I was on the road a bit this week, so I didn’t get to see everything. Still, I saw some interesting films. My reviews for the week are below! If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
A Christmas Story Christmas (HBO Max)
Starring: Peter Billingsley, Erinn Hayes, and Julie Hagerty
Synopsis: In 1983 we got the film A Christmas Story. It was set in the 1940s, based on the book by Jean Shepherd, an followed the exploits of young Ralphie Parker (Billingsley) and his father (Darren McGavin). It’s become such an iconic part of the season that TNT even plays the film on a look for 24-hours each Christmas. Now, nearly 40 years later, we get a sequel. Billingsley is back as a grown up Ralphie, the film set in 1973 where Ralphie is an aspiring writer with a family of his own. He’s trying to sell his first novel and is on the cusp of Christmas, ending the year and the deadline he gave himself to succeed. In the midst of this pressure cooker, he gets word his father has passed away. Ralphie and his wife (Hayes) head home with their kids to be with his mother (Hagerty) for Christmas. There he connects with old friends and remembers his father, which helps unlock his creativity. If you were a fan of the original, as I am, you probably came to this film both excited and nervous. It’s hard to re-visit a classic, and especially this many years later. What would the film be like? What we got was a wonderful celebration of the legacy of the original. A beautiful tribute to the late McGavin. And a delightful return to a world of whimsy that exists in the original. I was amused and moved at different points. Billingsley has spent much of the past few years behind the camera as a producer and director. He’s appeared only occasionally in small and cameo roles. Here, you can see how much he was moved by this project. He helped craft the story for this sequel and takes the lead, doing a beautiful job of telling a continuation story that builds on the world of the original. I liked seeing all these characters back again and I enjoyed the way this story was built.
Rating: Rated PG for language and some rude material/behavior.
Good Night Oppy (Amazon Prime)
Synopsis: This new documentary opens on Amazon today after a short theatrical run earlier this year. It focuses on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Angela Bassett provides the narration of the journal of the mission, which was supposed to last 90 days. Instead, Opportunity roamed Mars and reported back for 15 years. This film captures the journey of Opportunity and Spirit—from the work to get them built and figure out how to get them to Mars—to the day-to-day discoveries Opportunity made and the crew on the ground that played a role in that mission. It’s a beautiful look at the wonder of discovery and the work of so many engineers and scientists at NASA. It’s also a loving tribute to Opportunity and push toward the thrill of discovery that has long fueled our race to the stars. It’s a fun and engaging story that most won’t know much about. It’s worth checking out.
Rating: Rated PG for some mild language.
I Am Vanessa Guillen (Netflix)
Synopsis: A new documentary explores the case of Vanessa, a soldier at Fort Hood who was murdered while most in the command structure at the base seemed to ignore the behavior of soldiers on the post. The film takes a searing look at the base, the government and the fight by Vanessa’s family to find justice—and to make a lasting difference. The story is difficult and at times deeply emotional. The film does a good job of capturing the family’s fight for justice and looking at the systemic problems that existed—and still exist—allowing something like this to happen. Vanessa’s story is tragic and this film is a call to do better. Hopefully it will achieve those aims.
Synopsis: The latest from National Geographic Films is an exploration of the final months of the war in Afghanistan. The film opened in limited theatrical release this week. The war lasted 20 years but the withdrawal was less than smooth. This film looks at the last nine months, on U.S. Special Forces troops and Afghan troops, specifically a young general and his men. It looks at the close relationship between the troops and the impact of the draw down on moral, strategy and the people left in its wake. There has been much criticism of the war in Afghanistan, including for the way it ended. This film seeks to paint a picture of the back-and-forth of the men on both sides of the conflict and the impact the final months made. It isn’t the first documentary I’ve seen this year to tackle the subject. It’s sometimes emotional and sometimes hard to watch but it’s important for many reasons to understand what happened and the wider ripples it created. The film, from director Matthew Heinman does a nice job of telling the story and giving viewers a sense of what happened. It’s worth seeking out and is a well-made documentary.
Rating: Rated R for some language.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.