Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 – If you ask my daughter what the biggest movie of the year is she will without hesitation point to this film, the sequel to the best movie of 2020 just before we headed into the shutdown of the pandemic. Video game adaptations are more often than not completely awful but the first film was well constructed, brilliantly cast and made with the same love that the fans have for this beloved SEGA character. This film picks up right after the first film with Sonic embracing his newfound hero role when the manic Dr. Robotnik returns to Earth with a new ally, Knuckles the Echidna. Together with his new ally Tails, the blue and speedy hedgehog had to take down not just his old enemy but an unpredictable foe that is very similar to himself. The initial reviews are really great for this movie promising that if you loved the first movie you will indeed adore this one just as much. The trailer is all sorts of fun and I’m excited to get more characters from Sonic’s world and can’t wait to see how the third movie will be set up which has already been greenlit.

Ambulance – Looking to blow things up in the biggest ways possible with the story usually being a secondary motion, Michael Bay is back on the scene with this new action thriller that only has my attention because of the lead stars of Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul Mateen III who are always incredible on screen. I used to be into the “Bay-hem” of this action pioneer but have been dulled down by too many Transformers films and the cacophonous noise of his style but maybe the low bar will work out in my favour. The film follows two desperate men who pair for the biggest bank heist in Los Angeles history with a take of $32 million. Of course, things go wrong and they hijack an ambulance with a wounded cop clinging to life and an ace EMT on board, played by Baby Driver’s Eiza Gonzalez. With it being a Michael Bay film, besides explosions, it will be full of insane camera twirling, sunkissed shots of the Los Angeles cityscape and more of his trademarks but I’m hoping that the acting elevates this one because he has some heavyweights. The movie is also a remake of a 2005 thriller out of Denmark as was Gyllenhaal’s previous film, The Guilty, which is fantastic and on Netflix right now.

All The Old Knives – I feel like it’s been a long while since we’ve seen Chris Pine in a leading capacity, the last time being the complete downgrade of a Wonder Woman sequel. He has great company for this new Prime Video released espionage thriller with Thandiwe Newton who has always been a favourite but rides even higher now with the phenomenal Westworld character Maeve in recent memory. They play two CIA operatives, and former lovers, who reunite at idyllic Carmel-by-the-Sea to re-examine a mission six years ago in Vienna where a fellow agent might have been compromised. The film comes from Danish filmmaker Janus Metz who compelled with his sports biopic Borg McEnroe which I had the pleasure of seeing at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and he also did some episodes of the second season of True Detective so he has experience in a darker form of storytelling. It’s interesting to note that it was supposed to be Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, who starred together in The Mountains Between Us, and at one time Michelle Williams was attached as the lead.

Metal Lords – Someone at Netflix must have my best interest in mind because they have gifted me and everyone else, I guess, with a film so embedded with the love of heavy metal that you feel it in every moment. This, paired with the warm and funny heart of Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist director Peter Sollett, makes this immediately one of my most enjoyed films of the year. The story follows two kids who want to start a heavy metal band in a high school where exactly two kids care about heavy metal. Hunter is a diehard metal fan who knows his history and shreds with an undying dream to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands. He enlists his best friend Kevin to man the drums but with schoolmates more interested in Bieber than Black Sabbath, finding a bassist is a struggle until Kevin overhears Emily playing her cello. The motley crew must contend with school, parents, hormones and teen angst while trying to get along long enough for Skullfucker to win the Battle of the Bands. With a killer soundtrack, a staple in Sollett’s films, great performances from a stellar young cast and thoroughly funny script I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call this a crowd pleaser but I think it would be better to call it a mosh pit pleaser. Damn, this movie was so great.

Mothering Sunday – If you’re in the mood for some post World War I British romance then this is a damn good week for you because this film ticks all the boxes plus it features Colin Firth and Olivia Coman in supporting roles which is the set up to an actor’s dream showcase. The film also features actress Odessa Young in the lead role, looking for some redemption after The Stand, opposite Josh O’Connor who swept television award shows recently for his portrayal of Prince Charles in the Netflix series The Crown. The story follows a maid living in England after the war who secretly plans to meet with the man she loves before he leaves to marry another woman in a clash of familial relationships and societal politics. This film is driven by fantastic performances that are subdued and seemingly bubble just under the surface. Aside from the few episodes I saw of the Prime Video series Hanna that director Eva Husson had directed, I wasn’t familiar with her work until this movie and was totally blown away by how studious her craft was alongside Moffie cinematographer Jamie Ramsey. This film won’t have a lot of mainstream buzz around it but it is definitely worth the watch.

As They Made Us – Bonafide movie stars still very much have their allure to me and one of those people is Dustin Hoffman, a classic presence who never seems to disappoint even if the movie around him does. He takes a supporting role to Glee actress Diana Agron in this film but he also has Candice Bergen and Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg with him which is fitting because his co-star Mayim Balik makes her feature directorial debut here as well. The story follows Agron as Abigail, a divorced mother of two who is struggling to balance the dynamics within her dysfunctional family as she attempts to cultivate new love. Her father Eugene has a degenerative condition that he and his wife Barbara refuse to accept, and her brother Nathan has been estranged from the family for decades. A self-appointed fixer, Abigail tries to mend her complicated family before it’s too late but it may be enough dysfunction to sabotage her own life. This movie was a delightful surprise that doesn’t just sate by on the power of it’s cast but has a great heart at the center of it’s script, also written by Balik. You can really feel Mayim draw from her own life experiences and Agron paints it so well onscreen with her dramatic prowess that has never been properly shown as it is here.

Blu-Ray:

Scream – Usually January is a dead-in-the-water month for big releases but in 2022 we got the horror year rolling in style early because a slasher franchise heavyweight made its way back to theatres and fans, such as myself, was really excited about it. It should be noted right away that this is the first Scream film to not be directed by horror master Wes Craven who sadly passed away almost seven years ago but it is in safe hands with Ready Or Not filmmaking duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. The film picks up twenty-five years after the streak of brutal murders that shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, California in the original film and now a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past and to force Sydney Prescott to come back and deal with the terror for good. The film has Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox returning to the franchise with The Boys’ Jack Quaid, 13 Reasons Why’s Dylan Minnette, Yellowjackets’ Jasmin Savoy Brown and more joining the cast. I have to say that I was totally satisfied with the outcome, a film that breathes a fresh new life into a franchise that does have a pulse in continuing and does it with reverence to Craven and Kevin Williamson’s original landmark film. Without giving too much away, Scream fans will really dig into this film as a feast created just for them.

Death On The Nile – Agatha Christie is something of a forgotten era of filmmaking but Kenneth Branagh seemed to pull it off well with his remake of Murder On The Orient Express and why shouldn’t he be successful? This is the guy who did a multitude of Shakespeare adaptations. Now he is returning with another Christie mystery and slipping back into the role of master detective Hercule Poirot. This film follows the Belgian sleuth vacationing aboard a glamorous river steamer when it turns into a terrifying search for a murderer after a picture-perfect couple’s idyllic honeymoon is tragically cut short. Set against an epic landscape of sweeping Egyptian desert vistas and the majestic Giza pyramids, this mystery has a killer cast in it including Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Russell Brand and more and I have a good feeling for it to be a fun flick, especially for a totally classic whodunit being retold.

Parallel Mothers – Pedro Almodovar makes cinema with every flourish of his being. It may not be relatable or something in your particular wheelhouse but it is evident that he comes from the school of the greatest international auteurs and he also has that classic loyalty to his stars like Penelope Cruz who leads this film as well. Co-starring the incredibly stunning Rossy de Palma, the story sets out with two women, Janis and Ana, connecting in a hospital room where they are going to give birth. Both are single and became pregnant by accident with Janis, a middle-aged man who doesn’t regret it and is excited for the journey and the other, Ana, an adolescent who is scared, repentant and traumatized by the whole experience. Janis tries to encourage her while they move like sleepwalkers along the hospital corridors and with only a few words exchanged between them in these hours, it will create a very close link between the two, which by chance develops and complicates, and changes their lives in a decisive way. The film is always vibrant and colourful but it is the eyes of both women that get a focus that pulls you into the drama of the situation as well as the dread felt when secrets and revelations come to light but aren’t immediately spoken. The film fills an international niche that might be widely sought but the fans of this style will eat it up like a well-prepared meal.

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 Long Night – Some occult horror hits the screens this week with the scream queen of Scout Taylor Compton, an actress that was given her start with Rob Zombie in his remake of Halloween. Beautifully shot and with some insanely insidious imagery, the film would be a perfect fit for a company like SpectreVision, nestled against other movies like Mandy and Color Out Of Space. The story follows Compton as New York transplant Grace who returns to her childhood southern stomping grounds with her boyfriend, searching for the parents she’s never known and following a promising lead on her family’s whereabouts. Upon arrival, the couple’s weekend takes a bizarre, terrifying turn as a nightmarish cult and their maniacal leader terrorize the pair en route to fulfilling a twisted ancient apocalyptic prophecy. So many creepy animal skull masks but surprisingly low on the gore angle. It still does have its fair share of blood but the scares come from the atmosphere of it all and the creepy drone to the musical score. I also have to hand it to the director by doing a full-on intro that mirrors the opening of Kubrick’s The Shining and I think it even uses the same music which is probably public domain now.

Let It Ride – Paramount is coming through with three new editions of their library this week, two of them being a couple of forgotten classics. This first one here was a complete surprise as I had never seen it before and it features the fantastic Richard Dreyfuss who is one record for saying that he’s forgotten doing some of the films in his career. I wonder if this is one of them. In this fast-paced comedy he plays an average kind of guy who drives a cab for a living and tries to stifle his problem with gambling. So, of course, he goes to the track, and mystically, it seems as though he can’t lose, no matter how he bets and he has an incredible day. Is this the turning point in his life or a pathway to his untimely demise? The film is interesting because it was made by filmmaker Joe Pytka, a guy largely known as a music video director aside from this then Space Jam about six years later which I find totally odd. The secondary interesting fact is that this was the second of three adaptations of the novels of author Jay Conely which started with the Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm and finished with Bill Murray’s Quick Change, an all-time favorite of mine.

Jack Reacher 4K – With Lee Child’s character Jack Reacher being back in the zeitgeist with the hotness of the new Prime Video series Reacher being a top show in 2022, it’s cool to get this brand new 4K version of the first Tom Cruise film as well as being in a gorgeous steelbook which you should hop online and check out. This is the be-all and end-all of Reacher films as well as the sequel proved that Tom Cruise should never double dip in franchises that aren’t Mission Impossible. Nothing is decided on Top Gun: Maverick yet. This film follows Cruise as Reacher, an enigmatic ex-Army investigator who is brought in to look into the murder of five seemingly unconnected victims who were taken down by a former Army sniper who has a history of shooting people in the streets when he was in the service. The action is fantastic in this movie and I have to give it to the chemistry between Tom and writer and director Christopher McQuarrie who have a near perfect penchant for making explosively entertaining films together. Now you can experience it or relive it in glorious 4K, the way it’s supposed to be.

Soapdish – This is a weird one, the second of the classic Paramount releases, and I only think so because I saw it at a young age for the first time and definitely didn’t fully understand the subject matter but also did not appreciate the caliber of the cast. Interestingly, this movie also touched on a film from my generation’s childhood too as Kevin Kline was unable to accept the lead role in Steven Spielberg’s Hook due to the extensive reshoots and Robin Williams replaced him. This dastardly comedy romance follows an ambitious television soap actress who conspires with her producer to scuttle the career of the show’s long-time star but nothing works as they plan and the blowback comes back to affect the fate of the entire show. The cast is crazy in this with Sally Field, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr., Elisabeth Shue, Teri Hatcher and Cathy Moriarty to back up Kline and my young little mind at the time had no idea the mixed generational talent that was in this. The film was also very well reviewed at the time but seems to have vanished from conversations of great rom coms, especially during the kick off to the nineties which was a great time for the genre.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 4 – To be honest, knowing the Margaret Atwood source material, I always thought that this series had a finite amount of story to it but I really think that this adaptation has almost evolved into something all on its own now. The series is also massively popular and has given lead star Elisabeth Moss so much well-earned acclaim in her role as June Osborne. Now after three seasons, this one has June in a desperate situation as she is wounded from the events of the third season finale and a fugitive of Gilead along with some of her fellow handmaids. This is the season where she rises up to become a formidable rebel leader though and takes the fight to her oppressors in a season that I felt was a bit better than the last but I still feel like an abrupt end should still be on the horizon. Moss is so good, as well as Joseph Fiennes who is a usual favourite of mine for anything he’s in.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Bryan Loves You – I love it when obscure horror lands on my doorstep and it’s even better when it is a fresh new voice in the genre that gathers some classic names in their cast. This is a reason why I love my little gig here because I get to megaphone out to the masses with this weirdo stuff and it just happens to have some Rob Zombie alumns in it like Daniel Roebuck, Cheers regular and House star George Wendt and Candyman himself, Tony Todd. This movie is a straight-up creeper that follows a small-town therapist played by Seth Landau, who also writes and directs this, that falls under the seductive spell of a dangerous cult in a dusty Arizona town in 1993. The idea and execution of this movie are super compelling as it takes a low pro approach in a documentary feel that ramps up with the intensity we are seeing on screen. I feel like this is for the oddballs in the genre fans’ wheelhouse and not really a recommendable film by any standard but I know I found myself highly entertained.

From Paris With Love – Sometimes you need a campy and ridiculous movie to throw on and laugh at how bad it is, elevating it to be an enjoyable experience. That is exactly what this movie is through and through, a high budget and insanely explosive action comedy that pairs the proper and meek Jonathan Rhys Meyers with a gonzo hitman John Travolta. This one is over a decade old now but for those who have never seen it, the film follows a young employee in the office of the US Ambassador who is forced to tag along with an American spy looking to stop a terrorist attack in the city. The film was directed by the eyes behind the Liam Neeson franchise Taken, Pierre Morel, who is a protege of the great actioneer Luc Besson and all of those lessons he learned under the tree of one of the best work well in the high octane nature of this nutso flick. It’s just everything else like plot and script that don’t really cohese that well. Still, if you turn the volume up and grab some snacks you probably won’t even notice.

Television:

Close Enough: Season 3 (Netflix) – Ever since HBO Max has launched in the United States they have been releasing series after series of new show revivals, original programming and bold narrative choices for all ages but this new animated series might be one of my favorite products from the platform and I honestly just started getting into it. Coming from the creators of Regular Show, a Cartoon Network original from J.G. Quintel, this is a decidedly more adult-oriented series about a couple trying to face various challenges in their daily lives while trying to cope with their changes from 20s to 30s. Quintel takes the lead role, just as he did with his previous series but this also has Jason Mantzoukas who just might be my favorite current comedian, podcaster and writer. I think I love this show so much because I see so much of myself within it, a pretty immature dude who has the responsibility of molding a young mind to thrust into this thing we call society. I can’t be the only one that relates to it and that is something that Quintel has a gift for because I even saw myself in the Regular Show characters and they were a blue jay and a raccoon.

Tokyo Vice (Crave) – Michael Mann has been off the grid for a while but in the last six months he popped up again in a big bad way with the announcing of a sequel to his bank heist masterpiece, Heat, although it is in novel form. Another announcement, although a little bit quieter, was this series and just from the name alone I get excited because this is the man who started his career with a show called Miami Vice and I’m actually a fan of the movie as well. Starring West Side Story’s Ansel Elgort and the great Ken Watanabe, the story follows a Western journalist working for a publication in Tokyo who takes on one of the city’s most powerful crime bosses in a descent into the neon lit underbelly where foreigners are not welcome. I am so excited for this and though Mann only directs the pilot, he still oversees the entire eight episode run of a show produced by HBO Max so you know the grit contained will be boundless. This might be a good fit for those who were enamoured with True Detective.

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