Time to catch up on on the first two months and change of cinema 2022. Between new COVID variants, a war in Ukraine, and rising inflation, there’s never a shortage of international turmoil to make our lives a living stress fracture. Which is why we turn to entertainment, be it on our television screens or our silver screens. Whether it’s due to COVID delays or simple luck and happenstance, the past few months been atypically high on quality compared to most years.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (NETFLIX)
Basically a horror screed against Gen Z and gentrification, and all the more enjoyable for it. Contains multitudes of missed opportunities and a too-brief running time to invest in its palpable underdog story of a school shooting victim looking to get back on the “life horse.” It’s nice to see Elsie Fisher’s star continue to rise following her tremendous live action debut in Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. The rest of the cast here are utterly forgettable and simple machete fodder for Leatherface, an old man now after getting the Halloween Kills treatment here, a mistake that yields diminishing results given Sally Hardesty’s lack of iconic status. She’s no Laurie Strode, and this is no classic. Watching the infamous killer hack up a bus full of phone-addicted sycophants is undeniably funny though.
Death on the Nile (CINEMAS)
Neither an upgrade nor a downgrade from 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh’s sequel plumbs greater depths when it comes to Hercule Poirot’s lonely detective while coming up far shallower when unraveling its own murder mystery yarn. A bigger budget and more ambitious camerawork make this a more substantial technical exercise than its predecessor, and Sex Education star Emma Mackey is a fireball of charisma and sex appeal as one of the big boat’s many possible culprits when Gal Gadot turns up dead, among them Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, and Sophie Okonedo. A terrific ensemble given some tasty dialogue is occasionally overshadowed by the predictable outcome that awaits them. Branagh gives it his all in front of the camera, if not behind it.
Both a shameless attempt to ape Marvel’s ongoing success and a swift actioner more enjoyable than it has any right to be, Uncharted cements Tom Holland as a star sans Spider-man and delivers a serviceable amalgam of Bond charm and Indy adventure. He and Mark Wahlberg enliven a mediocre script with humor and occasional wit, their banter more often endearing than annoying. They’re surrounded, however, by a paint-by-numbers plot and formulaic lost-sibling subplot. The best part of the movie is following these two down a historical rabbit hole of clues, ancient maps, Antonio Banderas, and old pirate ships. The worst part of the movie is a perfunctory backstory regarding Nathan Drake’s brother, sans the emotional investment or intrigue necessary to make anybody outside of diehard gamers care in the slightest.
The Batman (CINEMAS)
An admirable and pretty successful attempt at reinvigorating a lone Caped Crusader after years of sharing screentime with Superman and Wonder Woman. This is a step below The Dark Knight trilogy, appearing far less iconic and even derivative of it, and often forgetting the Bruce Wayne of it all, but filmmaker Matt Reeves is a talented craftsman, and his collaboration with DP Greg Fraser and composer Michael Giacchino proves rewarding, using shallow depth of field, fiery amber lighting, and a drum-beat score that recalls the gothic grandeur of Danny Elfman’s classic melodies. The detective yarn is compelling in the beginning if unsurprising in the end, with Gotham’s corruption both a motivation and an answer to the Riddler’s puzzles. Paul Dano frames the latter as a conspiracy theorist and terrorist, a nicely disturbing twist on the enigmatic villain, albeit some of his broader antics are disappointingly erratic. Colin Farrell’s gimpy Penguin and John Turturro’s mob boss Falcone are best in show, providing welcome doses of humor and menace, respectively. As nihilistic as it is, Reeves’ film isn’t without a beating heart, however faint, mostly thanks to Zoe Kravitz as an emotionally wounded Selina Kyle. And Rob Pattinson makes for a quietly brooding Batman, a Dark Knight who reminds us of Keaton’s whispery hero of yore, the last time the mask overshadowed the man.
Turning Red (DISNEY PLUS)
A pretty funny puberty metaphor for young girls that almost falls into a pretty big “be yourself” trap of cliches. The voice cast is aces, the editing occasionally rivals the best of David Fincher, and the animation is typical Pixar beauty. Plus, a story about the influence of friends over family when you’re a budding teenager is one worth telling in a “family first” world. Granted, it’s also about mending family wounds, a thematic bent I didn’t take to here as I personally find it difficult to relate to familial expectations or pressures to conform. As a girl-friend comedy and time capsule of the early 2000s, specifically boy-band fever among pre-teen girls, Turning Red is a laugh riot, even if it isn’t tippity-top tier Pixar. Listen for character actress Wai Ching Ho as a stern, wealthy grandmother, her voice unmistakable after making an impression in Netflix’s run of Marvel series.
The Adam Project (NETFLIX)
While Shawn Levy’s world-building is an awkward mix of hard science fiction and kitschy space opera, he’s got his finger on a human pulse here that can’t be denied. Ryan Reynolds’ wounded sarcasm pays dividends and Walker Scobell, the young actor portraying his younger self, is an excellent find and a dead-ringer for a twelve year-old Reynolds. Catherine Keener is miscast as a two-dimensional corporate baddie, Mark Ruffalo is perfectly cast as a good-hearted if mildly arrogant “smartest guy in the room” physicist. Jennifer Garner continues her run of high-strung mother figures, and Zoe Saldana finally shows her face outside of Guardians of the Galaxy. The Adam Project contains enough Spielbergian charm, heartfelt themes, and quippy retorts to entertain in spades, and not enough of Spielberg’s actual filmmaking chutzpah to become a Sci-Fi classic.