Thursday, November 24, 2022

A full bounty of movies for a big, busy and blessed Thanksgiving holiday

Get a taste of a huge holiday movie banquet with a few thoughts and ratings below, today even including some tempting leftovers from last weekend. (Thank goodness, too, we could watch six of these films when they premiered during September's crowded, 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival.)

"She Said" ($ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5): A year ago, German director Maria Schneider had some fun with romance in a clever A.I. comedy ("I'm Your Man"). Now, there's nothing funny about her follow-up about the real newspaper folks (seriously played by the likes of Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson and more), In fact, their dedication in helping to send movie mogul and conceivable monster Harvey Weinstein to prison not only becomes a brilliant case study of how investigative journalism is supposed to work, but a tribute to his countless victims as well. Two of them, as so grandly portrayed by Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle, further enhance the remarkable ensemble involved. (Rated "R," in theaters everywhere)

"The Wonder" ($ $ $ $): Director Sebastian Leilio ("A Fantastic Woman") lets the voice of his well-chosen star (Florence Pugh) ask us to "believe in this story" to begin a hypnotic journey into 1862 Ireland. Methinks you will, with Pugh thoroughly convincing as an English nurse paid to watch -- not treat -- a young girl (Kila Lord Cassidy) showing nary a sign of starvation, despite not having eaten for at least four months. Is she a "wee faker," as doubters and agnostics suggest, or the "miracle child" that devout Catholics in her spare village believe she is? Screenwriter Alice Birch, who brought Pugh to films in "Lady Macbeth," co-pens with Leilio, as based on a book by Emma Donoghue of psychologically moving "Room" fame. (Rated "R," on Netflix now.)

"The Menu" ($ $ and 1/2): If you love watching difficult people dish and dine, then you might swallow the intriguing premise here. I did not, although a scary chef (Ralph Fiennes) catering only to the filthy rich leaves room for a lot of explaining to do about how he treats his regulars. Of course, they are a mostly unlikable mix anyway, even if their faces belong to Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, and the good-to-see Judith Light. Back-of-the-house chores get properly stolen, though, by an assistant chef in the on-the-rise guise of Hong Chau, also soon to be seen in "The Whale." (Rated "R," in theaters everywhere)

"Spirited" ($ $ and 1/2): Firmly established song-and dance-men Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, both of whom seem to enjoy a genuine screen talent for pushing buttons that can turn them from obnoxious to agreeable and back again, get together to urge, "Hey, gang, let's put on a show!" Ok, ok, I'm jesting. Besides, even if nobody needs another twist on "A Christmas Carol," especially one with run-of-the-mill tunes and production numbers usually stopping the show in the wrong kind of way, the dynamic duo does produce -- and share -- a few humorous moments. The best ones, though, feature scenes with the always-giving Octavia Spencer and the amusing, ghostly presence of Sunita Mani. (Rated "PG-13," now on AppleTV+)

"Devotion" ($ $ $ and 1/2): Quickly overcoming a few clunky moments at the start, the stirring story of groundbreaking Black aviator Jesse Brown reaches for the stars, features enough emotional moments to dampen a few handkerchiefs, and stands tall behind the romance between the stoic Brown (Jonathan Majors) and his lovely wife (Christina Jackson). Both offer solidly credible turns and so does Glen Powell, as Brown's best friend before and during America's "forgotten" war in Korea. Whether true or not, a shore-leave encounter with actress Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swann) finds a way to interject some fun into an otherwise strong and serious telling. (Rated "PG-13," in theaters only)

"The Fabelmans" ($ $ $ and 1/2): Ever since winning its notable TIFF People's Choice Award, Steven Spielberg's latest and most personal film has been pegged as the one to beat for the 2022 Best Picture Oscar. Uh, not so fast my friends. This is simply an accomplished coming-of-age story, and so what if it borrows a few real moments from the life of a guy who became a legendary filmmaker? The youngster here is the film-obsessed "Sammy," nicely captured by a pair of kids both showing signs of actually growing up to look like Spielberg. The first (a long-named Mateo Zoryon Frances-Deford, honest) finds huge influences while watching "The Greatest Show on Earth," and the older one (Gabriel LaBelle) deals with family drama, mostly involving his spirited mother (an overtly showy Michelle Williams). Otherwise, Judd Hirsch almost runs away with it all during just 10 wonderful minutes as the fascinating Uncle Boris. (Rated "PG-13," only in theaters)

"The Swimmers" ($ $ $): The actual TIFF Opening-Nighter, written and directed by the festival's "Emerging Talent" winner Sally El Hosaini, is based on two sisters who ran away from war-torn Syria with dreams of becoming Olympic athletes. The real "swimmers" attended the world premiere of their story, as did the pair of acting newcomers (Manal and Nathalie Issa) giving them life on the big screen.  All four earned loud, long ovations from Toronto crowds, the same ones which for years have been called "the best movie audiences in the world." They might have been a bit kind to this one, though, especially after a superfluous ending truly pales in comparison to El Hosaini's powerful presentation of the girls' dangerous trek. (Rated "PG-13," streaming on Netflix)

"Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" ($ $): I still can hear the positive chants and whistles from yet another sold-out TIFF audience, which so obviously enjoyed Rian Johnson's star-studded sequel at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning, no less. Meanwhile, color me disappointed by the murderously convoluted plot points that had to be repeated to prove the tacky cleverness of things. Add the silly reminders of the Covid-19 pandemic too few of us actually managed to survive, and even an over-the-top Daniel Craig, back again as super sleuth Benoit Blanc, could not save my day. By the way, of all the players assembled for this latest and extremely long cat-and-mouse activity, it says here that Janelle Monae fares best. Regardless, what really killed me is that I hardly laughed at all. (Rated "PG-13," in theaters until Nov. 29, before it debuts for good Dec. 23 on Netflix)

"The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special": ($ $ $ $) A genuinely happy ending to this special day features the release of a terrific offering from writer/director James Gunn and his Marvel(ously) outrageous team of superheroes. I mean, absolutely all the goons and gals from my favorite MCU extension show up for an ever-funny attempt to figure out what this magical and distinctively Earthly thing called Christmas really is all about. A few also believe that their melancholy leader, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), could use some legitimate cheer, so why not bring him the special gift of the "heroic" Kevin Bacon? That means pairing mind mischief from Mantis (the sparkling Pam Klementieff) with the mighty humor of Drax (Dave Bautista) for one hoot of an intergalactic mission to kidnap the actor. Without giving away too much of this crowded, 45-minute treat, talented Bacon gets to sing, a new franchise reveal becomes a memorably charming moment, and a laugh with the trademark end-of-credits segment ties a big red bow around it all. Happy holidays indeed! (Rated "TV-14" and showing only on Disney+) 

Other new viewing possibilities: "Bones and All (only in theaters)," "Disenchanted (exclusively on Disney+)," "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" (in a few select theaters before its Dec. 9 Netflix debut), and "Strange World" (for now just in theaters).

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