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: “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: “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 Sparks Brothers” (2021)

“My baby’s taking me home.”

Edgar Wright brings his brand of humor to the documentary format by exploring the infinite career hills and valleys of the iconic, weird, and long-running pop duo Sparks, a band I had no idea existed until seeing this movie at a special film fest showing near me. Which is wild because the talking heads in this documentary are members of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Duran Duran, New Order, The Go-Gos, Beck, and actors, comedians, and writers like Neil Gaiman (no actual Talking Heads, though). These successful artists knew about them, so now I feel have to pretend that I, too, always knew about these two quirky brother musicians who were more popular in Europe so I can lord it over people who don’t even know who they are.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Oh my rock and roll christ, you don’t know Sparks? Then you don’t know music! They have influenced literally every pop musician since the early 1970s. I can’t believe you haven’t listened to Sparks. They’re all about the ART, man! Don’t even speak to me until you’ve at least streamed Kimono My House and Propaganda. Get some education.”

Disclaimer: One of Sparks’ songs is featured in the 1986 movie Rad, which I did somehow see when I was young in the early 00s. I just didn’t have the musical permanence to correctly retain that song amidst all the sick BMX style bike tricks breeding in my brain.

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.”

Film & TV Review: “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train” (2021) & “Demon Slayer: Season 1”

“How dare you go on living without a care.”

Delicious!

Demon Slayer works because of its animation, fight choreography, violence, and wacky anime hijinks, sure, but it’s the vulnerability of the characters compared to other shonen anime that really lets it stand out in the canon for me. The emotional toll the traumatic past has taken on the main characters (and even the demons they slay) is always palpable in their actions and thoughts. Perhaps most critically, tears flow so freely throughout the story, normalizing strong emotions in stereotypically strong individuals.

The downright stellar animation in Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train bolsters heavy emotional character moments that move the characters forward in meaningful ways and pretty much destroy me and my tear ducts every time I think about them. While the film starts out feeling like just a batch of episodes strung together in a film format, the scale and weight of the overarching theme becomes clear about halfway through. This arc of the story needed to be a film, and I hope they use the feature length format again to at least cap off the series, if not earlier.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season 4 finale ‘Restless’ continues to inspire dream narratives across the globe.”

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: “Mortal Kombat” (2021)

“All we can do now is test your might.”

This is the perfect 2021 Mortal Kombat movie just like the original adaptation was the perfect 1995 MK movie. They are, in fact, the exact same movie aged for 26 years in some sort of Outworld barrel with chains and blood on it until it was old and cool enough to say “fuck” a whole bunch.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Stoked to see Jonny Cage in the second one. Also stoked to see such klassic MK characters as Mokap, Predator, Spawn, RoboCop, Joker, Ash Williams, Xenomorph, Terminator, John Rambo, Jason Voorhees, Kratos, and Leatherface.”