What we’ll all be watching with the Holiday movie preview


Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Our LAT movies team published the holiday preview this week, revealing what we’ll all be looking at over the next few months. From possible Oscar winners to potential blockbusters — and, who knows, maybe some movies that could be both — it’s a handy primer on what to watch out for.

I spoke to Adam McKay about his new apocalyptic satire “Don’t Look Up,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as a pair of scientists and Meryl Streep as the president of the United States. The film’s packed cast also includes Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Jonah Hill, Melanie Lynskey and many more in a story about the discovery of a comet that will destroy life on Earth in six months and the scattershot, unfocused response from the public and government alike.

On its face, the movie is an allegory for climate change, but it’s as much about our current cultural and political moment. When production was delayed early in 2020 by the beginning of the pandemic, McKay set the script aside for a number of months before picking it back up. “The whole time, I’m like, ‘Do you still make this movie? Like, did the movie just happen in reality?’ And I just didn’t touch the script for like five months. Then I was like, ‘All right, let’s go read the script.’ And I was amazed to see that the script actually isn’t about climate change. It’s about how our lines of communication have been shattered and broken and profitized and manipulated. And that actually the engine of all the farcical comedy is that — and it totally still works.”


Josh Rottenberg wrote about Kathryn Hunter, who plays the prophetic Three Witches in Joel Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” starring Denzel Washington as Lord Macbeth and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth.

As McDormand said of the veteran stage actress, “You don’t discover somebody like Kathryn. Kathryn’s been working all her life. You just get lucky enough to see her in different forms. I feel really gratified that we were able to record some of her work in a way that people are going to be able to access it. But I also want it to be an invitation to see her live.”

Yvonne Villarreal spoke to Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem about playing Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos.” As Kidman said, “They were a great team. They had demons, they had passion, they had all those other things coming at them, but the basis of what they could achieve together as a creative team and as a couple was extraordinary. And really set the path for so many other people to follow.”

Tracy Brown digs into some of the questions surrounding Jon Watts’ “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” with Tom Holland returning to the lead role and so much of the movie still shrouded in mystery. Will there be multiple Spider-Men, as has been long surmised, along with a multiverse of villains? Will Tom Hardy’s Venom make an appearance? Will Zendaya have more screen time than the seven minutes she appeared in “Dune”? All will soon be revealed.

One of my favorite local venues, the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s Billy Wilder Theater, returns to in-person programming this weekend with a double bill of restored 35-mm prints of Michael Curtiz’s 1933 “Mystery of the Wax Museum” and 1932’s “Doctor X.” But the real highlight of the weekend will be Saturday night’s local premiere of the new 4K restoration of 1990’s “Chameleon Street,” written and directed by and starring Wendell B. Harris Jr. Winner of that year’s grand jury prize at Sundance, the film tells the true story of a con man who posed in different roles (among them Ivy League student, gynecological surgeon). It’s a daring examination of race, class and identity. To see “Chameleon Street” reclaimed and reemerge after being largely unseen and overlooked for far too long is a real joy.

The Envelope podcast that I co-host with my colleague Yvonne Villarreal will return for a second season starting Nov. 30. This time we aim to go even deeper in our conversations, with guests including Kirsten Dunst, Jennifer Coolidge, Adam McKay and Halle Berry, talking about their inspirations, creative processes, personal lives and anything that fuels their work. You can list to our Season 2 trailer and follow us wherever you get your podcasts.

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Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast” is drawn from his own childhood growing up in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, just as violence between Protestants and Catholics began to tear the country apart. Shot mostly in black-and-white, with a cast that includes Jamie Dornan, Caitríona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds, Judi Dench and young Jude Hill, the film won the audience award earlier this year at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is in theaters now.

For The Times, Justin Chang called the film a “wobbly crowd-pleaser,” going on to add, “It spoils nothing to note that Branagh and his family did end up moving to England, and that ‘Belfast’ is thus a tale of childhood’s end, a willed immersion in a time and place that will soon exist only in its characters’ memories. But for all the specificities of that time and place — a neighborhood where a brick-lined alley serves as a yard and an outhouse toilet becomes an armchair — it’s rendered here with a curious lack of real, lived-in texture. … Branagh, seldom an intuitive composer of images, frames the action from bizarrely canted angles that further frustrate the movie’s already uncertain point of view. Black-and-white may be convenient visual shorthand for the past, but there’s something flat and inexpressive about these images, scrubbed of grit and buffed to a sharp digital gloss.”

For Slate, Dana Stevens wrote, “In many of its stylistic details, ‘Belfast’ resembles another film that takes place in its writer-director’s fondly remembered if less than idyllic childhood: Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexico City–set ‘Roma,’ also shot in black and white with long, intricately choreographed tracking shots. ‘Belfast’ is not the tour de force that ‘Roma’ was; its story beats are more familiar, its message about the primacy of family love a bit cornier, and the young hero’s view of his parents’ marriage considerably more idealized. … This is a movie more intent on evoking outsize feelings —nostalgia, romantic longing, grief — than on exploring the political and historical themes its setting gestures toward. The Troubles serve as a backdrop that gives the story suspense and stakes, but if, like me, you go in not knowing much about this period of recent Irish history, you will leave scarcely more informed.”

For the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote, “The film moves with an easy swing from home to street to schoolroom to pub and back home, and it’s perhaps fullest and richest when nothing specifically tragic or Troubles-related is happening. … It’s not quite right to say that there’s a streak of innocence in the nightmare of this film, but certainly a streak of normality and even banality, which assumes its own surreal tone. Love letters to the past are always addressed to an illusion, yet this is such a seductive piece of myth-making from Branagh.”

For the Playlist, Monica Castillo wrote, “As Branagh’s most personal movie, ‘Belfast’ holds so much love for its characters. … The villains of this story represent the intolerant goons who try to turn neighbor against neighbor until they poison the environment to the point that it becomes too toxic to live in. But in Buddy’s home and the home of his grandparents, there’s a refuge — a place where he can still be a kid. Branagh, who also wrote the script, captures not just Buddy’s view of the world, but the problems his parents face, like struggling with money and protecting their kids. … The parts of the movie that are going to resonate the most have the pacing they need to bring up one’s own memories of listening to a grandparent’s advice, of doing something you shouldn’t have to impress someone, or working up the nerve to talk to someone you liked. Perhaps these resurfaced memories are an unintended souvenir of visiting Branagh’s ‘Belfast,’ but it’s one that may stick with moviegoers for quite some time after the credits roll.”

A woman and a man dance in the movie 'Belfast.'
Caitríona Balfe stars as Ma, and Jamie Dornan is Pa in director Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast.”
(Rob Youngson / Focus Features)


Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the documentary “Julia” tells the story of Julia Child, from her childhood in Pasadena to her breakthrough success and international fame with her first book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” at age 49 and on to her 2004 death at age 91. The film is in theaters now in limited release.

For The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “Our current feel-good documentary era lionizing beloved lives was bound to come around to the Pasadena native and culinary icon, whose vibrant personality, seminal cookbooks and groundbreaking PBS show were instrumental in establishing food as a pleasure discipline no less vital than art, literature and music. … Had the filmmakers spent more time with what a changing food/cultural/political landscape meant to a pioneering superstar from a different time, ‘Julia’ might have had a stronger final act than its checklist of topics superficially addressed, whether it’s her orneriness about feminism and healthier food trends or how she kept working into her 90s. In its familiarity, ‘Julia’ is one of those documentaries in which adoration prevents straying too far from the core of what made her remarkable, important and lasting. Then again, the old recipes, with all that butter, have been known to satisfy.”

For the New York Times, Glenn Kenny wrote, “This documentary is a conventional one, replete with archival footage and talking heads. … The movie doesn’t shy away from Child’s personal shortcomings, touching on a casual homophobia she renounced when the AIDS crisis hit, pouring her energies into raising money to fight the disease. ‘Julia’ is an apt tribute to a life well-lived and well-fed.”

For the AP, Lindsey Bahr wrote, “If Julia Child didn’t actually exist, I doubt anyone would think to dream her up. Thankfully ‘Julia,’ a new documentary from ‘RBG’ directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West in theaters Friday, helps satiate that curiosity and digs a little deeper into the larger-than-life personality who brought French cuisine into American homes and essentially invented the idea of the celebrity television chef. It is a loving and straightforward portrait of this extraordinary woman’s life and her place in American culture. … It’s still a satisfying and fun tribute to someone whose impacts on modern food culture and celebrity are still being felt. Just don’t go in hungry.”

Julia Child stands in a kitchen on her TV show in front of a stove and bowls and plates full of food.
An image from the 2021 documentary “Julia.”
(Jim Scherer / Sony Pictures Classics)


Written and directed by Blerta Basholli, “Hive” won the audience award, directing and grand jury prizes in the world cinema dramatic competition at Sundance earlier this year and has been selected as Kosovo’s entry for the international feature category at the Academy Awards. Based on a true story, the film centers around Fahrije (Yllka Gashi), a woman who organizes other local women in business and survival after many of the men in their deeply patriarchal community go missing during the war. The movie is in theaters in limited release.

For The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “‘Hive’ is occasionally bumpy, but it’s the rough terrain of a raw narrative — the out-of-place music cue or awkward dream snippet doesn’t disrupt the social realist momentum, which is at its best when focused on the grit of how moving forward is also moving on. … When we settle in for scenes of this collective, born of strife, tragedy and necessity, the members working together, talking about their lives, even laughing through their hardships, we realize the other key to ‘Hive’ — that for these women, the tragedy of who’s missing needn’t preclude addressing what’s always been missing.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “Like its protagonist, the movie is stern, direct and attentive to ordinary life. The writer-director Blerta Basholli doesn’t bludgeon you with the character’s miseries, or hold your emotions hostage. Fahrije isn’t lovable; sometimes she’s scarcely likable, which means she’s more of a human being than an emblem of virtuous suffering. … Together, the performer and her director reveal the arc of a life through Fahrije’s gestures and in the hard lines of her jaw, in her unsmiling lips and in her quickly lowered gaze. And while the character’s stoicism seems like an unbreachable wall, these two women dismantle — and rebuild it — to stirring effect.”

For, Tomris Laffly wrote, “Knowing that the real Fahrije now has a thriving business of pickles and preserves, where the tale goes from there on out isn’t hard to predict. But the confident humanity through which Basholli gets there is still worthwhile to witness. In its most uplifting moments, “Hive” celebrates the enabling properties of indestructible female camaraderie, something that Fahrije experiences once a crowded pack of the women in her circle overcome their fear and join her, especially after an older one of the bunch — the no-nonsense Naze, terrifically played by a deadpan Kumrje Hoxha — steps up and leads the way. … Though it doesn’t break new ground, ‘Hive’ still reminds one how urgently significant it is to honor the unique fighting spirit of women, and how much cinematic joy seeing that spirit flourish against the odds can bring about.”

A woman drives a car. A passenger in the back is asleep.
Yllka Gashi as Fahrije in “Hive.”
(Alexander Bloom / Zeitgeist Films)