Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Yes Day – Miguel Arteta is a fascinating filmmaker as he seems to bounce around in television, comedy movies, indie flicks and family films at a crazy rate but he returns to the kids genre for the first time after 2014’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and doing the stellar Beatriz At Dinner in between. The film stars the incredibly likeable Jennifer Garner and Edgar Ramirez as Allison and Carlos, a couple of parents who decide to give their three kids a “yes day”, where for twenty four hours the kids make the rules, sending them on a whirlwind adventure around Los Angeles that will bring the family closer to each other than ever before. This is definitely a return in the inoffensive fluff that has permeated Arteta’s career and while gems like Youth In Revolt get unjustly forgotten, this one deserves to be lost in the shuffle as, if you’re not a kid, this movie makes no mark in your memory whatsoever.

Cherry – Tom Holland and the Russo brothers reteam for this one after the massive successes of Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, three films that their individual box office and critical praise certainly didn’t hinge on their involvement but were helped by them nonetheless. This one is definitely far outside of the realm of those Marvel stories as this one has Holland as a disenfranchised young man from Ohio who meets the love of his life, only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging life circumstances. What results is an unhinged character who drifts from dropping out of college to serving in Iraq as an Army medic, only anchored by his one true love, Emily, played by Ciara Bravo. When he returns home a war hero, he battles the demons of undiagnosed PTSD and spirals into drug addiction, surrounding himself with a menagerie of depraved misfits and after draining his finances, he turns to bank robbing to fund his addiction, shattering his relationship with Emily along the way. Stylishly shot, this story felt like a mix between a junkie’s story like the Heath Ledger film Cherry and the adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead but without the resonance that both of the stories carried. We aren’t onboard with Holland’s title character once and it’s really hard to care about his plight just missing that simple connection.

Death Of A Ladies Man – I feel like it’s been forever since we’ve seen Gabriel Byrne on screen in a leading role or maybe the pandemic has just made time stretch out forever because he was in the Amy Ryan Netflix movie Lost Girls last year but that’s inconsequential as he is back in this new drama from writer and director Matt Bissonnette, the first film in over a decade from the Canadian filmmaker. The film follows a carousing college professor’s life as it takes a series of unimaginable turns, and all the old stories are given a new twist, when he begins to have surreal hallucinations and learns he may not be long for this world. I really had a good time with this movie and I have to say the stand out for me was Montreal actress and former Don Draper arm candy Jessica Pare who shines on screen every moment she appears. I also really enjoyed the work from cinematographer Jonathon Cliff who did Brian De Palma’s Redacted and Wyatt Cenac’s People Of Earth previously.

Jump, Darling – One of the funniest people of all time, Cloris Leachman left the planet earlier this year and, at the time, I thought her last performance was the voice work she did on the Croods sequel until the email about this movie hit my inbox. She takes second billing in this LGBTQ driven drama made right here in our own glorious backyard following a rookie drag queen still reeling from a bad break-up who escapes to the countryside where he finds his grandmother in steep mental decline yet desperate to avoid the local nursing home. Leachman is so perfectly captivating in this movie, giving us a performance to leave her brilliant body of work behind and also make us miss her all that much more. This is a special film that won’t get the love it deserves but I am doing my part in getting it to the eyes of you, my faithful reader.

Night Of The Kings – This is a film that has been getting a lot of buzz on the international independent scene, winning an award at the Toronto International Film Festival and getting an Independent Spirit Award nomination as it’s highlights. A co-production between France, the Ivory Coast, Canada and Senegal, the story is about a young man who is sent to “La Maca”, a prison of Ivory Coast in the middle of the forest ruled by its prisoners. The wild ‘auto-gestioned- prison of Abidjan becomes the theater of a fight for power, as the old ‘chief’ of the prison must submit his power, due to illness. This last night of the blood full moon a newcomer assumes the role of the storyteller, not knowing that this will end with his own death. To stay alive, he begins to tell the story of a fellow criminal in the slum of Abidjan, and how he was driven to his death. This film, for lack of a better descriptor, is absolutely stunning. Writer and director Philippe Lacôte operates like a seasoned veteran in just his third narrative film and has me absolutely salivating for his next offering. This is also a piece of new black cinema that the masses need to get behind immediately.

Come True – Is it time for some horror? Oh yes, it is kiddies but remember, in my world it’s always time for horror! The theme of new releases this week is movies from the Great White North and, you guessed it, this one is Canadian as well, the sophomore film from filmmaker Anthony Scott Burns who made a pretty solid debut with Our House starring Thomas Mann. This film features the always great Julia Sarah Stone as eighteen year old Sarah who, looking for an escape from her recurring nightmares, submits to a university sleep study, but soon realizes she’s become the conduit to a frightening new discovery. I really liked this movie on a surface level but the more I started to break it down after viewing it the more that I felt the hollowness of its attempts to be clever as plot holes and missteps start to rend the experience apart. The film is by no means bad, just under developed and a bit underwhelming in it’s final delivery.

Own The Room – When I saw the National Geographic produced Science Fair a couple of years ago at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I was totally blown away by its approach to showing a competition of the brightest young minds all vying for a sizable research grant to hopefully one day change the world. Now those producers and the directing duo of Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster are back for another story of brilliant young minds yearning for more, as this film chronicles five students from disparate corners of the planet as they take their budding business ventures to Macau, China, to compete in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Santosh is from a small farming town in Nepal, Alondra works the register at her family’s bakery in Puerto Rico, Henry is a programming wiz from Nairobi, Jason is a marketing machine from Greece and Daniela, an immigrant fleeing the crisis in Venezuela, is taking on the chemical industry from her lab at NYU. Each of the business hopefuls has overcome immense obstacles in pursuing their dreams, from hurricanes to poverty to civil unrest. As they represent their countries as the top student entrepreneurs, the high-stakes global finals are their opportunity to win worldwide attention and the coveted $100,000 grand prize to make their life-changing business ideas a reality and transform the world. This is another inspirational story that will give you a sweet message that the “kids are alright” and their working hard to save our asses, collectively.

Underplayed – Bud Light produced a film? And it’s about the party scene of DJs? Yes, but it’s not as vapid as you would be led to believe as this documentary goes straight for the issues and takes a direct route to get under your skin and drive home the message of inequality and inequity in the constant fight to get women an equal share in, heck, any industry. Featuring an artist I absolutely adore, Australian’s entrancing Alison Wonderland, this documentary was filmed over the summer festival season and presents a portrait of the current status of the gender, ethnic, and sexuality equality issues in dance music. The story and issues are through the lens of the female pioneers, next-generation artists and industry leaders who are championing the change and inspiring a more diverse pool of role models for future generations. This film has a big message to it, the pulse pounding reflection of the festival scene to power it and some really great music to keep your head in the game. I really dug this movie a lot.

Blu-Ray:

Vanguard – Yes, I will watch any martial arts movie if it has Jackie Chan’s name attached to it and that goes doubly if it was made in China because, undoubtedly, that’s where his best films came from. Right back in the genre that he does best and, let’s face it, he made famous, this is the story or a covert security company called Vanguard that is the last hope of survival for an accountant after he is targeted by the world’s deadliest mercenary organization. Now that I’ve started getting you all hyped for the return of Jackie to Hong Kong cinema, here’s where the other shoe comes down to tell you that this movie is bland to the point of being devoid of all character and, in parts, it almost feels like a retread of things he’s done in his career before but it comes off like a tribute band that isn’t very good at cover songs. What a total waste but I hope he does try to make more before his wheels fall off.

Ip Man: Kung Fu Master – It’s no secret that on this weekly blog posting and my spots on The Shift that I’m a fan of these films about the legend of Master Ip and his teachings that were made international by his most famous student, Bruce Lee, but, admittedly, the ones without establishing star Donnie Yen come across a little flat and charisma light. That goes for this one, which follows the title character during his time as a police captain in Foshan, Ip Man is targeted by a vengeful gangster just as the Japanese army invades the region, the common enemy that the master finds himself tangling with. I haven’t been given the review opportunity to see this one but it does feel like another cash in on the name but from what I read it’s just a great excuse to watch over eighty minutes of kick ass fighting.

Rent-A-Pal – Looking for some creepy voyeur style horror thriller to creep you out and infect your psyche so that it’s hard to sleep at night? Awesome, I’ll help you out with that by pumping up this new film that features former Star Trek: The Next Generation and king of the nerds Wil Wheaton and no, he’s not Wesley. The film is set in 1990 and follows a lonely bachelor named David who searches for an escape from the day-to-day drudgery of caring for his aging mother. While seeking a partner through a video dating service, he discovers a strange VHS tape called Rent-A-Pal hosted by the charming and charismatic Andy, played by Wheaton, and the tape offers him much-needed company, compassion, and friendship. Andy’s friendship unfortunately comes at a sinister cost and David desperately struggles to afford the price of admission in a movie that surprised the hell out of me with it’s originality and ingenious twists that will earn it some solid word of mouth from everyone who sees it. This is the real deal here for crazy thrillers plus VHS! we have a relevant reason to discuss it!

ON-GAKU: Our Sound – It’s been awhile since I’ve jumped into the pool of anime but this one had me a bit intrigued off the bat because it had a little rebellion to it, a little bit of punk attitude and just enough nihilism to keep it all afloat. The basis of the story is a trio of delinquent school kids who form a music band but, more to the point, it’s about being a bored teenager looking for thrills, having no skill, money, or , heck, even a full set of drums. I was actually really surprised with how much I dug this movie which presents a highly original take on the beloved slacker comedy with pitch-perfect deadpan humor, kind of a lo-fi buddy film. The film honestly has the potential to rope in viewers from outside the fan base because I enjoyed this one with ease and usually it’s a bit of a muscle flex for me to get on board.

Touki Bouki – Another installation of classic groundbreaking international cinema arrives this week as the new entry into the hi-definition side of the Criterion Collection. This film comes from Senegal in 1973, released in North America under the title Journey of the Hyena and follows Mory, a cowherd, who rides a motorcycle mounted with a cow’s skull, and Anta, a university student, that have met in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. Alienated and disaffected with Senegal and Africa, they dream of going to Paris and work up different con schemes to raise the money and when Mory steals clothing and money from a wealthy gay man who had brought him home, he and Anta book passage on a ship to France to finally realize their life plan. This film is believed to be Africa’s first avant-garde film and is ranked very highly on many best of all time lists and evokes even some French new wave filmmaking like that which Goddard would have made at the time. Fascinating and thoughtful cinema which was incredible for me to discover.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Sherlock Holmes & Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows 4K – Leave it to a couple of 4K special editions for me to fall in love with Guy Ritchie’s retelling of possibly the greatest fictional detectives ever created, along with Batman probably. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s fantastic chemistry along with Ritchie’s frenetic and flashy action style make both of these movies infinitely rewatchable and Warner Bros. retouching and updating to the 4K level are absolutely glorious. If you’ve never had the chance to check them out, the first film has Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson engaging in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis, played by Mark Strong, whose plot is a threat to all of England and the second movie goes a bit more traditional and has him on the trail of criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, who is carrying out a string of random crimes across Europe. These movies are awesome, exhilarating and just plain fun, totally worth picking up.

Crazy Heart – Is it weird to say that the film that Jeff Bridges won a Best Actor Academy Award for is an underrated gem? In my mind, it totally is and it feels like this fantastic character drama with a foothold in traditional country music has been largely forgotten about which is really sad. Bridges stars as Bad Blake, a broken-down, hard-living country music singer who’s had way too many marriages, far too many years on the road and one too many drinks way too many times and yet, he can’t help but reach for salvation with the help of Jean, a journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal who discovers the real man behind the musician. The Dude does all of his own singing in this, as well as co-star Colin Farrell, in the debut film from writer and director Scott Cooper that immediately put him on the map as a filmmaker of note. This blu-ray was dirt cheap to pick up too which feels like I got away with a robbery given the caliber of the film.

Mean Man: The Story Of Chris Holmes – I’m slightly music themed this week with my Geek-Outs but this one is a straight up documentary and we’re shedding the frontier vista of country from the electric shredding of eighties hair metal to change it up that much more. This is the story of Chris Holmes, an iconic guitar player who has lived a life of extreme highs and lows and, after losing the publishing rights of his own songs and combatting dangerous addictions, the legendary W.A.S.P. guitarist is shown starting over from scratch while living at his mother-in-law’s in Cannes, France. Now ready to take on Europe with his new band, we follow him along as he meets many fans and proves that he still is the showman he was as a young and famous rockstar. This Film is fascinating in his musical journey as it draws parallel stories of the rise, fall and rebirth of Chris Holmes with archives, live performances, interviews and behind-the-scene footage but the underproduction of some of this, including some amateurish feeling editing, kind of drags it a bit but it’s kind of what I expect from some of these MVD Visual films. Still a really cool story in rock.

The El Duce Tapes – Let’s finish off this week’s geek-outs with another documentary but a decidedly weirder one, lovingly put together in a special edition from Arrow Video. Made in 2019, the story follows Ryan Sexton, who, between appearing in supporting roles in General Hospital and local TV commercials, spent the early 90s documenting the life and art of El Duce, lead singer of the notorious shock rock band The Mentors. Famous for taking the stage in black executioner hoods, the band spent a few moments in the national spotlight after some of their most offensive lyrics were denounced on the floor of the US Senate. Now, twenty five years later, filmmakers David Lawrence and Rodney Ascher dive into the long unseen VHS footage searching for clues about who El Duce really was, how much of his disturbing persona was for real, and what an act built around a cartoonish sense of violent misogyny can tell us about our own time and place. As far as stories of human oddities go, this movie is fascinatingly weird and sent me on a deep Google dive for anything more I could find out about El Duce. This is some must see documentary stuff that may lead you to Reddit message boards of discussion.

Television:

Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell (Netflix) – Netflix back with another hard hitting documentary? Oh yes, and if you’ve already done all the music series they have to offer, definitely including the Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine series The Defiant Ones, then you should move on over to this one. Coming from acclaimed music filmmaker Emmett Malloy, this documentary features rare footage filmed by Christopher Wallace’s best friend, Damion “D-Roc” Butler, and interviews with his closest friends and family, revealing a side of Biggie Smalls that the world never knew. As a fan of his music, albeit retroactively, I was totally into this story about a prolific and gifted rapper and producer who was taken from this earth far too early, robbing us all of so much more possibly landscape changing music. A good one two punch would be watching this film then following it up with the biopic Notorious which is streaming on Disney+, Crave and Amazon Prime.

63 Up (BritBox) – This is definitely a repost but given that filmmaker Michael Apted recently passed away and Britbox has put up this last film on their service, I must address it. Honestly, within ten minutes of this documentary I was absolutely hooked on the humanity of this story. An ambitious project started in the mid-60s, this is Apted’s crowning achievement in my opinion. as he does a character study on fourteen students, starting at age seven and then visiting them every seven years after, chronicling it as the Up series. Now into their sixties, each person’s story proves the individuality in our world but also the similarity in a lot of our politics, daily life decisions as well as love and relationships. Luckily, this is a franchise where any of these films can be a jumping in point as the recap of everything Apted has recorded so far is reiterated in each movie. These documentaries may be the most important film about human life ever made and, in my opinion, the greatest franchise ever constructed.

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