Quick-Thoughts: Ghostbusters Afterlife

Paul Rudd to be hired as ALL future teachers, Mckenna Grace to play ALL future acting roles, and Podcast to be America’s eternal president. There, I saved the country.

Initial impression: the first half of Ghostbusters Afterlife surprisingly starts the story off tolerably — coming of age 101 + a low-life family — but from there on forward it essentially abandons this coloring of new characters succumbing to their environment for recycled spectacle, becoming this obnoxious clump of an amalgamation between being a remake of the 1984 original and an overstuffing of references from it. The climax of this movie is essentially the absolute worst outcome that can arise from sequels based on properties old enough to evoke nostalgia; I went from mildly having a good time with this to absolutely despising it particularly once we dove into that final act. Ugh, so close to mediocrity, but not quite!

Verdict: D+

2021 Ranked

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Disney’s Encanto

Despite this being mostly predictable to Disney’s usual T, Encanto’s songs and messages slapped wayyyy too hard for me not to enjoy this — that opening kills! Really appreciate how confined the film’s setting is too, which smartly made it easier for the story to close in on how every character in this Madrigal family is an antagonist in their own little manner rather than it strictly being just some underdeveloped, outside force that the studio usually finds themselves writing in; identity crises stemming from an overly relied and emphasized specialty or kettling to a single stereotype are our own worst enemies! Bigotry from tradition also believe it or not! 

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked

“Encanto” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon

More films that look like this please.

Like the saying “no one is ever ready to have kids” augmented into a movie. Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon is a commercially likable peer at adults learning to channel the childhood experience, and while it never seems to lead its protagonists towards a whole lot of answers, Mills assures you that that’s perfectly okay. Intrigued to see his past work now; wouldn’t mind watching some more feel-good movies such as this during these trying COVID times!

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked

“C’mon C’mon” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza

Wait, why did Gary keep calling that lady “Mom” when her name is “The Waitress”?

For every awfully painful to watch Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) or every aggressively despairing There Will Be Blood (2007) that can be found in the cinematic discussion of platonic yet competitive relationships, maybe we need something as sweet and sincere as Licorice Pizza to follow them up and even out the playing field. Paul Thomas Anderson has made once again another episodic rhythm of supposedly random moments and claimed it as a narrative, with each affair on screen however silently insinuating and revealing a wholesome or tragic reality in PTA’s classic two-on-two dynamical exploration. In the crossfire though of his persistence to unkink conflicting objectives and hypocrisies that love bounds in these two characters — a 15-year-old Gary Valentine and a decade older Alana Kane — is his down-to-earth depiction of Los Angeles in the 70s, and how the sociality of that time frame designs their path. 

PTA has stated in interviews that the first scene of Licorice Pizza, where young Gary professes his sudden adoration to a staff-working Alana on his high school picture day, is something he witnessed in his own life that sparked the story we have here today. Hence, one could only assume much of his venture hinders on real life perspective: celebrities are degenerated as pretentious yet fascinating hags. Industry is as sexist as ever and people wistfully try to become immune to it. Pinball machines are illegal but boy will they make a bank and a headline in town once they come back again. It seems as if he has painted his hometown with such admirably mixed agenda, where humor clashes with the polarization seen in his dissection of historical and now comparably modern human dilemma, and it’s able to cleverly let the audience both bask in its comfort of emotional adventure while also being able to question them of who we are in these sort of ruthless romantic scenarios at the same time.

In other words, this was a blast, and as mature as you would anticipate from one of the all-time great filmmakers. 

However, I’m going to address my rating before anyone asks, because coming from an overtly highfalutin fanboy of PTA’s work — i.e. me — this is the lowest score I’ve given him before, which should although remind you of how consistently marvelous of a director he’s been for the past twenty-five years. Look, I don’t mind seeing PTA’s work fall into conventions, and it certainly does in Licorice Pizza more than it ever has. I also certainly don’t mind him writing happy endings; I mean, hell, half of his movies arguably have them. It’s just that, obviously, those conventions didn’t impress or beguile me despite still liking them as much as his more innovative material did and continues to do. Maybe I didn’t jive with this movie on first viewing to the level of thinking it’s a masterpiece because where there is innovation in this tale is rather found in what it adds to the period piece schoolkid coming of age genre, but what it does to that genre is simply use pre-established PTA formulas to thwart stereotypes, and genre has always been a deception to me in the filmmaker’s career anyhow. I think a substantial amount of this film is just what I’ve already come to expect from that innocent yet truthful side of PTA, which somewhat despecialized the experience for me. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) loyalty for life!

Nonetheless, it’s solid, and you should check it out ASAP!

Verdict: B

2021 Ranked, PTA Ranked

“Licorice Pizza” will be wide-released in cinemas December 25th.

Quick-Thoughts: Chloé Zhao’s Eternals

Like Pugh being in Black Widow, Barry Keoghan (literally playing Rami Malek’s Bond character) is too good in this to BE in this.

Leave it up to Marvel studios to make the best concepts that their franchise have had so far next to Loki — both of classic yet beguiling philosophical ideas regarding the plausible intentions of gods, purpose behind creation, adversity at the cost of fruitful evolution, creation vs the creator, differing minded anti-superhero gods clashing against differing minded anti-superhero gods — into their worst movie yet. Seriously, congratulations for sucking the holy life out of these topics I absolutely adore by trivializing them into this exhausting excuse of a plot. Expanding on themes just doesn’t seem to exist in the world of Chloe Zhao’s (allegedly) The Eternals. Including as much dead space as possible, however, seems to be the writers’ biggest concern more than anything else here.

F**k saving (the MCU) Earth too. All my homies, we give less and less a s**t about saving (the MCU) Earth every time you make that your next movie’s dramatic tension for the trillionth time. 

Also: hate hate hate how they made that celestial, Arishem, the dumbest being that’s ever walked the face of the MCU thus far (intentionally committed though so this lazy story can function in the first place) and why are the deviants the same as those robots from 9 (2009)? Triggered some childhood trauma, I’ll tell ya that much! 

Verdict: D

2021 Ranked, MCU Ranked

“Eternals” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Pablo Larraín’s Spencer

Never in my life did I think bathroom shots would be topped after The Shining (1980)… until now.

Royalty not as a luxury, but as a prison. Spencer is (kind of?) Pablo Larraín’s Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) led though by a more Kristen Stewart-esc character than we may have presumed who has enough goading manner to put you so outstandingly into the mentally ill mind of Princess Diana that it literally made the stakes of her being late for dinner seem as demanding as life or death itself; to make this easier to understand, it’s really f**king difficult to make Christmas (the days for which this movie takes place) seem like the very embodiment of Hell on Earth to me, and this movie did that as if it were nothing. 

Shoutout to Larraín, Mathon, and Greenwood for shooting and scoring the living s**t out of this. Spencer may just be (actually I think it is!) the best looking and sounding movie of the year so far; I must confess though, I was a bit polarized by its ending but THIS at least has to count for something — i.e. please watch this movie nowhere else but on the big screen.

Verdict: B

2021 Ranked

“Spencer” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Antlers

A solid allegory forced into an apathetically written narrative. 

Boom: review done. 

But seriously, can you imagine Scott Cooper at a pitch meeting trying to amp up the execs by saying, “it’s like Hellraiser (1987) meets Alien (1979), but…”

Execs: “YES. YES. YES…”

Cooper: “…get this: these classic horror elements will be used to commentate on child abuse.”

Execs: “Oh. Sounds groundbreaking?”

Cooper: “It sure has the potential to be, but I’m actually going to make sure that the movie will be one of the most monotonous experiences of the year. Not a damn soul in this will seem committed to my project too. It’ll be like a higher-budget homage to syfy channel originals!”

Execs: “Wait. What?”

Cooper: “Don’t worry, the monster will look exquisite asf though! I just won’t put any effort into anything else when we get to the actual production of the film.” 

Execs: “…”

Cooper: “Now let me tell you about my genius *pats himself on the back* symbolism and how I’m about to ruin it with this god-awful plot.”

Verdict: D+

2021 Ranked

“Antlers” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho

Severely disappointed. It may be part A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) meets The Sixth Sense (1999) meets Repulsion (1965), but its equally part a 12-year-old boy first discovering Hollywood’s history with sex crimes so “hear-ye” I shall immediately speak on behalf of it, and part whatever the f**k that humiliating third act is, yet… that’s not to say there wasn’t anything to love here, which only makes it even more disappointing since there’s potential constantly lurking in Edgar Wright’s first ever steer from his comedic specialty and rather current dive into strict drama / thriller territory. Thomasin McKenzie’s portrayal as newly accepted fashion student Eloise carries essentially the complete weight of rewarding moments that this movie actually has to offer — the parallel between her and her mother isn’t used all that well but it’s certainly compelling in concept — and of course Wright’s aesthetical decisions and ways of shooting are rich in variety and full of life as per usual — those mirror tricks are great! The second vision horror elements are also, at first, effective to its cause for enhancing themes and allegories until they start becoming recycled tediously as the film goes along.

But sheesh, once you make it past the first half, the plot becomes truly insufferable. Almost every “gotcha” or “wait I’m in the real world” moment is so illogically contrived, on-the-nose, and followed promptly by excessively wordy and laughable twist exposition to persistently remind you that the r-rated Scooby-Doo-quality mystery is still alive; this movie is so blatantly d**king around with what is insinuated only to have each of these preconceptions 180 overruled at the cost of them not making a damn bit of sense in retrospect. And then we get to one of the poorest climaxes I’ve seen all year: a zig-zaggy shamble of last-minute thematic, dramatic, narrative, and character arc compiling that feels like if someone shot an overnight first-draft bullet-point jotting at best. Admittedly, Wright has never been the best at writing tidy plots, but this is taking it to a whole other level where I‘m actually unable to enjoy his film because of it. 

I think what’s even more mind-blowing than anything else though is how robotically written all the surrounding characters ended up being; the bright individual behind so many classic personalities now seems to write motionless extras as big league narrative movers for our lead character. I’m sorry fellas, this Americanized Blow-Up (1966) or b-rate Hitchcockian homage targeted to stimulate the modern nostalgia-wave climate we’re living in that also ironically wants to send a message about the dangers of nostalgia — it’s either being meta with hypocrisy or accidental with hypocrisy — really didn’t do it for me. I guess in the end, Last Night in Soho is Edgar Wright’s worst film by a long, long, long shot. 

*sigh*

Lastly, there’s a movie that came out back in 2020 which is founded on an almost identical concept to that of Soho’s. I’m pretty certain though that both movies were filmed around a similar time, but suffice it to say, this now only looks worse considering that that other movie came out beforehand and is furthermore superior.

Verdict: C-

2021 Ranked, Edgar Wright Ranked

“Last Night in Soho” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

Who dares waste Elisabeth Moss and Christoph Waltz like this? 

No Wes Anderson film to this day throws as much quirky s**t at you (whether its paper shots, tiny subtitles, big actor appearances, timeline changes, filter changes, general… changes, holy f**k I can’t keep track, etc.) than his latest The French Dispatch does. A 3-part anthology told swiftly like an actual skim through an everyday journal magazine: the first — and by far the best — being a romantic prison tale between an imprisoned Benicio Del Toro (nothing new) and a security guard art model, the second being an intentionally pseudo-intellectual boys vs girls political know-it-all battle / an “aww” so adorable coming-of-age story, and the third feeling almost like an evocation of Anderson’s own position as a creative director often criticized for his inscrutable stylistic compulsions, as if the first story didn’t already allude this enough. Yet, it all just feels right to me, and as per usual, I don’t mind the mindlessness in his comedic attention to detail. If we can enjoy the same superhero formula flick every once in a while, we can sure as hell do the same with an Anderson.

Anddd… for the first time in forever, a Wes Anderson movie does not end almost exactly the same as his other 2000s movies. Woah. Plus, it totally works! 

Verdict: B

2021 Ranked, Wes Anderson Ranked

“The French Dispatch” is now playing in theaters.

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune – A Polarizing Beginning

“Desert power” is my new “Ocean Master” now. 

It may be long from now before we ever see a movie as menacing in its size and presence as Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. The coined saying “you won’t believe it until you see it” gets thrown around a lot in the culture of film criticism, but never has it met its definition when referring to a visual “epic” as much as it has here, maybe since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy. The sound alone of Dune is assertive and penetrative enough to make it feel like you’re experiencing some form of celestial ascension. Villeneuve bounds the screen with an uncanny amount of noise to make his film seem like no other, and it works. There is a meditative intensity and even a surreal, dream-like hesitancy too with how he directs and edits many of the introductions to the world’s inventive visual structures, customs, and creatures. On top of that, from the shield fighting to every little VFX strand of hair-like features on those giant worms, the special effects are as close to perfect as cinematic sci-fi has come. The experience is truly worth every penny to see such optically and audibly coercing extravaganzas on the big screen.

And yet, despite such appraisal of these technical miracles… akin to Villeneuve’s last outing Blade Runner 2049 (2017), he finds himself stumbling regardless. His plots usually aren’t as clever as the thematic ideas he wants to coalesce in them, with Dune representing however those torn directly from the movie’s source material. Giant event by giant event almost happens immediately after the fact despite this movie wanting to seem like a lived-in reality, one with the potential to connect us more to a thrilling purpose in its creation. 

To whether its blame is upon great Frank Herbert himself — have not read the book, sorry — or our adapter, the surrounding characters aren’t as sophisticated as their reason to the plot is, similar to once again 2049’s. Even Paul, the heart of the story, is barely interesting in his “chosen one” by the numbers conflict, saved thankfully enough nonetheless by the ambiguity he faces of knowing what exactly his destiny of being the artificial Christ really entails. Villeneuve will often use curious, unexplained yet intense lore, within the vein of the kooky randomness or fictional culture shocks you’d find in something like the original Star Wars (1977), to the point however where we’re enlightened to go back and see them again, regazing at these expositional attempts to lure us into a world centuries into further alienation from the humanity we know of that although… also wants to parallel ours. It’s a difficult task to pull off, this combination of worlds, and even more so if we are to rely on siding with or at least investing ourselves into these foreign people of Atreides; why should we care to view their fight aside from just obliviously basking in the explosive violence that encompasses it? The film almost certainly wants us to relate to their struggle, but it doesn’t necessarily put in the effort to make an excellent job of it.

Paul’s father Leto mentions a few times in the movie that their house is in favor of having peace with the inhabitants that they have claimed land from, something vital that could’ve been the very kinetic presence to get us emotionally wrapped up in these colonists’ journey, yet it seems wrongly underdeveloped in the nature of this movie. Villeneuve even makes Herbert’s famous “fear is the mind killer” appear more like a cameo here than a matured theme, and it doesn’t help the movie feel any less like just some long checklist of thematic introductions. It’s as if Villeneuve has stripped and mitigated messages and the characters’ intentions out more than ever for fast plot sequencing, which is such devastating judgement on his end in consideration of possibly having these specular visuals he’s created accompany something truly poignant and gripping that could match its own massively physical magnitude, therefore making Dune the bigger-than-us epic it yearns to be. Where there is a story of colonialism, religious manipulation, and organized duplicity happening right in front of us, it can occasionally be a shame to see Villeneuve abstaining any expansion to their composition, as if he’s holding off on his very provocative movie only for the second part; something though that is not yet a guarantee to eulogize this opening chapter.

That may be why I see this as my least favorite film Villeneuve has done so far, because his character interpretations of Herbert’s didn’t stick with me as much as any of his rather original designs did. His chi for captivating a foreign universe is in tip-top shape like never before and truly unparalleled to no other modern auteur, but it’s just not enough to make Dune a great movie when you cannot also captivate the people who embody that scope so long as the story begs of you too with its parallels to a relatively non-foreign political universe. Who knows though? Maybe part two will help enhance this adapted cinematic opener for one of sci-fi’s most renowned novels. But for now, the biggest drawback of Dune: Part One is that it’s just barely standing on its own two feet. 

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked, Denis Villeneuve Ranked

“Dune” is now playing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.