Screen, Stream or Skip: From the new Knives Out movie to Spielberg's latest, here's what to watch this week
With the arrival of American Thanksgiving, there’s a bounty of media dropping. Here’s what’s worth your time
Even north of the border, American Thanksgiving is often a prime time for movie and TV releases. And this year is no different — there's a bounty of media arriving this week everywhere from Netflix to the big screen.
Here, CBC News compiles some of those releases, and offers advice on which to screen, which to stream and which to skip.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
The first Guardians of the Galaxy was a candy-coloured burst of inspired Marvel mayhem that subverted expectations with director James Gunn's charming band of idiots. The second film wasn't as successful, but the chemistry held.
In comparison, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (streaming on Disney+) seems almost conventional by comparison. Sure it's cheesy, sentimental and begins with a few aliens singing a Christmas song … but then again, it is a holiday special.
With Mantis and Drax off to Earth on a mission to cheer up Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the onus is on Pom Klementieff and Dave Bautista to carry the story. They aren't exactly Abbot and Costello, but there are some inspired bursts of wackiness. Best enjoyed with eggnog and a stiff shot of lowered expectations.
Verdict: Stream it. Worth a watch if you're already subscriber.
Straight from the brain of Tim Burton, Netflix's Wednesday looks to bring The Addams Family into modern day — while focusing on who has always been the most interesting character.
But this latest reboot (the eleventh since Charles Addams first debuted the characters as cartoons in the pages of The New Yorker in the '30s) misunderstands what makes the Addams family such a creepy delight: they're not the strange ones — ordinary people are.
Wednesday opts to take the eponymous hellion to Nevermore Academy (a Poe-inspired Hogwarts analogue), which places her among a student body of werewolves, sirens and seers who have no reason to be put off by a girl wearing all black. On top of that, we almost entirely lose Morticia, Gomez and Pugsley — transforming a show about the most interesting and supportive family in America to a shiny teen mystery that wouldn't look out of place on the Disney channel.
Still, Jenna Ortega's performance as Wednesday Addams is transcendent: with Wednesday, she may have established the definitive version of the character. It's enjoyable enough just to watch her performance, which drips with deadpan delivery — and witness her self-choreographed, Lene Lovich-influenced dance to The Cramps' Goo Goo Muck.
Verdict: Stream an episode if you have nothing better to do. Otherwise, don't bother.
Another entry from Disney, Strange World is a bit of a novelty — an original story from Walt Disney Animation. Filled with style cues from B-movies and sci-fi pulp stories, the film concerns a family of explorers trying to save their remote community when the glowing plants that power their technology begin to wilt away.
Strange World is notable for the inclusion of Ethan, the queer young son who comes from long line of explorers. While Ethan's sexuality is incidental to the story, it's the kind of front and centre representation the LGBTQ community has waiting for in a Disney film.
Unfortunately, the step forward flounders with a story that's as bland as the animation is beautiful. Behind the candyland colour scheme is a story that hammers home again and again the daddy issues of various characters. The A-list voice talent — Jake Gyellenhaal, Dennis Quaid and Jaboukie Young-White — is game, but beyond the bubblegum palate and day-glo creatures, Strange World is, at best, fun but forgettable.
Verdict: Skip it. Wait instead for Strange World to come to Disney+.
Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans is the story nearly every director wants to get big enough to tell. Like Cinema Paradiso, Jacquot de Nantes, Hugo, Pain and Glory, The Long Day Closes, even Shia LaBeouf's Honey Boy: a portrait of the artist as a young man, a look at what it's like to fall in love with cinematography, and a qualified argument for nostalgia — along with a very public working-through of parental trauma.
Spielberg hews close to that formula in The Fabelmans: a two and a half hour look back at his complicated relationship with his parents and their rocky marriage, and his own rocky road to becoming a filmmaker.
The role of Spielberg stand-in Sammy Fabelman is split between Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord as a young child and Canadian newcomer Gabriel LaBelle as a teen and on; both do an admirable job carrying a film that's as dependent on their subtle performances as it is on the audience's interest in deep-cut Spielberg lore.
That's because, though The Fabelmans is an endearing entry in the "love letter to cinema" genre (it earned a standing ovation and the coveted People's Choice award after its world premiere at TIFF in September), it emulates the beats of those kinds of movies to a fault.
In his homage to classic film tropes and storytelling techniques, Spielberg nearly dips into the "no plot, just vibes" category. Though he doesn't deviate from a well-known formula, he is the master of that formula — so it really can't go wrong.
Verdict: Screen it if you're hungry for some classic, quiet cinema.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
While the first Knives Out movie was like a curse-filled game of Clue, complete with the creaky mansion and murderous suspects, director Rian Johnson's sequel is decidedly contemporary.
Set during the 2020 pandemic, billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites his favourite group of disruptors to his Greek island for a murder mystery weekend. Two unexpected guests, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) and Bron's former business partner Andi (Janelle Monáe) suggest the fun and games are going to get decidedly chaotic.
While Glass Onion is only in theatres for a week before arriving on Netflix in late December, it's best enjoyed with a large group gasping and cackling as the story twists and turns and folds in on itself.
Johnson has packed the cast with delicious delights including Dave Batista as a lunkhead alpha-male YouTuber, and Kate Hudson as a pampered pop star with a talent for getting herself cancelled. While Detective Blanc's bourbon-dipped accent has been dialled down, Craig seems to be looser and more lively in this latest iteration.
To say anything more of the plot would ruin the ride, but a tip of the hat to Norton's Bron. As a time when Elon Musk is occupying so much of Twitter's attention, the actor's turn as a billionaire with a super-charged ego is a timely reminder of how fallible these great minds are.
Verdict: Screen it. Best watched in a crowded theatre with friends or family.
Like Wednesday, Devotion is carried by the performance of its lead — but not much else. A passion project by producer and supporting star Glen Powell, Devotion tells the story of Jesse L. Brown, the first Black naval aviator, and his experience during the Korean War.
Jonathan Majors is magnetic as Brown, especially in one harrowing scene where he stares into a mirror — which, to us as the audience, has him staring down the barrel of the camera — with tears streaming down his face, as he repeats every racist thing fellow officers have said to him. It's something the real Brown did himself, and Majors told CBC at the film's TIFF premiere that scene is one of the reasons he took the role in the first place. But despite his talent, elsewhere the film drags.
Despite its stated goal of reminding the world about a "forgotten war," Devotion has nothing new to say about war in general. The ensemble cast, including Vancouver's Serinda Swan as Elizabeth Taylor and blink-and-you'll-miss-him Joe Jonas as pilot Marty Goode, adds little to the overly conventional plot.
Altogether, there's little here you haven't already seen in any war movie released in the past two decades.
Verdict: Skip it, wait until it's on demand to stream while cooking dinner.