The first week of the new year is under our belts, and we event got our first new film of 2023. Below are my thoughts on the first major 2023 release, as well as a few films that got limited openings in 2022 that are now available or will be available this week! If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Starring: Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, and Alex Sharp
Synopsis: When you get to a certain point in adulthood, you begin to encounter the question of legacy. That question only grows in importance as we age, and becomes even more central to our thoughts when we’re faced with our own mortality. The makers of Living understand that, and understand what that question means. In it, Nighy plays a bureaucrat in the British government who lives a quiet and reserved life both in and out of work. When he finds out he has terminal cancer, it causes him to reevaluate his life. He begins thinking about his legacy, how he’s living and what he wants to leave behind. Motivated by a former colleague (Wood), he approaches things differently, something that rubs off on another young colleague (Sharp) after he’s gone. Nighy gives a beautiful, reserved and delightful performance here. It’s one of the more engaging of the year. I also quite enjoyed Wood and Sharp in supporting roles. The script from Kazuo Ishiguro, and the direction from Oliver Hermanus is solid as well. There is a quite beauty over this film that draws you in and keeps you meditating on the story long after it finishes. Living opened in limited release in late December and opens wider on Friday, January 13.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and smoking.
Starring: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald and Jenna Davis
Synopsis: This first major release of 2023 touches on a lot of different themes and tropes. We have the inventors who don’t foresee how their invention will impact their children. We have the stories of those who think they can create an artificial intelligence and control it, which never works out well. And we have the horror trope of creepy dolls. All that comes together in M3GAN, which is based on a story originally crafted by James Wan. As far as horror films go, this one is fairly tame. The hook here is the doll but unfortunately a good deal of the plot is given away in the trailers. All that leaves you going into a film where you know precisely what’s coming and how it’s coming, both because of the marketing and the transparency of the story. The question becomes, do you like the characters and arc enough to buy into it. At times, I enjoyed it. Allison Williams is solid in the lead role, while McGraw does a nice job as her niece. There are some fun moments—again I was disappointed a couple sequences had been given away by the trailers as opposed to seeing it for the first time during the film. Overall, this is fine. It’s not spectacular, but it’s sturdy and entertaining for what it is. But those hoping for something special will likely be disappointed.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for violent content and terror, some strong language and a suggestive reference.
The Pale Blue Eye (Netflix)
Starring: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Timothy Spall, Simon McBurney, Toby Jones, and Gillian Anderson
Synopsis: Scott Cooper’s latest is a period piece, launching Bale into the middle of a murder mystery set on the campus of West Point in the 1800s. Bale plays Augustus Landor, a skilled investigator who is living as something of a hermit. When a cadet is murdered—and later has his heart cut out—Landor is called to investigate. Those that run the academy (Spall and McBurney) fear crimes like this could get them shut down. While looking into the crime, Landor continues to wrestle with personal issues regarding the disappearance of his daughter. He’s also paired with a young Edgar Allen Poe (Melling), a cadet at the Academy, who has a keen mind for investigation and solving puzzles. This is a sprawling mystery and a decent set up, drawing off the book from Louis Bayard. I enjoyed the set up here and the mystery—or rather mysteries—at the heart of the case. Bale does a nice job in the lead role and Melling is, at times, quite compelling as a young Poe. This project has a fantastic cast, but it doesn’t always make the most of them. In fact, it felt like some things leading up to the first reveal were rushed, especially after a first hour or so that feels very meticulously paced. I liked elements of the film and the performances but it doesn’t all come together in a way that maximizes the presentation and telling of the story. It’s engaging and a decent watch but doesn’t fully realize its potential.
Rating: Rated R for some violent content and bloody images.
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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