Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Fall and Holiday Movie Guide

Fall and Holiday Movie Guide by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

As usual, movie studios will stock this holiday season with prestige fare, blockbusters, film festival darlings, and kids movies, a veritable glut that can boggle the mind.  It's our job to sift through the hundreds of films and winnow them down to a manageable list.  We've included--and noted--awards contenders, some that will be sheer entertainment, and a few that look like promising sleepers.  But fair warning, in our opinion a few of these will be absolute dreck.  They are included only because they will be heavily promoted and will make a ton of money, despite their assault on taste and decorum.

First a note: Release dates, though official, can change, and platform releases may arrive in smaller markets several weeks after advertised date.

And check our key, legend, or whatever you want to call it for each blurb below:
First line -- Release date, Title - in Bold and Italics, Genre(s)
Ensuing lines --Thumbnail sketch of story, plus stars, and in some cases the director
Last line -- [Awards potential, if any, in brackets], (a brief note, or not, in parentheses)


02 Bohemian Rhapsody - Musical Biopic 
The rise of legendary rock-group Queen and their iconic and (erm) mercurial lead singer, Freddie Mercury.  Rami Malek, Joseph Mazzello, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers.
[Probable awards nominations, possible wins]

02 Boy Erased - Bio-drama
A teenager (Lucas Hedges) is outed by his Evangelical parents (Nicole Kidman & Russell Crowe) and forced into church-related gay conversion therapy.  Joel Edgerton also stars and directs.
[Probable awards nominations]  (bring the hankies)

02 Nobody's Fool - Comedy
For those who can't get enough Tiffany Haddish, Tyler Perry directs her as a parolee who helps her naive sister (Tika Sumpter) wend her way through the deceptions of online dating. Whoopi Goldberg
(This one will make a mint at the box office--that is not necessarily an endorsement) 

02 The Nutcracker and the Four Realms - Fantasy, ballet
Directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston adapt Tchaikovsky's famous ballet, with Mackenzie Foy discovering a Nutcracker doll that reveals our world's realms. Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Richard E. Grant; also, ballet legend Misty Copeland

02 The Other Side of the Wind - Satirical Biopic
Iconoclastic film director Orson Welles returns from his self-imposed exile to make an innovative new film. John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Random, and many other legends and lesser lights.
(A film for cinephiles, but not the ones who call themselves cinephiles)

02 Suspiria - Horror
Luca Guadagnino's remake of Dario Argento's 1977 classic: A young American (Dakota Johnson) joins a dance academy run by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) where strange and deadly events occur. Jessica Harper (who was in the original), Chloë Grace Moretz
(This one looks very cool--and Helen Mirren!)

09 Bel Canto - Romantic Thriller
Ann Patchett's best-seller about a worldrenowned opera singer (Julianne Moore) invited to perform for a wealthy industrialist (Ken Watanabe) at a South American estate.  A pleasant evening becomes a nightmare when the people in the house are taken as political hostages.
(Another hankie wringer)

09 Dr. Seuss' The Grinch - Animated Family Comedy
This latest version adds an origin story (which differs from the Jim Carrey version): Grinch grew up in an orphanage watching Whoville celebrating Christmas without him. Years later, Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets his revenge.  Angela Lansbury, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson
(We would be a lot less charitable with this one if Mr. Cumberbatch weren't attached)

09 The Girl in the Spider's Web - Thriller, Crime Drama
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo returns, this time with Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) and investigator Mikael Blomqvist (Sverrir Gudnason) busting the slime of crime.  LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant 
(Earlier episodes were terrific, looking forward to Claire Foy as Lisbeth)

09 Outlaw King - Action Biopic
14th Century king Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) leads his people to drive the greater and better equipped British forces out of Scotland.  Florence Pugh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stephen Dillane
(Can go either way, but so far, Pine has had a nose for good stories)

09 Peterloo - Historical Drama
Mike Leigh writes and directs, a re-enactment of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre wherein British cavalry charged into a crowd of more than 60,000 citizens demonstrating for democracy in Manchester.  Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peak
[Possible awards player]  (Mike Leigh will give this one a richly historic look)

16 At Eternity's Gate - Bio-drama
A dramatization of Vincent VanGogh's (Willem Dafoe) life during the time he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France. Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Emmanuelle Seigner, Mads Mikkelsen
[Possible awards nomination] (Small film, with most of the attention on Dafoe's performance)

16 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - Western/Comedy/Drama
Given the genre-bending, we should know it's to Coen brothers spinning six yarns of the Old West.  Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, David Krumholtz, Tom Waits, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson
(Always, always pay attention to a Coen brothers film)

16 Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - Action Fantasy
Sequel to J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World in which Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) travrls to 1920s Paris to help Dumbledore (Jude Law) defeat the evil Grindelwald (Johnnie Depp). Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and Ezra Miller return.
(One for the J.K. Rowling IMAX crowd)

16 A Private War - Biopic
The life of journalist Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) as she risks life and limb covering some of the most war-torn lands on Earth.  Tom Hollander, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci
(To become known as "the Rosamund Pike eye-patch movie")

16 Widows - Crime Drama
Four women, drawn together by the debt their criminal husbands incurred, execute their own job.  Viola Davis (Best Actress threat), Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell.
[Definite awards nominations, probable wins] (Socially conscious heist film and TIFF darling)

21 Creed II - Action/Drama
Michael B. Jordan reprises his role as the son of Apollo Creed, getting revenge by fighting the son of Viktor Drago, the Russian who killed his dad in Rocky IV.  Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Dolph Lundgren
(Airplane was right, there will be a Rocky XXVII)

21 The Front Runner - Bio-drama
The story surrounding Senator Gary Hart's star-crossed run for President in 1988.  Jason Reitman directs Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, Sara Paxton.
 [Possible awards nominations]  (A nostalgic look at a time when an affair hurt a candidate)

21 Green Book - Biography, Comedy, Drama  
An Italian-American bouncer becomes the chauffeur for an African-American classical pianist touring the 1960s South.  Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
[Definite awards nominations, probable wins]  (Must-see movie)

21 Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 - Animated Comedy
This sequel finds Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) traveling into the Internet, via a new router to find a powerful game piece.  Kristen Bell, Gal Gadot, Kelly MacDonald
[Definite animated awards nominations]  (Yeah, the kids/grandkids will be demanding to see this one)

21 Robin Hood - Action, Adventure
The retelling no one was clamoring for, but Taron Egerton plays the intrepid archer, assisted by Little John (Jamie Foxx), Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan), and Maid Marian Eve Hewson) as they square off against the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn).

23 The Favourite - Historical Drama
Early-1700s: England and France are at war, and ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) relies on her bestie Lady Sarah (Rachael Weisz) to govern.  Sarah hires Abigail (Emma Stone) to help, and she quickly becomes the favorite of both older women. Yorgos Lanthimos directs. Nicholas Hoult.
[Definite awards nominations, probable multiple wins]  (Absolutely, positively see this one)

27 The Little Stranger - Horror, Mystery
In 1948, Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is called to examine a child in a dilapidated mansion where his mother once worked.  The residents, a mother (Ruth Wilson) and her two children, are living under a dark menace somehow attached to Faraday's family.  Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter
(Creepy house, creepy kid thriller should have been released a month earlier)

30 Anna and the Apocalypse - Comedy, Horror
It's Christmas, and a zombie apocalypse faces quaint Little Haven.  Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friend John (Malcolm Cumming) must fight their way through zombified snowmen, Santas, and elves, and in the process learn that it's tough to be a teen.
(All right, this is one FilmZ and I ain't missing, no matter what)

30 If Beale Street Could Talk - Drama    
Director Barry Jenkins adapted James Baldwin's acclaimed novel about a pregnant Harlem woman (KiKi Layne) desperately trying to expose her fiance's (Stephan James) false imprisonment by a racist cop.  Regina , Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry
[Definite awards nominations, probable wins]  (This year's Moonlight?)


07 Ben Is Back - Drama
Peter Hedges directs his son Lucas as Ben, a substance abuser who returns to his family on Christmas Eve, pledging a desire to recover, but is he sincere. Julia Roberts plays his mother, Kathryn Newton his sister.  Courtney B. Vance
[Possible awards nominations]  (There's a sequel to Boy Erased already?)

07 Mary Queen of Scots - Historical Drama  
Mary Stuart's attempts to overthrow her cousin, Elizabeth I, landing her in the Tower of London for hard time and a date with the executioner.  Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, David Tennant.
[Possible awards nominations]  (This one seems better on the drawing board than on the screen)

07 Under the Silver Lake -  Crime Dramedy
Bright slacker Sam (Andrew Garfield) finds a mysterious young woman (Riley Keough) swimming in his apartment pool.  In the morning, she disappears, and Sam launches a search that leads him on a surreal journey into a dark conspiracy in the depths of the LA underworld.
(Surreal Times at the El Royale?)

14 Mortal Engines - Fantasy
Based on the novel and produced by Peter Jackson: Steampunk vision of "municipal Darwinism," where whole cities are literal vehicles, traveling the land, devouring smaller cities for their resources.
Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Stephen Lang
(One for the J.R.R. Tolkien IMAX crowd)

14 Roma - Drama
Director Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobigraphical chronicling of a year in the life of a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City.  Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
[Definite awards nominations, probable wins] (Venice awards for Best Bilm and Best Director)

14 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - Family Animated Action
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) enters the multiverse and joins up with other Spider-Men to battle against a threat to reality.  Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Jake Johnson, Liev Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin
[Probable awards nom for Animation]  (The multiple Spider-Men idea sounds like self-parody)

19 Mary Poppins Returns - Musical  
In this sequel to the 1964 classic, the supercalifragilistic Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to the Banks family.  The kids are grown, but a family tragedy requires the help that only Mary and her brolly can bring. Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Emily Mortimer, Ben Whislaw
[Probable awards nominations, possible wins]  (Emily Blunt looks fantastic in this role)

21 Alita: Battle Angel - Action Romance
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, co-written by James Cameron--The story of a young woman battling evil in a quest to find out who she is. Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley
(Considering the talent involved and the combination CGI and live actio, this could be good)

21 Aquaman - Action Fantasy
Sequel to Justice League (FWIW) has Aquaman (Momoa) caught in the middle between earthly polluters and his home people of Atlantis who are sick of the land-dwellers and want to invade.
Nicole Kidman, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren
(We hope the movie is better than the trailer because this looks monumnetally awful)

21 Bumblebee - SciFi Action
Trying to find refuge, Bumblebee hides in a junkyard, disguised as a VW bug when Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a young girl learning to drive, buys him and finds adventure. John Cena, Justin Theroux, Angela Bassett, Pamela Adlon
(Could this be the first decent Transformers film?)

21 Holmes and Watson - Comedy
A quirky take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tales of Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell) and Dr. Watson (John C. Reilly).  Kelly Macdonald, Rebecca Hall, Ralph Fiennes, Hugh Laurie
(Does the plot matter?  These heirs to the slob comedy throne haven't missed yet)

21 Vox Lux - Musical Drama
In 1999, teen Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is singing at a memorial service following a national tragedy.  With the help of her songwriter sister (Stacy Martin) and manager (Jude Law), she becomes a superstar, but by 2017, adult Celeste (Natalie Portman) must mount a comeback.
[Possible awards nominations]  (Looks like a surreal twist on A Star is Born)

21 Welcome to Marwen - Bio/Comedy/Drama
Robert Zemeckis directs the true story: Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), brutally assaulted, emerges from a coma with brain damage; he copes by creating a miniature town with people in from his life, a work of art that makes him famous.  Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Janelle Monáe, Gwendoline Christie
[Possible awards nominations]  (You'll laugh, you'll cry; it'll move you, Bob)

25 Vice - Bio-drama
Writer-Director Adam McKay's story of  Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), the most powerful VP in US history and his Machiavellian worldview. Terrific cast: Amy Adams (Lynne Cheney), Sam Rockwell (George W. Bush), and Steve Carell (Donald Rumsfeld)
[Probable awards nominations, possible wins] (Can't miss take on unfettered power)

28 Destroyer - Action/Crime Drama
The moral and existential odyssey of LAPD Det. Erin Bell, who, as a young cop, was placed undercover on a case that ended tragically.  Now, she needs to reconnect and face a reckoning.
Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Bradley Whitford Tatiana Maslany
[Possible Awards nominations]   (Transformative performance by Nicole Kidman)

28 On the Basis of Sex - Biopic
The life story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones), who broke down barriers in her fight for women's rights.  Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Jack Reynor, Cailee Spaeny, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates
[Possible awards nominations]  (Natural follow-up to the terrific documentary RBG)

First Man

First Man Review by FilmZ

We finally got the whole gang together (a rarity) and took Don Swedanya's hearse to the nearest IMAX, 30 miles away.  Ambrose had already seen First Man on a regular screen and was blown away, but he now believes that IMAX is the way to go, if possible.  Guy Malone, Researcher, and I agree; add in Justin Chang of the LA Times, and that gives us one person who knows what he's talking about.

Another thing all of us agree on is that Damien Chazelle's paean to Neil Armstrong is very good.  Despite his previous directorial achievements,  we were a bit concerned because the 33-year-old Chazelle has only two to his resume--Whiplash and LaLa Land--both musicals.  It is odd, then, to note that just about the only thing that doesn't work in his latest effort is frequent-collaborator Justin Hurwitz's score, which reminded us of LaLa Land's as performed on a theremin--which seems almost satirical, considering the context.  What does work is Josh Singer's screenplay, which emphasizes Armstrong's personal odyssey from early family tragedy to his step onto the Moon.

The cast is uniformly excellent.  The leads, Ryan Gosling as Armstrong and Claire Foy as his wife Janet, give nuanced performances as a man whose response to tragedy is to turn inward as he throws himself into his work and a wife whose admiration for her husband grows even as her love fades.  Kyle Chandler (Deke Slayton) and Ciaran Hinds (Bob Gilruth) wrangle the Gemini and Apollo programs and their astronauts, most of whom are familiar names, all worthy of honor): Ed White (Jason Clarke), Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), Elliott See (Patrick Fugit), Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham_, Dave Scott (Christopher Abbott), Jim Lovell (Pablo Schreiber), Mike Collins (Lukas Haas).  We should also mention Olivia Hamilton's touching performance as Pat White.
8.0 out of 10 on both Artistic and Entertainment Scales.

Catching Up With Recent Watches

Catching Up With Recent Watches by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Even though Writing 101 warns that we should never open a message with an apology, I apologize on behalf of FilmZ for falling behind on entries to this blog.  Edith Piaf and I have no regrets, though.  First, we write 'em when we're ready, and besides, no one has been beating at our electronic door asking where we've been.  Well, we have seen a few movies over the past few weeks, and thanks to laziness, ennui, or both they never got write-ups.  So, we're going to give each one a thumbnail sketch and a grade.  I'll write them up in the order in which they were seen.

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016, streaming)
If you aren't familiar with the work of New Zealand writer/director/actor Taika Waititi, let me introduce you.  He was one of the creative forces behind Flight of the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows and director of Thor: Ragnarok, arguably the most entertaining Marvel movie to date.  The Hunt for the Wilderpeople brings Waititi's signature humor with heart and a touch of the absurd to the dramatic adventure.
Ricky (Julian Dennison), an angry outcast teen sent to the backwoods to live with foster parents, the gleefully enthusiastic Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband the cranky and barely housebroken Hec (Sam Neill).  After some unfortunate events, Child Services decides Hec is unfit to raise the boy (indeed, Hec was never excited about the prospect, anyway).  Rather than return to an orphanage, Ricky runs away with Hec in reluctant pursuit.  Vile social worker Paula (Rachel House) insinuates that Hec may be abusing Ricky, setting off a nationwide manhunt.  As the chase unfolds, orphan and foster dad run into obstacles, dangers, and an odd assortment of forest residents.  And despite their mutual resistance, they begin to bond as two sides of the same coin.
7.5 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale

Director Carlos Lopez Estrada makes a meteoric impact in his first feature film, but Blindspotting belongs to Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, who wrote, co-produced, and star in this drama set in their hometown of Oakland, CA.  Their drama crackles on-screen, at times wildly hilarious, suddenly terrifying; the dialogue is quick and incisive, veering off into hip-hop riffs and rants (and those of you who know me are aware of my dislike of that genre, so if I like it, that's saying something).  Back on track: this is a movie that moves.
Diggs is Collin, a Black ex-con serving his last three days of parole, a situation jeopardized by his childhood best friend, White wild man Miles (Casal).  The two work for a moving company, where the dispatcher, Val (Janina Gavankar) was once in a relationship with Collin.  Now though, Val keeps Collin at arms length and avoids Miles completely.  Both on and off the job, the men watch their neighborhood become ever more gentrified, and the influx of young, affluent professionals brings an increased police presence to ensure safety and security.  One night as he hustles home to beat curfew, Collin is stuck at a red light when he witnesses an act of violence that tears at him throughout the rest of the story.  Meanwhile, Miles' reckless behavior only makes the situation worse, endangering both his family and Collin.  As events unfold, we learn how Collin became a felon, why Val wants nothing to do with him, and why she detests Miles.  And, in a remarkable climactic moment, one of the most suspenseful since the gas station scene in No Country for Old Men, we see film elevated to art form.
8.5 out of 10 on Entertainment and Artistic Scales

The House with a Clock in its Walls 
Let's make this clear: this is a movie aimed at children.  This is not what one would expect from Director Eli Roth (Cabin FeverHostel) but Eric Kripke adapted John Bellair's 1973 young adult fantasy and keeps under the PG umbrella.  An intriguing cast helps buoy it; any movie that has Cate Blanchett is worth seeing, and Jack Black and Kyle MacLachlan are always good. 
Young orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is still grieving his parents' fatal accident.  He is sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Black), a warlock whose Victorian home has paintings that move and change prophetically, monsters in closets, and a forbidden door. Jonathan introduces Lewis to his kindly neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman (Blanchett), a powerful witch.  Enchanted, Lewis begs them to teach him magic, and he learns that the house contains a secret: a clock hidden in the walls by a now-deceased evil wizard named Izard (MacLachlan).  Between good-natured insults, Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman team to find the clock before it ticks down to a horrific event.  Meanwhile, in hopes of overcoming his outsider status at school, Lewis uses his new skills to impress the cool kid, Tarby (Sunny Suljic), and in the process unwittingly helps the evil wizard toward his goal. 
The movie's 1955 setting provides the canvas for a colorful aesthetic that takes us back to a coolly weird caricature of the Eisenhower era. The special effects, with lightning-bolt spells, menacing pumpkins, and automaton dolls, are fun.  On the down side, the dialogue is clunky, jump-scares substitute for real suspense, and the jokes trend toward the juvenile.  Adults will tolerate the film, but more back story for Mrs. Zimmerman and Jonathan would have given us more connection to the characters and raised the substance a bit.
7.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale

Fahrenheit 11/9
Michael Moore is a muckraker, and what slimier muck to rake than recent events in America?  It may surprise many viewers that Moore lays blame on both parties--albiet Republicans as presented are more proactive, while the Democrats range from neglectful to complicit.  Moore also cites the media, and he even blames himself. 
Of course, he begins with a humorous hook, positing that Trump's election is Gwen Stefani's fault.  When NBC paid her more for The Voice than Trump was offered for The Apprentice, he threatened to make a presidential run.  Using archival footage, he covers the run-up to the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, when Trump's election shocked the world.  Moore then turns serious, asking how this came to be.  He spends surprisingly little time on Russia and barely makes a wave at the four pillars of the Culture War: racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and antiLGBTQ+.   One theme does course through Fahernheit 11/9: the danger of unfettered capitalism.  Most prominent is the example of Rick Snyder, ex-CEO Michigan Governor and cold-blooded perpetrator of the Flint water crisis.  Moore also spends time with the heroic Parkland students as they confront the NRA and its bought-and-paid-for politicians.  He moves on to West Virginia, with its statewide teachers strike over health coverage and the Democratic Party's betrayal of the state's voters.  He also features the influx of progressive working class, minority, and female political candidates who promise to shake up the Establishment. 
Making the point that democracy is an ideal rather than a fait accompli, Moore lauds the our growing grassroots activism.  But he ends the film on a cautionary note, drawing parallels between Nazi Germany and the current Washington power structure.  Most effectively, Moore features 99-year-old Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremburg Trials, who tearfully tells us that the US must be alert to the danger of fascism.  This warning might have seemed sensationalism two years ago, but strikes us as all too possible today.
8.0 out of 10

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