The Film Fix: What’s in theaters and streaming in December
By JONATHAN W. HICKMAN, The Film Fix
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.
The Fabelmans (now playing) – Fix Rating 8/10 – Steven Spielberg directs and co-writes with Tony Kushner this very personal coming-of-age tale about the struggles of the title family in post-World War II America. This movie is impeccably shot and acted, telling its relatable story through the eyes of the young Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle), who, like Spielberg, found his calling in filmmaking.
Paul Dano (The Riddler in “The Batman”) and multiple Oscar nominee Michelle Williams play Sammy’s mother, Mitzi, and father, Burt. While Williams is likely to garner awards notice for her work, Judd Hirsch delivers a scene-stealing performance as a visiting uncle who roughly imparts some sage wisdom onto the youthful Sammy. Comedic actor Seth Rogen takes a serious turn playing Bennie, a family friend.
Growing up is filled with so many critical moments, and in “The Fabelmans,” Spielberg focuses on a few particularly impactful epiphanies. Since this film is loosely based on his own life, Spielberg knows the right emotional buttons to push. This outstanding drama is a must-see for cineastes and film buffs.
Devotion (now playing) – Fix Rating 7/10 – The Korean War that ran from 1950 through 1953 is often called the forgotten war. And “Devotion” focuses on a neglected heroic story during the early days of that conflict.
“Lovecraft Country’s” Jonathan Majors plays Jesse Brown, a Navy fighter pilot. While his talent in the cockpit is unquestioned, he is often held back because of the prejudices of the time. Brown is African American and a pilot, which was, at that time, rare.
As the sole person of color in his squadron, Brown hesitates to trust his fellow airmen. But when Tom Hudner (Glenn Powell) arrives, Brown’s isolationist behavior begins to thaw.
With “Devotion,” Director J.D. Dillard (see 2016’s “Sleight”) delivers a handsome and emotionally satisfying war picture that manages to address racial injustice while also celebrating the American soldier. Majors is terrific as Brown, who fights his inner demons by never forgetting the outer ones.
In one revealing sequence that becomes the film’s haunting echo, Brown stares into a mirror and repeats a lifetime of insults he’s received. The mantra is a tragic and moving narrative device that helps us understand Brown’s motivations intimately.
A Hollywood Christmas (December 1) – The tried-and-true cheesy Christmas movie formula gets a meta spin when a filmmaker named Jessica (Jessika Van), who makes holiday-themed movies, finds herself living in one. Van and Josh Swickard star alongside acting veteran Miss Pyle (see “Galaxy Quest” and “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”) in this addition to the Christmas romance canon.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (In limited theatrical release, streaming December 23) – Fix Rating 8/10 – Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his 2019 mystery hit “Knives Out” is thrilling and immensely entertaining. James Bond alum Daniel Craig once again stars as super-detective Benoit Blanc.
The story has Blanc pulled into a murder mystery party on the private island of a flamboyant billionaire (played by Edward Norton). Of course, what starts as a Clue-inspired fake murder mystery weekend, becomes horribly real when one of the partiers is poisoned.
The terrific ensemble cast includes Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Kathryn Hahn. “Glass Onion” is the fun second installment in the promised continuing Benoit Blanc franchise.
Emancipation (December 9, Apple TV+) – Before Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars presentation, “Emancipation” was likely to be in the running for end-of-the-year honors. But in the fallout from that tumultuous event, Apple scaled back on its plans to push the film during awards season.
The fate of this film will depend on whether audiences can ignore the controversy. However, it will be hard to put those memories aside because every critic, including this one, is compelled to mention the “slap heard around the world” when writing about any project featuring the actor.
But beyond Smith, “Emancipation” has an excellent director in Antoine Fuqua and a terrific co-star in Ben Foster. The story involves a runaway slave hunted by plantation owners through the swamps of Louisiana.
The Santa Clauses (episodes 5 & 6 premiere on December 7 and 14) – Tim Allen reprises the role of Santa that he originated in 1994’s “The Santa Clause.” This new limited series has Santa, aka Scott Calvin (Allen), considering retirement. He sets out to find a worthy successor to wear the red suit and grow the long, white beard.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (now playing) – The once fired “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn slips back into the MCU with this special presentation. In this production, the beloved gang of intergalactic misfits continues their goofy adventures, this time with a bit of holiday cheer. In the special’s trailer, the Guardians travel to Earth to raise Star-Lord’s spirits. This journey brings them in front of one of Star-Lord’s childhood idols Kevin Bacon, who appears in the special as himself. This one has the potential to be a campy laugh riot.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (December 21) – John Krasinski returns as the title hero in the third season of this adaptation of the popular book series. Amazon found a foothold with this type of material, as also typified by the success of their “Reacher” series. “Jack Ryan” and “Reacher” remain the gold standards, with other attempts by the streamer like “The Terminal List” and “Without Remorse” failing to connect.
Top Gun: Maverick (December 21) – Fix Rating 9/10 – Just in time for Christmas viewing, Paramount+ releases the year’s biggest theatrical box office hit onto its streaming platform. What can I say? The movie is terrific and arguably better than the 1986 film that came before it. Paramount+ is arguably a lesser streamer, but with its affordable cost and well-known collection of titles, it’s worth trying out, especially as other platforms raise their prices.
Violent Night (December 2) – “Stranger Things” star David Harbour leads this R-rated Christmas actioner that has Kris Kringle in “Die Hard” mode. The story features a beefed-up Santa facing off against a group of armed mercenaries threatening a wealthy family. The concept of a tough Claus taking on bad guys isn’t entirely new. In 2020, Mel Gibson embodied the jolly hero in the entertaining, highly recommended movie “Fatman.”
Avatar: The Way of Water (December 16) – With “The Way of Water,” visionary director James Cameron finally gives us the long-awaited sequel to 2009’s box office monster “Avatar.” The original cast returns with other additions and, hopefully, something new and exciting to enhance the visual experience.
“Avatar” was never about the narrative and characters. The key to the film’s power was the expert use of 3D technology that made it a transcendent theatrical event. Theater owners, hit hard by the COVID pandemic, are counting on Cameron to reinvigorate audiences. Are you ready to step back into the colorful world of Pandora? Something tells me this holiday season will bring long lines and packed theaters prepared to don the glasses and take the “Avatar” ride.
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.