Belle (2021): Beauty and the Beast Meets Ready Player One

“Belle” is directed by Mamoru Hosada (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mirai) and stars Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, and Takeru Satoh in a film about a girl who joins a popular social media platform called U, basically think of it as what Meta is trying to do, but sexier. While Suzu copes with everyday life in academics and living in a village, she often escapes to U, where she displays the persona of a singer.

Social media is one of the best and worst inventions of the past few decades. Think of it like “Saturday Night Live.” The cold open is usually okay, the monologue may still have you on your toes, but it just takes one sketch to topple it all apart. I like going on Facebook and feeling good about myself about the likes some photo gets that I actually put on Instagram and transported it over for my grandparents to see, but I can only go through so many comments sections on the news feeds. To see a film that shows the ups and downs of social media is quite lovely. Because it has become such an important part of our lives in such a short amount of time. I am not one who constantly watches anime, but I approve seeing a story like this regardless of the medium. There are a lot of lessons that can be provided and mistakes that can turn into tense moments.

Having seen “Belle” last week, I think it is a topical, charming, and euphoric piece of animation. As far as other pieces of anime go, I do not have much to compare this film to, I do not tend to dive into that medium partially because I don’t have time, and there are not as many opportunities to watch anime for review purposes compared to some other genres and mediums. I went to see Belle because I saw someone talk about it online as the best IMAX experience they’ve ever had. So I thought I’d make it a priority to go watch the film on the biggest screen I could. Unfortunately, I could not find any IMAX screenings for “Belle,” so regular 2D was the next best thing. I can confirm that the film is not my favorite theatrical experience, in fact there are certain animated films like “Over the Moon” that have been more immersive in the theater than this, although I was stuck to the screen like glue at times.

If anything this film is kind of like “The Matrix,” maybe even “Ready Player One.” while not a concrete remake, the films share numerous concepts. Both films have a digital world that is supposedly better than its real life counterpart, but inside this world, there is a threat both to the hero’s life and the lives of others who spend all their time in this world. And much like how the OASIS is crucial to everyone’s lives in “Ready Player One,” “Belle” does a great job at showing the marked necessity of its U platform. When everyone is not busy enjoying their everyday, mundane lives, it seems that they turn to U. This film nails the horrors of social media by tackling trolls, popularity, and in some cases, maybe living a significantly different life than the one you’re already going through. I mean, on Scene Before, I often call myself the Movie Reviewing Moron, but if I had to spend my time on Twitter with that exact persona, I’d probably getting a lot more hate messages. In this film, Suzu’s social media persona is Belle, which is not only appropriate because a lot of the movie is spent going through her journey as a digital singer, and of course, every other popular singer goes by one name. But this movie also spends its time as a partial redo of “Beauty and the Beast,” there is one character Belle finds, meets, and falls in love with, and they’re literally sometimes referred to as “The Beast.”

As much as it may be a retread in some ways of a tale some already know, it kind of added to the enchanting vibe this movie has at times. I highly praise “Belle” for being a mostly original and unique animated tale that captures all the emotions, but there are also times where it relies on something we already know to get its point across. As good as this movie is, it may make the film eventually feel not as ageless as it could be. And continuing my Disney story comparisons, this film takes a trademark of that company, but it is one I would rather leave unmentioned because it could be a spoiler. I watched a couple trailers and there is a clip of the film I did not see in either of them.

I feel like Suzu is a solid protagonist for this film, and if I watched this at a certain age, I probably would have related to her completely. After all, she’s not that popular, kind of dorky, arguably a bit of a wuss at times. While it is not everyone’s dream to be super popular online, especially if you live in Florida, the film tinkers with the fantasy of restarting your life and possibly building a better life than the one you’ve got. I joined Twitter when I was a teen to make friends in addition those I already had, and admittedly maybe care more about getting followers than I should have… And I stayed on because while I did have friends in real life, I have made some of my best friends over the years on that platform. And I owe it to Twitter for in some way improving my life. Conceptually, the U platform could evoke the same positive vibes for someone like Suzu, although the platforms are structurally different.

If I had to say anything else about “Belle,” I would have to point out that it has some really good music that fits the material that is written for the screen while also being decent enough to be played on its own. There is a song towards the end of the film that captures the spirit of the story, its characters, and the very idea of imagination. It’s quite a joy to hear with surround sound. I honestly felt more moved by the music in “Belle” than I did for anything in “Encanto,” which for a few of my readers, may be saying something. I should note that these two movies are completely different in terms of story and vibe, but I figured with how often people are talking about the film where we don’t talk about Bruno, this is something worth talking about.

In the end, “Belle” is an imaginative capturing of emotions, thrills, and wonderous music. The film is marvelously crafted and a perfect story for a 21st century audience. When I saw “Ron’s Gone Wrong” a few months back, which also occasionally comes off as a warning for those living in an age of popularity aspirations and social media, I was delighted by its premise, but not with its execution. “Belle” on the other hand, is not only a delight, but an escape that makes it one of the better animations of 2021. I’m going to give “Belle” an 8/10.

“Belle” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for last year’s critically acclaimed film “Belfast,” directed by Kenneth Branagh. That review will be up soon, hopefully it’s worth the hype. But if you want to see more of my content, be sure to check out my picks for the BEST and WORST movies of 2021! Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Belle?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite social media platform? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Licorice Pizza (2021): Paul Thomas Anderson Delivers a Pizza Crap

“Licorice Pizza” is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread, The Master) and stars Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn (Mystic River, Milk), Tom Waits (The Old Man & the Gun, The Dead Don’t Die), Bradley Cooper (Guardians of the Galaxy, A Star is Born), and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems, Good Time). This film follows the connection between Alana Kane and Gary Valentine, not to be confused with the guy who plays Danny on “King of Queens,” as they spend time together in the San Fernando Valley in 1973.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 05: Director Paul Thomas Anderson attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards Nominee Luncheon at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 5, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Paul Thomas Anderson is a name I have not followed as much as other directors, and it is something I feel guilty of doing in regards to my film watching journey. Not only because he is an acclaimed name, but he also went to Emerson College, which I was probably going to attend had I gotten past the waitlist. So he has a bit of history in Boston, which as someone who lives near the Massachusetts state capital, is something I take a bit too seriously. I’ve seen “The Master” towards the end of the 2010s, but that’s all I have watched from him. I remember it being magnificently shot, but the story is not something that stuck with me to this day. I still need to watch “There Will Be Blood,” I own copies of “Inherent Vice” and “Phantom Thread” and still need to watch those. I still haven’t seen “Boogie Nights!” There are quite a few directors I have gotten around to over the years in terms of catching up on their filmography, but Paul Thomas Anderson fails to make the list.

When I saw the trailer for “Licorice Pizza,” I thought it sort of nailed the nostalgic aspect. The film takes place in the 1970s, and not only does it get a thumbs up for the production design that reminds me of walking into my grandparents’ house, but some of the music is okay as well. I think this film from a presentation point of view, checks a lot of boxes. It looks like it is from its focal decade, the acting, despite the leads having no evidential experience, is top-notch. For all I know, it could be on Anderson’s part. If I have learned anything from James Gunn over the years, he can take an actor with less experience like John Cena and make them pop. The best thing I can say about “Licorice Pizza” is that Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman give good performances regardless of the material that’s given to them.

I’m not using that last sentence lightly, because “Licorice Pizza” is probably the most uncomfortable I have felt watching a movie in some time. Okay, well, maybe not as uncomfortable as “Music,” that s*it was downright personal. I live in the age of social media and in my teens I would talk to people far from my age group and nothing weird happened. Although I believe it is commonly agreed upon that adults should not be dating teens that are ten years apart in age. Gary in this film is 15 years old and Alana is 25.

Do you see the problem?

Now, if Alana was 18, that would be one thing, because that’s also technically an adult, but she is also old enough to still be in high school, just like Gary. TWENTY-FIVE?! The film is kind of a back and forth sort of thing in terms of the romance, where Gary sometimes claims Alana’s his girlfriend, but then the two go back to calling each other “business partners” or something else, but I honestly could not justify myself liking the character of Gary. Because when I think of these sorts of relationships, maybe I’m thinking the adult is in the wrong of dating someone that is significantly younger than them. But with Gary, he’s a literal pervert, and he’s not afraid to hide it. And he’s not a cool pervert like Ron Burgundy who has some personality, granted the movie he’s in respectively has a different vibe, but every time I look at Gary and he says some other line, I want to put some tape over his mouth.

Look, I’m a guy, and it is scientifically evident that guys love anything that has to do with sex. We are revolting creatures. But oh my god. Gary is a downright creep who I occasionally wanted to punch in the face throughout this film’s poorly paced runtime. Seriously, it felt like it was 15 or 30 minutes longer than it actually was. If it’s not about getting to see Alana’s boobs, it’s about making money. Downright power. That’s what we’re dealing with here. Now, I’ve seen “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort in that film has a semi-similar personality, but he’s also proven that he can be chill, he can be cool. Granted Belfort’s not a teenager, that’s one big difference. Even so, I never got that positive vibe from Gary. I felt like he was trying too hard to be cool when in reality, he felt disgusting.

Now, and I cannot believe I have to say this on a blogging platform that my family reads… I don’t think Paul Thomas Anderson is interested in showing his junk to young girls. I mean, if the genders were reversed, where Alana sees a 25 year old Gary’s junk, who knows? I am comfortable with a storyline about sexual exploration, it’s not something I wouldn’t expect out of some coming of age tales, but this was poorly executed in the worst way possible. I would not want Gary as my friend, and I would want out of any matters involving him if he ever tried to get into Alana’s pants.

One of the most important things about a romance film is that the two leads are likable. I don’t even like their characters by themselves all that much, and even less so together. Because despite what I’ve been saying about Gary coming off as a creep, movies have shown how characters can develop and change. Compared to some other films that I’ve seen, including another recent 1970s nostalgia fest, “The Tender Bar,” I could not really catch onto much character development, especially from Gary. I think Alana’s character has some moments where I could feel her emotion, her stress, the want to escape from reality and other people, but it’s barely enough to make this movie the slightest bit watchable.

If I had any other positives to give “Licorice Pizza,” it is that Bradley Cooper shines as Jon Peters. He honestly came off as a bit of a drugged-up Hugh Hefner type. I think his presence in the film allows the costume design to show its power. Cooper was well directed by Anderson and I would not have minded seeing more of him.

In the end, “Licorice Pizza” is a film that I was looking forward to, but as soon as they stated the age difference, that was an immediate turnoff. This harkens back to the saying that first impressions matter. And if you think this is my only problem with the movie, I’ll mention once again that this movie could have been fifteen to thirty minutes shorter. The movie occasionally dragged, it felt boring. Gary Valentine is by no means a likable character. In fact, he’s probably the character that I hate the most of any project I’ve watched in the past 12 months or so. If you think “West Side Story” was worth skipping because of the Ansel Elgort controversy, I will not stop you from doing that. But based on the fictional elements presented in “Licorice Pizza,” this is a film that part of me wishes I could have skipped. It’s barely any fun, it’s creepy, and I wish the script was good enough to match the amazing talents of some of the actors on screen. I’ll probably go back and watch some of Anderson’s work like “Phantom Thread,” but I hope his next project, whenever that comes out, won’t be as off-putting as this. If you want a 1970s nostalgia fest, just go watch “The Tender Bar.” It’s on Prime Video, and worth your time. I’m going to give “Licorice Pizza” a 4/10.

“Licorice Pizza” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! This week I’m going to be watching the all new Japanese animated film, “Belle.” I have heard nothing but good things about this flick, and I am quite curious to see how it is. I will have a review coming soon, and if you want to see more content like this, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Licorice Pizza?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a film, one specifically that IS NOT in the horror genre, that genuinely makes you uncomfortable? For me, I’d say that would be “Music,” which I literally talked about in my worst of the year list a couple weeks ago! Let me know your pick down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The Matrix Resurrections (2021): I Want to Free My Mind From This Glitchy, Nostalgic Mess

“The Matrix Resurrections” is directed by Lana Wachowski, who was one of the two directors behind the original three “Matrix” films. This film stars Keanu Reeves (Point Break, John Wick), Carrie-Anne Morris (Memento, Fido), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Aquaman, The Trial of the Chicago 7), Jessica Henwick (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Game of Thrones), Jonathan Groff (Mindhunter, Frozen), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, The Smurfs), Priyanka Chopra Jonas (Quantico, The White Tiger), and Jada Pinkett Smith (Madagascar, Scream 2). This film once again follows Thomas Anderson, who this time around, is living in our world as an award-winning video game designer. When faced with an incident that makes him question his own reality, Mr. Anderson is faced with the choice to either stay in the world he knows or go down the rabbit hole.

“The Matrix” is one of my favorite science fiction films of all time. Between the stunning visuals, the well-executed cliché of good vs. evil, and the casting of most of the characters, although I do think Keanu Reeves has given better performances, it is a recipe for digital mastery. There is a saying in Hollywood that nothing ever dies. Disney constantly remakes their previous animations like “The Lion King” and “Mulan” into live-action counterparts. Universal is unlikely going to stop pumping out “Fast & Furious” movies as long as they make millions at the box office. As for Warner Bros., they’ve got another “Batman” movie coming out this year! It’s not always about how many new, innovative ideas Hollywood could come up with, it is now sometimes about how many old, previously done ideas they can regurgitate and milk until there is nothing left. Five or so years ago, I thought “The Matrix” would be one of those films that doesn’t get that treatment in this day and age. After all, Keanu Reeves is already busy building another franchise of his own, specifically “John Wick,” on top of other things, and “The Matrix Revolutions” ended in such a way that the entire story could be rather impossible to continue. The movie, sorry if you’re spoiled nearly two decades later, ends with peace being achieved with Neo’s sacrifice. But of course, when they say “nothing ever dies,” they mean NOTHING.

Neo is back and better than ev–

Wait… Sorry, I got a bit overhyped for a sec there.

*Poe Dameron voice* Somehow Neo returned.

Just, why? Why did they make this? I mean, let me put it this way. The trailers for this film were not that bad. It gave me an okay impression of what’s to come. And if I had to choose between a full-on reboot of the “Matrix” franchise and a fourth installment, I think I’d prefer a fourth installment because I feel like this is a franchise that would be hard to see altered in such a significant way. It’s like if they tried to remake “Star Wars.” There are moments and concepts ingrained in my mind that it would be off-putting or unsettling to see them retold or changed for a new generation. The reality of “The Matrix Resurrections” is that it is not just a sequel, it’s partially a retelling of the original “Matrix” film, but also a flat out nostalgia fest that overstays its welcome. The movie is a sequel to a story that quite literally changed movies forever. It’s been parodied, memed, and when it comes to movies with green tint, this is usually the first, if not the only one that comes to mind. So what do they do in this sequel? They basically make fun of the Hollywood system. As mentioned, Thomas Anderson is a game designer, and he has essentially made a video game version of his journey in the matrix. So… Warner Bros. wants to inevitably make a fourth game. Part of me thinks that Lana Wachowski did not want to come back to do this film, for all I know I could be putting words in her mouth, but she’d rather tell a story she’d be proud of than see Warner Bros., the studio behind the past three “Matrix” films in addition to this current one, take a dump on the franchise she and Lilly created.

Also, is it a coincidence that this film technically has the same villain as “Space Jam: A New Legacy?”

I will say though, I was somewhat surprised on how much I liked Keanu Reeves in this film. Maybe it’s kind of because the world is experiencing Keanu fever, and he’s kind of on trend right now, but nevertheless. He’s been in a lot of movies recently including some animations like “Toy Story 4,” he’s John Wick, he was in “Cyberpunk 2077,” and often seen as one of the most genuine guys in the industry. One of the critiques I would have to give to “The Matrix” back in the early days is that Keanu Reeves did not carry that much charisma. At the same time though, when I look back, one could make the argument that Reeves’s lack of charisma may be intentional in order to highlight the mundane, everyday life his character has to go through. I mean, if I worked at “McDonald’s” and were responsible for cleaning the restrooms, I think after some time I would not show as much expression or emotion to other people. As much as this is based on preference, I liked seeing a more expressive Neo. It gave him more personality, and Reeves’s performance reveals that to a tee. Although I do think if I had to give one significant flaw, it’s that the script can make Keanu Reeves feel a bit repetitive at times. I feel like he spent a lot of the movie in denial, giving Reeves little variety on how to differentiate his acting method.

There were a couple roles this time around that were recast, specifically Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Smith (Jonathan Groff). Both actors obviously have their differences from the originals and if you had to ask me, I think the original interpretations were done a tad better. Maybe that’s a comment based on nostalgia, but I think both original performers delivered a grittier and darker performance that felt more fitting for a grittier and darker environment. The new kids on the block seem to deliver performances that almost feel comparatively light-hearted. “The Matrix” has always had its moments of levity and fun, but it was also serious, and this shift in tone looking back is a tad jarring. The actors did well with the material they were given, but they also had big shoes to fill.

I have waited almost a month to watch this movie. I almost went to a press screening, but I ended up skipping it. I almost went one or two other weekends, but I skipped those as well. It was not worth the wait. I refused to watch this on HBO Max because first off, I want to support the cinemas, and second, I’ve always wanted to see a “Matrix” film on the big screen. But looking back, the film I should have watched on the big screen should have been one of the prior three “Matrix” installments.

There are positives to give to “The Matrix Resurrections.” The action is occasionally cool to look at, although nowhere near as engaging as any of the other three films. The visuals do look pretty as ever. The new supporting character Bugs, played by Jessica Henwick, was honestly rather well conceived. But the film for me took some time to properly follow, even with callbacks to other movies that I recently caught up on. It feels like it occasionally has ADHD. I think of all the performances Keanu Reeves gave, this is easily my favorite one in terms of “The Matrix” franchise. I highly doubt we’ll be getting a “Matrix 5” anytime. I mean, if we were, I would not be against it as long as they tried. But going back to the old saying of Hollywood, “nothing ever dies,” I hope Hollywood acknowledges this and never makes a “Back to the Future Part IV.” Will it make money? Sure. But unless it has a PHENOMENAL, GAME-CHANGING idea on where to take the characters and franchise, I think I will end up feeling dissatisfied. As much as I am not always clamoring for remakes, if I were tied to a chair had to pick between a “Back to the Future” remake or a “Back to the Future Part IV” in order to set myself free, I think a “Back to the Future” remake would be the lesser of the two evils, it’s a much bigger sandbox allowing for more opportunities. Plus, I don’t think Michael J. Fox is doing much acting these days…

Hollywood, I know you appreciate money. But your audiences also appreciate coherence. Please keep this in mind.

In the end, “The Matrix Resurrections” is a computer virus of a flick. It shows the problem of Hollywood taking franchises of the past and regurgitating them without a second thought. Again, a lot of the original crew returned, including Lana Wachowski, so for all I know, maybe everyone was happy to be back doing something they’ve done before, but this film felt unfulfilling, slightly confusing, and too focused on referencing the good old days as opposed to creating something new. I remember when the reviews started coming in and some people compared this film to “The Last Jedi,” saying it is bold. Honestly, it never felt that way. If anything, it feels more like “The Force Awakens,” or more technically, “The Force Awakens” from the points of view in which it is often criticized. I never agreed with everyone who said that “The Force Awakens” spends too much time ripping off the original “Star Wars” or its trilogy. It used those callbacks well and retreaded old story elements to perfection. “The Matrix,” just like “Star Wars,” changed the game for its genre, but compared to “The Force Awakens,” “Resurrections” fails to recapture that amazing feeling that the original “Matrix” gave me after watching it. Granted, the original “Matrix” holds a special place for me, because it was my first R rated feature, but it is also a damn good one. I just wish “Resurrections” were the same. I’m going to give “The Matrix Resurrections” a 4/10.

“The Matrix Resurrections” is now playing in theaters and is available for a limited time for all subscribers on HBO Max.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed my review for “The Matrix Resurrections,” good news! I have more “Matrix” reviews waiting for you! Why not check out my reviews for “The Matrix,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” and “The Matrix Revolutions!” I did these as part of an ongoing review series, titled “The Matrix Reviewed,” as part of Scene Before’s 5th anniversary. I cannot promise I have many older films that I’ll be reviewing in 2022, but… I might have something. We’ll see. I want to focus on newer films this year for the most part. If you want to see more reviews like this one, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out and like the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Matrix Resurrections?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a sequel or remake that you think should NEVER happen? Let me know down below! Or don’t… Maybe you shouldn’t give Hollywood any ideas. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Top 10 WORST Movies of 2021

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Some of you may have finished reading my top 10 BEST movies of 2021, feel free to check that out if you have not already, but I am now here to present the exact opposite! The top 10 WORST movies of 2021! 2021 was admittedly a better year for movies than 2020 was. I mean, more movies actually came out, so… But it doesn’t mean there wasn’t crap! Now, I will say I have not seen all the crap that has come out this year. If you have seen a certain movie this year that is not on the list, who knows? Maybe it’s so bad I forgot about it. Or maybe I just didn’t see it. I didn’t see either of the sequels that came out this year to “The Boss Baby” or “Peter Rabbit,” so I sat pretty when it came to those. Granted I have not seen the originals either. With that being said, these are my ten picks, they’re all subjective. There is not really much of a grand scale as to how these movies made the list. They’re just on the list because I did not like them. Well, mostly… Maybe you did like these movies. More power to you if that’s the case. Also, I should state this, the films have to be theatrically released and this does include any day and date film like those released simultaneously on HBO Max for instance. Those do count. If they’re exclusively on streaming, I’m not including it. That’s technically television. Before I dive into my top 10, I am going to list three dishonorable mentions.

Dishonorable mention: The King’s Man

Kicking off the dishonorable mentions we have “The King’s Man!” This is a really disappointing movie to see on this list because I love the “Kingsman” franchise. I enjoyed both “The Secret Service” and “The Golden Circle,” so to see this prequel here kind of hurts. I mean, there are a couple fun action sequences, but it isn’t enough to make a good movie. I’ve only seen this a couple weeks ago and I have already forgotten a good number of the characters. Not the best of signs. Rhys Ifans was GREAT as Rasputin though, I’ll give the movie that.

Dishonorable mention: Reminiscence

The next dishonorable mention is “Reminiscence.” I feel like part of the reason why this movie saw an actual release date, aside from the cast involved, is because the director, Lisa Joy is married to Jonathan Nolan, who probably has, or perhaps at this point, had, alongside his brother Christopher Nolan, a great relationship with Warner Brothers. The concept of this film is intriguing, but this ended up being an amazing original concept that became one of my most easily forgotten films of the year.

Dishonorable mention: Space Jam: A New Legacy

Last, and certainly least for the dishonorable mentions, is “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” Why did we need this movie? The first one completely and totally sucked on every level! The one pro I will give this film is that some of the visual effects do look dazzling and Don Cheadle’s portrayal of Al-G Rhythm was honestly quite entertaining, but that’s were the positives end. As for the rest of the film, it’s basically a combination of cheap jokes, forced nostalgia, while also being a giant commercial for the Warner Brothers brand. If you want a Warner Brothers commercial that’s ten times better than this, go watch “The LEGO Movie,” skip “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”

Now let’s start off the list! Things could be a lot worse for these films, they could have come out in 2020. These are my top 10 WORST movies of 2021.

#10. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

#10 is “Snake Eyes!” I have admittedly never watched anything related to the “G.I. Joe” franchise, but I thought I’d give this film a shot. Turns out, this film gave me a shot. …In between the eyes. You know people go to film school to learn how to make movies? Well, if it were opposite day and they had a class that taught people how not to make an action movie, this would be a proper example. Shaky cam came, shaky cam saw, but I thought filmmakers came to realize that it wouldn’t conquer. Apparently shaky cam is still a thing in the realm of “Snake Eyes.” Not only is there a ton of it during the action sequences, but even when someone is just walking in a room! There’s a scene where Samara Weaving’s character is just walking, she’s all business, and the camera’s basically simulating an earthquake! I wasn’t looking for anything on the level of “The Shawshank Redemption,” I just wanted to have fun seeing people kick ass. When I couldn’t even get that, that’s a problem.

#9. Malignant

Coming in at #9 is “Malignant.” As I’ve said on this blog before, horror movies are not my goto genre. But I did have some desire to check out “Malignant.” It looked rather compelling through whatever marketing I saw. Turns out it was the exact opposite! If anything it looks like a modern horror film that tries to take itself a bit seriously, but it ends up going full camp at certain points with dialogue that you could have gotten away with only if it were uttered in the 1980s. If I knew that’s what they were going for, okay. But it just didn’t work. The film is directed by James Wan, who has been known amongst modern horror fans for films like “The Conjuring.” That’s a film I’d rather watch on a Friday night over this piece of crap! At times, the film feels like it takes itself seriously, then the next moment it feels like I’m watching a Lifetime original with a monster in it. I’m excited to see what James Wan does with the next “Aquaman” movie, but this original was a bit of a misstep for him.

#8. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Ryan Reynolds is just the best! “Free Guy” is one of my favorite movies of the year! I’ve seen it twice! Wait, this is the worst list? Sorry, wrong script. Ryan Reynolds? What are you doing, man? “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was a complete waste of time! I remember watching the original film, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a few months after it came out and I had fun with it. It was not my favorite action film of the year, I thought “John Wick: Chapter 2” was better for instance, but I enjoyed myself. And that film made a lot of money, and like all pleasantly fine things that make money, of course they make a sequel. Just wish they made one that felt like it had more time and passion into it. This film has an ADHD-esque story and nearly unmemorable action. The only action scene I clearly recall is one towards the beginning when Ryan Reynolds is trying to relax and next thing we know he ends up on a bike with Salma Hayek. I’ll give credit to the performers. Despite the lazy writing, they played their characters to perfection, even if they felt like they were somewhat playing themselves. But seriously, if you want a good Ryan Reynolds flick to watch, check out “Free Guy.” Skip “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” if you can. 

#7. Dear Evan Hansen

I’ve never been a Broadway guy, but I had some interest in “Dear Evan Hansen” before it came out because the trailers looked good. Then I saw the movie and realized, what a waste of time. I don’t care that they got a guy in his 20s to play the lead role of a teenager, that’s been done before, but what I do care about is that they get a guy, regardless of age, who looks LIKE a teenager. I went through this entire film looking at the lead actor, Ben Platt, and thinking I was looking at Jerry Seinfeld. All he needed was a puffy shirt and he’d be a perfect ripoff. “But I don’t wanna read the emails!” With that aside, unlike some other musicals that came out this year, like “In the Heights,” which I wasn’t a HUGE fan of, and “West Side Story,” which I was a huge fan of, the numbers in this film were mostly unmemorable and for what I noticed, they did not even have that grand scale that I’m used to seeing in musicals. It felt very small, and it was not presented in a positive way. Now the message of the film could be interesting, but I spent much of the film rooting against the main hero because of how said message is utilized. I don’t know, I just did not always relate to him. And I will admit that like him, I’m somewhat awkward in social situations, but the execution here left me uneasy. If you want a decent musical to watch this year, go watch “West Side Story.”

#6. F9: The Fast Saga

Do me a favor, please. Starting from one, count to nine. I’m sure in that one attempt of summing up numbers, it will contain more logic and sanity than even a fraction of a second in “F9: The Fast Saga!” “F9: The Fast Saga” was a humungous disappointment. Not only is it another letdown in this ongoing franchise, which for me personally has only happened with “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Tokyo Drift,” but this letdown hurts because of how much anticipation I had behind it. Have any of you ever seen that Lifetime original film “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever?” Yeah, I wish I could forget it too. Much like that straight of TV piece of crap, “F9” spends more time than it needs to making fun of itself and trying to make the collective Internet roll on the floor! Hey, look! We’re invincible! Just another Tuesday for Dom Toretto and the family! LET’S GO TO SPACE BITCHES! Oh my god! Watching the space scene was honestly embarrassing. Space is special. You guys just ruined it for me. I no longer want to be an astronaut because of this movie. Well, that, and maybe rich people. 2021 is such a weird year. The first half is spent seeing the Fast family go to space and now all these rich people get to send their buddies up to space. I like the “Fast & Furious” franchise. In fact, I wanted to see this movie to a certain degree that I bought tickets for it in advance IN 2020! Of course, when the film rescheduled about a year later, I had to refund those tickets, but goddamnit, if I did not get to see this film opening night, I would have felt like an idiot. Well, this idiot suffered through an IMAX experience through Hell.

#5. Tom & Jerry

Some people hate cats. Some people hate mice. Some people hate… People. If you hate all these concepts, then I should warn you that “Tom & Jerry” will make you hate them even more! “Tom & Jerry” was never something I watched as a kid. The only reason why I went to see this movie is because I had a friend, who told me I’d “like” the movie, and he wanted me to go. Boy was he wrong. And I expected that going in, because the trailer did not look promising. This looked like a lot of those other cartoons that kind of got that live-actionish treatment like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “The Smurfs.” And just like the latter, this whole thing’s set in New York where the focus is not on Tom & Jerry, the two characters whose names are in the freaking title. No! It’s instead about some scumbag named Kayla who thinks it’s okay to lie her way to getting a job at a hotel! What a great lesson for children! I did not know what to expect going into this film. I just wanted some okay action sequences. There may have been one or two moments that stood out, but it is surrounded by a lifeless plot, overacted performances, and some of the most cringeworthy scenes I have ever watched in a movie. Some people may defend this film saying it could entertain children. But I look at this film and I would not want my kid watching it. Kayla is a fraud who cheats her way to the top. “Die Hard” is a better movie for children to watch because that film at least enforces the notion that terrorists are bad! “Tom & Jerry” is the perfect family film if you really, truly, hate your family.

#4. Zola

We live in an era where they’ll truly make a movie about anything. They’ve done LEGO, Emojis, Trolls. It feels like they’ve done it all. But wait! There’s tweetstorms! Not many people have done that! And after seeing “Zola,” I really hope that this is a trend that is either improved or kept to a minimum. I’ll give this film credit. The reason why it is not in a more negative spot is because there are a number of scenes that do look dazzling. There’s one moment in the first two minutes that really stands out. But it is also surrounded by all this footage that looks like it is something out of a poorly done YouTube vlog. A24 is one of my favorite studios, but evidence suggests that they have also done some of my least favorite films of the last decade like “Midsommar” and “The Witch.” “Zola” has officially joined those ranks. In my life, I often keep my ringer off on my cell phone because I’m often busy and I don’t want to get distracted. Depending on the situation, I’m one of those people who gets easily distracted. I think after hearing the Twitter notification sound every minute in this film, I think I want to keep that ringer off for the rest of my life. And I don’t know about you, Riley Keough’s performance in this film was occasionally nauseating to watch. She could be a decent actress, but the way she handled her character here, whether it was through her or the director’s eyes, felt almost offensive and obnoxious. To top it off, the movie seemed to have a number of attempts at humor, but I didn’t really find the film all that funny. Simply put, if there were a way to block movies in the same manner you can block accounts on social media, I would do it with this one.

#3. Red Notice

Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot. Put these three good-looking actors together, and it sounds like a recipe for pure entertainment. Right? WRONG! If you said, yes, I’m willing to bet you have never watched “Red Notice,” and frankly I think you shouldn’t. I mean, come on! This movie has three of the biggest movie stars working today and it wastes all of them! I mean, they do their best with the material that’s given to them, but “Red Notice” is one of the most disposable and forgettable action films of all time. The only real compliment I can give to the movie is that some of the locations are kinda pretty and Gal Gadot has some really sexy outfits. This film is the definition of style over substance. Overall the story is predictable, the script is all over the place, the attempts at humor did not land no matter how many times the writers tried, and at the end of the day, the people behind this film basically relied on name recognition to get people to watch it. That’s really disappointing. I can name a few movies I’ve seen with a phenomenal cast, but they barely do anything to make that cast pop! Movies like “The Circle,” “Aloha,” and “Lucy.” Yeah! Tom Hanks, Bradley Cooper, and Scarlett Johansson respectively can sell me at the door, but once I’m locked behind that door, all I see are empty promises. And may I add, this is the second film on this list starring Ryan Reynolds. What’s happening with you?! I liked you in “Free Guy!” Why are you resorting to this crap?!

#2. Cinderella

My next film on this list is “Cinderella.” My god, “Cinderella” was just awful. I knew it was gonna be bad from the beginning with the opening number. I think first impressions matter in film, and when the first number of a musical fails to impress me, that’s not really the sign of a memorable musical. “Cinderella” is directed by Kay Cannon, who wrote the “Pitch Perfect” films. I have not seen the sequels, but I cannot say the first is among my favorite comedies, although she has been attached to a few things I enjoy. Including the entertaining Fox show, “New Girl.” This film is a modern take on “Cinderella,” it kind of reminded me of the 1990s “Romeo + Juliet” film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which, you may punch me in the face for this, I wasn’t a huge fan of that film either. I say that because while these films are not the same, “Cinderella” takes a lot of elements that make the character iconic and remembered through the years and sprinkles them into a story with modernizations. Apparently there’s a drag feel to this film, there’s all these inside jokes to modern society, and it could add up to something unique, but it didn’t stick the landing. I like the idea of Cinderella having to live in a modern society where women are perhaps more independent, they can do more for themselves. And there’s even a whole thing about Cinderella being a dressmaker and if she marries someone in particular, that technically means she can forget about becoming a businesswoman, someone who can take her dressmaking and turn it into an opportunity to make some money. I like these ideas, they sound good in a pitch meeting. But they just didn’t translate well with what we got. Also, James Corden… My lord. Who’s your agent? You’re in this too?! I mean… This is a step up from “Superintelligence.” 

I just want to note something about “Cinderella.” I did not review this film. In fact, this is one of the few films that I saw in 2021 that I had no intention of reviewing because it was so late in the year when I watched it and it’s been out for months, but I did tweet my thoughts on the film because it stood out to me in such a negative way that I had to express my opinion. I could not let it sit in my head. After a few tweets, where I even mention the director Kay Cannon’s name, I did not tag her by the way, I just mentioned her, including her past film, not to mention her directorial debut, “Blockers,” which I ADORED. So much so it was one of my favorite comedies of the past few years. She responded with the following: 

“Sorry you didn’t like it. It’s a PG fairytale jukebox musical made for kids/families to enjoy. And millions upon millions of them did along with a bestselling soundtrack. Maybe rewatch Blockers to ease you from the torture you endured?” 

I mean, I’m a bit shocked she even chimed in because I figured she could look at these tweets, notice some idiot on the Internet, and move on. But I’m not here to judge anyone. In addition, I responded back saying… 

“I have respect for you, Kay. Glad to hear the movie’s successful. Glad other people can enjoy something. That’s the subjectivity of film. Looking forward to whatever you’re doing next.” 

First off, she’s right. “Cinderella” is not for me. I cannot think of myself belonging in a single demographic that I could fall under for the movie. Musicals are not always my thing. I was never attached to any of the other “Cinderella” stories like the ones that Disney did over the years, and of all the late-night hosts currently on network TV, I think James Corden is the one I’m least likely to watch. I was admittedly rather excited for “Cinderella” purely because of the filmmaker behind it. I mean, for me she’s had ups and downs, but she was hot off of “Blockers” and it made me more excited for her next project, whatever it was. I mean, it’s like getting excited for the next Quentin Tarantino film or the next Christopher Nolan film or the next Ari Aster film or the next Wes Anderson film. Sometimes I have to separate the content from the creator. The creator, I love her. I think Kay Cannon is talented and someone I want to keep an eye on in regard to upcoming projects. But I’ll also remember her as the woman who directed “Cinderella.” I did not choose this life. It chose me. Actually… I did choose to watch the movie, so maybe I did choose this life. Whatever.

#1. Music

The last couple years of doing these countdowns were interesting, yet sad, because the same director made the #1 film two years in a row. This year, that is thankfully not the case, but apparently this film is a feature-length debut. In a lot of cases, I could be disappointed in a feature-length debut, but nevertheless hopeful that the director behind that feature will go on to do great things. As for this feature, I think the director needs to keep her dayjob. My god, this movie was off the charts horrible! My #1 worst movie of 2021 is… “Music.” I mean, come on! What else could it be? I almost skipped this film this year because it barely had a theatrical release, but the film was nominated at 78th Golden Globes and had people talking, so by the end of the year, I had to dive into some untreaded waters. Having watched it, I can assume that I could write an entire double-spaced, Times Roman Numeral 12 point font essay on why this movie is not only bad enough as a project to begin with, but why it simply should have never been made. I watched this film for free on Prime Video, and even then, I felt robbed. “Music” is directed by Sia, an artist I have never really cared to follow, but after seeing this film, I don’t really care if she’s good at her dayjob, I don’t know if I want to support her. Some people in the film industry often object to the idea of doing a worst movies of the year list, and I can see why they would do that. Not everyone wants their movie bashed, or to see other movies get bashed. I get that. I can see why people advise others not to yuck on something people spent hours making. “Music,” however, is a movie I cannot use as a defense in this case. Not just because it is a bad movie that failed to entertain me. You want a bad movie that failed to entertain me? Look at “Life of the Party!” That film came out in 2018 and was my #1 worst movie then! I could at least see why people would enjoy that. It was never cruel or offensive, it was just a poorly made film that failed to appeal to me on any level. “Music” on the other hand is a completely DANGEROUS and ALARMING project.

The film centers around a girl who has to take care of her sister, who is on the autism spectrum, and given this sister’s abnormal behavior, it makes this situation all the more challenging. Maddie Ziegler plays the title character and yes, I have been around autistic people. I’m autistic myself, and yes, there are a few of us that do not often communicate with easy to understand words or sentences. That is a fact, I’m putting it out there. But the point is that when it comes to Maddie Ziegler as this character, she almost feels like she’s going over the top at certain points. She’s almost like a cartoon character. At times, her performance either felt cringe-inducing or even downright uncomfortable. And I don’t mean that last part in a compelling way. Apparently Sia and Maddie Ziegler have been good pals for years, so Sia felt it was natural to include Ziegler as the title character in this film. For the record, Ziegler does not have autism herself. And I think this movie would heavily enhanced if they stuck to getting someone on the spectrum to play the lead role. After all, they have experience, and it can help the film in terms of its overall credibility, which it evidently lacks. Apparently Sia TRIED doing this movie with someone on the spectrum, if that actually happened because it was also stated she wrote the character of Music with Maddie Ziegler in mind, but said actor was uncomfortable. So, instead of accommodating her, which some decent people would try to do, in fact they’ve done it with me throughout my life in school to a degree, they let her go. For all I know, maybe she or someone she knew genuinely had resistance to doing the role, but it does not change the fact that a good director would take into account someone’s disabilities and work around them. Or, if you let this person on the spectrum go, at least try finding another one! You know, there’s more than one autistic actor out there! And to be honest… I don’t think “Music” is a film where you get your best friend to tag along, just because… It’s weird. And it almost lacks decency. And apparently Ziegler herself had second thoughts about this role while filming as well! They should have just thrown in the towel to be honest! And also, this film is supposedly meant to show off that people on the autism spectrum are “different” but worthy of existing in this world just like everyone else. Honestly it didn’t feel that way. The only people I could see this movie relating to are the caregivers of those on the spectrum, but even then it’s dangerous, because said caregivers will get the wrong idea based on some of the things that happen in this film. I’m not saying make the character speak in complete sentences or anything, but the way they handled the character of Music as is felt nothing short of infuriating and borderline ableist. Although speaking of caregivers, Kate Hudson, who plays Music’s caregiver, did give an okay performance, but it’s not enough to make a good movie. There’s also flashy sequences in this film that I would imagine a good number of people on the autism spectrum would not be able to watch in the first place. Great job connecting with your subject matter! Apparently Sia did three years of research on autism while making this film… She honestly needs at least three more. There’s a scene in this film where one of the major characters restrains “Music” suggesting that he is “crushing her with his love.” You realize that this is an action, depending on how you go about it, that kills or traumatizes a lot of people? Yes, this is something that has been done to those on the autism spectrum, but this is being PROMOTED in the film despite a history of this very action endangering those on the receiving end, sometimes KILLING them. This is the kind of thing that is saved for last resort situations, and they treat it like it’s something done on every other Tuesday. There is an argument to make that no film in history NEEDS to be made. Well, I think I found one that really shouldn’t have. Someone in the future could watch this film, see that scene, and think it is a fine way to calm someone down on the spectrum, when in reality, it is likely only hurting them. Now can it be used to keep someone from harming another person? Perhaps. But the scenes in which the restraining happens do not occur as a result from that. They occur because Music is freaked out over multiple scenarios! I mean, yes, Music is flailing her arms, but she’s not doing anything to potentially warrant any real medical treatment for someone else or herself. I mean if she hits herself enough times, maybe, but she did not! She isn’t holding a gun, she isn’t carrying a knife, she isn’t raising her fists, she’s just going through a situation that is beyond her control. And apparently that warrants a restraint…

And going back to what I said about “Cinderella” and Kay Cannon responding to me on Twitter defending her film. She at least did so with some decency. She could have thought I was a freak. After all, it’s the Internet. It’s her right. But she AND I calmly handled this matter. There was no Twitter feud between us. Just a couple people with differing perspectives. Sia on the other hand got into Twitter feuds with people regarding this film before it came out, including autistic people, because THAT’S a GREAT way to promote your film. After all of this, she sent out tweets with promises that scenes with restraints would be removed and there would be a warning at the beginning of the film that restraining people with autism is something that won’t be encouraged. Granted, this info was sent about a week before the film came out and kind of felt half-baked, but nevertheless… A promise is a promise. BUT WHO AM I KIDDING?! The restraint scenes are still there and having watched the movie on Prime Video, and double checking before we move any further, THERE IS NO WARNING.

YOU. GODDAMN. CHEAP. MORONIC LIAR!

Sia, I have never meant these two words more, f*ck you. Now you can make an argument that removing those scenes would lessen the story of the movie and diminish an arc Kate Hudson’s character has, but this goes to show that what they really should have done with the movie, is cancelled it. Because yes, I watched the film. But now I never have any intentions of buying Sia’s albums, buying separate songs on iTunes, or buying any of her merch. Short term, maybe the movie makes money. Long term, I cannot support Sia on any of her future projects.

If you look at other movies on this list like “Red Notice” or “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” those movies are on this list almost solely because they failed to entertain me or provide me with a good time, which at the end of the day, a movie is supposed to do. Not only did “Music” provide me with a terrible time, it felt near, if not offensive, and gave me the idea that a movie could potentially harm someone or give someone the wrong idea about a serious subject matter. The only reason why I would support a future product from Sia is if I were tied to a chair and about to die, or I were forced to review it. I salute the hard work people put into movies, even if they’re bad. Sia may have spent years making the movie, in fact this was shot in 2017, but she spent years making a potentially harmful story that could send the wrong message. For all those reasons, “Music” is easily my #1 worst film of 2021.

Thanks for reading this countdown! I also want to thank everyone for making the trek with me through 2021 in film and here’s to 2022! Let’s hope we have a year of great movies, fun experiences, and hopefully less delays. Come on, “Top Gun: Maverick,” I’ve been waiting forever to see you! I’m looking forward to a lot of movies coming out this year including “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” “The Batman,” Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” and Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon.” A lot of potential movie magic is going to be cast over audiences this year, let’s hope it’s all properly executed! Until then, thanks for going through another year of movies with me! Also, if you want some positivity instead of this, be sure to check out my picks for the Top 10 BEST Movies of 2021. I do these two lists every year, and I am looking forward to doing them again for 2022. If you want to go through this year of movies and want to make a commitment to take that journey along with me on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, what are your least favorite movies of 2021? Leave your picks down below! Let out the stress, let out the anger. I hope you’ll find it therapeutic. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Top 10 BEST Movies of 2021

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Happy start to the new year as we get excited for another slate of movies and cinematic history! Speaking of cinematic history, it’s time to reflect on some of said history as I count down the top 10 BEST movies of 2021. If you are new to Scene Before or have not read my countdowns in the past, the rules go a little something like this. First off, this is a subjective list. This is a list of the movies that I think are the best. This is not a test of how much I know about movies, nor should it be a test of how much you and I agree on movies. As the old saying goes, different strokes for different folks. Also, I should note that I have not seen every single movie that has come out in 2021. I still have not seen “Licorice Pizza,” I still have not seen “Don’t Look Up,” I still have not seen “The Matrix Resurrections.” I have not had the time or motivation to see every movie that has come out this year, it’s just the way it is. So if you’re wondering why there’s a movie that is not on this list, I either didn’t enjoy it as much as the ten listed here, or I didn’t see it. One or the other. OR, it was not released in theaters. For the sake of not clogging this list, I’m only listing films that came out this year theatrically, so apologies in advance to “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” as good as that movie is. Before we dive into my main ten, I want to list three honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention: Tick, Tick…BOOM!

Kicking off the honorable mentions list is “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” stars Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, who would eventually go on to create the musical “Rent.” Speaking of musicals, this is a beautifully done couple hours of Andrew Garfield singing and dancing his way through life as a struggling artist that sort of reminded me of my own life as an aspiring artist myself.

Honorable Mention: Eternals

Up next for honorable mentions is “Eternals.” “Eternals” is the twenty-sixth MCU movie and Chloe Zhao’s first film released after the Oscar-winning “Nomadland.” This film introduces a bunch of new characters to the universe and gives them all their own moment to shine through a beautiful, visually stunning, slightly romantic tale that makes many of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe installments feel small.

Honorable Mention: West Side Story

And finally for honorable mentions, we have “West Side Story.” I saw this film at an IMAX Fan Event and was blown away. Rachel Zegler shines as the lead role of Maria, and the same can be said for a lot of the other actors in their respective roles, especially Ariana DeBose as Anita. With stellar cinematography, an enchanting retelling of a classic tale, and dazzling musical sequences, “West Side Story” is my favorite musical of the year. Steven Spielberg has another top-notch project to put on his endless resume.

With that being said, these are my top 10 BEST movies of 2021!

#10. Free Guy

Starting off this list is “Free Guy!” I was looking forward to this movie for a long time. The film was originally set to come out as early as summer of 2020, but of course, it got pushed back multiple times due to COVID-19. Honestly, it was worth the wait. I think this is a perfect film for today’s gaming culture because it successfully deals with topics and issues that gamers have to push themselves through today between microtransactions and not being in on the latest trends. But even with that in mind, it is just a damn good movie. Directed by Shawn Levy of “Night at the Museum” fame, this film centers around a non-playable character who wants to become a hero in a video game after realizing how mundane his life is. That’s a cool concept, which eventually becomes well executed. Ryan Reynolds stars in this film and at times you can say that you can pick on some of his trademarks as an actor, but for a film like this, it works. Plus the climax is epic and hilarious in every way. There are only a couple movies I can think of this year where I’ve laughed harder. If you like Taika Waititi already, I promise you, you will want his autograph with authentication on it by the end of this film. The dude plays this executive and he’s got the personality of a DJ who spends his spare time in a gang or something! I don’t know if his mannerisms were his ideas or the director’s, but he brought this character to life! I think “Free Guy” is one of this year’s most accessible, fun, and entertaining flicks. Check it out!

#9. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

This year we returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while “Black Widow” was entertaining, it is not good enough to be on this list. So instead, we’re gonna talk about the badass film that came out after it, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings!” This has everything an MCU origin story needs and more. New likable characters, intense non-stop action, and glorious CGI from start to finish. I will admit, the third act is a bit of diversion from the first two, which is why this is a bit lower on the list, but I still had a ton of fun with it. I saw it twice in IMAX and I had fun both times. Also, can we just admit that Wong may be arguably the MCU’s best supporting character at this point? People often joke about the MCU and how it often relies on humor to keep things going. This film is no exception when it comes to humor, and by that, I mean, it is sometimes ridiculously funny. It’s got some of the most laugh out loud lines I’ve heard in the saga. There are quite a few martial arts sequences that it feels weird to say, twenty-something movies in, had my jaw drop to the floor in regard to how marvelous they were executed. They were quickly paced, fun, and had me on the edge of my seat. What really makes the movie though is the chemistry between the characters. There’s a lot of family drama within Shaun and the people who raised him, and I felt all of that. Also, I could literally watch a sitcom with the two main characters, Shaun and Katy. The two are delightful together and brilliantly cast. Simu Liu and Awkwafina have brought one of my favorite relationships into the MCU today. I don’t often think my mother would want to watch a comic book movie in her spare time, it’s never been her genre, but I would recommend this film even to her. I think it’s just an easy film to digest. If you’re not into comic books or superheroes, I think you’d still like this movie, and that is one of the best compliments I can give a movie of this kind. 

#8. The Last Duel

Coming in at #8 is “The Last Duel!” Ridley Scott directed two movies that came out in 2021, the other being “House of Gucci.” Of those two, I only saw this one, and it was great! This film is told in a rather unconventional order, but I think it was a great way to go about telling this story. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon deliver their first script to the big screen together since “Good Will Hunting” and brings in a compelling cast along with them. Adam Driver gives one of the best performances I have seen from him. Jodie Comer, who was already delightful in “Free Guy” is a different kind of great in “The Last Duel.” This film ultimately reveals what happens when you have one story, and three different people with altering perspectives. I left this film feeling satisfied because of how it ended, but to get to that ending, I had to go through one of the all-time most uncomfortable moments I’ve endured as a moviegoer, but it made the ending incredibly worthwhile and all the more fulfilling.

#7. Dune

At #7, we have “Dune!” I tried reading the book for “Dune” and gave up quickly. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t have time for it, but it did not stop me from absolutely looking forward to the “Dune” movie. It was my most anticipated film of the year and it did not disappoint. This is sci-fi at its finest. Denis Villeneuve continues to make a case as to why he’s one of the best directors working today. “Dune” has been out since October, so I don’t know if it is still in cinemas near you, but if it is, or if it ever comes back, PLEASE make an effort to go see it in a theater. Maybe Oscar season will give it some help. “Dune” was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had watching a movie on the big screen in some time. I went to the press screening for it the day before it opened, I had one of those end seats right next to the wall. It’s one of those situations where there’s two seats next to the stairs, then on the other side is the main part of the row. At times I could literally feel the wall next to me shaking like there’s no tomorrow. “Dune” is a film that introduces its fair share of lore and characters, and rarely is it ever uninteresting. People argue that the ending of this film is a bit abrupt, and you could make that argument, I could see why you would say that. But this film ends at a proper place. It’s Paul Atreides starting at one point, fulfilling an arch, and therefore finishing at another. To me, it didn’t feel abrupt, it felt like the end of one story and the start of another. As for that other story, I cannot wait for it. 2023 is gonna be epic when “Dune: Part Two” hits the big screen.

#6. Four Good Days

Coming in at the next spot is “Four Good Days,” which is arguably Mila Kunis’s best work as a performer. Well, acting-wise I should say. “Family Guy” as a concept has heavily influenced me over the years, but that’s more on the written portion than anything else. But when it comes to “Four Good Days,” this is one of those movies that came out of nowhere for me. I honestly don’t know if I wouldn’t have seen this if it weren’t for seeing a clip of it on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” so good on them for advertising it properly. Kudos to the marketing crew. As for the actual movie, it is one of those movies that is hard to believe that it is somehow in actuality, a true story. It’s real. A lot of things were changed in the film, but the story is nevertheless real. Mila Kunis and Glenn Close have dynamite chemistry and may be one of the best on-screen pairs I have seen in a long time. If you have a chance, check this movie out. One of the most moving experiences I’ve felt in a while.

#5. Raya and the Last Dragon

Up next, is one of this year’s surprises and overall best animations, Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon!” If you know the history of this movie and all the development changes that happened after all the press it got at D23, you could look at it with a bit of skepticism, but it turns out that the changes did not matter much as the movie kicks ass from start to finish! All the characters from Raya to Sisu to Boun are charming and inviting. This movie is so hypnotizing and fun that it is easy to forget that the villain is literally a bunch of blobs. How imaginative! Either way, if you want a great family movie, I give this the highest of recommendations. Also, shoutout to James Newton Howard, your score is incredible. I listened to the prologue several times this year. Weirdly enough, and I’m not complaining about this because it works, this is one of the rare Disney animated movies where you don’t see anyone singing. If you ask me, this is what the live-action “Mulan” should have been. Take notes! Also, between Netflix’s “Over the Moon,” which more people should watch at least one time and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” animation revolving around Asian culture has been killing it lately!

#4. Spider-Man: No Way Home

For many, this was the most anticipated film of the year. For me, it was kind of that at first, then the more I thought about it, the more nervous I became. Then I saw the movie only to have said nerves washed away. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” This is the second top 10 in Scene Before history, not counting honorable mentions or MCU films where he is not the focal point, where a movie featuring Spider-Man makes it in. This character is showing no signs of slowing down. Every goal that this movie had written down, it checked off. It entertained the audience. It brought nostalgic feels while also trying to freshen up the characters of today. For me, this was an event film that felt bigger than “Avengers: Endgame,” because I went to see this film twice in two days and both times my theater LOST their minds over everything that was on screen. And I gotta give credit to Jon Watts and the writers of this film. Even though this film relies heavily on aspects of the past, it’s not like the live-actionish version of “The Lion King” where it doesn’t try anything new. There are some real character moments in this film that I personally was not ready for. I knew given how this was the third film of a trilogy, I would be getting something rather emotional, but even with that, seeing this all play out made me motionless a couple times. Tom Holland is great as Spider-Man and gives his best portrayal of the character yet. Alfred Molina as Doc Ock is back and just as impressive as his 2004 interpretation. And I would argue Willem Dafoe is even better in this film than he was in 2002’s “Spider-Man.” Do I think we’re getting too many superhero movies? If they continue to make them as good as this, then absolutely not. If we kept getting more movies like “No Way Home” as opposed to “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” then bring em on!

#3. Last Night in Soho

We are nearing the end of this countdown and I cannot go on without mentioning Edgar Wright’s latest master class work, “Last Night in Soho.” This film reminded me of why I love movies. I went to see this at a 9:30 p.m. opening Thursday night screening at a historic venue near Boston in 35mm. I went for the nostalgic gimmick and intent to support local cinema, by the way, if you are a cinephile and in the Boston area, PLEASE make a trip to the Coolidge, but I ended up getting something much more. “Last Night in Soho” works not only because of Edgar Wright’s neon-infused, trippy, downright disturbing vision, but because of the compelling performances of its two lead actresses, Thomasin Mackenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, the latter of whom I’ve seen in other works, but I will say this is probably the best she’s done to this day in regards to cinema. I will admit, I am a sucker for neon. It’s my favorite chemical element. Gosh, that’s how much of a nerd I am. I literally have a favorite element on the periodic table. Therefore, I was a tad predisposed to loving the atmosphere of the film as it waltzed back and forth from the 1960s London to present London. Each and every frame had me transfixed on the screen like I was five years old and looking at action figures. I had an idea on how they did some scenes as I looked at the shots, but part of me wanted to know as soon as I left the film how they put certain scenes together. I mean, even if you take out the fantasy and horror element, at its core, this movie is about dreams. Like “La La Land,” where the whole idea of the film is about people who want to pursue what they love, and the consequences or dangers they may face because of it. The two films are completely different in terms of setting, genre, subject matter, and I’d say the movie we’re focusing on is more dramatic as opposed to comedic, but they have similar themes and the main characters have alike motivations. “Last Night in Soho” is perfect for any movie night with the lights dimmed and the popcorn right in the palm of your hand.

#2. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my favorite animated movie of the year, and I would also claim that this is the hardest I’ve laughed at an animation since “The LEGO Movie,” it’s another project from producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines!” I waited months to watch this film, but after I watched it, I don’t think I’ve felt as satisfied after watching an animation since last year’s “Over the Moon.” Yep, I’m mentioning that movie again, it’s that good. This is a brilliant story about a dysfunctional family whose lives collide between tools and technology. The dad is obviously tech-challenged, but everyone else, including our lead character Katie, has a hang on things. The film does what a lot of other films with a sci-fi angle have done over the years like “The Terminator” and “2001,” which basically develops the story to the point where the robots try to destroy humanity and take over. Not a new concept, but the way it is handled here is INCREDIBLY fresh and the evil A.I. antagonist is undeniably brutal and ridiculously savage. It’s like if GLaDOS from “Portal” were transferred into a cell phone and had the ability to magically disintegrate the remains of Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and OK, Google! I love this movie. I enjoy animations, and I hate how people think animations are “only for kids,” because this one can suggest that THEY ARE NOT. This is probably the most fun I’ve had watching an animation in some time. There are actually some really dark images I’m almost shocked this movie got away with. And of all the movies I have seen this year, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” may have the greatest replay value because they pack the screen with so much information that I want to look at all of it in clear detail. Between that, in addition to the the unique animation style, a concept that Lord and Miller are not a stranger to courtesy of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and the bone-breaking, throat-destroying hilarious writing, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is probably going to warrant repeat viewings. All movies are made to make money, but I think “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” comes off as this year’s greatest animated passion project!

#1. The Suicide Squad

Alright, here we go. We have made it to #1 and I assure you all that this pick was probably a definite since I first saw the movie. If you thought “Spider-Man: No Way Home” would be my favorite comic book movie of the year, guess what? You’re wrong! The film is epic in every way, but because of a couple minor issues, it’s lower on the list. This next film is a comic book movie that met every expectation, sometimes exceeding it, gave me one of the best theatrical experiences of the year, and made me laugh harder than I do during most comedies! James Gunn, you have done it again! My #1 movie of 2021 is the bloody, the brilliant, the diabolically insane masterpiece! I’m talking about “The Suicide Squad!” I have not seen every single DC movie in existence. I’ve seen a lot of the highly praised ones like “The Dark Knight,” Tim Burton’s “Batman,” “V For Vendetta,” and I honestly think “The Suicide Squad” outranks ALL of them! This film is not only ridiculous, mature fun, but it is also a surprise! Because if you wondered where my excitement level was in 2020 when this movie was being made, I would have put them low considering how 2016’s “Suicide Squad” was not that great, and “Birds of Prey” was barely passable and I mean BARELY despite the amazing talent of Margot Robbie. When I saw the trailers for this film, I was fully onboard. It promised brutal action, an immature yet genius script, and tons of humor. And we got all of those! But what I was not expecting months before going into “The Suicide Squad” is the amount of heart it had. James Gunn, based on his outings with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” has a delightful way of balancing mile a minute humor with real connections with real people, even if they aren’t people! This film got me to care about a man-eating shark who wears shorts and has the vocabulary level of a three-year-old. On the surface, he’s a killer that will tear you apart, but at the end of the day, all he wanted was friends. Polka Dot Man… Holy s*it. I LOVE HIM. I was at a mall the day after I saw this movie and I bought his Funko the moment I saw him. Polka Dot Man may have the most twisted mind I have seen in recent film history. He turns people into his mom and kills them! I mean, the guy on the surface is practically a joke character, but they successfully managed to turn a joke into a logical part of a storyline that made sense and provided real depth and emotion. I love what they did with him. Ratcatcher II may be responsible for delivering this year’s most emotionally charging ending. I won’t even say what it is, but the second time I watched this film after obtaining it on 4K Blu-ray, I had water in my eyes because she highlighted this film’s idea of people being misunderstood. What it means to come off a certain way and not be given a chance. This is the third movie with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and this is frankly the best she’s ever been as the character. She’s wonderfully insane, occasionally loud and upbeat, and super funny when she needs to be. There is a great scene, very well directed I’d say, where we see Harley killing all these people and we get her perspective on it, and she basically thinks she’s in wonderland! It’s kind of sick, but beautiful! Will Smith did not come back for this film, instead the lead this time is Idris Elba, and much like 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” which had Will Smith playing Deadshot, Elba’s character of Bloodsport is doing the mission he’s assigned to for his kid. His rivalry with Peacemaker, oh my god. That was fun to watch. Speaking of Peacemaker, I think his costume may be the most ridiculous yet awesome costume in recent superhero movie history. Yes, it’s comic accurate, but it literally looks like something out of a kids superhero movie, but based on the content of this R rated film, it did not distract me, especially from the surprisingly compelling performance from John Cena himself. He’s been in things in the past, but he’s not exactly proven his acting abilities to the world. “The Suicide Squad” however made him incredibly convincing. Most specifically in the third act. Some might compare this to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which too was directed by James Gunn, because it has criminals trying to save the universe, and both involve select comic book characters that some regular Joes won’t be able to point out, but I honestly think this movie did that concept better. It handles SO MUCH blood and gore while also trying to provide hints of heart every which way, and that makes this movie so damn watchable. This is the best R rated comic book flick I have seen in my life, and the fact that this film is OVER “Spider-Man: No Way Home” on this list to me represents how great of a year it is for the genre, even if “The Suicide Squad” undeservedly flopped at the box office. I’d think twice before putting this film on with your kids, but I highly recommend it to just about anyone who loves a great action film with tons of humor. “The Suicide Squad” is my personal favorite film of 2021.

Thanks for reading this countdown! I always enjoy recapping the year in film and showcasing my favorites of the year, and depending on how things go in the next month or two, these ten films could be the Best Picture nominees of the Scene Before award show, The 4th Annual Jackoff Awards! I’ve still got more movies to see, so things could change! I always love celebrating the things I love. But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end as tomorrow I will be releasing my list for the top 10 WORST movies of 2021. This year, collectively, was a better year for film than the last, but trust me when I say that within all the special snowfalls that looked pretty, we had some occasional treacherous downpours. We’ll be talking about those TOMORROW, January 12th! If you want to see this list and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, what are your favorite movies of 2021? Our lists are probably not the same, so I am excited to hear your picks! List them in the comments! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The Tender Bar (2021): A Sweet, Sentimental, Long Island-ISH Coming of Age Story

“The Tender Bar” is directed by George Clooney (The Monuments Men, The Midnight Sky) and stars Ben Affleck (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Accountant), Tye Sheridan (Voyagers, Ready Player One), Lily Rabe (Miss Stevens, No Reservations), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Nobody), and Daniel Ranieri. This film is based on a memoir of the same name and is set in 1970s Long Island and follows JR as he grows up, does some usual coming of age things during said process, while also trying to seek out a father figure after his dad disappeared.

If you know who I am and where I live, you’d know this film one of the most personal I’ve seen to date. “The Tender Bar” was not my most anticipated film at the start of the year, mainly because I barely knew it existed. I liked George Clooney’s recent outing with Netflix’s “The Midnight Sky.” I thought it was visually stunning and was able to balance two adventures and perspectives that seemed to differ in scale. So knowing Clooney had at least one success as a director definitely helps. Although I want to introduce a little potential bias into this review. One of my favorite memories as a moviegoer is going to see “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” for the first time. Why? I live 20 to 40 minutes from both malls where the movie was shot, and I saw the film at a theater across the street from one of those malls.

For “The Tender Bar,” I did something similar. I happened to see this film at The Cabot in Beverly, Massachusetts, where a majority of the film was shot. There are a few locations that people of that city would instantly recognize. But if I told you that was the icing on the cake, I’d be lying.

I live a few towns away from Beverly, Wakefield to be specific. It’s… Got good pizza delivery places. A few good places to get breakfast. And we have… What am I kidding? WHAT DO WE HAVE?! A lake?! It’s a polluted pool that gives you a nice view of the Reading Jordan’s Furniture every now and again! What else do we have? But playing into this bias marathon, this film has a scene that was shot at the Wakefield Bowladrome, which has candlepin bowling, or as New Englanders, or anyone else with common sense calls it, bowling. I was at this location while they were shooting. They did not let anyone inside, for good reason, but I had the chance to witness filmmaking history as it happened in my own town.

Despite this connection that makes me giddy, I will note that this is a logical flaw in the film because as I mentioned, candlepin bowling is a New England sport, along with Canada as well. There are other areas where it is found, but New England and Canada are the two mainstays. Candlepin bowling has never had a history on Long Island. Logically, it would have been better to find a place that does tenpin bowling, or regular bowling as most call it, or INFERIOR bowling as I call it. Apparently the crew shot around various communities in Massachusetts, and the state does have its fair share of tenpin alleys. A lot of them have glow lighting at certain times, but there’s also some that don’t. Although the automatic scoring systems could feel out of place. I’ll give some credit though. I’ve been in that alley numerous times, and it has rarely changed in terms of the decor and condition. It kind of feels like a time capsule, so if they were going for an old timey vibe, they’ve kinda nailed it. A lot of the candlepin alleys that exist in New England look as if they’ve barely changed in decades.

The film itself, is nostalgic in a sense that it makes you feel like you are instantly transported to a 1970s where one could see said time as “glory days,” and has a fun soundtrack to evoke such a feeling. Songs from artists including Paul Simon and the Isley Brothers liven up the movie from one scene to another.

Now Ben Affleck (left) is likely going to be the most recognizable star in this film. He plays his part well, but I honestly think he’s had better performances. Just look at his 2020 outing with Gavin O’Connor, “The Way Back.” While his performance here is charming as Uncle Charlie, I don’t think the biggest standout in the film, despite being likable. Although I will note one thing… Before this film came out, I thought Ben Affleck would be the character everything in this film centered around. Well, I never knew about the book… In fact, if you look at the casting list for this film on IMDb or Wikipedia or wherever you find it, Ben Affleck has top billing. Because… Of course he does. He’s not the main character.

But the story itself centers around Tye Sheridan’s (right) character of JR. JR makes quite a progression throughout his life. He’s a promising young man who goes to Yale, meets a woman, makes some choices that decide the course of where he ends up. I’ve seen Tye Sheridan on screen before in “Ready Player One.” I liked him in “Ready Player One.” I love him in “The Tender Bar.” As for his younger interpretation, that is played by Daniel Ranieri, who I discovered last year courtesy of the Internet. He was in a video referencing people going outside in the pandemic and he goes on and on, cursing them out. It is ridiculously funny. Despite some of the filthy things he says in that video, I think he was properly cast as a sweet young boy who wanted nothing more than a father. I believe the transition from him to Sheridan, and both play their parts well.

Upon leaving this film, I felt happier walking out of this than I did watching most of the films I’ve watched in recent memory. If I had a word to describe “The Tender Bar” it would be “sweet.” Now, this is a drama, meaning that not everything goes everyone’s way, but this movie honestly has one of my favorite endings of any film I’ve seen that came out in 2021. It’s the kind of ending that sort of reminds me of one of the supposedly essential aspects of the parent-child relationship. The acceptance and realization that someone is an adult while also recognizing a tradition that maybe they have both honored since childhood. When someone prominent in my family died, I had a particular object passed down to me, which I still have in my room today. The scene in the movie that I’m referring to, as a reminder of this real life occurrence, differs significantly, but it kind of reminded me of that.

If I had any other comments, it would be that my one other flaw would have to be Christopher Lloyd’s character. I’m not saying Lloyd does not do a good job in the movie. He’s a great actor, and he proves that in this movie, but this harkens back to the old saying that first impressions matter. One of the first scenes of the film where we see Lloyd in action, or lack thereof, is him sitting in a chair farting. This gag goes on for about a minute. What is this a kids movie? This freaking thing’s rated R! We’re resorting to cheap PG comedy gags now?

In the end, I liked “The Tender Bar.” Despite coming out during the holiday season, having high profile names, and not belonging in any extended cinematic universes, I don’t think “The Tender Bar” is going to win any awards. But similar to how “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” recently harkened back to the 1960s with success, “The Tender Bar” is a delightful throwback to the 1970s in Long Island, even if the entire movie was shot in the state of Massachusetts. I feel like I’m not judging this film fairly, because I think the average viewer of this movie who ends up seeing the film in say Los Angeles will barely notice a difference in a couple key aspects. Either way, the film is worth a watch if you want something sweet with some drama mixed in. I’m going to give “The Tender Bar” a 7/10.

“The Tender Bar” is now playing in select theaters and is available on Prime Video for all subscribers.

Thanks for reading this review! This week is a big one for Scene Before, because on Tuesday, January 11th and Wednesday, January 12th, it is time to recap my BEST and WORST movies of the year. On January 11th I’ll be talking about the Top 10 BEST movies of 2021 and on January 12th I’ll be talking about the Top 10 WORST Movies of 2021. I cannot wait, I always enjoy doing these lists, and I equally hope you all enjoy reading them! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Tender Bar?” What did you think about it? Or, have you ever gone candlepin bowling? And if so, WHY IS IT THE ONLY BOWLING?! Leave your comments down below, hopefully like all that dead wood you knocked down that’s still on the plate!

…Candlepin bowling joke. I do not apologize.

Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Sing 2 (2021): Where Modern Music Meets Overly Goofy Cartoon Gags

“Sing 2” is written and directed by Garth Jennings, who was the writer and one of the two directors behind the original “Sing” as well. This film stars Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Serenity), Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies, Wild), Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2, Lucy), Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Rocketman), Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man, Blue Jasmine), Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll (Kroll Show, Sausage Party), Pharrell Williams (Black is King, The Grinch), Halsey, Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest), Letitia Wright (Black Panther, Black Mirror), Eric André (The Eric André Show, The Lion King), Adam Buxton (8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, The Adam and Joe Show), Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy, Shaun of the Dead), Jennifer Saunders (Shrek 2, Absolutely Fabulous), Nick Offerman (The Founder, Parks and Recreation), and Bono of U2 fame.

Hey don’t blame me! I cannot leave a single name untouched!

This film is the sequel to the 2016 film “Sing,” which was about Buster Moon trying to save his theater and attempts doing so by creating a singing competition, which provides for some bumps along the way. In this sequel, Buster Moon and his pals are attempting to create a new science fiction live show for a venue in Las Vegas wannabe Redshore City. In doing so, they pitch to Mr. Crystal, a sleazy producer, the idea of getting Clay Calloway, a reclusive lion who used to make music, to be part of the show. And of course, nostalgia being nostalgia (look at “Star Wars” dominating the world), he loves the idea and thinks the group should get him to be in the whole thing. Between the intense mission of convincing this former artist to tag along in addition to nepotism and internal drama, things have only gotten harder for our SINGers.

Is that a proper term? SINGers? Does that work?

“Sing” is the kind of film that you watch, have fun with, and then move onto the next thing. And sadly, despite my slight negative vibe that could be triggered with such a statement, “Sing” was what I considered to be my personal favorite of Illumination’s content. I don’t care for “Despicable Me.” The minions kind of drive me crazy. “The Secret Life of Pets” was an okay watch one time, but never again. The sequel however, is just plain insufferable. “The Grinch” almost made me hate Christmas. And I love Christmas! I think Christmas, in more ways than one, is one of the best times of the year, minus all the blasphemous music. Mariah Carey, all I want for Christmas is for you to go away. It’s like if top 40 started drinking eggnog! And speaking of top 40, “Sing” and its sequel partially rely on their own interpretations of popular songs. In the original film, you had songs from Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Frank Sinatra. I feel like my biggest critique of that first film is the fact that a few of the standout songs come off as processed radio brought into the mix simply for its popularity. And I think the same can be said for “Sing 2.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to put newer songs into a film like this, but doing so also risks the film possibly relying on what’s trendy. This new film has songs like “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back,” which has been a hit for some time. I really like the scene where it is performed, but I wonder if people will look at it years from now and think of it as a product of its time.

If you want my short, honest opinion of “Sing 2,” I would have to say it is… Fine.

…Just. Fine.

Crap.

I think that is one of the most interesting things one can say about a movie. The fact that a movie can be considered just fine does not mean it’s great nor terrible. However, in the case of “Sing 2,” the film cannot convince me to land on a particular side of the spectrum. In some situations, the movie feels like your typical Illumination fare, because unlike Pixar, which always seems to understand the assignment in creating a FAMILY movie, “Sing 2” occasionally relies on gags that feel as if they’re only aimed at younger viewers. Granted, the film is fun for all ages, but compared to some other films I’ve seen this year, including the recently reviewed “Encanto,” it feels a bit more on the kiddy side.

The thing I appreciate about both “Sing” installments is the idea of not giving up on your dreams. I think both films succeed when trying to convey that message to its viewers. The heroes in this film collectively struggle in their own way when it comes to accomplishing their goals, or in this case, following their dreams. We see Rosita struggling to live up to the pressures and enormity of being in a starring role. We see Buster Moon trying to encourage everyone to stay on their toes and try to fight for another day. We see Clay Calloway deal with the internal battle of his past. He stopped playing his music because it reminded him way too much of his dead wife. WAIT, did Christopher Nolan have some writing credit in this film I’m not aware of? I think an additional takeaway this film can provide is that not only do we see these dreams potentially hit roads that contain possible dead ends, but part of why these dreams hang in the balance is because of entertainment giants. Mr. Crystal, ever since I first saw his character, kind of reminded me of a Simon Cowell-type, and that vibe is significant in terms of where the film goes.

Speaking of Mr. Crystal (left), this film introduces a couple new characters, Mr. Crystal included. Alongside Mr. Crystal is his daughter, Porsha (right). As our heroes enter the urbanized, neon streets of Redshore City, they meet these two characters who become integral to the story. Mr. Crystal is an entertainment mogul who puts his faith in said heroes. You may think someone like him to be a bit of a snobby, almost creepy, egotistical moron who wants things to go his way. If so, you’re right. He’s also well-dressed, and I think when it comes to getting a guy who can sound snarky and snobby at the same time, Bobby Cannavale is a great choice. When I hear his voice, I feel like I’m watching an older mob movie with modern elements infused. But Crystal’s also a family man. …Kind of. That’s because this film contains a subplot involving his daughter, Porsha, potentially taking on the lead role of the space opera everyone’s producing.

For the role of Porsha, they managed to get Halsey to lend her voice. Halsey is not known for having an acting career as much she is known for singing. I think this is a somewhat fascinating, yet practical choice, because I have rarely seen Halsey on screen. Apparently she had a small role in “A Star is Born” a few years back but I would not be able to remember when she was on screen. I barely even know anything about Halsey. But having seen her IMDb, most of her work has been music related, so seeing her cast in this role makes sense. It is a movie about music, about singing. Why not have her? And I would say given her material, she was well directed on Garth Jennings’s part. Going back to what I said about her not being in many pieces of film or television, one of the driving aspects of her character was that she was a terrible actress. Halsey, who does a good job acting in this film, managed to convince me that her character in particular was the worst actor of all time.

Ladies and gentlemen, acting!

There are also a couple new characters who I was not particularly fond of. There’s a monkey named Klaus that instructs Johnny and others through an intense dance routine. I think in terms of the script and story, he served his role adequately. But he kind of felt one-dimensional. The same can be said for Darius, an actor who wants nothing other than fame, fortune, more fame, and more fortune. When Darius is on screen, he’s occasionally entertaining, but he lacks depth. He lacks dimension. He almost feels like a throwaway character despite being part of the film. Although it was fun to see Meena the elephant try to accustom herself to being romantic despite not having much experience in such a thing.

In the end, “Sing 2” is a step down from the original, and frankly, just proves once again that when it comes to animated studios, I still prefer DreamWorks and Pixar. If you asked me years ago if a “Sing 2” was a good idea, I’d say yes. It would not be the first thing I’d see, but it is worth at least a glance. I’d say the studio and crew should give it a shot. The first one was good. And having rewatched the first one recently before going to the cinema to see this, it’s still good. I just wish “Sing 2” lived up to its predecessor. I’m going to give “Sing 2” a 6/10. This is a positive grade despite some negative things I have previously stated. But I think if anything, the positives will not be enough to get me to watch this film again anytime soon.

“Sing 2” is now playing in theaters and is available to buy now on streaming platforms.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be a for a film that is somewhat personal to me. And if you know where I reside, you’ll get where I’m coming from. Some of you reading this may feel the same way. That film in particular is Amazon’s new feature, “The Tender Bar!” This film just released over the holiday season, it just dropped on Prime Video, and now it is a good time to talk about it. I cannot wait to discuss this film. It’s going to be a ball. If you want to see this and from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Sing 2?” What did you think about it? Or, which is better? “Sing” or “Sing 2?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Encanto (2021): We Do Talk About the Joys of This Fun, Colorful, Animated Adventure

“Encanto” is directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith. It’s little weird for a movie to have three directors, but Disney also did this for “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which kicked butt, so what does a nobody like me know? This film stars Stephanie Beatriz (Modern Family, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Maria Cecilia Botero (Her Mother’s Killer, La Bruja), John Leguizamo (Ice Age, John Wick: Chapter 2), Mauro Castillo (El Joe: The Legend), Jessica Darrow (Grand Theft Auto V, Anomaly), Angie Cepeda (Pobre Diabla, The Seed of Silence), Carolina Gaitán (El Final del Paraiso, Narcos), Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin), and Wilmer Valderrama (NCIS, That ’70s Show). This film follows a young girl named Mirabel who lives in a magical house with a magical family. Only problem, within this magical lifestyle, she is the only one who has never inherited a magical power. The rest of her family however, has that one ability that makes them special. However, Mirabel discovers that all this magic is disappearing. Once this is realized, she sets out on a quest to restore the magic and her family.

This film released in November. Due to life and school kind of making me want to take some time for myself, I will admit that some of my content has been evenly spread lately, and this is a film that I did happen to see during the month it released. There may be some movies that might not get talked about in the near future, depending on time constraints and business. “Encanto,” however, is not one of those films. This film is not from Pixar, but whenever I watch a trailer for a Pixar movie, I always look at it excited about the concept, but often worried about the execution. It looks fun, but it doesn’t come off as extravagant or unique. And when it comes to this theatrical-exclusive Disney feature, or at least when it came out, I felt the same way here as I do with some Pixar films. The concept of someone having no magical powers within a magic-heavy environment was intriguing, but I just wish the marketing did a little more to entice me. Thankfully, this movie, much like a few other animated titles I’ve seen throughout my life, managed to surprise me.

Magic has become synonymous with the branding of Macy’s–Wait? Macy’s? That can’t be right!

*Clears throat*

Magic has become synonymous with the branding of Disney. The company has had years of providing spins on fairy tales, doses of imagination, and spent lots of time and money developing its Magic Kingdom in Florida, which is a state that’s a bit of a Magic Kingdom unto itself. So to see a story like this where magic, a mysterious concept, become an ordinary element in one’s world, is not much of a surprise. At it’s surface, it’s yet another edition of the whole idea that “everyone’s special” and this even goes for the nobodies of the world, which in this case is Mirabel. This is not the best story done in that regard, but I think it has a special place in the Disney library as it successfully masters the idea of a family either coming together or having notable differences. I think it does a really good job at highlighting ups and downs of being in a family and in the case of Mirabel, wondering if you are “good enough.” Let’s face it… EVERY PARENT HAS A FAVORITE CHILD. If my future children read this, let’s just hope this theory is proven wrong. I’m not here to declare that Mirabel’s parents thinks she’s the worst child, cause, you know, “every parent has a favorite child,” whether they admit it or not… But I do think inside Mirabel’s mind, she’s thinking her parents see her as the least favorite child through what could be defined as no fault of her own.

One of the best things about this film is that there is no real villain getting in the hero’s way. Granted, there are obstacles, there are happenings, there are events, there are occurrences that our hero has to deal with, some of which provide for a fun movie. But one thing I like about this film is that despite coming from a studio that has created iconic villains like Scar, which has been known for haunting some children’s nightmares, it is kind of refreshing to see a film with no real antagonist. It kind of reminds me of a Netflix film I saw last year, which has given me tons of Disney vibes throughout, “Over the Moon,” because that film, which technically does have an antagonist, doesn’t really have anyone that happens to be truly vicious or evil depending on your point of view. Granted, the film’s antagonist comes close given some of the things they do, but nevertheless. To me, they felt good at heart.

Now this film came out in 2021, which if anything, should be a year where almost any major studio film should look good at minimum. Animations in general over the past number of years have always had a wow factor in terms of the renderings and computer generated scenes. Everything always looks grand and powerful. “Encanto” is no exception. Unlike the previous major Disney animated film that came out in 2021, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Encanto” takes advantage of its rather lighthearted and whimsical vibes and often allows as much color as it can into certain scenes. This provides for stunning images that are likely to stay with some viewers.

The music in this film, when it comes to Disney fare, is frankly forgettable. I will admit, this is a case where it has been some time since I watched the movie, so a second viewing could refresh my memory, but in the context of this review, where I’m talking about a film that kind of partially on music-heavy segments and catchy tunes for entertainment value, forgetting a good portion of it can be a problem.

I do think that children are likely to be entertained by “Encanto.” Granted, having watched a lot of movies as a child, I was often entertained with whatever was in front of me. I do think it successfully captures the idea that even if you are unique or extraordinary, it does not mean you’re perfect. Things fade. Life is not kind. It also suggests that those who are not as unique on the surface still have a chance of potentially proving to be the best version of themselves.

In the end, “Encanto” is a charming animated flick that I recommend to a lot of people. This is not my favorite animated film of the year, but when it comes to this year’s slate, I think it will have more staying power than “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” which was… Interesting. I make fun of Disney all the time, but at the end of the day, they know what they’re doing because they can simply make movies for kids, which seems to be the intention with almost every animated project, but they always find a way to understand these are not KIDS movies. They’re family movies. They’re smarter. I’m going to give “Encanto” a 7/10.

“Encanto” is now playing in select theaters and is available to buy or rent through streaming. The film is also available on Disney+ to all subscribers.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, guess what? I have another animation to talk about soon, and that is the new Illumination film “Sing 2!” The first “Sing” film is my favorite Illumination project, and I say that as someone who has not really watched “Despicable Me,” so I might be providing somewhat invalid results. Is this sequel better than the original? You’ll find out soon enough! Also, be sure to stay tuned for my top 10 best and worst movies of 2021, coming soon! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or a WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Encanto?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite animated film of 2021? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!