Whether you’re standing in the theater lobby or curled up in bed, deciding what to watch next is often the most difficult part of any pop-culture junkie’s day. And with dozens of films in theaters on any given weekend, plus virtually endless layers of streaming purgatory to sort through in search of your next binge-watch, there’s more out there—and tougher decisions to make—than ever.
Fortune‘s here to help you navigate the week’s latest offerings, boiling all the entertainment out there down into three distinct recommendations: should you see it, stream it, or skip it? Find out below.
SEE IT: ‘Honey Boy’ (In select theaters)
Art project, therapy session, surrealist coming-of-age saga—Honey Boy is all of these things, a true sui generis experience of a movie attuned to its own unusual rhythms, and you won’t see another like it this year.
Shia LaBeouf, known these days as much for off-screen antics as film roles, is at the eye of its raging storm, as both co-star and writer. Though the names have been changed, he’s made no secret of the fact that Honey Boy is his story.
And in telling the story of a child actor’s tumultuous relationship with his neglectful father, it is harrowingly, eye-openingly autobiographical from the jump. A24 golden boy Lucas Hedges plays enjoyably against-type as a promising young actor named Otis, whose self-destructive habits threaten to both derail his career and prematurely end his life.
The anguish Otis feels is so tightly coiled and soul-deep that it doesn’t register to him as such; pushed into a rehabilitation program, he reacts with disbelief when a therapist informs him he’s exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Now where could he have picked that up?
Cut to a 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe, A Quiet Place), at the outset of his career and balancing demands on set with a grim domestic existence at a nearby motel with his father, James. His dad’s a bleary Vietnam vet, broken for reasons he blames on the war but whose demons likely existed long before he enlisted. In a decision integral to carrying off the poetic, soul-baring script, LaBeouf plays this character, a hard-drinking cyclone who abuses, berates, and neglects young Otis for reasons that have tragically little to do with the kid himself. That James is a stand-in for LaBeouf’s own father dares this movie to tackle the high-wire balancing act of providing authentic tension for the audience (for whom LaBeouf’s been a public figure of no small fascination) while offering its star a strangely moving form of catharsis.
“You know, a seed has to destroy itself to become a flower,” James tells Otis late in the film. It’s a curious philosophy, one you can sense LaBeouf believes deeply, and the harrowing, experimental picture he’s created with first-time feature director Alma Har’el feels like an extension of it. Adolescent traumas, left unaddressed, often echo through adulthood in ways ugly and unpredictable. From Moonlight to the It movies to Vox Lux, the cinema of psychic pain has thrived in recent years, offering up unusually aching and evocative portraits of individuals struggling to unburden themselves, to put down weight they never asked to carry. Add Honey Boy to the list. The great director Alejandro Jodorowsky would call it “psychomagic,” art meant to heal. For LaBeouf, it can serve that function; the film certainly feels like an exorcism. But whatever weight he carried and still will, the art of letting go has rarely been made to feel this thrillingly raw and alive on screen.
STREAM IT: ‘Let It Snow’ (Netflix)
Small wonders never cease. Despite its atrocious, throw-in-all-the-worst-jokes trailer, this agreeably slight Netflix original is in possession of more homespun holiday cheer than might initially appear to be the case.
Set on one unusually snowy Christmas Eve in a small Illinois town, Let It Snow weaves together three stories of teen romance, even if there’s nary a mistletoe in sight. Julie (Isabela Merced, Dora and the Lost City of Gold) is torn between attending college in New York and staying around for her sick mother. When she bumps into Stuart (Shameik Moore, Dope), a pop star passing through town with no set plans of his own, the pair wind up spending the day together. Elsewhere, long-time best friends Angie (Kiernan Shipka, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and Tobin (Mitchell Hope, Descendants) hesitate to kindle an unexpected romantic spark between them. And across town, another pair of friends (Odeya Rush of Lady Bird, and Liv Hewson from Santa Clarita Diet) struggle to remain close whilst dealing with separately painful matters of the heart.
That Let It Snow is debuting on the streaming service just after Halloween, a month before Thanksgiving, suggests Netflix is burying it in favor of louder, more unapologetically Hallmark entries (The Knight Before Christmas, anyone?). And that’s a shame, given that director Luke Snellin’s adaptation of the triptych teen novel (by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle) is actually much stronger than its source material.
Praise the warm, empathetic script, whose credited trio—Victoria Strause (Finding Dory), Kay Cannon (Blockers), and Laura Solon (Office Christmas)—largely avoid this genre’s saccharine pitfalls in favor of something more amiable and free-wheeling. The storylines will eventually converge, as they must, at a Waffle House whose employees use the snowfall as cover to host a party for their peers. But Let It Snow doesn’t force the connections, and its early-in-the-year release slot only furthers the welcome sense that this is a Christmas movie with only the most fleeting interest in hailing its holiday.
For fans of the teen comedy, Let It Snow offers that most simple of seasonal comforts: familiarity. For those who’ve been paying attention to the genre’s very good past few years, it’ll be a delight to watch young stars like Moore and Merced share the screen, and the supporting cast—with a smaller part for the hilariously sage Miles Robbins, essentially playing his Blockers scene-stealer, and a smaller one still for Booksmart support Mason Gooding—is stocking-stuffed with fine actors. Even the musical interludes feel less grating than you’d expect, especially a little duet on organ (with some presumably non-diegetic violins) to, of all things, The Waterboys’ 1985 single “The Whole of the Moon.” It’s an off-kilter touch, charmingly so, and at least keeps things interesting in a genre predisposed to generic schmaltz.
SKIP: ‘Doctor Sleep’ (In theaters)
There’s an odd tug-of-war going on in Doctor Sleep, a thoroughly strange and unwieldy movie adaptation of Stephen King’s similarly strange and unwieldly follow-up to The Shining (his book, not Stanley Kubrick’s much-heralded adaptation—more on that in a bit).
Centering on a grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), still dealing with the aftermath of his traumatic childhood and gradually drawn back to the Overlook Hotel, the new film is a patchwork orange, primarily adapting King’s novel while also replicating Kubrick’s iconography in a way that feels slavishly devoted and cowardly (mostly because it was a decision made by committee, and not during the creative process). The thing is, Doctor Sleep was perhaps always going to be this kind of movie, caught between two masters, destined to fail both. Most of the reasons Doctor Sleep doesn’t work aren’t really its fault.
King penned Doctor Sleep as something of a course-correction after Kubrick adapted The Shining into a cold masterpiece that was far from the achingly personal book King had written. His sequel novel, published in 2013, refocused the story around the dangers of alcoholism and the power of choice, both themes the Shining novel navigated at length but Kubrick’s film got away from. This film adaptation of Doctor Sleep—scripted and directed by The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan—largely follows suit. At its center, there’s a rather touching meditation on purpose, redemption, and better living through compassion, which Ewan McGregor brings to life through playing Danny, now Dan, as a recovering alcoholic still outrunning his father’s dark shadow.
When Dan encounters Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with “the shine,” that same psychic ability that attracted the Overlook’s dark energies toward him all those years ago, he becomes a guardian angel, then an avenging one. There’s evil on the wind, after all, in the form of a roaming band of monsters led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Preying on children, the group—called the True Knot—descends on unlucky victims to feed on their fear and pain, achieving unnaturally long lives by drinking children’s “steam” as it wafts past their screaming lips. They’re addicts, essentially, made monstrous by their need, and Ferguson is deliciously, unnervingly evil as the cult-leader-cum-den-mother responsible for feeding them. Dan, repulsed by the True Knot’s depravity, is soon as set on destroying them as he is haunted by the idea his father may have taken a similarly destructive, hedonistic path.
There’s a lot of plot to Doctor Sleep, and Flanagan can’t help but get bogged down. After a largely staid first act that establishes the stakes and includes plenty of Shining callbacks, the film feels close to developing a rhythm in its second, as Dan and Abra converge and set out after the True Knot. But as deft a director of chilly, character-driven horror as Flanagan is, he can’t sell a story this pre-choreographed, and its third act feels more like a theme-park ride, revisiting famous sets at the Overlook, than it does a dramatically sensible finale.
King’s on record as hating what Kubrick did to The Shining, and a side-by-side comparison makes that hatred at least understandable, even if the film community at large would tend to disagree. Kubrick’s version is a masterpiece of composition and atmosphere, an aural-visual nightmare that suggested unseen forces corrupting its characters. King’s Shining, au contraire, assigned much more weight to its characters’ choices, treated them as actors instead of puppets. Written around the author’s struggles with alcoholism, the novel (a masterwork of horror literature in its own right) drew its central tension from Jack’s moral weakening and eventual collapse, succumbing to internal demons more dangerous than any of those haunting the hotel. The difference between King‘s Shining and Kubrick’s is structural: King wrote a parable, and Kubrick reconstructed it as a myth. They’re blood and oil, fire and ice—literally, if you look at the endings. King burned down the Overlook with Jack inside it; Kubrick left them both frozen in a mausoleum unmoored from time.
It’s telling that Doctor Sleep reckons with this conflict by essentially trying to have it both ways. King may have written the follow-up to reclaim his original text from Kubrick’s pop-culturally dominant inversion of it, but the director’s Shining towers so much higher than King’s raw-nerve novel in the public consciousness that not channeling it would have been altogether baffling from a marketing perspective. And so Flanagan, from the get-go, was tasked with serving two masters, only one of whom is still alive to have an opinion.
It’s telling, too, to hear that King “flipped” for Flanagan’s adaptation, going so far as to say it “redeemed” his least favorite aspects of Kubrick’s film; one can only imagine that Kubrick would have hated Doctor Sleep, maybe the book and definitely this movie. It’s a vision too fatally compromised to scare, satisfy, or succeed in honoring either of its titanic influences.
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—Honey Boy director Alma Har’el carves out space for female filmmakers
—Oscars 2020: Welcome to the wildest screenplay competition ever
—Inside Fox’s strategy as a newly independent network
—HBO’s The Apollo chronicles the theater’s struggles and triumphs
—Will social media buzz help decide the Oscars?
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