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: “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: “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: “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 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: “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: “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: “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”

“Who would have thought a tech company didn’t have our best interests at heart?”

The animation techniques honed in Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse are let loose and used to tell the frantic, heartfelt story of a chaotic cartoon family against the machinations of a Mark Zuckerberg stand-in. In terms of energy, it feels like the next evolution or step up from the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies, which are both classics in my book of modern movies that most people don’t think (and probably aren’t, actually) classics but I like quite a bit.

This, however, feels destined to be an actual classic whose legacy may only be hampered by the relatively tame marketing push and it just being dropped on Netflix instead of having a meaningful theatrical run. Having to watch a film with blink-and-you-miss-it visual flourishes on a TV really made me long for the big screen and the togetherness theater experience and all that. But that’s hardly the movie’s fault! The film is a kinetic, hilarious techno journey into a sugar-addled Asimovian not-too-distant-future with the requisite (and fairly progressive) family component to bring the emotion.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “There is a particular scene in this that has been making the rounds on the interweb involving a deadly Furby colossus spouting eldritch phrases, which is why it is my favorite film of the year. If I say something else is my favorite film of the year in December 2021 or something, don’t listen to Future Nick. That asshole doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s an old person who’s out of touch with everything. His time is over and he doesn’t even realize it yet. I, on the other hand, am young. I am important.”

Film Review: “The Empty Man” (2020)

“We can’t indict the cosmos.”

A paranoid, whispered assembly of folklore and cosmic horror happenings that explores many permutations of this kind of story before vaguely settling into one collectively conjured nightmare. The CULT following it’s gaining is well deserved.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “I don’t need much to enjoy a movie, just a skeleton that’s all kinds of H.R. Geiger/Alien-inspired in the first 20 minutes like this has. Come on, Hollywood!”