2022 TV & Movie Reviews: The White Lotus / Marcel the Shell with Shoes On / Empire of Light / Till / This is Going to Hurt

Young doctors, rich assholes, American heroes and boring people who work at a movie theater.

The White Lotus (Season 2)

Season 2 of The White Lotus is a huge drop in quality from the near perfect Season 1. As much as I enjoyed seeing Jennifer Coolidge‘s hilariously inept Tanya back at it again, the rest of the characters at White Lotus Sicily are not nearly as well developed or sharply satirical as the monsters of White Lotus Maui, and the convergence of different character stories isn’t as satisfying either. This time around we focus on lust for power versus money for power. We get a double date vacation consisting of a new tech millionaire nicknamed “the original Incel”, Ethan (Will Sharpe), his unhappy lawyer wife, Harper (Aubrey Plaza), a cocky, Alpha male investment manager, Cameron (Theo James), and his quietly manipulative stay-at-home wife, Daphne (Meghann Fahy), who can’t remember if she voted or not. Cameron has invited Will, an old college buddy, on vacation in an attempt to try and weasel business out of him. What ensues is a passive-aggressive series of mind games between the four, which totally peaks in the middle episodes and concludes with a whimper.

The second major storyline involves the least interesting character trio of the show – the DiGrasso family. Three generations of dudes blinded by their desire of women – there’s the old man Bert (F. Murray Abraham), basically a one-dimensional horny grandpa stock character that is so old he can’t hear how much he farts, the middle-aged son, Dominic (Michael Imperioli), a completely underwritten Hollywood producer whose love of paying women for sex has destroyed his marriage, and finally, Albie (Adam DiMarco) a “nice” guy grandson dead-set on not becoming his father. Forget concluding properly, this storyline never lifts off the ground – a real shame seeing as though Abraham and Imperioli are two of the best actors working in the industry.

The third and best major storyline involves Coolidge‘s Tanya, taking an Italian vacation with her new asshole husband, Greg (Jon Gries) and her completely lost 20-something assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson). Coolidge meets a fleet of wealthy British gays with a yacht, led by the deceptive and calculating Quentin (the wonderful Tom Hollander) and his charismatic beefcake nephew, Jack (Leo Woodall). Coolidge is fantastic as always and while a lot of what happens here is fairly predictable, this storyline ends on such a satisfying note it made me all the more frustrated this season was so sloppy and uninteresting in general.

The other smaller storylines involve two sex workers who frequent the hotel, cunning opportunist Lucia (Simona Tobasco) and aspiring singer Mia (Beatrice Granno), as well as the new White Lotus concierge, frustrated and tightly-wound virgin lesbian Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore). These three are fairly two-dimensional with the most egregiously undeveloped character being that of Valentina, who really is given very little to do considering the concierge last season, Armand, was arguably the most complex character on the show with the power to disrupt every major storyline. Here Valentina seems more like a prop and that sucks because it’s obvious the actress who plays her is quite good. In fact, all of the actors here are very good, there isn’t a weak performance of the whole bunch, you just wish they were playing better written characters. The standouts this season besides obviously Coolidge are Tom Hollander as Quentin and Meghann Fahy as Daphne, the two most interesting and unpredictable characters this season. Mike White continues to do a wonderful job directing this show, it looks gorgeous and many of the shot set-ups not only look interesting but feel purposeful in communicating subtext. However, the character interactions aren’t nearly as engaging as they were last year.

Season 1 had more unique and lived-in characters that made for a more riveting and funny narrative – like Shane, a trust fund baby whose mommy paid for his honeymoon but freaks out over getting booked in the wrong room (actually a better room) and spends his entire vacation ignoring his new bride and pettily feuding with the hotel concierge. That’s a lot more interesting than two couples arguing about couple shit or old pervs wondering why they’re the “bad guys” all of a sudden. I hope for Season 3, Mike White sees something a tad more engaging and fresh in entitled rich folk than infidelity. Grade: C+ (HBOMax)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

One of the cutest and most purely enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year, Dean Fleishcer Camp’s Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a quirky and poignant mix of animation of live action. It follows Marcel, a shell with shoes on (voiced by Jenny Slate who co-wrote the film) trying to reconnect with his shell community after being accidentally left behind at an Airbnb. A traveling documentarian, Dean Fleischer Camp, playing himself, now staying at the Airbnb finds Marcel delightful and makes a YouTube video about him. The video blows up and Marcel becomes an American hero/icon of sorts and uses his newfound confidence from his enraptured fans to make a journey across the country to find his lost family. Obviously this is an easy story to drip down into maudlin territory, but Camp and Slate never wallow in melodrama and instead give us something surprisingly restrained and nuanced for a movie about talking sea shells. It earns all of its moments which is something not even some of the better mainstream dramas can claim this year. It’s consistently funny throughout and it ends on the sweetest note since Paddington 2. Grade: B+ ($5.99 rental on Amazon)

Empire of Light

Despite Roger Deakins‘ stunning cinematography and a few solid performances, this is Sam Mendes‘ most empty work. Yes, even emptier than American Beauty. It basically feels like he took 1/3 of 3 different screenplays and tried to braid them together into some tonal-shift celluloid Frankenstein hair weave, making it super sloppy and hard to follow because it changes gears every 20 minutes. It would be one thing if these three under baked narratives were at all interesting, but absolutely none of them are interesting. One is a half-assed mental breakdown movie, the other is a racism movie with the depth of a Target commercial, and the final one is basically a movie based on Nicole Kidman‘s AMC ads about how you owe movies everything and you wouldn’t be alive without movies. Heartbreak does NOT feel good in a movie like this, believe me. No clear direction makes the the two central leads and their relationship impossible to buy into – Olivia Colman as a lonely woman who befriends a much younger dude played by Lovers Rock‘s Micheal Ward, and then they start banging. They work at an old-timey English movie theater near a beach or some shit. The other workers include Colin Firth as a boss who loves hand jobs, Toby Jones as a projectionist who smokes cigarettes and is good at his job (literally all we know about him), Tom Brooke as a nosy nerd who knows who everyone is banging and Hannah Onslow as a punk-rocker who likes music and being hardcore but has to work at a movie theater for money for cassette tapes and drugs. Sorry, you’ve probably noticed by now I’m putting no effort into this review, I figured it’s only fair seeing as though no effort was put into the narrative of this film. How could anyone think this was good to go? How could Academy Award WINNER! Sam Mendes think this was up to par? Shit, I’ve seen Tubi movies that are better written than this. Even Olivia Colman is subpar, I don’t really blame her though. Who could make such a confusingly written character, seemingly without any goals or objectives interesting? Not even Olivia Colman apparently, she tries her best and despite one record-scratch awful beach scene (deployed out of nowhere, almost like a jump scare), she does a better job than most. Micheal Ward ends up running away with the movie creating the only character who makes sense from beginning to end. He’s clearly the stand-out so it’s a real shame the movie lets him down so much. Empire of Light will no doubt get a few Oscar nominations, it is after all some of the most shameless and thoroughly empty Oscar bait I’ve seen this year. Gorgeous Cinematography? Check. Love Story? Check. Period Drama? Check. Social Issues? Check. Screaming Monologues? Check. English Accents? CHECK. But there’s absolutely no substance connecting these themes, it’s clear Mendes is more interested in checking the boxes than actually telling a story. Is he that haunted over losing 1917 to Parasite? I’d love to be a stop on Sam Mendes‘ press tour for this and just spend an hour interrogating him under a hot lamp about what the hell this movie was even trying to say. Grade: D+ (In Theaters)

Till

Danielle Deadwyler delivers maybe the most moving performance of the year as Mamie Till, a grieving mother turned social activist after her son, Emmett (a fantastic Jaylin Hall) is lynched in 1955 Mississippi, while visiting cousins. His crime? Whistling at a white woman. Of course, the Mississippi justice department is corrupt as fuck so there’s no justice on the horizon. Still, Mamie preservers and fights for justice. The real life story this is based on is a powerful and infuriating one, so resonant and important that even when writer/director Chinonye Chukwu‘s film dips into TV movie territory in terms of its simplicity and one-dimensional side characters, we don’t really mind all that much. We’re so wrapped up in the actual story, one I didn’t know all the particulars of before seeing the film, as well as Deadwyler‘s amazing performance. This is an example of a face-value mainstream drama executed very well. It doesn’t ask any deep questions about the justice system or institutionalized racism because it doesn’t really have to. The real life case was pretty open and shut – some racist white lady got mad a child whistled at her so she had her husband and his racist friends torture, mutilate and kill him. I definitely thought Chukwu‘s previous film Clemency was better. It followed Alfre Woodard as a prison warden coming to terms with the executions she oversaw, and that asked a lot deeper moral questions about infinitely more complicated subjects. Here, she’s made a relatively straightforward follow-up movie, anchored by an outstanding lead performance and a real life story so unjust and infuriating you can’t deny it. It’s an important movie for everyone to see and it helps she’s made it so accessible. It’s a good film featuring a great lead performance. Grade: B (In Theaters & $19.99 Amazon rental

This Is Going to Hurt

Ben Whishaw is a tour-de-force in This is Going to Hurt, a dryly funny and emotionally devastating British miniseries about a group of junior doctors trying to survive in London’s most underfunded hospital. It’s a really good miniseries but Whishaw gives us one of the best performances of the year as Adam, an extremely closed off and catty young doctor so married to/tormented by the job he’s basically unable to forge or hold onto any personal relationships. Early on, while working the second twelve hour shift in a row, he makes a grave error in judgement that threatens to lose him his medical license. Over the course of seven episodes, Adam’s life comically and tragically falls apart around him and Whishaw manages to make everything land harder and more resonant than typical workplace comedy antics. It hits a lot of the same tropes as Scrubs or other medical workplace shows, but This Is Going to Hurt fills its’ familiar canvass with fascinating and genuine characters throughout. Ambika Mod stands out as Shruti, an intelligent but overworked junior doctor slowly discovering she wants nothing to do with Healthcare, as does a hilarious Ashley McGuire as Vicky, a big, blunt and brash full bird doctor whose often the most compassionate person in the room. The show seems pretty authentic in its portrayal of healthcare, it is after all based on a memoir by the real-life Adam. It’s refreshing that the author has no desire to make himself look good as Adam is one of the most deeply flawed but relatable television characters this year. Grade: B+ (AMC+)

ALSO STREAMING AND IN THEATERS:

FILM

Violent NightIn Theaters

The Banshees of InisherinHBOMax

Emily the CriminalNetflix

The FabelmansIn Theaters & $19.99 rental on Amazon

Black Panther: Wakanda ForeverIn Theaters

TÁRIn Theaters & $19.99 rental on Amazon

The MenuIn Theaters

Bones and AllIn Theaters

Weird: The Al Yankovic StoryRoku

BarbarianHBOMax

The Worst Person in the WorldHulu

Smile Paramount+

Scream 5Paramount+

Bodies Bodies Bodies$5.99 rental on Amazon

NopePeacock

ElvisHBOMax

Cha Cha Real SmoothAppleTV+

Jurassic World: DominionPeacock

Halloween EndsPeacock

Pleasure (Uncut)Showtime

The NorthmanAmazon Prime

Licorice PizzaAmazon Prime & Paramount+

The Unbearable Weight of Massive TalentStarz

Jackass ForeverParamount+

West Side StoryHBOMax & Disney+

TV

Interview with the Vampire (Season 1)AMC+

Atlanta (Season 4)Hulu

Chucky (Season 2)Syfy

Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of CuriositiesNetflix

28 Days HauntedNetflix

Reservation Dogs (Season 2)Hulu

Harley Quinn (Season 3)HBOMax

The Rehearsal (Season 1)HBOMax

Only Murders in the Building (Season 2)Hulu

Yellowjackets (Season 1) Showtime

The StaircaseHBOMax

Under the Banner of Heaven Hulu

Heartstopper (Season 1)Netflix

Severance (Season 1) AppleTV+

Pachinko (Season 1)AppleTV+

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