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A Rundown on Some Notable Films for the Holidays

This month’s column offers filmgoers a preview of upcoming major films—mainstream and indie—coming out during the holiday season, films that may likely contend for end-of-year awards.  All will be released in DC area theaters between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and already carry varying degrees of buzz. First, some notable sequels to watch for:

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever —  It was inevitable, after its gigantic world-wide success in 2018,  that Marvel Pictures’  “The Black Panther” epic would come out with a sequel.  And while it does not have its original centerpiece-–the deceased Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa—it returns with major characters from the original.  Also, Ryan Cogler is back as director-writer for this follow-up uniting much of the production team from the original. The film continues exploring feminist themes from the first film, with actresses like Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett,  Danai Gurira, and Florence Kasumba confronting other countries’ challenges to the kingdom’s reign.  Expect lavish African symbols and designs and titanic battle scenes done with flash and spirit. (Out November 11, 2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water — Another, highly anticipated sequel arrives l3 years after its original (“Avatar” 2009) continuing the profligate CGI vision of the invented world of the Na’vi. The new wrinkle is that much of the film takes place with elaborate “performance capture” creatures performing underwater for the first time.  Several original cast members return such as Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana (heads of the Sully family) , Stephen Lang, and Sigourney Weaver, inter alia, along with newcomers Kate Winslet, Edie Falco, Michelle Yeoh, and Vin Diesel. According to the studio (20th Century Fox), this sequel  “begins to tell the story of the Sully family, the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.” (December 16, 2022)

Glass Onion: a Knives Out Mystery — This is a follow-up to director/writer Rian Johnson’s very sophisticated whodunit wherein a cynical all-star cast confronted a baffling murder in a closed mansion. An exception to the cynical trend is the detective in the case, the New Orleans sly dog Benoit Blanc played by Daniel Craig, who returns in this new mystery.  The setting this time is exotic Greece where Benoit is drawn to solve his next crime. Again, he is accompanied by a varied and intriguing cast (with no holdovers from the first film). Turns out that Johnson’s series has enough momentum for his studio to already shoot “Knives Out 3,” scheduled for release in 2024.  Intriguing note: just after leaving the 007 character, Craig takes on another recurrent character with Blanc. (Out December 2, 2022)

Then, some other major Hollywood efforts:

The Fabelmans – After years of musing on the idea, director Steven Spielberg has finally created his long-contemplated, semi-autobiographical movie about his own coming of age as a filmmaker. The picture, a comedic drama,  follows his alter ego, Sammy Fabelman, (Gabriel LaBelle) from the ages of seven to 18, growing up in suburban Arizona with his sisters and his mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and his father Burt (Paul Dano), the first a gifted pianist and the second a computer expert.  It’s a family, as Mitzi says, “between the artist vs. the scientist” The film re-creates Sammy’s early passion for the movies and his experience making his early films with a Super-8 camera.  Judd Hirsch as Uncle Boris and Seth Rogen, as a family friend, also play major roles.  Spielberg teams up with long-time collaborators Tony Kushner (his co-writer), John Williams (composer), and Janusz Kaminski (cinemaphotographer).  (November 23, 2022).

I Wanna Dance with Somebody – Standard musical bio pic about the legendary R & B singer Whitney Houston, who died too young. It follows a roughly annual motion picture about recent major pop figures, such as “Rocket Man,” Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Respect,” and this past year’s “Elvis.” Directed by the talented Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet,” “Talk to Me”),  it stars British newcomer Naomi Ackie as Whitney, Stanley Tucci as famous record producer Clive Davis, Tamara Tunie as Whitney’s mom Cissy, and Ashton Sanders as Bobby Brown. As with other recent bio pics of this nature, it shows the star’s arc of rising from obscurity through discovery to superstardom. Be prepared for a panoply of Houston’s greatest hits. (December 21, 2022)

A Man Called Otto  — Besides sequels in movies, remakes also have their place.  Case in point, “A Man Called Otto” an English-language redo of the lauded 2015 Swedish dark comedy “A Man Called Ove,” nominated for best Foreign Language Film. This American version has a first-class curmudgeon named Otto, played by an irascible Tom Hanks.  The story plays out in Pittsburgh, where a 60-year old widower, still shaken by the recent death of his wife and the loss of his long-time job, decides to commit suicide. Yet his earnest efforts are continually thwarted by his new neighbors. This comedy-drama was directed by German-Swiss Marc Foster whose features range from his early “Finding Neverland” to the Bond blockbuster “Quantum of Solace.”  (December 14, 2022)

Finally, a couple of independent  films from literary sources:

The main cast of “Women Talking” re-lives their past traumas. An Orion Pictures Release. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson © 2022 Orion

Women Talking — Look for a heavy but heartfelt drama in this Canadian work based on a 2018 novel written by Miriam Toews which director Sarah Polley has adapted for the screen. A community of conservative Mennonite women living in Bolivia have been subjected to collective sexual assault and a select group of them, gathered in a hayloft, confess their experiences to a local teacher. The women who serve as witnesses form a lineup of current major cinematic talents including Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Rooney Mara, among others. Polley, once a prominent Canadian child actor, turned feature director in 2006 and last created one of cinema’s most intriguing documentaries with “Stories We Tell” in 2012. (December 30, 2022).

White Noise – An apocalyptic black comedy film adapted from the 1985 novel of the same name by novelist Don DeLillo and written and directed by Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”). It chronicles the life of one Jack Gladney, professor of Hitler studies at an obscure midwestern university, husband to Babette, and father to a mixed bag of four children, whose life is devasted by “the Airborne Toxic Event”, a cataclysmic train accident that casts chemical waste creeping over his town. Adrien Brody plays Jack, while Gerta Gerwig (long-time collaborator of Baumbach) is Babette.  Don Cheadle also graces the cast. DeLillo’s “White Noise” was lauded by literary critics when it came out as a gem of dystopian fiction—but hardly filmable. It will be a test to see if the clever Baumbach can actually pull it off as a movie. (December 30, 2022)

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