The Microverse

Fantastic Voyage pushed the concept of miniaturization further than anyone thought possible. By shrinking a crew of people down to microscopic size and inserting them inside the human body. If that plot sounds familiar, it’s because dozens of cartoons are practically required to make a Fantastic Voyage episode. I can’t tell you how many parodies I’ve seen before watching the original 1966 movie. I always assumed Fantastic Voyage was a Jules Verne story, but it’s actually 100% original aside from inspiration from The Incredible Shrinking Man. Though the novelization was written by sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov before the movie’s release. Richard Fleischer was the perfect director who already had submarine experience with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

A nifty miniaturized sub called the Proteus is manned by a crew for the U.S. Government. Their mission is to save the life of scientist Dr. Jan Benes who perfected shrinking technology. A failed assassination by the Soviet Union gives Benes a lethal blood clot that can only be removed by a precision laser within the body. The crew consists of a more heroic Stephen Boyd as CIA agent Grant, Raquel Welch as sexy technical assistant Peterson, William Redfield as ship pilot Captain Owens, Arthur Kennedy as suspected laser surgeon Dr. Duval, and Donald Pleasence as the much more untrustworthy medical officer Dr. Michaels.

Meanwhile, Edmond O’Brien and Arthur O’Connell play Military officers who help on the outside. The crew travel from the heart to the lungs avoiding antibodies and white blood cells along the way. The 1 hour time limit is stressful, but the most tense moment is in the ear canal where even the smallest sound can send a shockwave. Any interpretation of the movie has a different exit strategy, but the original goes for the eye. Fantastic Voyage can be a little dated with it’s colorful recreation of the human body, but it still looks really impressive for 1966. Enough to win an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction – Color. A sequel or remake might have improved its special effects, but Fantastic Voyage doesn’t need a franchise to be fantastic.

Fantastic Voyage

The Proteus crew swim around Benes’ body

A Rose By Any Other Name

The Miniver Story catches up with the Miniver family after World War II. Mrs. Miniver was reliant on the war since it was released at the height of it. The Best Picture winning film had a hopeful ending, but I’m not sure anyone was expecting a sequel. The Miniver Story is mostly forgotten since it didn’t receive any Oscar attention. Despite the fact that Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon put forth the same effort 8 years later.

The Miniver Story is narrated by Mr. Miniver starting with VE Day. Without WWII, the drama comes from Mrs. Miniver being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Kay avoids telling her loving husband Clem, daughter Judy, or son Toby. Her oldest son Vin is nowhere to be seen since Garson married and divorced her on screen son between movies. Kay also keeps an emotional affair she had during the war a secret while enjoying the few days she has left.

Clem is more or less eager to get away from England. Toby is still a chatterbox played by a very young James Fox. Judy is all grown up played by Cathy O’Donnell in a similar role to the one she had in The Best Years of Our Lives. The good natured Tom Foley loves her, but she’s blindly infatuated with the much older and very arrogant Steve Brunswick. It’s like a soap opera, but the emotional payoff is good. The Miniver Story is a serviceable way to revisit a family affected by war.

The Miniver Story

Mr. and Mrs. Miniver at their daughter’s wedding

Preceded by: Mrs. Miniver

Aren’t You Glad You’re You

The Bells of St. Mary’s is the very first sequel nominated for Best Picture. It was released only one year after the Best Picture winning Going My Way. In fact, Best Actor winning singer Bing Crosby was the first actor nominated twice for playing the same character. With the same Oscar winning team involved, it’s no surprise The Bells of St. Mary’s had the same top notch quality. It probably could’ve won Best Picture, but The Lost Weekend was too much competition.

Father O’Malley returns to help another parish in need. This time it’s St. Mary’s school ran by a bevy of nuns. O’Malley’s unorthodox methods clash with the old fashioned Sister Superior. Screen legend Ingrid Bergman is the perfect foil for Crosby. Bergman’s Oscar nominated performance as Sister Mary is traditional, but she’s not above boxing with a child to teach him self defense. Like Going My Way, O’Malley has several duties to contend with. He helps out the troubled, but intelligent Patsy who’s sent to St. Mary’s while her mother sorts out her life.

Clarence himself Henry Travers becomes a guardian angel to the nuns when they pray for a new building. The Bells of St. Mary’s is partly a Christmas movie with an adorable Christmas pageant put on by the children. The ending is equally sentimental with Sister Mary as the one who leaves after a job well done. Though Best Original Scoring was the only win, “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?” was another good song nominated for Best Original Song. The Bells of St. Mary’s is another blessed offering from the crooner himself.

The Bells of St. Mary's

Father O’Malley and Sister Mary watch a Christmas pageant

Preceded by: Going My Way

After Happily Ever After

Disenchanted is a sequel 15 years too late. The 2007 Enchanted was a surprise hit that deserves way more recognition. It subverted the traditional Disney formula long before Frozen. I wouldn’t exactly call it forgotten, but it is strange that it took this long to get a sequel. Regardless of quality I’m still mad that Disney continues to dump films like this on Disney+. Despite the dominance of computer animation, Andalasia is still traditionally animated in a familiar way to the first movie. There’s also a lot more Andalasia than the trailer let on. Disenchanted is all about after happily ever after. Giselle has been happily married to Robert for 10 years in New York, but she longs for a more fairy tale life in a small town called Monroeville. Amy Adams has become a more seasoned actress since Enchanted, but she manages to recapture the pleasantly positive honorary Disney Princess.

Though mostly sticking to TV, Patrick Dempsey returns with a less significant role. Disenchanted is primarily centered around Giselle trying to be a good stepmother to an older Morgan. Original actress Rachel Covey is replaced by Gabriella Baldacchino since they wanted Morgan to be a sarcastic teenager. King Edward and Queen Nancy visit from Andalasia to give Giselle and Robert’s baby daughter Sophia a magic wand. When their new life isn’t as magical as they hoped it would be, Giselle wishes for a fairy tale life. Disenchanted is a mostly clever reverse of Enchanted where this time the modern world is brought into the fairy tale world. Which means everything has a face, everyone sings, and magic exists. Robert’s only role is to find adventure as a brave Prince. Despite his steady work in kids movies, James Marsden is similarly shortchanged as Edward.

Maya Rudolph assumes the role of an overbearing town councilwoman turned eccentric evil Queen Malvina. Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays play her henchwomen, while Oscar Nunez plays a nervous magic mirror. Alan Tudyk continues to serve Disney as the voice of a magic scroll. Though there are plenty of villains in the movie, Adams is equally good as a wicked stepmother that Giselle slowly transforms into. Pip the chipmunk returns as the narrator and ends up transforming into Giselle’s evil cat. Morgan attempts to reverse the spell with Nancy’s help. Since Idina Menzel’s popularity has skyrocketed since the first movie, she’s given at least 2 songs. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz return to compose, but there’s a few too many songs in the sequel. The biggest standout is obviously Menzel’s power ballad “Love Power.” Morgan uses Giselle’s memories to save her and the town with it. Disenchanted respects the original, but the magic isn’t what it used to be.

Disenchanted

Giselle competes with Malvina

Preceded by: Enchanted

I Wish I Were a Fish

The Incredible Mr. Limpet was Warner Bros. turn at a live-action/animation hybrid. Something Dinsey already perfected a long time ago. As I mentioned in my The Ghost and Mr. Chicken review, The Incredible Mr. Limpet was the first movie starring Don Knotts. He made it during a hiatus from The Andy Griffith Show, but it’s mostly a voice role. Knotts plays the meager bespectacled Henry Limpet who has an unhealthy obsession with fish. To the point he wishes he were a fish. It’s one of three original songs in the movie.

Animation was the only option when Mr. Limpet magically transforms into a fish with glasses. Like SpongeBob, The Incredible Mr. Limpet is live action on the surface and animated underwater. They’re not exactly Looney Tunes, but the fish characters are cute. Limpet meets a Crusty crab and a lovely fish that he names Ladyfish. The fish love story wouldn’t be weird if Limpet didn’t have a wife back home. Carole Cook plays his fed up wife Bessy and Jack Weston plays his best friend Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class George Stickle.

Though technically a kids movie, Limpet uses his newfound fish form to help the Navy track down Nazi submarines. He’s the only fish with a confirmed kill count. Even stranger is Limpet’s supersonic “thrum” that wards off enemies. The occasional blending of live action and animation looks good for 1964. There were several attempts to make a fully live action remake, but no one wants to see a comedians face superimposed on a fish body. The Incredible Mr. Limpet is better left in the 60’s.

The Incredible Mr. Limpet

Henry Limpet as a fish

Must Have Toy

8-Bit Christmas is A Christmas Story for the modern age. It’s way more 80’s than the 1983 Christmas classic. Though I wouldn’t call it an instant classic, it is refreshing to see a genuinely good newer Christmas movie. 8-Bit Christmas is currently the only HBO Max original film I’ve seen. Though it was released on Thanksgiving day, my brother and I decided to watch it on Christmas day. Since 80’s nostalgia is still a thing, Jake Doyle desperately wants a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas.

A straight for pay Neil Patrick Harris plays an older Jake who tells the story to his cell phone obsessed daughter. Child star Winslow Fegley is a likable kid with an equally likeable circle of friends. There’s his best friend, bickering twins, the kid with allergies, a kid who lies a lot, the weird kid, and one of those big dumb bullies. They all want a Nintendo, but the local rich kid is the only one who has one. Jake’s parents are June Diane Raphael as his multitasking mom and Steve Zahn as another excitable hard working dad.

Meanwhile, his little sister desperately wants a Cabbage Patch Kid. David Cross is the only other well known actor who drops in as a black market toy dealer. Much like A Christmas Story, Jake goes to great lengths trying to get a Nintendo. From outright asking his parents to trying to win it as a prize to creating an elaborate scheme with his friends. While at the same time dealing with other relatable problems. 8-Bit Christmas is hilarious and surprisingly emotional with a sweet last minute message about family.

8-Bit Christmas

Jake loses his Nintendo

Thanksgiving of ’73

The Ice Storm is a sad reality for many families on Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The Ice Storm may be set in the early 70’s, but it has the relatable cynicism of the late 90’s. The 1994 book was perfect for director Ang Lee’s love of human drama. The Ice Storm centers around 2 screwed up families from a well off suburban town in Connecticut. Most of their problems are connected to the sex, drugs, and alcohol that ran rampant in the 70’s. The Hood family consists of Ben, Elena, Wendy, and Paul. The Carver family consists of Jim, Janey, Mikey, and Sandy. Though it wasn’t nominated for a single Academy Award, the cast is filled with Oscar favorites and newcomers.

As if it wasn’t already similar to The Big Chill, Kevin Kline plays Ben who’s having an affair with his promiscuous neighbor. Sigourney Weaver got most of the awards attention playing the manipulative Janey. Joan Allen is left emotionally repressed as Ben’s mostly unaware wife Elena. Jamey Sheridan is mostly left out as Janey’s husband Jim until he’s faced with a similar situation. The kids aren’t much better with Christina Ricci growing up too fast as the sexually experimental Wendy. She mostly complains about Nixon and fools around with the Carver brothers. Elijah Wood plays the more curious Mikey who spends more time with Wendy. Adam Hann-Byrd plays the more destructive Sandy who wants to get closer to Wendy.

The implication is uncomfortable, but they never show anything. Paul is Wendy’s older brother visiting from a boarding school. Tobey Maguire ironically uses family analogies from a Fantastic Four comic that his character reads. Paul is interested in Libbets played by Katie Holmes in her very first acting role before Dawson’s Creek. An awkward Thanksgiving dinner is merely the set up to an eventful ice storm the following night. The couples confront their marital issues at a key party hosted by Allison Janney. Wendy makes her decision about which boy to be with. Paul gets a chance with Libbets before she passes out. The more dangerous the storm got, the more I expected something terrible to happen. The ending is tragic, but it does succeed in bringing the families together. The Ice Storm may thaw even the coldest of hearts.

The Ice Storm

The Hood family have Thanksgiving dinner

The Grabber

The Black Phone is the movie Scott Derrickson chose to make instead of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Proving some Marvel directors would rather return to their roots. The Black Phone is technically my first Derrickson directed horror movie. It was a little more unavoidable after several less than interesting Blumhouse Productions. The Black Phone was originally a short story from the horror anthology book 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. The Black Phone is both a disturbingly realistic kidnapping and a supernatural ghost story.

The kidnapping plot reminded me of The Lonely Bones right down to the 70’s setting. The Grabber is a menacing masked man with a top hat who lures “naughty boys” into his black van using balloons and magic tricks. Ethan Hawke has played the hero in several horror movies, but he makes a really creepy villain. Though his face is often obscured, the horned grinning mask he wears makes enough of an impression. The Grabber’s latest abductee is the young Finney played by newcomer Mason Thames. It’s uncomfortable, but the Grabber never crosses the line.

The titular black phone goes off in Finney’s basement prison with calls from his past victims giving him life saving advice. Although The Black Phone is a perfectly tense horror movie, it does a lot of things I don’t like. I’m not a fan of children in adult situations. Similar to Joe Hill’s father Stephen King, The Black Phone has an abusive parent and sadistic bullies. Finney’s overly profane younger sister Gwen has unexplained psychic dreams and for no reason at all, she has an unnecessary struggle with faith. Despite those clichés, the movie is mostly saved when the siblings figure out ways to escape. The Black Phone is a call accepted at your own risk.

The Black Phone

The Grabber

She’s Followed

Watcher is a spiritual successor to It Follows. I never even heard of the movie since it was made by the very independent horror themed streaming service Shudder. Someone special recommended I watch Watcher after she saw it in theaters. My immediate thought was It Follows, because Maika Monroe once again plays an increasingly paranoid woman who gets the feeling she’s being watched and/or followed. She just can’t avoid people following her can she?

Monroe plays former actress Julia who moves to Bucharest with Karl Glusman as her Romanian speaking husband Francis. The language barrier alone gives Julia a sense of isolation. The only other person she can talk to is the English speaking Irina who lives in her apartment. Watcher isn’t supernatural, but it is just as effective with a serial killer on the loose. Julia grows suspicious when she notices a silhouette watching her from an apartment across the street at night.

It gets worse when the strategically hidden man follows Julia to the movie theater and grocery store. Though Watcher is about female paranoia, the suspense is enough to creep anyone out. Much like It Follows, not even Julia’s husband believes her until the situation gets real. Whether he’s the killer or not, Burn Gorman looks like a creep regardless. The ending is abrupt, but an “I told you so” look is all we need. Watcher is simple suspense at its most effective.

Watcher

Julia thinks she’s being watched

A Woman to Love

Something’s Gotta Give gives an awful lot. It’s the perfect film for two aging veteran actors. Something’s Gotta Give is another Nancy Meyers movie that my mom recommended for years. She especially loved the beach house. Despite the title, there’s no association with the Marilyn Monroe movie. Something’s Gotta Give is a little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane. Near the end of his career, Jack Nicholson was perfect for a 63 year old man who only dates women under 30. Harry Sanborn owns a hip hop label and does whatever he can to feel young.

Diane Keaton is equally perfect for a 56 year old woman who ended up closed off after a divorce. Erica Barry is a playwright who finds herself in a very unusual situation. Harry’s hot young girlfriend Marin played by Amanda Peet is Erica’s daughter who gives him a heart attack after they fail to make love. Hilarity ensues when Harry ends up needing to recover at Erica’s beach house. Probably the funniest scene is Harry accidentally seeing Erica naked. The PG-13 nude scene goes to show how good Keaton still looked in her old age.

Something’s Gotta Give is all about finding love with someone your own age. It’s refreshing to see older people fall in love and it helps that the characters are played by Oscar winners. Though Keaton was the only one to receive a nomination. Frances McDormand also makes an impression as Erica’s sister who embarasses her. Then there’s Keanu Reeves in a rare romantic comedy role as a much younger doctor who similarly falls for Erica. Sometimes age is just a number, but Something’s Gotta Give proves it’s just as important to act your age.

Something's Gotta Give

Harry and Erica’s pajama party is interrupted