Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild – Of any of the characters from the Ice Age films, I never would have thought Buck Wild would get his own spin-off series for Disney+ but given that he was voiced by Simon Pegg in the movies it warms my heart to get a show of his own. The good news is that Pegg returned to reprise his role as the scruffy eyepatched adventurer but sadly we don’t get Seann William Scott and Josh Peck as Crash and Eddie which is such a bummer as Peck was in the recently cancelled Turner And Hooch remake. This series serves to continue the escapades of those possum brothers as they set out to find a place of their own after the events of Collision Course, the last movie. Together with the one-eyed weasel, Buck Wild, they face the dinosaurs who inhabit the Lost World with Wild serving as a sort of bodyguard. Pegg is always entertaining as a voice and serves to keep the adult’s interest because the kids will already be feverishly in tune with all the animated mayhem on screen. I enjoyed all the movies to a certain extent and the series plays with that same spirit in tow.

Home Team – Seeing Kevin James topline a film based on a true story produced by Adam Sandler does not fill me with a large amount of confidence but I’m a little compelled by what story they’re trying to tell so I’m partially on board due to that. I”m not an NFL guy by any stretch of the imagination but I do know notable players as well as the coaches and that’s where this fits in. The film tells the story of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and him deciding to coach his son’s sixth-grade football team when he was famously suspended for the entire 2012 season as a result of his role in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal. I really hope the film doesn’t play into any sort of unearned redemption story as the real Payton hasn’t done much for the world to give him one. This is such an odd turn for Sandler and his production company to produce through Netflix that I’m finding it difficult to comprehend why they would take a real story like this and aim for low sports comedies. I have a feeling, even though I think it could be terrible, this will land as a top streamer for Netflix no matter what the reviews are.

The Fallout – HBO Max has a bunch of smaller little films in the tank for this year and this is one of the first out of the gate and the advance word is very good. With really high marks on Meta score, I’m mostly happy with the lead star Maddie Ziegler getting the stink of Sia’s Music off her resume with a solid performance that is getting lauded by critics. The film follows Jenny Ortega as high schooler Vada who is trying to navigate the emotional fallout she experiences in the wake of a school tragedy with the relationships with her family, friends and view of the world being forever altered. Violence in American schools is rampant at an all-time high and the media and creators seem to largely cast an ambivalent eye on it so it’s really great to see that writer and director Megan Park isn’t muting her voice at all on the subject. A Canadian actress largely known for the ABC Family television series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Park constructed a well scripted and empathically acted film that aims for the heart of trauma through a focus on three teens that resonates long after the credits have rolled. I also think that Ortega may have turned the corner from a child actress to a commanding adult lead within this film.

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Only Read My Mind – I love a good music documentary and this week we get the renewed exposure of one that did have a tiny release during the pandemic and now gets a bigger platform to shine on. This one focuses on the legendary Gordon Lightfoot, an artist said to be Canada’s greatest songwriter and I really have no argument against it. His songs are iconic and if you think you’ve never heard one I assure you that you are wrong. This film portrait shows the man for better or worse and with all his scars on display and the truth of this movie is something I absolutely loved about it. This is a special film and one important to all Canadiana plus there is a great story about the meeting of two legends, Lightfoot and the great Anne Murray, which went horribly due to Gordon’s studio drive and focus when making a record. Still made for a hilarious anecdote that would be a great Canadian Heritage Moment.

Two Deaths Of Henry Baker – Dusty southern small-town gothic noir is a tight little niche within itself and when it’s executed right it is very engaging and gives a lot of actors some time to shine and scenery to chew on. That is exactly what this film is going for which is interesting to be a middle southern American tale because it is a US production with a largely Canadian cast and crew. The film surrounds the release of famous outlaw Henry Baker after twenty-five years and the old friends and enemies waiting for him on the outside like the son he left behind, entrusted to watch over his ill-gotten riches, a bearded vagrant with a pistol and a decades-old bullet scar in his stomach, an alcohol-soaked deputy with half an ear on one side and a burned-out street hustler with a sick mother and a festering vendetta. They trail Henry to a dilapidated hotel where he plans to reunite with his son and the secret bag of gold he left behind until all hell breaks loose at once. This movie really engaged me in a tragedy drama sort of way and while none of the characters will really grow on you, seeing them decent into their volatile nature is very compelling.

One Shot – Scott Adkins is always going to be that underrated action hero that people will only remember for the small roles in things like The Expendables 2, Doctor Strange and Zero Dark Thirty but the guy has some range and should be utilized on a grander scale. This is definitely not one of the movies to showcase his acting chops as the action thrills are the draw as well as supporting performances from Ryan Phillippe and Ashley Greene. Adkins plays the leader of an elite squad of Navy SEALs who are sent on a covert mission to transport a prisoner off of a CIA black site island prison but are quickly and efficiently trapped when insurgents attack while trying to rescue the same prisoner. The action is fast and furious with all of the Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six-style tactical scenes you could want but be warned that the film is incredibly bleak and all bets are off for who survives at the end. To be honest, everyone felt like fodder around Adkins who commands the screen like a good action hero does. To think that this dude was almost Batman at one point is pretty cool.

Blu-Ray:

Moffie – This movie out of South Africa got a huge amount of buzz from both the festival circuit as well as the LGBTQ+ community and, I will warn you now, it’s not for the faint of heart and hits levels of real brutality that I wasn’t ready for. The film follows the story of Nicholas van der Swart who, from a very young age, realized he is different but, try as he may, he cannot live up to the macho image expected of him by his family, by his heritage. So, at the age of 19, he is conscripted into the South African army and finds his every sensibility offended by a system close to its demise, and yet still in full force. Set during the South African border war against communism, this is a harsh tale about the emotional and physical suffering endured by countless young men, brilliantly put together by writer and director Oliver Hermanus who adapted this from André Carl van der Merwe’s book of the same name which actually is a derogatory Afrikaans term for a gay man. This movie is like a cold slap to the face and never relents until the credits hit.

Birds Like Us – Animated films that we have never heard of will be bled off here and there due to the duration of the pandemic and this one is no different as I have honestly never heard of it nor can I get any PR company to send me any information let alone a screener for it. The weirdest thing is the film features the voices of three Academy Award winners in Alicia Vikander, Jeremy Irons and Jim Broadbent but is made by a couple inexperienced filmmakers and doesn’t have much to it aside from the star power. The movie seems to be a pretty deep world set within a bird-composed society in which the citizens of Birdabad accept the egg-eating tyranny of Kondor and his carrion crew as the price of safety in a world tormented by something called the Horror. With some of the deeper themes found in its synopsis, I wonder who the film was made for as it doesn’t look like a cheery thing you could throw on for the kids after they’ve exhausted watching Encanto over and over again. The situations are dire, the consequences are dark and even the way in which the characters are compelled on their journey seems a bit child traumatizing. I guess we’ll have to play. wait and see until we know what the effect of this film is but my guess is that no one will see it.

Tom & Jerry: Cowboy Up – More direct-to-video cartoon features for the kids featuring an intellectual property that probably doesn’t appeal to them anymore. To be honest, I felt like the failure of the rebooting of Tom & Jerry with the live-action film starring Chloe Grace Moretz was enough to indicate that the audience doesn’t care for this schtick anymore but maybe because it was just a bad movie. This one puts them back in animated form and follows them to a ranch in the wild west to help a cowgirl and her brother save their home from a greedy landowner. There probably isn’t anything too deep to be said about this movie but the really young kids will probably still feel the draw to these characters as it really is the same old same old cat and mouse antics that we’ve known about for decades.

Stage Fright – I love when I get all of these Warner Archive films landing on my doorstep and this one is very special because it is a rare Alfred Hitchcock film and all cinephiles should have at least one of his films in their collection. This film is a pivotal one in the Master of Suspense’s career too as it was the final British production he did for over two decades aside from completing the final scene of The Man Who Knew Too Much in London in 1956. This one is an early slasher origin story and follows a struggling actress who tries to help a friend prove his innocence after he’s accused of murdering the husband of a high society entertainer. The film features Marlene Dietrich in the lead role, who actually had a huge amount of creative control on it, something rare for any Hitchcock production. She knew what lights worked best for her, the camera angles and filters, heck, this was probably why Hitch wanted to work with her so often. All that in mind, this movie is a total classic that should be in the Hitchcock best of conversation more.

Sleep – Arrow Video came through with a late arrival this week that almost didn’t make it to the write-up but here it is under the wire. It really felt like something was missing so far this week and until this one slide in I didn’t realize it was devoid of horror. Well, fret no more because this German thriller looks to chill audiences to the bone with a story that follows Marlene, a woman plagued by horrific dreams, who suffers a breakdown in a remote village. As her daughter Mona follows, she comes upon a well-kept family secret and an old curse that ultimately threatens her life, a never-ending nightmare threatening to destroy her reality. My immediate draw to the film is actress Sandra Hüller who starred in the comedy-drama Toni Erdmann, one of my favourite films of all time, and the recent arrivals of Munich: The Edge Of War and I’m Your Man. The film feels like a blend of some of my favourite thriller elements coupled with some absolute mind-melting twists and turns in an almost Lovecraftian fight against the pit of despair. Really cool stuff that people wouldn’t get a chance to have access to if it weren’t for Arrow Video.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Disciples Of Shaolin – This week’s focus is deviating from the anniversary releases I have been posting and instead I’m heading down a path of classic martial arts flicks, all starting with this special edition. The main connection here between the two entries is that they are both celebrations of the Shaw Brothers productions, films that have a lasting effect today. This film follows an impetuous young martial arts master named Kuan who takes a job at a textile factory where another disciple of the revered Shaolin discipline warns him about the rival Manchu clan, who runs another nearby mill. This is that classic sort of small setup to big fights that the genre was forged from and grew to be one of the favourite genres in the world. This was one of the hundred films that writer and director Cheh Chang made over his long and storied career that would influence filmmakers like John Woo who would change the industry again with his work. This is definitely a special film.

Shawscope: Volume One – Now for the box set portion of the martial arts love fest this week with a collection of films that revolutionized martial arts movies, brought them to the general public in a huge way and made the Shaw Brothers a household name for action fans. This set features twelve films, all action packed and definitely a favorite of Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, John Woo or other filmmakers currently making the best films in Hollywood. Just to point out a few, King Boxer follows two martial arts schools as they prepare for an important tournament, The Mighty Peking Man is essentially a King Kong story that goes to India for a bit of Chop Socky and The Five Venoms is about the final student of a dying martial arts master that is instructed to locate the previous five students and defeat any evil ones among them. This set is just brimming with classic entertainment and would be a great binge watch for any action flick fan and I’m sure the homages just bleed through in them.

Mystery Team – Before Childish Gambino or even Troy and Abed In The Morning on Community, Donald Glover was known for being one of the members of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and the founder of the YouTube channel Derrick Comedy. Along with Dominic Dierks and D.C Pierson, they created hilarious and irreverent sketches together which culminated in this feature film. In the goofiest of comedies, they play three clueless high school nerds, best friends for years, who call themselves the “Mystery Team” and solve neighbourhood crimes, such as who poked a finger in a pie cooling on a window ledge. It’s all cute at seven but foolish at eighteen but, one morning, a young girl pays them a dime to find out who murdered her parents the night before and took her grandmother’s ring and things get adult fast. Using inept methods, the team lucks onto the trail of the bad guys they might bumble their way to success and a renewed reputation but they’ll get a crash course in coming of age along the way. This movie makes me laugh until my sides hurt and it’s all within the chemistry and scripting these guys can create between them. It was also a very early role for Aubrey Plaza who has become a favourite of mine after Parks And Recreation.

Song Of The Thin Man – I think I must have all of these Thin Man films by this point, a serious indicator of what was popular in the era of the 1940s because it can pretty much be considered the franchise of the time. Starring the beloved couple of Myrna Loy and William Powell, the question on everyone’s minds when these films got released was “when is the next one?” so I feel like we’ve always been primed for sequel fever long before we were born. Song proved to be the finale of six movies and followed the heroes of Nick and Nora Charles onto a gambling boat when, of course, someone is murdered. The two main suspects are at large and come to Nick for help and he turns them in to the police but then sets out to figure out the mystery behind the crime. Unhappy with the final result, the ending of the franchise left a bad taste in Loy’s mouth who even stated in her autobiography that the lacklustre finish was one of the biggest regrets in her career and it tainted the fourteen films that she made with Powell. This is classic Hollywood stuff right here and a pretty cool indicator of what the landscape of film would be in the decades after.

Television:

The Woman In The House Across The Street From The Girl In The Window (Netflix) – Kristen Bell seems to be everywhere these days, mostly in a comedic format, but this one is. bit different and pulls on the strings of mystery which she isn’t a stranger to with the success of Veronica Mars. Yes, the name is ridiculously long and will get paraphrased by everyone who utters it but I find it fascinating that the show is created by a trio mostly known for Robot Chicken and Mike Tyson Mysteries episodes which bring an interesting flavour to this little thriller. Bell stars as Anna, a heartbroken woman dealing with the loss of her family by drowning her sorrows in a glass of wine every day until a new neighbour moves in across the street and gives her a light at the end of the tunnel. This all takes a dangerous swerve when she witnesses a brutal murder that may or may not be a figment of her imagination. I enjoy the ethereal quality of the storytelling in this series that leads me to believe that Anna’s existence may be in her own mind and that her inclusiveness has irreparably damaged her psyche. It may all turn to garbage episodes but so far this half-hour episode mystery has me compelled to continue the journey.

The Gilded Age (Crave) – There has definitely been a void existing in the last few years that Downton Abbey has been off the air for and the movie, although very welcome and successful, really wasn’t enough to satisfy those fan appetites. Creator Julian Fellowes felt that collective pain it seems and has teamed with the powerhouse of HBO to give a new story set in the late 1800s but this time it is across the pond in the supposed “Land of Opportunity”. This new series follows the wide-eyed young niece of a conservative family who embarks on a mission to prove the doubts about her enterprising abilities and infiltrate the wealthy neighbouring clan dominated by ruthless railroad tycoon George Russell, his rakish son, Larry, and his ambitious wife, Bertha. The cast is fantastic, featuring veterans like Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski, young talents like Tassia Farmiga and one of my favourite character actresses today, Carrie Coon. After inhaling the first episode, I was so impressed about the layered setup to each character and the establishment of hierarchies and how they can crumble over the course of the series. The only hope now is that it has the longevity of Downton and the power of Gosford Park.

In From The Cold (Netflix) – If you’ve been waiting for a new spy series since the finale of the absolutely thrilling FX show The Americans then Netflix might be coming through with a suitable genre binge but I am very aware of the bar set by that Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys piece of television brilliance. What draws me into this show is lead actress Margarita Levieva who has always gotten the great supporting roles, like in the HBO shows The Deuce and How To Make It In America as well as the Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart comedy Adventureland but now she gets to shine in the lead role. The plot has her as an American single mom who is exposed as a Russian spy and now must juggle family life and unique shape-shifting skills in a battle against an enemy from her past looking to destroy her and everything she cares about. The show is the debut of writer Adam Glass as showrunner but he cut his teeth in television on Supernatural, so I have some hope that it will all pan out as I think it could progress beyond just one season.

The After Party (AppleTV+) – Christopher Miller and Phil Lord being attached to anything, whether directing, writing or producing, should be an indicator of quality especially when it comes to comedy. This is why my anticipation was high when I saw that they were doing a new mystery-comedy for AppleTV+ with an insanely killer CST including Sam Richardson, Ben Schwartz, Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, Dave Franco and so many more. The series picks up after the high school reunion’s afterparty ends in death and everyone at the party is a suspect. A detective grills the former classmates one by one, uncovering potential motives as each tells their version of the story which culminates in the shocking truth and hilarious circumstances. I love this show already for telling each person’s account of the evening in a different genre or style. No chance for a second season as this is just a limited one-off series but I really feel like it could be a huge draw for this streaming service that is basically skating by on just Ted Lasso to a large audience.

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