Thursday, December 8, 2022

Guillermo del Toro delivers 'Pinocchio'; Will Smith works 'Emancipation'

So, honestly, does anyone really think we need another story about a wooden child who rebounds from naughtiness to turn into a real boy? 

Well, by adding a new twist here or there, the reliable filmmaker sharing his name with the familiar title character on "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" obviously figured he should and could. Now, after a few short weeks in a select group of theaters, his exceptional result premieres Friday for the rest of the world to see on Netflix.

The classic Carlo Collodi children's tale made more famous by Walt Disney and his long-lasting, 1940 animated fantasy, this time features a stop-motion stick kid (neatly voiced by young Brit Gregory Mann) that sings rather haltingly, dances a bit and, without giving much away, again eventually steals the heart of his good-natured ol' man.

Believe it or not, though, all of it occurs after the latter -- still a world-class woodcarver named Geppetto (David Bradley) -- creates Pinocchio during a drunken stupor 
instigated by a personal tragedy and the resulting dark years of pain.

Among voices of renown in the gorgeously made wonderland, there's Ewan McGregor (as brilliant, squishy cricket/narrator), Christoph Waltz (evil impresario Count Volpe), Cate Blanchett (providing appropriate noises as Volpe's put-upon monkey), and Tilda Swinton (in the dual role of Death and a gentle version of Life).

Naturally, del Toro and co-writer Patrick McHale smartly pack their adventure with emotional family messages and a few more of a decidedly political nature. Truth be told, in fact, their latest "Pinocchio" just might be 2022's best animated film. Why would I lie?

Rated "PG" by MPAA: dark thematic material, violence, peril, some rude humor, and brief smoking; 1:57; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Also streaming anew Friday (on AppleTV+) after a brief theatrical run is "Emancipation," a movie certainly to be endured and not easily enjoyed by anyone with a heart and soul.

The inhumane images become startlingly real in the hands of director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") and three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson, whose pristine black-and-white actually speaks volumes when his big-screen canvas displays even a little red.

One particularly sad scene screams out the color when a little girl's dress shows it off while saying Grace with her obviously Christian family, just moments before she jumps up to point toward their well-appointed plantation fields and starts shouting "Runner! Runner!" Of course, she's attempting to draw the attention of slave chasers, who have been after God-worshipping, family-man Peter (played by a convincingly relentless Will Smith) for days since his escape from a brutally maintained Confederate work camp.

A little later, "the biggest man hunter around" (the ever-intense Ben Foster) tells his own bloodcurdling story about how he, as a young boy himself, learned how to become the hateful, racist killer that Foster's performance now makes him proud to be. 

Such disquieting segments stand out in this savagely vicious and glorified action film, set and disguised as the truth-based telling of events during the closing chapters of our country's most shameful and sinful disregard for life. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong racial violence, disturbing images, and language; 2:13; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

New in theaters Friday: "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed," "Christmas, Bloody Christmas," "Loudmouth," and "Spoiler Alert." Streaming newbies include "Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again (Disney+)" and "Something from Tiffany's" (Amazon Prime).

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