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.

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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]