Here’s a look at the new films I saw this week, including the Hallmark Christmas Movie Corner. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
King Richard (HBO Max/Theaters)
Starring: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, and Jon Bernthal
Synopsis: Venus and Serena Williams are incredible athletes who turned the tennis world on its head. They’re two of the greatest to ever play the game and King Richard, a new biopic, showcases a piece of their rise in the game of tennis. Mostly, it focuses on their father, Richard (Smith). Richard Williams has been a somewhat notable and somewhat controversial figure in the world of sports and that will likely carry over to this biopic. While it may not paint him in a saintly light, it showcases his dedication to family and the work he put in to help his daughters maximize their potential. The fact that both Williams’ sisters serve as executive producers of the film speaks to the idea that they supported this project moving forward. As far as a film goes, King Richard works at times decently mostly thanks to the great performance from Smith. He’s likely to be on the Academy Award shortlist and gives his all in the role. It feels overly long as some points, and I’d like to have learned a bit more about the sisters’ rise in the tennis world, but this feels like a satisfying sports biopic. It was engaging and enjoyable, worth checking out.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violence, strong language, a sexual reference and brief drug references.
Psych 3: This Is Gus (Peacock)
Starring: James Roday Rodriguez, Dule Hill, Maggie Lawson, Timothy Omudson, Corbin Bernsen, and Kirsten Nelson
Synopsis: The series Psych ran on USA for eight seasons, ending in 2014. It featured a follow-up film in 2017 and then a sequel in 2020 that was one of the first originals for the new streaming site, Peacock. Now, a third film has launched, returning friends and partners Shawn Spencer (Rodriguez) and Burton Guster (Hill) and their extended group of friends and family. Gus is about to become a father but it turns out he doesn’t know that much about his fiancé. Shawn does some digging despite being warned against it and uncovers a plot that pulls the whole gang in. This third film, directed by Steve Franks and co-written by Franks and Rodriguez follows the template from the series. There are some laughs and plenty of fun references. It’s nice to revisit these characters from a series I enjoyed for years. That being said, the formula is wearing a little thin. This third film felt the thinnest of all the Psych follow ups and it might be proof that it’s time to let this concept rest. It’s not a bad film but it doesn’t feel particularly fresh or compelling. It feels like it acts more as fan service now than a compelling original project, and that’s a shame.
Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It (VOD)
Synopsis: Moreno has been a player in Hollywood for more than 70 years. She’s a gifted and talented performer, one who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony—better known as the EGOT. This new documentary from Mariem Pérez Riera tells Moreno’s story in her own words, exploring her life in film and her life in general. It includes interviews with colleagues, friends and family as it explores the tenacity it took to make it in Hollywood, her success and her personal passions. It’s an engaging look at the star but at times it feels a little flat as a film, feeling more like a news magazine interview than a compelling documentary. Still, it was worth it to learn more about Moreno’s life and better appreciate her unique talent.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some strong language including a sexual reference, and suggestive material.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (VOD)
Synopsis: This documentary film follows the life and career of Bourdain, a talented chef, author and television star. He was a great storyteller who delivered compelling content that created a following while battling a myriad of personal demons. Those demons led to him taking his own life in 2018. The film doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to Bourdain’s life and its end, including how that made his friends and colleagues feel. Morgan Neville, who three years ago delivered one of my favorite documentaries ever about Fred Rogers, does a great job crafting this story and delivering a film that’s an engrossing look at the man, his talent and the issues that cut his life short. It’s poignant and emotional at times, one of the better documentaries delivered this year.
Rating: Rated R for language throughout.
tick, tick…Boom! (Netflix)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, and Robin de Jesus
Synopsis: This biopic from Lin-Manuel Miranda is centered on Jonathan Larson, the playwright who toiled in obscurity most of his life before crafting the musical Rent. He sadly died on the day the show was supposed to have its first preview performance. One of Larson’s works was a one-man show, titled tick, tick…Boom! That’s the title of this biopic, which in part re-creates that show and in part tells the story of Larson’s struggle. Garfield stars as Larson and delivers an incredible performance in the lead role. He’s charming as a singer, a dancer and as a performer, serving as the glue that holds this story together. As a film, this one has its ups and downs. I appreciated the large-scale musical numbers and Garfield is strong enough in the lead role for me to feel emotionally drawn into the final act. I would have liked to learn a bit more about the influences that went into creating Rent, but this does feel like a loving tribute to the man and his talent. Miranda does a nice job putting it all together and delivering a solid and enjoyable musical journey.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language, some suggestive material and drug references.
Hallmark Christmas Movies
The Christmas Promise
Starring: Torrey DeVitto, Dylan Bruce, and Patrick Duffy
Synopsis: In this Hallmark Christmas journey, a young woman (DeVitto) owns a toy story with her fiancé and is about to complete the re-model on their house together. While at a Christmas party, he runs out to grab ice and never returns. Flash-forward a year later and she’s still in the midst of grief at a life lost with her best friend. She turns to her grandfather (Duffy) for comfort and understanding while looking to sell both the house she shared with her fiancé and her toy store. Before she can do that, she has to have the work on the house finished. She turns to a contractor (Bruce) to finish up the work and finds comfort and guidance in a stranger she begins texting with who inherited her fiancé’s old phone number. Can she move on? Can she find love? It’s Hallmark, so you already know the answer to both questions. Setting aside the fact I didn’t believe Duffy was old enough to be DeVitto’s grandfather (he’s not), and this was an enjoyable film. It’s a tough subject but I liked DeVitto in the lead role and Bruce does a nice job, too. These films aren’t about the destination, they’re about the journey. And this one was an enjoyable ride.
Christmas Together With You
Starring: Harry Lennix, Laura Vandervoort, and Niall Matter
Synopsis: This one finds a young café owner (Vandervoort) struggling with the approaching holidays. She was due to be married but instead the relationship ended. With no family of her own, she also lost her holiday support. At the same time her favorite customer (Lennix) has stumbled on an old photo that reminded him of a great love that was lost. She decides to find his former flame and convinces him to head out on a road trip to re-connect. While he re-connects with a former flame, she makes a connection of her own with the small-town innkeeper (Matter) that is need of help managing the busy holiday schedule. This one ticks nearly all the Hallmark boxes but, again, it’s about the journey, not the destination. I enjoy Lennix as a performer, and I thought the chemistry between Vandervoort and Matter worked well. I enjoyed the journey here and the trappings of the holiday as we worked our way toward a happy ending.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.