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: “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: “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.

Film Review: “Annette” (2021)

“Her voice will be my ghost.”

One of the best modern surreal gothic fairy tale ghost story musicals that I’ve ever seen. Now, I only really learned about Sparks through Edgar Wright’s fantastic documentary The Sparks Brothers, but I feel foolishly confident in saying that this film perfectly reflects the ethos and mission of the band Sparks in the narrative form.

Now I’ve also only really learned of Leos Carax’s movies, but I feel even more foolishly confident saying the movie is a perfect union of Carax’s avant garde French film formula and Sparks’ meta, proto-punk ideas.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “It kind of feels like a modern mutation of the Pinocchio story told from the tame, warped perspective of the fox and the cat. That might be a bit of a stretch, but I did recently watch 2020’s dark Pinocchio (which was wonderful) so I once again feel confident in making the comparison.”

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.”