Back in the days of the so-called "Greatest Generation," our best and brightest engineering minds were coalesced into groups to solve big problems, like the building of the Hoover Dam and the Manhattan Project.
Later, some of these gifted young go-getters were funneled into law schools, where they eventually went on to create stifling volumes of tort law. Others were diverted onto Wall Street, where they thought up ruinous mortgage-backed securities derivatives.
These days? The pointy-headed nerds amongst us are being recruited by the FAANG-likes of Google, Netflix and Apple to not only deprive us of basic rights like privacy, but also solve the greatest challenge of our time. They're developing fancy new search and recommendation tools to cut down on the unpleasant amount of time it takes to find something good to stream on the ol' smart TV.
Fortunately for you, Next TV has its own proprietary algorithm, and we think we're pretty wicked smart, too, although nobody else says that. Here's what's coming up in the next week:
The Unforgivable (Netflix, Dec. 10)
From 28 Days to Crash to another Netflix original film, Bird Box, Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock has never shied away from the dark material. And The Unforgivable, based on a 12-year-old British miniseries and directed by German filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt, is pretty, pretty bleak. Bullock plays a middle-aged woman, paroled after a 20-year prison stretch for a violent crime, who seeks redemption amongst her, well, unforgiving hometown community by trying to find the younger sister she left behind. Rotten Tomatoes aggregated The Unforgivable at just 39% among 46 critics reviews, with the Chicago Sun Times' Richard Roeper calling it "ultimately, a disappointing and frustrating viewing experience." But the San Jose Mercury News' Randy Meyers noted, "Unforgivable reminds us what a fine actor Bullock is." We agree Bullock is that special kind of performer, like say, Denzel Washington; someone who can take a not-that-special alien invasion movie like 2018's Bird Box and render it Netflix's most popular English-language film ever -- a title only taken by Red Notice earlier this month.
Encounter (Amazon Prime Video, Dec. 10)
While Netflix's Bird Box and the first A Quiet Place proved inspiring to global audiences, recent alien-invasion-themed genre movies including last summer's Tomorrow War and A Quiet Place Part II fell somewhat flat. Into this slump steps Encounter lead actor Riz Ahmed, playing what appears to be a simple farmer, with military training, trying to save his children from the Little Green Men. (Think Mel Gibson in M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 film Signs.) Ahmed is a captivating presence, as 2019 awards contender Sound of Metal proved. And director Michael Pearce has also earned some recent acclaim, particularly for 2018's murder-drama Beast. Critics aggregation on Rotten Tomatoes scores Encounter at a middling 56%, with the New York Times' Jeannette Catsoulis calling it, "exactly half a good movie."
The Hand of God (Netflix, Dec. 15)
Academy Award-winning Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God is a drama inspired by the director’s childhood spent in 1980’s Naples. Selected as Italy’s Oscar entry, The Hand of God stars Filippo Scotti as Fabietto, an awkward Italian teen whose life and eccentric family are upended by the arrival of soccer legend Diego Maradona, scorer of the almost miraculous goal, tapped "The Hand of God," that gave Argentina the win over England in the 1986 World Cup. After an accident, Maradona inadvertently saves Fabietto, which sets the boy's future in motion. An award season favorite, the coming-of-age drama premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival in September. The aggregated critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 79%, with the Austin Chronicle's Jenny Nulf describing The Hand of God as "a personal, aching and romantic film that's swimming in the complicated trials of youth."
Ron's Gone Wrong (Disney Plus and HBO Max, Dec. 15)
Animated film Ron’s Gone Wrong focuses a socially awkward middle-schooler, Barney Pudowski (voiced Jack Dylan Grazer) and his new walking, talking, digitally-connected robotic gadget Ron (Zach Galifianakis). The problem is, Ron doesn’t work right, making Barney’s efforts to fit in with his peers tough. The animated film from 20th Century Studios and Locksmith Animation explores the topic of social media and its effect on kids and society at large. Rotten Tomatoes gives Ron's Gone Wrong a solid aggregated critics score of 80%, with the Hollywood Reporter's Angie Han noting, "What the animated feature lacks in daring imagination, it makes up for with endearing good humor, thoughtful cultural critique and one heck of a cute robot." Thanks to a just-announced deal between Disney and WarnerMedia to carve up the Fox film slate, Ron’s Gone Wrong comes to both Disney Plus and HBO Max on Dec. 15.
Station Eleven (HBO Max, Dec. 16)
An adaptation of Emily St. John Madel’s eponymous 2014 best-selling novel, Station Eleven is a 10-episode post-apocalyptic limited series that focuses on the eerie days of civilization’s collapse following a flu pandemic. Too soon? Maybe, but to be fair to HBO Max and WarnerMedia, they greenlit the series in June 2019 before the name "COVID-19" was even invented. The multiple-timeline series explores the stories of survivors during and two decades after the pandemic, as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine a new world without Roku boxes or the internet. Station Eleven stars Mackenzie Davis as a survivor in the aftermath and Himesh Patel as an unemployed lost soul who must become a leader when the flu strikes. Gael Garcia Bernal and Danielle Deadwyler also have bit roles. Creator and executive producer Patrick Somerville also has HBO Max's series Made for Love and Netflix miniseries Maniac under his IMDb credits.
MacGruber (Peacock, Dec. 16)
The SNL-spawned, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, '80s-spoofing comedy-action "franchise" didn't necessarily work as a feature film a decade ago, scoring less than even its modest $10 million production budget at the global box office. But now star and mastermind Will Forte has put the scruffy facial hair back on for an eight-episode-first-season miniseries, rejoined by fellow Saturday Night Live alum Kristen Wiig, and getting star-powered assistance from Laurence Fishburne, Sam Elliott, Ryan Phillippe and Billy Zane. The series picks up with Forte's man of perpetual action and global problem solving himself, MacGruber, released after a 10-year prison stretch, focused taking down Zane's hairless-cat-stroking villain.
The Witcher Season 2 (Netflix, Dec. 17)
The Netflix fantasy series, based on the book series by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, portrays the adventures of monster hunter Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) and their fellow "witchers" as they have run-ins with enemies and deadly creatures. Season 2 comes a full two years after The Witcher's breakout Netflix debut. The sophomore season sees Geralt protecting Ciri at his childhood home in the hopes of keeping the young princess safe from the great powers within herself. The second season will also feature news faces including Adjoa Andoh (Netflix's Bridgerton), Cassie Clare (Peacock's Brave New World), and Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey), as well as a more linearly told storyline.
Swan Song (Apple TV Plus, Dec. 17)
Starring two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Green Book), Swan Song focuses on Cameron Turner, loving husband and father in the near future, diagnosed with a terminal illness and presented with an "alternative" sci-fi-esque treatment by his doctor (Glenn Close) to shield his family from grief. Swan Song not only provides Ali with his first leading role, it's also the first movie produced by his production company, Know Wonder. Naomie Harris, Awkwafina and Adam Beach co-star in the drama written and directed by another Oscar winner, Benjamin Cleary (2015 short film The Stutterer). Swan Song scored a middling 60% critics aggregation number on Rotten Tomatoes, with the Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney remarking, "Swan Song becomes increasingly earnest and dull, spending such an inordinate amount of time lingering over tearfully contemplative gazes that it's too maudlin to exert much of a genuine pull on the heartstrings."
Mother/Android (Hulu, Dec. 17)
Set in the near future, Mother/Android follows Georgia (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her boyfriend Sam (Algee Smith) as they fight to escape their country, which is caught in an unexpected war with artificial intelligence. Days away from the arrival of their first child, they must face No Man’s Land — a stronghold of the android uprising, in hopes of reaching safety before Georgia gives birth. The film is screenwriter Mattson Tomlin’s directorial feature film debut. Tomlin’s writing credits include Project Power and The Batman.
Chillin Island (HBO Max, Dec. 17)
We'll give you the logline: "New York City natives and rap personalities Alec 'Despot' Reinstein, Ashok 'Dap' Kondabolu and Aleksey 'Lakutis' Weintraub invite their friends to join them at the edge of nature. To commune in deserts and swamps in a valiant effort to reveal unknowable truths from the dream state of the shared human existence. The series features music industry icons including Young Thug, Lil Yachty, Rosalía, Gunna, Killer Mike, Ski Mask the Slump God, Lil Tecca, Coi Leray, and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koening." Yes indeed, a bunch of testosterone-fueled young New Yorkers, supplied with copious amounts of high-THC marijuana and video cameras, positioned far away from authority figures. Stream away,
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