The Film Fix – November
By Jonathan W. Hickman
What to Binge: If you’ve not already absorbed all of season two of “Stranger Things,” which I highly recommend, there’s a dark new superhero series of note to check out.
Marvel’s “The Punisher”
Marvel is everywhere these days, and as noted below, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the “MCU”) scores a major success with the new “Thor” installment. “The Punisher” has been around for decades, dating back to 1989 when Dolph Lundgren first cut an imposing figure in the role. Unfortunately, the 2004 Thomas Jane version left much to be desired mainly due to an unhinged, villainous performance by John Travolta. Then in 2008 “Punisher: War Zone” with Ray Stevenson in the lead charmed fanboys but failed to ignite the franchise.
This new Netflix take on the character is part of the street level collection of supers that reached a new level with “The Defenders.” And this spin-off from “Daredevil” looks promising, especially the casting of “The Walking Dead’s” Jon Bernthal.
Look for “Marvel’s The Punisher” to drop episodes on November 17.
Which Movie to Watch:
Word is that this Netflix original film is really award-worthy (regardless of its presence on the streaming platform). I’ve not seen it, yet, but, as of my deadline, it’s charting at a very solid 95% on RottenTomatoes. From director Dee Rees, who gave us the significant 2011 film “Pariah” and 2015’s HBO feature “Bessie,” “Mudbound” tells the story of two families struggling to make a place for themselves in rural Mississippi in the time after World War II. Share-cropping, racism, and the realities of economic scarcity threaten to tear the families apart. An attractive cast with Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, and Rob Morgan certainly make this one worth checking out.
What to Avoid:
From writer/director Neil Blomkamp (“District 9”), this uneven science fiction entry was a definite miss. The near future story concerns the future of law enforcement involving the use of robots. When a designer (Dev Patel) programs a police droid (Chappie) to think for itself, the powers that be want to eliminate it. With a hammy supporting performance from Hugh Jackman, this film should have been lighter and less violent in order to capture a broader audience of younger kids that might buy the ridiculous tale.
What to Binge:
Marvel’s “The Runaways”
Spreading the love around, lesser Marvel comic properties can be seen on a myriad of platforms. This one sounds somewhat familiar and may attract the same audience that has made “Riverdale” a bit of a teen fascination. “The Runaways” has a group of teens banding together to right some wrongs when they discover that their parents are really super-villains. Expect the first season to set up the world and provide multiple origin stories in hopes of launching an on-going series.
Which Movie to Watch:
Spaceballs/Punch Drunk Love
Hulu is positioning itself nicely for the holidays with a fairly extensive selection of James Bond films (even including “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”). But if you’re not in the festive mood to be shaken, yet, not stirred, might I recommend some Mel Brooks slapstick with “Spaceballs,” or on the other end of the spectrum, a decidedly serious turn from funny-man Adam Sandler in “Punch Drunk Love.” No one can avoid the chuckles as “Spaceballs” spoofs “Star Wars” perfectly. But it was “Punch Drunk Love” that gave critics hope that we would avoid the endless stream of snarky comedies from Sandler. However, that was not to be (exhibit “A” see his Netflix offering “The Ridiculous 6”). Still, his recent performance in another Netflix film “Meyerowitz Stories” is in the nature of award-worthy.
What to Avoid:
This failed remake of the 1975 semi-classic is wrong in so many ways. While the attractive cast is strong (led by Chris Klein of “American Pie”), it has none of the campiness or social commentary that helped the original overcome clunkiness. The science fiction storyline revolves around the increasingly violent sport of Rollerball that is used in the future to control and appease the masses. Skip this one and watch the original Norman Jewison directed “Rollerball” starring James Caan, which is also available this month on Hulu.
What to Binge:
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Amazon has struggled to find its footing with original material and has had problems with the waive of sexual harassment revelations resulting in the resignation of key content executives. Enter “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” a women empowerment narrative of sorts set in the 1960s. Rachel Brosnahan (“House of Cards”) plays the title character Mrs. Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a housewife who finds herself blamed for her husband’s failure as a standup comic. But when she discovers her own talent for comedy, Midge is forced to choose between her perfect life as a housewife or a risky one in comedy during a time when women are still expected to stay at home.
Which Movie to Watch:
Amazon also has a healthy selection of Bond films (the same as Hulu, and yes, they have “Octopussy”), but if you’ve seen them all (twice), might I suggest the prison/crime film “Shot Caller.” Staring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of “Game of Thrones” fame, this masculine narrative follows a man who goes to prison and joins a white supremacist gang to survive. But when he gets out of the big house, he’s forced to honor his gang connections on the outside. Look for “Shot Caller” on Amazon Prime on November 16.
What to Avoid:
This Brad Pitt 1942 set narrative directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) failed to find a popular or critical audience when it was released last year. The story has Pitt playing an intelligence officer, who has a romantic encounter with a French Resistance fighter (played by Marion Cotillard) in North Africa. But when they meet again in London, he discovers that she might not be who she seems. Didn’t we see this kind of thing when he starred opposite his ex Angelina Jolie in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith?” Well, no, I suppose, but at least that one was funny and didn’t try to be too self-important. “Allied” hits Amazon on November 10.
Recommended Streaming Platform:
Cord cutters, and there are a growing number of you who no longer rely on cable for television services, may want to check out this streaming platform that is tailored to the cineaste. What I like about FilmStruck is that it furthers my film education with short documentaries and extras that provide great insight into some of the most significant films in history. Note that the full Criterion Collection of films is available on FilmStruck as part of their curated library.
Platforms like FilmStruck and the horror lovers application Shudder provide specific ways to find and discover great on demand content without having to resort to browsing the endless selections on the huge all-you-can-eat players (Netflix, I’m talking about you). Look for my suggestions periodically as we move toward a la carte TV.
Blade of the Immortal
The 100th film by master director Takashi Miike (“13 Assassins,” “Audition”), “Blade of the Immortal” is one blood soaked, gory affair. Following an epic battle, samurai swordsman Manji (Takuya Kimura) is given the “gift” of immortality by an old woman who infects him with blood worms. Flash forward 50 years, Manji is approached by a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki), who seeks revenge for the murder of her parents.
“Blade of the Immortal” is a wild ride. And while the film is a lot of bloody fun, the narrative is lacking in coherence requiring the viewer to take notes to keep up with the story threads. But Miike’s visuals have to be appreciated as Manji does battle with constantly inventive weaponry against an array of increasingly ridiculous, but entertaining foes. If only I cared about any of the characters, the graphic displays would have had greater impact. Still, those displays are worth the price of admission.
Easily the best Thor movie yet, “Ragnarok” is a blast from the opening scene until the credits roll. Infused with wacky comedic sensibilities by director Taika Waititi, Marvel proves that it has figured out how to make an entertaining comic book film. The story has Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returning home to Asgard to discover his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) likely nearing the end of the reign. But will Thor take the throne or will the evil Hela (Cat Blanchett) take over?
Filled with colorful characters and powered by a retro synth score along side Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” this superhero adventure will be worth revisiting.