Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

If you’re a film fan and you haven’t heard of writer-director Jeff Nichols yet, well, you have not been paying attention close enough. Making his debut film just over ten years ago, Shotgun Stories was one I picked up in my video store days, a well written volatile story with a blistering performance from Michael Shannon. Nichol’s leading man would be consistent for him, playing in the rest of the films on his resume in some way or another, and eliciting an amazing performance from Shannon is as easy for him as breathing. Shannon isn’t the only person to benefit from this masterful filmmaker as Nichols work also elevates any actor or actress that works with him. Case in point is my film focus this week, Mud starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon which celebrates its five year anniversary as I write this.

The film follows two young boys, played by Jacob Lofland and the now wildly popular Ready Player One star Ty Sheridan, who encounter a possibly dangerous drifter (McConaughey) on their daily journey to a little island along the Mississippi River who says his name is Mud (insert Primus joke here). The boys start up a fast friendship with him, bringing him food and supplies, eventually getting the story of why he came to be on the island. Mud is waiting for the love of his life, a woman named Juniper (Witherspoon) with bird tattoos on her hands, who he pines for every day. The boys decide to help their new found friend by trying to orchestrate a reunion between the two.

Mud is a film that McConaughey shot during the best part of his career so far, one lovingly dubbed the “ReConaughsance” where he has a career resurgence that earned him an Academy Award. Nestled in there was this raw gem of a performance that has the Texas actor wearing his emotions on his sleeve and Reese Witherspoon gives possibly my favorite showing of her career aside from Walk The Line. This film is all about character but deeper than that it’s about the history of these characters and what effect it has on their present and future. This results in a heartwarmingly Southern tale that has no bloat and no filler.

As Jeff Nichols continues to cement himself as one of the best filmmakers working today, his last films being the brilliant biopic Loving and the southern fried Spielberg sci-fi film Midnight Special, there are more and more people discovering him every day. Mud, I feel, is a great introduction piece to his writing and character building in a straightforward drama before you get into something more cerebral, especially his second flick, the brilliantly paranoid Take Shelter. It’s a creator like him and a film like this that sticks in your mind as the more belly satisfying cinema, one that you can chew on and break down long after the end credits have hit the screen.


Categories: #TBT

This week Steve talks about the expulsion of Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski from The Academy with Lynda and the long journey and roadblocks in the way of Terry Gilliam’s long-gestated Don Quixote film. This week’s big film is Melissa McCarthy’s Life Of The Party and Steve made a delightful family-friendly discovery on Netflix, A Little Help with Carol Burnett.

Overboard – As a child perusing the video store shelves, years before my horror fascination, I would always hit up the comedy section. If I wasn’t renting Airplane and its sequel or The Jerk for the umpteenth time, I was usually trying to find something I hadn’t seen before within the parameters of my age, also known as what my mom would let me watch. This led me to discover films like The Party, Stripes and, my personal favorite, anything with Goldie Hawn. When I laid eyes on a movie starring her and Jack Burton himself Kurt Russell, well, Overboard was a game changer in my little mind. So, when I heard that this would get the remake treatment I was probably a little irate. The film was about a bitchy heiress who, after falling off her boat, is convinced that she is the husband of a carpenter she screwed over in an act of revenge. For this remake, the genders have been swapped and one of my beloved comedy stars Anna Faris plays the Russell role leaving me conflicted but the trailer is a hot mess of mediocrity. Comedian Eugenio Derbez stars in the opposing role and I’m at a loss to who he is honestly, aside from a bit role in the crapsicle Geostorm, and does nothing to sell this movie. This may be the rare case where the remake is so bad that it tarnishes how much I enjoy the original which on its own may be marginally good at best. Ugh.

Happy Death Day is granted a sequel – I may be taking crazy pills but I thought the Universal Pictures Groundhog Day style horror film Happy Death Day was nothing more than a heavy turd but for a large part of the audience apparently it was a hit. Well, now we will be subjected to a follow up with star Jessica Rothe returning and my question is how? We had a full resolution at the end without the usual horror stinger to set up a sequel AND the male lead equated the entire plot of the film to “that Bill Murray” movie this putting it as part of our world. There’s just so many issues with this film and yet we’re getting a new film to be gobbled up by the mindless masses. To quote the big orange tyrant south of the border, “sad!” Don’t even get me started on the fact that this was written by Scott Lobdell, the mind behind Marvel Comics series like Generation X, Excalibur and X-Factor. My comic nerd side weeps…

Tully – The combo of writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman has always been a winning one for me ever since I got my advance look at Juno in 2007. On her own, Cody struck out a bit with Jennifer’s Body but the two reunited for Young Adult with Charlize Theron and knocked another one out of the park. Well, they did it again with Tully, a film that feels so embedded in the plight of exhausted and overworked parents that I found myself nodding constantly at the screen and chuckling with every moment that I or my hardworking wife could relate to. Theron digs into reality again, coming up with another viscerally real performance as Marlo, a mother of three who has lost all of her identity in the process of raising her kids. The hiring of Tully, an untethered night nanny with the life philosophies to pull her out of her funk just adds another loveable character into this already wholly endearing film. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s played by Vancouver’s own Mackenzie Davis. Don’t miss this one!

Redbelt – There’s something to be said about David Mamet film and, really, it’s the dialogue that gives them their must-see appeal. Glengarry Glen Ross has blistering words flying a mile a minute out of a brilliant cast and the criminally underrated The Salton Sea had a noseless villain in the form of Vincent D’onofrio’s Pooh Bear lamenting putting his enemy’s brains in his breakfast scramble. Another under the radar film was this MMA centric drama starring Chiwetel Ejiofor following a teacher and former fighter who gets a lucrative opportunity out of a bit of unfortunate happenstance. As it turns out, Mamet had been training in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu for six years before writing this film and the authenticity is palpable. Ejiofor executes everything with effortless ease, matching his usual dramatic flourish that he always gives on screen. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this week, it’s a great time to discover this one for the first time.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story – Years before he was Vin Diesel’s boy, making The Fast And The Furious and XXX, Rob Cohen was known to me as the guy who brought the life of Bruce Lee to the big screen in Dragon, a film I watched a hell of a lot as a young teen. Jason Scott Lee (no relation) plays the title role impeccably but it’s interesting to note that he had no previous martial arts training or experience, although he was a skilled dancer which is what earned him the role. Turning twenty five this week, the film was released twenty years after Bruce Lee’s death and still finds a warm spot in my action-loving heart as I will still watch it every time I see it on television, especially if it’s the scene where Bruce confronts his “demon” on the set of Enter The Dragon. It’s still so bad ass.  Also, if you’re looking for films to snug up next to this one, the Ip Man series is the story of the man behind training Bruce Lee and, coincidentally, it stars the man who was turned down for the lead in Dragon, Donnie Yen.

It seems like the absolute perfect week to cover this, with Avengers: Infinity War cusping on one billion dollars (insert Dr. Evil clip here), to praise the beginning of this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, as well as the bookend on the Tony Stark trilogy. Both films celebrate anniversaries as Iron Man 3 came out five years ago this week and both films did big things for the MCU as well as the cast involved. Tony Stark/Iron Man is the lynchpin of this entire cavalcade of films we have been gifted and, as comic fans, we now live in a world where something like this exists and it’s unlike nothing I a young Steve could have dreamed of.

To think that we almost had a Tom Cruise led Iron Man movie is almost incomprehensible ten years after the fact because I don’t think this whole universe would have been sustainable with him at the head. I mean, we kind of saw this with the collapse of Universal’s Dark Universe but Robert Downey Jr. was tailor fit for the role of Iron Man and, most importantly, Tony Stark himself. It was his redemption in the eyes of the world and it also lent a bit of realism to his portrayal of Stark. Relevant to Downey, Stark returns from his ordeal in the middle east that almost cost him his life and has to battle the public opinion of his former self in order to make his present and future self a person to be looked at as a hero and one that would save the world again and again. This is the metaphor of his father’s business partner and acting CEO of Stark Industries Obadiah Stane trying to kill him.

Iron Man is a landmark film which should be held in the highest regard. It pushed director Jon Favreau to a new level of blockbuster filmmaking and started the Avengers Initiative, something that new comic fans, ten and under, have known their entire life. That is absolutely impressive and something I think we’ve largely forgotten about until this year. The care that Downey, Favreau and Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige have for their characters, this universe and everything contained in it are felt in every frame of film. This even extended to their friends, which is the big reason one of my favorite writers turned director Shane Black decided to play in this sandbox too.

In the third installment, Tony is dealing with severe PTSD from his descent through a wormhole holding a nuke in The Avengers. This provides the perfect opportunity for The Mandarin to destroy everything Tony holds close to him, like his Malibu home, all of his Iron Man suits, his control over his business and his relationship with the love of his life, Pepper Potts. Okay, maybe a couple of those can be put directly on Tony’s shoulders but you get the point, there’s a lot of turmoil. Iron Man 3 is a film that rubbed some people the wrong way, especially those faithful to the character of The Mandarin, but I really enjoyed it. Maybe it was that twist or that Shane Black’s brilliant buddy comedy writing created a bond between Tony and a young boy out of nowhere that was incredibly endearing. I always find myself standing up for this film and most likely always will.

As my wife and I embark on another journey through all eighteen movies leading up to the all-out Infinity War again, I implore you to do the same and, really, keep those rose colored glasses on for them because, at the end of the day, they are, if nothing, absolutely fun with a man that relishes every moment he’s on screen. In Tony’s high priced suit or Iron Man’s higher priced battle armor, this is pure escapism and it will always have a home in my heart. I love the MCU.

Categories: #TBT