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.