The Crown returns with a sex scandal, Will Smith partners an Orc in Bright, Germany’s Dark raises goosebumps—Netflix is showing all this and more in December.
The Crown, Season 2
Claire Foy returns as Queen Elizabeth II in the second season of The Crown, which covers the 1956 Suez Crisis—and more sensationally—the 1963 Profumo Affair, which brought down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government. The British tabloids have already had a field day reporting the series’ decision to name Prince Philip (Matt Smith) as a friend of Stephen Ward, the ill-fated society osteopath and procurer. It was Ward who facilitated British war minister John Profumo’s affair with Ward’s protegée Christine Keeler, who was sleeping simultaneously with the Russian naval attache and spy Yevgeny Ivanov. Whether Ward put willing tootsies in Philip’s way, too, is scarcely relevant if it makes for good salacious drama.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the other superheroic misfits in the Guardians—Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel)—return to do intergalactic battle with the Ravagers crime syndicate. Netflix should have a slam-dunk winner with James Gunn’s sequel to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s got talismanic Tolkienesque baubles and fun weoponry, and an accessible mythic backdrop. Is it time for Star Wars to roll over and tell Game of Thrones the news? Maybe not just yet.
Dark, Season 1
This 10-part, 10-hour German-language supernatural thriller spanning three generations tells the story of disappearing children in a small German town where the past reverberates in the present, and vice versa: Think The Pied Piper of Hamelin with touches of Red Riding, True Detective, and even Twin Peaks: The Return. Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, the Netflix original Dark was shot in suburban Berlin. It could become addictive.
David Ayer’s Bright might have good intentions in celebrating diversity in the workplace, but its teaming of Will Smith’s LAPD officer with Joel Edgerton’s uniformed Orc in a turf war drama is faintly ludicrous. 1) Orcs are evil, not redeemable; 2) You half expect Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee to come running out of every bodega; 3) Any film that makes the Lethal Weapon franchise look subtle can’t be that smart. That said, Bright might prove entertaining.
More for Will Smith fans. In this 2011 romantic comedy, the star plays a professional matchmaker whose skill in the art of wooing women hits a stumbling block in the shape of gossip columnist Eva Mendes. She not only resists his charm, but exposes him as a tutor for wannabe seducers. Kevin James (excellent) and Amber Valletta co-star in a movie which has a simple enough message: when it comes to lurve, be yourself.
Easy, Season 2
Former mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg’s second season of Easy promises, if possible, a looser look at love, sex, and the getting of both in Chicago North Side’s Lincoln Square area than even season one offered. Aubrey Plaza and Judy Greer join the cast, which still includes Marc Maron and Aya Cash. Swanberg favors improv, so don’t expect anything super-manicured.
The Magicians, Season 2
Based on Lev Grossman’s novels, The Magicians wants to have its cake and eat it, too: essentially it’s Harry Potter for twenty-somethings dosed with Narnia-like fantasy and Tarantinoism. The rape of Stella Maeve’s character Julia in season one was also highly problematic, given that it gave her extra powers and made her a villain. The Syfy series did well enough to earn a second season, but it’s very much an acquired taste.
Judd Apatow: The Return
Before Apatow was a multi-hyphenate king of comedy, he made his living doing stand-up. He quit that racket 25 years ago, but was tempted back to the stage for a Netflix TV special filmed in Montreal. Obviously Amy Schumer’s opinion about whether he should take the risk carried some weight (see teaser below).
Eminem stars as struggling young Detroit rapper Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith Jr. (and master of the thousand-yard stare) in Curtis Hanson’s thinly veiled biopic of Marshall Mathers himself. The cast includes Kim Basinger (as Jimmy’s trailer-park mom), the late Brittany Murphy, Michael Shannon, and the excellent Mekhi Phifer. It had propulsive energy when it was released in 2002, and the climactic rap battle—umpired by Phifer’s character—is still up to snuff.
Full Metal Jacket
Private Davis (Matthew Modine), aka Joker, is the protagonist-observer of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War film, which goes nowhere near a lush jungle. Instead, it splits its action between a U.S. Marine boot camp, where an overweight recruit (Vincent D’Onofrio) is so brainwashed by training that he goes mad, and a blasted urban terrain where Joker’s platoon is tasked with smoking out a Vietcong sniper. Though it suffers in comparison with The Deerhunter, Apocalypse Now, and Platoon, Full Metal Jacket remains a potent drama about the dehumanizing effects of war.
Netflix had a success with Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. Another documentary about a celebrated writer that premiered at the New York Film Festival is Voyeur. Directed by Myles Kane and Josh Khoury, it’s the story of the controversial journalist Gay Talese’s encounters with Gerald Foos, a Colorado hotelier who between 1966 and 1990 spied on his guests’ bathroom habits and bedroom encounters. He volunteered his story to Talese, who wrote a New Yorker article and book about the peeping tom, only to disown the book when it was revealed that Foos wove lies into his narrative.
Diana: In Her Own Words
Tom Jennings’s documentary draws upon Princess Diana’s intimate taped conversations with her voice coach Peter Settelen to paint a chilling picture of how cruelly she was betrayed by her husband Prince Charles and the royal family. She reveals, among other things, her struggles with bulimia and the closeness of her relationship with her bodyguard, Barry Mannakee, who was killed in a road crash after being redeployed. Jennings backs Diana’s haunting words with a mixture of video video clips and official footage. Twenty years after her own suspicious death in Paris, her tragedy looms ever larger.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
Jim Carrey was at his zaniest as the bequiffed animal ‘tec from Miami in the two Ace Ventura comedies (1994, 1995). Along with Dumb and Dumber and The Mask (both 1994), they made him a superstar—a vessel of cocky bravado and demented energy (like Jerry Lewis minus the self-conscious squirms). Fairly innocent fun, they’re good for watching in your PJs one morning after Christmas Day when you’re too lazy to do anything else.
The Young Victoria
Sarah, Duchess of York (“Fergie”) and Martin Scorsese were unlikely co-producers on director Jean-Marc Vallée’s handsome drama about the early marital life of Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt) and Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). It’s a little light and a little tame—properly Victorian in other words—but we would not be amused by anything more strenuous. The fine supporting cast includes Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Mark Strong. Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Downton Abbey) wrote the screenplay.
In this 2006 comedy, the cook of a monastery orphanage (Jack Black) yearns to become a masked wrestler—luchador—to raise money for the kids’ welfare, even though he is strictly forbidden to do so. Director Jared Hess and his writing partner (and wife) Jerusha Hess previously made 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite—one of the century’s most hilarious comedies. Nacho Libre isn’t in the same league, but no movie into which Jack Black squeezes his roly-poly persona can be all that bad.
V for Vendetta
Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, and John Hurt star in James McTeigue’s sharp, exciting political action thriller. Adapted by Lana and Lilly Wachowski (who were “Larry” and “Andy” at the time) from Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s limited series DC/Vertigo comic, it’s set in a dystopian future London where a terrorist (Weaving) wearing a Guy Fawkes mask attempts to start a revolution to bring down the fascist government. V for Vendetta‘s allegorical chickens have not yet come home to roost, but it still feels prescient.