Movie Reviews: New Releases for November 23rd

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Paul Dano, Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord and Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans - UNIVERSAL PICTURES

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  • Paul Dano, Mateo Zoryon Francis DeFord and Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans

Bones and all ** 1/2

The central conceit in director Luca Guadagnino’s film – adapted by David Kajganich from Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 novel – is clearly an allegory for some; The question of what that something might be keeps this story from being really effective. Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell), a teenager living with her single father (André Holland), has a secret: she has an appetite for human flesh. And when her father finally leaves her, unable to handle this mystery, she sets out into the world to find there are others like her, including an elderly potential mentor (Mark Rylance) and a potential boyfriend and maybe more named Lee (Timothee Chalamet). Guadagnino proves to be a more adept director of suspense and body horror here than he was in 2018 suspiracy Remake and brings out the best in all of its central cast (particularly a deeply disturbing Rylance). There’s also an interesting choice of setting the story specifically in 1980s Reagan-era America, which should make it even clearer that Maren’s “deviant” could represent an odd identity, especially given the bedroom looks Maren gave a classmate at a classmate Overnight before eating throws at her finger. However, equating homosexuality with behavior that literally kills other people doesn’t quite work, even given the timeframe connection to the early AIDS epidemic. And the search for Maren’s mother is more about understanding a family history of mental illness that is less closely related to finding a community of others like you. The result is a film that’s tense, moment-to-moment absorbing, and also somewhat frustrating thematically. Available in theaters November 23. (r)

Dedication ***
A drama about US Navy aviators starring Glen Powell? No, you don’t experience it Top Gun: Maverick Déjà-vu; This fact-based story is its own thing, with its own joys and flaws. In 1950, naval pilot Lt. Tom Hudner (Powell) on a new assignment in Rhode Island. There he finds among his new colleagues Ens. Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), one of the US military’s few black pilots, still proving himself in a newly integrated field. The film’s greatest relief comes from the fact that this is not a tale about Hudner learning very important lessons about racism from Brown; in fact, Powell gets an entirely separate slur on the FOMO experienced by those who missed service in WWII and feel somehow emasculated by it. It’s an interesting angle, but one that doesn’t feel particularly well connected to Brown’s own intense involvement to justify his presence among the other pilots. dedication is undoubtedly at his strongest when focusing on Brown’s story, be it his relationship with his wife (Christina Jackson) or his sessions in which he repeats in the mirror the insults he has endured as a tool for self-motivation. Airborne operations certainly play a significant role too – both in pilot training and once the Cold War heats up in Korea – and director JD Dillard provides the meat and potatoes for those who want a robust war film. And thankfully, despite the bumpy interaction between the two protagonists’ stories, Majors and Powell have the chummy chemistry to carry the film along when the Jets aren’t on their highway into danger. Available in theaters November 23. (PG-13)

The Fabelmans ***
Autobiographical drama is treacherous territory for any filmmaker, but Steven Spielberg manages to reconstruct the formative experiences of his childhood and adolescence in a way that’s generally satisfying and only occasionally smug. Working with frequent collaborator Tony Kushner as a co-writer, Spielberg fictionalizes himself as Sam Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon Francis DeFord as a child, Gabriel LaBelle as a teenager), following him for more than a decade as he navigates the complex relationship between his two Parents Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams), multi-state travel and his growing fascination with filmmaking. As entertaining as the scenes of teenager Sam making movies with his buddies are, and as much as the legendary Spielberg may have deserved a little mythologization of himself, they have a hard time not feeling a bit like I’m creating special effects , when I was 16″ Humblebrag-y. The narrative also proves, perhaps inevitably, somewhat fragmented, including Judd Hirsch appearing for a flashy scene as Sam’s flamboyant circus performer great-uncle, and a first romance with a Christian classmate, It’s generally effective coming-of-age material, however, with Williams gracefully navigating her performance through Mitzi’s mental health struggles and Spielberg finding an intriguing continuous line of Sam’s filmmaking to exert control over the things that scare him – plus a great finale with a famous director in a cameo as one other famous director. Spielberg deserves his “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and delivers it with great charm. Available in theaters November 23. (PG-13)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery ***1/2
See feature review. Available in theaters November 23; December 23 via Netflix. (PG-13)

Strange World ** 1/2
Attaching a big, challenging message to a kid-friendly animated feature is a good idea in principle, but things get trickier when that message feels disconnected from the more conventional elements. This one takes place in an isolated society called Avalonia, where a mysterious plant – discovered by Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) – provides all the energy. As this plant begins to die, Searcher, along with his own son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), joins a quest to find the source of the rot and discovers an underground world and his own long-lost explorer father Yeager (Dennis Quaid). Ultimately, it’s clear that director Don Hall’s (big hero 6) and co-director/writer Qui Nguyen (Raya and the last dragon), along with an intriguing idea about the seeming inevitability of fathers wanting their sons to be like them. But while those two ideas are weakly linked by the concept of breaking out of narrow thought patterns, that doesn’t feel particularly consistent given how matter-of-fact everyone is about Ethan being gay. And the ending feels like a mess trying to pull it all together after a story that’s much more focused on the fantastical environments and creatures the Clades encounter, like the marketing-friendly cute blue blob Ethan befriends. As an adventure, it’s colourful, bold and generally fun; The thought-provoking part just made me think how it could have been done better. Available in theaters November 23. (PG)


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