The Film Fix: Previewing December’s Top films in theaters, streaming

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By JONATHAN W. HICKMAN, Special to The Paper

Below are reviews and capsules of various films this month in theaters and/or streaming.

Review rating … A “Fix” is recommended with a rating between 6 and 10. A “No Fix” is not recommended with a rating between 1 to 5.

In Theaters

Saltburn (in theaters now) – Fix Rating 8/10 – The outrageous voice of writer/director Emerald Fennell (see “Promising Young Woman”) continues to magnify. And her second feature film, the devilish “Saltburn,” is another sardonic tale of the origin of a sociopath who exacts blistering revenge on an arrogant collection of psychopaths. And it’s bloody marvelous.

In “Saltburn,” Oscar-nominee Barry Keoghan (see last year’s “The Banshees of Inisherin”) plays outsider college student Oliver Quick. When the school term ends, popular aristocrat and fellow student Felix (“Priscilla’s” Jacob Elordi) invites Oliver to spend the school break with him at his family’s sprawling estate known as Saltburn. It will be a summer they will never forget.

The audience I saw “Saltburn” with audibly gasped more than once. It’s a shocking and nasty viewing experience that must be watched in the presence of others. As a theatrical provocation, “Saltburn” is just what the doctor ordered.

American Fiction (December 16) – Fix Rating 8/10 – In this film, the directing debut of “Watchmen” series writer Cord Jefferson, Jeffrey Wright is a lock for an Oscar nomination playing frustrated novelist Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison. The story follows Monk as he takes a forced “sabbatical” to care for his ailing mother. When his latest book doesn’t sell, he writes, under a pseudonym, an offensive and exploitative tome that he’s sure will be lampooned.

When the book is a hit, Monk must cope with his secret success while balancing the emotional crises in his life. This comedic drama has pitch-perfect performances with terrific work by Sterling K. Brown (who crushed it in the highly recommended “Biosphere” earlier this year).

All of Us Strangers (December 22) – Fix Rating 7/10 – This odd fantasy romance contains excellent performances from hot actors Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott. The movie has Scott playing Adam, a screenwriter living a lonely existence in an almost abandoned high-rise apartment building. When he begins a romance with the only other resident named Harry (played by Mescal), Adam explores memories of his parents, who died tragically when he was twelve.

The fantasy elements have Adam returning to his family home to discover his parents (played by Jamie Bell and Claire Foy) alive and well, as though they haven’t changed in over 30 years. As Adam spends time with his parents, he gets closer and closer to Harry. “All of Us Strangers” is a deliberate narrative that will frustrate some viewers who might consider it a languid horror movie and less a moving drama.

Streaming Selects

PARAMOUNT+
Baby Shark’s Big Movie (December 8) –The YouTube sensation, popular song, and series get a feature film. The movie follows Baby Shark (Kimiko Glenn) and his family as they venture out of Chomp City and beyond.

PEACOCK
The Exorcist: Believer (December 1) – Fix Rating 3/10 – Despite several efforts over the years to replicate the magic that made the Oscar-winning 1974 original “The Exorcist” so unique, no sequel or prequel has ever measured up. And now, what’s become a limping franchise reaches a new low.

This recycled story has two teen girls wandering off into the woods after school. They perform a kind of séance whereby youngster Angela (Lidya Jewett) attempts to contact her deceased mother. The effort brings forth a demon that inhabits both children. An inevitable exorcism is mounted.

I doubt anyone will get nightmares from this 2023 take on the now overly familiar exorcism story. At best, viewers will giggle as the girls defy and mock the people of faith who try to rid them of their demonic infestation.

Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie (December 8) – Almost 14 years have passed since the last episode of the long-running “Monk” series. In this movie, Tony Shalhoub steps back into the obsessive-compulsive detective role of Adrian Monk for one last, personal case involving Monk’s beloved stepdaughter, Molly (Caitlin McGee), a journalist preparing for her wedding. The principal returning cast includes Ted Levine, Jason Gray-Stanford, Traylor Howard, Melora Hardin, and Hector Elizondo.

NETFLIX
Maestro (December 10) – Fix Rating 8/10 – Bradley Cooper’s directing follow-up to 2018’s “A Star is Born” is another moving and finely-tuned examination of a troubled musical genius. This time, he carefully trains his camera on the life of an actual conducting and composing legend, the late Leonard Bernstein.

The film follows the relationship between Bernstein (played by Cooper) and his wife, Felicia Montealegre (played by Carey Mulligan). The movie charts his diverse ascent to lofty, tuneful heights. Even though he died in 1990, Bernstein’s musical legacy remains culturally relevant and significant.

Cooper’s script, co-written with Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer (see 2016’s “Spotlight”), smartly focuses on the musician’s unique relationship with Montealegre. These aspects may divide audiences in that Bernstein’s egotistical decisions involving infidelity leave his wife in emotional chaos. But aside from the uneven workings of the narrative and polarizing characterizations, Cooper’s production is grand, bravura filmmaking.

Leave the World Behind (December 8) – Sam Esmail (creator of “Mr. Robot”) adapts the dramatic science fiction novel by Rumaan Alam for this Netflix film starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke. The story follows a vacationing couple (Roberts and Hawke) who travel to an isolated, high-end rental home when an unknown catastrophic event occurs. Ali and his wife (played by Myha’la Herrold) play the owners of the house who bring news of the event and seek uncomfortable refuge. The novel is engaging but ambiguous, while the trailers for the movie tease something a little more concrete.

AMAZON PRIME
Reacher (season 2, December 15) – Alan Ritchson returns as the protagonist of the best-selling Lee Child book series. Season one, shot in Georgia, was a sleeper hit with its straight-ahead momentum over eight action-packed episodes. And unlike the Tom Cruise movies, Ritchson is much more suited for the beefy role of the former soldier who roams the country with only a toothbrush and the clothes on his back. This season has Reacher investigating the mysterious murders of his former military unit.

DISNEY PLUS
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (season 1, December 20) – The Rick Riordan novels get another adaptation with Walker Scobell (see last year’s “Secret Headquarters”) in the title role. The story has the demigod Percy on a quest across the United States to head off a growing war between the gods.

APPLE TV+
The Family Plan (December 15) – Mark Wahlberg stars as Dan Morgan, a retired elite assassin living incognito with his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and kids in suburbia. Of course, his past comes back to haunt him, and to escape other contract killers, Dan takes the family on a road trip. This action-comedy features supporting performances by Maggie Q and Ciarán Hinds.

Theatrical Teasers

Silent Night (December 1) – Famed action-directing legend John Woo (see “Face/Off” and “Hard Boiled”) returns with this movie about a grieving father (played by Joel Kinnaman) who has lost the ability to speak and seeks bloody revenge on Christmas Eve.

Wonka (December 15) – The Roald Dahl character Willy Wonka gets an origin story with Timothée Chalamet in the lead and the “Paddington” director Paul King at the helm.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (December 22) – Jason Momoa is back as the amphibious DC Comics superhero that thrilled audiences back in 2018. James Wan (see the “Saw” and “The Conjuring” franchises) returns to the directing chair in this sequel that was allegedly plagued by reshoots and delays.

The Color Purple (December 25) – The 1985 Steven Spielberg classic gets a musical reboot starring 2002 American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino. This film has generated significant Oscar buzz for Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks.

The Boys in the Boat (December 25) – George Clooney directs this story of the University of Washington’s rowing team’s efforts in the 1930s to compete and win at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Joel Edgerton stars as the team’s driven coach in the sports drama.

Jonathan W. Hickman is an entertainment attorney, filmmaker, college professor, and novelist. More about Jonathan can be found by visiting: filmproductionlaw.com. Folks can also follow him at dailyfilmfix.com.

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