I’ve pretty much given up on my whole Christmas theme for this month. I’ll probably watch another movie or two and maybe a couple of Christmas-themed episodes of something or other, but for the most part Christmas in media just isn’t going to happen. That doesn’t mean I won’t be consuming good, interesting or even cool things, but they likely aren’t going to involve the December holidays.
As this week will prove out.
Ethan Hawke gives an intense, outstanding performance as a troubled minister at a historic, but declining upstate church in what is being hailed as director Paul Schrader’s best film. The minister's backstory includes a son lost in a war and a wife who left him over it. He is a profoundly lonely and lost man made more so by the suicide of one of his parishioners. Much like Taxi Driver (which Schraeder wrote), it is an intense study of God’s lonely man who longs for some connection to humanity and a deeper purpose in life. But unlike Travis Bickle, Hawkes’ minister has some hope of finding it. I’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do with this year’s movies, but I’m ready to call First Reformed one of the best.
The Serpent’s Egg
Ingmar Bergman’s only Hollywood movie is dark and strange affair. David Carradine plays an unemployed, alcoholic Jewish acrobat scrabbling out a life in Berlin between the two world wars. Liv Ullmann plays the wife of his brother who commits suicide as the film begins. It is generally considered Bergman’s worst film, and while it certainly isn’t anywhere near as good as films such as Persona, Wild Strawberries or The Seventh Seal, there are enough interesting bits to make it worth watching. You can read my review of the new Arrow Academy release here.
In 1996, Disney made a live-action adaptation to the beloved animated classic from 1961. At the time, it was a curious oddity, but now it feels like a trial run to the never-ending live-action remakes. Like most of those modern adaptations, 101 Dalmations is harmless, and completely unnecessary but somewhat amusing. Jeff Daniel and Joely Richardson play the cute couple with the darling puppies. Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams take on the roles of the bumbling crooks and with a screenplay from John Hughes, they more than a little bit resemble the crooks in another Hughes penned film, Home Alone. But this it totally and completely Glenn Close’s film who steals and chews the lift out of every scene she’s in.
David Fincher’s mind-bending thriller stars Michael Douglas as a lonely, rich banker who is asked to play a mysterious game as a birthday present from his brother. The game will turn his life upside down as it becomes increasingly dangerous and may or may not be a long con in order to steal his millions. It's full of twists and surprises intended to keep you guessing as to what is real and what isn’t up until the very end. Having seen it before and thus knowing the ending meant those twists and turns weren’t nearly as interesting, but Douglas gives a winning performance and Fincher remains a master craftsman.
I would have loved this when I was a kid. Much of it is nothing more than the classic game of "who would win a fight between X and Y?" Thor vs. Hulk! Captain America vs. Sub-Mariner! Swordsman vs. Valkerie! Dr. Strange vs. Black Panther and Manthis! Iron Man vs. Hawkeye! Ok, I don't know who some of those characters are but it's still a whole lot of fun watching the scenarios play out. The rest of the story is all right. Typical super bad guy wants to rule the world stuff, though he does pit the Avengers versus the Defenders as the title says, which gives us all those wonderful fights so that's cool. As an adult, it's all a little bit silly, but the kid in me loved it.
Elizabeth Banks stars in this thriller from producer James Gunn about an infertile couple who pray for a baby and get one in the form of an alien crash landing on their farm. This trailer makes it look like a horror movie take on Superman, and I am totally down for that.