Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Boss Level – From the outside this movie looks like unoriginal crap, again recycling the “Groundhog Day” style time parabol tropes that have appeared a lot in the last decade and, yes, I can’t fault anyone for feeling that but with the combination of these elements, lead star Frank Grillo, director Joe Carnahan and the no holds barred action style, I kind of loved it. Grillo plays former special forces agent Roy Pulver who is trapped in a time loop that constantly repeats the day of his murder, each day uncovering more and more clues about a secret government project that could unlock the mystery behind his untimely death. In a race against the clock, Pulver must hunt down Colonel Ventor, played with a subtle wink by Mel Gibson, the powerful head of the government program, while outrunning skilled ruthless assassins determined to keep him from the truth in order to break out of the loop, save his family and live once again for tomorrow. This movie is violent and excessive but manages to deliver as a fun and wild ride if you don’t try to over analyse the science behind it.

The Seventh Day – This week has a bit of an exorcism theme with this movie and the blu-ray released retrospective of The Exorcist but this movie has Guy Pearce as a demon fighting priest so that’s cool, right? He stars as a renowned exorcist who teams up with a rookie priest for his first day of training and as they plunge deeper into hell on earth, the lines between good and evil blur, and their own demons emerge. Did that just sound like the Exorcist version of the movie Training Day? Kind of and, to be honest, that would have been amazing in my opinion. What is instead the result is a great performance from Pearce in a movie that is muddled in it’s plot and seems to constantly borrow from better films which, in turn, makes it look way worse. If I hadn’t seen any exorcism movie prior I may have been slightly impressed by this one but, alas, I’m well versed in the subgenre.

In The Earth – Writer and director Ben Wheatley is on fire as he has been since he debuted but more recently he had a remake of a Hitchcock film, Rebecca, for Netflix and now he has this small, self contained little pandemic made thriller and the psychedelia of the whole thing may turn people off but I thought it was brilliant. This mysterious film hits really close to home, taking place in a world that desperately searches for a cure to a disastrous virus, following a scientist and park scout who venture deep in the forest for a routine equipment run. Through the night, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through the heart of darkness as the forest comes to life around them and a stranger they come across who may be more dangerous than he is helpful. The film stars usual British comedy guys Joel Fry and Reece Shearsmith and is an incredible meditation on both paranoia and blind hopefulness and the emotional horror that can result from it. The score is also done by the genius composer, Clint Mansell, and adds a thick level of atmosphere that helps drive the dread. I really loved this one but I adore the weird stuff, so take that as it is.

The Good Traitor – This week we get some pre World War II drama in a freedom fighter story about rebellion and the cost of standing up against a rising evil regime. Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Burn Gorman and Ross McCall, the film is set in 1940 when Denmark is invaded by Nazi Germany with demands for immediate and unconditional surrender. The government quickly surrenders after a few hours and begins cooperating with the Nazis but on the other side of the Atlantic is Denmark’s ambassador to the United States of America, a daredevil and a man of the world, Henrik Kauffmann, who is willing to put everything on the line. Refusing to follow the German directives, he engineers a rebellious plan to defeat Hitler and give the Danish people their freedom back. The reality of this story is absolutely fascinating and even when the narrative style dries out the intrigue contained within, the consistent reminder that this is a true story keeps everything mostly afloat. That said, Thomsen absolutely owns his performance as Kauffmann, the main reason to check this out.

The Violent Heart – There’s a lot of secrets contained in this high school mystery thriller with some Shakespearian tropes to it but it attaches itself interestingly to many current thematic issues even if it does get a bit grandiose in it’s scope. The film stars Jovan Adepo from HBO’s Watchman limited series and has him playing twenty four year old Daniel, a man trying to recover emotionally from the murder of his siter fifteen years earlier and finds himself falling for Cassie, an outgoing high school senior which starts to increase the darkness he’s been trying to keep contained. This film is ambitious in it’s scope but the paper thin characters and development always serve to bog it down as you really don’t have any investment in them so why would you care what happens to them? I felt the need to know what was going to happen next but it was more of a completionist thing for me rather than a finality to the story.

Arlo The Alligator Boy – Just before I put this new animated Netflix produced movie on for my kid I thought, “oh man, this better not be dreadful. I can’t take an awful kid’s movie right now” and I thought my fears were coming true when my daughter said “it’s a musical, I think”. She then informed me that it was good so far and, really, I kind of started enjoying it myself. The story is so cute and precocious and follows a young humanoid alligator who travels to the big city in hopes of reuniting with his estranged father while meeting a colorful cast of characters along the way, building up friendships with all of them. The film features a pretty good supporting cast of voices around the debuting Michael J. Woodard like Brett Gelman, Tony Hale, Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player Flea, Jennifer Coolidge, Annie Potts and Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness and is a solid family outing with a good message and songs that won’t make you want to tear your ears off. That’s a win.

The Banishing – Shane is going to be glad that he’s off this week as I have a new Shudder original horror to talk about this week and it has early festival buzz and now some of my go to genre critics are praising it as well so I feel like we’re in good hands here. Starring Jessica Brown Finlay and Sean Harris and directed by Black Death’s Christopher Smith, The Banishing tells the story of the most haunted house in England. Set in 1930s England, the film follows Linus, his wife Marianne and their daughter Adelaide move into town, where the patriarch has been posted as the new reverend. Tasked by the Church to renew the villagers’ faith which has been lost after the disappearance of the previous reverend’s family who lived in the very same mysterious manor where Linus and his family have settled into, he too starts to experience strange events like ghostly voices, dark figures dressed as monks, mysterious totems and his daughter’s behaviour starts becoming stranger by the day. It soon becomes clear that a malicious entity seeks to possess Adelaide and that the Church is hiding a terrible secret and may be even forcing it to happen. This movie gets under your skin and uses the very atmosphere around it to fuel the horror. Be warned, this film may stick with you for days and may make you avoid mirrors for a bit.

Blu-Ray:

Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist – One of the greatest horror films of all time and a movie that always appears at number one on the list of things that have scared people for life, The Exorcist, gets a full on retrospective from the only one who can give the full details about the story’s move from a book to screenplay and the construction and philosophy of the actual film, director William Friedkin. This may come across a bit dry to a casual viewer but, as a guy who just loves documentaries on film, I ate every second of this movie up. Having previously stepped into the shower for his exhaustive study of Psycho’s famous shower scene with 78/52 and boarded the Nostromo for the far reaches of space in Memory: The Origins of Alien, acclaimed documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe turns his attention to another landmark of genre cinema, framed around an epic six-day interview with the legendary director. The assembled analysis is not just an in-depth musing on one of the most influential and widely acclaimed horror movies of all time but also an enlightening and intimate portrait of Friedkin’s creative process as he passionately discusses his influences, from his religious upbringing to Caravaggio and interrogating the obsessions he has returned to throughout his filmmaking career. This film is always insightful, awe inspiring at times and often disarmingly candid, such a great companion piece to a true masterpiece.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Defending Your Life – Albert Brooks has a long line of genius both in from of and behind the camera that I feel has been forgotten in a large way as he hasn’t done a film himself since that sort of forgotten about Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World was released sixteen years ago but it’s a good thing that Criterion is her to celebrate his greatness. In one of my favourite of his ventures, he stars alongside Meryl Streep as Daniel Miller, a man who finds himself in Judgment City after being killed in a car crash in a waiting area for the newly deceased. While there, one must prove in a courtroom-style process that he successfully overcame his fears but in the process Daniel meets Julia in an afterlife comedy club and falls in love with her. Julia seems to have what it takes to move to the ‘next stage’ of existence, but Daniel’s worried he’ll be sent back and, in turn, lose the one person he loves so much. This is thoroughly a great film that plays on the afterlife with such wit and charm that you keep a smile on your face for the entire duration. I’m a big fan of this movie.

Cosmoball – I guess the Russians must have seen James Caan’s Rollerball or something because they have dipped into the sci-fi future sports field with this new fantasy action film. Featuring some dazzling special effects but a pretty muddled storyline, the film depicts a life on earth that is desolate and in despair after a brutal intergalactic war decimates most of our world which is then brightened only by the dangerous, high-flying sport Cosmoball, the lifeblood of the new way but no one knows that at each match the four gifted humans are really fighting furiously to ensure the survival of humankind. Honestly, beyond it’s gaffes, which are definitely present, I found myself really enjoying this film and got into the action on an almost Tron Legacy like level but the frenetic pace of Russian films does sort of make that stakes feel not as urgent and it does get in the way of good character development.

Television:

Wahl Street (Crave) – How did Mark Whalberg rise so quickly as a star? It really is colossal how he moved from Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch and a Calvin Klein model to the villain in the Reese Witherspoon thriller Fear and that opened the floodgates as he was a top billed blockbuster star by 2000. This new documentary series explores what Wahlberg has done with that massive rise in fortune in his modern life as the show’s focus is a candid look at the business pursuits of the mega star and his personal life in the midst of the global pandemic as he manages his growing business ventures against his rigorous film schedule. I know we all feel a COVID-19 pandemic fatigue but things like this really fascinate me and it’s so interesting to see the on the fly adjustments that the industry I love have had to make. I’m really intrigued to see where the series goes after episode one which starts as the pandemic is a looming threat and hasn’t yet hit the United States in the brutal way that we all lived through.

The Nevers (Crave) – This new HBO series already leaves a bad taste in my mouth as it was shepherded to the television screen by the former nerd messiah and current Hollywood parian Joss Whedon and episode one has the markings of him all over it which, up until Justice League, wasn’t a bad thing. Hell, we used to celebrate it! How times have changed. The series is set during the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign in a London is beset by the “touched” a group of people, mostly women, who suddenly manifest abnormal abilities, some of them charming but some are very disturbing. Among them are Amalia True, a mysterious, quick-fisted widow, and Penance Adair, a brilliant young inventor. They are the champions of this new underclass, making a home for the Touched, while fighting the forces of every malevolent force that crosses their path to make room for those whom history as we know has no place. I will say that I have hopes that the show will improve as the acting is great and the production value is stellar but the world building is sluggish, disjointed and kind of nonsensical in moments.

The Circle: Season 2 (Netflix) – A total Netflix reality show addiction is returning to rope people in and, I can’t lie, I was totally hooked by the original series. Now, I know nothing about any new changes or anything about the new contestants but I do know what the first season was all about as I watched every single episode. In a nutshell, the contestants live in an apartment building showcasing the infamous circle on the outside. They are literal neighbours but never meet face to face and only communicate through a social media app called “The Circle.” They can create a profile as themselves or make up a fake persona to play as and they regularly rank the other players based on their impressions through social media interactions with the top rated players becoming influencers who get to block, or eliminate a player, until ultimately a winner is crowned. Written out like that, it all seems so hopelessly dumb, which it is, but holy hell is it an addicting watch. I hate reality shows until you plunk this in front of me. I’m angering the television gods right now, I know it.

Big Shot (Disney+) – Disney+ and their original shows must have a real love for sports because, besides the revival of The Mighty Ducks and the new High School Musical series, they have put the Full House heartthrob John Stamos in the lead of this new series that has me comparing it to the subplot of the show Episodes. Those who know that great show get the reference. Stamos stars as a hothead men’s basketball coach who gets ousted from the NCAA and must take a job at an all-girls high school. He soon learns that teenage girls are more than just wins and losses and, shockingly, they require empathy and vulnerability, something our main coach has no training for. By learning how to connect with his players, predictably, he starts to grow into the person he’s always hoped to be and the girls learn to take themselves more seriously, finding their footing both on and off the court, surging to become a winning squad. Like The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, this really wasn’t made for adults and plays into the family programming that the Disney Channel is known for. Take the knowledge when getting into this but also know that Stamos is still as dreamy as he always was.

Kate & Koji (BritBox) – This is going to tap a bit into my love for British television, which is deep and varied as I was raised on it but it has to seep into my weekly reviews at some point. This one has big British acting credibility as Brenda Blethyn leads the show, a two time Academy Award nominated actress, playing a working-class woman who runs an old-fashioned café in a neglected British seaside town who develops a strong and sometimes volatile friendship with an asylum-seeking African doctor played by the great Jimmy Akingbola who Arrowverse fans may know as Baron Reiter. Personally, I just enjoyed the hell out of his work on the Brit series In The Long Run which he featured in alongside Bill Bailey and Idris Elba, who actually created that show. He’s not only dreamy and a special effect looking human specimen but he’s a gifted creator too! Some people have all the luck. Or talent.

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