Reviewing a movie like The Fabelmans is challenging because it’s clearly coming from such a personal loving place. It feels weird to be criticizing someone’s journey and basically saying ‘your story didn’t work for me.’ Alas, that is my job and what I have to do for this review of Steven Spielberg’s sentimental tale based on his own adolescence: The Fabelmans. I respect the effort and it has nice moments but as a whole the film rang flat and most of the endearing sections felt phony and inauthentic rather than moving.
The Fabelmans begins with young Sammy becoming inspired by a trip to the theater to see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. In particular, a train crash sequence blows Sammy’s mind and he asks for a train set for Hanukkah so he can attempt to recreate it using his Dads super 8 camera.
Sammy has a computer programming father (Paul Dano), an eccentric composer mother (Michelle Williams) and 2 sisters. He also has a friend of the family “uncle” Bennie (Seth Rogan) who both his Mother and Father seem equally attached to. We then follow the family in its highs and lows throughout Sammy’s childhood until he graduates high school and goes to work in Hollywood.
The best section of the movie happens at the end when Sammy gets to meet with director John Ford played by director David Lynch. He gives the young filmmaker some very sage advice on what makes an image art and how to turn a scene into true cinema.
Unfortunately there was far too few of these compelling scenes. Frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski shoots everything in nostalgic sepia tones, which is sweet, but I would have liked to see the cinematography change as the decades wear on. It all felt a little samesies after a while.
Also I found Williams’ performance to be especially phony. It almost came across as a Mother version of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ rather than someone with a legit mental illness that needs help. She’s the perky one who believes in him instead of a real authentic human being.
Perhaps Spielberg was too close to this material to give it the nuanced script and direction it deserves? But then again most people seem to be loving it so what do I know? I thought I would love it because I love cheesy, wholesome films but I did not.
If you want something sweet and nostalgic from this year I recommend Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood.That worked so much better at creating authentic characters and moments I could relate with despite having grown up in the 80s rather than the 60s. I did enjoy the original score from John Williams in The Fabelmans and I think Sam Rechner and Oakes Fegley were strong as 2 of Sammy’s high school classmates. Other than that, this sentimental journey wasn’t for me.
Being an animation junkie there is always a sense of excitement whenever a new film premieres from Walt Disney Animation Studios. This is especially true when it is a new Disney musical like last year’s Encanto. That said, Disney, is one of those studios that tends to telegraph in advance when they are less than enthused about a new film, animated or live action.
Unfortunately this is definitely the case with their new 61st animated classic Strange World and even more unfortunate is their lack of enthusiasm is earned with a thoroughly underwhelming cinematic experience. Instead of being strange and exciting Strange World ends up being dull and mostly annoying. It’s a real disappointment because there is tons of unrealized potential here that director Don Hall failed to monopolize upon because of the weak and predictable script.
Let’s start out with the positives of Strange World. Like any Disney animated film the world building and animation is beautiful. I loved the colors and the 2D 1940s adventure reel style in the introduction.
I also thought the voice acting was fine, if unmemorable, and the dog Legend was very cute. The lgtbq representation is better executed than any previous Disney film, and I appreciate it being done well. However, the movie still has to be good around that representation and this just isn’t.
The problem is the very pedestrian script and the unlikable characters. We are supposedly following a family named the Clades as they explore a new “strange” land. Unfortunately the big reveal of what this land is made of is completely obvious from the beginning so it’s not that strange or new to film. We’ve seen films exploring this particular type of world in many other films and like I said it’s clear what it is from the first time we see the floating bridge they walk on we see in the trailers (trying hard not to spoil the reveal.)
We have 3 generations of Clades voiced by Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jaboukie Young-White, and they do almost nothing but argue the entire picture, and that’s just not what I want to see from my animated family films. Literally the most exciting part about this film is when they all get stuck in a closet and the dog has to help them out. That’s not great for a movie called Strange World.
I know animated films are hard to make and that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this film but in the era of Into the Spiderverse and GDT’s Pinocchio you have to do better. It’s no surprise Strange World received the lowest Cinemascore of any Disney film ever. It’s not interesting or enchanting and the characters bickering the whole time makes for a thoroughly unpleasant experience. If you want my advice I say wait for Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (which is amazing) and watch this on Disney Plus or just watch Encanto for the 30th time with your family. This is certainly not a world I recommend. If you need an adventure honestly Atlantis or Treasure Planet, with their flaws, are better than this.
I’m not sure what inspired me to put the 1987 vampire flick The Lost Boys on my Blind Spot list this year. I think I have just been trying to go out of my comfort zone lately and it seemed like an approachable horror film I could try out. Now that I have seen it…I’m so glad I selected it! What an entertaining, enjoyable film, and really not that scary at all.
The Lost Boys is about a teen named Michael (Jason Patric who is so dreamy in this role!) who moves with his brother and mother to a beach town called Santa Clara. While there they become involved with a group of teen hoodlums that turn out to be a vampire gang. In this version of vampires you can be kind of a vampire, and a full fledged immortal vampire.
Kiefer Sutherland plays David the leader of the vampires and he and his friends know how to rock an 80s mullet. Director Joel Schumacher imbeds just enough camp to keep things engaging without going into the full-fledged silliness of his Batman movies of the 90s. These are definitely vampires that belong in an 80s hair metal band but again not complete caricatures.
I really enjoyed Corey Haim as Michael’s brother Sam and Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander as the Frog brothers who’s special skill is hunting down vampires.
You’d have to be very sensitive to be scared by The Lost Boys. They literally have scenes with bathtubs full of holy water (how did they make so much!) and they certainly got all the local grocery stores garlic supply especially for the ending. Again Schumacher keeps control of all of these details so it made me smile throughout.
If you are like me and need a break from the Christmas movies and awards films give this fun, 80s, teen horror movie a shot. I’m glad I did!
I know the original Knives Out had its detractors. A lot of my friends said it was ”overrated” or “nothing special” but I had a fun time with it. To me it was light fluffy entertainment well told and since we hadn’t gotten a mystery like that in some time it felt refreshing and new. Now in 2022 we seem to be having the year of the mystery with Death on the Nile, See How They Run, Only Murders in the Building and more to be released. I don’t know if this deluge of new entries in the genre has made me more critical of Glass Onion but let’s just say I went excited and left deflated. As far as viewing experiences go this supposed mystery is one of the worst ones I’ve had all year and one of the only times in a theater in the last few years I’ve been actively annoyed by what I’m watching. I know many seem to be enjoying Glass Onion but I thought it was terrible in just about every way.
Daniel Craig comes back to this sequel as detective Benoit Blanc but the rest of the cast is new. They have all been invited to a billionaire’s mansion on a private island to participate in a murder mystery party game. On paper this should be a fun setup for a mystery. They even make illusions to the board game Clue and the classic 1985 film it helped inspire.
The problem is the terrible script. Each scene is nothing but one exposition dump after another trying to make obvious revelations sound revelatory when we can all see them coming a mile away. I grew so bored listening to these bland people drone on and on about this Miles Bron guy and the supposed shenanigans happening around him. Neither the clues or the people were interesting or compelling, and I found myself getting both annoyed and bored as I watched. I even took a bathroom break because I was so disengaged I needed a break.
The characters also don’t help with each actor mugging it up before the camera especially Edward Norton as a Elon Musk-style tech billionaire. At least in the first one Ana de Armas’ character had some mystery to her, some allure we didn’t understand. In this Janelle Monae’s character is supposed to be the layered one we are rooting for but everything with her is so convoluted and takes forever to explain, that I lost interest. It takes an hour for any murders to happen and that’s a problem in a murder mystery!
Blanc doesn’t even solve the case in this film. He pushes someone else to solve it but that ended up giving us nothing but exposition from our lead character. The ending is meant to be clever, but I rolled my eyes hoping it would all be over soon. It wasn’t soon enough if you ask me.
So if you want an annoying, unending experience of a movie check out Glass Onion. Maybe it will be just your cup of tea? As for me, I’m glad it’s done and I can move on to something of quality to watch. It honestly felt like I was watching a bunch of famous people take a vacation in Greece and that’s not my idea of a good time. No thanks.
Anyone who has been following my content knows how much I disliked the recent Disney remake of their animated classic Pinocchio. It honestly made me sick and disgusted the studio could put out something so badly made. So let’s just say Pinocchio needed a little bit of a refurbishment and since this is the year of Pinocchio we didn’t have to wait long to get a vastly superior version from director Guillermo del Toro.
This version is done using stop motion animation and it is a fresh exciting new take on a classic story, coming from a master storyteller like del Toro. To begin with the animation is absolutely outstanding and mesmerizing. Unlike the recent Wendell & Wild, which I found leaned on CG too much, this stop motion has the wonder and charm of feeling like wooden puppets (which they are) moving through this unique world. The amount of time it must have taken to get multiple elements in each frame moving is awe inspiring. For example, Geppetto has a full beard that seamlessly moves as he travels through a scene.
The story to this Pinocchio is quite different than the Disney animated classic so go in knowing that’s the case. It deals with themes of grief, loss, war, religion in ways the original never touches on. They also completely eliminate Pleasure Island in favor of a long section where Pinocchio is a soldier at war (this section could be trimmed down a little). They also completely change the Blue Fairy into a Wood Sprite with a gatekeeping magical fairy sister who guards the heavens from immortals like Pinocchio.
I also didn’t realize this version of Pinocchio has new original songs. While none of them by Alexandre Desplat are particularly memorable they are sweet and endearing.
In the grand tradition of Pinocchio I am not sure how kid-friendly this version of the story is. Like I said, it covers some pretty grown-up material. I’m actually surprised it got away with a PG rating. If you do see it with your kids make sure to have a good conversation with them about war, religion and how we treat people who look different than ourselves. Who knows its darker themes could lead to a great family moment?
The voice acting is all excellent including Ewan McGregor, Swinton, Ron Perlman and more. I loved the character design and how they didn’t feel a need to copy the animated classic but just did their own thing.
If I was going to give any critiques, the war section goes on too long and feels a little repetitive and is too downbeat for this kind of film. I worry a lot of kids will be bored by the serious themes of the film but then again that has always been the case with Pinocchio, so this is no different. When Geppetto calls Pinocchio a burden it is very intense and emotionally grueling.
Fortunately GDT’s Pinocchio is getting a short release in the theater and if you have a chance to see it on the big screen I highly recommend it. If not, make sure to check it out on Netflix Dec 9th.
Hey everyone! It’s time to get you caught up on all the movies I’ve been seeing lately! I wish I had time to write long posts on all of these movies but I don’t. Make sure you check out my hard work at Hallmarkies Podcast where we are covering all things Christmas including lots of fun interviews and recaps.
So let’s get started:
Decision to Leave
Decision to Leave by director Park Chan-wook is one of the most impeccably made movies I’ve seen in 2022. And it’s one I think on a second and third watch I could easily go from liking to loving. There’s a lot going on and with the subtitles I struggled a little bit to keep up with everything on a first watch (I was also admittedly a little tired so that didn’t help).
Nevertheless I still really enjoyed this ‘neo-noir romantic mystery.’ Recently I watched the classic Double Indemnity for my AFI Passions Project for my patrons (check it out! You’ll enjoy it and would help me so much) and Decision to Leave reminded me a lot of that classic film. Both are about detectives that get into toxic relationships and both having that heavy noir atmosphere that works so well.
Definitely if you want to see one of the most beautifully made film of 2022 don’t miss Decision to Leave.
8 out of 10
Falling for Christmas
If you need a break from the arthouse flicks we have a new Christmas movie from Netflix (which we are covering on the podcast this week) entitled Falling for Christmas starring Lindsay Lohan and Chord Overstreet. This movie is pretty simple. It’s a winter-themed remake of Overboard without some of that movie’s problematic elements.
Lohan plays an heiress who looses her memory and is taken in by handsome lodge owner Overstreet. Obviously as host of Hallmarkies Podcast I’m a fan of these kind of Christmas movies but that doesn’t mean I give them all a pass (see the A California Christmas movies for proof of that.)
Fortunately Falling for Christmas has all the elements I need to make a cozy holiday film work. The stars have chemistry, the silly antics work and the whole thing brings all the feels. I particularly liked any scenes with her over-the-top boyfriend Tad (George Young). The movie is a bit over-stuffed at times bringing in elements from Overboard, It’s a Wonderful Life, and a million other holiday films but it’s all done with such cheerfulness it worked for me. If you like these films you’ll enjoy it.
7 out of 10
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
People are going to end up in 2 camps about Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. You are either going to appreciate the risks it takes and find it refreshing or you are like me and find it more grating and annoying than brilliant. I say that fully admitting to not being a hard-core Weird Al fan. I admire his talent and I’ve enjoyed some of his song parodies but I am not a fangirl by any means.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Al in the movie and he gives it his all in a fun performance but the approach they take is to parody the biopic genre instead of giving us any kind of true story (they admit that in the intro to the film). The problem with this approach is the script just isn’t funny and the jokes become so repetitive, which is brutal when you aren’t laughing at them to begin with.
I can see why Weird will have an audience. I simply grew tired of it quickly and was ready for it to be over. It is free to watch on Roku if you want to give it a try but I can’t say I recommend it.
5 out of 10
Anyone who has followed this site knows I am a big fan of A Christmas Carol as a story and have reviewed many different versions of it over the years (see Scrooge Month). I also love the music of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman etc). So in so many ways the film Spirited was designed to please me as a viewer…and fortunately it did just that!
In the film Will Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present who is assigned a new ‘unredeemable’ patient played by Ryan Reynolds who fits your classic Scrooge archetype. However, as they go about their journey together things don’t play out as planned and we flip back and forth between Ferrell’s and Reynolds past.
Ferrell and Reynolds have terrific chemistry but the main reason to see this is the songs. If you don’t like Pasek and Paul’s music you won’t like this but I loved all the musical sequences (and there are a lot of them) and the incredible choreography and production values! It was a blast.
The story in Spirited is definitely overstuffed and gets too convoluted for its own good but this bright and bubbly musical is just what you need to get into the Christmas spirit this season. It has its flaws but still one of my favorite movies of 2022. (There was also a really good take on A Christmas Carol by Hallmark this year called The Ghost of Christmas Always. Check that one out also!)
8.5 out of 10
Our final film on this post is horror/thriller by director Mark Mylod called The Menu. I’ve been trying to push myself with horror this year and this is definitely one of the most squeamish ones I’ve seen so far! It’s very effective at what it does but buyer beware it definitely will make you squirm in your seat.
It probably helps I’m a big food network/foodie culture fan so a lot of the dark humor in the film works. I wish they had made the ending a little bit less cynical and more triumphant but I say that as an outsider of this particular genre. Fans of dark humor horror will probably love the ending. It could have used a touch more humanity for my taste but who knows.
Ralph Fiennes plays a chef who brings a group of special diners to have a special meal that gets more grisly with each course. Anya Taylor-Joy is roped into attending the meal at the last minute by Nicholas Hoult and she is our main protagonist for the story. All the acting is excellent in the film and I especially liked Janet McTeer as snobby food critic invited to the event.
Despite my not loving the ending the script for The Menu is very well done and it builds tension exceptionally well. If you like horror you’ll love this movie. It’s surprising, gross, and entertaining all at the same time.
There are so many factors going against the latest installment in the MCU, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that it’s remarkable it works as well as it does. Even without star Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing in 2020, following up the beloved original which received a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars would have been no small feet. Rewriting the script to appropriately acknowledge the tragedy naturally made it even more difficult. Fortunately, while not perfect, the folks at Marvel have presented us with a beautiful story about how we overcome the grief life provides and accept the mantle of leadership when it is asked of us.
One of the best things about the original Black Panther is the clear motivations for the characters. We understand why Kilmonger wants Wakanda to be more brazen and bold in eliminating hatful governments from the world, but we also understand why T’Challa and his Father want to remain neutral to evil and protect the vibranium and other resources in their land.
Now with T’Challa’s passing the nation is reeling with grief while at the same time trying to figure out what is the best step forward. I’ve heard some call this “woke” or “political”, which I find confusing. Of course it’s political. It’s about the leader of a nation- a political role. At the beginning of the film T’Challa’s Mother and successor Queen Ramonda speaks at the UN to try and point out the hypocrisy of the many nation-states who demand action from Wakanda while stealing the resources and people of poorer nations.
One such example is a nation of merpeople led by a classic Marvel villain Namor (Tenoch Huerta, who is great in the role) who is trying to defend his nation, Talokan, from these marauders and thieves. Like Kilmonger he sees Wakanda as an enemy of change- an isolationist country that refuses to stand up to these powerful forces trying to take away his land. They clash and it forces young Shuri (T’Challa’s sister) to decide what kind of leader she wants to be.
All of this works and is a compelling story with good acting. I particularly enjoyed the first and third act of the film and the emotional gravitas director Ryan Coogler and the actors bring to the screen. The music is also very moving and well done by Ludwig Göransson, returning from his Oscar winning score from the first film.
That said, there are some issues with the film. I did feel like some of the cinematography was dark and difficult to make out what was being seen. I actually don’t love our local IMAX and so I figured it had to do with my particular screen but I’m hearing that others experienced this too so it seems like a problem.
Also there are times the screenplay gets a bit muddled particularly in the 2nd act. There are a lot of plotlines going on and some are hard to follow especially anything with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Martin Freeman. Lupita Nyong’o is absolutely gorgeous in her scenes but they felt like more a part of the wider MCU building than for the story of Wakanda Forever. Dominque Thorne is introduced as Riri Williams/Ironheart and while I enjoyed her performance it also felt wedged in to serve the overall MCU and not this particular movie itself.
I loved any scene with Danai Gurira as Okoye. She’s rapidly turning into one of my favorite characters in the MCU and I get excited whenever she turns up whether it be in anything from Avengers: Endgame to the What If series. Angela Bassett is excellent and Letitia Wright is outstanding as Shuri who has to grieve and make important decisions in the movie and I completely bought her character transformation by the end- literal and figurative.
It is these character transformations which will determine what you get out of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. If you need it to be a perfect movie than you’ll be disappointed. However, if you want an emotional journey for characters a lot of us have grown to care about than it more than suffices. It’s strengths certainly make up for its flaws.
There is a mid-credits scene but no post-credits, and there is also a surprise cameo I really loved but won’t spoil for you. Enjoy!
Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well and enjoying this fall weather. I am super busy as usual. Make sure to check out theHallmarkies Podcast as the Christmas movie season is well underway. We are reviewing all the Hallmark Christmas movies and as much of everything else as we can.
I also have lots of other movies to talk about and review. Today I have 3 recent films to catch you up on. I wish I could do longer reviews on each one of them but am running out of time
So here goes:
Empire of Light
It’s hard to not hold a movie like Empire of Light to a high standard when it is chocked full of incredible talent. It’s one of those tribute to cinema we’ve been getting a lot lately from director Sam Mendes and you can feel his personal touch throughout the film. It also is shot beautifully by the great Roger Deakins and has an impactful score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Add to all that some of greatest actors working today with Olivia Colman and Colin Firth and this thing should be outstanding but unfortunately it’s not. The screenplay has nice moments including a lovely scene at the movie theater at the end but too often the scrip tries to do too much and be too much. It’s part romance, part political protest, part tribute to cinema, part exploration of mental health stigmas, and the list goes on and on. None of it feel successfully explored despite the best work from all involved. I certainly didn’t feel any chemistry between Olivia Colman and Michael Ward (who plays her young lover.)
There might be a few Oscar nominations that sneak out of this for score or production design but most are going to view this as on of the big disappointments of 2022.
4 out of 10
Sometimes I really enjoy a micro-indie film. I love the intimacy and the pull up by one’s bootstraps mentality to them. A fun example of this type of project is the new film Murder, Anyone from director James Cullen Bressack takes a screenplay written by his father the late Gordon Bresseck and executes it using 2 simple sets and mostly only 4 actors.
One set-piece has 2 writers (Maurice LaMarche and Charles M. Howell IV) working on a story- one wants it to be a movie, the other wants it to be a play. Then on another set we have the actors of the script (Galadriel Stineman who I recently interviewed along with her husband Kevin Joy) bringing it to life as the writers write.
Stineman is a lot of fun as the noir femme fatale and especially with the recent mystery resurgence the satire here is very relevant and funny. The movie also doesn’t wear out its welcome at only 81 minutes. Not all the jokes work but enough do for me to recommend the film.
6 out of 10
My Father’s Dragon
Everyone who follows my work knows I’m a huge fan of Cartoon Saloon especially the films by Irish animator Tomm Moore. However, I also enjoyed director Nora Twomey’s first film The Breadwinner. Now she has her latest that is going to Netflix called My Father’s Dragon.
As opposed to The Breadwinner, Dragon is a much simpler story with whimsy that will entertain the whole family, but seems designed for small children under 7. It is based on a book about a little boy named Elmer who runs away to Wild Island to help a captive dragon.
The animation is luminous and lovely. I also really enjoyed the music by Mychael and Jeff Danna. Cartoon Saloon always uses music so well. There is tremendous voice cast with Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo, Whoopi Goldberg and more.
For some small children they may find sections alarming or upsetting but this should be managed by the many delightful scenes that will inspire their creativity and imagination.
I enjoyed Elmer as a character and a lot of children should be able to relate to his struggles trying to fit in in a new area and wanting to prove himself with a great adventure. The story does drag in spots but overall I really enjoyed My Father’s Dragon. It is an enchanting adventure for families and one of the best animated films of 2022
Everyone knows how much I love stop motion and I consider myself a big fan of director Henry Selick (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas etc). So it gives me no joy to say I was not a fan of the director’s recent film Wendell & Wild. It is definitely the biggest disappointment of 2022 as we have waited 13 years since his last feature film, making this a big letdown.
On the positive side there are moments of fantastic animation and creativity. The lead protagonist Kat also has some sweet and endearing moments where you are rooting for her and feel her pain losing her parents in a traumatic fashion.
The problem is the narrative feels fragmented between Kat and the demon duo of Wendell and Wild (Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele). One minute you are dealing with Kat and her struggles with mean girls at school and the next you are lost on a plot involving bad people extorting slave labor from prison populations. The story wasn’t built well getting you invested in Kat and her story because it was constantly moving away from her.
I also didn’t love the animation like I thought I would. Yes all of Selick’s movies have been dark but they still had a charm to them. These characters needed to be cuter, more endearing. Kat was really the only design I liked. I particularly did not enjoy the design of Father Bests (James Hong) both before and after his demonic transformation.
The film also uses CG a lot more than Selick’s other films giving the world-building a plastic-like feel as opposed to the attention to detail and awe of usual stop motion. Someone on twitter challenged me on this saying the animation flowed very well and my response was ‘almost too well.” It didn’t have that earthy grounded feeling of stop motion that I love. Even though I know a lot of it was puppets it felt like it was from a computer.
I have seen a lot of animation fans glowing about this film, and I wish I could join them. It simply didn’t work for me and, like I said, is a big disappointment. Oh well. You win some. You lose some! Wendell & Wild is available now on Netflix so watch it and let me know what you think.