A Few More A-Listers to Round Out the Year
Vesper – 8
Coming out of the fields of Euro Indieland, 2022’s Vesper is a smart sci-fi adventure. It feels original, thanks to a heroic attention to detail. Pacing is on point, as co-directors Buozyte and Samper resist the ADD temptations of the young adult genre-space, giving room to a human story in an imaginative dystopia. World building here is an experiment in texture, dirt and practical effects, and these sets come through. Not wasting budget on overpriced name actors, this cast is heartfelt and steady. Every bit of that $5M production purse is actually on screen, and it’s gorgeous. Wulf-Fx, out of Belgium, bear responsibility for these practical effects, blurring the line between reality and any CGI frosting expertly. With a budget so small, this film is going to be almost entirely profit to the small group involved. Let’s hope they have more up their sleeves, be it sequel or new IP, with this kind of heart.
Crimes Of The Future – 7.5
In the “Weirder than Weird” column, we find David Cronenberg’s 2022 flesh-fest, with room to stretch. And stretch it does. I’m not sure it’s ever quite enjoyable, but it’s certainly not boring, and Crimes of the Future is worth a look for the (mostly) great practical effects, killer cast including Kristen Stewart, Lea Seydoux and Viggo Mortensen, and just for the oddity of the thing itself. In this world without physical pain, it seems we’ve forgotten how to recognize our suffering. As an argument for pain as fundamental to morality itself, it’s philosophically fresh sci-fi. And as an advisement against using insect limbs as furniture, it’s unforgettable, if a little kitsch.
Barbarian – 8
Possibly the single hottest new horror title of 2022, this long-form ad for Detroit real estate is going to creep you out, make you jump, gross you out and then . . . tug at your heart. Another example of elevated modern practical effects, just when you think you know what’s going to happen next in Barbarian, well, then you’ll find out you didn’t. Bill Skarsgard may in fact be my personal favorite of Stellan’s boys, Justin Long and Georgina Campbell both turn in solid performances, but it’s Matthew Patrick Davis who carries this show. Let’s not ruin it by saying anything more.
Men – 7
Alex Garland may not lately have equaled the brilliance of his early work, but the director still has a golden touch. 28 Days Later redefined zombie films, and Ex Machina crowned a new era for intelligent, sexy sci-fi. Annihilation and Devs are both worth the watch (though the latter does get pretty silly by the end, tripping over its own complexities). Men is a worthy entry to that catalogue, finding the auteur filmmaker bridging into body horror. Unsettling, gross, and literate, I’m just not sure I’d watch it more than once. I may however go google a good dissection, now that I think about it. I’m curious who out there may have made sense of its awesome insanities by now.
Raymond & Ray – 9
Probably the best movie of 2022, Raymond & Ray is a character study where the main character is never once on screen. This tale of two brothers, coming together for their estranged father’s funeral, may stand in for an entire generation bidding farewell to our imperfect progenitors. In confusion and regret, in the impotence of revenge that comes too late, the uncompromising humanity on display here is a rarity in our PC culture. Hawke and McGreggor are both great, but Maribel Verdu brings it all together, as their dad’s widow, whose honesty does nothing to temper her compassion for the broken but memorable man they’re gathered to mourn. Director Rodrigo Garcia gets high points.
Mona Lisa & the Blood Moon – 8
Jeon Jong-seo and Kate Hudson anchor a whole suite of sweet performances in this soft sci-fi night owl from Ana Lily Amirpour. Ed Skrein is surprisingly great as the drug dealing and sleepless Fuzz, Craig Robinson brings character to the Nola police, but really it’s Evan Whitten owning this show at the last, bringing a fresh intelligence into the story. With natural pacing and a surprisingly real feel, Mona Lisa & the Blood Moon is an under-the-radar winner.
Three Thousand Years of Longing – 8
Tilda Swinton is one of the names in our house that pretty much guarantees a view. Bring on George Miller and Idris Elba, and you’ve got a trio of quality names attached. Add to this the clear CGI-emphasis, and I went in wary. What? How could A-List talent, a big budget and lots of special effects be a recipe for a *bad* movie? You’ll have to ask Hollywood, but they’ve perfected that fuckup by now, so it shouldn’t be hard to get an answer. 3,000 Years won us over in the first slides, though, and comes well-recommended. Far from perfect, this is a winning formula because of that indispensable ingredient-X: story. To a fault, this fairytale of a narratologist and her pet djin is an homage to storytelling. And though it may misstep here and there, it is an honest one. I’m not versed well enough to comment on how it may be translating the stories it is clearly influenced by, having yet to read 1,001 Nights myself, but Miller’s compelling yarn here serves as a good reminder of why it is on my list.
Wednesday – 5.5
Tim Burton has been struggling to connect for over a decade, having somehow lost his edge in the clouds of success. Wednesday lacks the freshness of Edward Scissorhands or the genuine misanthrope of Sweeney Todd, instead opting for a formulaic “Harry Potter meets the Munsters” that rarely hits. Luckily Jenna Ortega, in her best moments at least, is pure lightning in a bottle. Jamming the cello, owning the archery range and dancefloor, she’s great. But by the end it’s clear her misanthrope is skin-deep, and the writers’ idea of a “character arc” is her abandoning all edginess in favor boring, typical Disney teenager shit. It’s not Jenna’s fault. The blame here goes higher up. Tom Turnbull’s visual effects are also killing it, or they would be if we could kill the cartoonish CGI. Thing is pretty great, and his less expected gestures are among the high points, where the show reminds you to pay attention. Unfortunately it’s far too easy to tune out too often, be it the cornball stereotypes, the boring class-schedule plotting, or the bland whitewashing of anything actually dark about Wednesday Addams. By the end, the “Addams” has gone out with the wash, and the show barely comes in on the positive side of the scale at all. I’d consider tuning in for Season 2 though, I’ll admit, if I heard Ortega was returning and Del Toro was directing . . .
Slumberland – 7.5
A worthwhile successor to a classic 80s animated odyssey, go ahead and rent Slumberland for a father/daughter adventure with heart. Devoted enough to the source to entertain you 80s kids with plenty of throwbacks and subtle nods, it’s still very much its own thing, clean-faced as its star. Not without a bit too much shmaltz, and a bit of unnecessary repetition by the end though. And if you know me, you know it’s one of cinema’s worst sins to string together multiple “woah!” adventure scenes (where the protagonist is riding on something and just yelling over and over). So I’d gladly take a slightly shorter cut on this one. But Pig is great, Momoa is fine, if a bit too big for his shoes no doubt, Marlow Barkley holds it all together very well, and Chris O’Dowd turns in a surprisingly affective performance as uncle Phillip. Of course, if you haven’t seen the original Little Nemo yet, watch that instead, it is the classic for a reason.
Cabinet of Curiosities – 7
With at least a couple episodes that’ll stick in your head for a long time, Guillermo Del Toro’s serial effort here is definitely worth the watch. Thoroughly great effects, and a pretty wide variety of subjects, will keep you entertained for the full season, if not exactly blown away. The writing is far less consistent than the production, frustrating and contrived at times, but at a few points really steps up just as much, past the average TV also-rans. “The Viewing,” Episode 7, on its own qualifies CoC as worthy watching. We look forward to Season 2 on this one.
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