In nearly every church staging of the nativity story, some beatific, well-behaved little girl is cast as Mary, some lucky boy as her Joseph, and then about 30 of their friends as various sheep and camels and goats and whatnot (in Love Actually, Emma Thompson is surprised to learn there was not just one lobster but several, plus an octopus and a Spider-Man) – the point is, there are lots of kids and very few roles, so they’ve always been padded out with the animal brethren likely to be hanging around a manger.
In this particular retelling of the nativity story, the humans take a back seat to the animals; for once, they’re the stars, especially a brave young miniature donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun). Bo dreams about being in the royal caravan but in fact is locked up in a mill grinding grain all day. His buddy Dave, a dove (Keegan-Michael Key), eggs him on.
Meanwhile, Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) are celebrating their wedding feast and about to have a VERY awkward conversation. Boy is she relieved when a wayward runaway donkey crashes the party and gives her a few minutes’ reprieve. Anyway, eventually she and Joseph start their trek to Bethlehem and Bo and Dave find a helpful sheep named Ruth (Aidy Bryant) to lead the way and help Bo with a Lassie moment.
Meanwhile, a trio camels (Tyler Perry, Oprah, Tracy Morgan) belonging to the three wisemen are also having a moment trying to get their human cargo to a baby foretold by the stars.
Every nativity scene you’ve ever seen has a donkey. Now you’ll actually appreciate him.
The Star is actually a charming little movie full of big voice talent and quirky little moments to make your season bright.
Reviews for Frozen 2 were a bit mixed and I confess I didn’t exactly love the first one (was I the only one on the entire planet not to?). I didn’t hate it, but it was just okay for me. I didn’t even love the song. On our recent trip to Disney World, we met pretty much the whole Frozen crew but needed to attend a sing-along (where people definitely, enthusiastically sang along) to even remember some pretty big plot points from the movie, which came out in 2013 (for example, not one of us remembered trolls). Still, we dutifully brought back an Elsa dress for our 3 year old niece, who has caught Elsa fever (not the kind that produces snow boogies) like pretty much every little girl under 10 has at one time or another.
So of course we went to the see the film. The trailers looked…well, astonishing, frankly, real marvels of computer animation, if a little light on story. We tempered our expectations and emptied our bladders (it’s not really that long, just long for kids – nearly 2 hours with previews) and took our seats in a theatre packed with kids.
And you know what? I can’t speak for the kids, but I freaking loved it. Yes, the animation is, well, staggering. There was more than one moment when I had to convince my eyes that they were looking at cartoons, not real life. The cinematography is top-tier; the light design is dazzling. But, okay, throw all that aside: what about the story? You may have heard that it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor, that it lacks drama because it doesn’t have a distinct villain. That the songs are a bit on the forgettable side. I think that’s all a bunch of hogwash.
Frozen II is more interesting, more complex, and more satisfying than the first one, perhaps because its themes are more mature, perhaps because instead of battling a bad guy, it turns inward, introspective. An enchanted forest is calling to Elsa, and though everyone fears what will happen if she opens Pandora’s box, she opens it anyway, exuberantly, after obsessing over it. Though she and Anna vow to go forth together, as a team, they inevitably part ways and both will be tested.
I laughed. I cried. I was surprised on several occasions by its bold and curious choices. There’s a musical number performed by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) that inserts what I can only describe as a 1980s-style power ballad into the proceedings for no apparent reason. The number is done as if it’s an early MTV music video, all hokey and cheesy and wonderful because of it – clearly not aimed at children who will never know that the M in MTV once stood for music.
I felt that the first film espoused a fake kind of feminism – people applauded it while apparently failing to note that lots of male characters were still propping up the sisters. But in this film they simply do, and they do well, all by themselves, without anyone needing to point it out. You can tell the ladies are genuinely getting down to business because Elsa’s beautiful dress, already being marketed to little girls in stores, comes with slacks, making it easier for her to kick butt. Elsa seemed moody and bratty in the first, but here she’s a woman full of confidence, full of competence. And Anna knows her worth, magical powers or no.
Do any of the songs rival the powerhouse Let It Go? from the first film? How could they, really? Let It Go was an anomaly, one in a million. And then horribly overplayed and quite tedious. Still, several of the songs were quite good, if not quite as memorable, and performed by Broadway’s best, well, it’s nothing to sneeze at.
I don’t know what kids think of it (yet – my 5 year old nephew and 3 year old niece will see it tomorrow – and in 2 weeks, when that 3 year old niece turns 4, her aunt Jay will bring an Elsa cake to her birthday party) but I do know that I was impressed by it, entertained by it, moved by it. I said previously that the first Frozen felt more like a merchandising tool than a movie, destined to spawn straight-to-video sequels, so this is a rare occasion when I admit my mistake, and am humbled by it. Just a bit. 😉
This is my nephew Jack, who’s providing the kid perspective.
And my other nephew Ben.
It’s okay. You can tell me their reviews are better than mine. I know it. And I’m the proudest aunt.
Kendra and Scott are estranged; their middle of the night reunion at a police station is fraught for many reasons. Hours ago, Kendra fought with her just-turned-18 year old son, Jamal, and now he’s missing. No longer a minor, the police won’t take his mother’s anxieties seriously, but this black mama can’t help but think the worst.
Kendra (Kerry Washington) gets no where the the newbie cop (Jeremy Jordan) but as soon as her white husband (Steven Pasquale) shows up, it’s another story. But it’s not a great story. Jamal may not be missing so much as involved in some sort of incident. Details are sparse, but his car’s been pulled over by a cop and no one’s heard much since.
As they wait for a senior officer (Eugene Lee) to arrive, Kendra and Scott unravel the many tensions in their marriage – racial and otherwise.
Taking place over the course of just a couple of very tense hours, the script pinpoints the particular experience of black Americans. Scott is sure that his son’s affluent background, prestigious schooling, and privileged address are enough to insulate him from the realities on the news. But Kendra knows when cops are making split-second decisions, his skin colour is all that matters.
American Son is absolutely riveting to watch. My only complaint is that the two have so many sharp edges it’s hard to really understand how they ever could have been a couple. But it hardly matters when Washington’s on the screen, and she’s always on the screen. Her performance is astonishing, and Kendra’s frantic worry is infectious. You want, very badly, for there to be any other reason for Jamal’s absence – but in today’s America, is that even realistic?
Jim Dear gives his wife Darling a hat box for Christmas, and inside she finds a beautiful golden cocker spaniel she names Lady. Better than a hat any day. This was taken from Walt Disney’s own life – having once forgotten a dinner date with his wife, he made it up to her with a puppy and was immediately forgiven. As you would be. Take note, Sean.
The story belongs to the dogs. We rarely seen the owners’ faces, and their home is mostly seen from a dog’s eye view. It is simply told and simply felt – simple, but awfully sweet.
Lady is a well cared for, sheltered dog who’s lived an indoor life having her coat brushed until it’s lustrous and shiny, her meals served on a china dish. When she meets the Tramp, he’s a street-wise mutt who’s seen some shit. They’re opposites, but after the obligatory initial turning up of the snouts, the two can’t help but sniff each other’s butts. Which in dog speak is hot hot heat. Instant dog lust.
Would I watch a reality-based dating show featuring dogs? I really might.
But I won’t have to, thanks to Disney+, a new streaming service to rival Netflix that will host movies but also lots of new episodic programming from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. Aside from the movies you’d expect, there will be lots of new comic book content, including Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, and shows that will get to know some of the lesser-known Avengers like WandaVision, which will star Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), plus Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and something or other about Loki (Tom Hiddleston). And Jon Favreau is overseeing an extremely big-budget Star Wars series called The Mandalorian, and you can expect a spin-off of Rogue One about Rebel Alliance freedom fighter Cassian Andor with Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk reprising their roles. And rather excitingly, Ewan McGregor will once again suit up as Obi-Wan Kenobi for a series that won’t begin shooting until next year.
You might also find yourself anticipating The World According to Jeff Goldblum, a reality show featuring you know who explaining different topics. Or maybe you’re more excited about the Toy Story 4 spin-off, Forky Asks a Question. Or the “short-form unscripted” (whatever that means) Muppets comedy series unimaginatively titled Muppets Now. Or the announced series remake of High Fidelity starring Zoe Kravitz.
Personally, though, I’m in it for the new movies. And just our luck, a Lady and The Tramp live-action remake is among the first, with voices by Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux (and Kiersey Clemons, Thomas Mann, Janelle Monae, and Sam Freaking Elliott) so you can fall in love with this movie all over again.
I’m talking about Lady and The Tramp today in particular because as you may have noticed, Matt, Sean and I are at Disney World and today we’re eating dinner at Tony’s, which just happens to be the restaurant where Lady and Tramp have their adorable spaghetti dinner date in the alley out back. As far as I know, we’ll get a table inside, but spaghetti IS on the menu, and if the three of us are feeling particularly romantic, we may just be nosing meat balls at each other and two-mouthing noodles to meet in the middle. Do tune in to Twitter @AssholeMovies to see the things you cannot unsee, and check out the new Lady and The Tramp on Disney+ November 12.
A: The official death count for the Salem Witch Trials is 20 people: 19 victims were hanged at Proctor’s Ledge, near Gallows hill, and one person was tortured to death. Four people also died in prison while awaiting trial. But ZERO of them were witches – they were just socially inconvenient women put to death for some man’s ulterior motive.
Except 300 years ago, the Sanderson sisters were hanged in Salem for practicing witchcraft, and they actually deserved it. Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) are a trio of old hags who kidnapped a little girl to suck the youth right out of her, and then turned her would-be hero older brother into a cat for daring to interrupt. And that’s just the stuff we know about. They were soon dangling from the gallows.
Alternate A: If you count the Sandersons, and we definitely do, Salem’s dead witch count is actually 3. And the townsfolk are definitely aware of their legend, even 3 centuries later. And it turns out those witches were never very far off: a group of kids including new-to-town Max (Omri Katz), his kid sister Dani (Thora Birch), and the girl he’s crushing on who’s “really into witches” Allison (Vinessa Shaw), accidentally call them back when a virgin lights a black flame candle (so don’t say I didn’t warn you). Anyway, the witches immediately want to eat Dani and it takes an immortal talking cat to offer up pro tips for defeating witches.
For some reason this movie has achieved cult Halloween status, and as one of the few films in the genre that isn’t horrifying, it makes for nice, family-friendly fare. I say this like I can’t understand the appeal when in fact as a kid, I loved it too. One year my cousin and I made our own Sanderson Sister costumes (and yeah, it’s problematic that there were only two of us, but since we both probably imagined ourselves to be the ‘sexy one’, it hardly mattered) and we were really proud to wear them, up until some well-meaning lady complimented my cousin’s teeth…who was not wearing prosthetics. It is hands-down the worst thing that ever happened to me on Halloween and I once had the candy ripped from my little hands by teenage bullies. And technically it didn’t even happen to me! But anyway, up to that point we were really smug and self-satisfied young witches with probably embarrassing handmade costumes.
Anyway, Disney World makes great use of Halloween time to break the Sanderson Sisters out of the vault. Not normally seen in the parks, they host the Villain Spectacular at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (other rarely-seen characters that also make an appearance for Halloween: Jack & Sally, Elvis Stitch, Cruella De Vil and more). We Assholes are actually headed for Disney on Saturday and November 2nd just happens to be the magical day when the parks erase Halloween and embrace Christmas, and yes, we’re going to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Sandy Claws only knows who we’ll meet there.
Fun Facts about Hocus Pocus:
Brother and sister Garry and Penny Marshall play husband and wife in the film. The dog held by Garry actually belongs to Kathy Najimy.
The animatronic cat was used again on Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
Rosie O’Donnell turned down the role of Mary. Jennifer Lopez auditioned for Sarah. Leonardo DiCaprio turned down the role of Max and did What’s Eating Gilbert Grape instead.
Doug Jones, as in Shape of Water Doug Jones, appears in this film as a zombie (see below).
This movie came out in July of 1993 so that it would not compete with Disney’s other Halloween offering that year, The Nightmare Before Christmas, which got the coveted October slot.
Real moths came out of Doug Jones’ mouth. Sarah Jessica Parker ate a real spider.
While researching her family history for the show Who Do You Think You Are?, Sarah Jessica Parker discovered that her 10th great-grandmother, Esther Elwell, was arrested in Salem in the late 1600s for committing “sundry acts of witchcraft” and choking a neighbour to death. Esther’s case never went to court; she escaped with her life and the accusation ended the Salem Witch Trials.
Tired of being chased with pitchforks and fire, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) find a perfectly horrible asylum to convert into their matrimonial home shortly after their wedding. Thirteen years later, their family resembles the one we all know and love: creepy daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz), bumbling son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard), faithful servants Lurch and Thing, indefatigable Grandma (Bette Middler), and a pet tiger. Out of fear and caution, Gomez and Morticia have kept the gates to their home closed, so their children have never seen the world outside it – have never breached the gates certainly, but an enveloping fog means they have also literally never seen beyond their own property.
Which means they don’t know that at the base of their hill, a new town is flourishing. A home renovation guru named Margaux (Allison Janney) has been building a town called Assimilation for her TV show, and besides her own daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher), several homogenized families live there as well – the rest of the homes will be auctioned off during her show’s season finale. But when Margaux drains the marsh, the fog lifts, revealing an unsightly castle on the hill filled with undesirables. And it’s not just the immediate Addams family but the whole clan: uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) leads the way, but soon everyone will be assembled for Pugsley’s rite of passage. Margaux protects her investment the only way she knows how: to cultivate fear among the existing residents, and to start sharpening her pitchfork (or catapult, if that’s what you have handy).
The new Addams Family movie combines elements from the original source as well as the beloved 90s films, so lots will be familiar, but there’s still enough new ground to keep you interested. It’s not quite as dark or as morbid as other iterations, which means it’s not quite as spooky as you’d like, but is probably safer for small children. The voice work is excellent; Theron and Isaac are nearly unrecognizable below the creepy accents they’ve refined. Wolfhard is perhaps the only one who doesn’t distinguish himself and sounds a little out of place – he’s just doing his regular little boy voice while Moretz, for example, is doing some very fine work as deadpan little Wednesday.
The movie does offer some fun little twists: the TV host’s daughter Parker makes friends with Wednesday when they unite against the school’s bullies. Parker decides to go goth to her mother’s complete horror, while Wednesday experiments with pink and unicorns and her own mother struggles with acceptance.
The animation is also quite well rendered and I appreciated the little details that make such a movie unique: Wednesday’s braids ending in nooses, Gomez’s tie pin a tiny dagger, the gate to their family home looking vaguely like metal teeth and opening like a set of jaws. The critics seem not to have loved this one but Sean and I found it quite enjoyable, definitely a fun Halloween outing for the whole family.
Marriage Story picks up long after most romances have wrapped up. Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) were once in love, but as disagreements piled up, they grew apart. Now, as the film begins, they can barely tolerate each other, and they now have to figure out how to uncouple. Of course, since Charlie and Nicole have had trouble agreeing on day-to-day things, agreeing on terms of separation is next-to-impossible.
My synopsis might make the film seem dry, boring, or depressing. Marriage Story is none of those things. Certainly, it is often sad and difficult, but just as often, it is sweet and funny, and all the while, it is insightful and real.
There are many wonderful moments in Marriage Story, and the starting point for all of them is that neither Charlie nor Nicole is a bad person. Director Noah Baumbach never asks the audience to choose sides and never assigns blame for this breakdown. Charlie and Nicole are simply two people who have grown apart and who are being pulled in different directions.
Many films try to gloss over these stresses or claim that love will overcome them. But sometimes love is not enough. Marriage Story tackles that reality in a way that will ring true to anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship.
Marriage Story is one of those rare films that transcends genre. More than that, it is a film that is remarkably relatable and has something to offer for everyone. It is one of the best films of the year, and one you should watch as soon as it becomes available on Netflix on December 6. And if you have the chance to catch Marriage Story sooner (a limited theatrical release is scheduled for November), take it. It’s that good.