The Plain, Simple Review of the Month: July 2021

Ten films and two TV shows to talk about this month so let’s get right to it . . .

2021 Releases

The Good, The Bart, and The Loki (2021)

★ ★

Another Simpsons short feature which, like The Force Awakens From its Nap, has been deliberately made so that Simpsons characters can now interact with characters from the Star Wars and Marvel universes, now that Disney owns all of them, this incredibly short film sees Loki banished to Springfield and Lisa gaining Thor’s powers in order to defeat him and although I will admit that there were one or two moments wherein I smiled, and the post-credits dig at Marvel’s incessant post-credits scenes was a nice touch, The Loki is otherwise a lazy and wholly pointless film that goes by in a flash and, as previously mentioned, only exists to show Disney flexing its mighty muscles and to perhaps promote Loki and Disney Plus; there’s nothing clever or imaginative about it and it’s further proof that The Simpsons‘ glory days are far behind them.

Black Widow (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

Another one of those films that was previously delayed due to the pesky pandemic, Black Widow gives audiences their first new Marvel film for a while and it also gives Scarlett Johansson’s popular heroine her own standalone movie after all this time.

And even though I never previously found Natasha Romanoff to be a particularly interesting character (heck, when she died in Endgame, I felt absolutely nothing), her solo film here is a really good one; it’s an interesting and enjoyable action/spy film, though better fight/shooting/chase sequences can be found in many other Marvel films, and it has a good story, big stakes (that will surely impact future MCU films), and a roster of fine characters who all help to reinforce the central theme of Vin Diesel’s favourite word: family.

The main problem would be Ray Winstone’s antagonist character because he’s ultimately one of the MCU’s weaker and less developed villains and Winstone is arguably miscast in the role but apart from that, Johansson performs incredibly well as she steps back into the shoes of her popular character, kicking butt and delivering in all the dramatic moments, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour provide strong support as Nat’s parental figures, and above all else, the constantly brilliant Florence Pugh is, you guessed it, constantly brilliant as Yelena, gleefully dishing out almost all of the film’s comedic moments with such good sportsmanship while also proving herself equal to Johansson in the emotional moments and in the film’s many action sequences – we are promised further use of her character in future MCU films and I, for one, eagerly await her return. She is divine.

The Tomorrow War (2021)

★ ★ ★

In all honesty, I remember very little about this film so I’d be doing it a disservice in attempting to critique it but since I don’t recollect much about it, I guess that it wasn’t too good of a film to begin with, huh? For now, I’d say that Tomorrow War has a decent enough premise and a good third act “revelation” (though it’s a plot that I know several people have already poked holes in) as well as good enough effects and a game cast but it’s also one of those films where my mind started to wander for a lot of the time and I may very well have checked my phone at various points. This film was apparently a rather extravagant purchase by Amazon but it just goes to show that a big budget does not equal success.

The Fear Street Trilogy: 1994, 1978 and 1666 (2021)

1994: ★ ★ ★

1978: ★ ★ ★

1666: ★ ★ ★ ★

Released on Netflix over the course of three weeks, these adaptations of R.L. Stine’s books starts off in 1994 and sees the residents of the town of Shadyside facing numerous grisly murders as several town residents wind up possessed and go about brutally murdering innocent people, the reason apparently relating to a curse that originated in 1666 with a witch named Sarah Fier.

I wasn’t fussed on 1994 as it proved to be your average slasher movie, complete with all the tropes of the genre which include masked killers, ancient curses, and several horny teens making some questionable decisions, as well as characters who I didn’t exactly warm to and acting that was ultimately a mixed bag.

With 1978, I found that particular film to be an improvement on its predecessor because it made use of a far more interesting setting, more bearable characters, the inclusion of Sadie Sink, and a neat soundtrack but it still wasn’t exactly perfect – not an entirely original or wholly effective horror film – and the soundtrack proved to be a little too invasive and overbearing, particularly towards the end when the use of a Bowie song turns what could have been a particularly tense and scary finale into something noticeably average, with none of the tension or scare factor that it could have had.

But the trilogy finished on a high note with 1666 as its Witch-y setting proved to be the most enticing one of all and additionally, the story went in a far more intriguing direction as it turned everything we thought we knew on its head, the acting seemed to be better and it was more successful in establishing a creepy and quietly menacing atmosphere, though it was still nowhere close to being properly scary. The second half of 1666 took us back (or forwards, I should say) to 1994 for a final showdown and in this section of the film, we were given an enjoyable climactic showdown as well as a satisfying end to the story but the 1994 section of the film wasn’t quite as good as the 1666 part and I feel as though if the film had somehow managed to stay in the 17th century for a longer period of time, I would’ve enjoyed it a little more.

So overall, this was a nice little trilogy of films; the acting was inconsistent and it certainly wasn’t scary but I appreciated the premise of a story that’s told over the course of three films, taking place in three different decades, as well as the idea that love and friendship can endure through the decades, and the strategy of releasing each film over the course of three weeks made the trilogy seem like a real event.

Black Bear (2020)

★ ★ ★

I always love watching Aubrey Plaza in stuff and she’s good in this – really embracing these “dark” roles nowadays – but Black Bear, a film which stars Plaza as a filmmaker who retreats to a lakeside cabin in order to write but who then becomes involved with the couple who are operating the B and B that she’s in, didn’t do much for me as I didn’t particularly like any of the characters nor find them intriguing in any way, it wasn’t as dark, tense or mysterious as I was expecting, and the whole “blurring the lines between reality and fantasy”, splitting the film into two distinct parts and all, ultimately didn’t work and there was too much of a difference between the two sections.

Cleverer people than me will surely be able to decipher “the meaning”, I’m sure, and I guess that the film’s raison d’être will be obvious to some but I’d say that the film was a little “weird and deliberately enigmatic for the sake of being weird and deliberately enigmatic” and it wasn’t as impactful as I’d hoped it would be.

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)

★ ★

I get the sense that many people have started watching the original Space Jam in order to prepare for this new one but have been less than impressed by what they’ve seen and additionally, I think that some who watched the original back in the day now admit that it hasn’t aged well and that it’s not exactly a great film. Me, I haven’t seen Space Jam in many years but I do have fond memories of it from when I watched it as a teen so I was, of course, going to check out this “new legacy” but found it to be an overall disappointing affair.

On the positive side, the pivotal basketball game is entertaining and colourful enough, with a few imaginative touches, the film is hardly ever boring, and Don Cheadle looks like he’s having fun chewing the scenery as the waaaaay over-the-top Al G. Rhythm, but the negatives far outweigh the positives with this film and the main culprits are to be found in LeBron James’ uneven and awkward performance as well as the weak story and script, which was cooked up by far too many people (almost always a sign of a bad film) and which also contains far too much sappy emotional stuff that comes across as forced, and most prominently of all, the incessant Warner Brothers properties that are constantly being shoved down our throats in a most offputting manner.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

★ ★ ★

Though it was nowhere close to being the greatest or most inventive film I’d ever seen, I found the first Escape Room to be an entertaining diversion with plenty of imaginative “rooms” for our resourceful protagonists to escape from and the end of that particular film promised a sequel that would expand that particular cinematic universe and let us further see what the sinister Minos company were really up to.

Unfortunately, while Tournament of Champions provides audiences with a decent cinema experience – just under ninety minutes of even more booby-trapped rooms and a constantly ticking clock – this film is almost exactly the same as the first one and, despite initial promises, it doesn’t actually advance the central storyline one bit (heck, you could even argue that we finish the film knowing LESS than we did before) and in this regard, TOC fails in its duty as a sequel because it doesn’t bring anything new to the table and doesn’t “up the ante” in any way.

Brian Tyler and John Carey do contribute a good score though, the characters and performances are decent (although none are fully fleshed out and most are indeed just cannon fodder), and the Saw-like traps are good but I have to say that they’re also ridiculously convoluted and our characters do seem to work out the meaning of the clues in an unrealistically short amount of time.

Old (2021)

★ ★ ★

M. Night Shyamalan has admittedly made some good films (Split remains my favourite film of his) as well as some real stinkers (though I have purposefully avoided such apparent atrocities like The Last Airbender, After Earth and The Happening) and this film would rank as one of his weaker ones.

Old has a very thin premise that is stretched out a great deal, often getting to the point where characters simply sit around and wait for something to happen, and Shyamalan also makes use of some odd shots (some of which feature characters who are half in/half out of the frame), it doesn’t know quite when to end, and his writing is weak and doesn’t ring true; the often Tommy Wiseau-like dialogue in which characters introduce themselves for no reason or talk about their all-too-convenient jobs is awkward to hear, made worse by the line delivery of actors like Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps.

Definitely not a terrible film but it still could’ve been better.

And in order of personal preference, it’s:

  1. Black Widow
  2. Fear Street: 1666
  3. Fear Street: 1978
  4. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions
  5. Fear Street: 1994
  6. Black Bear
  7. The Tomorrow War
  8. Old
  9. Space Jam: A New Legacy
  10. The Good, The Bart, and The Loki

2021 Television

Loki (Series One)

★ ★ ★ ★

After the success of WandaVision (and of Falcon and The Winter Soldier, I guess) audiences everywhere were surely desperate to see Disney Plus’ latest Marvel series, especially since it primarily features one of the MCU’s more popular characters, and the eager viewers were finally treated to the first six-part series of Loki, wherein we found the Avengers-era Loki escaping with the Tesseract but soon afterwards captured by the Time Variance Authority, labelled as a “deviant” and eventually finding himself allying with TVA agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) and a particularly enchanting fellow variant named Sylvie (Sophia di Martino) in order to unravel the true nature of the TVA and to unmask the illusive “Timekeepers”.

There will be some that loved Loki and who have pages and pages of thoughts to share about how much they loved it but for me, I don’t have too many thoughts about the show (other than the fact that I liked it) and found it to be far better than Falcon but not quite as good as WandaVision.

Tom Hiddleston is, of course, brilliant as the central character and was clearly born to play the role and in a supporting role, Flowers‘ Sophia di Martino proves herself to be Hiddleston’s equal as she really avails herself in the many dark, tense and dramatic moments and is also able to cut loose and have fun in the more lighthearted scenes – I eagerly anticipate her reappearance in the next series and I really hope that we see much more from her in the MCU. Also, Owen “Wow” Wilson is as cool and as funny as you’d expect and Richard E. Grant pops up in a particularly memorable episode and looks like he’s having fun as “Vintage Loki”.

In other areas, the central story is a good one as it’s really imaginative and provides audiences with plenty of humour as well as lots of exciting developments (including some that may very well have huge consequences for the MCU), the production and costume design is appealing, and Natalie Holt’s score is something special.

I kind of wish that we could’ve gotten a couple more episodes though.

Fargo (Series Four)

★ ★ ★

The 1996 film Fargo is one of my favourites and I also found Noah Hawley’s three subsequent TV series to have been particularly strong pieces of televisual entertainment, the first season in particular. So I was of course excited to see the latest series of my beloved Fargo but having now finished it, I have to admit that most of it disappointed me and at the end of the day, this fourth series is quite comfortably the weakest so far.

But what went wrong? Well, I guess the main problem is that series four just doesn’t have a good enough story or characters; honestly, I found the overarching storyline to be a confusing and uninteresting one and the characters weren’t as exciting or as memorable as those that we’ve seen before – they don’t hold a candle to such greats as Lorne Malvo, Nicki Swango or VM Varga – and I even had trouble learning their names and whose side they were on. Saying that though, Jessie Buckley did make an impression as the Annie Wilkes-inspired antagonist Oraetta Mayflower and I was also entertained by Timothy Olyphant’s U.S. Marshal Dick Wickware because he really seemed like a true Coen Brothers creation and reminded me of Billy Bob Thornton’s first season character.

But while the first seven episodes or so were a regrettable chore to get through, given its lack of creative flair and lethargic story, I have to admit that the show did get better as it started to wrap up and the tail end of the series proved to be its saving grace as the story became a little more interesting and it was just a teensy bit more tense and dramatic, eventually closing the series on a satisfying note.

The Best of the Rest

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Jim Jarmusch’s road movie reminded me a great deal of Wim Wenders’ Road Trilogy, having a kind of European vibe, and it’s an entertaining, stylish film with great characters – two of them constantly making plans to get rich while the other just wants to see the world – and even the scenes at the beginning wherein they just sit around and watch TV were just so enjoyable.

October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1927)

Sergei Eisenstein’s account of the October revolution is apparently very rich in fact and even though my knowledge of this period of history is weak, I felt as though I learned something and the film itself is masterfully and cleverly directed, it has a couple of dramatic, shocking sequences, and it’s complimented by a powerful score from Shostakovich.

Malcolm X (1992)

While the first part of this movie unexpectedly plays out like a gangster movie, it does indeed go on to show how Malcolm X played a key role in the advancement of civil rights and Spike Lee’s film is passionately directed and has a commanding performance from Denzel Washington.

November (2017)

This was a fascinating and odd little Estonian fairy/folk tale involving witches, the Devil, spirits, young love, and odd (and amusing) sentient machines made from household objects and it’s artistic without being pretentious, it balances drama, comedy, tragedy and sentimentality really well, the cast is a fun bunch, and it’s imaginatively and creatively written and directed by Rainer Sarnet. Quite a find.

Ghost World (2001)

This film was all about societal misfits to whom I could easily relate and it told of an unconventional love/friendship story and benefited from a really great performance from Thora Birch.

Chronicle (2012)

Quite comfortably the best film that Josh Trank has made so far, this was an enjoyable and entertaining found footage film/supervillain origin story and it’s imaginatively and creatively put together and the three leads are strong.

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