The Film Fix: What to Binge, What to Avoid

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By Jonathan W. Hickman, The Film Fix

Check out the below list of big-screen and streaming options you’ll have during this month.

IN THEATERS
On the Basis of Sex (review)
“On the Basis of Sex” focuses on the early life of popular Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from her law school days through her first case before the Supreme Court. Unlike other more ambitious and less successful biopics, the focus here is narrow, pinpointing the first big case that helped take Ginsburg from the classroom to the courtroom.  And director Mimi Leder smartly doesn’t try to tell RBG’s entire life’s story. After all, that life is very much on-going, and there’s more story to be written.

Vice (review)
With “Vice,” the spirited, stunt director Adam McKay, who brought his energetic brand of filmmaking to “The Big Short” in 2015, tackles a single, infamous subject in the former Vice President Dick Cheney (played by Christian Bale).  While this one is hugely entertaining, it is important to understand that much dramatic license is taken with the facts. “Vice” is likely to be recognized more for Bale’s uncanny performance than for the film itself.

Aquaman (review)
Pouring loads of dude-bro “hell yeah” into a clunky, labored narrative helps bring balance to an otherwise visually striking superhero yarn. More fun than impactful, “Aquaman” is great to look at, but tough to buy narratively.  A lot is going on, with constant underwater travels from kingdom to kingdom and a host of eclectic and threatening characters. While there is an epic feel, the constant stream of tongue-in-cheek humor fails to gel with the heavier issues presented.

NETFLIX
What to Binge: Indiana Jones (January 1) – All four Indiana Jones films (yes, even “Crystal Skull”) are streaming on Netflix this month.  This is a chance to watch them all in order and get your “Raiders” fix. And let’s not forget, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford have committed to a fifth film that was pushed to 2021 by Disney. Fingers crossed that that installment gets made.

What Movie to Watch: Roma (streaming now) – Worth repeating from last month with a little more detail, “Roma” is my number one movie of 2018.  And while some viewers were fortunate to see it on the big screen, it worked for me wonderfully on the small screen. Written, directed, and shot by Alfonso Cuarón (Oscar winner for 2013’s “Gravity”), “Roma” takes place in the early 1970s and follows Cleo (Yaltza Aparicio), who works as a nanny for a middle class family in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City.  By delivering storytelling without pretense, Cuarón reminds us of the power of pure dramatic cinema.

What to Avoid: Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (streaming now) –“Mowgli” is the passion project of motion capture expert Andy Serkis (who directs here), the actor responsible for crafting the memorable characters of Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and Caesar from the “Planet of the Apes” reboot trilogy. Based on the classic novel by Rudyard Kipling, we dive into the jungle where a human child, Mowgli (Rohan Chand), is raised by wolves and must face off against the evil tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The effects range from stunning to distracting as the familiar characters come to life with less than memorable results.  Watch the Disney version instead.

HULU
What to Binge: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey – With exciting news of a third Bill & Ted’s movie in the works, now is the perfect time to revisit the first two and get your bogus fix. And remember to “Be excellent to each other. And… Party on, dudes!”  Seems like those words make for a fine New Year’s resolution.

What Movie to Avoid: The Last Airbender (January 8) – With M. Night Shyamalan’s latest “Glass” storming into theaters on January 18, there’s really no reason to revisit anything other than the director’s better films (and there are several available). “The Last Airbender” ain’t one of them.  This live-action adaptation of the popular animated television series derailed Shyamalan’s career somewhat, but thankfully, he appears to have found some magic again by revisiting the ideas introduced in his minor classic “Unbreakable.”

What Movie to Avoid: Destiny Turns on the Radio – This potentially interesting misfire came on the heels of director Quentin Tarantino’s massive breakout with “Pulp Fiction.”  Here he appears in an annoying cameo that fails to elevate the material. The forgettable story concerns a bank robber, who escapes from prison and receives some help from Tarantino’s supernatural character in Las Vegas.

What Movie to Watch: 2 Days in the Valley (January 1) – To wash out of your memory time wasted on “Destiny Turns on the Radio,” try “2 Days in the Valley,” an amiable 1990s hip crime story that also features an early performance by Charlize Theron.

AMAZON PRIME
What to Binge: The Grand Tour: Season 3 (January 18) – The Amazon Prime unofficial reboot of the core “Top Gear” series proved to be a rousing success.  Presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond talk about and drive unusual vehicles with a wonderful sense of humor.

What Movie to Watch:  Leave No Trace (January 3) – One of the best films of 2018, director Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” is arguably a more restrained and refined narrative than her excellent “Winter’s Bone.” Intimate storytelling at its best, this movie follows military veteran Will (Ben Foster) and his child Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) as they try to live off-the-grid.

Worth Checking Out: Eighth Grade (January 13) – Heralded by critics, comedian turned director Bo Burnham’s story about eighth grader Kayla Day (a perfect Elsie Fisher) is a touching and heartbreaking, authentic look at a formative year in a young girl’s life.

What to Avoid: Gotti (streaming now) – Okay, I watched this notorious 2018 release, and it’s bad, really bad. Directed by Kevin Connolly, one of the guys from the series “Entourage,” the film proves to be an odd mess, with an incoherent story.  John Travolta stars as the crime boss John Gotti. And Travolta, who can be great, is like a cartoon character here, as the makeup effects vary dramatically showing Gotti over many time periods (the narrative jumps around wildly).  The weird, ripped off score is strange, with one scene set to the music from “Shaft.” This vividly exposes the real problem with the film—it’s fatally in love with its degenerate subject.

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