by Tyler Glover & Julian Spivey
Killers of the Flower Moon
“Killers of the Flower Moon,” based on David Grann’s non-fiction book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, is director Martin Scorsese’s first film since 2019’s “The Irishman.” Working with his two most frequent acting collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, Scorsese’s film will tell the true life story of members of the Oklahoma Osage tribe that were killed mysteriously by a group of white men in the 1920s. The film co-stars Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow and a few musicians I admire in Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Jack White all trying their hand at acting. The film doesn’t have a premiere date yet but is planning on making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May with a U.S. premiere on the AppleTV+ streaming service sometime after that. JS
The Little Mermaid
One of the most beloved Disney animated films of all time is getting its live action remake this year: “The Little Mermaid.” Disney has been giving almost all of its hits live-action remakes since the enormous success of “Alice In Wonderland” in 2010. While almost all of them have been box office smashes, creatively, the results have been mixed. There have been some highs (“Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast”), some mediocre (“Mulan”), and some just plain awful (“Dumbo”). “The Little Mermaid” has so much going for it though with the casting of Halle Bailey, one half of the sister musical duo Chloe x Halle, who have received five Grammy nominations. With Melissa McCarthy cast as Ursula, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Awkwafina voicing Scuttle and Jacob Trembley voicing Flounder, it appears the casting is spot on. Add in that this is being directed by Rob Marshall, the director of the 2002 Best Picture winner, “Chicago,” and it is a recipe for success. I have very high hopes and hope Disney doesn’t disappoint. I cannot wait for this live action to be a “part of our world.” “The Little Mermaid” premieres in theaters on May 26. TG
“Elemental” is a Disney and Pixar animated film set for release this June. Pixar used to have an untarnished record with instant classics such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “Up,” among many others. While recent releases have not been up to par with most of the first 10 movies, Pixar still has a fantastic reputation at delivering movies that are not only entertaining but make us think about ourselves and the world we live in. This is a tricky balance that Pixar almost has down to a science. “Elemental” takes place in a city where fire, water, land and air all live together. A fiery young woman and an easy going guy are about to discover they have a lot in common. Details are pretty scarce about this film, but I think Pixar is about to give us another instant classic. “Elemental” premieres on June 16. TG
While I was initially hesitant to hear of a Barbie film, my hesitancy almost immediately started to become anticipation with the more information I was finding out about it. First of all, it is directed by Greta Gerwig. Gerwig has only released two films so far that she solely directed: “Lady Bird” and “Little Women.” Both of these were nominated for Best Picture with Gerwig getting nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for “Lady Bird.” The film is also written by her and her husband, acclaimed filmmaker Noah Baumbach. Academy Award nominated actress Margot Robbie and actor Ryan Gosling have been cast as Barbie and Ken. On paper, there isn’t anyone else that could have been better for the roles. I am really excited to see this film. “Barbie” is coming to theaters on July 21. TG
Well, theaters will surely be packed on July 21 with two of the summer’s biggest releases “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” both opening that day. “Oppenheimer” is director Christopher Nolan’s latest and tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist credited with being the father of the atomic bomb,” and the Manhattan Project. Cillian Murphy stars as the titular character with a supporting cast of Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Rami Malek and a lot of other names and faces you’ll recognize. Part of the thrill of “Oppenheimer” will be Nolan’s use of practical effects for the bomb’s testing rather than CGI.
Dune: Part Two
I’m not usually a science fiction/fantasy guy, so the fact that that I watched director Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part One” (of which I didn’t realize at the time was a ‘Part One’) was mostly because it was such an Oscar favorite that I felt a bit obligated. Though parts of the story were certainly confusing, I was mesmerized enough by Villeneuve’s vision and the film’s cinematography and effects to want to continue the story into ‘Part Two,’ which will certainly feature the characters of Zendaya and Javier Bardem, essentially cameos in ‘Part One,’ and among the film’s most interesting ones, in larger roles. “Dune: Part Two” will premiere in theaters on November 3.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
What made me a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence was her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in the wildly popular ‘Hunger Games’ movies. On November 17, we will be treated to a prequel that will follow a young Coriolanus Snow and his involvement in the Hunger Games years before the events of the original series. This character was played by Donald Sutherland in the original films. It is always really exciting to see all of the events that transpire that lead to people becoming who they are, whether they are good or bad. I think this film has the potential to be not only a box office success but a really entertaining movie. TG
Disney’s 2023 Thanksgiving weekend release is called “Wish.” It is written by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, who have had tremendous success at delivering Disney magic. Both of them were behind the ‘Frozen’ films, which is arguably Disney’s biggest hit of the 21st century. Recent Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose voices Asha as she navigates a kingdom of wishes where wishes literally do come true. Disney’s Thanksgiving releases are normally pretty big box office successes, but I am hoping the movie delivers creatively as well. TG
Bradley Cooper’s first directorial effort since his critically acclaimed “A Star is Born” in 2018 is “Maestro,” a biopic of legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein focusing on his marriage to Felicia Montealegre. Cooper, who also co-wrote the script with Josh Singer, stars as Bernstein. Carey Mulligan will play his wife. The film, which co-stars Jeremy Strong, Matt Bomer and Maya Hawke, was originally supposed to be released in 2022, but was likely held due to similarities between it and director Todd Field’s “Tar,” starring Cate Blanchett. There is no current release date for “Maestro,” but it’s a Netflix production that will likely have a short theatrical run for awards contention before debuting on the streaming service, likely toward the end of the year. JS
Director Michael Mann will supposedly be coming out with his first film in eight years sometime late in 2023 (though don’t be surprised if it’s pushed to 2024) in the form of a biopic about Enzo Ferrari, the Italian founder of the car manufacturer. Oscar-nominated actor Adam Driver will be playing the lead in “Ferrari” with a supporting cast of Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley and Patrick Dempsey (who’s an auto racer in real life). The film will see Ferrari dealing with family issues while also preparing for the famous Italian car race Mille Miglia in 1957. JS
by Julian Spivey
In December I saw something called the “12 Movies Challenge” on Facebook. The premise was that you would have 12 months to watch 12 movies recommended by 12 friends. I don’t often participate in such social media challenges but being a movie buff I felt this might be an interesting way to get out of my comfort zone a bit when it comes to watching movies.
My Facebook buds gave me some films that I’ve been meaning to watch and I pretty much front-loaded those on the list – though not explicitly stated in the challenge rules I am opting to watch one film a month.
A Best Picture winner like “Out of Africa” is an obvious choice for me to get to at some point – that point is now going to be March of this year. But there are certain movies I’m not really looking forward to all that much – I’m looking at you “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” my August selection. Then there’s the acclaimed stuff that isn’t really up my alley like the anime feature “Spirited Away,” which I’ve scheduled for November. That will truly be me getting out of my comfort zone.
Here are the 12 movies recommended to me and the months I’ve assigned myself to watch them:
January: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983)
February: “Till” (2022)
March: “Out of Africa” (1985)
April: “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006)
May: “Legally Blonde” (2001)
June: “The Birdcage” (1996)
July: “Morning Glory” (2010)
August: “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966)
September: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
October: “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
November: “Spirited Away” (2001)
December: “The Last Laugh” (1924)
My first choice for the year was Japanese director Nagisa Oshima’s 1983 prisoner of war film “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” which was recommended to me by my old college buddy and fellow classic film lover Will Hehemann. The craziest thing about this particular recommendation is I had just literally DVR’d it off Turner Classic Movies right before Will recommended it. So, you could certainly say this is one of the films I was interested in seeing beforehand.
It is a bit out of my comfort zone though. It’s an international film, half told in subtitles, by a Japanese director I’d never experienced before. The only other Japanese film I’ve ever seen was Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 classic “Rashomon,” even though I enjoyed it, it was done so in a college course, so it was not exactly hand-picked.
I quite enjoyed “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” which stars David Bowie and Tom Conti as English P.O.W.’s Jack Celliers and John Lawrence. Ryuichi Sakamoto plays the P.O.W. camp’s commander Captain Yonoi, who adheres to the bushido samurai code of morals, and his second-in-command Sgt. Gengo Hara, who’s more of a brute, is played by Takeshi Kitano.
Much has been made – both good and bad – about the differing acting styles of the cast with the English actors being more naturalistic and the Japanese actors being more “overwrought” (that’s critic Roger Ebert’s word). Ebert felt the dualistic acting styles undermined the film and came off odd. I don’t think so. But, I also don’t think that the difference in acting styles gives the film a “dreamlike state,” as TCM host Alicia Malone said while introducing the film.
What I think the difference in acting styles does bring to the film is the exact feel that it should of a culture clash between these British soldiers and their Japanese captors. Being trapped in a foreign land with a completely different culture of people who barely understand your language and ways must be terrifying as hell. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” captures this feeling well.
Bowie is billed first of the cast, which makes sense as he was one of the biggest stars in the world at the time and wasn’t a rookie when it came to acting. But, the performance that immediately struck my interest and remained that way for the entire runtime was that of Conti’s Mr. Lawrence. Lawrence had spent time in Japan before the war and has immersed himself in the language and customs of the country. He’s the one guy in the camp who understands the Japanese and because of this has more respect for his captors than his comrades. He somewhat befriends Hara and Yonoi, both of whom have respect for him, but also show they don’t mind having to kill him if he crosses a line.
Conti’s performance is just so believable as a man put in a horrible situation and using his extensive knowledge to try to make things better for himself and the others in the camp. It’s heroic without trying to be. Whereas Bowie’s Celliers is also heroic but in a more rebellious, showy way.
Some other really great things about “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” are the before its time homoeroticism between Yonoi and Celliers that I’m not sure would’ve flown had this been a Hollywood product in the early ‘80s and I really did appreciate the film’s coda between Lawrence and Hara, even if some reviews I’ve read feel this scene to be unnecessary.
But speaking of things unnecessary, the one point of the film where I found myself looking at the runtime or not being completely invested was the flashback with Celliers and his younger brother. But, I still find myself days later wondering if the film would work without it because it’s this moment in Celliers’ life that plays such a major role in his character’s finale.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” isn’t an often feature on TCM, so if you’re interested in watching it too (and you should!) you can stream it on Hulu and The Criterion Channel.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig & Don Cheadle
Runtime: 2 hours & 16 minutes
In December I read (well, technically listened to the audiobook) Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise in preparation for the release of director Noah Baumbach’s film adaptation, which premiered on Netflix on December 30.
I had read multiple places about how White Noise was felt to be unadaptable or unfilmable for many years, so I wanted to be familiar with the novel before seeing the film. Plus, it’s considered one of the greatest works of fiction of the last half-century.
After finishing the novel, which I was a bit lukewarm on, I didn’t understand why folks felt it was “unfilmable.” In fact, the second section of the novel titled “The Airborne Toxic Event” could make for quite a fun movie.
White Noise, the novel, is separated into three parts: “Waves and Radiation,” “The Airborne Toxic Event” and “Dylarama.” Baumbach chose to stick with the parts of the books for segments of his film, which is understandable. The first part of the book and film basically sets up the characters and themes of the story, while also serving as a satire of academia. Our leads are Jack Gladney, a professor in Hitler Studies (a study he created for his university), and Babette, a stay-at-home mother who volunteers to read to the elderly. They have four kids at home (Heinrich, Denise, Steffie and Wilder) through various marriages. Both Jack and Babette are deathly afraid of dying, something that comes into play often in the novel and film, especially in the third part of each.
In Baumbach’s film, Adam Driver plays Jack and Greta Gerwig plays Babette. It doesn’t really matter all too much who plays their children because they’re mostly background noise – at least in the movie.
The highlight of part one of the film is the dueling lectures between Jack about Adolf Hitler’s relationship with his mother and his co-worker Murray Jay Siskind’s (Don Cheadle) lecture about Elvis Presley’s relationship with his mom.
The most exciting part of both the novel and the film is “The Airborne Toxic Event,” which puts all of our characters and their town in peril and puts Jack and Babette face-to-face with their greatest fear. This nearly hour-long segment shows that Baumbach, a writer and director known for his small, inward stories, could actually make an action-thriller film and be pretty damn good at it.
I really began to get out of White Noise during “Dylarama,” which has Jack seeking to figure out Babette’s secret and upon doing so seeks it out for himself. It’s at this point in Baumbach’s film that I also begin to look at the runtime of the film and wish it would wrap up. It’s just not as interesting to me as the first two parts of the book and film.
So, I came out of viewing “White Noise” much the same way I did listening to the audiobook. I enjoyed much of it and found much of it uninteresting. I felt after finishing the book it may have worked better in its own time of the mid-‘80s than today. It likely felt fresher and more unique.
One thing I’m certain of is that Baumbach has proven White Noise isn’t an “unfilmable” work of art. With the story being so fresh on my mind I found the film to be quite a loyal telling of DeLillo’s story. Sure, Baumbach cuts out certain plotlines, as anyone would with any novel being adapted to film, but he seems to have mostly gotten the key points down, including dialogue that felt verbatim from the novel. He succeeded in proving some folks wrong about “White Noise,” even if the film isn’t an outright success.
Because of the unique structure with which “White Noise” is told I probably couldn’t recommend the film to anyone who hadn’t read the novel or plans on doing so before watching. I think it might just be too confusing. A film should probably be something that can stand on its own. Maybe this is why folks felt it was “unfilmable” in the first place. Maybe the movie is a faithful adaptation of White Noise, but you need the whole of the novel to completely understand its adaptation.
by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
Director: Joel Crawford & Januel Mercado
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek & Harvey Guillen
Runtime: 1 hour & 40 minutes
Yes, there are countless superheroes loved by millions, but they just can’t compare to the cat, the myth and the legend that is Puss in Boots. Whether he’s lapping up his milk at the bar, yelling out “Holy Frijoles,” giving us his signature pitiful kitten eyes or serenading his adoring fans with his bandolón, this kitty from the DreamWorks “Shrek” universe is as addictive as catnip.
In the second major Puss in Boots featured movie, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” we see our valiant kit-cat Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) face down his own mortality as he uses up his eighth life, leaving him with just one. Since he’s always laughed in the face of death, it’s unnerving when a red-eyed wolf (Wagner Moura) shows up to kill him. Though Puss tries, he gets scared when he’s no match for the wolf. He puffs up his cat hairs and runs away, like a, well, scaredy cat. Groan if you must, but there are so many odes to cats in this film, it’s pretty much the ultimate cartoon for cat lovers. He becomes a dreaded house cat to Mama Luna (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who is a crazy cat lady hoarder. He eats from a trough of cat food, uses a litter box and buries his boots, hat, cape and dignity. But he’s soon found by the local “crime family” of Papa, Mama, Baby Bear and Goldilocks – Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, Samson Kayo and Florence Pugh – complete with thick mob-boss accents. They want him to help them steal the map from the movie’s villain Jack Horner (John Mulaney) to access the Last Wish from a fallen star located in the dark enchanted forest. He manages to evade them when they bust in and wreak havoc, only to be given the idea to steal the map himself to get that Last Wish, wishing for more lives.
He begrudgingly is followed by Perrito (Harvey Guillen), the adorable little abandoned chihuahua who was posing as a cat at Mama Luna’s. I know Puss is the star of the show, along with his former lover Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), a badass cat in her own right, but man does Perrito steal the entire movie. He is hilarious in his obliviousness and completely trusting nature – so basically, he’s a dog with one brain cell and none to spare. Perrito explaining how he was chucked in a river and left to die – he doesn’t realize it, he thought they were playing – is horrifying, but also hysterical as Puss and Kitty watch horrified because everyone else realizes how messed up that is except for sweet little Perrito.
Puss learns through his adventure with Perrito and Kitty how he’s really lived selfishly and vows to live this one life he has left better than all the rest. It’s a sweet story about redemption and being happy right where you are. Goldilocks learns this lesson too, initially wanting a human family, but realizing how much love she has for her bear family. The only one who doesn’t learn? Jack Horner wants all the powers of magic in the world. His character is unredeemable and gross. Honestly, even the look of him freaked me out, so kudos to the cartoonist for making him so cringy. The only reason I enjoyed seeing Horner on screen was because of the “Ethical Bug” on his shoulder, voiced by Kevin McCann doing his best Jimmy Stewart impression. Clearly a rip-off of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket, it was perfect and hilarious to have his “conscience” have the voice of the legendary Stewart.
‘Last Wish’ was a hit for kids, with continuous action, beautiful colors and cute characters and a treat for adults who got subtle adult jokes and cat humor. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from the “Shrek” universe. And hopefully, there’s more to come – with the end of the movie showing Puss on a trip to visit his “friends” in Far Far Away. If it’s either another “Shrek” movie or ‘Puss’ movie, it will be another hit with fans.
New Netflix & Apple Comedy Series, Acclaimed International Feature and Documentary Among January's Streaming Recs
by Julian Spivey
The Menu – HBO Max – Tuesday, January 3
There’s a good chance you’ve already seen the latest “eat the rich” horror-thriller “The Menu” as its been in the top five at the box office since it debuted in mid-November. But if you wanted to see it and didn’t make it to your local theater to do so it’s premiering on HBO Max on Tuesday, Jan. 3. The movie stars Ralph Fiennes as an acclaimed chef who’s prepared a lavish menu for a group of rich tourists on a remote island and a young couple, played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult, who make the trip and find a shocking surprise.
Riotsville, USA – Hulu – Thursday, January 12
“Riotsville, USA,” one of 2022’s most prestigious and well-reviewed documentaries from director Sierra Pettengill, makes its streaming debut on Hulu on Thursday, Jan. 12. Pettengill’s documentary tells the story, using unearthed military training footage, of the military using custom-built fake towns to train law enforcement on how to react to civil unrest, which ultimately led to the militarization of local law enforcement.
That ‘90s Show – Netflix – Thursday, January 19
“That ‘70s Show” was one of TV’s most beloved sitcoms from the late ‘90s through the early ‘00s by many television viewers of that era. More than 20 years after its debut comes the sequel “That ‘90s Show,” premiering on Netflix on Thursday, Jan. 19, and focusing on the summer of 1995 when Leia Forman, the teenage daughter of Eric Forman and Donna Pinciotti, comes to Point Place, Wisc. to spend the summer with her grandparents Red and Kitty, with Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp reprising their roles from “That ‘70s Show.” The majority of the original cast of ‘70s’ will appear at some point in “That ‘90s Show” and it’s important to note Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner, who created the original series, are involved in this sequel.
Happening – Hulu – Sunday, January 22
“Happening,” a French film from director Audrey Diwan, has been one of the best-reviewed international features of 2022 and has found its way onto multiple ‘Top 10 Movies’ of the year lists. Diwan’s film tells the story of Anne, a student in 1963 with a bright future ahead of her potentially shattered when she becomes pregnant. She wants an abortion, but it was illegal at that time in France. The film was originally released in France in late 2021, but it’s very timely today in America.
Shrinking – AppleTV+ - Sunday, January 27
There have been an awful lot of TV series or limited series over the last couple of years about therapists and AppleTV+ even had one already in 2021’s “The Shrink Next Door.” But AppleTV+ is back in the therapy game with its new comedy series “Shrinking,” which stars Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) as a therapist grieving the death of his wife who begins to break all the rules by telling his patients exactly what he thinks. The show is a collaboration between Segel and Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein of “Ted Lasso” fame and co-stars Harrison Ford.
Nate Bargatze: Hello World – Amazon Prime Video – Tuesday, January 31
Nate Bargatze is one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the comedy game right now – I saw him live in Little Rock in early December and he just doesn’t miss with his humor. He’s also clean as a whistle, so his newest comedy special “Nate Bargatze: Hello World,” premiering on Amazon Prime Video on Tuesday, January 31, would be the perfect stand-up special to watch with your entire family. If the new special contains a lot of the jokes he performed when I saw him in person recently you’re going to be howling in laughter.