Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Godmothered – Disney is dipping back into that fairytale meets real life style of storytelling that really worked out for them well with Enchanted, a film I still find funny. Well, hopefully Jillian Bell can bring some of that magic from her great performance in Brittany Runs A Marathon as she takes the lead in this one too. The film has Bell as a young and unskilled fairy godmother who ventures out on her own to prove her worth by tracking down a young girl whose request for help was ignored and is now a jaded adult with the issues of a disillusioned childhood. The trailer for this is hysterically funny with Isla Fisher taking the role as the fairy godmother’s mission as well as Jane Curtin, Mary Elizabeth Ellis and June Squibb. As a classic Saturday Night Live fan, I’m so excited to see Curtin make an appearance in this and it comes from director Sharon Maguire who did both Bridget Jones’ Diary and Bridget Jones’ Baby which were way better than they had any right to be. This has a lot of promise.

Black Bear – Back when I watched this one for the Vancouver International Film Festival as soon as the credits rolled I blinked a few times and went “huh?” in an utterly confused way. With all the different movies of the festival it was bound to happen but even though it looks like I’m throwing a bit of shade at this film I am really not as the direction is great, the cast delivers but I just don’t think that the dual complexity of it worked. So, now, as I have you all confused I’ll try to give you a little context. Directed and written by Lawrence Michael Levine, the film follows a filmmaker at a creative impasse, played by Aubrey Plaza who seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat with a married couple, played by Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways. This description is almost a red herring as this only sort of describes the first half of the movie before it shifts to a real film being made at the remote house, flipping the character motivations and dynamics completely. Again, I enjoyed it but am still, months later, trying to unpack it.

Luxor – Andrea Riseborough is a special kind of talent that can raise the bar of any production just by the subtlety of her performances. This is a film that is totally hinged on that quality from her because, honestly, nothing really happens in it so she has to fill in the blanks with nuance. In the film she plays a British aid worker named Hana who returns to the ancient city of Luxor and immediately runs into Sultan, a talented archaeologist as well as her former lover. As she wanders, haunted by the familiar place, she struggles to reconcile the choices of the past with the uncertainty of the present in a very broody and reflective turn. I really wanted to like this one as I love the lead and it is gorgeously shot in a way that almost feels like a tourism video but the story is almost non existent and we are given no real reason to get behind Hana as a character. Instead we get an example of making an hour and a half long movie feel like three hours.

All My Life – It is the tearjerker side of this week’s write up as this movie delves into the romantic drama side with a tragic twist. The film stars former Glee star Harry Shum Jr. and the glowing piece of both Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, Jessica Rothe and follows a couple whose wedding plans are thrown off course when the groom is diagnosed with liver cancer. This movie looks pretty corny on the outside and, to be totally honest, it really is but the sugary sweetness that comes with it is kind of a breath of fresh air in the darkness of 2020 and hearing the COVID numbers everyday. This may ease your mind and give you a reprieve from all of that and not in that terrible Hallmark movie sort of way.

Rocks – Sometimes a small, contained indie story is enough to burst the floodgates of your emotions and it looks like that’s what it did to me on my watch through this film. There isn’t anyone you will recognise in the cast but the director, Sarah Gavron is no slouch, the woman behind the films Suffragette and Brick Lane but the caliber of this film may be her best yet. The story follows a young teenage girl, Shola or Rocks, as she’s known, finds herself struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother after being abandoned by their single mother with no choice but to live out on the streets, with a headlong stubbornness on not relying on her tight group of friends. This movie got me hooked early on the beautiful character study of this young girl who is guarded and reserved but slowly starts to crack under the pressure which leads to a scene to kick off the third act that I may never recover emotionally from. What a film!

Survival Skills – This is an utterly strange experiment in film and, being a bit of a weird cinema connoisseur myself I was definitely all about it. Coming from Seattle born filmmaker Quinn Armstrong, this is an odd little comedy drama that only has it’s wheels on the ground for just the introduction of the story then blasts off to Weirdsville. In short, this film seemingly is a lost training video from the 1980s with Jim, the perfect policeman, our subject who gets in over his head when he tries to resolve a domestic violence case and takes outside the law as he starts to lose his grip with reality. Stacy Keach provides some serious gravitas as the video’s narrator who eventually gets himself into the mix in an odd and ethereal sort of way. Yes, this one is decidedly weird and if you’re into something off the beaten path, you may like what Armstrong does here.

Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan – Two weeks in a row now of great music biopic documentaries about brilliant songwriters and creators that I wasn’t super familiar with and, in the case of this one, my knowledge was even more fleeting. To be completely honest, the only thing I knew from The Pogues and frontman Shane MacGowan was the Christmas time song Fairytale In New York which is one of my favorites of the season. What I didn’t know was how haggard this dude looked and how much worse it is today as he is constantly strung out in appearance, appearing like he is a step away from death. That aside, this is very much a celebration of the Irish punk poet Shane MacGowan, composer and lead singer with The Pogues, which combines unpublished archive footage and family footage with animation for the more insane stories that he tells. The thing that hangs in the same area that Zappa did last week is the two artists uncompromising styles and their shrugging off of the status quo although I’d say that Shane is far angrier.

Triggered – Hell yes, some diabolical survival horror comes your way to finish off the new releases for this week and, really, this one is just a shut off your brain sort of movie because if you try to look for deeper meaning within the characters you will give yourself a migraine. The film follows nine friends, who all harbor a dark secret, that go camping in the woods. After a wild night of partying, they wake up with explosive vests strapped to their chests, all with varying times on their countdown clocks. They decide to work out how to disarm the bombs or find help until they discover they can ‘take’ one another’s time by killing each other. The concept is really cool and the need to understand each character’s plight is minimal but the endgame to the movie feels flimsy and almost makes everything you’ve seen pretty superfluous. That said, the violence in it is neat and stylish making it an entertaining but hollow and weightless thriller.

Blu-Ray:

Buddy Games – Josh Duhamel dons the director’s hat for the first time with this comedy that is based on his friends and their exploits and it was really cool to get the behind the scenes thoughts from the man himself when he did an appearance of Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, especially since Dax is in this movie too. The film is about a group of friends who reunite to play The Buddy Games, a wild assortment of absurd physical and mental challenges. In the process, they try to heal old wounds, right past wrongs and figure out the true meaning of friendship and get beaten to hell in the process. Such a great cast with Duhamel and Shepard including Kevin Dillon, Olivia Munn, Nick Swardson and WWE superstar Sheamus, I feel like this movie has great pay off even if it lacks finesse in execution. Sometimes a dude comedy is exactly what is needed.

The Broken Hearts Gallery – What if you saved a souvenir from every relationship you’ve ever been in?That’s what is at the forefront of this new and audience loved film that follows the always unique Lucy, played by Blockers’ Geraldine Viswanathan, a twenty-something art gallery assistant living in New York City, who also happens to be an emotional hoarder. After she gets dumped by her latest boyfriend, Lucy is inspired to create The Broken Heart Gallery, a pop-up space for the items love has left behind. Word of the gallery spreads, encouraging a movement and a fresh start for all the romantics out there, including Lucy herself. This film co-stars the breakout heartthrob of Stranger Things’ Dacre Montgomery and the two leads share so much good chemistry together which really drives the movie in my opinion and the charm of the script is always there as a safety net. This movie really won me over.

Made In Italy – Actor James D’Arcy, a face you may recognize from Cloud Atlas, Dunkirk, Master And Commander or Marvel’s Peggy Carter, makes his directorial debut with this new comedy that he wrote as well. Starring an interesting cast that includes Liam Neeson and Lindsey Duncan, the film follows a bohemian artist who travels from London to Italy with his estranged son to sell the house he inherited from his late wife. Given that this is D’Arcy’s debut, an actor I really enjoy, I wanted this to be a great landing but the script is clunky to a degree that no matter how veteran some of these stars are, it just doesn’t work. No matter how much I enjoyed seeing Liam act alongside his real life son Michael Richardson, I couldn’t shake the amateurish feeling.

The Rental – Okay, so there’s a multitude of things that had me on board with this movie. First off, it’s the feature directorial debut of Dave Franco who did some behind the scenes work for his brother James on The Disaster Art, which was great. Secondly, the cast rocks, featuring Dan Stevens, Alison Brie and Toby Huss and thirdly it was written by mumblecore co-creator Joe Swanberg. Oh and did I mention that it’s a horror film? The story follows two couples on an oceanside getaway who grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister, as well-kept secrets are exposed and the four old friends come to see each other in a whole new light. I can not say enough great things about this movie, a slow burn that kicks up huge embers of intensity throughout plus the cast is so damn good. This one is a word of mouth must see.

The Rising Hawk: Battle For The Carpathians – This is a weird one as it is an international medieval war epic but features some recognizable American talent like T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick, Sons Of Anarchy club president Tommy Flanagan and more. The story is set back in the Mongol Empire, which at that time had grown to be the largest the world had ever known. With the armies having laid siege to much of Eastern Europe, one small village fights for freedom in the frontier landscape of the Carpathian Mountains. At just over two hours long, you would expect this one to be pretty action packed but it is unfortunately largely a dull affair of history lessons.The low budget of the production is also clearly on display is some ways which makes me believe that the scope was larger at one point and they had to dial it back or run out of money. There are way better Mongol films out there, trust me.

Beverly Hills Cop 4K – Eddie Murphy’s comeback trail at the end of last year was absolutely robbed of an Academy Award nomination for Dolemite Is My Name but you can now get over those hurt feelings by getting the movie that introduced us to him on the big screen and a film that still kicks so much ass and makes you laugh while doing it. The 80s action fan in me is singing as I loved the exploits of Detroit transplant cop Axel Foley and having director Martin Brest oversee the restoration of this film into the high definition of 4K and provide a new commentary for it is such a sweet spot for a collector like me. The special features have all of that mid eighties nostalgia for you as the soundtrack mixtape is included with the film as well as all the press junket interviews of young Eddie in his prime, deleted scenes and a look at the whole Beverly Hills Cop fandom phenomenon is explored. Some sweet Eddie goodness to start off a big review week of his classics.

Coming To America 4K – Not only is this Eddie Murphy classic getting the full 4K restoration but it comes in an absolutely gorgeous steelbook edition which is a little piece of gold to a collector like me and one of two that are released this week. For those who are unfamiliar with this fish out of water comedy, it follows Eddie as the extremely pampered heir apparent to Africa’s prosperous kingdom of Zamunda, Prince Akeem, who travels to Queens, New York, and goes undercover to find a wife that he can respect for her intelligence and will. Featuring Arsenio Hall, John Amos, James Earl Jones and Garcelle Beauvais, great make-up effects by Rick Baker and a studious direction from John Landis, this is a hilarious comedy that still holds up and will be a perfect watch as we prepare for the sequel, Coming 2 America, set for an Amazon Prime release in March.

The Golden Child – This is undoubtedly one of my movie staples as a kid, an adventurous Eddie Murphy comedy action that I may have burnt out time and time again on our VCR. Remember those? Anyways, the synopsis has Eddie playing a detective with a speciality of finding lost children. He is told he is the ‘Chosen one’ who will find and protect the Golden Child, a Bhuddist mystic who was kidnapped by an evil sorcerer. At first, he outright disbelieves the mysticism of this new case but finds more and more evidence of demon worship as he investigates. Making its debut on the higher definition of blu-ray so I can’t overwatch it, this Michael Ritchie classic was a longtime coming to this format and I was so happy to throw it on again. Nothing too deep on the special features but the Making Of featurette is interesting.

Popeye – A celebrity death that always seems to be a fresh new wound everytime he is mentioned is Robin Williams. It’s always bittersweet to watch him onscreen now and even my wife hasn’t been able to watch a movie of his without tearing up. We both perked up when this one landed on my doorstep, a Williams collaboration with legendary filmmaker Robert Altman to bring a classic cartoon to life, the first film to actually do this sort of adaptation. Co-starring Shelley Duvall, who was brilliantly cast as Olive Oyl, this is the story of the iconic buff sailor man Popeye arriving in the awkward seaside town of Sweethaven. There he meets Wimpy, a hamburger-loving man, Olive Oyl, the soon-to-be love of his life, and Bluto, a huge, mean pirate who is out to make Sweethaven pay for no good reason. Also discovering his long-lost Pappy in the middle of it all, Popeye must regain control of this small town, put down the oppressor and restore the happiness of all the citizens. Besides the picture restoration, this edition is a bit bare bones but has a great featurette on the work between Williams and Altman.

Top Gun 4K – This has to be at the top of Tom Cruise’s greatest films of all time, right? I remember as a kid being totally obsessed with this movie, Tom as the bad boy fighter pilot Maverick always butting heads with his rival the Iceman all to the sun bleached beat of a Kenny Loggins soundtrack. Then, when it all gets sensual under a cool blue filter for some love with Kelly McGillis we get the iconic tones of Berlin and the track Take My Breath Away, oh man, the memories. Well, with the sequel Top Gun: Maverick in the chamber and ready to fire at some point when the pandemic conditions will allow it, it is the perfect time for this 4K version to hit shelves and it is truly beautiful and the film has never sounded or looked better. I also failed to include that this is the second steelbook I received this week and it has a gorgeous brand new artwork on it that needs to be seen to be believed.

Mission:ImpossibleThe Original Television Series: Complete Series – I boasted last year about owning every Mission:Impossible movie but I had no idea of the real bragging rights that came with this box set because with this complete series which has been beautifully updated to the high definition of blu-ray, I truly do own everything to do with this spy title. For those who don’t know what the original series is all about, it follows the I.M.F. or Impossible Missions Force, an elite force of Agents who are given orders by tape and are asked to do jobs that are considered impossible by any other known means. The art of the con is used time and time again, and the Agents use technology, drugs, and plain greed to achieve their goals in a series that featured Peter Graves, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. My daughter has been really wanting to watch the movies but at her young age it’s a great alternative to start her here now.

Looney Tunes Bugs Bunny: The 80th Anniversary Collection – The original Saturday morning cartoon bad boy is celebrating eighty years of entertaining us and getting hunters riled up during rabbit season. That’s right, Bugs Bunny is being celebrated here and long before he suited up for a Space Jam with Michael Jordan and company he had this collection to delight audiences. I really feel like I don’t have to give you a full rundown of the exploits and shenanigans of this dubious little rabbit but I will tell you that the limited edition blu-ray package does come with a sparkly little Bugs Bunny Funko Pop toy and it has kept me from opening it because it’s a total collector’s item. Yes, I am that nerdy.

Green Eggs And Ham: Season 1 – Ah yes, some Dr. Seuss to get our kid’s childhoods to meet up with our own because, really, who didn’t without reading him or having his words recited to you? It’s really a rite of passage I think. This one is easy to encapsulate in a nutshell as it’s an animated series based on the popular Dr. Seuss story “Green Eggs and Ham” and features a great voice cast including Michael Douglas, Adam Devine, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and so many more and by all accounts the kids should be very entertained by it. For adults, your pleasure will arrive in the form of guessing who the guest voices are and the calmness of a child transfixed by the television glow giving them something more wholesome and a break from Ryder and the Paw Patrol. I think all of us parents feel the fatigue on that one.

Perry Mason: Season 1 – As a kid, I used to sit with my grandparents and watch reruns of this classic lawyer show starring the legendary status Canadian Raymond Burr and was captivated time and time again. Well, now Robert Downey Jr. has made my dreams come true as he and the global force of HBO have collaborated to bring this new series set in the era that creator Erle Stanley Gardner intended it to be in and it stars The Americans’ Matthew Rhys in the title role. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the series focuses on the origin story of famed defense lawyer Perry Mason who is living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator, haunted by his wartime experiences in France and suffering the effects of a broken marriage. A kidnapping gone very wrong leads to Mason exposing a fractured city as he uncovers the truth of the crime and uses it, sometimes lawlessly, to find some redemption. Needless to say, this show rocks in every way and Rhys is powerful, gripping and definitely in line for an Emmy for it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai – This has to be one of my favorite Criterion releases of the year as a piece of Jim Jarmusch’s oeuvre and one of the most different films in his storied career gets the full special edition in this beautiful blu-ray edition. For those who haven’t been exposed to this brilliance, it features Forest Whitaker as a hitman who lives by the code of the samurai, works for the mafia and finds himself in their crosshairs when his recent job doesn’t go according to plan. Now he must find a way to defend himself and his honor while retaining the code he lives by. Gorgeously shot and featuring an incredible soundtrack spearheaded by producer The RZA, this is Jarmusch’s exercise in creating a badass anti-hero in a film that relies on what’s going on in the action and movement of the picture than any sort of dialogue exchange. It may be one of his most artful films in his filmography.

Moonstruck – Let it be known that I really can’t stand Cher, both in her music and in her acting styles, but that may come from the fact that I suffered through her last film, Burlesque, ten years ago. This, on the other hand, is the only passable thing on her resume in my opinion and it’s a shared one because she did win an Academy Award for it but it is also coupled with a fantastic Nicolas Cage performance. Directed by legendary Canadian director Norman Jewison, this is the story of Loretta Castorini, a bookkeeper from Brooklyn, New York, who finds herself in a difficult situation when she falls for Ronny, the brother of the man she has agreed to marry. She tries to resist, but Ronny lost his hand in an accident he blames on his brother, and has no problem with aggressively pursuing her while Johnny is out of the country. As Loretta falls deeper in love, she comes to learn that she’s not the only one in her family with a secret romance as her family one by one exposes their extra marital affairs. It was honestly just a matter of time before this landed on the greatest collection of all time, Criterion, and it really looks incredible.

Westworld: Season 3 – After a two year absence we finally get the next piece of this incredible mysterious show that emanated from a 70s Michael Crichton movie. The favorites are all back including Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard and Thandie Newton’s Maeve as well as newcomers Aaron Paul and Kid Cudi but what is this season about? Well, showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan are keeping everything secretive but what we do know is that Bernard and Dolores have been rebuilt outside of the facility so we get to see what this future looks like and I am damn excited for that.

Television:

Big Mouth: Season 4 (Netflix) – It’s time to get uncomfortable with our bodies all over again as this lewd, rude and massively crude animated comedy returns with all-new episodes. I adore anything that Nick Kroll and John Mulaney do and when you throw Maya Rudolph and Jason Mantzoukas into the mix than I am in love. For those who don’t know about this show, it is the awkward and sometimes brutal coming of age story of two best friends in the throes of puberty, this time sending the whole cast of characters to summer camp for more explorations of their sexuality and relationships. Watch it at your own risk but keep it in mind that it is totally my kind of messed up.

Mank (Netflix) – This new era picture from master director David Fincher is notable for a multitude of reasons, the small being that this production distracted him so much that it’s doubtful that we’ll get a third season of Mindhunter, which is heartbreaking for a lot of fans. The big thing is that with this movie he has hit the true god-like level in cinema, pushing him into the echelon of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and even the man he has as a character in this, Orson Welles. The story has Gary Oldman playing screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he sequesters himself after a serious car accident to start his tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane which starts to rope in real people from his life like American businessman and newspaper publisher Charles Randolph Heart. This film is incredible, leaping off the screen with every shot filled with nostalgia for the era but themes that are still painfully relevant today. Honestly, you can give Oldman another Oscar after this one because he shakes the whole room with his performance, my favourite lead actor of this year I think.

Selena: The Series (Netflix) – Remember when Jennifer Lopez burst onto the scene, not as an In Living Color Fly Girl or the mega pop star JLo, but in the tragic story or the murder of Latina American pop sensation Selena Quintanilla? Well, Selena’s family has spearheaded and produced this new limited series that retells that story but in a much more expanded telling. Rather than getting bogged down with the murder, this series opts to tell the story of the late Tejano singer’s burgeoning rise to success as her dreams come true, and her family makes life-changing choices on the singer’s journey to superstardom. The walking Dead former favorite Christian Serratos plays the title role with such charisma that becomes the real beacon of everything that works for the show as the acting around her is kind of dull and makes you yearn for performers like Edward James Olmos and Constance Marie from the original movie. That said, I know lots of people excited for this one.

Anything For Jackson (Shudder) – Just when you think that we’re done with horror for this year, Shudder brings another original to make us squirm into the holiday season. This one is a Canadian production, so it can go either way, that follows a bereaved Satanist couple after losing their only grandson in a car accident who kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child but end up summoning a malevolent demon bent on destroying everything in its path. This movie is clever in its delivery and has a great creepy atmosphere that blankets it in style, especially with the always great Julian Richings taking the lead, an actor that usually chews the scenery in a supporting role. Who says you can’t get scared at Christmas, right?

Sound Of Metal (Amazon Prime) – Riz Ahmed has astounded me with his talent twice now this year, first with his role as a British Pakistani rapper in the drama Mogul Mowgli just over a month ago at the virtual version of the Vancouver International Film Festival and now this one, another deep character piece. In this film, he plays a heavy-metal drummer and former heroin addict whose life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing. Believing that there can be a solution, he fixates on an experimental but expensive procedure to “cure” his hearing loss in a sort of desperate hope. This is an impactful film about the state of denial and desperation a person must feel when they lose something that we take for granted, really. Director and writer Darius Marder beautifully creates an experience that seems to transcend the sensory experience and put you right into Ahmed’s character’s plight in such an incredible way. It’s truly stellar.

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