Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Day Shift – I guess Jamie Foxx had signed a multi-picture deal with Netflix because we already got the sci-fi action flick Project Power in 2020, co-starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who coincidentally directed the next film on this list. Well, Foxx is back for more action mayhem but is instead swapping out the sci-fi edge for some horror-tinged mayhem. In this film, he plays a hard-working, blue-collar dad who just wants to provide a good life for his quick-witted eight-year-old daughter working a mundane San Fernando Valley pool cleaning job. The reality is that this is a front for his real source of income which is hunting and killing vampires for a secret union. Looking to make some more money and become a full-fledged member, he is forced to bring along a pencil pusher looking to grade every move, played by Dave Franco. This movie is fun and wildly entertaining with some great chemistry between Franco and Foxx but it is painfully underwritten in the scripting department and almost comes across as a teen idea that came to fruition years later. I was definitely into it but I was aware of how hollow it all was.

Secret Headquarters – After seeing young Walker Scobell absolutely kill it in the Netflix sci-fi action adventure The Adam Project alongside Ryan Reynolds, I really had some high hopes set for his next sci-fi adventure, this time for the Paramount+ platform, the precursor to his debut on Disney+ in the new Percy Jackson series adaptation. Needless to say, the kid is super busy. The film has Scobell as Charlie who, along with his friends, discover the headquarters of the world’s most powerful superhero hidden beneath his home while hanging out after school. As it turns out, his father, played by Owen Wilson, is the powerful hero The Guard and they must guard the base of operations for him when villains descend on it, looking for the secrets of the hero’s powers. While Adam Project seemed to play more to all ages, this film felt like a lesser Spy Kids movie without the charm of Robert Rodriguez’s mind. The film comes from the directing duo of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman who usually deliver fun and energetic adventures but this one just fell totally flat for me.

Bodies Bodies Bodies – Slasher horror comedies are very much my jam so I had been waiting for this new A24-produced film to get some sort of a release for months after hearing stellar reviews of it at film festivals across America. The film is the sophomore release from director Halina Reijn whose last film, Instinct, while well received, never made it to any sort of wide release and is still impossible to track down. Hopefully, that will change if this one is successful. The movie follows a group of rich twenty-somethings who plan a hurricane party at a remote family mansion. Things get way out of control when a party game turns deadly in this fresh and funny look at backstabbing, fake friends, and one party went very, very wrong. The cast is young, fresh and possibly the future of the industry as it features Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson and the proven star strength of Lee Pace and, as a horror fan, it’s been on my list of anticipated genre films. It definitely has the added studio allure for me and I think it’s really funny that the whole premise is derived from an improv game. Makes perfect horror fodder.

Emily The Criminal – For many, when they see Aubrey Plaza they may think of the deadpan and straight-up mean secretary April Ludgate from the series Parks And Recreation and not for any real dramatic roles but I think that anyone that gets their eyes on this new thriller will be taken for a wild ride. Co-starring Sons Of Anarchy’s Theo Rossi and written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker John Patton Ford, this may be the most low-key best movie of the year with the most dramatic shift from a comedy actress than I have seen in years. The film follows her as Emily, a down-on-her-luck transplant to Los Angeles saddled with insurmountable student debt who gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of the City Of Angels, ultimately leading to deadly consequences. The intensity of this film is brimming to overflow from the first scene of this film as it has Emily in a disastrous job interview, digging up her past felonies, and it never lessens its grip on the viewer. By the time the credits hit, I knew it was one of the best of 2022 but also that there wouldn’t be a huge push on its advertisement, so this is my due diligence in saying to you, my reader, see this movie!

Fall – As a fan of thrillers, something that I really love as a subgenre is the survival thriller and the more ridiculous you go, the more I am on board. Something that pushes my buttons deep in my core is anything that involves heights and the possibility of falling a great distance to your death. I know, the horror guy has this affliction but I can’t shake it, it gives me the shivers. This new film plays right into my insecurity as it follows best friends Becky and Hunter who find themselves trapped at the top of a two thousand-foot radio tower. Even worse, it was an expression planned by Becky to get her friend over the tragic death of her boyfriend who dies at the beginning of the film in a climbing accident. All implausibilities aside, this movie grips you with the crushing fear of falling to your death and I’m sure that it all plays beautifully on the big screen, more than it did with my home screening but, you know, I still got vertigo from it all. What doesn’t work for me was the pretty badly written script which, through actresses like Annabelle: Creation’s Grace Fulton and Marvel’s Runaways’ star Virginia Gardner just didn’t have enough to give it enough conviction. Obviously, this movie isn’t about the script, just the action, and it pulls through well there thanks to writer and director Scott Mann.

Blu-Ray:

Downton Abbey: A New Era – The Downton Abbey fan base is large and dedicated but I think we may have come to the end of the lucrative times for the series, the characters and their story as this film feels like a step down from the events of the show and the last movie and more like a fluffy wrap up to it all. I think it is all well and good because HBO now has the series The Gilded Age from creator Julian Fellowes which I’m bold enough to say might be better. This new film takes the Crawley family out of their British estate lands and on a grand journey to the South of France to uncover the mystery of the dowager countess’s newly inherited villa. It’s simple, to the point and, as I said, more of a celebration of the show and where it’s come and gone, to give a well-rounded send-off for fans. In Breaking Bad terms, I would call this movie the “El Camino” of the franchise. It’s fun to watch but doesn’t have a lot of deeper resonance as the show did.

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. This movie picks up on the world it has already created for itself in the first movie and expands it to the delight of the fans, adding two more integral game characters and fan favourites while also setting up more to come in the future because, let’s face it, this is now a sizable franchise given that they have done it correctly up till now. Carrey is doing the best work of his career and all the voices are so spot on, especially Colleen O’Shaughnessy who has done Tails voice for years now.

Crimes Of The Future – Cronenberg is back in a big bad way and I really can’t contain my excitement because he is back to his body horror ways and it seriously messed people up in its festival run and confused many in its theatrical run too. Of course, my guy Viggo is in the film as well but the Canadian auteur also has Kristen Stewart and Lea Seydoux on board for it, easily two of my favourite actresses working today and definite future Oscar winners. The film takes place in a future reality where the human species adapts to a synthetic environment and their bodies undergo new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice, Saul Tenser, a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances and Timlin, an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements. This is when a mysterious group is revealed with an intent to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution. Yes, this one is deliciously disturbing and totally up my alley as a ravenous fan of all of David Cronenberg’s work. It also operates in a terrible avenue of being a cautionary tale because, really, nothing that happens in the film feels that improbable as a future. With the consistent industrialization of the world, it is not far-fetched to believe that human bodies will develop an evolution of this nature as well. Less than a wacky sci-fi, maybe this is Cronenberg’s thesis on humanity’s future?

Vivo – Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical genius is back on display for those Hamilton die-hards and people that championed last year’s offering In The Heights or tick, tick, Boom but this one is for the whole family and the parents who have probably seen Moana in the triple digits by now. Well, hopefully, you can give Maui and “You’re Welcome” a rest for a bit as this new animated feature, originally slated to come out in theatres from Sony Animation which was taken over from Dreamworks, is available on Netflix for the easy repeat viewings at home. The story follows a one-of-kind kinkajou, also known as a rainforest “honey bear”, who spends his days playing music to the crowds in the bustling town square with his beloved owner Andrés and, though they may not speak the same language, the two are a perfect duo through their common love of music. When tragedy strikes shortly after Andrés receives a letter from the famous singer Marta Sandoval, inviting her old partner to her farewell concert with the hope of reconnecting, it’s up to Vivo to deliver a message that Andrés never could which is a love letter to her, written long ago, in the form of a song. To get to Marta, who lives on the other side of the world, Vivo will need the help of Gabi, an energetic tween who bounces to the beat of her own offbeat drum, to fulfill his owner’s wishes. The film is lively, vibrant and full of catchy tunes that threaten to make me far less of the musical hater that I think I am. I so love that the film also has Zoe Saldana, Bryan Tyree Henry and Michael Rooker in main roles.

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts – If the Friends reunion proved anything, it has to be that reunion shows are the new hotness and, especially on a streaming service where you can rewatch it time and time again, it does a lot of business. Well, HBO Max has cornered the market on it now and has both that fan favourite sitcom love affair and all the muggles who adore the Harry Potterverse in addition to that but, you know, without the J.K. Rowling terf herder. Just as I’m sure many fans wanted, cast members from all the “Harry Potter” films reunite in a retrospective special to celebrate the anniversary of the first film, including interviews and cast conversations which include behind-the-scenes reveals and a look into the friendship between the three main characters. I also like that the unrequited love that Emma Watson had for Tom Felton was finally revealed. It’s so adorable.

Nitram – Without knowing anything about the story, I was drawn to this film solely for character actor Caleb Landry Jones who excels in every project I’ve seen him in, sometimes elevating the subject matter more than it already is. This is another deep character drama for him to sink his teeth into and I learned fully about the real-life story after watching it and it shook me even more than the film already did. The film follows him as Nitram, a dude definitely on the spectrum of autism who lives with his mother and father in suburban Australia in the Mid 1990s. He lives a life of isolation and frustration at never being able to fit in but unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen. However when that relationship meets a tragic end, and Nitram’s loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent that leads to disaster and ultimately unspeakable violence. This film is based on the lead-up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in which 35 people were killed and 23 others were wounded by the hand of Martin Bryant and his semi-automatic rifle. Director Justin Kurtzel frames this film in an unflinching and rough way that drags us along in a slow descent into the dark paths of a broken mind. There are many trigger warnings in this but I felt myself so compelled by it, a fantastic film.

Back To The Beach – Just turning thirty-five years old this week, this movie is a harkening back to a simpler and carefree time and, more to the point, the beachy fun that is Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Beyond that, this movie also serves as a total time capsule of who were the notable and sought-after television stars of the time as well. The story is simple, following Frankie and Annette who are now grown up and have kids in the midwest. They return to Los Angeles to visit their daughter who is secretly shacked up with her boyfriend and trying to hide that fact. They begin to have marriage problems when Frankie runs into Connie, who has erected a shrine to him in her night club and their punk son has joined up with the local surf toughs with things all coming to a head when the toughs challenge the good guys to a surfing duel. Is there any substance to this movie? No, definitely not but it is a movie that features two original superstars and has Gilligan himself, Bob Denver, in his last film appearance as well as an early appearance of a childhood favourite of mine, Pee Wee Herman. Surf music, sand and sappy songs are the prescriptions to not getting a sunburn in the comfort of your own home.

Event Horizon 4K – One of my favourite sci-fi horrors of all time and possibly director Paul W.S Anderson’s greatest cinematic achievement ever now gets a killer 4K restoration and a gorgeous steelbook thanks to those awesome people at Paramount. I knew there was a good reason to hold off on getting the Shout Factory collector’s edition and this is it. The story is set in the year 2047 and follows a group of astronauts who are sent to investigate and salvage the long-lost starship “Event Horizon” which disappeared mysteriously seven years before on its maiden voyage. With its return comes even more mystery as the crew of the “Lewis and Clark” discover the real truth behind its disappearance, that it disappeared in a black hole and something even more terrifying returns with it, bent on breaking this new reality it exists in. This film I’ve always considered a sort of H.P. Lovecraft in space and it was one of my biggest recommendations for horror or science fiction, as it does justice to both beautifully. It also features an amazing performance from Sam Neill that really needs to be witnessed as he’s a total treasure.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Firestarter – I’m going to do something a little different this week and do a cautionary post or a “don’t pick this up” thing, just saving your time. Making Stephen King adaptations is really dicey at any time because, in this avid reader and huge fan’s mind, they haven’t had the best transition time from page to screen and some of them have gone beyond being disappointing and gone to the depths of being downright awful. This adaptation has the benefit of being one I’ve read but haven’t had the deepest connection with at the time, although the father and daughter bond at the center of it has sentimental value to me now, decades after I initially read it. For those who didn’t get to read this or see the eighties Drew Barrymore film, the story follows parents Andy and Vicky who have been on the run for more than a decade, desperate to hide their daughter Charlie from a shadowy federal agency that wants to harness her unprecedented gift for creating fire into a weapon of mass destruction. Andy has taught Charlie how to defuse her power, which is triggered by anger or pain but, as Charlie turns 11, the fire becomes harder and harder to control. After an incident reveals the family’s location, a mysterious operative is deployed to hunt down the family and seize Charlie once and for all but, of course, she has other plans. The was promising, with Zac Efron playing Andy and Indigenous actor Michael Greyeyes as the formidable assassin bearing down on them and director Keith Thomas gets his shot at this big-budget Blumhouse feature after his outstanding debut, The Vigil but sadly it all amounts to mediocrity. This film seems to completely throw away its subject material early on and gives us characters that are confusing in their motivation and bland in their delivery all leading to a finale that is a complete mess that rings hollow and totally bland. This film was an utter waste of time.

Television:

Never Have I Ever: Season 3 (Netflix) – From producer Mindy Kaling comes the final season of this smart, funny and John McEnroe-narrated teen comedy-drama that I fell in love with quickly into the first season. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan leads this show about the life of a modern first-generation Indian American teenage girl navigating love, friendship and sexuality, all based on the formative years of the show creator, Kaling. The second season had Devi now involved in a real relationship with the boy of her dreams, the dream boat Paxton, but with that comes a whole new set of insecurity problems. I absolutely love the writing in this show that constantly makes me laugh and smile but also can bring the real drama, the power of loss and grieving and the simple notion that Will Smith taught us all those years ago and that’s the fact that parents just don’t understand.

A League Of Their Own (Prime Video) – An absolute favourite from the early nineties starring Geena Davis, Madonna, Tom Hanks and more and made under the charm of beloved and very missed filmmaker Penny Marshall, A League Of Their Own was a movie about baseball that I think we could all enjoy, even if we hated the sport. Now Prime has tapped into making a series version of the movie and it is hitting in the great way that the source material did, with great casting. For those who never got the great privilege of seeing the original film, the story follows the journey of the World War II era All-American professional women’s baseball league players as they travel across a rapidly changing the United States, facing sexism, racism and classism the entire time. I really adore this cast as it has Broad City’s Abbi Jacobsen, The Good Place’s Darcy Carden, Nick Offerman and so many more plus Jacobsen also is the showrunner along with Will Graham who was responsible for The Onion News Network, a criminally underrated show. I think this has the potential to blow up into a Marvelous Ms. Maisel-sized hit but I may be totally biased.

I Am Groot (Disney+) – Looking for something cute, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and starring the voice of Fast And Furious star Vin Diesel? Well, that last part might seem like a bit of a swerve but he is the voice of one of the Guardians Of The Galaxy, namely the big living tree himself Groot but this one is a little different because he’s pitched up to sound like the Baby Groot we saw in the second film. Told in a bunch of shorts that will take a total of twenty minutes to binge through, the basis is to show Baby Groot as the mischievous toddler he was, growing up and getting into trouble among the stars, visiting planets and interacting with their ecosystem. None of these little episodes have any sort of bearing on the MCU as a whole but it’s so cute to see this character, only always relegated to three words, do his thing and make us go “awwwww” constantly. It was a beautiful break from the usual doom and gloom of almost everything else, to be honest.

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