With a chilly and surprisingly rainy fall and winter here on the west coast, I had so much time to watch movies recently that I had to remind myself to slow down.
On these lists I only cover recent releases, even though I do watch older movies all the time. While I could review those here, I feel like I wouldn’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said better by someone else. Still, if the weather doesn’t improve or they don’t come out with enough new movies I might have little choice but to write about some classics here as well.
On with my movie reviews from the latter half of 2022.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Marcel is a seashell with one googly eye, a mouth, and short legs with shoes at the end. He spends his time with his grandmother at a human-sized home that’s recently become an Airbnb. Dean, the current human guest at the home, happens to be a documentary filmmaker who decides to record parts of Marcel’s life and upload them to YouTube. These videos quickly become a hit as people want to find out more about Marcel.
Based on a web series of the same name — which you don’t need to see before watching this — the movie is a seamless mix of live action and stop motion animation.
Missing the community of his fellow seashells and other living inanimate objects that used to be a part of his life, Marcel lands an interview with his favorite news anchor, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes.
In the hands of lesser filmmakers this could have been an annoying or obnoxious movie. Instead it comes across as a silly but heartwarming little movie, if a nonsensical one.
Best moment: Finding out why Marcel needs honey.
Crimes of the Future
David Cronenberg is back doing creepy body horror sci-fi films again (think Videodrome, Naked Lunch, Existenz, etc.) In this movie we’re shown a world where people voluntarily undergo unnecessary surgery to have experimental organs grown in their bodies. This leads to a form of synthetic evolution in which people take on strange new abilities, such as eating and digesting plastic.
Oh, and some characters find this surgery sexually arousing.
Perhaps the biggest question looming over this film is this: Do we really want a movie about medical horrors in the age of COVID-19? I strongly suspect the answer is no.
In many ways this feels like an older, wiser director trying to recapture the magic of his earlier works. Aside from the aforementioned films, Cronenberg adapted J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash to the big screen in the 90’s — if you want a movie about incomprehensible erotic desires I’d go with that one instead.
Best moment: The line “Surgery is the new sex.”
Jordan Peele is back with his third horror/dark comedy film. Without going into spoilers, the owner of a small ranch that trains horses for Hollywood is killed in a mysterious accident. Or is it an accident? His adult children, the quiet O.J. and his outgoing sister Emerald, take over the business and quickly discover a string of strange occurrences at and around the ranch.
To get to the bottom of it the two get the assistance of a slightly offbeat Fry’s Electronics employee to install outdoor cameras. It’s not exactly clear when this film takes place but apparently Fry’s Electronics is still around in the world of this movie.
Compared to Peele’s previous two films, Get Out and Us, Nope is a bit longer, leans a lot more on CGI, and jumps between comedy and horror more easily. The only part of the movie that didn’t work for me is a subplot involving an accident on the set of a sitcom. Despite fitting in with the theme and adding to the horror horror, it’s only tangentially related to the main story and felt like it was almost out of a different and more terrifying movie.
Best moment: I could come up with so many best moments, but for me personally just seeing Fry’s Electronics again made me giggle.
High school teenager Robert is an aspiring comic book artist who’s encouraged by his art teacher to make his work more “subversive.” The teacher shares some comics he drew, which look like a cross between Robert Crumb and something from the early years of Mad Magazine.
The movie seems to take the teacher’s advice to heart as it repeatedly subverts Robert’s wishes and desires at every turn. He quits high school, moves out of his parent’s house and into the most disgusting basement apartment in New Jersey. He meets the unstable and temperamental Wallace, who he immediately idolizes due to Wallace’s past employment at Image Comics. To say much more would be heading into spoiler territory as this is a fairly short film at under 90 minutes.
One aspect of this movie that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere is the overall look. Most of the actors are very average or even a little weird looking — which is typical for indie movies, but here the characters almost look like Robert Crumb’s caricature drawings. The color palette of the film is very neutral which gives it the feel of a late 60’s/early 70’s movie (think Harold and Maude.) Despite this it’s clearly set in the modern era with mobile phones and laptops.
First time filmmaker Owen Kline wrote and directed this movie, and was produced by the Safdie Brothers. While it doesn’t have the same big screen theatrical presence as the Sadfie’s own movies the sense of tragic comedy fits well with theirs.
Although I think it’s a solid effort for an indie film for a first timer, I have to criticize the uneven tone. It’s one thing to flip between drama and dark comedy but there are a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments scattered in that didn’t fit for me. Maybe the movie needs more of those, maybe it needs fewer?
Best moment: Everything that happens in the dilapidated “Right Aid” pharmacy (not to be confused with national chain Rite Aid, of course.)
In the sunny suburbs of Southern California, Bud (Jamie Foxx) is a recently divorced vampire hunter who desperately needs money to provide for his daughter. To make ends meet he begs his way back into the vampire hunter union. Bud is allowed in on the condition that he’s partnered with their timid office drone Seth (Dave Franco.) Oh, and of course Snoop Dogg shows up as an old school vampire hunter in a cowboy outfit.
This movie is a real mixed bag of highs and lows. Aside from the great cast, the fight scenes are completely over the top fun, and most of the comedy works.
Unfortunately there’s a shocking amount of expository dialog about vampires that belongs in a different movie. The audience just wants some vampire fights and hijinks, not some appendix describing vampire taxonomy. While I don’t think the movie deserves a stake through the heart, it could have used more time in the editing room.
Best moment: “I didn’t pee myself this time.”
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
When I first heard about this movie the idea of a fictional take on the life of Weird Al didn’t do much for me. First of all I love his cult classic movie UHF, what more could this one have to offer? Second, how could a fictional autobiography be funny?
Well, I was wrong on both counts.
Of course for those who aren’t a fan of Weird Al already, I doubt this movie will do anything to change that. This is one of those movies that’s self-selecting from the title alone.
While the movie starts out feeling like a parody of one of those “Behind the Music” documentaries it gets sillier as it gradually and then entirely derails from that premise.
The casting is surprisingly good with Daniel Radcliffe impersonating Weird Al and hamming it up. Various comedians appear throughout the movie, including Weird Al himself as a sarcastic record executive.
The one thing that would have much been funnier — and I can’t put my finger exactly on why — would be to have Radcliffe sing throughout the movie instead of lip syncing to Weird Al’s vocals.
Best moment: “You’ll find out what we make at the factory when you WORK at the factory!”
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Writer/director Rian Johnson followed up to his previous film Knives Out (which I previously reviewed here) with this new mystery featuring detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig.) Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the previous film, they’re both self-contained stories.
Billionaire tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites his quirky but influential friends to his private island in Greece for a weekend with a murder mystery game, and Blanc comes along for the ride. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan and a real murder takes place, leaving Blanc scrambling to find answers before the police can make it to the island.
I thought Glass Onion compared favorably to Knives Out in terms of humor and pacing. The final act pulls off that rare perfect murder mystery ending, which I won’t spoil here.
Best moment: Personally, I laughed way too hard when the camera zoomed out to reveal Blanc was eavesdropping on a conversation by hiding behind a giant sculpture of an ass.
Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm
Back in 2001 when Adult Swim debuted late at night their first batch of original cartoons included Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The series of 15 minute episodes is about the adventures of three anthropomorphic food characters, the various aliens and robots that show up, and of course their neighbor Carl.
Aqua Teen isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve somehow read this far you might as well spend a few minutes watching an episode or two to see if you find it funny or not.
In the time since we last caught up with our “heroes” they have broken up; Frylock got a job in IT, Meatwad is volunteering at a dog shelter, and Master Shake is at a homeless shelter telling tall tales about his past. When an evil corporation called Amazin threatens the world, the gang has to get back together and fight for their own lives.
For those who remember the first and previous film, 2007’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, you’d be right to be skeptical of this one. My two cents is that Platasm has a story coherent enough that I could laugh at the jokes instead of trying to figure out what was going on — even if Aqua Teen is well past its prime.
This time around, the movie is more focused with a clever framing device. I also appreciated that they jump right back into the action without directly acknowledging that the show has been off the air for several years.
What I would have liked to see more of though is the dynamic between the three main characters. Their ridiculous living room conversations were often the funniest part of the show, but here Frylock spends most of the movie separated from Meatwad and Master Shake.
Best moment: “Screw you, environment!”
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
Fans of the classic tale Pinocchio had not one but three movies to choose from in 2022, from Disney’s remake of their own classic movie adaptation to the straight to the dollar store bargain bin Pinocchio: A True Story.
And then there’s Guillermo Del Toro’s version: a unique stop motion adaptation set during the Italian fascist era.
What works are the visuals: the character designs, the stop motion animation, and the computer graphics give this movie a completely unique look. What falls flat is when the movie halfheartedly remembers that it’s billed as a musical and a character goes off to sing for a couple minutes.
My guess is that even though this movie is clearly aimed at kids, it’s also a reprieve for even the most jaded parents who are sick of the usual Disney and DreamWorks kids movies — Del Toro’s artistic sensibilities at the very least make this movie stand out from the rest. At the end of the day though it’s still a retread of a story you already know.
Best moment: “You may have no strings, but I control you.”