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Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio Review | GDT Wins the Year of Pinocchio

2022’s battle of ‘Pinocchio’ adaptations has a clear winner.



32 years ago, two films about the life of Henry Hill were made. The first was Martin Scorsese’s classic, Goodfellas — one of the very best films in the legendary filmmaker’s career. The other was a film called My Blue Heaven which was directed by Herbert Ross and written by Nora Ephron and starred the trio of Steve Martin, Rick Moranis and John Cusack. It’s strange to think that two films with the same subject matter came out just over a month apart (My Blue Heaven opened on August 17, 1990, and Goodfellas opened on September 19, 1990), but 2022 has had a similar scenario with everyone’s favorite wooden boy, Pinocchio. 

Just a few months ago, Robert Zemeckis brought his adaptation fo the 1940 Disney animated film to DIsney+ in a rather lackluster attempt at retelling the classic tale. It was a by-the-numbers adaptation of Disney’s previous adaptation that brought very little to the table outside of a second horrid Tom Hanks performance this year. Given that Pinocchio is public domain, anyone can tell their own version of the tale. Enter, Guillermo del Toro, who’s coming off of a stellar retelling of another classic in Nightmare Alley. Instead of opting for a full CGI doll, del Toro has added his own unique twist to the story: stop-motion. 

And boy, this just puts other versions of this story to shame. While I, myself, am not a particularly avid fan of stop-motion, I couldn’t help but be enthralled in this world del Toro has created. Plus, this isn’t an adaptation of the Disney version of the story that most are aware of (or at least I was) and is far grittier than any version I’ve seen of this fable (look no further than the fascism going on in the backdrop of the film). It’s a technical achievement and a masterclass in storytelling — a phrase I hate and don’t throw around lightly. 

Pinocchio begins by showing us the relationship between Geppetto (David Bradley) and Carlo — something I don’t remember being more than a footnote of other adaptations of this fairytale. We all know that Geppetto mourns the loss of his son, but this adaptation shows the pair as they work on the crucifix sculpture — a shape that the film is fixated on throughout — in the town’s church. On one specific night, Carlo and his father are working on the sculpture when they hear fighter planes above. After making it out, Carlo realizes he left something inside and becomes collateral damage of the bombs dropped on the town.

Naturally, Geppetto mourns the loss and is surprised when one of his wooden puppets comes to life thanks to Wood Sprite (a brilliantly-cast Tilda Swinton), a fairy that oversees Pinocchio (Gregory Mann)’s life. While Carlo is what most parents would consider a “perfect son,” Pinocchio has a harder time adjusting to the world and is constantly causing trouble with a government official named Podestà (Ron Pearlman) and his son Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard) and gets looped into being a geek to Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz)’s carnival in a way that only the director of last year’s Nightmare Alley could understand enough to nail. 

“You may have no strings, but I control you,” says Count Volpe to our titular character. This whole subplot is by far the creepiest that the film gets (it doesn’t help that the design of Count Volpe himself will send shivers down your spine). The “selling your soul” plot has been done countless times in Pinocchio adaptations and other films alike yet you feel even more trapped in this film. Seeing the strings attached (pun intended) to Pinocchio’s deal clear as day are made even more heartbreaking because of his naivety — much credit to Mann’s vocal performance. Seeing him on that stage while not even comprehending what he has done makes you wish you could reach through the screen and save him yourself. 

A still from Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. Photo courtesy Netflix.

If you’re like me and haven’t read the original Italian novel that Pinocchio is based on but have seen Disney’s adaptations, you’ll likely be in for a surprise in de Toro’s version. Stop-motion can inherently be creepy, and this darker version of the tale really shines when it leans into the weirdness of it all. Take Pinocchio’s various trips down to Death (also voiced by Swinton) as an example. The slums of this abyss are filled with Black Rabbits (Tim Blake Nelson) who play cards until it’s your time to meet with Death. The town’s priest (voiced by Burn Gorman) is straight out of a Martin Luther-era painting. 

All you’ll be able to be fixated on after viewing Pinocchio is what a technical achievement it is. There’s so much care in the production of Pinocchio. The landscapes just gorgeous to look at and are so easy to get lost in and the lighting is just fantastic and adds a whole level of realness to what you know is a contained world being that it’s stop-motion. Once Pinocchio escapes the carnival, he gets dragged into something he cannot escape as easily: boot camp. This boot camp is a juxtaposition to the usually-sunny world of Italy that we see and is closer to the cold and unwelcoming colors of Death’s lair. It’s like watching a kid’s toybox come to life. I had a friend in school who would make these amazing landscapes to place his Star Wars action figures in front of. Obviously, Pinocchio blows that out of the water, but it has this child-like whimsey that is just magical.

A behind-the-scenes still from Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

And there is detail in Pinocchio down to every strand of hair on Geppetto’s head. It’s truly astonishing to see the way it has a personality and moves with the wind. Sure, films like Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs share similar attention to detail, but Pinocchio is simply different and scales so much more than the other films mentioned. If you don’t believe me, you’ll have to just see it.

Mann and Swinton are the voice-acting standouts, but I don’t want to overlook the rest of the cast. Ewan McGregor is quite good as Sebastian J. Cricket — Pinocchio’s moral compass — and David Bradley as Geppetto was brilliant casting. Sometimes it can be hit-or-miss when actors have to act with emotion. Bradley doesn’t have any issues with that at all whether he’s portraying shock when he sees Pinocchio for the first time or yelling at his wooden son. It’s also fun to see Cate Blanchett go from Lydia Tár — a role that will likely win her an Oscar — to having the time of her life and letting loose as Spazzatura, Count Volpe’s abused monkey assistant.

I’m just at a loss for words with how good Pinocchio is. Again, I’m not a stop-motion fan or a fan of the original story. Heck, I’m not even a avid del Toro fan — though Nightmare Alley was one of last year’s best and continues to grow on me — yet this hooked me from the opening shots and through every song. This is the clear winner for 2022’s battle of Pinoccchio, and it could very well become the quintessential adaptation of the classic fable. 

Pinocchio is in select theaters now and streaming on Netflix on December 9. 


Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

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Hypnotic Review | Robert Rodriguez’s Studio Bankrupting Actioner Is His Worst-Ever Film

Robert Rodriguez’s latest movie is his worst-ever project yet, with a baffling script and ridiculously inert performances from its leads.



Imagine a studio paying so much money for a screenplay that it literally bankrupted them. That’s what happened when Solstice Studios acquired Robert Rodriguez’s Hypnotic, which, on paper, does sound quite interesting: the film chronicles a police detective’s (Ben Affleck) quest to find Lev Dellrayne (William Fichtner), the person who kidnapped his daughter. Dellrayne is hypnotic, meaning he can easily manipulate someone’s mind and perception of reality by uttering a few words to someone.

Detective Rourke (Affleck) teams up with Diana Cruz (Alice Braga), a powerful hypnotic, to take town Dellrayne, but things are quickly not as they seem… Again, that sounds like an interesting premise, and it is seemingly very much a riff on Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Inception, and Tenet (perhaps in 2010, it would’ve been a box office juggernaut), but its execution is amazingly sloppy and barely watchable.

Rodriguez has always been known for making movies through a cheap and no-nonsense style, and it has worked to great effect in his El Mariachi trilogy and even in the Spy Kids flicks. Hell, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is a guilty pleasure for many, even if its screenplay is one of the worst ever written, and the CGI is an absolute nightmare to watch. Rodriguez has also proven himself to direct massive blockbusters like Alita: Battle Angel and episodes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. He is an incredibly versatile filmmaker, but his filmography has been mostly inconsistent.

You’d think that a scenario like Hypnotic would mean success for Rodriguez as he gives his own spin on Nolan’s trippiest movies, but he cannot save this film from being anything more than a disaster. There isn’t a single actor that gives a good performance here. Affleck looks particularly bored trying to assimilate every ounce of exposition Braga and Fichtner consistently deliver. None of the characters feel like they are human or live in a human world with extraordinary circumstances. The dialogue is mostly flat and unengaging, with Braga’s character being the worst offender of them all.

I cannot for the life of me explain to you all what a “Hypnotic” truly is because the film keeps adding more information to the concept without necessarily explaining how that’s important. Such an expository-heavy movie needs more time to make the audience understand exactly what’s going on, but it continuously jumps the shark whenever it gets quasi-interesting and has “fun” blurring the line between reality and fiction. Is what you’re seeing even real? Is it a construct of Rourke’s imagination? Is Dellrayne an actual character? Who knows, and who cares!

The film gives the audience little motivation or interest to care about what’s happening because it overexplains the concept of hypnotics to the point where no one truly understands their purpose and underexplains everything else. Of course, it’s fine for a movie to be ambiguous and suspend certain elements. But for the movie to do that, its narrative must be tight, and its thematic elements must be strong. Hypnotic doesn’t have any of that.

It also doesn’t help that none of the action scenes are remotely engaging. They’re shot with the energy of an Asylum flick and edited in the vein of an Olivier Megaton picture. You cannot see a damn thing, but what you actively see are the actors sleepwalking through the setpieces. There’s no engagement from any of the stars — they perform in those sequences as if they were handcuffed and desperately want to leave.

But the worst part of the film is its midpoint twist, which changes everything that came before and is ridiculously uninspired. It feels like a total cop-out. I won’t spoil what it is, and you’re better off discovering it on your own, but it is amazingly lazy and insults the audience’s patience and intelligence. It also thinks it’s smart to add in so many twists and turns to subvert audience expectations after its “core” twist, but they all fall flat and deliver absolutely nothing of note for the viewer.

There’s no fun to be had watching Hypnotic. Even Rodriguez’s worst films have a campy quality to them that makes them watchable. Hypnotic isn’t unintentionally hilarious, nor campy enough for me to have cared. It’s not worth anyone’s time, and it certainly wasn’t worth bankrupting an emerging studio for having paid way too much money for such a mediocre script…


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‘Navalny’ Review: Jaw-dropping Tale of Russia’s Most Fascinating Political Activist



There are times when we see a documentary and it forces us to think about subject matter that we might not have given thought to otherwise. Watching a documentary is never easy because it takes you on a journey that might trigger a lot of people. That’s what documentarian Daniel Roher did with his recent project, titled ‘Navalny’. Almost everyone knows who Alexei Navalny is, what he did, and why the Russian government fear him. But only a fraction of the population knows about the struggles he went through to make people realize how Vladimir Putin has been poisoning the minds of millions of Russians and running a government that is full of corrupt people.

Navalny is considered to be an influential figure in Russia and his story is nothing short of an edge-of-the-seat thriller. In the documentary, filmmaker Daniel Roher takes a journalistic approach and follows Navalny’s every move. However, the documentary primarily focuses on the events surrounding his poisoning in Tomsk, Siberia, in August 2020, and the subsequent investigation. It was a miracle that the Russian revolutionary survived and went ahead with the investigation. The extraordinary footage provided by Roher makes this documentary an enthralling watch and there are moments when viewers will be on the edge of their seats to see what happens next. From the footage of the poisoning and investigation to lengthy interviews with Navalny and his loved ones, this documentary will give viewers all the details of why Navalny became such an influential person in Russia and across the globe.

Through the documentary, Navalny comes across as a force to be reckoned with and a person who never shies away from putting on a show for his followers and his nemesis. But he is acutely aware of the constant shadow of death that looms over him. This is what makes him so relatable. If you ever take on a powerful person, you know he or she has all the resources of taking you down at any point in time. Navalny never thought of such consequences and moved forward with his strategies so that he could expose what Putin and his government is doing in Russia.

Despite being a documentary, ‘Navalny’ has all the hallmarks of being a spy novel and keeps the audiences hooked from beginning to end. One particular scene with Navalny talking to one of the men who poisoned him on a phone call is undoubtedly one of the most jaw-dropping moments in the history of cinema. These moments make viewers feel like they are watching a spy thriller and not a documentary. To be honest, this movie is more than just a documentary, it is a testament to what people have the go through while battling corrupt people.

Navalny [credit: HBO Max]

But one thing that this documentary does so well is that it shows how people around him were also at significant risk. His wife, Yulia, played a significant role in pushing Navalny forward and provides much-needed human moments Roher gets up close and personal with Navalny, who doesn’t shy away from answering tough questions, including ones about his past associations with the far-right in Russia.

It is one of the rare documentaries that are highly engaging and draws the audience into the drama through its skillful editing and pacing. From the very first frame, it is evident that ‘Navalny’ wants to reach a wider audience and comes forward with moments that are both emotional and thought-provoking.

The Russian revolutionary doesn’t want the public to stop if he gets assassinated or dies in prison and that’s why he categorically made it clear that this film should not act as a tribute to the work he has done in his life.

The documentary is a unique tale of one of the most brazen incidents of state-sponsored assassination in memory, making it a must-see film for any who is interested in knowing about a man fighting against his country.

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Shooting Stars Review | Unfocused Sports Biopic Throws a Brick

Peacock’s Shooting Stars has noble aspirations, but doesn’t amount to anything remotely intriguing or thought-provoking.



There have been several major basketball pictures this year, with Ben Affleck’s Air and Calmatic’s White Men Can’t Jump remake being considerable successes. This week, it’s Universal’s turn with Shooting Stars, based on the 2009 memoir of the same name written by LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger. The film chronicles the life of a young LeBron (Mookie Cook) as he plays in the St.Vincent-St.Mary High School basketball team with his friends Dru Joyce III (Caleb McLaughlin), Sian Cotton (Khalil Everage), Romeo Travis (Scoot Henderson) and Illya McGee (Algee Smith).

The film’s basketball scenes are shot with great verve by cinematographer Karsten Gopinath. Drones have been part of our collective imagination since Michael Bay showed the world how great of a filmmaking tool it can be with Ambulance, and here, Gopinath and director Chris Robinson use it to terrific effect. The film cuts to an overhead drone shot of a building slowly panning to LeBron during one of its opening scenes, and there’s an even more impressive shot of a drone going into a net, spiraling backward as if it were a basketball.

Stuff like this is so cool to watch, but it seems like Gopinath and Robinson use every trick in their arsenal during the film’s opening hour and starts to fizzle out afterward. The movie then becomes a highly conventional basketball picture with less interesting stakes and style than what came before. When Shooting Stars pushes the stylistic envelope, it’s a marvel to look at. But when it starts to morph into something terribly conventional and formulaic, it’s a massive bore.

Barring two great supporting performances, none of the leads are memorable in any way. Cook does his best as LeBron but can’t match the charm the real LeBron has had on the court and in film. The same can be said for every other lead: their performances are lethargic, and they feel devoid of any legitimate charm or kinship that would solidify a movie like this and make it memorable. Some of the scenes where they bond together on the court are well made (because of their impressive visual kinetics), but they seem to come few and far between.

Shooting Stars [credit: Universal Pictures]

Most of the character arcs and relationships feel underdeveloped since the movie focuses most of its time on the basketball scenes. And as impressive as they are from a purely visual standpoint, they’re not so impressive from a storytelling standpoint. The basketball scenes don’t necessarily develop the characters and don’t draw interesting stakes for the audiences to become invested in the film.

Thankfully, Wood Harris and Dermot Mulroney are excellent as coaches Dru Joyce II and Keith Dambrot, respectively. Harris is the film’s emotional core and the main reason why anyone would want to seek it out. His dramatic presence is unparalleled and delivers monologues of terrific profundity. It’s a shame that the leads can’t match, or at least can’t feel as tangible as Harris in this film and in most of the performances he gives.


Ultimately, Shooting Stars doesn’t hit a slam dunk. The film’s underdeveloped core of main characters, paper-thin plot, and formulaic structure doesn’t help it, even if the basketball scenes and two strong performances help it become quasi-engaging. But it’s not enough for me to recommend you seek it out, even if you’re a massive LeBron fan. You’re better off reading the book it’s based on instead of watching a biopic where you’ll learn nothing of value from LeBron or the “fab four” that shaped him.



Shooting Stars is now streaming on Peacock. 

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