In-House Reviews: The Eternal Daughter, Puss In Boots, Bardo, Return to Seoul & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for The Eternal Daughter, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, EO, Return to Seoul, Troll, Is That Black Enough For You?!?, "Sr.", Four Samosas, and A Christmas Story Christmas.

puss in boots

While Avatar: The Way of Water is dominating theaters this weekend, I didn’t want to leave out thoughts on these smaller and streaming releases before the end of 2022. This set of write-ups includes a gothic drama, an animated fairy tale adventure, a stylish semi-autobiography, a unique Polish drama, a South Korean drama, a Norwegian kaiju flick, a documentary about 70s Black cinema, a documentary about Robert Downey, Sr., an indie comedy about Indian Americans, and a Christmas-set legacy sequel. The following features reviews for The Eternal Daughter, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, EO, Return to Seoul, Troll, Is That Black Enough For You?!?, “Sr.”, Four Samosas, and A Christmas Story Christmas.

The Eternal Daughter: 9 out of 10

The Setup: An artist and her elderly mother (both played by Tilda Swinton) confront long-buried secrets when they return to a former family home, now a hotel haunted by its mysterious past.

Review: Sometimes, you just find yourself entirely in sync with how a movie has chosen to present itself. Director Joanna Hogg recently delivered a two-parter of semi-autobiographical stories with The Souvenir films and has returned with an ingenious follow-up that serves as a sort of haunted dream sequel featuring Julie and Rosalind once again. With that in mind, there’s no need to see other films for this to work. The Eternal Daughter is great as a gothic horror film that focuses more on being methodical and moody, as opposed to outright scaring anyone. In dual roles, Swinton delivers as incredibly well as one would expect, but Hogg’s work to evoke creepy films of the 60s and 70s pays off in clever ways. With some sly humor, deliberate choices in the performances, and some elements of subversion, here’s a film that finds unique ways to delve into the nature of parental relationships and how to find closure. It won’t be for everyone, but this story haunts the appreciative viewer in the right ways.

Where To Watch: Now playing in limited release, and is available on digital and VOD.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish: 7 out of 10

The Setup: The daring outlaw Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) discovers that his passion for peril and disregard for safety have taken their toll. Puss has burned through eight of his nine lives, though he lost count along the way. Getting those lives back will send the swashbuckling feline on his grandest quest yet.

Review: Much like the other very entertaining DreamWorks Animation film from this year, The Bad Guys, I’m delighted to see this Puss in Boots sequel taking a cue from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and daring to do more than just the same ol’ thing when it comes to the animation style. It helps that relying on a look that resembles storybook illustrations is entirely fitting for a character that exists in a fairytale universe. This allows for a feature bursting with life and energy as we watch Puss in Boots, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), and Perrito (Harvey Guillen) engage with an adventure with more edge than one may expect. Being literally on the run from Death (a sinister Wagner Moura), Puss in Boots’ new introspection makes it feel like we are watching Banderas deliver a performance in an animated version of Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain & Glory. This may not lead to another Oscar nomination for the Spanish star, but it provides more exciting ideas for a Puss in Boots sequel to deal with than anyone may have initially expected. It also places this movie high in the realm of quality Shrek sequels/spin-offs.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on December 21, 2022.

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths: 5 out of 10

The Setup: A renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker, Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), returns home and works through an existential crisis as he grapples with his identity, familial relationships, and the folly of his memories.

Review: Portions of Bardo are quite wrenching as Silverio comes to terms with tragedy befalling him and his wife. Other areas have fun playing as a satirical look at fame, sticking presumably close to director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s regard for himself. And then there are the moments that delve into the surreal as we watch Silverio’s day-to-day life play out in offbeat ways. It’s perhaps these portions where the film feels the most engaging, yet Bardo has a serious lack of urgency for a 140-minute feature. There’s so much movie on display thanks to the efforts put in by Iñárritu, Cacho, and cinematographer Darius Khondji. Yet, I always felt I was being held at arm’s length. As an Oscar-winning director (scoring two in a row for Birdman and The Revenant), the idea that, at its core, this feels like a dark joke about a director lamenting being too great at his profession while drama surrounds him, means Iñárritu is not above poking fun at self-indulgent exercises. That said, perhaps there’s too much of the idea becoming a reality.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available to stream starting December 16, 2022.

EO: 8 out of 10

The Setup: The world is a mysterious place when seen through the eyes of an animal. EO, a grey donkey with melancholic eyes, meets good and bad people on his life’s path, experiences joy and pain, and endures the wheel of fortune randomly turn his luck into disaster and his despair into unexpected bliss. But not even for a moment does he lose his innocence.

Review: To be honest, I went into this movie thinking I was going to get a documentary on the treatment of Donkeys in some part of the world. I was not expecting a gloriously minimalist film attempting to evoke the days of Robert Bresson. Yes, Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO is like watching Pickpocket but with a Donkey, and it’s terrific. As we follow the life of a donkey born in a Polish circus, there’s a steady hand at play when it comes to seeing his journey around the country. We meet various individuals with their own stories, leading to interesting tonal shifts, stylish choices (this is an incredibly well-shot movie), and some pushes into emotional territory that pack more punch than many of the acclaimed dramas I’ve seen this year. The message one takes away about humanity is not necessarily unexpected, but at least the charm of seeing it through this Equidae perspective keeps the film from wearing out its welcome.

Where To Watch: Now playing in limited release.

Return to Seoul: 8 out of 10

The Setup: On an impulse to reconnect with her origins, Freddie (Ji-Min Park), 25, returns to South Korea for the first time, where she was born before being adopted and raised in France. The headstrong young woman starts looking for her biological parents in a country she knows so little about, taking her life in new and unexpected directions.

Review: No one truly understands who they are without experiencing the real world around them. This can be even more of the case for someone like Freddie, whose sudden push to head to South Korea and find information on her birth parents takes her down an intriguing path of self-discovery. For a debut performance, Park is terrific here, rivaling some of the more exalted performances I’ve seen this year. This is a movie entirely under her control when it comes to seeing how director/writer Davy Chou has sudden shifts in gear as far as tone and even the music being heard. For a film filled with so much anxiety, there’s a bit of a wild streak held within as well, allowing for a character who could easily become unlikable at any second to use her restless nature as a way to keep pushing the narrative in unpredictable directions. The resulting film is a satisfying take on how a damaged soul progresses, with various supporting elements to make it all the more compelling, including language barriers, some uneasy humor, and other factors in one assured feature.

Where To Watch: Now playing in limited release.

Troll: 8 out of 10

The Setup: Deep inside the mountain of Dovre, something gigantic awakens after being trapped for a thousand years. Destroying everything in its path, the creature is fast approaching the capital of Norway. But how do you stop something you thought only existed in Norwegian folklore?

Review: Yes, there was a particular joy that came over me when seeing that director Roar Uthaug would be delivering the Norwegian equivalent of a Godzilla movie. Having done a fine job with his disaster movie The Wave, I was hoping for something solid and came away with something that truly rocks! Troll understands what kind of movie it is and pushes itself in the right direction. A mythical monster has emerged from the very real mountains of Dovre, and we watch the government attempt to figure it out. There are some standout scientist, political, and military characters who do what’s needed to make their mark, but this is a movie primarily focused on providing setups for and delivering wild action sequences involving this gigantic troll. Uthaug seems to have learned the proper lessons from King Kong and Godzilla, as it builds tension well, supplies strong enough effects, and never leans too hard into camp or sincerity. There’s a deeply silly movie at the core of this thing, but it’s handled with the right kind of energy, making it all very fun.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

Is That Black Enough For You?!?: 8 out of 10

The Setup: The documentary examines the craft and power of cinema from a perspective often overlooked: the African American contribution to films released from the landmark era of the 70s. It is a deep dive into the impact that point of view had on movies and popular culture. Crucial artistic voices, including director Charles Burnett, Samuel L. Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Laurence Fishburne, Zendaya, and others, artists offer their distinctive prism on the creators and films that dazzled and inspired, providing insight into the history of Black representation going back to the earliest days of cinema, and the cultural impact of witnessing unapologetic Blackness.

Review: Film critic, interviewer, and historian Elvis Mitchell has created an excellent documentary here. As the summary suggests, there is plenty for this film to delve into, which is why it’s 135 minutes. Yet, every part has some level of intrigue, as Black film in the 70s had to compete with so much, despite leaving an impact in at least some parts of America and beyond. With that in mind, while there’s plenty of value in just coming to understand the point of views of the many speakers presented here, let alone take away many great recommendations for films to catch up on (people should seek out Cooley High at the very least), it’s Mitchell who may be contributing the most important aspect of this doc. Without overplaying it, Mitchell’s narration is playing off his own memories, clear observations, and a level of contempt for the way Hollywood treated Black cinema. Given the themes and stories shared by many of these films, it’s no surprise that this documentary matches them up against the times and what it’s like being Black in America. The fact that this still works as a terrifically entertaining look at one crucial part of film history makes it plenty worthwhile.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

“Sr.”: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Robert Downey Jr. pays tribute to his late father in this documentary chronicling the life and eclectic career of pioneering filmmaker Robert Downey Sr.

Review: I didn’t necessarily expect not to get anything out of “Sr.” as director Chris Smith always has my attention following his fantastic 1999 documentary, American Movie. With that said, even with Robert Downey Jr. driving so much of what we are seeing forward, there’s a great tenderness to what he wants to accomplish by providing this poignant tribute to his father, the titular “Sr.” There are enjoyable elements to be found when the film simply seek to present these two, along with the even younger Downey children, bonding over what it means to be a father who has lived a challenging life in Hollywood. However, when the film looks at Sr.’s perspective, be it the information we receive about his younger days as an ambitious filmmaker or the periods in this doc where we see Sr.’s own take on how he would edit this all together, that’s when the movie truly shines. Being made by RDJ with a certain finality in mind, there’s undoubtedly something cathartic about seeing the point of view of a person who had to work hard to get his life on track showing one of his most important relationships play out to a natural conclusion. One only wonders if having cameras nearby makes us too much of a voyeur in those final stretches.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

Four Samosas: 6 out of 10

The Setup: When a wanna-be rapper (Venk Potula) learns his ex is engaged to marry his smarmy rival (Karan Soni), he and three other misfit dreamers plan a heist to steal her wedding diamonds and win her back in this quirky caper.

Review: Perhaps a few more passes on the screenplay could have really made this film a winner, and yet there’s still enough of an endearing spirit on display that made Four Samosas an enjoyable watch. It’s just too darn likable watching an underrepresented Indian cast make their way through a Wes Anderson-lite effort. I’m not sure the visual approach ever feels truly justified beyond director/writer Ravi Kapoor simply wanting to express his appreciation for the acclaimed filmmaker. However, it’s hard to say this feels too intrusive when the plot that unfolds is probably ultimately served better by having a level of style that goes with it. At 80 minutes, it’s a lean enough film that manages to get past having a fairly thin story. Some standout comedic moments do what’s needed to give it some edge, and it even manages to close out on just the right set of beats (in addition to a post-credit scene). Basically, this crew has heart.

Where To Watch: Now playing in limited release, and is available on digital and VOD.

A Christmas Story Christmas: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Follows the now-adult Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) as he returns to the house on Cleveland Street to give his kids a magical Christmas like the one he had as a child, reconnecting with childhood friends, and reconciling the passing of his Old Man.

Review: Everyone has different holiday favorites when it comes to which movie to watch in December. Some pick up It’s A Wonderful Life, some shoot for Elf, others go for Die Hard, and Scrooges kid themselves into thinking that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie and watch whatever, I don’t care. Kidding aside, A Christmas Story is one of those perennial classics in the realm of cable TV favorites that I enjoy very much. The idea of delivering a legacy sequel stood on shaky ground, to say the least, especially after seeing Disney crash and burn with Hocus Pocus 2 and Disenchanted in recent weeks. Fortunately, returning star/producer Peter Billingsley managed to put a good foot forward and deliver a sweet, simple film that does enough to honor the original while carving its own path. It’s no new holiday classic, but as the 8th(!) entry in Jean Shepherd’s Parker Family Saga (he narrated every entry up until his passing in 1999), A Christmas Story Christmas may have a ridiculous title, but it fits in well enough as a continuation of this celebration of family, featuring mild hijinks.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on HBO Max.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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