December at the movies: All the greatest (and lamest) flicks to catch
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (HBO)
Airs on HBO Dec. 3, 2018
HBO brings us this television documentary about the forceful arrest of volunteer and civil rights activist, Sandra Bland, who was removed from her car following a minor traffic violation in Texas and held captive for three days, whereupon she was found dead in her cell, ruled as a suicide.
The mysterious and heated circumstances of her death by hanging caused a national uproar, particularly within African-American communities and the Black Lives Matter movement. An outspoken black activist, Bland had been known in Chicago as a champion for equal rights through her frequent video blogs.
Say Her Name aims to illuminate some of the suspect factors that led to her arrest and death, as well as celebrate the life of a fierce fighter of injustice taken too soon. Many have alleged racial violence against her during and following her arrest, and documentarians Kate Davis & David Heilbroner hope to shed a light on the malpractice and underlying racism present in police precincts throughout America.
All the Devil’s Men (Big Book Media)
In theaters Dec. 7, 2018
Milo Gibson stars as a Navy SEAL-turned-bounty-hunter in this war-torn thriller. A combat junkie, Collins works underground for the CIA, tracking down terrorist threats on missions too extreme for the average soldier.
If that besmirched surname didn’t give the game away, yes – Milo is the son of actor Mel Gibson, who has been enjoying a surprising comeback in the last few years thanks to his work as the director of Hacksaw Ridge, as well as his co-starring role in Christmas comedy Daddy’s Home 2.
While his son’s career hasn’t been nearly as beset with controversies as his father’s, All the Devil’s Men is the exact breed of solo operative championing, patriotically gun-wielding action set piece nonsense that we would expect from the Braveheart family.
Its plotting is nothing special, though appearances from William Fichtner (The Dark Knight) and Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049) could prevent this from being this year’s holiday stinker.
Available on Netflix Dec. 7, 2018
Willowdean has always felt self-conscious about her weight, especially when compared to her pageant queen mother played by Jennifer Aniston. In defiance, she signs up to the local pageant her mother oversees in hopes of bringing the world of beauty contests to its knees.
Netflix is overdue a real old-fashioned musical outing to rival last year’s La La Land, and they have the chance to finally deliver with Dumplin’ – if they handle the subject matter sensitively, that is.
The streaming overlord has already caught its fair share of flack thanks to the problematic Insatiable, and Dumplin’ has equal opportunity for either sensible discussion or simply adding more fuel to the fire.
With rom-com specialist Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses) and Aniston’s real-life bestie Kristin Hahn at the helm, who knows what could happen with this one, but a brand new soundtrack by Dolly Parton does give us some hope. We’re not sure if a triumph or a disaster would be more entertaining.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Netflix)
In select theaters Nov. 29, 2018 / Available on Netflix Dec. 7, 2018
Andy Serkis takes the reigns on his Jungle Book passion project, combining live action with his state-of-the-art brand of motion capture to deliver a darker, more faithful take on Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel.
The mastermind behind Gollum and Planet of the Apes’s Caesar has had this dream in the pipeline for some time. Its production was somewhat staggered with the release of John Favreau’s update on the Disney classic in 2016, and has since had some interesting developments with its distribution. At the thirteenth hour, it was suddenly snatched up by Netflix and slotted into their Christmas release schedule.
While a more grounded and more realistic take on Kipling’s story of a young boy raised and threatened by the inhabitants of India’s rainforests isn’t exactly what we think of when we huddle up for an evening of holiday viewing, Serkis’s vision at least keeps the talking animals intact, led by an all-star cast.
Serkis himself portrays Baloo the bear, distinctly less lazy and lovable for this version, and the two big cats, Bagheera and Shere Khan, will be played by Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) and (who else but) Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange).
Vox Lux (Killer Films)
In theaters Dec. 7, 2018
Natalie Portman (Annihilation) is Celeste, an energetic and provocative pop star who, along with her sister, launched her music career as a teenager after channelling a violent tragedy into a hit single. Their stardom is catapulted by Jude Law’s manager, but threatened by Celeste’s struggles to balance her life as a mother to a teenager of her own.
In the year that Lady Gaga stripped away her flamboyant fashion persona for her grounded take on the pop star in Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born, it makes complete sense that someone else would step up to take her outrageous yet strangely enviable pop aesthetics.
Vox Lux is far more than a Gaga imitation, though. The trailer trades glitz and glamor for terror and armed shootouts, promising a portrait of a plagued artist against the backdrop of mood lighting, ecstatic crowds, and sequins.
After working solely against set of green screens and plastic props for the Star Wars prequels, Portman can’t be blamed for seeking out projects that strive for visual splendor, and Vox Lux could well be one of her more luscious performances, with depth just underneath the aesthetic surface.
Available on Netflix Dec. 12, 2018
Alfonso Cuarón draws from childhood memories in this semiautobiographical tale, an authentic take on life in 1970s Mexico that follows the interconnected lives of a middle class family and their live-in housekeeper.
Cuarón has become one of Hollywood’s most successful international imports. In 2003 he reinvented the Harry Potter franchise, and has since crafted some of the best recent science fiction thrillers with Children of Men and Gravity.
More internationally inclined film buffs will likely remember him from his smaller, more intimate work as a younger filmmaker, most notably his romantic film Y Tu Mama Tambien, which helped solidify the careers of Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and Gael García Bernal (Coco).
ROMA, already celebrated as a masterwork for the Mexican auteur, sees him return to his intimate dramatic roots, so don’t expect to see Sandra Bullock fall out the sky.
Aquaman (Warner Bros. Pictures)
In theaters Dec. 13, 2018
When Arthur Curry isn’t masquerading on dry land as your average, muscle-bound son of a lighthouse keeper, he’s the secret heir to the underwater throne of Atlantis, protecting the realms of both sea and earth as the aquatic hero, Aquaman.
Until recently known as DC’s most embarrassing superhero, Aquaman has had a recent rival in past years thanks to a grizzled upgrade in the form of Jason Mamoa. While his moments in Justice League did little to serve as anything other than a bearded goofball, we’re hoping the fish whisperer is finally done justice, with James Wan at the helm of the DCEU’s latest attempt at a homerun.
Packed to bursting with a cast of high-class talents such as Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and Nicole Kidman (Killing of a Sacred Deer), a blockbuster comeback for Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV), and Wan’s frequent collaborator Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), if Mamoa and his heroic partner Amber Heard can’t salvage the scraps of the DC Universe, we’re at least guaranteed a hell of a show from the supporting players.
Whether DC achieves another smash hit like Wonder Woman or just one more entry on their wall of shame, there isn’t going to be anything in cinemas this Christmas that’s quite as entertaining as giant sharks and crabs duking it out on the sea bed.
Mortal Engines (Universal Pictures)
In theaters Dec. 14, 2018
Tom is a low-class Londoner, and, in the world of Mortal Instruments, that means his feet have never touched the ground. Based on Phillip Reeve’s classic series of teen fiction and co-written by Peter Jackson, the genius behind The Lord of the Rings, the latest YA craze to get an adaptation introduces a barren, post-apocalyptic world of by towering mobile cities.
This series is long overdue its own cinematic counterpart, with the first of the quartet having been released way back in 2001. However, its formidable premise of cities on the move demands top-notch special effects and blockbuster mastery, so if the wait means that Jackson’s protégé Christian Rivers (making his directorial debut) has learned all the tricks of the trade needed for an enthralling sci-fi thriller, then we’re happy to swallow the 17-year gap.
Starring Robert Sheehan, making his second foray into YA movies after the first shot at a Shadowhunters adaptation failed to achieve lift-off, and relative newcomer Hera Hilmar (Da Vinci’s Demons), the film also features yet another villainous turn from Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) to lend it some Middle Earth pedigree.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (Sony Pictures Animation)
In theaters Dec. 14, 2018
You may know Spider-Man best as Peter Parker, the hapless young kid from Queens who tries to balance his high school drama with superhero duties. But, when Brooklyn-born Miles Morales is bitten by a radioactive spider, he soon learns that there’s a whole universe of Spider-Men out there.
2018 has been Spider-Man’s year, and he’s only growing in popularity. Since his introduction into the MCU, Tom Holland’s interactions with Tony Stark have been the highlights of the blockbuster movie season, and snapping him out of existence has only made us love him more.
Not to mention the Spidey spin-off Venom stumbling into theaters (to remind us just how goofy his villains are standing on their own) and the Playstation 4 exclusive, Spider-Man, allowing us to step into the sticky shoes of the wall-crawling hero.
Now this frenetically animated exploration of the character’s more cross-dimensional adventures is all set to cap off this Year of the Spider. With a unique style and the vocal talents of Nic Cage, John Mulaney, and Hailee Steinfeld, Incredibles 2 could have some competition for the best animated super-flick of the year.
Mary Poppins Returns (Walt Disney Pictures)
In theaters Dec. 19, 2018
Everyone’s favorite magical nanny makes her long-awaited second appearance in this sequel to the Disney classic, Mary Poppins. This time portrayed by Emily Blunt, her fantastical adventures will feature Hamilton breakout Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as the grown up Banks children played by Emily Mortimer & Ben Whishaw.
Turning the clocks forward by 25 years, the practically perfect Ms. Poppins, of course having not aged a single day, finds herself once again in London, this time in 1935 and in the midst of another Banks crisis.
Michael has just suffered a personal loss, and it’s up to Mary, her seemingly infinite bag of tricks, and her new companion Jack, a lamplighter whose terrible Cockney accent rivals his mentor Bert’s in terms of hokey charm, once again to spark new light into a depressed London household.
Enlisting the talents of Disney’s musical favorite Rob Marshall (Into the Woods) to direct and with brand new songs scored and written by Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman (the duo behind the hit musical Hairspray), if the film even captures a tenth of the original’s magic it’s sure to be the holiday extravaganza to watch out for.
Bird Box (Netflix)
Available on Netflix Dec. 21, 2018
An alien invasion movie with a twisted premise. When Earth is taken over by a dark force, all you must do to survive is avoid looking at it. Simple enough, until Sandra Bullock (Ocean’s 8) is forced to travel blindfolded to safety.
Filmmaker Susanne Brier, Academy Award-winner for her Danish thriller In a Better World and director of 2016’s out-of-nowhere hit miniseries The Night Manager returns to the feature length for Netflix’s run at the intelligent action-horror.
With a synopsis that sounds like someone played roulette with the plot of A Quiet Place and ran wild with it, Bird Box is actually based on a 2014 novel of the same name by singer Josh Malerman.
Featuring an all-star supporting cast including John Malkovich (Deepwater Horizon), Lil Ren Howery (Get Out), and Bullock’s Ocean’s 8 co-star and American Horror Story breakout Sarah Paulson, expect some much needed thrills for those allergic to Christmas cheer.
Bumblebee (Paramount Pictures)
In theaters Dec. 21, 2018
Hailee Steinfeld stumbles across a shapeshifting extraterrestrial in this prequel to Michael Bay’s infamous blockbuster phenomenon Transformers. Teen Charlie Watson discovers that her new VW Beetle is more than just an adorable method of transport – it’s also a transforming alien refugee on the run from his own kind as well as a mysterious government agency, both of whom want him for scraps.
No Transformers film has ever struggled to find a foothold at the box office, but favor for the farfetched franchise has been gradually slipping after the last few installments, with 2017’s The Last Knight standing as the least successful entry yet.
Michael Bay has promised us that the most recent Autobot flick will be his last and, far from granting any salvation in the possibility for a series finale, instead it means some new blood will be stepping in for prequels, spin-offs, and reboots galore.
Travis Knight is the first to fill Bay’s overblown shoes with this 80s prequel, Bumblebee, set canonically 20 years before the events of the first film. Knight is well-known as a key animator for Laika Studios, having worked on films such as Coraline and The Boxtrolls, as well as making his directorial debut with Kubo and the Two Strings.
If anyone is able to put some life behind the cold, dead eyes of an Autobot it’s he, and with Hailee Steinfeld behind the wheel, six films in Transformers could finally be on to a winner.
Destroyer (Annapurna Pictures)
In theaters Dec. 25, 2018
Nicole Kidman transforms into Erin Bell, a grizzled detective haunted by a reemerging tragedy in her past when she’s faced with her toughest case yet.
The upcoming thriller is guaranteed to be a fresh take on the neo-noir, finally positioning a female detective front & center and utilising Kidman’s transcendent ability to slip into even the most damaged personas with uncanny ease.
Director Karyn Kusama is set to have her mainstream breakthrough with this grungy detective story that’s bound to ruin a few holidays. Known for her underrated collaboration with writer Diablo Cody (Tully), Jennifer’s Body, she startled indie audiences with her enticing The Invitation in 2015, but, with any hope Destroyer, combined with Kidman’s best work in years, is set to keep people obsessed through the new year.
Every year needs a glossy, insanely well produced crime flick that opens up a crack to America’s seedy underbelly to send a shock to the system, and Destroyer could be the perfect antidote to the holiday season’s slew of Grinch remakes and dog movie fare.
Also features subversive performances from some of your favorites, including Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Infinity War), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), and Bradley Whitford (Get Out).
On the Basis of Sex (Focus Features)
In theaters Dec. 25, 2018
Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) portrays Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the legendary lawyer and Supreme Court Justice who, since the beginning of her career, has been advocating for gender equality and women’s rights in both the courtroom and across America.
Those of who you saw the cracking documentary RBG will be well aware of the achievements secured by the Justice, and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood glamorized her story in time for next year’s Oscars season.
Though the less said about her cinematic input the better, director Mimi Leder has been doing some of television’s most stunning heavy lifting behind the camera in recent years for prestige shows such as Shameless and The Leftovers.
On the Basis of Sex also departs from the traditional biopic route, attempting not to canvas a famous figure’s entire existence, instead crafting a more personal account of a slice of Ginsburg’s life, her integral involvement with her husband for the Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue case of 1972, in which a man is denied a deduction of expenses on the basis of his sex.
Though it promises terminology and courtroom procedure in place of artificial drama and set pieces, Felicity Jones’ Oscar vehicle is nevertheless valuable coverage of one of America’s tensest junctures.
Vice (Annapurna Pictures)
In theaters Dec. 25, 2018
Adam McKay follows up his homerun The Big Short with another blend of biopic and comedy to prove that recent American history is just as packed with absurdist humor, shocking events, and palm-against-forehead idiocy as his earlier films.
The director of such quotable masterpieces as Anchorman and Step Brothers took everyone by surprise with his frenetic and self-knowing take on the 2008 economic crisis, delivering an ensemble piece that managed to deftly transcribe a vast financial tragedy while still managing to play to the comedic strengths of its cast.
With the release of the trailer for Vice, however, if anything The Big Short feels like a warmup for McKay’s takedown of the Bush administration.
Only the second time a filmmaker has portrayed George W.’s time in the White House after Oliver Stone’s more straight-laced W., it’s surely the period of American politics most rife with unintentional comedy and cringe-out-loud moments.
Here focusing more on Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney and his rise to become the most powerful VP in US history, prepare for Christian Bale as you’ve never seen him before (that is, twice his usual size).