Film Review: “Encanto” (2021)

“Sometimes the family weirdos get a bad rap.”

An energetic and beautifully animated 60th entry into the Disney animated canon that’s about family, acceptance, and toxicity. It shares a bunch of themes with Moana, as well as the unrestrained touch of Lin Manuel Miranda’s songwriting skills. The wide ensemble of genuinely developed characters (as developed as 90 minutes allows) helps set it apart from other animated fare. More importantly, though, the main character has glasses and that makes me feel seen as someone with glasses.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Releasing The Eternals: Part II so close to the first one was risky, but it definitely pays off.”

Film Review: “Last Night in Soho” (2021)

“It’s London. Someone has died in every room.”

Nostalgia is a razor thin veneer over the seedy historical horror show of an era in Edgar Wright’s inventive and slick foray into the genre. The good often rises to the top of the collective memories of an era like the 60s, but it’s critical to remind ourselves that it was just as wonderful and terrible in equal measure as today. Last Night in Soho removes the rose-colored glasses from its central character with a savage, dreamy haunting from a bygone time and it’s groovy.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “You can always say ‘the music was good, though’ about any era, but, well, the music was good in the 60s so the music is also good in this movie.”

Film Review: “Mass” (2021)

“I can’t breathe in this room.”

A real-time examination of grief and forgiveness between four award-worthy actors. It is capital-D Dramatic like the ending scene of a Twilight Zone episode or just, you know, a serious Off-Broadway play, but it works so well. Watching masterful performances, each of them flitting through a suite of emotions (with melancholic as the base) over the short runtime left me bummed, a little bit dead inside, and hopeful. These are good things.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Yes, you can watch this drama that’s played completely straight with Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass and make all kinds of connections if you want. Literally no one can stop you. You are unstoppable.”

Film Review: “Belfast” (2021)

“Everybody’s leaving home.”

One of my favorite movies of the year because I visited Belfast in 2017 for a couple weeks or so and I could point out places I’d been while watching the movie… But it’s also an effective and semi-autobiographical love letter to the spirit and community of the city and its people (despite the well documented violence over those long years) with a bunch of great performances.

The cinematography is some of the most indulgent I’ve seen since, well, last week in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, but every bit of the screen is filled with life and expertly crafted. It looks fantastic, sounds fantastic, correctly conveys a child’s perspective, and sometimes characters eat those wedge cut chips/fries which make me hungry.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Did I mention I visited Belfast for a couple weeks or so in 2017? Aside from the opening and closing shots of modern Belfast (where I’ve been before (back in 2017)), the only color in the film is when the characters are watching movies on a screen or at a playhouse watching a production. It’s Branagh’s slightly heavy-handed way of showing the importance of these small escapes to him as a child, but — again — it’s wholly effective.”

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: “Dear Evan Hansen” (2021)

“You’re a literal disaster.”

Having limited experience with the Broadway show, this was pretty much my first real interaction with the story. One of the worst things I think I can say about it is that it doesn’t lean hard enough into being the dark comedy I wanted it to be. There are shades of World’s Greatest Dad and even The Killing of a Sacred Deer in this thing, and I think it could have had more ‘fun’ with that.

Other than that, though, while its general awareness of mental health feels very 2016 and there are genuine problems with the depiction, the overall message is an effective “Broadway positive” one and the journey of sadboy Evan, as flawed and downright yikes as it might be at times, resonated with the sadboy writing this VHS review (excuse me, sadboy novelist) at times.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “And yes, the Ben Platt being 27 playing a 17 year old thing. In middle and high school, I had a friend that I remember looking like he had two mortgages and a couple of kids in college. I loved him all the same, even though he looked like a 35 year old undercover cop. This may be my memory playing tricks on me a bit, but the point is that sometimes people–even high schoolers–just look old as fuck at 17. And that’s okay.

Ben Platt doesn’t even look that old in this, to be honest. Because if he looks old at 27, then I must look like a withered old crustyman at 32 and I can’t have that. I can still pass for 17. I will never age. I will never die.”

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: “The Card Counter” (2021)

“There is also a moral weight a man can accrue.”

Card gambling and casinos function as a sort of purgatory for a man with “moral weight” in this darker and more timely than expected character study. A safe prison of his choosing, in which he can exist away from the cycles of reality like revenge and hate. Those cycles are just outside, though, scratching at the door. I’m trying very hard to write like Paul Schrader and I think I probably failed. Good movie, though.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “I learned a lot about card counting, blackjack, poker, torture, casino culture, and Abu Ghraib.”

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 Night House” (2021)

“Nothing is after you.”

An effective, modern haunted house story that succeeds as both an exercise in the architecture of building dread and something of a meditation on sudden loss and the ensuing thoughts that plague those left behind. It is filled with so many interesting ideas, an agonizing and dark mystery to solve, and an incredible performance by Rebecca Hall. The corners of your home will never look the same again.

My VHS cover pull-quote: Though the genres are oh so different and The Night House is perhaps more aptly compared to Hereditary, the film also tackles similar themes as 2016’s Christine (also starring Hall), which was such a bummer of a real life drama based on a true event that The Night House, this grim and darkly spooky time at the movies, is so much more uplifting.