In a ramped effort on my journey to 200 new films in a single year, the amount films I’ve watched in a short period of time has been nothing short of well, exhausting. There are just simply too many movies and not enough time to both watch and write reviews for all of them. Though the undertaking is rather daunting, it is a fantastic exercise in cinema, and affords me the ability to take in a vast array of films from all over the world. I’ve experienced the good, the bad, the ugly, and just about everything in between, so here’s a quick capsule review of some of the films I’ve seen recently.
“Flux Gourmet “
As the Best of 2022 lists begin to take shape, I’ve decided to start attacking some of them that feature obscure films that even I myself haven’t seen or heard of. I stay pretty versed on what’s out there, but “Flux Gourmet” was one that stood out as completely unknown. It showed up on a New York Times film critic’s Best of list, so I decided to work through it to the best of my abilities. Lesser known indie films can be rather difficult to track down even if with robust streaming capabilities, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t heard of this one. “Flux Gourmet” is a weird one to say the least, one that demands that you not only invest in the absurdity of its premise, but also dial into the wavelength of its filmmaker. It simply doesn’t work if you aren’t on board, and frankly it demands a bit too much of viewers not ready for what they’re about to experience.
Written and Directed by Peter Strickland, “Flux Gourmet” follows a performance collective known for their remixing of culinary sounds into performance art. They are invited to a residency at a remote institute funded by an enigmatic director that specializes in both culinary and alimentary performances, with a journalist in tow to document their stay. What transpires is hard to describe. Power struggles, vendettas, rehearsals, absurdist performances, orgies (yes, you read that right) and extreme gastrointestinal disorders (yes, you also read that right) all come into play is this cacophony of chaos. It stars Asa Butterfield, Gwendeline Christie, and Fatma Mohamed, and unfolds as weird as its sounds. Though strange and purposefully unnerving, it is still rather enjoyable. it delivers solid production design and subtle absurdist humor, and the performances work hard to sell even the most outlandish antics. Is it a top 10 of the year? Not for me, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starting to tune in to Strickland’s wavelength by the end.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
One of the strangest yet heartfelt films I’ve seen this year, “EO” is rather hard to describe in a way that does it proper justice. This Polish film by Jerzy Skolimowski is a sort of animal rights manifesto that manages to make its point clear without being assaulting. And though it is literally a donkey wandering about the Polish countryside, “EO” still manages to be engaging the whole way through. There are long stretches of the film with 0 dialogue. Just a booming score by Paweł Mykietyn and a donkey, searching for something and finding its way into the lives of others. Skolimowski seems to be searching for both the soul of his titular character who is also exploring the human condition. Regardless of how you come away from “EO,” it is a film that will undoubtedly stick with you long after you leave the theater. It has a surprisingly resonating hold on the viewers emotions as you invest in this strange journey, and “EO” never lets go once it settles in.
“EO” really is about a donkey traversing the countryside. Once a circus performer, a new crackdown from the government relocates EO (played by 6 different donkeys but you’d never know it) to a remote farm where he is used as a service animal for disabled children. His handler Kassandra (Sandra Drzymalska) with whom EO shares a connection with comes to see him one last time before riding off a motorcycle with her boyfriend. Longing to see her again, EO sets out on an aimless journey in a search without direction, and encounters numerous people and places along the way. Skolimowski is an expert filmmaker, and delivers stunning and engaging visuals that truly penetrate the heart and soul of its viewers. Though “EO” doesn’t feel quite as cohesive as it seeks to be and its human stories fall flat quite often, it is still a film unlike anything else you’ve seen this year. And it has one of the most unsettling and frustrating endings I’ve ever seen, and I’m still not ok.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“The Retaliators “
I am always intrigued when a horror film or grindhouse style film earns itself high marks on Rotten Tomatoes. While I’m fully aware that RT ratings mean absolutely nothing, it is still an achievement for films in those genres to score high. “The Retaliators” sports an 88% so naturally I had to put it on my list of films to see. I’m not quite sure what others saw that I missed, but for a film that should be right up my alley I found it to be lacking in all the areas it should’ve excelled in. Though it’s third act absolutely delivers on the mayhem and over the top bloodshed you would come to something like this for, the rest of “The Retaliators” is a messy, overcomplicated, slow burn family drama that never quite reaches the potential of its premise. It’s more frustrating than disappointing, too, because there really is a good film in here somewhere that is never given the chance to take shape.
I guess it’s messiness can be attributed to the fact that it has 3 (yes, count ’em) directors, Samuel Gonzalez Jr, Bridget Smith and Michael Lombardi, working from a screenplay by Darren and Jeff Allen Geare. Lombardi also stars in the film as John Bishop, a mild mannered pastor who’s daughter is brutally murdered. He seeks both answers and vengeance, and quickly realizes that the discovery of both leads him down a path he may not be prepared for. “Retaliators” works best when that’s all you know about it, and if this was truly the only narrative that the film chose to explore it would function better. Instead, “Retaliators” begins to crumble under the weight of its own ambition, failing to competently combine its vast compilation of competing stories in a way that feels that complete. Alliteration aside, there is still some stuff to enjoy in “Retaliators,” and it even takes on some Christmas movie themes to qualify it for a December watchable.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
“Empire of Light “
Stringer Bell on Letterboxd said it best: “Sam Mendes is way too good of a director to direct scripts written by Sam Mendes.” This is perhaps the best review of “Empire of Light” I’ve read so far. No Notes. I genuinely enjoy Mendes as a director, and find most of his filmography to highlight his incredible storytelling skills and craft behind the camera. But there’s something to be said about this new found autobiographical work from filmmakers born out of pandemic boredom, in that these creators feel far too personally connected to their own stories to make them accessible to wider audiences. “Empire of Light” feels more like a stream of consciousness from a man trapped in lockdown with a ton of ideas and nothing to do with them instead of an actual complete film. Spread far too thin and too surface to ever be as meaningful as it tries to be, “Empire of Light” proves that these themes are better left to someone else to write and Mendes to explore instead of him desperately grasping at straws trying to do them all at once.
Written and directed by Sam Mendes, “Empire of Light” is so convoluted and misguided I don’t even think I can give you a synopsis. It’s about a small cinema in coastal England in the 1980s, but also about a woman suffering from mental illness, but also about an affair, but also a love letter to cinema, but also about forbidden relationships, but also a changing period in time, oh and also racism? If that sounds as exhausting to read as it was to write, don’t worry. “Empire of Light” is just simply too ambitious and misguided to be meaningful in any way, and even with Olivia Colman giving her best broken but trying to keep it all together performance, it simply isn’t enough to keep “Empire of Light” from completely crumbling. I am still searching for what it’s all suppose to mean and what it’s all about. And that says a lot considering Mendes is usually terrific at both of these things. I can say it’s gorgeously shot, and looks stunning. But somehow the combination of Mendes, Colman, and a score by Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross falls completely flat, and this highly anticipated film ends up being one of the biggest disappoints of 2022.
Rating: 2 out o 5 Stars
“A Wounded Fawn “
You guessed it, Horror strikes again! This time with a twisted, psychedelic art appreciation theme in the world of “A Wounded Fawn.” This little gem blends horror and art mythology, testing the audience knowledge of both as well as art and its purpose to fully be enjoyed. Admittedly, I am not an art aficionado, nor am I versed in harpies and greek mythology told through ancient artifacts. But as vital as that is to “A Wounded Fawn,” its execution allows for the film to still be wildly engaging and thrilling regardless. Sure, there’s much more that can be accessed with prior knowledge of many of its themes. But everything from its wild swings of head trippy visuals and solid performances allow for the film to work with or without this prior knowledge. Ambitious and purposefully ambiguous, “A Wounded Fawn” is a single location serial killer thriller unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Written and directed by Travis Stevens along with writer Nathan Faudree, “A Wounded Fawn” follows Bruce (Josh Ruben) a tormented serial killer haunted by the art and visions he pursues as a career. It’s no secret that Bruce is in fact a killer, as the film opens with him exacting his brutal murder of a competing art buyer. We then meet Meredith (Sarah Lind) a woman still reeling from lost who’s trying to put the pieces of her life back together by finding romance. Bruce and Meredith travel to a remote cabin for a weekend getaway, and though Bruce soon attacks, what transpires is a subversive descent into madness, one where we’re never quite sure what’s real and what isn’t. It’s best to leave it at that, as “A Wounded Fawn” works best when you go in blind. It may be a little too high minded for its own good, being difficult to fully grasp as it puts its art mythology at its center the longer the film goes on. If you can dial into the wavelength of Stevens’ direction and taut script, “A Wounded Fawn” is the kind of originality we keep asking for.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
“Next Exit “
I don’t know that this one will crack my top 10, but “Next Exit” is a wonderful little gem of a film that packs a wallop of a punch in exploration of life and redemption. It is perhaps one of the most surprisingly enjoyable films of the year for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it far more than I anticipated. As someone who’s number one fear in life is death itself, “Next Exit” had a profound effect on me and resonated with me deeply. On the surface it’s a road trip love story. At its core, it is a deep, introspective examination of life, the afterlife, and everything else in between. Past, present, and future all collide as our titular characters search for answers and meaning to all of them. In their pursuit of leaving one life behind for another one, they discover not only each other, but meaningful catharsis through their unlikely pairing. This one got me folks. Waterworks for sure in its final moments, and filled me with hope and appreciation for the one life we have to live, even when that life is wrought with trials and tribulations.
Written and directed by Mali Elfman in her directorial debut, the film stars Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli as Rose and Teddy, two people who are heading to San Fransisco to participate in a new scientific study. Ghosts have been proven to be real, and is now being study by a controversial researcher who is asking for volunteers to give their lives to come back in the afterlife to be studied. Both Rose and Teddy are running from their pasts, and due to a mishaps at the rental car office are forced to take the trip together. What transpires is deeply moving story as the two begin to develop a relationship as they begin to clean out the closets of the life they both hope to leave behind for something better. I highly recommend this film. Its subject matter may be a little hard to take in as it deals with suicide with a sort perfunctory framework, but it is careful to never downplay its hardships, and “Next Exit” is a film that is certain to leave you changed.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Down with the King “
Another favorite off the NYT’s best of 2022 list, “Down with the King” is another hidden gem I hope more people get a chance to see. A subtle, rather quiet film that remains focused and contained, it has a lot to say from its simplicity. A wonderful exploration of self discovery and purpose, “Down with the King” is the kind of film you don’t realize is doing so much underneath until you’re more than halfway in. Freddie Gibbs turns in a star making performance, completely in tune with the execution of the film and tapping into a well of emotion beneath his calm demeanor. There’s no Oscar clip outburst here, but Gibbs is still powerful in the quiet, and is a crucial component of “Down with the King’s” success. It is proof that you don’t always need to be loud and audacious to be effective, and sometimes simplicity can be more resonating than one would expect.
Directed by Diego Ongaro and written by Ongaro and Xabi Molia with a story from Gibbs as well, “Down with the King” tells the story of rapper Money Merc (Gibbs) who, disenchanted with fame and his career decides to try and find himself in isolation in a small farming community. With demands from his label and manager to put out another album as well as increased internet chatter about his career, Merc struggles to truly find why he fell in love with music in the first place and who he is suppose to be in this world. “Down with the King” never tries too hard, and lets the day in the life its subject take shape in ways that feels real and connect us with its lead. We watch as he learns different farming techniques, connects with people from the town, even cook with his mom for a while. Patient and restrained, “Down with the King” culminates in a finale that really gets to heart of what it means to know yourself and how experiences change us for better or worse.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Holy Spider “
Truth be told, this was a really hard film to track down. If you didn’t get a chance to catch it at its Cannes Film Festival premiere, chances are you probably won’t be able to see “Holy Spider” for a while. It’s one of those films that furthers my argument of “LET US SEE YOUR MOVIE YOU COWARDS,” because this is terrific crime drama that more people should be able to see. This one theater in a 1000 miles bullshit is exhausting, and the hedging of bets of box office success over people actually being able to see your movies is one of the biggest frustrations in the industry for me. “Holy Spider” is everything “Dahmer” wished it could be, never exploitative despite focusing primarily on its killer and able to clearly state his motives without ever stumbling into the sympathetic territory. Just because you understand why he kills doesn’t mean we should feel anything for him, and “Holy Spider” expertly balances this slippery slope to deliver a thrilling crime drama.
Based on the real Iranian serial killer Saeed Hanaei who murdered 16 women between 2000-2001 in the holy city of Mashhad, “Holy Spider” is written and directed by Ali Abbasi. The Palm D’or competitor follows a fictional journalist with travels to the city to investigate the murders and find the illusive killer. She is met with extreme resistance and ambivalence from law enforcement, not only because she is a woman but also in part because there is a growing sentiment that Saeed is doing their jobs for them. “Holy Spider” is more than just a serial killer thriller. It is a capsule of culture and religiosity that fostered violence against women in Iran, and resonants even more now given the current state of things. It has some lull moments where it does feel as though it’s dragging on a bit too long by attempting to capture the whole history, but when it’s firing on all cylinders, it lands hard and has some highest highs of edge of your seat thrills.
Ratings: 4 out of 5 Stars
The character of Fletch is admittedly not my thing. I’m not versed in the book series, nor am all that attached to the film series starring Chevy Chase. So “Confess, Fletch” was viewed with merely peripheral knowledge of its predecessors and watched largely on its own, without any preconceived notions of what it should be. This is probably for the best, because it feels more in tune with the tone of the book series simply by toning down the slapstick and ramping the sharp wit and calm arrogance. I could be wrong of course, but it feels more fitting than what I can remember from its previous entires, allowing “Confess, Fletch” to soar with comedy and mystery. Not since “Mad Men” has someone been able to use John Hamm properly. This is easily the best use of his talents and comedic timing, and he is as charming as ever at the titular character.
Based on the novel by Gregory Mcdonald of the same name, “Confess, Fletch” is technically the third installment in the “Fletch” series, written and directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “Paul“), “Confess, Fletch” follows Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher, retired investigative journalist who is sent by his girlfriend from Italy to Boston to uncover who stole her family’s priceless paintings. Of course, there’s a murder in the upscale apartment building he’s renting, and Fletch quickly becomes the prime suspect. It’s now up to his wit and investigative skills to clear his name, find the painting and oh ya, solve a murder. “Confess, Fletch” is a showcase for Hamm, with Mottola clearly understanding how best to use his actors and get the most out of them. Thoroughly enjoyable crime comedy worth giving a shot.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
This one had been on my list for quite some time. The critical darling with all the praise was harder to track down that I anticipated, but I was finally about to give “Aftersun” a shot. I wanted to absolutely adore this one, and join my many peers in heaping more and more praise on this little indie darling. “Aftersun” is a subdued, introspective moment in time story that unfortunately didn’t quite grab me as much as I was hoping. It is well crafted and well acted, and from a filmmaking perspective, the film has a lot to be praised. And though I truly appreciate the restraint and patience Wells’ demonstrates in crafting her story about memories and how we view our parents vs who they really were, “Aftersun” is as universally resonating as the critical discourse would have you believe. The film asks a lot of its audience, and you really have to be fully invested in what Wells is trying to do in order to truly appreciate the work and story being presented.
Written and Directed by Charlotte Wells, “Aftersun” tells the story of 11 year old Sophie (Frankie Corio) who takes a summer holiday at a resort with her father Calum (Paul Mascal). Though they are wanting to have a good time together, there is a sadness and a distance that festers between them, one that Calum is trying to hide and one that Sophie can see but not fully understand. It explores the profound impact memories vs reality can have on our lives and relationships, and though “Aftersun” didn’t quite reach my core, it is a very well made movie. Wells is in complete control and demonstrates a deep personal connection the story, and you can feel that connection in every frame. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset for such a quiet film, but “Aftersun” lands in the good movie that didn’t quite work for me category.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars