Starting off 2022 with a lot of good movies. Here's a run-down of some of the movies I watched in January. Overall, I watched 38 new movies this month.
On a nuclear missile sub, an officer tries to prevent the launching of missiles before confirming the orders.
Twins journey to the Middle East to discover their family history and fulfill their mother's last wishes.
The daring rescue of twelve boys and their coach from deep inside a flooded cave in Northern Thailand.
Crimson Tide is a 1995 submarine thriller starring Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, directed by Tony Scott (Top Gun, True Romance). This movie blends the claustrophobic environment of a submarine, with the threat of a potential nuclear war and the conflicts of following orders to the letter regardless of their consequence. There is high-tension throughout with superb acting from the two leads. There are some nice action scenes, but it's the close-ups lit by the lights, displays and dials which give the movie a distinctive visual flare.
The Rescue is a documentary about the Tham Luang cave rescue. Captivating the world for two weeks in 2018, this event is documented extremely well. It features a mixture of recreation and footage from the actual event. It shows the hazards involved incredibly well and the final rescue is absolutely paralysing.
Incendies is a primarily French-language movie from director Denis Villeneuve (Dune, Blade Runner 2049, Arrival). It follows adult twins as they try to uncover their family history. The actual events are punctuated throughout, giving you parts of the story as the movie progresses. There are so many twists and turns and shocks that unexpectedly wrap up the entire sordid and tragic affair.
Best of the rest
There were three standout movies this month, but also a lot of excellent movies too.
The story of growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.
An adult Dan Torrance must protect a young girl with similar powers from a cult, who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
King Charles VI declares that Knight Jean de Carrouges settle his dispute with his squire by challenging him to a duel.
Four high school teachers consume alcohol on a daily basis to see how it affects their social and professional lives.
Licorice Pizza is auteur director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest movie. It tells the story of a confident young actor who falls for an older woman. After some reluctance, they form a strong bond and the movie shows a few different adventures they take on together. From being a chaperone, to a business partner and branching out on her own, their relationship takes a few wrong steps and keeps you guessing throughout. The movie has it's own energy, with some incredible racist scenes and obnoxious characters, but you can't deny the overall feeling.
Doctor Sleep is a direct follow up to Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece The Shining. Directed by Mike Flanagan, featuring Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, this is a masterfully produced movie. It's not a conventional horror – much like The Shining – with a more unnerving vibe. There are some incredible shots, the production design is top quality and the story builds upon the original. There are a few homages to the original movie, a revisiting the Overlook Hotel and the movie focuses on expanding the "shine" folklore.
The Last Duel by the prolific renowned director Ridley Scott. Told in distinct parts, each one focusing on the viewpoint of the three main characters, the movie reveals more and more as it progresses. It's grim, with gory violence copious amounts of blood. The final duel is exciting and brutal. I genuinely didn't know which way it would go. The screenplay is great, with each subsequent retelling adding more intrigue to the story and characters. If you can stomach the violence, you should really check this movie out
I followed this medieval masterpiece with another by Scott, his 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven. This is more of a traditional epic medieval movie, with large battles and a linear story. A more traditional narrative with an OK story. Worth watching but doesn't have the impact that The Last Duel or Gladiator does.
Another Round follows four teachers as they consume more and more alcohol it affects their teaching. The idea starts off as an experiment, helping them relax and be more engaging with their students, but soon the side effects become apparent. The movie deals with family relationships, friendships and careers and how addiction affects everyone around you. There are some really touching moments throughout.
The Siege was the third movie starring Denzel Washington I watched in January. This FBI crime thriller from 1998 is full of drama and action. It'll keep you guessing throughout and impressive set pieces entertained. The overarching theme hits hard, especially considering this was a pre-9/11 movie, it's staggering to see the parallels.
Blackfish is a documentary about orca whales, focusing mainly on Tilikum, a male orca who performed at Sea World. A well-made and heart-breaking documentary. You feel sorry for the animals and for some of the people who trained them.
Don't Look Up is another heavy-handed satirical movie by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice). With an all-star cast, it doesn't hide the contempt towards politicians and the multiple crisis overshadowing society. The baddies are caricatures – which is often criticised – but that's the point; you're not supposed to empathise with them.
Swan Song is a low-key sci-fi movie that delves in to what it means to be you. It is contemplative and thought-provoking, that asks the question; what would you do? Although the theme can be quite morbid, it is an overall positive look on death and relationships. It is beautifully captured with subtle futuristic flourishes.
I noticed a pattern with some of the movies I watched. There were a few new releases which were presented in black and white and some with a non-modern non-widescreen format. Both of these stylistic choices date back to the early days of movies, where the technology necessitated them.
Black & white
A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power.
A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories.
Follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their realities.
The Tragedy of Macbeth by director Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski), but without his usual bother co-director. It was shot almost entire on a sound stage and has incredible shadows. Every scene oozes style with a harsh contrast that make each scene beautiful to look at, even without any colour.
The French Dispatch by quirky director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) features coloured bookends between three black & white styled primary stories. Unlike the harsh contrast style in Macbeth, these segments would've probably worked just as well in colour.
Passing is the directorial debut by actress Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, The Town). The story itself is about being black in a white society, so I understand the style choice made to present the movie in this fashion. There are some beautifully shot scenes and it's easy to watch – the stylistic choice doesn't force itself, unlike in the previous movies mentioned.
Most modern movies are presented in a widescreen format. The anamorphic framing started around 1970 and is incredibly popular. The 1:2.39 format is the one you are probably most familiar with, but there are variations on the widescreen format, including 1:1.85 or 16:9.
The square format, 4/3 or 1:1.3, was popular with silent movies. This morphed in to 1:1.37 which is called The Academy ratio, named after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which you might know from the popular "The Oscars" awards ceremony.
First Reformed featuring Ethan Hawke alongside Amanda Seyfried, was presented in the 4/3 format. The direction and cinematography is quite sedate, much like the Christian background presented. There are subtleties in every frame and every word has depth that builds the growing intensity. Ethan Hawke provides a masterclass in showcasing the journey his character endures and has you fixated on the conclusion.
A Ghost Story is an unusual, yet evocative movie. It's unconventional – not only with the 4/3 ratio – but with the lingering and quiet cinematography. Some shots last minutes without movement and there is very little music or dialogue – in fact, half the dialogue comes from a monologue halfway through the movie.
Our ghost, covered with an eerily white bed sheet, isn’t a volatile demon or an outrageous manifestation, but a childlike vision soaked in innocence. His presence is entirely passive, forced to wander his rental space and observe time’s inevitability — the changing tenants, the years passing by like seasons.
Although it may be slightly pretentious in places, if you can embrace the artistic choices, the second half of the movie will keep your attention. It's impressive how the main character, which is a ghost wearing a potentially comical "bed sheet with two holes", can evoke so much sympathy. Dealing with grief and time, its thought-provoking and rewarding if you let it.
Both The Tragedy of Macbeth and Passing, while not only black and white, were also presented in the Academy ratio. The French Dispatch was mostly presented using the square 1:1.37 format, but also featured some widescreen scenes using the 1:2.39 format. This switch in aspect ratio to widescreen was also accompanied by switching from black and white to colour.
When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.
Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more.
With Spider-Man's identity now revealed, Peter asks Doctor Strange for help. When a spell goes wrong, dangerous foes from other worlds start to appear, forcing Peter to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.
Three movies this month were sequels. One is a direct sequel from a trilogy that concluded 18 years. One directly follows two classic '80s movies. And the other features characters from movie franchises spanning twenty years. All of them seem to exploit the population's nostalgia.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife follows a bunch of kids who stumble upon ghosts, traps and the Ecto car. Although it follows its own story, the monsters of Gozer and Zuul return as well as the original cast. It feels very formulaic – which is fine for a genre movie – but it feels more like fan-service than a continuation of the franchise. That said, it's not a bad movie, it's fun and entertaining.
The Matrix Resurrections is a sequel to the incredibly popular sci-fi movie which reinvented the genre back in 1999. Instead of more of the same, it starts off incredibly self-deprecating and referencing. Although it does have the familiar characters, story, action and folklore that the original trilogy setup, including being filled with interesting ideas and quotes, it subverts your expectations.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is the third movie in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe"-crossover version of Spiderman, which has been directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland. Before that series, there were two The Amazing Spider-Man movies directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield. And kicking off the modern era of superhero movies, between 2002–2007, there was a trilogy directed by Sam Rami and starring Tobey Maguire. Confused?
It's difficult to discuss the nostalgia aspect without spoilers – so beware spoilers ahead.
As you might have guessed, this latest installment brings back characters from the previous franchises using the MCU established multiverse. The marketing alluded to past characters, with Doc Ock and Green Goblin visible in the posters. These villains and more – from both the previous franchises – appear relatively early in the movie. However, it's not until about half-way through do they reveal the inclusion of the previous Spidermen. The movie felt much like the spectacle of The Avengers, a pay-off of multiple favourite characters all working together.
As an individual movie, it's not as solid as the previous two; it retraces a lot of familiar beats. But like most of the Marvel movies, it's very entertaining and the fan-service actually works to improve the movie.