Film Review: “Dune” (2021)

“Fear is the mind-killer.”

A sumptuous adaptation of half the influential novel that captures the weirdness, introspection, and pre-Star Wars design of 1960s sci-fi (and tries to address some of the dated elements). Plus, sandworms!

My VHS cover pull-quote: “It is weird that these sci-fi guys have names like Paul and Duncan. We should just replace the first letter of their names with X. Xaul. Xuncan. Lady Xessica. There we go.”

Film Review: “No Time To Die” (2021)

“People want oblivion.”

A mashup of everything that made Daniel Craig’s Bond work (a commitment to serialized elements, trying new things, emotion, his blue eyes) and a celebration of the James Bond mythos as a whole. It doesn’t lean as hard into the classic Bond tropes like Spectre did, nor does it try and reinvent much. It just finds a balance, adds a wrinkle, and stays the course.

The non-spoilery wrinkle No Time to Die adds is an emotional arc that forces JB towards being an ancillary character in his own movie, a fly in the ointment that is a connection between two major Forms of the 007 concept: the mad villain and the love interest. This Mr. Bond still receives the major send-off he deserves and takes center stage, but the wrinkle here fleshes other characters out at the expense of seeing Bond brood a bit more and, thus, makes this feel like a fittingly unique and substantial end for this iteration.

Or maybe they did this exact thing a billion years ago with Connery or something. I don’t know. My memories of Bond were tainted by Mike Myers as a child. It’s not my fault.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Where do we go from here? James Bond will regenerate again, as he has for decades, and the argument over which actor acted best like this sad British murderer will continue until the heat death of the universe. And at the gates of the underworld, where we will all gather, a rider on a pale horse will tell us it was that dude George Lazenby. And we’ll be okay.”

Film Review: “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (2021)

“Abuse. This is abusive.”

A romantic dramedy in the guise of a modern dark antihero/superhero movie. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is what it is, and that’s okay. That’s beautiful, even. They took what worked about the first, namely two Tom Hardy boyz interacting with each other and figuring out their relationship, and just built the entire movie around it. Then they gave Woody Harrelson a silly red wig and slapped some CGI on him to transform him into 90s icon Carnage, and it all just kind of works in a fun, B-movie kind of way.

My mildly spoilery VHS cover pull-quote: “Exciting things are no doubt in store for the Venom character beyond the Sony Spideyverse, but I appreciate this little weird 90-minute corner of the superhero genre and hope it continues to do its own thing. Like Morbius? That’s going to be wild. He’s a living vampire and some filmgoers are going to confuse him with Owen Wilson’s character Mobius from Loki. What an odd treat that will be!”

Film Review: “Malignant” (2021)

“Gabriel makes me strong.”

A gruesome, bonkers throwback to (or parody of?) old giallo films and, like, early 2000s tv movies caught with the juicy cinematic eye of James Wan. Or we could just call it James Wan’s Evil Dead 2. Or both! Or everything. It’s everything. It’s my everything. It’s a part of me now.

The plethora of ridiculous ideas, ripped directly from the dreams I have while experiencing sleep paralysis, vary in tone, genre, and even film in which it seemingly has any right to exist in. It is truly a raging psychokinetic romp that didn’t let Hollywood take that away from it, which I cannot help but respect (worship?). I hated adored this thing.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Is this camp? Schlock? Camp Schlock? A John Wick horror curiosity? Comedy of the year? An exercise in trolling from the director of The Conjuring? It is all those things and nothing less.”

Film Review: “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021)

“Did America make you soft?”

Fathers. Sons. Dragons and Awkwafina, together again. This movie has it all, including some of the most kinetic and gorgeous hand to hand combat scenes that blow even The Winter Soldier out of the floating, mystic water. It feels like a thoughtful, bona fide martial arts film that just happens to be in the MCU. I was only left wanting more of the coordinated physicality and more of the characters.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Cool, quick knife flips while in the middle of a fight are how you can tell if it’s a good MCU movie. So, my official MCU movie rankings are Everything Else, Shang Chi, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I don’t make the rules.”

Film Review: “The Suicide Squad” (2021)

“Milton was still with us?”

A bloody, messy blast of a comic book movie that peppers in substantial emotional beats for these cannon fodder oddballs amidst all the carnage, chaos and wit. It feels like it’s pure James Gunn in a way that Guardians of the Galaxy can’t really approach. Both, however, share a common, simple thesis statement: the outcasts, the downtrodden, the misunderstood rats and the weasel things that have killed 27 children all have purpose and worth.

One thing I really appreciated, surprisingly, is the treatment of a character from the original Suicide Squad movie: Rick Flag, y’all!! Harley is always sort of core (and amazing) Harley from one movie to another, but Rick Flag gets to show an evolution of character from the 2016 film to this one. From wooden soldier to big damn hero who seems to have found a place among the outcasts he leads. While I went into the movie not caring about Flag living or dying, that changed substantially through the course of events. Beyond him, we are made to care about most of these these ‘losers’ that make it past the 20 minute mark, from Polka Dot Man to Ratcatcher 2, to even cosmic gumbo Starro the Conqueror.

My spoiler-filled VHS cover pull-quote:

“They killed my mate Captain Boomerang and, like a boomerang, I can only hope he comes back around somehow. I salute his noble severed arm, holding his boomerang high. All names are letters, dickhead!”

Film Review: “Black Widow” (2021)

“I’m not the killer that little girls call ‘hero.'”

An entry into the MCU that touches on familiar themes but pulls the universe into the realm of spycraft with ease, which makes it feel different enough from (and comparitively fresh in relation to) the rest of the films in this sprawling series. More importantly, though, Natasha Romanoff is finally given substantial character development and time to be both human and, damn it, silly. Is it too late? Definitely, but better late than never.

Another place I think the film really succeeds is in its use of humor. While most MCU movies make jokes, even if they’re not comedies like Thor Ragnarok or Guardians, there is a dark undercurrent of trauma in Black Widow‘s jokes that I feel enhances out understanding of the characters’ (Yelena, especially) horrid experiences at the hands of the villain.

If anything, I’d say the action is the weakest part of the movie and the action is actually pretty solid.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Taskmaster is so damn cool. This version of Taskmaster, that version of Taskmaster, whatever version of Taskmaster. I’ve always wanted to be Taskmaster because I don’t want to work for years honing an ability to fight like Captain America, I just want to watch Chris Evans and be able to fight like him.”

Film Review: “F9: The Fast Saga” (2021)

“If this was a movie, this would be the part where the villain’s plan suffers a setback.”

The Fast and the Furious movies are just big ol live action anime mecha movies now with cars instead of giant robots. Tyrese is questioning whether or not they’re all invincible superheroes during the entire movie, but they’re not. They’re all just anime characters in a mecha movie, going through the dramatic motions until it’s time for the next big set piece when they can suit up and hop into their giant robots/cars to do impossible stunts while chasing some increasingly sci-fi macguffin or something. Plus family.

Fast10 better have a laser sword.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Flashbacks to 1989 throughout the movie explore Dom’s father’s death and its effect on the Toretto FAMILY. The actor playing Dom’s father has a similar SoCal accent to the late Paul Walker, which suggests to me that Dom saw and heard a bit of his father in Brian when they met all those years ago and that helped build his trust in Brian. These movies have layers, okay?”

Film Review: “A Quiet Place, Part II” (2021)

“There’s nothing left.”

A less inventive sequel that has lost the novelty of the original but not the spirit or solid filmmaking. It relies too much on the ‘people making dumb decisions’ trope in horror movies, though, and doesn’t do enough to separate Cillian Murphy daddy figure from John Krasinski daddy figure. I’m definitely into the world, that main characters, and I’m looking forward to parts III – IX and beyond as long as it’s profitable. Like The Purge. Did you know there’s a new entry in the Purge series called The Forever Purge coming out?? What even is that?

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Spoiler, but let’s stop killing Djimon Hounsou in movies. He was a cool, chill character who died stupidly just because they needed him out of the way for the ending.”

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.”