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: “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: “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: “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: “A Quiet Place, Part II” (2021)

“There’s nothing left.”

A less inventive sequel that has lost the novelty of the original but not the spirit or solid filmmaking. It relies too much on the ‘people making dumb decisions’ trope in horror movies, though, and doesn’t do enough to separate Cillian Murphy daddy figure from John Krasinski daddy figure. I’m definitely into the world, that main characters, and I’m looking forward to parts III – IX and beyond as long as it’s profitable. Like The Purge. Did you know there’s a new entry in the Purge series called The Forever Purge coming out?? What even is that?

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Spoiler, but let’s stop killing Djimon Hounsou in movies. He was a cool, chill character who died stupidly just because they needed him out of the way for the ending.”

Place Review: Movie Theaters (2021)

“That looks good.”

Dark, big screen band-aids for my depression that sometimes smell a little weird but I love anyway. They’ve been away for a while, but I see them now in their empty parking lots, popping corn and pressing the button that releases cheese onto the nachos and into your heart.

The people talking during the most important part have been successfully shushed, though we have chosen the squeakiest seats. Someone spilled their popcorn, kernels tumbling towards the screen. They’ll pick them up after. No doubt they’ll do it again next time. Always. It’s expected.

We are flickering with the screen, now. Still during the quiet parts.

My VHS cover pull-quote, scrawled on the weird and frightening backside of the theater, where those direct exits are that disorient you and put you outside who knows how far from your car:

“The earliest movie ticket I still have from my youth is for a showing of Shrek in 2001, which I feel has dictated my life up to this point and far beyond. To the grave. Even beyond that.”