Review by Dan Skip Allen
Miles Miller and Alfred Gough were on a high while their show Smallville was doing great. They haven't hit it big since, even though they have been doing other shows like The Shannara Chronicles and Into the Badlands. When they reached out to the master of darkness himself, Tim Burton, their next project, Wednesday — based on the character from The Addams Family — bore fruit. When Nexflix jumped on board, this series saw the light of day. Has it been worth the wait? Let's see.
Wednesday (Jenna Ortega) isn't your average teenager. She has a penchant for wearing black clothes and a sense of the macabre. She's into dark things like going to funerals or getting revenge on her brother's tormentors by putting a bag of piranhas in a swimming pool so they can chew off their testicles. That's the kind of girl she is, though. Darkness follows her as she's expelled from one school where she didn't fit in and ends up at another school called Nevermore Academy. She fits in perfectly, except her curious nature gets her into trouble wherever she goes.
Tim Burton brings his dark sense of nature, which he's famous for, to this series that you would have thought he'd already have directed, but he didn't. Barry Sonnenfeld directed the two previous films based on The Addams Family, and the animated films, although still produced by MGM, are directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. This show is an MGM production airing on Netflix, so there is some flexibility with the structure of the series. This show is a mixture of a CW show and a Harry Potter film.
Part of what made the other films based on this IP is the cast, and Wednesday doesn't mess around in that regard, either. Gomez and Morticia Addams are portrayed by two big-name actors: Luis Guzman and Catherine Zeta-Jones. They are pretty fun to see as these characters. The title character Wednesday is played by Jenna Ortega. She has had some mild success with The Fallout, Scream, and X. These are all things she was good in, but she wasn't necessarily the star. Wednesday put her to the test with the commitment she needs to make as this popular character. She passes the test with flying colors.
The rest of the cast, played by some famous people, are pretty good as well. The school headmistress Larissa Weems is played by Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones fame. She is a thorn in Wednesday's side as soon as she is admitted to this Nevermore Academy. As we all know, Christina Ricci played Wednesday in the '90s movies, but she plays a normie teacher who is not a monster or creature character who seems a little too nice for her own good. There are also a lot of kid characters in the show. Emma Myers plays Enid Sinclair, Wednesday's roommate. They are nothing alike, but they seem to find a liking for each other despite their differences. Two love interest characters, Tyler and Xavier (Hunter Doohan and Percy Hynes White), have their ups and downs with Wednesday throughout the series. They are good young actors, though. The list goes on and on, including a guest appearance by Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester and Jamie McShane as the Jerico town Sheriff Donovan.
With Miller and Gough as the show creator, they can also add series writers to their titles. They took a popular IP and added a touch of romance, mystery, and murder from 25 years ago involving Wednesday's parents to the show. The series had a lot of intriguing moments involving werewolves, monsters, and various events that made it a lot of fun throughout. A crazy canoe race, a scary birthday party, and many gory deaths from some kind of monster have Wednesday, the authorities, school officials, and students baffled. The mystery involved is very interesting and keeps the characters guessing throughout the eight-episode show. The audience watching will definitely enjoy all the twists and turns the series brings.
Wednesday brings all the flavor of a Tim Burton-directed film. He directed the first two episodes of the series before others got their opportunity. The dark, macabre nature of the series lends itself perfectly to this character and her world Miller and Gough expanded upon. The visuals are just incredible, and the score by Dany Elfman is amazing. He knows just what to do on a series like this. His unique style works very well opposite Burton's. Wednesday is coming out a little late for the Halloween season, but it's not too late for fans looking for a wildly entertaining show for the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. It's a good change of pace from all the football that families will be watching. This is the show of the fall season so far, and I hope it gets renewed for another season. It deserves it.
Wednesday streams on Netflix beginning November 23.
Review by Adam Donato
After a few years of Disney+‘s dominance in the streaming wars, a pattern of behavior has become apparent. Whether it’s their Marvel/Star Wars shows, short and sweet animated series, or entirely unnecessary live-action sequels to Disney Channel quality movies, it's all content. The first Enchanted movie was quite the hit. When traditional 2D animation looked like it was on its way out, Enchanted puts a twist on the classic formula and cliches of the subgenre of animated Princess fairytales. Today, Disney has an insatiable monster it has to feed content to on a regular schedule to maintain subscribers. Any brand name that can be salvaged will be revived whether you like it or not. This time, the fairytale doesn’t end as Giselle and her new family move to the suburbs to pursue a more quiet, simple life together. Will Disenchanted live up to the original?
Seldom do good movies launch exclusively on streaming services. This fall is seeing the release of the hotly anticipated Knives Out sequel on Netflix and even that is getting a shot at a theatrical run. If Disney had any real faith in this project whatsoever, it would get some kind of wider release. It’s clear from the start that this sequel was a passionless piece of content. That being said, it’s not devoid of quality. Enchanted is such an interesting concept and the cast is returning so there’s some things going for this sequel.
The best thing about the first movie is also the best thing about the sequel, which is the cast. Amy Adams and James Marsden seamlessly slip back into these iconic roles. The best idea for this sequel was having Adams play a contrasting role to what she did in the first one. She’s still hamming it up, but it feels fresh following up the first one. It’s nowhere near the caliber of the first movie, but that wasn’t Oscar worthy either. Patrick Dempsey is equally as unlikable in this movie as he was in the previous one except here he has nothing to do. Maya Rudolph is the big new addition to the cast and she clearly has fun doing the whole evil Queen stereotype.
The musical numbers here are not as memorable as they were in the first one. Despite this, Disenchanted has another feather in its cap compared to other Disney live action rehashes because it’s filled with musical numbers. Nothing here is worthy of being added to your playlist. Speaking of unremarkable, but appreciated aspects of the movie, the animation is entirely uninspired. Either it’s 3D animation made to look like 2D animation or it’s cheap 2D animation. Disney has a reputation of being stingy on their budget for these projects they clearly have no faith in.
It’s not the worst Disney live-action rehash, but that’s not saying anything at all. Eventually, Disney will run out of things audiences remember and start making more original content. When it comes to Disenchanted, stick to the first movie as this sequel is uninspired and skippable.
Disenchanted is now streaming on Disney+.
Review by Sean Boelman
Hulu already has one wild-but-crazy true crime hit this year in Pam & Tommy, but as if that wasn’t enough, they’re back for more with the murder saga Welcome to Chippendales. While the series might suffer from pacing issues, it’s nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining ride with an unexpectedly compelling story.
The show tells the story of Chippendales founder Steve Banerjee and his tragic fall from success. The fact that this story happened almost 30 years ago and is now receiving the spotlight — with more adaptations on the way — is pretty nuts, but it will satiate the American public’s craving for true crime stories.
The show’s biggest issue is its pacing, which feels quite rushed. The eight-episode series moves along at a breakneck pace, almost as if we’re only getting a quick rundown on the events. We’ll get one scene to represent an entire court case, or we’ll have a gap of months or years between episodes, and it can be disorienting at times.
Recently, there has been a trend in television to make shows in which around 90% of the characters are complete backstabbers, and yet find a way to make them compelling. Welcome to Chippendales accomplishes that in spades. While Banerjee’s actions might be pretty deplorable, his ambition grounds the show quite well.
Despite somewhat questionable casting, as Banerjee is Indian and Nanjiani is Pakistani, Kumail Nanjiani does an excellent job in his role. It’s a role that, in other hands, could have easily become the subject of ridicule. However, Nanjiani has both the comedic chops to make the role funny and the dramatic ones to pull off the tragic elements of the character's story.
The supporting cast also shines. Murray Bartlett delivers yet another scene-stealing supporting role, making viewers wonder where he has been all these years and how he is just now getting the spotlight he deserves. Dan Stevens also has a memorable role in what might be one of the wildest stunt castings of the year.
The series embraces the campy element of the subject matter for its execution, and so the execution has an altogether ridiculous vibe to it. While there are a few sequences that go overboard to the point of looking cheap — like one of the montages — it feels intentional and works quite well as a result.
Welcome to Chippendales is a wild, entertaining, and binge-worthy new miniseries. While there are some issues with the pacing and grasp of time, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable watch nonetheless.
Welcome to Chippendales streams on Hulu beginning November 22. All eight episodes reviewed.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Bones and All is the first feature film from director Luca Guadagnino since his 2018 remake of Suspiria. Based on the novel of the same name by Camille DeAngelis and written by David Kajganich, this story finds Guadaningo back in provocative form. Blending Americana with the unflinching gore of this unusual love story, this movie manages to pack an emotional punch while still giving viewers an experience to remember.
Maren is a young woman who winds up alone after her affinity for human flesh finds her on the run. Now, she must traverse the United States in search of her absent mother while learning more about other “eaters” and the struggles they share. Along the way, she meets Lee, another lone eater and together, they embark on a journey together where they find love while dealing with their own carnal desires. This is a simple premise made unique by its intense angle, themes, and content.
The script is quite strong from start to finish. There are a few pieces of dialogue that don’t always work or feel out of place, but for the most part, it does a great job at feeling natural yet compelling at the same time. It tackles the subject matter with maturity and delicacy, and it is able to work with its outlandish premise without making a mockery of it.
The performances in this movie are amazing throughout. This movie is led by Taylor Russell who has proven her prowess in movies like Waves. In this movie, she is able to shine in the spotlight more and show off the depth of her abilities. Timothée Chalamet co-leads in the movie, and he gives a strong performance, but it doesn’t really compare to the abilities of the other actors in the movie. Both Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg give extremely strong and memorable performances despite not having the most screen time.
Guadagnino has an unflinching eye that works perfectly with this movie. He is able to find the beauty and heartbreaking awe to be found in a gruesome and bloody story. There are many graphic depictions of cannibalism that are so raw and powerful which benefit greatly from his bold style as a director. In addition to this, the movie features some gorgeous cinematography and a strong score to give it the feeling of Americana movies like Badlands.
Bones and All is not for the squeamish but those who are able to withstand its gore and violence will be treated to a beautiful story of love and trauma. It features great performances, gorgeous cinematography and a slow but meticulous pace that will reward those who are patient and open-minded to one of the most unique movies of the year.
Bones and All is in theaters November 18.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend is another origin story of a businessman who created an empire, but his drive to succeed got him into trouble with his family and his rivals. I'll be honest — I didn't know much about the man behind the great car manufacturer, Ferruccio Lamborghini (Frank Grillo), but when I finished the film, I understood who he was and his drive to succeed against all odds. He was a man who wanted to succeed despite the cost to those around him.
Ferruccio Lamborghini as a young man, was a farmer like his father. He longed for more, though. He had a lot of ideas in his mind regarding motors and building things people needed. With this ability to tinker, he got a friend to help him develop a new kind of tractor. This tractor is lighter and sturdier and can go a lot further on a tank of gas, revolutionizing farming. They get rich on this device, but this isn't enough for him. He wants more and tries to compete with Enzo Ferrari (Gabriel Byrne) by creating a better and faster race car.
Like many successful men, Lamborghini neglects his family and loved ones. He feels his success allows him to do what he wants regarding his private life. He sleeps around and ignores his son and current wife after his first wife, whom he loved dearly, died in childbirth. His rivalry with Ferrari clouds his judgment and makes him push everybody away, even his friends. This man has tunnel vision regarding his drive to be better than everybody he believes is in his way. This is a dangerous lifestyle if it doesn't succeed.
The director chooses to go into a few different aspects of this movie to make it not a standard biopic. The first is a framing device of a race between the two car magnet owners in their respective cars to prove who is the best. The other two are that the film is split into three segments depicting the life of Lamborghini and his friends and family. Set in the '60s in Italy and a couple of decades later. These directorial and script tricks are typically useful in movies. This time they were for not. This movie just didn't work all the way around.
Frank Grillo lucked into acting when he was offered to be the trainer on Warrior. The director liked him so much that they offered him one of the film's supporting roles as an MMA trainer. This led to bigger and better roles in the MCU as Crossbones. He is usually good as an occasional hitman or stunt driver, but he seemed out of place in this role. He just didn't come across right to me as this farmer-turned-car manufacturer. His line delivery is slow and clunky, and out of depth. It's sad because I wanted to see him in a starring role like this.
As a biopic, it just doesn't work, either. The movie's length seems like a red flag that something is wrong with this production. It was a very short film considering everything the filmmakers tried to cram into it. The script and acting from all seem a bit dumbed down to me. It looked like this movie was meant to be something bigger but ended up being a badly edited-down version of what they initially wanted it to be: an engaging story about a man who had nothing and made himself into something.
Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend isn't a good biopic, and it's not a good film in general. The director Robert Moresco tried a few tricks with the narrative that didn't work in the end. Grill as a leading man was a mistake as well. This didn't seem like the version of the movie that was supposed to come out. It is a shadow of what it should have been. The length and all the editing are disguising something that wasn't on the screen, but I can't put my finger on it. Just skip this biopic and watch some other fall films instead.
Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend hits theaters and VOD on November 18.
Review by Sean Boelman
A Christmas Story has become a bonafide cult classic, receiving a very muted reception upon its release but eventually becoming one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. A Christmas Story Christmas is the latest in a line of sequels to attempt to capitalize on its popularity, and while it is definitely higher-caliber than previous efforts, it also lives in the shadow of its predecessor.
The film follows Ralphie as he returns to his childhood home in the hopes of providing the same type of magical and memorable Christmas that he had as a child. Set decades after the original movie, this is the latest in the line of legacy sequels that have come out recently trying to capitalize on the popularity of significant IP’s.
The film isn’t subtle with its nostalgia-baiting, with several annoyingly overt callbacks to some of the most iconic moments from the first movie. While a few of them are at least somewhat natural — exploring the aftermath of one of the anecdotes from the original film — many of the callbacks tend to be simply including props or lines to get a quick, cheap laugh.
Peter Billingsley returns to his role as Ralphie, now nearly forty years later as an adult. He clearly has a connection to the role that made his career, and that really shines through in terms of authenticity. Billingsley also takes over narration duties now that series creator Jean Shepherd passed away over twenty years ago.
Just like the original movie, the sense of humor here is largely innocent and juvenile, although this time around, it tends to feel like a shell of the original. A Christmas Story got its charm by capitalizing on its adult audience’s nostalgia for their childhood, and while this sequel does the same, it creates a weird cycle of nostalgia where it’s being nostalgic for nostalgia.
The film also suffers from a feeling of bleakness compared to the original. The inciting incident here is the death of the Old Man, and while his presence doesn’t necessarily create an enormous void, the movie is constantly reminding the audience that he isn’t there because the characters are depressed and moping around without him.
From a technical level, the film does look better than some of the straight-to-television and straight-to-DVD sequels that have been made in the franchise. The periodization isn’t great, as it does feel vague despite the fact that it was set a few decades ago. And furthermore, the physical comedy gags aren’t all that great.
A Christmas Story Christmas is clearly baiting for nostalgia, and while there are some moments that accomplish that successfully, it grows monotonous rather quickly. In trying to recapture the magic that made the original so beloved, it ends up just spinning its wheels.
A Christmas Story Christmas streams on HBO Max beginning November 17.
Review by Sean Boelman
Documentary filmmaker Chris Smith is no stranger to showbiz documentaries, having made several acclaimed movies about various figures in Hollywood. However, “Sr.” is perhaps his most tender film yet, a personal and intimate look into the life of its subject in a way that offers an extraordinary level of access and insight.
The movie tells the story of the late iconic American underground filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. Although general audiences might not recognize Downey Sr.’s work, they undeniably recognize his son, who is one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. This gives the movie a level of cross-audience appeal that few cinema-centric documentaries have.
At under an hour and a half in length, the film does feel like it is trying to cover too much ground in a short period of time. In trying to be both an homage to the legacy of Robert Downey Sr. — who has passed since the filming of this documentary — as a filmmaker and a family man, it does struggle to go into depth with either.
However, what makes Smith’s documentary stand out is a portion of the movie devoted to the “Sr. version” of his story. Intercut with the more traditional portions of the documentary are portions made by Robert Downey, Sr. himself in which he uses his characteristically idiosyncratic style to tell his story on his own terms. This allows the film to become an endearing work of metafiction.
Of course, the movie also has the father-son relationship element between Downey Sr. and Downey Jr., and it is extremely resonant. Indeed, this aspect of the story presents a perfect intersection between the two storylines. It shows how Downey Jr. was influenced by his father’s filmmaking career, but also draws parallelisms between Downey Jr.’s journey as a father and his relationship with his own father.
There’s obviously something very emotional to the movie, owing to the fact that Downey Sr. unfortunately passed away last summer. This gives the film a very bittersweet feeling throughout, like we are watching a celebration of his life — we’re mourning his loss, but appreciating what he left behind.
The documentary is shot in black-and-white, giving it much of the same underground look and feel as the movies that Downey Sr. made. It’s an artistic decision that could very easily be seen as pretentious, but it works quite well. The film also has some very good access to clips from Downey Sr.’s filmography, some of which are difficult to find.
Although “Sr.” is an imperfect documentary that aims a bit too high, it’s still a profoundly emotional cinematic experience. Few viewers will finish the movie feeling unmoved, even if they aren’t familiar with the life and work of Robert Downey Sr. going in.
“Sr.” screened as part of the 2022 edition of DOC NYC, which runs in-person from November 9-17 and online November 9-27.
[DOC NYC 2022] IDINA MENZEL: WHICH WAY TO THE STAGE? -- A Pleasant Yet Seemingly Corporate-Mandated Biography
Review by Sean Boelman
One would be hard-pressed to find a Broadway star more recognizable to general audiences than Idina Menzel, so it’s definitely not surprising that she is a subject of a new documentary to stream on Disney+. Offering a cursory glimpse at the career of the extraordinarily talented actress, Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? is a mostly unexceptional biography.
The film tells the story of beloved actress of stage and screen, Idina Menzel, as she works towards the goal of her dreams: a concert in which she is headlining at Madison Square Garden. As one of the most recognizable theater actresses working right now, plenty of people know who Menzel is, but unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the glimpse behind the curtain the film would have needed to be great.
Director Anne McCabe attempts to make Menzel feel more relatable, but it is so caught up in the adulation that many fans have for her that it does not end up making her feel particularly grounded. Even the attempts at doing so — such as a sequence discussing the many mispronunciations of her name — come across as slightly out of touch rather than helpful.
The film does spend a disappointingly long time exploring the Frozen portion of Menzel’s career. While this shouldn’t be surprising considering that this is a documentary that will be put out by Disney+, and much of the latter part of her career, it seems as if Menzel was owned by Disney. However, this is also the part of her story that more people know, so it would have been nice to see more of her early career discussed.
Indeed, as Menzel’s career is so impressive and storied, there is arguably too much here for an hour and a half, especially given that much of it seems Disney-mandated. Although the film does discuss Menzel’s stints on RENT and Wicked, a longer runtime would have allowed it to go into much more depth on these parts of her life.
That said, Menzel is primarily known as a musical talent, and her vocal skills are certainly on display here. Being that the documentary is distributed by Disney, the filmmakers had access to a great deal of archived performance footage, allowing them to showcase her skills while singing many of her most recognizable songs.
McCabe is a very prolific editor, having worked on several high-profile and highly-acclaimed films in that capacity, but this is her first outing as a director. Given her background, the film is understandably more reliant on archive footage than it is on talking heads, making it a refreshing change in the sea of biographical documentaries.
Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? is strong in terms of production, but it ends up feeling more like a corporate advertisement for one of the company’s biggest stars than a genuine biography. It’s really not clear who’s going to get much out of this, but it’s inoffensive enough.
Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? screened as part of the 2022 edition of DOC NYC, which runs in-person from November 9-17 and online November 9-27.
[DOC NYC 2022] MY SO-CALLED HIGH SCHOOL RANK -- A Compelling Look at the Modern Educational Landscape
Review by Sean Boelman
Everyone in the world was affected by the changes our society has had to make over the past few years, but few have had their experiences altered as much as students. My So-Called High School Rank takes a unique angle to explore how a group of students have been forced to adjust to the changing landscape of the world.
The film tells the unlikely success story of the musical Ranked, written by two high school drama teachers to be performed by their students, only for it to receive a national spotlight when it debuts weeks after the college admissions bribery scandal breaks. In a way, this is like a real-life High School Musical, but much more compelling than that description may sound.
Although the documentary is telling the story of the musical, it also takes the time to discuss the very real issue that inspired the musical in the first place: excessive competition in the United States educational system. Although a few other movies have made the “let kids be kids,” argument, few have been able to put their finger on what the cause of this phenomenon is quite as well as My So-Called High School Rank.
The other main storyline in the film centers around the creators of the play, David Taylor Gomes and Kyle Holmes, as they attempt to stage a major professional production of the show. Unfortunately, these efforts would be disrupted by the current events of the world, making it a portion of the story that likely would have been better off being cut.
Some of the documentary’s political elements in the movie definitely feel shoe-horned in. There is a portion of the film about how the subjects became involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd, and while this did become a significant part of their identities, this is such an afterthought in the narrative that it couldn’t possibly do justice to the topic.
However, much of the second half of the movie pivots to focusing on these students’ experiences despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the parts that discuss how these student productions of Ranked were forced to adapt to the circumstances are interesting, there are so many other documentaries that have come out about students reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic that the film begins to feel too typical.
While there is no denying that the content of the movie is very compelling, the execution is somewhat amateurish in nature — disappointing considering that the characters have impressive resumes. As a whole, everything about the production feels rushed and hectic, which is likely because of the fact that the film is far less important than the musical itself.
My So-Called High School Rank tries to encompass too many sides of its story, but it’s still a fascinating story nonetheless. A documentary about high school theater kids has no business being as interesting as this.
My So-Called High School Rank screened as part of the 2022 edition of DOC NYC, which runs in-person from November 9-17 and online November 9-27.
BARDO, FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS -- A Wonderfully Surreal, Personal Film by Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Review by Sean Boelman
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths was considered an awards frontrunner, but when it debuted at the fall festivals, its reception was less than stellar. Thankfully, Iñárritu has made a new cut that must be greatly improved — because it is one of the best films of the year.
The movie follows an acclaimed journalist and documentarian who goes on a surreal journey to understand his past and his identity. It’s a film that presents itself as something complicated and convoluted, but when it gets down to it, there is a more conventional narrative beneath it that really draws everything together.
Clocking in at over two and a half hours long — around a half hour shorter than the original cut — there is definitely some repetitiveness throughout the movie. However, when this repetition occurs, it definitely adds to the story. There is also a wicked sense of humor sprinkled throughout that will keep the viewer invested.
As is the case with Birdman — the film for which Iñárritu won his first Academy Award for Best Director — the highlight of Bardo is its surrealist elements. There are certainly some points that go off the rails, and while they are likely to be a bit too bizarre for general audiences to vibe with, those who are on Iñárritu’s wavelength will be sure to be impressed.
Iñárritu definitely attempts to address some ambitious themes, including the immigrant experience, Mexican identity, fatherhood, and more. Although it’s a lot to chew, the movie is so undeniably personal that it’s hard not to admire the things that Iñárritu has to say and the passion with which he says it.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for general audiences to accept this film is the character development. The protagonist comes across as somewhat pompous, but thankfully, given that the movie is so self-aware, it works. The existential journey he faces is surprisingly relatable despite the fact that the character is otherwise meant to feel distant.
It definitely helps that Daniel Giménez Cacho gives a performance that is absolutely astounding. Iñárritu asks him to do some absolutely insane things as part of his performance, and he manages to pull off both the comedic and dramatic moments with grace. There are some strong performers in the supporting cast as well, but this is very much Cacho’s show.
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is Iñárritu’s most idiosyncratic film yet, and while its bizarre nature will alienate most audiences, those audiences that connect with it will really connect with it. It’s a hilarious, ethereal cinematic experience the likes of which only Iñárritu could make.
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is now playing in theaters and streams on Netflix beginning December 16.