Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

The 355 – The beginning of January is usually the time where studios slot in the films that they are unsure of the market for and that feels very fitting for this new all ladies espionage action film that boasts a pretty good cast. Even with Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Bing Bing Fan and Penelope Cruz, everything about the trailer for this feels like a painful retread of tropes we’ve seen time and time again. The story follows a wild card CIA agent who joins forces with three international agents when a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands and sets out on a lethal mission to retrieve it while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who’s tracking their every move. The film comes from director Simon Kinberg whose only other feature film is the dreadfully awful X-Men: Dark Phoenix so my faith in this film is very low. Sometimes a low bar helps out a movie in the long run so fingers crossed on this action flick.

The Tender Bar – George Clooney is sneaking his brand new drama into this week’s releases and I’ve been seeing the set photos of Ben Affleck all done up in that seventies style and am really interested to check out what they’ve created together. I also like that the film was written by William Monaghan who has written many great films and it was adapted from a popular book by J.R. Moehringer who is the main character of the story as well. The plot follows Tye Sheridan as Jr., searching for a replacement for his father, who disappeared shortly after his birth and finds solace with his uncle Charlie and the patrons at a bar in Long Island. Uncle Charlie works as a bartender there and knows all of the staff and regular patrons, a charismatic individual who, along with all of his friends, are eager to initiate Jr. into their rituals. Jr. listens closely to the stories of these men and relies on these stories for guidance on how to live. The film, already released in the States, is getting fifty/fifty reviews with some saying it’s a little too sweetly sentimental but isn’t that something that we all need a little of right now. I’m also intrigued by the casting of Christopher Lloyd, who stole the show in Nobody earlier last year, a legend hopefully on the rise to another renaissance in his career.

June Again – Dementia is a subject that has been tackled a couple times in a first-person experience, starting with the Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman film The Father and now in this new Aussie drama that is definitely more heartwarming but the disease is still depicted in an impactful way. The film doesn’t feature any recognizable faces for me, aside from Nash Edgerton who plays a small role in it, but any Australian probably knows who all of these stars are. The film follows Noni Hazelhurst as June Wilton, a woman who feels a moment of lucidity in her crippling dementia and has precious little time to bring together her estranged children, save the family business and rekindle an old flame so she busts out of her care home to complete her final tasks. This film does such a stellar job in depicting the utter confusion of the brain disorder and, like The Father did, puts you in the driver seat of their memories being ripped away. The film doesn’t leave you with that darkness though and instead gives the hope of closure instead of a cure.

Blu-Ray:

Antlers – Guillermo del Toro returned to creep us out this Halloween but only from the writer’s chair as Hostiles and Out Of The Furnace director Scott Cooper helms this monstrous tale that, just from the trailer, has me swiftly onboard. It feels like this film was announced so long ago and, with the pandemic being the time suck it has been, I had completely forgotten that it was coming but I love how much gothic substance it seems to ooze. The story is set in an isolated Oregon town and follows a middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother who become embroiled with her enigmatic student whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature who came before them. The advance reviews are interesting for this, some calling it an arthouse monster movie which has me salivating for it because it reminds me of Brian Bertino’s The Monster, a film that didn’t get enough love. Maybe this will be the same and become a deep genre favourite.

The Djinn – With a small apartment set and a very contained amount of special effects, this low-budget horror film manages to bring in the chills by being incredibly effective on a shoestring budget. The drive of the thrills in this film plays all around a child’s intellect, things that go bump in the night and the tendency to dabble with forces that are completely misunderstood and it turns out so great. Young Ezra Dewey is predominantly the only star of this largely dialogue-less thriller which follows a mute boy who is trapped in his apartment with a sinister monster when he makes a wish to fulfill his heart’s greatest desire, to be able to speak. The film plays with great character themes that dig into the emotional issues that have formed this young boy’s current existence, anchored by the loss of his mother. There’s something simple and effective about “monster under the bed” horror with a kid in the crosshairs and some of them, like last year’s Come Play, just get it all wrong. The Djinn gets it right and leaves you with a little food for thought as well.

Zeros And Ones – Auteur visionary storyteller Abel Ferrara isn’t a man that lets anything slow him down. This is a guy who did Bad Lieutenant, Ms. 45 and Driller Killer in the rise of making his name and has made many films that cusp on biographical with Willem Dafoe in the most recent of his catalogue. At over seventy years old, he’s not going to let a pandemic slow him down either as he did this new terrorist thriller with Ethan Hawke that was created within the whole ongoing COVID disaster. The film has Hawke in dual roles, first off as an American soldier stationed in Rome who embarks on a hero’s journey to uncover and defend against an unknown enemy threatening the entire world when the Vatican is blown up, spurred on by ideas from his revolutionary brother. Ferrara’s style of lingering on almost still moments is definitely at play here but what is more fascinating is his use of the empty streets of Italy to illustrate the times and his leaning into using drone technology to get some gorgeous cinematography in from Good Time shooter Sean Price Williams. This is an odd one because I’ve never seen a film bookended by the real actor explaining the process and, in the end, almost evaluating it but Abel has done it and I thought it worked.

Black Friday – A couple of cult horror favourites anchor this new creature feature that I think missed the boat by a couple weeks, landing on DVD just after the Christmas season in which it takes place. That said, the immortal Bruce Campbell and Canadian nineties heartthrob Devon Sawa feature big in a film that also boasts the international cred of Pan’s Labyrinth star Ivana Baquero, who I haven’t seen since that masterpiece. From the title, the film is pretty self-explanatory, following a toy department store and the employees who must work the overnight of Thanksgiving into Black Friday, dealing with the relentless customers. Even worse, a meteor crash-landed nearby and is turning the people into flesh-hungry parasitic monsters bent on the destruction of everything. I will say that the effects are pretty fun in a Troma sort of schlock sense and the gore is pretty cool but the story is formulaic and, despite all best efforts from the cast, it is utterly forgettable. Workplace and holiday horror will always have a place in my heart but there is a certain calibre that needs to be delivered to make the rewatch list and this one doesn’t have it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek-Outs:

Scream – With the newest installment just a week away and getting all the slasher fans into a fever pitch in anticipation, no better time to reminisce about how great the first film was and how it rejuvenated the genre on the big Hollywood scale. I also brought it this week because it turns twenty-five and makes me feel old just thinking about watching it on VHS for the first time back then. The Wes Craven classic follows teenage Sydney Prescott as she is being terrorized by a masked killer on the year anniversary of her mother’s murder by playing ingrained horror tropes against her. The cast is awesome with Canadian Neve Campbell leading and Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard rounding it out and I still think the film holds up till this day. You’ll see it too when you do your rewatch in preparation for the new one that comes from the duo behind Ready Or Not. I’m so excited about it.

Silence – Martin Scorsese’s passion project came and left, while astounding critical and cinephile audiences and flopping with the mainstream audience but a film about missionaries in Japan probably isn’t that commercially viable, right? Now celebrating its five-year anniversary, Scorsese had been developing this idea for well over two decades before it got to the screen and I thought it was well worth the wait. Starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, the story takes place in the seventeenth century and follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor, who is rumoured to have committed apostasy and to propagate Catholicism. The fact that this film failed to earn any Oscar buzz beyond a Best Cinematography nomination for Rodrigo Prieto is astounding as it is brilliantly constructed with incredible performances from the leads as well as a solid supporting one from Liam Neeson as their mentor. Not being religious at all myself, I still found this a fascinating study on faith, the loss of it and think it’s one of the most important films on the subject.

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer – With The Matrix Resurrections currently playing in theatres, I thought it would be cool to bring the film of one of the Wachowskis’ collaborators, German filmmaker Tom Tykwer who actually did the music for the latest reemergence back into the franchise. It has been fifteen years since this gorgeous adaptation of Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel which, at the time of its release, was the most expensive German production of all time. The film stars Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man born with a superior sense of smell who creates the world’s finest perfume before his need for perfection drives him down a dark path of abducting women and “harvesting” their scent, something that always leads to their untimely deaths. This movie is magnificent but was massively panned by critics at the time, most stating that it was overindulgent. I feel like it’s a film that has aged into something more based on its artful scope and will be less chastised for its anti-hero lead character. I think we’ve learned by now that cinema is open to many different character paths. There is a whole Voir episode about it with critic Drew McWeeney, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Television:

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts (Crave) – If the Friends reunion proved anything, it has to be that reunion shows are the new hotness and, especially on a streaming service where you can rewatch it time and time again, it does a lot of business. Well, HBO Max has cornered the market on it now and has both that fan-favourite sitcom love affair but all the muggles who adore the Harry Potterverse in addition to that but, you know, without the J.K. Rowling terf herder. Just as I’m sure many fans wanted, cast members from all the “Harry Potter” films reunite in a retrospective special to celebrate the anniversary of the first film, including interviews and cast conversations which include behind the scenes reveals and a look into the friendship between the three main characters. I also like that the unrequited love that Emma Watson had for Tom Felton was finally revealed. It’s so adorable.

Around The World In 80 Days (PBS) – I’m not usually a guy that watches shows from the same network that plays Masterpiece Theater, Poirot and the Antiques RoadShow but it is a classic remake, it stars David Tennant and when I thought deeper about it, I wouldn’t know about Black Adder if it wasn’t for PBS. I owe them but not a donation. This is an adaptation of the classic Jules Verne book that follows gentleman adventurer Phileas Fogg who, spurred on by a bet, sets out on a quest to travel around the world and back home in a period of eighty days. The show is co-run by Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes creator Ashely Pharoah, which are two of my favourite British shows of all time, so I got even more excited about seeing this thrilling adventure series and I think she pulled it off. Tennant gives this show an immediate charm, as does Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout and The Crown’s Leonie Benesch as Abigail Fix. This is a really great viewing that I feel can be done with the whole family to get your collective literature fill.

Search Party: Season 5 (Crave) – I’m going to be honest on this one, I had never heard of it at all and I’m kind of disappointed by that as I’ve been a fan of the lead, Alia Shawkat, ever since I saw Arrested Development over a decade and a half ago. Created by Fort Tilden’s Sarah-Violet Bliss and The State’s Michael Showalter, the series is a single-camera dark comedy about four self-absorbed twenty-somethings who become entangled in an ominous mystery when a former college acquaintance suddenly disappears. Created for the HBO Max service, This show has yet to hit the mainstream in full but I love it as an alternative to Girls where it’s immediately acknowledged that the characters aren’t exactly good people and we can watch their ups and downs without feeling the blankets of a hot message coming with it.

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