We’re nearly four months into 2023, and movies are beginning to churn out in bunches each and every week. As I’m writing this, I’m preparing to see “The Pope’s Exorcist” before my local theaters get “Evil Dead Rise,” “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” and “Beau is Afraid” – talk about a rich next few days of moviegoing. Sure, only one will probably be decent (I’d bet a car payment on it being “Beau is Afraid”), but the prospects of theaters getting that many movies is quite exciting.
Before we look ahead to the future, I wanted to take a quick second and look back at the movies I’ve seen this year and recap a few of my favorites so far. I tallied about thirty 2023 movies that I’ve seen so far. I’ve written about many, and I hope to write about a few more in the coming weeks. While I haven’t enjoyed them all (“You People” gets my dishonorable mention for this ramble), I was able to pick out a handful that I thought were quite good or inventive or refreshing.
I’ll attach links to reviews in the respective blurbs:
This Place Rules
Every bit of American identity gleams through in “This Place Rules.” After those eventful night-turned-days in the beginning of November 2020, Callaghan begins to live in his RV and drive throughout the country to witness and document every “Stop the Steal” rally he can find. Some flame out before his (and our) very eyes, and some capture the attention of fellow shit-posters like Alex Jones. Callaghan ups the intensity and insight of “This Place Rules” by actually getting interview spots with Jones and other leaders are the far right movement, and perhaps the highlights of the film’s intent are driven home in these segments.
“Sick” manages to stick out from typical thriller/horror fodder that lands on streaming services year after year. About two acts through, I was genuinely digging it – I basically had no fingernails left. The performances by both Gideon Adlon and Bethlehem Million are equally as winking as, say, the meta “Bodies Bodies Bodies” from last year, but they’re just in a film less interested in visual flare for style. “Sick” feels more like a perfectly concise Shudder release as opposed to what A24 typically goes for.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance
When Mike Lane’s furniture business goes under due to the pressures of the pandemic, he begins to pick up nightly gigs to help pay back his lenders. During a bartending job one fateful night, he meets Maxandra Mendoza (Hayek), and the two begin to sketch out the newest show at her London theater. When personal relationships and stakes begin to turn south, the chances of Mike’s last dance slowly begin to fade and fade.
“Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is a noticeable change of pace for the franchise. Despite Steven Soderbergh’s return to direct the supposed-final entry into Channing Tatum’s set of male stripper joyrides, the sendoff takes very little from the two installments that come before it. The cast is smaller, the ambition runs deeper, and the boldest moments go above and beyond what either of the previous two “Magic Mike” films aimed to achieve.
When You Finish Saving The World
“When You Finish Saving The World” slips through your fingers to the same degree as the guy (Jesse Eisenberg) sitting in the director’s chair, yet I feel like he carves out such a unique voice in just his first film. The movie may lack structural integrity that some of the greats have on display, but every bit of this riveting world oozes with ideas about connecting and communicating with young people in an age where no one communicates face to face.
And perhaps that might just be my favorite part of “When You Finish Saving The World” – Eisenberg seems to be struggling to figure out the answers as he mines idiosyncratic stories about teenagers livestreaming and moving through life all too fast. As cliché as it sounds, and this may be a cop out response to the criticisms that I’ve seen being launched its way, but the imperfections are why this movie works. It’s not aimless; it’s trying to figure out the answers knowing that they seem to be so impossible to figure out (like Eisenberg’s characters since the late 2000s).
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
In this campaign, Chris Pine plays the grifting thief Edgin Darvis, who builds a group of comrades to help win back his daughter and expel the unruly, two-timing Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) from power. Again, much like the game, the story veers off the path rather quickly and turns into a series of side quests in order to build up the repertoire of abilities needed to accomplish the task. A star-studded cast of Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, and Regé-Jean Page helps elevate the film to even higher heights than what I imagined was possible.
And perhaps that’s my favorite piece of “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” I’ve had relatively low standards for many of the cast members prior to seeing this movie. Justice Smith’s characters have always felt like weak links to their projects, whether it be his horrendously written Franklin Webb in the “Jurassic World” franchise (a real low point for movie making) or feeling out of place in the steamy Sydney Sweeney erotic thriller “The Voyeurs.” It’s been hard to buy into an actor that’s struggled to make something out of nothing in his short career.
The same could be said for Regé-Jean Page, who broke out after the “Bridgerton” craze swept Netflix. Since then, it’s been a real series of misses for the English actor as he’s tried to build upon the mysterious entity that he played in that series. But much like Justice Smith, it’s taken him until now to find a role that feels natural to him. Michelle Rodriguez and Sophia Lillis splinter from their franchises and give two career-best performances (“Fast and Furious” and “It,” respectively).