A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving This is the one with the famous episode about Charlie Brown trying to kick the football Lucy keeps snatching away from him. And Peppermint Patty invites herself to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving and he is too kind-hearted to tell her that he won’t be there because his family is going to his grandmother’s. When the Peanuts gang comes over for a feast prepared by Charlie Brown himself, Patty gets angry at being served toast and jelly beans. But when she realizes how hard her friend tried to be hospitable, she learns what gratitude really means.
Squanto and the First Thanksgiving , Native American actor Graham Greene and musician Paul McCandless tell the story of Squanto’s extraordinary generosity and leadership in reaching out to the Pilgrims after he had been sold into slavery by earlier European arrivals in the New World.
My favorite Thanksgiving movies are “What’s Cooking?” with four families preparing for the holiday and “Pieces of April,” about a family, including a terminally ill mother, driving to an estranged daughter for Thanksgiving. Both are funny, touching, and wise. Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude for being together, even the crazy parts.
Disney’s gorgeously animated, thrilling, and tender “Strange World” is a treat, with all of the fabulously imaginative artistry and all of the heart of Disney’s best. The world it shows us might be strange in some of its elements, but it is very familiar at its core to anyone who has ever been in a family while discovering identity, place, and meaning.
It begin with an introduction to the Clades, beautifully rendered in entrancing vintage comic-book visuals. Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a burly adventurer with an impressive mustache, exploring anywhere no one has ever been, not really noticing that his young son, aspirationaly named Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), would much rather stop and look at interesting plants than grab a machete or ice-ax to make it over the next obstacle. “We’re explorers, not gardeners,” Jaeger says.
When Searcher is 15, Jaeger leads an expedition with an urgent purpose. The community of Avalonia is no longer sustainable. They are hoping that the unexplored area on the other side of the mountains will give them a place to relocate. When Searcher notices a glowing plant that could be a power source to keep Avalonia vibrant, he tries to make Jaeger halt the expedition to investigate. Jaeger is impatient. “Don’t be distracted by sparkly plants.” He insists on continuing, while the rest of the group decides to bring the plant back home. Jaeger is never seen again, presumed lost forever.
25 years later Avalonia has become a thriving community, with the plant, called pando, its all-purpose energy source. Searcher is happily settled as a pando farmer with his crop-duster wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union). Their teenage son Ethan (stand-up comic Jaboukie Young-White) is grossed out when his parents smooch, loves the imaginative table-top card game Primal Outpost, and is tongue-tied around his crush, a boy named Diazo. They also have an endearing three-legged shaggy dog named Legend.
One day, the pando in Meridian’s plane mysteriously stops working. And then a spaceship arrives with Avalonia President Callisto (Lucy Liu), who was with Searcher on Jaeger’s last expedition. She tells Searcher that pando is not individual, distinct sprouts but one connected growth. If one part of it is dying, soon all of it will be and the source of Avalonia’s power will be gone. Callisto needs Searcher to do exactly what he said he never wanted to do again — go on an expedition. He reluctantly agrees, insisting that Meridian and Ethan stay home on the farm.
Soon we are in the very strange world they literally fall into. This is where the Disney artists had the chance to dream up wildly fantastical landscapes and creatures that are enthralling and delightful. As the group tries to find out what is killing the pando there are many surprises I will not spoil except to say that the movie is exceptionally insightful in weaving together themes of interconnectedness and individuality. It even ties in Ethan’s favorite Primal Outpost, a game I fully expect Disney will make available for future tabletop tournaments and just for collectors as the cards are extraordinarily beautiful. Like the original “Frozen” and its sequel (producer Jennifer Lee is “Frozen’s” co-director), it gently challenges some conventional fantasy storylines.
“Strange World” is Disney at its best, filled with excitement, fabulously imaginative visuals, and a deep understanding of what makes stories connect to us and connect us to each other. The surroundings may be strange, but the themes are universal, lovingly illuminated.
Parents should know that this movie has fantasy peril and violence including a flame-thrower and a knife. There are themes of environmental destruction. The movie has exceptionally diverse characters, all very well designed without stereotyping and all supportive of each other.
Family discussion: How are you different from your parents? How are you alike?
If you like this, try: “Encanto” and “Big Hero Six”
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, brief violence, some strong language, and drug use
Teen kissing, references to adultery
A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
November 23, 2022
A small boy is about to see his first movie, and it is 1952, so it is in a big, dark theater, on a big, bright screen. His engineer father is explaining persistence of vision, the optical/neurological factors that make us think that still pictures shown to us 22 times a second are moving. “The photographs pass faster than your brain can keep up.” His artist/musician mother has a different description of what movies are: “They’re like dreams that we never forget.” And of course, both are right.
That boy will be dazzled by the movie, which would go on to win the Oscar for best picture in 1952, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” an exciting story of a circus. The train crash sequence was so big and so real that he could not get it out of his mind for days and days. He asks his parents for a train set for Hanukkah, and as he opened up a new train car each night he imagined re-creating — understanding — controlling — that crash. His father (Paul Dano as Burt) chides him for breaking the train. His mother (Michelle Williams as Mitzi) suggests that he take the family’s home movie camera and film one last crash, so he can watch it as many times as he likes.
As the title suggests, “The Fabelmans” has a touch of myth, of movie magic, as Mrs. Fabelman would say, a dream. But it is also as Mr. Fabelman would approve, grounded in facts and mechanical reality. Steven Spielberg co-wrote the film with Tony Kushner, based on his own life as a child and a teenager. It brims with love for his family, with the kind of understanding that it takes decades to achieve, if ever. And it is told with the true mastery of a brilliant filmmaker equally grounded in the mechanics of movies and the creation of big, engrossing dreams for us to watch together in the dark.
No one understands cinematic storytelling better than Spielberg, and seeing him tell his own story using the very techniques this film gives us a chance to see as they develop makes this one of the best films of the year and one of the best films ever from a master storyteller. Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski and music by Spielberg’s longtime favorite John Williams gorgeously evoke the past without making it seem musty or distant. Watching it feels like a gift.
As the movie begins, money is tight and Burt has to supplement his salary by fixing televisions. But his gift in designing the fundamentals that would lead to personal computers leads to a new job offer in Phoenix. The Fabelmans move, and Burt brings along his best friend Bennie (Seth Rogen), so beloved by everyone that he feels like family. Burt is a loving husband and father but very serious and methodical. Bennie is fun, always making everyone laugh.
Sammy keeps making movies, casting his younger sisters and later his Boy Scout troop in remarkably ambitious and creative films (you can see the real ones, meticulously re-created here, on YouTube). As a teenager, now sensitively played by Gabriel LaBelle, his movies get more complex. In one lovely moment, a hole punched in sheet music by a high heeled shoe inspires a brilliant and very analog special effect only the son of both an artist and an engineer could concoct.
Form and content follow each other and intertwine, especially with a sensational final shot, as Sammy/Steve begins to understand the potential and the power of story-telling. When his mother is sad, his father asks him to make a movie to cheer her up. When he is editing one of his family films, he sees on celluloid what he missed when he was standing there. When he cannot tell his mother why he is upset, shows her a film to explain. In an agonizing moment, he cradles the camera like a teddy bear. Through chance, he is able to use a professional camera and through a combination of determination and chance he meets and gets some surprising advice from one of the all-time movie greats.
He is confronted with the challenges of family conflict and adolescence. He is bullied for being Jewish. He wants to kiss a girl. He feels betrayed by two people he loves. An uncle in show business (a terrific brief role for Judd Hirsch) tells him that he will always be torn between love and art — and that he will choose art.
Williams and Dano are superb as the Fabelmans. As Mitzi watches the movie Sammy made for her and as she tries to explain a difficult decision to Sammy we see clearly the range of emotions she is feeling, including the perpetual struggle of all parents between her needs and the wishes of her children. Spielberg and Kushner bring compassion to these characters that they themselves struggle to find.
They also convey the exceptional ability to observe and analyze that is the great gift of any artist, to be cherished and nourished by imagination, but that must be reined in to allow for personal connection. Only the rarest of talents can bring both to their work and that is what makes this film a joy.
NOTE: My daughter worked on some of the costumes of this film which are, of course, outstanding under the direction of Oscar-winner Mark Bridges.
Parents should know that this film includes family tensions, adultery, and divorce, some strong language, alcohol and marijuana.
Family discussion: Why could Sammy see things more clearly through the camera than he could without it? Why was Logan upset by the Ditch Day movie? How did each of his parents influence Sammy?
If you like this, try: “Belfast” and Spielberg movies like “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”
The movie is called Sam and Kate, but it is equally about Bill and Tina. And it is about the actors who play them. Bill is played by Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman. and his son Sam is played by Hoffman’s real-life son, Jake Hoffman. Tina is played by Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek, and her daughter Kate is played by Spacek’s real-life daughter, Schuyler Fisk. That real-life connection gives the film extra interest and extra grounding. There is a palpable sense of trust in the scenes of Sam and Kate interacting with their parents that lets them show frustration without making us for a moment doubt their love.
It will take a while for Sam and Kate to learn that they have a lot in common. They each lived somewhere else and have returned to a small town to help care for their parents. Bill is cranky and demanding. We first see Sam resignedly sitting on a chair in a huge big box store as Bill rides around on a scooter annoying the staff. Tina and Kate have a warmer relationship, but we will learn that Tina is more dependent on Kate than she seemed.
Sam loves to draw but he is stuck working at a chocolate factory. His Kate owns a bookstore. Both are feeling isolated and lost, though Sam has hoped that Kate will help him feel less lost. He awkwardly tries to ask her out in her store but she says she is not dating at the moment.
On Christmas, all four attend the same church service. When Tina’s car stalls in the church parking lot, Bill tries to help, and the four get acquainted. Bill takes Tina on a date and Kate agrees to let Sam take her out.
First time feature riter/director Darren Le Gallo is better with the in-between moments than the plot developments, which is often the case with beginners who have not yet learned to trust the audience. When the chaacters are just interacting quietly they convey a great deal and the events interrupt the delicacy of those scenes. Jake Hoffman, very impressive in small roles in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (as shoe designer turned felon Steve Madden) and in the otherwise disappointing “Otherhood” moves smoothly into a central role. And Fisk, an engaging screen presence going back to 1995’s “Babysitter’s Club,” has a lovely, expressive light. Watching them together as Sam and Kate begin to open up despite all of the baggage and self-protective distance and fear of vulnerability is touching and a reminder that it is those in between moments that can matter most.
Parents should know that this film has a non-explicit sexual situation and some crude sexual references, strong language, alcohol and marijuana, and a sad death.
Family discussion: Why did Sam and Kate change over the course of the film? What kind of help did they give their parents?
If you like this, try: “”Kalbuey,” “Laggies,” “Maggie’s Plan,” and “A Little Help”
In Bloody Ground, Black soldiers tell their own stories about fighting in the Korean War. Korea is “the forgotten war.” But to those who fought in it, it was the “unforgettable war.” If the names of all those killed were put on a wall, it would be larger than the Vietnam Wall. And Korea lasted only three years, Vietnam about ten. The agony of the winter of 1950-51 is an epic to compare with Valley Forge and the Bulge. Korea was also our last segregated war. This is the story of the black 24th Infantry Regiment, told in the words of the men themselves. Like all black troops since the Civil War, they were reviled by whites and their own commander for “bugging out” – running before the enemy. The charge can still be read in the Army’s own official histories. Yet the 24th left more blood on the field than their white comrades – if they did bug out, they must have been running the wrong way. It’s a good thing we weren’t with Custer,” one black GI muttered – “they’d have blamed the whole thing on us.” The 24th won the first battle of the war, won its division’s first Medal of Honor, and guarded the shortest and most vulnerable road to Pusan. If the port had fallen, the war would have been lost, leaving a red dagger pointed at Japan. It did not fall. That winter, after the Chinese attacked, the entire American army bugged out in perhaps the worst military disaster in American history. “That,” said another black veteran, “was when I learned that whites could run as fast as blacks.” This is the story of those unsung heroes, who helped turn the Communist tide for the first time. The men bring that forgotten war and their own unsung bravery to life in their own sometimes funny, often heart-breaking, and always exciting words.
Stanley Frankel’s book about his experiences is called Frankel-y Speaking About WWII in the South Pacific. Stanley Frankel didn’t want to be a soldier. But the draft board had different plans. The leader of college protests against the US entering WWII found himself in the 37th Infantry Division, shipped to the Pacific Theater. While in the army, he wrote journal entries, letters to his dear Irene, and articles that slipped past the censor to be published in newspapers and magazines in the US while the war was raging. Frankel served from 1941 to 1946, and was then ordered to stay on after the war as part of a team tasked with writing the historical account of his division. After that he became a successful advertising executive, award-winning professor, political speechwriter for national candidates, and beloved husband, father, and grandfather.In this memoir, Frankel tells his story interspersed with in-the-moment journals, letters, and articles he wrote while stationed in the Pacific. Take a journey through time with this raw first-hand account, and experience what it was like to be in the jungles and battles of an intense and brutal part of World War II. In his later writings, see the post–World War II world through the eyes of a veteran selected as the official historian of his division. Unforgettable stories leap off the page, from the chilling to the hilarious. Feel the terror as an explosive flies through a window into a huddle of soldiers. Laugh at the account of soldiers delighting in the discovery of an abandoned factory flooded with ice-cold beer. Frankel describes serving alongside Private Rodger Young who gave up his life in New Georgia to save 20 men of his patrol and inspired a song. He brings us into the Rescue of Bilibid Prison, and the battles of Bougainville and Guadalcanal. This is a wise, honest, and beautifully written book for anyone who has wondered about the realities of combat, the journey of shouldering a duty you did not choose, or the experience of being among the “greatest generation” who came of age in the Depression and fought in World War II. This edition features a new introduction from Frankel’s grandson Adam, who followed in Stan’s footsteps to become a political speechwriter, including writing speeches for President Obama in the White House, and who is now an author himself, with his family memoir, The Survivors.