The Mitchells vs. the Machines

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — 2021; Directed by Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe; Starring the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric André, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett and Olivia Colman

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first saw the trailers for The LEGO Movie. Up until Phil Lord and Christopher Miller crafted a beautifully referential work where everything was awesome, the LEGO movie franchise had been relegated to straight-to-video and cable movies and shows that were good-natured fun for the kids but didn’t have much pop behind them. Lord and Miller followed this up as producers of several films, including the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in which Lord was also a writer. With these, and many other films in the duo’s prolific list of film and television credits, they have mostly been in control of the narrative. With Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines, producers Lord and Miller take a bit of a back seat, providing the film with a good bit of clout, but ultimately handing over the majority of creative control to relative newcomers Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe.

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Chaos Movie Awards 2021

With all the studios halting production and theaters closing around the world for the majority of the year, one had to wonder if Hollywood would even have anything to award this year. Luckily, streaming had already made a big impact in the film industry (garnering over 24 nominations last year and a whopping 47 nominations this year, 34 by Netflix alone), so there was never going to be a complete absence of options to choose from when it came to new and exciting material.

I do have to say up front, I didn’t see a lot of the movies that were eventually nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so attempting to pick winners will be somewhat difficult for me this year. When did that stop anyone from trying, though. Below are my picks for who will and should win at this year’s Academy Awards, and as usual, a few of my own awards for other films I thought should be highlighted.

My Picks

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Movie Mayhem – Voyagers

Voyagers — 2021; Directed by Neil Burger; Starring Tye Sheridan, Lily Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead and Colin Farrell

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the… wait. Sorry. Wrong Voyager. This Voyagers is not about a team of explorers navigating the vastness of space, but instead a group of kids, manufactured and raised to take an 86-year journey to another planet that they know nothing about except for the fact that it has oxygen and water. These types of films always make me question why we, as a human race, are so arrogant as to believe these types of planets are uninhabited and ripe for the taking. Just because we once did the same in America does not make us entitled to expand to wherever we want – as if populating another planet won’t go horribly wrong, even if it is uninhabited by another thinking, feeling race of beings.

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Movie Mayhem – The Unholy

The Unholy — 2021; Directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos; Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, William Sadler, Katie Aselton, Cricket Brown, Christine Adams and Cary Elwes

When dealing in any genre, there are a typical set of rules that must be adhered to in order to create a story that everyone can easily follow, relate to, and understand. When done well, viewers generally will not notice this design; when done poorly, the model sticks out like a sore thumb. This is especially true in the supernatural horror genre, which is one of the easiest to emulate, but the hardest to appear original. There’s also a high expectation level for the effects, whether CGI or practical, to integrate seamlessly into the story so as not to hinder the overall enjoyment of what is usually a simple, routine story. In the case of The Unholy, the plot and character elements are all in tact as they should be, but some of the direction leaves many of the necessary scares wanting.

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Movie Mayhem – Nobody

Nobody — 2021; Directed by Ilya Naishuller; Starring Bob Odenkirk, Aleksey Serebryakov, Connie Nielson, Christopher Lloyd, RZA and Michael Ironside

When I first saw the trailer for Nobody, my first thought (as it was for probably many others) was that it was going to be a not-so-subtle mix of John Wick and Taken, with maybe a little bit of Falling Down thrown in for good measure. After all, based on the trailer, the movie was going to be about an ordinary man with extraordinary skills who finally snaps after living a fruitless, mundane life. Last week I reviewed Cosmic Sin, which I deemed too unimaginative to be anything more than a ripoff of a whole lot of different films. Does that mean Nobody was going to fall into that same trap? Fortunately, it doesn’t. Although the summary I wrote above isn’t too far off from the actual plot of the film, there is more going on here than simply retreading what’s come before.

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Movie Mayhem – Cosmic Sin

Cosmic Sin — 2021; Directed by Edward Drake; Starring Frank Grillo, Bruce Willis, Brandon Thomas Lee, Corey Large, C.J. Perry and Perrey Reeves

It has been a bit of a running joke that Bruce Willis has all but checked out. Not from acting, but from caring. Much like Nicolas Cage, Willis works feverishly, starring in multiple films every year that go straight to DVD, on-demand or streaming services. Unlike Cage, who puts every ounce of passion into each project no matter how horrible it ends up being, Willis tends to provide laid-back, tired performances that hint at his only being there for the paycheck.

This tendency for laziness doesn’t stop at actors. It’s also found in filmmakers, directors and of course writers. Just like an actors performance, if the writing is lazy, it can upset you, aggravate you. Not because the film was bad or you wasted a couple of hours on predictable, unimaginative drivel, but because you know there’s more there that could have been done and that there are plenty of people willing to work much harder to create a great product, despite whether or not it ultimately turns out a horrible mess. That’s what I see in Willis’s new film, Cosmic Sin, where it doesn’t seem anyone involved cared much about creating anything but a passable science-fiction facsimile.

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Movie Mayhem – Chaos Walking/Cherry

Chaos Walking — 2021; Directed by Doug Liman; Starring Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen and Demién Bachir
Cherry — 2021; Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo; Starring Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jeff Wahlberg and Jack Reynor

Not many knew of Tom Holland before he arrived on the scene as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. Since then, Holland has become a household name, yet he hasn’t seen a whole lot of screen time outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and some voice-work in high-profile movies like Spies In Disguise and Onward. In every such case, Holland has built a reputation for playing nervous, geeky-tech kids who are more anxious about asking out the pretty girl in school than confronting the evil that wrecks havoc in his life. Chaos Walking and Cherry, two films that premiered over the last couple of weeks, give Holland a chance to break from that stereotype and prove that he has the chops to live outside of the fun-loving, nerdy persona.

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Movie Mayhem – Boogie

Boogie — 2021; Directed by Eddie Huang; Starring Taylor Takahashi, Taylour Paige, Pop Smoke, Pamelyn Chee, Perry Yung, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Mike Moh

When you think of sports movies, whether baseball, football, basketball, hockey or even golf, there is one word they all have in common — inspirational. Sports films deal in inspiration like a stockbroker deals in cash. A player learning a valuable lesson, a coach going through a mid-life crisis, or a team of misfits overcoming their insecurities to win the big game against the “better” athletes, it doesn’t matter; sports films make it their purpose to give those who are essentially broken a chance to prove themselves and become a winner. Unfortunately, the new sports drama Boogie plays into none of that, essentially stripping its story of anything inspirational and washing the whole thing in the sour nectar of gloom.

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Movie Mayhem – Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit — 2021; Directed by Edward Hall; Starring Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann and Judi Dench

As a writer, I gravitate toward films about writers. Part of the reason is because most of them deal with how writers deal with the challenges of writer’s block and how they overcome it. Whether it’s a comedy like Throw Momma From the Train, or existential meta-fiction like Adaptation, the heroes journey for these characters is finding their muse and getting out of their own way in order to write that next great novel. It’s in all writers who struggle to find words to fill those terrifying blank pages and away from the mountain of procrastination we tend to build around us in order to avoid it all together. Blithe Spirit is the second film to come out this month that dives into the turmoil of the writer as he (or she) discovers their muse in an unorthodox way.

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Movie Mayhem – I Care a Lot

I Care a Lot — 2021; Directed by J Blakeson; Starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Chris Messina, and Dianne Weist

When did it become required to saddle evil masterminds with dimwitted associates? One reason this might have happened is because it gives the antagonist an Achilles heal of sorts that the protagonist can exploit in order to thwart their plans of world domination. This phenomenon doesn’t just happen in superhero movies, either. It can be found in plenty of dramas, comedies and and even romantic fluff. What happens, then, when the film is about nothing but “villains”? In Netflix’s new original film, I Care a Lot, both the protagonist and antagonist are criminals in different ways— one has confident, intellectual assistance, the other has the requisite loyal fools.

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