When historians look back at the cosmic coincidences that made up the annus miserablis that was 2017, they will likely skip over the fact Netflix released a movie named Bright and a German horror series titled Dark within mere days of one another. We, however, are happy to celebrate such a glorious irony right here and now. The streaming service is also dropping a pair of stand-up specials from heavyweight talents (and supposedly the new season of Black Mirror, which is scheduled for “late 2017” … so, um, soon?). Meanwhile Amazon is keeping Jean-Claude Van Damme employed with a new series, as well as making what’s arguably 2017’s greatest exploitation movie available as well. And Hulu’s offering up Scorsese’s latest for those who missed it last winter. Here’s your complete streaming guide for the month of December. (Check out our standard TV must-see choices for the month here.)
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Amazon, Dec. 31st)
Bald, brawny, and brutal: it’s Vince Vaughn as you’ve never seen him before in this sublime slice of B-movie mayhem. As a desperate blue-collar family man who lands in prison with a gang-issued mandate to kill, he gives the performance of his career, pitilessly punching his way through an increasingly sadistic series of bone-breaking (literally) encounters. Don Johnson makes for a fittingly villainous end-boss; director S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) pulls off a grungy gem that could’ve come from the grindhouses of the late Seventies, where genre flicks really got down in the depraved muck.
Bright (Netflix, Dec. 22nd)
Think “Training Day, but with magic” and you’re halfway there. In an alternate-universe Los Angeles, orcs and fairies uneasily share the streets with humans. (Gentlemen, start your race metaphors!) Will Smith is an LAPD cop out on patrol with his first nonhuman partner, a beefy orc (Joel Edgerton, unrecognizable under several layers of CGI). What’s supposed to be a routine night takes a turn for the worse when they discover a wand imbued with immense power. Cue a larger conflict that could determine the very fate of the world, etc. Penned by lightning rod Max Landis and directed by David Ayer of Suicide Squad notoriety, it also holds the distinction of being Netflix’s costliest film to date.
Craig Ferguson: Tickle Fight (Netflix, Dec. 5th)
Now three years out from his extended gig hosting The Late Late Show, Ferguson’s cutting loose all the material saved up from nearly a decade under the oppressive yoke of Standards and Practices. His new stand-up special finds the Scottish funnyman waxing comedic on the fight for sobriety (“Tequila for breakfast is no good, because it often leads to tequila as a mid-morning snack …”), veganism and the humbling indignity of emailing your doctor photos of your anus. (Call us old-fashioned, but we still prefer snail mail.)
Dark (Netflix, Dec. 1st)
In the sleepy German town of Winden (a play on their word for “twist,” an early hint at surprises to come), a boy vanishes. What might seem to be another long-game investigative drama a la The Killing then makes an unanticipated pivot into sci-fi with the introduction of a clandestine nuclear facility housing extraordinary experiments. Creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese bring a uniquely German sense of morbidity to the world of streaming TV. Sleekly shot and engrossingly grim, it has the makings of a cult favorite.
Dave Chappelle: Equanimity (Netflix, Dec. 31st)
For the record: e-qua-nim-i-ty, noun, “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Perhaps an unlikely quality for a guy like Chappelle to develop, having pinned much of his stand-up career on a staunch refusal to calmly suffer the assorted bullshit of life. But in his latest special, filmed at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., he may very well find the route to a little inner peace. No way of knowing for sure at present – details of the set have been very much on the DL, as has become custom with a stand-up of Chappelle’s elevated stature. But some bets can be pretty safely placed; no better time for another blistering routine on race in America than the present.
The Indian Doctor (Acorn, Dec. 4th)
This BBC One production drops an accomplished physician Prem Sharma (Sanjeev Bhaskar) into a rural village in Wales, where he and his dutiful wife Kamini (Ayesha Dharker) acclimate to a new, very unfamiliar life. Meanwhile, sinister forces conspire against him and catastrophes test his mettle (a malevolent plot from a shop owner, a smallpox outbreak). All through it, the doctor remains committed to the Hippocratic oath and his principles as a decent man. The breathtaking photography of rolling natural vistas is pretty easy on the eyes as well.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson (Amazon, Dec. 15th)
Remember when Belgian ass-kicker Jean-Claude Van Damme took Hollywood by storm with his peerless martial-arts prowess and impressive full splits? Things have somewhat cooled off for him since then, and this action-comedy joins a semi-fictionalized version of JCVD as he enjoys retirement. Until, that is, he decides to make a comeback – not as an actor, but as the secret agent codenamed “Johnson.” Sure, he might be getting a little long in the tooth, but that’s nothing a good training montage can’t solve. The man’s shown a good sense of humor about himself and his persona in recent years – this could be the “Curb Your Enthusiasm with roundhouse kicks” you’ve been waiting for.
Silence (Hulu, Dec. 1st)
The fact that approximately 28 people saw Martin Scorsese’s contemplative late-career drama in theaters ranks as the second gravest injustice of 2016 (after, you know, the hasty ascendance of fascism). Now you can rectify that missed opportunity and watch a master at work. A career spent pondering sin, penance and redemption culminates in his take on two Portuguese missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) journeying through Japan in search of their wayward mentor (Liam Neeson). With a helping hand from painterly cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, Scorsese brings unprecedented grandeur and clarity to beauty and suffering alike. Is this the closest America’s premier religious filmmaker has gotten to God?
Voyeur (Netflix, Dec. 1st)
Over a span of decades, a fellow named Gerald Foos covertly watched the patrons of his 21-room motel in Aurora, Colorado have sex. Then, in the early Eighties, this virtuosic pervert wrote celebrity journalist Gay Talese to inform him of the private peep show he had built – at which point the author eagerly sank his hooks into a fascinating and disturbing story. This documentary follows Talese through his process of reportage as he readies the text of his book The Voyeur’s Motel for publication – at which point you can begin to see things unraveling in real time.
Wormwood (Netflix, Dec. 15th)
Documentary legend Errol Morris freely weaves original dramatizations with his signature talking-head interview format in this six-part miniseries examining the shadier side of the CIA – in particular, their reckless trials with LSD known as MK Ultra. He sits down with the descendants of one Frank Olson, who died under unknown circumstances after repeated exposure to the psychedelic substance. Oddly enough, many of their accounts don’t square with the official party line, while stylized reenactments of the events described (featuring Peter Sarsgaard as Olson) suggests the agency’s employee may have gone through the psychological wringer. Stay away from the brown tabs, folks.