Just as the Christmas season delivers the promise of a better tomorrow, Hollywood is placing high holiday hopes on the next few weeks at the box office. But even with a new Star Wars, a new Jumanji, a new Little Women and a sorta-new Cats (meow), the year may end up just slightly behind 2018′s financial bonanza, which tallied a record-breaking US$11.8-billion in North America. And then there’s the question as to whether these new movies will be any good.
However you choose to spend the next few weeks, The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz is here to offer a thematic rundown of the seasonal offerings, some more designed to appeal to your wallet than your brain.
Duelling studies in Fake News
The ever irascible Clint Eastwood is making movies at a quicker pace than critics can properly analyze them. Following last year’s quick turnaround of The Mule, which itself came right off the heels of The 15:17 to Paris, Eastwood is back with Richard Jewell, a dramatization of the media firestorm that engulfed the eponymous Atlanta security guard, who was wrongly pegged as the suspect in the city’s Centennial Park bombing during the 1996 Olympics. From early reviews, it appears the politically slippery Eastwood uses the case as an opportunity to castigate mainstream news, which will surely result in all kinds of completely rational and reasoned discourse online. (Dec. 13)
Like Adam McKay attempted last year with his gonzo Dick Cheney biopic Vice, Jay Roach’s Bombshell is looking to end the year by roasting some Republicans on an open fire. Here, the director best known for his Meet the Parents trilogy looks at the inner turmoil at Fox News under the reign of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, under several pounds of makeup and prosthetics). Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman and an unrecognizable Charlize Theron (as anchor Megyn Kelly) star as the women who take the despicable Ailes down from the inside. (Dec. 20)
Duelling obligatory sequels
Jumanji: The Next Level
Listen, you asked for this: Because 2017′s Jumanji reboot made a head-smacking US$962-million, a follow-up was inevitable. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan are all plunged back into the jungle but with a body-swapping twist courtesy of new players Danny DeVito and Danny Glover. I’m sure it’s all mindless fun. But just be prepared for another Jumanji come 2021 at this rate. (Dec. 13)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Here’s a little indie effort that you may have heard about: the allegedly final (for real!) entry in what Lucasfilm is calling its Skywalker Saga. All your favourite characters are back – Rey, Poe, Finn, Kylo and the spectre of Carrie Fisher. And for everyone who hated The Last Jedi, well, some of your most loathed characters are back, too. Either way, I’m sure that everyone will have a very reasoned and sensible reaction to what director J.J. Abrams and his team have accomplished here, and then we’ll never have to talk about Star Wars again. Until one week later, when the next episode of The Mandalorian debuts on Disney+. (Dec. 20)
Duelling anxiety attacks
Want to feel the all-consuming terror of being on the front lines of the First World War while guzzling some diet soda? Then take a front-row seat to Sam Mendes’s new film, which follows one solider (George MacKay) as he races across enemy lines to deliver a very important message – with all the anxious action captured in one seamless take by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. (Dec. 25)
A 134-minute panic attack disguised as a movie, Benny and Josh Safdie’s Uncut Gems is a New York trash-terpiece. Abiding by his self-imposed rule that every fifth movie he makes is allowed to be good, Adam Sandler stars as a constantly yelling, permanently stressed-out Manhattan jeweller. The Safdie brothers start big and fast and dirty – one of the first things we see is the inside of Howard’s colon – and do not stop to take a breath for one single filthy moment. The result is a Vice Magazine-circa-2012 article come to life, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. (Dec. 25 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto; TBD on Netflix)
Duelling didn’t-see-that-coming revamps
Having finally taken in a touring version of the Broadway musical, I can now safely say that I have absolutely no idea how anyone is making a movie version of this truly bananas production. Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t exactly construct a straight-ahead narrative when creating the original – it’s really just a series of synth-heavy songs introducing different types of cats; was everyone on drugs in the 1980s? – so it will be up to director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), his co-screenwriter Lee Hall and a whoa-there’s-everybody cast including Idris Elba, Taylor Swift and Judi Dench to make this version purr. (Dec. 20)
Not too many expected Greta Gerwig to deliver one of the best films of 2017 with Lady Bird, and just as few anticipated she would follow that success up with an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s celebrated novel – the eighth time the book has been brought to the screen, the most recent version a celebrated BBC miniseries from just two years ago. Early word on Gerwig’s rework, though, is strong, with the writer-director tweaking the narrative structure and once again mining the chemistry between her Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. (Dec. 25)
Duelling smarmy spies
You know that the film industry is undergoing seismic change when Martin Scorsese decides to work with streaming giant Netflix. But the real sign that we’re in full disruption-panic mode is that Michael Bay, a director whose explosion-heavy spectacles are explicitly designed for big-screen blockbusters, is now also working for the small-screen service. The Transformers madman has left the talking robots behind for a return to his more bloody and delightfully vulgar Bad Boys/The Rock heyday with Six Underground, a tale of covert mercenaries (led by Ryan Reynolds) who travel the world killing bad guys and cracking wise. (Dec. 13 on Netflix)
Spies in Disguise
It’s been an up and down year for Will Smith. His CGI-heavy action movie Gemini Man crashed and burned – an especially sore wound given that it starred not one but two versions of Smith – but his performance as the Genie in Disney’s update of Aladdin wasn’t nearly as horrifying as we had all been expecting. Maybe this animated film, which casts Smith as the voice of a superspy who gets turned into a pigeon (sure, whatever), will even things out. (Dec. 25)
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