Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

The Matrix Resurrections – Even though the last two movies in the original Matrix trilogy are not great, to say the least, the anticipation for his new restart to the franchise is at a fever pitch and the expectations, at least in my eyes, are kind of endless. Do we even know where this could lead or where the jumping point is? Do we know if this is setting up more to come? It’s all speculation until we get our eyeballs on this visual feast. Loosely speaking on its synopsis we return to a world of two realities, one which is everyday life and the other, the one that lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will once again have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. Keanu and Carrie Anne Moss look to be the only returning stars from the first film but it looks just as dazzling as we remember those films to be but it also has a bright and modern look to it that reminds me of the Wachowski’s work on Cloud Atlas and Sense8. With only Lana directing this film, I wonder how it will all turn out with the separation of that starship.

Don’t Look Up – Writer and director Adam Mackay is pissed off and it’s palpable and watching his new movie I feel all of his anger through all of the sordonic humor and nod my head in agreement. Yes, we are all screwed with no help in sight and we should all be furious. This is the focus here, a film that boasts a huge cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance and so many more. The story has DiCaprio and Lawrence as two low-level astronomers who must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth to equally flippant and dismissive results, especially with the current American administration more focused on their own media scandals. This movie is so well written and absolutely unpredictable while also seeming to land in a decisive arena of turning many critics off it seems. The reception has been lukewarm and maybe because Mackay is wading into a political arena, although it isn’t new to him after The Big Short and Vice. I think this film has multitudes to say and I’m still thinking about it days after watching it.

Sing 2 – It may be my lack of emotion for musicals or my need for a deeper story but neither of these Illumination Entertainment-produced music-driven animated features has done anything for me or remain memorable in my mind at all but I will say that my kid adores them. The voice cast should have roped me in, with Matthew McCoughnahey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and more but it just feels like a loose plot and popular music to sing along to. This sequel has Buster Moon and his theatre full of performers in financial trouble again, pushing them to persuade reclusive rock star Clay Calloway, voiced by a debuting Bono, to join them for the opening of a new show. It is all paint by numbers stuff and, I have to throw some shade here, but Bono is incredibly wooden in a speaking role and it feels so weirdly distracting. I also feel like him voicing a lion was a weird stretch that he did not fit at all. This movie is total kids fluff so it should be regarded as such.

The King’s Man – Another pandemic hold out, we were supposed to get this Kingsman prequel last Christmas and we finally get to experience it now. I will say at the top of this that I love these movies so much, a brash emergence into a 007 dominated world that has bitting comedy and satire, great characters and phenomenal action. That said, with this being an origin story for the organization, we get a whole new group of characters introduced but with Matthew Vaughn leading the way again, it’s sure to be great. The story is set in the early years of the twentieth century, as the Kingsman agency is formed to stand against a cabal plotting a war to wipe out millions. The cast has Ralph Fiennes, George Mackay, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton and Rhys Ifans and looks all kinds of awesome. I’m excited about it.

Being The Ricardos – When the casting was announced for this glimpse into one week in the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez I was massively skeptical as I thought that Nicole Kidman was a wrong choice and I feel like we already have a pretty solid statement on Javier Bardem and his nuances. What kept me on board was the fact that Aaron Sorkin was writing and directing the film and I am a huge fan of that man’s work. The film picks up with the comedy power couple as they are threatened by shocking personal accusations, a political smear and cultural taboos, first and foremost Lucille’s apparent allegiance to the Communist Party. In what becomes a revealing glimpse of the couple’s complex romantic and professional relationship, the film takes audiences into the writers’ room, onto the soundstage and behind closed doors with Ball and Arnaz during one critical production week of their groundbreaking sitcom “I Love Lucy” and, sadly, that’s where the interest dies. Kidman’s make up is borderline monstrous, Bardem seems to be just being himself and there are so many of the cliched “Sorkin-iss” in this movie that they lose all meaning and many of them don’t even fit. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this but not the mess that it was.

Licorice Pizza – Well, this feels like a personal Christmas gift to me as Paul Thomas Anderson returns after Phantom Thread from four years ago and takes a little page out of Tarantino’s book with his own little trip down memory lane in Hollywood. One of the greatest filmmakers working now, and a personal favourite of mine ever since Boogie Nights, my cinema mind is drooling for this movie. The film is the coming of age story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine, two teens growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley of 1973. Musician Alana Haim and newcomer Cooper Hoffman take the leads in a film that has an incredible cast around them including Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bennie Safdie and an unhinged Bradley Cooper as real-life producer Jon Peters. Being in a small town in British Columbia, I’ll have to wait for this movie but all you lucky people can beat me to the punch. I envy all of you.

The Tragedy Of Macbeth – Christmas must being good to us this year with the second year of weirdness due to the pandemic because not only do we get two Denzel Washington projects this week but this is also the debut of the legendary Joel Coen as a solo director without the mainstay of his brother Ethan. This is also a Shakespearian film which brings Denzel all the way back to the nineties when he did Much Ado About Nothing for Kenneth Branaugh. Also starring Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson and Corey Hawkins, this is that age old story of a Scottish lord who becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power and murdering the current man in the seat which of course works out well for everyone involved. Yeah, no, there’s tragedy and I really am intrigued to see what the sole Coen brother has done with a story that we have seen so many times. The good news for those who have AppleTV+ is that the film will be streaming as of mid January.

A Journal For Jordan – Denzel Washington makes his second appearance on this list this week but this time it’s behind the camera for his fourth feature film and one that puts one of the hottest actors today, Michael B. Jordan, in the driver’s seat. What I’m most surprised to see is that this film is getting slaughtered by critics which is a definite first for any Denzel project, whether he starred in it or directed it. The story follows Jordan as First Seargent Charles Monroe King who authors a journal for his son, before he is killed in action in Baghdad, intending to tell him how to live a decent life despite growing up without a father. Back at home, senior New York Times editor Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams) revisits the story of her unlikely, life-altering relationship with King and his enduring devotion to her and their child. What I’m seeing online is that the melodrama in the film is so heavy that it almost feel like a made for TV drama and far less than the caliber of the star and it’s director would lend. This is so disappointing but at least we got Denzel and a Coen brother this week to dispel some of that downtrodden feeling.

Try Harder! – We definitely can’t go into the Christmas weekend or the end of the year without feeling a bit off parental guilt and we have a documentary this week to get it all done in a feature length time frame. Schooling is always the argument, worry and speculation in many families across the world and no matter what pressure we ourselves put on kids, it has to be immensely worse for them. This film puts you in that scenario, focusing on Lowell High School, the top public high school in San Francisco, where the seniors are stressed out as they prepare for the emotionally draining college application process, keenly aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream colleges. The film, through director Debie Lum, captures this experience with a heartfelt eye, never ignoring the levity of the situation in order to soften some of the emotion. What results is an intimate little group character study and maybe a deeper implication on the cause and effect that this process brings to the forefront.

Margrete: Queen Of The North – With the unveiling of the new Robert Eggers film in the trailer for The Northman, the torch was lit for me to get some good old Scandanavian storytelling in my brain and I’m so happy this film landed in my lap. It’s interesting to note that the film was a period piece filmed during the pandemic, which it suffered a shooting delay from, and it had the notoriety of the Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, attending the Danish premiere of the film about her predecessor. The story is set in 1402 and follows Queen Margrete, the ruler of Sweden, Norway and Denmark through the eyes of her adopted son, Erik. But a conspiracy is in the making and Margrete finds herself in an impossible dilemma that could shatter her life’s work, the Kalmar Union. This film is absolutely gorgeous in it’s scope and the beautiful cinematography is just enough to get by some of the dry patches of the story as it is filled with a lot of politicking, some scenes more weighty than others. In A Better World’s Trine Dyrholm is powerful in her lead performance and it was so great to see her again, more than a decade after the Academy Award winning Susanne Bier film.

Blu-Ray:

No Time To Die – It feels like we’ve been waiting forever to see Daniel Craig’s swan song as cinema’s most famous super spy and now, after it’s long awaited theatrical run, it is here on 4K blu-ray and it looks glorious. There’s a lot to make up for as the last installment, Sam Mendes’ Spectre, was a complete and utter disappointment that blew the great casting of Christophe Waltz as Blofeld and gave us a lacklustre paint by numbers action film instead of the Bond that had been set up for us in Skyfall. At least he’s back for another go as the most iconic Bond villain and it is now helmed by a filmmaker with a perfect record, True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga. The story picks up with Bond having left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help but the mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology, played by Rami Malek. The film is a culmination of the entire duration of Craig’s Bond and ties up all loose ends while giving a finality to the character that feels fitting. Malek feels a little ineffectual in the grand scheme of things but I don’t think he was meant to be this version of Bond’s ultimate nemesis as I think it is more a reactive end to the waves that his 007 made. I really dug it a lot and I will say, no spoilers here, but Ana De Armas damn near steals this whole thing in a ten minute scene.

The Many Saints Of Newark – The anticipation of this new prequel story to possibly one of the greatest television shows ever made was pretty huge and the level of expectation was to a point that it was totally insurmountable to satisfy. Heading in, I find it fascinating that James Gandolfini’s son Michael is taking the young Tony role in this film and I was so excited to see how his compatriots in Paulie Walnuts, Silvio, Big Pussy and even his uncle Junior are handled. The film follows young Anthony Soprano, growing up in one of the most tumultuous eras in Newark’s history, becoming a man just as rival gangsters begin to rise and challenge the all-powerful DiMeo crime family’s hold over the increasingly race-torn city. Caught up in the changing times is the uncle he idolizes, Dickie Moltisanti, who struggles to manage both his professional and personal responsibilities and whose influence over his nephew will help make the impressionable teenager into the all-powerful mob boss we’ll later come to know, the infamous Tony Soprano. This film shouldn’t have existed as a series and not a feature film as it seems to pull the story in so many different directions, trying to get in so much of the fan service and being displaced and disjointed by that as the viewer makes the two hour run time a bit like it was stretch and not enough at the same time. The fan service is pretty cool but that ending damn near ruined the whole thing.

Blue Bayou – Justin Chon is a Korean American actor, writer and director who is now coming through with his fourth feature film and, although not being a badly reviewed filmmaker, he might break through to the mainstream with this character driven drama that features him alongside an Academy Award winner. The film follows his main character, a man raised in the Louisiana bayou who works hard to make a life for his family but suddenly must confront the ghosts of his past as he discovers that he could be deported from the only country he has ever called home. Reviewer friends of mine have told me that they loved this movie when it was press screened and I don’t think there is any sort of a ad campaign behind it so word of mouth is going to help in immensely. I love little dramas like this so I’m certainly on board.

Fortress – Now for the peroidially fun portion of this blog sometimes maybe, it’s time to look at the latest direct to video entry from Bruce Willis and a glimpse of what he’s lazily lining his pockets with. This sounds very harsh but it is only because I’ve been driven to this point by again and again being subjected to his mediocrity. The film has Willis as Robert, an ex-CIA agent, who lives in a hidden woodland resort that serves as a retirement community for former spies. His estranged son Paul is a crypto currency entrepreneur who has run into trouble and needs to ask his old man for help but, unfortunately, Paul’s plans aren’t as secret as his father’s location which leads a group of criminals hellbent on revenge to Robert’s doorstep. The film co-stars Chad Michael Murray and Jesse Bradford, two actors who have worked with Willis on a direct to video film here and there and is directed by James Cullen Bressack, a super nice guy on Twitter but, woof, is this movie ever bad. I think the issue is Willis who seemingly couldn’t give an ounce of energy to any line reading to save his live or the plot’s integrity. Just ho hum level f=delivery on everything. He’s now pathetic.

The Birthday Cake – A gritty crime thriller with mid 2000s indie guy Shiloh Fernandez, Val Kilmer and Ewan McGregor? Allright, I’ll bite enough to get a taste. I’m trying out some noir styling here, is it working? I’m actually really underselling the cast here as it is deep with character performers and writer and director Jimmy Giannopoulos has debuted with a feature that definitely outdid the Sopranos prequel I watched here. The story follows Giovanni, the reluctant recipient of the task of bringing a cake to the home of his uncle, a mob boss, for a celebration on the tenth anniversary of his father’s death. Just two hours into the night, Giovanni’s life is forever changed and he’s forced to grow up after witnessing murder, violence, chaos and the truth about what happened to his father. Giannopoulos definitely is a bit rough around the edges in his execution from time to time but the cast is seasoned enough to keep everything afloat and Fernandez, who also co wrote the film, does a solid leading job. I thought the violence was handled exceptionally and, weirdly enough, might have been it’s strongest point.

Small Engine Repair – This is a total surprise of a drama and I never saw it’s elements coming until it was in my lap. The film features two stalwart character actors who chew the scenery commandingly and may distract a little from writer, director and lead star John Pollono’s definitely lesser turn in front of the camera. The story follows Frankie, Swaino and Packie, three lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars and a hand in raising Frankie’s teenaged daughter Crystal. After a failing out between them, Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore which causes events spin wildly out of control and maybe too much for any of them to handle. This movie plays almost to cliche levels of brother brother comedy, like Edward Burns has done many times in the nineties and 2000s until the main problem hits and blows it all out of the water. It then moves into completely unpredictable territory and all bets are off. Keep in mind that the film very much plays like a stage production but that is what it is based on. I was leery at first but it definitely won me over.

Hell Hath No Fury – Every now and then you need a fluffy action slugfest set during World War II featuring a bad ass hero beating the hell out of a Nazi just as hard as this title would suggest. Well, that’s what this movie delivers through the conduit of lead star Nina Bergman in a great establishing performance. I want her and Alexis Louder in something right now. Bergman plays French national Marie DuJardin who is disgraced and branded a traitor by her countrymen. She is tentatively rescued by American soldiers but it comes with one condition attached to remain alive. She must lead them to a hidden cache of gold hunted by the Nazis, the French resistance, and the Americans alike. This movie was so much fun and definitely was on par with director Jesse V. Johnson’s previous work, Triple Threat. I’m loving that we got some really great. women action heroes in the later part of 2021. I’m always all for that.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Rick And Morty: Season 5 – It’s been a crash course in a cartoon that I was way late to the game for but I will say that I was on board so quickly because the writing is so good I get euphoric with it’s brilliant complexities. So, in that spirit, let’s renew a celebration of Rick And Morty Day, an acknowledgement of one of the more fucked up paternal relationships that probably changed young Morty for the worse and possibly made him a monster. Wait, is this the sentiment I’m going for? The show, now available in a season one to four box set as well as individually, is set to debut its fifth season tonight on Adult Swim and fans are drooling for it with creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon wringing their hands in excitement. The best news is that there are another fifty episodes commissioned beyond this and the show seems like it will continue indefinitely. Even better news, and don’t hate me for this, but I’m kind of new to the show and am still in season one so I am discovering all the “schwifty”, Szechuan sauce and Pickle Rick references beyond the times that they’ve become viral memes across the internet. Soon, I will be caught up and still kind of behind all the references. The point is, I’m receiving the Adult Swim education and goddamn is Chris Parnell great, right?

Television:

Jim Gaffigan: Comedy Monster (Netflix) – One of my favorite comedians of all time is rolling out his next Netflix special and it’s a long time coming as I enjoy a good stand up routine and I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of them this year. Gaffigan is a king of comedy and many of his specials still have me laughing like King Baby or Beyond The Pale, with bits that I think will live in infamy forever like the bacon one. This time he takes aim at billionaires, bikers and everything in between, proving, with hilarity, there is a reason he is a six time Grammy nominated stand up expert. The only tragedy here is that he has never won the award. It’s almost a crime in my opinion.

Emily In Paris: Season 2 (Netflix) – The Darren Star fans out there are getting their Christmas present a little bit early as his Netflix series is rolling out the sophomore season for more corny romance and international blunders. This show starring Lily Collins has been more in the news in the last awards season for bad reasons as it started getting some really unearned clout that snubbed more of the diverse shows that are infinitely better like I May Destroy You on HBO but I digress. The series follows the titular character, an ambitious twenty-something marketing executive from Chicago that unexpectedly lands her dream job in Paris when her company acquires a French luxury marketing company. Emily’s new life in Paris is filled with intoxicating adventures and surprising challenges as she juggles winning over her work colleagues, making friends, and navigating new romances. I hate to get gender-specific on the target market of this show but I definitely the way it was leaning pretty much immediately. it doesn’t feel very fresh or new but I think it found its audience seeing as there is more of it now. What to expect from this new season? I would assume more of the same and probably not any infusion of sophisticated smarts.

The Silent Sea (Netflix) – After the mega hit out of nowhere that Squid Game was, people may be looking to more South Korean properties to latch on to and Netflix once again has you covered. This one again plays in the science fiction sandbox but instead they are taking you off planet for a new mysterious series in the stars. The story is set during a perilous twenty four-hour mission on the moon, as space explorers try to retrieve samples from an abandoned research facility steeped in classified secrets. Being a huge fan of South Korean cinema, I have been elated to see the popularity of it rise between Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite ad the Netflix phenomena that has taken international pop culture by storm and am fascinated to see if this is the next favourite for everyone to champion.

1883 (Paramount+) – With the massive success that Yellowstone has gotten in the four season it has been on, it is only reasonable these days to think that Paramount+ would want to capitalize on that and make a spinoff project. Well, that is exactly what this is here but instead of spinning off to the side or ahead we are going back to some origins. Creator Taylor Sheridan is giving us the beginnings of the Duttons in the late nineteenth century as they flee poverty in Texas and embark on a journey through the Great Plains to seek a better future in Montana. The show features real life couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in the leading roles and also has stalwart western legend Sam Elliott to lend all of his gravitas to this new show that is definitely going to land as a hit with it’s first episode. I’m surprise it hasn’t been renewed for a second season before the air date. It probably will by the time I publish this.

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