The Film Fix: What’s in Theaters, Streaming in December

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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.

In Theaters

Wolf (December 3) No Fix Rating 4/10 – This indie film is pitched as “a high-concept arthouse drama about a boy who believes he is a wolf.”  While that line is factually accurate, it tells only half the story.  The provocative concept is all the film has going for it.  

The story features “1917” star George MacKay as Jacob, a young man shipped off to a rehab facility to treat his unique disorder, termed “species dysphoria.”  His loving parents just want him to overcome the beast inside. The institution is run by a brutal man only called The Zookeeper (played by Paddy Considine), whose approach to therapy is utterly dehumanizing. 

“Wolf” devolves into sadomasochistic cosplay masquerading as a thinly veiled social commentary on gender identity crises. It’s almost comical as the great actor Paddy Considine bears his teeth and viciously growls at his character’s patients.  Watch for Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp in a co-starring role.

The Tender Bar (December 22) Fix Rating 6/10 – George Clooney began his career as a feature film director by telling edgy, stimulating stories with his camera. But he’s gotten more and more risk-averse ever since.  “The Tender Bar” is an adaptation of J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir of the same name.  I’ve not read the book, but this version of the movie is a bland affair.

Tye Sheridan plays Jr, a bright boy whose father is mainly non-existent.  After his mother (Lily Rabe) divorces, she moves back home, where her brother, Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), takes on fatherly duties.  Charlie’s the ultimate bachelor, owns a bar, lives with his mom and dad, and has a keen interest in literature.  Although he’s never attended college, Charlie shares that his father (Christopher Lloyd) attended Dartmouth.  Of course, Charlie’s passion for the classics rubs off on Jr, who eventually ends up at Yale.

This pleasant coming-of-age drama never rises above charming.  While I’m sure there is profundity in the source material, it doesn’t translate effectively to the screen.  And the overly manipulative concluding act involving Jr’s alcoholic father doesn’t ring true.  Affleck is solid, as ever, but unfortunately, he’s required to reel off pearls of wisdom without ever letting his macho guard down.  So many characters feel like caricatures pointing up that this project might have been better suited for the small screen.

Streaming Selects

NETFLIX 

Don’t Look Up (December 10) – Hopefully, “Don’t Look Up” will be the guilty pleasure 2021 desperately needs.  Writer/director Adam McKay is the master of the “hacked narrative.”  After cutting his teeth on exceptional but traditional slapstick comedy (see “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers”), McKay launched into political, socially relevant, and comic infuse narratives with “The Big Short” and 2018’s “Vice.” His story-telling is a kind of docudrama approach that’s thoroughly entertaining, insightful, and educational.

“Don’t Look Up” should continue that trend with an impressive all-star cast led by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio playing two astronomers who have discovered an Earth-killing comet.  Meryl Streep plays the President of the United States, and Jonah Hill is her superficial son and advisor.  The trailer sells this as a fun ride, but the question is: whether the social commentary has the impact of a comet?

True Story (Streaming now) – Kevin Hart plays a hugely popular comedian named Kid, who returns home for a big show where he reunites with his older brother Carlton (Wesley Snipes).  Once there, Kid gets dragged into some possibly criminal wrongdoing that may endanger his career or worse.  Working with Carlton, the two try to navigate the mess in this 7-episode series.  

While Hart is the big draw here, the reemergence of Snipes is what interests me.  The 59-year-old still looks great, and his recent performances in 2019’s “Dolemite is My Name” and this year’s “Coming 2 America” remind us why he is such a magnetic screen presence.

DISNEY PLUS

Hawkeye (Streaming now) Fix Rating 7/10 – “Hawkeye” is a minor addition to the MCU streaming project. Hailee Steinfeld, playing wannabe Avenger Kate Bishop, makes the amiable series worth checking out.  While the somber title hero (Jeremy Renner) is at the narrative’s center, Steinfeld shines playing Hawkeye’s talented sidekick. 

Directed by Rhys Thomas (see “Comrade Detective”) and filmmaking duo Bert & Bertie (see “Troop Zero”), “Hawkeye” isn’t the most sophisticated narrative. Still, it moves at a brisk pace with lots of slam-bang, grounded fistfights. Hopefully, the street-level action will continue as Bishop expands her abilities under Barton’s no-nonsense tutelage.

“Hawkeye” is pleasant family-oriented entertainment that continues the overly safe and ever-diminishing Marvel machine.

HBO MAX

The Matrix Resurrections (December 22) – It’s been over two decades since the groundbreaking “The Matrix” had Morpheus ask Neo to choose between the red or the blue pill.  And despite efforts to recapture the magic, visionary filmmaking sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski were unable to credibly expand the universe with the same impact.

But trailers for “Resurrections” look different.  While the nature of the plot is still largely a mystery, it does appear that Neo (Keanu Reeves) is back under the control of the machines. Casting includes a new Morpheus played by “Aquaman’s” Yahya Abdul-Mateen, II. And Carrie-Anne Moss returns as Trinity, Neo’s romantic muse and voice of reason.

“The Matrix Resurrections” is the last Warner Bros. blockbuster to premiere simultaneously in theaters and on HBOMax.

And Just Like That… (December 9) – HBO revisits one of its most popular properties, “Sex and the City,” with this new series, the first two episodes of which premiere on December 9.  Three of the show’s stars return, as Kim Cattrall elected not to reprise her role as the sexy Samantha Jones.  She will be missed along with another cast member Willie Garson, who only reportedly appears in one episode because he shockingly passed away in September.

“And Just Like That…” continues the misadventures of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon) as they try to conquer the big city and the various romances in their lives. Let’s hope that this new helping of these three winning characters will be more sincere than the vacant, some thought insensitive and superficial, theatrical sequel from 2010. 

HULU

Mother/Android (December 17) – The main thing that makes this derivative “Terminator” influenced movie look interesting is Chloë Grace Moretz.  Ever since bursting onto the screen as Hit-Girl, Mindy Macready, in 2010‘s “Kick-Ass,” Moretz has rarely made a big misstep.  Last year, she elevated the bonkers WWII set monster movie “Shadow in the Cloud,” which I highly recommend.

“Mother/Android” has Moretz playing Georgia, an expecting mother who must evade murderous renegade androids to deliver her first child safely. “Euphoria’s” Algee Smith appears as the love interest in this action-packed science fiction yarn. 

APPLE TV+

Swan Song (December 17) – Multiple Oscar-winner, and new MCU hero in the upcoming “Blade” reboot, Mahershala Ali, takes on a dual role in this near-future drama.  Ali plays Cameron Turner, a man suffering from a terminal illness.  He’s offered a second chance by Dr. Scott (Glenn Close).  But that chance isn’t going to save him from his condition.  Instead, a new version of himself will take over.

Naomie Harris (Moneypenny from the latest Bond films) plays Cameron’s wife, and the always entertaining and mega-talented Awkwafina is in a supporting role.  

AMAZON PRIME

The Expanse: Season 6 (December 10) – The popular science fiction series that started its run on the SyFy Channel in 2015 concludes its run on Amazon Prime.  Fans of the 24th century set space adventure won’t likely be able to save it, as the show, based on the novels of James S. A. Corey, draws to a close. 

Arthouse Corner

The Novice (December 17) Fix Rating 8/10 – Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove in “The Hunger Games” and the scary star of 2009’s “Orphan”) gets the gritty role of Alex Dall, a college student obsessed with becoming the best in everything no matter what it takes.  

After capably tackling academics, Dall walks onto her school’s rowing team.  A slightly built girl, Dall uses her intellect and tenaciousness to map out a way to the top of the Varsity squad. This goal puts her in direct competition with another walk-on and superior athlete, Jamie Brill (Amy Forsyth).  The two start their journey as friendly teammates, but Dall’s intensity proves to be overwhelming.

A stunning feature directing and writing debut from filmmaker Lauren Hadaway, “The Novice” is a sleeper film that deserves more attention. 

Theatrical Teasers

Spider-Man: No Way Home (December 17) – The MCU looks to right the ship after a year of lackluster theatrical and streaming entries that fail to recapture the sensation associated with the franchise’s monster success. While trailers tease the appearance of Peter Parkers from various adaptations of the comic, it is unknown, at this time, whether we’ll see Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in this multiverse-infused tale.  I know it is too much to ask, but what if we see a glimpse of the late 1970s Parker, played by Nicholas Hammond?  In a multiverse, anything is possible, right?  

Sing 2 (December 22) – This is the sequel to the 2016 hit film about a singing competition featuring various anthropomorphic animals.  The all-star case returns led by Matthew McConaughey as the resourceful koala Buster Moon. 

The King’s Man (December 22) – The third film in director Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman” series is a prequel that tells of The Secret Service’s formation. Oscar-winner Ralph Fiennes plays the hero the Duke of Oxford, and the villain, among many, is Rasputin (played by Rhys Ifans).  Trailers look like this might help restore the franchise after some minor problems with the second film in 2017. 

Being the Ricardos (December 10) Fix Rating 7/10 – Through the use of makeup and some digital gimmickry, Nicole Kidman makes a convincing Lucille Ball.  It is a bit off-putting the first time you see her face on screen, but it works, mainly because Kidman is so committed to the role.

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (Oscar-winner for “The Social Network”), “Being the Ricardos” focuses on a few days in the life of Ball and her co-star husband Desi Arnaz (played by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem). Sorkin’s writing is sharp and often very funny.  The cast is deep, with J.K. Simmons getting some of the best lines playing actor William Frawley.

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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