See You at the Movies! Three from 2022

To say that I’ve been surprisingly busy at the cinema is something of an understatement. Given my fondness for the old and the obscure, getting to see a picture in its theatrical run once a year has become something of a rarity for me. And yet, here I sit with thoughts of three fun motion pictures from 2022 thus far. From a director near and dear to me to a franchise I hadn’t the faintest clue about, and finally to a legacy sequel that soars on its own and with great respect to its forebear. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the dart-throwing approach my moviegoing has yielded me, and I feel it only fitting to share with you some of my 2022 highlights.

The Northman (2022, Eggers)

To put it simply: WHAT. A. FILM./10

The Maestro has risen once more, blessing us with an epic only an artisan filmmaker like Robert Eggers could forge. The Northman blends its Viking brutality and rich mythology with the jaw-dropping, dreamy style Eggers has developed over the course of his past two films. The Lighthouse stood as a choice pick for me in the 2019 season, and I found the somber horror of his 2015 debut The Witch equally affecting. And while Eggers hasn’t dethroned his sophomore masterpiece in my eyes as his greatest feat yet, his latest opus is a worthy successor nonetheless. The Northman tells the tale of the ruthless Prince Amleth, a Viking royal dispossessed of his birthright who bears witness to the execution of his father at the hands of his uncle. What follows is a fantastical revenge-fueled quest in the form of a proto-Shakespearean actioner, amplified by a blend of surreal fantasy, unrelenting brutality, and historical accuracy only Eggers can deliver.

The ensemble cast, led by powerhouse Alexander Skarsgård as the honor-bound vengeful Amleth, is superb in bringing this world to life. The film comes armed with a wealth of names such as a righteously show-stopping Nicole Kidman as Amleth’s mother, the lovely Anya Joy-Taylor of The Witch fame as his muse, a joyously unhinged Willem Dafoe, an ever-committed Ethan Hawke as Amleth’s father, and a knockout performance by famed Icelandic musician Björk in a mysterious turn. Everyone disappears into their roles, Skarsgård chief among them, and all enrapture the viewer with their rich characterizations. Just as rich is the stylized cinematography, subtle score, and beautifully realized production design. The latter, in particular, commits to both authenticity and a sort of earthy grandeur that creates a beautifully fleshed-out environment. The Northman stands as equal parts kinetic, soul-stirring, faintly touching, but above all else, engrossing to the final frame. A fantastic film from a fantastic filmmaker and my pick of the year thus far. Recommended without reservation for fans of the director, of Vikings, and of rich adventurous storytelling.

To Mr. Eggers, I must simply say the following: You are 3 for 3 in my book. Praise be to a track record like that, and here’s to many more!

Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022, Curtis)

To be fully transparent, I went to this as a family movie night, for I had relations who were fans of the series and the first installment, and who had eagerly awaited this latest chapter in the storied and celebrated world of the Crawley Family and the Grantham home, the famed Downton Abbey. It left me with a peculiar perspective to approach it from, and one I am almost perversely grateful for.

I came to Downton Abbey: A New Era from the perspective of someone who hadn’t the faintest idea about the show or its premise, beyond it being a series set in one of England’s many stately homes. What I was surprised to find was a genuine, quiet, yet infectious period drama. It is a story of familial history and of modern times. The Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, played as always by screen goddess Dame Maggie Smith, has discovered a newfound inheritance; a villa in the south of France! The revelation sparks a trip to resolve the matter, and to learn the truth about her past with a mysterious Marquis, a past that even calls into question the legitimacy of the Earl himself, Robert, portrayed by Hugh Bonneville in one of the film’s strongest turns. Meanwhile at the Abbey, a silent film production caught in the whirlwind of the talkie revolution finds unlikely solutions to their innumerable problems, thanks to many of the Abbey’s regulars, including the Earl’s daughter, Lady Mary Talbot, as played by Michelle Dockery.

Stacked to the rafters with talented players, lovingly designed & filmed, & with a deliciously orchestrated score by series composer John Lunn, A New Era manages to stand well on its own divorced from the series, yet one will certainly be drawn to taking a crack at the show, or revisiting in the case of inveterate viewers. In short, it actually made me something of a quiet fan in retrospect.

Even to a complete novice of the franchise, the world feels impeccably lived in, the character dynamics fleshed out & frankly arresting, and there’s a genuine warmth & delectable Englishness about the whole production. Veteran character player Jim Carter’s “Mr. Carson” is a treat to watch in action, Kevin Doyle’s “Mr. Mosley” equally charmed, but with such an enormous cast, everyone felt like they were given a chance to have a moment that left a lasting memory in the viewer’s mind, especially for avid enjoyers of the hit ITV program. It does seem awkwardly paced at times, the culprit behind such issues being the attempts to spotlight and resolve the incalculable quantity of mini-narratives from the show. Some stray edits here and there add to the peculiarity, but no flaw ever overrides the drama nor the dynamics.

Obvious winners of the night are Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville. The former is given some of the great zingers of the picture, airdropped from the pen of series creator and screenwriter Julian Fellowes, with some delightfully tongue-in-cheek ribs at Dame Smith’s chosen profession. The latter, on the other hand, is given one of the most genuinely affecting scenes of the year to play out with long-time screen wife Elizabeth McGovern. To say it works startlingly well is a disservice, for even without the weight of several seasons & a prior film on its back, the kind of pain and overwhelming distress Bonneville conveys cements him as one of our great modern players, even in a vacuum.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of the series or a lover of a good stately English drama, the latest installment in this cherished franchise is definitely worth a watch.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022, Kosinski)

Top Gun: Maverick is a legacy sequel that is neither inferior nor superior to the landmark blockbuster that preceded it. No, Maverick manages to be a legacy sequel that feels like a natural successor to the original Tony Scott classic. Action juggernaut Tom Cruise’s Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is back as an instructor, priming a team of hot shots and hot heads on a dangerous mission to destroy a uranium enrichment plant. He also finds himself confronting a troubled and tangled past, including rekindling his love with an old ex, played by Jennifer Connelly, and resolving the decades-long tension between him and Miles Teller’s Lieutenant “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of Anthony Edwards’ “Goose” from the 1986 classic. And of course, one would be remiss to not mention one of the film’s great highlights; a show-stopping reunion with the “Iceman” himself, the great Val Kilmer.

Cruise is still insanely charismatic and fun to watch in action, bringing an electric energy and charm to the Silver Screen once more. The cast is chock full of fun turns from talented actors with Teller, Connelly, and top-brass player Charles Parnell being particular standouts. Some love must also be shown for the perpetually smug yet entertaining “Hangman,” played with aplomb by Glen Powell. The largely practical action is electrifying to watch, with killer aerial photography and wickedly choreographed set pieces, including one of the most astonishing dawn runs of an experimental aircraft depicted on film. Perhaps most importantly, director Joseph Kosinski of TRON: Legacy and Oblivion fame manages to carve his own path in creating a sun-soaked visual style while also honoring the peerless vision of action auteur Scott. The power of this film not only lies in its merits, but within its place in the modern commercial film landscape.

Presently, we live in a world filled with overbearing corporately manufactured franchises, a world filled with rapidly devolving “cinematic universes.” A world contending with the rise of “legacy sequels” which plumb the depths of our nostalgia glands in search of an easy payday, and on a rare occasion, an actually authentic revival of what made the films that preceded it so beloved. A world where movie marketers play for brownie points and social credit, assaulting the movie-going public with unsolicited “hot takes” on topical issues, and at their very worst, instigating and berating them in the name of those causes. Perhaps most tragic of all, we live in a world absent of one of the great sewers of that ancient seed called “fun,” action cinema’s own maverick Tony Scott.

Action blockbusters like these haven’t grown on trees in a long, long time. A film and a sequel like this reminds us of just how much fun going to the movies can and should be in the domain of the summer blockbuster. Untouched by the franchise baggage legacy sequels face, Top Gun: Maverick stands tall as a white-knuckling, unpretentious good time and an easy favorite for the summer season. Worth every ounce of success coming its way.

See you at the movies Aviators!

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