Review: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)

Director: Akiva Schaffer

Writers: Dan Gregor and Doug Mand

Starring: John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, JK Simmons, and KiKi Layne

Review: In my childhood, I was without a doubt a Disney kid. (I know, shocker!) Though short-lived compared to its more popular affiliate channel, there was a stretch of time where the family television often stopped on Toon Disney. So, of course, I feel a deep connection to the Rescue Rangers. Unfortunately, that didn’t really translate to much excitement for this movie. I had extremely mixed feelings going in. It looked like a fun Roger Rabbit-style adventure, but I was so turned off by the different takes on the characters that I just couldn’t quite get on board. After seeing it, I can now say that, while those thoughts do still linger, this movie more than won me over. I, like so many others, ended up having a really good time with this. It’s an absolute delight of a movie.

First of all, while this isn’t a direct adaptation of the cartoon, it does capture the spirit of Rescue Rangers quite well. We’ve got our two lovable leads and their argumentative nature. They end up involved in a wacky adventure. In this case, Monterey Jack has been kidnapped. This leads to a lot of detective work and fun action scenes. And, they end up saving the day despite never quite doing it in the traditional manner. Along the way, there are lovable side characters and an amazing theme song. It’s all there. And, actually, I think they did a great job at bringing the individuality of Chip and Dale to life. This is the first time I feel they’ve really had distinct personalities. Whenever I see them, I’m usually distracted by trying to tell which is which. (I’ve got a little trick similar to PEMDAS I do every time.) But, that was not a problem here. They had completely different, easily identifiable personalities. Now, I will admit that the different outfits, nose colors, animation styles, and voices helped, but I think, for the first time, I would be able to name who said what by dialogue alone. Their personalities were that distinct.

But, to be entirely honest, the Rescue Rangers were only responsible for maybe 35% of my viewing enjoyment. The rest came from the brilliant wide array of background gags and cameos. As a Disney (and really animation in general) fan, I was in heaven trying to spot as many references as I could. There were so many that I think I could watch this ten times and still not catch everything. Every single one sparked joy in my heart from the obvious stuff like dejected Sonic to a background poster of a pimped-out Dobby. Not to mention the “always useful when doing a reboot” meta-humor about Hollywood running out of ideas. It helps the medicine go down when you go into these things with a wink and a nod. And, again, if you scan the background, you’ll find a couple of really solid jokes centered around bad movie pitches. I know it’s an easy comparison, but this really is the 21st century’s Roger Rabbit. It’s packed with plenty of nostalgic cameos but has just enough sass to make it not feel quite like “member berries” to quote one of the many franchises making an appearance here.

In the opening of this review, I mentioned a few of the reservations I had before my viewing experience. And, while it mostly won me over, I still struggled with them enough to hurt my overall viewing experience. First of all, the voices took an extremely long time for me to get over. I love John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, but the sound of their voices coming out of these two iconic characters triggered my fight or flight response. It just didn’t feel right. Like if Mickey Mouse showed up voiced by Pete Davidson. It’s weird. I don’t like it. And, ultimately, it’s what made this movie never completely register as a Chip and Dale movie for me. It’s just hard for me to buy that these are the same characters when their voices are so different from the iconic high-pitched squeaks that I’m used to. Also, I understand that it’s different in this movie’s universe, but Chip and Dale aren’t just from Rescue Rangers. They were iconic characters decades before and decades after that particular show. Would I listen to an argument that it was their peak? Sure. But, to paint them as some kind of fifteen minutes of fame actors rubbed me the wrong way. Again, how am I supposed to see these guys two of the most famous cartoon characters of all time when the movie doesn’t even see them that way. That being said, it’s entirely possible that this is just a me problem. No one else will have any issues with the portrayal. In fact, I hope it is. Because, otherwise, I thought this movie was great. I hope people love it for what it is. It deserves that much. But, for me, this was a huge hurdle to overcome and definitely hurt the final score.

Overall, I did enjoy Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers a lot. I think it’s a fun reboot and a movie I could definitely see myself revisiting. I loved this take on the characters, even though it was hard to buy them as THEE Chip and Dale. I think it’s a fantastic adventure flick that everyone will love. And I really, really loved the background jokes and cameos. I had a blast constantly scanning for more Easter eggs and each one made me happier than the last. All of this adds up to an easy recommendation for me. Definitely check this one out on Disney+. I think you’re going to like it.

TL;DR: Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is a really well-written, clever family comedy packed so full of cameos and background jokes that it’s almost guaranteed to win even the most skeptical viewer over.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: Firestarter

Firestarter (2022)

Director: Keith Thomas

Writer: Scott Teems

Starring: Zac Enron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes, and Gloria Reuben

Review: Remember like three years ago when Stephen King adaptations were the hot trend of the moment? Movies like It and Doctor Sleep were surfing that wave that Stranger Things inspired a few years before then. Well, I guess Blumhouse wanted some of that action. Only it’s three years too late. And they forgot to hire literally anyone remotely talented.

Honestly, Firestarter might be the most passionless movie I’ve ever seen. It feels like no one really had an idea for what to do with this. Nothing feels inspired. It’s just like they looked at Stephen King’s bibliography and was like “what’s left? Oh, Firestarter. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those” and that’s where the thoughts stopped. Seriously, there is nothing to take away from this movie. The dialogue is bland. The acting is god awful. There’s no interesting choices in the directing. It’s just dull and safe every step of the way.

Seriously, I went the entire movie without feeling any emotion. Do you know how hard that is to pull off? Especially in a movie about a child discovering that she has deadly powers. That’s like my jam. I grew up on X-Men. Stranger Things is one of my favorite shows of all-time. When you put a child into what essentially counts as a horror themed superhero origin story, it’s almost guaranteeing that I’ll eat it up. But, apparently not if you butcher it as badly as these film makers did. I was just bored out of my mind the entire time. I knew exactly how long the runtime was and how much time my showing had left, because I could not keep my eyes off of the clock the entire time. For a movie that clocks in at about 90 minutes, it sure feels like an eternity. I’ve seen a lot of bad movies at the theater lately, but it’s been a while since I’ve found one quite this boring.

So, yeah, I don’t recommend you see Firestarter. If you’re at all interested, I’d go back and watch the original first. Now, I can’t endorse that one either. I’ve never seen it and I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about it, but it’s gotta be better than this shitshow. I have to imagine those filmmakers at least cared about what they were putting on screen. Everyone involved in this version should be ashamed of themselves.

(Side note: I think I owe New Mutants an apology, because that looks like a masterpiece compared to this dribble.)

TL;DR: Firestarter is a contender for least inspired movie of the year and is borderline unwatchable.

Score: 1/10 (Unbearable)

Review: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Director: Sam Raimi

Writer: Michael Waldron

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Rachel McAdams

Review: So, truthfully, I almost don’t want to write this review up. Because I could honestly go on for hours and hours about this movie. And, while I do want to do that, it’s best that the viewer goes in almost completely cold. Basically, I’m afraid that I’m going to spoil something, especially since the trailers have been so good at hiding what this movie is about and the spoilers start flowing about 10 minutes in. So, this is going to be very short, very vague, and very surface level. Ok? Ok. Maybe I’ll post a spoiler-filled version later this week. We’ll see. But, for now, fear not.

Speaking of fear, this is without a doubt a Sam Raimi movie through and through. I’m inclined to call it the ultimate Sam Raimi movie. Because, being a superhero movie, it obviously plays very close to his Spider-Man trilogy, but it throws in a huge amount of horror and dark comedy that feels right in line with the Evil Dead trilogy. This makes for a completely different viewing experience than anything else in this universe. If you’ve gotten bored of the MCU formula, don’t worry because I think this is exactly what you’re looking for. Not only is it the scariest movie in the franchise (by far) but it’s also the most stylistically interesting. There are quite a few scenes in this movie that visually stray quite far from the MCU (and honestly superhero) formula. Honestly, a lot of the framing feels like frames from a 1980s comic. Which, obviously, is perfect for this. And, like I said, it’s definitely got that element of horror to it as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people complained that their kids will have to skip this one. Because it may tiptoe over the line of “too scary” more than once. Honestly though, I loved it. Anything to stop the MCU from feeling stale 28 movies deep. Not to mention, if any character is going to be adapted into horror, it’s Doctor Strange. I hope Raimi returns for any potential sequels.

Storywise, I can also say that this is incredibly strong. Without giving away spoilers, I’ll just say that it feels like culmination of a lot of events we’ve seen over the past couple of MCU entries. It deals with aftermath of the first Doctor Strange, Endgame, WandaVision. Loki, No Way Home, and What If and the fallout that follows such tragic, life-altering events. If you are a fan of the franchise, this definitely is a worthy payoff to some of the stories they’ve set up. It’s an incredibly emotional story with real heart and a ton of twists and turns I can guarantee you won’t see coming. Ok. I’ve got to stop here unfortunately. I can’t think of anything else plotwise to share without getting spoilery.

The rest you already know, because they’ve been true for dozens of movies now. It’s a lot of fun. There are very cool action scenes. Some of which, again, are unlike anything we’ve seen in this universe so far. There’s one especially that’s so cool and so original that it’ll stick with me forever. Lots of humor, both of the Raimi and typical MCU kind. And, of course, the performances are fantastic. Benedict Cumberbatch continues to be one of the absolute rockstars of the MCU. He’s brings such dignity to Strange, while also showing a vulnerable side. Xochitl Gomez is a delightful new addition as America Chavez. It’s insane how quickly the MCU can make you fall in love with new characters. I cannot wait to see more of her in the future. (Young Avengers! Please!) And, then, there’s Elizabeth Olsen. I love the character of Wanda so much. And, honestly, this might be the best performance of the entire franchise. Just. Perfect. In. Every. Way. (If you haven’t seen WandaVision, ABSOLUTELY DO THAT before seeing this.) Basically, even though its all very different, it still delivers you that sweet sweet Marvel Cinematic Universe fix.

If you can’t tell, I absolutely LOVED Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I wish I could talk about it more. It’s such a beautiful, badass, emotional tale. It’s absolutely nothing like I thought it would be, yet every bit what I needed. Go see it. Preferably now, while you still know almost nothing. And then come talk to me about it. Because I cannot wait to converse about this movie.

TL;DR: Featuring Sam Raimi’s distinct style, amazing story, and some of the franchise’s best performances, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is truly one of Marvel’s strongest entries yet.

Score: 9/10 (Amazing)

Review: The Survivor

The Survivor (2022)

Director: Barry Levinson

Writer: Justine Juel Gillmer

Starring: Ben Foster, Vicky Krieps, Billy Magnussen, Peter Sarsgard, John Leguizamo, and Danny DeVito

Review: Ok. Let’s be real. This probably isn’t “the big movie” of the week. After all, Memory is actually hitting theaters, while this is clearly a made-for-tv movie, dozens of which premiere on HBO a year only to be mostly forgotten. But I honestly didn’t have it in me to watch yet another Liam Neeson action movie and this one had an interesting plot so here we are. The Survivor.

And, as I expected, the plot is by far this movies strongest element. Telling the true story of a man who survived his time in a concentration camp by becoming a boxer for the Nazis entertainment, where they’d kill the loser, and all of the guilt that came with that made for a fascinating tale. It’s a story unlike anything I’ve heard and that’s really refreshing for the WWII genre. And, it led to really intense moral pondering. Is he a bad man for doing what he had to in order to survive? Is he a traitor to his people for (essentially) killing in the name of the Nazis? And, what kind of effect does that sort of decision making have on a person? It’s all truly fascinating stuff. Plus, the cast was absolutely amazing. Ben Foster crushed it. Both as a man fighting for his life and the one looking back on it with regret. Krieps absolutely broke my heart as the woman who loved him. And, Billy Magnussen gives a standout, vile performance as the Nazi who forced our character into this situation. So, yeah, definitely a lot of good stuff here.

However, I was not a fan of how the story was presented. We start the movie with the middle aged version of our character. Then, flash back to his post WWII boxing days. Then, again, often flashback to his time at the concentration camp. So, essentially there are many times when we are in a flashback of a flashback of a flashback. And, I full-hearted think that telling this story out of chronological order was a mistake. I don’t know if they did it to spread out the “interesting” stuff or if they thought it made the story more emotionally impactful, but I think it was a big determinant to the flow of the story. I think just a straight telling of this story would’ve worked much better. And, I have full confidence that the emotion of the later portions of his life are interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention. The way its edited now makes the story feel longer and less impactful. Which, again, is a bummer because this story can and should pack a wallop.

Overall, I did enjoy The Survivor. I think the story is worth experiencing and unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. Plus, like I said, the cast does an amazing job. I just think the flow of the story is thrown off by the way its told, making the experience feel longer and slower than it otherwise would. However, if you’re intrigued by the story, I’d definitely say give this one a shot.

TL;DR: The plot alone, featuring a story unlike any other I’ve heard from its era, makes The Survivor a movie worth checking out, even if I don’t 100% agree with the way the writer chose to tell it.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Wait, Sony, who the hell is El Muerto?

Oh come on, now!

Last night, as I was winding down yet another hours-long session of LEGO Star Wars, I decided to glance at some social media. What greeted me was headline after headline announcing that Bad Bunny would be playing Spider-Man character El Muerto in Sony’s upcoming standalone movie. And my honest first reaction was “wait, who the hell is El Muerto?”

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big Spider-Man fan. He’s my favorite character of all-time. I’ve read hundreds of his comics, watched hours of media about him, played through several video games, and, even, have read non-fiction books about his history and impact on pop culture. If you gave me the chance, I could rattle off dozens of characters related to just his side of the Marvel universe. And, while Sony’s been announcing some pretty obscure characters to their universe lately, I at least knew all of their names and a general gist of what they’re about. There was no way Sony would ever dive so deep into the lore that they’d pick a headlining character I’d never heard of, right? Wrong.

Before last night, I did not know there was a Marvel character named El Muerto. The fact that he’s getting a movie completely blindsided me. So, after (probably over) reacting, I gave him a quick google and was hit by a second wave of shock. The man was only in TWO ISSUES of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, 16 years ago! Talk about obscure! Man, and people thought Guardians of the Galaxy was pulled out of nowhere? At least those characters had been around for decades and had an acclaimed 25 issue run as a team. Heck, El Muerto makes Morbius look like a top-tier character. I know Sony’s been desperate lately, but, this(!), this is a stretch. I don’t know who in their right mind picked El Muerto to be the next “big” Marvel thing. What were they thinking?

Then, it hit me. I could very easily figure out what they were thinking. I could do some investigative work myself. I could do a El Muerto “deep dive” and see if there’s anything worth adapting. So, that’s just what I did. And it took me all of twenty minutes. And I am now an El Muerto expert. Here’s what I found.

El Muerto is not even the most interesting part of his arc.

As I said, I dove into this two issue arc expecting El Muerto to be my main takeaway. He was not. Instead, I was drawn into the drama of this mid-2000s Spider-Man run I’ve never read before. This story in particular starts with the Jameson family being held at gunpoint. When things start getting particularly intense, J. Jonah tells his son John to “do his thing” and “reveal his secret.” Initially, I thought he was referring to John Jameson’s history of becoming the campy 80s villain Man-Wolf (Sony, calm down), but I soon learned, no, he thought his son was Spider-Man. Which is honestly ridiculous. Because, one, Spider-Man fought Man-Wolf on several occasions. He’s a Spider-Man villain after all. And, perhaps more importantly, in one of Spider-Man’s first adventures, he SAVED John Jameson when his space shuttle was about to crash. IN FRONT OF J JONAH JAMESON. Which is why the publisher hates Spider-Man. He feels like Spidey stole his son’s moment. It’s completely baffling.

AND THEN we get this cliffhanger…

While out on a date (with Jarvis no less), Aunt May sees Uncle Ben just casually out walking the streets. Now, I’m sure there’s some kind of explanation. I’m not going to look into it any further though. That’s not the point. The point is that even in his only TWO ISSUES El Muerto is barely worth mentioning.

But, what is El Muerto’s story?

I’m about to hit you with some intense comic book bullshit. You ready? Juan-Carlos Estrada Sanchez is part of a long family line of Lucha libre characters named El Muerto. The name and mask, which gives it’s wearer super strength, have been passed down to generation after generation. I’m guessing that’s because his family made a deal with El Dorado, essentially a wrestling god. I don’t know. It’s never quite explained. What is explained is that, as a child, he was supposed to prove that he was ready for the mask by fighting El Dorado. He chickened out and said he didn’t want it, which angered El Dorado who tried to kill him. Juan-Carlos’ father intervened and was killed. El Dorado then gave Juan-Carlos ten years to train. After those ten years, he had to fight a true “champion of the people.” If he lost that fight, El Dorado would come back and kill him. For whatever reason, Juan-Carlos, now going by El Muerto, chose Spider-Man. Again, without explanation. And… he lost.

So, El Dorado (that’s him in the pic) comes back to kill El Muerto. Of course, Spider-Man and El Muerto fend him off. Everyone lives happily ever after. And, that’s it. That’s all we know about El Muerto. No follow-up story. Nothing about whether he ended up taking on the legacy. No crime fighting. No more Spider-Man battles. Nothing. He just fought Spider-Man once and then teamed up with him once. End of story. For 16 years this character just sat hidden deep within the archives until Sony decided to dust him off for whatever ungodly reason. (They own the rights to everything Spider-Man and go with this?)

The Movie

At the end of the day, El Muerto’s comic book history doesn’t really matter all that much. It really comes down to “can someone make a good movie out of this?” and I’m surprisingly going with yes. Because, honestly, the idea of a boxing match where somebody’s life is on the line is fascinating, especially if, like Spider-Man, the other party isn’t aware of the stakes. I think you just run with that central concept and drop almost everything else. Maybe throw in the dark magic deal, but definitely don’t do El Dorado like he appears in the comics. A loose adaptation that isn’t really a superhero movie, more of a horror-themed sports flick? I think it could work. Maybe not as high art, but it sounds like the best movie in the “SSU” so far.

Now, do I have any faith in Sony executing that concept? No. None whatsoever. He’s going to be another anti-hero who fights crime until he eventually joins the Sinister Six to take down Spider-Man. And I’m going to hate it. Mark my words.

(Plus, man, I don’t know. Seems like Bad Bunny doesn’t have a whole lot of acting experience yet.)

But, even if this movie sucks, I’m glad I took this journey. It let me dive into a part of the Spider-Verse I never had. It was interesting to see subplots and villains I probably would’ve never read about otherwise. And, the challenge of turning a Z-list character into a decent movie was actually kind of fun. I’m still not excited for this movie, but at least I got something out of it.

Sony, give me a call if you liked this pitch…

But, really, make a Miles Morales movie! Spider-Man 2099! Spider-Ham! Black Cat! Do that Aunt May movie that was leaked before! Literally all of it makes more sense than the wrestler with the poorly defined backstory and two issue arc!

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.


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.


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.