2022 TV & Movie Reviews: Aftersun / Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities / Armageddon Time / Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

A good one, two mediocre ones and a near masterpiece.

Aftersun

A wonderfully emotional and cerebral experience that stands as one of the most unique things I’ve seen all year. Scottish first-time filmmaker Charlotte Wells has gifted us a film with the ability to hook its claws into us so subtly that we don’t even know how its affecting us until the final shot. Aftersun surrounds a 30-year-old woman’s memory of her father, Calum (Paul Mescal – exceptional). It becomes pretty clear, even if the movie never outright says it, that Calum is no longer alive. The memory she clung onto was a single dad/daughter summer vacation to Turkey in 1999, when she was 11 – most likely the last time she ever saw him. Calum is only 30 and it becomes evident he’s still trying to figure out the whole dad thing. Tortured by the need to show his 11-year-old, Sophie (Frankie Coro – also exceptional), a good time and the crippling fear he’s a bad dad. He might also be dying, but the movie never confirms this. For the most part, you’re seeing everything through the POV of an 11-year-old and they often miss so much context at that age. I mean, what did you really know about your parents at age 11? I love how Aftersun has the restraint to realize we don’t need to know the specifics and what we can infer will be much more impactful than a throwaway line of exposition. The movie follows Calum and Sophie throughout the weekend at the resort, making friends, throwing fruit at people dancing the Macarena, and all sorts of other shenanigans. On a side note, Wells really captures what it’s like to interact with other kids on vacation. A scene involving Sophie, an 11-year-old “bad boy” and a motorcycle arcade game is one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year. Ultimately though, the movie rides or dies on the relationship dynamic between Calum and Sophie, which is wonderfully complicated and genuinely sweet, without ever feeling emotionally manipulative, even though it is because after all it’s a movie. Wells knows exactly what she’s doing though and it never bothers you because it’s done in a very delicate and nuanced way. Mescal and Coro are outstanding actors that carry this movie to the finish line, but the real MVP is Charlotte Wells. First-time filmmakers hardly ever have this level of clarity and precision. Its virtuoso filmmaking. Grade: A (In Theaters)

Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

What a massive disappointment this turned out to be. At first glance the R-rated horror anthology series from Guillermo Del Toro looks great, the sets are incredible, the costumes are awesome, from an art department perspective, it’s a gorgeous marvel. Then you start to watch the dramatically underwhelming stories, either painfully predictable or seemingly random to be random. Most feel half-cooked, especially the opening episode “Lot 36” from Del Toro cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Despite a nuanced lead performance by Tim Blake Nelson as a racist veteran in massive debt, everything is really on-the-nose thematically and once it finally picks up, it quickly rushes towards an unsatisfying conclusion.

The second episode “Graveyard Rats” is even worse. Even though it takes places way back in Charles Dickens times, the overarching plot is way too similar to the first episode in that it follows a desperate scumbag in debt up to his eyeballs. Canadian director Vincenzo Natali of Cube fame does this one, casting that film’s star as the lead here in a tremendously weak and unconvincing performance. The biggest problem with this one is it never takes advantage of its killer rat villains and gets lost in some random zombie subplot. The third episode, “The Autopsy” by David Prior, is the strongest of the first three but still not very good. It starts slow and convoluted and while it never fixes how confusing and all-over-the-place it is, it does end on a high-note. No small thanks to a reliably great lead performance by F. Murray Abraham.

The fourth chapter, Ana Lily Amirpour‘s “The Outside” is better than the first three and the first episode I actually considered “good.” It’s a hyper-satirical body horror short with ridiculous 80s vibes and no subtlety anywhere in sight. It’s carried by a fantastic lead performance by Kate Micucci. From there, we go right back into the shitter with the two weakest episodes back to back. Keith Thomas‘ “Pickman’s Model” is the most painfully predictable entry despite an undeniably insane supporting performance by Crispin Glover, sporting one of the worst East Coast accents I’ve ever heard. It’s about a mediocre art student in the 19th Century who discovers that a mysterious new classmate is painting images that turn people evil. Twilight-helmer Catherine Hardwicke‘s “Dreams in the Witchhouse” follows Rupert Grint, equipped with another terrible East Coast accent, trying to discover a gate to a ghost dimension his dead sister got lost in years ago. There’s witches and priestesses and randomly, an overweight rat with a human face voiced by DJ Qualls. It’s all over the place and gives us one of the least interesting and unlikeable protagonists of the whole series.

Just when I was ready to throw in the towel, Mandy director Panos Cosmatos delivers the sole great addition to Gilly‘s dumb cabinet. “The Viewing” sheds the Gothic visuals for Blade Runner vibes in its story about a billionaire weirdo (Robocop‘s Peter Weller) who invites a bunch of randoms (Steve Agee, Eric Andre, Charlyne Yi) to his mansion under mysterious circumstances. It’s a slow burn but the dialogue and characters are compelling enough to power you through the full hour. It ends on a wonderfully insane note. The final chapter is directed by The Badadook‘s Jennifer Kent and it’s the most straightforward of the bunch – an understated and character-focused ghost story that just isn’t very scary. However, it does offer the two most three-dimensional characters (played by The Babadook‘s Essie Davis and The Walking Dead‘s Andrew Lincoln) of the whole series. It’s also beautifully shot and features no awful East Coast accents.

Based on critic’s reviews and early word-of-mouth from people on my Twitter, I was really expecting this to be better. It’s a slog and a half to get through though, but at least three episodes were good. Grade: C (Netflix)

Ranking of Episodes:

  1. Episode 7 – “The Viewing” by Panos Cosmatos (B+)
  2. Episode 4 – “The Outside” by Ana Lily Amirpour (B)
  3. Episode 8 – “The Murmuring” by Jennifer Kent (B-)
  4. Episode 3 – “The Autopsy” by David Prior (C+)
  5. Episode 1 – “Lot 36” by Guillermo Navarro (C)
  6. Episode 2 – “Graveyard Rats” by Vincenzo Natali (D+)
  7. Episode 6 – “Dreams in the Witchhouse” by Catherine Hardwicke (D)
  8. Episode 5 – “Pickman’s Model” by Keith Thomas (D)

Armageddon Time

A coming of age dramedy from the dude that did Ad Astra and The Lost City of Z? Interesting. I’m not a huge James Gray fan but from what I’ve seen of his work, I’ve surmised that he’s a very talented technician lacking in some of the warmer human aspects that go a long way towards viewer investment. He seems to be struggling with the same problem in Armageddon Time, a paint-by-numbers, Neil Simon-wannabe. It’s James Gray‘s semi-autobiographical childhood memoir from Brooklyn 1980, that is helped by a few solid performances (most notably by Jeremy Strong as the main kid’s dad) and a few genuinely funny or inspired sequences. The biggest problem is that the characters just aren’t that compelling. Although Armageddon Time follows the beats of something that should be pulling on my heart strings, it’s so cold and distant that I found myself unable to connect with anyone in it. Added to this the performance of the main kid, our Eugene Jerome if you will, is really pretty weak. The most interesting character in the movie for me comes from the “white privilege” & racism in schools subplot. The main kid starts goofing off in school and befriends another kid the teacher hates – the class’ only back student, Johnny (Jaylin Webb – excellent and understated). Johnny is more or less a regular kid but their teacher is naturally untrustworthy of him because he’s black. The main kid begins to realize that although he himself is instigating all the misbehaving, Johnny is receiving the brunt of the punishment. This is the best story of the movie, and Gray doesn’t give it nearly the amount of time it needs to develop properly . Instead, he cuts to something less interesting like a very mediocre Anne Hathaway or a terribly underutilized Anthony Hopkins. There’s also an unnecessary Jessica Chastain cameo as Maryanne Trump giving a speech to a private school class about the importance of money and not having any handouts growing up. Armageddon Time is frustrating because it had the bones for something really great but filled the mold with tepid characters and a half-assed white guilt narrative. Grade: C+ (In Theaters)

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

It’s fitting that a biopic on Weird Al Yankovic would actually be a parody of biopics. I enjoyed every stupid second of this movie. Sure, Walk Hard did it a million times better, but with all the heavy Oscar bait in multiplexes and on streaming platforms, it feels good to be able to download the Roku app for free and watch this horse hockey for an hour and forty-five minutes. Daniel Radcliffe is really good as Al, but the movie is made by its enormous and enormously talented ensemble cast. From Rainn Wilson‘s howlingly funny Dr. Demento interpretation to Evan Rachel Wood‘s perfect Madonna embodiment to a sea of famous of comedian cameos like Jack Black as Wolfman Jack, Paul F. Tompkins as Gallagher and Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol. My favorite was veteran voice and character actor Toby Huss (King of the Hill, The Adventures of Pete & Pete) as Al’s angry factory worker dad. The plot is basically an embellished and sometimes flat-out false representation of Al’s life and career, punctuated by really corny sight gags and a surprising amount of explosions and gunfire. If I have one major complaint it’s that it ends too abruptly. Seems like there was 10 more minutes that could have been there to give us a more satisfying conclusion. Grade: B (Roku)

ALSO STREAMING AND IN THEATERS

FILM

TÁRIn Theaters

The Banshees of InershinIn Theaters

Decision to LeaveIn Theaters

Werewolf by NightDisney+

Halloween EndsPeacock & In Theaters

BarbarianHBOMax

SmileIn Theaters

HellraiserHulu

Pearl In Theaters

Mad God Shudder

Everything Everywhere All At Once$5.99 rental on Amazon

MoonfallHBOMax

Elvis HBOMax

OldHBOMax

MalignantHBOMax

BlondeNetflix

Malcolm & MarieNetflix

I Care A LotNetflix

Army of the DeadNetflix

The Power of the DogNetflix

TV

Reservation DogsHulu

Harley QuinnHBOMax

The ResortPeacock

The Midnight ClubNetflix

28 Days Haunted Netflix

The RehearsalHBOMax

BarryHBOMax

The StaircaseHBOMax

The Flight AttendantHBOMax

We Own this CityHBOMax

Only Murders in the BuildingHulu

Under the Banner of Heaven Hulu

Atlanta Hulu

YellowjacketsShowtime

The Kids in the HallAmazon Prime

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