Tag Archives: Netflix original

Outside The Wire

Robot soldiers fight alongside human ones in the near future – and against them, robots on either side of this conflict, a storm of bullets raining down. Two men are hit, and their commanding officer makes plans to pull them to safety, but an ocean away, in the middle of the Nevada desert, a young drone pilot named Harp (Damson Idris) eats gummy bears and disobeys orders, launching a strike that kills the two in order to save the other 38. Harp is court-martialed and sent to the demilitarized zone for a reminder of the human cost of his lethal button pushing.

There he meets Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), an A.I. enhanced cyborg soldier who’s selected him for a mission outside the wire. Leo’s biotech is extremely convincing (he can even feel pain) but make no mistake – he’s a military machine. A military weapon, in fact, a supersoldier who’s excellent in close combat and whose A.I. is so advanced it can follow the threads of these conflicts in ways that no human leaders ever have. Which is what he needs Harp for, a man he turns out to have hand-chosen because of his ability to think outside the box. They’re going to dodge robot soldiers and angry insurgents to chase a warlord hellbent on securing himself some neglected nukes. Leo can’t pursue this one his own; he’s got built-in fail-safes to prevent that, but where his investigation would constitute a flaw in his programming, Harp is free to do so based solely on a human hunch.

I enjoyed this movie for a couple of reasons. First among them is the Asimov angle, the king of sci-fi who wrote all those clever rules of robotics, and whose every thesis went something like: beware artificial intelligence, because it will inevitably figure out that humans need to be protected from themselves, and we won’t like the measures they take to do so. Except in Outside The Wire’s case, what Leo establishes fairly quickly is that the real enemy is the U.S. military, even though he’s technically meant to be fighting on its side.

Robots, it turns out, aren’t as blindly patriotic as we might like. Lee sees things from both points of view, and he comes to some conclusions that the American government might not appreciate. It’s a little sad that it takes a robot to consider the the socio-political aspect, to put himself in someone else’s shoes and examine other perspectives, but there you have it. It’s what we’ve come to. Asimov is always right. A.I. will always find us lacking. Is this the movie that’s going to help heal America after this most divisive period in its history? Highly doubtful. Most people will just be watching or the action sequences, and that’s fine too.

The truth, however, is that Outside The Wire isn’t a terrific movie. It’s not the blockbuster stuff you’ve been craving. Leo can’t reveal his master plan to Harp all at once, so it’s hidden from us as well, making for an occasionally confusing and scattershot plot. It feels like it takes us through a series of switchbacks that aren’t entirely earned. What it’s really counting on is that you’ll be so pleased by the Transformer-like Gumps (the scary robot soldiers) that you’ll only be paying half attention to the story.

Still, the action is decent, and so is the relationship between Leo and Harp, like Training Day if Denzel was also the Terminator. That kind of thing. It’s kind of fun to watch Mackie play a cyborg soldier since we’ve seen him be a flesh and blood soldier in Hurt Locker, and an enhanced super hero in the Marvel universe. This character kind of melds those roles together, a robot pretending to be human with his own thoughts and feelings about this war and what its outcome should be. Of course, a global conflict is tough for a single robot to take on alone – though now that I think about it, I suppose we’ve seen A.I. do much more, and much worse, so I think it’s fair to say: fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy

I doubt anyone needs to be reminded that crack is a very bad, no good idea. However, you might appreciate a documentary that explores the ways in which the American government used a drug to exploit and manipulate a population.

Though the government itself was responsible for importing this insidious substance, it had no problem with the hypocrisy involved in blaming the victim and criminalizing a disease. Addicts were shown no mercy. In fact, these were, not coincidentally, the days of mandatory minimums, where (Black) people were being thrown in jail for decades over piddling amounts of drugs. Racial bias you say? Absofuckinglutely.

This documentary probably tries to cover too much ground and talk to too many people, not all of whom agree on all of the facts, so there are inconsistencies that might niggle at you, but that’s life. This is a complex issue and we’re still trying to follow all the threads. The constant, though, is the destruction it brought down upon a community that is still reeling and trying to recuperate.

Is Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy a perfect documentary? It is not. Perhaps a narrower focus might have improved the view. Still, it’s a worthy effort and an important subject, especially with the benefit of hindsight that allows us to take a look in the rearview and really appreciate how much it altered a culture and left an indelible stain on a country that would rather sweep these contradictions under the nearest supermax prison.

Bridgerton

It’s hot, it’s steamy, you know you want to (and chances are, you already have: this series has been ULTRA popular on Netflix). It’s deliciously anachronistic, unapologetically salacious, and totally bingeable. The costumes are sumptuous, the dialogue sparkles, the sets are incredible, and the romance is as soapy as it is sexy. Plus, the ensemble cast has incredible depth and talent, led by a luminous Phoebe Dyvenor and the brooding sex-beast Regé-Jean Page as The Duke.

We don’t normally review series here, but we’re unconstrained and unstoppable on Youtube.

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We Can Be Heroes

Robert Rodriguez has two very different speeds when it comes to making movies: ultra violent, and children’s action-adventure. These may seem fairly disparate, but I think Rodriguez has just tapped into the truth that grown men and small children want pretty much the same things when it comes to movies, though one demographic wants a generous side of boob a little more than the other. The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3-D was my first Robert Rodriguez movie; imagine my surprise when years later I discovered his oeuvre wasn’t all spy kids and junior super heroes.

We Can Be Heroes is Rodriguez’s newest film, a family-friendly one for Netflix. It’s not about super heroes, though it does have plenty of them in it, including Rodriguez’s old friends, Lavagirl and Sharkboy, who are now all grown up (the original Lavagirl Taylor Dooley returns, but Taylor Lautner is replaced by JJ Dashnaw) and fighting as part of the Heroics team, which includes Miracle Man (Boyd Holbrook) and Tech-no (Christian Slater, for some reason), and is led by Marcus (Pedro Pascal) from his office. Marcus doesn’t fight anymore, a promise he made to his daughter Missy (YaYa Gosselin) due to his single-father status. But when aliens invade, the first thing they do is round up and neutralize all the super heroes, leaving behind only their children, who take it upon themselves to save the day. Missy is the rare super hero offspring who seems to have no powers of her own, but is a natural born leader – a challenge to Wild Card (Nathan Blair) who is technically able to assume any power but lacks the focus to do so reliably. Also in their little gang: Noodles (Lyon Daniels), a tween who can stretch his limbs to Elastigirl limits; Wheels (Andy Walken), a kid in a wheel with a predictable nickname who’s actually as strong as he is smart; Ojo (Hala Finley), a girl whose strange drawings seem to predict the near-future; twins Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and Fast Forward (Akira Akbar) who can do with time exactly as their names suggest; Facemaker (Andrew Diaz), who can rearrange his features a la Mr. Potato Head; Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau), whose super questionable skill is doing everything very slowly; A Capella (Lotus Blossom), whose song notes can make things levitate; and little Guppy (Vivien Blair), the adorable offspring of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, who can move and manipulate water.

Their parents, the real super-heroes, were captured because they failed to work together. Their squabbles broke the team up and left them vulnerable. Their kids will have to learn to do better, to make their special skills complement each other’s if there’s to be any chance of saving the earth from alien domination. To make matters worse, Heroics HQ is headed by Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), whose motivations are questionable. Who can they trust and how will they save the world? And how will they manage to carry out such an important mission on their very first? You’ll have to watch to find out, but suffice to say, kids in the audience will likely be pleased. Adults not so much. The kid acting is nothing to write home about. Missy, the lead, is inconsistent, and A Capella, the singer, is downright annoying, a smug little shit who can’t stop hogging the spotlight. Noodles and Guppy are quite watchable though, with Guppy especially cute when she goes into “shark frenzy” when she loses her temper.

I applaud the attempt to come up with some half-way original super powers as most grown up movies don’t even do that. They’re not all winners, but everyone gets at least one moment in the sun. And there’s a training montage that I know is going to be a huge hit for at least four boys that I know, two of whom just got obstacle course stuff (like slack lines) so they can do ‘ninja warrior’ training at home, and two of whom already have a course or two set up thanks to their intrepid grandfather who grants all kinds of adventure wishes. This movie makes their super hero fantasies a reality, and it validates their contributions, present and future, to society. When so many forces tell them they’ll have to wait to grow up, this movie tells them they’re valuable, resourceful, and capable right now – and that’s the kind of soul food that nourishes their dreams, even if the packaging seems kind of corny and uninspired to you and I. So while We Can Be Heroes isn’t a great movie, it’s destined to be kid-approved, and might even inform their play and pretend for the rest of their holidays, which means less work for you! That’s what we call a win-win.

The Midnight Sky

We meet scientist Augustine (George Clooney) on a very bad day for humanity. The inevitability that climate change has been predicting for years is finally here, and in the end, it goes so much more quickly than we ever imagined. Augustine works at an Arctic station that is being frantically evacuated on this particular day, people rushing home to be with loved ones as they wait to die, and in a matter of just days, they do. The toxic air will take a few days more to reach the Arctic, so Augustine stays behind, alone. At least he thinks he is until he discovers a little girl (Caoilinn Springall) who’s been left behind, but by the time she’s found, Augustine can no longer reach anyone else. These two may be the last humans alive on Earth.

BUT. There are 5 more humans still alive in space, astronauts that have been on a 2 year mission to assess a newly discovered planet for viability. And indeed it does appear to be the promised land, able to sustain human life. Except for everyone on Earth, it’s too late.

With his communications down, Augustine makes the difficult decision to try to reach another station. On foot. In the quickly melting, deteriorating Arctic landscape. Racing against toxic air. With a little girl in tow. Easy journey, you say? It is not. But Augustine’s got an urgent message for those aboard the starship: don’t come home. Turn back.

The five people aboard that starship are Sully (Felicity Jones), who is pregnant in space, her baby daddy and boss Adewole (David Oyelowo), plus Sanchez (Demián Bichir), Maya (Tiffany Boone), and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), none of whom knew they were signing up to be the last earthlings/the ones who would need to repopulate humanity. What an awful burden to put on anyone, but it’s either that, or death. Which would you choose?

Sean didn’t love this movie because he found it cold, and I don’t think that’s just a temperature thing (although poor George had to limit takes to 1 minute, and use a hair dryer to thaw his eyelashes between takes). There’s no room in the movie for recriminations but thanks to a subtle and clever script by Mark L. Smith (based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s book, Good Morning, Midnight), we know that Augustine is disgusted by humanity, by the fate we chose for ourselves. The movie very quickly divorces itself from Earth, which is over, and I can understand feeling untethered by that. I myself found it a fascinating corner of the human psyche to explore and discover.

Who are we at the end of the world? Augustine’s life’s work revolved around solving this problem, and now he’s watching it all come to naught. Were his sacrifices worth it? It is a powerful accounting of one’s life that takes place when it can be so starkly measured, and through flashbacks we sense that he’s feeling some regret. The astronauts too are facing a similar hardship. Imagine having come so close, having landed on a planet that could save humanity only to learn that they’re just a little too late. Oh, and that everything and everyone that they knew and loved are dead. And that they can never go home again, in every sense of the expression, that their fates now lie on a strange and unpopulated planet where, best case scenario, their kids will be committing incest for generations.

I love a movie like this that has me trying on so many different shoes to see how they feel. How it feels to fail on such a devastating scope. How it feels to actually face the extinction of the Earth, which seems like such a theoretical concept until the reality is burning in your lungs. And yet to also be in a place where guilt and regret no longer matter. Where not even grief and tears matter because we can only mourn what we have lost, or what we are leaving behind, and neither of those things apply when everything is blinking out at the same time. There are no legacies, no one to carry forward your story, everything will be forgotten, so none of it mattered.

Okay, I can sort of see why you might find this bleak. Yet I am choked with awe reconsidering it all again. George Clooney directs, and he correctly identifies that the end of the world will be markedly emotionless. We humans have no concept of an extinction level event. In 2049, when this movie takes place, we’ll have had – what, 70, 80 years? – of warning, and yet we still won’t see it coming, we still won’t be prepared, and we still won’t believe it until it’s too damn late. I can’t help but admire a movie that is willing to punch you in the gut like that.

The Midnight Sky streams on Netflix December 23rd.

Ariana Grande: Excuse Me, I Love You

Random thoughts I had while watching Ariana Grande: Excuse Me, I Love You an essay by Jay Taylor

Calling this a documentary seems generous if not downright false. It’s 90% concert footage, 5% rehearsal, and 5% nonsense. You won’t get to know the girl behind the music, you’ll just get a better than average view of her Sweetener World Tour for a fraction of the price.

First song: God Is A Woman, or, if the staging is to be believed, Ariana is the woman who is God, or at the very least Christ, seeing how she’s got the seat of honour at a table that looks very last suppery. Although if the lyrics are to be believed, Ariana is God because she’s good at sex. Turns out, Ariana isn’t very good at songwriting – and she had 4 other grown ups help her with such gems as “We can make it last, take it slow, hmm.”

Confession that’s probably already obvious: I’m not a fan. I’m not not a fan. I’m not a hater. I’m just not a fan. I recognized a couple of the songs because I’m a human of Earth, but I never thought any of them great and now I’m convinced they’re pretty bad.

Also pretty bad: Scooter Braun. You know, the evil man who tried to shit all over Taylor Swift? Him. He’s still Ariana’s manager, and she’s so unashamed of this he features in this “documentary” more than once. Sean and I both booed him at the exact same time. We may not know much about Ms. Grande but we do know that there is only one right stance to have about Scooter Braun and that’s against. I’m disappointed in Ariana; it’s a total violation of girl code, of good person code, and though I don’t expect much of her, this is still a pretty shitty thing.

This never occurred to me before, but are there no atheists in pop music? Literally every film of concert footage has a prayer circle before each performance with hand holding and out-loud prayers for a good show. Most work places are super duper not allowed to force their employees to pray for show, but pop star world tours seem to be some sort of exception because that shit does not look voluntary at all.

Sean commented about how 88% of people in the doc are billed as Ariana’s “best friend” but that’s literally the only thing about the “movie” that didn’t bother me. Like Mindy Lahiri once said, “A best friend isn’t a person, it’s a tier.” Although, I will say there are a suspicious amount of “best friends” on the payroll; how “best” is this “friend” if you have to pay them?

Speaking of which: mom Joan is a chronic hanger-on herself. Ariana Grande is 27 years old. I’m not sure at which age exactly that becomes creepy, but it was before 27, even if you’re not gyrating in PVC while singing about your sex being god-like. NOT CREEPY AT ALL.

Anyway: is there any personality underneath that high pony? Unknown. There’s nothing new or illuminating or interesting here, just definitely-seen-before pieces of her already dated world tour. It’s a 1 hour, 37 minute commercial for Ariana Grande who must be, if nothing else, pretty savvy about marketing herself – especially since the day this doc hit Netflix just happens to also be the day she announced her most recent engagement.

Continue the Ariana discussion on Youtube!

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Chicago, 1927. Welcome to a single recording session of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Ma (Viola Davis) is running late, of course, cause she’s the star. The band is rehearsing in the “studio,” a dank basement room that’s not big enough for the egos it’s asked to contain. Levee the horn player (Chadwick Boseman) in particular is testing everyone’s nerves with his outsized ambitions and his new $11 shoes.

When Ma arrives, tensions mount. Levee is trying to rearrange her music, and she’s got to show him his place. But she’s also battling the (white) management, who are subtly trying to push her in different directions, disrespecting her status as the mother of the blues, trying to control a product they don’t fully understand. The other band members – Cutler (Colman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) – try to run interference, but they know their place and are loathe to stray from it.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson adapts from August Wilson’s excellent play. You may know that Denzel Washington intends to bring all 10 of Wilson’s “century cycle” plays to screen, starting with Fences, for which David received an Oscar, and following this one with The Piano Lesson, for which he’ll cast his son, John David Washington. Of course, he wasn’t far off in casting Boseman for this one; Boseman was his longtime protégé; Washington had sponsored him at Howard University, paying his tuition so he could take Phylicia Rashad’s coveted acting class. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is Boseman’s last role. He was secretly receiving treatment for the colon cancer that killed him earlier this year while filming.

As far as legacy goes, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is about as good a final role as you can hope for. He’s magnetic, vital, crackling with suppressed rage, electrifying and dangerous. Opposite him, Viola Davis’s Ma can afford to be a little more confident, a little more sedate. Perhaps because of her career she has more experience dealing with the white man’s power struggle, but she holds her own, knows her worth and insists on it.

August Wilson’s play is urgent and alive (I personally prefer this one to Fences). Director George C. Wolfe does an excellent job of making us feel every inch of that tiny recording studio’s claustrophobic walls. It’s hot, it’s crowded, there is little room for maneuvering (physically and symbolically) and plenty of potential for mistakes. Egos and tempers are bouncing off each other in desperate and menacing ways. Meanwhile, the white managers and producers sit comfortably upstairs, dictating how the session will go, depriving even their star of a 5 cent bottle of Coke.

This recording session is a microcosm of the Black experience in America in the early 20th century. Generational trauma, informed by racism, religion and violence, is evident in every note sung in the blues, and white men stand by to monetize and profit from it. It is no wonder that this session may turn explosive at any moment, and very telling that when that escalating pressure so carefully cultivated finally does release, the lateral violence is just another heartbreaking blow to an already wounded community.

The Prom

The Prom is a new movie on Netflix based on a Broadway musical of the same name about a handful of Broadway stars looking to clean up their image by taking on a random cause. The cause in question is a prom in Indiana that the PTA would rather cancel than allow a gay student to attend with her girlfriend. It’s a pretty gay musical that Ryan Murphy manages to make bigger, better, and gayer than ever, with boatloads of sequins and buckets of wigs, and the shiniest, sparkliest cast he could assemble.

Dee Dee (Meryl Streep) is a veteran stage actress, a Broadway phenom with a Tony in her purse and an outsized sense of entitlement. When we meet her, she’s starring in the opening night of Eleanor, a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt. Co-starring as FDR is Barry (James Corden), a Broadway mainstay who’s still chasing that first Tony, and hoping this might be it. Unfortunately, a bad review pretty much shuts them down on that first night, and someone has the temerity to point out that it’s not so much that the show is bad as that the two of them are so disliked. They’re narcissists, they’re told, though they’re not convinced that’s such a bad thing. But in the best interest of their careers, they decide to rehab their reputations by support a cause (a cause celebre, they specify) along with Broadway actor “between gigs” Trent (Andrew Rannells) and inveterate chorus girl Angie (Nicole Kidman), who ride the next bus out of town toward homophobic Indiana.

Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) is the sweet teenage girl who just wants to take her girlfriend to prom. Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is her closeted girlfriend and the daughter of Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), the “homosexual prom’s” #1 opponent. Principal Tom (Keegan-Michael Key) does what he can to mitigate the damage but he’s pretty powerless with so much opposition. Plus, now he’s start struck on top of everything else – he’s Dee Dee’s biggest fan.

As our Broadway do-gooders get to know Emma and her situation, what started out as a charitable act of self-interest turns into something a little more genuine, although the unironic, attention-hogging performance of It’s Not About Me had its charms. Both the songs and the film are uneven, but they’re also so much fun, who cares? I didn’t particularly buy Nicole Kidman as a mere chorus girl either, but do you hear me complaining? No. Because singing and dancing have put so much joy in my heart I should feel ashamed to ask for anything more.

The Prom is not a great movie, but it is boisterous, glittery good fun, full of beautiful costumes, beautiful voices, and a totally stacked cast. Ryan Murphy doesn’t do subtle, but he does have an eye for a fantastic musical number and this movie has north of a dozen. Though the feeling may be flitting, you can’t help but feel good while watching it, and what a perfect way to spend an evening near the holidays. The Prom is pure indulgence – tacky, campy, cheesy, and unforgivably feel-good. So feel it.

Mank

I was in the right kind of mood to fall in love with a movie, and Mank was it for me.

Sean and I were at the cottage last weekend celebrating his birthday, and it was the first 48 hours I’d spent movie-free all year. Which is weird, considering 2020 will be known, among so many other things, as the year without movies. And yet, if you’re devoted to movie views and reviews, there were actually plenty of films to watch (this is my 428th review this year, not including some of Halloween and Christmas content that I backdate). Still, a lot (most) of the big releases have been delayed and there were perhaps fewer films to really get excited about – most markedly at this time of year, as Christmas is usually the big awards kick-off. So I was ripe to be swept away, ripe to appreciate something big and intentional, thoughtful and well-crafted. Mank was a cinematic gift under my tree this year, and the tag reads ‘With Love from David Fincher.’

Herman J. Mankiewicz (“call me Mank”), having just survived a car crash, is laid up in bed with a broken leg. Recovering in seclusion, and bedridden due to injury, he is perhaps in a wonderful position to do some serious writing, or that’s what Orson Welles is hoping. Orson Welles is a hot shot young director who’s just been given the Hollywood golden ticket, a rare opportunity to have complete creative control over his films. Welles has selected notorious drunk Mankiewicz as his screenwriter, leaving him with a stack of pristine white pages, a nurse, and a typist to get the work done in just a few weeks. What Mank eventually turns in will be a whirlwind, and long-winded, but beautifully written script for what will turn out to be the greatest film ever made: Citizen Kane. David Fincher’s movie takes a closer look at the duress under which that screenplay came to be written, and the Hollywood experiences that inspired it.

1930s Hollywood had a lot of stuff going on: a great depression, a looming war, rising anti-Semitism, the demonization of socialism…it was the Golden Age of Hollywood, but if you rubbed at the gold plating just a little, you could easily expose an awful lot of ugliness. Mank was a skeptic and a scathing social critic. Before he wrote for movies, he wrote for newspapers; he was the Berlin correspondent for the Chicago Tribune but really sharpened his wit as the drama critic for The New York Times and as the first regular drama critic at The New Yorker. When he made the move to Hollywood, Mank was often asked to fix the screenplays of other writers, with much of this work going uncredited. Ultimately he worked on The Wizard of Oz, Man of the World, Dinner at Eight, Pride of the Yankees, and The Pride of St. Louis, and dozens more. He became one of the highest-paid writers in the world, audiences gobbling up his new style of “fast” and “immoral” characters and plot. He wasn’t the most important man in Hollywood but he knew the ones that were – studio head Louis B. Mayer, for example, of whom Mank was not a fan.

David Fincher’s film sees Mank (Gary Oldman) laid up in bed, reflecting on his time in Hollywood, and digesting it into a movie that Welles (Tom Burke) would immortalize, critics would applaud, history would remember, and Hollywood insiders revile, for they knew the man Mank was referencing behind a veil so thin it left very little doubt. The man was of course frenemy and newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance).

As typist Rita (Lily Collins) races to keep pace, turning his volumes of scrawls into something legible, Mank writes feverishly and drinks furiously. He has clearly been holding on to a lot of resentment as we flashback to specific events that are easily related to characters and scenes that we know and love from Citizen Kane. Hearst’s mistress, for example, Marion Davies (Amandy Seyfried), an actress for whom Hearst co-founded a movie studio, and to whose career he devoted many headlines throughout his vast media empire. And Mayer (Arliss Howard) at the studio, shamelessly churning out propaganda that would be mistaken for news (fake news, we’d call it in 2020) in order to sway elections. Mank has contempt for them all, and yet he’s able to turn into a script about spiritual corruption into, well, an enjoyable movie about spiritual corruption. It’s beautiful, in its way, in its insight and compassion.

Fincher’s film attracts my attention, my whimsy, and my admiration from the very first frame – from the opening credits, even. It looks and feels like a movie made during the period in which it’s set, and yet it also looks and feels as though it has every benefit that modern 21st century film making has to offer. With the help of cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, Fincher straddles a line of his own making, and manages to lay down on film the very best of both worlds. Mank is textured and technically brilliant. It is a love letter to cinema, to the greatest movie ever made, and to film making itself, by brilliant film maker himself, an auteur, a highly skilled visual storyteller who eschewed film school and cut his teeth instead on Rick Springfield music videos (true story). After making his way through the very best (Madonna, Aerosmith, Iggy Pop, George Michael, Michael Jackson, the Stones), he made the leap to the big screen with 1992’s Alien³ (which also starred Charles Dance, fyi), which wasn’t a critical darling but did take some admirable risks with the franchise’s mythology. Ice broken, Fincher never looked back, and if you’re any kind of cinephile, chances are pretty good at least one of his films is in your top 10 (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, Gone Girl), yet he’s never won an Oscar for direction, nor have any of his films landed the coveted Best Picture award, though The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seemed a shoo-in with 13 nominations that year (it lost to Slumdog Millionaire). Will this be Fincher’s year?

Mank‘s cast is not to be forgotten, the film’s success in large part thanks to an extremely talented ensemble who really work the material. The razor-sharp dialogue can be a lot of fun, and some of the drunken soliloquies are absolutely the stuff Oscar clips are made of. Gary Oldman of course deserves top credit for portraying a cynic with a secret soft heart, but he’s surrounded by people able to rally, particularly Charles Dance who is most hypnotic as a titan outraged by criticism. The quasi-betrayal between these two men is a magnetic source of conflict and intrigue.

The script too, is something to behold, and it’s perhaps the component that fascinates me most, credited to a Jack Fincher. Any relation, you might ask? Indeed, Jack Fincher is David’s father. David’s dead father, in fact, dead since 2003 in fact. Mank is his only screen credit. Clearly this script has been languishing in a drawer somewhere for quite some time, perhaps its only companion a screenplay about Howard Hughes that never got made once Scorsese chose John Logan’s version for The Aviator. Still, Mank must have been the favourite, since David recalls that as a budding child cinephile shepherded mostly by his father, there was no question which was “the greatest movie ever made.” Of course, that was very much nearly fact for a very long time, the film beloved and admired from the 1950s on (especially once it started being screened on television). It has been the watermark against which all other film is measured, and has informed an entire generation of film makers. Jack Fincher’s script is a clever way to let us celebrate the film once again, and perhaps appreciate some of its most personal influences. The senior Fincher gets lone credit for the script, though the way it proficiently draws such incisive parallels to present day makes it clear that Junior has had a hand in it is well. I wouldn’t be bothered one bit to see Jack Fincher receive an Oscsar nomination for his work, and I do wonder who holds the record for (forgive me) most posthumously awarded recipient.

Mank manages a send up to an entire era of film making while also saluting the man who gave so many favoured films of the time their unique flavour and identity. It’s a peek behind the scenes that isn’t necessarily pretty, but incredibly fascinating, an homage to an undisputed classic that just may turn into a classic itself.

Angela’s Christmas Wish

Two years after we first met her, little Angela, an Irish lass living in the very early 20th century, is still known in her little town for having stolen the baby Jesus from the church’s nativity scene. It was pretty innocent, as far as thefts go; she only thought he looked cold lying there in his manger, and took him home to make him warm and cozy.

Nowadays the baby Jesus has a very nice knit sweater to keep him warm, but Angela still visits him in the church to pray and ask for help. With Christmas fast approaching, Angela has her eye on a fancy dolly in the storefront window, but her family is still largely impoverished despite her father having left for work in Australia over two years ago. Setting aside their own interests, Angela and brother Pat decide to use their Christmas wish to bring their father home – or rather, to go and get him. When digging to Australia doesn’t work, they start busking for a train ticket. Their plan is not the most efficient, but their hearts are in the right place.

Is there any chance that Angela’s family will find happiness this holiday? You’ll have to watch to find out. The characters are based on the writing of Frank McCourt. The animation is as sweet as it sounds. And at just 47 minutes, it’s a great little watch for a special pre-bedtime treat with the kids.