by Tyler Glover & Julian Spivey
Killers of the Flower Moon
“Killers of the Flower Moon,” based on David Grann’s non-fiction book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, is director Martin Scorsese’s first film since 2019’s “The Irishman.” Working with his two most frequent acting collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, Scorsese’s film will tell the true life story of members of the Oklahoma Osage tribe that were killed mysteriously by a group of white men in the 1920s. The film co-stars Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow and a few musicians I admire in Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Jack White all trying their hand at acting. The film doesn’t have a premiere date yet but is planning on making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May with a U.S. premiere on the AppleTV+ streaming service sometime after that. JS
The Little Mermaid
One of the most beloved Disney animated films of all time is getting its live action remake this year: “The Little Mermaid.” Disney has been giving almost all of its hits live-action remakes since the enormous success of “Alice In Wonderland” in 2010. While almost all of them have been box office smashes, creatively, the results have been mixed. There have been some highs (“Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast”), some mediocre (“Mulan”), and some just plain awful (“Dumbo”). “The Little Mermaid” has so much going for it though with the casting of Halle Bailey, one half of the sister musical duo Chloe x Halle, who have received five Grammy nominations. With Melissa McCarthy cast as Ursula, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Awkwafina voicing Scuttle and Jacob Trembley voicing Flounder, it appears the casting is spot on. Add in that this is being directed by Rob Marshall, the director of the 2002 Best Picture winner, “Chicago,” and it is a recipe for success. I have very high hopes and hope Disney doesn’t disappoint. I cannot wait for this live action to be a “part of our world.” “The Little Mermaid” premieres in theaters on May 26. TG
“Elemental” is a Disney and Pixar animated film set for release this June. Pixar used to have an untarnished record with instant classics such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “Up,” among many others. While recent releases have not been up to par with most of the first 10 movies, Pixar still has a fantastic reputation at delivering movies that are not only entertaining but make us think about ourselves and the world we live in. This is a tricky balance that Pixar almost has down to a science. “Elemental” takes place in a city where fire, water, land and air all live together. A fiery young woman and an easy going guy are about to discover they have a lot in common. Details are pretty scarce about this film, but I think Pixar is about to give us another instant classic. “Elemental” premieres on June 16. TG
While I was initially hesitant to hear of a Barbie film, my hesitancy almost immediately started to become anticipation with the more information I was finding out about it. First of all, it is directed by Greta Gerwig. Gerwig has only released two films so far that she solely directed: “Lady Bird” and “Little Women.” Both of these were nominated for Best Picture with Gerwig getting nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for “Lady Bird.” The film is also written by her and her husband, acclaimed filmmaker Noah Baumbach. Academy Award nominated actress Margot Robbie and actor Ryan Gosling have been cast as Barbie and Ken. On paper, there isn’t anyone else that could have been better for the roles. I am really excited to see this film. “Barbie” is coming to theaters on July 21. TG
Well, theaters will surely be packed on July 21 with two of the summer’s biggest releases “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” both opening that day. “Oppenheimer” is director Christopher Nolan’s latest and tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist credited with being the father of the atomic bomb,” and the Manhattan Project. Cillian Murphy stars as the titular character with a supporting cast of Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Rami Malek and a lot of other names and faces you’ll recognize. Part of the thrill of “Oppenheimer” will be Nolan’s use of practical effects for the bomb’s testing rather than CGI.
Dune: Part Two
I’m not usually a science fiction/fantasy guy, so the fact that that I watched director Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part One” (of which I didn’t realize at the time was a ‘Part One’) was mostly because it was such an Oscar favorite that I felt a bit obligated. Though parts of the story were certainly confusing, I was mesmerized enough by Villeneuve’s vision and the film’s cinematography and effects to want to continue the story into ‘Part Two,’ which will certainly feature the characters of Zendaya and Javier Bardem, essentially cameos in ‘Part One,’ and among the film’s most interesting ones, in larger roles. “Dune: Part Two” will premiere in theaters on November 3.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
What made me a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence was her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in the wildly popular ‘Hunger Games’ movies. On November 17, we will be treated to a prequel that will follow a young Coriolanus Snow and his involvement in the Hunger Games years before the events of the original series. This character was played by Donald Sutherland in the original films. It is always really exciting to see all of the events that transpire that lead to people becoming who they are, whether they are good or bad. I think this film has the potential to be not only a box office success but a really entertaining movie. TG
Disney’s 2023 Thanksgiving weekend release is called “Wish.” It is written by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, who have had tremendous success at delivering Disney magic. Both of them were behind the ‘Frozen’ films, which is arguably Disney’s biggest hit of the 21st century. Recent Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose voices Asha as she navigates a kingdom of wishes where wishes literally do come true. Disney’s Thanksgiving releases are normally pretty big box office successes, but I am hoping the movie delivers creatively as well. TG
Bradley Cooper’s first directorial effort since his critically acclaimed “A Star is Born” in 2018 is “Maestro,” a biopic of legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein focusing on his marriage to Felicia Montealegre. Cooper, who also co-wrote the script with Josh Singer, stars as Bernstein. Carey Mulligan will play his wife. The film, which co-stars Jeremy Strong, Matt Bomer and Maya Hawke, was originally supposed to be released in 2022, but was likely held due to similarities between it and director Todd Field’s “Tar,” starring Cate Blanchett. There is no current release date for “Maestro,” but it’s a Netflix production that will likely have a short theatrical run for awards contention before debuting on the streaming service, likely toward the end of the year. JS
Director Michael Mann will supposedly be coming out with his first film in eight years sometime late in 2023 (though don’t be surprised if it’s pushed to 2024) in the form of a biopic about Enzo Ferrari, the Italian founder of the car manufacturer. Oscar-nominated actor Adam Driver will be playing the lead in “Ferrari” with a supporting cast of Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley and Patrick Dempsey (who’s an auto racer in real life). The film will see Ferrari dealing with family issues while also preparing for the famous Italian car race Mille Miglia in 1957. JS
by Julian Spivey
In December I saw something called the “12 Movies Challenge” on Facebook. The premise was that you would have 12 months to watch 12 movies recommended by 12 friends. I don’t often participate in such social media challenges but being a movie buff I felt this might be an interesting way to get out of my comfort zone a bit when it comes to watching movies.
My Facebook buds gave me some films that I’ve been meaning to watch and I pretty much front-loaded those on the list – though not explicitly stated in the challenge rules I am opting to watch one film a month.
A Best Picture winner like “Out of Africa” is an obvious choice for me to get to at some point – that point is now going to be March of this year. But there are certain movies I’m not really looking forward to all that much – I’m looking at you “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” my August selection. Then there’s the acclaimed stuff that isn’t really up my alley like the anime feature “Spirited Away,” which I’ve scheduled for November. That will truly be me getting out of my comfort zone.
Here are the 12 movies recommended to me and the months I’ve assigned myself to watch them:
January: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983)
February: “Till” (2022)
March: “Out of Africa” (1985)
April: “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006)
May: “Legally Blonde” (2001)
June: “The Birdcage” (1996)
July: “Morning Glory” (2010)
August: “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966)
September: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
October: “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
November: “Spirited Away” (2001)
December: “The Last Laugh” (1924)
My first choice for the year was Japanese director Nagisa Oshima’s 1983 prisoner of war film “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” which was recommended to me by my old college buddy and fellow classic film lover Will Hehemann. The craziest thing about this particular recommendation is I had just literally DVR’d it off Turner Classic Movies right before Will recommended it. So, you could certainly say this is one of the films I was interested in seeing beforehand.
It is a bit out of my comfort zone though. It’s an international film, half told in subtitles, by a Japanese director I’d never experienced before. The only other Japanese film I’ve ever seen was Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 classic “Rashomon,” even though I enjoyed it, it was done so in a college course, so it was not exactly hand-picked.
I quite enjoyed “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” which stars David Bowie and Tom Conti as English P.O.W.’s Jack Celliers and John Lawrence. Ryuichi Sakamoto plays the P.O.W. camp’s commander Captain Yonoi, who adheres to the bushido samurai code of morals, and his second-in-command Sgt. Gengo Hara, who’s more of a brute, is played by Takeshi Kitano.
Much has been made – both good and bad – about the differing acting styles of the cast with the English actors being more naturalistic and the Japanese actors being more “overwrought” (that’s critic Roger Ebert’s word). Ebert felt the dualistic acting styles undermined the film and came off odd. I don’t think so. But, I also don’t think that the difference in acting styles gives the film a “dreamlike state,” as TCM host Alicia Malone said while introducing the film.
What I think the difference in acting styles does bring to the film is the exact feel that it should of a culture clash between these British soldiers and their Japanese captors. Being trapped in a foreign land with a completely different culture of people who barely understand your language and ways must be terrifying as hell. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” captures this feeling well.
Bowie is billed first of the cast, which makes sense as he was one of the biggest stars in the world at the time and wasn’t a rookie when it came to acting. But, the performance that immediately struck my interest and remained that way for the entire runtime was that of Conti’s Mr. Lawrence. Lawrence had spent time in Japan before the war and has immersed himself in the language and customs of the country. He’s the one guy in the camp who understands the Japanese and because of this has more respect for his captors than his comrades. He somewhat befriends Hara and Yonoi, both of whom have respect for him, but also show they don’t mind having to kill him if he crosses a line.
Conti’s performance is just so believable as a man put in a horrible situation and using his extensive knowledge to try to make things better for himself and the others in the camp. It’s heroic without trying to be. Whereas Bowie’s Celliers is also heroic but in a more rebellious, showy way.
Some other really great things about “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” are the before its time homoeroticism between Yonoi and Celliers that I’m not sure would’ve flown had this been a Hollywood product in the early ‘80s and I really did appreciate the film’s coda between Lawrence and Hara, even if some reviews I’ve read feel this scene to be unnecessary.
But speaking of things unnecessary, the one point of the film where I found myself looking at the runtime or not being completely invested was the flashback with Celliers and his younger brother. But, I still find myself days later wondering if the film would work without it because it’s this moment in Celliers’ life that plays such a major role in his character’s finale.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” isn’t an often feature on TCM, so if you’re interested in watching it too (and you should!) you can stream it on Hulu and The Criterion Channel.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig & Don Cheadle
Runtime: 2 hours & 16 minutes
In December I read (well, technically listened to the audiobook) Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise in preparation for the release of director Noah Baumbach’s film adaptation, which premiered on Netflix on December 30.
I had read multiple places about how White Noise was felt to be unadaptable or unfilmable for many years, so I wanted to be familiar with the novel before seeing the film. Plus, it’s considered one of the greatest works of fiction of the last half-century.
After finishing the novel, which I was a bit lukewarm on, I didn’t understand why folks felt it was “unfilmable.” In fact, the second section of the novel titled “The Airborne Toxic Event” could make for quite a fun movie.
White Noise, the novel, is separated into three parts: “Waves and Radiation,” “The Airborne Toxic Event” and “Dylarama.” Baumbach chose to stick with the parts of the books for segments of his film, which is understandable. The first part of the book and film basically sets up the characters and themes of the story, while also serving as a satire of academia. Our leads are Jack Gladney, a professor in Hitler Studies (a study he created for his university), and Babette, a stay-at-home mother who volunteers to read to the elderly. They have four kids at home (Heinrich, Denise, Steffie and Wilder) through various marriages. Both Jack and Babette are deathly afraid of dying, something that comes into play often in the novel and film, especially in the third part of each.
In Baumbach’s film, Adam Driver plays Jack and Greta Gerwig plays Babette. It doesn’t really matter all too much who plays their children because they’re mostly background noise – at least in the movie.
The highlight of part one of the film is the dueling lectures between Jack about Adolf Hitler’s relationship with his mother and his co-worker Murray Jay Siskind’s (Don Cheadle) lecture about Elvis Presley’s relationship with his mom.
The most exciting part of both the novel and the film is “The Airborne Toxic Event,” which puts all of our characters and their town in peril and puts Jack and Babette face-to-face with their greatest fear. This nearly hour-long segment shows that Baumbach, a writer and director known for his small, inward stories, could actually make an action-thriller film and be pretty damn good at it.
I really began to get out of White Noise during “Dylarama,” which has Jack seeking to figure out Babette’s secret and upon doing so seeks it out for himself. It’s at this point in Baumbach’s film that I also begin to look at the runtime of the film and wish it would wrap up. It’s just not as interesting to me as the first two parts of the book and film.
So, I came out of viewing “White Noise” much the same way I did listening to the audiobook. I enjoyed much of it and found much of it uninteresting. I felt after finishing the book it may have worked better in its own time of the mid-‘80s than today. It likely felt fresher and more unique.
One thing I’m certain of is that Baumbach has proven White Noise isn’t an “unfilmable” work of art. With the story being so fresh on my mind I found the film to be quite a loyal telling of DeLillo’s story. Sure, Baumbach cuts out certain plotlines, as anyone would with any novel being adapted to film, but he seems to have mostly gotten the key points down, including dialogue that felt verbatim from the novel. He succeeded in proving some folks wrong about “White Noise,” even if the film isn’t an outright success.
Because of the unique structure with which “White Noise” is told I probably couldn’t recommend the film to anyone who hadn’t read the novel or plans on doing so before watching. I think it might just be too confusing. A film should probably be something that can stand on its own. Maybe this is why folks felt it was “unfilmable” in the first place. Maybe the movie is a faithful adaptation of White Noise, but you need the whole of the novel to completely understand its adaptation.
by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
Director: Joel Crawford & Januel Mercado
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek & Harvey Guillen
Runtime: 1 hour & 40 minutes
Yes, there are countless superheroes loved by millions, but they just can’t compare to the cat, the myth and the legend that is Puss in Boots. Whether he’s lapping up his milk at the bar, yelling out “Holy Frijoles,” giving us his signature pitiful kitten eyes or serenading his adoring fans with his bandolón, this kitty from the DreamWorks “Shrek” universe is as addictive as catnip.
In the second major Puss in Boots featured movie, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” we see our valiant kit-cat Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) face down his own mortality as he uses up his eighth life, leaving him with just one. Since he’s always laughed in the face of death, it’s unnerving when a red-eyed wolf (Wagner Moura) shows up to kill him. Though Puss tries, he gets scared when he’s no match for the wolf. He puffs up his cat hairs and runs away, like a, well, scaredy cat. Groan if you must, but there are so many odes to cats in this film, it’s pretty much the ultimate cartoon for cat lovers. He becomes a dreaded house cat to Mama Luna (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who is a crazy cat lady hoarder. He eats from a trough of cat food, uses a litter box and buries his boots, hat, cape and dignity. But he’s soon found by the local “crime family” of Papa, Mama, Baby Bear and Goldilocks – Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, Samson Kayo and Florence Pugh – complete with thick mob-boss accents. They want him to help them steal the map from the movie’s villain Jack Horner (John Mulaney) to access the Last Wish from a fallen star located in the dark enchanted forest. He manages to evade them when they bust in and wreak havoc, only to be given the idea to steal the map himself to get that Last Wish, wishing for more lives.
He begrudgingly is followed by Perrito (Harvey Guillen), the adorable little abandoned chihuahua who was posing as a cat at Mama Luna’s. I know Puss is the star of the show, along with his former lover Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), a badass cat in her own right, but man does Perrito steal the entire movie. He is hilarious in his obliviousness and completely trusting nature – so basically, he’s a dog with one brain cell and none to spare. Perrito explaining how he was chucked in a river and left to die – he doesn’t realize it, he thought they were playing – is horrifying, but also hysterical as Puss and Kitty watch horrified because everyone else realizes how messed up that is except for sweet little Perrito.
Puss learns through his adventure with Perrito and Kitty how he’s really lived selfishly and vows to live this one life he has left better than all the rest. It’s a sweet story about redemption and being happy right where you are. Goldilocks learns this lesson too, initially wanting a human family, but realizing how much love she has for her bear family. The only one who doesn’t learn? Jack Horner wants all the powers of magic in the world. His character is unredeemable and gross. Honestly, even the look of him freaked me out, so kudos to the cartoonist for making him so cringy. The only reason I enjoyed seeing Horner on screen was because of the “Ethical Bug” on his shoulder, voiced by Kevin McCann doing his best Jimmy Stewart impression. Clearly a rip-off of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket, it was perfect and hilarious to have his “conscience” have the voice of the legendary Stewart.
‘Last Wish’ was a hit for kids, with continuous action, beautiful colors and cute characters and a treat for adults who got subtle adult jokes and cat humor. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from the “Shrek” universe. And hopefully, there’s more to come – with the end of the movie showing Puss on a trip to visit his “friends” in Far Far Away. If it’s either another “Shrek” movie or ‘Puss’ movie, it will be another hit with fans.
New Netflix & Apple Comedy Series, Acclaimed International Feature and Documentary Among January's Streaming Recs
by Julian Spivey
The Menu – HBO Max – Tuesday, January 3
There’s a good chance you’ve already seen the latest “eat the rich” horror-thriller “The Menu” as its been in the top five at the box office since it debuted in mid-November. But if you wanted to see it and didn’t make it to your local theater to do so it’s premiering on HBO Max on Tuesday, Jan. 3. The movie stars Ralph Fiennes as an acclaimed chef who’s prepared a lavish menu for a group of rich tourists on a remote island and a young couple, played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult, who make the trip and find a shocking surprise.
Riotsville, USA – Hulu – Thursday, January 12
“Riotsville, USA,” one of 2022’s most prestigious and well-reviewed documentaries from director Sierra Pettengill, makes its streaming debut on Hulu on Thursday, Jan. 12. Pettengill’s documentary tells the story, using unearthed military training footage, of the military using custom-built fake towns to train law enforcement on how to react to civil unrest, which ultimately led to the militarization of local law enforcement.
That ‘90s Show – Netflix – Thursday, January 19
“That ‘70s Show” was one of TV’s most beloved sitcoms from the late ‘90s through the early ‘00s by many television viewers of that era. More than 20 years after its debut comes the sequel “That ‘90s Show,” premiering on Netflix on Thursday, Jan. 19, and focusing on the summer of 1995 when Leia Forman, the teenage daughter of Eric Forman and Donna Pinciotti, comes to Point Place, Wisc. to spend the summer with her grandparents Red and Kitty, with Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp reprising their roles from “That ‘70s Show.” The majority of the original cast of ‘70s’ will appear at some point in “That ‘90s Show” and it’s important to note Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner, who created the original series, are involved in this sequel.
Happening – Hulu – Sunday, January 22
“Happening,” a French film from director Audrey Diwan, has been one of the best-reviewed international features of 2022 and has found its way onto multiple ‘Top 10 Movies’ of the year lists. Diwan’s film tells the story of Anne, a student in 1963 with a bright future ahead of her potentially shattered when she becomes pregnant. She wants an abortion, but it was illegal at that time in France. The film was originally released in France in late 2021, but it’s very timely today in America.
Shrinking – AppleTV+ - Sunday, January 27
There have been an awful lot of TV series or limited series over the last couple of years about therapists and AppleTV+ even had one already in 2021’s “The Shrink Next Door.” But AppleTV+ is back in the therapy game with its new comedy series “Shrinking,” which stars Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) as a therapist grieving the death of his wife who begins to break all the rules by telling his patients exactly what he thinks. The show is a collaboration between Segel and Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein of “Ted Lasso” fame and co-stars Harrison Ford.
Nate Bargatze: Hello World – Amazon Prime Video – Tuesday, January 31
Nate Bargatze is one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the comedy game right now – I saw him live in Little Rock in early December and he just doesn’t miss with his humor. He’s also clean as a whistle, so his newest comedy special “Nate Bargatze: Hello World,” premiering on Amazon Prime Video on Tuesday, January 31, would be the perfect stand-up special to watch with your entire family. If the new special contains a lot of the jokes he performed when I saw him in person recently you’re going to be howling in laughter.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae & Edward Norton
Runtime: 2 hours & 19 minutes
Writer/Director Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” was a massive surprise for me in 2019. I expected a fun whodunnit mystery but wound up with my favorite movie and movie-going experience of the year.
The cast was terrific, the script was wildly funny, it kept you guessing the entire runtime and it introduced us to an incredible modern-day detective in Daniel Craig’s Southern gent Benoit Blanc.
Blanc was ripe for a series and Johnson must have realized this the very moment he saw Craig’s performance. A sequel, featuring Blanc, was announced soon after the success of “Knives Out.”
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” was released to Netflix on Friday, December 23 after a short theatrical run over Thanksgiving weekend in some parts of the country to make it eligible for the Academy Awards. Netflix reported on Tuesday, December 27 that the film was viewed 82.1 million hours during its Christmas opening weekend on the platform.
‘Glass Onion’ opens with a group of well-to-do people receiving a mysterious puzzle box in the mail during the 2020 pandemic leading them to a weekend getaway on the private Greek island of tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who’s probably a satire of Elon Musk. For some mysterious reason, Blanc is also invited to this getaway that turns out to be a murder mystery party.
Blanc ruins the actual murder mystery party pretty quickly in one of the movie’s funniest scenes, but the real story of what’s going on on this island is that Bron and his longtime friends: senate candidate Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), scientist for Bron’s company Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), politically incorrect model and fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and gaming streamer and men’s rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) have all screwed Andi Brand (Janelle Monae) out of her place in Bron’s company, for which she was the real mastermind.
The first 45 minutes or so of ‘Glass Onion’ are maybe a bit too enamored with the setup of getting to the island and then the lush scenes of this escape weekend. It takes so long to get to the murder – the first murder that is – that we’re a good hour into the movie before it happens.
The movie kicks into high gear from this point, especially a flashback moment involving how Blanc became a part of the mystery unveiling the movie’s biggest secret. It’s pretty fun from here until the end of the film – though the ending is probably not as satisfying as it could have been and certainly not as satisfying as “Knives Out.” The ultimate killer is also not all that surprising. The movie’s real high is that flashback sequence around its midpoint.
Blanc was the reason many were so excited to see ‘Glass Onion,’ as he was one of the standouts (along with Ana de Armas in “Knives Out,” but in the sequel, you could certainly argue that it’s Monae that stands out as the best and even lead performance and may, in fact, steal some of the glory away from Craig’s performance and character.
Sequels almost never hold up to the original, but I think ‘Glass Onion’ does a good job. It’s certainly not as good as “Knives Out,” but it’s still one of the most fun experiences I’ve had watching a movie in 2022. I think there’s a good chance Johnson will be nominated for an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay for his script. He was nominated in 2020 for Original Screenplay for “Knives Out” (because the sequel features a previously written character in Blanc it’ll have to compete in the Adapted category, which is dumb, but Academy rules). Monae may even be a dark horse for Best Supporting Actress.
by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
Director: Sean Anders
Starring: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds & Octavia Spencer
Runtime: 2 hours & 7 minutes
If there’s another movie adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol out in the world, it better be worth it. Luckily, AppleTV+’s latest attempt at resurrecting the age-old Christmas redemption tale with the musical “Spirited” did not disappoint. It’s led masterfully by comedy veteran Will Ferrell as Present, the ghost of Christmas present, who has gotten into a bit of a spiritual rut in helping people redeem themselves each Christmas to be a positive change in the world. They plan all year to help one soul on Christmas night, visited by the traditional Dickens’ ghosts of Marley (Patrick Page), Past (Sunita Mani), Present and Yet-To-Come (Tracy Morgan (voice)/Loren G. Woods (body)).
It’s not that the people Present and the rest of the ghosts are helping aren’t turning out to be great humans — apparently, Dolly Parton was one of them. It’s just reconciling the idea of how much can one person change the whole of a society that’s on a downward trajectory.
So, he’s thinking of retiring — going back to earth to live out his mortal life after years of being a ghost and changing lives. But he’s set his sights on one very uphill challenge that could create a lot of ripples of change — the “unredeemable” Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), whose PR company runs on fueling the flames of discord in modern society. Case in point — convincing Christmas tree growers they need to essentially start a culture war claiming that anyone who buys a fake Christmas tree is going against the “tradition” and “values” of Christmas. And it works, just one of the many ways “Spirited” throws in the not-so-hard-to-believe absurdity of society nowadays.
But Briggs isn’t exactly like the classic Scrooge, and Present should know – since he was, in fact, the original Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s a simple, yet clever plot twist in “Spirited.” Briggs really doesn’t believe people can change and in fact, he tries to help Present figure out his own restlessness. They even visit Victorian England and go on a hilarious “Good Afternoon” musical rampage — apparently, this was an “insult” back then. Not to mention Briggs essentially breaks into ghost headquarters, has sex with Past and upsets Yet-To-Come so much he’s able to overcome his muteness to use his catchphrase “You’ve been Christmas-caroled bitch.”
To be fair, Briggs has a lot of baggage, including the death of his older sister and leaving his brother, Owen (Joe Tippett) to take care of his niece, despite his sister asking him to be her guardian. It’s easy to see his life is off the rails when he tells his eighth-grader niece (Marlow Barkley) to share “opposition research” on her classmate she’s trying to beat for student council president. But is he actually redeemable?
The answer, in the end, is yes. It’s something he pays for with his life.
Just like in the original, “Spirited” deals with dark themes — societal discord, teen suicide, death, humanity’s weaknesses, etc. It never becomes too corny or too dark. It’s really the perfect balance. It’s in large part due to the side story of Present’s love interest in Kimberly, the always amazing Octavia Spencer, who is also on a journey of self-discovery and self-worth.
The musical has everything it should in over-the-top dance numbers and super catchy songs, combined with dark and light themes of human redemption. It also had some funny Easter eggs — like Ferrell calling a guy stupid for being dressed like his classic character Buddy from the beloved Christmas movie “Elf.”
What was most intriguing was the movie didn’t promote the idea that it takes just one night to change. It emphasized how every day is a choice to wake up and make a ripple of positivity into the world. That’s a lesson every viewer, both young and old, could learn from today.
"Spirited" can be streamed on AppleTV+.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Lila Neugebauer
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence & Brian Tyree Henry
Runtime: 1 hour & 32 minutes
“Causeway,” directed by Lila Neugebauer, is a story of getting your life back on track after trauma and features two of the best acting performances of the year from Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry.
The film opens with an extended scene of rehab undergone by Lynsey (Lawrence), a U.S. soldier, who was injured during her tour in Afghanistan when the vehicle she was riding in hit an I.E.D. The rehab is hard, but it’s soon made clear that it’s not near as hard for her as having to return to her home in New Orleans, with a distant mother and imprisoned brother. All she wants is to be cleared so she can return to active duty and avoid the monotony and aimlessness of her life at home.
When the family truck breaks down Lynsey meets James (Henry), a mechanic, and the two form a quick friendship. It’s not known at the beginning, but you quickly realize the two’s bond is formed via shared trauma. James lost one of his legs in a car accident that killed his nephew and left him estranged from his sister.
“Causeway” is a simple story. It’s told through Lynsey’s perspective and features numerous conversations, most of them with James, throughout the film. It’s the kind of movie many might find boring, but I’ve always found it interesting when a film can take a lot of dialogue and a small cast and make it work. It works in this case because of the supreme acting talents of Lawrence and Henry.
“Causeway” sees Lawrence return to a small, indie film for the first time since she was pretty much discovered as a major acting talent in director Debra Granik’s 2010 film “Winter’s Bone,” for which she received her first Academy Award nomination at just 20 years old. Personally, I think her performance in “Causeway” and the movie itself are even better than that one – though it seems at this point Lawrence would be a longshot for an Oscar nomination for the role.
Lawrence completely enters the performance of an injured vet dealing with the trauma of returning to a home she never quite felt loved in as much as the trauma of the injury itself. It’s such a naturalistic performance showing why Lawrence is one of the best of her generation.
For years I’ve enjoyed Henry’s performance as often put upon rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in the terrific FX dramedy series “Atlanta,” which just wrapped up its four-season run in November. Henry showed in that series how excellent of a naturalistic actor he could be, and that talent certainly transfers over to “Causeway” too. His character of James is affable, but clearly suffering from PTSD and depression from his life-altering accident.
Lynsey and James need one another, but not in the “they’re definitely going to hook up” aspect that would’ve been so easy for the film to fall into. They just get each other. They can help each other cope with the tragedies experienced in their lives. The chemistry between the two actors is easy to watch. You could watch these characters having hard-life conversations over a beer and some weed and not tire of it. Lawrence and Henry truly carry this film, so if you want to see two of today’s best showing off their acting chops “Causeway” is definitely for you.
You can stream “Causeway” on AppleTV+.
Year's Biggest Movie, Award Candidates and 'Yellowstone' Sequel Among December's Streaming Recommendations
by Julian Spivey
Bros - Peacock - Friday, December 2
Billy Eichner’s “Bros,” which he co-wrote and stars in, infamously didn’t do well at the box office when released to theaters in late September but has been one of the better-reviewed comedy films of the year. I wanted to get to it a couple of months ago, but life was busy. Thankfully here’s my reprieve to see what’s billed as the first mainstream (by a major movie studio) gay rom-com with its streaming debut on Peacock.
“Pinocchio” – Netflix – Friday, December 9
I understand there’s probably some “Pinocchio” fatigue as this is the third major “Pinocchio” film of the last couple of years – if you count Matteo Garrone’s international film that garnered two Oscar nominations in technical categories this past year. Of course, there was the poorly received and reviewed Disney live-action remake in September that starred Tom Hanks as Geppetto. Here Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro makes his animation debut with his version of the “Pinocchio” story which is receiving good early reviews and will be done as a stop-motion animated musical.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” – HBO Max – Tuesday, December 13
Director Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” has been one of the best-reviewed and most acclaimed films of 2022, but never came to my neck of the woods in theaters (as it sometimes goes in non-big cities). The black comedy stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as buddies on an Irish island who all of a sudden end their lifelong friendship for reasons that aren’t quite known to Farrell’s character. “The Banshees of Inisherin” is likely one of the early favorites to win Best Picture at the 2023 Oscars.
“1923” – Paramount+ - Sunday, December 18
“Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan has developed quite a series of shows featuring the Dutton family and their trials and tribulations throughout American history. Late last year Sheridan’s “1883” debuted to much fanfare and acclaim with a cast featuring Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Now comes the next installment of the “Yellowstone” series in “1923,” which features massive names like Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford in the lead roles. Unlike “1883,” which was one 10-episode season, “1923” is expected to be two, eight-episode seasons.
“Top Gun: Maverick” – Paramount+ - Friday, December 23
Tom Cruise is now in his fifth decade as a major motion picture superstar with his “Top Gun” sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” becoming the most-watched film in America, by far, earning over $700 million and counting. Part of the reason why the film did so well at the box office was Cruise’s insistence that it wouldn’t go immediately to streaming. Now more than a half year after its theater debut “Top Gun: Maverick” comes to the small, streaming screen on Paramount+ for the few of us (yes, that includes me) that didn’t go to our local cinemas to see it.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” – Netflix – Friday, December 23
Director Rian Johnson’s murder-mystery “Knives Out” was perhaps my favorite movie of 2019 and was a bit of a shocker in that it was an original story that became a mass hit (something that rarely happens these days). Johnson decided to turn the “Knives Out” story into a series with the common denominator being Daniel Craig’s terrific Southern sleuth Benoit Blanc being the one to attempt to figure out the whodunnit. The greatly anticipated sequel co-stars Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, Dave Bautista, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr. This one should be a ton of fun, and its Netflix release coming on Christmas weekend should ensure plenty of family viewings across the country.
“White Noise” – Netflix – Friday, December 30
Author Don DeLillo’s White Noise, which I just began reading this week in anticipation of the film release, has been called “unfilmable” for years. Having only finished about a quarter of it I don’t quite understand what is meant by the novel being “unfilmable,” but I do know director Noah Baumbach has certainly given it a shot and his effort will be released on the final weekend of the year on Netflix. “White Noise” will feature Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig as a couple grappling with their family and life’s mundanity while grappling with a toxic event after a local train accident. Baumbach at the helm of a black comedy starring Driver and Gerwig could be a fun experience to behold.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Maria Schrader
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan & Patricia Clarkson
Runtime: 2 hours & 15 minutes
Director Maria Schrader’s “She Said,” about New York Times reporters and their sources who helped take down behemoth movie producer Harvey Weinstein circa 2017, is one of 2022’s best films thus far and one of the better journalism films you’re going to see.
I’m a fanboy of journalism movies for sure. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one that I didn’t at least somewhat like. I was a print journalism minor in college, and I’m married to a journalist. It’s a subject I admire. “She Said” is one of the best journalism movies I’ve seen because it mostly gets its subject right. It makes journalism look as hard as it truly is to run down all of these sources, fact-check and piece together a story that is on one hand extremely important, but also one that might make enemies and lead to lawsuits.
“She Said” sees NYT reporters Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) follow a tip that actress Rose McGowan was sexually assaulted by Weinstein and the dominoes begin to follow from there with the journos realizing there’s a long line of women Weinstein sexually assaulted, included actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd (who plays herself in the film).
Much of “She Said” is these actors running down leads and sources and interviewing them and it was all completely riveting to me – though I feel like some not as interested in the profession or the particular story might find it a bit boring.
Mulligan is billed first in “She Said,” but it felt to me like Kazan did a bit of the heavy lifting, probably because her character of Kantor was the one of the two reporters able to fly across the world to interview subjects in the United Kingdom because Mulligan’s Twohey was a new parent needing to be with her child.
The film does a good job showing these two reporters balancing their work life with their home lives, both are parents of young children, and you can tell the toll their busy, but important work has on their lives.
It’s a couple of scenes during Kantor’s trip overseas that truly are among the finest in the film with her meeting with former Miramax employees Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and employee Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle) in separate meetings. Back in New York she also has a meeting with Irwin Reiter (Zach Grenier), one of Weinstein’s former accountants who wants to do good but believes his life to be in danger for helping. These meetings all go a long way to helping Kantor and Twohey complete the story.
The performances from Mulligan and Kazan are terrific and it would be nice to see them receive some award recognition, though it might be an easier route for Mulligan who will reportedly be put up as a supporting actress candidate in what amounts to a bit of category fraud.
The direction by Schrader, likely previously most known for directing the 2020 Netflix limited series “Unorthodox” for which she won an Emmy, is fairly incredible here, especially in that it’s able to make one-on-one scenes between actors so riveting when they could easily be boring. She also makes some good decisions in not trying to recreate horrible moments between Weinstein and his victims but instead doing it through monologues and at one point even a recorded tape between Weinstein and a victim.
The film is based on the book She Said, which Kantor and Twohey collaborated on and released in 2019 after they had completed work on their investigation and reporting about how they did the job they did, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz did a fantastic job with the screenplay based on their book. If “She Said” is most likely to garner an Oscar nomination it’s probably for Adapted Screenplay.