Hey, so you might have noticed my reviews haven’t been as frequent this year. Well, due to both professional and personal reasons, I’ve not been able to give the site as much attention as I would like. Your girl has got a lot of plates spinning right now, and as much as I love doing it, Alternative Lens isn’t as important as my ultimate career aspirations or my mental health.
However, that didn’t mean I stopped seeing as many movies. In fact, I’ve seen so many more so far this year than I had by this time in 2021. So as a result, my bi-annual attempt to catch up on everything I didn’t have time to do a full review of, or didn’t have much of a take to warrant doing one, or just saw way too late, is now MUCH larger than it’d usually be.
But if you REALLY need to know my thoughts on a movie as soon as I’ve seen it, give me a follow on Letterboxd here: https://letterboxd.com/AltFilmLens/. I’ll often do my quick thoughts on movies straight after I’ve seen them, including first watches of older films or revisiting movies I’ve seen before. So if you’ve been missing me on here and looking for more AltLens content, head on over to Letterboxd. It’s where all the cool kids are these days.
Now, on with the show!
Death on the Nile
Kenneth Branagh returns to the world of Agatha Christie in front of and behind the camera once again in this star-studded sequel to his Murder on the Orient Express, and it’s a mild but noticeable improvement over the first. All the characters are given a bit more dimension (Emma Mackey is especially great at balancing the line between camp and tragic), Branagh’s Poirot is less of a cartoon character, and the final reveal is far less preposterous and unintentionally hilarious. That said, it’s still a mostly style-over-substance affair that’s fun in the moment but doesn’t at all stick in the mind. Also, the fact half the cast has been cancelled to varying degrees between filming and release makes it an awkward watch at points. 5/10
Directed by the late Roger Michell, this dramatization of the true-life caper of a working-class pensioner stealing a famous portrait and holding it for ransom in exchange for free TV licenses is a simple but charming cup of Northern goodness. You can never go too wrong with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren as your leads and, given the current economic climate in the UK right now, this hits close to home in just the right way. It’s still too formulaic and old-fashioned to be anything remarkable, but it’s a solid Sunday afternoon watch. 6/10
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
How many times do we need to reboot Texas Chainsaw Massacre before we get one that understands the original? And if you can’t do that, just don’t make it all or, at the very least, don’t call it Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Whilst I do appreciate the attempts at cultural commentary by touching on gentrification and school shootings, they are exploited in an uncreative and borderline tasteless manner, and its attempts to tie back into the original are just unnecessary. Elsie Fisher is the main thing keeping this whole enterprise from being completely unwatchable, and at least it has to decency to be mercifully short; only 74 minutes excluding credits. 3/10
An interesting premise for a low-budget speculative drama with strong performances and some intriguing moral dilemmas, but it unfortunately doesn’t play the few good cards it has very well. The key twists are too telegraphed due to some non-linear storytelling cues and obvious foreshadowing, and it’s yet another example of a film trying to use the COVID crisis (allegorically this time, thankfully) to its advantage and rush out something “timely” instead of focusing on its far more interesting ideas regarding ecological collapse and doing whatever it takes for the greater good. 5/10
Channing Tatum makes his directorial debut alongside longtime collaborator Reid Carolin in this animal-based dramedy that is the definition of a perfectly OK movie that doesn’t do anything badly, but doesn’t do anything particularly well either. It’s highly predictable for the most part, and it knowingly treads into areas of outdated ableist and racist humour, but it at least acknowledges it and turns these tasteless gags into a learning moment. It’s simply one of those movies that has enough heart to be entertaining in the moment, but you’ll forget about within a month. If you like Channing Tatum and cute dogs, you’ll probably enjoy it fine. Also, Tatum’s character shares a name with a Mortal Kombat character. I don’t think that was intentional, but it did distract me everytime they said his full name. 6/10
Wow, this was a surprise! A great bottle premise: a bunch of folks trapped during a snowstorm, at least one of them is a kidnapper, and it only intensifies from there. Solid performances from the whole cast, and its expert pacing constantly had me on my toes. Every time you think you have it all figured out, it throws another curveball. It doesn’t do anything particularly ground-breaking or emotionally resonant, but this does do a stellar job of being “pretty damn good”, and that’s all you really need for a thriller like this. Also, this was written by the same guys who wrote Ant-Man and the Wasp. I don’t have anything to say about that but…yeah, bit of trivia. 7/10
The Quiet Girl
A wonderful little Irish-language drama that gets across a lot whilst saying very little at all. The lead performance from young Catherine Clinch is astonishing; one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen, and worth seeing the film for her alone. It’s an incredibly bleak and yet wholesome little movie about finding family that should resonate with anyone who had a touch upbringing, and another great example of how cinemas can tell great stories on the micro level as well as the macro. 8/10
Basically the South African answer to Get Out, Good Madam is a brilliantly dark and effective horror about internalised racism and the continuing effects of apartheid on the country even decades after it ended. It absolutely lacks the slickness and sense of humour that made the Jordan Peele’s seminal film such a crowd-pleaser, but it also has more subtlety and a pervading sense of dread that makes you question whether anything untoward is happening at all or if its all in the character’s head. Tighten this up a bit and get it to the horror soon, and this could have been a bona fide cult classic, but as is, it’s just pretty good. 7/10
A historical fiction queer-coded rock opera anime?! Do I need to say anything more? This is a movie quire unlike any other I’ve ever seen, and its idiosyncrasies may make it a hard watch for someone, especially those unfamiliar with anime, but its quirky and unorthodox is what makes it so enthralling. The animation is wonderfully stylised, the music is catchy as hell, and the story is simultaneously joyous and heart-breaking. If you’re looking for something completely out of the box, go see this one at your earliest convenience; it’s getting a US theatrical run in August, and a UK one soon after too. 9/10
The Adam Project
Shawn Levy is an incredibly inconsistent director, and so after a career-high with Free Guy, it was only natural he fell back down to the mediocre-to-bad realm with this time travel action-comedy. Never have I heard such hyperactive dialogue so painfully lacking in wit that I often struggled to even follow the basic plot. Ryan Reynolds is just doing the same thing yet again, and whilst he’s good at it, it’s starting to get annoying. Even worse is Walker Scobell as the young Reynolds, whose precociousness as he tries to imitate the banter of his older self is tiresome from the word go. Also, just a stunning waste of Catherine Keener, and whatever deaging they’ve done to create her younger self is some of the worst this side of X-Men: The Last Stand. For a movie packed full of this many stars and effects, the whole thing just feels cheap and lazily designed. Only Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner made this thing worth watching, and they’re barely in it, so it’s far from enough. 3/10
If people thought Luca was a strange change of pace and style for Pixar, it has absolutely nothing on Turning Red, which similar takes far more influence from eastern animation than western. Whilst Luca took obvious notes from the Studio Ghibli playbook, Turning Red is more like if The Farewell was also a shojo anime, but it’s an absolutely joyous, relatable, and heartfelt experience. Rosalie Chiang and Sandra Oh give stellar vocal performances, the original early-00s-style boy band tracks from Billie Eilish are spot-on, and its story is the honest and necessary reflection of what it really feels like to grow up that kids’ movies rarely show…just with, you know, a giant red panda. My only annoyance with this movie is that I had to watch it on Disney+ instead of getting to see it in a cinema. 8.5/10
Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan star in this dark comedy-horror that’s subtextually about toxic relationships and the commodification of women, but on the surface is about a relationship with a quirky cannibal gone wrong. This is one of those movies that feels like it was written with no plan of where it was going beforehand. It starts off really well with strong Hard Candy-like vibes but with a more twisted sense of humour, but then when it reaches the third act it all starts to fall apart as it haphazardly dashes towards an ending that leaves basic questions unanswered and completely fumbles the pacing. All the performances are great, the soundtrack choices are inspired with an eerie score that compliments them perfectly, and there are some very clever subversions of expectations. I just wish it all flowed together a bit more cohesively instead of feeling scattershot. 6/10
Now this is the modern-day answer to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre we’ve been waiting for! It understands that a slow build and uncomfortable tension needed to pull off such scares rather than just gore, and all the set-up involving the porn film production is compelling in its own “Boogie Nights Does Dallas” kind of way; I wouldn’t have actually minded if they just never got to the horror part. The exploration of female sexuality and empowerment is well done and overdue in a genre where women’s bodies and agency are often exploited, and whilst once the blood starts flowing it’s entertainingly done, it doesn’t quite hit the same cathartic pleasure spot of something like Ready of Not. Still, Mia Goth and Jenna Ortega continue to prove themselves worthy of being the modern scream queens. More of them please! 7/10
The Bad Guys
An adaptation of the children’s novels by Aaron Blabey, The Bad Guys is a return to form for DreamWorks Animation, yet also the promise of a bold new direction for the prolific studio. After a few experiments breaking away from their house style like Captain Underpants and Spirit Untamed, this embraces the stylism of the illustrations that inspired it to create a beautifully-realised and exaggerated anthropomorphic world and pays homage to the great crime films of yesteryear. Yes, it touches on a lot of the same themes as Zootopia in how it uses animal breeds as metaphors for discrimination, and some of the humour is can be crass and outdated (including a recurring fart gag and the oh-so-tired “man-disguises-himself-as-woman-and-does-high-pitched-voice” routine), yet the charm of the characters and the strong voice cast including Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron and Issa Rae keeps it enjoyable. It ultimately did well at the box office, but nowhere near as well as it deserved to, and with this and the upcoming Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, it’s great to see DreamWorks taking more risks on an animation level. 7.5/10
The Lost City
We haven’t had a great romantic adventure movie in decades, and The Lost City seems like a perfect movie to fill that gap in the market. Whilst its stars are all perfectly cast, including a wonderfully camp villain turn from Daniel Radcliffe, as well as Brad Pitt stealing the show in his brief supporting role, it doesn’t quite thread the needle. The story and pacing are ultimately a bigger threat than the dangers of the jungle, with scenes that are over either way too quickly or are stretched far beyond the point the joke stopped being funny. There’s just a disappointing lack of consistency as it can’t quite decide whether to weigh more in the direction of action or comedy, and the treasure hunt that should keep things moving along is mostly done before the plot starts and is resolved by figuring out only one clue; where’s the sense of adventure and discovery in that? Still, the charms of its cast, some solid knee-slapping gags and dialogue, and the exploration of themes like lost passion and self-doubt keep it more than entertaining, but this is honestly barely a step above the fine-but-forgettable pablum Netflix puts out every other week. Also, not enough Patti Harrison. 6.5/10
I wanted to stop watching The Bubble within the first 20 minutes, and almost did at least five times. If that isn’t a sign of its poor quality, I don’t know what it is. Making it all the more frustrating, I love everyone in this cast. I can tell they’re really, really trying, and it’s great to see up-and-coming British talent like Harry Trevaldwyn and Ben Ashenden & Alexander Owen getting their shot, even if much of their material is utter drivel. What really sinks this interesting set-up for a farce about Hollywood film production in the COVID era is the utterly abysmal script and amateurish direction, made even more baffling when you find out it was co-written and directed by Judd Apatow. It pushes the adage of “comedy is misery” to its worst extreme, and it keeps thinking by getting grimmer and even more extreme it’ll be funnier, but it’s just soul-destroying. There’s no real logical structure or pacing, the cast seem utterly lost and just try to adlib their way through pointless scenes, and then in the climax they all just change motivations and start working together. Other than one bizarrely funny scene involving Daisy Ridley as a holographic personal trainer, there is nothing particularly amusing about this so-called comedy. 1.5/10
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
(Disclaimer: I only saw this movie because I had time to kill and was able to see it for free. I would never have bothered otherwise, ‘cos I ain’t giving any of my money to Mumsnet Anita Bryant.)
Well…at least it’s better than the last one…slightly? The Fantastic Beasts series continues its slump into irrelevance with an entry that, given the amount of controversies that happened during its journey to the screen, probably should never have even made it to cinemas. Whilst the incidental dialogue and humour is better thanks to veteran Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, The Secrets of Dumbledore admits early on it has no structure and then just spends two hours meandering about, pandering with obvious fan service and swiftly tying up so many loose plot threads that you can tell the filmmakers don’t expect the fourth and fifth entries to happen. There are far too many characters to keep track of, none of this adds anything of relevance to the Wizarding World lore, and what should be a fun fantasy blockbuster is instead a tedious bore about rigging a wizard election where we don’t know any of the candidates or their political positions. There are honestly worse movies this year, but on a moral level I’d rather you watch them than this, because at least there you don’t have to give a portion of your purchase to Prosecco Orson Scott Card. 2/10
It was only a matter of time before Robert Eggers got a Hollywood budget after a string of niche indie hits, but instead of being pulled in to do a Marvel film or something first, he’s gone for broke with this epic arthouse blockbuster that mixes Hamlet and Gladiator through the lens of a hardcore metal album cover. Whilst its tale of revenge is pretty familiar on a structural level, The Northman is anything but ordinary on every other, mixing Eggers’ love for period-appropriate attention for detail and haunting imagery with the high drama scope befitting a Norse folk tale. All the performances are strong, particularly from the stoic Alexander Skarsgård and a wonderfully twisted Nicole Kidman, but it’s the visual splendour and rawness that make this a real once-in-a-lifetime experience for Eggers and the audience. It’s certainly not a crowd-pleaser, but if this seems like you’re kind of thing, you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl. 9/10
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Nicolas Cage is back (not that he went anywhere…) with this meta-comedy where he plays himself hanging out with a rich mega-fan that slowly turns south. Cage is clearly having a blast playing on all of his meme-worthy eccentricities, especially when portraying his inner id Nicky, but the film only works thanks to Pedro Pascal matching his level of bonkers as his fan Javi; a sequence where the two get high together is utter comedy gold. The sense of humour is very self-referential but it always manages to pull back before it gets overbearing, and thankfully puts much of its weight in a more emotionally-driven tale of a man attempting to rediscover his passion. It’s a little disappointing that the action portion of the film can’t live up to its comedy, as its limited scope and tepid set pieces makes it feel more like one of Cage’s direct-to-DVD efforts from the early 2010s, but it far from ruins the experience. It’s a shame this one bombed on theatrical release, but The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is ultimately one for the hardcore Cage aficionados, and I’m sure enough of them will give it the cult status it was clearly intended for. 8/10
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Most films end up being overhyped and can’t help but be disappointing once you finally see them. This is one of those rare exceptions. Everything Everywhere All at Once takes advantage of every aspect of the cinematic form to tell a story you couldn’t do justice in any other medium. It’s up there with Mad Max: Fury Road, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Matrix, in that it’s a movie that fully embraces the spectacle and artistry of cinema whilst never forgetting about what really matters: story, character, and theme. Michelle Yeoh has never been better. Stephaine Hsu is a revelation. Ke Huy Quan: truly a star reborn! I hope this is just the start of a renaissance for him. And who could ever say a bad thing about James Hong or Jamie Lee Curtis? But the real stars here are the Daniels. The screenplay and direction are just pure perfection. Yes, one could nitpick about certain logic gaps, but if you’re focusing that much on those insignificant details, then you’re watching movies wrong. The way they’ve balanced all the genre elements and absurdist comedy whilst also tackling some pretty dark and serious subject matter is the stuff of legends; the kind of excellence that will be studied and gushed over by film academics for decades to come. If there’s a better movie than this in 2022, then 2022 will have been a bloody landmark year for cinema. 10/10!
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers
This meta follow-up to the 80s cartoon is both better than I feared it would be, and not as good as it clearly could be. It’s easily one of the most twisted things Disney has ever released, and the legal department at the studio probably went through a lot of headaches to pull off some of these blink-and-you’ll-miss-them jokes. The mix of animation styles is off-putting at time, and despite the advances in technology this still looks nowhere near as good as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which it clearly aspires to be the modern successor to. The pacing is a bit off, making it feel more like a really long TV episode rather than a feature film, and despite a fair few red herrings, the mystery itself is way too simple and foreshadowed to be compelling. That said, whilst John Mulaney and Andy Samberg are basically just playing themselves but as cartoon chipmunks, the real scene-stealers are Will Arnett and J.K. Simmons. Also, there is a really nice heartfelt turn near the end that got me a little weepy, and any movie that gets me even close to crying can’t be all bad. I have no idea how or why Disney greenlit this, which is essentially a Lonely Island movie that happens to feature a bunch of Disney IP, and as much as I like Hot Rod and adore Popstar, I think a more focused and steady hand like Lord & Miller might have pushed this into legendary status. 6/10
The only film this year that comes even close to matching Everything Everywhere All at Once is this modern Tollywood masterpiece of historical fiction that is the definition of “extra”. Like a lot of mainstream Indian cinema, RRR encompasses every genre and mushes them all together into a cheesy feast for the eyes and ears and doesn’t hold back. The action sequences are utterly out of this world, the dance numbers are better than any western musical in recent memory, and the melodrama is so overblown and intense that it crosses ridiculous and loops back around to earnest and powerful. This is easily the best pacing I’ve ever seen in a film over three hours, and it somehow always finds a way to top itself just when you think it couldn’t get more ridiculously awesome. It’s a shame the most easily accessible version of this on Netflix is the Hindi dub rather than the original Telegu language version, but even in that form it’s an absolute joy. Hopefully, this film’s success crossing into western recognition will help more audiences discover the joyful insanity of Indian cinema. 9.5/10
Men? More like Meh. Alex Garland’s latest is unfortunately very much less than the sum of its parts. Jessie Buckley is as great as she’s ever been starring as a woman coming to terms with the suicide of her abusive husband, whilst Rory Kinnear shows off a range he’s never gotten a chance to playing a cavalcade of male characters who each embody the worst traits of masculinity. It’s great to see Garland return to horror, and he crafts some really unnerving moments and haunting imagery; it prefers to low-key creep you out throughout rather than with sudden bursts of fear. The cinematography is ace, the score is really effective, the practical and digital effects are brilliantly meshed…so why am I still underwhelmed? Ultimately, it’s the exact same problem I had with Last Night in Soho: it’s a movie that has a lot to say, but has no real depth or insight about any of it. It may intensify as the story builds, but it doesn’t actually lead to much; it’s like it thinks just saying the same thing but increasingly louder will be enough to get the point across. Maybe for audiences who don’t relate as much (i.e. cishetero men without traumatic histories), this might be something to inspire some introspection, but for me I was just nodding along going, “Yep, that is indeed what men are like. I agree, they tend to suck, but…what’s your point?” 6/10
The trend in the late 90s and early 00s was to do adaptations of Shakespeare and Austen works but set in contemporary American high school. Let’s make the 2020s the era of adaptations of Shakespeare and Austen works but starring a bunch of messy millennial queers. Fire Island takes the basic beats of Pride & Prejudice and transplants it to the modern gay mecca off the coast of New York, and it’s a wonderfully fluid translation of the classic tale. Joel Kim Booster (who also wrote the screenplay) makes for a wonderfully messy Liz Bennett stand-in as Noah, Bowen Yang shows a more sensitive side than his usual Saturday Live Persona as the story’s Jane with Howie, and Conrad Ricamorra is a revelation as the stoic Darcy-like Will. Just some good chill comedy fun, but one that also highlights BIPOC queer voices in a way rarely seen in mainstream cinema. 7/10
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
I like the title they went with, but I have no idea how they resisted not calling it Let’s Talk About Sex, because that is 80% of the movie. This dramedy about a widow discovering self-pleasure through a series of encounters with a sex worker may resemble a play more often than it does a film, but its limited cast and locations only helps to amplify its cracking dialogue and mesmerising performances. We of course all know Emma Thompson is a national treasure, but Daryl McCormack shows so much raw charm and personality that he has the potential to become one should he so choose; I honestly couldn’t get enough of both of them. Given how sexually repressed much of British society is, it’s so refreshing and eye-opening to see a British film not only discuss these topics, but openly advocate for a more sexually liberal society and better rights for sex workers, all whilst not being too eye-popping for the older audiences just there for Emma Thompson. I loved every awkward, horny moment of this movie, and I honestly got a better and more affirming sex education from this movie than anything I got in a secondary school classroom. 8.5/10
It’s rare to see a director release two films in one year, but even rarer that one of those films is their best work whilst the other is easily their worst. Whilst Joseph Kosinski gave us the smash-hit of the summer with Top Gun: Maverick, he also made this intriguing but ultimately underwhelming sci-fi thriller starring Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller and Jurnee Smollett. There’s a really good movie in somewhere in Spiderhead, and it has all the right ingredients to be one, but it fumbles the ball in too many make-or-break moments. The story is good, but the pacing and structure is abysmal; it’s far too episodic and with no clear direction until we’re almost at the climax. The actors are all well cast, but their performances are generally either too muted or over-the-top. The visuals, as expected from a Kosinski film, are bloody gorgeous, but they get super, SUPER repetitive. The pop soundtrack is a nice touch, but it’s a crutch that’s way overused and some of the choices are way too obvious (still, the recurring use of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science” is a stroke of genius). All in all, I can’t say I hated the experience, but it’s certainly not something I would actively encourage anyone to watch. 5/10
Cha Cha Real Smooth
This Sundance darling about a recent college grad who falls in with a young mother whilst working bar/bat mitzvahs is certainly worth the festival hype. This is one of those movies that’s so deceptively simple that you constantly think you know where it’s going, and yet it always finds a way to surprise you. A brilliant new take on a well-worn postgrad coming-of-age tale, and one of the most brutally accurate depictions of being in your 20s ever (and I say that as someone who’s only got a year of my 20s left). More than anything though, I’m so goddamn jealous of Cooper Raiff. I mean, you can write, direct, produce and act this damn well on your second feature, AND you’re only 25?! I would do so many terrible things just to as good as you at ONE of those skills. Also, I unironically want that oversized T-shirt Dakota Johnson wears in that one scene. It looks comfy. 9/10
2 thoughts on “THE MID-YEAR SURPLUS REVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA THING 2022”
“There are honestly worse movies this year, but on a moral level I’d rather you watch them than this, because at least there you don’t have to give a portion of your purchase to Prosecco Orson Scott Card.”
So basically you judged based on politics, rather than strictly based on the film’s merits. Gotcha.
No, if you read my review in full, you’d see I had plenty of criticism of the film itself; mainly the sloppy writing and lack of whimsy. I would have given the same score regardless of any personal feelings about the screenwriter and her opinions. It’s just an added reminder to readers about the commerce behind art which, whether you ignore it or not, exists and has an impact on the success of a piece.
Also, this is my website. There’s no code of conduct stopping me from expressing my personal opinions. If I were writing this for another site, I would probably hold back those thoughts, but here I don’t have to. You don’t have to like my opinion, but not you or anyone else gets to police what I say. I thought folk like you were all about “freeze peach” and all that?
So yeah, no “gotcha” here. Have a nice day.