2020s 2021 Reviews

The Mitchells vs the Machines is an Exhausting Social Media Binge

I’m worried Netflix is starting to create a collection of shallow and disappointing animated films. It’s probably unfair to criticize Netflix for that since shallow animations have been around for decades, but they’ve also never looked this good. After watching The Mitchells vs. the Machines I was immediately reminded of watching The Willoughbys which I found to be a glossy, but empty animation.

The difference with The Mitchells vs. the Machines is it’s made by Sony Pictures Animation, a company I thought had a better track record. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Arthur Christmas seem to be their best. When you recognize Sony Pictures Animation has also made three Smurf movies, three Hotel Transylvania‘s, and The Emoji Movie things start to make more sense, especially when noting the latter. 

The Mitchells vs The Machines is algorithmic cinema. I started thinking of the Indiewire article I read about McG and his success at Netflix being due to his understanding of the algorithm and youth culture. With Sony’s animated film, they’re being algorithmic, but in the way that they are trying to be as universal as possible. Directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe end up pandering to the audience, fabricating emotions that feel dishonest. It’s another film trying to mimic the Pixar formula without any heart and a vague understanding of how it works.

The characters are one-dimensional, with the exception being Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson), but even she’s a thin construction. They’re all defined by one thing: Katie wants to be a filmmaker, Linda is the supportive mom, Rick is the macho dad, and Aaron is the hyperactive younger brother. The Mitchells are essentially the Parr family from the The Incredibles, but minus one kid and superpowers. The audience can easily try to put themselves into one of these characters because odds are they have something in common with at least one of them at a surface level.

The Mitchells vs the Machines is a perfect example of movies that think they need to add social media and then overdo it. The only thing more exhausting than social media is watching a film that incorporates it so much with no deep commentary on it. I watch films to escape social media. Popular cinema is doomed if studios and directors think social media has to have such a heavy presence in films to get people to like them. 

It is no surprise that a movie that features social media so heavily has one-dimensional characters. Each singular trait is each character’s “brand” that they would have on social media. Katie would be creating high-energy Tik Toks, Rick would be doing woodworking, Linda would be doing lifestyle, and Aaron’s account would be all about dinosaurs.

We’ve reached the point where mainstream cinema that isn’t appealing strictly to Gen-Z and below is using emojis, memes, and other internet lore unironically. This is another example of its pandering nature, suggesting that young people will only like movies and television shows unless it’s continually showing you frenetic editing, explosions, etc. 

In this case, The Mitchells vs The Machines is giving the audience what they can find on their phones so they don’t divert their attention from the movie. The irony is the movie gives a critique of social media and Internet culture, but takes a soft stance and doesn’t say anything new or compelling. Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe don’t seem to realize their film is the epitome of what it’s criticizing, embodying the influencer who one day tweets that social media is toxic and they’re distancing themselves from it, only to come back two days later to do it all over again.


2020s 2021 Reviews

It’s Best to Avoid the Bad Trip that is ‘Zola’

Although Zola is a big swing, it’s one that doesn’t pay off. Riley Keough is fantastic and although Taylour Paige is more than committed to her role as Zola, the screenplay doesn’t give her enough to work with. When the cinematography isn’t shockingly male gaze-y and intrusive for having two women behind the camera, you see visual flourishes from Janicza Bravo in the film that come from her experimental background. Where the films fails the most is how Bravo presents the story.

The biggest mistake was making it a dramedy. It’s hard to find anything that happens in the film as funny when two women are being dragged into a dangerous and exploitive situation. There may be a way to actually have the film be comedic without it feeling unearned, but tonally Zola never finds it. The film felt torn between being a comedy and being straight drama. I got the impression that Zola was a dramedy because financiers and producers thought it would make the film more marketable. The marketing of the film is essentially “come check out this film inspired by a Twitter thread by a stripper’s wild trip to Florida.” One thinks they’re getting Spring Breakers or maybe something like Eurotrip, but you’re actually getting something much darker trying to present itself in a lighter tone.

It sometimes felt like Zola was taking inspiration from Spring Breakers with its look inside the sleazy and criminal side of Florida, but what Bravo seems to forget is the farther the women fell deeper in Spring Breakers, the less funny it was. Bravo is still trying to squeeze a drop of comedy out of a man trying to commit suicide near the end of the film. You also can’t forget when Stefani (Keough) is about to be forced into a gangbang, but Bravo uses it as an opportunity to cut away to portray Stefani (Keough) as a lying moron who may deserve what she’s about to get.

There is much fault to be placed at Stefani’s feet, but one cannot ignore the sympathy we should possibly have for her. The woman is definitely not into prostitution because she likes it. She’s clearly forced into it and also getting underpaid. Dragging Zola (Paige) into the road trip is definitely a disgusting thing to do, but let’s not forget who the real villain is: X (Colman Domingo). Zola appears to spend more time blaming Stefani than she does X, who is the man orchestrating and controlling it all.

Zola isn’t nearly as wild or unpredictable or even as funny as it thinks it is. I don’t think Bravo knew exactly what she wanted to say with the film and that’s why it feels unbalanced. She does have the potential to speak on sex trafficking and the exploitation of women, but by the end of the film you realize you were supposed to be entertained by it. The audience may leave the theater feeling scummy, thinking they weren’t supposed to view female trauma in the way it’s presented.

2020s 2021 Reviews

Good on Paper Bombs on Screen

Maybe this is too strong coming out of the gate, but I was shocked how poorly directed Good on Paper was. I could feel confusion, indecisiveness, and apathy. The actors should have been having way more fun on screen, but they look so strained and uncomfortable due to the confused direction. As a result, they give lousy performances. Iliza Shlesinger survives with a subpar outing, but she had the advantage of writing the material. 

I was particularly embarrassed for Ryan Hansen, who truly seems lost on screen, and I can’t say I blame him. Is his character supposed to be an obvious compulsive liar or more deceitful? Gatewood must have told Hansen to try both because he’s convincing sometimes, but a terrible liar in other scenes. In a movie like this, you can’t have his character bouncing all over the place, especially since Andrea (Shlesinger) isn’t supposed to be suspicious of him until later. It’s hard to buy her character believing him so much when she comes across as a cautious person and one who can spot a bullshitter.

It’s easy to blame Gatewood, but it all comes back to Shlesinger’s script, which is half-baked at best. It’s clear to me that she didn’t have any idea what her script was, so Gatewood couldn’t pass on anything concrete to her actors. Shlesinger’s script can’t even settle on a genre. Is it a drama, comedy, romance, mystery, or a thriller? I don’t think anyone who worked on Good on Paper even knows. It’s possible to be all of these, but with such bland direction and a contradicting script it never had a chance. I would say it’s a comedy, but it’s even confused about what type of comedy it wants to be.

The strange thing is how close Iliza Shlesinger comes to commenting on so many subjects within dating culture and romantic relationships, but walks away doing nothing, leaving the audience confused. The script feels like an early draft gone straight to production. It has some ideas and some good jokes, but none of it is cohesive. Given this is based on her actual experience, maybe she hasn’t had enough time to fully process what happened to her. She sends conflicting messages about herself and her experience. I honestly have no idea what story she wants to tell, how she wants present herself or Dennis’s character, or how she wants the audience to feel. Good on paper come across as being written by someone with very mixed emotions that she isn’t able to pass onto others yet. 

Shlesinger tries to work through her emotions through stand-up segments, but they don’t do the film any favors. This is where most of the comedy comes in, but it makes the audience long for a funnier movie and one that isn’t taking itself too seriously. Also, why does every comedian feel like they need to put stand-up routines in their film? When it works, it works, but with Good on Paper it feels out of place, even for a movie where Shlesinger places a version of herself.

I left Good on Paper feeling empty and disappointed, which ironically works given the film’s subject matter, but I wasn’t feeling it for the reasons Shlesinger would have wanted me to.



Giving The Spirit a Second Chance

The first time I tried to watch this was in 2008 or 2009 when I was a teenager. I fell asleep while watching it and when I woke up I just turned it off. I wrote it off as a terrible movie and never returned to it until now. The Spirit is a movie I’ve wanted to revisit and watch completely, but hadn’t made time for until now.

I admit, The Spirit not as bad as I remembered it being. It’s around the mediocre range in my opinion. I think it has more value and self-awareness than people give it credit for.

The Spirit is going for a campy feel. It works more than it doesn’t, even when the lines are bad. The actors are owed a lot of credit for selling such corny dialogue convincingly. If you look past the screenplay and the lines uttered, the majority of the cast does a really good job. I would argue Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson get some of the worst lines, but they don’t miss a beat. With Gabriel Macht, a lot of his cringe-inducing lines appear in his voiceovers, not giving him another actor to bounce off of. The Spirit could have been a terrible movie if the acting fell short. Frank Miller does deserve some credit on that front.

For me, The Spirit’s main draw is its visual style. It’s a nice break from the dull and muted color schemes that plague cinema right now. At the time I’m sure the visual style was becoming repetitive after Sin City, but it feels fresh in 2021.

I’m torn between The Spirit being as good as it could have possibly been given its source material or it could have been better. If the graphic novels are anything like the film, I’m not sure it can work entirely without making several changes. It’s pretty silly, but maybe that’s how it was on the page. I think that when we read things in our head we interpret them in a way that reduces that goofiness, but everyone would interpret it differently. Hence why it could be considered “unfilmable” because it doesn’t translate as well.

Some of the film could be seen as stupid, such as Samuel L. Jackson’s character ‘The Octopus,’ but this stupidity still manages to work for The Spirit. Sometimes it feels like a bunch of scenes thrown together without a consistent flow. Connecting Greek mythology with a Gotham-esque story felt jarring. Despite all of this, I still found the The Spirit to be watchable and entertaining at times.


2020 Reviews 2020s

Drought Will Bring Smiles

A sentimental and good-natured debut from directors Hannah Black and Megan Petersen, Drought will create plenty of smiles. 

If a film is on a low budget, it’s not going to have elaborate set pieces or scenes that take place in high-scale homes or restaurants. The characters often dictate whether these kind of films will be engaging or not, putting a great amount of pressure on the actors.

With Drought, all of the actors are on their game. Sam (Hannah Black) and Lillian (Megan Petersen) play sisters in the middle of a conflict. Sam resents Lillian for leaving behind her and Carl, their autistic and weather enthusiast brother, played delicately by Owen Scheid. After Carl loses his job at the local grocery store, Sam comes up with the idea of tracking down the storm that is set to end a historic drought in North Carolina. They all leave in their mother’s ice cream truck with their friend Lewis, a likable and grounded comedic relief, played by Drew Scheid (Halloween). 

The actors are well casted and no one actor steals the show. Their chemistry is apparent, particularly between Black and Petersen. You also get the sense the four main actors are having fun together, which is infectious for the audience. Drought is a true ensemble piece. 

Packed with plenty of charm and light comedic moments, Drought should be on your radar.


2020 Reviews 2020s

The Hill and the Hole Runs Itself into the Ground

The Hill and the Hole is one of the most frustrating films I’ve watched in a while. This film had so much potential, but falls flat, straight down a hole into a cold abyss. We almost got two great 60-70s-esque science fiction films in the first half of the year. A film that came out this year that I find myself often thinking back on fondly is The Vast of Night. With The Vast of Night, director Andrew Patterson did nearly everything right. He perfectly captured the feel of old-school sci-fi and crafted a low-stakes film that was mesmerizing. He also found a way to make it feel unique, despite the fact him and co-writer Craig Sanger were clearly paying homage to an era of science fiction.

Directors Bill Darmon and Christopher Ernst begin The Hill and the Hole in a similar fashion. They have a stylized filmic look, the something-is-wrong-here premise, and the camp and quirk to amuse fans of science fiction. Despite having these things going for it, The Hill and the Hole greatly disappoints. I honestly wouldn’t be as upset if it didn’t have those things because then my hopes wouldn’t have been as high.

I’m not sure if it was due to sheer laziness, a busy and overrun shooting schedule that resulted in a rushed finish, or if it always planned to be the way it is, but the film gets worse as it goes on. I cannot assume, nor do I know whether or not it was shot in order, but it certainly feels like it might have been. About three quarters into the film everything becomes nonsensical. Rather than having this be a quirk, it feels more like a cruel joke played on the audience expecting them to find explanations. Mostly, it feels like a cop-out for Darmon as a writer.

I could have been a decent film, but The Hill and the Hole features poor direction that leads to even worse performances and a lousy screenplay that greatly drags it down.


1960s Oldies

Mr. Topaze (I Like Money) 2020 Restoration

Mr. Topaze is a gray and bland comedy I will more than likely forget. I don’t know if it was due to the restoration or maybe it always looked so muted, but the overall look was visually uninteresting. It reminded me of watching ungraded footage that was shot flat, which is unpleasant to look at.

The film is shot like a play, which makes sense considering it’s based on Marcel Pagnol’s Topaze, but I felt the cinematography hurt the film more than it complemented its stage roots. The blocking was simplistic and the performances felt underplayed to a fault. Mr. Topaze needed way more energy than Sellers and the majority of his actors provided. The film also needed to embrace its absurdity more than it did.

Director Peter Sellers’s film has a boring plot and he didn’t present any of it in an interesting way. Everything is portrayed in such a nonchalant manner that I found myself caring about nothing that was happening in the movie. Topaze is an uncharismatic and non-sympathetic stooge and the other characters are conniving or just as goofy his Topaze. I felt Leo McKern was the only actor to provide satisfying laughs as his character Muche.

I don’t think Sellers ever had a chance at making Mr. Topaze a great movie due to its dull source material, but he definitely could have done more as a director and performer to lift it to higher heights.


2020 Reviews 2020s

Despite Its Many Flaws, Artemis Fowl is Still Watchable

The film that got Judy Dench to dress in all green and say “top of the morning” with a straight face.

There is no denying that Artemis Fowl is a bad movie, but it is – dare I say – still watchable. I find the ultimate bad or “trash” movie the kind that is completely unwatchable, has me repeatedly checking how much time is left in its duration, and has no redeeming qualities. With that being said, Artemis Fowl has plenty of cringe moments focused around poor dialogue, questionable acting choices, and lousy storytelling.

Kenneth Branagh’s latest was already off to a bad start when it opened with Josh Gad, who forces a deep, raspy voice that is inconsistent for most of the movie. Tonally, the opening scene is all over the place. The intrigue Branagh wants to create with Gad’s character, Mulch Diggums, is shattered by lame jokes, Gad’s unnatural deep voice, and the over-the-top interrogation cinematography. Branagh wants to have a Mission: Impossible-esque introduction, trying to be cooler than it is to appeal to a wide audience, when it should have embraced the fantastical elements. There are fairies, dwarves, and trolls in Artemis Fowl, this isn’t Catch Me If You Can, so own it. The sheer fact the character’s name is Mulch Diggums should have resulted in the Mission: Impossible approach being left on the drawing room floor.

This approach to be cool and edgy is also spread to the lead character of Artemis Fowl Jr., a supposed genius, who is a spoiled and mostly arrogant pre-teen that fancies himself some sort of James Bond. When he’s talking to his principal I was immediately reminded of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, who shares the quality with Artemis that they immediately think they’re the smartest person in the room and not afraid to let others know. The difference here though, is this is one of our first scenes with Artemis. Instead of playing for this trait for laughs like in The Big Bang Theory, we’re supposed to be impressed, which I was not. I thought Artemis was an entitled brat who thinks he’s better than everyone else, which I suppose he is and does, but Branagh shouldn’t have me feel this way about him right away. It could work if Artemis was going to have a redeeming moment where he realizes how he acts and that he’s wrong to be that way. However, that moment never comes.

I think the only winners for the film are the visual effects team, camera department, editor Matthew Tucker, and Lara McDonnell’s charming performance as Holly Short. Some of the actors leave a lot to be desired, some more than others, but they’re mostly fine within the movie. In their defense, for almost all of the actors, the screenplay does not give them much to work with. 

I think it’s possible Artemis Fowl would have had the same effect if you watched it on mute. The story is all over the place and it doesn’t always make sense, but at least it has attractive visuals. Call me crazy, but I found myself thinking about the feel of the film that the visuals created the next day. Obviously, I’m still thinking of them now as I write this. As an editor, Matthew Tucker made the film flow well for the most part, even though it probably didn’t have any right to. 

Branagh and his team did manage to create an atmosphere that I found myself enjoying and wouldn’t mind entering again. I just wish Branagh and the writers managed to tell a more cohesive story.


2010-19 2010-19 Reviews

Porto (2016)

I have found myself struggling with this film. Porto is a film that I enjoyed a great deal when I was watching it. But now that a distance from it has been established, the film feels like a justification or defense for Jake (Anton Yelchin) stalking and physically hitting Mati (Lucie Lucas). I know that is probably not the intention of the film, but that scene is such a profound moment that is enhanced even more due to the film’s structure. 

The audience is shown both point-of-views (Jake’s and Mati’s) and the film feels much like a “how did they get here” kind of film. I know there is probably a more nuanced way of saying that, but that’s how the film works. The structure is also a little complicated to explain because you see moments and flashes of images from all different time periods. You have moments of Jake and Mati before they met, moments of them together, moments of them right after they were together, and moments in the distant future. Director Gabe Klinger plays with the film’s structure by showing some scenes from different timelines back to back and does it with different point-of-views as well. 

It’s a very well-made film. With beautiful compositions, great acting from Yelchin and Lucas, and its clear love for European cinema, it’s hard not to be charmed and wrapped up in Porto. I can’t help but feel that if the film removed Jake hitting Mati and toned down his stalking, the film would feel way different. I found its structure and screenplay very compelling, although it’s not perfect. Mati feels much less fleshed out than Yelchin’s character, Jake. Porto begins with Jake and he seems to get the filmmaker’s sympathy, but it’s structure suggests Mati and Jake are supposed to equal, which makes it troublesome that Jake is more developed than Mati.

The message I gathered from Porto is people want different things in life and they sometimes make decisions that affect others in negative ways without anticipating the outcomes. It’s all about perspective and without it, it’s hard to understand why another person did what they did. I think this is rather interesting and Klinger’s structure helps sell this point. However, when you have a scene where one character hits another and have that serve as the turning point in the film it’s hard to move past it since it completely reshapes the film.


2020 Reviews 2020s

Scoob! is a Total Misfire

I am not sure if me not writing on Scoob! until now is due to my busy schedule or my apprehension towards diving back into the giant misfire. I watched Scoob! the night it had its “Home Premiere” and haven’t written anything about it until now. Of course, I could have just rated the movie and tried to forget about it, but I felt I needed to air out – or maybe rather rant about – some of my frustrations with it.

I admit, I didn’t have high hopes. Scoob! can be filed under “Movies That Looked Worse and Worse From Trailers.” When I was growing up, I loved Scooby-Doo Where Are You! and would rewatch episodes all the time. If I were to rank my favorite animated shows from my childhood it would probably be in my Top 5. 

Nostalgia is a powerful thing and many major companies are trying to prey on it, especially Disney. I like to refrain from being cynical and believe that when these reboots come out and don’t live up to what we knew growing up, we are still able to fondly remember what came before. Although, in Scoob!‘s case you can’t exactly call it a reboot because new episodes still air on Cartoon Network with Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?. Unfortunately, whenever I remember Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! I can almost guarantee I will remember how disappointing Scoob! was.

Scoob! comes across as a giant cash grab, but any animated movie that tries to appeal beyond kids to Gen-X, millenials AND older zoomers through nostalgia definitely is. I imagine the board meeting at Warner Bros. going something along the lines of them trying to come up with a new animated movie, tossing away “risky” original screenplays, and going with an already established property with no real heart or love behind it. The fact that Scooby-Doo is currently making new episodes on Cartoon Network makes it even more obvious they wanted to appeal beyond children to capitalize on profits.

I have no idea what the thought process was behind Scoob!‘s screenplay. I remember Scooby-Doo as a group of teenagers or young adults solving mysteries. What I don’t remember is Scooby-Doo being an adventure show that featured Greek mythology. I have no idea why Scoob! functions like a Despicable Me movie with the characters from Scooby-Doo and whatever other Hanna-Barbera characters Warner Animation Group could cram into it. I would say Scoob! is about as bad as it gets when it comes to “nostalgia-baiting.” 

Oh, did you like Scooby-Doo, Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, AND Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels growing up? Well don’t worry, we’ll find a way to shove them all into one movie to appease you and try to set up spin-offs.

What makes me most mad about Scoob! is it’s not a Scooby-Doo movie, it’s an animated movie that features characters from Scooby-Doo. Where was the mystery? I think the reason there isn’t a mystery is because the writers at Warner Bros. didn’t want to have to come up with one. But they certainly found a way to feature lame jokes that reference Netflix and IKEA. 

For a movie that tries to appeal to not just children, it feels very much like something that will only appeal to children. It’s generic and uninspired. Almost all of the jokes are for kids. The only part I truly enjoyed was the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! opening homage. The rest of the movie I’m just trying to forget.