Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Morbius – I have definite worries about this new piece of the Sony Pictures part of the Marvel cinematic universe and it’s not just because of the length of time it took for it to finally be released because that is all pandemic related. My trepidation comes from the lacklustre trailers that seem totally corny and uninspired, the shoehorning of Michael Keaton’s Spider-Man: Homecoming character into said preview or the fact that we get a glimpse of a villainous Matt Smit to go against Jared Leto’s Dr. Michael Morbius but zero motivation to why. The story follows the brilliant biochemist as he tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease but he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead. I was never really on board with any of these unconnected MCU Sony films like Venom but both of those films kind of subverted my expectations so that’s how I will head into this film, will the bar set low. I will say that director Daniel Espinosa is usually pretty solid, with films like Safe House and Life, but the studio meddling may have dampened his style. hopefully, I’m wrong but the advance word is not great.

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood – One of my favourite filmmakers of the last thirty years, Richard Linklater, is dipping into his past successes a little bit as well as into his own childhood for a delightful new movie that feels like more of a self-imposed passion project that a full-on linear story and at the end of it I was more than okay with that. The film seems to borrow from the growing-up drama that was the inventive and unseen before ten-year journey that was Boyhood and combines it with his digitally filmed but animated over top of gems like A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life. Narrated by Jack Black, this is a coming-of-age story set in the suburbs of Houston, Texas in the summer of 1969, centred around the historic Apollo 11 moon landing and most notably a ten-year-old boy who is picked by NASA to be shot into space to make up for a space capsule that was made too small. The second part of this is obviously fantasy but the narration brings us through the time period and daily life that was Texas in the late sixties, the pop culture and world-shaping events that transpired and their effect on the youth. Linklater seems to be exploring his own familial relationships in this film, a story that more feels like a catharsis for him and may not be broad enough for a large audience. I personally loved this film and found myself enthralled with its inventiveness and the subtle comedy of it.

The Bubble – It feels like so long ago when I was looking forward to Judd Apatow’s movies. Since Knocked Up I was totally into Funny People and Trainwreck, two very decisive films with audiences but nestled in there was the quasi-sequel to that Seth Rogan movie This Is 40 and The King Of Statin Island that left me a little off with its unevenness. Now he has a new quarantine made movie that features a good cast with Karen Gillan, David Duchovny, Keegan Michael Key and even his own daughter Iris that follows a group of actors and actresses stuck inside a pandemic bubble at a hotel attempts to complete the next piece of their fan favourite franchise. With this film, I can say that Apatow has made something so disjointed and unsatisfying that it makes me question his drive for narrative films anymore. The guy crushes it with documentaries like the Garry Shandling one and I have hopes for the upcoming George Carlin documentary but this movie is just plain not funny aside from one drug-fueled moment. I want to love Judd forever but I don’t want to force it and to give this any sort of a good review and not letting him feel the wrath would just plain be wrong.

Blu-Ray:

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 kid’s fluff so it should be regarded as such.

Pursuit – John Cusack is having a rough time movie-wise, much like a lot of former A-list stars who start to coast down to the B-level direct to video market and, hey, Morgan Freeman has done it lots as well so maybe it’s the lull before the renaissance. The good news is that Emile Hirsch is along for the ride as well in this thriller and he always brings it no matter how bad the script may be. The story has actor Jake Manley as a detective named Breslin who crosses paths with Calloway, a ruthless hacker who’s trying to save his kidnapped wife from a drug cartel. When Calloway escapes from police custody, Breslin joins forces with a no-nonsense cop to reclaim his prisoner. This is the bargain basement of action thriller filmmaking with terribly constructed sequences and the corny bad guy and tough-guy bravado. It feels needlessly convoluted, to the point of ridiculousness, and doesn’t have any sort of payoff for trying to go so deep. I guess it was a paycheck for a lot of these guys but I honestly feel robbed of my time.

The Requin – Giant shark horror films, yay! Am I the only one cheering for this? C’mon, friends, the allure of Jaws is a forever thing now and we always clamour for more that’s why we allowed the Jason Statham action flick The Meg to be somewhat of a hit. This movie has the added nineties nostalgia of starring Clueless actress Alicia Silverstone, and that’s the film she was in not the demeanour of the person. In the second of two films she features this week (the other being the much better Last Survivors), she co-stars with Big Little Lies actor James Tupper in a film that follows a couple on a romantic getaway who find themselves stranded at sea when a tropical storm sweeps away their villa. In order to survive, they are forced to fight the elements, while sharks circle below and it immediately springs to mind the thriller Open Water which I will say right here right now was a better movie. This film consistently suffers from not capitalizing on good opportunities horror-wise while also not giving us enough monster thrills with the sharks. I don’t know if it was the budget but I don’t need to squint through CGI fog for an hour and a half, please.

The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm – The first of two Warner Archive titles this week, the new edition of this film fascinates me because it is rumoured that it could never be “restored” because the original three-panel Cinerama camera negatives were heavily water damaged. While we don’t have the capability to screen three-panel Cinerama anymore, no matter how much they tried, the rumours proved to be untrue and we get a special edition of this Lawrence Harvey fairy tale epic. Simply put, this film is set in the early nineteenth century, following the brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm who are commissioned to write a family history for a local Duke which is shown in the reenactments of three of their stories including “The Dancing Princess”, “The Cobbler and the Elves” and “The Singing Bone”. Later nominated for four Academy Awards and won one for Best Costume Design, I feel like this film is largely remembered for the gimmick in which it was shown as well as the huge cast. As a Twin Peaks fan, I’m drawn to the fact that Russ Tamblyn is in it.

A Star Is Born – When Lady Gaga took her first big-screen movie role in the long gestated remake of this film a few years ago it elevated the original films into the spotlight again but probably more so the Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson version. Well, this isn’t that on, nor is it the Judy Garland one that came before it but instead it’s the one before THAT from 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. In the simplest version of the story, the story is removed from the music artist’s skewed tale and instead follows a young woman who comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom, and achieves them only with the help of an alcoholic leading man whose best days are behind him. Just like the remakes to follow, this movie was also an Oscar darling that pulled in eight Oscar nominations and netted them two which included best Original Screenplay. Obviously, the approach to this movie is dated but the bones of a classic Hollywood story are very neat to see exhumed and there has to be a reason that this particular character tale is so popular.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Surf Nazis Must Die – I got my first Troma Entertainment review copy so I had to bring it out this section if not just to show it off to the people in the know. For those who aren’t, Troma is an independent film production company and distributor that makes the schlockiest and most ridiculous horror-comedies known to film, all under the eye of the great Lloyd Kaufman, known to his fans as Uncle Lloydie. With the ridiculous title that this film has, you know it’s going to be crazy and follows a tough gun-wielding woman who is sent on a path of revenge when her son is brutally murdered by neo-Nazi surf punks in a post-apocalyptic future. One by one she hunts each of them down to dispatch them in the goriest ways possible and this late eighties film comes through brilliantly on this newly restored Blu-ray edition. Is it in bad taste? Oh, most definitely but that is how Troma rose to be the indie darling it is and has spawned filmmakers like Eli Roth, James Gunn and Trey Parker and Matt Stone from South Park. The fans of this are savvy to everything this studio has to offer and this landmark release will be a big hit.

The Flag Of Iron – 88 Films has gifted me not one but two great classic Shaw Brothers classics from their extensive vault of martial arts stories. The cool thing about both of these is that they were made in the early eighties, a very different era for the Asian film company. This one was released in 1980 and was made more as a proof of concept film as it came from a burst of inspiration when director Chang Chen had found new talent and blood with his “The Five Venoms” actors, a movie he had made a couple of years prior, most of which were trained in the highly acrobatic Chinese opera and well versed with exotic martial arts weapons. This created a new spark for Chen as he started to write with the use of these bizarre weapons as the focal point in his films. The revamp of the picture for blu-ray is stunning as the colours pop off the screen, the special features are great and the packaging is everything a collector dreams of. This even includes posters which makes me very happy.

Legendary Weapons Of China – The second 88 Films and Shaw Brothers co-release comes from a couple of years later but this time from the legendary Chia-Liang Liu, a filmmaker that gave us movies like The Legend Of Drunken Master and the Wu Tang Clan inspiring, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Liu was less about experimental filmmaking and more about what had worked previously and it always translated well to screen. That is evident with this action drama with a side of comedy that focuses on a band of killers from an ailing kung fu and magic society who are sent on a manhunt for a former member of the society whose bad mouthing threatens its existence. I absolutely loved the credits for this movie that does each actor’s credit with them fighting against a colour backdrop, a trope that would be used a lot in martial arts movies. Again the presentation of the blu-ray is exquisite and the cover of it may be my favourite that I’ve received from 88 Films.

Liar’s Moon – A cool thing about being hooked up with MVD Visual, besides all of the Shaw Brothers films and now Troma releases that I just talked about, is this collector’s series side of their releasing that sheds a spotlight on films I’ve never heard of with now big and prominent Hollywood stars. This one caught my attention because it has Matt Dillon and a couple of years before the cool one we got to see in the S.E Hinton adaptations of The Outsiders, Rumble Fish and Tex and just after his dorky appearance in My Bodyguard. The film is about a romance between class levels that blossoms in East Texas during the summer between the daughter of a rich banker and a working teen on his way to blue-collar career. Although he wasn’t at the time that this came out, Dillon is the most recognizable star in this film, just a young lad, but classic actor Broderick Crawford also appeared in this in his final performance after a forty five year career that included All The King’s Men and Born Yesterday.

The Stand – I felt like I’ve been waiting since the mid-nineties for someone to tackle this epic Stephen King novel and the timing is really weird for a story about an uncontrollable virus that decimates the earth’s population to be released but, when it was released mid pandemic, well, it was what it was. Let it be known that this is probably my favourite book of all time and under The Fault In Our Stars filmmaker Josh Green, the potential is huge. The story exists in the mass destruction caused by a manmade virus called “Captain Trips” with a false messiah emerging to gather his like-minded survivors, possessing incredible powers and hellbent to rule the remaining human society. It’s up to a group of people to journey the post-apocalyptic wasteland to stop him and his army or perish in the attempt. With a killer cast, including James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård and many more, the unrated platform of CBS All Access was supposed to be a perfect way to convey this story if they had decided to do it correctly, instead of just cherry-picking everything they wanted out of the book and essentially throwing the rest into a tire fire. I was so angry with what I was seeing and I felt like it was completely toothless by the end, a forgettable piece of fluff never to be thought of again. Between this and the treatment of The Dark Tower, I’ve been upset with the handling of the Master Of Horror’s works largely.

Television:

Moon Knight (Disney+) – The new arrival in Marvel Cinematic Universe television has arrived so you know exactly what to tune into for the next six Wednesdays on Disney+, something that has been missing since the end of The Book Of Boba Fett. What I find really cool about this is that one of my favorite directing duos, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, the minds behind The Endless and their last release Synchronic, are the showrunners on this show that is a little inaccessible to a mainstream audience. Oscar Isaac takes the lead in a story that follows a  former U.S. Marine who is struggling with dissociative identity disorder, flipping back and forth between himself, Marc Spector and a museum giftshop employee named Stephen Grant. Spector knows that within him he is granted the powers of an Egyptian moon god but his dormant counterpart is not and quickly finds out that these newfound powers can be both a blessing and a curse to his troubled life and may cause the downfall of the world within the wrong hands. Isaac is brilliant as usual, playing between Grant and Spector so well and Ethan Hawkes shines so well in his villain role as the former host of the powers that Moon Knight possesses and one that will eat everyone’s soul to regain it. The show starts off strange and gets even stranger but the pay offs are so cool and the dual looks of Moon Knight are totally awesome. I’ve loved everything I’ve watched so far and can’t wait for more.

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