Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

Director: Tom Gormican

Writers: Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Ike Barinholtz, Alessandra Mastronardi, Jacob Scipio, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tiffany Haddish

Review: In one hundred years of cinema, there’s never been an actor quite like Nicolas Cage. Through his work, one can experience both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows cinema has to over us. All while he screams from the top of his lungs with an overacting style that is uniquely his. It’s been debated for years as to whether the guy is a genius or batshit insane. Rumors of him acting with a voodoo doll taped to his chest, spending millions on dinosaur bones, and, of course, the memes about stealing the Declaration of Independence only add to the allure. Thus, he is absolutely without a doubt the perfect actor for a movie like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent; one that is ready both to lampoon him and build up his incredible image. And, let me tell you, it’s worthy of such an icon.

My main takeaway from Massive Talent was how remarkably simple it was. From the trailers, you’d think it was a massive action thriller. And, while it dabbles in that, it’s mostly a character study for the “character” of Nicolas Cage (which, by the way, happens to be maybe the greatest character we’ve seen Cage play) and his new friend/super fan Javi. We meet Cage at a rough patch in his life and career. Nothing is really going his way. And, he’s just about ready to hang things up. But, he meets a massive fan, played brilliantly by Pedro Pascal, who reignites his love of movies and reminds him of all the good he’s done the world. That’s really what’s at the heart of this movie. It’s a story of friendship and redemption. Everything else is almost a big, self-referential inside joke. Heck, the movie basically comes out and tells you what it wants to be, but couldn’t due to the demands of modern Hollywood. It’s a mid-budget movie about people talking that threw in some action to sell tickets.

And, I hope you’re comfortable with jokes pretty much breaking the fourth wall because that’s heavily featured in this movie. It’s extremely meta. More meta than you’d already think in a movie about Nicolas Cage playing Nicolas Cage. It very often feels as if the characters are writing the script they’re currently living. I loved it. I had a smile on my face the whole time and often laughed out loud at even the smallest gags. And, of course, it’s quite referential to all of Cage’s previous work. I’d love to see an official tally, but, if I had to guess, I’d say it references at least a quarter of his decades long career. Now, do you need to see these movies to understand the joke? No. But, the bigger the fan of Cage you are the more you will enjoy this movie.

Now, all of that being said, Massive Talent isn’t quite a masterpiece. There are a few minor complaints that stuck with me. The plot is extremely predictable. There is a mystery element to it, but all of the clues are so obvious that the audience knows exactly what’s going on way before the characters ever figure it out. It makes a few sequences feel over drawn out and a tad boring. And, honestly, I feel like a lot of that is on the marketing team. In one scene, there’s a lot of drama about what’s behind a certain door. Like, they build it up for a very long time. However, if you’ve seen the trailer, you can probably guess with 95% certainty what it is they’re about to show us. And the relationship between our two friend leads is never in doubt because you’ve seen jokes about the bond between them that haven’t come up yet. So, it sort of negates the intrigue angle of the whole movie. But, then again, maybe that’s all part of the gag. Maybe we’re supposed to just focus on these two friends being friends.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. I left the theater extremely happy. So, definitely a strong recommend from me. It’s just a fun movie going experience. The main thing that’ll stick with me is the friendship angle between Cage and Pascal. It’s rare that you see male friendship portrayed that emotionally honest. I loved it and I thought both actors did an amazing job. I mean that and the glory that is Nicolas Cage. Honored be thy name.

TL;DR: At it’s purest form, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a beautiful tale of male friendship and it is absolutely delightful.

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

Director: David Yates

Writers: J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston, and Mads Mikkelsen

Review: Man, remember Harry Potter? Like, early 2010s Harry Potter? Good times. The movies had just wrapped up, putting a cap on the entire phenomenon. They were all generally well-received. There were no half-assed sequels or drawn-out prequels. It was just a fun, simple, (mostly) unproblematic (or at least to our dumb child brains), high-quality, fantasy franchise that had a generation wrapped around its fingers for decades. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last. Bring in the Fantastic Beasts series. While the first one was… fine. The second quickly derailed everything. It was overly complicated, canon breaking, and, honestly, pretty boring. Not to mention the movie was just bad. But that was nothing compared to the offscreen drama that’s followed since. First of all, The Crimes of Grindelwald did not make a lot of money. Second, they recast Johnny Depp after allegations of him were (falesly?) brought to light. Then, people were absolutely outraged with J.K. Rowling after she tweeted some very transphobic things and many swore to never support the franchise again, as she doubled down on those beliefs. And, now, there are the multiple arrests of Ezra Miller to contend with. Long story short, it’s been a mess. So, after all of that, I feel even more responsibility on my shoulders with this review. Because, is it all worth it? Is Fantastic Beasts 3 better? Does it thrive beyond the offscreen drama? Should I sacrifice my values to see this? Well, the answer, unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), is that The Secrets of Dumbledore is just kind meh.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a massive improvement over the second installment. In fact, this almost serves as an entire reboot of the series. Half of the forgettable and/or cringeworthy characters are straight up not in this one. Zoe Kravitz is gone. For all intents and purposes, Newt’s love interest is gone. And, perhaps best of all, Nagini is nowhere in sight. The main characters we are left with, conversely, are all very pleasant and worth rooting for. The plot has also been dramatically simplified. The convoluted backstories and boring exposition, which works in book form but not really in movies, are also completely absent. It’s now pretty much back to good wizards fight bad wizards. And, speaking of bad wizards, Mads Mikkelsen is infinitely better than Johnny Depp for the part of Grindelwald. Say what you will about Depp’s 2010s performances, but every choice he made felt ridiculously out of place in the Harry Potter universe. Mikkelsen, meanwhile, fits like a glove. He did a terrific job bringing both the sneering, evil side and the heartbroken, romantic angle to Grindelwald. Oh, by the way, they actually delved into his romance with Dumbledore. You know, a huge part of the story that the others were willing to just gloss over. It’s not super deep here, but it was nice to see it at least be a major-ish plot point. It added personal stakes too, which were severely lacking in the last entry.

I would still definitely say that the Wizarding World franchise is far from its hey day though. Despite some much needed improvements, it’s still mostly a sparkless exercise. I never once felt the magic and intrigue that I did with the Harry Potter series. The characters aren’t as charming. The plot just feels meandering. And, there’s nothing heartwarming or meaningful about anything that’s happening on screen. Those original movies feel like they were something special. This movie feels like it exists out of obligation. Almost like no one really wants to keep making these. That’s especially obvious in the last act, where they kinda sorta wrap everything up in a nice bow. It feels as if they’re prepared for this to be the last one. And, while I don’t want to sit through another entry, this would be a deeply unsatisfying ending. The story definitely isn’t done being told, but they just threw in what essentially feels like an epilogue just in case. It leaves me in this in-between scenario where I want to see what happens next without ever wanting to see this another Fantastic Beasts movie. I’ve never been in a scenario like this and it’s maddening.

Honestly, I would write up more, but, honestly, there’s not a lot to say about this movie. It’s very mediocre. Was it a vast improvement on the second? Yes. However, I’m definitely not sold on this franchise as a whole. It feels like The Hobbit movies but without the talent of Peter Jackson. Even as a Potter-fan, I felt bored. And, I never once have felt bored with the originals. And, I’ve read/watched the Harry Potter series over and over and over and I find something new to love and appreciate every time. Fantastic Beasts is a whole different story though. Throw in the problematic real world issues and I think it’s definitely time to pull the plug. But, the real question is: would I recommend this? If you’re a Potterhead who suffered through the second movie and are still willing to support J.K. Rowling, sure. I still don’t think you’ll like it very much, but it’s worth watching (on HBO Max in a few months) for the minor course corrections alone. But, if you haven’t watched the second one or don’t like supporting Rowling, there’s no reason to bend here. It’s just not worth it. If you really want to know what happens here, read the Harry Potter wiki pages for Dumbledore and Grindelwald. I’m sure you’ll get roughly the same enjoyment out of it. Because, honestly, screw JK Rowling.

TL;DR: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is an improvement on the previous entry, but still not necessary viewing for even the most hardcore Potter fan, especially considering the real world drama surrounding it.

Score: 5/10 (Meh.)

Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)

Director: Jeff Fowler

Writers: Pat Casey, Josh Miller, and John Whittington

Starring: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally, Shemar Moore, Colleen O’Shaughnessey, Lee Majdoub, Idris Elba, and Jim Carrey

Review: Hi kids! Did you like the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie? If you’re answer’s yes, then I’ve got good news for you. You’ll probably like this one. If you answered no or not really, I’m sorry to tell you that this is absolutely more of the same. Seriously, you could almost take my review from the previous movie, add a few little notes, and use it for this one. My feelings are almost identical. But, that would be lazy and unfair to all the work the movie makers put in, so let’s jump into it.

Ok, first of all, the two highlights of the movie. They’re exactly who you’d think they are; Ben Schwartz as Sonic and Jim Carrey as Robotnik. As I’ve said before, I think Ben Schwartz is absolutely the perfect pick to play Sonic. He’s got that mile-a-minute, goofy, random, lovable sense of humor that just works for the character. And, while I, personally, never viewed Sonic as a child, I did like his story arc about growing into a respectable hero in this one. Even if I could feel them holding back from saying “with great power, comes great responsibility.” While I seemingly will always have issues with these movies, I can honestly say that Sonic is not one of them. And neither is Jim Carrey. While a far cry from his more iconic/funnier roles, it is nice to see Carrey back to his goofier shenanigans. I will never turn down the chance to see him cut loose and you can tell he’s having a lot of fun here. He wouldn’t have necessarily been my first pick for Eggman, but he’s a brilliant addition and raises these movies up a notch single handedly. He’s a comedic legend. I hope this isn’t the last time we see him. But, between Carrey and Schwartz, I can honestly say they’ve got a pretty solid hero and antagonist. They both fit their roles quite well. And both got their fair share of chuckles out of me. Not every joke lands (one in four probably), but there are a couple of solid ones thrown in there. Plus, this one throws in a Parks and Rec reference, so that automatically makes me like it a tad more.

And, frankly, I liked the two newcomers, Tails and Knuckles, quite a bit too. Tails has always been my favorite Sonic character. There’s just something about him that makes me smile. He’s adorable with his squeaky voice, two tails, and innocent attitude. Overall, I think they did a terrific job brining this character to life. It was a very smart idea to bring the original voice back, because I don’t know that any celebrity would’ve quite nailed it the way she does. I was definitely pleased to see such a good interpretation brought to the big screen. However, I was a bit more mixed on Knuckles. To be fair, I’ve never cared for the character much. The “tough guy” has never been my favorite character trope. But, they do a little bit of the Drax thing with him, having him never quite understand jokes and/or human customs. And… it’s fine. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh a time or two. However, I will say that Idris Elba sounded extremely bored by the whole thing. Like, it was just a paycheck. I’ve seen him do the monotone thing before with Heimdall, but even that performance felt more lively. I don’t know. Maybe it was a choice, but, to me, it felt like he just didn’t want anything to do with this role. Let’s just say I felt a tad more effort in Cats. Freaking Cats. But still, overall, not bad additions to the team.

So, Sonic is good. Robotnik is good. Tails and Knuckles are good. That makes this a good Sonic movie, right? Man, I wish. But, my biggest problem with the first one is absolutely on display once again here: the humans. Honestly, I was pretty excited for this movie. We saw a goofy planet of mushrooms at the end of the first one. The trailers barely featured James Marsden. But, they did show us all kinds of exotic locales. I thought for sure we were moving away from our human world and deeper into the world of Sonic. Boy, was I wrong. Because all of those human characters who were just there in the first one play bigger parts here. Every single one of them. Sonic’s family? Oh yeah. Lots more screen time. That sister character who made you chuckle once or twice? Whole extended action sequence. Random henchman and random cop who add absolutely nothing to the plot? You bet we’re going to cut to them several times. I’m not even exaggerating when I say there’s a moment in the middle of this movie where Sonic isn’t on screen for at least ten minutes, but it feels closer to half an hour. Worse yet, none of these sequences are especially funny or interesting or necessary to the plot. They’re just there. I was absolutely flabbergasted. Who is this for? Who asked for this? I think these movies would be infinitely better if they stopped going for the “fish out of water” cliches and just leaned all the way in to their gaming roots. Let’s make the next one feature no human characters at all (Robotnik doesn’t count). I know CGI creatures are expensive but I promise it’ll be worth it. I can almost guarantee you it’ll at least be a better movie.

Overall, I’d say that Sonic 2 is fine. It’s a mostly fun, harmless children’s movie with Ben Schwartz, Idris Elba, and Jim Carrey being whacky. There are definitely worse things you could spend two hours on. However, I wouldn’t say that you need to rush and see it either. Because it’s definitely not great. Maybe someday this series will be. We’ll see. It’s not there yet though.

TL;DR: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 brings back all of the stuff from the first one that works (Sonic and Robotnik), but also shines a massive spotlight on the stuff that doesn’t (the human characters). All of which makes it a remarkably familiar experience.

Score: 6/10 (Ok)

And, if you’re wondering, I would retroactively go back and give the first a 6 as well.

Review: Morbius

Morbius (2022)

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Writers: Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless

Starring: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, and Tyrese Gibson

Review: Man, fuck Sony!

The entire time the Marvel Cinematic Universe has existed, it’s seemed like Sony’s one purpose was to make the inclusion of Spider-Man as difficult as possible. First, they wouldn’t let them have the character at all. Then, it was an attempt to spin off all of the side characters they retained the rights to. And, let’s not forget that they recently tried to pull Spider-Man out of the MCU a few years back before fans went absolutely nuts. But, now, with Morbius, they may have made one of the biggest missteps in the history of comic book movies. And the post-credits scene may have indicated that it’s about to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

So… Morbius. I guess we should talk about the movie itself. First of all, it feels like it’s from a completely different era of movie-making. Do you remember the early 2000s sci-fi/horror/action movies that all of the studios pumped out? I’m talking Underworld, Resident Evil, Van Helsing, and, to a lesser extent, Blade. This feels like it belongs in that era. The plot is extremely similar to that schlock. It’s a sick man who uses radical science to turn himself into a vampire but instantly regrets it. However, his friend, who is also sick, takes the “cure” and delightfully goes on a killing rampage. Full of all the angst, over-the-top drama, and camp that you’d expect from that particular genre that the rest of the industry left behind about a decade ago.

And, honestly, it’s not even just the plot of Morbius. The CGI feels like it’s from that era too. They made the decision to not use any prosthetics or make up for the vampire transitions. Every time a character is in vampire form, it is 100% CGI. And, boy, does it show. It feels like the entirety of those scenes were filmed with a Snapchat filter on. How does a multi-million dollar superhero movie not have better special effects than an app whose “art” disappears within a minute? But, honestly, that’s not even the worst part. Because, oh my god, the fights in this movie are so bad. Everything is shot super close up with the characters spinning around in a cloud of smoke for minutes at a time. You can never tell what exactly is happening, where the characters are, or, even, who is winning. It’s just a big CGI clusterfuck. Think Transformers sequels but way, way worse. At least those movies had the decency to make the characters stand out by being different colors. Honestly, Morbius’s action scenes may be among the worst I’ve ever seen.

But, as much as I’d like to, we can’t pretend that Morbius was just an early 2000s B-movie. It is 100% a superhero movie. And you can tell from the fact that they followed the “coast through a superhero movie on autopilot” manual to the letter. Everything that’s become a superhero cliche since the original Spider-Man trilogy is on display here. Morbius’s origin story is about as cliche as they come. Honestly, it feels a lot like the Green Goblin origin from Spider-Man 1, but without the awesome campy performance Willem Dafoe brought to that scene. Then, there’s got to be a villain whose arc and motivations are almost in line with the hero’s, but they go about it in entirely different ways. And, man, is that on display here. From the moment he appears on screen Matt Smith’s character screamed “I’m the bad guy,” yet somehow his story still felt entirely rushed. Like, we didn’t hear from him for huge chunks of the movie, and then, boom, he’s taken over the entire plot. (Cheers to Smith though. He’s the only one in this movie who got a legitimate smile out of me.) Let’s see. What else do superhero movies always have? Oh, yes, a love interest. Don’t worry. We’ll cram that in too. We’ve got a female character. Who cares if they have no chemistry with Jared Leto? We’ll make them kiss and then everyone will know they’re dating. Oh, and what’s a hero without a sacrifice. Eh, just kill off a character that only had two, maybe three lines the entire movie. That’ll work. They definitely explain his importance to the character, but we, the audience, never actually got a chance to feel it. I owe an apology to The Batman for saying their Alfred moments felt rushed because it seems perfectly justified compared to this crap. Seriously though, having all of these moments come up in a superhero movie doesn’t automatically make it bad. After all, Spider-Man 1 does have all of these plot points. But, in Spider-Man, it all feels organic. Everything makes sense. Here, it just feels like they were working with a checklist with everything happening because that’s what’s “supposed to” happen. This all makes it seem, again, extremely dated. As a superhero movie, it feels like it’s more in line with Daredevil or Hulk, rather than The Batman or Spider-Man: No Way Home.

So, as the credits rolled, I was thinking that I didn’t like Morbius. It wasn’t the dumpster fire I was expecting, but it still was very far from good. Then, the post-credits scenes started rolling. And, god damn, they are absolutely the worst I’ve ever seen.

*Spoilers incoming. If you don’t want spoilers, you can stop reading here.*

So, the rift from No Way Home opens up, presumably to drop Venom back off at this shitty universe. However, we see that Michael Keaton’s Vulture has somehow teleported there as well. Which, if you recall, is not what Doctor Strange’s spell did. It teleported everyone who knew Peter Parker back to their own reality. So, like, why? Then, he finds Morbius and is like “I don’t know why I’m here, but I think it has something to do with Spider-Man. We should team up.” Ok, what? First of all, as far as we know three movies deep, Spider-Man does not exist in this universe. Also, you’re trying to do Sinister Six again! Despite failing at it and canceling your plans several times. And, third, how dare you steal a character from the MCU timeline to make your shitty universe work better. It’s a well-known fact that a big part of the reason the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies work is because of Kevin Fiege/Disney. And, now, you’re just going to straight-up take that hard work and trick people into thinking your garbage “cinematic universe” is canon to the MCU. Bullshit. Complete bullshit. I hope Morbius bombs hard and all of these plans end up going to shit. Because all of this not only seems like a bad idea but feels like it’s in extremely bad faith. You’re only thinking of the money and not the art. And, it’s going to blow up in your face. I just do not understand how you can keep dropping the ball like this. It’s embarrassing. Sony, please do better or sell the rights. As a Spider-Man fan, I’m begging you. I can see the writing on the wall and it’s not pretty.

So, like I said, I didn’t enjoy Morbius. The movie itself is not good. But, the after-credits scene turned it into the absolute dumpster fire I was expecting. After the one-two punch of Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Batman, having a disaster like this enter the superhero genre hurts worse than normal. Oh well, maybe Multiverse of Madness will undo this pain. (Potentially in more ways than one?) But, until then, again, fuck Sony.

TL;DR: Morbius itself feels like a bad action/sci-fi/horror film from the early 2000s full of disappointing cliches and questionable CGI, but its post-credits scene easily makes it one of the worst superhero movies of all time.

Score: 2/10 (Painful)

Post-credits Score: 1/10 (Unbearable)

Dyl’s Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2021

Hello, everyone! Welcome to Dylan’s Favorite Movies of 2021! Over the course of this write-up, we’ll go over my ten favorite movies of the year 2021, as well as give out some fun little “awards” along the way. Now, remember, these are MY favorite movies. That does not necessarily mean that they are the best. They’re just what struck a chord with me this year. Likewise, I have not seen every movie that came out in 2021, so, if you feel something is missing, let me know. Maybe it didn’t hit with me or maybe I didn’t see it. Both are entirely possible. I’ve got my opinions. You’ve got yours. I’d love to discuss, but the most important thing is that we’re all civil here.

So, 2021 was kind of… off still. We didn’t have the world cease to a halt like in 2020, but we were still dealing with the repercussions of a pandemic. As such, the movie world still felt a little disjointed. Movies were still pushed back by months, if not years. Theaters kept jumping back and forth between packed and empty. And, honestly, a lot of the movies that did come out weren’t super impressive in my opinion. I remember thinking in early 2020 that I wasn’t too terribly excited about that year’s slate. And that year’s slate kind of became 2021’s instead. Plus, I went through a lot of personal stuff, again, in 2021, which made movies feel sort of less important. I went months at a time without a single blog post. And, by the time the Oscar nominations rolled around, I’d only seen three of the nominees. Usually, I’ve only missed one or two of them. But, don’t worry. I’ve spent the first few weeks of this year really digging in and I’ve since watched some terrific flicks. Looking at this list, these are all 100% worthy of being celebrated. And, honestly, makes the year not look too bad.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the little “awards” I like to give out and then jump into the Top 10.

Best Supporting Actress

And my nominees are… I was honestly kind of iffy on The Last Duel until Jodie Comer‘s tragic final act POV told the heartbreaking truth. Everyone knows Anita is the best role in West Side Story and Ariana DeBose definitely made her take iconic. While there were many great performances in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, I was most taken by Cherry Jones‘ performance as Tammy’s harsh but caring mother. The scene in Drive My Car where Toko Miura recounts a horrific incident from her character’s past alone would get her the nomination. And, Florence Pugh as the new Black Widow, so full of biting sarcasm and heart, is my favorite new addition to the MCU.

And the winner is…

Toko Miura, Drive My Car! This was such a terrific performance. She starts the movie as this very secondary, quiet, kind of standoffish character. But, by the end, she’s almost on equal footing with the lead, as she opens up to him about life, love, and her tragic past. I dare anyone to watch the scene where they visit the site of her mother’s death and not get emotional. I don’t think it’s possible. It is such a gorgeous movie and a brilliant performance.

Best Supporting Actor

And the nominees are… I thought Robin de Jesus‘ performance in Tick, Tick… Boom! as Jonathan Larson’s encouraging best friend, who secretly doesn’t have much time left himself, was wonderful. Nothing made me happier this year than seeing Andrew Garfield get to redeem his portrayal of Spider-Man in No Way Home. David Harbour sold his role as the patriarch of a screwed-up fake Russian family up with quite a lot of heart and, of course, more than a little humor in Black Widow. Almost no character this year felt more fleshed out than the 15-year-old, immature yet extremely business savvy Gary, played by Cooper Hoffman in Licorice Pizza. And, in CODA, a father who’s torn between keeping the family business alive and allowing his daughter to chase her dreams felt all too real thanks to a fantastic performance by Troy Kotsur.

And the winner is…

Andrew Garfield, Spider-Man: No Way Home! As I said, there was absolutely nothing more cinematically satisfying this year than seeing Andrew Garfield redeem his portrayal of Spider-Man. His banter about being underappreciated and “lame” compared to the other Spideys was hilarious. And, of course, seeing him kick butt in the suit again was terrific. But, the look on his face when he saved MJ, something he’d previously failed at in his universe with Gwen, made this a comic book movie performance worthy of the hall of fame. There was so much said there without it needing to get flashy or over-indulgent. It’s such a beautifully understated moment that you wouldn’t expect in the middle of a huge, CGI battle. It definitely cemented my thought that The Amazing Spider-Man movies were bad in spite of Andrew Garfield, not because of him. I’d love to see more of this iteration on the big screen again sometime in the near future.

Best Actress

And the nominees are… Alana Haim portrayed the directionless feeling everyone gets perfectly in Licorice Pizza. In Being the Ricardos, Nicole Kidman did an excellent job bringing Lucille Ball to life, proving she was a true powerhouse on top of being a comedy icon. Emilia Jones was pitch-perfect as a teenager torn between helping her family and following her dreams in CODA. The agony that comes along with being one of the most famous people in the world was depicted in tragic fashion when Kristen Stewart played Diana in Spencer. And, depsite its flaws, it was hard not to fall in love with Cruella when Emma Stone was having so much fun playing the punk rock version of a Disney classic.

And the winner is…

Emilia Jones, CODA! She is absolutely the heart of one of my favorite movies of the year. Watching her struggle between supporting her impaired family or following her dream of becoming a singer felt so real. And, witnessing that turn into hatred towards both aspects of her life was truly heartbreaking. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a family dynamic feel this strong in a movie and I feel like most of that credit goes towards the way Jones acted towards her costars. She’s definitely THE breakout star of 2021 for me and I hope this is just the beginning of an illustrious career.

Best Actor

And the nominees are… I thought I was just getting a John Wick type story about a guy and his missing pet in Pig, instead I got a tragic character study and brilliant performance from Nicolas Cage. I’d almost dare to say no one has brought the ups and downs of being a struggling artist to life better than Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick… Boom!. The guilt that Hideotoshi Nishijima‘s character in Drive My Car carried around with him the entire movie was both depressing and beautifully realized. Anthony Ramos brought so much energy and life to In the Heights that his positivity was infectious. And, Will Smith‘s portrayal of a father who wants his daughters to be superstars, while also being terrified that they may curupted, was all too real in King Richard.

And the winner is…

Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom! Yes. I know I alreday gave him Best Supporting Actor. And, yes, I do believe in sharing the love. However, it’s not my fault that Garfield had this good of a year. To deny him either of these awards would be a sin. His performance in Tick, Tick… Boom! was especially noteworthy. Watching this movie, I lived through some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with this character. You feel every success and failure Larson was hit with over his entire career and a lot of that can be traced directly back to Andrew Garfield’s terrific acting abilities. I don’t know if anyone has ever had a better year than he has. I mean, heck, his performance in Tammy Faye was even a contender for Best Supporting Actor. He’s been so fantastic in so many things this year. It’s no wonder he’s taking home two of my top spots.

Best Director

And the nominees are… Jon M Chu translated In the Heights perfectly to the big screen, while adding flair we’d never be able to see on stage. In The Suicide Squad, James Gunn brought us another group of C-list outcasts and turned them into lovable goofballs. Sian Heder brought us one of the most emotional movies of the year with CODA. Denis Villeneuve did the impossible; turning the “unfilmable” Dune into a blockbuster. And, of course, Jon Watts directed sequence I only thought I’d see in my dreams in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

And the winner is…

Denis Villeneuve, Dune! While a lot of directors did amazing things this year, only Denis Villeneuve did what others would describe as the impossible. I remember hearing for years that Dune could not and would not be turned into a good movie. It was far too complex. There are a lot of politics involved which would lose people. Etc. Etc. However, Villeneuve not only made Dune. He turned it into one of the most interesting, heart racing movie events of the year. All while making each and every frame look like a piece of art. Not once was I bored or confused during Dune and that is quite the achievement.

AND NOW DYLAN’S TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2021

10. Drive My Car

Trust me when I tell you, this was a hard sell for me too. A three hour, subtitled drama about a guy being driven to and from work every day? Sounds like a snooze fest to me. But, I was very, very wrong. First of all, the time really flies in ways I wasn’t expecting. Two, the plot is intense with new revelations and shocking twists coming left and right. And, finally, I don’t know if I can point to a more emotional cinematic experience this year. Watching these characters come to grips with their faults along with the faults of those that they love was both heartbreaking and beautiful. That moment where they just let it all go and smoke a well deserved cigarette in the car is one of the most cathardic in movie history. I know it’s not for everyone, but, if you’re interested, I can not recommend Drive My Car highly enough.

9. Licorice Pizza

I know a lot has been said about the age difference between the two leads in Licorice Pizza. And, I get it. It’s more than a little weird. However, I also understand where Paul Thomas Anderson was coming from by having that gap exist. While he might legally be a child, she’s really the one coming of age here. He’s got his life together, jumping from one business to another. She’s the one that has no idea what she’s doing or why she’s here. I feel like it’s extremely relatable to be in your mid-20s and kinda just drifting. It’s less a romance and more a young woman trying to get her shit together being attracted to someone who does. Plus, there’s nothing explicitly predatory or sexual. And, I was not ready for how funny this movie would end up being. You never really knew where the plot was going to go from one moment to the next. Overall, I found Licorice Pizza to be a very funny, relatable, and sweet roller coaster ride.

8. Tick, Tick… Boom!

Listen, I’m about to hit 30 in four months. So, to say that I related on a personal level to the existential dread Jonathan Larson felt throughout this movie is an understatment. Do you give up on your dreams and accept the well paying, safe job? Or do you let your inner expressionist out and give the world something special? After all, we don’t have a lot of time on this planet. Shouldn’t we make the most of it? It’s all very relatable. Throw in a soundtrack that I had stuck in my head for weeks, some brilliant flairs by Lin Manuel Miranda, and the best performance of the year by Andrew Garfield and it’s no wonder Tick, Tick… Boom! was one of my favorites of the year.

7. In the Heights

I will never understand how In the Heights flopped so hard at the box office. In my opinion, it’s one of the best adaptations of a Broadway show to ever be presented on the big screen. Going around and meeting each member of this community, their hopes and dreams, their fears, their past, their romantic aspirations. It was all so interesting and brought to life perfectly by an extremely talented cast. Plus, I have yet to find a Lin Manuel Miranda soundtrack that I didn’t like and this one was so full of energy and life. It’s another I listened to on repeat for weeks after my screening. And, Jon M Chu’s directing was pitch-perfect with beautiful, creative cinematography and huge, delightful dance sequences. It’s definitely the most “Broadway” movie I’ve ever seen, while also adding flair and pizazz unachievable on a stage. I loved each and every moment of In the Heights. And, honestly, I think I just talked myself into watching it again.

6. Encanto

We don’t talk about Bruno, BUT can we talk about how absolutely fantastic this movie is? Much like In the Heights, it’s a musical where we’re introduced to a large group of people and we slowly learn who each of them is and what they’re like over the course of the runtime. And, by the end of Encanto, I felt like I was part of the Family Madrigal. I felt such strong emotions for each and every one of them. Luisa and Bruno’s stories both brought me to tears. Meanwhile, I’ve never wanted to punch an old lady as badly as I do Abuela. It’s such a beautiful, realistic, and tragic story about the trauma that comes along with the love in such a large, close family. Plus, it has a very touching message about embracing what makes you special and not comparing yourself to others. All of this to a terrific soundtrack that, again, has been stuck in my head even months after my original viewing. Like I said, there’s not a Lin Manuel Miranda soundtrack I don’t like. (And, yes, I’m aware he’s behind the last three entries on my list. What can I say? I’m just really drawn to the guy’s work.) Encanto is a very worthy addition to the Disney canon and one of my favorite movies of the year.

But, somehow it’s still not my favorite Disney movie of the year because…

5. Raya and the Last Dragon

“But, Dylan,” I can hear you saying, “How could you say that? Encanto is a cultural phenomenon and I already forgot about Raya. Surely, you’re just trying to be some kind of Disney hipster.” But, I swear to you this is legitamately how I feel. I really, really love Raya and the Last Dragon. And, after Encanto came out, I had this sneaking sucspecion that I still liked Raya more. So, I put it to the test. I watched both back-to-back. And, yeah, I was right. I do enjoy it a little more than I do Encanto. Not only that. But, I kinda think it’s better in almost every way (other than soundtrack of course). I think the animation is prettier. I think the story is more complex, adult, and, frankly, more interesting. While I love them, I don’t think any of the characters in Encanto hold a candle (pun intended) to Sisu, Raya, and Tuk Tuk. I’ve always been more drawn to the adventure Disney movies, so maybe that’s it. I will forever cherish both of these and I hope they both become classics. But, for my money, Raya and the Last Dragon was the best movie Disney put out this year.

4. The Suicide Squad

James Gunn has done it again. For those of you who don’t know, I am quite into comic books. I wouldn’t call myself an expert. But, I know a fair amount. That being said, I knew almost nothing about most of the characters in The Sucide Squad. Yet, like he did with Guardians of the Galaxy, he made me fall in love with these D-list characters in ways I never expected. Like, who would’ve thought we’d get a Peacemaker tv show? DC hasn’t even figured out how to make Superman work, but James Gunn made Peacemaker popular enough to have a tv show? Anyways, like most of his movies, this is not just incredibly funny and gloriously violent, it also has an insane amount of heart to it. Like, the ending is both horrificly gorey and emotionally beautiful. Truly something only someone like James Gunn. DC, let more directors just do their own thing. Because you might just keep coming up with brilliant films like The Suicide Squad (and The Batman, but we’ll get to that next year).

3. Dune

Dune. Was. An. Experience. Before this movie, I had almost no knowledge of Dune. I’d never read the book, which I have owned for years. I’ve never seen the original movie, though, again, I own it now. And I didn’t even really have even a vague idea of what the story was. All I’d experienced was the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune a few years ago that explained how overly complicated and “unfilmable” the story was. So, boy was I surprised when I enjoyed the hell out of Villenueve’s Dune. It was absolutely one of my favorite cinematic experience of the year. I found the politics at play to be so interesting. The battles were amazing. And, of course, the visuals were jaw-dropping. It’s very clear to me how Dune inspired Star Wars, because this movie is a grown-up, more sophisticated version of that saga. And, as a lifelong Star Wars fan, I really, really enjoyed myself. The three hours completely flew by for me. I absolutely cannot wait to see Part 2 in a few years.

And for those wondering why I still haven’t partaken in the other versions like the OG movie and/or book, spoilers, man.

2. CODA

CODA was easily the biggest surprise of the year for me. I wasn’t expecting to love it nearly as much as I did. First of all, every single actor in this movie is terrific. They all bring so much emotion and life to these characters that it’s impossible not to fall in love. Second, this movie treats the deaf community with so much respect that I was surprised to learn the director herself was not a deaf woman. The story never looks down on them, even when other characters in the movie do. They are just normal people trying to live their lives. I’m glad they now have a movie to showcase that. And, then, there’s the plot. The story of a girl raised by deaf parents with a singing voice so incredible that she could be a professional is such a good premise. Throw in the fact that her parents rely on her for their business and, obviously, would be unaware of such talent and you’re brewing up a mix for some real struggles. I’ve rarely seen the love-hate parental relationship that comes with being a teenager better portrayed. Without a doubt, this is the most heartwarming movie of the year. I sobbed my eyes out in the final moments. I not only highly recommend CODA but I will be passionately rooting for it at this year’s Academy Awards. If they’re smart, they’ll give it to them. And, it’d be equally smart of you to check it out if you haven’t. I sat there as the credits rolled thinking CODA was my favorite movie of the year.

Then, I remembered a little something…

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home

I mean… was there ever really any doubt? Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a massive Spider-Man fan. Out of all the fandoms, all the characters, all the movies, he’s always been my favorite. I’ve seen all of his movies in theaters, most of them several times. I’ve played the video games. I’ve watched the cartoons. And, I’ve read hundreds of comics. So, No Way Home was kind of a dream come true for me. To see such a brilliant love letter to the character and the franchise was truly something special. I love the closure they allowed Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield to give their franchises, both of which were cut off way before they should’ve been. I love seeing a massive team of these iconic villains teaming up. I love that we finally get an actual reading of the line that defined Peter Parker read in the MCU. And, I really love that, like in the comics, Peter is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if it means doing what is right. This movie had me all over the place. I laughed. I cried. I cheered. Truly, it’s an experience I will never forgot and will continue to relive for decades to come. It’s not only favorite movies of the year; it’s an all-timer. I could sing it’s praises for hours. But, I’ve got other things to do. And, I assume, so do you. For now, let’s just say that I really, really, really love Spider-Man: No Way Home. I feel like it was made just for me and, thus, easily takes the top spot as my favorite movie of 2021.

And… that’s it. 2021 is a wrap. Overall, not a terrible year at the cinema. There definitely weren’t as many high profile movies that I loved. (There’s a reason there’s no honorable mentions this year.) But, there was also a solid amount of movies that’ll stick with me for decades to come. (Obviously, I owe a huge thanks to both Lin Manuel Miranda and Andrew Garfield for that.) And, I can safely say that I strongly recommend every movie that’s listed here. They’re all fantastic.

Now, back to discovering movies for my Top 10 Movies of 2022 list! I mean… there are already a couple of really strong contenders.

Review: X

X (2022)

Director: Ti West

Writer: Ti West

Starring: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, and Scott Mescudi

Review: Determining whether or not you’re going to like X boils down to one simple question. How do you feel about early slasher movies? I’m talking about the classics like Halloween and, especially, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If you love them, odds are you’re going to find this to be an enjoyable homage. If they’re not your cup of tea, maybe skip this one. Personally, I quite enjoyed myself with X. It was a nice pallet cleanser after the awful Texas Chainsaw sequel we got earlier in the year.

First and foremost, X is an homage to the great horror films of the 1970s. And not only in that it’s a scary movie that takes place in the 70s. Just about everything in this movie feels like it’s from another time. The plot is quite similar to Texas Chainsaw with a group of young adults pulling up to a weekend getaway in a van, only for that spot to include a creepy house, full of mysteries, and a killer family. Heck, the house itself looks almost exactly like the place that Leatherface called home in that first movie. Speaking of killers, the murders here are extremely retro. They’re over the top and gory in the same way all of the best slasher movie kills are. One in particular (involving some farming equipment) feels right out of Michael Myers’ playbook. But, perhaps most impressively, this thing is shot like those classic movies. From the POV killer shots to over-the-top sexualization to scenes where the baddies are just glaring from a distance, there were always moments that felt to me like they were directed by Tobe Hooper or John Carpenter. I legitimately think you could show this to someone and say its from the 70s and, other than picture quality, they’d believe you.

But, X is also an incredibly smart movie. Without getting into spoilers, it avoids some of the major slasher criticisms that are brought up in movies like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a meta-movie like those others, but it definitely feels like Ti West was commenting on the tropes we see in those movies. Let’s just say that it’s a very sexual movie. Obviously. Heck, the characters are going to this cabin to film a porno after all. But, unlike a lot of horror films, this doesn’t seem interested in punishing these characters for their sexuality. It’s much more open to the idea that sex isn’t something worth being ashamed over. And, just when you think this movie is going exactly where every other slasher goes, it throws a wrench in the plot. Something happens towards the end of X that I would’ve never seen coming. And that one moment makes it stand out in a sea of 70s inspired horror flicks because it wasn’t afraid to buck the cliches a bit. I was very impressed.

However, I do not think X is without its problems. And, to me, the biggest thing that took me out of it was the killers themselves. While not a major spoiler, if you want to go in completely spoiler-free, I’d skip this paragraph. See? The killers are basically just an old couple mad that they can’t have sex anymore. It’s a horny old lady who wants to bone but can’t find anyone who thinks she’s attractive anymore and her husband who is jealous that his wife wants to bone everyone. In my opinion, that wasn’t really the strongest motivation and just led to the further vilification of the elderly. Plus, I just never found them to be all that scary. Now. That being said. There is apparently a prequel in the works about these characters. (Stay after the credits for a peek.) I am excited about that. And, I reserve the right to come back in a few years and re-evaluate these characters. If the prequel is done well and really gets to the heart of why these characters are killing, more than just they’re horny, I will retract this criticism and probably like this movie even more. And I honestly do 100% see that happening. So, stay tuned.

Overall, I really enjoyed X. I think it’s a fun throwback to the horror films of yesteryear. It’s obvious to me that West is a big fan of the genre and wanted to show appreciation for something that he loved. But, I really enjoyed that he was smart enough to update the material for the 21st century. Not only is this something I’d rewatch, but it’s also something I’d recommend putting on with a group of people. Nothing quite brings people together like a good slasher. And this deserves to be up there with your Nightmare on Elm Streets, Halloweens, and Friday the 13ths. Oh, and let’s not forget Texas Chainsaw. It’s funny that this feels more like Texas Chainsaw than the actual Texas Chainsaw movie we got this year.

TL;DR: X’s tone, setting, and cinematography feel right at home with the best of the 1970’s slashers, but with a much-needed 21st-century twist.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: Turning Red

Turning Red (2022)

Director: Domee Shi

Writers: Julia Cho and Domee Shi

Starring: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong

Review: Real talk. Do we even need reviews for Pixar movies anymore? Like, is there anybody on the fence for whether or not they’re going to see Turning Red? Because, personally, I’m on board as soon as I hear there’s a new Pixar movie. It doesn’t matter to me what it’s about. With very few exceptions, I know that it’s going to hit me with an emotional wallop and that I’m going to give it at least an 8/10. Turning Red is proof of that almost exactly. Nothing about the marketing of this movie made it seem like something I’d want to see. Yet, here I am; writing up yet another glowing Pixar review. Because this movie rocks!

First of all, the plot of Turning Red is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the trailers, they made it look like any typical werewolf situation but it’s a little more lighthearted and fun than that. Sure, it starts off with a family curse, where the women of our character’s family turn into giant red pandas every time they feel any strong emotion. And, of course, this can only be undone with an ancient ritual. However, it quickly becomes less Hulk and more X-Men as the plot progresses and Mei learns to embrace her “curse.” There are just as many scenes of her having a blast in panda form as there are her messing things up. Moments like her jamming out to a boy band soundtrack with her friends as this gigantic monster are what’s going to stick with me. I wish the advertising had leaned into that a bit more and less of the panic.

I also LOVED how this movie was clearly based on the experiences the director/writer had growing up in Toronto. There’s one review, in particular, that’s making the rounds that I couldn’t disagree with more. In it, the white male writer claims that this was too niche of a story to tell, aimed squarely at the Chinese-Canadian girls who were teens in the 2000s. Now, I’m not going to say that that specific group won’t like this movie even more than I do. Of course, they will. It’s representative of their life’s story. However, that’s what I love about cinema. I’m there to live someone else’s life. To hear their story. I think diversity in the stories being told is one of the movies’ (and life’s) strongest elements and I’m glad major studios like Disney/Pixar are backing stories like this. I have very little in common with the lead character of this movie. However, I felt for her just as strongly as I do any other protagonist. I really don’t understand how others wouldn’t.

I was also shocked by how grown-up this movie felt. While obviously never getting explicit, it didn’t really shy away from the puberty aspect either. I never, ever thought I’d see things like pads and tampons in a Disney animation. I didn’t think it’s a topic they’d even approach. But, I’m really glad they are. We don’t need to keep this stuff a dirty little secret anymore. Maybe a movie like this will make the transition less awkward and embarrassing for people who have to go through this in the future. After all, it’s all just part of life. Likewise, this movie gets a tad horny at times. Again, obviously, there’s no sex or really anything explicit. But, it’s very clear that Mei likes boys for more than their personalities. She’s not just making dough eyes at them like Ariel or Jasmine. She’s thinking about those abs and wanting them pressed up against her. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a character legitimately checking someone out and I’m here for it. Again, let’s normalize things like that. Maybe it’ll make teens feel less awkward about their changes. I’ve always been an advocate for teens watching Big Mouth, though I understand that maybe it gets a bit graphic. This, however, I think is the perfect stepping stone and should help in that oh-so-awkward transitory time. All while being totally PG.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Pixar film without them just hitting you square in the feels. It’s almost never just a light-hearted romp anymore. They’ve got to make you cry. Turning Red succeeds at that tremendously. On top of being a fun Teen Wolf-type movie, it also touches on themes of self-acceptance, living up to expectations, and generational trauma. Stuff that I think every single person in the world has dealt with and has battle scars from. I especially loved the mother-daughter relationship here, as both of them have to embrace the changes that are happening in their lives. The mom was afraid of losing her daughter, while the daughter was afraid of disappointing her mother. It’s all very real, emotional. and raw. I don’t know that I’ve seen a mother-daughter relationship so fully realized in a Disney flick. And, yes, it absolutely made me cry. I think that makes like five Pixar movies in a row now.

Overall, I really enjoyed Turning Red. It’s a really touching story about a girl embracing what makes her different, while also learning that she doesn’t have to live up to any standards but her own. I think that’s a very powerful message. Likewise, I was impressed with how honestly this story was told. Disney’s allowing more and more realistic elements to enter their fairytale environments and I’m here for it. I think kids can handle more than we let on. And, while I didn’t really get into it in my review, I really dug the animation style here. I’m not a huge anime fan, but even I can appreciate the nod to that style. I think Turning Red more than earns its place among the Pixar greats.

Oh, and the red panda is my favorite animal! They’re just so fluffy and cute. So, of course, I was stoked to spend so much screentime with one!

TL;DR: Turning Red is another hit for Pixar with a touching, fun, and surprisingly honest story about all the changes that come with being a teenager.

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: The Batman

The Batman (2022)

Director: Matt Reeves

Writers: Matt Reeves and Peter Craig

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, and Colin Farrell

Review: I’m going to be fully honest with you here. Up until the reviews started rolling in, I was not super excited for The Batman. Of course, every Batman movie comes with a certain level of excitement. It’s Batman after all. But, I was growing kinda tired of seeing the grounded, realistic takes on these characters. While I don’t want the Schmacher movies again, I think the world is ready for something along the lines of Batman: The Animated Series or the Arkham games. But, that’s not what Warner Bros is giving us at the moment. And, having now seen the results, I can’t be too mad. Because The Batman is so freaking good. I feel like it’s only the opening act of a grand, beautiful story arc, but it’s already my favorite live-action take on the Bat-Verse.

As I said before, I did not think we needed another grounded take on Batman. I thought after the Nolan trilogy we’d been there, done that. However, I wasn’t prepared for exactly how grounded Reeves’ Batman would get. Compared to this movie, the Nolanverse feels like a fantasy realm. While that universe was filled with gadgets that felt either cutting-edge or futuristic, this one is very much low-tech items that feel accessible now. This Bruce Wayne’s batmobile is a car. Not a tank. Not a big, flashy toy. A suped-up, demolition derby style, barely bat-themed car. Likewise, he’s got one Batarang and a parachute suit for gliding. The Batcave? Oh, you mean the basement? Basically, what I’m saying is that Lucius Fox isn’t providing him with limitless resources here. It’s one dude versus the entire Gotham crime scene.

Speaking of, this is by far the shittiest Gotham has ever been. This is the first time that I was like, “Yeah. I don’t understand why anyone would want to be here.” The Burton/Schumacher movies never made Gotham feel real, like an achievable, livable city. It was just too cartoony and over the top. Meanwhile, Nolan’s felt like just your average city. Gotham felt in line with Chicago, Boston, or Pittsburgh. Maybe not the best crime-wise, but not totally unlivable. But, Reeves’ Gotham freaking sucks and I want nothing to do with it. Do you know that scene at the end of Joker where everyone was worked up and destroying the town? That’s what this Gotham feels like all the time. It feels like you couldn’t take a two-minute walk down the street without being mugged. And there’s almost no hope of anything getting better because everyone involved with running the city is corrupt. From the lowliest cop all the way to the top. Even for Batman, making a difference here feels impossible. Honestly, a lot of Batman’s opening monologue in this movie reminded me more of Rorschach than any other Batman I’ve seen. But, while Rorschach’s sounds like the rambling of a madman, Batman’s kind of got a point here. It honestly doesn’t even seem worth it to try for this city.

And, then, of course, there are the villains. I honestly do not know how this movie is being marketed towards children, because, holy shit, is the main villain in this movie dark. Paul Dano’s Riddler, without a doubt, is the scariest villain we’ve ever gotten in a comic book movie. He doesn’t feel like a cartoon character at all. He’s a very realistic version of a serial killer in that everything he does is very methodical and creepy. There’s no grandstanding here. It’s just a man researching, stalking, and then brutally murdering victim after victim. While I was never quite on board with this take of the Riddler, I do appreciate that it fits the context of the movie quite well. It feels very much like a character that would not only exist but thrive in this world. And, like most serial killers, the person behind the mask seems oddly timid. That is until you get him worked up and the real monster comes out. I can’t think of anyone better to pull this kind of performance off than Paul Dano. He absolutely crushes it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the first non-Joker Batman actor to get an Oscar nomination.

Ok, so, as I’ve established, I was not necessarily looking forward to another darker, realistic take on the Batman mythos, but I was super surprised by how well Reeves’ handled it. But, here’s the thing, I don’t know if that alone would’ve made me love this movie as much as I did. No. What really impressed me was how much this actually felt like the Batman I know and love. Despite being so “edgy,” this felt more like Batman proper than any other I’ve seen to date. First of all, it’s the best use of Batman’s fear tactics I’ve ever seen. Even better than the Arkham games. Because this Batman 100% lives or dies by the shadows. He knows that intimidation is half of the battle. It’s how one dude is able to take down an entire squad of goons. The scene in the subway is one of the greatest Batman moments of all time because it fully takes advantage of making our hero actually scary. Second, the fight choreography is the best we’ve ever seen in a Bat-flick. Most of the time, the action in these movies feels super stiff because of the batsuit. However, this feels fluid and, perhaps most importantly, brutal. And, speaking of things we don’t usually get from Batman movies, he finally feels like a detective here! While “world’s greatest” might be a bit of a stretch, we see that he at least has a little bit of a noggin up in that cowl. It was great to see him at the scene of the crime actually scanning evidence and putting together clues. It’s a big part of Batman’s mythos that I’m glad is no longer missing. Robert Pattinson also does a brilliant job at blurring the lines between Bruce Wayne and Batman. It’s always said that Bruce Wayne is the one that’s really a mask, but this is the first time that feels authentic. As much as I love Keaton and Bale, they seemed to enjoy being Bruce Wayne too much. For all intents and purposes, this Wayne might as well not even exist. I loved it. And, as I’ve already mentioned, this Batman has maybe my favorite aesthetic of any Batman. To me: it’s all perfect: the suit, the car, the bike, the symbol, everything.

The next paragraph has very light spoilers. Nothing plot specific, but a little bit character development-wise. I do not think it’ll ruin anything for you, but I just want to be 100% transparent with anyone wanting to go in completely fresh

But, you know what my absolute favorite part of the entire movie is? The fact that Batman is kind of seen as a beacon of light towards the end of this movie. It’s usually very much the opposite. He’s usually being hunted down by the police and laughed at by the general public. But, here, it seems like the people of Gotham are legitimately happy to have him around. And we actually get a moment to see Batman stop and help civilians. It’s not an action scene. He’s not punching any criminals in the face. He’s just lending a helping hand, being a good samaritan, a beacon of light, to people who need it. We do not get scenes like that often enough in Batman media. It seems like every other superhero gets them. Spider-Man saves children from burning buildings. Superman gets cats out of trees. But we don’t get to see Batman do stuff like that often. Most of the time he just comes in, beats up the baddies, then leaves. It was nice to see that change. I had the biggest smile on my face during this sequence. And, at that moment, I knew Robert Pattinson had taken over as my favorite Batman. Everything about this take is just too good. This is the Batman I’d want in a Justice League movie. Because he is, 100% the team player superhero that the team needs. Unfortunately, he’s perhaps also the version least likely to ever appear in something like this. Because I can guarantee you that Superman does not exist in this universe. There is no way to make that work. It’s a real shame though because this otherwise proves that “dark and gritty” and “actually caring superhero” does not have to be mutually exclusive.

Man, I have so much to go into still but I have to start to wrap this up. Otherwise, I’ll be here forever. So, let’s do a speedrun of some other thoughts then wrap this up.

The plot was very good, though maybe not the most original. It’s very Se7en, very Chinatown, and a little Saw. However, I loved seeing those elements brought over to a Batman story. And, let’s face it, comics take inspiration from more established works and just plug their characters in all the time so it’s nothing new. Very on-brand.

All of the castings were pretty pitch-perfect. Obviously, Robert Pattinson and Paul Dano stole the show, but Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, and John Turturro deserve huge shoutouts. A separate, even larger shoutout has to go to Collin Farrell. His Penguin was absolutely the best, most comic-accurate take on any character in the Batman mythos. I cannot believe how absolutely lost in that character Farrell was. I will gladly tune into whatever he appears in next, whether on the big screen or small.

While very long, I only really felt that The Batman dragged once. And, without going into spoilers, it’s a certain scene with Alfred. It felt like it wasn’t earned yet and, if I had to cut anything, that’s what I would’ve snipped. Andy Serkis makes a terrific Alfred and the moment is very touching. It just feels like we didn’t know him well enough yet to dedicate that much time and emotion to him. Other than that, I felt like this was a very streamlined, earned three-hour runtime. Make sure your bladder is empty going in because there’s not much that can be easily missed.

So, as you can probably tell by this being one of the longest write-ups I’ve ever done, I really, really enjoyed The Batman. However, I would probably still rank it below The Dark Knight as my favorite Batman movie, because I feel like that one had a better plot and, let’s face it, Heath Ledger’s performance is unbeatable. But, as far as understanding Batman and his universe, The Batman is by far the better take. I love this universe. I love the tone. I love the characters. I love the action. And, I cannot wait to see what they do next. I will definitely be first in line.

TL;DR: Despite my reluctance to another “gritty” reboot, with The Batman, Matt Reeves has created my favorite live-action version of the character’s mythos to date and Pattinson is easily my new favorite Batman.

Score: 9/10 (Amazing)

Review: Cyrano

Cyrano (2022)

Director: Joe Wright

Writer: Erica Schmidt

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kevin Harrison Jr, and Ben Mendelsohn

Review: Man, I wish I had a Cyrano to write up my reviews. He’s so elegant and witty and I, while not completely unskilled, am not. I write in very plain English about the movies that I love (and, well, more than a few that I don’t). But, you know, you get what you get. Not everyone can be a great French poet. Anywho… let’s get to the review, shall we? Because Cyrano is quite good and definitely worth talking about more than it’s one Costume Design Oscar nomination would have you believe.

Honestly, after seeing it, I’m quite surprised the Oscars didn’t give Cyrano more love. Because, like most Joe Wright films, it’s almost technically perfect. The sets are visually impressive. The costumes are works of art. The cinematography is gorgeous. And, while subtle compared to many musicals, the dance choreography fits the tone and message of this movie perfectly. Seriously, this movie is absolutely gorgeous. Every scene feels like a painting come to life. And the emotion Wright is able to get simply out of his camera work is amazing. There’s a scene where he shoots Haley Bennett so personally and passionately that you can feel the love radiating off of the screen, even though she is alone and barely speaking. It’s so effective in getting us to care for her character just as much as our two male leads do. It’s an incredible piece of visual storytelling and just one example of how Wright makes this oft-told story work so well.

But, the real takeaway for me absolutely has to be Peter Dinklage as Cyrano himself. He is so perfectly suited for this role that you’d think it was written for him, even though you know the play was written over a hundred years ago and based on a real person. Still, the wit, the charm, the heartbreak, and the self-loathing feel like someone saw Tyrion on Game of Thrones and plopped him over into another movie. Yet, it’s almost more effective here because Cyrano wasn’t born into money and isn’t guaranteed anything in life. He has to build his own reputation and take his blows more often than a Lannister ever would. All of this gives a fantastic showcase of Dinklage’s acting abilities. And, of course, he absolutely crushes it. I wish the Best Actor field wasn’t so crowded because he definitely has earned his spot among those five nominees. It’s a shame he wasn’t nominated. Maybe we can just pretend that one of the trophies he took home for Game of Thrones was actually for this. Or, you know, hope he gets another Oscar-worthy role because he’s definitely an Oscar-worthy actor.

Unfortunately, while I definitely respected the work and talent that went into making Cyrano and I do like the story, I never found myself completely loving the movie. I think that mostly came down to the music. Now, I will be the first to admit that my music knowledge is slim at best. I cannot write music. I can’t even really tell you why good music is good. And, Cyrano was nominated for a Tony in 2018, so it’s obviously well-regarded. But… I don’t know. I just found most of the songs to be incredibly dull. Like, for most of them, I would’ve almost preferred for the characters to just talk their lines. This is weird because I’m normally such a big musical person. This one though just felt a bit unnecessary. The only exception to me was the song where the soldiers sang their letters to home out loud. That song was super powerful and very well done. I loved it. As for the rest, let’s just say this is the first recent musical I’ve left and didn’t listen to the soundtrack on the way home. None of these songs are making my Spotify wrapped this year.

Overall, I do definitely think Cyrano is a movie worth experiencing though. While I don’t think the music was particularly strong, it just has too much artistry on display to ignore. Peter Dinklage gives one of the absolute best performances of the year. Also, it’s pretty much perfectly made with beautiful scenery and some breathtaking visual storytelling from Joe Wright. Definitely deserved more than it’s one Oscar nomination. Oh well. Just goes to prove that the Academy doesn’t always know what’s best.

TL;DR: The combined talents of director Joe Wright and star Peter Dinklage make Cyrano a worthwhile take on an oft-told tale.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: Uncharted

Uncharted (2022)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writers: Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Jon Hanley Rosenberg, and Mark D. Walker

Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, and Antonio Banderas

Review: Ok. Let’s do a bit of table setting before we get into this review. I’m not going to claim to be much of a gamer. However, I have played all four main Uncharted games. Nathan Drake and I have been through a lot. Basically, what I’m saying is that I am an Uncharted fan. And, as a fan, I have conflicting thoughts on this movie. So, I’m going to try to be as fair as possible. I’m going to look at this work from two different angles. One, is it a good movie? And, two, is it a good adaptation? Because, while not on completely different ends of the spectrum, my answers to these questions are a bit different.

First of all, let’s pretend that someone went into this movie completely blind to the concept of Uncharted. I am certain that they would, at the very least, enjoy themselves. Because this is a generally likable movie. Honestly, its two-hour runtime kind of flies by. The characters are funny and charming. There’s constantly something entertaining happening on screen. And, it plays like a decent enough treasure-hunting movie. There’s nothing revolutionary here though. Most of the plot is stuff we’ve seen before. A lot of the acting is just ok. And, well, the action scenes are so blandly shot and filled with CGI that nothing ever feels real. However, if you’re just looking for a way to turn your brain off and enjoy something for two hours, it’ll meet those criteria.

But, as an Uncharted fan, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. First of all, despite being a big fan of his, Tom Holland was never a good pick to play Nathan Drake. I thought that maybe I’d buy into it when I saw the movie but I just can’t. Nothing with him in the lead is ever going to feel like Uncharted to me. I’m sorry. Nathan Drake is a 6’2″, bulky, mid-30s, man’s man. He’s Captain America, not early-in-his-career Spider-Man. Literally, any of the other Avengers actors would’ve been a better fit for this role. Likewise, Sully is everybody’s young grandpa or older uncle. He’s a slimmer John Goodman with a graveling voice and mustache. Basically, not at all Mark Wahlberg. I know that sometimes size, age, and appearance aren’t everything when it comes to casting. If they were, I’d have written off Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine decades ago. But, again, no matter how enjoyable the movie, I just can’t buy this as Uncharted with these two in the leads.

As lackluster as the casting is, I’m not entirely sure that fixing that would’ve suddenly made the movie feel like the games though. Like I said, I’ve been through a lot with Nathan Drake. Each of his games consists of about 20-25 levels. In those levels, just about everything that can happen happens. Nathan is constantly climbing mountain after mountain, statue after statue. He’s swinging from ledge to ledge. He’s almost falling to his death. He’s dodging booby traps. He’s solving a different puzzle or riddle every other breath. And, he’s mowing down hundreds, if not thousands, of men who are trying to kill him. Basically, by the time Nathan Drake reaches the treasure, you feel as if he’s earned it. There’s this intense sense of accomplishment because you knew how much effort it took to get to that point. If the video game Nathan went on the same quest the movie Nathan did, it’d be the easiest adventure of his career, as the movie only really has four adventure sequences. One heist. One treasure hunting scene. And then two, very Uncharted feeling, over-the-top action scenes. Now, you might argue that this is due to the change in medium. And, I get that but I also have to rebuttals. One, if you don’t feel like you can properly adapt the scale of the source material, don’t even try it. We don’t NEED an Uncharted movie. The games were more than enough. And, perhaps more importantly, two, why does Indiana Jones not have that same problem? Indy’s adventures feel epic. Those movies are set piece after set piece. And almost every single one is iconic. By the time the credits roll, you feel as if you’ve been on this grand, important adventure with Indiana Jones. So, why does Uncharted feel so easy and breezy by comparison with almost the exact same runtime? It’s gotta be in the storytelling at that point. I’m not saying that every movie can be Raiders of the Lost Ark. I know that’s not doable. There’s a reason that’s a classic that even its sequels couldn’t quite live up to. However, I do believe that Raiders discredits anyone’s “well, it’s a shorter runtime than the game, so it’s only natural it’d feel less epic” argument. The simple fact is they could’ve and should’ve done better. End of story.

Overall, as you can tell, I have very mixed feelings about Uncharted. I think it more or less works as its own adventure movie, but it definitely falls flat as an adaptation. I just can’t help but think of the amazing take that we’re missing out on. Throw Nathan Fillion in there with someone like Spielberg, Cameron, or Scott directing and you could really have something special. Heck, even give it to the Russos or one of the Fast & Furious directors. Who knows? Maybe someday we will get a proper adaptation. Or, maybe the sequel, which I’m sure will be greenlit by the end of the week, will at least FEEL more like Uncharted, even if we’re still stuck with this cast. I hope so, because, like I keep saying, I’m a big fan of this franchise. I want to love an Uncharted movie. But, this one just doesn’t feel like an Uncharted movie worth loving.

TL;DR: If you’ve never played the games, odds are you’ll find Uncharted to be a pleasant enough adventure flick. But, if you’re a fan of the franchise, it leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Score: 5.5/10 (5 if you compare it to the games, 6 if you don’t, average to 5.5)