Welcome to 2022! As the year wound down, I got in a few potential award contenders that you’ll find in this week’s review roundup! Here’s a look at the new films I saw this week. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Drive My Car (Limited)
Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima and Tôko Miura
Synopsis: One of the leading contenders among Foreign Language entries, this moving character study from Japan runs nearly three hours. It uses this time to dive deep into Yûsuke Kafuku (Nishijima), an actor and director who is in grief. His wife (Reika Kirishima) passed away. Nearly two years later, he hasn’t let it go, or let her go. He uses time in the car to rehearse lines using the tapes his wife made him. When he takes a job directing Uncle Vanya for a regional theater company, he’s required to use a driver (Miura). At first worried it would disrupt his cherished routines, instead he finds a friend and kindred soul as he goes on the final leg of this emotional journey. Writer/director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi does a beautiful job of creating a story and letting it breathe. In fact, the prelude to the story takes nearly 40 minutes before the credits role. Still, the journey proves to be richly emotional and delivers on the journey. It’s an interesting and engaging film, thanks in large part to the work of Nishijima in the lead role. This figures to be a contender in all the major awards and is well worth checking out.
In the Same Breath (HBO Max)
Synopsis: A documentary for HBO films that is now streaming on HBO Max, In the Same Breath takes a look at the origins and spread of COVID 19. Filmmaker Nanfu Wang spends time exploring the outbreak in China, as well as the government’s response, before turning the same focus to her adopted home of New York City. Its not an easy watch as it covers the pandemic that is not only still ongoing, but still raw in the memories of many. It tells painful stories and points out painful truths, looking at how two countries that couldn’t be more different in their forms of government both struggled to control the virus and stop the spread. I thought this was a fascinating and emotional film that offered some me takes and information. It’s worth diving into for anyone that wants to learn more about the early days of the pandemic.
A Journal for Jordan (Theaters)
Starring: Michael B. Jordan and Chante Adams
Synopsis: The latest from director Denzel Washington is based on a true story. It chronicles the love affair between First Sgt. Charles King (Jordan) and journalist Dana Canedy (Adams). We start in the future, as Dana is raising their child alone, thumbing through the journal left by King. He is a soldier who perished in Iraq but left a legacy for his son. Through flashbacks we explore King and Canedy’s relationship, the highs and the lows. And we see how King’s journal keeps his memory and his voice alive in the life of his son, Jordan. This is an emotional tale and one that doesn’t make any secret the loss that awaits these characters. Instead, it builds the story in reverse with a strong payoff that leaves you heavily invested by the time we approach the moment when King’s unit was attacked and he lost his life. But this doesn’t leave you in a down place. Instead, it’s a story of family and the bonds that you make that keep you strong. Based on the memoir from Canedy, it’s a beautiful story that’s well told. Jordan is a great lead and does a nice job throughout, while Adams does a good job in her role as well. The film rises and falls based on their chemistry, which mostly works well. It was worth checking out.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content, partial nudity, drug use and language.
Licorice Pizza (Theaters)
Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper, and Sean Penn
Synopsis: Paul Thomas Anderson is a unique filmmaker with a storytelling style all his own. That has created a legion of fans and some films that have become cult classics. For me, when one of his films works, it really works for me. When it doesn’t, it’s a struggle. There has been much made of this coming-of-age tale about a 15-year-old actor (Hoffman) and the 25-year-old woman (Haim) who is the object of his affection. The tale, set in the 1970s in Southern California, captures the period and offers one of the better soundtracks of the year. While the basic concept of the age difference here is problematic, the writing and production makes it work. This isn’t an overly sexualized tale, it’s about love, friendship and a bond. Haim is great in the lead role and is a big part of what helps it work for me. This also might be one of the funnier Anderson films. In addition, though he’s only in a few scenes, Cooper is INCREDIBLE as actor Jon Peters. I enjoyed this film quite a bit and figure it will be a strong contender throughout awards season.
Rating: Rated R for language, sexual material and some drug use.
The Lost Daughter (Netflix)
Starring: Olivia Coleman, Dakota Johnson, Jesse Buckley and Ed Harris
Synopsis: Based on the novel from Elena Ferrante, this film directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal is a difficult drama about motherhood. Leda (Coleman) is on holiday, and while there she crosses paths with a young mother, Nina (Johnson), and her daughter. That connection can’t help but force Leda to confront her past (Buckley in flashbacks), and her own struggles with life, love and motherhood. This is a pensive and introspective piece, one that might not work for all viewers. It gives Coleman, Johnson and Buckley time to breathe and lets their performances help carry the load. Coleman is quite good in the lead role and Gyllenhaal does a nice job crafting the scenes and letting the story develop at its own pace. It’s not an easy watch but it’s a film that will leave you thinking after the final credits role, a credit to its creative team.
Rating: Rated R for sexual content/nudity and language.
The Novice (Limited)
Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman and Amy Forsyth
Synopsis: We’ve seen stories about obsession before, but none quite like The Novice. This film from writer/director Lauren Hadaway centers on a college freshman who joins the crew team and becomes obsessed with making the top varsity ship. She pushes her body and mind to the limits and pushes away those closest to her, all in an effort to top her rival and achieve her goal. Hadaway does a great job telling the story and building the tension, but it’s really about the work of Fuhrman here. She is incredible in the lead role, giving a gutsy performance that is unlike anything I’ve seen in the past. The film as a whole is OK, but it’s the work of Fuhrman that takes it to another level.
Rating: Rated R for language, some sexuality and brief disturbing material.
Red Rocket (Theaters)
Starring: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod and Suzanna Son
Synopsis: So, this was something… A little earlier I referenced the difficult plot at the core of Licorice Pizza and how the film deftly navigates it. Red Rocket does the opposite. This one centers on Mikey Saber (Rex) a porn star down on his luck who travels back to his hometown in Texas. He tries to rekindle things with his estranged wife (Elrod), once his co-star, and goes back to dealing drugs to make a living. He also becomes smitten with a teenage donut store waitress (Son), with whom he begins a torrid affair as a means of cajoling her into the porn business to make his way back to the top. In short, he’s a vile narcissist and we’re along for the ride. I’ll say that Rex gives a heck of a performance. Sadly, it’s in service of a character and story that are deeply unsettling. I wasn’t a fan of some of writer/director Sean Baker’s previous work, but this might be my least favorite. The great performance isn’t enough to overcome a story that’s deeply unsettling and over-the-top in terms of the way it tells that story. I’m sure it’s meant to be humorous but it didn’t work for me at all.
Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.