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.”

Film Review: “Raya and the Last Dragon” (2021)

“Well, I’m really good at swimming.”

Definitely one of Disney’s most emotionally mature entries into their animated canon, tackling weighty themes like loss and humanity’s seemingly natural discord and distrust of one another. Heavy stuff. It’s a near perfect synthesis of what they tried to do in their underrated early 2000s actioner efforts like Atlantis and Treasure Planet (and, to a slightly lesser extent, later stuff like Big Hero 6 and Moana) and another welcome evolution of what being a ‘princess’ means and looks like.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Also features some excellent fight and action choreography, like, better than The Raid. Or just like The Raid but with a con-baby.”

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.”

Film Review: “The Empty Man” (2020)

“We can’t indict the cosmos.”

A paranoid, whispered assembly of folklore and cosmic horror happenings that explores many permutations of this kind of story before vaguely settling into one collectively conjured nightmare. The CULT following it’s gaining is well deserved.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “I don’t need much to enjoy a movie, just a skeleton that’s all kinds of H.R. Geiger/Alien-inspired in the first 20 minutes like this has. Come on, Hollywood!”

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.”