and soul of the original films. The pandemic has robbed us of getting the chance to see this new version of Mulan on the big screen and it really is a robbery because this is an incredible film to behold and it’s a total gamechanger for these movies. Directed by Whale Rider filmmaker Niki Caro and shot by the eye behind Baz Luhrman’s Australian, cinematographer Mandy Walker, this movie is vibrant and leaps off the screen at you, a breathtaking experience at all times. The casting is impeccable, featuring an amazing cast including Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Pei Pei Cheung, Jason Scott Lee and Jet Li, gathered around an incredible lead in Yifei Liu who shoulders the load of this lead character amazingly, this may be one of the best films of the year. I adored it thoroughly.

Measure For Measure – As soon as I saw Hugo Weaving’s name appear as the lead of this film I had a feeling that I would be in for a little bit of a treat and when you put in perspective that this is a Shakespeare adaptation, well, the excitement rises a bit more. Written and directed by sophomore director Paul Ireland, the film takes a look at the lives of the inhabitants of a housing commission tower whose paths cross after a shocking event occurs on their front doorstep and, taking a modern approach to this story originally written in the 1600s, this movie reminded me a little bit of the J.G. Ballard book High Rise, which was recently adapted by one of my favorite filmmakers, Ben Wheatley. A lot of the comedic elements of the original play are toned down to reflect the drama more and it definitely pays off with the performances which are worth checking out alone.

Odd Man Rush – With playoff hockey still going during the first week of September, it really doesn’t feel that out of place now to have this new hockey film hitting theaters and with Letterkenny’s resident hockey player Dylan Playfair taking a main role in the film, this all feels very comfortable. The second film from director Doug Dearth, following up his football movie Underdogs, and based on a book by Bill Keenan, the story follows a Harvard hockey player who is sent to Sweden’s minor leagues where his new relationship with the girl at the local market forces him to confront the reality of his childhood NHL dream and if it’s really something he wants anymore. The film is definitely brimming with a lot of heart but not much behind it in smarts, cohesive writing or even a story worthy of occupying your time for even it’s short runtime of an hour and twenty-five minutes.

Parallel Minds – It’s time for some Canadian sci-fi this week featuring Greg Bryk, an actor that some may from the Jason Momoa series Frontier or as the bad guy from the Stephen and Robbie Amell movie Code 8, another very cool sci-fi movie but that’s really the extent of the star power. The film is set in the near future, about a technology firm called Red-Eye which is on the verge of developing a revolutionary contact lens that records human sight to replicate memories but when the company’s lead researcher is murdered a detective and researcher are drawn into searching deeper to apprehend an elusive digital shapeshifter that is possibly responsible for it. The film dials up the world-building and it was really cool to see Victoria born NXT wrestler Chelsea Green feature in it but it just didn’t have enough to keep me going in it.

Feels Good Man – This is a brand new documentary that is destined to make your blood boil as it definitely worked it’s magic on me, just like anything that has to do with the cult of Donald Trump and his far right-wing warriors that seem to appropriate so much good into their murky depths of evil. The film follows artist Matt Furie, the creator of the comic character Pepe the Frog, who begins an uphill battle to take back his iconic cartoon image from those who used it for their own purposes, effectively trying to kill his darling to avoid him being used as a white supremacy symbol. This movie is a horror story set in our harsh reality that seems to be getting worse.

Blu-Ray:

Ava – I know it’s 2020, the year of the weirdest and worst things happening with dull hopes for any normalcy beyond it, but I keep trying to wrap my head around not knowing a single thing about the existence of an action film starring Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common and Colin Farrell but here we are. Chastain, not usually an action star, plays Ava, a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organization, travelling the globe specializing in high profile hits. When a job goes dangerously wrong she is forced to fight for her own survival as is usually the case when it comes to pretty bland, direct to video action flicks which is, unfortunately, exactly what this is. For how great the cast is in this movie, it feels like you can almost see them take and cash their cheques on screen and it’s hard to believe that this film comes from an accomplished filmmaker like The Help’s Tate Taylor as he too gives no substance to this film, falling further after the disappointment that was the thriller, Ma.

Irresistible – John Stewart channels some of his justified rage into his second directed feature film but unlike the last true story drama he made last time he is playing into the comedy satire with hopefully better results. Starring Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne, the film focuses on a Democratic political strategist who works the campaign for a retired veteran’s bid for mayor of a small right-wing Wisconsin town. After the Democratic National Committee’s top strategist Gary (Steve Carell) sees a video of a retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) standing up for the rights of his town’s undocumented workers, Gary believes he has found the key to winning back the Heartland. However, the Republican National Committee counters him by sending in his brilliant nemesis Faith (Rose Byrne) and a local race quickly becomes a fight for the soul of America. This movie really didn’t get a lot of critical love during its VOD release but I actually enjoyed the heck out of it beyond its flaws, which it definitely has a few of them. Carell is so great in this and Byrne proves why she is one of the best comedic actresses working today. She’s such a treat.

Z – Oh no! Got some more creepy kid horror incoming and a lot of people have probably already seen this one as it’s been on the Shudder streaming service for a couple of months now and is a definite audience favorite. the second feature from Still/Born writer and director Brandon Christensen. The film follows a couple whose eight-year-old son Joshua develops an imaginary friend named Z, which they brush off as cute but they soon realize just how wrong they are. Z becomes a terrible influence on Josh and their innocent son turns into someone they barely recognize and it’s only when the mom, played by the wholly likeable Keegan Connor Tracy, starts uncovering her own past and she learns that Josh’s new friend Z, may not be so imaginary after all. I really loved this movie, a horror hit from out of nowhere, totally recommended.

Spooky House – Now, this is one of the weirder films that has crossed my doorway as the packaging would make you believe that this is a brand new movie but it is actually one from almost twenty years ago and finding any information on it is next to impossible. Featuring Sir Ben Kingsley and Canadian horror goddess Katharine Isabelle, right around the time she did Ginger Snaps, the story follows the Great Zamboni, a mysterious and reclusive magician, and his pet jaguar Shadow who reside in the Spooky House, an old mansion that’s rigged with magic tricks and hidden chambers. Young orphan Max unsuccessfully attempts to befriend Zamboni but after a trio of teenage bullies who work for the town’s eccentric crime queen Boss chase Max and his friends into the Spooky House on Halloween, Zamboni is forced to partner with Max to keep his true powers under wraps from the public eye. Corny and definitely meant for the kids, I could see within minutes why this movie had been buried for so long.

Magnum P.I.: Season 2 – Against all my beliefs that they could work, CBS has managed to reboot a handful of their classic line up from decades ago and has made them work. Hawaii Five-O has just ended their run, making it into the double digits in seasons, MacGyver has been sort of a runaway hit and this show has done good numbers for them as well and even crossed over with the first show I mentioned, palling around with McGarrett and Dann-O. Not sporting the Selleck mustache for this, Jay Hernandez steps into the role of Thomas Magnum with a gender switch for his sidekick Higgins in Ready Player One’s Perdita Weeks as it follows the ex-Navy SEAL as he returns from Afghanistan to use his military skills to become a private investigator in Hawaii. It’s your basic procedural, as you would expect it, and Hernandez kind of makes the show his own. I see it getting another few seasons as it’s doing well in the demographic.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Godzilla – Last week I brought the newly released giant box set of Gamera, a cherished Japanese kaiju but this week I bring you the original city destroyer, Godzilla himself in his very first appearance which is part of a beautiful Criterion edition that even features a pop-up section in the packaging that delights the childishness inside of me. The story for this classic Toho masterpiece is very simple at its core, an origin story if you will, about an American nuclear weapons test which results in the creation of a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast. This Criterion set includes this film and the reworked version, retitled Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, not to be confused with the more recent franchise version with Kyle Chandler released last year. This is one of those great genre films, and it’s a must-own for any monster movie fan.

Legion Of Super Heroes: Complete Series – In my movie collection I am proud to own a lot of the animated properties that Warner Bros. and DC Comics has collaborated on over the years, including Batman: The Animated Series, the Adventures Of Superman, The Batman, Batman Beyond and all of the animated movie collection but, I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know about this one. Spanning two seasons, this is the adventures of a young Clark Kent, as Superman, during his time with a team of teenage superheroes when he is sent into the far future. The series was originally developed because of Cartoon Network’s desire to have a Superman-centric series to coincide with the movie Superman Returns in 2006 but ultimately passed on it when it was ready to go. The show was then picked up by the now-defunct Kids! WB which kind of spelt it’s doom, a very unfortunate thing because the show is pretty damn cool.

Wonder Woman: The Complete Collection – As a kid one of my first crushes, along with Princess Leia, Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride and, later Jennifer Connolly from Career Opportunities, Lynda Carter was always on that list as her portrayal of Wonder Woman or Princess Diana of Themyscira was always something that put hearts in my eyes. Now my childhood love has come to my adult life as this new set is the definitive collection of everything she did as the character long before Gal Gadot got to play her on the big screen. The show is definitely dated and is totally cheesy but the iconic nature of it really shines through and it totally broke ground and should have strengthened female-led programming. Heck, Lynda should have been a cameo in Wonder Woman.

Phantom Of The Opera – To add to my already sizable collection of classic Universal monster movies that I have received from Shout Factory, my buddy Rob offered me this blu-ray and I honestly couldn’t pass it up, especially with star Claude Rains in it, doing his iconic thing. The one thing that makes me love this version so much more is, although it is set in an opera, this isn’t a musical and is more of the straight forward horror it’s supposed to be but, of course, one of that time period. The story is the same, an acid-scarred composer rises from the Paris sewers to boost his favorite opera understudy’s career in dastardly and sort of evil ways but it managed to make twists in that source material that was new and different, the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Weber to take this idea and do his thing with it.

Requiem For A Dream – One of my favorite movies of all time, I picked this film up multiple times but have never owned it on blu-ray until now. A dark and depressing film that delves into the sorrow of addiction, this was my first dip into the world of Darren Aronofsky as I didn’t see Pi until after this film and what a showcase of performances from Jared Leto, Jennifer Connolly, Ellen Burstyn and Marlon Wayans, Burstyn earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for it. Based on the novel by Herbert Selby Jr., this is the drug-induced stories of four Coney Island people whose lives are tragically and irreparably shattered when their addictions run deep. This is one of those perfect movies where the cast, script and direction meet up with incredible cinematography from now two time Academy Award nominee Matthew Libatique and music from the ground shaking Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet in possibly my favorite score ever. This movie is amazing and majorly recommended by me.

Television:

Raised By Wolves (Crave) – A brand new series produced by Ridley Scott for HBO Max, this new sci-fi show has massive intrigue surrounding it and I have a Westworld feeling that it may really catch on through word of mouth. The show stars Vikings former leading man Travis Fimmel and takes place on a mysterious plant where androids are tasked with raising human children. Created by The Red Road’s showrunner Aaron Guzikowski, this ten-episode series has an incredible imagination and stunning imagery to it, from what I’ve read, and gives a fascinating look into the scope of artificial intelligence against the backdrop of religion. All of the reviews are praising it but say that there are a few drag points a handful of episodes in.

The Boys: Season 2 (Amazon Prime) – My favorite comic book ever is now a hit television series brought to life by good Vancouver guys Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the same two that brought Preacher to us coincidentally from the same author, and now it returns for another season to push the boundaries even more. Thanks to the sick and twisted mind of Garth Ennis we have a story that is not about the superheroes but a superpowered group put together to keep the massive egos and lust for fun in absolute check. This show is totally over the top with insane violence, crude language and tons of nudity and will probably offend more than a few people, so a lot like Preacher and the second season is fantastic, just like the first is. Binge all of it as soon as possible.

Away (Netflix) – Netflix is taking us to space with this brand new series starring Hilary Swank and Josh Charles from former Penny Dreadful writer Andrew Hinderaker and featuring a handful of solid directors on each episode like The Last Samurai’s Edward Zwick who kicks everything off with the pilot and Bronwyn Hughes, Jet Wilkinson and Charlotte Brändström, who have all done so much great television work. The show has Swank as an American astronaut who struggles with leaving her husband and daughter behind to embark on a dangerous mission with an international space crew and finds herself at the center of a mutiny almost immediately. The first episode sets up some great intrigue and the production level of the show is pretty big budget. As I continue the series myself, I really hope that it hangs on to its strengths.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (Netflix) – People just cruising through Netflix looking for something, anything to watch are going to get seriously duped by the synopsis new film from idiosyncratic and utterly brilliant writer and director Charlie Kaufman who returns after his stop motion animated masterpiece, Anomalisa. Simply stated, the film is about a young woman, full of misgivings, travels with her new boyfriend to his parents’ secluded farm and upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself. I shit you not, that is the description and it sets you up for a mind-bending journey into what might be the most debated film of the year and definitely one of my absolute favorites of 2020. The whole cast, including Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis are incredible and, for the love of God, someone give Toni a frickin’ Oscar already!

Earth To Ned (Disney+) – Since Disney has linked up with National Geographic, which is an understatement as Disney owns them, it has produced fascinating, and informative series and movies and this one takes that idea of discovery with a little twist thrown in and a producer credit for “The King Of The World” James Cameron. Your conduit into this show is Ned, a blue-skinned alien and his lieutenant Cornelius, who were sent to scout Earth for an eventual invasion but instead became obsessed with our popular culture and now, they host a talk show about it. Disney+, as much as people like to hate on it, is a real treasure trove of things for the whole family to enjoy and the addition of this new series is just proof of the longevity it can have.

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