Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Don’t Worry Darling – The big release this week comes on the heels of a toxic behind-the-scenes reveal that has put the star of the film, Florence Pugh, at odds with the director and co-star, Olivia Wilde, has involved the, at one point, star of the film Shia LeBeouf and the apparently subpar performance of Harry Styles and this was all revealed months before the release date. As a fan of Pugh’s work and Wilde’s previous movie Booksmart, I want to believe that this could be good as the trailer is solid but, alas, the advance reviews are leaning toward disaster. The story has Ms. Flo as a 1950s housewife living with her husband in a utopian experimental community who begins to worry that his glamorous company could be hiding disturbing secrets. It’s sad that something as publicized as on-set drama could immediately tank a film’s expectations so much but this is a prime example of personal relationships and politics overshadowing the final piece. The chilling Stepford Wives angle still has me fascinated and I will head into the film hopefully with a lesser chip on my shoulder from hearing all of these background rumblings but I can’t see the casual audience making the same allowances. I think the damage may have already been done and this one will bomb into obscurity.

Blonde – Biopics are a tricky thing to get right and especially one as delicate as the subject matter, one pulled off greatly by the performance of Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn but not so much the movie around her. I felt like it was in damn good hands when it was announced the Assassination Of Jesse James director and many-time collaborator with Nick Cave, Andrew Dominik was taking on the story and had cast one of the “it girls” of right now, Ana De Armas in the main role. The film boldly reimagines the life of one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons, from her volatile childhood as Norma Jeane, through her rise to stardom and romantic entanglements all while suffering through the duality of her real self and her career and the heartbreaks that tragically led to her death. The cinematography is exquisite and De Armas does a fine job masking her accent to create the breathiness of Marilyn but Dominik heads down a Terrence Malick Tree Of Life-like existential meandering that takes you completely out of the movie periodically. There is a deeper message about mental health and controlling studio heads that hammers you over the head to say “are you paying attention?” and even when it feels like we are, it bludgeons you some more. Ultimately, this is Dominik’s most disappointing venture but it came from such a place of promise.

Lou – I’ve always been saying that Allison Janney needed some grittier and juicier roles, especially coming off of the sitcom life she endured for close to a decade on the CBS series Mom and now it looks like someone heard my call into the universe. She also has the young star in Birds Of Prey’s Jurnee Smollett-Bell to share the spotlight and have some of her veteran craft rub off on and I really hope to see more of Janney in this vein. The film has her as a mysterious loner living in the woods who is forced to join a young mother in the search for her kidnapped daughter as a vicious storm rages on. Janney is definitely the name in this game, turning in an epic performance that would be at home with the scowl of Clint Eastwood behind it. The film was directed by stalwart television helmer Anna Foerster, known for her work on shows like Westworld, Outlander and Jessica Jones but I hope she does more features as this is a film far better than her debut, an Underworld sequel called Blood Wars. Maybe she and Janney can team up for a full-out action film next time, I’d be all over that.

Avatar – I probably don’t need to say a lot about this one but I saw the ultimate edition of this on sale for just twenty bucks a while back, had to get it, and now it is getting another chance to play on the big screen ahead of the sequel in December. Let’s be honest, this is the best way to experience it, the greatest 3D immersion I have ever seen and it is honestly where James Cameron’s films play best. Yes, this is essentially him ripping off Ferngully by combining it with the Dances With Wolves storyline but it was one of my favourite in-house screenings of my life and one of those cinema moments that I will cherish until my dying day. For those new to this movie, it follows a paraplegic Marine who is dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission, put into the bodies of the native creatures, the Na’Vi, to obtain resources but becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. Cameron knows how to give us breathtaking action sequences and amazing imagery but his script is sometimes lacking. With The Way Of Water so quickly on the horizon after years of waiting, this may be the best way to get reacquainted with the world of Pandora and the people living on it.

Blu-Ray:

The Black Phone – Another pandemic rescheduled film, this new horror from writer and director Scott Derrickson was on my most anticipated movies list for a long time, ever since I saw the trailer, and it is rooted in the uber-creepy performance from a masked Ethan Hawke. It also is because Derrickson is a master of scaring you out of your seat, as is evident in one of the scariest films of all time, his chiller Sinister. The story follows a thirteen-year-old boy who is abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement with only a broken phone in the corner on which he starts receiving calls from the killer’s previous victims. Adapting the work of acclaimed writer Joe Hill, the son of the master of horror literature, Stephen King, Derrickson and co-writer Robert Cargill have cooked up something special and wildly original that consistently sends shivers down your spine in the story reveals and twists with scares that don’t feel forced and contrived. I also have to praise all of the kid actors who are just phenomenal in this film, as the youth can sometimes be a make or break to these horror thrillers.

Vengeance –  A long-time writer for The Office as well as a cast member, B.J. Novak is such a gifted creator so I’m honestly surprised that it’s taken so long to get to his first directed feature but it was definitely worth the wait. This new comedy also hits a little close to home as Novak plays a podcaster in it, which really shows how far the medium has come along. The film follows a writer from New York City who attempts to solve the murder of a girl he hooked up with for a forgettable evening and travels down south to investigate the circumstances of her death and discover what happened to her. The cast formed around Novak is impressive with Boyd Holbrook, Ashton Kutcher and Issa Rae to name a few and the final result is really funny in a fish out of water sense, showing a lot of the southern opinion, beliefs and misconceptions through the prism of a city boy who has never gotten the grit of small-town Texas under his fingernails, besides a trip to Austin for South By Southwest. This film is brilliantly written, shows the division of the Americas in a very focused way and really keeps you guessing until the end which had a moment that totally shocked me.

The Reef: Stalked – As a horror fan, I’ve got a real soft spot for monster movies, especially sort of reality-based monsters like wild animals and because of my affinity for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws for as long as I can remember loving movies, sharks are a major selling point. Well, this week Shudder is getting into the game with an at-sea horror thriller and the poster for it is amazing, I recommend finding that one alone. The film is a quasi-sequel to the 2010 thriller The Reef and follows a woman named Nic, her younger sister and two friends who seek solace through a Pacific island kayaking adventure after her sister’s murder. Hours into the trip the women are stalked by a shark and must band together, face their fears and save each other. I’m very aware of the hit-and-miss nature of these types of films, looking directly at the sequel for 47 Meters Down, but sometimes these movies pull through like the terror in the film Open Water or Blake Lively taking on a toothy monster in The Shallows. For these reasons, I will always give a movie like this a shot and I’m still sold over the great poster. Seriously, it’s a frameable one.

Batman: The Long Halloween 4K – After the finish to possibly my favourite Batman detective-style story ever came out last summer, thanks to the incredible minds and creators at the DC Comics animated film division of Warner Bros, I was hoping that they would do like they did with Year One and release it in 4K. Better than that, I was also hoping that they would put both part one and part two together, which they did to my excitement. The story begins with a brutal murder on Halloween that prompts Gotham’s young vigilante, the Batman, to form a pact with the city’s only two uncorrupt lawmen, police captain James Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, to take down The Roman, head of the notorious and powerful Falcone Crime Family. When more deaths occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas, it becomes clear that, instead of ordinary gang violence, they’re also dealing with a serial killer that, with each conflicting clue, grows harder to make a suspect list for. Few cases have ever tested the wits of the World’s Greatest Detective like the mystery behind the Holiday Killer, told with a great animation style and a great voice cast that includes Jensen Ackles, Titus Welliver and the late Naya Rivera, my usual gripe with both of these movies is that they are a little too short and seem to cut some corners storywise to make those time constraints but this restructuring alleviates that problem. I know a lot of the DC Comics animated films like to make sure they clock in at an hour and fifteen minutes but maybe that template needs to be re-evaluated for the story’s sake and this is an acknowledgement of that.

The Equalizer: Season 2 – I’m really kind of surprised that this series adaptation of a movie that was adapted from a classic TV series got the renewal for a second season let alone heading into a third one but people seem to be into Queen Latifah coming through to take Denzel’s place in the lead chair as this property. Latifah is Robyn McCall, an enigmatic African American woman with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. McCall comes across, to most, like an average single mom who is quietly raising her teenage daughter but to a trusted few, she is an anonymous guardian angel and defender of the downtrodden, who’s also dogged in her pursuit of personal redemption. The series takes off on the original Edward Woodward show from the late eighties as each episode seems to be reworkings of the older plots to get things going that, to me, have yet to find their footing but I really like Tory Kittles who is the supporting character for McCall, an actor that has done a lot of great work on the small screen.

ATHF: The Complete Collection – This was a late arrival but I’m so happy it made it to my house on time to be included this week because this right here was my introduction to the Adult Swim network and what a glorious time that was. In Canada, our exposure was through Teletoon and in the year 2000 my expectations for adult cartoons changed with this show from creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro with each episode clocking in at a jam-packed ten minutes long. The premise is simple, the misadventures of a milkshake named Master Shake, an order of fries named Frylock, a meatball named Meatwad, and their retired next-door neighbour, Carl, in the suburbs of New Jersey. People died, aliens invaded and Glenn Danzig even moved in next door across the seven volumes, two reboot series and one feature film that span the twenty discs of this ultimate box set. As an uber fan, this whole thing just makes me giddy.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Green Zone – A powerhouse team through most of the 2000s with the Bourne franchise, a beloved love letter to Robert Ludlum’s fantastic character, most people forgot that director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon also made this military thriller as well, lost in the shuffle of 2010 big budget action films. In reality, it was well reviewed but I still believe it to be pretty underrated as seemingly no one has seen it, a vague recollection in the memories of other Damon films. The film follows him as a U.S. Army officer who goes rogue in the light of discovering covert and faulty intelligence, putting him on a search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in an unstable region. Based on the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, this movie should be remembered way more than the ill-conceived return for both director and star to their franchise in Jason Bourne as the film is thrilling, utterly fascinating and is filled with more of that mistrust in the military and governing bodies that bring us back to the cinema. It also features Jason Isaacs, a character actor who is always a memorable piece in the films he appears in.

Television:

Reboot (Disney+) – Given that the wife and I are currently going through a binge-watch of the ten-season-long ABC series Modern Family right now and loving it, I was really excited to see that co-creator Steven Levitan has this brand new series debuting on Disney+ and it gets really meta because the streamers American counterpart, Hulu, is at the heart of it. Pulling off of the penchant for rebooting everything, the show is lampooning all the best things at the right time and it has the perfect cast to do it with Keegan Michael Key, Judy Greer, Johnny Knoxville, Rachel Bloom and Paul Reiser. The show follows an early 2000s family sitcom called Step Right Up that Hulu has rebooted and its dysfunctional cast that must deal with their unresolved issues in today’s fast-changing world. Old grudges over the lead star leaving to do more serious work, complicated sexual relationships, rehab stints and child actor issues all come to a head in a series that is a lot of fun immediately and has some of that great dialogue that made Modern Family a hit but without the constraint of being PG. The first episodes are fantastic and I really hope that it catches on with audiences because the story has definite longevity.

The Kardashians: Season 2 (Disney+) – It probably looks ridiculous that I’m even covering the return of this series but still I’m not scared to admit something that I would have been petrified of years ago and that is a simple fact that I kind of enjoy this show. Breaking away from the mould of their E Network series, this version of their reality show feels way better in its approach and feels a lot less scripted and acted than the show that established them. For those who are thankfully oblivious to the Kardashians, the show follows them as they celebrate new ventures, businesses and relationship statuses and navigate through their new normal. With all of the insanity between Kim and her ex-husband Kanye West and the budding relationship and overly PDA-prone Kourtney and drummer Travis Barker, there was a lot that I couldn’t stop watching on this show. Plus, I think Kendall Jenner is a stoner and I kind of relate to her a bit.

Andor (Disney+) – Disney+ and Star Wars are taking a little bit of a gamble here because after The Mandolorian, Book Of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi, they are venturing out with a series that is rooted in these worlds but won’t feature a lightsaber at all, let alone a Jedi master or Sith lord. The cool thing is it explores the earlier life of the doom-fated Cassian Andor from Rogue One and the Resistance storylines are definitely things that have fascinated me in the past. All set before one of my favourite films in the whole franchise, this show, so far planned for two seasons, follows Diego Luna as Cassian before he joined the Rebels, on the run from an Imperial investigation after the death of two guards by his hand. The series also features Genevieve O’Reilly returning to the role of Mon Mothma, which makes me geek out, but it also has Stellan Skarsgard in an enigmatic role that I am absolutely loving, having got the privilege of seeing the first four episodes in advance. I will say it’s a slow burn of a story so you need to have a little patience with it. Trust me, the rewards are there.

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