Film & TV Review: “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train” (2021) & “Demon Slayer: Season 1”

“How dare you go on living without a care.”

Delicious!

Demon Slayer works because of its animation, fight choreography, violence, and wacky anime hijinks, sure, but it’s the vulnerability of the characters compared to other shonen anime that really lets it stand out in the canon for me. The emotional toll the traumatic past has taken on the main characters (and even the demons they slay) is always palpable in their actions and thoughts. Perhaps most critically, tears flow so freely throughout the story, normalizing strong emotions in stereotypically strong individuals.

The downright stellar animation in Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train bolsters heavy emotional character moments that move the characters forward in meaningful ways and pretty much destroy me and my tear ducts every time I think about them. While the film starts out feeling like just a batch of episodes strung together in a film format, the scale and weight of the overarching theme becomes clear about halfway through. This arc of the story needed to be a film, and I hope they use the feature length format again to at least cap off the series, if not earlier.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season 4 finale ‘Restless’ continues to inspire dream narratives across the globe.”

Film Review: “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”

“Who would have thought a tech company didn’t have our best interests at heart?”

The animation techniques honed in Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse are let loose and used to tell the frantic, heartfelt story of a chaotic cartoon family against the machinations of a Mark Zuckerberg stand-in. In terms of energy, it feels like the next evolution or step up from the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies, which are both classics in my book of modern movies that most people don’t think (and probably aren’t, actually) classics but I like quite a bit.

This, however, feels destined to be an actual classic whose legacy may only be hampered by the relatively tame marketing push and it just being dropped on Netflix instead of having a meaningful theatrical run. Having to watch a film with blink-and-you-miss-it visual flourishes on a TV really made me long for the big screen and the togetherness theater experience and all that. But that’s hardly the movie’s fault! The film is a kinetic, hilarious techno journey into a sugar-addled Asimovian not-too-distant-future with the requisite (and fairly progressive) family component to bring the emotion.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “There is a particular scene in this that has been making the rounds on the interweb involving a deadly Furby colossus spouting eldritch phrases, which is why it is my favorite film of the year. If I say something else is my favorite film of the year in December 2021 or something, don’t listen to Future Nick. That asshole doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s an old person who’s out of touch with everything. His time is over and he doesn’t even realize it yet. I, on the other hand, am young. I am important.”

Film Review: “Mortal Kombat” (2021)

“All we can do now is test your might.”

This is the perfect 2021 Mortal Kombat movie just like the original adaptation was the perfect 1995 MK movie. They are, in fact, the exact same movie aged for 26 years in some sort of Outworld barrel with chains and blood on it until it was old and cool enough to say “fuck” a whole bunch.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Stoked to see Jonny Cage in the second one. Also stoked to see such klassic MK characters as Mokap, Predator, Spawn, RoboCop, Joker, Ash Williams, Xenomorph, Terminator, John Rambo, Jason Voorhees, Kratos, and Leatherface.”

Film Review: “Raya and the Last Dragon” (2021)

“Well, I’m really good at swimming.”

Definitely one of Disney’s most emotionally mature entries into their animated canon, tackling weighty themes like loss and humanity’s seemingly natural discord and distrust of one another. Heavy stuff. It’s a near perfect synthesis of what they tried to do in their underrated early 2000s actioner efforts like Atlantis and Treasure Planet (and, to a slightly lesser extent, later stuff like Big Hero 6 and Moana) and another welcome evolution of what being a ‘princess’ means and looks like.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Also features some excellent fight and action choreography, like, better than The Raid. Or just like The Raid but with a con-baby.”

Film Review: “Voyagers” (2021)

“Maybe this is our true nature.”

It’s Lord of the Flies in Space and now you know the whole movie which isn’t really a spoiler. Not as “sexy” or chaotic as the trailers and posters tried to make it seem, but it does at least try to discuss toxic masculinity and has a distinct and capable visual style that Neil Burger has evolved since shooting Limitless.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “I saw this at a drive-in and they paired it with Chaos Walking, which made it a B minus shitty sci-fi double feature kind of night. Chaos Walking actually kind of feels like a distant sequel to Voyagers, both attempting to tackle toxic masculinity from an almost wholly male perspective and botching it quite a bit by downplaying the fem characters.”

Film Review: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021)

“Fuck the world.”

Calm down, dude, it’s just a superhero movie. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is far better than the theatrical cut, if only because it gives characters like Cyborg, The Flash, and, yeah, even Steppenwolf room to actually be characters with motivations and prominent roles in the story. Snyder makes the most of the four hours with these characters, and that’s the biggest reason I’m happy this cut exists now (not that I was clamoring for it, exactly).

Cyborg, especially, functions as the heart of the whole thing and the visuals of Barry’s scenes are almost Days of Future Past Quicksilver-level appealing so it’s mind-boggling that all this was left on the cutting room floor in service to a theatrical cut that just highlighted the most popular superheroes in history we already know about (but almost understandable given the rumored hard 2 hour runtime stipulation–you have to cut something, after all).

There are still problems, of course, some of which that were present in the original cut and some born out of the restored scenes. The grimdark path Snyder seems/seemed to be pushing the franchise down is, like, real edgy and dark, bruh, but devoid of much wonder, hope and a color pallette. Superhero cynicism has been all the rage for a while now, but it’s also kind of played out. Still, for better or worse this is a singular director’s vision and I would have been interested, at least, to see it play out over a few more movies.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Restore the Snyderverse? Nah, bring on the Starroverse. And the multiverse. The Snyderverse is in the multiverse, so there you go.”

Film Review: “Judas and the Black Messiah” (2021)

“Power anywhere there’s people.”

A depiction of a critical point in black history, in which the potential of a young leader is all but destroyed by the powerful through the victimization of the ‘Judas’ character. It’s one of the more nihilist movies I’ve seen in a while, if only because it depicts a stark truth of this country so well. I’m bummed.

Anyway, it’s expertly performed and directed with a minimalist style!

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Martin Sheen looks almost as unholy as Leo did as J. Edgar Hoover, which is no small feat.”

Film Review: “The Little Things” (2021)

“More sucking than biting.”

A moody detective story that feels way too much like a bargain bin Se7en until it suddenly doesn’t and deliberately pulls away from those comparisons with some telegraphed (but welcome) plot turns.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Jared Leto is definitely playing a wonky vampire in this otherwise grounded detective flick and I don’t care what you say because that just makes the movie better in my head. It also low-key takes place around Halloween, which I feel lends credence to this being a vampire movie.”