Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Plane – It looks like Gerard Butler’s action movies are getting lazier in being named because this has to be the most ridiculously bland titling I have seen, so much so that the need to see it is as low as it could possibly be. The good news is the film is helmed by French director Jean-François Richet whose main mark on North American cinema was remaking the John Carpenter classic Assault On Precinct 13 which he did a decent job of. The plot has Butler as the pilot of a commercial airline with one passenger being a convicted felon being transported to a new prison. Lightening strikes the craft, forcing a risky landing on land occupied by a dangerous rebel force that takes the entire flight hostage leaving Butler and the prisoner to team up and dispatch all of the bad guys in a violent fashion. This film looks to be completely formulaic and a perfect fit for anyone that has loved all of the “Has Fallen” movies that Butler churns out. Is there substance beyond that? Richet has made some great French crime biopics with the Mesrine films starring Vincent Cassel and cinematographer Brendan Galvin has shot some eye-popping action with directors like Tarsem on Immortals and Self/Less as well as four episodes of Westworld so there is some potential here. I feel like the tropes we know of Gerard’s action flicks are holding it back.

Women Talking – Sarah Polley is a Canadian treasure that we’ve loved for decades since her debut as Anne Of Green Gables on Road To Avonlea and, for me, her main role in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. In my adult years, she also devastated me as an actress in the drama My Life Without Me and as a filmmaker in the drama Away From Her and now she is back in the director’s seat to deliver a film that looks massively impressive and wholly important to the current gender conversation. Featuring a stacked cast with Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and more, the film is set in 2010 at an isolated religious commune and follows the lives of a group of women trying to reconcile their brutal reality with their faith and self-worth. With the cast this film has in place, it is certainly a powerhouse, the reviews of it have been glowing, earning its spot on the Certified Fresh with Rotten Tomatoes. I’m excited to see the return of a filmmaker who grew up under the lens of great Canadians like Atom Egoyan and I hope to see more from her sooner as this was her first in a decade since Stories We Tell.

Blu-Ray:

Black Adam – The anticipation on this movie was high and not because the track record for DC Comics live-action adaptations has been so dependable, because they haven’t been apart from a few standouts, but because The Rock has been campaigning and championing this film and character for close to fifteen years. Knowing what I know about the character, The Rock as Black Adam is such a no-brainer and a role that seems tailor-made for the megastar so I want it to be a successful venture as well because the dude is so damn likeable. The story follows Black Adam, recently released from captivity nearly 5,000 years after he was bestowed with the almighty powers of the Egyptian gods and ready to unleash his rage and vengeance on the world where he was held captive, Earth. It’s up to Doctor Fate and his assembled crew of Hawkman, Cyclone and The Atom to either bring Black Adam into the fold or prevent him from destroying the planet. The film comes from director Jaume Collet Serra who just did The Rock’s Disney film Jungle Cruise prior to this, but the comparisons kind of stop there because their previous effort rose a little more above the norm. This isn’t to say that Black Adam is bad, because it isn’t, but it doesn’t set itself apart from the other superhero films as well and will be lost in the shuffle within a couple of years. It will sadly only be remembered as a big lead-up to a fizzle and the end of the involvement of the former People’s Champ in the DC Comics cinematic universe. I’m also sad that it brought Henry Cavill’s Superman back for absolutely nothing.

Halloween Ends – I know the title says ENDS but is this really the end? I doubt it, especially when you have the producer of Malek Akkad and box office success in these new sequels but I can say that it is the last ride for lead star Jamie Lee Curtis and her portrait of perpetual final girl Laurie Strode. This film picks up four years after the events of Halloween Kills and the shocking murder of Laurie’s daughter Karen in the final moments at the hands of her uber nemesis, Michael Myers. After this long time away, Michael returns to put Laurie six feet under but she is prepared for the battle and willing to destroy herself in the process in this final battle. I know many had sizeable issues with the middle piece in this legacy trilogy but I personally really liked a lot of what they did and was so curious to see how director David Gordon Green closed it out but my disappointment set in fast. Trying to keep “spoiler free” but I will say that I didn’t think the film was scary in any way and totally shifts away tonally from what I believed the setup to be. This isn’t the long-form battle between a good Laurie Strode and an evil Michael Myers but is instead about the residual effect of mass murder on a small middle-American community which is an interesting story to tell but it really doesn’t seem to fit here. I feel that Green and the writing team sort of lost sight of what they wanted to say when they started this journey in 2018 and the result is such a low hum fizzle.

She Said – The heart of the Me Too movement gets a big Hollywood boost this week on blu-ray and it also stars the great Carey Mulligan who starred in the phenomenal Promising Young Woman, one of my favourite films last year. A film we should have known was coming, the story comes at an important time of whistleblowing and is the big Hollywood debut of filmmaker Maria Schrader whose last film I’m Your Man is a sleeper international drama that impressed me greatly. The story follows Mulligan and The Big Sick actress Zoe Kazan as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor who break one of the most important stories in a generation, the story that helped launch the #MeToo movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood. A hell of a cast has been assembled around Mulligan and Kazan, including the legendary Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher and Jennifer Ehle and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz has given us great female-led stories in the last few years with Colette and Disobedience but if you’re expecting an explosive journalist movie like Spotlight, this one isn’t it. The pacing feels a bit off and the execution is far less polished than the importance of the story would give weight to. I liked it but I feel like it wasn’t everything it could be.

Vesper – Post-apocalyptic survival dramas are very much a niche that I stop and take notice of in genre filmmaking and there was something so striking about the poster for this new independent and ambitious sci-fi that hooked me without seeing a trailer. The film came from international filmmaking duo Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper whose work I was unfamiliar with aside from their segment of the anthology horror film ABC’s Of Death 2 but I was getting Alex Garland’s Annihilation vibes immediately and I liked that. The film follows fourteen-year-old Vesper, a girl struggling to survive with her bedridden and paralyzed father after the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem. On one of her daily searches of the outside world with a robot containing her father’s consciousness to accompany her, she meets a woman with a secret who will force her to use her wits, strengths and bio-hacking abilities to fight for the possibility of having a future and to expose the truth of the world around her for the first time. The film is driven by a great performance from young actress Raffiella Chapman and the visuals are absolutely stunning throughout and a seamless blend with all of the live-action elements which make up for any of the storytelling dry patches that exist. This is definitely a bold debut into the North American market and it also marks another great performance from supporting actor and quasi-villain of the film, Eddie Marsan.

Piggy – Bullying goes to incredible heights in this new Spanish thriller which I feel is being mislabeled everywhere as horror. Yes, I’m coming in hot with this one as it is a film I saw a slow boil of love from on Twitter and I really had no idea what I was getting into with this well-acted and brilliantly shot international film. The story follows Sara, an overweight teen who is bullied relentlessly by a clique of cool girls poolside while holidaying in her village as well as the other men in the area. When the girls are abducted, Sara is the only one with knowledge of their whereabouts and seems to have gotten off easily as the culprit seems to have an odd fascination with her. Does Sara reciprocate these feelings or is she looking to save the ones who torment her? The film goes through moral quandaries in an interesting way, all playing out with a brutal third act that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I really had a great time with this one.

Steve’s Criterion Collection Geekouts:

Fish Tank – Andrea Arnold is a writer and director I have been touting for years since I saw this little British indie drama, a phenomenal coming-of-age film in from a filmmaking market that I always adore. Admittedly, the only actor I knew in the film heading in was Michael Fassbender but lead actress Katie Jarvis made a hell of an impression on me and I was delighted when it got recognized by Criterion for this edition. The story follows Mia, an aggressive fifteen-year-old girl, who lives on an Essex estate with her tarty mother, Joanne, and precocious little sister Tyler. She has been thrown out of school and is awaiting admission to a referrals unit, spending her days aimlessly but beginning an uneasy friendship with Joanne’s slick boyfriend, Connor proves fruitful in a life direction as he encourages her one interest, dancing. Arnold’s career sort of sputtered a bit with the release of her sort of bloated story of disenfranchised youth, American Honey and her documentary for 2002, Cow, is so vastly underrated, so I would say this is still the high point of her filmmaking and it is very cool to see it recognized. On a personal note, I have had this on my list to own for a long time, one of my favourite movies of 2009.

The Breakfast Club – Easily one of my favourite movies ever made, I’m so grateful that the collective decision-making minds at Criterion came together and thought the same thing because now we have the best possible edition of this John Hughes masterpiece that we can. This movie inspired people to act, direct, write and live their own truth no matter what industry or walk of life and I will always love it for its unique voice. For those who have never been educated on this seminal classic, it follows five high school students meeting in Saturday detention and discovering how they have a lot more in common than they thought. The nerd, the jock, the popular girl, the goth and the outcast, are all perfectly cast with unforgettable chemistry, I know this film backwards and forwards, owned it on multiple platforms and now I feel like the quest has ended for the holy grail version of a movie that means so much to me.

Parasite – I know I’ve talked about this so many times since my coverage of the Vancouver International Film Festival it debuted at but it is an undeniable masterpiece of Korean cinema from one of the masters, Bong Joon-Ho and if you really haven’t gotten around to it yet, well, I really don’t know what to tell you. In his return to all Korean film, something that became a multiple Academy Award winner, he tells the story of a family of con artists who grift their way into a rich family’s lives as a chauffeur, housekeeper, tutor and personal assistant respectively. They think they’ve hit the big time until the former housekeeper shows them a deep secret that she’s been hiding in their employer’s house that blows everyone’s situation up. Joon-Ho crafts another incredible totem in cinema history, a movie that’s filled with twists, incredible cinematography and the amazing ability to tell stories within a story. He never relents in showing that he is not only one of the greatest Korean storytellers today but one of the best in cinema today. This is an incredibly deserving entry into the Criterion collection, one of three over the last couple of years alone, and my face lit up when I got it for Christmas. It was pure perfection and it doesn’t dull with each viewing.

Television:

Vikings Valhalla: Season 2 (Netflix) – It was quite the get for Netflix when they acquired the streaming rights for the History Channel’s first scripted series which became a go-to for Sons Of Anarchy fans once that series had run its course. Now that the show has ended and all the seasons have been available, Netflix has this new self-produced spinoff that made it through a solid first season and now returns to shed way more blood and carve history out of stone. Set one hundred years after the original series, this story focuses on the adventures of Leif Erikson, Freydis, Harald Hardrada and the Norman King William the Conqueror who blaze a path as they fight for survival in the ever-changing and evolving world. Created by legendary screenwriter Jeb Stuart, the man behind Die Hard and the movie version of The Fugitive, this series has an interesting cast to it as well, on the heels of great leads like Travis Fimmel and Alexander Ludwig, with The Walking Dead’s Pollyanna McIntosh and Game Of Thrones alumnus Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson and really is just as brutal as it’s predecessor but with a little less of the cable constraints. I think that it isn’t outlandish to say that maybe we’ll get six seasons out of this show as well.

Velma (Crave) – As a kid who grew up on Scooby Doo episodes and loved the live-action versions as well, I think it’s a great opportunity to make a little more adult version of the Mystery Machine inhabitants and to base it around the rains of the operation, Velma, is kind of a great move. It was all spearheaded by actress, writer and creator Mindy Kaling as well, a veteran that debuted on The Office, had a successful sitcom with The Mindy Project and made one of my favourite Netflix originals, Never Have I Ever, so I feel like it is all in good hands. The series is headed by Velma, voiced by Mindy Kaling, but all of the gang is present too with Constance Wu voicing Daphne, Sam Richardson as Shaggy and Glenn Howerton as Fred but it is clear that we are heading into real murder sleuthing with this series and I’m really hoping we get a show that is on par with the animated Harley Quinn series. Yes, I have high hopes for this show.

Your Honor: Season 2 (Crave) – When Bryan Cranston does a new series, you take notice, but when he does a new show for Showtime? Get every Breaking Bad fan you know on board because this might be the new binge. Entering its sophomore season, a brainchild from The Night Of creator Peter Moffat, the story has Cranston starring as a judge confronting his convictions when his son is involved in a hit and run that embroils an organized crime family. Facing impossible choices, he quickly discovers how far a father will go to save his son’s life and the boundaries he’ll not only cross but sprint through. Kind of Walter White sounding, right? Well it’s a bit different once you get into it but the intensity is turned to an eleven throughout and the connecting line is that Cranston is still phenomenal, as to be expected, but the underlying thread of a father going to the nth degree to save his family is a long threaded trope for him, is it not? I think you’ll enjoy it if you can get past this and I guarantee that Michael Stuhlbarg as the heavy in this will shake you to your core.

Koala Man (Disney+) – Justin Roiland is the animated genius whisperer it seems as he has a monolith of a hit with Dan Harmon in the form of the long-running Adult Swim series Rick & Morty then headed over to Hulu to co-created the alien madness that is Solar Opposites, co-created by Mike McMahan. Now he is an executive producer and supporting voice of this new show, a product of the Down Under from a very funny creator named Michael Cusack. The plot follows a family father who lives a not-so-secret identity as the Koala Man, a guy definitely going through a midlife crisis who possesses a burning passion to snuff out petty crime. With his doting wife Vicky doing her best to keep his ground, his two kids who care more about their own adolescent issues than their dad’s battle against crime and a town filled with tweakers, idiots and a local celebrity named Big Greg, this show easily wormed it’s way into my animated heart and became must watch. Heck, as soon as I saw that Hugh Jackman played the voice of Greg in this I was too curious not to watch it. This one doesn’t have a huge push behind it but like Solar Opposites I think it will pick up viewers through word of mouth.

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