Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we learned that smoking causes coughing. This time, we, uh, get stuck in a porta potty. So there’s this low-budget gimmick that some movies try where the grand majority of the action takes place in a single, confined location. Think movies like Buried, Locke, or Phone Booth. Well, Holy Shit! joins their ranks with a decidedly more scatalogical premise:
An architect regains consciousness in a locked portaloo – known in German vernacular by the ‘Dixi’ brand name – on a building site where a detonation is being prepared. As he desperately tries to find ways of escaping this ‘prison’ before potentially being blown to smithereens, he realizes who has put him into this predicament. Now he has to do everything in his power to get out alive…
I guess it’s a good thing smell-o-vision never caught on. Holy Shit! is currently an exclusive release on Screambox, a horror-themed streaming service that isn’t Shudder, so I probably won’t be able to get to this for a while… but it sounds gross and fun.
Just the usual collection of links dumped from the depths of ye olde internets:
It can be annoying to be online – Bijan Stephen responds to a viral article declaring that “We are a generation of adult babies,” which is, of course, based mostly on what people do online (and, more specifically, on social media). Which, as those of us who’ve been on the internets for a while know, is not the same thing as real life.
The thing about this that I really don’t like, other than its childish universalizing, is that it doesn’t actually describe offline behavior. The internet is a place where people post things — and, crucially at this juncture, where people know what it means to post things. In other words: at this point, posting is performance. You do it with an awareness that other people can see what you’re doing; everyone knows that anything posted online can go viral and change the poster’s life. …
A better piece might have asked: why do the algorithms that govern online popularity incentivize people posting infantile sensory content? For my own part I’d guess the answer is some combination of “it’s inoffensive and therefore appealing to many different kinds of people” and “people have very strong reactions to it” — which is a different way of saying that it boosts engagement and therefore increases a site’s all-important growth metrics.
Astronomers still scratching their heads over population of ocean-world exoplanets – The notion that earth-like water worlds might be rare is certainly a valid conjecture, but there’s nothing head-scratching about this. As per usual, the details of exoplanet detection are the confounding factor, not the results. Still, the idea that water worlds are rare could represent a great filter would be good news, I guess. If we could ever confirm it (which would be difficult).
The Stunt Awards – I meant to mention this last week: After decades of fruitless lobbying to the Academy Awards, which still doesn’t have a Best Stunt Oscar, Vulture writers (led by Bilge Ebiri and Brandon Streussnig) decided to just do their own. And it’s good! Folks like Scott Adkins and Albert Pyun garnered awards, which is fantastic (and exactly the sort of thing the Oscars might get some mileage out of if they ever get their act together).
It’s Evil and Someone is Going to Make It – March is rife with jokey March Madness style brackets for goofy stuff, but I do kinda love this one, which is about fictional companies with evil products. OCP, Cyberdyne Systems, etc… Fun!
Bad Projection Is Ruining the Movie Theater Experience – If streaming isn’t doing so great… well, neither are theaters. I’m lucky in that my local suburban cadre of Regal theaters seem to be pretty well run (in that I don’t get a lot of the issues described in this article), but if theaters can get their act together, maybe they can scrape back some share from the streamers (so far, so good this year, at least).
Roundball Rock – It’s always funny when you see an old SNL sketch and you suddenly recognize Tim Robinson (who clearly had a hand writing this sketch).
Is 2023 the year the Oscars turn things around? Whatever hot takes you have about The Slap*, I’m guessing at least some folks will tune in to see if something crazy happens again. Also of note: an actual host (rather than the non-host platoon they’ve been relying on) who seems like he might actually just make fun of the movies again (Kimmel’s Oscars Trailer was fantastic and a solid lampoon of Top Gun: Maverick). Also: movies people actually watched are nominated (in addition to a bunch of stuff no one’s heard of, but still). Finally, I’m pretty sure they reversed course from last year’s weird “we’re not actually going to present important awards” strategy that was clearly dumb.
So it’s also time for the annual reminder that the Oscars broadcast is the biggest source of income for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is actually a very useful organization. As Steven Soderberg noted a few years ago, what the Academy does for film archiving and preservation alone should be praised, and it’s all paid for by the broadcast. We all have our complaints about the Oscars, but actually putting on the show is difficult and it does have a lot of benefits for the industry and cinema as a whole. Anyway, let’s look at the categories and make some predictions:
2023 Oscars Predictions
Best Picture:Everything Everywhere All at Once. This film has all the momentum and precursor awards, but there are two potential spoiling factors. One is that this is not a movie that does well with the olds, and older people are still a big proportion of the Academy (perhaps recent diversity pushes have younged things up a bit though). Second is that Best Picture is a ranked vote, meaning that divisive movies tend to not do as well, and there’s a certain proportion of the Academy here that just doesn’t get EEAAO. All that being said, I think it’s still going to take home the Oscar. All Quiet on the Western Front has also been doing well and it does have some standard Oscar traits (i.e. epic war movie, etc…), but I don’t think it will get Best Picture because it will win other awards and most voters will think that’s enough (also: not sure how the Netflix association impacts things. Dark Horse chance for Top Gun: Maverick (the movie that saved Hollywood!) but I ultimately think that EEAAO will take it.
Best Director: Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert for Everything Everywhere All at Once. Ever since they expanded the Best Picture field to include up to 10 nominees, the Best Director award has diverged from Picture. I’m betting that this trend will reverse for this year, but there’s still a decent enough chance that Steven Spielberg will get this just because everyone likes him and The Fabelmans is semi-autobiographical, etc… Very Dark Horse chance for Todd Field and Tár (that movie still seems to be the critical favorite, the one people who do “Should Win” picks are choosing, and so on…)
Best Actress: Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once. This one is not certain, and Cate Blanchett in Tár has a lot of buzz too (as much as I love Michelle Yeoh, I personally think Blanchett’s performance is really next level stuff). Still, I’m betting on an EEAAO kinda night. Funniest possible win: Ana De Armas for Blonde. That will not happen, but if it did: just scortching, nuclear hot takes on Twitter.
Best Actor: Brendan Fraser in The Whale. He’s won some precursors, but again, not a lock here. But the Oscars loves a comeback story, and everyone loves Fraser. Austin Butler in Elvis is certainly quite possible though. The Academy loves biopics and actors who portray real people. Basically, whoever wins this award got it because they wore a fat suit. Dark Horse is Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin (who is probably the critical consensus pick).
Best Supporting Actress: Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All at Once. This is not a lock, but Curtis has a lot of momentum and goodwill coming to her (this is one of those Lifetime Achievement awards). Of course, so does Angela Bassett and she’s also got a Lifetime Achievement thing, but I’m betting Black Panther: Wakanda Forever doesn’t have enough heat to get her the award (and EEAAO has tons of buzz and momentum).
Best Adapted Screenplay: Women Talking. This movie has the buzz and the Academy will want to make the statement that yes, women are talking and men are listening. Or something. But seriously, I think there’s some desire to reward this movie and writer/director Sarah Polley, and this is the best place to put it.
And those are the categories I pick every year. Why don’t I pick the others? It’s a mystery! Anywho, if you’re a weirdo and want to plumb the depths of the Kaedrin archives for old Oscars commentary (if you go far back enough, you can even read what used to be called “liveblogging” of the event, which is what we did before Twitter), all my previous entries are here: [2022 | 2019]   | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004] (I took a couple of years off there for various reasons). If you are watching and on Twitter, I’m @mciocco (and when the musical performances start, I’ll be posting alcohol @kaedrinbeer). I don’t usually post much, but I’ll be around and obsessively reading Film twitter’s commentary/jokes. I may post a dumb “who should host the Oscars” poll, like I did last year…
* My Biggest hot take about “The Slap” is that it’s a terrible shame this event has overshadowed the television series of the same name about the slap that rocked a community, but that’s just me. Also because “The Pursuit of Slappyness” was right there.
Just a series of quick hits and tasting notes on my media diet (and sometimes, uh, regular diet) of late:
Poker Face – This Rian Johnson led Natasha Lyonne starring mystery of the week TV series is great. Really enjoyable stuff, and while there’s some sort of overarching storyline, the episodes are mostly standalone mysteries. The Columbo-esque formula is also quite effective, with the first 10-20 minutes of each episode being about the crime, then flashing back to how Lyonne gets involved and investigates.
The “bullshit” conceit is a bit silly, but they don’t overdo it, and the mysteries are all well thought out and twisty in the best way (the one with the stage play was great, and when you find out about the cool old folks’ misdeeds, I laughed out loud). Since Lyonne is not playing a cop, the comeuppance is not always perfect (the race car one, in particular), but you still get the thrill of the solve (more of a howdunnit than a whodunnit, but still). Worth seeking out!
Andor – I don’t get it. Everyone says this is the best Star Wars stuff since the originals, but after slogging through 3 episodes that should have been about one single hour of story, I don’t get it. The third episode was markedly better than the first two, and everyone is telling me that it continues to get better as the series progresses, but I’m still annoyed at the first three episodes.
The Last of Us – The fungal zombie apocalypse gets a prestige TV treatment, to mostly good effect. It still feels a little like “prestige Walking Dead” and I was never a big fan of that show, but boiling it down to a mostly two character odd-couple buddy travelogue works reasonably well. It occasionally veers into the typical, bog standard zombie notes of “well, the fungus zombie just murdered my girlfriend, but the real monster is other human beings!” and it doesn’t have the gore quotient of Walking Dead, but it works well enough for what it is. I can see maybe one more season of this before it gets really grating. For now it’s enjoyable enough.
Knock at the Cabin – M. Night Shyamalan provides sturdy, tense craft behind a somewhat unsatisfying story that nonetheless has some thematic heft around the nature of sacrifice that’s worth exploring. Dave Bautista does exceptional work, and the rest of the cast is pretty good too.
The twist is that there is no twist, and the ending tries to split the difference between the book’s rather bleak ending (probably a no go for any actual filmic adaptation) and a truly happy ending, leaving us with a sorta bittersweet thing that works ok, but isn’t super satisfying. Again, lots of thematic stuff to chew on and Shyamalan provides the visually compelling craft, so this isn’t just a rote thriller, but it’s not exactly perfect either.
Infinity Pool – Brandon Cronenberg continues to follow in his father’s footsteps, adding a little more stylistic artifice to the body horror and weirdly new arenas of science that seem to populate these movies. I think this is perhaps a little more successful and approachable than Possessor, but they’re both of a piece.
There’s again some thematic heft here around doubles and existential crises and so on, but if you can get past some of the weird hedonistic parties and violence, it’s hard not to appreciate Mia Goth’s unhinged performance. Interesting stuff and Cronenberg is one to keep an eye on, but he hasn’t hit anything out of the park just yet.
All Quiet on the Western Front (2022 and 1930) – I watched both of these because the latter one was nominated for Best Picture. Short story is that the original covers more ground and makes better anti-war points than the remake, which is a technical marvel, to be sure, but somehow covers much less ground in around the same runtime. Some of the really effective points in the original are contained off the battlefield, which the remake tends to downplay (while playing up the diplomatic stuff). It’s all still effective and it’s the sort of thing that the Academy Awards loves, so it’s not surprising or completely unwarranted, but I prefer the original. For some reason, the musical score in the remake seems to be getting a lot of buzz, which confounds me – the whole electronic nah nuh nuh thing took me out of the movie every damn time, it felt anachronistic and too slight. If you’re going to do that sort of thing, lean into it. Anyway, interesting movie, but certainly not the best of the year.
My Dinner with Andre – Literally two people sitting at a table in a restaurant having a conversation for two-ish hours. More interesting than that sounds, but some of the conversation also goes a bit too far up its own arse. But the saving grace is that towards the end, Wallace Shawn gets to push back on Andre Gregory’s wanking, and basically says something to the effect of “I don’t know what the hell you’re even talking about anymore!?” Both the characters contradict themselves throughout the conversation, which I think is part of the point. Anyway, more interesting than I feared, but not exactly a barn burner either. Glad I finally caught up with it.
The Wind and the Lion – John Milius wrote and directed this historical… adventure? It’s hard to peg this thing down. Sean Connery plays a Berber chieftain, which is a bit of a stretch, but then his starpower might carry the day. Brian Keith does interesting work as Theodore Roosevelt. Candice Bergen has good chemistry with Connery. The whole thing has a bit of an exaggerated air, a little hammy at times, but Milius’ trademark tough guy dialogue shows up here and there. An interesting, weird little movie.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie – Between last year’s spate of murder mystery movies and Poker Face, I’ve been getting into the mystery genre a bit and decided to start at the beginning of Christie’s Poirot series. This first Poirot book comports itself well enough, though obviously some of the twists and turns are not as surprising as they perhaps once were. That said, it holds up remarkably well for a 100 year old mystery novel. I also read The Murder on the Links (the second novel in the series) and Poirot Investigates (a short story collection with a bunch of great, simpler stories). A few themes have emerged, Poirot’s catchphrases of “little grey cells”, “a man of method”, and his habit of referring to himself as “Papa Poirot” are all pretty funny. Also, Captain Hastings is such a moron, it’s hilarious how often Poirot (or Christie) takes to humiliating him in an absolutely merciless fashion. Anyway, these are fun, I will be reading more of them (and probably branch out to Miss Marple or whatever)
Tales of the Black Widowers, by Isaac Asimov – When Asimov took a break from Science Fiction for a few decades, he did still write fiction, and this collection of short stories is actually pretty fun. These are also mysteries, but they distinguish themselves by being mostly about trivialities, rather than murder (though there was one involving a death). Asimov’s mysteries tend to revolve more around wordplay than anything else, but that’s an interesting contrast to Agatha Christie. So far, these short stories are all pretty fun, though I suspect things might get a bit repetitive over time. Still, as a short collection, it’s great stuff.
Earthblood and Other Stories, by Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown – Started this in January as part of Vintage SF Month, but it turned out to be something of a slog. There’s a bunch of interesting stuff buried here about a long-lost Earth and legends of humans, but it’s caught up in an episodic narrative with poorly drawn action. Normally a galactic travelogue with carnies, pirates, and military intrigue would sound like a lot of fun, but none of it really panned out here. Every episode seemed simultaneously boring and slow but also truncated and the shifts happen suddenly. I just was not able to get on its wavelength, I guess. The “other stories” are marginally better, but despite some of them ostensibly happening in the same universe involving the same aliens, they are all completely disconnected and even conflicting in nature. Not especially recommended.
Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past, by Sarah Parcak – A look into the young field of satellite archaeology, this unfortunately doesn’t spend that much time on the space-bound nature of the exploration, and most of the book is about how satellites guide traditional, boots-on-the-ground archaeology. Which, when you think about it, makes a whole lot of sense, but the premise feels like it promised more than what we get. Interesting enough for what it is, but not exactly a must-read.
We’re also about to embark on the annual beer slowdown, so I’ve got a few non-beer things lined up, including a local distillery’s 6 year old Rye. I was thinking of dipping my toes into the brandy world this year as well. Time will tell. Recommendations welcome!
That about does it for this round of tasting notes, stay tuned for moar!
So we conclude our recap of last year’s movies with a traditional top 10 list of my favorite movies of 2022, only a month and a half (or so) late! This marks the seventeenth year in a row that I’ve posted a top 10. For reference, previous top 10s are here: [2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]
From an industry perspective, theatrical moviegoing had a couple of big wins this year, while streaming venues are fraying. We still have not returned to pre-pandemic norms and fears about theatrical business are still warranted, but there does seem to be an acknowledgement that streaming can’t be the end-all-be-all delivery of movies.
On a more personal note, this year’s list is much lighter in tone than last year, which tended towards dark, dreary tales. That’s not to say that it’s all fluffy bunnies and rainbows, there are a couple of harrowing experiences in the list, but it’s a little more balanced this year. I don’t explicitly try to balance these top 10 lists, but it is neat when you get a good variety in the mix (this year, we’ve got a documentary, an animated feature, a couple of foreign flicks, etc..) Perhaps this speaks to broad interests, but on the other hand, there are two murder mysteries on the list, so perhaps I’m making too much of the mix.
As of this writing, this top 10 list is pulling from a total of 104 movies I’ve seen that could be considered a 2022 release. This is less than your usual critic, but probably more than your typical moviegoer. Standard disclaimers apply, and it’s always worth noting that due to release schedules (especially in these plague years), some movies from 2021 that didn’t become available until 2022 qualify for this list. Alrighty then, I think we’ve covered all our bases, so let’s get to the feature presentation:
Top Ten Movies of 2022
* In roughly reverse order
Confess, Fletch – Criminally underseen reboot of a franchise that was perhaps too reliant on its original star’s smarm. Jon Hamm’s Fletch certainly retains the acidic snark, dry delivery, and insouciance of the character, while toning down the costumes and seemingly improvised dialogue. There’s a great supporting cast as well, and in the end, it’s just a great, breezy little flick that slipped through the cracks this year (but is already starting to gain a following as it continues to be discovered by audiences)
See How They Run – Another breezy murder mystery, this one a period piece with Agatha Christie flavor. The story is all well and good, but it’s the comedic performance of Saoirse Ronan as Constable Stalker that steals the show. A good supporting cast and enough dry wit to carry the day, this is a smart, self-aware spin on the genre that doesn’t stray too far or feel smug or self-satisified.
Everything Everywhere All at Once – Maximalist, hyper-kinetic tale that boils down to a rather simple story, it manages to combine a moving, sentimental family drama with silly bombast. Bold, adventurous filmmaking at its best. Like The Matrix before it, the only real drawback to the movie is some of its dumber fans (i.e. nothing to do with the movie itself).
Jackass Forever – It’s tempting to see this as nothing more than a feature length version of the “Man Getting Hit by Football” gag from the Simpsons, but I dare say that there is something more poignant going on here. This series has been going for decades now, and there’s something interesting about the aging cast and infusion of new talent, and the way human beings bond and react to stimuli (i.e. most of us generally try to avoid the situations these folks seek out). Anyway, there’s a whole sequence where a guy gets punched in the nuts by a UFC champion, so on this list it goes.
Athena – This French movie about an uprising in a poor neighborhood, sparked by a video of police beating a child to death, is comprised mostly of virtuosic long-takes. Bold, immersive filmmaking with astonishing set-pieces and a conscience too. The ending is almost comically provocative and presumably divisive, and the whole exercise could seem showy, but… I like that sort of thing, so here we are.
Three Thousand Years of Longing – George Miller’s follow up to Mad Max: Fury Road was not what anyone expected, and honestly, it’s not really what it seems either. I mean, it is mostly about two people talking, but Miller can’t help but inject energy and action and visual lushness into almost every frame of this story about stories. There’s a lot to chew on here, and some exceptional performances from the two leads. One of the biggest surprises of the year for me.
A Hero – There are a lot of great filmmakers in the world, but Asghar Farhadi may be the best at crafting dramas. This one centers around small decisions that snowball into giant avalanches of consequence. It has a lot to say about the ways in which communities perceive actions and the way small mistakes or misstatements can spiral out of hand very quickly. It’s a keenly observed bit of drama that doesn’t feel the need to take sides, and increasingly relevant in these times that are so mediated by outraged social media.
Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood – Richard Linklater has this superpower of being able to evoke nostalgia for a time when you were not alive. In this case, we get a look at 1969 Houston through the eyes of a 10 year old. Simple family interactions and nostalgia mixed with a more fantastical take on a secret NASA trip to the moon, all done through Linklater’s preferred (and rather handsome) rotoscoped animation style.
Nope – It’s messier than Jordan Peele’s previous efforts, but I can’t help but admire the ambition and weirdness on display here. There’s a lot to chew on with regards to narratives, spectacle, and what it takes to create something for audiences and how audiences are in thrall to that spectacle. But Peele doesn’t forget to make it entertaining either, which is a neat trick if you can pull it off. It won’t work for everyone, but it did for me…
Top Gun: Maverick – Pure action spectacle and the best big screen experience of the year, bar none. There are so many things about this movie that shouldn’t work, that I normally hate in a movie, but perhaps through Tom Cruise’s pure force of will, somehow become endearing and breathlessly entertaining. Just pure entertainment, an adrenaline shot to the theatrical experience. I don’t understand how any of this is possible, but I’m glad it is.
Ambulance – Michael Bay’s latest didn’t do very well at the box office and it is perhaps a tad overlong, but it’s still quite the action picture. Bay makes great use of drones and location shooting (which is a breath of fresh air in these days of bland green screen actioners) and while it does feature some of his trademark juvenile schtick, it’s a schtick that works well here. Very nearly made the top 10…
Babylon – Damien Chazelle’s ode to the decadence and depravity of early Hollywood has some crackerjack sequences and some wonderful performances, but is far too long and indulgent. Still, despite all its excesses and coke-fueled hijinks, there’s some depth and thematic heft about art and movies and those that make them that rings true.
Barbarian – Writer/director Zach Cregger’s debut is a fun ride with an unconventional structure and some well balanced tonal shifts between humor and horror that are pulled off with flare and style. It’s one of those movies that’s perhaps best seen when you know as little as possible going in, so that you’ll be suitably surprised when the narrative shifts one way or the other. Another one I genuinely considered for the top 10 but just fell a tad short…
Crimes of the Future – David Cronenberg returns to the pulsating, fleshy world of body horror and while it doesn’t quite connect the way his earlier work does, it does feel like a more mature effort (as befits his stature). Featuring some deeply weird performances, especially from Kristen Stewart, and yet another story about art, this time a rather unconventional, fleshy sort of art, but art nonetheless. If this winds up being Cronenberg’s last film, it would make for an interesting capper (though I suspect we’ll be seeing more from him soon enough).
Decision to Leave – Park Chan Wook takes bits and pieces from Basic Instinct and Vertigo, tosses them in a blender with Korean culture, and you wind up with this pulpy detective story featuring some bittersweet romance and a confounding ending that will leave you reeling. A bit too long with a flashback structure that doesn’t always work (though it’s in line with his previous work), this nonetheless manages to keep things intriguing enough throughout the runtime and it’s visually impressive as well. Certainly worth a look…
The Fabelmans – Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical coming of age drama is at its best when it focuses on the filmmaking aspects of the story. The messy family drama is perhaps less cohesive, though it still rings true, and when it intersects with the filmmaking, as in the sequence where Sammy Fabelman edits home movies from the family’s recent vacation and makes a shocking discovery (a sequence that recalls Blow Up and Blow Out without feeling derivative at all), it becomes gold. We take late-stage Spielberg for granted, I think, but I’ll always be in line to see what he has cooking…
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Rian Johnson’s much anticipated follow-up to Knives Out (a movie I love) manages to recapture a certain element of humor and pure entertainment, but can’t quite reach the heights of the first film. I think the key reason can by summed up by paraphrasing some dialog from the movie: the mystery’s solution is dumb. So dumb it’s brilliant? No! It’s just dumb. Which is kinda the point, so it’s hard to harp too much on it, but it just doesn’t hang together as well as the first film. It’s still quite well done though and there’s lots to like about it.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – Gorgeously appointed stop motion version of the classic story, with some of Guillermo del Toro’s distinct interests thrown into the mix. A bit darker than your usually take on Pinocchio, with some heavier themes in terms of fascism and obedience, which make the movie a tad too long and messy, but it tugs at the right heartstrings and deserves a bigger audience.
Kimi – Steven Soderbergh has made a habit of delivering zippy, taut little thrillers of late, and this most recent example is one of the few to directly acknowledge the pandemic, amongst other relevant topics, in a tense, entertaining way. This is the sort of mid-budget flick that so many of us crave, and yet I suspect it was underseen (in part due to its direct-to-streaming release). Almost made the top 10, and well worth seeking out.
The Menu – What seemed like it would be a rote, quasi-high concept thriller turned out to have a little more on its mind than I thought. Interesting commentary on art, consumers, the service industry, and so on, with a few great performances and some clever conceits that I was simply not expecting. Much better than the trailers/previews would have you believe.
The Northman – Robert Eggers continues his interesting arthouse takes on pulpy material, but despite some pacing issues in the middle, this is probably his most accessible film to date. Plenty of gory violence and action, but gorgeous and filled with Eggers’ trademark verisimilitude (though it’s obviously more stylized here).
RRR – High octane Indian action bromance flick that is the rare 3 hour movie that earns its runtime (though it flags a bit after intermission, but that’s kinda the point of an intermission). Excellent dance battle, with several notable action set pieces that are completely absurd but joyously entertaining. It’s got some martial arts panache mixed with big budget (but still obvious) CG action that somehow feels fresh. There’s a lot of hyperbole out there about this, and some mixed political reads, but hey, there’s a scene where one guy fights another guy by throwing a tiger at him.
Tár – The critical consensus pick of the year and for good reason. A rise and (mostly) fall drama touching on #MeToo and cancel culture and a bunch of other modern obsessions, with a towering performance from Cate Blanchett at it’s core. Well observed, supple filmmaking at its best.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story – This pitch perfect parody of music biopics perhaps treads similar ground as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but given the subject, it’s a fitting approach. Certainly one of the funniest movies of the year and criminally underseen due to, once again, a bizarre direct-to-streaming release strategy (it’s free, but you need to sign up for Roku.) Indeed, this was another one that was on the bubble for inclusion in the top 10.
X – Ti West brings visual flare and thematic heft to a trashy quasi-slasher story. The mix of sex and violence and taboo on display here represents a particular strain of horror film that just feels dirty and transgressive and uncomfortable. Good performances, well executed slasher violence, but also some simple, disquieting sequences that are subtle but very effective. I liked this a bit better than the surprise prequel Pearl that came out a few months after, but I’m obviously excited to see the forthcoming sequel, MaXXine.
Despite having watched over a hundred movies made in 2022, there are plenty that I probably should have caught up with. Sometimes they weren’t readily available, sometimes I couldn’t muster up the will to get to the theater, sometimes I just didn’t wanna watch (because reasons, that’s why). I will almost certainly end up seeing some of these and loving them, which is why the Kaedrin Movie Awards always has a category about the previous year’s movie…
The usual link dump of interesting stuffs found in the depths of ye olde internets. Hard to believe it’s been almost 3 months since the last one of these, so strap in:
Report: Holy Shit, There Still 50 Minutes Left In Movie – We take the Onion for granted. There are times of the year when my movie watching is focused on one theme or the other. One is obviously the Six Weeks of Halloween, which is interesting in this context because they tend to be rather short, 90ish minute affairs. But I’m currently still catching up with 2022 movies, including the rush of prestige flicks released at the end of the year… and I rather frequently get to that 90 minute mark and see that there’s still, like, an hour left in the movie and my only thought is “How? How is there so much movie left?”
seinpeaks – This account is dedicated to setting Seinfeld to Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score, and it’s surprisingly well done.
What would be Lydia Tár’s favorite movie of the year?
Oh, I think you know the answer to that.
I think it would be “Tár.”
Do you have a favorite “Tár” meme?
People send me hysterical stuff. People have taken it so far beyond what any of us would have allowed ourselves to imagine. I think Lydia Tár, herself, would appreciate it, being a lover of anagrams and wordplay.
Did you ever expect the character to resonate so deeply?
Are you crazy? Of course not. But she’s very real to me. That’s a testament to Cate Blanchett.
Cheating Rumors – This happened less than two weeks ago and it was all over the place for like a day, but I doubt anyone remembers anything about Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Joey King anymore, but this video is funny and probably took longer to create than the whole news cycle covering it.
The 2022 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners were announced last week, so now the awards get arbitrary. The idea is to recognize aspects of films that aren’t reflected in more traditional awards or other praise like a Top 10 list. However, any awards system will fail to capture all the nuances and complexity available; hence the 2022 Arbitrary Awards, an opportunity to commend movies that are weird or flawed in ways that don’t conform to normal standards. A few of these “awards” have become an annual tradition, some were stolen from other folks, but most are just, well, arbitrary. Previous Arbitrary Awards: [2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]
The “You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else” Award for Worst Dialogue:Morbius. I’ve always been somewhat amused by the weird, ironic, performative internet fandom that’s grown around this movie, in part because of the ridiculous dialogue. Plentiful choices, but one of the best/worst has to be: “It’s Lethal To Bats….But Deadly To Humans.” You don’t say! This is one of those awards that’s sorta painful to sort out, because who wants to relive bad dialogue? But I’m guessing some runners up might include stuff like Clerks III and Black Adam.
The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity: Halloween Ends. The franchise just keeps getting stupider, which isn’t necessarily the worst thing (it’s a “bozo masterpiece” as someone once put it), but yes, the franchise “wins” this award for the second year in a row. At least it didn’t win the worst dialogue award too (as happened with last year’s Halloween movie). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake/reboot/whateverthehellthatthingis was a distant second in the voting.
The “Weiner” Award for Unparalleled Access to Documentary Subjects: Navalny. There’s a phone call scene in this that is pretty amazing. Otherwise, this doesn’t exactly have astounding access (like the namesake of the award), but that phone call is certainly something. Fire of Love is worth mentioning as a runner up here due to the gorgeous footage of volcanos, eruptions, lava flows, etc… that was made available.
The Garth Marenghi “I know writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards” Award for Achievement in Didacticism:Triangle of Sadness and Women Talking (tie) This is an update to the original post (original winner still below, and mighty quaint compared to this new, winning duo), as I have caught up with these two Oscar nominated films that, well, exemplify Marenghi’s ethos (though I suspect in a much less entertaining way than Marenghi’s writing). The original winner was Smile, which doesn’t even come close to the above two. Of course, the movie’s literalizing of horror’s current obsession with trauma is part of the point, and I ultimately quite like the movie, but it does suffer from that impulse. I wanna say that The Bubble might also be a fit for this award, but quite frankly, I don’t remember much about that movie? Like, I know I watched it, and I do get a sorta didactic vibe from it in my head, but specifics are out of reach.
Best Treatment of the Pandemic:Kimi. Movies, for the most part, have ignored the pandemic. Some make fleeting references, some were clearly filmed during the pandemic and have the odd blocking and editing to show for it, but few have really embraced it. Steven Soderbergh has made a habit of tossing off zippy thrillers of late, and this latest one deals with the pandemic reasonably well, while also being pretty entertaining and relevant. It’s not perfect or anything, but it’s nice. Also of note: The way that Glass Onion acknowledges the pandemic then swiftly dismisses it with a pretty funny Ethan Hawke cameo is great.
Most Unnecessary Origin Story: Death on the Nile. I enjoy these Branagh Poirot movies (I mean, obviously the 1978 version is better, but the Agatha Christie story remains mostly intact, so how could you not enjoy?), but this one has an almost comical origin story for Poirot’s mustache that was just completely unnecessary.
Achievement in the Field of Gratuitous Violence: It’s a special Holiday tie: Violent Night and Christmas Bloody Christmas. Both flawed movies, but the violence is indeed gratuitous (if you can get past the dumb setup or inane chatter, respectively).
Best Robot Manager: Gary the Robot from Moonshot. I mean, he’s sorta dumb comic relief, but I kinda loved Gary and wish he showed up later in the movie. The movie itself is an underseen and perfectly cromulent romantic comedy with SF trimmings. It’s got Zach Braff in it for some reason! It’s got teen actors that I don’t recognize, but who apparently have huge fandoms! It’s set on a trip to Mars, despite the title? Look, it’s not exactly fine cinema, but I enjoyed myself more than the reviews seem to indicate.
Most Underseen Romantic Comedy:I Want You Back. This Charlie Day and Jenny Slate romantic comedy didn’t get much play this year, probably because it was a direct to streaming release. Not sure it would have done The Lost City or Ticket to Paradise numbers, but I do think it’s better than those two movies, even if it’s lacking in starpower. But Day and Slate are great, and even Scott Eastwood is likeable here (which is saying something, cause he’s pretty bland everywhere else).
Best Losing Her Shit Monologue:Resurrection. About midway through the movie, Rebecca Hall just drops this amazing monologue that washes over you like a ton of bricks. And sure, I’ll also through a notice to Pearl here, as Mia Goth also unleashes a corker of a monologue towards the end of the film. I’ll let Rebecca Hall have this award though, as we’ll give Mia Goth:
Best Fake Freeze Frame:Pearl. It’s not exactly meant to be a fake freeze frame, I guess, but the camera holds on Mia Goth’s ridiculous smiling face for a comically long time.
Best Cameo: David Lynch playing John Ford in The Fabelmans. Absolutely perfect, and while this was apparently known before the movie was released, it was fortunately not spoiled for me.
Most Unexpected Appearance of Chain Mail:Decision to Leave. If you so desire, you can explore a lot of thematic depth in Park Chan Wook’s police procedural, but it’s still a thriller that features scenes where a cop, confronted with a knife wielding criminal, pulls out a chain mail glove, catches the knife blade in his armored hand whilst beating the criminal with his other fist.
Most Baffling Use of Color Grading:Emancipation. I get that digital color grading in post production can be a powerful tool, but I don’t know what on earth was going on with this movie. I mean, I get it – a desaturated color palette can emphasize certain thematic elements in a movie about slavery – but the execution was just painful. Like, literally painful, my eyes were so constantly strained throughout the film that by the end, I had a pounding headache. Just shoot the damn thing in black and white and digitally colorize the fire in those scenes, and you’d be much better off. I have not seen it yet, but Women Talking apparently has a similar feel to it (the trailer I saw was not quite as bad, but it was still hurting my eyes). (Update: I have now seen Women Talking, and it is indeed desaturated in the extreme, though not quite as bad as Emancipation. Still distracting and downright ugly, and yes, I get the point of said desaturation and director Sarah Polley tries her best to make the proceedings more interesting through blocking and compositions, but it all just feels drab and bland rather than an accentuation of the film’s themes, which encompass more than that.)
The Wholesome Frankenstein Award:Brian and Charles. This lovely low-fi story about a lonely beardo inventor who creates a robot out of an old washing machine is weird and fun and charming.
Best YouTube Release:Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs. Not exactly a traditional film, but this 138 minute long takedown of Crypto and NFTs is certainly well done for something done on a shoestring and released on a personal YouTube channel.
Should Host the Oscars: Johnny Knoxville. As paraphrased by longtime Kaedrin friend Dave: “Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville and this is the Oscars!” *gets slapped in the dick by Will Smith.* Other potential hosts: Lydia Tár, Benoit Blanc, the aformentioned Gary the Robot, and of course, the Predator.
That does it for the 2022 Arbitrary Awards, but stay tuned, moar 2022 movie commentary incoming, including the traditional Top 10 list (this will probably take a couple weeks) and some Oscars commentary…
Update: I’ve caught up with a couple of Oscar nominees that necessitated updating the Garth Marenghi award for didacticism. Big shocker, I know. Say what you will about the rest of the films, but they’re almost cartoonishly didactic films and representative of the Oscars’ desperate attempt to make a Statement (capital S). One of these films also qualifies for the Most Baffling Use of Color Grading, more as a runner up (but it’s still not great).
The nominations for the 2022 Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week. The overall awards season still has not especially recovered from its pandemic era woes. The Golden Globes, plagued by scandals and corruption, have faded. The Academy Awards struggle to find an unobjectible host, and though last year’s slap may boost viewership this year, they’ve still got a relatability problem (though there are some popular choices they could make this year to reverse course on that front). But through it all, the Kaedrin Movie Awards carries on with the same delayed schedule that befits my status as “not a critic with access to screeners”. So while I’m finishing up with poorly distributed prestige pictures, I’ll hand out these more ridiculous awards, let’s get to the 2022 Kaedrin Movie Award Winners:
Best Villain/Badass: Chef Julian Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes in The Menu, I’m actually a little surprised that the voting came out this way (and yes, there’s only one vote, mine, but still). This partly speaks to a poor year in villainy, but The Menu is a film that was surprisingly well done and deserving of recognition. It probably won’t be making the top 10, so this is a pretty good place for it, and to be fair, Fiennes’ fed-up chef is a wonderful villain with a demented plan.
Best Hero/Badass: Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick. In a much stronger year for heroism, there as still a pretty obvious choice in Maverick. This is Cruise’s second win in the category, and I’d have to look it up, but this might be the first time an actor repeats with two different characters (he previously won for one of the Mission Impossible movies).
As for runners up, well, most of the other nominees are pretty great… they just can’t quite stand up to Maverick!
Best Comedic Performance: Saoirse Ronan in See How They Run. Another surprising win, I think, which befits the movie: I definitely wasn’t expecting to enjoy it that much, and a big part of that was Saoirse Ronan’s dry humor and delivery. Just perfect comedic timing, and a really underrated movie. Jackass Forever suffers from the ensemble problem here (I nominated Johnny Knoxville as the putative leader of the group, but they really deserve recognition as a whole – this is a common problem with this award that I have no real solution for other than this parenthetical). Otherwise, I really liked Daniel Radcliffe in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story and John Hamm in Confess, Fletch – both underrated movies with poor distribution that are worth seeking out and very funny.
Breakthrough Performance: Mia Goth in X and Pearl. Horror movies tend to underperform in awards season, but not at the Kaedrin Movie Awards! Got put forward a trio of performances across Ti West’s unexpected series of ambitious slashers (with another apparently to come!) She plays a wide gamut of emotions and challenging scenarios. Acting against herself in a scene, seducing a scarecrow, stalking the grounds with an axe, or giving a corker of a monologue, she does it all.
Jenna Ortega in Scream (2022), X, and Wednesday was also under consideration here, but her roles were smaller and less varied (and as great as she was in Wednesday, it’s a TV show!) Finally, it’s worth calling out Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans as a larval Spielberg stand-in that genuinely evokes the younger Spielberg character.
Most Visually Stunning:Mad God. I’m not entirely in love with the movie overall (I prefer a little more in the way of actual plot or story), but Phil Tippet’s stop-motion labor of love is truly something to behold, with wall-to-wall gorgeous grotesques populated throughout. A truly astounding and imaginative spectacle that’s unlike anything I’d seen before.
Speaking of which, Avatar: The Way of Water also deserves a bit of a callout as a unique theatergoing experience. I normally hate 3D and I’m not entirely sold on high-frame-rate, but I suspect the confluence of those two technologies, combined with James Cameron’s innate visual prowess, made it so that I didn’t get a headache like I do for every other 3D movie I see. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is another stop-motion marvel that, in any other year, might have taken the cake. Also just wanted to mention Three Thousand Years of Longing, which does its best to use digital filmmaking for vivid colors instead of dark, dull, muddy visuals (seriously, towards the end of the film Tilda Swinton is walking around in a park and the vivid green grass and bright lighting was so refreshing in this age of too-dark cinematography and color correction).
Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Nope. Jordan Peele does it again, and this is a sorta combo Horror and Sci-Fi picture, though it obviously leans horror. Honorable mentions to Everything Everywhere All at Once (best multiverse movie of the year), Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg’s back in body horror, baby!), Barbarian (surprising and deft tonal balancing act going on here), and X (Ti West’s ambitious, grimy sex and violence epic). A pretty solid and fascinating year of horror flicks, actually, and even stuff not nominated was pretty good.
Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: Top Gun: Maverick. I usually try to spread the love around with awards, but like everyone else, I was taken with Top Gun: Maverick and I can’t really justify giving this to any of the other nominees. Which, to be fair, are a pretty good bunch for a category that I typically loathe. Special mention to Jackass Forever and the criminally underseen Confess, Fletch. Overall, a pretty solid list of nominees this year for a category I usually find difficult to populate.
Biggest Disappointment: Black Adam. I really wanted to get behind a Rock centered superhero movie, but this thing was an absolute mess, leading to probably the biggest chasm between expectations and disappointment. The other one that came close is The Bubble, which has a great cast and Judd Apatow, but was also just interminable. The other nominees weren’t particularly great, but I also wasn’t expecting that much out of them, so the disappointment was commensurately lower.
Best Action Sequences: Ambulance. Alright, who gave Michael Bay a drone? This award could very well go to Top Gun: Maverick, but I’ve already sung enough of its praises here (and this isn’t the last we’ll see of it), so I figured I’d spread it around to the underseen Michael Bay actioner that I really loved. Lots of other great nominees here, and I do want to call out a couple of DTV actioners like Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday and Lost Bullet 2: Back for More, both really fun little action flicks (and both sequels to same – all four movies are worth seeking out). The Big Four is another obscure one that I don’t see people talking about and is worth seeking out (it’s on Netflix). RRR also worth a mention, but I preferred the director’s previous work on the Baahubali films.
Best Plot Twist/Surprise: Barbarian. This is one of those awards where it’s a bit of a spoiler even talking about the vague concept of a surprise, so if you go into these movies with a “surprise me!” attitude, you might find it underwhelming. But Barbarian was one of those movies I went into knowing as little as I could about it, and so I was pretty consistently surprised throughout. Runners up nods to Bodies Bodies Bodies for almost retroactively making me love the movie, Athena for a comically provocative coda, and Decision to Leave for, well, let’s not spoil it.
Best High Concept Film: Crimes of the Future. Yeah, this category is a bit nebulous, but I’m always onboard with Cronenberg’s wholly invented areas of science like… whatever the hell is going on in this movie. Also high concept: whatever it is that Kristen Stewart’s performance is doing here (which, to be clear, I loved). I suppose Everything Everywhere All at Once deserves an extra mention, even if “multiverse” movies are all the rage these days. Brian and Charles is probably the most obscure but deserving nominee here as well, an earnest and oddly sweet mock-doc drama. Nope has sorta stealth high concept stuff going on, which puts a nice spin on familiar tropes. The other nominees are perhaps not as high concept, but all pretty decent…
2022’s 2021 Movie of the Year: The Rescue. I was really taken with this documentary about the rescue of twelve boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand, perhaps in part because it illustrates why I prefer documentaries over dramatizations of real life events… In other words, I preferred this documentary to Thirteen Lives, the Ron Howard dramatization of the same events which is actually pretty damn good. I just would rather watch documentaries about this sort of thing. Other nominees for this were also pretty solid, including a couple of Oscar noms that I caught up with late (or would have otherwise ignored) and some genre stuff that I let linger for some reason (but which were all worthwhile)…
Congratulations to all the 2022 Kaedrin Movie Award winners! And stay tuned, for next week, the awards go arbitrary!
Welcome to the 2022 Kaedrin Movie Award season, which we’re kicking off with nominees in our standard categories! The idea is to recognize films for achievements that don’t always reflect well on top 10 lists or traditional awards. There are lots of formal award categories and nominees listed below, but once those are announced, we’ll also leave some room for Arbitrary Awards that are more goofy and freeform. Finally, we’ll post a traditional top 10 list (usually sometime in early/mid-February). But first up is the awards! [Previous Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021]
Standard disclaimers apply: It must be a 2022 movie (with the one caveat that some 2021 films were not accessible until 2022 and are thus eligible under fiat) and I obviously have to have seen the movie. As of this writing, I have seen 94 films that could be considered a 2022 release. This is precisely where I was last year at this time, which makes sense given how similar my movie watching habits were for these two years. It’s below what many critics have seen, but probably a lot more than your average moviegoer and certainly enough to populate the awards… which we should get to right now:
Best Villain/Badass Not the greatest year for villainy, though the category did end up filling out well enough in the end. In accordance with tradition, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc…) or ideas. I’m kinda expanding this to include (er, exclude) creatures, even individual creatures. On the other hand, there is a robot on the list, so, I dunno, we’ll all just have to deal with it.
Best Hero/Badass A better year overall for heroism and indeed, I actually pruned the list a bit (which, given how long the lists are for these badass categories, is saying something). One fun thing about both the hero and villain categories is that they are not as dominated by superhero movies anymore, even if there are a few token representatives from the genre… Again limited to individuals and not groups/creatures.
Best Comedic Performance This is sometimes a difficult category to populate due to the prevalence of ensembles in comedy movies (this year being no exception). That being said, there were definitely a few standout solo performances this year that are definitely worth recognition.
Breakthrough Performance This used to be a category more centered around my personal evaluation of a given actor (rather than a more general industry breakthrough), but it’s trended more towards the youngsters breaking through as time has gone on…
Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film It’s always nice to throw some love to genres that don’t normally get a lot of recognition in end-of-the-year lists. As an avid SF fan, it’s sad that the genre usually has to be combined with Horror in order to come up with a well rounded set of nominees.
Biggest Disappointment A category often dominated by sequels and reboots, but original stuff has been picking up steam in recent years. Not sure if that’s good or bad… Note that these movies don’t necessarily need to be “bad” in order to be a “disappointment”. Basically, these movies scored poorly on Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale.
Best Action Sequences This award isn’t for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film. We’ve got a pretty great, extensive lineup this year. The added accessibility of streaming DTV actioners has been a boon to this category.
2022’s 2021 Movie of the Year This is a weird category that is sometimes difficult to populate. During the pandemic, things were a little weird, but we’ve seemingly emerged from that weirdness. Still, there’s some decent stuff on this list that I’m glad I caught up with in 2022, even if I don’t know that any of these would kick something off my top 10 from last year…
So there you have it, please congratulate all of the 2022 Kaedrin Movie Award nominees! Stay tuned for the winners (probably next week, but you never know), followed by the Arbitrary Awards and Top 10 list. I’m still catching up with various flicks, because as usual, those 9 and 10 slots in the top 10 are a little difficult to fill (not, I should add, because there aren’t worthy candidates, but more because there are so many vying for those slots)…
Vintage Science Fiction Month is the brainchild of the Little Red Reviewer. The objective: Read and discuss “older than I am” Science Fiction in the month of January.
These are the voyages of the Space Beagle. It’s continuing mission: to explore intergalactic space, encounter new life forms, new civilizations, and survive their deadly advances. Yes, A.E. van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle is a pretty clear precursor to Star Trek, right down to the episodic nature of the narrative. Of course, that’s mostly because this is a prime example of what was called a “fix-up” novel, a book comprised of a compilation of four previously published stories. The title of the book is also a pretty clear reference to Charles Darwin’s book about his five-year mission (another Trek connection) of scientific exploration on the HMS Beagle.
The first story details an encounter with Coeurl, a starving, intelligent cat-like creature that plays dumb in order to trick the crew of the Space Beagle into allowing access to the ship. Several members of the crew are killed before they wise up and manage to trick the beast into an escape capsule and strand it in space.
The second story follows the chaos resulting from telepathic contact with a race of bird-like aliens. One member of the crew recognizes that the signals are meant to be a benign, friendly message, but the form of the message is incompatible with the human mind, and only quick actions by the aforementioned crew member saves the ship.
The third story has the Space Beagle picking up a red creature called Ixtl, which seeks to reproduce by kidnapping members of the crew and implanting eggs in them. Some details of this story are close enough to the film Alien that van Vogt actually sued for plagiarism (the case settled out of court, and for the record, the filmmakers deny any influence).
Finally, the fourth story shows an encounter with a galaxy-spanning consciousness that has, more or less, consumed its entire galaxy. The crew must devise some sort of strategy to deal with this situation, especially given that they don’t want to lead this entity back to our home galaxy.
In fixing these stories up for the novel, van Vogt would establish a new central character, Elliot Grosvenor, the lone “Nexialist” onboard the Space Beagle. Nexialism is van Vogt’s name for a sorta holistic approach to knowledge. As he describes:
Nexialism is the science of joining in an orderly fashion the knowledge of one field of learning with that of other fields. It provides techniques for speeding up the processes of absorbing knowledge and of using effectively what has been learned.
The problems which Nexialism confronts are whole problems. Man has divided life and matter into separate compartments of knowledge and being. And, even though he sometimes uses words which indicate his awareness of the wholeness of nature, he continues to behave as if the one, changing universe had many separately functioning parts.
In essence, Grossvenor is van Vogt’s equivalent of Heinlein’s competent man. As Heinlein famously quipped, “Specialization is for insects.” At times, you can feel the “fix-up” nature of the novel, as it seems Grossvenor fades too much into the background of the narrative. Also, though the stories have satisfactory conclusions, they do feel a bit repetitive, and while the holistic approach of Nexialism is certainly admirable, the solutions aren’t quite clever enough to really justify the idea. Still, there’s something fundamentally optimistic about van Vogt’s vision that is refreshing in this cynical age. It’s telling that the alien creatures are all undone by their own egotism and selfishness, while the crew of the Space Beagle prevail through decency, self-sacrifice, and cooperation. Of course, there’s plenty of infighting amongst various specialized factions of the crew, but that’s the point of Grossvenor’s holistic approach.
This is almost certainly one of those books that suffers due to it’s influence. So much of what has followed in its footsteps have improved on the ideas that going back to read this now makes it feel quaint. It is certainly an interesting exercise to see such ideas in their embryonic form, even if the terminology used can be a bit stiff or even laughable (the crew repeatedly brandish a weapon that van Vogt calls a “vibrator” – it’s not his fault that the term has taken on other meanings since then, but still), but at this point, it’s probably more suitable for students of the genre than anyone else.
None of which is to say that the novel is bad, per say, just that it doesn’t quite hang together as well as you would generally want from a novel. Not entirely unexpected, given the “fix-up” nature of the novel, but it’s ironic that a novel with the theme that holistic thought is critical would be so episodic and disjointed. From what I can tell, van Vogt’s concept of Nexialism lead him to start thinking about how humankind would need to transcend its limitations, and thus followed Space Beagle up with the novel Slan, which represents a more cohesive vision from van Vogt. Still, if you want to see how early Space Opera stories influenced much of the current Science Fiction landscape, Voyage of the Space Beagle is a pretty good place to start (if perhaps not the earliest).