The 10 Worst Films Of 2021

It’s always easier to focus on the negatives, especially during a decade as dismal and pathetic as the 2020s. While 2021 generally feels like an improvement over the previous year, that’s only because it didn’t have as many unprecedented events as 2020 did. But don’t get it twisted — most of the things that were wrong in 2020 continued into 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage on, misinformation kept spreading on the internet like wildfire, and millions of Americans still refuse to admit that the 2020 election was not stolen. That doesn’t even include all of the celebrities that we have been losing left and right, including Betty White, Sidney Poitier, and Bob Saget. I thought this was 2021, not 2016.

Even the movies suffered. While there were generally more movies released this year compared to 2020, that by extension does also means that we have seen more bad movies come out than usual. That’s why for the first time on this website, I will be covering my 10 least favorite films of 2021.

I’ve never published a worst-of list before for several reasons. One reason is because I usually don’t see that many bad movies in a given year, and definitely not enough to make a bottom 10. Another reason is because I generally don’t like spending more energy on a film that has already wasted enough of my time. But perhaps more simply, I just like focusing on the positive more. Even during a year as catastrophic as 2020, I love looking back and reflecting on the movies that made me feel the most throughout the year. After all, year-end lists should be about celebrating the year’s biggest accomplishments — not beating down its biggest failures one last time.

But I’m doing a worst-of list this year for many different reasons. One reason is that, unlike most other years, I actually have seen a lot of bad movies, which made filling out a bottom 10 list much easier. But more importantly, these abysmal films should serve as a call of action to all filmmakers out there — a general guideline on what not to do when making a movie. After all, the pandemic is still going strong, and the box office still hasn’t fully recovered from 2020. If there is ever a time for movies to justify their existence, it’s now. The movies on this list just simply didn’t do that.

So without further adieu, here are my 10 least favorite films of 2021, starting with…

10. Mortal Kombat

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Just as soon as the quality of video game movies was beginning to pick up with the likes of Detective Pikachu and Sonic The Hedgehog, here comes the newest reboot of Mortal Kombat to remind us all that at the end of the day, video game movies just suck. Mortal Kombat is lined with a massive all-star cast, with Hiroyuki Sanada’s Scorpion, Joe Taslim’s Sub-Zero, and Josh Lawson’s Kano being among the most memorable characters. And when the action is fast and free-flowing, the movie is at its most fun and exciting. Unfortunately, its script is straight-up nonsense, with one character after another dropping into the plot to offer their trademark fatalities before being violently removed from the story. It also doesn’t help that the film rests squarely on Lewis Tan’s shoulders, because he’s so bland and unappealing in the lead that he makes Jean Claude-Van Damme look like a good actor. Hopefully the sequel will be better, because until then, Mortal Kombat’s mediocrity is its biggest fatality. Two stars.

9. The Harder They Fall

SOURCE: Netflix

A failed fusion of genres if I’ve ever seen one. The Harder They Fall starts with a disclaimer saying that while all of the characters are real, the story that they’re in is fictional. Glad they clarified that, because the story is absolutely unbelievable in every sense of the word. This revisionist hip-hop western blatantly rips off Quentin Tarantino in a desperate bid to mimic the success of Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. But what those movies had in wickedly clever dialogue, humor, and character is everything that The Harder They Fall lacks. The characters are dumber than a sack of potatoes, throwing themselves into needlessly dangerous situations just because the screenplay calls for it. At two hours and 19 minutes, the movie drags on at a glacial pace and does not pick up until the third act. And the movie predictably leads exactly where you thought it was going to go: into a larger-than-life shootout that they could have just jumped into an hour earlier. The Harder They Fall could be considered a misfire if the gun was ever loaded in the first place. One and a half stars.

8. Without Remorse

SOURCE: Amazon Studios

A dull, boring, and lifeless film that thinks filling a movie with an overabundance of gunfights and sharp snapshots of the hero’s jawline can replace a clear and coherent story. In this prequel to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Michael B. Jordan plays John Kelly, a Navy SEAL who seeks vengeance after his pregnant wife is murdered by Russian mercenaries. Michael B. Jordan is as intense as always, but the premise is so shamelessly generic that you could copy and paste the screenplay from other and better movies. It doesn’t help that the editing is so choppy that it leaves you dizzy while watching it, with characters coming into and out of the narrative so frequently that you forget who’s who by the time you arrive at the film’s confused and incomprehensible ending. Without Remorse is the third time Hollywood has tried to reboot Tom Clancy’s characters for the big screen, and it’s such a disappointment that I’m okay with never seeing another Tom Clancy production ever again. That includes the Splinter Cell movie that’s currently stuck in development hell. One and a half stars.

7. The Little Things

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Contrived, convoluted, and unbearably cliche, The Little Things commits the most cardinal sin the movies should never do: it wasted our time. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek star as a pair of detectives tracking down a serial killer that’s rampaging through Las Vegas, and they uncover secrets that will haunt the rest of their lives forever. Washington and Malek are fine in the movie, and Jared Leto offers a chilling portrayal as one of the movie’s bigger suspects. But by and large, this is a movie that collapses under the weight of its own ambitions, with the plot having absolutely zero idea where it wants to go or how it wants to get there. The final straw comes with the movie’s conclusion, which ends on a note so flat and disappointing that it renders the whole film completely pointless. The Little Things just reinforces that you can make a bad movie from a good script, but you can’t make a good movie from a bad script. One and a half stars.

6. The Tomorrow War

SOURCE: Amazon Studios

An unbelievably moronic and insipid film that throws logic right out the window in exchange for mindless action sequences and poorly-rendered CGI. Chris Pratt plays a high school biology teacher who gets wrapped up into a futuristic war between aliens and mankind as he becomes humanity’s last hope to yadda yadda yadda, blabitty, blabitty, blah. This time travel plotline is so cliche and has been done and redone several times over to the point where it just feels stale. Chris Pratt is likable enough, but when the action kicks in, all of his charisma is forgotten as the messy visual effects take over. This could have been an interesting movie about family, fate, and the inevitability of time. Instead we get yet another silly action movie that ends with the hero literally punching aliens that could eat him in two seconds. One and a half stars.

5. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

The worst superhero movie of the year by a long, long mile. Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson go head-to-head in this symbiotic matchup between two of Spider-Man’s biggest supervillains, Venom and Carnage. But what could have been a dark and exciting exploration into both of these characters’ psyches just turns into yet another generic actionfest. Tom Hardy is great as both Eddie Brock and Venom, but the movie throws its strongest asset right out the window by splitting them up for most of its runtime. Woody Harrelson doesn’t fare much better, pathetically whining about how not being loved enough as a child drove him to become a mass murderer. The action is fine and the post-credit scene was exciting at the time, but after it led to nothing in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the post-credit scene became just like the movie itself: utterly pointless. One and a half stars. 

4. Outside The Wire

SOURCE: Netflix

A film that thinks it is way, way, WAY smarter than it actually is. Anthony Mackie produces and stars in this film about an android lieutenant leading his new pupil through the front lines of war, but in the process, they both get wrapped up in this nuclear conspiracy that could destroy the world. Mackie is fine in this film, but unfortunately, he is not playing the lead. That role is fulfilled by “Snowfall” actor Damson Idris, and he’s so sickeningly flat and generic that I would rather Steven Seagal play his part. The movie flip-flops between themes relating to violence, drone warfare, and technology, but it’s way too distracted and doesn’t know how to focus up and make an impact with one central message. A spastic, haphazard, brainless mess that blew up in its own face. One star. 

3. Annette

SOURCE: Amazon Studios

A bizarre, off-putting, and deranged experience that has no point, no identity, and no sense of self. Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard co-star in this musical about a comedian and opera singer starting a family together when they have a daughter who is made entirely out of… wood? Driver and Cotillard’s talents are completely wasted as their characters dance aimlessly from one scene to the other. The music, meanwhile, is just straight-up garbage. I’ve watched multiple musicals this past year, and I could not recall a single note or lyric from this picture. The plot is straight-up nonsense as director Leos Carax drags you through one pointless scene after another. And by the time you reach its strange and confusing ending, I wanted nothing more but to wipe this film from my memory as soon as possible. A wasteful, mindless picture that I wish I never heard of. Half a star. 

2. Space Jam: A New Legacy

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Yet another sequel/reboot that nobody asked for nor wanted. Space Jam: A New Cashgrab comes 25 years after Michael Jordan teamed up with the Looney Tunes in the original movie. LeBron James is taking the lead this time around, and man oh man is he going for the Razzie on this one. This is an awful, soulless, lifeless husk of a film that has not one original thought or idea in it. LeBron has zero heart in his performance beyond the paycheck and it shows in his delivery that feels like he’s line reading. The Looney Tunes have no point or reason for being in this story beyond the fact that this is supposed to be a Space Jam sequel. The cameos and Easter eggs are obviously manipulative and the costuming and production design is worse than a YouTube video. There were two scenes that were funny. The rest of the movie deserves to be blown up by Acme dynamite. Half a star. 

And finally, my most hated film of the year. This film was so awful that I quite literally could not watch it all in a single sitting. I had to divide it up into 15-minute increments, and it was still the least pleasurable experience I had at the movies this year. This movie was cringey. This movie was torturous. This movie was… 

1. Home Sweet Home Alone

SOURCE: Disney+

Never again. Don’t ever let this sh*t happen again. Even when Home Alone stopped releasing movies in 1997, none of its sequels ever measured up to the original, with each new installment becoming sequentially worse one after the other. Now here comes Home Sweet Home Alone, and it’s so rotten to the core that it makes the rest of the franchise look enjoyable by comparison. Archie Yates, who previously played the lovable Yorki in Jojo Rabbit, is straight-up unbearable as this spoiled little brat whose biggest hangup is that his family isn’t paying him enough attention. Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney play the couple trying to break into his home, and these two are so stupid they could mistake dog poop for chocolate fudge. Not a single character in this movie is either remotely appealing or intelligent, and they all get caught up in slip-ups so silly and slapstick that even Adam Sandler would think it’s too much. Home Sweet Home Alone embodies everything wrong and exploitative with modern-day Hollywood, and for that reason it is the worst film of 2021. This film deserves its zero stars, and I would give it less if I could. 

And that’s it for my first (and hopefully last) worst movies list of the year, folks. Tune in next week as I break down my favorite films of 2021, my first yearly best-of list in… two years? God, 2020 sucked.

– David Dunn

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The Spectacular Spoiler-Man

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

It’s amazing to look back on how much Spider-Man has grown over the past couple of decades. In 2002, it was hard to imagine Spider-Man making his leap to the big screen while retaining the same sense of awe, wonder, and inspiration that he did in the comics. Yet not only did Spider-Man become one of the biggest blockbuster smashes of all time: it also spawned multiple sequels, two distinct reboots, an epic cinematic crossover with the Avengers, and even an Academy Award-winning animated film

To say that Spider-Man was an important part of the foundation of superhero cinema is a severe understatement. In many ways, he paved the way for many superhero films to come after, including Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America: even The Avengers.

Today Spider-Man continues to pave new paths forward, whether its Andrew Garfield and his quick-witted, off-brand sense of humor in the Amazing Spider-Man movies or Miles Morales crashing into other multiverses in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Now Tom Holland is doing his own multiverse-crashing in Spider-Man: No Way Home, a movie that is bigger and bolder than anything we’ve ever seen from Spider-Man in the movies yet.

WARNING: This will be a very spoiler-filled analysis of Spider-Man: No Way Home. If you have not seen Spider-Man: No Way Home yet, don’t read this article. I have a shorter, spoiler-free review you can read here. You have been warned. 

When Spider-Man: No Way Home begins, we think the premise speaks for itself. The whole world now knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, his family and friends’ lives are ruined just because they know him, Peter enlists in the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to try and make the world forget his secret identity only for it to go horribly, horribly wrong in every way that it can. Now all of these villains from other Spider-Man movies are pouring into Peter’s universe trying to kill him. The whole plot seems pretty straightforward… until it isn’t. 

One of the most brilliant aspects of this movie is easily its villains. For years, Sony has struggled to reboot Spider-Man’s villains as successfully as they did with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. After all, Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina already gave us the definitive versions of Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. Even in the unpopular Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man films, Thomas Hayden Church, Rhys Ifans, and Jamie Foxx also delivered excellent portrayals of Sandman, Lizard, and Electro respectively. How could the MCU possibly hope to reboot these characters and make them feel more realized than their previous iterations? 

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

Well, they don’t. The genius move that No Way Home pulls is bringing all of these villains into the MCU while retaining the original essence that made them excellent characters in the first place. When Doc Ock reappears on the bridge after Peter’s spell goes haywire, he remains driven by madness and tragedy like he was in Spider-Man 2. Lizard is more animalistic and savage in his reappearance and has reverted to an even more reptilian state since The Amazing Spider-Man. And when Electro and Sandman surface at the power plant, their respective themes blossom into nostalgic bliss as they lash out in confusion at this new world they stumbled onto. When these villains are reintroduced, we not only don’t have to waste time with their backstories since we already know them: we’re able to quickly cut to the chase and get to the heart of this story. 

And what exactly is this movie about? Mercy. When these villains are brought into the fold, Doctor Strange tells Peter that they all die fighting their respective versions of Spider-Man. So by sending them back to their world, they would essentially be dooming them to their deaths. By imposing this moral dilemma, the movie is introducing a conflict much more interesting than the usual punching and acrobatics you’re using to watching in most superhero movies. Instead it asks if you could save the life of a total stranger, would you? 

Now if it were me or any other cinematic cynic out there, my response would be to hit the button, say “adios” to these loonies, and then sleep like a baby afterwards. But Peter is better than most people and believes in second chances, even for people that don’t deserve them. That’s why he’s committed to helping these people, even if they are quote-unquote “bad guys.”

This fundamental difference leads Peter to one of the most interesting fights in the movie — not against another villain, but against Doctor Strange himself, who sees this issue more like a cosmic inevitability rather than a moral question that has to be answered. Pitting their ideals against each other was one of the more interesting moments of the movie, and seeing them fight against each other in the upside-down physics of the the Mirror dimension made excellent use of each other’s abilities.

And the way Spider-Man beats Strange is just so darn clever, using his geometry smarts to spin a web and trap Doctor Strange inside his own spell. To see this kid who used to need a hand from Iron Man now overcome the Sorcerer Supreme himself shows just how much the character has grown over the years and how much he can stand on his own without needing help from another Avenger.

Peter and his friends resolve that the only way to send these villains back home without killing them is by curing them of their abilities so they’re less of a threat to their own Spider-Men. He starts by replacing Doc Ock’s inhibitor chip, placing him in control of his arms rather than the other way around. Then he puts a power dampener on Electro that will revert him back to normal.

Peter begins to move on to curing the other villains when a sinister persona emerges from the deep recesses of Norman Osborn’s mind: the Green Goblin. Willem Dafoe’s return to this character was one I was most looking forward to, not just because this is his first time playing the role in 20 years, but also because his costume design looks starkly different from his last big-screen appearance. I knew from the trailers that he wasn’t going to have his iconic mask from the original Spider-Man movie. The question I was left with was how well that would work for the film overall? Would he be as terrifying, as loathsome, as unsettling a presence as he was in the first movie, or would he just be stuck feeling like wimpy old Norman Osborn?

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

Well surprisingly, the omission of his mask actually added to his portrayal. When the Goblin reveals himself, Willem Dafoe’s twisted, sinister expression emerges from Norman’s warm and friendly face, his sick and disturbing laugh echoing from behind his throat. It reminded me of that scene from the original Spider-Man where Norman was talking to himself in the mirror. It also reminds the audience that the thing to fear most about the Green Goblin isn’t his suit, his glider, his pumpkin bombs or even his mask: it’s his bloodlust and his vicious capacity for violence.

Peter and the Goblin fight, and man this fight is hard to watch: easily the grittiest and most brutal fight out of the entire Homecoming trilogy. Goblin is throwing Peter through walls, Peter is frantically punching him in the face, only for the Goblin to maniacally laugh at his feeble attempts to stop him.

Then at the very end of the fight, Goblin does the most shocking thing of all: he kills Aunt May. He summons his glider, stabs May in the back, and even chunks a pumpkin bomb at her for extra measure. And before May collapses in Peter’s arms, she passes on that iconic line “with great power comes great responsibility” before she dies.

This scene is so great for so many reasons. One is because Willem Dafoe’s performance as the Goblin is just so frightening and sadistic. He genuinely feels like the Green Goblin from the comics, the one that hates Peter so much and desires nothing more than to hurt him in the deepest and most personal ways possible. The fact that he specifically targets May just to hurt Peter makes him feel that more nefarious as a villain. In many ways, Dafoe’s performance as the Goblin here outdoes previous adaptations of the character. That does, by the way, include his appearance in the original Spider-Man.

But on a deeper level, this is a much more significant character-defining moment for Peter. By uttering that iconic line moments before she dies from a villain born from Peter’s mistakes, she becomes the catalyst for his growth as Spider-Man. She’s essentially become the MCU’s Uncle Ben, which is why I’m okay if he’s never referenced again in future Spider-Man movies: because Aunt May’s death has now become Peter’s main motivation for continuing his crusade as Spider-Man, not Uncle Ben.

But right at Peter’s lowest moment, two new contenders enter the fray: Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man. You see, Strange’s spell also summoned them into this universe alongside their respective villains, and it’s their words that push Peter to keep going. After all, they’ve been at the same hopeless place Tom Holland’s Peter is at right now. If anybody understands what he’s feeling, it’s them.

SOURCE: Marvel Studios

Long rumored to appear in No Way Home, I can’t tell you how exciting it was to finally see Tobey and Andrew suit up as Spider-Man again after hanging up the mask for over seven years. We learn a lot about both Peters after their stories concluded in Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2. Tobey Maguire’s Peter married MJ and grew a life with her while juggling his double-life as Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield’s vigilantism took a darker, more violent turn after he failed to save Gwen Stacey in his last movie.

But the important thing to take away from both of these Peter’s monologues is their wealth of experience. It isn’t just their fates that we’re interested in: we’re invested in their words of wisdom and what they can pass on to Tom Holland’s Peter during his time of need. I love the fact that some of my favorite moments in this movie aren’t high-stakes action of fight sequences: they’re character-building moments between the three different Spider-Men. Their dialogue and chemistry with each other just feels so natural, like three brothers meeting up together after a long time apart.

It really demonstrates that each of these actors brought something unique and distinct to their respective portrayals of Spider-Man, and none of them have deserved the animosity they’ve received from Spider-Man fans over the years. They’re all special in their own ways, and I hope No Way Home finally helps fans realize that.

I also really like that despite each of these actors having their own moment in the film, neither Tobey or Andrew steal the spotlight from Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. This is, after all, still his movie, and it is his arc that we’re invested in. Tobey and Andrew are more like mentors to Tom Holland, and they fit perfectly as the most important supporting cast members in the movie.

The three Spider-Men collaborate to cure the remaining villains as they set a trap on the Statue of Liberty. Electro, Sandman, and Lizard appear as the three Spider-Men duke it out against their respective villains. Sandman and Lizard are both turned back into their normal human selves, Doc Ock shows up and helps the remaining Spider-Men cure Electro, and the two Peters share a heart-to-heart with the villains, telling them that they never wanted them to die and only ever wanted to help them. Andrew Garfield even experienced a full-circle moment saving MJ from a fatal fall, redeeming himself from his failures in Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Then Green Goblin shows up again and nearly ruins everything. He blows up the box that Strange used to contain the spell, allowing the multiverse to break open and have an infinite number of Spider-villains pour into their universe. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Goblin fight again at the base of the statue, brutally trading punches as they’re committed to killing each other. Tom’s Spider-Man ends up webbing Goblin in place as he lands one blow after another, then in a fit of rage, picks up the Goblin’s glider, ready to end his life.

Only he doesn’t kill him. As he brings down the glider, Tobey’s Peter jumps in the way and stops Tom’s Peter from landing the killing blow. As they struggle against each other for a moment, Tom slowly eases himself and sets the glider down, only for Goblin to stab Tobey in the back at the last second.

This is yet another great full-circle moment that speaks to the hearts of these characters. Tom’s Peter is still in a state of grieving, and in a moment of weakness, gives in to his hate to try and kill his greatest foe. Tobey’s Peter steps in to stop him, giving him this piercing, firm gaze that tells Tom’s Peter that he has to be better than this. And in a throwback moment to the very first Spider-Man, Goblin stabs Tobey’s Peter in the back, something he tried to do the last time they faced off. It shows in a very powerful moment that not only is doing the right thing sometimes hard to do: in many ways, it can also backfire on you in very personal ways. But taking the right path is often not the same thing as taking the easiest path: that’s what makes taking it so virtuous and noble.

Andrew throws Tom the anti-Goblin serum and they succeed in injecting it, effectively killing the Goblin while still saving Norman’s life. But the Goblin’s damage has already been done, and the villains are beginning to pour into their universe. So Peter does the only thing he can do: he asks Doctor Strange to make everybody forget Peter Parker ever existed. By doing this, he sends both of the Spider-Men home, the villains go back to their respective universes, and the multiverse is saved from collapsing.

But in the same stroke, both MJ and Ned forget everything they ever experienced with Peter, and the following montage is probably the most tragic moment out of the whole picture. Because you see Peter approaching the coffee shop MJ is working at, rehearsing his lines, ready to reconnect with them after they’ve lost all memory of him. But when he sees that she has a cut on her forehead from his battle on the Statue of Liberty, he forgets the whole plan and walks away. Loving her has only put MJ in harms way every time he suits up as Spider-Man. If keeping her out of his life means she’s safe, that’s a small price to pay for Peter: even if it means he ends up all alone.

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

This is what I love most about this movie, and really what most of these Spider-Man movies have been missing since the original Sam Raimi films. More than any other movie in the Homecoming trilogy, more than most other movies in the MCU, Spider-Man: No Way Home shows the sacrifice that comes with being a hero. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man was having fun web-zipping around the city as an excitable teenager, while in Spider-Man: Far From Home he needed to step up and stand on his own as the world wrestled with its mightiest heroes being gone. No Way Home is the first movie in Tom Holland’s trilogy where it shows the true cost of being Spider-Man. Aunt May said it best in Spider-Man 2 where she says that sometimes being a hero means giving up the thing we want the most: even our dreams.

There are some things that don’t work quite as well in the movie. For instance, Sandman and Electro’s costume designs aren’t as interesting alongside their supervillain counterparts, with Thomas Hayden Church looking like a literal CGI sand man while Electro looks as generic as an electrical worker. Some of the movie’s multiversal logic also doesn’t hold up that well, especially when you begin to question when these villains specifically got pulled from their universes. Because if they got pulled moments before their deaths, then Peter’s actions in this movie could end up meaning nothing anyway.

There was also a post-credits scene involving Tom Hardy’s Venom that was just straight up DUMB, and I do mean it with the all caps. Here was Venom: Let There Be Carnage, teasing Venom’s appearance in No Way Home and what it could mean for Venom in the MCU. Then not only does the movie decide not to use him at any capacity: they decide to send him back without any further interaction. If you weren’t going to use him in the movie, then what on Earth was the point to teasing him in Venom: Let There Be Carnage? Couldn’t you have just cut both credit scenes from those movies, shave down the run time, and save the audience the frustration?

Aside from those irritations, Spider-Man: No Way Home shows Peter at his most human: his most flawed, fallible, and vulnerable. By the end of the movie, Peter gives up everything he cares about most: his Aunt May, his best friend, his true love, even his literal identity. Yet he gives it all up anyway just to do the right thing. Because at the end of the day, that’s what being Spider-Man is all about. It’s not about the webs, the cool Stark suits, the wall-crawling or the amazing adventures. It’s about wielding great power, and bearing the responsibility and the sacrifice that comes with it.

– David Dunn

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“SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Into the Spider-verse.

About halfway through Spider-Man: No Way Home’s runtime, one of the movie’s newest multiversal villains looks out at the new world he’s stumbled onto and says “Look at all the possibilities.” I feel like right now we’re on the cusp of a whole new universe of our own, imagining all of the possibilities for our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler as he plunges ahead into new and unexpected adventures. No matter what your expectations are, Spider-Man: No Way Home absolutely lives up to every bit of the hype surrounding it. The fact that you can say that even when our expectations were insanely high to begin with is more impressive than anything I can share in this review.

After that shocking twist ending in Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) secret identity has been revealed thanks to Mysterio’s manipulation. Now the whole world knows he’s Spider-Man, and Peter isn’t the only one facing the consequences. So too is his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and his Aunt May (Marissa Tomei).

Feeling guilty for how he caused ripple effects throughout the lives of the people he loves most, Peter turns to the sorcerer supreme Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) asking him if he can use his magic to make it so the whole world forgets that he’s Spider-Man. He does, but it comes at a cost: now villains have poured in from other Spider-universes looking to kill Peter Parker. There’s the sinister Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). There’s the menacing Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). There’s the rage-filled Electro (Jamie Foxx), the elusive Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and the slithering Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Now Peter has to team up with his friends to round up these villains and send them back to their universes before they destroy his.

I’m going to start by saying this review will be very brief and very spoiler-free, because this film is best experienced knowing as little as possible about it, and I don’t want to compromise the surprises for my fellow spider-fans out there. Because of this, my review will seem very vague and very nondescript. Don’t worry, I’ll be publishing a spoiler-filled review later on.

For now, all you need to know about Spider-Man: No Way Home is that it is a masterpiece. You absolutely should go and watch it. Not only does Spider-Man: No Way Home do justice to Peter Parker’s arc that has been building up ever since his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War — it’s also a beautiful and heartfelt love letter to Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy. One of the things that makes Spider-Man such an endearing character is the fact that his greatest superpower isn’t his webs, his wall-crawling or his spider-sense: it’s his heart and his unwavering will to do the right thing even when it’s the hardest road you can take.

A lot of that is in large part thanks to Tom Holland, who gives his most passionate and emotional performance as Spider-Man to date. A lot of fans (myself included) questioned at the beginning how much Tom Holland stacked up against fellow Spider-Man veterans Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, especially when his earlier movies traded out a lot of the dramatic moments for jokes and quippy one-liners. No Way Home shows him at his most challenged and vulnerable, and Tom Holland naysayers are very quickly proven wrong with his acting chops here. Not only is this Tom’s most dramatic, daring, and darkest portrayal of Spider-Man yet: it is also his rawest and most human. Not since Spider-Man 2 has a Spider-Man performance felt so natural and real, and that’s the best compliment I can give to Tom Holland regarding No Way Home.

But it isn’t just Tom Holland who is at his best: director Jon Watts also delivers the best Spider-Man story in the MCU yet with this sprawling cinematic crossover. It isn’t just the fact that he’s bringing in the villains from pre-existing Spider-Man properties: it’s that he’s using them in interesting and engaging ways while staying true to their original characters. In a recent panel, Alfred Molina mentions that what makes these villains so interesting is that they aren’t just some mustache-twirling charlatans, but they carry a depth and complexion as real people who have been changed by unspeakable tragedies and accidents in their lives. That made them so interesting in their initial cinematic appearances, and that makes them just as interesting here because Jon Watts paid them the attention they deserved. They aren’t just dropped into the plot here for cheap fan service: their appearance in this story feels earned and they have a point and a purpose for this crossover with the MCU’s Spider-Man.

Look, I can only go so far without talking about spoilers, so I am going to end the review here. All I can say is this: if you are a Spider-Man fan, Spider-Man: No Way Home will not disappoint you. Not only is the action fresh, fast-paced, and exciting, but the characters’ presence in this sprawling story makes it feel gripping and engaging at the same time. To think that five years ago, we questioned how Tom Holland would not only fit into the MCU, but into the constantly expanding Spider-Man mythos overall. No Way Home gives us our answer, and the payoff is so, so satisfying. What else can I say? The possibilities are quite literally endless.

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“DUNE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Fear is the mind-killer.

There are a few movies that come once in a generation where they don’t feel just like cinema, but rather as raw, immersive experiences that feel equally epic in their scope of storytelling as they do in their visceral visual presentation. Star Wars in the 1980s is one such example. Jurassic Park in the 90s is another. Lord Of The Rings in the 2000s. The Avengers movies in the 2010s. Now here comes the newest science-fiction epic in Dune, and if it isn’t destined to become the next decade-defining blockbuster, it definitely feels like it should be.

Based on Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction saga, Dune takes place in the far distant future where different houses fight for control over different planets in the galaxy. One of the most sought-after planets is the desert world of Arrakis, which carries an element known as spice that allows for interstellar travel, making it the most valuable asset in the universe. The House of Atreides is gifted the planet of Arrakis to harvest the spice for the good of all the houses, but in the process, they get caught up in a violent conflict between the Fremen, the native dwellers of Arrakis, and the Harkonnen, a vicious race of savages that seek the power of the spice only for themselves. Now trapped on the world of Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) needs to find a way to adapt to the harsh environment surrounding him and harness the desert power of Arrakis.

When I heard that Denis Villeneuve was remaking Frank Herbert’s classic tale of “Dune,” I nearly fell out of my seat. For those of you that are unaware of it, “Dune” has been hailed as one of the most important science-fiction novels of all time, right alongside the likes of “Anthem”, “Ender’s Game,” and “1984.” To see a large-scale adaptation of one of the most essential books ever written would have any reader giggling in their seats, where I admittedly found myself not too long ago.

Yet despite Denis’s cinematic prowess, I found myself a little hesitant to accept a live-action “Dune” remake. For one thing, “Dune” had been visually adapted twice before, once in David Lynch’s 1984 film and once in Frank Herbert’s TV show in 2000. Neither one really reached the fascination or intrigue that the book inspired and were really kind of silly and gimmicky in retrospect, although I do find their amateurish quality slightly endearing. For another thing, “Dune” had been largely considered an unadaptable story, with its dense lore amounting to a massive 412 pages.

Granted, it wasn’t the first book to be considered “unadaptable.” Yann Martel’s “Life Of Pi” was largely considered unadaptable, as was Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.” Yet, both were made into magnificent movies by Ang Lee and Zack Snyder. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s a sure thing. Indeed, it means that whoever does end up tackling the project has a massive, massive challenge ahead of them, one that may mean breaking up the book’s plot into multiple movies.

Thank God that Denis Villeneuve was a brave and competent enough filmmaker to take it on, because he fulfills every bit of the book’s lofty expectations and then some. The first thing you notice with Dune is how immersive it is: visually striking, audibly haunting, and emotionally stirring. The very first line of dialogue you hear in the movie isn’t even human: it’s Harkonnen, and its rich, deep voice eerily echoes the words “Dreams are messages from the deep.”

Immediately after that, we’re swept into an engrossing display of Arrakis: its beauty, its danger, its dry, devastating heat, the invaluable spice, and the people willing to fight and kill and die over it. What follows from there is an engrossing and absorbing experience that completely and fully immerses you in its characters, lore, and setting in a rare display of intrigue, excitement, and fascination.

I’m not just talking about merely watching the movie play out on screen. Sure, you see the vast landscape, the colossal spaceships, the endless void of space and its planets, the massive explosions that blow up on battlefields and mining sites. But the film is so much more than merely seeing the images on screen: you experience them. You feel the sun rays beating down on you, the dryness in the air as the desert sands of Arakkis parch your mouth, the wind from the space thrusters blowing against you, and the heat from explosions radiating off of your body as the shockwave blows you off of your feet.

See, in a rare marriage of visual and audio mastery, Dune drops you in the middle of Arakkis and forces you to feel the loneliness and isolation of its characters. Movies have a bad habit of superficially showing you what characters are going through instead of engrossing you in the moment of what they’re experiencing. Dune places you right alongside House Atreides and forces you to try and survive the dangers of the desert alongside them. Not since Avatar has a movie immersed you so vividly into its lore and setting.

The production of the film is a technical marvel, from Greg Fraser’s vast and expansive cinematography to Joe Walker’s expert editing to the eerie and striking visuals to the mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. Even the all-star cast is masterful in their roles, with Timothee Chalamet shining the most as a fallen prince torn between two different destinies.

Dune is a rare example of a perfect picture. Yes, a perfect picture. I literally would not change a single thing about it. Some viewers may not appreciate Denis Villeneuve’s trademark slow-burn style of storytelling, but that’s because of their personal preferences as movie watchers, not Denis’ craft or ability as a filmmaker. To think that years ago, we questioned how he would handle his first science-fiction picture with Arrival, then how he would revive Ridley Scott’s long-cherished franchise with Blade Runner 2049. Now he has made Dune, and its legacy will surpass both of those pictures. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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“NO TIME TO DIE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Nicola Dove | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

Goodbye, James Bond.

We live in an age where closure is beginning to become the norm in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The Dark Knight Rises. Logan. War For The Planet Of The Apes. The Rise of Skywalker. Avengers: Endgame. These movies prove that you can have a definitive end to our heroes’ journeys, and not only will audiences be fine with it, but they quite possibly might love it. That’s because when you take away the lights, the cameras, and the special effects, these larger-than-life heroes are not the immortal cinematic icons they’re portrayed as on-screen. They’re people, and their story deserves an appropriate ending just like anybody else does.

In No Time To Die, Daniel Craig experiences his own ending in his final portrayal of James Bond, a role he’s inhabited so seamlessly ever since his debut in Casino Royale in 2006. In No Time To Die, Bond goes into retirement after defeating Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and saving his lover Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) in Spectre. But like any other 007 movie, James Bond is once again pulled into the spy world when his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) asks him for a favor. Now facing yet another potentially world-ending threat, James Bond needs to suit up one last time to defeat a nefarious new foe named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).

Watching No Time To Die was a particularly meaningful experience for me, not just because it signifies the end to an amazing era of James Bond, but also because this was one of the first movies on the chopping block when the COVID-19 pandemic came to our doorstep last year. After delay after delay after delay, it almost seemed like this movie was never going to get released. To finally watch it now after all this time feels like the world is finally turning a corner on this blasted pandemic, though I do kind of find it funny that the big threat in No Time To Die is, ironically enough, a virus.

To say that No Time To Die is a bold undertaking of the James Bond mythos is a severe understatement. It isn’t merely another entry in the James Bond franchise. Like Casino Royale and Skyfall, No Time To Die introduces the character to new and unusual circumstances, circumstances Bond would never have been caught dead in the original Ian Fleming novels. What makes Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond so interesting is that he’s less of a caricature and more of a character. He isn’t a generic movie spy that is used to channel toxic male fantasies of drinking vodka martinis, hooking up with beautiful women and killing bad guys. In many ways, he is an incredibly pained and tragic character, one whose endless cycle of violence and espionage almost seemed predestined to him.

It’s rare for James Bond to be vulnerable, or indeed, even to appear weak in front of not just the movie’s villains and supporting characters, but also in front of the audience. But all of the best movies feature vulnerable moments for the character. In Casino Royale, it was when Bond was getting tortured by Le Chiffre or when he failed to save his first love. In Skyfall, it was when Bond was struggling with post-traumatic stress or when he failed to save M. In No Time To Die, he once again finds himself in a place of vulnerability and weakness in an arc that has been set up ever since the first movie. And like all of the great Craig Bond movies that came before, he fails to save a life that’s very important to him, though I won’t spoil by saying who.

Of course, all of the quintessential Bond elements are prevalent in No Time To Die. The high-stakes and adrenaline-pumping action. The tight and quick editing and the over-the-top and insane shootout and chase scenes. The amazing and mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. The haunting yet angelic single by Billie Eilish. And of course, Daniel Craig’s amazing performance, brilliantly contrasted with Rami Malek’s ice-chilling presence as the movie’s villain. All of the elements that made previous Bond movies thrive are just as evident here as they’ve ever been before.

Yet the incredible thing about No Time To Die is how it shows Bond reacting to a changing world. Indeed, how he reacts to MI6 keeping up its operations despite his retirement, how new double-Os enter the picture and accomplish the same things that he does, really how people in his life move on without him when he’s no longer in the picture. It all makes him feel so, so obsolete, and that’s what I love so much about this movie: it forces James Bond to evaluate who he is when he isn’t 007. Is he more man than mercenary? Or is he just another number?

Director Cary Joji Fukanaga (“True Detective,” Beasts of No Nation) has accomplished a rare feat with No Time To Die — he made James Bond fallible and brought him down to our level, a man haunted by his own demons and whose insecurities drive him to make ruinous, self-destructive choices. While some people may be frustrated how the movie deconstructs the larger-than-life myth of James Bond, I for one love that we’re taking away the license to kill and looking at how the man behind it tries to live his life without it. It’s funny how the movie is called No Time To Die, yet by the time the end credits rolled, all I could think about was how James Bond lived.

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“CASINO ROYALE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

A new Bond for a new age.

With over 40 years of cinema behind him, James Bond is one of the oldest — and most timeless — action heroes to persevere throughout film history. Why don’t we know more about him? We know all about Dr. Jones and his early crusades that led to him becoming Indiana Jones. We all know the rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa, the tragic beginnings of Batman, and Luke Skywalker’s parentage that literally spans the galaxy. But for some reason despite 20 films dedicated to his name, James Bond is a character whose history has always eluded us. Why is that?

I think it’s for several reasons. One may be because it adds to his mystery and intrigue, and keeping his backstory in the dark maybe contributes to the elusiveness of his character. Another may be to allow for multiple interpretations of James Bond. Since we’ve had six actors play the part now, it makes sense to keep his story loose and flexible to allow for overlapping storylines and not convolute different films’ timelines. But the most rational explanation may be that his backstory simply doesn’t matter. James Bond exists in the here and now: in the mission, the objective, the target, the drink, the beautiful women, the pleasures of the instant because tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Whatever the case may be, Casino Royale is the newest reboot of MI6’s favorite secret agent. It is also arguably the most raw and personal James Bond film to date, something I never expected to say about any James Bond movie ever.

In this modern retelling of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale introduces a younger, less robust Bond in Daniel Craig, shortly before he even achieves his double-0 status. All of the usual James Bond elements are here. The fast-paced and exciting action. The high-stakes shoot-em-outs and intensive fight choreography. The sleek vehicles, weapons, and spy gadgets. The over-the-top chase sequences that take you over streets, bridges, buildings, hallways, and skyscrapers. The drop-dead gorgeous Bond girl in Eva Green. The chilling and unsettling villain in Mads Mikkelsen. The twists, the turns, the conspiracies that drive the plot forward. Everything that makes James Bond James Bond is in here and dialed up to pristine shaken-not-stirred detail.

But it’s not the usual Bond elements that impress me: what really impresses me with Casino Royale is the ruggedness, the roughness, the gritty realism that makes this film move and breathe with the authenticity of a top-secret SIS mission report. There are so many nuances to the film that you learn to appreciate and value that I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ll start with the film’s star Daniel Craig, who carries his part with the confidence and collectiveness of a Sean Connery and with the dispassion and coldness of Timothy Dalton. In previous films, James Bond has been portrayed with the suave coolness of a master infiltrator — a man who knows how to get out of every slippery situation, regardless of whether they’re in a secret base or a woman’s chambers. Here, the younger, more inexperienced James Bond is prone to more mistakes and is a lot less calm under pressure. That makes him surprisingly more vulnerable and the action feel a lot more immediate and real.

When he finishes making his first kill, his hand quivers and he breathes sporadically as he processes what he has done. When he makes a startling realization, his eyes pop and he spurs into action, knowing that something horrible will happen if he does not stop a particular outcome from happening. When someone close to him feels a particular pain that he’s familiar with, you feel his empathy as he consoles them and processes their grief with them. When he’s captured and being tortured, he doesn’t experience it like a hardened agent who fears nothing, but as a rookie experiencing this for the first time and is very, very afraid, even if he refuses to break. That level of emotion is a rare quality in a James Bond performance, and it will easily be Craig’s greatest asset the more he establishes his own 007 identity going forward.

But Craig is only half the puzzle. The other half comes in the film’s clever and crafty screenplay, which combines the typical Bond troupes delivered by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with the style and swagger of a real-world espionage thriller from Academy Award-winning writer Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). In previous Bond movies, the screenplay may have been given second focus to over-the-top gizmos, gadgets, and camp so silly and obnoxious that it would have made Adam West blush. Not here. In Casino Royale, the larger-than-life spy movie spectacle is traded out for a dense and layered plot that perfectly establishes James Bond and his beginnings as a double-0. Oh, and the dialogue is so sweet and snappy and so perfectly understands James Bond. One of my favorite lines is where Bond comments how the love interest isn’t his type. “Smart?” she asks. He responds “Single.”

Side note: The subversion of the classic “shaken, not stirred” line is also worthy runner-up.

All of these elements are masterfully brought together by director Martin Campbell, who returns to the director’s chair after bringing us Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of the character in GoldenEye 10 years ago. Whatever your opinions of the previous entries in the James Bond franchise, Casino Royale breathes new life and fresh blood into this everlasting series. The action choreography is so fast, brutal, and impactful that it leaves you dizzy while watching it. David Arnold’s mesmerizing score is so exciting and enthralling, with the snazzy horns and emotional orchestra throwing you back to the classic days of James Bond. And the editing by Stuart Baird is so smart, gradual, and all-encompassing that it allows you to follow all of the threads that are unraveling while never losing track of everything that’s going on. I find it fascinating that one of the most engaging scenes in the entire movie isn’t a fight or a chase scene, but rather a card game between Bond and the movie’s villain. That’s because the film’s astronomically high stakes are set up very well, and you know what will happen if Bond pulls a bad hand.

It’s hard to say which is the best Bond movie, or even who is the best Bond actor, because of how many stories, movies, and portrayals are out there of the double-0 agent. But even amongst the sea of James Bond retellings and reinterpretations, Casino Royale stands out, as does its star. That’s because they both understand that James Bond is more than a gun, a bullet, a bow tie, a license to kill. James Bond is an action. He’s a statement. He’s a man that will do what needs to be done even when the world is collapsing all around him. That’s why when he says his name is James Bond at the end of the movie, we believe him.

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“VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

One dysfunctional symbiotic family.

The best part of Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the mid-credits scene. That’s not a good sign for a movie when the best part of it literally happens after the movie is over. Venom: Let There Be Carnage promised to be a revival of the symbiotic superhero: a darker, grittier, edgier telling that got to the roots of what makes the lethal protector tick. Oh, will comic book fans be so, so disappointed. 

In this sequel to the 2018 Spider-Man spinoff, Venom: Let There Be Carnage follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he adjusts to his double life as a carnivorous superhero and a journalist trying to revive his career. The key to reigniting his career is Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer who has left behind a trail of bodies, and thankfully with a wig much more convincing than in his post-credits scene in the first movie. Eventually through a convoluted sequence of events, Cletus ends up with his own red-blooded symbiote he nicknames “Carnage.” Now Eddie and Venom have to once again unite to defeat this symbiotic serial killer and save the Earth… again. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage shares the same strengths as its predecessor, specifically Venom himself. Scripting, directing, and storytelling aside, Eddie and Venom were among the best characters in the first movie, and their odd, offbeat chemistry still works perfectly in tandem with each other. That makes sense considering they’re both portrayed by Hardy himself. Still, it isn’t easy to create a connection with, well, yourself, and Hardy embodies both roles masterfully here. Whether he’s Eddie Brock investigating a story or Venom is starving for human brains, he captures the essence of both characters very, very well. When they are together, Eddie and Venom are easily the funniest, craziest, most entertaining parts of the movie. 

I say “when they’re together,” because for some reason, Hardy and screenwriter Kelly Marcel thought it would be a good idea to split Eddie and Venom up for half the movie. I have no idea why they thought this. After all, Eddie and Venom are perfect as a chaotically dysfunctional pair, not as two different entities going through their own separate melodramatic identity crises by themselves. In the limited time they are together, Eddie and Venom perfectly play off of each other’s manic, wild energy, snapping at each other like two alpha wolves fighting for control. When they are apart, they couldn’t be more pathetic, with Eddie whining about his failed marriage and Venom… dancing at Rave parties? What? 

Side Note: As an alien who is very sensitive to sound, it is very weird that 1) Venom doesn’t feel threatened by attending a concert where stereo speakers are blaring all around him, and 2) That neither did director Andy Serkis, who lets Venom carry on with his monologuing despite the fact that he should be a pile of goo thanks to all of the loud sounds surrounding him. 

What about Venom’s antagonist, Carnage? How was he done in the movie? Well, he’s a mixed bag. On one hand, when the Carnage symbiote is out, Carnage is a vicious force to be reckoned with, tearing up prison gates, destroying cars and helicopters, and biting the heads off of police officers like they’re Tootsie Pops. All of this makes Carnage a fierce, formidable character, and eons more intimidating than Riot was in the previous movie. 

But when he’s just Cletus, he has these winey, mopey monologues about how he wasn’t loved enough as a kid and that’s why he kills people today. Wah-freaking-wah. Other Marvel characters like the Hulk, Black Widow, and Shang-Chi have also had similarly traumatic childhoods and didn’t use it as an excuse to eat people. The fact that the script attempts to connect Eddie and Cletus together and treat them like they’re the same person is actually the most gross and manipulative part of it all. Sorry, but Venom is nothing at all like Carnage. Venom eats criminals only to survive. Carnage would kill a kid just because he thought it was funny. They’re not at all the same, and the fact that the script tries to paint it like they are shows how little it understands both characters. 

The rest of the movie plays out pretty much like the first one did. Eddie gets down on his luck, gets possessed (or repossessed) by Venom, learns to accept himself (again), and then gets into another gooey fight with the monstrous villain that’s too incomprehensible to follow at the end of the movie. Whatever you think of these movies, Venom: Let There Be Carnage embodies the same strengths and most of the weaknesses as its predecessor. When Eddie and Venom are the focus, the movie is at its strongest. When the focus is shifted to the supporting characters, we care nothing about their half-hearted performances or the weak sauce writing they’re provided with. 

But somehow it’s only getting worse. While the first movie was a passable, if not mildly disappointing, introduction to Venom, its mishaps can at least be forgiven because it was trying to re-establish his identity after a very underwhelming appearance in Spider-Man 3. Now here comes Venom: Let There Be Carnage, a movie which has now had at least two opportunities to learn from its mistakes and just doubles down on them harder. Pray that Venom’s next big-screen appearance does more justice to the character than his previous two outings have. And for whatever it’s worth, I’m not referring to Venom 3

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Inside Our Insecurities

It’s amazing how universal the language of loneliness can be. When COVID-19 came to our front door last year and forced all of us to socially distance from one another, a lot of us found ourselves staying indoors isolated from any human connection whatsoever. This has led to many of us being trapped not just inside our homes, but inside our thoughts, our emotions, our insecurities, and ultimately everything about our very being. I got to know David Dunn very well during my time quarantined with him last year, and I can tell you with utmost confidence that I don’t like him very much. I still don’t.

In Inside, Bo Burnham also finds himself locked in with himself (or at the very least, a caricature of himself) and struggling with the same emotions many of us experienced last year.  In this new Netflix special, Bo writes, shoots, edits, directs, and performs everything all by himself inside of his apartment for a whole year to stop himself from “putting a bullet” into his head. Creating is no longer merely a source of enjoyment or fulfillment for him. Instead, it has become a literal means of survival, or at the very least, an attempt at some semblance of sanity or well-being. 

I’m taking a break from my self-imposed hiatus to talk about Inside for a number of reasons. One is because I relate closely with the subject matter Bo explores here, and another is because I know Bo is a funny and introspective entertainer that evaluates deep and complex ideas and enjoys savagely deconstructing them for his viewers. But perhaps most simply, I genuinely felt inspired to talk about Inside. It’s funny how for the past year, I felt my reviews contributed nothing of significance to the general public during a pandemic, an election, and a racial and cultural reckoning that’s been long overdue. I still don’t, but I at least understand a lot of what is being explored in this film, and I think that’s worth talking about. 

When Inside opens up, we see Bo’s younger self walk into his apartment, which is surprisingly a seamless transition from the ending of his last comedy special Make Happy five years ago. After the title screen, we see a gradual progression from the pale, baby-faced Bo we’re used to seeing into his older, bearded, lethargic self that sings about how exhausting menial tasks such as getting up and sitting down have become for him. Then in his first musical number “Comedy,” he reflects on how pointless joking seems in a time like this to the sounds of artificial laughter echoing in the background. His first words feel the most helpless: “I wanna help to leave this world better than I found it, and I fear that comedy won’t help, and the fear is not unfounded.” 

It’s not even five minutes into the special, and we’re already fully immersed into the sentiment of what it was like living through 2020. The rest of the film is like that, observing deep social issues through the personalized lens of one guy locked inside his room for a full year. I think it’s funny how many films released last year tried to cheaply cash in on the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it was unbearable romantic comedies like Locked Down or the grossly manipulative horror film Songbird. Yet with Inside, Bo beautifully portrays what it was like living through 2020 better than any other film has so far.  

It’s hard to know where to start with Inside, because so much of it is just so clever, ingenious, and original. Obviously, one of Bo’s most distinguishable elements as an artist is his music, which has always been equal parts funny, catchy, memorable, insightful, and incredibly entertaining. But while his quirky piano melodies and clever lyrics have always been his strongest suit as a performer, Bo is operating on a whole other level with Inside. He experiments and toys with multiple musical styles and genres throughout the film, whether it’s with the jazzy pizzaz of “Unpaid Intern,” the ’80s workout tunes of “Problematic,” or the folksy guitar strums of “That Funny Feeling.” Musically speaking, Bo is at his most versatile here and has never been better. 

But it isn’t just his musical styles that stand out: his lyrics are equally mature, oddballish, and incredibly thought-provoking. In the innocent, adolescent sounds of “How The World Works,” Bo dispels of societal misconceptions with the help of a sock puppet facing an existential crisis, while in “30” he laments on growing older and becoming the quote-unquote “boomer” that he used to make fun of. One of the very best songs in the film is “Welcome To The Internet,” where he parodies the internet in a performance that can only be described as a millennial James Bond villain and monologues how he aims to take over every intimate, personal, chaotic moment of your whole life. The most eerie and sinister line comes in the chorus, where Bo asks “Could I interest you in everything all of the time?” 

Surprisingly one of the most standout elements of this special is the visuals. I know, I know, a film shot entirely in one room over the course of a year doesn’t sound like it would be that eye-catching. But Bo makes excellent use of the space he’s confined to, composing captivating, sharp, and visually stimulating shots more so than even some filmmakers do on big-budget movie sets. During “FaceTiming With My Mom,” the dark blue hues of his room nicely complement the isolated feeling of being locked inside as the framing shrinks to the 16:9 ratio resembling a smartphone. Meanwhile in “Problematic,” the saturated oranges and reds shine vibrantly like a workout video, with a sweaty Bo riding on an exercise bike asking his viewers to “hold him accountable.” 

The most visually impressive sequence lies in “White Woman’s Instagram,” where he hilariously parodies social media tropes inside of the 360:360 squares you’d normally see on Instagram. Not only is the song funny enough on its own, but the images and shots you see here accurately recreate some of the same photos you might see on Instagram. I’m not even kidding. Whether it’s latte foam art, an avocado, or a stunning light display, every image he captures could be pulled from the film and published on Instagram, and nobody would question it. It is that distinct and on-point. 

All of these elements make Inside an entertaining comedy special, but not necessarily a unique one. What truly makes Inside stand out is its tone and emotional complexity. Throughout the picture, Bo visibly struggles with his isolation, anxiety, and depression, and this is further emphasized in the mood between cuts. During the musical numbers, the room is brightly lit up, the colors and their hues are shimmering and shining, and Bo seems genuinely happy, or at least entertained, while playing his piano and singing. But in between the music and skits, Bo is noticeably more solemn, somber, and sluggish: like it’s a challenge for him to even breathe sometimes.

I’ve seen this type of behavior before in myself last year. Whenever I was on Zoom calls, hopping onto daily FaceTime sessions, talking on the phone, or filming in front of my camera, my room and face was lit up with the same vibrancy and life that was on Bo’s. But whenever the cameras were shut off and I sat in my dark room scrolling through Twitter or Facebook, I felt a tightening around my chest like the world was closing in around me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I feel like many people experienced this sensation last year, and Bo brilliantly recaptures the essence of that emotion with stunning detail… quite possibly because he went through that too.

The film’s most powerful moments come in the lead up to his second to last single “All Eyes On Me,” where Bo collapses into tears as he experiences a full-on mental and emotional meltdown. During the song, Bo asks us to pray for him in a mesmerizing symphony of sorrow, where he reveals he had struggled with panic attacks his whole life and was just getting better right before the pandemic hit last year. Again, I relate way too closely with this. Not only have I suffered from my own panic attacks as well, but I was just getting serious about seeking professional help last year before the pandemic shut everything down. The last verse most captures my emotional state last year: “You say the whole world’s ending? Honey, it already did.” 

Finally in his last single “Goodbye,” Bo reflects on how much he’s changed over the last year and how he can never go back to who he once was. As I saw his younger, friendlier, familiar face fade into the grimy, unkempt appearance of a man as emotionally drained as he was exhausted, I cried as if I was saying goodbye to a dearly beloved friend I had known my entire life. I feel like in a way, Bo was saying goodbye to his old self in the song as he comes to realize he’s now a different person at the end of it all. Truthfully, the same thing happened to me last year too. I doubt any of us came out of 2020 being the same person we were at the beginning of it.

And throughout the whole special, you’re rooting for Bo to step outside, just once: to have the sun shining on his face, free from that crummy, dark, claustrophobic room, just trying to live his life one day — one breath — at a time. I am going to spoil it for you by saying he never does go outside. Instead, there’s a filmed bit where he steps outside to a spotlight shining on him and the sounds of applause cheering for him, but when he tries to go back inside, he panics when he discovers that he’s locked out while the audience laughs at him and his misery. The final shot is him watching this scene from his projector, and while the audience is laughing, he lets out a small smile from the corner of his mouth. 

For some reason, I find this ending to be a much more fitting, much more powerful ending for the film rather than some melodramatic conclusion where he epically flings the door open and leaves his room forever. And the reason why is because it completely fits his character and where he is at by the end of the film. Throughout the picture, Bo struggles with his identity, his self-worth, and how he sees himself. After all, when the world is on literal fire outside of your home, how small and insignificant must you and your struggles feel compared to all of the misery and suffering going on outside of the world? But by the end of the film, Bo has come closer to a place of acceptance and self-realization. While there are things about himself he may never like and he may never get over, he has grown to be more comfortable — more aware — of himself, so much so that he can even utter out a small laugh at himself and not feel insecure for doing so. 

To me, that’s more encouraging and sincere than a theatrical, over-the-top Hollywood ending ever could be. That shows growth. That shows progress. That shows hope that not only one day Bo may be truly comfortable with himself, but that he can one day maybe live his life free of the anxiety and panic that has plagued him for so long. Hope that one day, he may be able to step outside and not be afraid of doing so. 

– David Dunn

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Lost In The World

“I don’t like my mind right now. Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary. I wish that I could slow things down. I wanna let go, but there’s comfort in the panic.”

– Chester Bennington

First of all, I wanted to thank my readers for sticking with this website for as long as you have. Since 2013, I’ve been writing reviews on this website because I love talking about the movies and sharing my experiences with others. It has never been easy for me to connect with people on a personal level, and the movies have always helped me break through some of those social barriers I’ve always had. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for following me and for always being interested in my opinions on the movies. Your support is what has kept me going all of these years.

Secondly, I want to apologize for all of the inactivity you’ve seen on my website for the past year. Since the pandemic hit in March last year (God, it feels so good to refer to 2020 as “last year”), I was under the impression that I would be able to publish content on my website like never before. For once in a rare occasion, I was not bound by the release schedules of new movies coming out or the cycling of unwanted sequels, remakes, and reboots pouring into movie theaters. I had even more freedom to watch and review whatever I wanted from home. A smarter critic, or a more stable one, would have leapt at the opportunity to invest in themself and their portfolio.

I began with a decent-ish start. I reviewed one of the best movies released last decade, a Spanish film by Alfonso Cuaron called Roma, revisited The Invisible Man and Sonic The Hedgehog, finally got to review the emotionally-stirring Spike Lee epic Malcolm X, and even got to follow up on his newest release Da 5 Bloods. And just last month, I got to write a spoiler-filled review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Man, that was fun.

I reviewed a few films throughout the year, but nowhere near as many as I wanted to. There were way more films I watched last year that I couldn’t review, among them including Onward, The King of Staten Island, The Devil All The Time, Tenet, The Outpost, The Social Dilemma, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and The Trial Of The Chicago 7, which I labeled my favorite film of 2020.

And when I say that I couldn’t review them, I really do mean that I couldn’t review them. I’ve struggled with writer’s block in the past, whether I’m writing for my own website or for publications outside of it, but 2020 delivered writer’s block like I’ve never dealt with before. I don’t even know what caused it. Maybe I wasn’t feeling inspired. Maybe I felt intimidated by the blank page in front of me. Or maybe I was just tired. God knows 2020 gave me more than a few reasons to feel that way.

This is a strange sensation I feel, and it makes me feel trapped in a way I have never experienced before. In past years, no matter what I was going through, I could always turn to the movies to help me escape from my own reality and immerse myself into another’s. No matter whether I was dealing with issues in my academics or jobs, a dramatic breakup, anxiety attacks, or the death of my grandmother, the movies were always there to help me break away from my own experiences and empathize with someone else’s. Having the privilege to experience that and share that with others is easily one of the greatest gifts I have ever had. No feeling comes close to connecting to someone else through your words and your shared experience in the theater together.

2020 sullied that experience for me for a number of reasons. For one thing, the shut down of movie theaters affected me much more than I expected it to. Whenever theaters closed and everyone stayed cooped up at home, I thought the movie-watching experience would just be a change of scenery. I was grossly mistaken. The theater has another level of immersion to it — the lights dimming, the stereo sound swelling up around you, the screen lighting up in bright and vivid colors as the music crescendoed into its first dramatic note. Whenever you’re in the movie theater, you’re genuinely immersed into the film, its characters, and the story that they go through. It doesn’t become just a movie at that point: it unfolds with a life of its own.

But at home on my couch, you notice that life, that vibrancy, is diminished. Not gone by any means, but diluted into a smaller experience. You notice how the TV screen captures fewer details of the film on it, the sound on the speakers not popping with the same impact, the plumbing and the pipes making sounds around you, your neighbors yelling next door, and the kids shouting outside while they’re playing. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m abundantly grateful we were even able to stream movies at all from home this year. If I had to pick between streaming and not having movies, I’m picking streaming no questions asked. Regardless, there’s no denying that streaming is a different experience from watching movies in a theater. It’s like going from an amazing four-course meal at a luxurious steakhouse to eating at Red Lobster.

Also, different platforms limit access to some of these movies for families that have one streaming service or another. For instance, Soul and the live-action Mulan remake streamed exclusively on Disney+, while Wonder Woman 1984 is on HBO Max. Da 5 Bloods, The Outpost, and The Devil All The Time, meanwhile, were all streaming exclusively on Netflix, and subscription cancellations surged eight times since that whole Cuties fiasco earlier last year. Can you imagine how pointless it would have been to review The Trial of the Chicago 7 a month after several hundred people canceled their subscriptions and can’t even watch the damn thing?

That’s not even getting into the myriad of other horrible, horrible issues the nation was dealing with, including thousands dying from the dreaded pandemic, record unemployment numbers, an economic recession, millions of evictions, food banks under crisis, ongoing cases of police brutality, the resulting protests and riots, and a hotly-contested presidential election where people to this day still refuse to acknowledge that Donald Trump lost and would rather believe in illogical conspiracy theories alleging the election was rigged. Seriously, out of the thousands of issues plaguing this year, who honestly gives a rat’s ass what score a snobby movie critic gave a film on RottenTomatoes?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that 2020 discouraged me in a way I had not experienced before — in a way to where it froze my muscles, wiped my mind blank, and erased the words I was ready to pour out onto the page. That hurts. More than anything else from that crummy, crummy year, being unable to express myself through my reviews was a loss I’ve experienced unlike no other this year. It’s robbed me in ways I didn’t even think I could be robbed.

Now please don’t get me wrong — I understand just how much of a first-world problem this is, especially during a pandemic. If I had to pick between being sick with COVID-19, being unemployed, evicted, homeless, or hit a creative dead zone, I would pick the situation I currently am in now. I’m not a fool. I know without a doubt that circumstances could be worse, and indeed, they may even be down the road. But nevertheless, I’ve lost an important piece of myself in 2020. Coming to that realization is a pain I hope few have to experience.

What does this mean for me and my website going forward? I’m not quite sure. With movie theaters reopening and more and more people getting vaccinated, some people are letting their guard down thinking life is returning back to normal. I for one am not as confident. Although I am fully vaccinated, 60% of the country is still unvaccinated, while in Texas it’s 65%. I’d feel terrible if someone caught COVID-19 from going to see a movie I recommended, or even worse, died from it. Either way, I don’t feel comfortable resuming my movie reviewing like everything is all normal again, because the truth is it isn’t. Not even close.

Besides, I feel like 2021 needs to be more about myself than it needs to be about my portfolio. I need to re-discover my love of writing, invest in my physical and mental health, and re-learn to appreciate movies on their own terms rather than trying to hyper-analyze them all the time. Writing is not my job: it is my passion, and it needs to stay that way. Because of this, I feel like the healthiest thing for me to do at this point is to step away from my website and focus on more urgent priorities that require my attention at the moment.

Understand that this doesn’t mean I am quitting publishing altogether. You’ll still see my byline in Southlake Style magazine and The Waxahachie Sun, and maybe even a video or two on my YouTube page. And a few months down the road if everything truly does go back to normal, maybe I’ll start regularly posting on this website again. Until then, I feel like I need to take the pressure off of posting on here and prioritize myself and my emotional health. It’s something I’ve put off for a long time now and I’ve finally reached a point to where I can no longer ignore it.

Thank you so much for understanding dear reader, and thank you as always for keeping up with me and supporting my website. I’ll be back as soon as I am able, and whenever that happens, I look forward to sharing the cinematic experience with you as I always have.

See you all at the movies.

– David

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Seth Rogan Is Producing A New Animated TMNT Movie

After several years of being stuck in a half-shell rut, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming back to the big screen, this time returning to their animated roots.

This news comes from comedian Seth Rogan’s Twitter account, who confirmed earlier today that he will be producing the new animated reboot alongside his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg. Not only that, but the film will also be directed by Jeff Rowe, who recently co-wrote and directed The Mitchells v.s. The Machines for Netflix.

By the way, if you haven’t watched that movie yet, you totally should. Easily one of the best animated films of the year so far, if not films period.

After two incredibly underwhelming live-action adaptations (with Megan Fox unfortunately starring in both of them), I’m very much looking forward to another TMNT cinematic reboot, especially in the poppy comic-book art styles of The Mitchells v.s. The Machines and Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse. The Turtles have always lent themselves better to animation than it has with live-action anyway, whether it was in the 2003 animated series, the first TMNT animated film in 2007, or the Batman/TMNT crossover in 2019. The potential for this new animated movie is limitless, and regardless of however good it ends up being, I think we can rest confidently knowing that this new movie will be better produced than those two Michael Bay-driven slodgefests we suffered through a few years ago.

I do wonder what the plot is and who the main villain will be. I hope that, unlike TMNT, the Shredder will be the main villain, and done better than he was in both of his recent live-action appearances. I also hope that Seth Rogan will be voicing Mikey, as I think he has the voice and the sense of humor to pull off such a chaotic, hilarious role. If he doesn’t end up voicing Mikey, that will be a huge, huge, huge missed opportunity (and quite honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t yet voiced Mikey in the recent live-action movies either. But I’m glad he didn’t because his name didn’t have to get dragged into the mud along with Michael Bay’s).

And to top it all off, Jeff Rowe is directing, and this perhaps has me the most excited. While his career is relatively short, his debut with The Mitchells v.s. The Machines was a fantastic one and helped deliver wacky, hilarious, and heartfelt fun to the film’s unusual premise. Plus the guy has written several episodes of “Disenchantment” and “Gravity Falls,” and I love both of those shows. Either way, there’s a lot of talent behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ newest reboot, and I am all here for it.

The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie will hit theaters in August 2023.

– David

SOURCE: Twitter, Variety