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: “Ghostbusters Afterlife” (2021)

“Let me give you some advice: don’t go chasing ghosts.”

It’s an initially slow, nostalgic re-entry into the Ghostbusters world (universe?), but once it starts reaching for the original’s energy and marrying it to the coming of age/Egon family drama/Goonies vibe it’s going for, it becomes a pleasant mixture of the old and the new. Definitely not enough ghosts, but the much-hyped use of the Stay-Puft Marshmallows veering into Gremlins territory almost makes up for it (almost).

One of my my favorite aspects of Ghostbusters movies is the substantial and slightly sinister ghost lore they’ve set up for themselves, the human sacrifices and cultist happenings always a bit at odds with the comedy. Without a Venkman character to go “lol who gives a fuck?” for most of the runtime, Afterlife actually leans a bit harder into the Sumerian cult business of it all, which I actually dug.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Is there enough of the OG Ghostbusters team? Yes. Is there enough Slimer and Rick Moranis? No. Will I ever recover from the amount of Ecto Cooler I drank as a child? Doctors are still deliberating.”

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: “Eternals” (2021)

“You have a very angry family.”

A dense, beautiful film that feels like a new beginning for the MCU more so than any other entry after, well, Iron Man. It doesn’t break the MCU mold so much as it reshapes what a movie in this series can look like by pressing against the sides. What Black Panther and Shang Chi did for the modern superhero character, Eternals does for the allowed style and substance of these movies. There is absolutely room in these things for Zhao’s practical filmmaking, weighty conversations about immortality, Bollywood numbers, and slight Watchmen-adjacent interrogations of the superhero genre and the pedestals on which we place these characters.

It seems like the movie is divisive because it’s either too much of a Chloe Zhao movie and not enough of an MCU one or vice versa. For me, it’s kind of a perfect mix that takes some critical steps forward in it’s representation of humanity. Either way, change is good. Change is necessary.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “The Eternals are kind of the immortal, dysfunctional Power Rangers and I’m into it.”

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: “Annette” (2021)

“Her voice will be my ghost.”

One of the best modern surreal gothic fairy tale ghost story musicals that I’ve ever seen. Now, I only really learned about Sparks through Edgar Wright’s fantastic documentary The Sparks Brothers, but I feel foolishly confident in saying that this film perfectly reflects the ethos and mission of the band Sparks in the narrative form.

Now I’ve also only really learned of Leos Carax’s movies, but I feel even more foolishly confident saying the movie is a perfect union of Carax’s avant garde French film formula and Sparks’ meta, proto-punk ideas.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “It kind of feels like a modern mutation of the Pinocchio story told from the tame, warped perspective of the fox and the cat. That might be a bit of a stretch, but I did recently watch 2020’s dark Pinocchio (which was wonderful) so I once again feel confident in making the comparison.”

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: “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (2021)

“Sounds awfully familiar.”

Time is a flat circle. Here we are, twenty-five years later, saying similar things about Lebron’s Space Jam that the critics did about Jordan’s: uninspired, stupid, not enough Marvin the Martian, who is the best Looney Tune. But we were young back then. Children wearing those 90s “street” Looney Tunes shirts who enjoyed “stupid,” “uninspired” things. And now, we have a fondness for Space Jam.

Perhaps we have become the very thing we swore to destroy: old people with opinions.

The added corporate synergy is the real outlying negative in A New Legacy, as Warner Bros. just dumped cameos from every one of their owned properties into this thing because branding. But, like this year’s Mortal Kombat reboot, this is very much the exact same movie they made in 1996 just made in 2021. If Space Jam were never made before now, this is still the movie we would have gotten today. The trend of trading in nostalgia that’s been so successful this past decade, applied to an idea about the most famous basketball player of our time playing basketball with the Looney Tunes, can only end with a product like this in 2021. We have brought this on ourselves, and that’s okay. It doesn’t really matter what I think, though. How the children remember A New Legacy 25 years from now will truly determine the movie’s, uh oh, legacy and worth.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Pennywise the Clown could have used a bit more screentime and development. Like, he probably wants to tear LeBron’s son Dom’s arm off, drag him into the sewer and eat him, of course, but that’s not really explored here so why even have him in the crowd at the basketball game?”

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.”