Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Army Of The Dead – I’m still getting over the last Zack Snyder film that put me in my chair for a sometimes punishing over four hours when this movie arrived on my preview screening and it may have helped my experience this time as I had a low bar set heading in. Featuring a pretty cool cast including Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Garret Dillahunt, Hiroyuki Sanada and Omari Hardwick, the film takes place following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world following a displaced Vegas local and former zombie war hero named Scott Ward who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home that is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka with the ultimate proposition, to break into the zombie-infested quarantined zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours. This movie is so equally cool as it is utterly stupid but it still manages to be fully entertaining even if it does still feel like a bloated Snyder film, clocking in at two and a half hours. Snyder also did his own cinematography for it which is mostly good but the foreground and background focus is so weird. I will also say that the CGI replacement of Chris D’Elia with Tig Notaro is flawless.

P!nk: All I Know So Far – I think I’ve said it here time and time again but I love a good music-driven documentary and it honestly doesn’t matter what genre or who the star is, I just love them. This one focuses on the media coined “bad girl of pop music” Alecia Beth Moore, known world wide as P!nk, joining the award-winning performer and musician as she embarks on her record-breaking 2019 “Beautiful Trauma” world tour and welcomes audiences to join her chosen family while trying to balance being a mom, a wife, a boss and a performer. Mixing footage from the road, behind-the-scenes interviews and personal material, this film feels like a deep look into an artist who very much cherishes her privacy and has generally kept it well hidden. With the successes of the Lady Gaga and Katy Perry documentaries, I’m looking forward to this and it comes from The Greatest Showman filmmaker Michael Gracey.

Riders Of Justice – Always, always, always trust in Mads Mikkelsen. This is a tried and true mantra but it is doubly affirmed when this incredible actor does films with writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen who he has already collaborated on Men And Chicken and The Green Butchers, both amazing movies. This new film follows Mads as recently-deployed military man Markus, who is forced to return home to care for his teenage daughter after his wife is killed in a tragic train accident. His grief seemingly unattainable. He finds focus when a survivor of the wrecked train surfaces claiming foul play. Markus begins to suspect his wife was murdered in a conspiracy with a ruthless organized crime group and embarks on a revenge-fueled mission to find those responsible. This film is incredible, filled with dark humour, explosive violence and consistent character building in a story that could have come off contrived. Jensen and Mikkelsen have delivered another instant classic and Mads is for sure the most formidable man on screen these days.

Vanquish – Uh oh. I was excited when I saw Morgan Freeman’s name attached to this new action thriller but then I saw it was from filmmaker George Gallo whose last outing, The Poison Rose which also starred Freeman, was a total cringe filled dog of a film with John Travolta doing a cajun accent straight out of What The Hellsville. Seriously, it’s the worst. This film has Ruby Rose as a mother named Victoria who is trying to put her dark past as a Russian drug courier behind her but retired cop Damon, played by Freeman, forces her to do his bidding by holding her daughter hostage. Now, Victoria must use guns, guts, and a motorcycle to take out a series of violent gangsters or face the consequences of never seeing her child again. It seems Gallo hasn’t learned from his last pile of crap and Morgan is doomed to repeat his mistakes as this is an absolute flop of a film that has zero excitement to it and tries to go excessive to the ceiling in its style but has no substance behind it to substantiate why we should care. This movie is a total waste of time.

Bloodthirsty – I am always so happy when a Canadian film swoops in unannounced and absolutely blows my hair back and I am an immediate champion of said film and will recommend it to everyone. This was the case with this film and it just happens to be in a genre I adore, horror. Sorry, Shane. The story follows Grey, an indie singer whose first album was a smash hit that gets an invitation to work with notorious music producer Vaughn Daniels at his remote studio in the woods. Together with her girlfriend Charlie, they arrive at his mansion and the work begins but Grey is having visions that she is a wolf, and as her work with the emotionally demanding Vaughn deepens, the vegan singer begins to hunger for meat and the hunt. As Grey starts to transform into a werewolf, she begins to find out who she really is and begins to discover the lineage she has but never knew. This film is slick with gore, deeply intriguing with its character development and unrelenting with the twists and turns, I was gripped by it throughout.

Trigger Point – I really like Campbell River’s own Barry Pepper. Like I really like him, he’s so great to watch on screen but, besides his major debut in Saving Private Ryan and a handful of others, he really tends to pick absolute dog shit movies. In this thriller he joins fellow Canadians, Laura Vandervoort and Colm Feore, playing a disgraced U.S. operative who suffered memory loss at the hands of his captors who gets dragged back into the deadly spy world when a colleague goes missing and he needs all of his skills to find her, but to uncover the truth, he must remember the past. Well, the good news is that Pepper is the best thing about this movie, delivering a solid performance despite a script that wants to bury him in tough-guy cliches and a marine’s “hoorah” bravado. The bad news is everything else about this movie, a complete waste of time, even for action fans.

Stand! – As a film critic I really try hard to not continue or contribute to the stigma and stereotypes of movies in any way and the ones I most vehemently back in this regard is Canadian movies because, let’s face it, we hate on our own homegrown productions unless you are Kim’s Convenience or Schitt’s Creek. That said, this movie damn near broke me and now with how good it was. The movie is basically a Romeo and Juliet-like story set 100 years ago against a backdrop of civil upheaval and a violent general strike that changed Canada’s history following a Ukrainian immigrant who falls for his neighbour, a Jewish suffragette. The film is a collection of bad direction, editing, script and music that it’s hard to take the film in for its entire duration and I haven’t even gotten to the fact that it’s a musical too and a bad one at that. Honestly, this movie lost me hard and fast within the first twenty minutes and never won me back.

The Retreat – This week is just rife with films that present themselves as something completely different than what they are and it’s worked out beautifully so far. Another Canadian-produced horror thriller, this film follows Renee and Valerie, a couple at a crossroads in their relationship, who leave the city to spend the week at a remote cabin with friends but when they arrive, their friends are nowhere to be found. As they stumble through their relationship woes, they discover they are being hunted by a group of militant extremists who are determined to exterminate them in a movie that is exquisitely shot and pulse-pounding for its duration. Tommie-Amber Pirie and Sarah Allen, two actresses I’m very new to, deliver big time with the character building and pure terror that they compound on this great story. I loved this hellish movie and recommend it to like-minded individuals.

Blu-Ray:

Minari – For months I have been hearing the accolades and awards rumble for this new film following a Korean family on the search for the American dream as well as the praise for lead star and former Walking Dead actor Steven Yuen but as far as awards season goes, the Hollywood foreign press already dropped the ball by marginalizing it to just the foreign category and it failed to win him the Best Actor Oscar as well. I have been championing this film in every way because it is a perfect drama in every way. The story is about a Korean-American family that moves to a tiny Arkansas farm to carve out their own piece of paradise. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother, which leads to a stand-off relationship with the family’s youngest, David. This movie is a little slice of real people that are constantly engaging and endearing as you become deeper and deeper with your emotional attachment to these characters. I adored this movie and could watch it over and over again.

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. Hopkins did take home the Best Actor Academy Award and I know I was bitching that Steven Yuen didn’t win it but this is a good second runner up in my opinion.

Raya And The Last Dragon – We have definitely been missing the movie theatres, like these top two films this week totally remind you of, but this movie is the biggest reminder of that as I felt throughout my viewing of it how incredible the experience would have been. Originally slated to arrive in theatres this past November, this dazzling Disney film follows a lone warrior named Raya whose mission is to track down the last dragon to finally stop the Druun, sinister monsters that turns all life to stone and have broken apart humanity into different tribes who hide to keep their pieces of an ancient dragon artifact that keeps the enemy at bay. The only chance for a future lies in the unification of all these pieces that will restore the balance of the world. Featuring an all Asian cast including Star Wars star Kelly Marie Tran and the hilarious Awkwafina, I loved every moment of this film and so did my family, a breath of fresh air in the Disney animated films that fell like another piece in their iconic original stories that could stand shoulder to shoulder with movies like Aladdin and The Lion King.

Tom And Jerry – For the kids of this generation and, well, those born in say the mid-nineties and beyond, this new animation and live-action hybrid may be new to them but as a child of the Saturday morning cartoon generation, I know Tom and Jerry quite well and really grew up on those shows along with my Hanna Barbera. Hopefully, this will work out for the current generation as the two iconic cartoon frenemies hit the big screen for the first time, starring with real human Chloe Grace Moretz in this adaptation that serves as more of an origin story, revealing how Tom and Jerry first meet and form their rivalry. From the outside, this is definitely a family geared story that looks to occupy its demographic of small children but I’m really hoping that it took some of the cues from last year’s Sonic The Hedgehog and gives it some substance to give the long-suffering parents something to cling to.

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.

Supernova – Break out the tissues because Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are here to steal all of your tears and these guys aren’t messing around either. Coming from acclaimed writer and director Harry Macqueen, this is the story of Sam and Tusker, partners of over twenty years, who are travelling across England in their old RV visiting friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with early-onset dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have as the two try to come to grips with his declining health and Sam readies himself to transition their relationship into that of a caregiver which may not be in Tusker’s plans. This film shows just how masterful both Firth and Tucci are at their craft as both men have such textured history as a couple on the screen that leaps out at you within minutes into the film. There’s such a soft touch of emotional beats that send this story cascading into your heart and, honestly, my heart was heavy by the end. This is a beautiful film filled with truth and light and I really loved it deeply.

Son – Creepy horror involving a kid? Oh, are we just ticking all the genre niche boxes for me this week? This one is pretty damn cool as it follows a mother who escaped from a cult as a child and now must face her past when its sinister members break into her home and attempt to steal her eight-year-old son, David, putting the two on the run, pursued by a detective determined to save them both. Starring Andi Matichak and Emile Hirsch, I definitely didn’t expect the emotional depths this film would go to fuel its horror with writer and director Ivan Kavanagh being able to channel all of the relatable elements in this getting a hyper-focus. Fresh to the RLJE Entertainment catalogue for reviews in the last few weeks, this is among my favourite of the films I’ve received.

Drunken Master II – As a huge Jackie Chan fan, a favourite of mine ever since I saw Rumble In The Bronx in theatres and was totally mystified by his combination of incredible martial arts skill, insane stunts and great humour, I kind of fanboyed out when I saw this new blu-ray edition show up on my doorstep. Known to us in Canada as The Legend Of Drunken Master, released sixteen years after the first film, Chan reprises his role as Wong Fei-Hong who, after returning home with his father following a shopping expedition, is unwittingly caught up in the battle between foreigners who wish to export ancient Chinese artifacts and loyalists who don’t want the pieces to leave the country. Good thing Fei-Hong has learned a style of fighting called “Drunken Boxing”, which makes him a dangerous person to cross but, unfortunately, his father is opposed to his engaging in any kind of fighting, let alone drunken boxing and, consequently, Fei-Hong not only has to fight against the foreigners, but he must overcome his father’s antagonism as well. This movie is an incredible classic and is even better on the remastered and reinvigorated blu-ray version. This is a must-own.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House – This is some classic cinema right here as it was toplined by three of the biggest stars of the 1940s, Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Mervyn Douglas. The film follows Grant as an advertising executive named Jim Blandings who counters his wife’s plan to redecorate their New York apartment with a proposal that they move to Connecticut. She agrees and the two are soon conned into buying a house that turns out to be a complete nightmare, a complete money pit. Construction and repair bills accumulate quickly, and Jim worries that their future hangs in the balance unless he can come up with a catchy new jingle that will sell ham. This film is now a beloved classic more than seventy years after its release but, at the time it hit theatres, many critics in 1948 felt that Cary Grant and Myrna Loy were too old to play the naive young couple who don’t know about building a house and it kind of tanked the reviews. I really felt it was charming and fun and I could see a bit of the Tom Hanks comedy The Money Pit in it.

Escape From Fort Bravo – An earlier film from acclaimed and legendary filmmaker John Sturges, this classic western not only has that pedigree working for it but the big stars of William Holden, Eleanor Parker and John Forsythe. The film is set during the American Civil War, with the Union cavalry at Fort Bravo having to put up with two threats, the Confederate prisoners incarcerated at the Fort and rampaging Mescalero Indians. Captain Roper takes a no-nonsense approach to dealing with both groups, to the dismay of his subordinate, Lt. Beecher, but he develops a new interest and distraction when the lovely Carla Forester arrives at the post. Unbeknown to anyone, she is there to arrange the escape of Capt. John Marsh, the senior Confederate officer and, when the two escape, is left to Roper to track them. Interestingly, the movie was planned to be shot in 3D but was eventually filmed in 2D, the first feature to employ spherical Panavision lenses which is crazy to think about as the film was made in 1953.

The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex – This one is a fascinating release this week as it features the legendary Bette Davis, a staunch character actress who went above and beyond for this period piece by shaving two inches off her hairline at the forehead and having her eyebrows removed. She later complained that they never grew back properly and that ever after she had to draw them in with an eyebrow pencil but that’s Hollywood, right? Co-starring Errol Flynn, the film is about Queen Elizabeth and her secret love for the ambitious and courageous Earl of Essex, a man she also distrusts for his desire for power, fearing he will exploit his political influence to her detriment. Though Essex’s popularity soars when he returns victorious from a military campaign in Spain, Elizabeth instead chides him for prosecuting an unprofitable war. While the lover’s quarrel, Sir Walter Raleigh, played by the incredible Vincent Price, schemes to bring about the downfall of Essex. This film was nominated for five Oscars including Best Cinematography and Best Original Score but the set was tumultuous as Davis and Flynn despised each other. This seems to be a common thread with old Hollywood it seems.

The Alienist: Angel Of Darkness – This is an interesting sequel to an adaptation as it continues on a series of books that I adored two decades ago. A period piece of a procedural from writer Caleb Carr, Daniel Bruhl stars as criminal psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, also known as an alienist, who joins forces with a newspaper illustrator Luke Evans to investigate a serial killer in New York during the late 19th century. This encompasses the first series and this new show is the direct carry-on of that storyline and I have to say that they nailed everything great about the books and made a strong series out of it that is intriguing even if you’ve read the books. I’m still making my way through the first series and am loving it. Highly recommended.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Spider-Man: Far From Home – Set after “The Snap” had been reversed and Tony Stark died in the process, this was a big movie to follow Avengers: Endgame and it had to stick its opening and landing just right and, oh baby, did it make me happy. Like a John Hughes love letter wrapped within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this sequel follows our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man as he decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation with his school. However, Peter’s plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks is quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent. This movie was so awesome, as I’m sure everyone knows by now, and raised the stakes big time for the character, especially with the implications of the ending, plus it introduced one of my favourite Spidey characters, Mysterio. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this one, I bought it for super cheap at Wal-Mart.

The Yearling – I’m bringing some of the Warner Archive into the Geek Outs this week and it starts with a classic family western featuring the legendary Gregory Peck in what would turn out to be MGM’s most successful film of 1946. The story follows the family of Civil War veteran Penny Baxter, who lives and works on a farm in Florida with his wife, Orry, and their son, Jody. The only surviving child of the family, Jody longs for companionship and unexpectedly finds it in the form of an orphaned fawn and while Penny is supportive of his son’s four-legged friend, Orry is not, leading to heartbreaking conflict. The film, aside from being a big hit, also became a darling at the Academy Awards, earning seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director but ended up only walking away with two, for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. The film ages beautifully and still hits with all the emotional beats.

Bachelor In Paradise – I feel like just having this title on my write up this week will bring a totally different sort of traffic to my website so I’ll say right here, right now that this is not the reality show that has been obsessed about for years and no roses are given out here. No, this is a Warner Archive title that features the legendary comedy prowess of Bob Hope and the beautiful Lana Turner and follows a bachelor author of sleazy books who moves to a family-oriented subdivision where he becomes an unofficial relationship advisor to unhappy local housewives, to the dismay of their respective husbands who suspect him of sexual misconduct. Yes, it’s probably a film that would have no hope of being made today and that’s not just me making an actor pun. It’s interesting to note that this was Bob Hope’s first film for MGM and it was a total flop, losing the studio $344,000 which would be closer to $3 million by today’s standards.

Television:

Trying: Season 1 (AppleTV+) – The slow burn of AppleTV+ is starting to turn into an actual fire as there are now many great original shows on the service with Ted Lasso being the main draw to get subscribers. This is a low key new MVP to their game in my opinion, with British actor Rafe Spall, a personal favorite, playing one half of a couple sick of trying to conceive and looking to go down the adoption route with their dysfunctional friends, screwball family, and chaotic lives all looking to collaborate and ruin their chances with the adoption board. For me, the shining beacon of this show is Esther Smith, previously seen in the Netflix series Cuckoo, who makes the whole thing feel so real and Imelda Staunton who adds that veteran gravitas. I love a good British series and this one is great.

Special: Season 2 (Netflix) – Adapted from the memoirs of its star Ryan O’Connell and executive produced by The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, this show should have been a niche breakout hit I think but is still gaining its audience. Playing himself, Ryan is a gay man living with cerebral palsy, two elements of his life that he is very unconfident in. Things change for him when he decides to live his life without a safety net. He moves out of his mother’s house into his own apartment, gets his first real job working for a high-end magazine and, his biggest step puts himself out there in the dating world. This show is adorably character-driven but beyond that, it’s sweetly inspirational and is one of those rare shows that leaves you each time with a warm and happy feeling, something we are sorely missing these days.

1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything (AppleTV+) – Nothing gets me going more than a good music documentary and when you stretch it out to be a series it just becomes that much sweeter. The show, put together by Academy Award-winner Asif Kapadia, takes a look at the tumultuous era of 1971, which was a year of musical innovation and rebirth fueled by the political and cultural upheaval of the time and it all kicks off with the tragedy at Kent State and the writing of Ohio by Neil Young, the hard-hitting and unforgettable song by Crosby Stills Nash and Young. The show also tells the story of Marvin Gaye creating What’s Happening in the thoughts of his brother fighting in Vietnam and John Lennon striking out on his own after The Beatles and his recording of the Imagine album. As a music lover, this film is utterly fascinating and the way it moves hand in hand with politics makes me think of all those trolls screaming “Stick to music!” these days.

Solos (Amazon Prime) – Amazon Prime is hitting my happy button this week with a new seven-part anthology series rooted in science fiction and each following a different character. Starring Uzo Aduba, Constance Wu, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway and many more and directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Zach Braff and others, this series explores the strange, beautiful, heartbreaking, hilarious, wondrous truths of what it means to be human and spans our present and future, grappling with time travel, A.I. bots, solo trips to the farthest reaches of the universe, scheming smart homes, a mysterious waiting room, near-future fertility treatments and illegal memory transplants, all to illuminate the deeper meaning of human connection. These character-driven stories contend that even during our most seemingly isolated moments, in the most disparate of circumstances, we are all connected through the human experience or at least that’s what all of the previews are telling me. I’m with you guys. I haven’t seen it but damn am I intrigued!

Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. (Disney+) – This is a deep dig for comic fans as M.O.D.O.K., an abbreviation for Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing and an obscure Marvel villain, gets his time to shine in a delightfully weird-looking stop motion animated series. Featuring the voices of Patton Oswalt as the title character himself, Nathan Fillion, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Hader, Jon Hamm and so many more, the show centers around an egomaniacal supervillain with a really big head and a really little body, who struggles to maintain control of his evil organization and his demanding family. I feel like fans of zany shows like Robot Chicken and, really, anything on Adult Swim will immediately gravitate toward this and I hope they do because it looks awesome and I want all the seasons of it that we possibly can. Is that greedy? Scratch that, I don’t want to know the answer.

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