What to Watch (and Skip) in Theaters and on Streaming Platforms This Weekend
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: ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (In theaters)
If there was ever a cultural figure who lent themselves to on-screen consecration, it was Fred Rogers, the beloved TV show host. With his warm smile, sense of decency, and interest in the emotional and moral well-being of children, Rogers still stands—more than 50 years after Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made its TV debut—as an icon of human possibility, an aspirational figure who found his place and way in the world through investing in kindness.
Last year’s luminous documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? presented Rogers through his work, and it played as welcome hagiography, a shrine to what Rogers came to symbolize throughout a lifetime of quiet, patient virtue. This wasn’t always easy, the documentary made clear—goodness was a discipline like any other, and Rogers worked at it constantly—but the sincerity he brought to the Neighborhood made the man feel almost alien in his moral clarity.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a new film by the great director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), is no exposé. It is not out to shatter (thank God) or frankly even interrogate this image of Fred Rogers as a patron saint of children’s television. As embodied by Tom Hanks, perhaps the only man left in Hollywood nice enough to play him, Rogers is still the soothing, soft-spoken do-gooder who’s been fully canonized in our cultural memory. In Heller’s film, Hanks slips in and out of the red cardigan and sneakers with an astonishing ease—and eerie accuracy—that reaffirms him as one of our best working actors; the studied slowness of Rogers’ speaking style (with its all-important pauses), the guileless curiosity with which he taught children to inspect the world, is all replicated without appearing a lifeless work of thespian puppetry. Part of the glory of Mister Rogers was how you couldn’t see the seams holding his vision of kindness together, and you similarly begin to accept the whole-hearted sincerity of Hanks’ portrayal before long. He’s just that good.
Heller’s film is not a biopic but a dramatization of how Rogers’s moral code catalyzed positive change in those around him, him serving as an almost Promethean torch-bearer for kindness. To investigative reporter Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), assigned to write a 400-word profile on Rogers, the guy seems too good to be true. But as he digs, Vogel finds himself unexpectedly touched by the strength of Rogers’s character, as well as motivated to work through a long-standing animus toward his terminally ill, alcoholic father (Chris Cooper). It’s based on a true story in the sense that an article was written, but more importantly in the sense that those who knew Rogers have testified to this transformative role he’d often play in the lives of passersby, restoring their faith in humanity with the simple, radical gift of his love.
In a novel touch, Heller frames A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as if it’s set within the world of the TV show, miniature toy cars zipping along plastic tracks as the characters drive from scene to scene. This gives the movie a homespun, storybook quality, and it speaks to the story’s overriding tenderness, its dedication to saluting Rogers by making the kind of open-hearted movie he might have made. What it’s really is Miracle on 34th Street, with Rogers standing in for jolly old Kris Kringle and Vogel the nonbeliever who finds his world unexpectedly lightened through their meeting. It’s not for nothing that Miracle on 34th Street‘s alternate title, The Big Heart, would be as apt a fit here as it was there. Even in the ostensibly serious moments when these two sit down to speak, behind the scenes of Rogers’s TV show, they might as well be living inside a snow globe. One day, someone will make a real biopic about Fred Rogers; in the interim, this one’s a warm, fuzzy embrace of what his work meant to a great many, and the timeless value of his virtues.
STREAM IT: ‘Arctic’ (Amazon Prime)
In one of the year’s finest performances, Mads Mikkelsen braves the blood-freezing temperatures of the Arctic Circle, the lone silhouette of a man against the howling winds of eternal winter.
As Overgård, the downed pilot of a small cargo plane, the Danish actor communicates volumes without a word. He is a man concentrated down to his base survivalist instincts; there’s an entire short film in the efficiency with which he catches, filets, and devours a trout straight from the ice. Overgård has little hope of rescue, though he’s carved a giant SOS into the snow all the same. And he’s self-sufficient enough that, despite the harsh conditions, there appears no immediate threat to his safety; this character, stranded far from the rest of humanity, exhibits remarkable stoicism.
As it turns out, his eventual odyssey across the Arctic tundra only coincides with the arrival of a helicopter, which in a bravura scene early on attempts to rescue Overgård before finally crashing into the icy landscape. There’s a survivor, a practically comatose young woman, and it’s the prospect of delivering her back to civilization rather than himself that impels Overgård to set out on foot, tugging the wounded co-pilot behind him on a makeshift sled.
Those are the bare bones of Arctic, which draws its magnetic pull from both Mikkelsen’s expressive, heartbreaking performance as well as the overpowering might of the conditions around him. In what is astonishingly his debut film, writer-director Joe Penna gives the North Pole its due as one of nature’s great abysses, a land of blinding white and boundless desolation. Arctic is stripped-down and bereft of Hollywood logic; its treatment of the tundra is one of the most austere and bracing ever committed to film, and the challenges Overgård faces are overcome only through sheer force of iron will.
Arctic is so elemental and poetic a movie that it’s almost surprising Mikkelsen’s protagonist is given a name. His quiet humanity, a torch held high in a literal blizzard, is of a kind with the rough-hewn, lyrical poetry of Cormac McCarthy and, in another sense, the deceptively soul-deep prose of Ernest Hemingway. There’s an existential quality to Arctic, a tremendously moving meditation on how we persevere through near-insurmountable hardships, what it takes to keep the light from going out. It feels deeply affecting in this specific cultural moment, and is one of the very best films of its kind.
SKIP IT: ‘The Feed’ (Amazon Prime)
An alternately intriguing and enervating extrapolation of the Black Mirror episode “An Entire History of You” that’s stretched across 10 episodes (six of which were made available ahead of the series’ debut on Amazon Prime), The Feed explores what happens when a new piece of technology allows for the constant recording and sharing of human experiences. (Hint: nothing good.)
The titular device, essentially a global social network, is a privacy nightmare waiting to happen; but in the near future of the series, ultra-successful CEO, Lawrence (David Thewlis), and his steel-nerved wife, Meredith (Michelle Fairley, of Game of Thrones), have been successful in rolling out the implant worldwide. Their wildly wealthy family is plagued by dysfunction; son Tom (Guy Burnet) is wary of the Feed and so has worked to keep his wife, Kate (Nina Toussaint-White), and young daughter away from the technology. But family has a way of drawing you back in and, armed with a device as tailor-made for dissolving personal boundaries as the Feed, Kate soon becomes aware that Lawrence has more ways of getting inside her head than usual in-laws.
But the characters have bigger, potentially world-disrupting issues to contend with. The Feed’s malfunctioning in some users, leading to bouts of violence, and its creators are cast under a pall of suspicion as society begins to question (too little, too late) what will come of welcoming the Feed into their homes . Integrating such a sophisticated and far-reaching piece of technology into the fabric of everyday life (not to mention media, education, and governance) reaps all kinds of unintended consequences for its protagonists, and as The Feed unspools, so does its vision of a technologically enhanced society on the verge of a collapse it’s too hopelessly plugged in to see coming.
The cast is mostly strong, and Thewlis and Fairley take particular relish in essentially playing tech-industry Underwoods, calling for crackdowns against “off-liners” and navigating the palace intrigue of their own imperiled dynasty. What’s missing, then, is the sense of escalating dread and tension this kind of dystopian production needs to keep viewers invested. The pilot is a too-often confusing slog of character introductions and dialogue clichés, one that does too little to distinguish these characters and the central technology from your garden-variety technoparanoiac entertainment. And though subsequent episodes are a marked improvement, the series struggles to overcome its early bouts of narrative static. Watch this space, though—The Feed has potential to grow into a truly gripping drama of dystopian intrigue, King Lear in the Cloud, even if its early episodes hammer in its commentary and exposition too ham-fistedly to engage.
The Best of the Rest
In theaters, Dark Waters tells an important, horrifying true story of how corporate corruption at the DuPont chemical company led to a decades-long pollution scheme in West Virginia. Mark Ruffalo stars as Rob Bilott, a Cincinnati lawyer who becomes DuPont’s worst nightmare after taking the case of a Parkersburg cattle farmer (Bill Camp) whose livestock died in droves after drinking from the local water supply; the farmer suspects a nearby DuPont factory is responsible. As Bilott investigates, he uncovers a massive cover-up, a litany of crimes driven by greed and protected by DuPont’s iron grip over company towns like the ones its toxic chemicals had been allowed to permeate and poison. The film, directed by Todd Haynes (Carol), is too dour and visually one-note to rank among the director’s best work, but it emotes a moral fury that feels right for this subject. Like The Report (out next week on Amazon Prime), it’s a granular, thought-provoking drama of process, about the rot that can develop inside institutions and the need for civil servants to hold them accountable from the outside.
Not reviewed, Frozen 2 reunites fans of the Disney original with princesses Elsa and Anna for another wintry, musical adventure through their magical kingdoms. The sequel, which finds Elsa exploring the origins of her powers, reunites the voice cast of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff, with new characters voiced by Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood. Will it birth a “Let It Go”-sized mega-hit? That seems unlikely, but “Into the Unknown,” its major song, certainly casts its aspirations in that direction.
New to streaming, Mortal Engines—Universal’s pricey steampunk fantasy that bombed in theaters—is now on Hulu. A visual spectacle in the truest sense of the world, it offers tantalizing glimpses of a larger franchise that will surely never come to fruition. But the impressive effects, along with a few fun performances (the best of all by a cartoonishly villainous Stephen Lang), more than off-set the ungainly, sometimes unintentionally amusing machinations of its labyrinthine plot. Also worth your time on Hulu: the incredibly harrowing rape-and-revenge thriller The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent’s ambitious follow-up to The Babadook; and Booksmart, one of the funniest high school comedies since Superbad and a film that laces its wacky night-before-graduation antics with genuine, endearing affection for its two bestie leads (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever).
And on Netflix, Burning Cane marks the powerful film debut of Phillip Youmans, currently a 19-year-old student at NYU. One can’t help but wonder at the maturity of subject—alcoholism, poverty, and holy burden in the Southern Baptist church—and striking clarity of the images Youmans creates, given his age. It’s a slow, ponderous film, sometimes unnecessarily so, but Wendell Pierce is electric at its core as a volatile reverend who finds the gospel he preaches offers precious little shelter from the demons warring inside him.
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—Alan Cumming on taking career risks in his 50s and “spinning a lot of plates”
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