Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

House Of Gucci – There’s something about this movie that looking at good reviews for it just doesn’t ring true in my mind and it might be all stemming from a poster that looks like a Saturday Night Live sketch. It may also be my wavering belief in Ridley Scott’s films these days that put the bar very low but the film has been praised for Jared Leto and Lady Gaga’s performances in this scandalous fashion biopic. The film follows “The Gaga” as Patrizia Reggiani, an outsider from humble beginnings that marries into the Gucci family and her unbridled ambition begins to unravel their legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge, and ultimately murder. The cast features Adam Driver, Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons in supporting roles and it is interesting to note that Martin Scorsese was originally lined up to direct with Robert De Niro possibly involved. Maybe this film will blow me away if I maintain the low expectations.

Encanto – Disney is back with another original animated feature film and I’m sure they’re looking to make up for the box office disaster that was Ron’s Gone Wrong late last month, which I think is a total bummer because it looks so cute. To be honest, though, this movie looks like an easy way to break that negativity as it is vibrant and magical just in the trailer alone. The film tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house in a wondrous place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift from super strength to the power to heal every child except one, Mirabel. When Mirabel discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, she decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her family’s saviour. The voice cast is a great line-up of Latino stars including Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz, the veteran and always welcome John Leguizamo and many more and the reviews that have been pouring in have been glowing. Looks like Disney may have another hit on their hands and it has some cultural fair and relevance to it as well which is refreshing to see.

C’mon C’mon – Writer and director Mike Mills is a filmmaker with an impeccable record to me and it isn’t just because he has only made a small handful of movies in his career because this is an exercise in quality over quantity. He has brought such storytelling brilliance in his films Thumbsucker, Beginners and 20th Century Women with Christopher Plummer winning an Oscar for that middle one and now for his next outing he has the always magnetic performance of Joaquin Phoenix to lead it. He plays Johnny, a radio journalist who forms a tenuous but transformational relationship with his young nephew, played by newcomer Woody Norman when they are unexpectedly thrown together on a cross-country trip. Of course, that Oscar talk is bubbling up again for Joaquin as he proves again that he is one of the best on-screen right now but what should really be the story of this black and white shot comedy-drama is that Mike Mills is one of the best storytellers that you don’t remember the name of.

The Humans – With the buzz from film festivals and critics who got an early look at the film starting at the Toronto International Film Festival, I knew that this movie would be one of note but I didn’t want to know anything beyond that it was a Tony Award-winning play. This cast had me immediately on board, with Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, June Squibb, Steven Yuen and Amy Schumer, but the substance behind it is where it excels and I won’t tip the hat at all to what it contains. The film is set inside a pre-war duplex in downtown Manhattan and follows the course of an evening in which the Blake family gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving but, as darkness falls outside the crumbling building, mysterious things start to go bump in the night and buried family tensions begin to reach a boiling point. This movie goes from conventional drama to veiled horror in unpredictable moments and it is so crazily unexpected that I slowly felt myself falling in love with it. The acting hits a crescendo that solidifies it as one of the strongest of the year but it’s the puppeteering of writer and director Stephen Karam that brings it there. This may not be for everyone but I’m saying this is one of the year’s best.

Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City – When the first adaptation of Resident Evil hit theatres in 2002 I have to admit I was definitely a fan but I did feel like it wasn’t a close enough realization to the video game which is something I would love to see. I do see that it was more made as a vehicle for Milla Jovovich to have her own action franchise but I wanted something more faithful and we now have it with a film that explores not just the first game but the second as well. This one is set in 1998 and explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City which was once the booming home of pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corporation. Now a dying Midwestern town, the company’s exodus left the city a wasteland with great evil brewing below the surface and when that evil is unleashed, the townspeople are forever changed into bloodthirsty creatures and a small group of survivors must work together to uncover the truth behind Umbrella and make it through the night. The film features Crawl’s Kaya Scodelaerio, Code 9’s Robbie Amell and Ant-Man And The Wasp’s Hannah John-Kamen as franchise favorite players and the mood, aesthetic and set pieces that look pitch-perfect but as a horror movie, it all falls flat. Nothing is scary, everything feels telegraphed and before you know it you’re in a rushed third act and a lacklustre finish. I feel so conflicted on this one and am still waiting for it to be done properly I guess.

Bruised – Let’s get this out of the way first. I really wanted to like this movie. It’s Halle Berry’s directorial debut, an Oscar-winning actress who I’ve always liked and even had the chance to meet when she was making the third X-Men film and was such a darling. This movie has her training in mixed martial arts, has a killer soundtrack featuring Saweetie, Cardi B and more and looks to be a kick-ass, lady-led sports flick. The story has her as a disgraced MMA fighter who finds redemption in the cage and the courage to face her demons when the son she had given up as an infant unexpectedly reenters her life as well as an opportunity to re-enter the octagon emerges. Now comes the bad news because this film is truly awful. It hammers down every cliche it can, tries to revel in emotional manipulation that is completely unearned and features the most frustratingly hamfisted script I have seen this year. I was so ready to love this movie but it doesn’t want it, just ridicule, so here you go.

The Last Rite – More horror? You’re damn right and I don’t use that epithet lightly as we got ourselves a good old-fashioned possession movie here which isn’t ever easy to pull off. The story follows Lucy, a study from home medical student and sleep paralysis victim who moves in with her boyfriend and finds out all is not as it seems when she falls prey to a demonic force hell-bent on ripping her apart from within. Torn between sanity and the unknown, Lucy is left with no alternative but to contact a local priest, Father Roberts for help and with time running out and the dark force consuming her from inside, he is forced to make a choice to do the right thing and get the church involved or help Lucy by conducting his own exorcism against the will of the church. Writer and director Leroy Kincaide does his film the ultimate justice by developing Lucy well as a character, which is rare in horror, and making her a fully rounded person that you feel the stakes in as her soul descends into hell. It makes the story more and more intriguing and gives a big message to other creators looking to do the same.

Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn – It’s undeniable to say that if this movie wasn’t an indie flick or from Romania as it is, with this title it would probably be one of the most talked-about films of the year but it very much is foreign and low budget so no one knows anything about it. The storyline should be buzzworthy too in this social climate as it follows Emi, a school teacher, who finds her career and reputation under threat after a personal sex tape is leaked on the Internet. Forced to meet the parents demanding her dismissal, Emi refuses to surrender to their pressure, culminating in a confrontation on both sides of the issue. The film is absolutely phenomenal and is totally unpredictable in not just its developments but the tone in which it’s told. I’m not a huge connoisseur of Romanian films but the few I have seen have blown me away and I still never think of them for compelling cinema.

Blu-Ray:

American Night – Seeing the name Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as the top-billed star in a film these days is a bit of a mixed bag. He’s not really A-list or B-list so it might be awful from the get-go or middling like Yakuza Princess which is really depressing because I really enjoyed the hell out of The Tudors. This film is a neo-noir crime thriller set in New York City’s corrupt contemporary art world where Meyers plays art dealer John Kaplan who goes head to head with the ruthless head of New York’s mafia, Michael Rubino in a fight for money, art, power and love. I really dig the cast around Meyers which includes Emile Hirsch, Jeremy Piven, Paz Vega and Michael Madsen but that’s as far as my adoration goes as the final product is a lacklustre ride that cuts corners, fails in its script and can insert even a little bit of cleverness into it’s plotting. Such a waste of actors that I assume came at a bargain.

Raging Fire – If it’s a martial arts film and it has Donnie Yen in it, well, it’s a pretty self-explanatory and easy sell. This one has the pre-excitement and added oomph of being called Raging Fire as well which may make the bar a little higher for it to clear. Yen plays an officer of the Regional Crime Unit who has worked in the front line and given his all for many years. His protege, a talented former officer who made a grave mistake while holding the badge, ended up serving time in prison and now leads a mysterious group of criminals, has now turned for a once-rising star into a furious man with a grudge, and the will to destroy everyone who had wronged him, including his former mentor. This movie absolutely rocks, pushing aside character development to go all-in on the action and it is worth every second. It is a single trope of good cop versus bad cop but you quickly forget about that with the ferociousness of the storytelling. I’ll be honest, the level of this movie was totally surprising.

Clerk – I am a Kevin Smith guy, through and through. I have loved everything from the man, seen him multiple times live and wouldn’t be a podcaster if it weren’t for the effect that he had on my life. One of my most anticipated upcoming films is his follow up to Clerks II more than fifteen years afterwards and while we’ll be waiting a little bit longer for that to hit theatres, his friend, director of Drawing Flies and Small Town Gay Bar and Canadian Malcolm Ingram, has something to tide us fans over. Simply put, this is a retrospective documentary that outlines the life and career of the indie filmmaking icon like only a close friend could and features interviews with friends, family, filmmaking peers, and fellow icons of the film, comedy and comic worlds while teasing the forthcoming movie. Kev screened this in Vancouver at the Rio, following it with a Q & A that I sadly missed but this is the next best thing and thanks to my pal Mark, I got it!

Phantom Of The Mall: Eric’s Revenge – When I was a kid, perusing the aisles of the video store as I always loved to do, the horror films were the titles and posters that leapt out at me, demanding my attention. One such poster was the one for this movie that fascinated me with the modernization of the Phantom Of The Opera story but in a mall. The story follows a guy called Eric who owns a huge house which becomes the target of some greedy investors who want to build a mall over it. So, obviously, they get someone to burn down his house in which Eric is badly burned but not dead, a nasty loose end for them, and a year later the mall opens. What they don’t realize is that Eric is living underneath the mall and he’s very angry and looking for some payback. This movie is pretty wild, even for a late eighties chiller, and has some horror royalty in Dawn Of The Dead’s Ken Foree, time-era bombshell Morgan Fairchild and is an early role for the Weasel, Pauly Shore. Is it good? Hell no! Is it entertaining in the campiest ways with an Arrow Video Collector’s Edition blu-ray crammed full of crazy features? Oh hell yes it is.

The Addams Family 4K – This is an early nineties classic that I have seen more than ten times within that decade and to get a brand new edition on hi-def 4K brought a big smile to my face. I honestly don’t think casting got much better than Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston as Gomez and Morticia Addams because it makes any other one, like the voice casting of the two animated films recently, look like dog shit. For those who never got the pleasure of this Barry Sonnenfeld gem, the film has the eccentric family dealing with a pair of con artists looking to fleece them for their fortune by having one of them pose as the long-estranged Uncle Fester. This movie has a great script, brilliant camera work and a style that oozes so well off of it that you would have thought Tim Burton directed it. I think there are probably people out there that actually think that to be honest.

Planes Trains And Automobiles – John Hughes has made so many movies that connect us through the ages whether it is Home Alone for the kids or Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science for the teens. One that connects us all as fans, which I learned very quickly after posting the cover of this beautiful edition, is this phenomenal Steve Martin and John Candy comedy that makes us laugh till our bellies hurt and also hits us like an arrow straight to the heart. For those who need to get a Hughes education immediately, it follows a Chicago advertising man who must struggle to travel home from New York for Thanksgiving with a lovable oaf of a shower curtain ring salesman as his only companion. This may be the best role from John Candy in his tragically shortened career and his chemistry with Martin was absolutely undeniable. The film is infinitely quotable and doesn’t pale at all on multiple rewatches. Heck, it should be a Criterion Collection film.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Santa Fe Trail – Do I kick off the geekouts with Warner Archive stuff a lot? It feels like I do. Anyways, here we go again with a total genre classic from 1940 featuring Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland in a film that goes for as much historical accuracy as the studio would allow. The film, set in 1854, follows Jeb Stuart, George Custer and other graduates from West Point who are posted to Kansas to help pacify the territory before railroad construction to Santa Fe can resume. The movie would be the seventh of nine movies made together by Warner Brothers’ romantic couple de Havilland and Flynn but there was a rift between the two as the actor was completely snubbing his co-star due to her romance with James Stewart. Man, there was so much rampant jealousy and unprofessionalism then it’s a marvel that any filmmaking actually happened.

Star Trek II The Wrath Of Khan: Director’s Cut – This film is largely regarded as the greatest Star Trek movie ever made and it’s really hard to argue that because it is a personal favourite as well. I know I already cover the full set of films in the original cast box set of films but this film is a director’s cut and I had to give it some love. For those who are still under a rock, the story follows Admiral Kirk and his Enterprise crew who must contend with an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, that is threatening the universe with the ultimate weapon, the life-generating Genesis Device. Ricardo Montalban is so awesome in this movie as Khan, probably one of the greatest sci-fi villains of all time and I have to say that this film still satisfies every time you watch it and the extra scenes just add to how fantastic it is. For anyone that still thinks that Star Trek is too science-based and fails to excite the viewer, this movie is exhibit A that it is not.

Sailor Suit And The Machine Gun – Let’s finish out this week’s geekouts with some weirdo Japanese cinema from Arrow Video, shall we? This one is decidedly apropos for the country as our main character is a schoolgirl, complete with the outfit, a very dirty little fantasy of Japanese businessmen everywhere. The film follows this teen from the wrong side of the tracks as she assumes control of her father’s arm of the yakuza and we all rejoice as we’ve landed another Japanese gangland story on this blog which is starting to become as regular as the horror films. Well, maybe not but it is a pretty consistent theme. This movie may just be for the hardcores as it was made in 1981 and definitely has its certain cheesiness to it. Enjoy at your own risk but Arrow picked it as a collector’s edition for a reason.

Television:

Masters Of The Universe Revelation: Part 2 (Netflix) – A man I consider my personal Gretzky, Kevin Smith, a driving force to me pursuing podcasting, then radio and movie critiquing, anything he puts his name on becomes very special to me and when it was announced that he would be executive producing this new He-Man series I was automatically intrigued. As a fan of the show and toys himself, Smith has the perfect reverence for the source material and he brings all of that with a great voice cast to this show that feels like it picks up where the original series left off with a tone that suits the time that has passed. The story pits our heroic warriors, He-Man, Orko, Cringer, and Man-At-Arms and guardians of Castle Grayskull against Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, Beast Man and the vile legions of Snake Mountain but after a ferocious final battle forever fractures Eternia, it’s up to Teela to solve the mystery of the missing Sword of Power in a race against time to prevent the end of the Universe. This show already hooked us in with an incredible first five episodes that made sure you knew that no character was safe from death and that the evolution of the rules has forever changed the landscape of Eternia. Just know that these next five episodes ups the ante even more and now I’m left waiting for another installment of five episodes so, Kev, hook a dude up!

True Story (Netflix) – Kevin Hart is really trying to bring the serious side of himself in 2021, especially on Netflix, as we already got the really great comedy-drama Fatherhood that had him struggling as a single father but this one is all serious but comes from a reality within him. The show follows him as a famous comic on a tour stop in his hometown of Philadelphia that becomes a matter of life and death when his older brother coaxes him into a wild night full of next-day consequences. The best thing about this show is that his brother is played by the great Wesley Snipes but at the end of the first episode I just felt that the show was careening towards predictability. Hart is solid and Snipes is charismatic as ever but it feels like we’ve been fed this story of an old life and attitude temptation and it feels less and less fresh every time it’s trotted out. At only seven episodes in this limited series, it has little time to course-correct but I’m still hopeful.

F Is For Family: Season 5 (Netflix) – Bill Burr is a fantastic stand-up comedian that pulls no punches, gives no apologies and is always on fire and, for me, his recent visit to The Mandalorian really opened up more of this man to me. That aside, at the end of the day, this animated series might be one of my favourite of his pop culture contributions. For those who don’t know about this Netflix original, Burr voices Frank Murphy, the patriarch of your quintessential family living in the seventies when kids played in the streets, dads always had a beer in hand and nothing came between a man and his TV. Yes, we’re getting a bit of an Archie Bunker vibe here but it’s played mostly as satire rather than celebrating the more insensitive and politically incorrect opinions of the time from white America. This show really hooked me during the third season and I absolutely love the cast around Burr which includes Academy Award winners Laura Dern and Sam Rockwell, Justin Long and Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul’s Jonathan Banks. This may turn off a lot of people but it found a soft spot in my love for things like King Of The Hill.

Hawkeye (Disney+) – It’s been a pretty awesome 2021 for Marvel-created television on Disney+ as we’ve gotten WandaVision, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki and What If as well as the Hulu contributions of M.O.D.O.K. and Hit-Monkey. It’s an embarrassment of riches really but the MCU train isn’t slowing down as we get to end the year off with the return of Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton and the introduction of the comic fan favourite protege Kate Bishop, played by Hailee Steinfeld in a perfectly cast role. The two are forced to work together when a presence from Barton’s past threatens to derail not just his family time with his wife and kids at Christmas time but may end both of their lives in the process. The first two episodes are a little vague on what the big bad of the series is but Renner and Steinfeld have really great chemistry and, let’s face it, these characters are cool as hell. I’m on board totally but I probably am an easy target for all of it.

The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+) – Master filmmaker Peter Jackson is known for a plethora of reasons in the film world. At first, he was an originator in schlock horror, making splatter films in New Zealand for years. Then he was the Tolkein guy, adapting both the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and The Hobbit and also did a great job of King Kong in my opinion. Finally, he pivoted to documentary filmmaking with a hell of a World War I film called They Shall Not Grow Old. Now he’s made a Beatles fan like me overjoyed with this three-part docu-series that follows the Fab Four as they regroup to record and rehearse fourteen new songs that would become the album Let It Be and prepare for their unforgettable rooftop concert at London’s Savile Row, their first live performance in two years. As a person that holds this group so close to his heart, as does the rest of my family, this series is so special and it’s jaw-dropping to see this footage restored to look like it was recorded yesterday. I’m grateful to Jackson and his team and I feel like other Beatles fans will be as well.

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