Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Godzilla vs. Kong – The behemoths are finally going to battle it out for the first time in the modern age after a build that started with 2014’s Godzilla. I have my qualms about the human element of both Godzilla movies to this point but the epic that was Kong: Skull Island, one of my favourite IMAX experiences ever, is too awesome to take a step down from. This film brings King Kong from the 70s into the present-day and “legends collide” as these mythic adversaries meet in a spectacular battle for the ages, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Kong and his protectors undertake a perilous journey to find his true home, and with them is Jia, a young orphaned girl with whom he has formed a unique and powerful bond. They quickly and unexpectedly find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla, cutting a swath of destruction across the globe for an unknown reason as he’s turned from the planet’s protector that took down King Ghidorah and now becomes their terrorizer. I have my reservations about this movie, given my thoughts on the Godzilla movies, but I am still so very excited.

French Exit – Writer and director Azazel Jacobs has been on a roll with me lately and only because I just discovered his work through the Kino Lorber releases of Momma’s Man and The Good Times Kid which then led me to Terri and The Lovers, quickly cementing him as an indie favourite, in the same vein of a Noah Baumbach style filmmaker. With this new movie, I got even more excited as it features the lovely Michelle Pfieffer and one of the best young actors today, Lucas Hedges. Pfeiffer plays an ageing Manhattan socialite living on what’s barely left of her inheritance, moving to a small apartment in Paris with her son and a cat that may be the conduit to contacting her dead husband. Yes, it’s a bit weird but if it leaned harder into that weirdness the final product wouldn’t feel this uneven. Is this an absurd comedy or a down drama? I never could glean exactly what it was going for but it has great emotional beats but also many hilarious moments. I’m really on the fence with this one.

The Unholy – With the great Jeffrey Dean Morgan leading it and horror legend Sam Raimi producing with his Ghosthouse and Evil Dead counterpart Rob Tappert, I felt like this might be an enjoyable little popcorn supernatural horror flick. Oh boy, was I ever wrong. The film follows Alice, a young hearing-impaired girl who, after a supposed visitation from the Virgin Mary, is inexplicably able to hear, speak and heal the sick. As word spreads and people from near and far flock to witness her miracles, a disgraced journalist, played by Morgan, who, hoping to revive his career, visits the small New England town to investigate. When terrifying events begin to happen all around, he starts to question if these phenomena are the works of the Virgin Mary or something much more sinister and, obvious spoilers, it is. This movie is haphazardly plotted, filled with dumb reveals, cheesy and seemingly unfinished special effects and, worst of all, it isn’t scary for even a second and relies on jump scares to get you. This movie was a complete waste of time and a total bummer.

Tina – Honestly, these days, if any music documentary comes out I’m basically on to it right away and that was definitely the case with this film that showcases one of the greatest singers and performers on the planet and someone that I quipped to my wife is the original Beyonce, a talent worthy of the Goddess title. With a huge treasure trove of never-before-seen footage, audiotapes, personal photos, and new interviews, including with the singer herself from her home in Switzerland, the film presents an unvarnished and dynamic account of the life and career of music icon Tina Turner. Everything changed when Tina began telling her story, a story of trauma and survival, that gave way to a rebirth as the record-breaking queen of rock ‘n’ roll but, behind closed doors, the singer struggled with the survivor narrative that meant her past was never fully behind her as her abuser is constantly chained to everything she does and she can’t seem to escape the shadow of Ike Turner. This movie was incredible but it made it very apparent to the constant gaslighting she has faced at every turn with Ike being brought up and even with her induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, of course, it’s with Ike. So upsetting but this is a must-see triumph.

Shiva Baby – I received the screener for this new American and Canadian co-production from my PR rep and, honestly, shelved it with the thought that if I had time, I’d get to it eventually for review. Not a priority. Then I saw a little buzz on Twitter about it. Then it got louder. And louder. And louder to the point that I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I had to see if it holds up to the hype and, you know what? It does. A comedy of a downhill slide into a bed of errors that resembles a pile of cactuses, the story follows a college student who, while at a Jewish funeral service with her parents, has an awkward encounter with her sugar daddy, who is attending with his wife and baby daughter, and her ex-girlfriend, all unknown to the rest of her family. Writer and director Emma Seligman arrives with such a well-constructed and deeply funny debut, based on her short film, and really sets herself up nicely as a filmmaker to take note of, as is her lead star Rachel Sennott whose delivery on each line is absolute gold. This movie for sure lives up to the great things said about it.

The Conductor – This is a story of inspiration, following a Dutch-born woman who dreams of becoming a conductor of an orchestra in the 1920s but a huge obstacle stands in her way as there have never been any women to ever do this. The film has the lead actress Christianne de Bruijn, who looks strikingly like a cross between Phoebe Cates and Drew Barrymore, facing down sexism and gender norms to achieve her dreams and is consistently the best thing about this movie, everyone else seeming wooden in their delivery. Honestly, that takes the most out of it as the story is pretty intriguing.

Witness Infection – Oh zombie films, how you never cease to pop up in the new releases. This one has a little fun streak to it as it takes actors and actresses like Tara Strong, Carlos Alazraqui and Maurice LaMarche out of the voice-over booth where we are used to hearing them voice shows like Powerpuff Girls, Batman The Animated Series and Rocko’s Modern Life and puts them front and center in a live-action horror movie. The film is the story of two rival mob families who are transferred from the Witness Protection Program to the same city by mistake, centred around Carlo Serrelli. His father has kept him out of the deadly mob business by giving him a job at the family dog groomers, while his younger brother, Dominic, has always done the dirty work but all that comes to an end as Daddy has to force him into an arranged marriage with the daughter of the rival Miola family boss. Carlo’s two best friends, Gina and Vince, vow to help him get out of this predicament, but they all get in way over their heads when a serious zombie infection starts eating the town. The film is goofy and low budget but that is no excuse for having such a meandering storyline that feels like too many pokers in the fire to give enough focus to one singular element. In the end, it kind of falls on its face.

No Ordinary Man – In one of the most effective and soul-bearing documentaries I have seen in recent memory, directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt and writer Amos Mac explore the life of American Jazz musician Billy Tipton who, moments after his death was revealed to be a woman living as a man by his son which then resulted with his family being paraded all over tabloid television as a rating grabbing freak show. In this film, Tipton’s story is reimagined and performed by trans artists as they are brought together in an audition-like situation to paint a portrait of a posthumous trans hero and relate their stories to the struggle Tipton went through in his era. The filmmakers also go to Tipton’s son Billy Jr. to reconcile a complicated and contested legacy that has informed his entire adult life without seeing the boundaries his father had broken for trans and non-binary around the world. I got to check out this documentary last year at the Vancouver International Film Festival and thought it was thoroughly fascinating and informative, my first great doc of the event.

Blu-Ray:

Wonder Woman 1984 – Finally, after waiting since June after delay after delay due to the pandemic we got to see the next piece in the theatrical story of Princess Diana of Themyscira, also known as Wonder Woman. It would have been way better to see this on the big screen obviously but, at first, we were happy with what we got as both Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins had returned for this sequel that looked to be bigger and better than the first film. What we ended up receiving was a garish and poorly written ramshackle sequel which again throws Diana into a puppy dog love story that renders her useless, a haphazardly put together villain build for Kristen Wiig’s character and a seriously problematic storyline that puts an unconscious man in the center of a sexual relationship. It may feel like I’m reading way too far into this superhero film but it is a real mess and anyone can see that.

Our Friend – Coming from the director of the wildly popular documentary Blackfish, I put a lot of stock in this new drama from filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite, her second narrative feature after the critically acclaimed Megan Leavey, and she has a great trio to lead this one with Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck and Jason Segal. The story follows a couple who find unexpected support from their best friend, who puts his own life on hold after they receive life-altering news and moves into their family home to help raise their two girls. Segal’s performance may go down as one of his best but the film refuses to let you resonate in its emotional beats and always tries to up the ante in an obvious manipulative way that pulls you out of the drama far more than the scattered timeline of the storytelling which may frustrate other viewers. Everyone is so good in this and the cinematography is exquisite but it feels like it fails in the end.

Another Round – One of my most anticipated films of the Vancouver International Film Festival last year, I was already seeing great reactions to this new Thomas Vinterberg film on Twitter before I even got the chance to check it out and they are all very much warranted. Starring one of my favourite international actors of all time, Mads Mikkelsen, the story is about four friends, all high school teachers, who embark on an experiment where they each sustain a certain level of alcohol intoxication during their everyday life, believing that all people, in general, would benefit from a bit higher Blood Alcohol Content. As a result, their working experiences are turned upside down, forcing their lives into deeper turmoil than they were in the first place. The performances are phenomenal as the story keeps descending into a chaotic nose dive until an odd resolution that seems like a conflicted triumph, What a pure cinematic gem this movie is!

55 Steps – This movie has something going for it for me with the inclusion of actress Helena Bonham Carter but also has a Hilary Swank in the lead role which is a bit of a negative for me. A movie that was made and shelved in 2017, it gets its debut now and follows a workaholic lawyer who helps a psychiatric patient sue a psychiatric unit of a San Francisco hospital for mistreating its patients. The movie comes from acclaimed filmmaker Bille August, the man behind Smilla’s Sense of Snow, the 1998 Les Misérables and The House Of Spirits but lacks the polish that his films usually have and kind of pushes both actresses into a frustrating sort of a character build that seems unearned, frantic and, honestly, a bit annoying. It definitely didn’t do anything for my opinion of Swank’s work because this is for sure one of her lower works.

The Bermuda Depths – When this sci-fi fantasy adventure landed on my doorstep from Warner Archive, I really had no clue about its existence or the seemingly vocal fans that still champion it to this day. It follows Leigh McCloskey as a traumatized and orphaned college dropout named Magnus Dens who returns to Bermuda to find the cause of his father’s mysterious death years before. At the Bermuda Biological Station, he finds friends and colleagues of his late father and joins them on a quest for gigantic sea creatures where he also meets Jennie Haniver, a mysterious young woman who was once his only childhood friend. An island local warns Magnus that Jennie is dangerous and the beautiful but vain young woman had sold her soul with the Devil centuries before and lives forever young deep in the waters of the Devil’s Triangle or the Bermuda Triangle. Of course, nobody heeds the folklore and the researchers end up trapping a giant sea turtle, setting the stage for a deadly confrontation with both minions of the Devil. This movie is pretty fun and I see why, before its initial DVD release in 2009, there was an online petition for Warner Bros. to release this movie in home format. It kind of lives up to that hype.

Isle Of The Dead – Boris Karloff and Jason Robards Sr. in a classic horror film together? Yes, I’m so sold and, to make everything more genre-specific, it’s an “Of The Dead” title too which always makes it that more delicious. The story is set on a Greek island during the 1912 war with several people trapped by quarantine for the plague, which feels hugely relatable today. If that isn’t enough worry, one of the people, a superstitious old peasant woman, suspects one young girl of being a vampiric kind of demon called a vorvolaka which translates as a harmful and undead creature in Greek folklore and Salento culture. This film is so classic and yet really original as it uses fear and paranoia to power its horror to an effective crescendo and Karloff is just there to add to its credibility. I’m surprised by how much I dug this movie.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Everybody Wants Some!! – Richard Linklater returned with one of his most anticipated films of five years ago for me, a “spiritual sequel” to his first major hit, Dazed and Confused. Again taking place in Texas but in the fall of 1980, the story follows college freshman Jake Bradford, a hotshot pitcher in high school, who moves into an off-campus house with other college baseball team members. He meets several teammates, including his roommate Billy, who has been nicknamed “Beuter” because of his deep Southern accent. He joins Finnegan, Roper, Dale, and Plummer in cruising the campus by car, looking for women and, oh man, do I ever love this movie. A killer soundtrack, infinitely quotable moments and the Linklater charm permeate this movie that exists in a blender that brings the microcosm of that time and the fun of a party weekend.

Slither – This was my real official introduction to the filmmaking genius of James Gunn before I knew of his beginnings with Lloyd Kaufman at Troma Entertainment, but because of this movie I was on the path of him becoming one of my favourite writer and directors. The film harkens back to those alien invasion-type stories from the fifties and sixties with a modern twist, following the happenings after a flaming meteorite crashes into the dark woods of the sleepy town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. The meteor contains a baneful parasitic organism and a subtle alien invasion commences with the war’s unlucky first victim being the town’s local businessman, Grant. Little by little, as an internal change transforms Grant into an utterly hideous monstrosity, his new alien malevolence takes over and he begins to turn his focus on the town. This movie is a plethora of things, all great, as it’s gory, filled with action and gross gore and a hilarious script delivered by an uber-talented cast, many of them before they hit their big break like Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Jenna Fischer, who was married to Gunn at the time. I love this movie.

Midnight Special – Jeff Nichols is a filmmaker I have enjoyed more and more with every viewing, a storyteller with an incredible penchant for great deep south tales and it always involved Michael Shannon in some capacity. For this film he heads down a bit of a science-fiction-based story, something that I called, at the time of its review, “Southern Fried Spielberg” and I still hold fast to that description. It follows Alton Meyer, a boy unlike any other in the world with bizarrely powerful abilities and strange weaknesses. In the middle of the night, his father, Roy, spirits him away from the isolated cult that practically worships him and is determined to regain him at all costs but, at the same time, Alton’s abilities have been noticed by the US government as well and they are equally insistent on getting to the bottom of this mystery with Paul Sevier of the National Security Agency, played by Adam Driver, leading the Federal pursuit with his own questions. The film is largely a chase as Alton is drawn to an epicentre that may mean new planes of existence for the human race and the big ideas that Nichols is dealing with in this movie come to fruition in the most spectacular ways. Believe the title, this one is truly special.

Television:

The Moodys: Season 2 (Fox) – Yes, I’m definitely bringing the new season of this comedy series because it features a friend of mine, Jay Baruchel, but the cast around him is nothing to balk at with Denis Leary, Weed’s alumni Elizabeth Perkins and French Canadian The Borgias star François Arnaud. Loosely, the first season followed a tight-knit, but slightly dysfunctional family of five who gather in their hometown of Chicago for the “perfect” Christmas holiday. The second season starts with Sean Sr. contemplating retirement and taking road trips across the country in an RV with Ann with the hopes that Sean Jr. takes over the family HVAC business. Of course, hilarity ensues and this talented group always brings the funny, all from a good foundation as the show was created by We’re The Millers’ Bob Fisher, How I Met Your Mother producer Rob Greenberg and Scrubs producer Tad Quill.

Creepshow: Season 2 (Shudder) – With my love of anthology horror being large as well as my adoration of the first season of this brand new Shudder series, you best believe I have more than a little excited for a brand new season of disturbing horror stories led by The Walking Dead showrunner and gore specialist Greg Nicotero because that Christmas special was only just enough to keep me going for another couple months. First off, the list of directors on this new bunch is being kept very secretive but Nicotero will be helming some and Mayhem and Everly director and podcaster Joe Lynch is shooting one too which makes me excited. Because of the wild speculation going on with the cast and crew, it’s up in the air as to what stories we’ll see or if any of Stephen King’s stories will be touched but, gauging how great the first season was, we are almost guaranteed a hell of a ride.

City On A Hill: Season 2 (Crave) – Kevin Bacon is absolutely fascinating in this Boston law enforcement series with a dirty cop edge from the same guys who put the spotlight on Baltimore in Homicide: Life On The Street. Bacon plays Jackie Rohr, a sleazy and corrupt FBI agent who reminisces about the more abusive times in policing when you could knock around perps and witnesses. He latches on to the new assistant D.A. with an axe to grind, the two looking to make a difference in a city they both want to see excel. The show suffers here and there with some of the tough-guy bravado writing that harkens back to a different era of television but when this show hits its stride it is a totally effective and engaging show. The first season is such a great establishing point and I’ve been waiting not too patiently for this follow up but, you know, Showtime loves to make us simmer and squirm. Catch up with all of it beforehand on Crave and thank me for it later. You will.

This Time With Alan Partridge (BritBox) – Steve Coogan is one of my favourite comedians working today and has been for a long time, largely thanks to the Michael Winterbottom film 24 Hour Party People but a good portion of it comes from his bigger than life talk show host character Alan Partridge, first seen in the British television series The Day Today. Well, he has resurrected the character again for this show in which Alan’s career is handed a lifeline as he is given the chance to stand in as the temporary co-host on This Time, a weekday magazine show, an opportunity that he’s a free thought or bad interview away from squandering. Like all of the other Alan Partridge projects, this one is hysterically funny and has Coogan operating once again at the top of his game, making you wonder why he takes breaks from this character.

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