As the film industry and movie theaters work feverishly to regain lost footing due to the pandemic, with all those months of delays and postponed launches, new films are now being released at a blistering pace, with everyone hoping to capitalize on the captive audiences around the holidays, and get buzz for the upcoming awards season.
Thus, films are being released any and everywhere – in theaters and on every single streaming service, seemingly all at once. It’s incredibly hard to keep up.
For the United States Thanksgiving holiday last weekend, there were several big debuts. Hopefully, I can get to those in the next few weeks. For now, here are two notable pictures released a few weeks back.
“King Richard” (Rated T)
Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton
Genre: Biography/Drama/ Sport
Where to watch: In theaters/ HBO Max
Everybody seems to be looking for a bold new way to do biopics.
No more “in chronological order” stories. These days, filmgoers are expected to go along with time traveling tales. Or the subject must be visited by a young version of themselves from the past. Or a future version. Or their ghost. Or the ghosts of distant relatives, some of whom they may never have even known.
And there’s almost always some psychedelic drug or alcohol infused montage – especially when we’re dealing with the lives with some rock star.
But simply looking back at a period of time in someone’s life, with few embellishments or special effects, is practically unheard of today. This summer’s “Respect” about the late Aretha Franklin was back and forth like a see-saw between the 1940s and 1960s/70s.
In contrast, “King Richard” starring Will Smith tells its story in a simple linear manner; no weird flashbacks, but great story-telling and great actors.
Smith plays Richard Williams, who, armed with a clear vision and a brazen, 78-page plan, is determined to write his two daughters, Venus and Serena (perhaps you’ve heard of them) into history. Training on tennis courts in Compton, California, Richard shapes the girls’ unyielding commitment and keen intuition. Together, the Williams family defies seemingly insurmountable odds and the prevailing expectations laid before them.
This is such an inspiring story of determination and defying all odds.
The cast is superb, led of course, by Smith, who is spectacular in the title role. And I fully expect to hear his name frequently this awards season.
But something odd has happened here. Those familiar with the early days of the Williams sisters know how Richard was a larger-than-life presence. The film is called “King Richard” after all.
However, either intentionally or accidentally or even sheer coincidence, it does seem like attempts are being made to reframe his image here. Unfortunately, that means “King Richard” doesn’t entirely allow Smith to deliver the showy, star turn performance one might have been expecting. It’s still fantastic, but much more subtle than you’d think, and certainly not over the top.
Instead, the picture feels more like an ensemble with four stars. It’s as much about Richard as it is about a young Venus (played by now 15-year-old Saniyya Sidney), Serena (14-year-old Demi Singleton), and especially their mom Oracene “Brandy” Williams.
Brandy portrayer Aunjanue Ellis, fresh off her second Emmy nomination in three years (most recently for HBO’s “Lovecraft Country”), deserves a Supporting Oscar nomination herself for playing the ultimate supporting player, as the woman behind these two tennis superstars and their driven father. We are all beneficiaries of this very generous Will Smith allowing his supporting characters to shine, almost to the point of being outshone.
Nevertheless, “King Richard” is a touching, very well-done film, with some fun tennis matches to boot, and something parents should watch with their children, particularly pre-teens. Most importantly, it’s proof that simplicity still works best.
“Red Notice” (Rated PG-13)
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot
Where to watch: Netflix
This one is full of superlatives.
“Red Notice” is the most expensive film in Netflix history. And now it has become the most watched film in the streaming service’s history.
It’s also got three of the biggest box office draws in the world right now: super red hot Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; Ryan Reynolds, who’s been in at least three films this year; and Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot. So, the elements are here for greatness.
In the film, set in the world of international crime, an Interpol agent attempts to hunt down and capture the world’s most wanted art thief.
“Red Notice” is indeed quite fun. There’s never a dull moment, with non-stop action or attempts to make you laugh. And if you’ve never seen an action comedy before, you may think this is the best movie ever made.
For everyone else though – and especially for anyone who’s seen more than one movie starring Johnson, or Reynolds, or Gadot – you’ll begin to wonder if you’re being pranked.
For one, there is not one original or unique idea or theme or character or surprise in the whole picture. In fact, there’ve been countless similar movies over the past few decades.
Then there are the questions about whether Johnson or Gadot and especially Reynolds will ever build up the courage to play against type. These three wonderful and talented performers seem to always play the same character. This could have easily been called “Deadpool meets Hobbs from Fast & Furious and Naughty Wonder Woman”. Or maybe “The Hitman and The Rock vs. Naughty Wonder Woman.”
I truly love them all. And I seriously never tire of Reynolds’ wit and snarky comments, and love his type of humor. But I’m sure not everyone shares those views. This is third time this year I’ve seen him run this exact schtick in a flick. Time for something new folks!
But hey, “Red Notice” is on Netflix. You can watch it at home, and you don’t have to drive all the way to the movie theater and pay big bucks for something you’ve seen a superlative number of times.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.