Sam Landstra—Co Chief Editor, Gretchen Lee—Copyeditor
In 2021, movies are BACK… sort of. If last summer was a cinematic desert, this summer ended up as a dumping ground for delayed releases where theatres and streaming services vied for the scraps of big-name production studios. Though box offices couldn’t muster the pre-pandemic totals they hoped for, their regulars (myself and Gretchen) tried to keep the lights on. Here are our highlights, as well as some lowlights.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Marvel takes a detour from its usual style of storytelling to share a fun, action-packed adventure that still manages to feel meaningful. Shawn and Katie, a couple of young Chinese-American adults, have their lives upended when Shawn’s past comes back to the present and he is forced to face the legacy he’s been running from. With an incredible lead protagonist, important representation, and a killer cast, Shang-Chi is a fresh new addition to the MCU that still ties well into the greater Marvel story.
(4.5/5) – Gretchen
The Green Knight – I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t have to read several reviews of The Green Knight to understand it. The Arthurian tale based off the poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is an arduous watch, but it’s well worth it. A24’s latest release thrusts Gawain, King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, towards a destiny he isn’t equipped to fulfill. The indie production company, true to its nonconventional style, turns the concept of the hero’s journey upside-down in this cinematic stunner.
(4.5/5) – Sam
Inside – Is Inside a film? I’m not sure. The comedy special, filmed in one room of Bo Burnham’s house and produced entirely by himself, doesn’t fit the genre. There’s no cast of characters (other than Sock-O) or traditional dialogue, but Burnham goes toe-to-toe with Hollywood blockbusters with his use of editing, lighting, and cinematography. It’s clear the 31-year-old isn’t just a funny guy (he can also send me into a deep, depressive state). Inside is a near-perfect encapsulation of the existential dread and malaise that defined the American quarantine experience. Jeffrey Bezos Bo Burnham, you did it.
(4.5/5) – Sam
The Fear Street Trilogy – Netflix tells a three-part story of two towns; one that has been plagued by violence and poverty, and another that has been gilded and gated. Between these towns lays the legend of Sara Fier, a witch who was hanged long ago, but has still wreaked havoc since her death in the form of a curse. A group of teens travel back through the history of Sara’s curse in the hopes of ending it while desperately fighting for their lives. This trilogy delivers a serious punch in the form of excellent writing, acting, scoring, and plot twisting.
(4.5/5) – Gretchen
Luca – Pixar’s attempts at bigger, better, more conceptual movies like Inside Out and Soul have left the franchise without the heart and character it began with. Luca provides the antidote. It’s lighter than gelato and as whimsical as a summer from childhood. The directorial debut of Enrico Casarosa isn’t about the afterlife or anthropomorphized emotions, it’s about Luca Paguro—a sea monster who wants to belong. Luca contends with Machiavellian concepts of fear and love, but it lets the children do the talking.
(4/5) – Sam
Black Widow – Marvel finally declassifies Natasha Romanoff’s soviet spy past in a brilliant story about solidarity and the dysfunction of family. This film carries both a darker, grittier storyline than many past MCU films, while still managing to balance the shadows with tasteful wit and humor. Overall, it’s a story long overdue and delivered beautifully.
(4/5) – Gretchen
A Quiet Place Part II – Since A Quiet Place wasn’t broke, director John Krasinski didn’t fix it. The long-awaited, once-delayed sequel is more a less a replication of the family-oriented thriller that preceded it. A Quiet Place Part II boasts another Oscar-worthy sound design and a deft use of crosscutting that heightens the tension of the screenplay but otherwise makes little effort to provide an emotional depth to its characters that wasn’t already present to begin with.
(3.5/5) – Sam
The Suicide Squad – DC takes another swing at creating a Suicide Squad movie and manages to hit a ground ball. An assembled crew of convicted and talented criminals gather to stop an evil space starfish from taking over the world in a funny, gruesome film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The Suicide Squad doesn’t stand out in terms of writing or technique, but it does make for an entertaining couple of hours.
(3/5) – Gretchen
The Bad and The Ugly:
The Little Things tried so hard to be intellectual that it forgot to be interesting. (1.5/5) – Gretchen
Space Jam 2 is the armpit of monetization and product placement. If LeBron isn’t the greatest basketball player of all time, this is why. (.5/5) – Sam