Movies Watched, December 2022

Still from “The Menu,” directed by Mark Mylod

We made it! This is my December roundup, the last of about two weeks of posting generally very tardy recaps of the movies I watched in each month of 2022. Whew. It feels good to be finally caught up.

The end of the year was a good time for a sub-genre that I like to call “eat-the-rich” movies, in which clever film directors satirize the many, many shortcomings, absurdities and humiliations of the very wealthy. This is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, because few people are dumb enough to object to targeting this particular demographic for ridicule. I always try to remember that punching down on very stupid rich people (there are a lot of them, to be fair) is still punching down. Still, this basic cinematic bargain—audiences fork over the cost of a movie ticket and filmmakers deliver economic schadenfreude—is robust enough to have delivered some great cinema over the years. Jean Renoir’s revered 1939 satire “The Rules of the Game” is the prime example, but 2022 produced at least two new exhibits which, if not destined for the same immortality, were nevertheless loads of fun.

First, in November I went to see Ruben Ostlund’s “Triangle of Sadness,” which lampoons the social hierarchy on a luxury cruise yacht to generally brilliant effect. It’s a bit digressive and unwieldy, but it’s exceedingly well made, especially in its uncannily naturalistic performances and dialogue, and it’s already got a place on my best-of list for the year.

Then in late December I went to see Mark Mylod’s “The Menu,” which is thematically quite similar. This black comedy veers into horror territory and skewers the rarefied dining experience at a fictional haute cuisine restaurant named Hawthorn, reportedly inspired by the famous Cornelius Sjømatrestaurant in Norway. The movie takes the inherent tension in the relationship between service laborers and their wealthy customers to wild extremes, with delicious (sorry!) results. Its premise is so enthralling, so outrageous that it seems hard to believe that the filmmakers can pay it off. In the end, sadly, they cannot. But the execution—especially the dark, dark humor doled out along the way (not coincidentally, Mylod is an executive producer on HBO’s “Sucession”)—is almost good enough to justify that irresistible hook. Even if ultimately not fully successful, it still somehow manages to be satisfying and, I’ve found, to be memorable, too. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

“The Menu” was in fact the very last feature I watched in 2022, and I even got to see it at the theater, a happy way to conclude my movie year. I’ll be working on my best-of list for the year soon, too. First I’m going to try to make it through as many of the 2022 movies I haven’t seen yet as I can in the next week or two. Meanwhile, here are all twenty-one movies I saw in December.

  1. Paper Moon” (1973) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Transgressive fun for the whole family.
  2. The Blue Dahlia” (1946) ★★
    Beautiful couple Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake can’t bring alive this generally sedate noir.
  3. Athena” (2022) ★★★½
    Ambitious, vital rendering of a ghetto riot on the outskirts of Paris.
  4. The Northman” (2022) ★★
    Visually arresting but essentially dunderheaded.
  5. Lost Bullet 2” (2022) ★★★½
    Forget the Fast & Furious movies. This is the best insane car chases franchise out there—by miles.
  6. All Quiet on the Western Front” (2022) ★★
    This anti-war movie doesn’t have a lot to say beyond “War is bad.”
  7. Stars at Noon” (2022) ★★★
    An example of a creative mismatch between text and filmmaker; the correct creative team for this doomed expat romance would have been Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Boyle.
  8. Prey” (2022) ★★★½
    Remarkable by virtue of not being yet another terrible entry in the “Predator” franchise, but also genuinely engaging thanks to the two leads.
  9. Nope” (2022) ★★★★
    Jordan Peele’s directorial voice is more sophisticated and confident than ever.
  10. The Stranger” (2022) ★★★½
    Disappointingly generic title for a distinctively moody neo-noir.
  11. Anaïs in Love” (2021) ★★★½
    On paper, pretty pro forma stuff, but executed so well it’s impossible to resist.
  12. It's a Wonderful Life” (1946) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. A Christmas joy.
  13. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” (2022) ★★★
    Maintains its bonkers, deadpan hyperbole with admirable consistency.
  14. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (2022) ★★★
    Rewatched. I was surprised by how much less I enjoyed this on second viewing.
  15. The Great Muppet Caper” (1981) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. The best, most nimble, most inventive, least sentimental Muppet movie.
  16. The Banshees of Inisherin” (2022) ★★★½
    Superbly scripted and performed, even if it didn’t quite go the distance at the end.
  17. Carmen” (2021) ★
    Somehow this has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes?!
  18. Dog” (2022) ★★½
    Exactly like it says on the tin: this is a movie about a dog, and the dog does a bunch of movie dog stuff. Enjoyable enough if you’re okay with that.
  19. Three Thousand Years of Longing” (2022) ★★★½
    So completely different from “Fury Road,” mostly in a good way, but also frustratingly thin in parts.
  20. The Fabelmans” (2022) ★★½
    A pair of outstanding performances can’t save this confused, frequently overwritten script.
  21. The Menu” (2022) ★★★½
    Sets up a premise so delicious (sorry) that it can’t pay it off, but somehow it still works.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in November, in October, in September, in August, in July in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, November 2022

Still from “Glass Onion,” directed by Rian Johnson

I saw director Rian Johnson’s 2019 parlor room whodunit “Knives Out” in theaters in its original run and liked it so much that I watched it four subsequent times (it’s lost none of its luster). Netflix noticed its popularity; last year the service landed an enormous deal with Johnson for at least two sequels. And in November, it allowed the first of them, the awkwardly named “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” to play for just one short week in a limited theatrical release. I bought tickets for the whole family and went to see it just two days after Thanksgiving.

This movie is not perfect—it’s a bit less elegant than its predecessor, it bears some hints of falling into a formula, and it leans a bit too heavily into celebrity cameos, which I personally find abhorrent—but it’s a winner all the same. In terms of film franchises, you could do a lot worse than this hilarious, suspenseful, thoughtful, crowd-pleaser. My whole family gave it a thumbs up—kids, parents, and grandmother too. If you haven’t already streamed it at home on Netflix, where it launched “for real” on 23 December, I heartily recommend it.

But at the risk of cliché, watching it at home is not going to be nearly as fun as seeing it in theaters, where the crowd at my screening all laughed, gasped and clapped in unison. This is a four-quadrant movie, as they say; a film that’s fun for everyone. At a time when movie theaters are still struggling to get back on their feet, when we’re at greater risk than ever of losing these communal spaces where we can all go to experience one of our great art forms together, it’s a terrible shame that Netflix’s pocketbook kept “Glass Onion” from fulfilling its promise as a truly great theatrical experience.

I can only imagine that this could have been one of the brightest box office successes of the year; in its single week run, it pulled in an impressive US$15 million from just 600 theaters. For a franchise that was built on surprising people at the cineplex—it’s hard to argue that the original “Knives Out” would have been as popular as it was if it had debuted on any streaming service in 2019—it feels like a betrayal, or at least a disappointment, that its much better funded sequel now lives on Netflix, buried amongst the rest of that service’s highly uneven back catalog.

Here are all eighteen movies I saw in November.

  1. Brief Encounter” (1945) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A wonderful marvel of muted passions in post-War Britain.
  2. Bottle Rocket” (1996) ★★½
    Rewatched. With the benefit of hindsight we can now see that from the beginning Wes Anderson skirted the line between charming and cutesy.
  3. Decision to Leave” (2022) ★★★½
    Rewatched. An intricate, densely layered construction. Invites repeated viewings.
  4. …And God Created Woman” (1956) ★★★★
    Brigitte Bardot in the role that made her immortal. A kind of lightning strike of all the things in the post-War zeitgeist.
  5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. An oaky, finely detailed masterpiece.
  6. The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Possibly the apotheosis of Wes Anderson’s live action filmmaking.
  7. DC League of Super-Pets” (2022) ½
    Another argument that despite his putative charms, Duane “The Rock” Johnson has outrageously poor taste in projects.
  8. See How They Run” (2022) ★★★½
    This spry corker of a comedy-mystery doesn’t pretend for a moment it can really deliver on its promise of a truly elevated whodunnit—and in the end it does not. But it has a blast along the way.
  9. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (2021) ★★★½
    Terrific vocal performances in a winningly gentle, unpretentious indie flight of fancy.
  10. Joint Security Area” (2000) ★★★★
    A thoughtful, even heartbreaking meditation on the continuing pain of the division between North and South Korea.
  11. Triangle of Sadness” (2022) ★★★★
    A bit long and rambling, but a wickedly funny skewering of the super-rich, with amazingly authentic naturalistic performances.
  12. Knives Out” (2019) ★★★★
    Rewatched. With each viewing, I’m more and more impressed by how cleverly constructed this script is.
  13. Enchanted” (2007) ★★
    Rewatched. I was almost okay with it until the shopping sequence meant to symbolize the actualisation of Amy Adams’s protagonist. Gross.
  14. Monkey Man” (2022) ★★★
    Actor Dev Patel tries his hand at an action thriller, with occasionally impressive results.
  15. Fast & Feel Love” (2022) ★★★
    You can’t help but root for this extremely emo, Thai-made, quirky love story, even if it is overlong bt thirty minutes.
  16. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (2022) ★★★★
    A rollicking good time at the expense of the super-rich.
  17. Knives Out” (2019) ★★★★
    Rewatched. The family wanted to rewatch this again after “Glass Onion.”
  18. The Pink Panther” (2006) ★★
    This mostly unnecessary remake is thin as a tissue, but someone forgot to tell Steve Martin expectations were very low.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in October, in September, in August, in July in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, October 2022

Still from “Decision to Leave,” directed by Park Chan-wook

There was probably no other film in 2022 that I was looking forward to as much as Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave.” I’m a huge fan of the director’s previous work; his 2006 revenge thriller “Oldboy” is one of the great, truly twisted cinematic mind-benders and a modern classic, of course. But I also thought his 2016 period romance “The Handmaiden,” in addition to also being very twisted in its own way, was a true five-star masterpiece.

“Decision” started rolling out in theaters back in the spring—but only in markets outside of the U.S. I happened to be in France when it debuted there in early July, but my French is not nearly good enough to follow a two-hour-plus Korean language film with French subtitles. So when the movie finally made it to the States in October, I bought tickets as soon as I could.

And it was…good. Really good, actually. Unfortunately, it’s just not as revelatory, as wildly unexpected as either “Oldboy” or “The Handmaiden.” Park has talked about making a concerted effort with “Decision” to rein in his usual predilection for blood and violence, and one can really feel an atypical sense of restraint throughout this lengthy, densely detailed homage to Hitchcock. In many ways it works; his two central characters are drawn to one another while also being incapable of fully opening up to one another, and Park’s almost fastidious sense of restraint makes their would-be romance feel appropriately muted, even suffocating. But there’s also a nagging feeling of incompleteness in Park’s self-discipline, and the narrative feels like it never quite ignites. Still, I did go back and watch the movie again a few weeks later and felt rewarded by the new details that came into sharper focus. I can imagine it growing on me with each additional viewing.

All in, I watched seventeen movies in October. Here they are.

  1. Elvis” (2022) ★★★
    A terrific music video, but not much of a movie.
  2. Deep Cover” (1992) ★★★
    An intense, ambitious policier with a commanding performance from Lawrence Fishburne, but the script is undercooked.
  3. Car Wash” (1976) ★★★
    Breezy, loose-fitting hangout flick that pulls off a surprisingly meaningful ending.
  4. Reno 911! The Hunt for QAnon” (2021) ★★
    Fun characters as always, but adds up to little more.
  5. Spaceman” (2022) ★★
    One of Adam Sandler’s periodic attempts at redeeming his career.
  6. Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Saw it projected for the first time since its original run and it looked almost entirely new.
  7. The Gentlemen” (2019) ★★½
    Ridiculous, macho-laden gangland romp, though intermittently diverting.
  8. The Velvet Vampire” (1971) ★½
    A sexed up vampire tale that’s not nearly as creepy or sexy as it ought to be.
  9. Cha Cha Real Smooth” (2022) ★½
    Insufferable indie derivative.
  10. August 32nd on Earth” (1998) ★★★½
    I was surprised to find that this early Denis Villeneuve is a romantic comedy.
  11. Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Still fun, but hardly a masterpiece.
  12. Maelström” (2000) ★★½
    Another early Villeneuve executed with great style but too little narrative substance.
  13. Safety Last!” (1923) ★★★★
    Most of the run-up to the iconic clock scene is only amusing, but the clock scene makes it all worth it.
  14. The Gunfighter” (1950) ★★★½
    A sober, classically Hollywood western that’s conspicuously bloodless and morally upright as can be.
  15. The Invisible Man” (1933) ★★★½
    Not particularly creepy but appropriately manic.
  16. Decision to Leave” (2022) ★★★½
    Park Chan-Wook on his best behavior.
  17. The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) ★
    Tiresome.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in September, in August, in July in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, September 2022

Still from “Bullet Train,” directed by David Leitch.

Back in 2014 I was as excited as anyone by the energy, invention and polish of “John Wick,” directed by former stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. It was an unexpectedly transformative action movie that went on to basically redefine, or at least reshape, how we think about the genre. Stahelski went on to direct, by himself, two “Wick” sequels, each sadly more tedious than the previous. Leitch largely repeated the same pattern: as a solo director he turned out “Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool 2,” “Hobbs & Shaw” and, last summer, “Bullet Train,” which I saw in theaters back in September. All of them tested audiences’ tolerance for an unending procession of violent stunts, comic book gunplay, and poorly articulated revenge fantasies, and the overall trend has been one of diminishing returns.

To be fair, there’s some fun to be had with most of these (except maybe “Hobbs & Shaw”). In “Bullet Train” most of the pleasure comes from the game performances from Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Johnson. But by the end I felt past the point of saturation for this kind of highly polished, minimally thoughtful action fare. The elaborately staged fight choreography, which was a revelation nine(!) years ago, now seems pro forma, and the convoluted script, which focuses more on hipster posing than any real narrative velocity, feels perfunctory at best. What I’m hungry for is the next “John Wick,” a new, left-field action movie that will show us a different way of thinking about the action genre, ideally with an emphasis on thinking as much as on action—and one that will be as surprising and energizing as Stahelski and Leitch’s work once used to be. Things to hope for in 2023.

Here are all sixteen movies I watched in September.

  1. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” (2021) ★
    Noxiously unimaginative in virtually every way.
  2. Lightyear” (2022) ★★★
    Rewatched. Still seems not particularly necessary, but I liked its earnestness.
  3. Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A dream of death disguised as an action flick.
  4. The Servant” (1963) ★★★★
    Sordid, creepy, remarkably effective hothouse thriller.
  5. Batman: Under the Red Hood” (2010) ★★½
    Impressively not-too-dumb script.
  6. Bullet Train” (2022) ★★½
    Admittedly rather fun for a while, but probably about twenty minutes too long.
  7. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” (2021) ★★½
    Over-the-top bonkers Romanian morality play that’s really just a one-act show stretched out to feature length.
  8. On the Count of Three” (2021) ★★★
    A tidy little indie film made with heart and smarts, but maybe not quite with enough ambition.
  9. Police Academy” (1984) ½
    Vacillates wildly between slapstick farce, horny 80s comedy, bland actioner and limp morality play, with the only consistent throughline being its utter incompetence from start to finish—and its utter lack of laughs.
  10. Do Revenge” (2022) ★½
    Another frustratingly self-aware yet clueless Netflix original that no one will remember in thirty minutes.
  11. Heat” (1995) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. They’ll never make a heist film to top this one.
  12. The Knack… and How to Get It” (1965) ★★½
    Chuck Jones meets Jean-Luc Godard in 60s swinging London.
  13. Petite Maman” (2021) ★★★★
    A wildly simple premise executed with so little fanfare, and yet it’s both mind blowing and heartbreaking in a wholly unique way.
  14. Blue Collar” (1978) ★★★★
    Doesn’t even try to hide its plainly political agenda, but hangs onto its humanity throughout. Richard Pryor is amazing in a straight role.
  15. Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Understated, highly economical, searing noir that feels like it almost stumbles onto its own story. Superb.
  16. Suede: The Insatiable Ones” (2018) ★★★
    Rewatched.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in August, in July in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, August 2022

Movies Watched, August 2022

Happy new year. If you’re just tuning in, I’m catching up on my monthly movie roundups for 2022. This post covers August but you can also see what I previously watched in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, and in January.

The start of a new year is a good time to talk about the nearly complete uselessness of many movies’ officially recorded release dates. Some of the best films often debut late in the year at film festivals or in very limited release in theaters so as to qualify for awards season early the following year. As a result, they are listed with a release year that’s out of sync with when the vast majority of audiences actually get to see them. So does that make them a part of the conversation for the current or the previous year?

I ask because I’ve been thinking about my best-of-the-year list for 2022, but also because back in August I saw a surprising number of movies with 2021 release dates, even though no one was really able to see them until 2022. This included “Ted K,” a fictionalized account of how the Unabomber lived; “Official Competition,” a Spanish satire about the making of an arthouse movie; “Paris: 13th District,” a romantic fairytale about life outside of the city’s tourist traps; and “Happening,” a raw look back at a time when abortion was illegal in France. Except for “Happening,” these weren’t all masterpieces, but they were all way, way better than the average movie. (To be clear, “Happening” is a stone cold masterpiece.) It’s just a shame that they get lost in the weird shuffle between best-of lists from the previous year and the following year. I guess that’s showbiz, though.

Here’s the full list for August.

  1. Last Night in Soho” (2021) ★½
    A horror movie that’s barely even scary, made by a director more concerned with visual spectacle than fundamental storytelling.
  2. Oblivion” (2013) ★★★
    Visually impressive post-apocalyptic action flick that manages to be surprisingly engaging, despite its many blatant rip-offs from other, better sci-fi movies.
  3. Spider-Man 2” (2004) ★★½
    Rewatched. Much more heavy-handed than I remembered, full of useless moping and unconvincing histrionics.
  4. Die Hard” (1988) ★★★★
    Rewatched. The script is the real winner here but somehow everything else—performances, music, editing, cinematography—is great too.
  5. To Be or Not to Be” (1942) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Lubitsch’s genius in full bloom; he sees the inherent silliness of theater and drags it out into the coldness of wartime.
  6. All the President's Men” (1976) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. The mesmerizing beauty of grunt work in the service of something much, much bigger.
  7. To Be or Not to Be” (1983) ★★
    Really hard to see why Mel Brooks would remake this without really having anything new to add.
  8. Bringing Out the Dead” (1999) ★★★★½
    An incredible, harrowing journey through the underside of sanity.
  9. Dirty Harry” (1971) ★★
    Shot with great style but little more than an abysmally stupid piece of copaganda.
  10. Emily the Criminal” (2022) ★★½
    A “topical” thriller with some interesting ideas, but loaded with rather boring filler.
  11. Only the Brave” (2017) ★★
    A souped-up, made-for-TV weepie aimed straight at the red states.
  12. The Outfit” (2022) ★★½
    Amusing, small-scale mob drama that’s showier than it is convincing.
  13. Ted K” (2021) ★★★½
    A little bit long, but compellingly imagined and staged. Deducted half a star due to the titles being typeset, ostentatiously, in Arial.
  14. The Badlanders” (1958) ★★★
    A heist flick/Western mashup based on the same source material as the superior “The Asphalt Jungle,” but that manages to deliver its own kind of whallop.
  15. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948) ★★
    A humiliation for two of the brightest stars of the peak screwball era.
  16. The Lost Weekend” (1945) ★★★★
    An agreeably overwrought message film elevated by Billy Wilder’s unflinching honesty.
  17. Tenet” (2020) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A rare thriller where it’s as enjoyable to not understand as to understand what’s happening on screen.
  18. The Sea Beast” (2022) ★★★
    A pedantically woke script with few surprises, but for some reason they decided to direct the hell out of it.
  19. Official Competition” (2021) ★★★½
    Little more than an excuse for the three leads to clown around, but their clowning is magnificent.
  20. Happening” (2021) ★★★★½
    A bare knuckled, uncompromising story for our time, set sixty years ago.
  21. Miami Vice” (2006) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Hits a frequency that few other filmmakers have even heard.
  22. Paris: 13th District” (2021) ★★½
    Buoyed for long stretches by its two ridiculously watchable leads, but never figures out where it’s going.
  23. Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Every viewing is like peering into an impossibility.

Don’t forget: you can also see what I watched in in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, July 2022

Movie still from “After Yang” directed by Kogonada

Back in July, deep in the middle of my summer break, I went to see “After Yang,” the second feature film from YouTube video essayist-turned-film director Kogonada. This artful, incredibly subtle indie flick is a great reminder that technology in movies is rarely as convincing—or frightening—as when it’s boring. Like many science fiction films, this one asks what it is that makes us human in a near-future world where tech has subverted our idea of humanness. But it frames that question in much more quotidian terms than we’re used to seeing on the silver screen.

Instead of treating tech with the awe and reverence that other filmmakers employ, instead of conspicuously pointing at how mind-bendingly fantastic it is, Kogonada presents it off-handedly, almost as a matter of course. The story is nominally about an android companion, but not one that’s super humanly strong or wildly intelligent—rather one that’s literally broken down and in need of repair. The quest to restore him to working order gives us glimpses of unauthorized A.I. repair shops operated by conspiracy nuts; genetically engineered clones so commonplace that the neighbors have them; driverless cars doubling as miniature gardens; massively multiplayer, global dance competitions that whole families join after dinner; and much more.

The result is a supposition of not just of how technology might change the world around us, but of how we might be changed by technology—a more lucid and plausible understanding of the broad impact of tech than any film at least since “Her.” It’s also incredibly touching. All of the delicate, nuanced thoughtfulness that Kogonada brings to his vision of tech is applied in equal measure to the emotional toll those advancements take on his characters. All of the innovations are ostensibly there to make their lives easier, but the director has an uncanny understanding of how it exacts its own cost—not just financially, but also in terms of time, dependence, morality and humanity. His expression of the complex relationships that people form with technology is wonderfully singular, and this movie is very special as a result.

Here are all fifteen movies that I watched in July.

  1. Jurassic Park” (1993) ★★½
    Diverting at times but also a bit of a slog.
  2. The Rules of the Game” (1939) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Still trying to decode this movie.
  3. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022) ★
    Really feels like no one over at Marvel really gives a damn about anything other than buying themselves new vacation homes.
  4. Confidence” (2003) ★½
    Rewatched. Completely undersells the thrill of the grift.
  5. Highlander” (1986) ★
    Bombastic and undercooked. Makes sense only through the lens of a heavy metal afternoon spent in your parents’ basement.
  6. Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Ready to rewatch again, too.
  7. Leave Her to Heaven” (1945) ★★★★
    Aw shucks gosh this a really wholesome slice of incredibly sinister melodrama.
  8. Revenge” (1990) ★★
    Agreeably sleazy and actually quite captivating for a while despite its many, many clichés.
  9. Carnal Knowledge” (1971) ★★★½
    Jack Nicholson in a ruthless script that lays bare the male libido.
  10. Niagara” (1953) ★★★
    A fairly pro forma film noir lit aflame by Marilyn Monroe’s epochal vamping.
  11. After Yang” (2021) ★★★★
    Wonderfully gentle and yet unsparingly cutting examination of our relationship with technology.
  12. Thor: Love and Thunder” (2022) ★
    Practically a nothingburger, except for the fact that its vacuity says so much about what we go to the movies for.
  13. High Sierra” (1941) ★★★½
    The Bogart persona in full effect.
  14. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes” (2020) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Still a marvel.
  15. The Fourth Protocol” (1987) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Serviceable, late-Cold War spy thriller featuring Michael Caine in a ridiculous 80s dad ski jacket.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, June 2022

Still image from “Turn Every Page–The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” directed by Lizzie Gottlieb

Now is not the time to explain why I avoid documentaries as a rule, but I did make one exception back in June when a good friend had an extra ticket to see “Turn Every Page–The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” in its worldwide debut at the Tribeca Film Festival. The reason I went is that I’m a sucker for anything having to do with the author Robert Caro, whose seminal biography of Robert Moses and ongoing, multi-part biography of Lyndon Johnson have made for some of the most thrilling reading I’ve ever done. Caro’s work is widely recognized among the most acclaimed non-fiction books of our era, winning two Pulitzers and three National Book Critics Circle Awards, in addition to being essential to Zoom backgrounds.

“Turn Every Page” was directed by Lizzie Gottlieb, daughter of Caro’s longstanding editor, Robert Gottlieb, a titan in his own right who has edited an astounding number of high profile titles of both fiction and non-fiction. (He’s also a published author himself.) As far as I’m aware, this film is the first time either man has ever gone on the record about their working relationship. Though founded on a high level of mutual respect, it turns out that their collaboration is also incredibly fraught, frequently contentious, and borderline adversarial. In fact, when the younger Gottlieb proposed the idea for the documentary to Caro, the author initially refused outright, and then only acquiesced with the stipulation that he should never be filmed in the same room as his editor. Fast friends, they are not.

Nevertheless, this is the professional relationship that has produced some of the most important books ever written about the way American democracy truly works. Capturing that weird dynamic alone makes “Turn Every Page” a gem. I can’t say that the film really transcends all of my reservations about documentary as a form, but I enjoyed every moment of it all the same. In fact, I’m sure that even audiences who aren’t familiar with these books or these men will still enjoy the rare look at how authors and editors work together, a too little discussed aspect of how the books we all read come to be published.

As it happens, the timing of this ridiculously delayed write-up of this movie turns out to be fortuitous. After making the rounds at film festivals throughout the second half of the year, “Turn Every Page” is today starting a theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles, and hopefully expanding to more screens soon. If you’re lucky enough to live near a theater that’s showing it, this has my heartiest recommendation as a truly great way to avoid seeing “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Here are the other fourteen movies I watched back in June.

  1. Edge of Tomorrow” (2014) ★★★★
    Rewatched. The character building throughout is masterful.
  2. The Bad Guys” (2022) ★★★
    Sharply styled, marginally above-average kids movie.
  3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (2018) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Action poetry.
  4. Turn Every Page – The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” (2022) ★★★★
    I don’t like documentaries, but I ate up this one about the author of “The Power Broker” and his dysfunctional relationship with his editor.
  5. Jack Reacher” (2012) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Yes, still very good.
  6. The Personal History of David Copperfield” (2019) ★★
    A strikeout, but a commendably wild swing.
  7. The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) ★★★★
    Rewatched. They don’t make ’em—or cast ’em—like they used to.
  8. Hustle” (2022) ★★
    Spend a career making crap and you too can can get applauded for half-trying every once in a while.
  9. Five Graves to Cairo” (1943) ★★★
    A weird little World War II movie where none of the accents are right, but it’s still just smart and cynical enough to be worth it.
  10. The Package” (1989) ★★½
    Quite old fashioned, novelistic take on an action movie, but Gene Hackman is mesmerizing in every frame.
  11. Mr. Bean’s Holiday” (2007) ★★
    Not much of a movie, but they tried to make it into something interesting.
  12. Lightyear” (2022) ★★★
    Not the best, but certainly not the worst thing Disney has put out this year—so far.
  13. That Darn Cat!” (1965) ★★
    Basically nonsense, but delightfully naive in its idiocy.
  14. Atlantis: The Lost Empire” (2001) ★
    Why hand-drawn animation died.
  15. No Way Out” (1987) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Holds up as a crackerjack, Reagan-era neo-noir.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, May 2022

Still from “Top Gun: Maverick” directed by Joseph Kosinski

Back in May, the only movie that mattered was Joseph Kosinski’s wildly retrograde, politically dim, conservative fantasia “Top Gun: Maverick,” in which defiantly ageless madman Tom Cruise revisits his absurd, jingoistic blockbuster from 1986. I hated the original, not just for its politics but also for the fact that it wasn’t much of a movie. Here’s what I wrote when I revisited it two years ago:

The hackneyed, tedious script is an impoverishment of ideas and of character development, enlivened only by Tom Cruise’s irrepressible mugging—not a performance, really, as much as a continual series of guest appearances in his own movie.

All the same, I enjoyed the heck out of the sequel. After seeing it on the largest IMAX screen in North America on its opening day, I dragged my kids with me to see it again the very next afternoon. The movie’s many, many absurdly macho conceits aside, it delivered everything that you want out of a summer blockbuster: a singularly theatrical experience that lets you turn your brain off without feeling like your intelligence is being insulted. I attribute this not to director Joseph Kosinski, whose otherwise consistently mediocre filmography practically proves that the real creative force behind this film is the uniquely productive collaboration between Cruise and writer/director/producer Christopher McQuarrie. Over the past decade-plus, the two have created a remarkable body of work within the contemporary Hollywood studio system, and I look forward to each new project with tremendous excitement. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Here’s the full list of twenty movies I watched back in May.

  1. Happy Hour” (2015) ★★★
    A very long, complex journey through the lives of four women friends. Starts very off strong but eventually can’t resolve itself.
  2. The Player” (1992) ★★★★
    A zippy, entertaining compromise between a true Altman film and a great Hollywood script.
  3. Z” (1969) ★★★★½
    A fantastic political thriller that feels borne from the heart of 1960s era social unrest, made with shocking confidence.
  4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) ★★½
    Rewatched. They really were trying to do something different with James Bond in this movie; they just weren’t trying hard enough.
  5. Free Guy” (2021) ★
    Slick, soulless garbage.
  6. The Batman” (2022) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I enjoy Robert Pattinson’s performance a little more with each viewing.
  7. Official Secrets” (2019) ★★★½
    Trips its way into some inelegant speechifying, but this political drama is very gripping and surprisingly emotional.
  8. Flora & Ulysses” (2021) ★★
    Mostly just standard kids fare, but occasionally it surprises with real directorial chops.
  9. Adaptation.” (2002) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Virtually perfect interrogation of Hollywood formula that’s somehow just as entertaining as it is provocative.
  10. Operation Mincemeat” (2021) ★½
    An overly polite historical drama that renders a genuinely fascinating real life story super boring.
  11. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (2015) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Great.
  12. The Cheat” (1931) ★★
    This morality play sports an incredibly rudimentary script but features a fascinating performance from its lead, Tallulah Bankhead.
  13. Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers” (2022) ★½
    Movies that are acutely aware of how clever they are have become a scourge.
  14. Django & Django: Sergio Corbucci Unchained” (2021) ★★★
    Watching this documentary about the great Italian director of spaghetti westerns is like storytime at Uncle Quentin’s place.
  15. The Color of Money” (1986) ★★★★
    I’d always heard that this is lesser Scorsese but it still rocks.
  16. The Adam Project” (2022) ★
    Ryan Reynolds has become the face of the overbudgeted, undercooked Netflix era of film.
  17. The Man Who Never Was” (1956) ★★½
    Rewatched. A much better (if still kind of unremarkable) recounting of the events behind “Operation Mincemeat.” I saw this as a kid and I’ve been fascinated with this story ever since.
  18. Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) ★★★★
    A cinematic triumph of conservative ideas that even a lefty can dig.
  19. Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I went back to see it again the very next day.
  20. The Parallax View” (1974) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Still fascinatingly paranoid, but the real star is Gordon Willis’s gorgeous cinematography.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, April 2022

Still from “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

For a few months earlier this year, everyone everywhere all at once was talking about “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a break out sci-fi adventure film from the directing duo Daniels. I found a lot to admire in this movie but I just couldn’t get fully on board, despite my best efforts.

For Asian Americans in particular this movie is a big win. Not only does it rescue the film reputation of actor Ke Huy Quan, who played the infamous “Short Round” in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” but it also provides a triumphant, stateside victory lap for the iconic Michele Yeoh, all the while earning more than US$100 million at the box office, making it the highest grossing release ever for famed indie distributor A24.

I can’t argue that this film doesn’t deserve accolades, but after seeing it a second time within a few weeks of the Nicolas Cage-starrer “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” I was able to hone in on what irritated me so much about both: a hugely self-congratulatory streak that seems to stand in for genuine invention. As I wrote in my review of “Massive Talent”:

“These movies are all about echoing back to the audience the stuff we know already, and they’re measured in the frequency of chuckles and hoots of approval from the audience when we recognize something pulled out from our media memory trunks, when our past purchases are flashed in front of us and the value of those transactions are reasserted. They wink and nudge at us and say, “Hey, we’ve all seen this stuff before and here it is again but in a slightly different context. Isn’t that hilarious? And aren’t we all great for being in on this joke?”

By contrast, I was much more energized by Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” a triptych of much more straightforward—and much less bombastic—dramas focused on the romantic lives of young women in contemporary Japan. Hamaguchi hit the jackpot at awards season with “Drive My Car,” which I also watched in April; that film was also released in late 2021 but went on to much greater attention, even winning an Oscar for best foreign film. Nevertheless, “Wheel” is the better film for my money; each of its tales is delicately crafted to achieve a subtle, bittersweet kind of magic. What’s more, the third story, titled “Once Again,” a truly heartbreaking reminder that you can never go home again, is as virtually perfect as anything I’ve seen in recent memory.

Here are all fourteen films I saw in April.

  1. The Great Beauty” (2013) ★★★½
    A somewhat preposterous protagonist makes for a movie that is shallower than it thinks. Still, Paolo Sorrentino’s incredibly vivid direction turns it into something exactly as rapturous as his aspirations.
  2. Drive My Car” (2021) ★★½
    Is Haruki Murakami really that good of a storyteller, or are we all just deluding ourselves? This movie really made me wonder.
  3. The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil” (2019) ½★
    This Korean gangster flick looked promising, but it was so dumb and boring that I…I…yawn…zzzzz.
  4. France” (2021) ★★★
    Not fully successful but still quite compelling blurring of the line between the real and unreal for those who live in the media spotlight, starring Léa Seydoux.
  5. Crimson Peak” (2015) ★½
    Blood, blood everywhere! Entirely skippable exercise in mediocre gore.
  6. Rescued by Ruby” (2022) ★½
    Ripped-from-the-headlines story of a hero dog that no grown up will ever enjoy.
  7. Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022) ★★½
    Rewatched. I went back because my wife wanted to see it, and I liked and understood it a little better, but it still fell short for me.
  8. Shiva Baby” (2020) ★★★
    Scrappy little indie film with great performances compensates for a shaky script.
  9. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. For the fifth time. Guess what? This movie is still amazing.
  10. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” (2021) ★★★★
    Three enchanting tales of hidden love. Recommended.
  11. WarGames” (1983) ★★★½
    Rewatched. This movie barely understands computers or even its own characters, but it somehow works amazingly well anyway.
  12. Asako I & II” (2018) ★★★
    Ryusuke Hamaguchi can make any humdrum romantic plot, like this one, much more interesting than it really is.
  13. The Living Daylights” (1987) ★
    Rewatched. From the era when Bond was in the wildnerness. A total waste of Timothy Dalton.
  14. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (2022) ★★★
    A fun enough ride but way more self-congratulatory than substantive.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in March, in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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Movies Watched, March 2022

“Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes” by Junta Yamaguchi

As I’m writing these long-delayed roundups of my monthly movie consumption from earlier this year, I’m finding that the movies I want to talk about most are the smaller scale productions that went little noticed at the time. That’s not out of a disdain for Hollywood blockbusters—well, not entirely. I admit, I am a movie snob, but I’m also a guy who went to see Matt Reeves’s “The Batman” twice and really liked it, after all. Nevertheless, there are so many unsung triumphs out there, and I really enjoy trying to point more folks in their direction.

One film I saw in March that’s actually kind of a treat to discover sight unseen is “Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes,” a seventy-minute Japanese indie directed by Junta Yamaguchi. It debuted in Japan in 2020, made the rounds at film festivals for a year or so, and only made it to American audiences earlier in 2022. This is an utterly charming, family-friendly and incredibly winning flick with a script that’s tight as a drum and performances and dialog that work like a beautiful, high-end watch movement.

I’m being intentionally vague regarding what it’s about or even what genre it is because, if you’re not already familiar with it, then great! It’s a movie that really, really ought to be watched with as little prior knowledge as possible, which is exactly the way I watched it. I knew nothing about its cast, crew or plot beforehand, and that made it all the more richly satisfying. I’ve since recommended it to friends, lots of them, with the advice: “Don’t read anything about it beforehand. Don’t Google it. Don’t look it up on IMDB. Don’t even read the movie description if you can avoid it. Just watch it.” None of them have been disappointed, and I bet you won’t be either. As of this writing, it’s streaming on Prime Video, so what have you got to lose?

Here are all fourteen of the movies I saw in March.

  1. A League of Their Own” (1992) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Formulaic but fun, with a full slate of irrepressibly genial performances.
  2. Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (1928) ★★★★½
    Buster Keaton’s masterwork of invention, completely undiminished, even ninety-four years later.
  3. The Batman” (2022) ★★★★
    Takes itself way too seriously but does what we can only wish more super-hero movies would attempt: do away with the fan service and tell a story with a real point of view.
  4. Morocco” (1930) ★★★
    When you’ve got two smoldering hot leads like Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper, having a plot is almost unnecesssary.
  5. Joker” (2019) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Didn’t expect to be as impressed with this—or enjoy it as much—the second time around.
  6. Irma Vep” (1996) ★★★★
    Fleetfooted and nimble and hilarious in ways that so many indie movies, including this same director’s, just aren’t.
  7. The French Dispatch” (2021) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Totally fine.
  8. The Batman” (2022) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Confirmed that this is the best Batman film.
  9. Turning Red” (2022) ★★★
    Pretty endearing.
  10. Sherlock, Jr.” (1924) ★★★★
    Went back for more Buster Keaton and just bowled over by this genius deconstruction of the fourth wall.
  11. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes” (2020) ★★★★
    Totally delightful, mind-bending sci-fi comedy from Japan. Highly recommended—but don’t read anything about it beforehand!
  12. Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022) ★★
    I’m in the minority on this one.
  13. Seven Chances” (1925) ★★★½
    Early Buster Keaton; takes a while to get in gear, but it’s worth it.
  14. Red Desert” (1964) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Antonioni’s uncompromising vision is conceptually rewarding but also exhausting.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in February, in January, in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

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