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: “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: “Lamb” (2021)

“It’s happiness.”

A dark, Icelandic folk tale largely about what we take from nature and what nature, in turn, may rightfully exact from us. I’m not sure if it’s based on an actual Icelandic tale, but it feels like it’s a story that has been passed down through generations of hardy folk that worked the land and existed, at times, in a perpetual daylight or perpetual night.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “The lamb child is super adorable and there are extended scenes of sheep being sheep, a swol Icelandic cat, and a farm dog. Lots of animals being dope as fuck and it’s awesome. Like the rest of the movie, though, there is a trade-off here because some of these animals get killed and it weighs on my heart.”

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: “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.