Truth in advertising: this movie features a plane.
It's my first film from Jean-François Richet, about whom I know nothing. (His bio on the IMDB is only two sentences long, and tells us his birthdate and lists a few of his movies.) I've seen half-a-dozen Gerard Butler movies, and Plane is a bit better than the norm. It's always nice to see Mike Colter and Paul Ben-Victor, and Daniella Pineda does Oakland proud. A lot of times, action movies like this are by-the-numbers dull, but Richet manages to keep things going for a nice economical 107 minutes. There's nothing new here, but it's all as efficient as its title. The evil rebel Filipinos are unfortunately crazed stereotypes in the manner of the Somali pirates in Captain Phillips, which I guess is supposed to be countered with the diversity of the good guys in the movie (a Scotsman, an African-American, a co-pilot from Hong Kong, a Mexican-American woman from Oakland, etc.). It's a nothing movie that delivers what it promises and leaves out the rest, which is rarer than it should be. And it's my first film from 2023.
Writer/director Sarah Polley has only made four features, starting with her debut in 2006, Away from Her, but it's only in the last week or so that I have caught up with her, first by seeing Take This Waltz, and now catching her new film, Women Talking, based on a novel by Miriam Toews. Her screenplay for Away from Her was nominated for a screenplay Oscar ... she wasn't yet 30 at the time. She has written all of her films (and now she has a book as well, Run Towards the Danger, which I am reading as I type this). Before beginning her directing career, she had been acting on screen since she was six, getting a feature role in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen when she was nine, starring in two Canadian TV series, Ramona and Avonlea, for eight years, and continuing as an actor until 2010. Women Talking is her first film in ten years, and it only solidifies my opinion that she is one of our best writer/directors.
I'm not sure what identifies a "Sarah Polley Movie". Her films are intelligent, the acting is usually excellent, they are filmed (and set in) Canada. Women are at the center of her movies. The films look great (Luc Montpellier has been the cinematographer for three of the films, including Women Talking). Their movies are very different, but the director Polley brings to mind is Ryan Coogler, who also has made four films, beginning with the fine Fruitvale Station, and who has yet to disappoint (although his career has gone towards the blockbuster, having made the two Black Panther movies).
I loved Stories We Tell so much that I thought of Polley as a great director, even if I'd only seen two of her movies. So it's easy to say that I was excited about her first film in ten years. And what a film it is. We saw Women Talking with a friend who was worried about the film ... he had read and loved the book, and wondered how it could be captured on film. Afterwards, he gave a thumbs up. Polley draws together her strong cast (unfair to single out only a few, but Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and particularly Claire Foy are especially excellent), giving them dialogue that is quotable, if sometimes speechifying, and making each character distinct (Toews gets a lot of credit for this, of course). She turns a story that could be exploitive (the women in an isolated religious community have been systematically raped and beaten for decades) and makes the focus the women themselves ... the assaults are never far from our attention, but Polley doesn't show them endlessly. Women Talking is only partly about abuse and abusers. Polley's primary focus is on the group of women as they decide how they will continue to live their lives.
Most of the film is set in a single hayloft in a barn, and at times there is a stagy feel, as if Women Talking were based on a play. It's not intrusive, though. What does draw attention is the washed-out colors of the film, about which Polley has said,
I think once they start having this conversation in the hayloft they're already consigning the world they live into the past. It’s already done because they're having a conversation about it and how to change it. So for me, it was important that it feels like a faded postcard. That there be a sense of nostalgia and of a colorlessness. A sense that whatever it is, this world that they're talking about doesn't exist anymore because the very fact of them having the conversation is shifting that reality.
The emotionalism of the final shot of the film is reminiscent of Spielberg, showing us one more time that Sarah Polley's career as a writer/director already exists in the rare company of our finest artists.
The Pale Blue Eye is a whodunit with a catch: one of the main characters is Edgar Allan Poe. That's not quite as big a deal as it might seem. You could enjoy the movie without knowing anything about Poe. But it adds something for people inclined to favor such tricks.
The plot has twists and turns, of course, but writer/director Scott Cooper takes us mostly down a straightforward path. The film is a bit slow-moving, but the whodunit angle is engrossing ... it's never boring. Christian Bale is fine in a low-key way, the supporting cast is filled with memorable people like Toby Jones and Gillian Anderson and Robert Duvall and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The look of the film is perfect (Masanobu Takayanagi is the cinematographer). You get cold just watching the chilly scenes of winter, and the visuals get dark at appropriate moments.
But then there's Harry Melling as Poe. I've seen him in several movies without being able to recall him exactly in any of them. I won't soon forget his Poe, however. Put simple, Poe is downright creepy, which is a problem in that I was never sure if the creepiness was purposeful on the part of Melling and Cooper, or if Melling was just over-using his own blue eyes. I suspect many will find it an award-winning performance, but I was distracted every time Melling appeared, which was a lot ... he was playing Edgar Allan Poe, after all.
I'll probably watch a few more movies this year, but unless one is an all-time classic, these will likely remain the best movies I watched in 2022 for the first time. I gave all of them a rating of 9 on a scale of 10. Sorted by release year:
Sometimes I'll copy-and-paste an old review to show that a new movie is the Same Old Same Old (see Wes Anderson). I liked Glass Onion quite a lot, just as I liked Knives Out, but I was interested to see that my comments about the first movie hold true for the sequel as well:
You expect one of those all-star nostalgic Agatha Christie movies, that work their way through retread material that appeals to the extent is reminds you of all the other such movies you've seen. What makes Knives Out different is that it uses the format as a template, but the cast and the tricks aren't stale. Rian Johnson makes it all appear fresh, which wouldn't seem possible. There is enough to satisfy the fans of the old school, but Johnson goes beyond the old, and everyone is having so much fun, you can't help but be entertained.
Johnson gives his movie a modicum of class consciousness ... not enough to rattle the nostalgia fiends, but enough to give the film something extra. There's really nothing remarkable about Knives Out, but it's very well done and it's just quirky enough to raise it above the normal giant-cast mystery.
Other than Daniel Craig, this one has a whole new cast, and they do enjoy themselves. Janelle Monáe in particular is getting a lot of Oscar talk, and it's deserved ... she and Craig are the best things about the movie. What matters most of all is that the Benoit Blanc franchise is in full swing, and so far, it's an enjoyable ride.
Here are some of the cameos in Glass Onion. This isn't really a spoiler, but you might want to be surprised, so close your eyes before you read the list underneath the trailer.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hugh Grant, Ethan Hawke, Angela Lansbury, Natasha Lyonne, Yo-Yo Ma, Stephen Sondheim, Jake Tapper, Serena Williams
I have now seen Eddie Redmayne in four movies. He played a real person in all four.
Last year, 3 of 5 Best Actor Oscar nominees and 3 of 5 Best Actress nominees, including both winners, played real-life characters. It's no surprise that Redmayne and Jessica Chastain are in the Oscar conversation this year for The Good Nurse. It's as if playing someone real gives you a head start with the voters. (Chastain won last year playing Tammy Faye Bakker; it was a worthy award.)
Both lead actors are fine in The Good Nurse. The real people they play are presented in a complex fashion, and director Tobias Lindholm holds them largely in check. Chastain's Amy Loughren has a heart disease, so she gets a few scenes that will go on her Oscar reel ... there's nothing wrong with that, and she is believably on edge physically for most of the film. Redmayne's serial killer Charles Cullen hides his villainy until the end, which helps keeps the film on a low boil. It's as if Lindholm and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917) don't want to sensationalize the story. Which probably makes The Good Nurse easier to take, and the slow burn is eventually successful. But when it was over, I wasn't sure why it needed to be made in the first place. There is a problem in that Cullen lacks motivation in the film. As we are told near the end, "He never explained why he did it". Without that explanation, we're just left with the story of a guy who killed a lot of people, did so in a way that occurs off-screen and so is "uncinematic". The lack of sensationalism is admirable, but in this case, it doesn't leave much of a movie.
Chastain does what she can as the woman who finally gets Cullen to confess. Their scenes together at the end have a tense humanity that is moving. But The Good Nurse is much ado about little.
Up to now, I've run hot and cold on the films of writer/director Martin McDonagh. I've seen them all ... there must be something that appeals to me ... but in only one case did I think I was seeing something special (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). The Banshees of Inisherin lies somewhere in the middle ... it's not great, but it has many strong features.
The acting of the featured characters (played by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan) is top notch. There is a sensitivity to Farrell and Keoghan's characters in particular ... they are not the sharpest tools in the box, but McDonagh manages to get that across without turning either character into stereotypes. The scenery and cinematography are beautiful (Ben Davis is the cinematographer ... he's done all sorts of things, Marvel movies, Kick-Ass, and a couple of other McDonagh films). And the film's take on male friendship is honest, revealing, and different from the usual bromance.
So why am I hesitant to bestow nothing but praise on The Banshees of Inisherin? I'm not sure I trust McDonagh. He's clever, he comes up with interesting scenarios. But he inserts himself into odd places. Here, it's the whole self-mutilation angle. It's kinda cool, to be honest, when Gleeson threatens to remove his fingers, one by one. When he starts doing it, though, my only question was, why is he cutting off his fingers? And the only answer I could come up with was, McDonagh thought it was kinda cool. (He said in an interview that "I thought it was interesting that an artist would threaten the thing that allows him to make art". Interesting, kinda cool, whatever.)
So The Banshees of Inisherin is another quirky film from Martin McDonagh, and I'm sure his fans will love it. It's getting lots of Oscar talk. And I liked it OK. But I remain unconvinced that McDonagh is one of the great film makers.
The Menu is the child of many influences. Nothing new, nothing bad about that. Director Mark Mylod has cited Get Out and The Exterminating Angel, among others. These are excellent influences, almost too excellent, for while The Menu is reminiscent of those films, it isn't nearly as good. Which is no crime ... Get Out and The Exterminating Angel are great movies. But while The Menu works on the level of a horror movie, I got the feeling Mylod was trying for something more, that he wanted to make a statement about, I don't know, capitalism and art? And I think he comes up short.
Like The Menu, Get Out can be seen as "just" a horror story. But, as I wrote, "Get Out plays with the usual tropes of horror movies, but the subtext is practically the text. The essential horror of Get Out lies in the dangers for black Americans trying to maneuver their way through the dominant white culture." In place of Jordan Peele's specific social context targeting the perils for African-Americans within a "liberal" America, Mylod offers a satirical peek at the follies of the rich. And I like movies that poke at the rich. A better comparison might be with The Exterminating Angel, which isn't really a horror movie but which also targets the rich. But Buñuel is better at this than is Mylod (again, not a crime ... Buñuel is a great film maker). Again quoting myself: "Only gradually do we realize that the breakdown of social niceties that occurs when the rich are trapped in the room is, for them, akin to the breakdown of civilization itself." I never get the feeling Mylod extends his satire to civilization ... it's always just rich people with food fetishes.
I'm making The Menu sound worse than it is. It's entertaining, has some top actors, and yeah, rich people come out badly. But I'm left with a repeated theme: The Menu is a good movie that never matches the power of its influences.
What a magnificent movie! It's totally insane, it's three hours long but never boring, it is an action extravaganza as well as a musical, it's everything all at once, to refer to the only other 2022 movie I've seen that is this good.
Rajamouli tells the entirely fictional story of two historical revolutionaries who never met in real life. It's hard to say RRR came out of nowhere ... it is Rajamouli's 12th feature, co-stars N. T. Rama Rao Jr. (NTR) and Ram Charan are huge, award-winning stars, as is fellow cast member Alia Bhatt. It's the most expensive Indian film of all time. It's a box-office smash, and now it's a hit on Netflix. I knew nothing about it going in, except that it was supposed to be good. That turned out to be an understatement.
The stars bring great charisma to their roles. Rajamouli's plot is always engrossing, even when it makes little sense. The special effects are remarkable. The essential conflict of the two men at the center of the picture is told with great feeling. And it's often extremely funny, with a handful of expansive musical numbers we expect from Indian cinema. And there are a couple of "Hey, it's that guys!", like Ray Stevenson (always Titus Pullo at our house) and former Bond Girl Alison Doody.
RRR has some violent scenes, which may prevent some from wanting to see it. Everyone else, though, should check it out whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.
The problem for every sequel not named The Godfather: Part II is that the excellence of the original leads to negative comparisons with what comes after. Wakanda Forever is not as good as Black Panther. That does not mean it's a bad movie. In fact, Wakanda Forever is a fine film that is an honorable continuation of the story. To return (for the last time, I promise) to my earlier statement, Wakanda Forever may not be as good as The Godfather: Part II, but it's better than The Godfather: Part III, and any attempts to claim otherwise are nonsense.
Much has been made of the absence of Chadwick Boseman, rightfully so. His loss is deeply felt, and Wakanda Forever suffers from that loss. But a lot of people return for the sequel, including most of the great cast, and, importantly, Ryan Coogler. Coogler has now directed four features, and there isn't a dud among them. He has become one of our finest film makers. And the diversity we see on the screen is extended behind the camera with Coogler: he has used women as cinematographers and editors in all his features (in this case, Autumn Durald as cinematographer, and Jennifer Lame and Kelley Dixon as editors). And Michael B. Jordan has been in all of Coogler's films ... as I have said before, their pairing compares to the icons like Scorsese/De Niro.
I could say some negative things about Wakanda Forever. It's too long (you could watch Fruitvale Station twice in about the time it would take to watch Wakanda Forever once). What made Black Panther the best-ever Marvel movie was partly that it wasn't just a Marvel movie, and while Wakanda Forever is OK in this regard, there are some action scenes in the middle of the film that are more Marvel than anything else, and not that good besides. (In fairness, the climactic battle is excellent.)
And then there's what Coogler and company do about Chadwick Boseman. At the beginning of the film, I thought they were tugging our heartstrings excessively, demanding that we play silent tribute to Boseman as we watched (I resisted, but of course, the tears came to me like they did to everyone). Overall, I think Wakanda Forever more than overcomes that opening. The loss of Boseman/T'Challa is deep, but by the end of the film, that loss is integrated into the movie as a whole, and it's the right call.
The cast? I won't single anyone out, but if you look at the cast list, take my word for it, they are all at the top of their games. (OK, I wasn't gonna single anyone out, but in the tradition of "Hey, it's that guy!", give it up for Lake Bell.) Newcomer Tenoch Huerta makes a good, complex villain, although I liked one comment that said he's 41 years old and now he's signed on to act in a Speedo for the next ten years. (His trainer told him, "Okay, man, now you can rest, you can chill and take your time. But not too much, because if you have to play Namor one more time, you need to go through the same process all over again. So it’s better you take care of yourself and don’t get crazy with tacos.")
Wakanda Forever isn't just a tolerable sequel to a great movie. It's good in its own right, even as it owes so much to the original.