Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Cyrano – The story of Cyrano De Bergerac has been told many times with many different actors taking the role like Gerard Depardieu and Jose Ferrer being the notables but when I saw Game Of Thrones star Peter Dinklage and Atonement filmmaker Joe Wright attached to this, I got immediately interested. What turns me off of it a little bit is that it is a musical but I’m willing to push that aside for a well-made movie. The story follows the title character, a man ahead of his time who impresses everyone with ferocious wordplay at a verbal joust or with brilliant swordplay in a duel but, convinced that his appearance renders him unworthy of the love of a devoted friend, the luminous Roxanne, Cyrano has yet to declare his feelings for her and Roxanne has fallen in love, at first sight, with Christian. The film is getting fantastic reviews and most of them praise Dinklage’s performance which this rests solely on in a lot of places but the help of supporting roles from Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ben Mendelsohn definitely elevate it as well. It was also shot by Seamus McGarvey who makes absolute gold with Wright time after time.

Big Gold Brick – With the cast boasted in this new weirdo crime fantasy I was really heading into it expecting what the title suggested, a big gold brick. Led by Brooklyn’s Emory Cohen and co-starring Andy Garcia, Megan Fox, Lucy Hale and even Oscar Isaac, the expectations climbed every time I read someone new on the cast list. The film recounts the story of fledgling writer Samuel Liston and his experiences with Floyd Deveraux, the enigmatic, middle-aged father of two who enlists Samuel to write his biography. The circumstances that lead up to this arrangement in the first place are quite astonishing, as Floyd basically runs Samuel over on a dark night,-and efforts to write the biography are quickly stymied by ensuing chaos as Floyd was already into some bad business that will quickly end the two’s newfound partnership. As high as my expectations were, it was never ready for this mess of a movie that was badly written from the start and features an almost nonsensical performance from Cohen that grated on my nerves every time he spoke. This brings me to Oscar who is utilized for a five-minute scene that goes absolutely nowhere. I appreciate where these filmmakers were coming from but they failed in every conceivable way.

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Homecoming – Tyler Perry is digging back into his bag of tricks that never seems to die as we get yet another installment in his popular character Madea’s ever-growing story. This time it comes with a new addition as well as it ropes in the Brendan O’Carroll creation of Agnes Brown who is known to many as the matriarch in the long-running series Mrs. Brown’s Boys. This film centers around Madea’s great-grandson’s college graduation, though the celebratory moment hits a halt as hidden secrets and family drama threaten to destroy the happy homecoming as it usually does and always ends up being resolved at the church or in the church or headed to the church. The point is, Perry’s messages are usually pointed and very faith-based, probably the biggest money-making vehicle ever attached to a faith-based film property. The film is going to find its own audience, especially after so many movies that are prefaced with “Tyler Perry Presents”.

No Exit – Disney+ and Hulu acquired this snowy little mystery thriller and decided to put it straight onto the streaming service, rather than do any theatrical release for it and I kind of get it. The film doesn’t really have any big actors, save for former President Palmer on 24, Dennis Haysbert, but it’s the story and the facelessness behind the evil that really garners the interest. The plot follows a college student, on her way home from visiting her mother, who gets stuck with a group of people at a mountain rest stop during a blizzard. Things take a turn for the worse when the young woman discovers a kidnapped child in a car belonging to one of the people inside, putting the group in a terrifying life-or-death situation as they struggle to escape while trying to discover who among them is the kidnapper. I love whodunnit stories like this and I think, for the most part, it pulls it off but the inexperience of director Damien Power shows through as this is only his second feature. I also wanted a little something more from the cinematography, especially with the snow blind locale they had to work with. Still pretty solid for a Disney and Hulu co-production through the conduit of what used to be Fox Searchlight.

Charli XCX: Alone Together – I have said before that I’m a bit leery about films coming out of the pandemic and using that traumatizing period to make content but with documentaries, I think it’s a little bit different. This is one of those films I would let skate by because it delves into interesting territory during this global event that sort of united us in a weird way plus it is a music-driven film which is a weakness of mine in this type of filmmaking. The film is a first-hand account of global pop star Charli XCX who, seeking solace in music during the COVID-19 pandemic, asks her fans to help her make an album while quarantined at home. Charli embarks on a creative and emotional journey as she confronts mental health issues, rekindles her relationship with her boyfriend, connects with her fans, and ultimately produces the music for how she is feeling now. The creative process is interesting to watch, even though I only knew a little bit of her music heading in and one of them was a collaboration with Iggy Azalea. Beyond just being a film about an album creation, this is more a story of an artist’s connection with her fans and not just what it means to them but what it means to her and her ability to create against an impending deadline as well as a very uncertain future.

Hellbender – Shudder is always the best place to find great original horror films that you wouldn’t find elsewhere and usually, for horror fans, Thursday is the day of bountiful gifts so this week I’m giving you the heads up. Witchcraft is always a fun little niche within the genre that really got its popular surge in the nineties with The Craft but its faithful storytelling within its origins get me. That’s what this new film is, following a mother and her daughter who live a life almost in seclusion in a mountainous area of the United States. The adolescent Izzy only has as a friend, her mother, a woman full of secrets with whom she shares a primitive rock band. The mother does not want people to come near her daughter but Izzy manages to escape to the city several times where she will soon discover that her family has a past related to witchcraft. This film pulls you in slowly to its slow-burn storyline while delivering a coming-of-age tale that descends to unfathomably sinister darkness. The direction is artfully powerful and the performance from young Zelda Adams as our protagonist Izzy is totally unforgettable. I feel like Adams has a huge future ahead of her as so many casting directors will snap her up after seeing this.

Wharf Rats – This was a weird one to receive as it is a fully Canadian production and sent to me as a movie but if you look it up anywhere it is listed as a limited television series so I guess it was all stapled together to make a feature-length film. A production that is now two years old, it seems this packaging was the best way to get it to a broader audience although the simplicity of its nature and the fact that, even in its native Canada, no recognizable stars headline this, it’s probably a hard sell. The show follows Hughie, the son of a local legend and beloved fisherman who hasn’t lived up to the family name at all. Frustrated that his uncle is about to sell the family company but too familiar with cheating his way through life to do anything about it legally, Hughie forms a misguided plan to pretend that a simple-minded man is his long-lost brother, the key to his father’s will. Filmed on location in Prince Edward Island, this feels so instilled in the Maritimer way and probably has a limited reach of engagement once the dialogue starts flowing and I doubt it will make a dent out here on the West Coast where I am. It’s simple, a bit daft here and there but it has a bit of a charm under the surface. If only it had the charisma to go with it we might have a little bit of a Canadian hit here.

Blu-Ray:

House Of Gucci – There’s something about this movie that looking at good reviews for it just didn’t ring true in my mind and it might be all stemming from a poster that looked like a Saturday Night Live sketch. It may also be my wavering belief in Ridley Scott’s films these days that set the bar very low but the film had 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. Coming off of Ridley’s last film, the deceptively fantastic The Last Duel, I wasn’t sure what I was in store for with this but it is a definite character actor’s film with performances delivered to the rafters, especially from the aforementioned Gaga and Leto. Sometimes it falls into ridiculous stereotypes but it oddly fits in the context of the story Ridley’s trying to tell. In the end, I really thought it was pretty great, the soundtrack absolutely rules too but Duel is still the superior movie.

The King’s Man – Another pandemic hold out, we were supposed to get this Kingsman prequel last Christmas and we finally got to experience it for this past holiday season in theatres. 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 biting 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, in his incredibly stylish way. 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 has all of the charm and style but feels really messy in its execution which took me out of it from time to time. Without the Taron Egerton character of Eggsy, the film goes down a far less crass route than its predecessors but it also seems to lift a bit of the comedy out of it while getting decidedly weird in other parts. The action is still exhilarating and awesome but the returns have been diminishing since the first film and this is definitely the weakest in the franchise and may have stopped it dead in its tracks.

The 355 – The beginning of January is where studios slot in the films that they are unsure of the market for and that feels very fitting that this new all ladies espionage action film that boasts a pretty good cast got its debut to the masses. Even with Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Bing Bing Fan and Penelope Cruz, everything about it is 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 that should tell you almost all you need to know about it. Terrible and lazy dots connecting action scenes, hackneyed editing and deplorable continuity gaffs and a totally wasted cast that limps through each scene of an egregious long action bore. I was almost spitting angry by the time the credits hit but my relief it was over was enough to quell my fury. Don’t watch this, just don’t.

American Underdog – Faith-based drama is hidden by a big NFL legend biopic which would have totally pissed me off if it weren’t for the casting of the charming and charismatic Zachary Levi in the lead role. I’m not a football guy at all but I know who the man is at the centre of this film and, although I didn’t peg Levi for leaning so far into the PureFlix type of films that are usually awful, I was willing to give this a chance. Co-starring Canadian actress and True Blood star Anna Paquin, this is the story of NFL MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who went from stocking shelves at a supermarket to becoming an American Football star. Of course, with the production company behind it, the film focuses mostly on how his faith guided him to become a massive star in football on a global stage but it still manages to still to the truth of Warner’s career and I actually found myself enjoying it for the most part. If this is the closest I’ll get to enjoy one of these very divisive films, I’ll take it.

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.

Shattered – Sometimes a good cast in a film can be absolutely misleading and this one is one of those exact ones. With Frank Grillo, who I always love, Shameless actor Cameron Monaghan and the always commanding John Malkovich everything seems to lead towards being a solid time watching a movie but it all can be steered awry with bad directing and bad writing. The plot follows Monaghan as a rich divorcee named Chris who falls in love with a mysterious woman named Sky who suffers an injury and relies on her new beau to take care of her. Sky’s increasingly odd behaviour starts to make Chris suspect that she has more sinister intentions, especially when Sky’s roommate is found dead from mysterious causes, which is the tipping point to a situation that even puts his ex-wife and child in harm’s way. A convoluted Fatal Attraction style plot is also a tipping point for a terrible plot that starts sliding into mediocrity with each twist as if the storyline can’t really sustain itself. It’s really cheesy but is self-aware of this quality and many times hits a point like it’s not even trying to entertain you. Honestly, this was such a waste of time.

Edge Of Darkness – This is an interesting one as I’ve already brought a Warner Bros. release in my blu-ray geek outs that has this same title but starred Mel Gibson in a remake of a BBC series from Martin Campbell but this one is completely different but it does come from the Warner Archive collection. Made in the early 1940s, a couple of years before World War II ended, and starring the huge talent of Errol Flynn, this film went on to be included on the American Film Institute’s list of the Most Heart-Pounding American Movies. The film is set in a small Norwegian village during an occupation by Nazi forces who rise up to fight their oppressors when British forces sneak a cache of weapons into the nearby woods. The star was under deep scrutiny during this period, on trial on charges of rape during the production. Warner Brothers studio chief Jack L. Warner rushed his previous movie, Gentleman Jim into release, and even hired Flynn a lawyer and he was eventually acquitted of all charges.  Also, this movie was apparently banned in Argentina when it was initially released with the government denying an exhibition permit for this movie, stating that it could compromise that country’s political neutrality. Lots of politics behind war movies made at this totally dicey time in history.

Escape From L.A. 4K – Look, it’s not the best movie by any capacity but to get another collector’s edition and one in the glorious format of 4K for a film directed by the Master Of Horror John Carpenter and it features one of my favourite badass characters of all time, Snake Plissken, well, this is just a steal for a guy like me. The story follows Snake as he is coerced again by the United States government to do some world-saving merc work by recovering a doomsday device that is in Los Angeles, now a floating penal colony for the riff-raff of the country. The movie is definitely cheesy and very rough around the edges but little things shine through like Kurt Russell’s gruff character work, Steve Buscemi chewing the scenery and a great scene with Bruce Cambell as the torturous “Surgeon General”. I guess I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for this one.

Lies And Deceit: Five Films By Claude Chabrol – A new box set from Arrow Video hits shelves this week and it’s one that gives collectors the distinct feeling that these releases are the closest to a Criterion Collection treatment without having the C brandished on the cover. Five films are featured here from filmmaker Claude Chabrol, a creator largely known in international cinema as the French Hitchcock or the Balzac of Cinema, though I’m unsure of what that last one means. Lies And Deceit features some of the director’s best works including Inspector Lavardin, a classic drama mystery, the steamy bodice ripper drama Madame Bovary and the mystery thriller Cop Au Vin which ended up earning a Palme D’or nomination at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Again, through Arrow Video I get more of a film education and exposure to a filmmaker that I wouldn’t have otherwise and I’m grateful because Chabrol’s work is fascinating and definitely influential.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

The Toolbox Murders 4K – A classic slasher film showed up in my mailbox a few days ago, a few weeks after the release date, but I couldn’t help but want to bring it as my geek out this week as it is a new 4K release that has been totally restored and one that would later be remade by horror legend Tobe Hooper and, again, wouldn’t get the love it deserved. Sleaziness, blood and violence against women are at the forefront of this late seventies horror film and it’s obvious that because of these reasons and the sheer amount of gratuitous nudity made it a shunned production. The plot follows a lunatic who runs around an apartment complex, apparently home only to attractive flight attendants with a tendency towards exhibitionism. While there, the lunatic tries to kill all the tenants with the contents of a toolbox and it’s based, probably quite loosely, on a true story. Interestingly enough, the film, even with its crazy content, was never banned anywhere except for the United Kingdom as part of the “video nasties” controversy even though there is a full-on masturbation scene with one of the female victims which was definitely not the norm for the time. There was also a sequel planned in the mid-eighties that was never fully realized but now we get to experience this whole thing in the glory of high definition.

Television:

Vikings: Valhalla (Netflix) – It was quite the get for Netflix when they acquired the streaming rights for the History Channel’s first scripted series which became a go-to for Sons Of Anarchy fans once that series had run its course. Now that the show has ended and all the seasons have been available, Netflix has this new self-produced spinoff that will hopefully pull that fanbase in for more bloody violence perpetrated by Norsemen. Set one hundred years after the original series, this story focuses on the adventures of Leif Erikson, Freydis, Harald Hardrada and the Norman King William the Conqueror who blaze a path as they fight for survival in the ever-changing and evolving world. Created by legendary screenwriter Jeb Stuart, the man behind Die Hard and the movie version of The Fugitive, this series has an interesting cast to it as well, on the heels of great leads like Travis Fimmel and Alexander Ludwig, with The Walking Dead’s Pollyanna McIntosh and Game Of Thrones alumnus Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson and looks to be just as brutal as it’s predecessor. Maybe we’ll get six seasons out of this show as well.

The Proud Family: Louder And Prouder (Disney+) – Disney has been doing its damndest to resurrect all of its great animated shows from the nineties and 2000s, giving it the modern update and this one was definitely a huge hit in its time although it was in a period that was a bit of a blind spot for me. Bringing back most of the original cast, the show follows Penny Proud, a fourteen-year-old girl and her family, as they navigate their lives in the 2020s. Trudy, Penny’s mom, has new career highs, Oscar, Penny’s dad, has wild dreams, and Penny faces a myriad of challenges while her Suga Mama returns, as does Michael, Dijonay, Zoey, and LaCienega. New kids Maya and KG, who are raised by two dads, try to adapt to life in Smithville. The show is once again helmed by the original creators Ralph Farquhar and Bruce W. Smith and hasn’t seemed to miss a step. Farquhar is responsible for so much black-led television including Moesha and The Parkers so the return of this series to the zeitgeist is a big win for the community and many can introduce this show to their kids and have it infused with a time that they know. The voice casting is also still hilarious and the adult jokes all land very well.

Snowfall: Season 5 (FX) – For fans of shows like Narcos on Netflix and the spinoff series to follow as well as the recent Hulu and Disney+ released Dopesick, this series that is now neck-deep in its storyline might be a hidden gem that hasn’t crossed their vision yet. The good thing is that if you have the Disney+ platform you can now straight binge the first four seasons of this well-done series and be caught up for the new episodes that will hit weekly. Told through multiple perspectives, this is a drama set against the infancy of the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles and its ultimate radical impact on the culture as we know it, following numerous characters on a violent collision course, including Franklin Saint, a young street entrepreneur on a quest for power, Gustavo “El Oso” Zapata, a Mexican wrestler caught up in a power struggle within a crime family, Teddy McDonald, a CIA operative running from a dark past who begins an off-book operation to fund the Nicaraguan Contras and Lucia Villanueva, the self-possessed daughter of a Mexican crime lord. Starting out in 1984 Los Angeles, the series is fascinating in its gritty approach and no holds barred attitude as the f-bombs fly. I’m one of those people who is late to this show but I have to say that the pilot grips you from the get-go and doesn’t let up at all.

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