Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

The Batman – This is the first highly anticipated release of the year for me as I’m sure it is for a lot of Batman fans out there and I really hope it squashes the conversation of Robert Pattinson only being a sparkly vampire for good. Yes, there was a lot of anger at the casting of the Tenet and Good Times star but I think he’s going to absolutely crush it as a younger Bruce Wayne and Caped Crusader. The film follows Batman as he is forced to investigate the city’s hidden corruption and question his family’s involvement when the Riddler, a sadistic serial killer, begins murdering key political figures in Gotham. The film is directed by Matt Reeves who has a perfect filmmaking record which includes Planet Of The Apes sequels and a remake of an incredible Swedish vampire masterpiece so I really have the utmost respect for him as a storyteller and from what I can see in the trailers, he totally nailed this. My excitement is at a fever pitch right now.

After Yang – Colin Farrell is getting a double shot of releases this week, not only playing The Penguin in the biggest film of this week but also co-starring in this critically-lauded drama. The film was made by writer and director Kogonada in his follow up to the phenomenal Columbus from almost five years ago and features Jodie Turner-Smith who blew me away in Queen & Slim last year. The film is set in a near-future where humans are dependant on androids to do their bidding and one family’s struggles with questions of love, connection, and loss after their A.I. helper unexpectedly breaks down. Kogonada plumbs some incredible depths of human emotion in his last film so I’m really excited to see what he does with this sci-fi twinged setting and I really love sombre Colin Farrell character work as in the Yorgos Lanthimos films The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and The Lobster. This might be a low-key best film of 2022 I think.

Drive My Car – With Academy Awards nominations and critical acclaim from so many renowned film reviewers around the world, the bar has been set pretty high for this Japanese drama. This is no flinching matter for writer and director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi who to only netted the Best Foreign Oscar nomination but the Best Adapted Screenplay one as well which puts him in the arena against favourites like Jane Campion, Denis Villeneuve and Maggie Gyllenhaal but I don’t think he’s worried because his film is that good. The story follows Yusuke Kafuku, a renowned stage actor and director, who receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya at a theatre festival in Hiroshima just shortly after the tragic passing of his wife. There, he meets Misaki Watari, a taciturn young woman assigned by the festival to chauffeur him in his beloved red Saab 900. As the production’s premiere approaches, tensions mount amongst the cast and crew, not least between Yusuke and Koshi Takatsuki, a handsome TV star who shares an unwelcome connection to Yusuke’s late wife. Forced to confront painful truths raised from his past, Yusuke begins, with the help of his driver, to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind. This film is made with such rich performances and a beautiful scope that reminded me of the serene qualities of a Hikaru Korreda film, a dramatic director who prefers stories about quiet solitude. I don’t want to give too much of this movie away but it is a real crowd-pleaser that will be remembered long afterwards.

Fresh – I haven’t been a part of it for well over a decade now but the dating pool seems like a cutthroat and devious game now, much more than it was before, and this little thriller with a darkly comedic edge is definitely exploring that a bit. This is a tricky film to talk about as I have to skirt around huge story reveals but just know that Sebastian Stan is in this and incredible as usual but it’s the leading power of newcomer Daisy Edgar-Jones that does an incredible job of the heavy lifting. She plays Noa, a single girl playing the Tinder market with one disastrous date after another until she meets Steve in the produce section of her local grocery store and the two quickly hit off. A whirlwind romance ensues and the couple starts to make deeper plans with each other, starting out with a visit to Steve’s secluded country house that looks like a sombre little dream. This is where the other shoe drops and Steve’s intentions are revealed and we are drawn into a hell of a rollercoaster ride that I can’t even begin to describe. If you love a good but albeit violent thriller you will dig the hell out of this movie.

Jockey – Clifton Collins Jr. is a name you might not know by just hearing it but you know his face and he’s been making your favourite films better with his supporting work for decades now. He gets his chance to absolutely shine in this new horse racing-driven character drama and shares the screen with an equally game Moises Arias from The Kings Of Summer. Collins plays an aging jockey who is still hoping to bring home another championship for his longtime trainer but injuries have thrown the whole arrangement into question. Throw in a new young rider who claims to be his son, and whom he takes under his wing, to further complicate the path to fulfilling his dream of going out at the top. Beautifully written and directed by Clint Bentley in his feature film debut and shot by Adolpho Veloso, whose work is new to me but I look forward to what he does next. The final shot of this movie is such a lingering triumph that it made me smile. I love character films like this one.

The Souvenir: Part II – Following the first film that is a sort of autobiographical tale from writer and director Joanna Hogg and starring Honor Swinton Byrne and her real-life mother Tilda, I didn’t expect this follow up but I’m really glad we got it. Executive produced by the great Martin Scorsese, this film is a real look into how life trauma can lead to the burgeoning of a creative whirlwind with good and bad results. The first movie focuses on Julia Harte, a young film school student who gets wrapped up in a romance with a self-centred and totally divisive man and now this story picks up with the aftermath of ending that relationship and the catharsis or trying to construct something out of the shards that fell. Honour is sombre and totally relatable in this film but it’s the third act where the presence of it really comes out with the unveiling of her graduation project. As a big cinema nerd, this movie got me hooked, line and sinker but I think it would be less accessible for a mainstream viewer. 

Against The Ice – Nikolaj Coster Waldau is mostly known in our minds as Jamie Lannister in Game Of Thrones and, sadly, to a large international audience he hasn’t made anything to propel him above that so far but not for lack of trying. The wheelhouse that he is generally running in is the mystery thriller market and so far he hasn’t had one that exceeded mediocrity yet but this Netflix release definitely sounds promising. Co-written by the star himself, this story is set in 1909 and follows two explorers who fight to survive against the elements after they’re left behind while on a Denmark expedition in ice-covered Greenland. The film co-stars Joe Cole, who has been so impressive in his role on the audience’s favourite Peaky Blinders, and I would say that the two series stars’ presence is enough to bring you into this story. I’m also a sucker for survival dramas, especially if they are done right.

The Weekend Away – Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester is dipping her toe back into the horror-thriller pool and, if anything, it will be a vast improvement over her last time out in this genre, the terrible and cheesy The Roommate. This one is a different sort of thriller that plays on the stranger in a strange land premise which is an international fear I believe. The story follows two best friends, Kate and Orla who have overcome personal setbacks and no matter what life throws at them, they always look forward to their annual weekend away. This year they are on a trip to Lisbon, and everything is perfect until Orla wakes up to find Kate missing. With only a fuzzy memory of the previous night and the police not helping, her frantic search uncovers devastating secrets closer to home. Adapted from a novel by author Sarah Alderson, this film rests on the pedigree of Australian director Kim Farrant who has definitely done some work in the dour drama department with her Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes film Strangeland which was absolutely depressing so she is not averse to a downer ending which honestly sells this a  little more for me. Not being a huge fan of Meester’s work, this is where I put my dependence on this film.

Lucy And Desi – Months after the Aaron Sorkin written and directed biopic Being The Ricardos which has earned a bunch of unearned accolades and Academy Award nominations, Amy Poehler has stepped behind the camera for a documentary approach to a telling of the most influential couple in comedy history’s story. This film will explore the rise of comedian icon Lucille Ball, her relationship with Desi Arnaz, and how their groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy forever changed Hollywood, cementing her legacy long after her death in 1989. Poehler has a great series of talent for the interviews including Bette Midler, Charo, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear as well as direct family members like Lucie Arnaz and, honestly, I think this will be a far better watch than to endure the two-hour mess that is that Sorkin film. I’m still pretty angry about that one and I hope it doesn’t win a single award. Okay, rant over.

Nightride – After one-shot masterpieces like Birdman and 1917, a device uses like the thriller Locke and impressive but dull and drawn out foreign flicks like Victoria, this storytelling technique is never not impressive. This is the method used in this new Irish crime drama that relies heavily on actor Moe Dunford from the History Channel series Vikings to keep it all on the rails. The film is a wry, real-time one-shot thriller set on the midnight streets of Belfast. It places us in the driver’s seat with smalltime dealer Budge as he tries to pull one last deal with cash borrowed from a dangerous loan shark but when the handover goes catastrophically wrong, he finds himself in a race against time to find his missing product and get a new buyer before the loan shark tracks him down. The intensity is ramped up and effect as you can almost feel Budge’s time ticking down without actually seeing it on the screen as an episode of 24 with Keifer Sutherland. At a quick pace of an hour and a half, there are no lull moments to the story as each barricade in Budge’s night feels like it could be the one to end him. The title is totally correct as this certainly is a night ride into uncertainty.

The Scary Of Sixty-First – An addition to the weird movies I’ve watched in 2021, this is one I never saw coming and I don’t know how anyone could, Coming from writer and director Dasha Nekrasova, who also stars in a supporting role that shifts to the main one, this mumblecore horror with a slightly comedic edge definitely wouldn’t have worked too well in a conventional pitch room. The film follows friends Addie and Noelle who are doing something city dwellers know is truly horrifying, apartment hunting. Everything changes for both women when an unnamed stranger knocks on their door off their new sweet deal abode and tells Noelle that she believes they’re living in a place that has seen untold horrors as one of the apartments in which Jeffrey Epstein used to traffic and abuse girls. Before you know it, they have tumbled down the rabbit hole into a world of conspiracy theories about Epstein and his apartments while Addie starts to become possessed by… something. This is like a long Jeffrey Epstein joke without the benefit of a punchline and a third act that I’m still trying to unpack I honestly don’t know who the audience is for this.

Blu-Ray:

Belfast – Kenneth Branaugh returns to work behind the camera with what is one of the most heartwarming masterpieces in years set against a backdrop of lower-class struggle and I honestly couldn’t get enough of its charm and cinematic brilliance. Filmed beautifully in black and white, the cast really had me too as it has Dame Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds just to name a few, stars who, in their native British Isles, always deliver in one way or another. The story is semi-autobiographical and chronicles the life of a working-class family and their young son’s childhood during the tumult of the late 1960s in the Northern Ireland capital. Everything about this film cries winner and hopefully a future Best Picture winner and it is really a great feeling to have a true masterpiece as Branagh has delivered. Maybe it was his closeness to the story but the atmosphere of it is immediately special and so many aspects about it I will carry with me as a movie lover for a long time to come.

Demonic – Neill Blomkamp is a filmmaker who I adored with his first film but has honestly had a series of films afterwards that signified a few diminishing returns creatively. The South African writer and director who is based in Vancouver now debuted with District 9, moved on to the Matt Damon sci-fi action Elysium before his Die Antwoord Short Circuit-like story Chappie and now moves to the horror genre for this tech-heavy exorcism movie that has everything aesthetically going for it. Not featuring any big stars, unless you’re Canadian and love Carly Pope, the story follows a young woman who unleashes terrifying demons when supernatural forces at the root of a decades-old rift between mother and daughter are ruthlessly revealed. I really wanted to like this movie a lot but it feels like a better idea within the concept and maybe realized as a short film but a fully pieced feature film just ran out of steam slowly but surely. I can see why this movie was retooled to be a smaller release because it just isn’t to the calibre of the big boys. That said, I still yearn for Blomkamp’s success.

Run & Gun – You know, I’ll be really honest here and say that you can drag me in with a small inkling that your film is going to play with a seventies exploitation style, it is that totally simple. That’s how this little flick landed on my lap and it also has the added bonus of starring bad ass martial artist Marc Dacascos, most recently seen as the big bad in John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, and Angela Sarafyan from Westworld. It follows the main character Ray, played by British actor Ben Milliken, a good guy who has reformed after leaving a life of crime and violence and now enjoying a quiet family life in the ‘burbs. When his past is discovered, Ray is blackmailed into one last job to collect a mysterious package and, after a deadly double-cross, he finds himself wounded and on the run from ruthless assassins who will stop at nothing to get what he has. Now, with the lives of his loved ones hanging in the balance and danger at every turn, Ray’s only hope is to draw upon his violent past to survive. You can tell that this film has a pretty low budget but they manage to make an entertaining story out of it, even with some pretty glaring cliches along the way. Milliken also feels a little out of his depth with some of the other actors who are clearly more experienced but it is some great groundwork in the end for a character actor.

The Pilot – I got an email on the day that this new blu-ray from Well Go USA hit shelves that they would be halting the promotion of this film due to the conflict in the Ukraine so I’ll be pretty brief about it. IT’s understandable that the distribution company would want to shy away from it as it was made by Russians and glorified one of their war heroes but I felt, for posterity and full coverage I would mention it anyways. The story follows pilot Nikolai Komlev who was shot down during World War II and managed to bring his plane down in a remote forest clearing, but far from friendly territory and then faced a relentless test of physical and mental endurance to survive. Unfortunately, with it being a Russian production that pro-military propaganda is fully on display but there is an entertaining story at its heart but the truth of it, I’m sure, is debatable.

The Batman: Complete Series – With The Batman hitting theatres right now, of course, it is the perfect time for Warner Bros. to repackage and restore this great cartoon series into the format of blu-ray with this new set that includes all six seasons. I owned all of these already on DVD but it was super cool to get this new revision and show it off to the next generation, also known as my daughter, to keep the love for animated Batman shows going. This animated adventure series, much like the Animated Series but less revered, follows the life of Bruce Wayne, billionaire by day, crime fighter by night, who starts as Wayne balances life as a free-wheeling bachelor, with his role as the Caped Crusader. He’s joined on occasion by Robin and Batgirl to take on Black Mask, Killer Moth, the Everywhere Man, and a brand-new Clayface who join The Joker, Penguin, and The Riddler in ceaselessly tormenting Gotham City. This show was so much pure fun and is just as good on a second time, third time or infinite time watch. Batman is timeless and in the animated form, it just seems to leap off the screen.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Lost Highway – Almost five years after going incredibly dark for the prequel to cult hit and one of the great television series ever made, Twin Peaks, with Fire Walk With Me, it seemed that David Lynch wasn’t finished with his darkness and made a film that I believe is very much a mystery horror. Yes, twenty-five years ago this week this Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette led masterpiece that features an incredible soundtrack produced by Nine Inch Nails creator Trent Reznor and Lynch himself and the creepiest of co-stars in the form of now-convicted murderer Robert Blake hit theatres and it still lingers in my brain a lot. The story follows Pullman as Fred Madison, a saxophonist who is accused under mysterious circumstances of murdering his wife Renee. On death row, he inexplicably morphs into a young man named Pete Dayton, leading a completely different life. When Pete is released, his and Fred’s paths begin to cross in a surreal, suspenseful web of intrigue, orchestrated by a shady gangster boss named Dick Laurent. This movie is awesome but only for people who like to experience something totally weird and idiosyncratic. I feel like those who know and love this movie share a Lynchian bond that means we can be best friends and talk about how Mulholland Drive is a spiritual sequel to Twin Peaks that was supposed to be a series. I digress greatly but you see what I mean.

Black Snake Moan – Craig Brewer is a filmmaker that came out of the gate hot and heavy with his Atlanta rap saga Hustle And Flow which ended up garnering so much awards attention and had people singing “it’s hard out here for a pimp”. Sadly, his second film didn’t earn as much acclaim even though I say it might be as good, if not better. The story has Samuel L. Jackson as a God-fearing bluesman who takes to a wild young woman played by a fearless Christina Ricci who, as a victim of childhood sexual abuse, looks everywhere for love, never quite finding it. Hoping to cure her of her sexual demons, our man Lazarus chains her to the radiator in his Tennessee home in a darkly comedic drama that needs to be seen to be believed. How Brewer, Jackson and Ricci didn’t get boasted during awards season is a total crime as I always recommended this film when it had just been released and have mentioned it more than a few times on Twitter. People need to rediscover this movie right now, it may be Brewer’s greatest work.

Zodiac – With The Batman getting so many comparisons to this brilliant David Fincher-directed slice of serial killer cinema, it’s only right that I bring it to the geek-outs as it is also celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. who, at the time, wasn’t such a media darling but delivers a hell of a performance in this. Set between 1968 and 1983, the story follows a San Francisco cartoonist who becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorized Northern California with an infamous killing spree. Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth create a mesmerizing tale of mystery that was such a treat to see in theatres but still keeps those jaw-dropping beats across multiple viewing as this movie fails to tarnish anytime I see it. The film is a genuine cinematic goldmine that I still think about often. It might be an all-time favourite for me.

Television:

Pieces Of Her (Netflix) – There is a general rule in this household and that is the simple truth that Toni Collette is one of the greatest actresses on the planet, never phones in a performance and could be the sole reason anything she is in is good. This is exactly why this new series was immediately on my radar and, to be honest, Netflix has been good to her already with her solid mystery drama Unbelievable from a few years ago. This new series treads in the same sort of waters, a mystery thriller that follows a woman that must piece together her mother’s dark history after a violent attack in their small town brings hidden threats and deadly secrets to light. The show is based on a popular book by author Karin Slaughter, who may have one of my favorite names ever, and was spearheaded by The Plot Against America director Minkie Spiro but the B-movie quality of the production is a little hard to swallow sometimes and takes the wind out of some pretty big plot twists. That aside, if you’re only watching this for Toni’s involvement in it you will not be disappointed because even in bad things she is still so utterly incredible.

The Dropout (Disney+) – Just a few weeks after the Disney+ and Hulu debut of the true story of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s sex tape, the same two collaborating streaming services are delving into more true story territory with this series about disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. These adaptations have been working well for this hybrid releasing system, with Dopesick being another solid hit, and I’m liking this Amanda Seyfried-led series so far. She plays Holmes in a story about her beginnings from the ground up and her attempt to revolutionize the healthcare industry after dropping out of college and starting a technology company. The show was developed by Taylor Dunn, Rebecca Jarvis and Victoria Thompson, the same three people who spearheaded the podcast of the same name that served as the backbone to a series that will surely get Seyfried some awards attention this year and if it continues down the solid path I’ve been watching it will be the breakout hit of March. Disney+ is fast becoming a contender that the other streaming services will want to watch out for.

Our Flag Means Death (Crave) – Taika Waititi is gold every time he writes, directs or stars in anything. He is so much so that I am totally willing to forgive his trespasses in the terrible Green Lantern movie but it was before he was Hollywood famous anyways. Teaming with Flight Of The Conchords great Rhys Darby, he is once again headed to genre television, much like he did with What We Do In The Shadows. For this show, he gets pirate-y in the year 1717, following a wealthy landowner named Stede Bonnet who has a midlife crisis and decides to blow up his cushy life to become a pirate and obviously it does not go well. My favourite thing is right off the bat it is based on a true story. The show also features Waititi on screen as the dastardly pirate Blackbeard but definitely played with his own proclivities and if you’ve seen Jojo Rabbit and his interpretation of Adolf Hitler, well, all bets are off. This has the potential to be one of my favourite shows of the year and I really can’t wait for it.

The Boys Presents: Diabolical (Prime Video) – The anticipation of the new season of The Boys is seriously high right now, as it is based on my favourite comic series ever, and that little teaser trailer, however brilliant it was, is just not enough to keep me satiated right now. Luckily, Prime Video has released this brand new animated accompanying piece to take off the sting a little bit and I am grateful. Done in a dastardly evil Looney Tunes sort of way, the series has Antony Starr voicing Homelander along with the rest of the recurring cast for a quick eight-episode series of fifteen-minute episodes. What is it all about? Well, that stuff is being held close to the chest right now by the creators and producers but I have a feeling it might have to do with the superpowered babies that shoot lasers out of their eyes but that’s just my inkling. Either way, I’m going to watch the hell out of it.

Super Pumped (Crave) – When it comes to biopics and shows set in the tech world, we seem to really love an anti-hero character or someone who really isn’t that likeable on a cellular level. It worked for Mark Zuckerberg and The Social Network and the Steve Jobs film from director Danny Boyle and now we’re getting a look at the rise of the ride-sharing company, Uber. More than that, we get an inside look at the man behind the idea, Travis Kalanick, played by the usually likeable Joseph Gordon Levitt. More to the point, this is the story of douchebag tech bros, their rise to power and the subsequent ousting of Travis, or TK to his fairweather friends, from his own company once his usefulness has come to pass. Not to say that Kalanick didn’t deserve what was coming but it’s hard to pinpoint a good guy in this show. After one episode, I’m totally hooked and I’m loving the supporting cast which includes Kyle Chandler, Elisabeth Shue and Richard Schiff, who I have loved since The West Wing. I know I’m early in this show so far but I’m really into it.

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