The Humans (2021)
Written & Directed by Stephen Karam
You wouldn’t be in the wrong to walk away from The Humans feeling a bit confused about how you were supposed to feel watching this filmed stage play. The work’s creator, Stephen Karam, has imbued his movie with such a foreboding and menacing tone. This is followed by numerous jumpscares that cut through the monotonous and passive-aggressive dialogue of the characters. The story’s setting even brushes up against the premise in an interesting way: A crumbling New York apartment complex where a family meets to have Thanksgiving dinner. The audience is constantly unsettled by noises coming from neighboring apartments or figures briefly glimpsed through blurry, rain-stained windows. This is a Thanksgiving ghost story for the 21st century.
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Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman
Directed by Jason Reitman
Can the Ghostbusters join the ranks of Star Wars and the MCU as a cinematic franchise to be mined into the ground until everyone hates it? This is the question Sony executives will be asking this weekend as they open the second Ghostbusters reboot/sequel in the last 5 years. Having recently rewatched the first two Ghostbusters movies, I was curious to see how hard they hit the nostalgia button with this one, very likely as the studio wanted to wash the stink of the 2016 film away from theaters. I suspected and was proven right that the script would lean heavy into nostalgia bait territory.
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Written & Directed by Devereux Milburn
Sometimes you come across a movie so bizarre that you can’t quite figure out if you enjoyed it or hated it. Honeydew is such a movie. It probably didn’t help that I watched it after consuming my nightly quarter of an edible, but I find that often acts as a filter, heightening the things I like about a piece of media and spotlighting everything I hate. For Honeydew, my mind was confused while watching it because you had so many elements clashing with each other that made the picture feel like it was causing you to love and hate it moment by moment. Ultimately, I wondered if that wasn’t the intent of the movie.
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Come True (2021)
Written & Directed by Anthony Scott Burns
Certain movies hit my personal aesthetics so perfectly I love them immediately. Beyond the Black Rainbow and It Follows are two films that sit in that dreamlike 80s-ish wheelhouse. They don’t spam cultural references to get across their implied eras; they just exude the vibe. When you watch them, it feels like that movie you saw when you were up way too late, half asleep, not sure if you remember it quite right. They are movies where you don’t need concrete logic; you just need them to feel a certain way. Come True is another picture I can add to that list. Its blend of visuals and music made me immediately love it.
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Ghostbusters II (1989)
Written by Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Ghostbusters was always meant to be a standalone movie, but financial success in the 1980s meant you had to make a sequel, which remains true today. But something weird happened where a new chairman of Columbia Pictures took control in 1986. David Putnam liked smaller movies that garnered critical acclaim, even greenlighting a handful of foreign directors’ transitions into American films. So as big as the hype around Ghostbusters even years out from its release, everything seemed to point to the franchise being dead. The main actors were also obstacles as many of them were booked up or simply weren’t keen on revisiting the world of Ghostbusters. Putnam was eventually removed as chair in 1987 after making some incendiary comments about Bill Murray and others. Dawn Steel was put in charge, and after numerous box office failures for the studio, she saw Ghostbusters II as a way to redeem Columbia financially.
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Written by Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Ghostbusters is a film that has firmly placed itself in the memory of many an older Millennial. For myself, I can remember my family renting a VCR (that was a thing at one point) and this movie for the weekend when I must have been four years old. I vividly remember sitting in that living room and being scared by the opening library scene. I think that’s one of the things that’s key to why Ghostbusters stuck with so many people. It was as much a comedy as it was a horror movie. That balance of genres helps soften the more frightening moments, but it’s still very much a creepy, scary film. This is something every sequel fails to understand and explains why they’ve done so poorly.
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Psycho Goreman (2020)
Written & Directed by Steven Kostanski
1980s/90s nostalgia is running rampant in popular culture. Whether its new streaming series that evoke the mood of the period or new versions of classic action figures released into the wild or reboots of franchises that are beloved, America just cannot get enough of crawling into a cocoon of childhood memories instead of confronting that ever-present horror of this moment in time. Psycho Goreman is a violent beating from the past, refusing to allow things to be so fuzzy and friendly. Instead, we get the bloody horrifying Saturday morning cartoon we all sort of really dreamt about, a hilarious and absurdist take on the Power Rangers, E.T., and many other corporate childhood darlings.
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The Beta Test (2021)
Written and Directed by Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe
It’s not a stretch to say the face of Hollywood has changed in the last few years. This is due to movements that push for transparency around those who wield power in the media industry, particularly around accusations of sexual assault and rape. The labor movement has also been calling the film industry to task for the lack of fair compensation and overworking as studios bank billions streaming content 24/7. The face of wide release theatrical movies has also changed, so smaller, character-focused films get ignored for big-budget blockbuster content, often attached to a cinematic universe. This chaotic shift is at the center of Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe’s The Beta Test, a dark horror-comedy that skillfully weaves these elements together.
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The Spine of Night (2021)
Written & Directed by Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King
American animator Ralph Bakshi saw his star rise and fall across the 1970s and early 1980s. He’s fondly remembered as the director behind numerous fantasy films of that period, Lord of the Rings probably his most well-known work. Because hand-drawn animation had many limitations, Bakshi would often employ rotoscoping, a technique where film of live action actors is drawn over, adding textures and embellishments but keeping the fluid motion of real people. This technique would evolve into digital motion capture, and rotoscoping has become a niche technique used sparingly. However, Richard Linklater has used it to make his films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Inspired by Bakshi, we have The Spine of Night, a dark horror fantasy that tells of another world where ancient dark magic prevails.
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Last Night in Soho (2021)
Written by Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Directed by Edgar Wright
Edgar Wright has consistently delivered good movies with broad appeal to audiences. From Shaun of the Dead to Baby Driver, I certainly respect Wright’s work while not my favorite films or my favorite filmmaker. Last Night in Soho is a different turn for Wright, his first female protagonist and an homage to giallo & Hitchcock. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite of his catalog of films, it’s certainly not bad, but I wasn’t drawn in that strongly by the story. This has been a common trend I’ve noticed with his last few movies, they are technically fantastic and visually inventive, but I feel cold to the characters.
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