Streaming Recap: November 2019

With the holiday season in full swing, tons of movies were released on streaming services in November, from Christmas comedies to awards season contenders. You can read my capsule reviews of new movies released on Netflix and Disney Plus in November below.

Rob Lowe and Kristin Davis in “Holiday in the Wild”

HOLIDAY IN THE WILD (NETFLIX)

“Holiday in the Wild,” directed by Ernie Barbarash, isn’t your typical Christmas movie, in that the setting trades sparkly city lights and blankets of snow for the warm and sunny African plains.  But the plot doesn’t revolve around the stresses of the holidays so much as it revolves around the topic of conservation, and Kristin Davis’s Kate, a ritzy New York City housewife who finds herself adrift after her husband dumps her in an almost hilariously abrupt manner as soon as their son leaves for college.  She goes on a second honeymoon to Africa by herself, but Kate, who used to be a vet, finds herself less interested in spending time at the resort and more enchanted by the animals and the sanctuary that protects them—as well as pilot/artist Derek (Rob Lowe).  “Holiday in the Wild” is cheesy (Davis’s Kate is also rather annoying at the start) but somewhat charming—exactly what’s to be expected from this sort of holiday fare.  But it gets bonus points for bringing the topic of conservation to the front of the story—and for having a cute baby elephant. Runtime: 85 minutes. Rated TV-PG. 2 out of 5 stars.

Justin Theroux and Tessa Thompson voice a Tramp and Lady for a new generation

LADY AND THE TRAMP (2019) (DISNEY PLUS)

“Lady and the Tramp” is yet another live action remake of a Disney animated classic, but it’s the first to debut on the company’s new streaming platform as opposed to getting a theatrical release.  And honestly, that’s probably for the best, because there’s no grand spectacle to this film to warrant it.  The thing, the new “Lady and the Tramp” isn’t bad.  The story about pampered house pet Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson) who gets lost and goes on an adventure with stray dog Tramp (Justin Theroux), falling in love along the way, is still cute, with lots of banter that makes the development of this relationship between two dogs actually believable.  The turn-of-the-century sets and costumes are lovely, and the message about home and family from the perspective of a dog can be a tear-jerker.  But this new version is pumped up with some intense new action scenes, as well as a jazzy new song called “What a Shame,” which replaces the culturally-insensitive Siamese cat song from the original.  Here, the film runs into the same issues other Disney remakes, like “The Jungle Book” and “The Lion King” have run in to.  While real animals were used in some scenes, others used animated versions, and even though we know it’s coming, it’s jarring the first time we see Lady suddenly turn to the camera and start talking.  There’s something a bit weird about the animation throughout the movie, and since this isn’t a full musical, it’s also off-putting when Peg, the dog voiced by Janelle Monae, begins strutting and singing “He’s a Tramp.”  Conversely, when Lady’s owner Darling (Kiersey Clemons) sings the lullaby “La La Lu,” it’s very beautiful.  Overall, it’s a watchable but unnecessary movie.  Other human characters include Thomas Mann as Jim Dear, F. Murray Abraham as the owner of Tony’s restaurant, Adrian Martinez as the dog catcher, and Yvette Nicole Brown as the meddling Aunt Sarah.  Ashley Jensen voices Scottish terrier Jock, while Sam Elliott appears as the voice of bloodhound Trusty.  Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated PG. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Anna Kendrick is Santa’s daughter “Noelle”

NOELLE (DISNEY PLUS)

We don’t get a lot of family-friend live-action holiday movies that aren’t cheesy rom-coms anymore.  Enter “Noelle,” a movie that is cheesy, yes, but also a fun twist on the usual Christmas fare.  Directed by Marc Lawrence, the film follows Noelle (Anna Kendrick), Santa’s daughter whose primary purpose is to spread cheer and prepare her reluctant brother Nick (Bill Hader) to take over the mantle of Santa Claus.  But Nick isn’t sure he’s fit for the family business, and when Noelle suggests he takes a weekend off to destress, Nick completely disappears.  With Christmas in jeopardy and feeling like it’s all her fault, Noelle leaves the North Pole for the first time to track her brother down, coming face-to-face with normal people’s struggles.  The story is predictable, but funny and sweet, with a progressive message that may not exactly be empowering, but is great to see.  The cast, which also includes Shirley MacLaine, Julie Hagerty, Billy Eichner, and Kingsley Ben-Adir, all make effective use of their comedic talents, particularly Kendrick.  It’s an entertaining movie with a sense of humor that both kids and adults can appreciate, and that will be fun to watch and rewatch around this time of year. Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated G. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro costar in Martin Scorsese’s epic “The Irishman”

THE IRISHMAN (NETFLIX)

I wrote a full review of “The Irishman,” which you can read here.  Martin Scorsese’s epic is a drama about friendship and growing old in the guise of a crime movie.  It’s more tender than violent, and Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino and turn in career-best performances. Runtime: 209 minutes. Rated R. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Klaus (J.K. Simmons) teams up with postman Jesper (Jason Schwartzman)

KLAUS (NETFLIX)

The story of Santa Claus has been told time and time again, yet somehow, “Klaus” finds an entirely new way to approach the story.  This time, the main character isn’t Santa (or Klaus, who is voiced by J.K. Simmons), but Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), a spoiled young man from a wealthy family in the postal business whose father decides to teach him a lesson by sending him to a small, depressing town in the Arctic Circle to establish a post office.  When Jesper meets Klaus, a reclusive woodworker with a house full of handmade toys, he begins collecting letters from the town’s children asking for toys, and helping Klaus on his nightly deliveries, which soon completely transform the town and its inhabitants for the better.  Written and directed by Sergio Pablos and produced by his own animation studio, “Klaus” boasts gorgeous hand-drawn animation that makes almost every shot a work of art.  Its characters are appealing, its voice actors give solid performances that make them come alive, and its storytelling, while not flawless, is innovative and heartfelt.  If any new holiday movie this year deserves to become an enduring classic, it’s “Klaus.” Runtime: 97 minutes. Rated PG. 5 out of 5 stars.

Time-traveling knight Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse) and modern day science teacher Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens)

THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (NETFLIX)

Time-traveling fantasy meets holiday romance in this comedy directed by Monika Mitchell.  Vanessa Hudgens plays Brooke, a high school teacher who has a chance encounter with Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse), a knight from the fourteenth century set to the year 2019 to fulfill a quest.  Believing that he has amnesia and doesn’t actually know who he is, Brooke takes him in, but soon finds herself falling for the knight in shining armor.  The script doesn’t get as many laughs as it could from Cole’s fish-out-of-water situation, but it boasts likeable leads, a sweet message, and, if anything else, is at least a new approach to the Christmas romantic comedy—even if the end results are the same.  Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated PG. 3 out of 5 stars.

The ensemble cast of “Let It Snow”

LET IT SNOW (NETFLIX)

Directed by Luke Snellin, this ensemble teen movie is heavier on angst than Christmas cheer, but it does a nice job balancing a quirky sense of humor with ample melodrama.  Set in a small town in Illinois on Christmas Eve, the story follows different characters throughout the day as they struggle with relationships.  It’s clichéd but watchable, and like most ensemble pieces, some of the stories are more compelling than others.  The talented cast includes Kiernan Shipka, Isabela Moner, Mitchell Hope, Shameik Moore, and Odeya Rush, with Joan Cusack also having a small role. Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated PG-13. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Romany Malco and Sonequa Martin-Green try to start their own radio station from scratch in “Holiday Rush”

HOLIDAY RUSH (NETFLIX)

The “Rush” of the title refers to Rush Williams (Romany Malco), a popular DJ whose wealth allows him to spoil his four children—until he suddenly loses his job, forcing him and his family to make some major changes in their lives and regain sight of what’s really important.  The film, which is directed by Leslie Small, loses focus a bit as it doesn’t spend very much time on the, quite frankly, more interesting story of Rush and his producer Roxy (Sonequa Martin-Green) taking over a smaller station and going to war with their former employers.  And considering what spoiled brats Rush’s kids are at the start of the film, their change of heart later on in the film feels very rushed (no pun intended).  But “Holiday Rush” remains funny (even if a lot of the comedy is cheesy), heartfelt, and Christmas-y.  Darlene Love costars as Rush’s Aunt Jo.  Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated PG. 3 out of 5 stars.

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