We’re in the middle of December, and the new releases are coming fast and furiously. Below are the films I’ve seen, including my review of a few films opening this week. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Bardo: False Confession of a Handful of Truths (Netflix)
Starring: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani, Ximena Lamadrid, and Íker Sánchez Solano
Synopsis: Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu typically makes a statement with his films. His body of work—including 21 Grams, Babel, Birdman and The Revenant—have been critical successes that have passionate fanbases. I haven’t always loved his stories, though I’ve often appreciated the craft. So, I went into Bardo—a nearly three-hour tale filmed in Mexico—with similar expectations. The craft here is, indeed, excellent. The story is also obscure and likely won’t be for everyone. But I found myself drawn to the narrative and, in the end, I think it’s my favorite of his films. It’s also nearly impossible to provide a plot summary. Suffice to say it focuses on a famous Mexican journalist (Cacho) living in Los Angeles. He’s about to receive a major award. He’s returned home to Mexico to face some difficult things in his professional and personal life during a week leading up to a major achievement. And this is where the story takes off. It’s unique and fanciful, with a twist that helps explain the approach in large part. Iñárritu delivers a beautiful and engaging film. Some have quibbled about the length, and it is an investment, but it’s been a year for longer films. If a story works, length doesn’t really matter. It works for the most part here. It’s a wild and fantastical journey. And what helps make it work is a beautiful lead performance from Cacho, who should be in the running for a Best Actor nomination. This wasn’t what I expected, but I enjoyed the film and I enjoyed the wildly creative visual experience. You can check it out starting Friday on Netflix!
Rating: Rated R for language throughout, strong sexual content and graphic nudity.
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Glenn Powell and Christina Jackson
Synopsis: This new film is based on a true story, focusing on pilots who fought during the Korean War. The film dubs it the forgotten war, which it often is. We tend to focus more on World War II and the Vietnam War, but this film shares the story of pilots Jesse Brown (Majors) and Tom Hudner (Powell). They flew together and became friends despite coming from different backgrounds. It also focuses on the prejudice that Brown has to overcome as an African American pilot in the 1950s. It’s a beautiful story that features some decent action sequences and tells an emotional story. I enjoyed the way director J.D. Dillard tells the story, including some of the flight combat scenes. While not as intense as Top Gun: Maverick, they draw you in and hold your attention. Joe Jonas, who is part of the cast, also provides an original song for the film that I enjoyed. It plays over the closing credits. What really draws you in is the performances. I enjoyed Powell, who is also in Maverick, but Majors is the main draw here. He has a quiet intensity that pulls you in and won’t let you go. This is a decent film that should be getting more attention. It was released right before Thanksgiving and is now available to watch at theaters.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for strong language, some war action/violence, and smoking.
Emancipation (Apple TV+)
Starring: Will Smith, Ben Foster, and Charmaine Bingwa
Synopsis: The pressure for Apple began last year at the Oscars. It came from two sources. First, Coda won Best Picture, making Apple TV+ the first streaming site to claim that honor. It was a beautiful and delightful film, I was thrilled by its victory. But it shifted the weight of expectation on the Apple slate. Second, Will Smith had a very public incident that resulted in a suspension from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That undoubtedly changed the impact of Emancipation, a bold drama that likely was meant to be an award contender. Smith is the lead in a film based on a true story, set in Louisiana during the Civil War. That sets Emancipation up under the weight of expectations and sadly, while a decent film, it can’t hold up to those expectations. The film, directed by Antoine Fuqua, feels like a hybrid of films we’ve seen before. The first part feels something like 12 Years a Slave, while the turns for the final 45 minutes feel more like Glory. The way the story plays out leaves the film disjointed. Smith gives a fine performance. The action sequence that closes the third act is sweeping. I liked the choice of making the film mostly black-and-white with pops of color as well. But it doesn’t hit with the resonant impact the filmmakers intended. It’s a fine film but it doesn’t feel original or compelling. That combined with the other drama surrounding Smith will likely leave it a bit lost in the shuffle this awards season.
Rated: Rated R for strong racial violence, disturbing images and language.
Nanny (Amazon Prime)
Starring: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, and Morgan Spector
Synopsis: This film originally dropped during the Sundance Film Festival and has made the rounds since. Now, it finally gets its release on Amazon Prime on Friday. It stars Diop as Aisha, an immigrant who gets a job as a nanny on the Upper East Side. But the job isn’t what she expected, nor are her employers (Monaghan and Spector). She’s also found a new relationship (Walls) that has given her hope of making a new life in America. Meanwhile, she saves and plans to bring her son to the United States, but it doesn’t go as expected. This film isn’t what you expect, either. It’s something of a psychological thriller, one of a number of unique approaches to the horror genre we’ve gotten in 2022. Diop does a wonderful job in the lead performance. I also enjoyed some of the visual flourishes from director Nikyatu Jusu, which is likely part of what made it a Grand Jury prize winner at Sundance. For me, the story doesn’t quite come together and hit as hard as I’d hoped. I liked the idea and the craft, but it just didn’t come together well enough in the final act. It’s a solid film and worth checking out but it felt like a bit of missed potential.
Rating: Rated R for some language and brief sexuality/nudity.
Strange World (Theaters)
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, and Lucy Liu
Synopsis: The weight of expectation and legacy can drive fathers and sons insane. That’s the over-arching theme of Strange World, a creative new animated feature from Disney that was released just before Thanksgiving. The film finds Jaeger Clade (Quaid) as one of the world’s greatest explorers. Their town, Avalonia, is looking for a way to expand and grow, but it’s surrounded by mountains that cut it off from the rest of the world. Jaeger leads an expedition with his son, Searcher (Gyllenhaal), that is determined to make it over the mountains. Along the way, Searcher discovers an electric plant—Pando—that promises great potential for growth for Avalonia. He wants to bring it back home. Jaeger wants to cross the mountains. He leaves his son and the rest of the party to get home, disappearing into the snowy mountains. Twenty-five years later, Pando has changed the world. Searcher is now a father of his own, husband to Meridan (Union) and father to Ethan (Young-White). When something threatens Pando, and Avalonia’s entire way of life by extension, the Clades join the community leader, Callisto Mal (Liu) on a journey to the heart of Pando to find a solution. Their discovery leads to so much more. This film has an incredibly creative approach, look and color palette. It draws inspiration from serials and stories like Journey to the Center of the Earth, adding its own flourishes along the way. Mostly, it’s about the complex relationship between father-and-son. We get that both with Jaeger and Searcher, and with Searcher and Ethan. That is the heart of what this film wants to explore, and from that standpoint it works OK. Much has been made of this being the first film to feature an LGBTQIA lead character, which is does with Ethan. That, however, isn’t a huge focus of the story and it’s a shame that aspect has become such a lightening rod for audiences. This film isn’t incredible, but it was a creative and enjoyable ride.
Rating: Rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements.
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.
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