Film Review: “C’mon C’mon” (2021)

“Can I be an orphan?”

The introspective, empathetic version of Adam Sandler’s 1999 opus Big Daddy that we always deserved and needed. Black and white Joaquin Phoenix goes around with his nephew and records kids saying the most profound, hopeful shit that I’ve ever heard for an NPR show or something while learning how to interact with and manage his sister’s weird kid. I feel like I could be a father after watching this. Not just a father, even, a good father.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “The black and white makes everything look classy and important while enhancing already godlike visuals like the cities of Detroit, NYC, New Orleans, and Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible middle age man hair.”

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: “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: “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: “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.