Monthly Archives: December 2022

The Entertainment Forecast

Dec. 30 – Jan. 5

Top picks for TV, books, music & more!

All Times Eastern.

Will Young Sheldon drop out of college????? Watch Thursday night, Jan. 5, to find out!

FRIDAY, Dec. 30

If you fell under the spell of The Tiger King, you’ll purr over this documentary, about a couple of animal conservationists caring for an orphaned African wildcat (Amazon Prime).

Korean fantasy series, set on the tropical Jeju Island, taps into legends and folklore as it follows a group of young characters fighting an evil force that threatens to destroy the world (Prime Video). 

New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash
Yep, it’s big, all right. Ring out the old and usher in the new, Nashville-style, with performances all over Music City by Brooks and Dunn, Sheryl Crow, Elle King, Jason Aldean, Little Big Town, Kelsi Ballerini and more (10:30 p.m., CBS).

United in Song: Ringing in the New Year Together
With so many things dividing us, how about something to bring us all together? This holiday special celebrates America’s rich diversity in music, from folk, rock, opera and country to hip hop, showtunes, bluegrass and beyond (8 p.m., PBS).

Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with Ryan Seacrest
It’s nearly a 20-year tradition as hosts Ryan Seacrest, Billy Porter, Liza Koshy and singing superstar Ciara anchor down in New York City’s Times Square—and beyond, in a pre-taped Disneyland segment—for this festive, fun celebration of stars, music, and fireworks! (8 p.m., ABC)

Lizzo Live in Concert
The world’s most rockin’, rappin’ flautist gives a full concert with her band, The Lizzbians, and special guests from the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif. (HBO Max).

A Toast to Twilight
It wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve with a marathon of Twilight Zone episodes, and your cup will runneth over for this one, featuring 84 back-to-back episodes of creator Rod Serling’s sci-fi TV masterpieces and sparkling with a galaxy of guest stars from the 1950s and ‘60s, including Carol Burnett, Robert Redford, Charles Bronson, Elizabeth Mongomery and (of course!) William Shatner (12 p.m., MeTV).

SUNDAY, Jan. 1
Paul T. Goldman
Watch the dramatized true story about a man who went “from wimp to warrior” after a shocking betrayal…and brought down an alleged international crime ring (Peacock).

Like the object in its title, little episodic “fragments” come together bit by bit to ultimately reveal the details of a tense, heist-drama crime caper spanning 25 years. The non-linear story is inspired by real events that transpired in Manhattan, when $70 billion in bonds went missing during the chaos of Hurricane Sandy (Netflix).

Fantasy Island
Beat the winter blahs with the season two return, spun off from the iconic 1970s series, about a luxury tropical-isle resort where every dream can come true—but they rarely turn out as expected (8 p.m., Fox).

America’s Got Talent All-Stars
Cue the magicians, the singers, the jugglers, the dancers, the aerialists. Winners, finalists, fan faves and viral sensations from around the world—and AGT’s global franchises—return for this new series to compete for the hit TV competition’s ultimate All-Star title (8 p.m., Jan. 2)

The team jumps into action when an intelligence officer (Taylor Anthony) is taken hostage (8 p.m., CBS).

Sometimes When We Touch
Three-part soft-rock documentary explores the retro roots of the format that spawned such 1970s acts as Air Supply, Ambrosia, Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins and many others in the 1970s—and ultimately crashed and burned in the ‘80s, only to stage an unlikely comeback later as “yacht rock” (Paramount+).

American Experience: The Lie Detector
You’ve seen it in the movies and on TV, but how much do you know about the device that knows if you’re telling the truth—or lying? This documentary takes you in the history, and the science, of the device that revolutionized police work…and more (9 p.m., PBS).  

Tough as Nails
In tonight’s two-hour premiere, host Phil Keoghan welcomes another hard-working crew to compete—in challenges designed to represent real-world work—for the $200,000 grand prize and prove that they’re, well, as tough as nails (9 p.m., CBS).

Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street
Meet the man behind the infamous $64 billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, the largest in history, that swingled countless investors who put their misplaced trust in the revered financial guru (Netflix).

Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test
This “social experiment” competition premieres tonight with a two-hour kickoff in which a group of famous and semi-famous celebs (including Jamie Lynn Spears, Dr. Drew Pinsky and Anthony Scaramucci) trade spotlight glam for gutsy gung-ho grit in a series of challenges from the Special Forces playbook (8 p.m., Fox).


Ginny & Georgia
Season two of the comedy-drama series features Brianne Howrey and Antonia Gentry (right) returning to their roles as a New England daughter and her mom, now dealing with a deadly secret (Netflix).

Young Sheldon
Sheldon (Iain Armitage) considers dropping out of college to focus on building his own computer database (9 p.m., CBS).

Kold x Windy
Not a weather forecast, as the title suggests, but rather an eight-episode scripted drama series about the street culture of Chicago’s south side, following a rising hip hop star (Sh’Kia Augustin) and her rapper friend (Nijah Brenea) (10 p.m., WeTV).

The Entertainment Forecast

Dec. 23 – 29

Top picks to watch this week on network & streaming!

Don’t shoot your eye out, Kevin Hart rings out the old & stars salute Paul Simon

The stars come out to honor singer-songwriter Paul Simon and his decades of music.

FRIDAY, Dec. 23
24th Annual A Home for the Holidays at the Grove
Celebrity guest appearances by Little Big Town, Gloria Estefan, Andy Grammer, David Foster and more help draw attention (and raise funds) in this annual entertainment special spotlighting adoption and foster care (8 p.m., CBS).

Strange World
Animated Disney hit comes to streaming, featuring voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Lucy Liu and others in a lively tale of a motley crew of explorers navigating a mysterious new land Disney+).

2022 Back that Year Up
Hosts Kevin Hart and Kenan Thompson find the funny in recapping the year’s highlights, all the stuff that we remember, and some things we might like to forget (Peacock).

Rock into Christmas!
Deck the halls with more than 12 hours of seasonal concert specials, from Sting, Faith Hill, Heart, Chris Isaak and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (begins 1 p.m., AXS).

A Christmas Story
Settle in for what has become a modern-day Christmas-classic tradition: The 24-hour marathon of this 1983 holiday comedy, about a young boy whose only Christmas wish is for a Red Ryder BB gun (8 p.m., TBS and TNT).  

SUNDAY, Dec. 25
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Animated short film, based on the internationally best-selling book, follows an unlikely friendship between a boy and animals as he searches for a home. With voices by Tom Hollander, Idris Elba, Gabriel Byrne and Jude Coward Nicoll (AppleTV+).

Disney Park’s Magical Christmas Parade
After you unwrap your Santa goodies, join this festive tour of holiday fun and all things Christmas in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, including celebrity guests (10 a.m., ABC)

MONDAY, Dec. 26
Bake It Till You Make It
Master cake artist Duff Goldman narrates this new docuseries providing an inside look at the world of competitive baking—and the enthusiastic, sometimes over-the-top personalities who participate, hoping for a baking “big break” (9 p.m., Food Network). 

TUESDAY, Dec. 27
American Masters: Groucho & Cavett
New documentary explores the relationship between comedy icon Groucho Marx and TV personality Dick Cavett in the late 1960s with archival TV footage, interviews and recordings (check listings, PBS).

Homeward Bound: A Grammy Salute to the Songs of Paul Simon
TV tribute special to the 16-time Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, with performances of his hits by Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks, Eric Church, the Jonas Brothers, Billy Porter, Sting and many others (8 p.m., CBS).

Encanto at the Hollywood Bowl
Live-concert experience at the iconic venue brings together the original voice cast of the Oscar-winning Disney hit movie performing its songs with an 80-piece orchestra, 50 dancers and special theatrical effects. But we don’t talk about Bruno! (Disney+).

Stab That Cake!
Bakers compete to see if their hyper-realistic faux cakes can fool anyone when placed right next to the real-deal confections in the grocery store (9 p.m., Cooking Channel).

Party On! ‘Babylon’ Movie Review

Margot Robbie cuts loose in spectacularly profane ode to Old Hollywood debauchery

Starring Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jean Smart & Diego Calva
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Rated R

See it: In theaters Friday, Dec. 23

A sweeping, swaggering, spectacularly saucy salute to old Hollywood, Damien Chazelle’s new Oscar-bait period-piece epic spins a sprawling, gloriously seedy tale about the deep-dish decadence of a bygone era.

Drugs? For sure. Sexual kink? Plenty of that! Excessive nudity? Oh, yeah. Hard-partying depravity? Check.

This big, boisterously sleazy ode to Hollywood’s baser instincts of yore clocks clocks in at just more than three hours, spanning several years in the intertwined lives of its ensemble of characters, from the late 1920s into the early ‘50s. Among other, more salacious things, it’s a looking glass into the moviemaking machinery and the process of those “golden years,” from suffocatingly hot studio soundstage sets to chaotic, wide-open on-location spectacles, with hundreds of extras running into (and over) each other and multiple movies filming at once, racing the setting sun before the productions run out of light.

Brad Pitt

The all-star cast is anchored by Margot Robbie, and you can expect her name in the conversation as a Best Actress contender. She’s the “face” of the movie as Nellie LeRoy, an aggressively eager starlet, hungry to climb up the Hollywood food chain. Brad Pitt plays Jack Conrad, a dashing former superstar watching his leading-man legend fade as movies transition from silent films to “talkies.” Diego Calva played a drug lord in Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico, and here he makes his movie-mainstream debut as Manny Torres, a lowly Mexico-born film assistant working his unlikely way to becoming a big-shot studio exec. Jean Smart of Hacks is a Hollywood hack, the been-there-seen-that gossip columnist who watches it all from the sidelines.

Jean Smart

Hey, look! There’s Tobey Maguire (he was Spider-Man!), Lukas Haas (the grownup kid from Witness!), Olivia Wilde (she directed Don’t Worry Darling and Booksmart!), Katherine Waterson (her dad is Law & Order star Sam Waterson!), Eric Roberts (Julia’s brother!), and Flea (the bass player from the Red Hot Chili Peppers!). A jazz trumpet player (Jordan Adepo) and a lesbian torch singer (Li Jun Li) are also along for the boisterous, bumpy ride through crazytown.

This outrageously excessive, cocaine-fueled romp depicts a time when Hollywood was itself outrageously excessive, often living up (and down) to its hedonistic reputation—and its nickname, lifted from the ancient cradle of civilization that became Biblical shorthand for evil and immorality. You get a good idea about the why the movie is called Babylon in the Fellini-esque bacchanalia buffet of rampant debauchery that opens the film, half an hour before the movie’s title even appears onscreen. 

Director Chazelle made his mark with the Oscar-winning Whiplash and his smash 2016 musical, La La Land. That movie, too, was set in Hollywood, but it seems like a soft, gentle breeze of a lullaby compared to the roaring hurricane of tawdry behavior in Babylon, which depicts a Hollywood gone wild, yet to be reined in by a “morality code” or restricted with movie ratings. If you think Charlie Sheen was a baaad boy and Lindsey Lohan the poster child for wasted excess, well, they can’t hold a candle to this.

It’s not a true story, but it is true-ish, and characters are amalgams of certain Hollywood screen idols of yesteryear—Pitt’s character represents a cross between the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and the seductive, big-screen suavity of Clark Gable. Robbie’s Nellie LeRoy follows the career trajectory of Clara Bow, a former Brooklyn flapper who became one of filmdom’s first “sex symbols” in the Twenties—and whose abrasively nonconformist lifestyle didn’t exactly help Hollywood transcend the widespread perception of movies as cheap, disposable “low art.”

Margot Robbie

Bawdy, extravagant, explosively vulgar and sometimes salaciously savory—it’s all that and more, and you’ll probably not see another movie this holiday season with explosive pachyderm diarrhea, phallic-shaped pogo sticks, a subterranean lair full of freaks and geeks, and a conversation discussing the, ahem, dimensions of Charlie Chaplin’s manhood. And Margot Robbie fights a rattlesnake. Yes, Margot Robbie fights a rattlesnake.

But it’s also funny, sad, sometimes quite poignant, and heart-achingly human, depicting a place of towering artifice teetering on a foundation of vanity and fever dreams, on the cusp and the cutting edge of sweeping innovation and change, with characters watching their own fortunes rise and fall along the wayside. The end sequence, which takes place (fittingly enough) inside a movie theater, is a dazzling, almost hallucinatory salute to the durability of film, the magic of an art form that will ultimately outlast the lives of all who ever work in, on or for it.

Fame and fortune can swell and soar, as did the Tower of Babel in the ancient city of Babylon—before it all came crashing down. Nothing lasts forever. And like the resplendently tawdry, off-the-rails Hollywood depicted in Babylon, every party comes to an end, one way or another…no matter how many drugs or how much booze, how many naked starlets, trumpeting elephants or hissing vipers.

Big Blue Blockbuster

How much movie can $350 million buy you? See the new ‘Avatar’ and you’ll see

Avatar: The Way of Water
Starring Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana & Stephen Lang
Directed by James Cameron

See it: In theaters Friday, Dec. 16

Thirteen years after the sensation that was the original Avatar (2009), director James Cameron returns to the fantastical world of Pandora, the far-out celestial home of the peaceful blue-hued humanoid creatures known as the Na’vi. They’re about 10 feet tall, towering over mere humans, but still small fries compared to the all-out epic-ness of this mega-movie spectacle that cries out for the biggest screen possible. It’s a towering cinematic achievement of visceral emotion, slam-bang action and jaw-dropping special effects that show just how far a budget of some $350 million can stretch.

All the money is “showing” in this 3-D saga that moves the story from the lush primordial floating forests of the first film to a more “tropical” island setting, where a group of green-skinned Na’vi have evolved to live for extended periods underwater. (Their tails are thicker, for steering as they swim, and their skins adorned with what look like Mãori tattoos, a distinctively Polynesian touch.) It all looks amazing, richly detailed, hyper tactile and mesmerizingly real, even though you know what you’re seeing is enhanced hi-tech fakery—CGI, created from extensive motion-capture performances by the actors. See it in 3D and you’ll swear things are floating right in front of your face.

Cameron loves the water; his seafaring disaster drama Titanic (1997) was an unqualified smash, the most commercially successful movie ever made, and The Abyss (1989) took a really, really deep dive into oceanographic, extraterrestrial sci-fi. There are swooshy echoes of those previous movies in this galloping golly-whopper, which continues the original Avatar’s themes of cultural coexistence, ecological awareness, the evils of colonization and the atrocity of genocide. Savvy moviegoers will detect other strands of its wide-ranging movie DNA, including cowboys-and-Indians Westerns, Pacific war flicks, chomp-chomp dinosaur romps, robotic dystopias and even Moby Dick.

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana return to their original roles—as Jake Sulley, the former human earthling who became a Na’vi hybrid through a process of avatar-ization, and his mate, the Pandora homegirl Neytiri. They’re both scrappy fighters when they must be, but mostly they enjoy the laid-back life on Pandora as a happy blue family. Their three kids may have grown up on a distant moon on the other edge of a distant galaxy, but nonetheless are well versed in teen ‘tude, smack-talk and using expressions that sound like they spilled forth from almost high-school hallway in America, like “bro,” “bitch,” “cuz” and “perv.” I guess teen lingo is a truly universal language.

When earthlings—the “sky people”—return to Na’vi to again plunder its bountiful resources and thin out “the hostiles,” they’re led by the menacing Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the macho paramilitary commander from the first film. He’s become an avatar now, too, for Na’vi infiltration purposes, and he has a longstanding grudge to settle with Jake. Quaritch’s vendetta forces the Sullys to flee to a far-flung islandic refuge of the “sea clans,” where they are taken in by the protective leader of the reef people (Cliff Curtis) and his pregnant, holistic wife (Kate Winslet).

But wouldn’t you know it, trouble comes a-callin’.

Jack Champion as Spider

A couple of characters bridge the old with the present and point the way toward the future. (Cameron plans three more Avatar movies in the coming years.) Sigourney Weaver, who also starred in the original, returns as a new character—the daughter of her old character, in a way that makes sense only in the Avatar-verse. And young Jack Champion (he was the “kid on bike” in Avengers: Endgame) plays Spider, an “outsider” human teen who’s bonded with the Na’vi; he’s clearly queued up for a pivotal role in wherever Avatar goes next. Spider is somewhere on the wild-child spectrum between the “Feral Kid” in Road Warrior and the mouthy runt Tanner in The Bad News Bears—a scruffy, scrappy side dish that becomes essential to the bigger menu. 

Sigourney Weaver

Cameron, one of the most bankable directors of all time, certainly knows how to build a blockbuster. And this blockbuster-to-be busts out all over the place, in the air, across expanses of blue Pandoran sea and far underneath the ocean waves. It’s a thing of movie wonder, filled with amazing sights, magnificent creatures, fearsome mega machines, a big beating heart and some bone-rattling, Dolby kaboom. A full-on immersion for the senses unlike almost anything else you’ve ever seen, it’s the studio’s big-ticket bet for luring audiences back into theaters. Safe to say it will do just that, and it’s a shoo-in for Oscar nominations in several categories, especially for visual effects and maybe even Best Picture.

Cameron even came up with a new motion-capture innovation, allowing him to shoot extended sequences underwater. Winslet, who also starred in his landmark movie Titanic, set a record for holding her breath while submerged for a scene in The Way of Water (more than five minutes!), besting the previous title holder, one Tom Cruise, renowned for doing his own stunts. Mission Not-So-Impossible, right, Tom?

If you’ve been holding your breath, treading water for more than a decade for another big-screen Avatar adventure, well, your wait is over. You can breathe again, and dive into this splashy Christmas present for anyone who likes their movies super-sized in every way.

As one character says, “The way of water has no beginning and no end.” It sure seems that way for this big blue franchise, which will undoubtedly keep rolling along—and rolling in the green.   

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The Entertainment Forecast

Dec. 16 -22

A new ‘Yellowstone’ prequel, Metallica rocks for charity & Mariah Carey at Madison Square Garden

Harrison Ford as Jacob Dutton in 1923 streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo Credit: James Minchin III/Paramount+

Harrison Ford saddles up as Jacob Dutton for ‘1923,’ the new installment in the ‘Yellowstone’ franchise

FRIDAY, Nov. 16
Love after Lockup
Is there romance after time behind bars? This reality series, headed tonight into its new season, explores couples who met when they were doing time, and what happens now that they’re free (9 p.m., WEtv).

Metallica Presents: The Helping Hands Concert
The iconic, hard-rocking metalheads join with the young Zep-inspired band Greta van Fleet for this charity show to raise funds fighting hunger around the globe (Paramount+).

If you think being an international spy is all glamorous, James Bond stuff, watch this true-story documentary about the 2006 poisoning of Russian agent and the 10-year hunt for his murderer (AMC+ and Sundance Now).

SUNDAY, Dec. 18
The Sound of Music
Lift your holiday spirits with this classic song-filled, Oscar-winning 1965 movie (which has become a Christmas-time TV staple) based on the Rogers & Hammerstein Broadway musical. Sing along with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and the rest of the cast to “Edelweiss,” “Climb Every Mountain,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi” and other soundtrack favorites. Fun fact: Plummer intensely detested working on the film, cynically referring to it as “The Sound of Mucus” and describing acting alongside Andrews, his sweet costar, as “like behind hit over the head with a big Valentine’s card, every day” (7 p.m., ABC).

Yellowstone fans, rejoice. Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren star in this new series, the next in the popular franchise, about the origins of the Dutton ranching family in the early 20th Century—an era of the Great Depression, the end of Prohibition and historic drought (Paramount+)

TUESDAY, Nov. 20
Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas to All!
The best-selling female superstar with the five-octave vocal range hosts this concert special from Madison Square Garden, performing festive holiday hits—including, of course, her chart-topping seasonal favorite “All I Want for Christmas is You” (8 p.m., CBS).


Looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for that special Game of Thrones fan? Then hie thee to House of the Dragon: The Complete First Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment). The bloody-good sequel to the groundbreaking HBO series gets the royal treatment in this 8-disc box set loaded with nine bonus features and all 10 epic episodes.

The family friendly adventure romp Secret Headquarters (Paramount Home Entertainment) stars Owen Wilson as the world’s most awesome superhero, forced back into action when kids discover his lair.

Get on The Staircase (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment), the new DVD and Blu-ray release of the hit HBO Max series about a real-life murder mystery that turned into a media circus. Starring Collin Firth and Toni Collette.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
The dang-near-indestructible espionage all-star is back for season as John Krasinski returns to the role in an action-packed race against time—and on the run from both the CIA and an underground criminal faction chasing him across Europe (Prime Video).

The Letter: A Message for Our Earth
Based on a controversial 2015 letter from Pope Francis reflecting on the precarious state of our planet, this documentary explores how global warming continues to affect people around the world (8 p.m., PBS).


A perfect Christmas gift for all rock fans, Shot! By Rock: The Photography of Mick Rock (Weldon Owen) is a picture-packed coffee-table chronicle showcasing the wide work of the acclaimed London-based photog who “shot the Seventies” in all its rock ‘n’ roll glory.

The Best Man: The Final Chapters
Series based on the Universal film-comedy franchise picks up the lives of its character as midlife crisis meets later-life renaissance, relationships evolve and past grievances re-emerge. Starring Morris Chestnut, Melissa De Sousa, Taye Diggs and Terrence Howard (Peacock).

Top Gun: Maverick
Hit the holidays on a high note with this summer’s megahit Tom Cruise flick—a long-awaited follow-up to the 1986 big-screen smash—as it soars into streaming (Paramount+).

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: “Nanny” Movie Review

When motherhood is a dream that becomes a nightmare

Anna Diop has dreams of drowning in the psychological horrors of ‘Nanny.’

Starring Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan & Morgan Spector
Directed by Nikyatu Jusu
Rated R

In theaters Dec. 16, 2022

Motherhood can be a tough gig. It certainly is for Aisha, a young immigrant mom in New York City trying to scrape together money to bring her son to America from their homeland of Senegal. So, she lands a job as a nanny for an upper-class family, serving as a surrogate mom to someone else’s daughter. Decent pay, long hours, but great gig, right? Well, yes and no.

That’s the setup for this masterfully mesmerizing psychological horror drama rooted in African mythology and the wrenching emotions of having, and raising, a child. Getting a wider release after wowing film festival audiences, it’s a knockout breakthrough role for Anna Dopp as the nanny, whose reality becomes blurred with troubling visions and panic-inducing nightmares. Maybe that black mold growing on the ceiling of the bedroom, which has been provided by her employers, is an omen. Every little boy she sees reminds her, for a halting, haunting moment, of her son. And those creepy-crawly spiders, that slithering snake in her bed, and the fish-tailed mere-creature that glides through her dreams of drowning… well, they can’t be leading to anything good.

Director Nikyatu Jusu, making a mightily impressive debut, masterfully shifts the lines when what’s bothering Aisha begins to bleed into her reality. Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector play the white Manhattan couple for whom she toils, working overtime as caregiver to their preschool daughter (Rose Decker) while they’re occupied with their jobs. But they’re stingy with pay, and their fractured marriage isn’t nearly as picture-perfect as it might seem.

Sinqua Walls & Anna Diop

It’s a tough job and a tough situation, and it’s not made any easier with the mind-mucking Dark Continent hoodoo that seems to be bewitching Aisha. A budding romance with the apartment-building doorman (Sinqua Walls) seems like a sweet distraction…until it turns into something of a lifeline. Things don’t get any easier for Aisha when her employer finds out her nanny has been making unauthorized dietary choices for her picky-eater munchkin, or hears through the nanny grapevine that one day on the playground, Aisha became momentarily separated from her daughter. (Geesh, the nanny network has eyes everywhere.) Losing track of a child, even for a few seconds, can be traumatic, and here it portends something even more distressing.

The great singer-actress Leslie Uggams has a small but significant role as a mystical grandma, who suggests to Aisha that her dark episodes are due to unseen forces that have bigger plans for her.

The film touches on issues of white privilege and the struggle of many immigrants trying to build new lives, especially if separated from family, friends and culture. But it’s really about what happens when one mother’s American dream becomes a living, waking, walking nightmare. The effectively unsettling Nanny may very well haunt your dreams, too.

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Daddy Issues: “The Son” movie review

Hugh Jackman stars in heart-wrenching family drama

The Son
Starring Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern & Vanessa Kirby
Directed by Florian Zeller
Rated PG-13

See it: In select theaters Dec. 16, 2022

French director Florian Zeller’s previous film, The Father, inventively took viewers into a disorienting world of an older man’s dementia. Now The Son plunges audiences into a drama about a teenager’s descent into the darkness of depression, and his exasperated father’s earnest efforts to reach and rescue him.

Hugh Jackman plays Peter, a super-busy New York City corporate lawyer with his steady eye on a plum spot as a political consultant in Washington. He’s thrown off-course, however, when his teenage son, Nicholas (newcomer Zen McGrath), comes to live with him and his partner, Beth (Vanessa Kirby), and their new baby boy.  Laura Dern plays Nicholas’ mom, Kate—Peter’s ex—who realizes something’s unsettled with their child. “He’s not well,” Kate says. “He scares me.”

Peter can’t understand why Nicholas is skipping school, why he doesn’t seem to have any interest in anything, why he’s let all his friendships go and why he says life is weighing him down. Why does he say his head is about to explode? Why are there cuts up and down his arms, and a knife under his mattress? Why is he so listless, so numb to everything, so zoned out? For Peter, there must be a reason, an explanation, a cause and effect. After all, Pete’s an upper-level exec who sees things as situations that need to be turned around, from loss to profit, red to black, lose to win. He’s blind to the signs that his son is suffering from something more serious, and far more complicated, than ordinary teen angst—something that can’t be amended by Peter sternly telling Nicholas his perplexing behavior is forbidden.

Nicholas’ parents are slow to realize their son is drowning in depression. And when they do, well, things just get worse, and more fraught with raw emotion, from there.

This gut-punch slice-of-life tale reinforces its central father-son characters with a couple of highly symbolic objects. For Peter, it’s the sleek elevator in his office building, a clean, efficiently vertical channel that you’re either riding up, or you’re going down; that’s how his legal-eagle world operates. Nicholas is represented by the sloppy, choppy churn of a washing machine—his mind is a swirling, topsy-turvy tumble of a mess, with everything constantly twisting and collapsing on itself, round and round, wadded up and going in circles, but also going nowhere.

Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins, who won as Oscar (his second) for his formidable, foundational role in Zeller’s The Father, reappears for one scene here, loosely connecting the two films. (Both The Father and The Son were originally written for the stage by the director.) Hopkins plays Peter’s father, a cold and aloof Washington political lion who doesn’t have any patience for reflection, soul-searching, indecision, mistakes…or Peter’s struggles with Nicholas, and his out-of-control life. “Just f__king get over it, for God’s sake,” Peter’s pop snaps at him, the equivalent of a resounding slap across the dinner table.

There’s certainly a slap of seriousness in this family drama about a family in crisis and a son’s desperate cry for help, and how fathers don’t necessarily have all the answers nor always do the right thing.  (“Sometimes love isn’t enough,” a psychiatric doc tells Peter.) How guilty should Peter feel? After all, Nicholas blames him for leaving his mother, and for causing his maladjustment in the world.

But it’s by no means an easy, comfortable, entertaining watch, and when it reaches its heavy-handed climax, it’s shocking, but hardly surprising. The talented cast struggles against the shortcomings of the gloomy, manipulative script, and an ever-downward spiral that eventually strands them on a teary, heart-wrenching shore littered with regrets.

This tale about depression is quite depressing itself. Its message about the understanding and addressing mental illness may be an important one, but The Son is certainly no fun.

The Entertainment Forecast

Dec. 9 – 15

Top picks for TV, streaming, reading, home entertainment & more

A Christmas tree lights up, the Mormon Tabernacle choir sings & Amy and Maya reunite

Former SNL castmates Maya Rudolph & Amy Pohler host “Baking It” Monday on NBC.

FRIDAY, Dec. 9
Something From Tiffany’s
Reese Witherspoon is a producer of this holiday romcom starring Zoey Deutch (above) as a woman whose life is upended when an engagement ring meant for someone else leads her to the person she’s meant to be with (Prime Video).

Will Smith stars in this new slave drama as a plantation escapee who evades murderous hunters and the swamps of Louisiana on his run for freedom. With Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa, and inspired by the image of a whipped man photographed during a Union Army medical examination (Apple TV+).

Space has fascinated us, from long before we were able to get there. Space Craze (Smithsonian) examines America’s deep attraction to outer space, as fed and nurtured through pop culture (Buck Rogers, toy ray guys, Star Trek, Star Wars), spurred by the Cold War, and eventually stoked by the real-world pioneering of NASA astronauts and modern-day kajillionaires.

Happy Gilmore
This 1996 sports comedy stars Adam Sandler as an unsuccessful ice hockey player who finds he has a new talent—for golf. The scuffle between Sandler’s character and TV gameshow host Bob Barker won an MTV Movie Award for “Best Fight” (11 p.m., TNT).

A Christmas Fumble
What happens when a crisis-management queen (LeToya Luckett) gets a gig handling a breaking scandal for a pro football player (Finness Mitchell)…who happens to be her old flame? (9 p.m., Own).

SUNDAY, Dec. 11
National Christmas Tree Lighting
Yeah, your Christmas tree in the family room is cool. But this one is the national Christmas tree, it’s enormous, and tonight marks its 100th birthday. Light up the holidays with this tradition from Washington, D.C., featuring an all-star lineup of musical performances by Gloria Estefan, Joss Stone, Shania Twain and host LL Cool J (8 p.m., CBS).

Master of Glass: The Art of Dale Chihuly
Documentary profiles the enigmatic artist behind glass sculptures that float through the rivers of Finland, bob in the narrow canals of Venice and blossom across the ceilings of the Bellagio in Las Vegas (9 p.m., Smithsonian).

MONDAY, Dec. 12
Baking It
SNL alums Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph host this special holiday edition of the baking competition series featuring some of their famous friends (10 p.m., NBC).

TUESDAY, Dec. 13
New drama series, based on the novel of the same name, about a young Black aspiring author (Mallori Johnson) who finds herself pulled back and forth in time, emerging at a 19th century plantation with ties to her “modern” life (Hulu).

Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Tony nominee Megan Hilty and actor Neal MacDonough join the iconic singing ensemble for this Irish-inspired edition of the annual celebration of music and holiday traditions (8 p.m., PBS).

Dog lovers will find their tails wagging with delight at Old Friends: A Dogumentary (MVD Entertainment), an inspiring, paw-some documentary about a Tennessee animal sanctuary specifically for older canines.

George Clooney and Julia Roberts are having a ball in the rollicking romcom Ticket to Paradise (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) as a pair of exes on a mission to stop their lovestruck daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) from making the same matrimonial mistake they did.

A Very Backstreet Christmas
The Backstreet Boys perform songs from their new Christmas album, plus classic hits, in this holiday special (8 p.m., ABC).

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle
Drama based on the true story of a legendary Japanese soldier who spent 30 years in the Philippine jungle, refusing to surrender because he wasn’t convinced World War II was over. For extra credit, watch the 1965 Gilligan’s Island episode, “So Sorry, My Island Now,” which riffed on the real-world saga (VOD).

The Parent Test
Host Ali Wentworth explores a variety of diverse parenting styles in this thought-provoking new series, based on an Australian TV hit (10 p.m., ABC).

H.E.R. & Josh Grobin headline an all-star anniversary presentation of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’

Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration have art Two-hour special honors the 30th anniversary of the beloved Disney animated classic with classic scenes and highlights from the film, new musical numbers and performances by hosts Josh Groban and H.E.R., plus Rita Moreno, Martin Short, David Alan Grier and Shania Twain—as Mrs. Potts! (8 p.m., ABC).

Guillermo de Toro’s Pinocchio

Deliciously dark new take on the classic folktale takes you far beyond Disney

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Voices by Gregory Mann, Ewen McGregor, Christoph Waltz & Finn Wolfhard
Directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Rated PG

See it: On Netflix Friday, Dec. 9

Guillermo del Toro has always had a soft spot for monsters and misfits.

The Oscar-winning director of The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak and Nightmare Alley puts a deliciously dark, fantastically original spin on the enchanted tale of the wooden puppet who longs to become a real boy.

This isn’t the Pinocchio you grew up with, particularly if your baseline is the beloved Disney version from 1940, or even Disney’s ambitious hybrid (computer animation plus live action) from earlier this year, featuring Tom Hanks as Pinocchio’s creator,  Geppetto. With a vision rooted in the source material, the 1883 fantasia novel by Italian author Carlo Collodi, del Toro gives the fable a boldly creative, explosively imaginative retooling of magical enchantment, grotesque beauty, mythological mysticism, sweeping human emotion and existential wonder.

This Pinocchio has an eye-popping wow factor that’s practically off the charts. Visually resplendent and bursting with detail, its magnificent stop-motion animation (courtesy of Mark Gustafson, whose other work includes Fantastic Mr. Fox) elevates the craft far above cartoon-y kids’ stuff and into the rarified upper echelons of high art.  Resetting the story in 1930s Italy (as opposed to the vague, 19th century “once upon a time” of earlier versions), it uses the rise of brutal far-right fascism in Italy—dictator Benito Mussolini even makes an appearance—for a real-world, pre-World War II militaristic backdrop that becomes an integral part of its tale…and a callout to today’s unsettled modern world.

Ewan McGregor provides the voice of the movie’s narrator, Sebastian Cricket.

There are all-new songs (with a resplendent original soundtrack by Oscar-winning composer Alexander Desplat) and other enhancements to the familiar tale, including a recurring afterlife setting with grousing, poker-playing black rabbits, and a poignant backstory to the pine tree that provides the wood for Pinocchio. (And pinecones become a potent symbol of life, rebirth and regeneration.) Jiminy Cricket is now Sebastian Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor), a dapper bon vivant who lives in a knothole in Pinocchio’s chest—quite literally, inside his heart.  The glowing, translucent, blue-hued wood sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton), peering into Pinocchio with hundreds of inscrutable eyes, is an otherworldly, awe-inspiring winged serpent that bestows Geppetto’s creation with life—and grants Sebastian Cricket a single, significant wish.

As for the puppet boy (evocatively voiced by young Gregory Mann), he’s a gangly, twiggy, wobbly oddity of a creature with more than a passing connection to another “unnatural” being, Frankenstein’s monster. And he has a fascination with yet another wooden creation, the life-size Jesus on the crucifix Geppetto makes for the village church. Pinocchio is puzzled why villagers adulate the somber figure on the cross, heaping high praises to him in song, but they hurl cries of “monster” and “demon” at him. “Why do they like him, and not me?” PInocchio asks Geppetto.

And like a crucified Christ, Pinocchio also rises again, in yet another twist to the story. The puppet boy discovers that since he’s not really “alive,” in a human sense—he’s made of wood, after all—so he can’t really die. At least, not for long: He keeps bounding back from various mishaps that turn him into heaps of splintered wood scraps. But there’s a difference, he finds out, between existence and truly experiencing life.

Like many “boys,” Pinocchio is full of energy, enthusiasm, curiosity and spunk. As a newcomer to the world of the living, he has a lot to learn—that hot chocolate is yummy, fire can burn, and other creatures—other creations—have feelings. He learns empathy. He stands up to the cruel carnival master (Christoph Walz) abusing his monkey assistant (Cate Blanchett), and he offers to work at the carnival’s puppet show, in a kind of indentured servitude, to keep his father out of a crippling debt. His infectiously sunny personality disarms a young village boy who starts out as his tormentor, turning him eventually into a friend and ally.

The A-list vocal cast also includes David Bradley as Geppetto, the lonely woodcarver who longs for Pinocchio to fill the aching hole created by the untimely death of his young son. Finn Wolfhard is Candlewick, the son of the town’s sternly militaristic podesta (Ron Pearlman), who sees the “stringless puppet” as an ultimate soldier who can’t be killed, conscripting him as fodder for the nation’s war machine. (Instead of a wild-boy romp Pleasure Island, there’s a major scene in a “youth camp” where Pinocchio and Candlewick are forced to compete in a high-stakes war-game exercise.) John Turturro is the village padre, a priest under the thumb of the oppressive regime.

This finely refashioned fairytale is a story of outsiders and nonconformists, imperfect boys and imperfect fathers, the heartbreaking burden of loss, about learning to love, and accepting people (and puppets) for who they are, not who, or what, we want them to become. It’s a reminder that no one lives forever but life goes on, that some rules—like telling the truth—aren’t absolute, and everyone “must try to do their best—and that’s all anybody can do.”

Even after nearly 150 years, this little puppet still has a few things he can teach us. And Guillermo del Toro has created one of his best, a film that spins magisterial new magic into an age-old folktale.

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Will Power: ‘Emancipation’ movie review

Can Will Smith’s epic slavery tale drown out his infamous Oscars slap?

Will Smith and Ben Foster star in ‘Emancipation.’

Starring Will Smith & Ben Foster
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Rated R

See it: In select theaters now; available on Apple TV+ Friday, Dec. 9

This grueling drama doesn’t flinch from depicting the scourges of slavery. Will Smith (who’s also one of the film’s producers) wants us to remember and reflect on a not-so-long-ago time in America when Black men, women and children were bought and sold, tortured, treated as less than animals and worked to death.

But Smith would also like us to not remember—or hopefully forget—something more recent: the slap.

Ah, yes, the slap—at the 94th annual Academy Awards in March, when he stomped on stage and smacked host Chris Rock for making a wisecrack about his wife. For his assaultive outburst, Smith lost his membership in the Academy and was banned from attending the Oscars for the next 10 years. His spasm of lash-out, bad-boy behavior made him an overnight Hollywood pariah, an emblem of toxic masculinity. 

So…does the public now have any appetite for a Will Smith movie? Even an “important” one, like Emancipation? Have moviegoers forgotten what happened nine months ago, or will they continue Smith’s double-secret-probation banishment by turning away from his most recent work, a showy, $120 million wannabe blockbuster? Or could this movie, in a most dramatic sideways twist, reward him with another Oscar nomination, perhaps even another Oscar win?

Emancipation is a mostly solid piece of moviemaking (director Antione Fuqua has already won an Oscar, for Training Day), but it doesn’t feel like Oscar material to me. It’s a somewhat hammy, heavily dramatized, uneven mix of pulpy, pumped-up survivor action and hellish slavery horrors as Smith’s character—known as Peter—flees from his captivity into the swamps of Louisiana, following the kabooms of “Lincoln’s canons,” hoping his desperate bid for freedom will intersect with the approaching Union army.

Ben Foster, who’s so good at playing bad, is the film’s other central character, a cold-hearted runaway-slave tracker obsessed with finding Peter…and with making sure all Black people remain under white America’s heel.

Peter is driven by his determination to see his wife and children again, bolstered by an unwavering faith in God, and girded by memories of the agonizing abuses he’s endured. It also helps that he, somehow, knows how to navigate the murky dangers of the swampy bayou, like an antebellum-era version of TV survivalist Bear Grylls, evading bloodhounds, dodging bullets, climbing trees with lemur-like skills, self-treating life-threatening wounds and even besting an alligator in an underwater wrestling match. 

He’s super-handy turning field implements into lethal weapons, and just wait until gets ahold of a gun.

It’s a muddy, bloody tale, especially in a prolonged opening sequence filled with deeply unsettling reckonings of the manifold cruelties of slavery, stirring a dismal abyss of history with searing detail. The movie takes place during the waning year of the Confederacy, in 1884, but it looks like the Dark Ages when you see slaves’ decapitated heads on pikes or watch a captured runaway tortured with a branding iron.  

There are echoes of other films, like D’Jango Unchained, Glory and—in one epic battle scene—even Saving Private Ryan. Emancipation joins a long line of movies that have found high cotton in the turbulence of the Confederate South, including 12 Years a Slave, Antebellum and Harriett. But if you’re looking for Rhett and Scarlett from Gone with the Wind, well, they’re long gone, pop-cultural flotsam and jetsam of a more enlightened entertainment era.  

The film does have some impressive stylistic flourishes, like a scene at a plantation house being destroyed by fire, a symbol for a nation “going down in flames,” demolished in the partisan furnaces of the Civil War. Everything is filmed in a monochrome patina, making things look like authentic daguerreotype photos of the era.

And speaking of photos… It’s all based on a true, widely circulated story about a slave—nicknamed “Whipped Peter”—who escaped and joined the Union forces. A photo of Peter’s back, a shocking lattice of welts and scars from countless lashes of the whip, was published in Harper’s magazine and seen by people nearly everywhere, making the brutality of human bondage impossible for anyone in the Northern states to continue to ignore, deny or accept—particularly anyone under the delusion that the “forced labor” of slavery was a just a necessary and normalized component of the South’s money-making machinery.

Emancipation has a message about deeply engrained racism and the scars—like the vicious mutilations across Peter’s back—from a shameful, painful chapter of America’s past. And Smith’s intense, committed performance brings to the screen an impassioned tale of survival and endurance.

But is it enough to drown out a slap heard (and seen) round the world?