Film Review: “F9: The Fast Saga” (2021)

“If this was a movie, this would be the part where the villain’s plan suffers a setback.”

The Fast and the Furious movies are just big ol live action anime mecha movies now with cars instead of giant robots. Tyrese is questioning whether or not they’re all invincible superheroes during the entire movie, but they’re not. They’re all just anime characters in a mecha movie, going through the dramatic motions until it’s time for the next big set piece when they can suit up and hop into their giant robots/cars to do impossible stunts while chasing some increasingly sci-fi macguffin or something. Plus family.

Fast10 better have a laser sword.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Flashbacks to 1989 throughout the movie explore Dom’s father’s death and its effect on the Toretto FAMILY. The actor playing Dom’s father has a similar SoCal accent to the late Paul Walker, which suggests to me that Dom saw and heard a bit of his father in Brian when they met all those years ago and that helped build his trust in Brian. These movies have layers, okay?”

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.

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: “Voyagers” (2021)

“Maybe this is our true nature.”

It’s Lord of the Flies in Space and now you know the whole movie which isn’t really a spoiler. Not as “sexy” or chaotic as the trailers and posters tried to make it seem, but it does at least try to discuss toxic masculinity and has a distinct and capable visual style that Neil Burger has evolved since shooting Limitless.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “I saw this at a drive-in and they paired it with Chaos Walking, which made it a B minus shitty sci-fi double feature kind of night. Chaos Walking actually kind of feels like a distant sequel to Voyagers, both attempting to tackle toxic masculinity from an almost wholly male perspective and botching it quite a bit by downplaying the fem characters.”

Video Game Review: “Persona 5 Strikers” (2020)

“Sorry about that. We just despise the police is all.”

The Persona series’ classic turn-based system is perfectly combined with the frantic action battle system of the equally classic Musuo genre of games. Having played through the game on Hard and Merciless difficulties (the latter being truly merciless in the opening hours), I’ve been able to experience some of the most exhilarating JRPG battles in recent memory (since, like, the Dark Riku battle in Kingdom Hearts) that are going to stick with me for quite a while.

Strikers also retains the charm of the Persona series and doesn’t skimp on the lengthy scenes of all-caps PLOT and dialogue that are so crucial to it. It was phantastic catching up with all the main characters I knew from P5 and meeting a couple new Phantom Thief faces along the way to punching a god in the dumb god face with some epic funky jazz music playing. The truncated Persona Compendium and lack of social connections notwithstanding, that commitment to retaining all these elements makes this whole thing feel a lot less like a spin-off (like Persona 4 Arena) and more like a full-fledged canon sequel.

My flimsy N64 cardboard box cover pull-quote: “One such ‘exhilarating JRPG battle’ (perhaps the most exhilarating JRPG boss battle in the game) happens towards the end to the tune of this absolute banger of a song called ‘Counterstrike’ (listen below). It’s no secret that 73% of the recipe for a successful and memorable JRPG boss battle is the music, so that’s an immediate win in this battle against this tragic jerk Konoe. Add to that the tricky swordy techniques you have to contend with, the fact that the guy just emerged from a mecha, and the impassioned conversation going on throughout and you have a 100% patented ‘exhilarating JRPG battle’ that you’ll remember for ages.”

Exhilarating.

Film Review: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021)

“Fuck the world.”

Calm down, dude, it’s just a superhero movie. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is far better than the theatrical cut, if only because it gives characters like Cyborg, The Flash, and, yeah, even Steppenwolf room to actually be characters with motivations and prominent roles in the story. Snyder makes the most of the four hours with these characters, and that’s the biggest reason I’m happy this cut exists now (not that I was clamoring for it, exactly).

Cyborg, especially, functions as the heart of the whole thing and the visuals of Barry’s scenes are almost Days of Future Past Quicksilver-level appealing so it’s mind-boggling that all this was left on the cutting room floor in service to a theatrical cut that just highlighted the most popular superheroes in history we already know about (but almost understandable given the rumored hard 2 hour runtime stipulation–you have to cut something, after all).

There are still problems, of course, some of which that were present in the original cut and some born out of the restored scenes. The grimdark path Snyder seems/seemed to be pushing the franchise down is, like, real edgy and dark, bruh, but devoid of much wonder, hope and a color pallette. Superhero cynicism has been all the rage for a while now, but it’s also kind of played out. Still, for better or worse this is a singular director’s vision and I would have been interested, at least, to see it play out over a few more movies.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Restore the Snyderverse? Nah, bring on the Starroverse. And the multiverse. The Snyderverse is in the multiverse, so there you go.”

Film Review: “The Little Things” (2021)

“More sucking than biting.”

A moody detective story that feels way too much like a bargain bin Se7en until it suddenly doesn’t and deliberately pulls away from those comparisons with some telegraphed (but welcome) plot turns.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Jared Leto is definitely playing a wonky vampire in this otherwise grounded detective flick and I don’t care what you say because that just makes the movie better in my head. It also low-key takes place around Halloween, which I feel lends credence to this being a vampire movie.”

Film Review: “The Kid Detective” (2020)

“Maybe there’s more nobility in giving up.”

A fun detective story entry into the millennial ennui (millennui) genre that uses its ‘Encyclopedia Brown but older and sad” premise to great and sometimes surprising effect, allowing the movie to break away from any Veronica Mars and Brick comparisons. It also hits all the noir beats it needs to with classic moody shots and a soundtrack that’s heavy on the smooth noir sax.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Has anyone coined the term ‘millennui’ for the genre that shows like Search Party and movies like this belong to yet? I’m not even going to Google it because I want the little bit of serotonin that comes with thinking I’ve come up with something original. That’s the stuff!”

Film Review: “Wolfwalkers” (2020)

“There’s two of us now.”

As much an animated work of storybook art come to life as Song of the Sea and Secret of Kells, featuring another story that doesn’t speak down to it’s audience and deals with stuff like colonization, Claude Frollo levels of villainous doctrine, and man’s abuse of nature in addition to the friendly magical tale of wolves and self-actualization going on.

It’s just such a treat to get finely crafted 2D animation like this from Cartoon Saloon every few years.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “This could very well be categorized as a kind of werewolf film, which is wonderful. Like if David from American Werewolf in London had gone to Kilkenny in Ireland instead of those hellish moors in Britain, he could have become a part of a beautiful tale of friendship instead of getting shot with a silver bullet in an alley.”

Film Review: “Freaky” (2020)

“Having balls sucks.”

Makes the most of its genre-bendy premise and its R rating, featuring some lovely gory kills akin to the 80s slasher kills of yore where the whole point of watching was seeing creative deaths and dismemberments. Could have used even more kills during the middle, but the time spent on comedic body swap hijinks, bad Aaron Rogers Halloween masks, and developing the heart of the movie is well spent.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Body swapping with a serial killer to learn an empowering lesson about yourself should be part of every highschool’s curriculum.”