#FIRSTLOOK: WHAT TO WATCH – DECEMBER 2020: “MANK”,”HAPPIEST SEASON”,”GODMOTHERED”, “SOUND OF METAL”, “SHAWN MENDES: IN WONDER”, “BLACK BEAUTY”, “THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES: PART TWO”, “SMALL AXE”, “SELENA: THE SERIES”, “ALL MY LIFE”, “MARIAH CAREY’S MAGICAL CHRISTMAS SPECIAL”, “FABULOUS LIVES OF BOLLYWOOD WIVES”, “SUGAR RUSH: EXTRA SWEET”, “EUPHORIA”, “THE UNDOING”, “STYLISH WITH JENNA LYONS”, “THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT”
With both the Holidays and Awards Season approaching, December can be a joyous time indeed for us with a big slate of new releases to surface. Here’s some of our recommendations across various screening platforms, including some theatrical releases!
HAPPIEST SEASON (EONE FILMS/AMAZON PRIME VIDEO)
Clea Duvall co-writes and directs this Holiday Rom-Com with a fresh take on expanding the idea the type of relationships the genre includes. Kristen Stewart stars as Abby, who is ready to propose to her live-in girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) as they get ready to spend the Holidays at the latter’s home for the first time. There is one hitch, Harper still hasn’t officially come out to them yet despite telling Abby she did, and that it went well. The daughter of a politician, image is everything for her family and this keeps holding her back from being her true self and matters get confused as former flames resurface in the visit which make the couple question their commitment to one another.
While ultimately meant to be heartwarming, tonally Duvall goes to heavier places as the couple gets pulled apart and its message is something the world needs a bit more of, hence its release is timely. Stewart has a knack for bringing her characters a ton of history and her Abby feels truly lived-in, while Davis spends much of the Film embattled in Harper‘s fears and in the shadow of her rival sister Sloane (Alison Brie). Canada’s Dan Levy delivers some much-needed comedic relief as Abby‘s confidante John and we wish the Film had even more of that. That being said, this is a Holiday story which many will identify with and feel seen by. And who knows, Stewart just might win over even more new fans here!
eOne Films release HAPPIEST SEASON Digitally and On-Demand Friday, November 26, 2020. It arrives on Amazon Prime VideoThursday, December 10, 2020.
We knew very little until only recently about this latest effort from Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones’s Baby) and now we can’t imagine life before it. Right in time for the Holidays comes this whimsical and fantastical Comedy which centers on Eleanor (Jillian Bell) who is out to prove to the world that Fairy Godmothers are needed. She finds a letter written by Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) when she was 10-years-old, only to realize now that she has grown into a widowed, 40-year-old single mother of two, stuck in a job at a newsroom with a miserable boss. Needless to say, she’s given-up a little on the “happily ever after” she dreamed of as a girl. Eleanor, whether Mackenzie wants it or not, is here to grant her wish but we wonder if Eleanor ever be more than just a Tooth Fairy with this challenging task ahead!
Bell is an absolute joy, hitting what is a sweet spot in her career after last year’s acclaimed Brittany Runs a Marathon. She brings a Will Ferrell-Elf-esque enthusiasm and curiosity to the world which is infectious. Fisher also is a pleasure to watch as she channels Mackenzie‘s cynicism in a way many of us see the world right now. Maguire manages to craft a magical experience which lifts the spirits, yet balancing what it means to expand our definition of what happily ever after means and who it involves in our lives and we’re here for this.
GODMOTHERED arrives on Disney+ Friday, December 4, 2020.
Prior to his passing, Screenwriter and father of David, Jack Fincher, had completed a Script for MANK, based the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz, also a Screenwriter.After many years in incubation as a passion project, the Film finally got made by the younger Fincher. The Film recounts its titular character’s well-documented fight to get credit for co-writing what would go on to be one of the greatest films ever made, CITIZEN KANE.Mank (Gary Oldman), who prior had been brought aboard to help as a Script Doctor on The Wizard of Oz – without credit – isn’t particularly a likable type. He’s an alcoholic, a gambling addict and in fact, others call his wife “Poor Sarah” (Tuppence Middleton). Mank’s outspoken in his political beliefs and his support of Democrat Upton Sinclair, who is viewed by powerful Hollywood types as a Socialist. This puts him at odds with the powers that be. He’s tasked with helping co-write CITIZEN KANE, which Orson Welles (Tom Burke) produced, starred, directed and co-wrote. From here, we see a heated battle between Welles and the unpopular Mank as the latter fights to secure himself a credit on the eventual masterpiece. More so, we see how the battles within his own life found their place in CITIZEN KANE – his alcoholism, going against the machine and career sabotage. Mank had nothing to left to lose, refusing to go down without a fight. And we’re here for it.
While the Film might not be for everyone, it is a must-watch for true Cinephiles and those obsessed with the history of Cinema. Fincher‘s direction and some of the performances are meticulously-faithful to the period. Carrying almost all of the weight is Oldman who transforms completely and he mesmerizes in the manner of passersby staring at a car crash on a highway. We are concerned for and empathetic of the driver in the wreckage. Amanda Seyfried plays actress Marion Davies, whom Mank befriends. She is the mistress of William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), a media mogul and backer of MGM who inspires the character Susan Alexander, albeit an untalented entertainer and second wife of the titular character in CITIZEN KANE. Seyfried is so committed, poised and sweet that what Mank does feels like a huge betrayal.
This certainly is a Film which Awards Season was made for and just may replicate the Oscars success which CITIZEN KANE achieved. MANK arrives on Netflix Friday, December 4, 2020.
SHAWN MENDES: IN WONDER (NETFLIX)
Fan of Pickering’s Shawn Mendes will revel in delight at this Documentary by veteran Music Video Director Grant Singer. The Singer-Songwriter rapidly has shot to stardom and makes his first foray into the world of Film with recent collaborations with TIFF and now this companion to his upcoming fourth Disc, WONDER coming early December. The Film gives us an intimate (literally we go right into the shower with him) look at his daily life, which really presents him as someone who is level-headed and taking his fame into stride. In one scene he is driving around downtown and a man asks him roll-down his window to give his daughter a video shoutout. We learn about Mendes‘ creative process writing material for the new Album and he goes back to older, soulful influences this time around and one thing I found particularly interesting is to protect his voice from the rigours of touring, he takes vocal rests finding alternate ways to communicate on rest days. While nothing earth-shattering is revealed here really, it is an essential watch for fans or those who appreciate his Music and believe me, there are many! SHAWN MENDES: IN WONDER arrives on Netflix Tuesday, November 24, 2020.
SOUND OF METAL (PACIFIC NORTHWEST PICTURES/AMAZON PRIME)
Riz Ahmed delivers a career-best performance in Darius Marder‘s SOUND OF METAL,which after a run on the Festival circuit, including TIFF ’19 gets its debut at long last. Ahmed plays Drummer Ruben Stone whose hearing rapidly is deteriorating and after battling heroine addiction for years, he now is sober. While resisting help from the Deaf Community, the Film centers itself on his humbling journey accepting help, with the urging of his bandmate girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Ruben is his own enemy in many regards and at the core of SOUND OF METAL which while being set in the chaotic world of screamy Death Growls, is something heartfelt and a meaningful coming-of-age.
Ahmed and Cooke disappear completely into Ruben and Lou and their transformations are sympathetic and affecting. A bit of a slow-burn but a rewarding watch.
Pacific Northwest Pictures release SOUND OF METAL in theatres Friday, November 20, 2020 and it arrives on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S. and it is available digitally and on-demand in Canada Friday, December 4, 2020.
Anna Sewell’s BLACK BEAUTY is a love story that captures the bond between human and animal so beautifully that it should come as no surprise that it still stands the test of time some 143 years after it was written. Ashley Avis, formerly a competitive Equestrian, takes the reins on Disney+‘s adaptation of the story for a new audience. Along with this heartfelt timeless tale, we get updated messaging and more inclusion in casting.
This version centers on Jo Green (Mackenzie Foy), who is sent to live with her Uncle John (Iain Glen). While she is reluctant to warm-up to him, she does strike a bond with his filly (narrated by Kate Winslet) a wild Mustang who is acquired to be broken-in and sold. The horse changes Jo‘s life forever, helping her find herself but circumstances separate the two and we wonder if they ever will reunite again as she is treated like a commodity, changing hands multiple times.
Foy as always is great and she is fascinating to see develop into a dramatic actress and while we appreciate how the Film treats animal rights with the right delicateness and sympathy it deserves, ultimately it is paced in a way where things happen a couple beats too quickly, without fleshing-out key characters and their involvement with the Plot. And at times, the dialogue feels perhaps too simplistic even though we appreciate that the Film caters to a young audience. That being said, Winslet’s narration tugs on all the right heartstrings and you do feel something for her and her beloved friend, Jo.
BLACK BEAUTY arrives on Disney+ Friday, November 27, 2020.
THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES: PART TWO (NETFLIX)
If there’s anyone who knows the spirit of nostalgia, it’s Director Chris Columbus who has brought us classics like Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone (1 and 2), Mrs. Doubtfire and a litany of others. He directs and co-writes the sequel to 2018’s popular The Christmas Chronicles and while the first Film was very enjoyable, this installment has a wondrous, fantastical element to it that truly captures the joy of the Holidays.
Back again are Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) as they find themselves spending Christmas on a resort with their mom Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), her new boyfriend Bob (Tyrese) and his son Jack (Jahzir Bruno).Kate is faced with the fear of her deceased father being forgotten and wishes to escape and together with Jack, they find themselves transported off to the North Pole with Santa (Kurt Russell) and Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn), where the elves have gone out of control. One elf gone rogue, Belsnickel (Julian Dennison) threatens to ruin Christmas forever with the potential of a world without a Santa Claus. It is up to Kate and Jack to help save Christmas and also, will Kate get her long-awaited wish of finally getting to see her father?
THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES: PART TWO is none short of the boisterous, sparkly fun we’re totally here for. The Film belongs entirely to Camp and Russell who both are fantastic and Hawn is a welcome addition to the Franchise, a perfect warm and nurturing Mrs. Claus. Hijinx aside, the Film hits all the right notes emotionally, feeling exactly like a Holiday film should! We wouldn’t be surprised if this got several viewings this Holiday season. Streaming now on Netflix.
SMALL AXE (AMAZON PRIME VIDEO)
It’s been a minute since we’ve heard from Academy Award-winning Director Steven McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame, Widows), but he’s back with an innovating new Mini-Series of five Films centering on the West Indian-immigrant experience in London in the ’60s and ’70s. While the subject matter is timely, with #BlackLivesMatter being at the forefront of discussion this past year, McQueen’s storytelling is timeless as we are transported right into the era.
The first Film in the Series, Mangrove, is about nine black activists arrest for inciting a riot after police had targeted a restaurant of the same name in Notting Hill. In a fight for their rights and the rights of the future generation, the group choose to represent themselves in court. What plays out is an intense court battle featuring some truly compelling performances from Shaun Parkes (Doctor Who), Malachi Kirby (Black Mirror) and Letitia Wright (Black Panther). McQueen masterfully examines racial hatred from both sides of the argument and this is a fantastic start to the Series.
The second Film, Lovers Rock is a sensual Romance set within a party where we meet Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) who sneaks out of her bedroom at night, and Franklyn (Michael Ward). The lighting is gorgeous and we are swept away into their looming love affair. McQueen has a masterful way of transporting us into the moment through music and the scenes just breathe beautifully as the songs play. While most of the story is set within the party itself, he paints a picture of the world these characters are living in at the time when we get brief glimpses of how unsafe things can get just stepping away from that safety net.
The remainder of the films arrive December 4, 2020 on Amazon Prime Video.
SELENA: THE SERIES (NETFLIX)
Throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, Selena became the queen of Tejano music. Managed by her father and supported by her siblings in her band, this tight-knit family went from performing at weddings, while living on the road to Selena becoming one of the most successful Latin artists of all time. That is, before she was murdered in 1995 at the age of 23, by the manager of her boutiques. This happened tragically, just as she was set to launch internationally with her debut English album.
The detail-obsessed Series is crafted heavily with the input of the Quintanilla family so what we get here are ten quick-moving episodes that recount the family’s struggles from having very little, but were ignited by an undying commitment and belief in themselves. Rather than being entirely focused on Selena, we get the story from all sides of the family and we truly feel the tension between them in how tightly-knit they were. Fantastic performances from our lead Christian Serratos (The Walking Dead) and Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives). Even at the end of the ten episodes the complete story isn’t told, cleverly leaving room for a second season. A must-watch for fans and intriguing enough to win over new fans who aren’t familiar with Selena‘s legacy.
SELENA: THE SERIES streams Friday, December 4, 2020 on Netflix.
ALL MY LIFE (UNIVERSAL PICTURES CANADA)
Based on a true story that happened right here in Toronto, ALL MY LIFE recounts the tale of a young couple, Solomon (Harry Shum Jr.) and Jennifer (Jessica Rothe). The couple whom after receiving tragic news, still forge ahead with plans to have a fairy tale wedding with the help of their friends who help them raise the funds to make it happen.
Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer) directs this tale which at times tugs on the heartstrings, but in moving along rapidly, misses the opportunity to delve deep into the couple’s love and their struggles during Solomon’s health battles which could’ve made this a bit more impactful, giving us more to root for. A solid performance from Rothe (Happy Death Day) in the lead role, though we wish a bit more room was given for the talented Supporting Cast which includes Jay Pharaoh (Saturday Night Live), Keala Settle (The Greatest Showman) and Mario Cantone (Sex and the City). There is definitely an audience for a Film like this.
ALL MY LIFE opens in theatres Friday, December 4, 2020. Please ensure you observe COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in theatres.
MARIAH CAREY’S MAGICAL CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (APPLE TV+)
Based on the premise that 2020 has been… not so great, the Queen of Christmas, Mariah Carey is here to help save Christmas. Joining her on this 45-minute adventure is an understandably starstruck Billy Eichner as Santa‘s Assistant, with a story narrated by Tiffany Haddish. Several famous friends join Carey including Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson on a new rendition of Oh Santa!, which stands a chance at being a successor to modern classic All I Want for Christmas is You! The Peanuts Gang also make an appearance as do the likes of Snoop Dogg and long-time collaborator Jermaine Dupri. While festive and well-being including a touching rendition of Silent Night, the Special’s emotional high note is its Encore, where Carey delivers an extra festive Aspen-set performance of her biggest Holiday smash and her twins Moroccan and Monroe even come on out to support their Mom! We live for this and even if another Carey Holiday Special doesn’t come for a while, this one will do on-rotation! Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special streams now on Apple TV+.
EUPHORIA: TROUBLE DON’T LAST ALWAYS (HBO/CRAVE)
While it’ll be a while till we see Season Two of HBO‘s Euphoria, two special Holiday episodes of the acclaimed Series are amidst us, to tie us over. Director/Writer Sam Levinson goes deep as we ponder the Holidays with Rue (a recent Emmy-winning Zendaya) and her friend Ali (Colman Domingo) where they question their existence and what it means to cope with addiction, sobriety and some of the destructive things they had done in their lives to the ones who love them. Rue is coping with Jules (Hunter Schafer) leaving her, which leads her on a downward spiral again. Phenomenal, intimate performances in what feels like it could’ve been a stage production. A reminder that the Holidays aren’t a happy time for everyone. The first special episode is available to stream now on Crave with the HBO add-on, with the second arriving January 2021.
SUGAR RUSH CHRISTMAS SEASON 2 (NETFLIX)
You know how much we love our baking shows and we’re so delighted SUGAR RUSH is back for a second season with its Christmas edition. Lots of exciting and exhilarating baking challenges here in this second season where contestants are challenged with tasks like making creations inspired by Christmas Carols, the North Pole, Advent Calendars, Peanuts and more. The finished products as always look to-die-for and we wish we could taste everything too! Celebrity guests include Chris Bosh, Abigail Breslin, Jordin Sparks, among others! Adore this. Season 2 is streaming now.
FABULOUS LIVES OF BOLLYWOOD WIVES (NETFLIX)
We’re told Bollywood is different from Hollywood in that Bollywood stars maintain much more mystique than many of those stars those in Hollywood who have embraced oversharing on Social Media. This new Series comprised of eight episodes, takes us right inside the worlds of Neelam Kothari Soni, Maheep Kapoor, Seema Khan and Bhavana Pandey, whom are longtime best friends and among Bollywood’s elite. With a Kardashians-like view, we get a glimpse into their glamorous, although they consider it mundane, lives. All isn’t always rosy as passions too flare at times as these friends too have unresolved issues that get brought to the table. Don’t know much about the world of Bollywood? Don’t worry, they explain these relationships well and drama knows no cultural boundaries. Maheep is the loud, assertive one. Neelam is a former Actress pondering relaunching her career. Seema is all about protecting her family even though we understand her husband isn’t always around. Bhavna plays Devil’s Advocate which can be problematic when a friend wants her support. Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Lives is streaming now on Netflix.
THE UNDOING (HBO/CRAVE)
This six-part Mini-Series directed by Susanne Bier and and written by David E. Kelley, is adapted from the Novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz.The Undoing centers on a privileged family, Jonathan (Hugh Grant), Grace (Nicole Kidman) and their son Henry (Noah Jupe) who are impacted in the aftermath of a woman’s death. With Jonathan standing accused of murder, Grace is left to put together the pieces how her husband could have been done this. The story masterfully twists and turns as we no longer know what to believe and who is reliable right up to the gripping conclusion.
Phenomenal work as expected from Kidman who is forced to dig deep and find the truth, leaning on her father Franklin (a strong performance by Donald Sutherland) for guidance. Jupe is coming into his own as a fine Actor with a goodheartedness that makes it all the more unbelievable that such a grounded family could be dealing with something so awful. Grant is the biggest surprise here and while we’re used to seeing him in Holiday movies around this time of year. Looking back, it all makes perfect sense.
THE UNDOING streams now on Crave with the HBO add-on.
STYLISH WITH JENNA LYONS (HBO MAX/CRAVE)
Better known as “The Woman Who Dressed America” at the height of J.Crew‘s popularity, the retailer’s former President Jenna Lyons is a fashion icon in her own right. Since her time with J.Crew had ended, she’s been a bit more on the quiet side, but she’s back as she makes her foray into Home Design and Beauty. She’s looking to add to her Team and goes on a search for the next Associate as fresh new talent have a chance to prove they have what it takes to work with her on this eight-episode Series. What is interesting is that the finalists must work against unconventional conditions as the competition is halted amidst the Pandemic and picks-up again, forcing Lyons to alter her course. We love the assured way in which she speaks and mentors, which comes with a gentle grace and assuredness. The Series gets intimate as was also learn about her life and her own challenges. STYLISH WITH JENNA LYONS is available to stream now on Crave with the HBO add-on.
THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT (HBO MAX/CRAVE)
Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) is a flight attendant coping with Alcoholism, living her life recklessly between stop-offs. On a flight to Bangkok, she meets a handsome stranger in Alex (Michiel Huisman) and after an enchanting, alcohol-fueled night out, she wakes-up to find him dead in the bed beside her. As she runs away from the situation, trying to stay under the radar, she must confront her past, her addiction and relationships, and gets to know Alex better as he surfaces as an apparition to her. The Series has a chaotic energy to it which keeps things fun and lively, and Cuoco is a perfect casting choice. Also Girls’ Zosia Mamet surfaces as Cassie‘s delightfully-funny lawyer/best friend Annie. THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT streams on Crave with HBO add-on, new episodes weekly.