Release Radar – Dec. 10th, 2021

With some of the darker stuff out of the way to kick off December, it’s going to be a sprint to Christmas with a major high-profile release every week right up to the holiday. Without further adieu, there’s a lot of interesting stuff on deck, so let’s take a look.

West Side Story (Theaters)

Writers: Tony Kushner (adapted screenplay), Arthur Laurents (original stage play)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, and Ariana DeBose

Steven Spielberg’s vision of Arthur Laurents’ 1957 musical isn’t exactly a remake of the 1961 film, but it’s also very difficult to completely detach this new film from the cinematic history of Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise’s work that brought home 10 Oscars. It’s not the film that is the most exciting for me this week, but it has the biggest profile and word of mouth has been good.

Being the Ricardos (Theaters Dec. 10th + Amazon Prime Video Dec. 21st)

Written & Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, and Nina Arianda

Even though the show was long before my time, I Love Lucy was still a big part of my childhood and a tremendous influence on my sense of humor. This is an Aaron Sorkin film, so I have full confidence that the dialogue is going to be sharp, quick-witted, and poignant in its approach to telling a very complicated behind-the-scenes story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. With Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem playing those lead roles, this is definitely high on my list.

Don’t Look Up (Theaters Dec. 10th + Netflix Dec. 24th)

Writers: David Sirota (story), Adam McKay (screenplay) | Director: Adam McKay

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, and Meryl Streep

When a comet is on course to wipe out humanity, the government doesn’t seem to care and nobody wants to really believe the two lowly astronomers who discovered it. Adam McKay brings his sense of humor and storytelling style from films like The Big Short and Vice and aims that satirical lens at how the government would handle this kind of situation. McKay hasn’t made anything I don’t like and this cast is ridiculously loaded. Even though it comes to Netflix on Christmas Eve, I will still probably make time to go see this one in theaters.

Encounter (Amazon Prime Video Dec. 10th)

Writers: Joe Barton and Michael Pearce | Director: Michael Pearce

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, and Lucian-River Chauhan

In an attempt to protect his two sons from an unseen alien threat and takes them on the run, but it s it all just paranoid delusion? Riz Ahmed has really blossomed over the last few years and continues to take on interesting roles and, if you know me, you’ll know I’m a big fan of minimalist sci-fi as well. This is director Michael Pearce’s sophomore film and I really enjoyed his debut film (Beast) so I’m curious to see what he does with a higher profile cast and a bigger budget.

Mr. Saturday Night (HBO Max Dec. 9th)

Director: John Maggio

Starring: Robert Stigwood (archival) and John Travolta (archival)

John Maggio’s documentary tells the previously untold story of Robert Stigwood and how he brought the excitement of the disco era to the big screen with Saturday Night Fever and revolutionized the idea of the film soundtrack by collaborating with the Bee Gees.

Red Rocket (Theaters)

Writers: Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch | Director: Sean Baker

Starring: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, and Suzanna Son

Sean Baker’s indie comedy about an ex-porn star who’s forced to head back to his small hometown in Texas only to be met with no enthusiasm is right on brand for the director of Tangerine and The Florida Project. Simon Rex has gotten rave reviews for his performance and the film looks like a colorful and hilarious train wreck. Put this one on the shortlist for this week.

The Unforgivable (Netflix)

Screenplay: Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, & Courtenay Miles | Director: Nora Fingscheidt

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, John Bernthal, and Vincent D’Onofrio

Based on the TV show Unforgiven by Sally Wainwright, Sandra Bullock stars in another Netflix project about a woman who tries to get some semblance of a life back after serving a prison stint for a violent crime. On paper, this one didn’t pique my interest but after watching the trailer I’m actually very curious. This is German director Nora Fingscheidt’s first film in English (I think) so I’m interested to see her approach to this superb cast.

What Else Is New…

National Champions (Theaters)

Writer: Adam Mervis | Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Starring: J.K. Simmons, Kristin Chenoweth, and Stephen James

The timing isn’t coincidental for this as the story about college athletes boycotting the National Championship game as they fight for compensation from the NCAA falls only a few weeks out from the real College Football Playoffs. The cast is loaded and there are cameos from NFL players like Malcolm Jenkins and Russell Wilson, so this movie could have a substantial footprint. Where other films about college athletics tend to glorify the sport and the process, this one goes right after the institution as compensation programs have gone into effect in some conferences around the country.

France (Theaters)

Written & Directed by: Bruno Dumont

Starring: Léa Seydoux, Blanche Gardin, and Benjamin Biolay

France’s most famous journalist struggles to balance her life and her career as she sensationalizes aspects of her reporting…and she also happens to be named France. It’s been a busy 2021 for Léa Seydoux and I’m interested to see more from her after her turn in the James Bond franchise and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch but I don’t know that I’ll be jumping through hoops to go find this one in theaters.

Back to the Outback (Netflix)

Writers: Harry Cripps and Gregory Lessans | Director: Harry Cripps and Clare Knight

Starring: Jackie Weaver (voice), Guy Pearce (voice), and Isla Fisher (voice)

Netflix’s latest animated caper is about a group of Australian creatures that break out of the zoo in order to return to the Outback. If you have kids and are looking for something new this weekend without the hassle and the prices of the theater, this looks like a solid choice.

The Last Son (Theaters)

Writer: Greg Johnson | Director: Tim Sutton

Starring: Heather Graham, Sam Worthington, and Machine Gun Kelly

I generally love Westerns and there are plenty of names in the cast that I like, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for Machine Gun Kelly in this kind of film. I feel like I haven’t seen Sam Worthington in a while either, so I’m curious but I don’t know enough about Tim Sutton or Greg Johnson to jump on this one right now. I can wait until this comes to video-on-demand rental.

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