Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Pinocchio – In a kind of surprising move from Disney, their brand new live-action update of an animated classic, done by ImageMovers’ creator Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks, gets the Disney Day release on their streaming service and no theatrical release. After watching the film, it is even more surprising because it would have looked gorgeous on the big screen and I felt a few of the sequences were meant to be in 3D. The story is exactly the same as the 1940 original, the beloved tale of a wooden puppet who embarks on a thrilling adventure to become a real boy. Hanks stars as Geppetto, the woodcarver who builds and treats Pinocchio as if he were his real son and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Jiminy Cricket, who serves as Pinocchio’s guide as well as his “conscience”. The film basically hits everything in the original animated feature beat for beat but it’s the little hidden easter eggs, like in Gepetto’s shop with all the varied cuckoo clocks and even some of Honest John’s dialogue, delivered by the hilarious Keegan Michael Key, that changes it up a bit. Still, this is a great way to introduce the kids to the origins of big theatrical animated stories.

See How They Run – With a cast like this and the era it takes place in, a post-World War II West End of London, I had great faith that this would be a diamond in the rough that is the usual dead month of September theatrically. Featuring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Harris Dickenson, Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo and Adrien Brody, the film has got all the right players in place and the writing is immediately delicious, intriguing and hilarious, all the best staples for a great murder mystery. Set at the one-hundredth performance of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap, the development of plans for a movie version of a smash-hit play come to an abrupt halt after the detestable American director (Brody) is murdered. When world-weary Inspector Stoppard (Rockwell) and eager rookie Constable Stalker (Ronan) take on the case, the two find themselves thrown into a puzzling whodunit within the glamorously sordid theatre underground, investigating the mysterious homicide at their own peril. This movie had me laughing at the great actors playing to their strengths with a fantastic script, Dickinson being the standout for me with a fantastically pompous performance as Richard “Dickie” Attenborough. The simple fact that he was playing a well-known actor and giving it such a believable twist got me in the heart. This is a great crowd pleaser of a movie that was really reminiscent o a Robert Altman film with a tinge of the Coen brothers.

Barbarian – The buzz of this movie right now, as a horror fan, has got me at a fever pitch to see what it is all about and the fact that it has Pennywise The Dancing Clown actor Bill Skarsgard and genre semi-regular Justin Long in it just adds to the quirk factor. It also comes from the mind of Zach Kregger who, up until his feature film, was largely known as one of the guys behind the sketch comedy group, The Whitest Kids You Know. Without going into much detail and in an attempt to keep me in the dark before heading into my screening of it, the synopsis states that it is a story about a woman staying at an Airbnb who discovers that the house she has rented is not what it seems and something malevolent lurks in the basement. With filmmakers like Edgar Wright and creators like Stephen King already praising the movie, it gives me a deep need to call this a genre hit already and something that all of us horror fans need to band together and celebrate so we get more studio-made fresh ideas that give us thrills and chills at the cinema.

Medieval – In keeping with my honest nature, I will begin here by saying that I had very low thoughts about this movie and definitely judged it by its low-level marketing and the fact that VVS Films is the distributor who has put me through many bad Liam Neeson movies in the last couple of years. What I should have read into was the fact that Ben Foster finally got the lead in a quasi-action flick and it was the stone and blood style of broadswords and shields that was at the forefront of it. The story is inspired by the true story of Jan Ika, one of the greatest warriors in history and takes place during the Holy Roman Empire after the death of its reigning emperor which plummets it into chaos while feuding brothers King Wenceslas of Czech and King Sigismund of Hungary battle for control of the empty throne. Ika is hired by Lord Boresh to kidnap the powerful Lord Rosenberg’s fiancée, Lady Katherine, to prevent Rosenberg’s rise to power alongside the corrupt King Sigismund but that is really only the beginning of the inevitable fight for his life and that of the kingdom he serves, for better or worse. While the film does suffer from the trappings of a sad and morose lead character cliche more often than not, the action scenes and incredible cinematography keep you well invested in the plot. I believe this to be the intent more than the historical story so, while it won’t be the full and bodied Braveheart that we want it to be, it is a means to an end for a visceral and brutal final act.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: A Jedi’s Return – With the six-episode return of Ewan McGregor as the best version of the legendary Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi is behind us, an enjoyable continuation of the character’s story, a decade after the final battle between master and apprentice. I really love that Disney+ does these documentaries about not just the making of the series but the development and the press tour as well. It for sure wasn’t easy for Hayden Christiensen to come back to the fold of the Star Wars world as a large part of the fandom made that totally undesirable so it will be interesting to see it all from his point of view. It makes me wonder if the toxic fandom side of it all will be addressed because actress Moses Ingram found herself as a target within the first two episodes of the show debuting so I think it would be great to hear from the studio heads like Kathleen Kennedy on it as well as showrunner and director Deborah Chow. All of that aside, I’m really excited, as a film nerd, to see all of this.

Blu-Ray:

Minions: The Rise Of Gru – The kids are all most likely chomping at the bit for this new entry into this really popular animated franchise from Illumination Entertainment to finally hit the home theatre market and there are probably parents out there that are bracing for the visual nails on a chalkboard that these films are for them. I am on the more positive side of the fence for the Minions although I will say that the first of their spin-off films was a bit pointless but now they’ve brought Steve Carrell’s Gru back into the mix for his origin story. The film follows Gru, growing up in the seventies, idolizing his favourite supervillain group, the Vicious 6, his inspiration for evil. Gru hatches a plan to become evil enough to join them and, luckily, he gets some mayhem-making back-up from his loyal followers, the Minions, Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and Otto, a new Minion sporting braces and a desperate need to please. Together they deploy their skills as they and Gru build their first lair, experiment with their first weapons, and pull off their first missions. This film is really kind of the same as every other film that we’ve gotten after the first one because they all deliver on somewhat the same level. All I know is there is a repeat of the constant nonsense these little guys spew from my kid for at least four weeks afterwards but as for an animated film with any sort of resonant substance, you won’t find it in any of the Illumination films or at least I haven’t found any yet.

Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris – I love Lesley Manville and have for a very long time, an incredible character actress that steals the films that she’s in, usually as a supporting character. She almost stole Phantom Thread from Daniel Day-Lewis and more recently became the memorable adversary in the Kevin Costner and Diane Lane thriller Let Him Go but now she gets the very deserving leading role in this new comedy-drama. She plays the title character, a widowed cleaning lady in 1950s London who falls madly in love with a couture Dior dress and decides that she must have one of her own, sending her on a whirlwind trip to the heart of fashion in Paris, France. The film comes from writer and director Anthony Fabian who gives this film such a whimsical look with cinematography for Felix Wiedemann that just pops off the screen. This will definitely be a hit with the older generation and the Downton Abbey fans but I hope it goes broader and puts Manville in the minds of a mainstream audience.

Paradise Highway – My Lionsgate home release section is usually a lot more woeful than it is rewarding, something that can become monotonous and frustrating, but even still, when I saw Juliette Binoche’s name toplining this new drama thriller I was still excited. How could I not, knowing her incredible body of work, mostly her international cinema? She is probably one of the most gifted actresses working today and the next in line to the throne of Isabella Rossellini. She stars alongside Morgan Freeman and Frank Grillo as Sally, a truck driver who has been forced to smuggle illicit cargo to save her brother from a deadly prison gang. With both good and bad forces hot on her trail, her conscience is challenged when the final package turns out to be a teenage girl named Leila. Sucked into the human trafficking game, As Sally and Leila begin a danger-filled journey across state lines, their only hope may be a dogged FBI operative played by Freeman. Sadly, this movie embraces the middle of the road in quality, with great performances that are tainted by a script that is sometimes hard to make work. It feels like anytime it tries to get gritty with realism and shock value in its subject matter, it eases off the gas and makes it feel inconsequential in its mellow drama. I feel like a story like this needed far more weight and these stars deserved better. Well, maybe not Freeman because his last few films have me thinking that he’s padding up his retirement fund like Christopher Walken is.

Happening – With the current warfare of women’s rights over their own bodies raging on in the States, and the abolishment of Roe V. Wade and the fight to restore and codify it, a film like this new French-made drama becomes more and more important every day. This is the sophomore film from writer and director Audrey Diwan who is boldly adapting the erotic adventures of Emmanuelle in a modern reboot as her next project and I think she is leapfrogging after a really solid and resonant story here. The movie is an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novel of the same name that looks back on the author’s experience with abortion when it was still illegal in France in the 1960s. This film was a big winner at the Venice film festival with Bong Joon Ho being a major member of the journey and it was shot so beautifully by cinematographer Laurent Tangy. This film is an uncomfortable watch, but I believe that is where its strengths lie in the end. Nothing was ever learned from the easy route and Happening will never make it simple and never shies away from its truth.

Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture 6-Movie Collection 4K – Just last year Paramount put the first four of the films with the original cast of Star Trek on 4K and blu-ray with a beautiful update that included director’s cuts from both The Motion Picture and Wrath Of Khan but now they have upped that set with something better. Now, with this new set, they’ve included Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, with the latter film being a favourite in the franchise. My reasoning is it features an incredible performance from the legendary Christopher Plummer who plays possibly the second greatest theatrical villain in Star Trek history. Heck, he even delivers Shakespearian monologues and soliloquies in a way that only the great Canadian could. This is truly special and a must-acquire for any Star Trek fan.

NCIS Hawai’i: Season 1 – The net of the Naval Command Investigation Service has grown once again and now heads to the same place where the Five-O reigned and the Magnum continues to roam on the procedural powerhouse that is CBS. Vanessa Lachey is the only known star that I can recognize but it’s all about the culture, the seaside locations and, of course, the terrorist acts that need to be taken down. Lachey is the first female Special Agent in Charge of NCIS Pearl Harbor and it starts from the beginning of her tenure, as she balances her duty to family and country, investigating high-stakes crimes involving military personnel, national security, and the mysteries of the island itself. For cut-and-dry procedurals like this, you are either into the criminal of the week type storyline or you’re not. There isn’t really an in-between on this.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Adventures Of Don Juan – Digging deep for a geek out to start the week off and it became pretty easy when this release from Warner Archive landed on my doorstep, another film from an era that is still a total blindspot for me. The era in question for this film is post-World War II Hollywood featuring one of their greatest, Errol Flynn. Co-starring Vivica Lindfors, this story is set at the end of the Seventeenth Century, with Don Juan de Marana repatriated from London to Madrid after a serious diplomatic scandal caused by his affair with a British fiancée on the Eve of her marriage with a Spanish noble. The Spanish ambassador in London Count de Polan sends a recommendation letter to his friend Queen Margaret to give him an opportunity in the court to rehabilitate Don Juan from the gossip and rumours about his love affairs, and he is hired as an instructor of the art of fencing in the Spanish Academy. He secretly falls in love with Queen Margareth, setting off a possible love triangle with her irresponsible and weak husband, King Phillip III. It is interesting to note that Flynn was only 38 at the time of filming this but was already in a health decline that would take his ability for any strenuous physicality. The film would go on to be nominated for two Oscars, winning one for Best Costumes.

Naomi: Complete Series – With the house burning going on at Warner Bros. through their Discovery division, most of the CW-produced DC Comics shows had been thrown out with the bathwater and it was an easy prediction that this one would be too because the source material is very new and hasn’t built up a huge fan base yet. Maybe it’s that it feels unconnected to anything else in Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman or even Green Arrow’s world or the unproven nature of lead actress Kaci Walfall but I actually really liked her in this and hope she lands on her feet. The series follows the titular character, a cool, confident, comic book-loving teenager pursuing her hidden destiny when a supernatural event shakes her small hometown of Port Oswego. With a little help from her fiercely loyal best friend Annabelle and the support of her adoptive, doting parents, veteran military officer Greg and linguist Jennifer, Naomi sets out to discover the origins of the event and how it’s connected to her own abilities. The critical response could have really driven some viewership if audiences were paying attention because the show was getting great word on its stylish nature, attention to character and the unpredictability of the plot. Undersights like this are a large part of the reason that we don’t get nice things on network television.

Television:

American Gigolo (Crave) – Jon Bernthal is stepping into a role that gave Richard Gere a stepping stone to success and with the reach of a Showtime series adaptation I feel this story could go further than the original Paul Schrader film did and if you know anything about my love for Schrader’s work, you know how big those words are. The show was put under the eye of showrunner David Hollander who worked for years on the series Ray Donovan, a show that is nothing but fantastic character work so this is all good news. The show follows Bernthal as Julian Kaye after his wrongful conviction release following fifteen years in prison as he struggles to find his footing in the modern-day Los Angeles sex industry and navigates his complicated relationships. Being such a fan of his, I kind of wish that Schrader had been involved in this as a sort of consulting producer but I also feel that he might have been on a lot of cocaine at the time of the original and wanted to put it behind him entirely. Just look at Cat People for reference. I expect this show to be a steamy and lurid affair that would best be suited to be watched after dark, like an old episode of Red Shoe Diaries.

Cobra Kai: Season 5 (Netflix) – It’s so crazy to think that the bad guys from the Karate Kid movies have come full circle in the last few years and transitioned to fantastic new series with an all-new breath of life. After two seasons running as a YouTube original and a third and fourth season that saw the high profile and bigger budget release on Netflix to bump it up to the next level and one of the most talked about shows of the year, the much anticipated fifth season is here. Featuring a lot of the original cast from the movies, including William Zabka, Martin Kove and even Daniel-san, Ralph Macchio, this Emmy-nominated series takes place decades after our mains have had their 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament bout, following a middle-aged Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence who at first found themselves as renewed martial-arts rivals and now are allies in a fight against the ridiculously over the top Terry Silver, played brilliantly by Thomas Ian Griffith. It’s once again time to sweep the leg, never give up, never surrender and check out Zabka’s bitchin’ Firebird again, a consistency that I adore. Also, give it up for Zabka, who knew how great he was going to be in this?

Cars On The Road (Disney+) – Just a handful of weeks after the uber cute Guardians Of The Galaxy miniseries of short films I Am Groot and a couple months after the Baymax series of little films for those wanting more Big Hero 6, Lightning McQueen and Mater are jumping into the game for some short film fun themselves. Owen Wilson and Larry The Cable Guy return to voice these characters as well because after three movies it would be so strange for Disney not to shell out some cash and instead have two knockoffs of these now iconic voices. The story is straightforward as Mater enlists his best pal to take a road trip across the county to go meet his sister. That’s right, a lady Larry. Along the way, the two adventurers come across a circus of cars, a forgotten monster truck looking for renewal and even a Mad Max: Fury Road-like part of the country which I thought was really quite clever. None of these episodes will really linger in your memory but they are a lot of fun, bringing those known Cars and Pixar energy and the kids will love every moment of it.

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