While a new “Scream” aims to scare up some excitement at the anemic box office, there are numerous other worthwhile titles that are streaming or arriving in theaters.
Here’s what to see, and what to avoid.
“Peacemaker”: When it comes to the masterminds spearheading superhero series and movies, James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) is a standout, a fearless writer/director whose irreverent, rowdy ways puts him on a par with Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok”). And “Peacemaker” is a high note in Gunn’s career. Fans of “Deadpool’s” rude/raunchy behavior will adore this addictive eight-part HBO Max series — a spinoff of the gonzo box-office flop “Suicide Squad.” It distances itself from anything Disney+ offers, and is stuffed with nudity and violence and unrestrained edginess.
Gunn wrote and directed the bulk of the episodes and his R-rated riffing injects spirit and exuberance into the run-of-the-mill superhero franchise. But he’s not the only one who makes “Peacemaker” a down-and-dirty treat. Gifted comedian John Cena brings some sexy swagger to the title role, while portraying the superhero as a meat-and-potatoes, lunkheaded, clueless, guy who manages to be a do-gooder even though he is anything but “woke.” In this loopy series, Peacemaker gets revived post- “Suicide Squad” and becomes a part of a special ops team tasked with ferreting out evil entities flitting about the globe. His new crew barely tolerates this crass oaf, yet can’t help but be somewhat charmed by him. Robert Patrick appears as Peacemaker’s racist dad (instrumental to the plot) while Danielle Brooks stands out as Peacemaker’s new crony, as does Freddie Stroma as Adrian Chase/Vigilante — who gets some of the best laughs. “Peacemaker” skewers the superhero genre — with respect — and serves up something different; an unconventional, laugh-out-loud romp that’s as rude as it is enjoyable. Details: 3 stars out of 4; available Jan. 13 on HBO Max.
“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania”: Amazon Prime supposedly drives the final nail in the coffin of this animated franchise following Count Drac and his monster chums. The animation won’t win any awards on this fourth outing, which slips from memory before the credits are done rolling, but it all works thanks to an A-list voice cast (including Andy Samberg, Kathryn Hahn and Selena Gomez, who is also an executive producer.) The story follows these classic monsters getting zapped back into human form while Drac’s hyperactive son-in-law (Samberg) transforms into a monster. All of it is amiable and chuckle-worthy, but nothing more. Details: 2½ stars; available Jan. 14 on Amazon Prime.
“Shattered”: Whatever happened to the sleazy erotic thriller — those addictive B movies overwrought with numbskull plot twists and stupid lusty human behavior? Once dominant on cable TV, these guilty pleasures have all but lost their bawdy heat. Director Luis Prieto and screenwriter David Loughery try to throw gas on the dying briquets with this effort, but deliver 92 minutes of vigorous, highly unfulfilling sex, an asinine neo-noir plot and lame dialogue uttered with unrelenting woodiness. “Shameless” star Cameron Monaghan is the patsy here, a rich stooge going through a divorce and falling for a femme fatale (Lilly Krug) who dabbles in lesbianism and has so many red flags around her she could land a Boeing 737. She catches the creepy eye of a peeping Tom motel owner (John Malkovich, so outrageously good at being a sleaze) but that subplot hits a dead end. Frank Grillo pops in late in the game but doesn’t add much, while the twists — both in the script and in the sheets — are so nondescript you might nod off. Details: 1½ stars; available to stream Jan. 14 on multiple platforms.
“Sex Appeal”: Whatever happened to the teen sex comedy? Once embraced by young and old alike, the genre finds its prospects dimmed by a more politically correct culture. Enter Hulu’s entirely unsexy but casually entertaining offering, a mildly raunchy coming-of-age sex comedy about brainy high school senior Avery (Mika Abdalla) experimenting with sex for the first time so she can concoct a prize-winning app on canoodling. Clueless Avery enlists the aid of her bestie (Jake Short) to show her how to do sex right. He, though, has been crushing on her for years. The setup has potential, but the screenplay mostly goes through the motions, offering just a few colorful and clever sex bits. While “Sex Appeal” can’t compare to Neftlix’s “Sex Education,” which is edgier and sexier, it does have a sex-positive message along with a terrific ending and three jovial supporting performances from comedians Fortune Feimster, Margaret Cho and Rebecca Henderson. Details: 2½ stars; available Jan. 14 on Hulu.
“Belle”: Japanese animator Mamoru Hosoda’s majestically animated fable tackles Instagramming culture and how we hide from reality by creating alternate, often too-perfect images of ourselves. Such is the metaphysical quandary of Suzu, a shy, insecure and isolated high school student being raised by her father. When she steps into a popular virtual world, she transforms into Belle, a singer adored by all. But even the virtual world crawls with monsters and soon one rages through this global internet community. Who is the person behind this beast? Hosoda’s answer hits you in the gut, steering “Belle” into a more complicated narrative territory. It’s terrific. Details: 3½ stars; opens Jan. 14 in select theaters.
“The Velvet Queen”: Nature documentaries don’t get much better than Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier’s captivating journey to the Tibetan mountains, where we follow two men on a quest to find and photograph the elusive, reclusive snow leopard. Besides the stunning, stirring camerawork, “Queen” one-ups other adventure docs with its meditative quality, an approach that captures the essence of why nature photographer Munier and writer Sylvain Tesson embarked on the trip in the first place. Details: 4 stars; opens Jan. 14 in select theaters.
“Delicious”: It might throw too many ingredients on the table, but director Eric Besnard’s creation is a special meal, an epicurean and cinematic delight. Rooted in the emergence of the first restaurant ever, it’s set in 1789 France, a culinary era when all the rich and royal ate the very best, and the common people, not so much. Subject to the rote whims of the fussy and privileged Duke of Chamfort (Benjamin Lavernhe, given too little screen time), chef Pierre Manceron (Gregory Gadebois) loses his gig after trying to nudge the duke to eat outside his comfort zone. So Pierre returns to the country and reluctantly takes on middle-aged trainee Louise (Isabelle Carre). The two shoulder raw wounds from their past, but make a strong team. So do the two actors in this mouthwatering foodie drama that is as appetizing as the dishes whipped up in it. Details: 3 stars; available to stream Jan. 14.
Contact Randy Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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