The Film Fix: Previewing January’s top films in theaters, streaming
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.
M3GAN (January 6) – This sci-fi frightener comes from super-producer Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse Productions gave us many enduring horror franchises over the last twenty years (see “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious,” and “The Purge” to name just a few). James Wan (see “The Conjuring” films) gets the story credit. “M3GAN,” which stands for Model 3 Generative Android, is a life-like doll created by roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams).
When Gemma’s niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), loses her parents, Gemma decides that M3GAN could help the little girl’s recovery. Of course, that proves to be a horrible idea. Clips of the creepy M3GAN dancing stormed social media last month as the robot’s uncanny movements were enough to generate uncomfortable giggles. But the producers are hoping for big scares along with those tension-relieving laughs.
Running with Speed (3-part documentary series available on January 6) – Filmmakers Patrick Lope and Nicholas Mross (see 2014’s prophetic “The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin”) dive into the crazed and genius process of “speedrunning.” Profiling the fastest gamers on earth, “Running with Speed” is about players who complete an entire video game as fast as humanly possible. This growing, popular sport also takes its toll on the participants. Mross and Lope cover all aspects of the culture in this definitive speedrunning documentary series. “Running with Speed” will be available for rent on all streaming platforms.
The Last of Us (series premiere January 15) – The Sony PlayStation video game that premiered in 2013 gets a big-budget series adaptation starring Pedro Pascal (see “The Mandalorian”). Season 1 features nine episodes. It follows Joel (Pascal) and Ellie (“Catherine Called Birdy” star Bella Ramsey) as they travel across an America that’s been ravaged by a pandemic. Sure, it sounds familiar; however, the trailers tease an exciting and potentially emotionally engaging journey. And the cast is promising, with Nick Offerman, Melanie Lynskey, and Gabriel Luna in supporting roles.
The Pale Blue Eye (January 6) – Fix Rating 7/10 – Christian Bale and Harry Melling make a formidable investigative team in this period-set murder mystery. In 1830s New York, troubled detective Augustus Landor (Bale) is called in to solve the gruesome killing of a West Point cadet. The crime involves the vicious removal of the victim’s heart.
Augustus joins forces with another military cadet named Edgar Allan Poe (Melling, from “The Queen’s Gambit,” playing the famous American writer). While Augustus is well-trained in the art of detection, Edgar has the inside track on the strange goings on at the prestigious military academy. And in that secretive place, nothing is what it seems.
Director Scott Cooper (see 2009’s “Crazy Heart”) delivers a brutal and unforgiving film that is intriguing and well-made. Bale is the star, but Melling is terrific as Poe, who could carry a second installment, should Netflix give it the green light.
Mythic Quest (season 3 finale premieres on January 6) – Although Apple’s streaming platform is known for featuring the Oscar-winning film “CODA,” highly regarded music documentaries like “Beastie Boys Story,” and the edgy, subversive breakout series “Severance,” “Mythic Quest” offers off-beat entertainment that’s easy to digest. In the series, Rob McElhenney, the star of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and the doc series “Welcome to Wrexham,” plays an obsessed video game developer named Ian Grimm. His hit game, Mythic Quest, is always in need of an update, and his company’s employees make up a quirky family. This show is funny and, at times, hits the emotional mark.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch (season 2 premieres January 4) – Fix Rating 7/10 – Last year, my son encouraged me to dive into the animated “Star Wars” universe. And what a wonderful time I’ve had visiting shows like “The Clone Wars” and “Tales of the Jedi.” Season two of “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” continues the adventures of a collection of enhanced clones who trip through the galaxy after the events of the Clone Wars. While not as hard-hitting as the incredible live-action “Andor” series, “The Bad Batch” is a satisfying, if also somewhat repetitive, excursion to a place far, far away.
Hunters (season 2, the final, premieres on January 13) – If you forgot that this show even existed, you are likely not alone. Frankly, season one was really solid and highly stylish. So, it is good that Amazon gave it a second helping to draw the story elements to a close. Set in 1977, “Hunters” follows a young Jewish man named Jonah (Logan Lerman) who joins an elite group of Nazi hunters led by Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino). The cast is great, with Josh Radnor, Carol Kane, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Saul Rubinek, and Lena Olin, among others.
Women Talking (January 13) – Fix Rating 9/10 – One of 2022’s best films, “Women Talking,” takes place in 2010 and profiles a group of women in an isolated religious community. We meet them after they have gathered together in a barn to discuss whether to flee following the arrest of several men in their village. They share the stories of physical and sexual abuse while attempting to reconcile their anger with their faith.
The cast is packed with super acting talent, including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, and multiple Oscar-winner Frances McDormand. Look for this movie, directed and written by Oscar nominee Sarah Polley (see “Away from Her”), to garner lots of awards consideration.
A Man Called Otto (January 6) Fix Rating 6/10 – Tom Hanks effortlessly steps into the role of Otto, a troubled fellow, a curmudgeon, whose wife has recently died. When he’s forced into retirement and a new family rents the house across from his, he’s utterly disturbed. Change doesn’t agree with Otto. But can these new folks melt his heart and save Otto from hopelessness?
“A Man Called Otto” is an overly sentimental adaptation of the 2015 Swedish Oscar nominee entitled “A Man Called Ove.” While “Ove” is a superior film, “Otto” does its best to overcome the sappy moments and pull at our heartstrings. Hanks is as good as ever, but the standout performance is Mariana Treviño, who plays Otto’s intuitive and very pregnant neighbor.
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.