the grudge trailer

(Welcome to The Streamer’s Guide, a new monthly feature recommending at-home viewing options from filmmakers with new movies arriving in theaters this month.)

You may recognize this column name from its appearances surrounding the Sundance, Toronto and New York film festivals over the last two years. Festivals provide an important opportunity to assess filmmakers releasing new works and contextualizing them within their previous projects. They’re often useful for cinephiles and writers looking for growth or an auteurist stamp.

But … why limit it to just festivals? Each month offers a fresh crop of new releases, many of which are culminations or further explorations of elements from those creative teams’ prior work. So we’ve now expanded this feature to encompass each month’s new releases, and believe it or not, there are even things to look at in the barren terrain of January – Hollywood’s traditional graveyard for ominous-looking releases.

The Grudge (January 3)

Horror remakes, reboots or re-imaginings are always a dicey proposition, especially whenever the property is still fairly recent. (I remember recording the original American Grudge film on my DVR and watching it on Halloween as my first “real” horror movie as a frightened tween.) Whatever goodwill the first film generated over 15 years ago – lest we forget, it was a $100 million hit – has largely vanished following two subpar later installments.

But this The Grudge promises a “twisted new vision,” and if the trailer is any indication, they might not be lying. The film looks light on fan service and heavily overt references to the first American film. The footage shown clearly demonstrates the eye of the man entrusted with reenergizing a franchise dormant for over a decade, the impeccable visual stylist Nicolas Pesce – who also holds a screenplay credit on the film. Hopefully producer Sam Raimi and studio Sony stayed out of Pesce’s way and let him put his stamp on the material. With actors like John Cho, Andrea Riseborough and Jacki Weaver all on board, there’s more potential here than might be suggested by the ominous first weekend of the year release.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: I’ve been following Pesce since seeing his debut feature, The Eyes of My Mother, premiere at Sundance back in 2016. The first installment of this column, in fact, used the opportunity of Pesce’s second film Piercing debuting at Sundance 2018 to plug his freshman film. I’ll spare you the reruns of my rave from that piece, but the fact remains that The Eyes of My Mother is a sparse, chilling film with many an unsettling (yet visually resplendent) image. The 76-minute black & white work might be lean, but Pesce packs in more than enough scares, terrors and nightmare fuel. It might as well be a demo reel to take over a horror series like The Grudge. (Available to stream for free to Netflix subscribers)

Like a Boss (January 10)

Not to beat a dead horse here, but … again, January releases generally do not portend great comedies. But there’s reason for hope with Like a Boss, a female-centric romp that follows the fallout from a cosmetics mogul (Salma Hayek) who takes over a small beauty operation run by two friends. First of all, Tiffany Haddish is always good for a few laughs, even in abysmal films. Second, the one and only Billy Porter is making his first silver screen appearance in six years and looks like a real scene-stealer. (Side note: he’s just an Oscar away from EGOT status now, although I’m not anticipating much awards buzz for this film.) Third, Rose Byrne is severely underrated as a massive comic force. She’s totally game to go all-in as a mid-‘00s bad girl pop star in Get Him to the Greek, fully commit to wealthy passive-aggression in Bridesmaids or generate hilarity playing the straight woman in the Neighbors films.

Also, Like a Boss has a surprisingly highbrow pedigree for a studio comedy as Miguel Arteta was on directing duty. He’s more a creature of Sundance than Hollywood with multiple titles that played the festival circuit; one of them even won him an Independent Spirit Award. Perhaps Hayek, the star of Arteta’s 2017 film Beatriz at Dinner, put him up for the gig. It’s not exactly clear from the trailer whether Arteta was able to put much of a personal stamp on the film, but if it helps get a smaller project off the ground in the coming years, hopefully the experience was worth it for him.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: There’s no comedy harder to pull off than intentional cringe comedy, which Arteta did with aplomb in his breakout 2000 film Chuck & Buck. The film follows Mike White’s socially awkward and borderline obsessive Buck as he heads out to L.A. in an attempt to rekindle a former homosocial relationship with estranged childhood buddy Chuck (Chris Weitz). In pre-Brokeback Mountain America, this tale of two men unable to square their conflicting feelings about friendship and sexuality must have been a quietly radical shock. Arteta handles this fraught relationship with grace, and the film remarkably never seems like it’s walking on eggshells. (Available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers) 

The Gentlemen (January 24)

Is The Gentlemen a pre-The Expendables fast track? 2020 has its first guys’ night out movie already. This stacked cast of Hollywood brawn has rounded up a truly astonishing group of male actors: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant. (Also, he doesn’t quite fit the previous billing, but I’d remiss not to mention our number one boy, Succession’s Jeremy Strong.)

The film looks like a return to the British crime films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch that put writer/director Guy Ritchie on the map. Like the aforementioned titles, The Gentleman looks to feature a complicated plot involving a collision of business and the criminal underworld, though the real draw is the quippy dialogue and thrilling action anyways. It’ll be most interesting to see how Ritchie handles Henry Golding, who’s cast against his emerging matinee-idol type as the film’s apparent villain.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: Look, to be honest, Guy Ritchie is kind of an emblematic case of how men in Hollywood fail up. He’s had numerous bombs and should not have earned the keys to Disney’s Aladdin after the catastrophe that was his take on the King Arthur lore. But not all of those flops deserved their fate. That’s right, I am 100% The Man from U.N.C.L.E. hive, Ritchie’s 2015 spy romp that deserved much more of an audience than the one it received. (Also, all of us who love it are required to be vocal about it on Twitter, too.) It’s the best Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander have ever been on screen; at the very least, it’s their most natural. Cavill in particular could be a modern debonair Cary Grant, albeit with bulging biceps, if someone else cast him this well. Ritchie also knew how to use Armie Hammer and Elizabeth Debicki’s stature to his advantage. Maybe he’s got something similar in store for us with the hulking men in The Gentlemen. (Available to rent on Amazon, iTunes and other digital video services)

The Turning (January 24)

What’s scarier than January franchise horror? Often times, January original horror. (Sorry, if you thought me turning this month into a punching bag was over … you are mistaken.) But if anything can reverse the curse, it might be something like The Turning. Mackenzie Davis, Internet and indie darling, needs a rebound after her outing in the Terminator franchise did not pan out. Here, she plays a new governess on a massive estate assigned to take care of two orphaned children in a modern update of the Henry James novella “The Turn of the Screw.”

And these are not just any children, mind you. They’re eerie, entitled and played by child stars Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Brooklynn Prince (breakout actress from The Florida Project). Their creepy deployment in The Turning might make you ever regret finding their precociousness charming. Hopefully director Floria Sigismondi, who primarily cut her teeth in music videos, gives all three of them plenty of room to go crazy.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: OK, fine, I was a little stretched for entries in this column, so I went with a non-director tie-in! (In fairness, Brooklynn Prince has already directed a short film called Colours, so she is a director And she’s not even 10 years old, what have you done with your life?) Plus, I was really looking for a reason to rewatch The Florida Project, which I hadn’t seen since TIFF 2017. When I interviewed that film’s director, Sean Baker, he mentioned that Prince’s birth and existence was the biggest catalyst in getting the film made. A second viewing confirms this was not just press tour niceties. She’s a force of nature that anchors the film in the kind of universal childhood wonder Baker portrays. Her character Moonee is merely the tip of the iceberg for Baker’s empathy in The Florida Project, which is full of fascinating micro-insights into the twinned injustices of an unfeeling late capitalism and a decaying social safety net. This is just a remarkable little miracle of a movie, and I’ll take any chance I can to encourage more people to watch it – and let it win over their hearts as well. The Turning is Prince’s first major live-action movie role since The Florida Project, and she’s going to be in our lives for a long time. How lucky are we! (Available for free to Amazon Prime and Kanopy subscribers)

The Assistant (January 31)

After the #MeToo movement rocked Hollywood (although perhaps not quite drastically enough) two years ago, the first major fictional attempt to grapple with the industry’s bad men arrives in Kitty Green’s The Assistant. The film provides a thinly veiled take on the brash, bullying and predatory producer Harvey Weinstein. He looms large over the film but is never actually seen on screen. He doesn’t have to, though, for us to understand his reign of terror.

The experiences of his assistant Jane, played by Julia Garner, tell us all we need to know as she goes through her daily routines. It’s almost as if she goes through her professional tasks like someone with PTSD; the trauma of her past experiences shows in something as mundane as office chores. But when one incident arouses her suspicions, Jane realizes just how deep the company’s culture of complicity and protection runs. (Shoutout to Matthew MacFayden, Succession’s Tom Wambsgans, for committing to bringing the same nervous and awkward energy to The Assistant.) The film has all the makings of a major breakout for Garner, an Emmy winner for her work on Ozark and an indie stalwart in pretty much any movie from the 2010s involving a cult. And as the first fictional film for Green, The Assistant could mark her as a director to watch.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: Though, as mentioned, The Assistant might be Kitty Green’s first fiction film, it’s not her first with actors. Her last documentary, Casting JonBenet, uses a true crime backdrop to explore the ways in which a traumatic event seeps into the fabric of a community. Green goes to the town of Boulder, Colorado where six-year-old pageant champion JonBenet Ramsey went missing in 1996. Two decades after her unsolved murder, everyone in the town has their opinions, conjectures and theories. Green’s approach to understanding the event’s lingering power is to document the audition process of a JonBenet film (that is ultimately not to be) with casting in Boulder. By seeing the key players in the JonBenet saga as characters rather than people they know, it forces the townspeople to go deeper into the psychology and headspace of those they hope to portray. This remains my favorite docu-fiction hybrid to date, in large part because Green never loses track of the human stakes underlining her artistic endeavor. (Available to stream for free to Netflix subscribers)

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