Welcome to the new year! Some new, some old, film is here to stay. This month we can look forward to seeing ruthless ambition light up the big screen, along with questions of how idyllic “the American dream” really is (talk about timing). On the smaller screen, the battle of truth versus fiction rages on, or more accurately, truth versus bigotry (TIMING). Not to mention Criterion serving up a certified classic of Hawksian proportions. Plus, read ‘till the end to find out why I decided to hold off on a second theatrical release recommendation for January.
New Theatrical Releases:
Release Date: January 20th
Director: John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks)
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, B.J. Novak
IMDb Summary: Struggling salesman Ray Kroc meets Mac and Dick McDonald, co-operators of a burger restaurant in 1950s Southern California.
Why I Am So Excited: First off, I would pay to watch Michael Keaton read the phonebook, so his name alone had me itching to see this. As more about the project was revealed, my excitement only grew. Based on the true story of Ray Kroc (played by Keaton) trying to acquire McDonald’s by any means necessary, the film shows an American dream borne perhaps of hard work and spirit, but with more than a dash of manipulation and underhanded practice thrown in. Add Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch and a sepia-style color palette to drive 1950s SoCo home, this has classic and awards season potential written all over it.
New On Blu-Ray:
Release Date: January 3rd
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Director: Mick Jackson
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall
IMDb Summary: Acclaimed writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt must battle for historical truth to prove the Holocaust actually occurred when David Irving, a renowned denier, sues her for libel.
Why It’s Worth Getting: Based on a true story, Weisz plays Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust Studies who was sued in 1996 for libel by David Irving, self-proclaimed Nazi Germany scholar, after calling him a Holocaust denier in her books. The film deals with themes of prejudice, free speech and truth, while providing a much-needed example of how to take down a hate-spewing bigot with their own words (cough cough Trump, Breitbart, Kellie leitch…). It’s a helpful historical reminder that sometimes the good guys do come out on top, and a much-needed bit of hope right now.
Criterion Release of the Month:
His Girl Friday
Release Date: January 10th
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Director: Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, Bringing Up Baby)
Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
IMDb Summary: A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying.
Why It’s Worth Getting: It’s worth getting because it’s an absolute classic. His Girl Friday was one of the first comedies of its kind to present something approaching an independent female lead in Hildy, a character who talks back to men and has her own life and career outside of romantic endeavours. Not only that, but the film is sharp, fast-paced and lastingly funny, mixing newspaper industry hustle with murder and intrigue. The chemistry and banter between Rosalind Russell’s Hildy and her ex-husband Walter, played by Cary Grant, is genuine and acts as the foundation of the film. His Girl Friday is without a doubt my favourite Howard Hawks film, and I’d encourage Hawks lovers and newbies alike to get in on this release.
*Why I don’t have a second theatrical recommendation this month:
The only other release that interests me this month is M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, however, I’m not yet comfortable recommending it. The thriller, as IMDB describes, follows three girls who are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities (hence the title Split, for split personality). I’m conflicted. On one hand, the trailer presents James McAvoy acting his heart out as various personalities living in the body of one man. On the other, overriding hand, mental illness has been used far too often in thrillers as a crutch. From the haunted asylum to the “crazy killer”, there’s a long history of lazy writers throwing in mental illness in place of a compelling character backstory. Some thrillers have played with themes of mental illness in a new and subversive way, like 2014’s fantastic The Babadook, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Dissociative identity disorder is a difficult and little discussed disorder often brought on by childhood trauma, and until I hear from someone within that community on how they like being represented as a crazy kidnapper, I’m going to take a pass on this one.
However, that’s just one person’s opinion. Here’s the trailer, decide for yourself and let me know what you think!