One Thing I Like About The Marvels

The Marvels is full of moments that remind you it’s essentially the polar opposite of Captain America: Civil War

The Marvels is undeniably a little bit of a mess. It’s abundantly clear that there were too many ideas that people got attached to, and the filmmakers tried to cram everything into it. In addition to what was undoubtedly tons of edits due to studio interference and so on, the result is that moments don’t land as well as they could have, and the movie ends up feeling both overstuffed and slight.1I also feel like there was a continuity error more glaring than I’d ever expect from an MCU installment: I’d swear that Kamala goes from wearing the Ms Marvel costume her mother made for her at the end of the series, to wearing a T-shirt and flannel, with no explanation for the change. I don’t care all that much, but I bring it up because I never ever notice that kind of thing, which makes me think it must have been glaring.

But I honestly don’t believe it matters a bit, because there’s more than enough charm and fun to carry the whole thing through.

The thing I kept thinking of throughout the movie was, oddly, Donald Glover’s story about his meeting Billy Dee Williams to try and get some ideas on how to approach the role of Lando Calrissian: after all the setup and research and questions, Williams’s response was simply, “Just be charming.”

I think it’s tough for post-Endgame audiences to appreciate just how much of the MCU was built on simply that mantra: just be charming and accessible. While looking for images from The Marvels, I couldn’t avoid seeing a review snippet that complained that the MCU was floundering now that it has lost all of its “heavy hitters.” I realize I need to remember that the franchise is over 10 years old at this point, so people might not remember, but I still can’t get over anyone suggesting that Iron-Man and Thor were “heavy hitters.” People need to realize that this entire franchise was built off the B- and C-listers. And the franchise was started by treating Iron-Man as a romantic comedy with also robot suits, with the overriding idea being “just be charming.”

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    I also feel like there was a continuity error more glaring than I’d ever expect from an MCU installment: I’d swear that Kamala goes from wearing the Ms Marvel costume her mother made for her at the end of the series, to wearing a T-shirt and flannel, with no explanation for the change. I don’t care all that much, but I bring it up because I never ever notice that kind of thing, which makes me think it must have been glaring.

Talk to Me, or, Good Grief!

Talk to Me seemed like a fun, scary movie, but it commits to the premise too hard to be that fun. Contains spoilers.

We chose to watch Talk to Me as a fun, scary teen horror movie for Halloween night, and reader, it was not as fun as I’d been led to believe. This is a very well-made movie that accomplishes almost everything I think it sets out to do, but I definitely didn’t enjoy watching it.

In fact, it’s as if I had the opposite of the suspension of disbelief while watching it. The premise of the movie is absurd, but perfectly in the way that befits a fun horror movie: teenagers have a new party craze in which they use a weird hand sculpture in a ritual to summon a dead person and briefly become possessed by them. It reads like a novel take on Ouija or Bloody Mary, where it’s spooky supernatural fun until something goes horribly wrong.

But watching things go horribly wrong in Talk to Me felt miserable — like, The Exorcist‘s relentlessly depressing scenes about loss of faith and how we fail each other as humans — instead of ratcheting up tension. The last third of the movie does have a structure similar to other horror movies, where the teens try to figure out the “rules” of what torments them. But the centerpiece sequence of the movie is so intense and violent, and the situation is so bleak, that I never once felt there was any glimmer of hope for these characters.

The movie also spends a lot of time showing us teenagers being absolute remorseless sociopaths. I remember my teenage years as being brutal, but not to the point of being openly hostile to everyone for no good reason, or hanging out with people who showed me (and each other) such open contempt. I don’t know if it was a case of teens these days being even crueler than they were in the 80s, commentary on bullying and social media pressure, or justification for why these characters would keep treating something so obviously horrific as if it were a fun game. It’s likely a combination of all three.

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Recommending the first few entries in the Final Destination series, and reconsidering my previous reviews

As we approach Halloween1Which seems to be taking over a year at this point, since people keep getting started earlier and earlier, I keep seeing recommendations for good scary movies to enjoy. And I feel left out, because I’m not very good at horror movies and haven’t seen a lot of them.2In case you were wondering, I have been to Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Hollywood Horror Nights since writing that, I enjoyed the heck out of both of them, and am now a regular haunt-goer. But I realized I can do a better job at recommending the Final Destination movies — or at least, the first three, which are the only ones I’ve been interested in watching — than I have in the past.

I was surprised to stumble onto my old reviews written right after watching the movies for the first time — which I won’t link here, for reasons that will soon become obvious — and to discover that they suck. I really enjoyed the series, but my blog posts about them are pretty insufferably condescending about them. There’s a sense that I need people to understand that I liked them but was well aware the entire time that they aren’t high art. If there is a recurring theme of this now-decades-old blog, it’s that I’m very focused on getting it, but it’s rare that I actually get it.

Anyway, these movies are clever, brilliantly manipulative fun, and they get better the more I think about them. They’re essentially horror movies reduced to their most basic components and then reassembled, making full use of their formula instead of being weighed down by it.

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    Which seems to be taking over a year at this point, since people keep getting started earlier and earlier
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    In case you were wondering, I have been to Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Hollywood Horror Nights since writing that, I enjoyed the heck out of both of them, and am now a regular haunt-goer.

One Thing I Like About The Haunted Mansion

Sometimes it’s just nice to feel targeted.

I really enjoyed The Haunted Mansion. I hadn’t expected to like it, to be honest, because movies based on theme park attractions don’t have a great track record, and I tend to be possessive about the source material.

And it does feel overstuffed, as if there are a few too many characters, a few too many distracting cameos, a few too many plot lines, and a few too many rewrites. But then, you could say the same thing about the ride itself. Honestly, the movie shares a lot of the feeling of the ride — a ton of talented contributions towards something that’s unfocused and disjointed but memorable.

It gets the tone right, too: it’s both creepy and funny but never too goofy and never too scary. LaKeith Stanfield goes harder than he needs to, honestly, but his performance is a huge part of keeping it from feeling just like a commercial IP synergy exercise. It often feels like Danny DeVito’s and Owen Wilson’s characters were leftovers from earlier drafts of the screenplay, but at the same time, the movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if any of them had been edited out. It ends up feeling surprisingly like an ensemble movie, where everybody in the ensemble is more talented than they need to be.

But one thing I like about The Haunted Mansion is that it is so deeply committed to paying homage to the theme park attraction that it finds a way to include both Disneyland’s and Walt Disney World’s versions.

Most of the movie takes place inside Disneyland’s New Orleans plantation house version of the mansion, but there’s a side trip to another historical house that looks exactly like the Magic Kingdom’s northeastern version. An especially nice touch is that the establishing shot of the house is seen from exactly the same angle as you see when entering the queue of the Magic Kingdom attraction, much like the “main” mansion is most often seen from the same angle as the entrance of Disneyland’s queue.

It is 1000% fan service, and the movie is full-to-bursting with it, and I was entirely on board for all of it. Just about every scene of the ride gets a depiction in the movie — the only scenes I didn’t see were the body trying to get out of its coffin in the conservatory, and the singing busts in the graveyard. Several of the ghosts depicted in paintings throughout the queue and the ride are made significant characters. All of the rooms make an appearance, most notably the stretching room and a version of the seance room. The movie even finds a way to include the rhyming headstones from the queue.

There are so many references to the ride, and they’re done so faithfully, that it’s impossible to cynically dismiss them as nothing more than an IP cash grab. There’s no question that the movie was made with affection for the attraction, by people putting in the extra effort to do justice to a beloved attraction. It often feels like a fan film made with a Disney budget.

One of the most charming things in the movie is the idea of “ghost winks,” signs that the dead give us to let us know they’re still with us. The movie itself spends a lot of time winking at us, feeling like shared love for a favorite ride.

Subverting the Thing

Barbie, David Letterman, and the impossibility of being a mass-market radical

I didn’t like the Barbie movie very much, but I can’t stress enough how much that doesn’t matter. I didn’t dislike it, because it’s got some really good performances by actors who understood the assignment completely, a couple of stand-out gags1Especially the narrator’s voice-over about how appropriate it was to cast Margot Robbie, and it works pretty well as a modern homage to so many classic fantasy movies that inspired it. In that interview with director and co-writer Greta Gerwig, she mentions Barbie greeting Astronaut Barbies and saying “Yay, space!” and it really is a fantastic, charming moment.

The most clever thing about the trailers for the movie was the tagline that went something like “If you love Barbie, you’ll love this movie. If you hate Barbie, you’ll love this movie.” It might simply be that I’ve never had a strong opinion about Barbie one way or the other, so I couldn’t get into this movie. But it’s a toy company spending tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver an honest and earnest message about feminism to as wide an audience as possible, so what could possibly be the problem?

My biggest issue with it isn’t that it’s bad, but that it was so on-the-nose that I never felt like I had anything to engage with. It was two hours of characters always saying exactly what was on their minds, explicitly delivering a message that I already agreed with. Everything that seemed like an original or clever twist on the basic premise (which I’d already seen on SNL, to be honest) had already been given away in the inescapable torrent of marketing for the movie.

It’d be churlish and hypocritical to be too critical of anything I thought was “just fine overall,” much less one that explicitly comments how the patriarchy demands that women be exceptional just to be recognized as having any worth at all.2And especially when a bunch of dipshits have tried to leverage Mattel’s marketing budget to take their own idiotic potshots in their own stupid attempt at a culture war. I don’t actually have any strong opinions about the movie, but about the idea that it was subversive.

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    Especially the narrator’s voice-over about how appropriate it was to cast Margot Robbie
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    And especially when a bunch of dipshits have tried to leverage Mattel’s marketing budget to take their own idiotic potshots in their own stupid attempt at a culture war.

Raiders of the Lost AARP

A few random thoughts about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and the series as a whole

I liked Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It kept up the formula of the series — which is proudly and iconically a celebration of formulaic moviemaking — without feeling like a retread. And it did a good job of completing the arc1No pun intended for its main character, bringing his story to a conclusion in a way that felt meaningful, but without getting in the way of the fact that these are action movies first and foremost.

But that’s after a day of thinking about it and watching videos about it. As I was watching it, I didn’t get it at all.

Usually when I’m critical of a movie’s plotting, it’s because I feel like I understand what the movie’s writers are trying to do, or where they’re trying to get to, but it doesn’t make sense for the characters in the moment. With Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, it was the complete opposite: at pretty much every step of the way, I understood the characters’ motivations, but I was left baffled as to why the movie was making the choices it did.

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    No pun intended

One Thing I Like About Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

I liked that the movie had the confidence to slow down and be quiet

I’ll come out as a grouch right of the bat: I didn’t like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse nearly as much as the first movie.1To be clear, when I say “the first movie,” I mean Into the Spider-Verse, and not that one with the naked guy running in profile.

That’s to be expected, though: Into the Spider-Verse was a once-in-a-generation masterpiece. It seemed to come out of nowhere and not just do every single thing right, but to be so relentlessly imaginative that it tricked you into believing that anything was possible.

And the moments when Across the Spider-Verse works best are truly astonishing. It is near-flawless technically and artistically, seemingly designed and art directed with the overriding rule being that absolutely nothing would be dismissed because it was too difficult, or because it didn’t fit.

It builds on that feeling of confidence that made the first movie so exciting: mixing and matching art and animation styles not just between universes, but between characters and even between shots in the same scene. You can see the sketch marks and guide lines on some characters, the crisp lines on others, and more than one is made from paper or newsprint2And for two completely different story reasons!. When it’s working, the movie captures that feeling of “anything goes” experimentation from comic books, but applied to animation.3The various comic book-style captions from the “editor” explaining throwaway gags or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references were an especially nice touch.

But still I was a bit disappointed simply because I could see the seams in this one. Into the Spider-Verse was relentlessly inventive but also felt “tight,” as if every detail and every stray idea was in the movie for a reason. Plus it never insulted the audience’s (or at least my) intelligence: you pretty much figured out things at the same time as the characters did, and there were no overly drawn-out revelations, or twists meant to blow your mind that you’d seen coming a mile away. Across the Spider-Verse was frustrating at points, because I was either wanting it to hurry up and get to the point already, or because I was wanting it to just calm down and be quiet for a second.

So much of it was manic. I felt like the first movie was able to throw everything together and make it all work, while the second often felt over-stuffed to me. It often seemed like the team knew they had made a masterpiece, and were now desperately trying not just to recapture lightning in a bottle, but to stretch it out into a franchise, Peter Jackson-style, even if it didn’t fit the story.

But this post is supposed to emphasize what I liked about the movie, and what I especially liked were the moments when it stopped the chase scenes and the constant one-liners and asides, and used all its artistic mastery not to overwhelm, but to just tell a story.

The beginning is excellent, deliberately deviating from the format of the first movie’s manic introductions (with a self-referential first line setting up exactly that) to re-introduce characters and introduce one of the main themes of the movie: that these stories are about characters defined by tragedy. It worked wonderfully and was one of the highlights of the entire movie, combining art and music and melodrama and humor in a way that only this series has been able to pull off.

There’s a lengthy scene with Miles and his mother that had me in tears, just because it was such a fearlessly earnest (but not quite maudlin) description of how much a mother can love her son, and the inevitable sadness that comes from realizing that letting a child reach their full potential means losing a huge part of them.

But my favorite scene in the movie is one fairly late in the movie, when (mild spoiler) Gwen returns to her home and has an extended conversation with her father. The scene itself is well performed by the actors, although I don’t think it’s quite as powerful as the one between Rio and Miles. But what makes it so remarkable is that every single aspect of the scene goes towards expressing all the emotion contained in the scene. The backgrounds gain and lose detail. The characters shift between more and less sketchy, full clarity to black shadow, as their moods change. The entire color palette of the scene changes with the characters’ emotional state.

It feels as experimental as the pinnacle of the most inventive Warner Bros shorts, but all in the context of a feature film, and all for a purpose.

I guess that it’s good that I didn’t like Across the Spider-Verse quite as much — and to be clear, it’s like the difference between a B+ and an A++ — because Into the Spider-Verse was almost too perfect in execution. Since these movies are so technically proficient and seemingly capable of absolutely anything, it’s nice to be reminded that there are real, talented, artists behind it all, trying to express something real and personal.

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    To be clear, when I say “the first movie,” I mean Into the Spider-Verse, and not that one with the naked guy running in profile.
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    And for two completely different story reasons!
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    The various comic book-style captions from the “editor” explaining throwaway gags or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references were an especially nice touch.

1d10 Things I Love About Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

I wasn’t expecting Honor Among Thieves to become one of my all-time favorite action movies.

I rolled an 8.

1. It has tons of fun with the source material, but never makes fun of it.

I never got the sense that the filmmakers were trying to make Dungeons and Dragons accessible to a wider audience, or to translate it in a way that non-nerds could understand, or use just the trappings of D&D in a tangentially related fantasy movie. Honor Among Thieves seems to say “they saw D&D in the title, they knew what they were getting into,” and just commits to it entirely. Even Marvel didn’t get this right for several years, feeling instead like they had to “ground” comic books in something movie audiences could better appreciate.

There’s not even a hint of embarrassment about the game, or an attempt to bring the game to The Normals, that have plagued so much genre entertainment for as long as I’ve been alive.

2. Maybe the best possible role for Michelle Rodriguez.

Rodriguez always gets to play tough characters, because she’s really good at it, but she never seems to get the chance to be funny. This character is just great, and her performance is perfect — still delivering all of her lines with a combination of anger and annoyance, but also with a perfect understanding of why the context makes it hilarious.

3. It seemed to never take the easier or cheaper way out.

First, it’s fantastic that they used as many practical effects as they did. The CG creatures were almost universally great (especially the dragon), but there was one scene with a cat woman1A Tabaxi, according to the wiki and her kitten that made me say “AWWWWWW” loudly and unashamedly.

But even more than that, I was surprised over and over again when a character would start describing something in flashback, and we’d actually flash back to see it all played out. I thought for sure they’d choose to save the money and just have a character tell the story in the present, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t film every single scene. Even big battle scenes, or special-effect-heavy crowd scenes, or even quick 10-second gags.

4. It always knew what to take seriously and what to have fun with, and it was rarely what I expected.

Honor Among Thieves is relentlessly, genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes with a line of dialogue but just as often with a perfectly executed visual gag. But I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it an action-comedy, since its actual story is just as earnest as you’d expect from a more traditional fantasy story, or a more straightforward and predictable action movie. Instead, it stays true to its story, its world, and its characters, and then finds every way it possibly can to make that fun.

As a result, an encounter with a dragon — which is supposed to be one of the most intimidating master-level adversaries in the game — ends up being completely charming, and a genuine threat that takes several moments of inspiration2Both in screenwriting and in D&D terms to get past.

5. It didn’t resort to corny fourth-wall-breaking references to the game, but it did often capture the feel of having to respond to random chance and unexpectedly bad luck.

The entire plot centers on heroes who have to respond to misfortune and find a clever way around it. It’s such a big part of the story that it’s the main character’s super-power. And as a result, you can see the characters have an unexpected bit of luck, followed by what must’ve been a critical failure. All of it presented organically as if it were a natural part of the story, instead of being called out as “this is the part of the movie where we show you what happens when you roll a 1.”

6. Even when I knew what was inevitably going to happen, it still worked perfectly in the moment.

Partly because it nailed that balance between earnest and flippant, but mostly because it was so frequently clever, I felt like the movie earned every single one of its “action movie moments.” Those moments when a magic item is foreshadowed early on, and you just know it’s going to become important during the climax. One of those was so cleverly executed that I never saw it coming. The other, I knew exactly what was going to happen from moment one, but seeing it play out was still completely satisfying. It was all executed so well that it didn’t seem predictable so much as inevitable.

7. Better than many “serious” fantasy movies I’ve seen at depicting what day-to-day life would be like in a world filled with magic.

I almost never like depictions of magic in movies or television, because it always comes across as too rigid in its rules and systems to still be magical, or so completely arbitrary in its rules that it becomes meaningless.

Dungeons and Dragons is one of the main reasons that we even think of magic as having rigid rules and systems in the first place, so I wasn’t expecting anything new here. I admit I did find myself frequently thinking, they’ve already used all their daily spell slots! but it passed quickly as I noticed the interesting ways the story depicted magic as utilitarian but still fantastic.

There’s a clever scene pretty early on that shows us the scale of what people in the Forgotten Realms would find fantastic or surprising, and what wouldn’t impress them at all. (“A five-year-old could do that!”) But even more importantly, the movie establishes that it doesn’t care about the wonder or spectacle of magic as much as the usefulness of it. The most spectacular thing isn’t casting a spell, but finding a clever use for it.

8. It had already won me over early on, so I could just enjoy it in the same way that I used to enjoy movies.

I’d heard plenty of good things about Honor Among Thieves, so I had a good feeling I was going to at least enjoy it. But by the end of the opening sequence, once we’d finally been introduced to Jarnathan, the movie had already won me over. All the hyper-critical parts of my brain happily shut up for a couple of hours and let me watch the movie the way I used to as a teenager.

In fact, every time the movie jumped into a new setting, or set up a new extended action sequence, I kept being reminded of how I felt being at the theater during the “golden age” of action movies when I was a teenager. Seeing things like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Big Trouble in Little China and marveling at how they seemed to keep topping themselves. I thoroughly and completely enjoyed Honor Among Thieves in a way I haven’t enjoyed movies in a very long time.

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    A Tabaxi, according to the wiki
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    Both in screenwriting and in D&D terms

One Thing I Like About Quantumania

Spoiler: It’s MODOFK.

Reading reviews about Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania gives me the impression that a lot of critics have negative reviews pre-written, much like celebrity obituaries. Ironically, they complain about the corporate-driven sameness and lack of imagination in every installment, in a way that’s so repetitious and over-familiar that I’m getting deja vu that I’ve made this exact same complaint in previous blog posts about MCU projects.

Somehow, they never seem to mention that it’s corporate-driven content that keeps them submitting reviews for movies that they’re predisposed to dislike. Imagine going back to a pre-Siskel & Ebert/Pauline Kael world, where critics only had to write about things if they had an interesting observation to make!

To be fair: Quantumania does have plenty of signs of Creeping Marvel Fatigue. It never reaches the level of “why exactly does this movie exist, again?” that Eternals did, but it does lapse into the feeling that it’s going through the motions. They’re grand, sweeping, extremely expensive motions, granted, but still.

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Deadstream is a ridiculously fun horror movie that delivers jokes and scares across every possible channel

I loved Deadstream.

I expected I’d at least enjoy it, since its premise is entirely my kind of thing: a “found footage” movie in which a disgraced internet personality known for tasteless, extreme stunts tries to restore his name (and monetization) by locking himself into the most haunted house in the world and live-streaming everything that happens inside. What I hadn’t expected was that it would be hilarious and genuinely scary and relentlessly imaginative and clever.

Based on the core gimmick, I expected it to be similar to other “found footage” horror movies like Paranormal Activity, which always struck me as low-effort, to be honest. (Plus I didn’t think it was scary in the slightest, which is damning because I’m about the easiest person in the world to scare). Or, it’d be like Host, which I haven’t seen, but gave me the impression that it relied heavily on its premise for its scares.

Instead, Deadstream feels more like the filmmakers — Vanessa and Joseph Winter — chose to make a horror comedy in the style of Evil Dead 2, while also making it immensely harder for themselves by committing 500% to their gimmick. The entire hour and a half is presented as if it were one continuous take being broadcast in real time, with every edit, every camera angle, every cut-away for exposition, and every piece of music being given an in-world explanation.

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Top 6 Movies of 2022

Yeah, I can do end-of-year lists over a week into the new year

I don’t watch that many movies any more, and hardly ever see anything first-run unless it’s Marvel or Star Wars. I’m hoping to address that in 2023, both by virtue of living in Los Angeles, and paying for AMC’s “A-List” subscription. So far, though, being on the A-List has just meant seeing a lot of C-List movies I wouldn’t have otherwise. (At least I’ve nearly memorized Nicole Kidman’s monologue at this point).

In any case, I saw my friend Rain post a list of her top five movies of the year, and it occurred to me that I actually saw enough movies in 2022 to be able to make my own list! I couldn’t even limit it to just five! Here they are, in reverse order:

6. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Not quite the slam-dunk I’d been hoping for, but still pretty spectacular and full of some great character interactions. What impressed me the most was how it maintained all of its franchise obligations but still had plenty of imaginative, creepy flashes that marked it clearly as a Sam Raimi movie.

5. Nope

I still don’t think the movie holds together all that well, but it has moments of brilliance, plus the pure joy of seeing Keke Palmer bringing the full force of her charisma to the screen. Highlights were the unforgettable, disorienting, and disturbing sequence showing what happens to Jean Jacket’s victims; and Gordy’s attack, a near-perfect sequence of surreal suspense.

4. Barbarian

This wasn’t the goofy fun that I expected it to be, but it was a much better movie as a result. It thoughtfully tears apart decades of horror movie conventions and reminds jaded audiences that the main reason horror movies are horrifying is because most people aren’t self-obsessed sociopaths.

3. Encanto

(Released in 2021, it turns out, but I didn’t see it until 2022 on Disney+)

I’d expected this to be a mid-tier Disney animated feature, but the “Dos Oruguitas” sequence alone [spoilers for the entire movie!] might be the most potent five minutes of any movie, animated or otherwise. If you’re not ugly-crying by the end of it, you might very well be a robot. And I understand how people could be suffering from Lin-Manuel Miranda fatigue, but after Moana and now Encanto, I think he’s preternaturally suited to animated musicals, and kind of a super-hero. “The Family Madrigal” is the catchiest song of the movie, and it introduces the entire premise and cast of characters in just a few minutes.

2. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Maybe the highest praise I could give it is that it exceeded my impossibly high expectations after Knives Out. I love that the two movies are unmistakably related, but the sequel isn’t just an attempt to copy the formula of the first. And Janelle Monáe is brilliant, embodying the impossibly beautiful “rich bitch” while also being endearing and funny and fun. I hope the Benoit Blanc mysteries never, ever end.

1. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Not just my favorite movie of 2022, but instantly one of my favorite movies ever. It pays no regard to genre, and is action-packed and introspective, vulgar and sentimental, hilarious and heart-breaking, ridiculous and sublime. It has all the feel of a loose, scrappy indie movie that can do whatever it wants, but also has some gorgeous sequences that feel timeless. My favorite contradiction is that it explores the idea of infinite universes with infinite potential, all to stress the beauty of living in the moment and appreciating the one life you have. It’s a masterpiece.

Honorable mentions: Confess, Fletch, Orphan: First Kill, Prey, and the Ugly Sonic scenes from Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers.

1 Thing I Like About M3GAN

M3GAN is a PG-13 horror movie filmed entirely on location in the Uncanny Valley

There’s a scene mid-way through M3GAN where our protagonist has driven her troubled niece Cady to the first day of an alternative school. It seems necessary, since Cady has gotten overly attached to her robotic friend M3GAN, and she needs to socialize with other human children. The school’s teacher comes up to the car and cheerfully and kindly introduces herself to Cady, then asks if she’s come with her sister, at which point M3GAN turns to look at her, causing the teacher to involuntarily shout “JESUS CHRIST!”

That’s one of my favorite moments in this surprisingly good movie, because it perfectly captures the confidently silly and relentlessly sinister tone that makes the movie so much stronger than its premise would suggest.

Blumhouse and Universal have gone all-in on marketing the movie as a campy, creepy, successor to the “evil doll” subgenre of horror movie like Child’s Play and Annabelle. That’s a good call, since the promise of something silly and fun is what got me into the theater in the first place.1There’s not nearly as much creepy dancing in the movie as the trailers suggest, though, which felt like a bit of a bait and switch. But what makes M3GAN so unexpectedly clever is that it doesn’t settle for being a self-aware rehash of its too-familiar influences; nor a winking deconstruction; or even an undeservedly high-minded re-examination of them. Instead, it takes all of its familiar elements and uses them at face value, but combines and re-contextualizes them to make them just as uncanny and eerily not-quite-real as its villain.

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    There’s not nearly as much creepy dancing in the movie as the trailers suggest, though, which felt like a bit of a bait and switch.