Friday, March 10, 2023

If We Picked the Oscars 2022

Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert from back in the day, we here at Movie Dearest are once again presenting our own version of "If We Picked the Oscars"! These aren't predictions, but what movies, actors, directors, et al that we would vote for if we were members of the Academy. We also chime in with our picks for the "egregiously overlooked" non-nominees in each category as well as what we deem are the "Worst Nominations of the Year".

So without further ado, the envelope please...

The nominees for Best Picture are: All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Banshees of Inisherin, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Tár, Top Gun: Maverick, Triangle of Sadness and Women Talking
CC: I first saw Everything Everywhere All at Once nearly a year ago while I was recovering from my first (and hopefully last) bout with COVID-19.  I loved its originality and ingenuity, but also had to question whether my virus-rattled brain had truly "gotten it."  A more recent second viewing confirmed that I had, and that it is indeed the Best Picture of 2022.
KH: While I'm tempted to go for the quiet, nuanced intensity of the under-nominated Women Talking, my final vote would go to the eye-popping bio-epic that is Baz Luhrmann's Elvis, a dizzying dive into familiar territory that did the seemingly heretofore impossible: reinvent the legend of the King of Rock and Roll.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Sam Mendes' Empire of Light was only able to muster one well-deserved nomination, for Best Cinematography.  This is surprising and disappointing to me.  I listed the film alongside The Fabelmans on my best of the year list because it shares many of the attributes of Spielberg's multi-nominee: an autobiographical element, a strong central female performance, potent social commentary and overall technical excellence.  It's a pity the Academy didn't regard it as well as I do.
KH: With such populist fare as the Avatar and Top Gun sequels making the top 10, room should have been made for the insanely popular (and just plain insane) RRR, the Indian crossover hit that, despite being readily available to stream, is still packing them in in theaters worldwide almost a year into its run. Let's see Tom Cruise do that.

For their final voting, Academy members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from #1 to #10, so here are our rankings:
CC: 1. Everything Everywhere All at Once, 2. The Fabelmans, 3. Women Talking, 4. The Banshees of Inisherin, 5. Tár, 6. Elvis, 7. All Quiet on the Western Front, 8. Top Gun: Maverick, 9. Avatar: The Way of Water and 10. Triangle of Sadness
KH: 1. Elvis, 2. Women Talking, 3. The Banshees of Inisherin, 4. The Fabelmans, 5. All Quiet on the Western Front, 6. Everything Everywhere All at Once, 7. Avatar: The Way of Water, 8. Top Gun: Maverick, 9. Tár and 10. Triangle of Sadness

All Quiet on the Western Front

The nominees for Best Actor are: Austin Butler in Elvis, Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin, Brendan Fraser in The Whale, Paul Mescal in Aftersun and Bill Nighy in Living

CC: I'm conflicted between Austin Butler's truly spectacular breakout performance as The King and the veteran Brendan Fraser's genuinely moving turn in The Whale.  If a gun were put to my head, heaven forbid, I'd vote for comeback king Fraser.
KH: While I appreciate the subtlety of the trio of British nominees, for me it comes down to the showier Americans, with Elvis newcomer Austin Butler narrowly edged out by Brendan Fraser's heart-breaking comeback role as a morbidly obese gay man in The Whale.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Ralph Fiennes was fierce and imposing as the justice-seeking Head Chef in The Menu, which I found superior to the thematically-similar multiple nominee Triangle of Sadness.
KH: Jeremy Pope continued his impressive rise to stardom as an outed Marine recruit in the gay-themed indie The Inspection.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

The nominees for Best Actress are: Cate Blanchett in Tár, Ana de Armas in Blonde, Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie, Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans and Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once
CC: All of these women were astonishing and their performances of essentially equal quality in my book. In singling one out, I had to apply some of the same qualifications I expect many Academy members will be utilizing: career longevity, number of Oscars won before (if any) and, yes, ethnicity so all this year's acting winners won't be "so white".  I would ultimately vote for the divine Miss Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All at Once.
KH: I have to say that I was mostly underwhelmed by the front-runners in this category; my vote would be for the always luminous Michelle Williams who, in her fifth nomination, shines again as a devoted mother (inspired by the director's own mother, no less) torn by her inner passions in The Fabelmans.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The exclusion of Danielle Deadwyler, riveting as the real-life grieving mother in Till, has been justifiably questioned.
KH: Angela Bassett may have ended up the first Marvel Cinematic Universe actor to be recognized by the Academy, but in my book it would have been Elizabeth Olsen in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Olsen super-humanly overcame a script that did not do her beloved WandaVision character any favors and delivered an eerie, evil enchantress you almost root for.

Avatar: The Way of Water

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin, Brian Tyree Henry in Causeway, Judd Hirsch in The Fabelmans, Barry Keoghan in The Banshees of Inisherin and Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once
CC: Is there anyone anywhere who wouldn't vote for delightful comeback kid Ke Huy Quan of Everything Everywhere All at Once at this point?  If so, I'm not one of them.
KH: Speaking of the MCU, did anybody else notice that two Eternals – Brian Tyree Henry and Barry Keoghan – were nominated in the same category this year? Anyway... I've had my eye on Keoghan ever since his mesmerizing performance in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and I'd give him the gold for The Banshees of Inisherin, his first of I expect many nominations.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I was impressed by Ty Simpkins as the proselytizing (at least initially) young man in The Whale.  His character is arguably the most complex/conflicted character in the film, yet Simpkins was ignored while two of his higher profile co-stars were nominated.
KH: While Oscar went all gun-ho for All Quiet on the Western Front, they overlooked Albrecht Schuch for his memorable turn as the seasoned soldier who leads the protagonist (and us) through hell and back (almost).


The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Hong Chau in The Whale, Kerry Condon in The Banshees of Inisherin, Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All at Once and Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at Once
CC: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever's Angela Bassett, consistently excellent since at least 1993's What's Love Got to Do With It, would get my vote for all the legit reasons I listed in my Best Actress choice above.
KH: Full disclosure: I really wanted to like Everything Everywhere All at Once, but it just didn't totally happen for me. Nevertheless, Jamie Lee Curtis was a hoot as Deirdre Beaubeirdre, a diligently dedicated IRS auditor with the curiously-shaped awards to prove it.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Lashana Lynch previously caught my attention in blockbusters Captain Marvel and No Time to Die, but she blew me away this year with her 180-degree turns in The Woman King and Matilda the MusicalShe even sings in the latter!  Both films were unjustly ignored altogether by the Academy; an unrecognizable Emma Thompson as Matilda's delectably vicious Miss Trunchbull could have been nominated here as well.
KH: How none of the incredible ensemble of Women Talking – Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Rooney Mara, Sheila McCarthy –  were singled out here is a shame.

The Banshees of Inisherin

The nominees for Best Directing are: Todd Field for Tár, Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert for Everything Everywhere All at Once, Martin McDonagh for The Banshees of Inisherin, Ruben Östlund for Triangle of Sadness and Steven Spielberg for The Fabelmans
CC: No question: Daniels (not The Daniels, as they are so often miscredited in the media) for their deliriously creative work on EEAAO.
KH: Although The Fabelmans was not without its flaws, as one of the most-nominated directors in Academy history Steven Spielberg is bound to win another Oscar, so it might as well be for his semi-autobiography.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: It raises the time-honored question: How does a director of one of the Best Picture nominees not get nominated?  The unfortunate answer this year is Sarah Polley, who should have been nominated as director of the exquisite Women Talking.  Hopefully, this year's Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay will be a suitable consolation prize.
KH: With Women Talking, Sarah Polley made an expertly-crafted, cinematic experience out of a story about, well, women talking.

The Batman

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: All Quiet on the Western Front, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Living, Top Gun: Maverick and Women Talking
CC: Sarah Polley for Women Talking, no question.  And I'm still trying to figure out what Glass Onion and Top Gun: Maverick were adapted from?
KH: Between remakes and sequels, this category easily belongs to Sarah Polley for her deft adaptation of Miriam Toews' novel Women Talking.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CCMatilda the Musical was beautifully, movingly adapted from the stage production by Dennis Kelly, originally adapted from Roald Dahl's classic book.
KH: The Quiet Girl writer/director Colm Bairéad should have been recognized here for bringing Claire Keegan's short story Foster to the screen.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: The Banshees of Inisherin, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Tár and Triangle of Sadness
CC: The screenplay for Everything Everywhere All at Once is the epitome of "original."
KH: Martin McDonagh's script for The Banshees of Inisherin is quirky AF (as feck).
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I loved the altogether overlooked Good Luck to You, Leo Grande and Katy Brand's screenplay was its strongest, smartest element.
KH: With Nope, Jordan Peele created his own Close Encounters... of the terrifying kind.


The nominees for Best Cinematography are: All Quiet on the Western Front, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, Elvis, Empire of Light and Tár
CC: All of these look great but I would go with veteran Roger Deakins' typically ravishing work on Empire of Light.
KH: Mandy Walker just made history as the first female DP to win the American Society of Cinematographers Award, and she deserves to do it again with the Oscar for her dizzyingly dynamic work on Elvis.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Ti West's horror prequel Pearl was likely too violent and out-there to warrant serious consideration by many Academy members. However, Eliot Rockett's vivid imagery gorgeously, worthily emulated the technicolor classics of the 1930's-50's.
KH: This will be the first of many of the craft awards where I'll ask: "Where is RRR?"


The nominees for Best Production Design are: All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, Babylon, Elvis and The Fabelmans
CC: A Steven Spielberg movie is always going to be expertly, evocatively designed and The Fabelmans is no exception.  I especially appreciated the digital recreation of Scottsdale, Arizona that included the Kachina Theater, where I (and Kirby) spent so many hours while also growing up in the Scottsdale vicinity.
KH: Baz Luhrmann films – Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby – have done well in this category and the next, and with its glitzy takes on Vegas, Graceland, et all Elvis should be no different.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I don't understand how leading nominee Everything Everywhere All at Once was omitted from this category, given its vivid settings and visuals.
KH: Where is RRR?

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Babylon, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All at Once and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
CC: Elvis's threads were vibrantly recreated and expounded upon by Catherine Martin, but I would again award Ruth E. Carter for her dazzling designs in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
KH: See above... Luhrmann's wife Catherine Martin should add to her haul as the most awarded Australian in Oscar history for recreating all those Elvis jumpsuits and more. And I have to call out the nomination for Babylon, which clad Margot Robbie in the most anachronistic outfits... did anyone wear hot pants in the 1920s? In public no less??
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: This is one category wherein the extravagant Indian epic RRR easily should have been recognized in addition to Best Original Song.
KH: The second Downton Abbey movie got lost in the shuffle this year, but kudos are due for its costumers for creating a whole New Era of exquisite period fashions.

The Fabelmans

The nominees for Best Original Score are: All Quiet on the Western Front, Babylon, The Banshees of Inisherin, Everything Everywhere All at Once and The Fabelmans
CC: Full disclosure: Between its lengthy running time and generally negative reviews, I have not watched Babylon.  It sounds like it has the strongest chance of winning this category.  Out of the other nominees, I would vote for 90-year old John Williams' lovely The Fabelmans.
KH: Carter Burwell is overdue and his folksy fiddle tunes are a perfect accompaniment for the fractured fairy tale that is The Banshees of Inisherin.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Hildur Guðnadóttir's spare, haunting score for Women Talking, which has been acclaimed by virtually everyone other than the Academy.
KH: Although Hildur Guðnadóttir's score for Tár was disqualified, her notable work for Women Talking was and should have been among the final five.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Applause" from Tell It Like a Woman, "Hold My Hand" from Top Gun: Maverick, "Lift Me Up" from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, "Naatu Naatu" from RRR and "This Is a Life" from Everything Everywhere All at Once
CC: RRR's infectious "Naatu Naatu," and I can't wait to see it performed live on the Oscars telecast!
KH: In a field crowded with blasé power ballads, RRR's irresistible viral hit "Naatu Naatu" stands out with its incessant beat, not to mention the infectious dance moves on display in its showstopping, suspendered showcase within the film itself.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Acclaimed, Oscar-winning duo Pasek and Paul (La La Land) composed a delightful song score for the Christmas comedy Spirited.  Their hilarious "Good Afternoon" was among the finalists for this category and should have won out over oft-nominated Diane Warren's "Applause."
KH: Disney should have released Disenchanted in a couple theaters so the camptastic villainess duet "Badder" (by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz) could have been nominated here. It better win the Emmy.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: The Banshees of Inisherin, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Tár and Top Gun: Maverick
CC: Everything Everywhere All at Once, no contest.
KH: With its own "multiverse of madness" going on, Everything Everywhere All at Once had the most on its plate, editing-wise.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: At least one of two female-centric films, both edited by women, should have been included here: The Woman King and/or Women Talking.
KH: Where is RRR?

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

The nominees for Best Sound are: All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Batman, Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick
CC: I wasn't a big fan of the long-delayed Avatar: The Way of Water but would definitely vote for it in this category and the following.
KH: Elvis immersed you in the sound of rock and roll from beginning to end, and that's all in the mixing.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Where is Everything Everywhere All at Once?
KH: Nope, not RRR, but Nope for its otherworldly bumps in the night.

The Quiet Girl

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Top Gun: Maverick
CC: Avatar: The Way of Water, see above.
KH: Yeah, there was a bit of "been there, done that" with the effects of Avatar: The Way of Water, but its hard to deny the sheer volume of impressive sights on display in the blockbuster sequel.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Many of the special effects in Everything Everywhere All at Once were practical rather than digital, but that makes them all the more impressive to me.
KH: Where is RRR?


The nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling are: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Elvis and The Whale
CC: Making Brendan Fraser appear so morbidly obese in The Whale was horrific but undeniably impressive.
KH: Brendan Fraser's full-body transformation in The Whale was shockingly realistic, an impressive achievement that outshines the other, more "flashier" nominees.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I don't know if they technically count as makeup, but who can forget the hot-dog fingers in Everything Everywhere All at Once?  I even have a pair, and you know I'll be wearing them while watching this Sunday's telecast!
KH: Perhaps another superhero epic, Thor: Love and Thunder, with its pantheon of multi-cultural gods and goddesses, not to mention Chris Hemsworth's flaxen mane.


The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, The Sea Beast and Turning Red
CC: My vote would go to the charming but emotionally complex Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
KH: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On was the surprise delight of the year for me, a charming tale of love, loss and gardening.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Disney's Strange World suffered at the box office due to a dull title and bad marketing.  Yet it is thoroughly enjoyable, visually impressive (as usual), has a great twist, and it features the first unapologetically gay protagonist in the studio's history!  This naturally upset the anti-woke/anti-LGBTQ Repugnican crowd, which Disney and the Academy should absolutely stand up to.
KH: Labeled as flops, it's a shame that Pixar's Lightyear and Disney's Strange World got shunt to the side considering both were entertaining sci-fi jaunts, complete with LGBTQ inclusion.

To Leslie

The nominees for Best International Feature Film are: All Quiet on the Western Front (Germany), Argentina, 1985 (Argentina), Close (Belgium), EO (Poland) and The Quiet Girl (Ireland)
CC: Out of a strong pack of contenders, The Quiet Girl most impressed me — unexpectedly so — with its humanity and emotional depths.
KH: I'm going with the "other" Quiet nominee... Ireland's The Quiet Girl is simply a lovely film.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: It is rare that an almost-universally beloved movie like India's RRR comes along in any language, but this was clearly lost on the Academy aside from its sole nod for Best Song.
KH: If you're wondering why RRR isn't here, don't blame the Academy, blame India for not even selecting it as their official submission.

Top Gun: Maverick

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: All That Breathes, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Fire of Love, A House Made of Splinters and Navalny
CC: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed isn't only extremely insightful; it has a cross-generational resonance when it comes to the value of life and art.
KH: Navalny plays like the best of investigative documentaries, starting with a subject you thought you knew but slowly revealing more and more, culminating in the most shocking onscreen confession since The Jinx.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Wildcat is a deeply moving examination of how a young, suicidal military vet found healing by rescuing injured or abandoned animals in the Amazon.
KH: The Academy's stodgy documentary branch frowns on films that have an abundance of recreations, and considering that all of the Mars-bound footage of our hero Opportunity in the highly entertaining Good Night Oppy were created using special effects, it never had a chance of getting nominated. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't have been.

Triangle of Sadness

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Film are: The Elephant Whisperers, Haulout, How Do You Measure a Year?, The Martha Mitchell Effect and Stranger at the Gate
CC: As evidenced by Wildcat mentioned above, I'm a sucker for animal movies and I loved The Elephant Whisperers.  However, The Martha Mitchell Effect was politically informative and unexpectedly entertaining.  Subsequently, it would get my vote.
KH: The two Netflix docs – The Elephant Whisperers and The Martha Mitchell Effect – are the finalists for me, with the former's gorgeous nature photography and adorable subjects – baby elephants! – cinching the win.

Turning Red

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, The Flying Sailor, Ice Merchants, My Year of Dicks and An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It
CC: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is a beautifully hand-drawn examination of the enduring — if increasingly neglected — values of kindness, honesty, bravery and acceptance.  And cake.
KH: My two favorites are polar opposites, to say the least. But the sweet, A.A. Milne-ness and pure beauty of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse beats out (ahem) My Year of Dicks in the end.

The Whale

The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: An Irish Goodbye, Ivalu, Le Pupille, Night Ride and The Red Suitcase
CC: An Irish Goodbye is excellent, and a timely companion piece to nominated Irish feature The Banshees of Inisherin.
KH: I already have voted for The Banshees of Inisherin and The Quiet Girl, so I'll (happily) go all in with the Irish with An Irish Goodbye.

Women Talking

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: I'm baffled by the Best Original Score nomination for All Quiet on the Western Front, which mostly sounded to me like a cruise ship's horn going off.  But I was truly disturbed by the multiple nominations for Triangle of Sadness, the most overrated movie with the biggest cop-out ending of 2022.  Ugh.
KH: I abhorred the grotesque Triangle of Sadness as well, but to spread the "wealth" around... I doubt even hard core Top Gun enthusiasts were expecting Academy recognition for its script, yet there it was on nomination morning: Top Gun: Maverick, Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay. It's almost laughable except when you consider the other, non-formulaic scripts that were passed over for this by-the-numbers, entirely predictable late-in-the-day sequel that was, yes, crowd pleasing and entertaining yet hardly an example of the fine art of screenwriting.

And so the final march to Oscar glory begins. Tune in to the Big Show this Sunday to see who wins, as well as which nominees are rocking the best (and worst) gowns, hottest arm candy and most heartfelt acceptance speeches.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine, and Kirby Holt, creator, editor and head writer of Movie Dearest.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Reverend's Reviews: Disney's Schizophrenic Hercules on Stage

Released way back in 1997 (when Reverend was a hot young Roman Catholic priest, lol), Disney's animated feature Hercules followed a string of more serious tales from the newly-resurgent studio. The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) were box office successes, but they were also darker and more adult than beloved — and more financially rewarding —predecessors The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992).

The talented hit-making team of Ron Clements and John Musker (who had previously written-directed both The Little Mermaid and Aladdin) were assigned to develop a lighter, more farcical take on ancient Greece's most celebrated hero. There would be songs co-written by 8-time Oscar winner and EGOT Alan Menken, of course, as well as jokes featuring decidedly late-20th-century references, a fast-talking villain who seemed more like a scheming Hollywood agent or car salesman, and Danny DeVito voicing a goat-like satyr. Although I loved it, Hercules was considered a lesser achievement by the Mouse House at the time.

Apparently, it has grown in popularity among millennials over the last two decades. How else to explain the new stage adaptation of the film currently playing at New Jersey's famed Paper Mill Playhouse through March 19th? Reverend and friends attended a nearly sold-out matinee performance on February 25th that wasn't so much a mixed bag as it was dramatically and technically schizophrenic. While seemingly Broadway-bound, this theatrical venture needs some more work before it can hope to join such long-running Disney hits as The Lion King and Aladdin on the Great White Way. In its current form, Hercules is more akin to the short-lived stage adaptations of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid.

The Paper Mill Playhouse production, directed by Lear DeBessonet, opens with a serious, classically Greek prologue before the movie's chorus of Muses take over. These five African-American women were enthusiastically welcomed by the audience but were called backstage by an overhead announcer a few minutes later. This literally stopped the show, and not in a good way. There were some obvious sound issues prior to the Muses' recall; however, this was not a preview performance even though it unfortunately ended up feeling like one from that point forward.

Hercules was the mythological son of Greek god Zeus and his wife Hera. According to the Disney movie, the evil god of the underworld Hades (voiced delightfully by the then-hot James Woods) made Hercules mortal while he was still a baby. Hades ultimately planned to have the mortal Hercules killed, since seers had prophesied that only Hercules could prevent Hades' intended hostile takeover of Mount Olympus. Since Disney animated musicals require happy endings, Hades' plot was not realized.

Spoiler alert (not): Hades is disappointed once again at the end of the new stage version, despite the character's somewhat more serious shenanigans. Herein lies the show's schizophrenia. It's silly and farcical like the movie in some moments but serious in keeping with its classically Greek source, and sometimes at the same time. I primarily blame Robert Horn and Kwame Kwei-Armah, co-writers of the musical's book, for this. Horn primarily has comedic projects including Tootsie and the Broadway-bound Shucked to his credit. Meanwhile, the British Kwei-Armah has a strong dramatic resume. The tension between their divergent styles is palpable in the current book/production. One wonders whether the writers actually met, which admittedly wouldn't be unusual in the COVID era.

The cast, which includes Tony Award winners Shuler Hensley and James Monroe Iglehart, is its strongest asset. Hensley, as Hades, has some of the book's funniest lines but could still take a lighter approach to the character a la James Woods. Iglehart, memorable as Genie in Disney's Broadway adaptation of Aladdin, also takes a more serious approach to Phil, which is still essentially a light sidekick role. Additionally, both Iglehart and Hensley are saddled with unattractive, too-literal costumes as well as so-so new songs.

Speaking of new songs, the aforementioned Alan Menken and celebrated lyricist David Zippel contribute a handful of mostly dull, unmemorable tunes. The best of these are "To Be Human," a reflective 11th-hour song performed by Hercules himself, and "Forget About It," a feisty new number for heroine Meg (played by a game Isabelle McCalla). Hades, who didn't have a song in the movie but should have, here gets the ho-hum "Cool Day in Hell." Phil gets an additional song, the unnecessary and endless "I'm Back!" that opens Act 2. And "Uniquely Greek Tough Town" is a just plain awful anthem sung by the citizens of Thebes.

Finally, the single best attribute of Disney's Hercules at Paper Mill Playhouse is adorable Bradley Gibson in the title role. The handsome, out actor (he thanks "my love Adam" in the program) sings and dances with aplomb, and admirably pulls off the more schizophrenic, silly-serious aspects of his role. If this production does make it to Broadway (ideally after some revisions) I hope Gibson goes with it. Talk about "a star is born"!

For more information and tickets, visit Disney's Hercules | Paper Mill Playhouse.

Reverend's Rating: C+

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Short Cuts 2023, Part 3: Oscar's Documentary Short Film Nominees

For the 18th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films where they should be seen, at a theater near you (watch the trailer here). In the last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Film.

And the nominees are...


The Elephant Whisperers, Kartiki Gonsalves & Guneet Monga (India, 40 min.), trailer.

In South India a couple find love and healing when they become the caretakers of two orphan  elephants. Gorgeous scenic photography highlights this heartwarming crowd-pleaser. It's hard to resist a pair of lovable baby animals but the title couple give them a run for their money in adorableness.

Oscar connection: (Not so) little Raghu and Ammu join such other Oscar nominated pachyderms as Dumbo, Billy Rose's Jumbo and Goliath II.

MD Rating: 8/10


Haulot, Evgenia Arbugaeva & Maxim Arbugaev (UK/Russia, 25 min.), trailer.

A marine biologist stationed in the remote Siberian Arctic tracks the effects of climate change on walruses. Featuring the jump start of the year when our hero wakes up to find his desolate shack completely surrounded by 95,000 tusked marine mammals; otherwise your basic modern nature doc.

MD Rating: 6/10


How Do You Measure a Year?, Jay Rosenblatt (US, 29 min.), trailer.

Beginning at age 2, the filmmaker films his daughter answering questions every year on her birthday. If the artwork for this title above looks amateurish, than it is the perfect representation for the actual production, more of a home movie uploaded to YouTube than an actual documentary, despite its Boyhood-esque gimmick.

Oscar connection: Rosenblatt was nominated last year in this category for When We Were Bullies.

MD Rating: 4/10


The Martha Mitchell Effect, Beth Levison & Anne Alvergue (US, 40 min.), trailer.

The most fascinating Watergate figure you've never heard of (well, until this), Martha was the outspoken wife of Nixon's attorney general, so she knew some secrets and wasn't afraid to talk about it... until she couldn't. An engrossing exploration of the truth and how to silence it.

Oscar connection: Watergate has figured into the plot of several Oscar-nominated and -winning films, including All the President's Men, Nixon, Forrest Gump, Frost/Nixon and The Post.

MD Rating: 8/10


Stranger at the Gate, Joshua Seftel & Conall Jones (US, 29 min.), trailer.

An embittered marine's plot to bomb a local mosque changes when he meets the people he intends to kill. More like Stranger Than Fiction; this is the kind of story that could only believably happen in real life. Which makes the filmmakers' choice to tell it in a staid, sedate way all the more baffling.

MD Rating: 5/10

Coming soon: A Movie Dearest annual tradition: "If We Picked the Oscars".

Click here for part one, with reviews of the Animated Short Film nominees. Click here for part two, with reviews of the Live Action Short Film nominees.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.