Not to open up with a bit of meta-blogging but after a far-too-brief extended leave of absence from my work for mental health, I am about to return to the office tomorrow (so to speak, I’m a remote worker). And I regret that instead of digging even slightly into my massive backlog of reading and movie-watching, I spent that time making a short film (one that should be completed in by next weekend – I have a few remaining pickup shots, but it’s been assembled chronologically so all that’s left is tightening, color correcting, and adding the piecemeal soundtrack of elements I’ve collected at this point). But even moreso, I regret that I spent none of that time truly writing a single review on this blog (and no new episodes of A Night at the Opera either) so as a hopeful place-setter, I’d like to lay down below a couple of 2021 reviews that I’m hoping to provide full-length reviews to over the upcoming months:
ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (Zack Snyder, USA)
Obviously, this one is coming soon: you think I’d just drop a review of Man of Steel by itself? I promise, I’ll have this and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice up by the end of the month. In the meantime, suffice it to say that this was shockingly the fastest moving 4 hours I’ve ever experienced watching a movie. And if it is still something with massive problems – problems obviously expectant of Zack Snyder – and thereby not even close to my favorite superhero movie, it’s still absolutely inspiring to see the result have so much deep personality and come from a sincere place of love and awe for the superhero material. The sloppiness of its storytelling just adds to it, mixing well with the mythic and weighty visuals for a hero movie made by a human being and not an algorithm.
(What about the other Snyder release this year? It is a lot less likely – but not out of the question – that I’ll be dropping an Army of the Dead review on here but the gist of my thoughts: I was already deep enough in my love for Justice League that I was willing to play ball with Snyder’s bleeding-heart “that’s so cool” bro imagery, but it’s absolutely way too long and not swift in the way Justice League is and it is possible the ugliest work Snyder has ever done. It’s basically a feature-length rebuttal to how Snyder haters say he should be a cinematographer instead of a director: he is an AWFUL cinematographer and should retain Larry Fong, please).
PIG (Michael Sarnoski, USA)
My favorite release of 2021 thus far. Goes in a fully unexpected direction based on its premise (and its even more misleading marketing) that stresses the delicacy of its characters and their state of mind, lovingly uses muted visuals to the woods outside of Portland to juxtapose against the chilliness within the city, and uses a specific motif as a key to their woes and the answers that still might not be so pretty when they find them. Nic Cage’s quietest performance of his career and certainly among his best.
F9: THE FAST SAGA (Justin Lin, USA)
I feel like there’s definitely a thoroughline between these first three movies of very aching, sentimental movies coming from places you’d least expect them (though unlike the sloppy and sprawling and overlong Justice League and F9, Pig is – among its many virtues – a very tight and short picture). Nothing threw me more aback from F9 than its flashback narrative, which features strong acting from scary mini doppelgangers of certain actors and pumps straight through the heart of F9 to make it feel like the most sincere movie in a very sincere franchise and allows pretty much all of the boom and crash of its popcorn movie spectacle (the best of the franchise to date, which means this is the best movie outright from the franchise) feel rooted in one central family drama and make the emotions within it feel massive.
THE SPARKS BROTHERS (Edgar Wright, UK/USA)
Yet another movie that feels way too long and this time it’s not as endearing a trait as it is with F9 and Justice League. I’d be lying if I claimed Edgar Wright and the bottomless amount of talking heads he recruits haven’t made a compelling case for me to drive through the Sparks discography in anticipation of Annette (not to mention the sound clips and video clips he utilizes from their output), but it’s certainly not a case that needed to be 2 1/2 hours to be made and not a case that they use more than one argument to make. The storytelling becomes repetitive by the first hour (they make a masterpiece album, it doesn’t land, they fire band members, they go again) and at some point the filmmaking feels so much less energetic even.
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (Shaka King, USA)
Vanilla oscarbait (successfully so given Kaluuya’s win) and frankly I should have expected vanilla oscarbait to begin with, but Fred Hampton’s first mainstream picture absolutely deserved something more radical and urgent or at least two lead actors that – talented though they are, Kaluuya and Stanfield are two of the best actors working today – weren’t so grievously miscast in their roles. As a genre thriller, it is functional enough to get over my gripes about it but my gripes are still loud and clear 6 months after seeing it and if I get to writing this review, I bet more words will be spent on that than what the movie does well. At least it’s miles better than the other vanilla leftist oscarbait movie of that Oscar season, The Trial of the Chicago 7.
PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND (Sion Sono, USA)
Is Sion Sono’s first English-language film less weird than his usual output? Sure, I think that can be argued from the sample size I’ve seen of his extensive filmography. Does that make this feel any less wild an experience? Absolutely not and I just don’t get how the Sono faithful were being so hostile to this high key appropriation of the Western genre from the eyes of a Japanese filmmaker, resulting in a heady experience that still has something of a philosophical side musing upon the time that passes after you’ve made mistakes that cost others. Bursting with color and got the sort of energy you’d have to expect from putting Nic Cage and Bill Moseley in the same room.
PRESIDENT (Camilla Nielsson, USA/Denmark/Norway/Zimbabwe)
Starts out kind of a disappointing followup to one of the best documentaries of the past decade – Democrats – in its inescapably biased view of Nelson Chamisa’s campaign for presidency against ZANU-PF’s unchallenged administration, but it’s the latter half where every legal stop possible is brought out to interfere or challenge the means and results of the election that Nielsson provides us with gripping narrative documentary work. It’s a long wait to that battle, but it’s not necessarily a bad one: Nielsson still has a gift for fly on the wall storytelling that she brings to Chamisa that makes him a charismatic subject and it’s not even hard to agree with the sides the movie takes. But it doesn’t reach the heights of Democrats‘ dissection of democracy as an institution used to meat puppet seizures of powers until that halfway point.
EIGHT FOR SILVER (Sean Ellis, USA/France)
Honestly a miracle that I ended the film without many negative feelings, though the ones I do have are major weaknesses for a werewolf picture to have: a reliance on the exact same jump scare ad nauseum (and I mean EXACT SAME) and a set of werewolf CGI that simply was not ready for primetime in the slightest, resembling early video game graphics more than a flesh and blood monster (I hope that when this gets a wide release, this is amended). Plus it definitely wants to act like it has something to say about colonialism, but really has jack to say about it. Yet at the end of the day, the dedication of the cast to sell the moody tones of the situation (especially Boyd Holbrook who never occurred to me as somebody who would have been able to perform an English accent, but hey!) and the moments of genuine inspiration including a grisly autopsy of torturous body horror makes me feel like my time was not entirely wasted.
THE BLAZING WORLD (Carlson Young, USA)
If there’s a movie from Sundance 2021 where the hostility felt entirely alien to me and ensured that the Sundance regulars and myself are not on the same wavelength, it’s this one. It’s got color, it’s got atmosphere, it’s ambitious in a way that already would have slapped without the “it was made under the limitations of COVID” that one would not have been able to tell watching it or “it was a first-time filmmaker’s feature”. It’s got enough creepiness to land on that end and enough storybook attitude to land on the other end and Udo Kier’s right there as the perfect anchor to both. Look forward to when this gets a wide release to verbally slap y’all.