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: “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: “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: “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (2021)

“I am utterly pointless.”

A bit of a modern E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, where E.T. is a little sleek robot voiced by Zach Galifianakis and society is hooked on social media and instant gratification instead of… Reaganomics? I don’t know, I wasn’t alive back in 1982. I don’t think anyone was. Regardless, this movie is a perfectly emotional exploration of what real friendship looks like and a satirical takedown of Apple (an obvious stand-in for Tim Cook doesn’t care if children die, which, yeah, I can see that), Facebook, and big tech in general. The latter was done earlier this year with the more manic and dysfunctional family-oriented The Mitchells vs the Machines, so these two movies exist as a bit of a prefect double feature. Dysfunctional families, dysfunctional robots, friendship, and the negatives (and positives!) of unchecked tech.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “There is a throwaway line about killer clowns living in the woods, which is why children don’t go in there to play anymore, which makes me think this movie takes place in an entirely new branch of the timeline after Harambe was shot in 2016 where those creepy clowns popping up everywhere in the north around then really kind of took hold of the world. Ron’s Gone Wrong would be very disappointed in this Reddit-addled VHS cover pull-quote.”

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.”