“The Family Stone” is a Personal Christmas Favorite

Thomas Bezucha’s “The Family Stone” is that movie that takes from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and in many ways feels like a tribute to that very film. It’s still about acceptance and coming to terms with growing up, in the end. Except rather than the central theme being acceptance of race, the subtext revolves around a liberal brood accepting a conservative opposite as one of their own. It’s a rich, touching, sometimes painful look at the highs and lows of family, challenging our own perceptions, and dealing with an impending loss. The question that lingers in “The Family Stone” is not whether the matriarch of their very tight knit middle class brood can survive breast cancer, but whether the family can survive losing her.

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The Shape of Water (2017)

What “The Shape of Water” ultimately amounts to is Guillermo Del Toro’s own adoration for monster and romance cinema. Del Toro constantly evokes shades of “The Creature Walks Among Us,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” while also channeling Woody Allen’s “Purple Rose of Cairo.” Much like the latter, “The Shape of Water” depicts a somewhat whimsical romance in a world filled with misery and darkness at every corner. Del Toro has a lot to say about the ugliness of humanity and the ideas of what monsters truly are in this world and others.

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Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie (2017)

Nickelodeon’s “Hey Arnold!” was one of the banner animated series from the heyday of the 1990’s. It was a subtle, sweet, and often funny coming of age show with a lot of heart and some brilliantly memorable moments that evoked pure emotion from its audience. Despite ending in 2004, Nickelodeon gave the series a final send off in 2002 with a flimsy and absolutely wretched big screen film that did nothing to close the world we’d come to love. Most of all, it did nothing for the story arc of main character Arnold, who spent a majority of the series under the care of his elderly eccentric grandparents.

Mid-way through the series, we learned that Arnold’s parents were explorers who spent their days traveling, and the last they ever saw of him was before they left for one last adventure to help a village suffering from a mysterious illness.

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Batman vs. Two Face (2017) [Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital]

I was not at all a fan of the original “Batman” animated movie, as I felt it was somewhat unfocused. Thankfully “Batman vs. Two Face” not only gets the idea more about the Batman series, but uses Two Face quite cleverly. As most fans know, the original Adam West Batman show wanted Clint Eastwood to play Two Face, but deemed the character too disturbing for viewers. Producers for this animated movie go back to re-cast Two Face for their show, but bring aboard another television icon to play the villain, William Shatner. Shatner is perfect for the role of the duplicitous deviant ne’er dowell known as Two Face, and what makes the pot even sweeter is that he’s turned in to an allegory for homosexuality.

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The Philadelphia Story (1940): Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray]

George Cukor’s “The Philadelphia Story” isn’t just a masterful romance comedy, but it’s also an important piece of filmmaking that marked important turning points in the lives of its stars. In particular there was Katharine Hepburn who, believe it or not, was considered “Box Office Poison” by critics after a series of cinematic flops. Once “The Philadelphia Story” proved her brilliance as an actress, her career only went up. “The Philadelphia Story” is one of the least cloying romance comedies I’ve ever seen, as it’s one wrapped up in genuine human emotion and spite that tends to be shockingly entertaining. The fact that the film is models itself after the hit play never hinders the production, allowing “The Philadelphia Story” to feel very lively and energetic.

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Daguerrotype (Le secret de la chamber noire) (2017)

In a French mansion, a photographer is obsessed with reproducing long lost photos taken with the daguerreotype technique of yore.  When he hires a young assistant for his project, things get complicated.

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Catherine Paille, and Eléonore Mahmoudian and directed by Kurosawa, Daguerrotype is a very slow burn of a film that feels more like a drama than anything else.  This being said, there are a few elements that will be surprising if the viewer goes into it completely blind and thus will not be spoiled here.  Having the genre pre-established as anything other than drama will lead into guessing a few of these.  Given the director and his resume, this aspect can be easily guessed.  Here he works in a manner where the characters are given plenty of time to develop themselves and their arcs while the story builds around them.  The writing and directing of the film feel like a proper mix of French and Japanese cinema in a way that is hard to explain but works wonderfully well here.

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A Fish Called Wanda (1988): Special Edition [Blu-Ray]

Charles Crichton’s “A Fish Called Wanda” is probably the last bit of Monty Python cinema we’ve ever gotten, and it embodies much of the same lunacy of the comedy troupe while also standing alone as one of the funniest movies ever made. “A Fish Called Wanda” is a zany and often raucous comedy that teams a slew of brilliant actors together for a unique, film that mixes sub-genres quite well and never loses sight of its comic themes, and Python-esque humor that borders on absurd without ever being ridiculous.

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Rock-a-Doodle (1991) [Blu-Ray]

The long out of print “Rock-a-Doodle” from animation master Don Bluth has finally stormed its way on to HD thanks to Olive Films, and it’s a blast to the past for me. I fondly remember seeing a lot of the ads for “Rock-a-Doodle” as well as coming across TV spots and ads in comic books. Sadly, the actual cinematic experience was a bust, even for an eight year old moi. It was a dull, awful movie then, and it’s a pretty dull and awful movie, now. I doubt even the best of nineties nostalgia geeks can find a gem in this mess of a movie. I spent a good number of years putting “Rock-a-Doodle” in the back burner of my memory, and I realize it was for good reason.

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