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: “Halloween Kills” (2021)

“It’s Halloween night in Haddonfield.”

A Halloween movie that is exactly what its title suggests. Michael Myers kills and kills and kills like the mythic being this trilogy is pushing him to become. The whimsy of the 2018 movie is still there, but it’s slightly diminished by the growing brutality of The Shape’s predation and a secondary story about what a bummer mob justice usually turns out to be. It’s all set to a killer score by Mr. Johnny Carpenter himself, which is as much a draw for me as all that slasher business.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “It’s kind of the Infinity War of the Halloween franchise. Or the Kingdom Hearts III because there is a whole philosophical two-person theater piece going on throughout the movie, with two characters interrogating Michael’s nature. Light and dark. Eraqus and Xehanort.

It’s late.”

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: “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: “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 Father” (2021)

“What’s to become of me?”

The Father is an impressive bummer of a movie that somehow makes me not want to have dementia when I’m old even more than I previously didn’t want to have it, which was already a rousing 100% heck no to that.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “My father never made it to old age, but if he had I would be worried about him becoming exactly like Anthony Hopkins in this movie, so committed to remaining in control of himself and his world, not realizing these things have already slipped away from him. It’s a trait I see in many of the older generations–that need for control–which makes it all the more heartbreaking when its wrested away from them by their own mind. It’s a tragedy that this film nails.

Anyway, I need to sit down for a while.”

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: “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 – “Ash is Purest White” (2019)

“The bottom line is, we’re all prisoners of the universe.”

An endearing, gorgeous, at times hilarious and weird epic that’s as concerned with the journeys of its central characters as it is with the hyper development and modernization of a country.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Being a low-tier member in a group of gangsters seems pretty chill, for the most part, and it may lead to a cinematic journey of soul searching for me and my destined counterpart so I fully support it as a career path.”