Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

Starting things a little bit different and Vancouver focused this week, as the Crazy8s Film Gala returns, an eight-day filmmaking challenge created in 1999 that provides funding and support to emerging filmmakers to help them produce a short film. So far, one hundred and twenty-seven films have been produced by the not-for-profit the runs the gala, the Crazy8s Film Society, including many by close friends and acquaintances of mine.

I’ve had the opportunity to check out a few of this year’s entries and there are some tasty little genre pieces that I think could blow a few people’s hairs back. Crumbs follows a kid dealing with his father’s death who starts to manifest a dark clown when his oppressors become too much, Mom Vs. Machine follows the mother of a rabid and obsessed gamer who must band together to take over a monster of his own 3D creation and iDorothy follows a widower who implants his dead wife’s consciousness to a new synthetic form but also her deepest secrets as well.

Tickets are $15 each and include both the screening and afterparty events which all kick off on Saturday, May 1st at crazy8s.film/.

New Releases:

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse – Amazon Prime is drawing on some of its pre-existing subscribers with this new action thriller as it will automatically nab the fans of their Tom Clancy series Jack Ryan which has people thirsty for more after the second season and it will rope in those who love Michael B. Jordan from his villain performance in Black Panther, his starring role in the Creed movies or all of those women and men who are just plain thirsty for him and his body. Written by Sicario and Yellowstone’s Taylor Sheridan, this film is about an elite Navy SEAL who uncovers an international conspiracy when a squad of Russian soldiers kills his family in retaliation for his role in a top-secret operation. Pursuing the assassins at all costs and joining forces with a fellow SEAL and a shadowy CIA agent (Jamie Bell), his actions unwittingly expose a covert plot that threatens to engulf the U.S. and Russia in an all-out war and torn between personal honour and loyalty to his country, he must fight his enemies ‘without remorse’ if he hopes to avert disaster and reveal the powerful figures behind the conspiracy. The action is awesome, the performances are solid and I really hope this is just the beginning of the adaptations of this Clancy character.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines – It’s been a rough theatrical ride for this new animated film produced by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the guys who brought us such gems like Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, The LEGO Movie and so much more. Bouncing around release dates and being retitled from Connected to this a couple of times over, the pandemic made a release pretty much impossible but now we get it and it was totally worth it. The film is an action comedy about an ordinary family who finds themselves in the middle of their biggest family challenge yet, saving the world from the robot apocalypse. It all starts when creative outsider Katie Mitchell is accepted into the film school of her dreams and is eager to leave home and find “her people,” when her nature-loving dad insists on having the whole family drive her to school and bond during one last totally-not-awkward-or-forced road trip. But just when the trip can’t get any worse, the family suddenly finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising. Everything from smartphones, to Roombas, to evil Furbys are employed to capture every human on the planet. Now it’s up to the Mitchells, including upbeat mom Linda, quirky little brother Aaron, their squishy pug, Monchi, and two friendly, but simple-minded robots to save humanity in one of the consistently funny and delightful family films I have watched this year. This would have played so well on the big screen and the message is so universal and heartful that I came so close to rolling a tear over it. Maybe I should stop playing Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle on repeat.

Here Are The Young Men – As a teen and into my early twenties, stories about people living their lives to excess were really my jam. I was fully into nihilistic authors like Bret Easton Ellis for Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Rules Of Attraction, loved Chuck Pahlaniuk for Fight Club and Survivor and ate everything Irvine Welsh like Trainspotting or The Acid House. This new film might have me changing my tune because for all of its substance< I should love it, but it felt like it tread too much unoriginal ground. Based on the acclaimed novel by Rob Doyle, the film catalogues the last hurrah of three high school graduates intent on celebrating their newfound freedom with an epic, debaucherous bender but when they witness a horrible accident, it sends them spiralling badly and the trio must grapple with the most daunting challenge of their lives which is largely facing their own inner demons and, in some cases, their true nature. My screener for this film was grainy, stuttery and awful which may have led to some of my dislikes but the cast features Anya Taylor Joy, Finn Cole and Dean-Charles Chapman and utterly wastes them with a predictable story full of dumb character decisions and paint by numbers descent into chaos. This should have been way better.

Things Heard & Seen – As far as director and genre pairings go, this is easily one of the odder projects I’ve seen lately as filmmaker duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini are known for quirky comedy-dramas like American Splendor and The Nanny Diaries but now head in for some ghostly horror. Starring Amanda Seyfried and James Norton, the story follows Catherine Clare, an artist who reluctantly trades life in 1980s Manhattan for a remote home in the tiny hamlet of Chosen, New York, after her husband George (James Norton) lands a job teaching art history at a small Hudson Valley college. Even as she does her best to transform the old dairy farm into a place where young daughter Franny will be happy, she increasingly finds herself isolated and alone. She soon comes to sense sinister darkness lurking both in the walls of the ramshackle property and in her marriage to George as his true nature begins to rear its head and his past quickly catches up with him. This film has a great look to start and plays all the ghostly happenings with a great subtlety that is reminiscent of The Conjuring movies but by the time it gets to the third at reveals it throws it out the window in favour of complete camp and ruins everything in the process. I’m so disappointed because I was totally on board with this for the majority.

The Virtuoso – Hot off of his Best Actor Academy Award win, I popped on this new hitman thriller that features Anthony Hopkins in a supporting role and is led by Star Trek Discovery and Hell On Wheels star Anson Mount. Very brooding and dark in tone, the story follows a lonesome stranger with nerves of steel but recovering from a job gone wrong who must track down and kill a rogue hitman to satisfy an outstanding debt. The only information he’s been given is a time and location where to find his target, 5 pm at a rustic diner in a town on the verge of bankruptcy. When the assassin arrives there are several possible targets, including the county sheriff and he must do more dangerous legwork to find this hitman and accomplish his mission. The story sounds like a winner but the drive of the film only comes in here and there and seems to meander in its emotion and not in a good way but in a contrived and boring sort of way. With how great the cast is, rounding out with Abbie Cornish, Eddie Marsan and Richard Brake, it never feels as close to the calibre of the actors put in it.

Willy’s Wonderland – Nicolas Cage has always wanted to give a completely silent horror movie performance but who knew that it would come to fruition in a film that pits him against a squad of Chuck E. Cheese like mascots? Featuring veteran actress Beth Grant in a supporting role, the film has Cage as a nameless drifter who finds himself stranded in a remote town when his car breaks down. Unable to pay for the repairs he needs, he agrees to spend the night cleaning Willy’s Wonderland, an abandoned family fun center but this place of wonder has a dark secret that he is about to discover. He soon finds himself trapped inside Willy’s and locked in an epic battle with the possessed animatronic mascots that roam the halls and to survive, he must fight his way through each of them but unknown to his adversaries, he isn’t locked in there with them, they’re locked in there with him! This movie is purely insane d-grade campiness but I really had fun with every second of it and Nic goes for the throat in his performance which features a crazy scene of him doing a pinball dance scene before his showdown. Yeah, it’s hard to recommend it but I loved it. Take that as you will.

Golden Arm – Betsy Sordaro is probably not a name you know but she has appeared in pretty much every beloved show you have watched in the last decade and always makes a memorable mark and delivers a hilarious line that will have you rolling on the floor. Having been in shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Superstore and Another Period recently, she gets her own film to shine in this new comedy about a tough lady trucker who ropes her nice girl baker but wimpy best friend into taking her spot at the Women’s Arm Wrestling Championship, she must trade whisks for barbells as she trains to face off with the reigning champ for a chance at newfound badassery and the grand prize. The dialogue is brash and rough but absolutely hilarious as Sordaro and co-star Mary Holland, who just appeared in Amazon Prime’s Happiest Season, have incredible onscreen chemistry together. The story structure isn’t anything that will come off immediately as original but this training montage of a film still has charm working very well for it.

SpiderMable – We’re hitting up the department of inspirational and sweet-hearted documentaries this week with this adorable little film that is sure to delight the whole family. This is the real-life journey of a selfless six-year-old cancer patient named Mable and her desire to help others even while she is in the battle of her life. Being a true-to-life superhero, the documentary follows this cancer-fighter who lives out her dream of fighting crime with her hero Spider-Man and is then thrust into the realm of celebrity after her wish day becomes a viral sensation, much like the Batkid in San Francisco years before. Mable must learn to manage her newfound popularity and harness her power in an attempt to give back to the community that is helping her survive. This movie is a total tearjerker that doesn’t play around with your emotions for a second but also opens the doorway to discussions about child sickness, mortality but also perseverance which really is a good thing in the end.

Blu-Ray:

Quick Change – It may seem weird but I feel I’ve been waiting for a home release version of this forgotten Bill Murray comedy that he had so much invested in as the only film he ever produced and one that he was a co-director on. Murray plays Grimm, a burnt-out New Yorker that has devised an ingenious plan to escape the city he hates so much by dressing as a clown, robbing a Manhattan bank and cleverly escapes disguised as a hostage along with his accomplices, girlfriend Phyllis, played by Geena Davis, and best friend Loomis, in a career-best performance from Randy Quaid. However, whilst robbing the bank was comparatively straight-forward and easy, the getaway quickly turns into a nightmare, as the relatively simple act of getting to the airport to catch a flight becomes a tangled ordeal of obstructions, including confused road workers, conmen, mobsters, bureaucratic bus-drivers and a cabbie who doesn’t speak a word of English, all the while Rotzinger, the equally world-weary but relentless Chief of Police, is doggedly on their tail, played brilliantly by the legendary Jason Robards. I could wax poetically for days about this absolute treasure of 1990 film but I implore you to go out and grab it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Another Thin Man – It’s odd to look at the era of the late 1930s and think that they were just as sequel crazy as we are now but this Thin Man franchise was one that audiences frothed at the mouth for and begged for more, detective mysteries with a comedic edge led by the on-screen power couple of William Powell and Myrna Loy. In this follow-up, the Charles are back in New York with Asta and a new arrival in their family, the little Nicky Jr. They are invited by Colonel MacFey to spend the weekend at his house in Long Island as he desperately wants Charles to help him out as it seems he has been receiving threats from Phil Church, a very shady character. When McFey is shockingly killed, Church seems to be the obvious suspect but Nick suspects there is something far more complicated going on with McFey’s housekeeper, daughter and various hangers-on all having an interest in seeking the old man’s demise. The eighth of fourteen films pairing William Powell and Myrna Loy, Powell persevered through multiple personal tragedies to make this movie, including the unexpected death of his fiancée, Jean Harlow difficult battle with colon cancer that required colon bypass surgery and new radiation treatments. That’s powerful stuff there.

Donnie Darko 4K – One of my favourite movies of all time gets the full 4K treatment this week as Arrow has taken a great interest in the debut work from the fantastic Richard Kelly and a film that definitely captured the imagination of my generation, really put Jake Gyllenhaal on the map and still is discovered by more and more people every day. The film follows troubled teenager Donnie Darko who escapes death when a jet engine crashes in his bedroom for those who are new to this title, only because he follows a giant bunny leading him outside. The bunny, called Frank, tells him that the world will end in twenty-eight days and as the final date comes closer and closer, Donnie is drawn into an alarming series of events that may or may not be a product of growing insanity. This movie hits incredible themes and also revels in its 1980s setting and surrealism with a great cast around Gyllenhaal including his sister Maggie, Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore whose production company also produced it. This is an absolute masterpiece in every way.

Masculin Feminin – I have to give it to the Criterion Collection releases for giving me an education in some of the greatest filmmakers ever with each new release they send me and one storyteller that I’m woefully uneducated in is French new wave director Jean Luc Goddard. Yes, I had seen Breathless and Alphaville but I had recently discovered Pierrot Le Fou at its Criterion release a few months back and I get a crash course with this film now. The film follows Paul, a young idealist trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life who takes a job interviewing people for a marketing research firm. He moves in with aspiring pop singer, Madeleine, and their affair often involves her two sexy roommates but wedges drive into their relationships through their psyches and obsessions. Through a series of fifteen unrelated vignettes we see Paul is disillusioned by the growing commercialism in society, while Madeleine just wants to be successful in a Godard film that is consistently included on best of all time lists and is even part of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” book.

Steve’s Blu-Ray and DVD Geekouts:

Goodfellas – Coming off of Academy Award weekend, it’s a great time to relive this film that itself got six Oscar nominations, including one for the legendary Martin Scorsese in a notch in his career that many fans believe to be his best. Adapted from the book by Nicholas Pileggi, the film is the story of Irish-Italian American, Henry Hill, and how he lives day-to-day life as a member of the Mafia. Based on a true story, the plot revolves around Henry and his two unstable friends Jimmy and Tommy as they gradually climb the ladder from petty crime to violent murders which include some of the most iconic scenes of all time and most, still, quotable dialogue ever that still gets used and netted Joe Pesci the Oscar. Funny, even with all of his amazing lines and running his mouth in this movie, and many others, he had the shortest Academy Award acceptance speech, only saying “My privilege, thank you.” What a guy, to keep the broadcast on the tracks like that!

History Is Made At Night – Throwing some new Criterion into my Geek Outs this week as this title was a bit of a late arrival but it is such a pivotal part of the evolution of romantic dramas. In this film from two-time Academy Award-winning director Frank Borzage, the story follows a wealthy American woman who meets a charming Parisian head waiter and they quickly fall in love. However, the woman’s estranged husband blackmails her into returning to America with him and her new beau follows her trail to New York, where, after months of searching, he finds her again and they reaffirm their love. They board a ship headed back to France, but her insanely jealous husband compels the captain to steer the ship into dangerous waters, where it will almost certainly collide with icebergs and be destroyed which is, you guessed it, the Titanic. It’s interesting because this film also mentions the Hindenburg and its successful voyage as this film actually predates the catastrophic accident that the blimp would be known for. Fascinating cinema that moves in tandem with history.

Super Mario Bros. – As a kid, I awaited a big-screen version of one of my favourite video games of all time Super Mario Brothers and Touchstone, one of the studios under the umbrella of Disney, had obtained the rights to make it and my excitement couldn’t be contained. What came out, though, was one of the weirdest bastardizations of an original property in the 90s and a film that obviously reeked of producers screaming at each other and a ramshackle vision that prompted its stars to drink. That said, it’s an odd sort of classical lovable failure. Starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo and a maniacal Dennis Hopper, the story follows Mario and Luigi, two wacky plumbers who undertake a daring quest to save a princess in Dinohattan, a hidden world where the inhabitants evolved from dinosaurs. The pipe fitting brothers face deadly challenges from a diabolical lizard king and must battle giant reptilian goombas, outwit misfit thugs, and undermine a sinister scheme to take over the world in a movie that I’ve crash coursed my young daughter through as a big Mario fan and she was like what the heck was this? Yes, it doesn’t hold up at all but it’s a great nostalgia trip through a weird time in our lives.

Uncertainty – I bought this DVD on a whim of picking up all of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s works and, sadly, this film isn’t streaming anywhere. Co-starring Lynn Collins and Olivia Thirlby, this is a young couple’s race against existence as they flip a coin on the Brooklyn bridge to determine the paths their lives take that day, which just happens to be the Fourth of July. The green path takes them to Brooklyn where they spend a quiet day with Kate’s family, coming to a better understanding of their status as a couple and the yellow path takes them to Manhattan where they are being chased by a gunman and are in the center of a dangerous crime ring involving large amounts of money. What does the future hold for Kate and Bobby and what is the right path for them to continue? The story is really inventive and pushes itself to unpredictable places, really showing the strength of filmmaking duo Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s imagination. These two have been quietly making stellar films and still have not yet risen to notoriety. Hopefully soon.

Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This – This one was a total stoner impulse buy as I own everything that Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong have produced together as the cannabis smoking duo Cheech and Chong except this compilation documentary that followed along with their reunion, highlighting the stand-up and music on their “Light Up America” tour. This one is really simple as it shows the two comedy legends reunite and rehearse some of their classic bits which hadn’t been performed in decades as well as the opening act, Tommy’s wife Shelby who is extremely funny herself. As a guy that spent the money to go see the live show when it hit the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, this is like the tour program in a video visual form and I kind of love it just the same. This is for the deep Cheech and Chong fans only, I think.

Television:

Headspace Guide To Sleep (Netflix) – From Headspace, the same guys that gave you a guide to meditation comes this new series of eighteen-minute episodes to help you get the sleep your body, mind and spirit needs. Not only is this just about obtaining your sleep but learning how to sleep better with their methodology and each episode unpacks misconceptions, offers friendly tips and concludes with a guided wind-down that is designed to get you down for a good night’s sleep. That’s the simple cut and dry of these shows and, honestly, Netflix is destined to make a killing by employing all of these Headspace properties to the streaming service because they are all helpful and totally money. They help me out in my day to day and can help you too. I’m not a paid Netflix spokesperson, I feel the need to tell you that now.

Yasuke (Netflix) – I’m not usually an anime guy as I’ve pointed out numerous times before in this blog but the fact that Academy Award nominee Lakeith Stansfield, who appears for his second time on this list, is the lead voice in this new Netflix produced series makes my will and resolve all rubber and I’m bought in before the first episode. The series is set in a war-torn feudal Japan filled with mechs and magic, with Lakeith playing the greatest ronin ever known, Yasuke, who struggles to maintain a peaceful existence after a past life of violence. His wishes are shattered when a local village becomes the center of social upheaval between warring daimyo and he must take up his sword again and transport a mysterious child who is the target of dark forces and bloodthirsty warlords. The animation of the show is absolutely breathtaking, created by Lesean Thomas who previously brought the blaxploitation spoof, Black Dynamite, to the animated screen. So far, so good in this new action-driven and decidedly bloody series and I’m eating it all up like a delicious four-course meal.

In Search of Darkness: Part II (Shudder) – Two of my favourite genres are getting mashed together again with this continuation of an amazing horror documentary that we got last year and by now as a regular reader you have to know my love of film docs at this point. To give a rehashing of the last film, this is definitely a more focused approach as the film is an exploration of ’80s horror movies through the perspective of the actors, directors, producers and SFX craftspeople who made them and their impact on contemporary cinema. The who’s who of interview subjects for this movie is absolutely insane, featuring master directors like John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Sean S. Cunningham and Joe Dante, stars like Tom Atkins, Doug Bradley, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton and cult goddesses like Diana Prince all sharing their unique horror stories. By the time that you’ve ingested all four hours of the first film and, yes, another four hours for this one, well, you should be an expert, right?

Grace (BritBox) – I have an unrequited love for British television but, even more so, I have crazy love for their procedurals more than I do for the American counterpart as they seem to do something a bit different as their characters are more dynamic in how they are affected from case to case and the stakes feel far bigger. This one has a favourite of mine in the lead role with former Life On Mars star and Doctor Who ultimate villain John Simm playing Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a hard-working police officer who has given his life to the job. This mini-series, Dead Simple, opens with Grace running inquiries into long-forgotten cold cases with little or no prospect of success. Fixated by the disappearance of his wife, Sandy, which haunts his thoughts, his unorthodox police methods have come under scrutiny once again, and Grace is walking a career tightrope, risking being moved from the job he loves most. With so much at stake, his colleague Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson knows he has more to give and asks him for help with a case to hopefully get Grace on the right path again. The show comes from Russell Lewis who has had huge success in the United Kingdom with shows like Endeavor and Murphy’s Law so I think it is all in good hands.

The Mosquito Coast (AppleTV+) – Remember the Harrison Ford film of the same name from Aussie master filmmaker Peter Weir with Helen Mirren about a guy trying to pursue the nature dream with his family? Well, much like Amazon Prime did with Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock, AppleTV+ has adapted this movie into series form with Justin Theroux in the lead, Melissa George co-starring and a plethora of directors helming episodes like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Rupert Wyatt and Game Of Thrones guy Jeremy Podeswa. The series is a gripping adventure and layered character drama following the dangerous journey of a radical idealist and brilliant inventor, Allie Fox, who uproots his family for Mexico when they suddenly find themselves on the run from the US government. The tension of the show is constantly on its sleeve and Theroux brings that same great energy he had with HBO’s The Leftovers to this, which isn’t the same calibre but is still damn good.

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