Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Memory – The set up for this week’s releases feels like a harbinger of doom because we have not one but two Liam Neeson movies this week in varying degrees with Blacklight landing on blu-ray and this new geriatric action flick and don’t worry, Liam calls them that too. The only good thing heading into this is that it was directed by Martin Campbell who is usually very reliable given that he’s also done some kick ass Bond movies as well. Co-starring the beautiful Monica Bellucci in a villain role, the story follows Neeson as Alex Lewis, an expert assassin with a reputation for discreet precision who is caught in a moral quagmire, refusing to complete a job that violates his code. Quickly, he must hunt down and kill the people who hired him before they and FBI agent Vincent Serra, played by Memento’s Guy Pearce, find him first. Alex is also suffering from a rapidly deteriorating memory as he tries to piece together what is real and what isn’t. Again, because Neeson seems to bring the exact same energy to everything, this movie starts out on a high note and gets dulled down as it progresses. He has really carved out his own niche with these movies but are they really drawing the box office numbers to sustain them?

Firebird – I know it feels really taboo to talk about anything Russian these days, and with very good reason, and for that reason, I think this new 1970s set drama might get buried a bit. I feel it should get celebrated as it is an LGBT story at its heart and something that Putin is largely against so it almost feels like something to stick it to the man. The story follows a handsome, soulful young soldier who embarks on a clandestine sexual affair with a charismatic fighter pilot on a Soviet Air Force Base at the height of the Soviet Union’s Communist rule. The film is led by actor Tom Prior, who I know mostly from Kingsmen: The Secret Service, and written and directed by Peeter Rebane in his debut feature film and the gritty seventies look he gave it is so great. This film is some of that deep romantic melodrama but works against a backdrop of total stoicism and war classism. I don’t think this movie will make any sort of impression this weekend but may garner interest when it hits a streaming platform.

The Sadness – It takes a lot for me to be affected seriously by a horror film so I think that just adds a lot more weight to this new Taiwanese horror thriller which knocked me through a loop, to say the least. I’m good with excessive amounts of blood and guts, zombies, slasher films, monster movies and all of the others but this one fell unrelenting and I don’t mean it in a bad way either. The story follows a young couple trying to reunite amid a city ravaged by a plague that turns its victims into deranged, bloodthirsty sadists. Passed through blood and spit amidst a very relateable pandemic, the lengths to which some of these newly created psychos go in their kills absolutely floored me. Writer and director Rob Jabbaz seems to have carved out an insanely intrusive feeling nightmare of horror that reminded me a lot of the graphic novel Crossed from one of the greatest comic creators ever, Garth Ennis of Preacher and The Boys fame. While I don’t think I can recommend this to a casual horror fan, I do implore the hardcore to check it out and then reach out to me with what they thought of it. I feel like it was hideously groundbreaking.

Blu-Ray:

Blacklight – Liam Neeson has a death grip on these geriatric action films and while I really feel bad for calling it one and now feel that Neeson has put me on his mental shitlist to fight at a later date, he did say he was retiring from them unless I made that up in my brain. It would be acceptable if the action movies he was making beyond this fake retirement were any good but most of them don’t resonate beyond the end credits and feel like constant retreads. This one has him playing Travis Block, a government operative coming to terms with his shadowy past when he discovers a plot targeting U.S. citizens and now finds himself in the crosshairs of the FBI director he once helped protect. The film comes from writer and director Mark Williams who has apparently found his action-thriller comfort zone and is constantly working with the Taken action hero as he has had a hand in three of Neeson’s films since 2020 with this one included. I enjoy that former nineties heartthrob Aidan Quinn is the formidable foe for Liam to fight but nothing about the trailer or story seems like any new territory for audiences to discover.

Moonfall – Oh boy, the stupidity runs rampant and you just knew it had to when the name of writer and director Roland Emmerich is brought up, a filmmaker who loves to destroy the Earth in bigger and more ridiculous ways. Following his career making films like Stargate and Independence Day, which are both unique classics in their own ways, he chased his own madness down the rabbit hole for films like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, an ill-advised Godzilla and a sequel to Independence Day without Will Smith and now we are here with the moon attacking the Earth. Seriously. The story starts with a mysterious force that knocks the Moon from its orbit around Earth and sends it hurtling on a collision course with the planet. With mere weeks before impact and the world on the brink of annihilation, NASA executive and former astronaut Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) is convinced she has the key to saving us all but only one astronaut from her past, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and a conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (Game Of Thrones’ John Bradley) believes her. These unlikely heroes will mount an impossible last-ditch mission into space, leaving behind everyone they love, only to find that they just might have prepared for the wrong mission in a movie that gets more and more insane and still utterly dull as it goes on. I didn’t care about any of the characters and even the big bombastic special effects get tiresome in a movie that overstays its welcome at over two hours long. This has been on Prime Video for a bit and I can’t see anyone wanting the blu-ray, personally.

Expired – After the dusty Australian mystery thrillers Mystery Road and Goldstone, the latter which I checked out at one of the Vancouver International Film Festivals, I was really set on the works of writer and director Ivan Sen. His films had a slow boil to them that brimmed off the screen and an attention to character that drew you in as well and for that reason I was very excited to receive his new film, a sci-fi love story. The film stars True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten as an assassin named Jack who crosses paths with a nightclub singer and becomes increasingly drawn to her depite his body mysteriously deteriorating when he near her. Jack tracks down reclusive life extension scientist named Doctor Bergman, played by the great Hugo Weaving, in a search for answers and he unearths the assassin’s long buried secret, forcing him to confront his own murky past. This film looks gorgeous, almost like Sen wanted to make an homage to the world of Blade Runner but with more of a meditation on Wim Wenders’ Until The End Of The World. The result is an ambitious story that is too dull to be effective. The performances are great but the story crawls into an unsatisfying third act and I was pretty let down by it all.

Orange County – This is one of those guilty pleasure movies that served as almost a coming of age time that you go through pretty much at the same time as the character. That sounds really vague but it all makes sense in the end. The film had Colin Hanks and Jack Black and it served as the launching point for director Jake Kasdan who would go on to make the masterpiece known as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Hanks plays Shaun Brumder, a local surfer kid from Orange County who dreams of going to Stanford to become a writer and to get away from his dysfunctional family household except he runs into one complication after another starting when his application is rejected after his dim-witted guidance counsellor sends the wrong application. So, Shaun goes to great lengths with a little help from his girlfriend Ashley and his drugged-out loser brother Lance to get into Stanford any way they see fit leading to more problems which also include arson. This film still makes me laugh and is something I quote a lot because all of Jack Black’s lines are total comedy gold. It was written by Mike White, who is enjoying a lot of success right now with The White Lotus, and he was Black’s neighbour at the time, writing this role specifically for him. The gift kept on giving too because School Of Rock came from the two neighbourhood pals afterwards.

Win A Date With Tad Hamilton – Romantic comedies had their little booms in every decade, a genre that will never go away and will never not have a place in cinema life or on a date night. This new reissue hitting blu-ray this week definitely had its time in the sun and was a bit of a favourite when I worked at the video store and I have to credit a great cast for doing so. The film is about a small-town girl who wins a date with a male celebrity through a contest. When the date goes better than expected, a love triangle forms between the girl, the male celebrity, and the girl’s best friend who has always been pining for her attention. Very standard stuff that almost feels lifted from a sixties romantic film but it all works with the great performances from Kate Bosworth, Topher Grace and Josh Duhamel playing the titular Tad Hamilton. This was also an early film from director Robert Luketic who made these types of comedies as well as thrilling films like 21. Oh yeah, he was also responsible for a little film called Legally Blonde but I don’t think that one went anywhere. 

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek Outs:

Son In Law – I’m bringing the post 420 gifts this week and I feel totally unashamed about it! Well, maybe there is a little bit of embarrassment with this one as it is fully led by Pauly Shore and a young Carla Gugino couldn’t help it from aging terribly. Essentially, she is kind of the lead of the story, playing a naive farm girl who returns home from her first semester of college as a drastically different party girl with her best friend, a flamboyant party animal who is clearly a fish out of water in a small farm town. I absolutely adored this movie when I was a kid as I was a huge Pauly fan and maybe quoted his lines a little too much. Now I see this movie as a springboard for some of the worst nineties comedy cliches and it also felt like it was aggressively horny the whole time which made me laugh in a whole new way.

Encino Man – This is a movie that was a total turnaround on me and my family’s Pauly Shore night and, yes, I sat around with my wife and mother-in-law for a viewing of both these films, if you can call them that. The difference-maker is the simple fact that Pauly needs other talented folks around him to elevate the movies and he has the charm of Sean Astin and Brendan Fraser to do that lifting. For those who haven’t seen it, the story follows two high school friends who find a frozen caveman buried in the backyard. They thaw him out and mad antics ensue as Dave, Astin’s character, tries to use the situation as leverage to get popular and to win the heart of his dream girl. This movie still comes across as funny and some of those scenes are still burned into my memory like an unerasable Etch-A-Sketch. I also really love the soundtrack to the film which also includes an unforgettable performance from funk-rock group Infectious Grooves and their song Feed The Monkey which I can’t seem to find anywhere.

44 Inch Chest – Aging British tough guy angles got a refresher course in this film which was a rekindling of the producers around the phenomenal but criminally under-talked about Sexy Beast and it even got most of the cast back for it but most importantly it features Ray Winstone and Ian McShane. This is gritty and angry crime drama to its core so if you aren’t into hearing the f word and the c-word over a hundred times each then steer clear of this one. The story follows Winstone as a jealous husband who plots with his friends the kidnapping of his wife’s lover with the intention of restoring his wounded ego. A kangaroo court takes place, and as the situation escalates, loverboy’s life hangs in the balance as Winstone’s desperate character wrestles with revenge, remorse, grief, and self-pity, all the while egged on by his motley crew of friends who just want him to get on with it so they can get down to the pub. With this film and the thriller Jawbone which hit theatres in a limited release about five years ago, it carved a niche in the aging British gangster narrative that I wish was explored more. The movie didn’t make any sort of dent in the popular film market but I found myself gripped by it and equally so on a rewatch.

Television:

We Own This City (Crave) – David Simon, the creator of one of the greatest shows of all time, HBO’s The Wire, has returned with some more Baltimore streets set crime stories but this time it’s based on a true story. From the book by Justin Fenton, This is the perfect time for a series like this and I guarantee that Simon and his band of usual suspect writers penned this during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests as well. I probably know this more because I follow him on Twitter and he’s very outspoken. Directed by King Richard’s Reinaldo Marcus Green and starring Jon Bernthal in the main roles, this series tells the story of the rise and fall of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force and the corruption surrounding it. Gripping from the first moments, this show deals with systemic racism, abuses of power by those who hold the badge and so much more. With only one episode under my belt, I know that this is just the tip of the iceberg and I can’t wait for the next five episodes.

The Offer (Paramount+) – This is a troubled television production about a source matter I was really intrigued and I’m so happy it’s here and even more elated that it is good. Sadly, it will all get overshadowed by the fact that Armie Hammer was replaced on it due to allegations that he is a cannibal and he was shuffled out for Miles Teller who is problematic in his own way but let’s not let that bog down the classic Hollywood story they are telling here. The film follows the experience of tech salesman turned Hollywood producer Albert Ruddy’s experience in getting the Mario Puzo novel The Godfather from the written page to the big screen. Great casting, fun writing and a known Hollywood as its backdrop kept me ravenously taking in each episode until I was all spent on the seventies era. As a cinema fan, this one is almost made exclusively for people of a like mind but I think it could have legs for other viewers as well. The saddest part of it all is that I’m done now and this is a one-season thing.

Ozark: Season 4 Part 2 (Netflix) – We are seeing the end of the Byrde’s story as well know it with the final run of episodes hitting Netflix this week and I definitely think it did it in a prolonging the magic but decidedly frustrating way by releasing two batches of episodes. In case you haven’t dug into the show yet, Jason Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a financial advisor in Chicago who is unknowingly been fudging numbers for the cartel, something his business partner hasn’t clued him in on until the finality of being murdered in from of him by the leader of this deadly group. A quick thinker under pressure Marty is able to convince him to spare his life by moving to the remote Ozarks to clean millions for his new boss, presenting an all-new set of problems for him, his wife who is played by the great Laura Linney and his two kids. The show is so phenomenally well done and Bateman himself directs a handful of episodes. Highly recommended if you have immersed yourself in it yet.

Barry: Season 3 (Crave) – One of the top new shows of the last few years has returned to an eagerly waiting fan base and, just judging by what I see on social media, it came back with a very satisfying episode. I love that it comes directly from the mind of one of my favourite former Saturday Night Live cast members, Bill Hader, who stars in the title role and it also features Henry Winkler who got so much awards recognition for it. Hader stars as depressed, low-level hit man Barry Berkman, a guy seeking a way out of his industry. When the Midwesterner reluctantly travels to Los Angeles to execute a hit on an actor who is bedding a mobster’s wife, Barry gets an epiphany that the City of Angels may be his sanctuary. He follows his target into acting class and ends up instantly drawn to the community of eager hopefuls, especially dedicated student Sally, who becomes the object of his affection. While Barry wants to start a new life as an actor, his handler, Fuches, has other ideas, and the hit man’s criminal past won’t let him walk away so easily. This show is so darkly funny and acerbic which is its driving force along with fantastic performances. This is the epitome of must-see television and you really got to reach out and hug HBO for it because they always seem to have the best of the best.

Grace And Frankie: Season 7 (Netflix) – Speaking of a Netflix series that is drawing to a close, this massive Netflix hit is finally here to finish its massively successful run and as a guy still playing catch up with the show I definitely have my opinion about the show and it’s direction. For those who don’t know, the story follows two women who find out that their husbands are not just work partners but have also been romantically involved for the last twenty years. The two ladies already have a strained relationship but try to cope with the circumstances together and even go into business with each other over the five seasons. I watch the series definitely for lead stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin but mostly for June Diane Raphael who plays Grace’s daughter Brianna, the highlight of the show to me. The downside to the show is the ex-husbands, played by Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen who consistently nauseate me and borderline make me want to fast forward through their scenes. This is so odd to me because in anything else I really love them. Either way, salute to a long-lasting comedy that got to go out on its own steam.

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