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: “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: “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: “Eternals” (2021)

“You have a very angry family.”

A dense, beautiful film that feels like a new beginning for the MCU more so than any other entry after, well, Iron Man. It doesn’t break the MCU mold so much as it reshapes what a movie in this series can look like by pressing against the sides. What Black Panther and Shang Chi did for the modern superhero character, Eternals does for the allowed style and substance of these movies. There is absolutely room in these things for Zhao’s practical filmmaking, weighty conversations about immortality, Bollywood numbers, and slight Watchmen-adjacent interrogations of the superhero genre and the pedestals on which we place these characters.

It seems like the movie is divisive because it’s either too much of a Chloe Zhao movie and not enough of an MCU one or vice versa. For me, it’s kind of a perfect mix that takes some critical steps forward in it’s representation of humanity. Either way, change is good. Change is necessary.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “The Eternals are kind of the immortal, dysfunctional Power Rangers and I’m into it.”

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: “Lamb” (2021)

“It’s happiness.”

A dark, Icelandic folk tale largely about what we take from nature and what nature, in turn, may rightfully exact from us. I’m not sure if it’s based on an actual Icelandic tale, but it feels like it’s a story that has been passed down through generations of hardy folk that worked the land and existed, at times, in a perpetual daylight or perpetual night.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “The lamb child is super adorable and there are extended scenes of sheep being sheep, a swol Icelandic cat, and a farm dog. Lots of animals being dope as fuck and it’s awesome. Like the rest of the movie, though, there is a trade-off here because some of these animals get killed and it weighs on my heart.”

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 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: “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?”