Monday, November 28, 2022
Friday, November 25, 2022
Steven Spielberg - certainly the most successful filmmaker of our time - revisits his childhood in a thinly veiled coming of age story. The Spielberg family becomes The Fabelmans - a frustrated concert artist mother, a brilliant engineer father, an anxious oldest son who becomes a film director, and three daughters. The family moves from New Jersey to Arizona to California, each move increasingly stressful. We see young Sammy Fabelman, played by Mateo Zoryan Francis-De-Ford discover movies at a screening of The Greatest Show on Earth. His mother hands him the family movie camera and sparks fly. Soon Sammy is filming his Lionel train crashing in a scenario similar to Cecil B. DeMille'. Joining the Boy Scouts and studying for his photography merit badge, young Sammy directs his fellow scouts in mock war films. He wraps his sisters in toilet paper for fake zombie movies. A visit from Judd Hirsch as Uncle Boris brings the conflict between art and life into focus and gives us a better take on Sammy's eccentric mother, played by Michelle Williams. The mother claims the center of the family chaos. Unhappy and frustrated and a major influence on her budding artist son. Their relationship turns rocky when he realizes the family friend played by Seth Rogen might be more than that to his mother. The Fabelmans runs two and a half hours and feels long. A high school thread with bullying and a girlfriend sometimes falls flat. A scene of Michelle Williams driving her children toward a tornado pays off in such a typical Spielberg manner that it doesn't feel real. A personal foul for me comes early in the movie, when the family in 1952 drive to the movies in a 1955 Plymouth - three years before they were made. That's my own childhood interfering, my 9-year-old love of cars when they were new in the 1950s. The Fabelmans gave me much to ponder and took me back to my own childhood and chaotic family. The Campbell chaos created a movie loving smarty pants, not a film genius.
New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor's investigation of producer Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse and misconduct brought the film mogul to justice, and also supercharged the "Me Too" movement against sexual harassment. She Said presents a by the number's newsroom story, with Carey Mulligan as Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Kantor. The two actresses represent the journalism profession quite believably. Patricia Clarkson and Andre Baugher add credibility as their editors. Juggling marriage and motherhood, the two women follow leads and encourage witnesses to come forward. She Said falls in the league of All the President's Men and Spotlight but lacks the tension of those somewhat better movies. We know the outcome. Harvey Weinstein's now resides in prison and faces more trials. She Said deserves viewing as it gives victims a voice. One of those victims, Ashley Judd, plays herself in the film. She Said also reminds us of the importance of investigative journalism. The result is worthy and satisfying, even if not as exciting as the best of the investigative journalism films of our times.
Christmas almost wouldn't be Christmas without the 24-hour back-to-back cable marathon of the original A Christmas Story, starring a young Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, the kid who desperately wants a Daisy Air Rifle from Santa. Cable TV has made us familiar with almost every scene of the 1983 film. Frankly the idea of a sequel made me a little squeamish. In spite of my resistance, I'm happy to report I fell for this follow up, produced and starring Peter Billingsley from the original, now grown up with a family of his own. A family tragedy - the death of his father - calls the family back to Ralphie's boyhood home for the holidays, where Ralphie's friends have stayed and where new versions of the old neighborhood bullies live to torture Ralphie's kids. Julie Hagerty --- always good for a comic turn - doesn't disappoint as Ralphie's mom. The story echos many of the favorite points and feelings of the original, including imaginary sequences and a visit to Higbee's Department Store - still operating as this takes place in the early 1970s. The holiday trip comes to a delightful conclusion. I'll still watch the original, but I enjoyed this follow up and might watch it again as well.
Friday, November 18, 2022
Brilliant chef Julien Stowki, played by Ralph Fiennes - has had it with his "A" list customers, who must travel by boat to his exclusive island restaurant and pay $1250 each for whatever he's cooking that night. In The Menu He arranges an invitation only evening inviting a noted food critic, an over the hill movie star, a wealthy couple in a failing marriage and a pack of money men for a night in which they learn they will never survive. Anya Taylor-Joy catches his eye as Margot - a last minute date brought by Nicholas Hoult, a foodie wannabe. The chef recognizes her as not of the one percent, which gives her a fighting chance to live. I love the idea of comedy-horror, best represented by Get Out. This is no Get Out. However, The Menu has its moments and breezes by in about an hour and forty minutes. Real foodies will probably recognize the food. I enjoyed watching the chef cook a mouthwatering cheeseburger.
Thursday, November 17, 2022
You remember Weird Al - the guy who took pop hits from the 80s and turned them into comic parodies. Michael Jackson's Beat It became Eat It, Madonna's Like a Virgin - Like a Surgeon and on and on. Now Al Yankovic makes up an outrageous movie biography - in essence a parody of movie biographies. Good sport Daniel Radcliff, in his life after Harry Potter, seems the perfect actor to inhabit Weird Al. The comedy starts strong, and roars to a high point when Weird Al attends a party of his idols, including cheesy imitators of Pee Wee Herman, Salvador Dali and Wolfman Jack (channeled by Jack Black.). Other stand outs include Rainn Wilson as Dr. Demento, Evan Rachel Wood as the most rapacious version of Madonna you've ever seen and Quinta Brunson as a smiling exuberant Oprah Winfrey. It's all in good fun and delivers good fun, one of the best fun times of the year.