Brief Reviews: January 2022

I began 2022 with a bang, and enjoyed catching up with [much of] the cast and creators of one of my favorite franchises of all time, Harry Potter, with the reunion that was released on January 1st. Instead of writing lengthy reviews for the movies I’m watching, this year I’m going to stick to [mainly] brief reviews, and if I deign to write longer reviews, they’ll be on Letterboxd. In January, I watched 37 films — includes some short films — most of which were first-time watches. My 2022 film thread is here on Twitter, and I’ll recap my January watches below. 

1/1: Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts (2022; on HBO Max) — Even though the reunion spends most of its runtime on the three leads, it’s still heartwarming and a delight to see them look back on one of my favorite franchises. Mostly very enjoyable — with a few tears here & there — albeit with few surprises.  Grade:  A-

1/2: Nightmare Alley (2011; on HBO Max/theatres) — I was able to see this one in the theatre, and I’m glad I did, as it’s a gorgeously-shot film to behold; while the two separate parts don’t work in tandem as well as director Guillermo del Toro would like, any narrative messiness is improved upon by terrific performances by Cate Blanchett (so seductively mysterious) and Bradley Cooper (for that last shot alone).  Grade: B+

1/3: Encanto (2021; on Disney+) — Disney’s latest musical was a bit of a letdown for me, at least narratively speaking, as there is no real villain and the third act is. mess. That said, it’s still mostly enjoyable, the characters are unique (and diverse!), and some of the songs are catchy. Grade: B

1/4: The French Dispatch (2021; rent) — It’s hard to review Wes Anderson latest, which is basically an anthology with some pieces that are stronger than others, that don’t tie together as well as I’d hoped. There are also so many actors that it’s hard to keep track (some feel wasted), yet  there are others who really chew up the scenery and bring it to life, including Timothee Chalamet and Jeffrey Wright. Grade: B

1/4: The Harder They Fall (2021; Netflix) — I found this movie to be mostly disappointing, despite a handful of entertaining moments and committed performances from Jonathon Majors, Idris Elba, and Regina King. Both rival groups do despicable things, so it’s hard to know who to root for; regardless, writer-director Jeymes Samuel has shown promise as a debut filmmaker.  Grade: B-

1/5: CODA (2021; Apple+) — The breakout hit from last year’s Sundance is every bit as delightful and heartwarming as has been said, lead by a strong performance by Emilia Jones, supported by a cast of [mostly] deaf actors — Troy Kotsur stands out, especially. Despite the story’s relative predictability and familiar coming-of-age beats, it’s done in such a unique way that presents the deaf community as much more complex and interesting than they have been in other films.  Grade: A-

1/6: The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021; HBO Max) — It’s a rather standard biopic that never really gets more than skin deep, though it’s elevated by a fantastic, transformative performance by [fellow vegan] Jessica Chastain, who clearly has never put herself so much into a role. The uneven narrative is not helped by some strange editing and pacing, although Chastain’s work alone is enough to make us be invested in the material. Grade: B

1/7: Cruella (2021; Disney+) — I enjoyed this movie much more than I was expecting, and can easily say that it’s entertaining and funny and features two top-notch performances from Oscar-winning Emmas (Thompson and Stone). Sure, it’ s a bit longer than it needs to be, and there are some unbelievable things that occur in the third act that strain credulity, yet the film is so unique in presenting a known villain in an unknown way. Grade: A-

1/8: The Lost Daughter (2021; Netflix) — Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is perhaps one of the most confounding movies I’ve ever seen, with an incredibly ambiguous ending and unanswered questions. Yet, the characters are so alive and distinctive that I found it all so fascinating, and it helps that the lead is played by a never-better Olivia Colman, who can do so much with just her eyes.  Grade: A-

1/9: Luca (2021; Disney+) — Pixar’s latest non-musical film is nowhere top of its oeuvre thus far, though it’s quite enjoyable and heartwarming, featuring a literal fish-out-of-water story full of plenty of comedic moments that mostly worked for me. Yes, it’s slight and not all that deep, but the central male relationships at its center — which some have viewed as queer-adjacent — is its main draw.  Grade: B+

1/9: Logan Lucky (2017; Netflix) — This was my second time watching this comedic crime caper, which is in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven (obviously, not as great) with some West Virginia spirit. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are a surprisingly hilarious duo of thieves who are much cleverer than they appear, though it’s an over-the-top, heavily-tattooed (and blonde!) Daniel Craig who steals every scene. Grade: B+

1/10: The Tender Bar (2021; Amazon Prime) — It’s so hard to review a movie in which nothing interesting ever happens, a movie that I can say that I saw but I can’t recall any specific event that transpires. That’s not to say that this is a bad film, though aside from a strong, nuanced performance from Ben Affleck — whose scenes are the best in the film — there’s no real reason to see it. Grade: C

1/11: The First Wave (2021; Hulu) — With unfiltered footage from the first wave of the pandemic (in 2020) in NYC, this documentary will have you crying tears of joy and of sadness. The only problem is that there is too much footage and audio of now-disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo. Grade: A-

1/12: Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021; HBO Max/Disney) — An animated film with a lot of heart, this one got kind of swept under the rug, as it’s similar to the well-loved (and deservedly excellent) Mitchells vs. the Machines with less depth. That said, it’s still enjoyable and will put a smile on your face for the majority of its runtime. Grade: B+

1/13: Us Again (2021; Disney+) — This delightful, entertaining short film aired before Raya and the Last Dragon, and I wish I’d been able to see it on the big screen. Despite its brief runtime and lack of depth, it’s visually stunning and features great music, too. Grade: A-

1/14: Eternals (2021; Disney+) — This was my second time watching the film, which I still enjoyed more than most critics, although I recognized its flaws (mostly, its length and sizable cast). Oscar winner Chloe Zhao manages to create something wholly unique in the MCU, and has assembled a truly great cast (lead by the amazingly talented Gemma Chan). Grade: B+

1/15: The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021; Apple+) — Joel Coen’s adaption of one of Shakespeare’s most famous works has been done in a truly fascinating way, although quite a bit of the text is cut out and it might be difficult for those unfamiliar with the play to follow along. That said, the cinematography is other-worldly, and scene-stealer Kathryn Hunter is pitch-perfect as all three witches. Grade: B+

1/16: Licorice Pizza (2021; theatres) — I’m a mixed bag on Paul Thomas Anderson’s films (love There Will Be Blood, severely disliked Phantom Thread), so I’m happy to report I’m fully on the love-it side for his latest. Newcomers Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are brilliant and I loved every aspect of the story and narrative detours it took, and rooted for the duo despite (or in spite of) their age difference. Grade: A

1/17: Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021; Hulu) — It’s difficult to describe Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo’s follow-up to their Oscar-nominated comedy, Bridesmaids, which is so wild and unexpected that I’m not even sure how I feel about it. Overall, though, the characters are loveably annoying enough for me to be interested in their adventures, and let’s not forget Jamie Dornan’s ridiculous and funny beach ballad. Grade: B

1/18: Robin Robin (2021; Netflix) — The first Oscar shortlisted animated film I walked, this one was delightful enough to appease youngsters, although there’s little in it for adults, despite the heartwarming message it tries to achieve. The songs were highly unnecessary, and it was longer than it needed to be.  Grade: B-

1/19: The Incredibly True Adventure of 2 Girls in Love (1995; rent) — This was the Sundance Film Festival’s test screening, and a queer film that I’d heard about but was unable to find on any streaming service. Laurel Holloman and Nicole Ari Parker are positively adorable as the girls at the film’s center, and the film takes a surprisingly wacky turn in the third act that mostly worked for me, even if the ending is ambiguous. Grade: B+

1/20: Flowing Home (2021; YouTube) — The next animated short I watched was this French-made film that has a beautiful story at its heart, yet I never felt all that invested in the story, as I didn’t know the characters well enough. Grade: B-

1/20: Step Into the River (2020; YouTube) — Immediately after, I watched this animated short, which is incredibly depressing and powerful, if a bit obvious with its messaging. Grade: A-

1/20: Only a Child (2020; YouTube) — This animated short is a visual representation of what was said by a young activist about 30 years ago, and the words are as relevant as they were then. Grade: A-

1/21: Belfast (2021; rent) — I finally caught [what many say is] the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture, and it’s every bit as heartwarming and crowd-pleasing as has been said. Even though it’s slight, has a short running time, and it seems lacking in substance, it’s a beautiful tribute to writer-director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood that is nearly impossible to dislike. Grade: B+

1/22: Blush (2021; Apple+) — It’s a shame this animated short didn’t make the Oscar shortlist, as it’s potentially my favorite one. This is a dialogue-less sci-fi romance that has a whopper of an ending that left me in tears. Grade: A

1/23: Master (2022; N/A) — The first Sundance film I watched was a thriller/mystery featuring a terrific performance from Regina Hill, and is in the vein of the Oscar-winning Get Out. Unfortunately, the supernatural elements didn’t work for me, and I found the third act to be a bit disappointing. Grade: B

1/24: The Rescue (2021; Disney+) — This documentary, about the rescue of the Thai soccer team from a cave, is fascinating and engaging, even if you know the end result. The reenactments are so good that I at first thought they were actual footage. Grade: A-

1/25: Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul (2022; N/A) — Unintentionally, my second (and final) Sundance film also featured Regina Hall, this time in a mockumentary about a disgraced preacher and his long-suffering wife, which is a bit messy at times. Hall is, once again, terrific, as is Sterling K. Brown, in a role that has his charm (and abs!) on full display.  Grade: B+

1/26: Three Songs for Benazir (2021; Netflix) — This Oscar shortlisted documentary short is too brief to achieve what it hopes to do, and I wasn’t exactly sure of its goal. That said, it’s a fascinating look at life in Afghanistan for a young aspiring soldier and his wife. Grade: B

1/26: Affairs of the Art (2021; YouTube) — This is yet another animated short, one that is too bizarre for words and is tricky to accurately review. It’s clearly an adult-aimed film that tackles too many issues and moves too quickly for any real emotion to be felt. Grade: B-

1/26: Bad Seeds (2021; YouTube) — This animated short is exactly as short as you’d like, and is very clever, with a delightful and surprising ending. Grade: B+

1/26: The Windshield Wiper (2021; YouTube) — The final animated short I watched is my favorite among the shortlisted films, which answers the question: “what is love?” I found the myriad examples of love to be very unique, diverse, and powerful. Grade: A

1/27: Audible (2021; Netflix) — This documentary short is, unfortunately, too brief to be as impactful as it aims to be, although it’s near-impossible not to be interested in the story of an all-deaf football team. The sound work is really solid too, almost as good as the work in Sound of Metal.  Grade: B+

1/28: The Hand of God (2021; Amazon Prime) — The first and only Oscar shortlisted foreign film I’ve watched so far, this one is incredibly disappointing in a number of ways; for one, how am I supposed to care about a teenage boy who lusts after his own aunt? Even when it tries to be interesting, with a tragedy that affects the protagonist, it mostly fails to do so, and it’s a pity that such a gorgeously-shot film is so dull and offensive. Grade: D+

1/29: Lilies of the Field (1963; Amazon Prime) — Sidney Poitier’s recent death inspired me to watch his Oscar-winning performance, which is probably not his best work ever, although it’s hard to deny his charm and likability. The film is surprisingly laugh-out-loud funny and the ultimate crowd pleaser, even if it doesn’t delve deeply into any issues. Grade: A-

1/30: Aguilas aka Eagles (2021; YouTube) — My final film of January 2022, this one was fairly uneventful, and too brief; however, I did still get an idea of how terrible things really are the US-Mexico border. Grade: B