Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – Director James Wan has sat on top of the horror game for closing in on twenty years now, starting with his surprise hit Saw that grew into a massive franchise and now with his Conjuring universe which all kicked off almost a decade ago and brought an old school feel with the all-new scares. After doing the sequel, another trip in based on a true story horror, he steps back into the producer role for this new installment in the originator series, with The Curse of la Llorona director Michael Chaves taking the reins in this adaptation of one of the most sensational cases from the files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. A chilling story of terror, murder and unknown evil, it starts with a fight for the soul of a young boy, then takes the ghost experts beyond anything they’d ever seen before, to mark the first time in U.S. history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defence. The aspects I love about these movies is the fully immersive tone that they bring through sound design and simple visuals and it looks like this third piece of the Warren’s puzzle brings that style and more. I’m very excited about this one.

Spirit Untamed – This was one of those family animated films where I really had to rely on my eight-year-old daughter’s knowledge of the pre-existing Netflix series that proceeded it to get an idea of where it was coming from. Also, being a Dreamworks property, the film was also derived from Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron, one of the animation division’s first films. For this expanded theatrical adventure, the story follows young Lucky Prescott who, after moving to a sleepy little town to live with her father, she befriends a wild mustang named Spirit that shares her rebellious spirit. When a heartless wrangler plans to capture Spirit and his herd, Lucky and her new friends embark on the adventure of a lifetime to rescue the horse that forever changed her life. The story is light and fluffy, great for all the little kids and the animation is gorgeous but I was surprised with some of the star power in the voice cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Andre Braugher and Walton Goggins. With theatres opening in Canada in the next couple of weeks, this is a great one to bring all the kids back to the movie experience.

Little Fish – Filmed and completed in Vancouver and the surrounding areas before the pandemic had even taken hold, this film manages to encapsulate a bunch of our realities during the over a year shutdown almost inadvertently. An idea that was shepherded and developed closely with lead actress and producer Olivia Cooke, this film annihilated me by making me care so deeply for the couple in its focus. The film is set in a near-future Seattle teetering on the brink of calamity as the world is in the midst of a global epidemic with Neuroinflammatory Affliction, or NIA, a severe and rapid Alzheimer’s-like condition in which people’s memories disappear. Couple Jude Williams and Emma Ryerson are grappling with the realities of NIA, interspersed with glimpses from the past as the two meet and their relationship blooms but as NIA’s grip on society tightens, the virus hits the couple hard and they are left to grapple with experimental procedures, watching their friends succumb to the sickness and wonder if that’s what’s in store for them and preserving their love story so their bond is never separated. I was glued to this film for its duration and wore the character’s plight on my sleeve, making the finale that much more hard-hitting. When I say that it devastated me, it’s no hyperbole but that’s a tribute to how much they make you care about these two people.

Oslo – True story films really intrigue me when they are done properly and when you have HBO backing it and a cast like this one, featuring Luther’s Ruth Wilson and Fleabag and Sherlock’s Andrew Scott, two of the best British character actors today, well, you have my patronage even more. Adapted from the Tony Award-winning play of the same name, this film is based on the story of negotiations between implacable enemies with the secret back-channel talks, unlikely friendships and quiet heroics of a small but committed group of Israelis, Palestinians and one Norwegian couple that led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. With all of the conflicts rising to a fever pitch in just the last few weeks, the timing of this movie’s release seems to be almost perfect and, according to reviews, the performances in this film, coupled with the urgency of its material, really drive it. It should also be noted that theatre director Bartlett Sher makes his feature film debut here so it does have that appearance of a stage play for his comfortability.

Rockfield: A Studio On The Farm – Sometimes in these weekly write-ups of what’s coming out I feel a bit lost without a coll music documentary to plug but this week has given me the gift of this film which is punctuated with the best of British rock from the seventies, eighties and nineties and has given me another bucket list location to visit one day, if only in my mind. This film is the very unlikely tale of how two Welsh brothers, both hilarious characters in their own right, turned their dairy farm into one of the most successful recording studios of all time, producing four decades of legendary rock music from Black Sabbath, Queen, The Stone Roses, Oasis and Coldplay. It’s fascinating to see these two guys, Kingsley and Charles Ward, along with Kingsley’s commanding wife Ann, realize their dream of helping to create music while still running a successful farm with the upkeep of the land and animals being as important as the mics, mixers and soundboards. The stories told by Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant and even Liam Gallagher, who comes off a bit like an underground London gangster, are utterly fascinating and I felt like I could watch a three-hour Snyder cut of this movie beyond its hour and a half run time. I loved this movie.

Edge Of The World – It’s been a couple years since we got a solid British explorer film, the last one in my memory being the incredible James Gray adaptation of The Lost City Of Z, so I was pretty interested in this new film that features Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Lord Of The Rings alumni Dominic Monaghan and The Witch’s Ralph Ineson. The film follows the adventures of Sir James Brooke, who defied the British Empire to rule a jungle kingdom in 1840s Borneo, embarked on a lifelong crusade to end piracy, slavery and head-hunting, and inspired the Rudyard Kipling story The Man Who Would Be King which, of course, would be adapted into a film directed by John Huston and starring Sean Connery. The film does a great job at presenting the known history of this story but where it lacks is the character finesse which kind of leaves these people as blank slates that are really hard to build any feeling for let alone sympathy or any sort of triumph in their discoveries. Rhys Meyers has been going through a rough patch both in his career and real-life and this one won’t help the former, unfortunately.

Equal Standard – With the past two decades of his work being dedicated to playing a part of law enforcement on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, it’s probably crazy for the younger generation to think that Ice-T is one of the originators of gangster rap, the lead singer of the rap-metal hybrid Body Count and an outspoken voice against social injustice but he is and always will be. Just take a peep at his Twitter if you don’t agree. This film puts him back into the urban gangster landscape in a real feeling story about communities and gang members coming together to fight for real justice after an NYPD detective shoots a black man in the streets. This film’s voice feels like it’s a little muted as the makers seem to hold back on some of the angrier of opinions and hush them in the need to further the drama. It’s glaringly and frustratingly obvious every time they do it because now is not the time to pump the brakes, especially given the uprise of the last few years. Our art needs to fight as hard as those in the streets are, plain and simple. Anything else is, for lack of a better term, a cop-out.

Blu-Ray:

The Courier – I feel like I’ve seen Benedict Cumberbatch pretty often in the last few weeks with The Mauritanian a few weeks ago and this one now and both stories are centred around real events which makes it that much more compelling. Cumberbatch absolutely shines in this new tense drama, playing an unassuming British businessman named Greville Wynne who is recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history, the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the behest of the UK’s MI-6 and a CIA operative, played by Marvelous Ms. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan, he forms a covert and dangerous partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the international conflict before it hits disastrous consequences. This film is a treasure trove of white knuckle nervousness and near misses as both men, sweating profusely, elude authorities who will certainly execute them if caught. Fans of historical spy films will dig into this one quite well.

Boogie – A teen story that plays very hard into the indie character stories that rose to prominence in the nineties. This coming-of-age film delves into themes of ancestry, lineage, family pride, and individualism in a modern world and the shrugging of race politics. This is the story of Alfred “Boogie” Chin, a basketball phenom living in Queens, New York, who dreams of one day playing in the NBA. While his parents pressure him to focus on earning a scholarship to an elite college, Boogie must find a way to navigate a new girlfriend, high school, on-court rivals and the burden of expectation with a domineering mother who only sees the prosperity of her family and his recently released from prison father who just wants the American dream for his son. The indie style is a driving factor to this film that is only really let down by the inexperience of its lead cast and the hurtle in this film is Boogie isn’t really likeable until a good way into this story and the first “pick up line” he uses is so laughably cringy that I had to pause the movie to stop laughing.

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.

Endangered Species – Action thrillers are definitely a dime a dozen when it comes to direct-to-video releasing, which, let’s face it, has been pretty much everything for over a year in the pandemic, but looking at this one it is definitely true. Starring real-life married couple Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell alongside Strike Back star Philip Winchester, this adventure tale unfolds beneath a brutal African sun as Jack Halsey takes his wife, their adult kids, and a friend for a dream vacation in Kenya but, as they venture off alone into a wilderness park, their safari van is flipped over by an angry rhino, leaving them injured and desperate. Then, as two of them go in search of rescue, a bloody, vicious encounter with a leopard and a clan of hyenas incites a desperate fight for survival. Yes, this is a safari mishap thriller that seems a bit original to an untrained eye and it honestly has some pretty great moments of almost horror-like action and you know I love that stuff.

Shoplifters Of The World – Heading into this movie I had nothing but positive thoughts as I have enjoyed artist-driven films quite a bit, whether it was the crazy antics of the KISS film Detroit Rock City, the rock operatics of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Metallica’s Through The Never or the mind-twisting of The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia. This film rests solely on the shoulders of the music it celebrates, The Smiths, and it makes one thing painfully obvious, Smiths fans are insufferable assholes. The film is set in 1987 in Denver, Colorado and happens on one crazy night in the life of four friends reeling from the sudden demise of iconic British band The Smiths while the local airwaves are hijacked at gunpoint by an impassioned Smiths fan who’s had enough of the heavy metal they usually play and wants one uninterrupted night of the Smiths discography to celebrate Morrissey, Johnny Marr and company. This film feels at all times like it was based on some mediocre stage play complete with an awful script and painful overacting for a pretty solid cast with Helena Howard, Ellar Coltrane, Elena Kampouris, Joe Manganiello and more. At the end of the film in its triumph, I felt nothing as I didn’t care about any of these self-righteous and self-hating depress cases and had no care for where they were going. This movie was so disappointing.

The World To Come – Is everyone out there ready to get depressed because have I ever got the movie for you to get into the depths of your sullen emotions! Not to make light of it but this film has to be one of the bleakest films I have received into my brain in a while and it is another Vanessa Kirby project that did it, less than two months after Pieces Of A Woman. Starring Fantastic Beasts’ Katherine Waterston, Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott as well, the film takes place in upstate New York in the 1850s and follows Abigail who begins a new year on the rural farm where she lives with her husband Dyer. As Abigail considers the year to come through her journal entries, we experience the marked contrast between her deliberate, stoic manner and her unravelling complex emotions, dealing with the death of their only daughter. Spring arrives and Abigail meets Tallie, an emotionally frank and arrestingly beautiful newcomer renting a neighbouring farm with her husband, Finney. The two strike up a tentative relationship that soon turns romantic as the two share a torrid romance that ends in sullen tragedy. This film is beautifully shot in the countryside of Romania but the dour nature of this story refuses to let you enjoy that scenery as we watch Abigail fall apart emotionally. Fantastic performances from the whole cast but it’s not really a recommendable film unless you enjoy depression.

Embattled – Stephen Dorff is an actor that seems to either get smaller roles on the big screen or lead roles on the direct to video market and I’m not sure who blacklisted him but he hardly deserves it and films like Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere exist just to show how talented this veteran is. Playing the looming shadow in this, the story follows a young mixed martial arts fighter who enters his first fight, seeking to repeat the path of his famous father, a revered champion in the sport. The vicious circle of cruelty that the father supported and used on the son to raise him turned out to be a point of no return for his son and a desire to find his own way or be doomed to repeat the same pathway. The filmmakers, Nick Sarkisov and David McKenna do an incredible job of turning out characters that feel born and bred in this avenue of life while addressing and isolating the true male toxicity that drives it and impedes it from evolving. What results is a sort of social narrative that I was not expecting from a fight-driven drama.

The Vault – On television, following his years of playing creepy Norman Bates in his own “Wonder Years”, we’ve had a few seasons of Freddie Highmore playing the highly intelligent lead character of the CBS series The Good Doctor so it’s easy to cast him as the brilliant character in anything these days, as what is the case in this new heist action thriller. In the film, he plays a genius engineering graduate who learns of a mysterious, impenetrable fortress hidden under The Bank of Spain and joins a crew of master thieves who plan to steal the legendary lost treasure locked inside while the whole country is distracted by Spain’s World Cup Final. With thousands of soccer fans cheering in the streets, and security forces closing in, the crew has just minutes to pull off the score of a lifetime in a story that feels all too familiar in parts but still manages to drag you into its safecracking intrigue. The film will get lost in the shuffle with better crafted and casted movies that have done it in a more memorable way but it will hold your attention for the whole two hours and there are some decent twists to behold in it. There are frankly worse films this week than this one.

Spare Parts – If you’re in the mood for some gory, campy and pretty ridiculous grindhouse-style horror that also happens to be an entry into Canadian genre filmmaking, well, I’ve got your hook up right here. The film follows the ladies of Ms. 45, an all-girl punk band who is drugged and kidnapped while travelling on their first American tour after playing a volatile show in a small middle of nowhere town. They awaken to find their limbs removed and replaced with crude weaponry, and are forced to fight as Gladiators for a sadistic town to appease the “Emperor” who calls for the ground to be soaked in blood to appease the gods. The film definitely has its low budget and stilted dialogue but it does feature the Canadian horror great Julian Richings as the Emperor and shock comedian Jason Rouse in a role that felt like it was written directly for him. I loved that Alexisonfire guitarist Wade Macneil’s jarring riffs scored this film, after his debut with Jay Baruchel’s Random Acts Of Violence last year. It adds that perfect late seventies, early eighties exploitation value that this film feels it was literally built on. This will be a hard sell for the casual horror viewer but I had some fun with it.

Benny Loves You – By all accounts of what this comedy horror film is I should have adored it and started posting everything I can about it on social media, as, really, Benny’s ultimate champion but I really can not. Written, directed by and starring Karl Holt, this is a mean little story about Jack, a middle-aged man thrown out of his comfortable lifestyle after the accidental death of his parents on his birthday. Needing to sell the family home and desperate to improve his life, Jack throws out his childhood belongings including his beloved plush, Benny but it’s a move that has disastrous and murderous consequences when Benny springs to life with an intent to kill everyone in Jack’s life so he can have him all to himself. Brimming with cheap gore and pitch-black humour, I never really latched on to the sardonic sort of horror presented here as it lacks the charm of better films in the hybrid genre that came before it. That said, it is better than a film like Toys Of Terror from earlier this year but, yeah, this isn’t it for me.

Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal: Season 1 – One of the greatest creators in the game, Genndy Tartokovsky has returned with another incredible epic that he can put alongside Samurai Jack and beam with pride. A decidedly violent tale, this series follows a caveman at the dawn of evolution as he forms an unlikely friendship with an almost extinct dinosaur. Again, without a single word of dialogue, the series is a painting come to life, relying solely on music and graphic imagery to tell the story of two unlikely allies as they navigate through a treacherous world and, after bonding over unfortunate tragedies, they seem to become each other’s only hope of survival against a common enemy. The show is mind-meltingly beautiful in a way that Tartokovsky has the utmost command over and The emotional resonance of even the first episode had me bursting into tears with how heavily it was handled. I think he has released yet another masterpiece that will be celebrated for years to come, just like the legend of Samurai Jack.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Drawn Together: Complete Series – Last week I brought the nihilism and low-grade evilness of the children’s show satire Wonder Showzen and now I’m doubling down with the offensiveness of this controversial animated show that was spawned on Comedy Central and got two seasons and a movie. A parody of reality shows like Big Brother and cast with spoofs of several famous types of animated characters, the show is an insane ride of what happens when eight completely different cartoon characters from various genres and styles live together and have their lives filmed for the entire world to see. It follows the daily adventures of eight mismatched cartoon characters using the dramatic storytelling conventions of established reality television shows with the housemates Captain Hero, a not so moral do-gooder reminiscent of the Saturday morning TV superheroes of the seventies, Clara, a twenty-year-old sweet and naive fairy-tale princess, Toot, a black and white pudgy heartthrob from the twenties, Foxxy Love, a sexy mystery-solving musician, Spanky Ham, a foul-mouthed Internet download pig, Ling-Ling, an adorable Asian trading card creature, Wooldoor-Sockbat, a wacky Saturday morning whatchamacallit and Xandir, a strong young adventurer, similar to the great video game warriors. This show constantly pushes boundaries, is always irreverent and just when you think it can’t get more insane, it piles on for another offensive helping of what the hell just happened. I love this show but I fully admit, it can be an acquired taste.

Television:

Sweet Tooth (Netflix) – One of my favourite comic series of the last twenty years and a Canadian made one to boot, from the mind of creator Jeff Lemire, I was absolutely ecstatic when I heard that this, pun intended, sweetheart of survival tale was picked up for adaptation on Netflix from Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan’s production company with Stakeland filmmaker Jim Mickle overseeing it. The story starts out ten years prior with a pandemic called “The Great Crumble” which wreaked havoc on the world, creating a virus that kills most of the world’s population, and led to the mysterious emergence of hybrids, babies born part human, part animal. Unsure if hybrids are the cause or result of the virus, many humans fear and hunt them, causing paranoia throughout the survivors still trying to live off the land. The main focus is Gus, a sheltered hybrid deer-boy who, after a decade of living safely in his secluded forest home, unexpectedly befriends a wandering loner named Jepperd and together they set out on an extraordinary adventure across what’s left of America in search of answers about Gus’ origins, Jepperd’s past and the true meaning of home. I’m absolutely in love with this show and quickly gobbled up everything that was sent to me in the weeks leading up to its release and am now in a state of jealousy that you all get to live it for the first time. This show is so special, beautifully constructed and I hope it hits huge like Stranger Things did. It’s that damn good.

Feel Good: Season 2 (Netflix) – In a lighter way but heavier on the addiction side, this new series reminds me a bit of Fleabag but without that great Phoebe Waller-Bridge edge. The show is about stand-up comedian Mae Martin, a Canadian transplant now living in London and dealing with being a former addict which informs all of their current decisions. When a regular audience member asks them out on a date, Mae finds themself on a whirlwind romance with the girl of their dreams until the crushing reality of their addiction problem comes to light and fleshes all of their deepest insecurities to the surface. This show is definitely a sardonically funny show about damaged people and really revels in it in a great way and is a solid way to introduce them as I hadn’t heard of Martin before the first season. They have concluded that this will be the final season of the show so a quick two-season run, or a full weekend binge, and you will be totally sold on Martin as a writer and creator and waiting for their next project. I love these shows about deep self-examination when they’re handled well like this was.

Lisey’s Story (AppleTV+) – This is such an oddball show so it really feels fitting that it debuts on an oddball sort of streaming services like AppleTV+ which, besides the monster hit of Ted Lasso, is a bit weird in its scope and original series pickups. Based on a book written by Stephen King, who also wrote the teleplay, and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Pablo Lorrain, this weirdly dreamlike and sort of untethered show follows Lisey Landon, played by Oscar winner Julianne Moore, two years after the death of her husband, famous novelist Scott Landon as a series of unsettling events causes her to face memories of her marriage to Scott that she has deliberately blocked out of her mind, drawing her to his unpublished manuscripts as a crazed fan starts to deliberately stalk her, possibly hired by someone in her late husband’s past. I’m not going to sugarcoat this one at all as it’s a weirdly constructed show that shrugs of the constraints of any narratives you’ve seen before in this format but it still feels very much in the vein of Lorrain’s other work like the Academy Award-nominated Jackie. Lots of great cinephile draw to this show but it seems pretty inaccessible to any other viewer, really.

HouseBroken: Season 1 (Fox) – It’s not often that I get to bring new network animated shows to this section so when I see one, I’m all in unless it starts to slag after the pilot. The cast of this one is awesome, featuring Maria Bamford, Lisa Kudrow, Clea DuVall, Nat Faxon, Will Forte, Tony Hale, Greta Lee, Sharon Horgan, Jason Mantzoukas and Sam Richardson, under the eye of Veep writer and producer Jennifer Crittenden in her first animated foray and, by all the previews, looks very funny. The show is pretty simple and follows a therapy dog named Honey who explores human dysfunctions and neuroses and applies her knowledge of psychiatry through leading a group of neighbourhood animals in group therapy sessions. It could be a flop, as Fox doesn’t generally give these shows long to breathe, but I have good hopes for it.

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