All in the Family

I’ve been randomly catching up on new movies because it’s that time of year. 

The period when a bunch of award-worthy and/or star driven prestige films get released either at the box office or via streaming platforms. 

Tis the season!

It sort of starts a bit in September then increases, in earnest, once November and December roll around. 

There are lots of reasons for this, and I could go on about them.  But at this point…

Who really cares???

Pass the popcorn please

Technology is in the midst of changing how we view everything and it’s anyone’s guess where this is all going.   

It’s not even a far-reach to suggest that within this century movie theatres will be obsolete and we will be viewing the latest film via a chip portal implanted within our brains that you can buy on Amazon at the low cost of $29.99 per year.

The catch is every studio will have it’s own portal and by the time you’re done you will have so many chips and holes in your head that they (Note: Whoever THEY are) will charge you as much as $2999.99 annually to view everything sans commercials.

Maybe Lumon will have a discount rate?

Though judging from the handful of new 2022 movies I’ve been sampling lately, as well as my experience as a still chip/portal free human on this planet, one reality won’t change. 

Like Cats, we will now and forever be inundated with films about….


Yes –


You tell em Dom

You can’t get away from them.  Literally.

Drama, comedy, horror, kid friendly, romance, action – it doesn’t matter.  The family WILL endure be it frighteningly awful, wonderfully fantastic or, more than likely, somewhere in between.

Despite whatever cynical sensibilities popular culture tries selling us, we don’t ever tire of reflecting on or grappling with what it means to be a member of either our born into or chosen tribes.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

It shows up consistently in the majority of new movies and is one of the only perennial go-to subjects for filmmakers to this day (Note: Whether they admit it or not).  And we, their audience, will be drawn in no matter what the packaging is (Note: And it is especially varied) in the last few weeks of this year.

To whit: Three extremely different but much anticipated new, ahem, family films available, or about to become available —

Right after this profound quote from the forever wise, and seemingly familial, Gloria Steinem:

Happy or unhappy, families are all mysterious. We have only to imagine how differently we would be described – and will be, after our deaths – by each of the family members who believe they know us.

Ugh.  Why is she always right?

I mean look who she goes to the movies with! #theyknew

The FabelmansThe most obvious choice for family memoir but not the most obvious story.  You might think you know all about Steven Spielberg from his movies and gazillion interviews but this is the just slightly fictionalized version of what formed him that we could never have imagined on our own.

It’s fascinating to watch someone who is the most commercially successful director in film history, as well as one of the more critically acclaimed, so openly sort out his, stuff, before our eyes.

A true peek behind the curtain

Sure, there’s a bit of a dramatic pullback here and there but seeing how Spielberg remembers his somewhat bipolar, artistic mother and his stoic and slightly removed genius father work out their emotional infidelities with their kids as voyeuristic hostages, provides a compelling narrative that shouldn’t really work as well as it ultimately does.

Some of this might be due to the director himself, who has always known how to squeeze supersized movie moments out of even the most mundane of people.  Though with the help of co-writer and frequent collaborator Tony Kushner, his family becomes much more than that.

Meet the Spielbergs…. I mean… the Fabelmans

Yes, there’s just enough dysfunction, betrayal, anti-Semitism, disappointment and heartbreak, told Spielberg style, for the film to get by without becoming a for the ages contemporary version of a Bergman movie (Note:  Of course, I would have REALLY like to have seen that).  But there’s a limit to how bare-boned he is going to get, and, more importantly, how bare-boned you really want him to be.

So what makes his most personal family film bold and true and exactly right is the story of how the director became the Spielberg who changed movies and our worldview of them.  He was given the tools at an early age as the oldest white male child of upper middle class privilege; encouraged a lot, or enough, to persevere with movie making through some bad times as a way to heal both himself and his family; had an insane obsession with movies his closest relatives happily colluded with; and came from parents who were each quite brilliant in their respective fields.

Release the Sammy Fabelman cut!

Combine the inventive mechanical genius of his father with the aching, emotional concert level piano playing of his mother and what you get is the alchemy behind a kind of once in a generation talent in any chosen field.  The obstacles were there, but his destiny feels inevitable.  The time period of the fifties and sixties had drawbacks for nerdy Jewish boys but we know deep down they won’t be insurmountable.  And the ongoing love, if not always understanding he received from those closest to him in adolescence had a price but never one that was completely soul crushing, even if in one instance it comes close.

If you ever wondered why Spielberg and his films are the way that they are, well, it’s all there.  Or at least his version of it, told in a much more imperfect way than you might have imagined he ever would.

Get this man his Oscar please

The WhaleDirector Darren Aronofsky saw playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s play about a morbidly obese online English teacher eating himself to death almost a decade ago and worked with him to turn it into a movie.

The Whale is probably one of the most difficult films you could choose to watch this season but with Brendan Fraser it has one of the finest lead performances you will see all year.  At its heart it is really a movie about the effect one’s actions have on those they consider to be their adult family, e.g. a spouse, a child, a lover, a good friend, and how every choice we make in life can reverberate a thousand fold towards our loved ones whether we like it or not.

I was incredibly moved and momentarily mentally destroyed watching the tenderness and selfish determination Fraser brought to this role, as well as amazed by the choice of Aronofsky to tell this story as a horror film crossed with a family drama.

Also starring Sadie Sink, who is much more than Stranger Things

It all worked for me, and then some, which is why I’m thoroughly confused by the thus far mixed critical response to The Whale.  Its hyper real, hyperactive presentation of a bad situation growing horrifically worse is not for the faint of heart.  But nothing about it is exploitative, apologetic or facile.

If we accept that we humans, especially members of the same family, are alternately, selfish, loving, hateful and understanding/not understanding towards each other, and most especially ourselves, The Whale has quite a bit to offer as an exploration of the human psyche.

What happens when life happens and you can no longer live up to the rigorous requirements of the world, of those closest to you (Note: If there are any still left) and, mostly, of yourself?  How will it end for those of us who can’t hack it?  Is there grace, or at least some fleeting moment, or moments, of redemption?

Deep thoughts, Chairy.

Sure, it’s melodramatic.  Duh.  It’s supposed to be.  This is not hyper reality.  It’s a movie movie in tone and execution that challenges us not to look away and dismiss that which we do not want to see because it’s too emotional, illogical or uncomfortable.  And there are far too few of them these days.

NopeJordan Peele’s movies are nothing if not imperfectly strange and imaginative.  Nope debuted in theatres this summer and was available on streaming platforms in September.  I didn’t catch up with it until a week ago and, as usual I found what he was serving up confounding yet impossible to dismiss.

The thing with Peele, like all interesting filmmakers, is either you accept him on his own terms and look beyond your expectations or you don’t.  I often can’t go all the way but there is something about what he imagines that makes me come back for more with each subsequent film.

… and I’ll never look at clouds the same way

He’s like the crazy uncle I want to relate to yet always feels just out of reach.  He starts a conversation at a family gathering and I initially find him the most dynamic person in the room but somewhere along the way he loses me and I go back into the kitchen to help my mom with the food because there are other people at the party who are a much better audience than myself.

For all its sci-fi elements of flying saucers, dusty southern California desert landscapes and the vagaries of those in the entertainment industry seeking fame and fortune that they can never hold on to, Nope is essentially a family story.

A brother and sister have inherited a multi-generation family ranch/business that trains and provides animals for commercials, TV and film.  One loves the biz, the other is lukewarm but deep down they love each other despite a perennial lack of understanding of where each is coming from.

Can we all just talk about how great Keke Palmer is?

They want something real for themselves but they’ve been put in a box by the world and have been generationally walled off from too many upwardly mobile opportunities because of their heritage and the ways in which their family and the world, in this case, Hollywood, has always worked.

Little do they know that when a somewhat supernatural opportunity uniquely presents itself to them, it will be the beginning of a road that has the potential to set things right personally, if not professionally.

That’s about all you need to know if you haven’t seen it, except that even when it doesn’t work at all it does seem to be working on another level.  That is not unlike every continuous family dynamic we’ve ever seen.  Even when we don’t fully get what’s going on, we’ve invested to stick around just long enough to know what will happen to each of these people at the end of the road.

So much family, wanted and unwanted.  And so little time.

The O’Jays – “Family Reunion”

Box Office Avoidance

I don’t feel ready to go back to a movie theatre and it’s making me a little crazy. 

Check that. 

I’ve always been a little crazy, in an engaging sort of way, but I’ve gone a lot crazier in the last 18+ pandemic months partly because I don’t have life at the local cinema to help me out.

Right.  I know. 

Not me at all, I swear

Theatres are open and I’m thrice vaccinated and boosted as much as any human can be at this point. 

What that means is that even if I were to contract COVID the overwhelming odds are I wouldn’t be hospitalized and, statistically, am pretty much immune from dying by its ugly hand.

Nevertheless, sitting inside for 2-3 hours in a mask with a room full of people I don’t know doesn’t seem like an escape from crazy to me.  It feels like gilding the lily of crazy. 

And, I suspect, I’m not alone. 

Plus, how am I supposed to eat popcorn like this?

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story,” about as want-to-see and hyped as any holiday movie can be (Note: The exception being something Marvel-ous) opened to about 4.1 million at the domestic box-office on Friday and is expected to gross about $10.1 million in its first weekend of release.

To translate those numbers into industry parlance, that means AWFUL. 

There are lots of reasons and analyses of this you can read here that will recount it far more articulately, hopefully and in more length than any mere blog such as this one will allow.

It’ll be a slow build, the weeks before Christmas are never great box-office, Spielberg films tend to sustain much longer than others, blah, blah, blah…

Digging into the archives for this one

But here’s what I do know.  For sure.

The audience for this movie is majority older adults, despite it’s youthful casting, and as far as that’s concerned I’m Telling You, the majority of us older Americans mostly Aren’t Goin’ out to the movies.

Oh Chairy, I see what you did there

This may or may not be rational but in every way and more this is the correct assessment of the situation.  For the time being.  And probably longer than that.

Sure, sometime during the Christmas season I just might decide, on the spur of the moment, to attend an 11am showing at a theatre on a Monday or Tuesday (Note: traditionally the slowest movie going days) in a reserved seat far, far, FAR away from anybody else. 

But this will only happen if the box-office numbers for WSS don’t build, and indeed plummet, probably into CATS: THE MOVIE territory.

Don’t bring me into this

More likely is I will wait until I can rent the film on a streaming platform or attend a small, select industry screening at an off hour where you have to prove you’ve been triple vaccinated. 

And there have so far been few, if any, of the latter events on my industry invite docket.

(Note: Industry invite docket being any email, phone call or overheard conversation within eye or ear shot that sounds even vaguely appealing to this very, very VERY crazy, quite desperate housebound me).

I’m keeping busy in the meantime

I’m told by some of my friends that it’s not wise to live this way and that you only live once.   I tend to be ruled by the latter and to that I do emphatically reply, Um….YEAH.  YOU SAID, IT, I DIDN’T.  AND NOW I DON’T HAVE TO!!

I guess it all comes down to risk/reward.  What are you willing to put up with and for how long?

Or as someone much smarter, wry and acerbic than me once said:  Is the f-king you’re getting, really worth the f-king you’re getting??

The Chair’s gettin’ saucy!

Historically it’s taken me a while to decide what the answer is to that one whenever I’m in a situation where I’m not pleased.  Though certainly I expect to revisit the issue as pandemic life proceeds with no end in sight. 

In the meantime, I can already rent Kenneth Branagh’s much talked about Belfast on Amazon for $19.99, and Meet the Ricardos will be available there on  Dec. 21.  The Hand of God, director Pablo Sorrentino’s (The Great Beauty) much ballyhooed new film drops on Netflix Dec. 15th.   And there is always a chance the Writers’ Guild and others will be sending out DVDs or codes I can pop in for things like Guillermo Del Toro’s new version of Nightmare Alley.

Don’t worry Benny, I got you on Netflix too

Yes, I know it’s better to view that one on the big screen but guess what?  Me and the hubby are not giving presents to each other this year and are instead using the money (and then some) to get a bigger, more streaming friendly flat screen (Note: 77” – but don’t call us size queens) at one of the MANY holiday sales.

It’s not the same as going out and being with other live people.   But the only mask you have to wear is the one you sometimes put on in front of your spouse instead of following through with every insidious, horrible thing you’re really thinking of doing to them.

….Oh, of course I’m only joshing!!!

Or am I???

2022 look, obviously

But before you answer, consider how crazy I’ve already confessed to being and just how much crazier I will get by the day. 

Who knows what those in my age group are capable of?

Even Spielberg, once he gets the final grosses.

West Side Story (2021) – “America”