By Anne Brodie
Kristen Stewart smiles! She laughs! in the Hulu Original Christmas LGBTQI family romantic comedy Happiest Season. I know, right? Her prior broody self is tossed into the eggnog bowl as her Abby and partner Harper (Mackenzie Davis) head to Harper’s family home for Christmas. Thing is, she hasn’t told the family she’s gay, let alone in a committed relationship. She attempts to keep it secret, but Abby has more faith in the family. When it comes out, father’s first concern is his reputation; he’s running for election and prickly mother has a tough time. It’s a pretty radical idea for a mainstream holiday film but isn’t it about time? I hope people will accept it as part of the Christmas movie canon and enjoy its humour and humanity. Writer-director Clea DuVall, an independent filmmaker and actor proves she can handle a conventional film. Co-stars Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Daniel Levy, Victor Garber, and Mary Steenburgen. Nov 26.
Kurt and Goldie adorably lead Netflix’ Christmas Chronicles 2 coming to the streamer on Nov 25. Little Kate (Darcy Camp) from the original film is now a rebel teenager who doesn’t take to her mother’s new relationship (with Tyrese Gibson!!). And against Kate’s dream of Christmas at home and with friends, they’re whisked off to Cancun for a tropical vacation. Villain Belsnickel (Julian Dennison) shows up at the resort and he’s up to no good. Kate heads to the airport to go home in a huff with her new “brother” Jack (Jahzir Bruno) and Belsnickel’s their driver. He jets into a vortex and dumps them in the frozen north. Fortunately, Santa finds the freezing tots and brings them home to Mrs. Claus. The kids are delighted to find themselves in Santa’s Village, the North Pole. Madcap adventures ensue as Belsnickel plots to destroy Santa, and take over, as the Claus’ ponder their childlessness and channeled it into centuries of giving. So many twists and turns and so much Christmas spirit including Russell’s sensational, seasonal song and dance numbers. Chris Columbus directs and co-wrote.
Melissa McCarthy’s effortless authenticity and energy lift any project as they do Superintelligence an HBO dramedy about the end of the world. An incident with a tech assist speaker targets McCarthy’s Carol Peters as “the most average person on earth” during a job interview, and her life is upended. Tech AI, voiced by James Corden announces it’s deciding whether to enslave, save or destroy humanity, for its own good. It will study Carol as she is now naked digitally speaking and judge humanity by her. Are we worth saving? Once she realises the weight of the situation, she knows shemuist act, life is precious and people are irreplaceable. As funny as the situation allows, Carol soldiers on, trying to find ways to describe humanity’s innate goodness and convince AI that we are worth saving. Sad, loaded moments as her beau prepares to fly to Ireland a few hours before the world is to end, blissfully unaware of her knowing helplessness. It packs an emotional punch in self-reflection, and there’s palpable panic. Superintelligence is many things and for that reason, plus McCarthy’s presence, its challenges, and the emotional minefield, it’s a rare kind of project, so completely unexpected ad complicated. McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone directs and appears in the film, co-starring Bobby Cannavale and Brian Tyree Henry as her beau and best friend. Naturally, it’s set in Seattle.
Mel Gibson and Marianne Jean-Baptiste are husband and wife in the alt-Christmas movie Fatman. He’s Kris Kringle, a poor farmer with a side gig as Santa Claus, a swearing, boozing, gun-wielding action man forced to protect everything he holds dear when a hitman comes calling during the Christmas toy rush. A spoiled adolescent (Chance Hurstfield) is ticked when he finds Santa’s left him a well-deserved lump of coal earned through his hateful acts and spite. He secretly accesses his disabled grandmother’s money and hires a steely assassin (Walter Goggins) to go get Santa. No biggie, Billy elocuted his sister and threatened his schoolmates, nothing unusual for him. The assassin tracks Santa to his farm, where begins a bloody countdown to the mano-a-mano faceoff. Fatman is listed as a comedy but it’s not and it’s certainly not for kids. Shot in Ottawa and Vermont.
Disney+ premieres a new live action adaptation of Anna Sewell’s timeless children’s classic Black Beauty today. Kate Winslet provides the Beauty’s voice and gives such depth of feeling I got shivers. Beauty has it rough. She was a wild mustang in the American West, who is captured but refuses to be tamed, until Jo (Mackenzie Foy), a city girl mourning the death of her parents comes to stay at the ranch. Theirs is an instant bond, life is good, but then Beaty is sold to a wealthy family in Britain, Jo follows but is prevented from seeing Beauty. And then she’s sold to a forest ranger of sorts, she adjusts and then he sells her. This is where it becomes a bit much for children, Beauty’s famously awful life has dark chapters, and I’ll admit I skipped some. Overall, there is a sad commentary on man’s cruelty and lack of respect for one another and for animals. Jo vows to bring Beauty home and there is pour hope for redemption. Iain Glen plays her uncle Jack. Such fun to see him, a staple of British dramas, usually a rake, as a cowboy.
Kaley Cuoco lands a sweet series in HBO’s The Flight Attendant. She’s Cassie a natural-born party girl who flies the friendly skies w – she’s snippy to passengers and throws caution to the wind in blunt self-absorption. Her carefree ways end when one morning she awakens in a hotel room in Dubai to the dead, horribly mutilated body of the guy she dated the night before. She’s hungover and can’t make head nor tail of the situation; she thinks she didn’t kill him and then wonders if she did. She leaves the body and flies home to New York where she’s grilled by the FBI, but try as she might, she remembers nothing. She flies to Bangkok but waking nightmares put her in Dubai scrubbing bloodstains a la Lady Macbeth and speaking to the dead but somehow conversational dead guy. This disturbing vision sparks a traumatic childhood memory of shooting a deer and drinking beer with her father. which in turn sparks the memory of a third person present in the hotel room in Dubai. An intriguing start to a boundary-breaking series that promises the wide world of adventure, mystery, and the nature of a complicated woman’s mind. Loaded with visual innovation and experimentation.
Nov 26 on W and StackTV
Saved By the Bell
Corus /NBC reup the old high schooler’s fave, Saved By the Bell, featuring the familiar faces of graduates Elizabeth Berkeley, Belmont Camelia, Dexter Darden, John Michael Higgins, Mario Lopez and get this, Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the Governor of California. It addresses social and cultural issues head on, as when the Governor cuts funding to inner city schools to balance the states books. Kids with no schools are bussed to fancy Bayside High where they see eye-popping wealth -students’ not teachers. The rich and poor kids are paired up to soften the blow of this new environment, where white privilege has ruled. Sounds seriously, but it’s also seriously funny, with sharp zingers and satire. Par e.g.: “If we hold a fundraiser and ask Rita Wilson to sing, Tom Hanks has to come!” A Latina from the projects win Class Presidency, even if she does have an ancient shoebox phone. The blonde alpha male’s word view expands and nothing bad happens. Cute.
Sundance Now’s Riviera just debuted its third season and our heroine Georgina (Julie Stiles) is in a sticky wicket. Now relocated to Buenos Aires to escape the aftermath of her discovery that her late husband’s wealth came from organised crime; she is by no means safe. Trouble follows as she and new ally Gabriel (Rupert Graves) attempt to reset their lives. Neil Jordan’s crime travelogue – slash-thriller is loaded with twists and turns and Stiles delivers. Georgina’s accused of killing Nico (James Fox) in an international conspiracy to eradicate her. And so far, so good for them, she’s drugged, locked away in a mountain-top mental institution and deemed sociopathic and delusional. Daphne (Poppy Delevingne) comes to visit but with ill tidings. All of this related to an election driven by corruption and murder; Georgina knows too much. But she scores when she manages to escape with Gabriel and stage their car crashing, so the stakes are up, up, up. And off they go to Venice! Fun, fast and pretty places.
Topic’s Original four-parter The Accidental Wolf is a superior conspiracy thriller for the adventurous. Kelli O’Hara is Katie a well-to-do Manhattanite, shopping in a convenience store in an evening dress and heels. She hears a noise in a cupboard, opens it to find a woman (Laurie Metcalfe) huddled inside saying she will give her instructions. At home, Katie’s feeding her baby when she receives a phone call from a man named Zubair begging for help. Explosions, gunshots, and screaming in the background drown him out as he begs for help for his pregnant wife Tala. His leg’s blown off. English-speaking Americans shout at him, he says he’s not infected, and they kill him. Kate’s husband says it is a scam, hang up. She frantically calls the number in Africa to find Tala, as law enforcement breaks into their penthouse. Denis O’Hare appears as a mystery man investigating three women from Sierra Leone who entered the US under fake names. Kate calls Africa again and an American answers then hangs up. All this plus the beginning of the end of Katie’s marriage in just the first episode. This is unique and shocking, extremely complex, and well made, a military intelligence thriller that’s a cut above, co-starring Judith Ivey, Kathryn Erbe, and an international cast. Written and directed by Arian Moayed. Wow.
Glamourous Bella Thorne takes a radical U-turn in her latest film, shot in Sudbury Ontario with Mickey Rourke. The deep woods noir/suspenser called Girl from Chad Faust is dark; an intense, claustrophobic tale of a young woman who takes a long bus ride up north with a hatchet to kill her abusive father. She hasn’t seen him since she was six, but he was responsible for her mother’s broken back and a litany of offenses, as told by dear old ma. His boarded-up town is “broken” according to the people she meets at her first stop, the local bar and the owner (Glen Gould) tells her not to mess with “the brothers”, turn around and go home. She finds her father murdered in his home. Angry that her chance was taken away from her she looks for the perps with the help of a real charmer in the laundromat. She never lets on that she is frightened by threats against her by Rourke, the local law enforcement. but carries out her own investigation. The Woman in Peril scenario plays out but this time the woman has common sense, fortitude, and an unexpected ally, she and her hatchet just might make it out alive. Compelling stuff in a trashy dirty universe.
We gave you a glimpse of BritBox’ nutty comedy series Do Not Adjust Your Set launching Nov. 28, a few weeks ago, and it’s nearly here. The bizarre, even surreal early-evening comedy sketch show was a hit in the Swinging Sixties UK and its reputation spread to North America if not the show itself. It was radical, turning the establishment on its ear. Written by and starring, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, David Jason, and Denise Coffey, the only female offered a seriously satirical, nonsensical view of contemporary life that razzed the status quo with its psychedelic jabs. Terry Gilliam provided animations and the must-be-seen-to-be-believed Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band provided something like music. Nothing was immune from a poke in the eye from Shakespeare to the lively arts, television, alleged domestic bliss, anything establishment, and often pop culture figures.
The British sense of humour is in a class by itself, but this is next level. And while it takes some adjustment for we colonials, it resets our appreciation of the 60’s “youthquake” of comedy writing and performance. Orchestral instruments become gunshots, sirens, squealing wheels. A shopkeeper reduces his customer to tears, gravity is reimagined, crime gangs made up entirely of undercover coppers, an ear-splitting rendition of The Sound of Music a la rock and roll, the problem of aliens in your lunchbox, etc. You’ve probably guessed this was the direct precursor to Monty Python. Here’s a musical interlude from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
Incredible to think that Ang Lee’s landmark martial arts film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon came out twenty years ago. I remember watching it absolutely agog and interviewing Lee, who couldn’t speak much English, right afterward. He was humble and powerful, and the film seemed destined for all the awards. It won four Oscars – Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Picture, Best Director, and Best Art Direction, plus and 98 other awards. The timeless story of the battle for the Green Sword and the revelation of a rising young female warrior in 19th-century China remains one of the greatest cinematic achievements from China. Co-stars Yuen Wo Ping. Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Lang Sihung, and Cheng Pei Pei with Yuen Wo Ping’s astounding martial arts choreography. The limited-edition SteelBook features 4K Ultra HD and Blu-rayTM, six deleted scenes in 4k ultra HD with high dynamic range, an in-depth retrospective interview with Lee, James Schamus, and editor Tim Squyres, Lee’s intro, and a conversation with Yeoh.
Christmas is around the corner and Super Channel invites viewers to stick a marshmallow into some gorgeous hot chocolate and cozy up for the yearly festival of holiday movies, one hundred of them, many making their Canadian premieres. It’s the annual Heart & Home Christmas holiday programming extravaganza, including Hallmark favourites, as reliably enchanting and addictive as ever.
Nov 28 – Christmas Crush
Starring Cindy Sampson, Robin Dunne, Chris Violette
Nov 29 – Karen Kingsbury’s Maggie’s Christmas Miracle
Starring Jill Wagner, Luke MacFarlane, Lauren Guci
Dec 5 – Shoelaces for Christmas
Starring Bailey Chase, Jessica Morris, Mia Topalian
Dec 6 – A Date by Christmas Eve
Starring Vanessa Lengies, Evan Williams, Katherine Bailess, Julie McNiven, Morgan Fairchild
Dec 12 – Christmas Harmony
Dec 13 – Christmas with a Crown
Starring Lisa Durupt, Marcus Rosner, Teryl Rothery
Dec 19 – A Crafty Christmas Romance
Starring Nicola Posener, Bradford B. Johnson
Dec 21 – Christmas Hotel
Starring Tatyana Ali, Sean Patrick Thomas
Dec 22 – Christmas Together
Starring Anna Marie Dobbins, Vivica A. Fox, Marc Herrmann, Riley Coe, Anthony Carro
Dec 23 – Christmas by Chance
Starring Neil Whitely, Celeste Desjardins, Jacob Blair
Dec 24 – Christmas Coupon
Starring Courtney Mathews, Aaron Noble, Robert Laenen
Dec 25 – A Very Country Christmas Homecoming
Starring Greyston Holt, Bea Santos, Raven Stewart, Deana Carter
Dec 26 – A Royal Christmas Engagement
Starring Paige Bach, James Nitti, John Schneider
Dec 27 – A Bramble House Christmas
Starring Autumn Reeser, David Haydn-Jones, Liam Hughes
Jan 2 – Christmas at Cartwright’s
Starring Alicia Witt, Gabriel Hogan, Wallace Shaun, Gabrielle Miller
And friends, the finale of Fargo Season 4. Episode 11, Storia Americana airs Sunday at 10 on FX. *Sigh* I sincerely hope creator Noah Hawley doesn’t make us wait so long for the next series. The series began in 2014 and this year’s is only the fourth. Hawley’s anthropological, psychological and historical study of organised crime in America’s heartland is a superior tale of earthly perils, the writing, music, and drama are, in my opinion, unparalleled on television. This chapter set in Kansas City 1950 is more violent than prior seasons set in later time periods, but the thread that unites all the seasons runs with poetic determinism and Darwinism. Stay for the credits for an incredible moment.