One can easily find lists of movies about bicycles; I don’t have much to add to that. That wacky coronavirus pandemic stage went down to 3 but is really 2, I’ve been vaccinated and wear a mask (except on the occasion I get popcorn), and theaters have large seats spaced far apart, and attendance has been low. So I’ve ventured out to a number of movies that aren’t about bikes. I watch plenty of shows and the occasional movie at home, but there’s nothing like seeing a flick on the big screen, especially with a friend. We’ll be living with this stupid virus for probably a long time (for reasons we all know about), so it becomes endemic. We can cower in fear or live our lives and trust science and take reasonable precautions. Because like the Jeff Garlin (The Goldbergs, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Our Man in Chicago) posits in the independent film I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, a life without cheese, or movies, is not worth living. So here are a few thoughts about most of the talkies I’ve seen this year.
A Quiet Place II — As I mentioned in my last post about books I’ve been reading, I’m not usually a fan of horror, although Stephen King is on the list. I think this was the first film I went back for, and it was a good one. I loved the first one for its minimalism, cinematography, and yes, silence. The sequel was just as good save for one character not being present. (That’s not a spoiler.) Both times, the audience cooperated and didn’t talk over the quiet, er, places. And I didn’t find it to be so much about horror as about resilience and family bonds.
Black Widow — I’m a grown ass dude who never read much comics, but I’ve seen all 329 Marvel superhero movies. This one, with Scarlett Johannsen, was better than expected. As the Avengers cast gets their send-offs, it goes back in time to 2016 after Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Anyway, her character Natasha Romanoff has an adoptive sister who features heavily in the story. The usual CGI images dominate much of the action scenes. David Harbour (Stranger Things) has an amusing role. As with all the rest of the MCU, it was fun but didn’t change my life. Still, these films can have some nice moments of human drama and emotion, and this one delivered a nice send-off for Mrs. Colin Jost.
The Suicide Squad — The relative lightweight in comic books movies is DC Comics. This was their 10th film, as opposed to 26 for Marvel. A hodgepodge of characters many non-fans have ever heard of, it was very funny, and very violent. Margot Robbie steals the show as the gleefully malevolent Harley Quinn who wreaks chaos, destruction and broken hearts wherever she goes. It was not as satisfying as Black Widow, because I’d never seen most of the characters before. It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but the result is the same: good v. evil, stuff gets blown up, larger than life comic book action, it sends, and then life goes on.
Free Guy — Also heavy on CGI, since it was about a guy trapped in a video game, this movie had a Matrix-meets Ready Player One feel. But with reliable snark-master Ryan Reynolds (no stranger to comics, having played Green Hornet and Deadpool) as the lead, it had a heavy dose of comedy (a la his early National Lampoon’s Van Wilder). I though it was pretty freaking hilarious. Because I’m not a video game nerd, a lot of the references probably passed me by. Still, it wasn’t necessary to get the visual gags. Maybe this is more of a guy’s movie, but I’m not rating or recommending anything. I just liked it, and may watch it again sometime.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — Finally an Asian superhero gets a mostly Asian supporting cast in the MCU. A beautifully made film, I found the visuals captivating and the action sequences top-notch. The story, while necessarily a bit outlandish was again at its core about family and love, but also betrayal. Lead Simu Liu (who was a stunt man and on Kim’s Convenience) hosted SNL a while back and was pretty funny guy. I don’t know how many stunts he did himself, but it was impressive. Comedian Awkwafina was solid as the comic relief and veterans Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung Chiu-wai were among the other notable cast. After a couple of months I couldn’t give you the whole story, but I liked it.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage — I enjoyed the snarky voicing by Tom Hardy as the alien symbiote who takes over his body in the first film. The sequel was equally frenetic and maybe even more silly, and at the same time just more of the same. I had mixed feelings about this film. I went in wanting to like it, since I appreciated the subversive anti-hero vibe of the original. Originally appearing in the Marvel film Spiderman 3 back in 2007, the lines between villain and good guy have been blurred. Anyway, it was fun but ultimately not the best. Hardy also appeared in one of the DC films, The Dark Knight Rises, as bad guy Bane.
No Time to Die — The final outing of Daniel Craig as James Bond did not disappoint. Probably the best movie on this list, since it was not make believe monsters and such. Long delayed, it was worth the wait. He’s retired, and of course events pull him back into the spy game. With the usual incredible stunts, set pieces, an archvillain, familiar supporting characters M, Q, and Moneypenny, plus a Bond woman, this one of course came with a twist. But I hate spoilers and will have none of that here. Clocking in at 2 hours and 43 minutes, there was plenty of time to explore the themes of loyalty, betrayal, and kicking bad guys’ asses with cool gadgets. Oscar-winner Rami Malek was the creepy bad guy, but a bit understated. The usually overt chauvinism of Bond was reined in, which is a good thing. It lacked humor, though. I trust the character and franchise will live on.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife — I just saw this and was similarly satisfied with the emotional tying up of themes from the first film. Harold Ramis was unavailable, due to being an actual ghost or at least dead,. That made it more the film of the young protagonists: Egan Spangler’s daughter, the reliable Carrie Coon (Fargo [tv show], The Leftovers), and grandkids. The always funny and now sexiest man alive Paul Ruud (Yes Man [“slappin’ da bass!”, Living With Yourself) is the love interest, and other original films’ characters appear and give a heart to the supernatural happenings. A nostalgic and enjoyable outing for sure.
A number of movies are missing from this list, because I missed them, or saw them at home streaming. Chief among the big action flicks was Dune. I wish I’d seen it on the large screen, because it was a long-awaited epic remake of the horrible 1980’s version of the 1965 Frank Herbert novel (part one). Director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival) created an homage to the original that really stayed with me. The visuals, the sound stages, the desert, costumes, effects — it all brought this epic to life. The next installment is due in 2023.
Forthcoming this month are Spiderman: Far From Home, The King’s Man, and a film I’ve been hoping that would get made since the last of the trilogy came out in 2003. Now that it has been made, I can’t wait to see Matrix: Resurrections. In fact, I may watch the iconic first three films — about a man who gets drawn into a world beneath the one he believes to be real that he’s destined to save– before this fourth installment opens.
Well, that’s it for my movie list. Have you seen any films in the theaters? Any good, bad, or ugly?
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