Posted on November 21, 2023 at 5:40 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements and mild action
Profanity: NOne
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy-style peril and some violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2023

Copyright Disney 2023
The animators at Disney, now celebrating their 100th anniversary, have had a lot of time to think about wishing. From Disney’s first feature film, “Snow White,” which had a heroine warbling about the day her prince would come to their second feature film, with the greatest wishing song of all time, the one we still hear every time a Disney movie begins with a view of Cinderella’s castle and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” to all of the princesses singing their wishes — “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” “A Part of His World,” “Once Upon a Dream,” Belle singing she wants more than “this provincial life,” Moana singing about “How Far I’ll Go,” no one’s movies do better at giving us characters with wishes we want to see come true. So there’s no better way to pay tribute to Disney history than “Wish,” a movie about wishes, with loving references to many of their most beloved classics.

Oscar-winner Ariana Dubose provides the voice of Asha, a 17-year-old girl who lives on an island in the Mediterranean Sea with her mother, Sakina (Natasha Rothwell), and grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber). Like Disney animation, Sabino is reaching his centenary. Like most Disney heroines, she has cute sidekick, a goat named Valentino (Alan Tudyk).

Their island is governed by King Magnifico (Chris Pine). The people of the kingdom believe that he will grant the wishes they share with him when they turn 18. But as Asha finds when she becomes his assistant, he hoards the wishes, which appear in floating translucent spheres. When people turn their wishes over to him, they lose their memory of what it was they aspired to, and they become docile and easily governed.

Asha makes her own wish the old-fashioned way, on a star, just like Geppetto in “Pinocchio.” To her surprise, the star responds by flying down from the sky to help her out, starting with giving Valentino the ability to speak. Asha originally only wanted to make the wishes of her mother and grandfather come true. But she realizes that she has to give all of the wishes back to the people who wished them. In addition to the star and the goat, she gets some help from her seven friends, who adorably match up with the seven dwarfs from Disney’s first feature. One Is sleepy, one is grumpy, one is bashful…you get the rest. The “Doc” character is Asha’s best friend Dahlia, the King’s chef, voiced by Jennifer Kumiyama. To honor the actress, who uses a wheelchair, Dahlia uses a cane, welcome representation for audience members who use adaptive equipment and their families, and welcome normalization for those who may not yet have those people in their lives.

The character design here is understated by contemporary animation standards, perhaps another nod to the classical era. The backgrounds and settings are pure Disney magic, though, delicately colored, stunningly beautiful, and bursting with imagination. Asha’s home and Magnifico’s castle are fairy tale delights. The musical numbers are lovely and the one with dancing chickens is a highlight.

And the story is well designed, exciting and heartwarming. It has a gentle but skillful exploration of the meaning of wishes, how they help us imagine what is most significant to us and think about how to get there, and about the importance of finding our own way to make our dreams come true and support the dreams of those around us. Asha is an endearing heroine, unsure about herself but always sure about what is right. When key characters switch loyalties at meaningful moments, as the king becomes more ruthless, it underscores the importance of values as well as aspirations — just as we would hope as Disney starts on its next century as the gold standard in family movies.

NOTE: Stay ALL the way to the end of the credits for a sweet extra snippet.

Parents should know that this film has a mean, selfish villain who attacks people with sometimes-scary green lightning. There is a reference, as in most Disney films, to a parent who died.

Family discussion: What is your wish? What did the king mean by “safe” and was he right? How many references to other Disney movies did you catch?

If you like this, try: the other animated Disney classics like “Snow White,” “Pinocchio,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Frozen,” “Mulan,” and “Encanto” and the live-action fairy tale, “Stardust”

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Family Movies for Thanksgiving 2023

Posted on November 20, 2023 at 9:07 am

Copyright 1973 United Features Syndicate

There are some great Thanksgiving movies for adults. And here are some for the whole family to share.

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.

Copyright 1947 20th Century Fox
Miracle on 34th Street is a Christmas movie, but it begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and it is a great family movie (for those who are comfortable with questions about Santa’s being real. The original is a classic with an adorable Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for playing Kris Kringle. But the remake is nice, too.

Dora’s Thanksgiving Parade Dora the Explorer has to save the day when the parade float gets lost.

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.

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Jacqueline Bisset stars in this warm-hearted tale, based on a short story by Louisa May Alcott (Little Women).

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.

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Posted on November 20, 2023 at 7:06 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and brief language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very graphic and disturbing images in scenes of battle
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2023

Copyright 2023 Columbia
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of history’s most consequential figures but you will not understand him or his influence any better after watching Ridley Scott’s almost-three-hour epic. Joaquin Phoenix plays the general-turned emperor-turned exile-turned emperor again and then again turned exile, and Vanessa Kirby plays his wife, Josephine, to whom he wrote sizzling love letters, some included in the film, along with some of the gigantic battles he fought and won and one he lost so resoundingly that its name persists hundreds of years later as a term for career-ending failure.

The press notes for the film tell us that we will see Napoleon’s life “through the prism” of his volatile relationship with Josephine. It does not do either. Phoenix, who makes little effort to change his age or facial expression as the film covers decades, is burdened with some truly terrible dialogue, including what may be this year’s single worst line: “Fate has brought me to this lamb chop.” The legend of Napoleon inspired the name of the psychological syndrome of grandiosity, a supreme, all-encompassing sense of superiority. In this film, that is indicated with comments like, “I admit when I make a mistake. But I never make a mistake.”

As for that prism of the relationship, it does not live up to the love letters. Napoleon seems to be obsessed with Josephine, more about possessing her than being close to her or even considering her feelings in any way. He makes love like he wages battle — it’s about moving fast and destroying the other side.

Josephine’s feelings about Napoleon are more practical. When they meet, her confinement as a political prisoner is so recent her hair has not grown out. She showed her survival skill by escaping the fate of her first husband, who was executed, by getting pregnant. about her survival and then, as he rises in stature, she seems to enjoy the attention and fancy clothes and parties.

The movie careens back and forth between the zoomed-in, intimate but chilly portrayal of the marriage and the zoomed-out epic battle scenes, artfully staged but even with graphic carnage, remote. As the Duke of Wellington, Rupert Everett, arriving well past the two-hour mark, reminds us what a vivid and arresting performance brings to a film.

Director Ridley Scott has promised a four-hour version for streaming, so maybe that will be smoother and do a better job of integrating the different parts of the story. In that case, perhaps it is best to think of this as a very long trailer.

Parents should know that this is an R-rated film with graphic and disturbing images of battles that include guns and swords. As we are told before the closing credits, millions of people were killed, and we see some of the injuries and deaths in very explicit detail. A character is killed offscreen by guillotine, to the approving cheers of a crowd. There are sexual references, including adultery, and very explicit sexual situations. Characters drink and use some strong language.

Family discussion: What were Napoleon’s greatest strengths and weaknesses? Why did the French return to a monarchy?

If you like this, try: the silent Abel Gance classic, “Napoleon”

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The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Posted on November 16, 2023 at 5:45 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for largely bloodless child death and disturbing content
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol, drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and graphic peril and violence including teens murdering teens. Characters are shot, impaled, poisoned, bitten by snakes, and hung.
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 17, 2023
Copyright Sony 2023

The Hunger Games prequel is a villain origin story. The popular trilogy centered on rebel Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), in a dystopic world ruled by Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Author Suzanne Collins was flipping channels one night and saw both sports events and news footage of the Iraq War. This inspired her idea of a future society where entertainment — and the fundamentals of a totalitarian society — rest on a television show with teenagers competing to the death like gladiators. The grotesquery of the competition is reflected in a perverted concept of the selection process as patriotic and the young competitors paraded in glamorous attire before the “games” begin.

Collins has said she was drawn to “the idea of an unjust war developing into a just war because of greed, xenophobia and longstanding hatreds.” With this new installment, we get a better look at how that happens, on both a structural level and a personal one. Young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), whose name harks back to the title character in a Shakespearean tragedy about a general who is a hero in battle but becomes resentful that he is not honored enough by his community and then loses his own honor. As this story begins, he is a senior at the country’s prestigious school, barely scraping by with his grandmother (Fionnula Flannagan) and cousin who is like a sister (Hunter Schafer as Tigris). He does his best to keep up appearances as he hopes to win the school’s lucrative top prize for academic achievement. But there is an announcement — the prize has been canceled. The games, in the 10th year and much less elaborate than the ones we know from the original trilogy, are losing their audience. And so the candidates for the prize will each be assigned a games contestant to “mentor.” The contestant who does best — that means “spectacle, not survival.” The mentor who wins will be the one whose contestant gets the most support from the audience.

At this point, Coriolanus is devoted to his family and a loyal friend. He meets his assigned contestant, Lucy Gray (“West Side Story’s” Rachel Zegler) and quickly shifts from wanting her to be spectacle to wanting her to survive. Lucy is the songbird of the title, a roots-style singer with spirit and a strong sense of community.

The “games” are nowhere near as flamboyantly extravagant as the ones we have seen in the earlier films, and it is intriguing to see the foreshadowing and origins of the familiar elements. Jason Schwartzman as oily weatherman/magician/emcee Lucky Flickerman is not as outrageous as Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket, but we can see the origins of the gulf between the “entertainment” and lethal in the tone of the events. Coriolanus himself is responsible for coming up with some of the most significant elements of the later games. Viola Davis has a lot of fun as mad, gene-splicing, snake-loving scientist Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Ms. Collins is quite the name-giver!) and Peter Dinklage shows us the terrible compromises of the school’s Dean, (another bonkers name) Casca Highbottom.

Fans of the series and the book will appreciate this faithful version, but others may find the relentless butchery outweighs the lessons about morality, trust, and resilience, leaving open the question of whether lethal gladiator games, even by proxy, are inevitably seen as entertainment.

Parents should know that this film includes intense and graphic violence including many murders with teenagers attacking other teenagers and military attacking civilians. Characters are shot, impaled, poisoned, bitten by snakes, and hung. The MPA’s “largely bloodless” rating is an inadequate description of the images, many of which are graphic and disturbing.

Family questions: Were there any indications in the early scenes that Coriolanus might turn out the way he did? Was he trustworthy? Why did he record Sejanus? What made Lucy Gray change her mind?

If you like this, try: the other “Hunger Games” movies and the books

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“Still,” “American Symphony,” “1619,” Ross McElwee Winners at Critics Choice Documentary Awards

Posted on November 13, 2023 at 12:50 pm

Copyright Apple 2023

I am so honored to be a voting member of the Critics Choice Documentary Awards committee, though the choices are all so outstanding it is difficult to choose between them. Last night, the awards went to many of my favorites from this year, including “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” which won best feature, best director, best editing, best biographical film, and best narration, by Fox himself. Director Davis Guggenheim and editor Michael Harte made exceptional use of their subject’s extensive archive not just to illustrate but to comment on and illuminate Fox’s story. At the ceremony, the Pennebaker Award was presented to acclaimed documentarian Ross McElwee. The award, formerly known as the Critics Choice Lifetime Achievement Award, is named in honor of D A Pennebaker, a past winner. It was presented to Kopple by Chris Hegedus, Pennebaker’s long-time collaborator and widow.

Nominees and winners of the Eighth Annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards

Best Documentary Feature

“20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS)

“American Symphony” (Netflix)

“Beyond Utopia” (Roadside Attractions)

“The Deepest Breath” (Netflix)

“The Eternal Memory” (MTV Documentary Films)

“Judy Blume Forever” (Amazon Studios)

“Kokomo City” (Magnolia Pictures)

“The Mission” (National Geographic)

“Stamped from the Beginning” (Netflix)

WINNER “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” (Apple TV+)

Best Director

Maite Alberdi – “The Eternal Memory” (MTV Documentary Films)

Madeleine Gavin – “Beyond Utopia” (Roadside Attractions)

WINNER Davis Guggenheim – “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” (Apple TV+)

Matthew Heineman – “American Symphony” (Netflix)

Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss – “The Mission” (National Geographic)

Steve McQueen – “Occupied City” (A24)

First Documentary Feature

WINNER “20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS)

“26.2 to Life” (Film Halau)

“Bad Press” (Oklafilm)

“Bobi Wine: The People’s President” (National Geographic)

“Kokomo City” (Magnolia Pictures)

“Orlando, My Political Biography” (Sideshow)

“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” (Greenwich Entertainment)

“The Thief Collector” (FilmRise)


WINNER Tim Cragg – “The Deepest Breath” (Netflix)

Tony Hardmon, Matthew Heineman, Thorsten Thielow – “American Symphony” (Netflix)

Lennert Hillege – “Occupied City” (A24)

Franz Lustig – “Anselm” (Sideshow)

D. Smith – “Kokomo City” (Magnolia Pictures)

Toby Strong, James Boon, Bob Poole, Neil Fairlie, Wim Vorster, Joshua Tarr, Pete Allibone, Neil Harvey,

Andreas Knausenberger – “Secrets of the Elephants” (National Geographic)


Sammy Dane, Jim Hession, Matthew Heineman, Fernando Villegas – “American Symphony” (Netflix)

Madeleine Gavin – “Beyond Utopia” (Roadside Attractions)

WINNER Michael Harte – “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” (Apple TV+)

Michelle Mizner – “20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS)

D. Smith – “Kokomo City” (Magnolia Pictures)

Aaron Wickenden – “The Mission” (National Geographic)


WINNER Jon Batiste – “American Symphony” (Netflix)

Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans – “The Mission” (National Geographic)

Nainita Desai – “The Deepest Breath” (Netflix)

Philip Glass, Paul Leonard-Morgan – “The Pigeon Tunnel” (Apple TV+)

Katya Richardson & Kris Bowers – “The Last Repair Shop” (Breakwater Studios)

D. Smith – “Kokomo City” (Magnolia Pictures)


“20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS) – Written and Performed by Mstyslav Chernov

“32 Sounds” (Abramorama) – Written and Performed by Sam Green

“The Disappearance of Shere Hite” (IFC Films) – Written by Nicole Newnham, Performed by Dakota Johnson

“John Lennon: Murder Without a Trial” (Apple TV+) — Written by TBD, Performed by Kiefer Sutherland

“Secrets of the Elephants” (National Geographic) – Written by Martin Williams, Performed by Natalie Portman

WINNER “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” (Apple TV+) – Written and Performed by Michael J. Fox

Archival Documentary

“Being Mary Tyler Moore” (HBO)

“The Disappearance of Shere Hite” (IFC Films)

“It Ain’t Over” (Sony Pictures Classics)

“JFK: One Day in America” (National Geographic)

“The Lady Bird Diaries” (Hulu)

“The League” (Magnolia Pictures)

Historical Documentary

“The 1619 Project” (Hulu/Onyx Collective)

WINNER “JFK: One Day in America” (National Geographic)

“The Lady Bird Diaries” (Hulu)

“Lakota Nation vs. United States” (IFC Films)

“The League” (Magnolia Pictures)

“Occupied City” (A24)

“Stamped from the Beginning” (Netflix)

Biographical Documentary

“Being Mary Tyler Moore” (HBO)

“The Disappearance of Shere Hite” (IFC Films)

“Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” (HBO)

“Judy Blume Forever” (Amazon Studios)

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (Hulu)

“Sly” (Netflix)

WINNER “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” (Apple TV+)

Music Documentary

WINNER “American Symphony” (Netflix)

“Carlos” (Sony Pictures Classics)

“Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop” (Netflix)

“Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Magnolia Pictures/CNN Films)

“Love to Love You, Donna Summer” (HBO)

“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” (AMC Theatres)

“What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” (Abramorama)

Political Documentary

WINNER “20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS)

“Beyond Utopia” (Roadside Attractions)

“Bobi Wine: The People’s President” (National Geographic)

“Deadlocked: How America Shaped the Supreme Court” (Showtime)

“Every Body” (Focus Features)

“Lakota Nation vs. United States” (IFC Films)

“Silver Dollar Road” (Amazon MGM Studios)

Science/Nature Documentary

“32 Sounds” (Abramorama)

“Between Earth & Sky” (PBS)

“Life on Our Planet” (Netflix)

“Path of the Panther” (National Geographic)

“Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food” (Netflix)

WINNER “Secrets of the Elephants” (National Geographic)

“Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West” (Gravitas Ventures)

Sport Documentary 

“Black Ice” (Roadside Attractions)

“BS High” (HBO)

WINNER “The Deepest Breath” (Netflix)

“It Ain’t Over” (Sony Pictures Classics)

“The League” (Magnolia Pictures)

“Reggie” (Amazon Studios)

“Stephen Curry: Underrated” (Apple TV+)

“Welcome to Wrexham” (FX)

True Crime Documentary

“Burden of Proof” (HBO)

“The Jewel Thief” (Hulu)

WINNER (Tie) “John Lennon: Murder Without a Trial” (Apple TV+)

“Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” (Netflix)

WINNER (Tie) “Telemarketers” (HBO)

“The Thief Collector” (FilmRise)

“Victim/Suspect” (Netflix)

Short Documentary

“The ABCs of Book Banning” (MTV Documentary Films)

“The Barber of Little Rock” (Story Syndicate)

“Between Earth & Sky” (PBS)

“Keys to the City” (New Yorker)

WINNER “The Last Repair Shop” (Breakwater Studios)

“Last Song From Kabul” (MTV Documentary Films)

Limited Documentary Series

WINNER “The 1619 Project” (Hulu/Onyx Collective)

“Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul” (Netflix)

“Deadlocked: How America Shaped the Supreme Court” (Showtime)

“JFK: One Day in America” (National Geographic)

“John Lennon: Murder Without a Trial” (Apple TV+)

“Secrets of the Elephants” (National Geographic)

“Shiny Happy People” (Amazon Studios)

“Telemarketers” (HBO)

Ongoing Documentary Series

WINNER “30 for 30” (ESPN)

“Frontline” (PBS)

“Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” (Netflix)


“Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller” (National Geographic)

“Welcome to Wrexham” (FX)

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