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Review: Ferrell, Reynolds get ‘Spirited’ in holiday musical

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The devil works in public relations in “ Spirited,” a new spin on “A Christmas Carol” starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. With songs by “The Greatest Showman” duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, big ensemble dance numbers choreographed by Chloe Arnold and special effects galore, “Spirited” it is a maximalist affair that spares no expense in its heart-on-sleeve efforts to entertain. The sincerity isn’t necessarily a bad thing: If you’re going to make a holiday-themed musical on Apple’s dime, you might as well go all out, right?

You’d also think that if you’re going to make a big movie musical, a genre that it seems every top filmmaker dreams of getting a chance to do, that you wouldn’t feel the need to have someone make a joke about it every time another character is about to burst into song. But that is the paradox of “Spirited,” which wants to be everything to everyone. The most egregious sin, though, is the fact that no one seems entirely sure of how to shoot a big, choreographed dance number effectively. At times, it feels like you’re watching a live show that wasn’t rehearsed with camera movements and cuts beforehand, doing a disservice to the songs, the dancers and sets.

And yet, though “Spirited” comes up short as a musical, it is still pretty enjoyable. Perhaps that’s because it is just so stuffed with everything else: If one part doesn’t totally work, there’s plenty else in the four-quadrant buffet to sample. In addition to the committed leads, there are comedy gems from Christmas Past (Sunita Mani), Christmas Yet-to-Come (Loren Woods with Tracy Morgan’s voice), Pasek and Paul’s easily digestible pop ballads and Octavia Spencer’s lovely singing voice.

Ferrell has already written his Christmas movie legacy with “Elf,” which is somehow turning 20 next year. Others might have cashed in after a holiday home run like that, but Ferrell seems to have exercised some discernment before jumping into another seasonal romp. Then Sean Anders, who directed him in “Daddy’s Home” and its sequel, came to him with this idea to re-imagine “A Christmas Carol” from the ghosts’ point of view. He would be the Ghost of Christmas Present, who is one part of a big operation that every year finds Scrooge-y humans to change with their hauntings. “Present” as he’s called, is long due for a retirement which the company’s HR department tries to remind him. (It’s just used for a joke, but it is also a crushingly depressing idea that this heavenly operation for good has HR at all).

But Present still doesn’t feel like his work is done and he sets his sights on Reynolds’ Clint Briggs, a media consultant who has made a fortune peddling hate, controversy, misinformation and outrage for his clients, who range from pop stars and presidents to the National Association of Christmas Tree Growers. We meet him presenting to this latter group in a song-and-dance about bringing back Christmas that’s part Professor Harold Hill singing “Ya Got Trouble,” part Chicago’s Billy Flynn talking about how they both reached for the gun. Reynolds does a good job, too, though he is more of the Rex Harrison “talk on key” school than a classical Broadway guy like his friendly foe Hugh Jackman.

Clint is going to be a tough case for Present, though, as an “unredeemable.” Because this movie is constantly apologizing for itself, Broadway veteran Patrick Page, as Jacob Marley, while explaining to Clint what’s about to happen says that, yes, it’s “Like the Dickens book, the Bill Murray movie and every other adaptation no one asked for.” But they try anyway with Ferrell playing the wide-eyed innocent to Reynolds’ smarmy schemer — a comedic combo that may be familiar but is also still funny and the two stars seem game for anything.

After a brief theatrical run, “Spirited” will live on Apple TV+ starting on Nov. 18, which is a good thing for families looking for some fun holiday viewing options. Parents will get to sample the PG-13 movie before deciding on who gets to watch and everyone can take a popcorn break over the 2-hour runtime, which even that you’ll forgive because, it’s the holidays and Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds literally singing and dancing for you.

“Spirited,” an Apple TV+ release in theaters Friday and streaming Nov. 18, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for language, some suggestive material and thematic elements. Running time: 127 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.


MPA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


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Book Review: Explosive debut novel ‘Fireworks Every Night’ is a bittersweet celebration of survival

“Fireworks Every Night” by Beth Raymer (Random House)

C.C.’s isn’t your typical rags-to-riches story. She remembers growing up in a single-wide with her older sister, stay-at-home mom and car-salesman dad. But she also remembers when they moved to Florida after everything in the car lot burned down — including their home — launching them into a comfortable middle-class life and a fresh start in a state her dad proudly brags has fireworks every night.

“Fireworks Every Night” is Beth Raymer’s debut novel, but not her first book. Following her 2010 memoir “Lay the Favorite,” she borrows from her life to create a deeply personal story of a dysfunctional family.

Having grown up in West Palm Beach, Raymer puts her local knowledge to use as her protagonist — a resident of Loxahatchee, Florida — rattles off the schools she plays basketball against, and how worn down or rich they are. She’s familiar with the Baker Act and who’s been institutionalized through its use. She knows all the neighborhoods and has eaten at Benny’s on the Beach.

If the gorgeous cover designed by Elizabeth A. D. Eno isn’t enough to draw you in, let the heartbreakingly determined main character and the promise of an earnest look at the skeletons in her closet convince you.

In adulthood, C.C. is engaged to a well-educated and absurdly wealthy man — a far cry from the childhood in which she learns what it means to fight for survival. Hopping between the two timelines in stark juxtaposition, the full picture of C.C.’s life emerges.

As kid-C.C.’s home life comes completely unraveled, the story morphs from tragicomedy to horror, revealing how her family fell apart and left her sister struggling with addiction, her mother chronically absent and her father homeless. All the while, adult-C.C. is juggling a host of modern stresses: the viability of having children, climate change, living in a world that makes it far too easy to compare yourself with the 8 billion others who inhabit it, and reconciling your self-worth with the balance in your bank account.

Raymer launches addiction, homelessness, neglect and poverty shamelessly into the lexicon, treating C.C. and her family with nothing less than respect.

A nature motif runs throughout the story, blurring the line between animal and human and calling into question what is “natural” in a world so unnaturally shaped by people. Animals play a quiet but pivotal role throughout “Fireworks Every Night,” shaping Raymer’s engrossing novel into a bittersweet celebration of the scrappy Americans who are finding a way to survive even as the elite push humans and animals alike out of their habitats.

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Book Review: ‘White House by the Sea’ tells storied Kennedy tale through family’s compound

“White House By the Sea: A Century of the Kennedys at Hyannis Port” by Kate Storey (Scribner)

The history of the Kennedy family is so well-chronicled — from the modern Camelot legend surrounding John F. Kennedy’s presidency to the series of tragedies that marked the family throughout the 20tb century — that it’s hard to imagine new ways to tell their story.

But Kate Storey does just that in “White House By the Sea: A Century of the Kennedys at Hyannis Port” — revisiting the family’s history through their time at the famed Kennedy compound on Cape Cod.

Storey, the senior features editor at Rolling Stone magazine, weaves a fascinating narrative about the Kennedy family using Hyannis Port as the backdrop. The book traces the family’s ties to the compound back to the 1920s, when Joseph Kennedy bought Malcolm Cottage, what became known as the Big House.

Many of the stories feel so familiar, from Joseph Kennedy Jr.’s death during World War II to John F. Kennedy Jr.’s fatal plane crash in 1999. The compound was also the setting for much happier occasions, including John F. Kennedy’s presidential acceptance speech and the wedding of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.

Storey gives them a fresh look with new details and well-sourced reporting that opens up a traditionally private community — “what’s left of Camelot,” she writes.

Storey’s research gives the book a more intimate feel than many other histories of the Kennedy family, introducing figures that aren’t as well-known but played a key role in the family and its compound. Fittingly, it’s written in an accessible way that makes the book a welcome beach read.

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Fox News unveils primetime lineup with Jesse Watters in Tucker Carlson’s former time slot

Jesse Watters will fill the Fox News Channel time slot left vacant by the firing of Tucker Carlson, part of a dramatic revamp of the network’s evening lineup announced on Monday.

Greg Gutfeld’s late-night show that combines news and comedy will move up an hour to start at 10 p.m. Eastern, displacing Laura Ingraham. She’ll shift to 7 p.m., the hour that Watters has occupied. Sean Hannity will stay in his 9 p.m. time slot, Fox said. The new lineup debuts on July 17.

The announcement comes roughly two months after Fox News fired Carlson shortly after settling a defamation lawsuit with the voting machine maker Dominion Voting Systems on the eve of trial. The case, which centered on the network’s airing of false claims following the 2020 presidential election, exposed a trove of private messages sent between Fox hosts, including Hannity and Carlson, in which they criticized peers at the network.

Carlson has since begun doing occasional monologues for Twitter, although Fox is attempting to get him to stop the broadcasts.

Fox has seen its ratings tumble since Carlson exited. Carlson averaged 3.25 million viewers at 8 p.m. in the first three months of the year, and the string of guest hosts who replaced him the past two months usually reached under 2 million, making the network’s command more tenuous.

The lineup change signals that Fox is doubling down on its opinionated evening programming strategy, with three sharp-tongued men filling the prime-time hours. It’s something of a triumphant return for Watters, who got his start at the 8 p.m. hour, doing man-in-the-street interviews and other features for Bill O’Reilly before O’Reilly’s firing in 2017.

It also means double duty for Gutfeld and Watters, who are both panelists on “The Five” and will continue there. The late-afternoon political talk show has become Fox’s most popular program.

Keeping that show’s chemistry intact appeared to be a priority for Fox. Gutfeld said in a Wall Street Journal interview last week that he would no longer appear on “The Five” or do his late-night show if he were to get Carlson’s old time slot.

Trace Gallagher, who has worked at Fox since the network began in 1996, will host a news show at 11 p.m., filling the hour that Gutfeld is leaving vacant.

“The unique perspectives of Laura Ingraham, Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity, and Greg Gutfeld will ensure our viewers have access to unrivaled coverage from our best-in-class team for years to come,” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said in a statement.

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