Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Finally the hashtagging of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has paid off for all the nerds looking for the “real” version of the Justice League and thus proving that if you bitch long enough you will get handed something you don’t really deserve. Yes, it irks me obviously but I will say that the Joss Whedon version was a terrible mess of a movie but Snyder’s establishing pieces of Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice was certainly not better but, even though this version clocks in at a grossly bloated four hours, it is an improvement. The story follows Bruce Wayne, determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice in the last film was not in vain, aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. The movie is crammed with slow-motion hero shots, action moments and grim dialogue proving that, once again, in Snyder’s eyes there should be no levity whatsoever. Are we now saved in the DC cinematic universe now that this definitive vision is out? Not really, I could take it or leave it.

The Father – Two of the best performances that you will see this year or in the last decade are right here in this new drama that has Academy Award winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman as a father and daughter who must cope with the new living arrangement changes coming as he slips further into Alzheimer’s. Refusing all assistance from his daughter as he ages, he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances and starts to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality in a film that puts you into almost a side seat position in the illness as the disorientation washes over you. Having just lost my grandfather, this film hit me so hard emotionally and the final scene, which is one of the most heartbreakingly poignant I have ever seen, totally shattered me. Give this movie all the awards, it deserves it.

Crisis – It was only a matter of time before the opioid crisis was tackled in some shape or form which makes Steven Soderbergh seem that much more prolific when you realize that he adapted the miniseries Traffik in 2000. Hell, he did Contagion ten years ago. Man, maybe we should be listening to him exclusively! This story is broken down into three stories about the world of opioids which collide: a drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation between Canada and the U.S., an architect recovering from an OxyContin addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s involvement with narcotics, and a university professor battles unexpected revelations about his research employer, a drug company with deep government influence bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market. The cast is eclectic, featuring Oscar-winner Gary Oldman, the Wasp herself Evangeline Lilly and the possible cannibal Armie Hammer but as interesting as the story starts out it completely falls apart in the end and becomes predictable and formulaic. This movie could have been special but will ultimately get lost in the shuffle.

Above Suspicion – With a notable young cast and an experienced director, this new based on a true story action thriller should be an easy hit and the man behind it, Philip Noyce, has a great track record with the spy film Salt, the Michael Caine led The Quiet American and even a Tom Clancy Jack Ryan adaptation under his belt, Clear And Present Danger. This film features Jack Huston and Emilia Clarke and is a chilling true story of a newly married F.B.I. poster boy assigned to an Appalachian mountain town in Kentucky where he is drawn into an illicit affair with an impoverished local woman who becomes his star informant. She sees in him her means of escape but, instead, it’s a ticket to disaster for both of them. This scandal shook the foundations of the nation’s top law enforcement agency, ending in the first-ever conviction of an F.B.I. Agent for murder and I wish I could say that it all works out theatrically but it is filled with so many logic missteps that it starts to drain away from the reality of which we’re seeing a blur into a makeshift crime thriller with loose plotting peppered throughout.

Enforcement – I know we’re all just about ready to come out of isolation and rejoin our already in progress lives but come take a trip with me to Denmark in the meantime to get embroiled in one of the most inventive and engrossing international crime thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. On the surface, the film is about two police officers on routine patrol who find themselves trapped in a maze of buildings when a riot spreads. It all starts with the arrest of a suspected terrorist who is just a nineteen-year-old kid and the exact details of what took place while Talib Ben Hassi was in police custody remain unclear but he died in the process. Police officers, Jens and Mike, are on routine patrol in Svalegården’s ghetto when news of Talib’s death comes in over the radio, igniting uncontrollable, pent-up rage in the ghetto’s youth, who lust for revenge. and suddenly, the two officers find themselves fair game and must fight tooth and claw to find a way out. I was completely blown away by this film, gritty and tense with a palpable rage that runs through it constantly. Like Les Miserable did last year, this movie strikes like a firebrand and doesn’t relent.

Food Club – Let’s head back to Denmark for some of that feel-good and light-hearted comedy romp that is so needed to wash the dull greys of the dower world off you. The new film from director Barbara Topsøe-Rothenborg follows three longtime girlfriends from elementary school who are coming into their prime and finding a new lease on life after participating in a cooking course in Italy. Each woman is going through catastrophic changes in their life, from a husband abandoning their marriage, a daughter’s complicated relationship and the end of a long grieving process. This film comes through as some great catharsis for an older generation as this story’s general mission is to illustrate that there is much more life to be lived in the latter part of your years and reinvention is attainable any time. The premise may be contrived and seen before but the characters are new and fresh, keeping you engaged for the duration.

Blu-Ray:

Promising Young Woman – Just when you think your best of the year list is all completed, the last week of releases comes through and throws a couple more at you to think about including this film that has a Carey Mulligan performance that demands to be seen. The feature debut of Killing Eve creator Emerald Fennell, this film is a gutshot to every toxic dude on this planet and it may be uncomfortable at times, but it is all necessary. Mulligan plays Cassie, a young woman who is traumatized by a tragic event in her past that happened to her childhood best friend and seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path as well as men who prey on drunk women at clubs. This film’s narrative is caustic, searing and totally unrelenting but has an ability to be sardonically funny and then slap you hard with its seriousness. Very quickly into this movie, I knew I was watching the year’s best and it kept getting better.

Songbird – Everyone ready for a pandemic-themed thriller? Goodie!! Yeah, my sarcasm bleeds through because, honestly, with all the shared trauma that nests in all of our brains daily over the last year, do we need to have a film scaring us with the isolation we already feel anyways? Starring Riverdale’s KJ Apa, The Office’s Craig Robinson, The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and more, this film is set in 2024 as a pandemic ravages the world and its cities and centers on a handful of people as they navigate the obstacles currently hindering society like disease, martial law, quarantine and vigilantes. The film comes from low-budget horror guy Adam Mason, who I appreciate for all the Alice In Chains music videos he did recently, but, really, this all feels like the low-hanging fruit that all filmmakers should avoid. I speak for myself but I don’t think we want COVID horror flicks.

Psycho Goreman – I had a small inkling that I would love this movie just based on the description and the fact that it’s the brand new film from The Void writer and director Steven Kostanski really just added to the hype for me. So, are you ready for the low down? Well, friends, this film follows siblings Mimi and Luke who unwittingly resurrect an ancient alien overlord bent on the destruction of all worlds and the flaying of all life within them. Fortunately for them, they are also in possession of a magical amulet connected to his powers and they force the monster to obey their childish whims, accidentally attracting a rogues’ gallery of intergalactic assassins to small-town suburbia. This movie is absolutely insane, full of dark humour, gore and incredible creature effects from the great Masters’ FX who put on a clinic of wonder throughout. I didn’t know that I’d be looking at one of my favourite films of 2021 but here we are.

Don’t Tell A Soul – This movie is so well put together that I have to just hit you with the synopsis immediately to get your appetite going. The story follows a security officer who falls down a hidden well while chasing two teenage brothers who stole more than $12,000. Desperate to get out, he soon tries to convince one of the siblings to set him free and save his life and the tension in this movie is off the charts and totally delicious. The cast features the always great Rainn Wilson, Shazam’s Jack Dylan Grazer and Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead and is one of the most brilliant small scope thrillers I have seen in a while. The film comes across a bit mean-spirited at times and definitely bleak for the whole time but it all settles so beautifully and I found myself hooked immediately. This one was great.

Sacrilege – Beware, everyone, because I’m starting the horror picks this week now and this is a great little niche within the genre, the isolated cabin set scary movie and this one definitely starts well. The story follows four young women who, after accepting an invitation to join in with local celebrations for the Summer solstice, find themselves in the grips of a mysterious pagan cult. They are offered up as a sacrifice to the cult’s mysterious ancient goddess, who has the ability to sense their greatest fears and, using this power against them, she turns their nightmares into a horrifying reality. A film out of the United Kingdom under the eye of writer and director David Creed, it all starts well and he astounds with his ability to chill you to the bone in only his first feature. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses through its second act to the third you can literally feel the wind coming out of its sails as it falls into unoriginal trappings and a script that could have used another once over. I’m disappointed because it was going so well.

Adverse – I feel like someone, namely writer and director Brian A. Metcalf, must have seen Michael Mann’s thriller Collateral and was like “I can do that but modern and different!” Notice I didn’t say better? Anyways, this film features Thomas Nicholas and Mickey Rourke in a story about one man’s quest for revenge, following a rideshare driver named Ethan, struggling to make ends meet, who learns his sister Mia is deep in debt to a sleazy drug dealer. When Mia goes missing, Ethan discovers that crime boss Kaden is behind the act, and to get close to him Ethan takes a job as Kaden’s driver. One by one Ethan hunts down members of Kaden’s crew to wreak bloody vengeance as he prepares to confront Kaden himself. Just looking at this trailer and synopsis you would be led to believe that the film is formulaic garbage but I was surprised by how much the movie actually works and it is all due to Rourke’s menacing performance which really drives the emotional beats of it. As I said, it’s no Collateral but it is pretty damn entertaining.

Celine And Julie Go Boating – Ready for the warm cinematic light of some classic international cinema through the lens of the adored Criterion Collection? Well, this film made its way over from France in 1974 from writer and director Jacques Rivette and follows a mysteriously linked pair of young women who find their daily lives preempted by a strange boudoir melodrama that plays itself out in a hallucinatory parallel reality. What the hell is that, am I right? Still, this is some of that great French new wave experimental filmmaking that dazzled those in the know at the time but didn’t really make it to the big time because, let’s face it, the mainstream appeal is limited. Now, over forty-five years after its release, the film is largely regarded as one of the top one hundred french movies of all time and a must-see for any cinephile.

The Invisible Man Appears/The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly – Arrow Video is digging deep into the classic for their impression of a Warner Archive release but with a sci-fi horror twist to it with this two-pack of films that takes us back to 1949 Japan for some weirdness. The first film, The Invisible Man Appears, follows a group of jewel thieves who become interested in an invisibility formula invented by Professor Nakazato and want to use his invention to acquire a diamond necklace called the “Tears of Amour”. The second one puts our new invisible character in a battle, with a ruthless serial killer with a peculiar method of stalking and killing his victims coming face to face with a police officer turned see-thru by a scientific experiment. It’s a weird and kooky Japanese mystery that spanned a decade and, crazy enough, it still works in a fun way.

Damn Yankees – A couple of Warner Archive classics are landing in stores this week, starting with this classic musical romantic comedy from one of the biggest directors of the era, Stanley Donen, in 1958, the same year he would release the very popular Indiscreet with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. The film stars Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston and is an adaptation of the George Abbott written Broadway musical, who also co-directed this with Donen, and is about a Washington Senators fan who makes a pact with the Devil to help his baseball team win the league pennant. A deal with the devil movie, would that fly in this day and age? As much as I dislike musicals, this film is quite enjoyable and would be a great one to watch with the grandparents in the eventuality that we can be in the same room as them. It should also be known that the legendary Bob Fosse choreographed this film, a really special talent that shines in this.

Crossfire – Oh yes, my friends, we get some classic film noir this week from Warner Archive and I’m just salivating thinking about it because it really is the good stuff and it features a killer leading line up for its time in 1947 with Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan who, if you do your research, was the best of the best. The story follows Homicide Captain Finlay who finds evidence that one or more of a group of demobilized soldiers is involved in the death of a man named Joseph Samuels. In flashbacks, we see the night’s events from different viewpoints as army Sgt. Keeley investigates on his own, trying to clear the lead suspect Mitchell, to whom circumstantial evidence points. Then the real, ugly motive for the killing begins to dawn on both Finlay and Keeley and the conspiracy grows infinitely darker. This film is great and was a huge hit for its time, earning five Academy Award nominations, but the lead star Mitchum hated it. He later claimed that any American actor could have played Keeley which, having just watched it, I disagree with. He kind of makes that character work with his incredible nuance. This is an absolute golden classic to discover in my opinion.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Smooth Talk – I’m not done with the Criterion Collection movies yet as they hooked me up with this new reissue just a few weeks after its release and it showcases a young Laura Dern far before she won an Academy Award but it’s a great indicator of the talent she would become impeccable at harnessing. Co-starring Treat Williams in a menacing and creepy performance, Dern plays free-spirited fifteen-year-old Connie Wyatt who is a bombshell that is already driving the boys crazy but is anxious to escape the boredom of family farm life. Her suspicious mother wants to keep her safely at home but Connie would rather spend the languid summer days hanging out with her friends and flirting with boys at the local burger stand. Connie’s natural curiosities start to go down a dark path when she flirts with a handsome and mysterious stranger named Arnold Friend, played by Williams, and she finds herself in dangerous waters and must prepare herself for the frightening and traumatic consequences. This film is such a great hidden gem, directed by Joyce Chopra who had a brilliant feature film career starting with this one and The Lemon Sisters four years later who then pivoted to television in episode and movie of the week formats. She is a truly nuanced filmmaker who wasn’t appreciated at the time.

The Goonies 4K – Easily one of my childhood favorite films of all time, it’s hard to find a kid of the 80s who wasn’t deeply affected by this Steven Spielberg produced and Richard Donner directed adventure that had us all digging for an escapade in our own backyards, hoping for pirate treasure. For those who haven’t had the absolute privilege of this movie, it’s about a kid named Mikey and his friends who have always wanted to go on an adventure. One night they are all in Mikey’s attic when he stumbles across an old map and, always wanting to know if the local myth of One-eyed Willy ever was a real person and with this indicating he might, they set off for the treasure. To enter the underground caves that the map illustrates, they have to go through the evil Mama Fratelli’s restaurant to get to a secret passage to the caves which ends up setting some more adult dangers in motion and, oh man, is this movie ever fun. Now restored to 4K, this adventure just shines on the screen and hopefully, it can rope in a new generation of fans because I still believe this film is that damn good. Pure Spielberg blockbuster filmmaking here.

Beetlejuice 4K – One of my favorite films of my childhood and one that definitely messed me up quite a bit with its themes, this new reissue was a totally welcome addition to my collection, replacing me earlier anniversary DVD edition with a gorgeous 4K remaster. For those unfamiliar with one of Tim Burton’s greatest works and a classic Michael Keaton character, the story follows Adam and Barbara, a normal couple who happen to be recently dead. They have given their precious time to decorate their house and make it their own but, unfortunately, a family is moving in and not quietly. Adam and Barbara try to scare them out, but end up becoming the main attraction to the money-making family and, unknowing of the consequences, they call upon Beetlejuice to help. Their new hire has way more in mind than just helping and sees this as an opportunity for escape. This cast is phenomenal around Keaton, with Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder and Catherine O’Hara all doing incredible comedic work and the special effects boggled my mind then and are just as fun now. This classic totally holds up so it’s time to traumatize a new generation with it.

Shogun’s Joy Of Torture – A latecomer in the new releases this year from Arrow Video, I couldn’t let this one just slip into my collection without saying anything about it. The film comes from Japan, made in 1968, and comes from the mind of the insane writer and director Teruo Ishii who was known as “The King of Cult” in Japan but largely unknown in the West. Well, he gets his due with this one, an anthology that is made up of three separate stories that all intersect. The first segment is about Shinza who was hurt while working when a log hit him on the head and now sister Mitsu is forced to give herself to her brother’s boss Mr. Mino to help pay for Shinza’s doctor bills. The second segment is about the arrival of mother Reiho and her servant Rintoku at the Jukuin monastery. The monastery is located near a temple inhabited by priests and one day when one of them named Shunkei runs by Reiho he arouses something inside of her. The final segment is about a tattoo artist named Horicho who has just given Kimicho his greatest tattoo to date. While showing his work off to a group of people, a man named Lord Nambera walks by mocking the tattoo and its lack of realism. This is really niche filmmaking here and I notice I’ve gone off the beaten path with a lot of the titles here but where else but me and The Shift are you going to get this?

Television:

Mayans M.C.: Season 3 (FX) – Sons Of Anarchy fans, myself included, still have something to cling to as this series has broken through its uncertain period and now Kurt Sutter has exited as showrunner and it’s fully on co-creator Elgin James plate. The show is thriving with its new sort of Jax, EZ, played by JD Pardo, a character that starts his journey from the bottom as a prospect which adds to a different dynamic in the show. I love the supporting cast like Edward James Almos and Tudors star Sarah Bolger and the returning actors Ray McKinnon and Emilio Rivera in their Sons of Anarchy roles, this all taking place in a post-Jax Teller world. As a merchandise-owning fan of the original series, I will ride with this show until the wheels fall off. Blood feuds have come and gone, new feuds have started and the show is more engaging than ever. Just hook it to my veins!

Slaxx (Shudder) – I’m bringing a movie this week about a killer pair of jeans! I don’t know how I can ever possibly top this but Shudder is giving me some really b-movie gold here and I can’t deprive you of it. Well, I already buried the lede on this but this film is about a possessed pair of jeans that is brought to life exclusively to punish the unscrupulous practices of a trendy clothing company. Shipped to the company’s flagship store, Slaxx proceeds to wreak carnage on staff locked in overnight to set up the new collection and it is hilariously bloody and completely tongue in cheek. The lo-fi style of this movie works completely in its favor and it really bums me out that I didn’t get to experience this in theaters or on the festival circuit because it really would have been a fun time and I would’ve had someone to say “did you see that?!?” to.

Koko-di Koko-da (Shudder) – Let’s head back to Denmark for some more cinema but, given that this is a Shudder original, it is covered in weirdness, some blood and all under the great umbrella of horror. The set up for this film is deliciously insane as it follows a couple who go on a trip to find a way to reconnect with each other when a sideshow artist and his shady entourage emerge from the woods to terrorize them and lure them deeper into a maelstrom of psychological terror and humiliating slapstick. Yeah, this movie is crazy and picks up deeply human threads of grief and loss and weaves it into a story that is comedic even in its darkness and the visuals head down the path of being completely mind-bending in parts. This is one of those word-of-mouth foreign films that is going to be talked up by subscriber after subscriber to Shudder. Get on the ground level now.

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier (Disney+) – Been missing your weekly dose of the MCU through the eight episodes of WandaVision? Well, it’s time to get back on track as we get a brand new six-episode limited series but definitely, a different one than its predecessor in its tone and scope. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, and Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, team up in a global adventure that tests their abilities and their patience for each other’s company. The first episode is such a great establishment for where we are in this universe, the consequences of the ending of the last phase and, of course, the fallout from “the snap”. I’m absolutely ravenous for the next episode but now I have to wait longer than you guys. Such a bummer.

Calls (AppleTV+) – You know I love a good anthology horror series and this one doubles down on being awesome by including one of my favorite new directors in the last decade, Fede Alvarez who helmed the remake of the Evil Dead. Featuring a cast that includes Succession’s Nicholas Braun, Emily In Paris star Lily Collins and Avengers: Endgame’s Karen Gillan, this series is told through a series of interconnected phone conversations chronicling the mysterious story of a group of strangers whose lives are thrown into disarray in the lead-up to an apocalyptic event. I’m just one episode into it so far and I’m totally hooked as I’ve never seen anything like it before and all the twists to this point have been completely original and absolutely mindblowing. There are little gems to be seen on AppleTV+ and this is definitely one of them.

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