Pinocchio (2022)

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Family;
Rated ‘PG’ for peril/scary moments, rude material and some language.
Stars Tom Hanks, Cynthia Erivo, Luke Evans, Guiseppe Battiston, Kyanne Lamaya, Lewin Lloyd. Voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Lorraine Bracco, Keegan-Michael Key.

Disney’s new iteration of Pinocchio is so devoid of charm or originality that it amplifies the question of if there’s any reason the studio continues to pump out live-action remakes of its animated classics aside from just being cynical cash grabs.

That’s doubly shocking in this instance considering the director is Robert Zemeckis, the cinematic visionary behind the likes of Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump.

The look and feel of the film is completely faithful to Disney’s 1940 animated version, which is so iconic that the signature tune of “When You Wish Upon a Star” has basically become the company’s theme song.

That song is central to this version as well, while Zemeckis and his longtime composer Alan Silvestri added some new songs that, while fine on their own, seem a bit too modern for the proceedings.

Another longtime Zemeckis collaborator, Tom Hanks, plays Geppetto the wood-carver, with make-up to give him the appearance of Disney’s animated version of the character. The live-action version adds some dark pathos to the character, making him a lonely widower who carves a puppet in the image of his dead son.

He names him Pinocchio because he carved him out of pine, and “Pinocchio” is a mash up of the Italian words for “pine” and “eye.” Characters then proceed to make several jokes about his name being such a play on words, while overlooking that in English it sounds like a combination of pine and oak, a double pun for something made of wood.

Anyway, Geppetto sees a bright star on a clear night, and makes a wish he doesn’t quite disclose, which in the original movie was for the puppet to become a real boy. In this version it’s probably for the literal resurrection of his dead son, which the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) interprets as bringing the puppet to life, and she does, though with complications. Namely, that being a puppet, Pinocchio starts out as a blank slate, so, as in the original, the Fairy names Jiminy Cricket as his conscience, with the understanding that if Pinocchio behaves and learns the values of right and wrong, he could become a real boy.

Jiminy, voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is doing his level best to bring life to the proceedings (no pun intended), also serves as the narrator of the story, giving him a kind of fourth-wall omniscience as he explains things to the audience. Luckily for him, Disney still won’t give him the fate he has in Carlo Collodi’s original book, when Pinocchio squishes him for daring to offer advice.

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Trouble begins when Geppetto decides to send Pinocchio to school, and the naïve puppet becomes so overwhelmed by the temptations of the real world he falls into all sorts of misadventures, just like in the original movie — a couple of con men sell him to the abusive puppeteer Stromboli, and he winds up at an amusement park that turns kids into donkeys for slave labor.

While the movie uses Geppetto’s collection of cuckoo clocks to jam in all sorts of references to other Disney movies, including Roger Rabbit, it leaves the most obvious opportunity for self-parody just sitting there in the form of Pleasure Island, which gets a new song but little else in the way of an update from the original film (remember, Disneyland wasn’t built until 15 years after the animated Pinocchio was released). Perhaps Tim Burton turning his Dumbo remake into a satire of Disney’s theme park empire right under their noses was a bit too much to bear.

The Stromboli sequence is perhaps the biggest deviation from the original, as Pinocchio meets a kind girl who once dreamed of being a ballerina before a leg injury left her in a brace, so she operates the ballerina puppet that Pinocchio seems to have a thing for, not realizing that she isn’t alive like he is. It’s amusing, and a bit sweet, serving to establish that Pinocchio as a wooden boy has abilities that real children wouldn’t.

Pinocchio disappearing from school kicks of the subplot of Geppetto setting off to find him (dragging his cat and goldfish along for some reason), leading to the famous scene where they all become trapped in the belly of a whale, which in this film is some sort of mutant sea monster that has swallowed enough ships his belly looks like a pirate’s cove.

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Using the original film as the template for the live-action designs, rather than using the original source material to re-interpret some of the scenes, just leads to some situations that animation can get away with seem especially bizarre in a real-world setting (aside from the central conceit of a magical living puppet). For instance, why are the con-men still presented as a fox and a cat who act like people, when other animals in the film are just animals, and why can some animals talk to each other while others can’t?

The main problem is that the film makes no case for why anyone should watch it instead of the animated version — the visual style is the same, the CGI isn’t integrated very well, and any differences don’t improve upon anything from the original, including a new ending that tries an end-run around audience expectations but is just abrupt and unsatisfying.

In the more than 80 years since its release, the original film’s primary motif of an artificial being striving to find humanity has become a staple of science-fiction and fantasy, providing ample fodder for a new Pinocchio to attempt to re-interpret, but this version barely even tries.

BritBox Co-Producing Original Series ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’

BritBox, the U.S.-based subscription streaming video service co-owned by ITV and the BBC, is co-producing true crime drama “The Pembrokeshire Murders,” starring Luke Evans.

The series, written by Nick Stevens (“In Plain Sight”) and executive produced by Simon Heath (“Bodyguard,” “Line Of Duty”), revolves around unsolved murders in Pembrokeshire, Wales in the 1980s.

“With a strong cast and suspenseful writing, The Pembrokeshire Murders is a perfect combination of classic crime drama and modern storytelling that is a perfect fit for BritBox,” Soumya Sriraman, CEO of BritBox, said in a statement.

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Other BritBox originals include, “Mum,” starring Lesley Manville; “There She Goes,” starring David Tennant; “The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco” with Rachael Stirling and pending series, “The Mallorca Files” and “Sister Boniface.”

Launched in the U.S. in 2017 as competition to AMC Networks’ Acorn TV, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, BritBox has more than 650,000 subscribers. The platform launched in the United Kingdom last November.

The uptick in original programming comes as media reports say BritBox is struggling to secure subscribers following the initial free 30-day period.

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The £5.99 monthly service reportedly impressed just 1.5% of respondents of a survey conducted by Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates to continue paying for the platform. The research company said that equated to about 380,000 households in the U.K., compared to 9.1 million for Netflix.

 

War Film ‘Midway’ Flies Home in February

Lionsgate will release director Roland Emmerich’s Midway through digital retailers Feb. 4, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Feb. 18.

The film details the 1942 Battle of Midway during World War II, a clash between the American fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy which marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater.

The cast includes Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Darren Criss, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid and Woody Harrelson.

The film earned $56.5 million at the domestic box office.

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The disc and digital editions of the film will include an audio commentary by Emmerich, the film’s trailer, and the featurettes “Getting It Right: The Making of Midway” and “The Men of Midway.”

The Blu-ray versions will also include the featurettes “Roland Emmerich: Man on a Mission,” “Turning Point: The Legacy of Midway,” “Joe Rochefort: Breaking the Japanese Code” and “We Met at Midway: Two Survivors Remember.”

The 4K Ultra HD disc will include Dolby Vision and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

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Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 1/30/18;
Sony Pictures;
Drama;
Box Office $1.58 million;
$25.99 DVD, $26.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and language.
Stars Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Oliver Platt, Connie Britton.

The story of Wonder Woman’s creators is so fascinating that it’s a bit surprising it hasn’t been the subject of a movie until now. Of course, it only took 75 years to bring the most iconic female superhero of all time to the big screen, so who’s to say with these things?

Certainly the resurgent popularity of Wonder Woman in the past few years, thanks to her appearances in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and her own solo film, sparked a renewed focus on her origins as a character. And societal taboos likely muted the true extent of the salaciousness surrounding her creation in ways it really takes the passage of decades to appreciate. Still, this better-late-than-never docu-drama is a well-timed accompaniment to her cinematic adventures.

Conventional wisdom holds that Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, a Harvard psychologist who invented the lie-detector test and wanted to create a positive role model for young girls in the vein of how Superman influenced young boys. But there’s so much more to it than that.

But the deeper truth is that Marston and his wife, Elizabeth, were involved in a fetishistic, polyamorous relationship with his research assistant, Olive Byrne. Both women would provide major help and inspiration in creating Wonder Woman.

Many of these “how something was created” type of movies seem to rely mostly on nostalgia to carry the story, hoping audiences will appreciate seeing the introduction of all their favorite traits.

With Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, however, writer-director Angela Robinson isn’t so much interested in the nostalgia behind Wonder Woman’s creation, but what drove the people responsible for it. To that end, the film is structured with a framing device of Marston (Luke Evans) defending the Wonder Woman comic book to a censorship board after it, like many comic books at the time, is labeled a subversive element.

Then, in flashbacks, we learn the circumstances of Marston’s relationship with Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a fierce academic resentful that she isn’t being taken seriously in a university system dominated by men. The arrival of Olive (Bella Heathcote) inspires lustful tendencies in both of them, and as they develop the lie-detector their three-way relationship quickly turns sexual. Rumors of their unconventional relationship cause them to be shunned.

In need of work, Marston creates Wonder Woman as a means of using comic books to spread a subtle feminist message. Elements of the bondage and role play in his own sexual life seep into his writing, with Wonder Woman known as much for her suggestive outfits and lasso of truth as she is her strength and heroism. Marston tying her origins to Greek mythology then comes across as a thinly veiled excuse to infuse lesbian overtones into the comic, in the guise of an island of paradise populated entirely by women.

Ultimately, though, the core of the film is the relationship between William, Elizabeth and Olive, and their struggles to stay together amid the pressures of societal norms.

The idea that the three of them as a group should be considered the creator of Wonder Woman is put forth in a motion comic on the Blu-ray called “The Secret Identity of Charles Moulton,” which was the pen name Marston used to obscure from the academic community that he was writing comic books.

The eight-minute featurette “A Dynamic Trio: Birth of a Feminist Icon” is a more conventional piece about the real-life characters, while the six-and-a-half-minute “A Crucial Point of View” featurette focuses on Robinson’s motivations for making the film.

The Blu-ray also includes three interesting deleted scenes that run a total of about five-and-a-half minutes.