As we slowly, yet optimistically, rise up through the COVID-19 pandemic and take each day as they come, it’s hard not to suppress our anticipation for theatre re-openings and the current drive-in season. While movie releases seem like small potatoes when compared to the overall economy, it’s been really interesting watching the film industry rearrange titles to gauge at-home audiences, while also preparing for a gradual, blossoming theatrical experience.
As we hit this year’s halfway mark, it’s time for Wylie Writes’ mid-year recap. Don’t forget to click the coloured titles to read a more detailed write-up about the film!
Minari (DIR. Lee Isaac Chung)
As the strongest Oscar darling from last year’s race, Minari is a miracle of a movie where everything *clicks*; from the perfect casting to Lee Isaac Chung’s inspired direction to the meditative musical score to the serene locations. The audience hangs on every action as Minari’s primary family strives to integrate their Korean culture within a budding agricultural business, unaware of how the aspirations will eventually weigh on the family’s dynamic.
Bring Me a Dream (DIR. Chase Smith)
Bring Me a Dream will surely sucker movie goers looking for a scary movie. Writer/director Smith proposes a tired horror concept, and doubles down by making an annoying film that’s irresponsible and unwatachable. An embarrassing vehicle for former wrestler Tyler Mane, who portrays a tacky Freddy Krueger knockoff called The Sandman.
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Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (DIR. Josh Greenbaum)
Honourable Mentions: Minari, The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Senior Moment (DIR. Giorgio Serafini)
Dishonourable Mention: Willy’s Wonderland
Godzilla vs. Kong (DIR. Adam Wingard)
This straightforward title delivers everything it promises – epic and absurd monster battles with a surprising amount of character levity. Patient fans of 2014’s Godzilla and its 2019 sequel King of the Monsters finally get to witness their favourite nuclear-charged lizard kicking ass during the day, and in clear weather to boot! No more visual effects timidly hidden behind a wall of fog and rain for this Titan! Both titular characters finally get the spotlight they deserve, making Godzilla vs. Kong a monster hit of a movie.
Honourable Mentions: Yes Day, The Little Things
Thunderforce (DIR. Ben Falcone)
Meandering and pandering, Thunderforce (starring comedy duo Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer) jumps on the superhero bandwagon about a decade too late. The ‘superhero fatigue’ is real, and has been a burden to many movie goers for some time now. While it’s fine for a chuckle and perhaps some casual viewing, this parody film doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen before, especially in a world already saturated with superhero content.
Most Recommended 2021 Film: Judas and the Black Messiah (DIR. Shaka King)
Judas and the Black Messiah is spiritually and politically galvanizing. The film is a confident and loving reclamation of Fred Hampton’s name and legacy, after decades of political narratives falsifying his history.
With sumptuous cinematography, stirring sound editing, and a tour-de-force performance by Daniel Kaluuya, the film is finely crafted. It provides a poignant examination of how systemic anti-Black racism permeates all facets of life and creates a traumatic ripple effect felt many generations after. Judas and the Black Messiah is an important film for North Americans of all ages.
Least Recommended 2021 Film: Chaos Walking (DIR. Doug Liman)
Chaos Walking offers a thought-provoking (and also symbolically topical) story with high potential. The lead characters intrigue us, and inspire empathy and curiosity. However, the film struggles to maintain a clear sense of vision. The script changed hands many times during development which is likely the cause of the film’s wavering sense of direction. The story would have been better served in the form of a novel – which indeed is not-so-surprising given that the film was based on one. Chaos Walking features a formidable cast and an intriguing universe but feels rather undercooked – as if it didn’t quite reach its full temperature.
TOP: Jump, Darling (DIR. Phil Connell)
Though it gets off to a slow start, director Phil Connell’s love letter to drag is worth a bit of patience. Not only is this my favorite film of 2021 (so far), it also resonated with me on a personal level. Jump, Darling is a much-needed antidote to the hyper-“polished”, commercialized drag seen today in mainstream popular culture, reminding fans of the artform (queer and straight alike) of what drag is meant to be: messy, subversive, and life-saving.
Featuring Thomas Duplessie as a struggling actor-turned-drag queen and the late Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein, I Can Only Imagine) as his ailing grandmother, Jump, Darling checks all the boxes. Beautiful, well-composed shots? Check. Solid musical score? Check. Interesting, complex characters? You bet.
Honourable Mention: Army of the Dead
BOTTOM: Stars Fell on Alabama (DIR. V.W. Scheich)
A rom-com offering little in the way of romance, or comedy, V.W. Scheich’s Stars Fell on Alabama is the film I found least enjoyable so far this year.
Bryce (James Maslow) is a successful Hollywood agent who returns to his hometown in Alabama for his high school reunion. Not wanting to show up alone, and suffer the pity of his married friends, Bryce convinces his client, the up-and-coming starlet Madison Belle (Ciara Hanna), to go with him and pretend to be his girlfriend. Not only does the lead couple lack chemistry, but the characters are so under-developed that I found it challenging to be invested in their relationship. The story is predictable, and the premise itself is a sort of half-hearted, gender-swapped take on Sweet Home Alabama – with less charm and substance.
Add a cliché-ridden script and jokes that don’t land, and the result is a heaping disappointment.
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