December 31, 2021

“Hawkeye” Shows the Biggest Problem with Marvel’s Disney+ Shows

After the release of Black Widow, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye was the only original Avengers character to not have his own solo venture. Now, in the same year, that’s come to us in the form of a six-episode Disney+ series, which, for the most part, was enjoyable — it’s better than Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but not as good as Loki, What If…? and WandaVision — which is a shame, because I really wanted to love it. I’ve always liked the character of Hawkeye, and this series had a lot going for it. Unfortunately, it fell into the trap many of the Marvel Disney+ series have so far.

The entire series seems to be written with anticipation, edging towards a major reveal near the end that eclipses what we’re supposed to be caring about. Rumors don’t help, but come on — there are a lot of those, most of them just theories, and many of them prove to be untrue anyway. Of course, the major Hawkeye reveal (which I won’t spoil here) did turn out to be leaked beforehand, but it was still kept under wraps rather well for most of the show’s run…until the last few episodes.

These problems have manifested in different forms, depending on the series. With WandaVision (the first), it was purely rumors — rumors that the character of Mephisto would appear and be behind everything, rumors that Doctor Strange would appear in the finale — and the actors didn’t exactly help. Paul Bettany himself said that there was a big cameo in WandaVision’s finale that hadn’t been leaked yet, and “[they had] fireworks together.” He was, of course, referring to the character of White Vision, also played by Bettany. It’s an expert troll, but might be seen as frustrating by fans expecting something more.

December 28, 2021

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” Spoiler Discussion

Spider-Man: No Way Home is one of the biggest superhero films of all time, and a super-sized movie deserves a super-sized discussion. Alice-Ginevra Micheli and Foster Harlfinger join Rowan to break down the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe venture, including their Spider-Man nostalgia, favorite fan-pleasing moments, post-credits scenes and much more.

Dont forget to subscribe to the podcast and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts!

December 25, 2021

Review: Failing to Resurrect “The Matrix”

Its difficult to put into words how I feel about The Matrix Resurrections, because I wanted to love it. From my viewing of the first trailer, I was fully on-board with this movie and was willing to buy whatever it was selling.

The last Matrix film, 2003’s Revolutions, was a disappointing end to a mostly-strong trilogy, and say what you will about it, but it gave a concrete end to the story. There was no doubt that it was the end of the line, and it was frankly a satisfying conclusion. Released eighteen years later, Resurrections proves itself to be a sequel without a clear purpose. In this way, Resurrections continues a long line of reboots/sequels that bring back the original cast for what is essentially an expensive reunion that unnecessarily extends the perfectly fine conclusion to the original series.

December 23, 2021

Review: Manners Maketh “The King’s Man”

The Kingsman film franchise has been reliable in some ways, and unreliable in others. Since it began in 2015, it’s been a comically ridiculous parody of the spy genre, but its consistent mocking nature means that truly dramatic and emotional moments are few and far between. At the same time, though, neither film (from 2015 or 2017) has fully delved into comedy, which makes for an odd balance that becomes more uneven as the films progress.

The new Kingsman film goes in a drastically different direction, in a bold move for the franchise that I believe pays in dividends. This is The King’s Man, set during the First World War, which explores the origins of the Kingsman organization amongst the tragedies the war brings. Six years after the franchise’s inception but only two movies in, I’m glad that they’re switching it up this soon. It’s a good sign that the creatives behind it (including returning director Matthew Vaughn) aren’t afraid to take risks and introduce brand-new characters in a very different world, with little connection to the other films in the series.

December 19, 2021

Review: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” Takes the Wall-Crawler to New Heights

Ever since 2019’s Far From Home, rumors, hopes and dreams about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third Spider-Man film have been flying around the aether, and before I entered the theater to see Spider-Man: No Way Home, I made peace with the fact that the movie could never be as exciting or epic as I was anticipating.

I was very wrong.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a coalescence of everything beloved from the last twenty years of Spider-Man films, and not just in a way that services the fans of the last eight films; there’s a strong respect for the Spider-Man property that walks (and succeeds in) the tricky balance of telling an amazing story while paying off the history of Spider-Man films in a satisfying way. I think No Way Home comes the closest of any Spider-Man film yet to being universally fulfilling.

December 15, 2021

Review: “West Side Story” Razzle Dazzles the Remake Landscape

Just when you thought remaking a classic couldn’t make it any better, here comes Steven Spielberg, one of the greatest directors of all time, adapting one of the greatest stories of all time — yep, it’s Romeo & Juliet on the streets once again with a “reimagining” of West Side Story.

“Reimagining” is in quotes here because there’s not many ways that Spielberg’s West Side Story deviates from the 1961 film. It follows the same track, most of the scenes are recreations (albeit with much more flair and welcome splashes of color), but the differences that are there admittedly serve the story better. 1961’s West Side Story isn’t a nostalgic favorite of mine, but I can recognize why it’s regarded as a classic and why it’s looked back on as one of the greatest musical films ever made.

December 14, 2021

The Lenient Critic Podcast Episode 3: Licorice Pizza, West Side Story, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Encounter


Does Licorice Pizza live up to the film bro hype and secrecy, and does Diary of a Wimpy Kid rekindle our nostalgia in a positive way? And what the hell is Encounter, a new film from Amazon Prime? In the latest episode of The Lenient Critic Podcast, Jesse Garra joins Rowan to review four of the latest films, and preview four that we will see in the coming weeks! They also break down their top five children’s book adaptations and talk about what they’ve been watching recently.

Dont forget to subscribe to the podcast and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts!

And, if you’ve seen Encounter, here’s a bonus episode where we discuss it in detail!

December 13, 2021

Review: The Apocalypse is Here in “Don’t Look Up”

The world of film is changing. Not only is Adam McKay’s satire significantly better than it was ten years ago, but a film like Don’t Look Up has legitimate Oscar chances when it may have gone ignored earlier this decade.

“I am as MAD AS HELL!”

There’s no way it could’ve been made at any other time, though. Don’t Look Up is such a product of its time that I’m fascinated to see how it ages, and whether it will always be tied to the pandemic and to the year 2021.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy, alongside Jennifer Lawrence as grad student Kate Dibiasky. They discover a comet that they determine is on a direct collision course with plant Earth, and so they make it their mission to spread the word in hopes of preventing the extinction of the human race. Naturally, they’re mostly met with scorn and doubt, and the chaotic and lazy media response means that their words essentially go unheeded.

December 10, 2021

Random Musings: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021)

I know — of all the films to do an additional article about, why Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a direct-to-streaming animated feature I only felt passively positive towards? In my review, I talk about my history with the Wimpy Kid book series and film franchise, and I had some thoughts I couldn’t find a natural place for in my review. Therefore, it’s time for some random, scattered thoughts — and of course, there are spoilers ahead.
  • I mentioned this in the review proper, but I’m still conflicted about the movie’s runtime. I think they could’ve expanded it a little bit and included some fun storylines from the first book (including the disastrous school play), but I can appreciate the briskness and “no bullshit” attitude. Granted, the first book in the series is far from my favorite, so if they devote more time to the gradually-crazier sequels, I can get on board for that.
  • Is it just me, or does the animation style feel a bit cheap? The characters look odd, and the backgrounds and locations don’t seem very filled-out and are very stock. Sure, in the book the backgrounds and locations are virtually nonexistent (being portrayed as 2D embellishments in Greg’s “journal”), but this is a movie, and a movie needs to at least look appealing.
  • As much as I like Brady Noon as the voice of Greg, I don’t think anyone can beat Zachary Gordon’s portrayal in the first three live-action films. He captures Greg’s utter abrasiveness and polarizing nature perfectly, in a way that I don’t think many could do.
  • Speaking of Greg, I’m not sure this adaptation really frames him in the terrible light he deserves. Greg Heffley is a manipulative and disrespectful person, and of course the goal of a story is to show its protagonist in a positive light — but part of the genius of the Wimpy Kid book series is that it has Greg, the narrator and main character, attempting to make himself the hero, but it’s painfully obvious everything he does is wrong. I don’t mean to keep comparing this movie to the books, but that’s clearly what they were emulating, and if they keep adapting the series into these Disney+ films, the comparisons should be expected.
  • This has virtually nothing to do with this specific film, but I think this is the perfect place to share a Wimpy Kid theory my friend Xander and I have been cooking for a few years. In the sixth book of the series, Cabin Fever, Greg and his entire family get snowed into their house. They lose and power and everything. Our theory is that Greg actually died in this book, and — hear me out! — the rest of the series shows him in purgatory. What’s the supporting evidence, you might ask? First off, he never gets older. The first six could plausibly take place in his first year or two of middle school, but over the next ten books? Give me a break. Also, while the situations Greg runs into in the first six are relatively realistic and manageable, they get flat-out insane and borderline sadistic in the next ten. Need I continue?

December 7, 2021

The Lenient Critic Podcast Episode 2: Get Back

Peter Jackson brings us a new, unfiltered look at the Beatles in the Disney+ documentary Get Back. Tim Wood joins Rowan in breaking down its historical significance, effortless charm and the everlasting weirdness of John Lennon. 

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts!

Below is printed my written review for Get Back, originally drafted for SiftPop.

After some experience with restoring old footage and reconstructing history in 2018’s They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson has graced our screens (this time on Disney+) with the biggest treat any Beatles fan could ask for.

The Beatles: Get Back is a comprehensive documentary about the making of their album Let It Be (done in under a month, all leading up to their iconic rooftop concert) from 60 hours of video footage and over 150 hours of audio and four years of hard work on Jackson’s part. What I love most about it is that Get Back is far from a traditional documentary — it’s not burdened by a narrator or a specific direction, it just allows their creative process to flourish, while also giving us some insight as to the causes of the band’s inevitable breakup. Even though it may seem dull at points, I find it to be enormous fun just to watch the Beatles be the Beatles.

December 5, 2021

Review: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is Detrimentally Cheesy

To quote Dune’s Baron Harkonnen, “when is a gift not a gift?”

The third Diary of a Wimpy Kid film reboot is upon us, this time in the form of a 3D animated Disney+ original that strictly adapts the first book (released nearly fifteen years ago…now I’m feeling a bit old). Like the others, Wimpy Kid follows Greg Heffley (voiced here by Good Boys’ Brady Noon) as he navigates the complexities of middle school with his well-meaning best friend Rowley.

I’ll be honest — I’m a big fan of the books. I buy the new one every year, and I usually find them to be enormous fun. I enjoyed most of the other film adaptations (barring 2017’s The Long Haul), and so naturally I was excited for this reboot. When I pulled it up to watch, I was initially hesitant at the scant 58-minute runtime. That technically makes it a feature film, but it’s not a good sign.

December 2, 2021

Expanding the Universe: November 2021

A lot of things occur in November: the Halloween candy is consumed, Thanksgiving dinner takes place in the States, and the impending dread of the imminently ending semester begins to set in. Every month, I have a new thing to worry about, but that never stops me. Here are some highlights of what I watched in November 2021. For a full list, see my Letterboxd diary.

The Mummy (1959)
Viewed on: November 1

Hammer Horror is a sizable gap in my film knowledge, so I figured now is as good a time as any to get started. I had already seen The Blood of Dracula, so I figured a step in another direction was a good move. Thus, I turned on 1959’s The Mummy, featuring Peter Cushing going up against a bandaged and unrecognizable Christopher Lee for another round of hero v. monster. There’s not too much character development (I couldn’t tell you the name of any character by the film’s end), but The Mummy is a decent whodunnit that ends very abruptly, telling a complete story with no hangups. [Grade: A-]

Hellraiser (1987) / Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) / Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) / Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
Viewed on: November 3/11/19/26

As you can see, I was in a horror mood coming off of Halloween. Based on a Clive Barker novella and directed by the man himself, the original Hellraiser is a horror classic for a reason. Even though the most recognizable character, Pinhead, gets remarkably little screen time, Hellraiser doesn’t mince words (or meat) and gets right down to brass tacks...or brass chains. Despite some clunky direction and tone-deaf line deliveries, I supremely enjoyed it. [Grade: A] Its first sequel, Hellbound, is a direct follow-up with many of the same characters...only this one actually has the balls to go Hell. It tries some new things, but ultimately it’s not as entertaining or deliciously violent as the first its detriment. [Grade: B] Hellbound was followed by Hell on Earth, which does exactly what the title promises. I can commend the series for trying new things and going in a completely different direction, but that’s about the only thing it has going for it. It does get pretty silly in its second half, and it loses any momentum it gained by the time it gets to the actual climax, which is slightly disappointing. [Grade: B] The final theatrically-released Hellraiser was Bloodline, which attempts a franchise retcon while simultaneously be partly set in the far future. Bloodline had a notoriously troubled production, but I actually think the end product is not as terrible as some have let on. I like that it jumps around in time, and there are some trademark creative ideas in there. However, the downside of this is that Bloodline is all over the place and doesn’t know where it wants to dedicate its time. [Grade: C]

November 30, 2021

The Lenient Critic Podcast Episode 1: Ghostbusters: Afterlife, King Richard, House of Gucci, tick, tick...BOOM!

Is Ghostbusters: Afterlife a worthy continuation of the franchise, and is House of Gucci a substantial follow-up to The Last Duel? In the debut episode of The Lenient Critic Podcast, Foster Harlfinger joins Rowan to review four of the latest films, and preview four that we will see in the coming weeks! They also break down their favorite biopics (a loaded category!) and talk about what they’ve been watching in November, whether it be very good...or very bad.

Dont forget to subscribe to the podcast and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts!

November 29, 2021

Review: “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” Revives the Franchise

They should’ve called this one Ghostbusters Nostalgia: remember what you loved about the 1984 original? Here it is again, but slightly different!

Everything about Ghostbusters: Afterlife certainly fits in with that subtitle. Instead of young male physicists, the titular Ghostbusters are and Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor Spengler (Finn Wolfhard), grandchildren of original Ghostbuster Egon Spengler, and their friend who is simply named Podcast (Logan Kim). They discover the remnants of the team’s initial iteration, just as a supernatural event begins to rock their small town.

Afterlife is fun, and succeeds in what it endeavors to do. The characters aren’t spectacular and don’t offer anything particularly new to the franchise, but their on-screen interactions make every scene interesting to watch. McKenna Grace, especially, does a wonderful job, proving that she’s one of the best young talents of her generation.

November 26, 2021

Review: “House of Gucci” Isn’t Particularly Ethical, or Fair

The price of fame and the corrupting influence of power aren’t exactly uncharted ground when it comes to film and television. But what about when it happens in real life, and a movie is made charting those true events, is it fair to criticize the film and label it cliché?

That’s my dilemma with House of Gucci, Ridley Scott’s second film of 2021, released within a month of The Last Duel, which (spoiler) I liked much better than this one. Funnily enough, both star Adam Driver and feature bloated two and a half hour runtimes. Each has their merits, and each their downsides.

As I alluded to earlier, House of Gucci is a (fictionalized) historical retelling depicting the fall of the Gucci family dynasty, which owned the company since its founding. Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) marries the youngest member of the Gucci family, Maurizio (Adam Driver), whose father essentially disowns him over his relationship with Patrizia. Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino also star as the other members of the Gucci family, who essentially become main characters as the film progresses.

November 24, 2021

“Resident Evil” Review: Stay a While in Raccoon City

I’m told that Welcome to Raccoon City, a total franchise reboot, is much more faithful to the Resident Evil games than the previous six films. I have neither seen the other films nor played the games, so I was going into this completely blind.

I think that might’ve been the best way to do it. Welcome to Raccoon City spells out everything it needs to (sometimes annoyingly so) and the story is simple to understand for us non-gamers. Claire Redfield, played by Kaya Scodelario, returns to the city she grew up in, just as shady corporation Umbrella is moving out of Raccoon City in favor of a new location. However, they’re leaving behind a (literally) toxic mess that quickly spirals out of control, transforming the town’s residents into zombies.

A well-used $25 million budget does the film a service, allowing it to really live up to its premise. There’s no shying away from violence, oftentimes cartoonish and absurdly fun: zombies munching on eyeballs, hell-hounds leaping through car windows and flaming truck drivers are some of the film’s many offerings. Not all of it has to make sense, but it brings with it a certain sense of self-awareness that we’ve been seeing a lot of in the horror genre recently. I don’t mind it — I actually think it improves Raccoon City — but I think this element of modern horror film should start to take a backseat in favor of more original ideas. And from what I hear, Raccoon City doesn’t have too many of those.

November 18, 2021

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” and Tempering Expectations

The following article contains discussions about Spider-Man: No Way Home. Proceed at your own discretion.

It’s sad that the second trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home probably made more money for Marvel and Sony than the criminally underrated The Last Duel made in its entire box office.

The studios even made an “event” out of the trailer release, hosting a packed auditorium in Los Angeles to screen it minutes before the rest of the internet saw it. This is a brilliant marketing strategy (something Marvel has proven to be quite good at), but I simply find it ridiculous. I saw on Twitter that people were flying out to Los Angeles just to see the trailer. A trailer that can just as easily be pulled up on a phone at a moment’s notice.

November 13, 2021

Review: “Home Sweet Home Alone” is a Hollow Echo of a Classic

What if Kevin McCallister was British...and played by Jojo Rabbit breakout star Archie Yates? Oh, and what if the robbers were actually the main characters? It sounds great, doesn’t it?

No. No, it doesn’t. Disney has once again come for our childhoods with another soulless reimagining of a classic property — and what’s worse, they even acknowledge this fact in the actual film. While watching an outer space-set remake of “Angels with Filthy Souls” (the movie Kevin watches in the original), a character rhetorically asks “why are they always remaking the classics?” Clearly, they knew what they were doing, and at least someone decided to be self-aware about it instead of blissful ignorance.

Everyone else in this movie is living in that fantasy world. Archie Yates is charming and likable enough (especially given his young age), but it’s a shame that his character, Max Mercer, is such an unsympathetic brat…and not in an endearing way, like this series’ first protagonist. Regardless, Yates isn’t the main problem with this movie, because he’s actually trying, which is more than I can say about most everyone else here. Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney play Pam and Jeff McKenzie, a married couple who have fallen on hard times. They believe Max has stolen from them, so they plan to break into his house and steal back what they believe is rightfully theirs. And...what do you know? Max’s family went on vacation to Japan, and conveniently left him behind.

November 7, 2021

Review: Ocean’s Three Steal More than the Show in “Red Notice”

Youd think that with the investment that makes Red Notice Netflix’s most expensive original movie ever, they would deliver more than a ridiculous, mediocre action movie. And yet, here we are.

With frequent Dwayne Johnson collaborator Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, Central Intelligence) on writing and directing duties, it’s clear exactly what kind of movie we’re going to get. The opening scene sets the tone perfectly; as we’ve seen a million times before, in a million other heist movies, we get a narrated expositional sequence that sets up the items our main characters will be attempting to steal. This time, it’s the (very fictional) eggs of Cleopatra — priceless artifacts that should be “impossible to steal.” Nevertheless, our morally gray main characters will take the challenge and embark on an unnecessarily complicated journey to do so.

One thing I will say is that, bar the opening sequence, the plot finds its footing very quickly. We’re thrown into a museum chase where FBI profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) is pursuing art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds). Booth is after Cleopatra’s eggs, but so is the Bishop (Gal Gadot), another, more elusive art thief. You can imagine how the rest of the story might play out: friendships are formed, secrets are revealed, long distances are traveled in impossibly short times — the staples of a traditional heist film.

November 5, 2021

Review: “Eternals” Assemble in a True Marvel Experiment

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is officially a teenager. After years of rousing, epic, individualized superhero stories, the MCU is finally ready to take a big step and try something new: taking real risks, hoping to yield worthwhile results. The outcome is a mixed bag that is Eternals.

Eternals takes place over seven thousand years, splitting its time between the past and the present as its ten titular immortals carry out their mission on Earth: to rid the planet of the monstrous Deviants. They’re led by Ajak (Salma Hayek), and to be completely honest, it would take an entire article to discuss each and every character the film focuses on. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the spotlight they deserve — such is the downside with large ensemble casts.

November 4, 2021

Review: “Big Mouth” Season 4 is a Mature Take on Immaturity

Note: This review was originally published in The Cape Cod Chronicle in December 2020.

Growing up is a messy affair; I can attest to it most plainly. That’s why it’s fun to see a representation of adolescence that seems so much more extreme than a realistic worse case scenario — it makes you glad that kind of thing has never happened to you.

That seems to be the main gimmick of Big Mouth, a raunchy animated series from creative team (and childhood friends) Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, centered around very fictionalized versions of themselves as kids. I’ve been a viewer of the show since its premiere in 2017, and as more issues and subjects concerning the young people of today find a place in the news, so does Big Mouth. The series has continued to grow, along with its protagonists, finding new ground to cover and new areas to explore with each passing season.

November 2, 2021

Expanding the Universe: October 2021 (Part Two)

Read the first part of the article here.

Only Murders in the Building Season One (2021)
Viewed from: August 31-October 19

This show came out of nowhere, but took the streaming television world (and my investment) by storm. Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez play residents of an apartment building in New York City who investigate a, you guessed it, murder in the building through the avenue of a true crime podcast. Only Murders in the Building gets more engaging with every episode, trying out some incredibly unique format ideas as it goes along, to resounding success. Not only is it a mystery, but it’s a character study, and a very well-written and well-acted one to boot. I can’t wait for Season Two. [Grade: A+]

Film About A Father Who (2020)
Viewed on: October 20

How much do we really know about our loved ones? Lynne Sachs’ Film About a Father Who compiles footage she shot of her father, Ira Sachs, for over thirty years, and charts her discoveries about Ira’s private life and multiple affairs and illegitimate children. While short, it’s an intriguing look at Sachs’ family and the effect her father’s life had on her. [Grade: A]

American Horror Story: Double Feature (2021)
Viewed from: August 26-October 20

I was ridiculously excited for this season of American Horror Story, not because I was a fan (I gave up on it after I started the fourth season), but because the first half of the tenth season, subtitled Double Feature: Red Tide, was filmed in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, where I live. It was for that sole reason that I intended to watch, but you can imagine my disappointment when Red Tide turned out to be quite bad. It imagines that writers go to Provincetown in the winter and take pills that enhance their creative abilities and make them worthy of fame. The only catch: the pills deplete the iron in their blood, so they need to drink the blood of others, effectively making them vampiric. It’s a good enough premise, but the story squanders it completely and focuses on all the uninteresting aspects. The second half of the season, though (Death Valley), which I’ve seen derided online, is in fact the superior half of the season. Neal McDonough plays President Eisenhower, who is presented a proposition by extraterrestrial visitors. This half of the season is far too short, not only running just four episodes, but also splits its time between the mid-20th century and the present day. It shows an interesting alternate history, featuring explanations for major historical events in the 1950s and 60s (most involving aliens), but it drags whenever it cuts to the present day. Still, each episode of the second half is better than the entire first half, and I think that comes down to the creativity involved. Death Valley just takes more risks, and is the better for it. This doesn’t mean that it makes the season much better, though; there’s no connection at all between Red Tide and Death Valley, making the back-to-back placement puzzling. Why were they pushed together, and not separate seasons? That probably would’ve been better for both stories. [Grade: C+]

Dune (2021)
Viewed on: October 21

Read my full review here.

Scooby-Doo! in Where’s My Mummy? (2005)
Viewed on: October 21

I absolutely loved this movie as a kid, and it definitely still holds up. The reason I loved this so much (above the other high-quality Scooby-Doo animated films) was that Where’s My Mummy? brought us out of the small-town setting that had become the norm for the adventures of Mystery, Inc. Instead, they’re in Egypt, where Velma unearths the tomb of Cleopatra, unleashing an ancient evil along with it. Where’s My Mummy? tries new things, travels to new and unique locations, and blurs the line between supernatural fantasy and reality as the best Scooby-Doo mysteries do (think: Zombie Island on steroids). The voice cast is spectacular (including classic cast members like Casey Kasem and Frank Welker!), joined by supporting players like Ron Perlman and Virginia Madsen. This direct-to-DVD Scooby-Doo film is somehow better than every live-action attempt, right down to the badass chase sequence music. Every Scooby-Doo animated movie has to have one, and this one has two! [Grade: A]

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Viewed on: October 23

Speaking of childhood favorites, Nightmare Before Christmas is a stunning example of a film that can cater to all ages while simultaneously being ridiculously entertaining to all who see it. It’s not too long (running at a clean 77 minutes), has an unfair number of earworm-y musical numbers, and is so visually creative you notice something new every time you see it...and I’ve seen this movie a lot. The tale of Jack Skellington and his skeleton grin is one that will endure for years to come, and I’m proud to say it continues to age very well. No way I’ll ever get sick of this one. [Grade: A+]

Sex Education Season One (2019)

Spectacular character development in a very British setting proves to be a winning combination in this underrated Netflix gem, featuring Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa and Gillian Anderson, among many others. The ensemble cast is only scratching the surface of what makes this show great, though; every episode ends on an emotionally pungent cliffhanger, which just makes you hungry for more. We empathize with characters we never thought we would, and so much is crammed into the eight episodes of the debut season...and yet, somehow, it all works. It all works perfectly. Keep in mind, Sex Education is one of the raunchiest shows I have ever seen (hence the title), but it is also one of the best in recent years. [Grade: A+]

Titans Season Three (2021)
Viewed from: August 12-October 25

Titans continues to be essential viewing for comic book fans in its third season, this time incorporating some crucial arcs from the source material. It’s also really surprising, taking big steps early in the season that I definitely did not expect. The cast continues to shine, and the action is still great. Just more of the same over here. [Grade: A]

Viewed on: October 25

A movie shouldn’t need an illustrated flowchart to understand it, but Primer definitely makes a fantastic case for a rewatch. Two scientist friends believe they discover the secret to time travel, but it’s at Tenet levels of confusing, and it takes a while to settle into its own story. At least it’s not too long and drawn out, getting to its point relatively quickly. [Grade: B+]

Suitcase of Love and Shame (2013)
Viewed on: October 26

Another experimental documentary viewed academically, I was initially intrigued by Suitcase of Love and Shame. Assembled by filmmaker Jane Gillooly from tapes found in a suitcase put up on eBay, Suitcase charts an affair between Tom and Jeannie in the mid-20th century, giving us a look into their forbidden love, both romantic and sexual, in a completely unfiltered way. It’s meant to be uncomfortable, but I find it more sad, especially with the added context I read for class. If you watch it, I recommend doing the extra research, as it really adds to the experience. [Grade: B]

Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword (2009)
Viewed on: October 27

Another Scooby-Doo classic from my childhood! Samurai Sword did not hold up as well as Mummy, but it still takes the Mystery Inc. gang out of their typical setting and brings them far across the Pacific. Certain elements did not age particularly well, but Samurai Sword is another entertaining adventure with an interesting incorporation of the supernatural and an excellent visual flair. [Grade: A-]

The Way Way Back 
Viewed on: October 27

This comedy, written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, was filmed near where I lived, and I am genuinely surprised I had not seen it before. Teenager Duncan (Liam James) travels with his mother (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend (Steve Carrell) to a summer home in Wareham, and the rest is a comedically dramatic slice of life. Duncan is your run-of-the-mill awkward teenager, but he eventually finds his people at the local Water Wizz theme park...which I have visited multiple times in real life. Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Allison Janney also star in this wonderful under-the-radar film that I wish I had seen sooner. I came away feeling very happy, always a sign of a surefire success. If you’re ever feeling down, The Way Way Back is full of empathetic and layered performances, all wrapped up in a delightfully surface-level film. It’s hard to beat. [Grade: A+]

Point Break (1991)
Viewed on: October 27

Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, two 90s action stars if I’ve ever seen them. I can’t believe I had never seen this before, as it’s right up my alley, but I’m glad I did. The performances, writing and action combine to create an unexpectedly hilarious and welcoming and comedic atmosphere, and I found myself really enjoying it. I’m not a surfing guy, but that doesn’t matter; this isn’t a surfing movie. All it is is 100% pure adrenaline. [Grade: A]

Last Night in Soho (2021)
Viewed on: October 28

Read my full review here.

What We Do in the Shadows Season Three (2021)
Viewed from: September 2-October 29

What’s left to be said about What We Do in the Shadows? This is one of the best series on television, anchored by a supremely talented comedic cast and extremely imaginative storylines. Laugh-out-loud moments mix very well with emotion here, especially in the last few (very serialized) episodes. Season Four can’t come soon enough. [Grade: A+]

Army of Thieves (2021)
Viewed on: October 29

Read my full review here.

Spookies (1986)
Viewed on: October 31

A very bad film with a very rich production history, Spookies is peak awful. It was shot as two different films and squashed together after the fact, but the story is surprisingly cohesive, albeit bonkers. Despite its ineptitude as a functioning film, Spookies has some of the best practical effects I have ever seen in a movie, especially one with an incredibly low budget. If you’re not going to watch the movie, at least watch the Kill Count that covers it; Spookies is a very bad film, but one that deserves recognition. [Grade: B-]

Army of the Dead (2021)
Viewed on: October 31

Vivaaaaaa Las Vegas! I am absolutely not ashamed to love Zack Snyder’s 2021 zombie action heist movie (quite a combination of words there), in which Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) leads a crew into the zombie-infested Las Vegas to extract millions of dollars from a vault. With Army of Thieves hitting Netflix, I absolutely had to give its predecessor a re-watch, and I was definitely not disappointed. Aside from having one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen in a movie, Army of the Dead knows exactly what it’s doing and exactly who it’s catering to. The action is cathartic, the visual effects are stupendous and it ends up being a big ol’ mess of convoluted zombie fun. Some people might find it exhausting, but I find it exhilarating, and I will continue to love this movie until I get sick of it. Sequel, here we come! [Grade: A]

I got a rock!
s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
Viewed on: October 31

What more can be said about the most iconic non-Christmas holiday special of all time? The Great Pumpkin sums up everything perfect about Peanuts and the brilliant pantheon of characters that are Charlie Brown and friends. Wisdom and thoughtfulness is conveyed in Charles Schultz’s script, and the voice acting perfectly encapsulates childhood innocence. Welcome to the 20th century! [Grade: A+]

November 1, 2021

Expanding the Universe: October 2021 (Part One)

It’s spooky season, and schoolwork is beginning to ramp up! That doesn’t stop my watching habits, though -- not while there’s entertainment to be had! Featuring horror and otherwise, here is what I watched in October 2021.

LEGO Star Wars: Terrifying Tales (2021)
Viewed on: October 2

It seems Disney+ has begun a LEGO Star Wars holiday special tradition, following up 2020’s Life Day special. In a similar vein, Terrifying Tales follows an anthology format anchored by a framing device that pays off at the end. Being non-canon to the overall Star Wars universe gives this forty-five minute special license to basically do whatever the hell it wants with the characters at its disposal, and it definitely goes for it. To those who wanted a General Grievous vs. Darth Maul mashup fight, your prayers have been answered. People who wondered what might have happened if Luke joined the Empire from an early age will also be satisfied by one of the stories presented here. Terrifying Tales is fun, exactly as it should be -- and it caters to all ages, not just the children it was very much made for. Keep ’em coming, Disney... we’ll keep watching. [Grade: A]

On My Block Season Four (2021)
Viewed from: October 4-6

The fourth and final season of On My Block was a long time coming, and I’m glad I got into this show when I did. Our primary group of friends (aka the Core Four) keep finding themselves in dangerous trouble, even two years after Season 3 concluded. Ruby, Jamal, Cesar and Monse are living very different lives since we’ve last seen them, and it’s the perfect way to differentiate this from previous seasons. The characters we love are older and more experienced, and so removed from the events of the first three seasons that revisiting them uncovers a whole host of unresolved conflicts and character storylines that are ridiculously entertaining to watch unfold. The interactions between the main characters are so engaging and wholesome, off-kilter humor and all, and Season 4 continues that tradition in stride. It might be a “where are they now?”-style epilogue stretched into a whole season, but it makes full use fo the time jump, giving us some great new opportunities for characterization and emotional moments that top anything we’ve seen so far in the series. Some of it boils down to unnecessary forced conflict, and Jamal continues his tradition of being a selfish jerk (in his quirky way), but the themes of friendship are so carefully imbued with bracing humor and thrilling, grounded action that there’s no way you can’t love this show. Season 4 is a strong conclusion to an already successful series, and I can’t think of a better sendoff. [Grade: A+]

What If...? 
Season One (2021)
Viewed from: August 11-October 6

Jeffrey Wright stars as the Watcher, the MCU’s observer of the multiverse and cosmic Nick Fury, in the first animated outing from Marvel Studios. Each episode is a brand-new story, a hypothetical spin on the outcome of a Marvel film, and while it takes a little bit of time for the series to find its footing, it gradually settles into a rhythm where the stakes are low but the excitement level is consistently high. The nine episodes of Season One are as action-packed and exciting as you want them to be, and it is a great feeling to have some familiar voices from the Marvel movies we know back as certain characters. Plus, it may technically be an anthology series (and a canon one at that), but by the end of the season, most of the storylines are tied together in a satisfying conclusion that honors the source material while also carving out a new path for these multiversal characters to tread. Not to mention the finale is the last screen appearance by Chadwick Boseman, who is gone but certainly not forgotten. [Grade: A]

The Premise Season One (2021)
Viewed from: September 16-October 7

BJ Novak’s sex-obsessed anthology series from Hulu is a valiant swing from the established comedy writer...but unfortunately, it manages to miss most of the targets it aims for. Each episode has a different story with a different cast, and most involve storylines that are trying their best to be philosophical, but often find themselves bogged down with the amount of ideas explored per episode (yet, somehow, each episode feels constrained and limited in scope). Most episodes tackle serious issues in an admittedly interesting way, though they are very soon muddled with the veiled, pseudo-intellectual immaturity that the show can’t seem to escape -- who knows, though, maybe that’s the brand Novak was going for (the finale, entitled “Butt Plug,” comes to mind). Some highlights: the performances are usually very reliable and strong, including one by the late Ed Asner; some episodes use tension in a unique manner; and it’s quite well-written (props to BJ Novak), but it isn’t enough to make this very brief season of frivolous television worth watching. [Grade: B-]

No Time to Die (2021)
Viewed on: October 8
Rewatched on: October 24

Read my full review here and some other thoughts here.

Ted Lasso Season Two (2021)
Viewed from: July 23-October 8

Ted Lasso is no longer a half-hour comedy. Instead, the Apple TV+ original is venturing into the hour-long dramady category, completing this transition seamlessly without any lost charm. Ted Lasso and its titular feel-good football coach are still giving us emotional thrills, from the highest highs to the lowest lows. Season 2 does delve into the more serious sides of all of our characters, most importantly the subject of mental health and anxiety, and how athletes deal with it in various ways. It may be a coincidence that this season was released shortly after the same topic arose during this year’s Olympics, but that only makes it so that Ted Lasso is still a (more upbeat) reflection of the world and culture around us, or at least a reflection of how it should be. Pair that was an absolutely incredible ending, and you can consider me satiated until the arrival of Season 3. [Grade: A+]

Liquid Sky (1982)
Viewed on: October 8

Perhaps the most psychedelic films I have ever seen, Liquid Sky is very much a product of its time, the very picture of the drug-fueled underground 80s club culture. Anne Carlisle plays two roles: Margaret, a woman who abandoned her promising future in favor of the aforementioned party-focused life, and Jimmy, a fellow cocaine-addicted model and Margaret’s rival. Carlisle is so remarkable in both of these roles that it was genuinely difficult to tell she played Jimmy at first. You may also be surprised to learn that Liquid Sky is a science-fiction film of sorts; amorphous aliens land on a rooftop above Margaret and her drug-dealer girlfriend Adrian’s apartment, and begin to feed off of endorphins from Margaret’s sexual encounters. Liquid Sky is certainly one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever seen, and is heavily stylized to the point of self-parody. The actors play it up, knowing exactly what kind of movie they’re in, and that makes it a highly entertaining viewing experience, coupled with the decadent perversion presented by the film that makes you constantly question if you should even be watching it in the first place. [Grade: A-]

2001: A Space Odyssey
Viewed on: October 8 and 10

Having watched 2001 for the first time, I can now confidently say I can see what all the fuss is about. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece showcases cutting-edge visual effects, revolutionary science fiction ideas, and brilliant uses of classical music, to name a few iconic elements. Its slow burn storytelling focuses less on character and instead builds tension in unexpected ways, influencing sci-fi and fantasy for decades to come. And, while 2001 is light on story, its scope more than makes up for it, imagining a future that, admittedly, is dreaming too big too soon...but it’s better than dreaming too small. [Grade: A]

When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
Viewed on: October 11

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more well-structured romantic comedy that truly understands the rules of the genre, while also being original and expressive with its execution. Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal are perfect together, and the film is best when they embrace the kookiness and lovable madness that is the long game of love. I’m glad I finally watched this absolute classic. [Grade: A+]

Halloween Kills (2021)
Viewed on: October 14
Rewatched on: October 18

Read my full review here and some other thoughts here.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
Viewed on: October 15

If there was a solid way to end a mediocre, lightweight film franchise, this is it. Featuring some of the series’ best moments and characters, Breaking Dawn Part 2 is not a great movie, but it does conclude the Twilight saga in an unapologetically satisfying and interesting way. It certainly doesn’t make me want to see more, but I’m glad I watched them, if only for the experience. At least they went out on a high note. [Grade: B-]

Just Beyond Season One (2021)
Viewed from: October 13-17

This family-friendly anthology horror series from Disney+ kind of came out of nowhere, but it was definitely a fun watch. Throughout each of its eight episodes, we get the intentionally unshakable feeling that something is not right, relatively tame jump scares, and some basic Disney Channel-esque, kid-friendly horror. The episodes are pretty short, but they’re fun, based on a series of comic stories from Goosebumps creator R.L. Stine. The intro sequence, in fact, is very reminiscent of the Goosebumps series, though that one took far more risks than Just Beyond does. It’s low-budget and campy, but it’s exactly what I expected; and it has a message, a through-line theme of not being ashamed of who you are, and taking control of the freedom to express yourself. If this is a success, it looks like harmless horror fun is here to stay on Disney+, and I’m on board with it. [Grade: A-]

The Last Duel (2021)
Viewed on: October 17

Matt Damon has had quite a career...and so has Adam Driver, especially in recent years. So when you see both of them playing squires in medieval France, with Damon being constantly upstaged by Driver, a new arrival on the scene, you can’t help but draw comparisons to their real-life careers. Of course, I highly doubt that Damon and Driver have a real-life rivalry akin to their fictional counterparts, but you never know. The Last Duel tells the story of the last royally-sanctioned duel to the death in medieval France, and it features stunning lead performances from Damon, Driver and Jodie Comer, who is the central figure in the reasons for the duel. Directed by Ridley Scott (still going strong!) from a script by Damon, Ben Affleck (who also stars) and Nicole Holofcener, The Last Duel features a unique storytelling device and boasts strong production design, fight scenes (however brief) and a prevalent message that was as relevant 600 years ago as it is today, as unfortunate as it is. It’s one of Scott’s best recent films, truly one for the history books. [Grade: A+]