Top 5 Films We Watched in 2021

This year has been very… different. Due to the coronavirus, the entertainment industry found new ways to give us entertainment and further their streaming services. HBO launched all Warner Brothers films on day one, later in the year they released in theaters at the same time. Disney+ housed a premier access model. For an additional fee, you could see a few select fils that were released in the summer. They changed the model later in the year to allow for a 45 day lag between the theatrical release and when it was available via streaming. We like this recent model and hope it continues.

Note: There is a tie for first place. So technically there are 6… because why not.

1. Free Guy (Tie)

Who doesn’t feel like an NPC (Non-Playable Character) in real life sometimes? It’s why video games and social media have become lifelines during the pandemic. They allow us to live the idealistic version of ourselves and interact with others. Behind the wonderful effects remains a story with a lot of heart. You can be the good guy and be exactly who you were meant to be. You just need to have faith in yourself and take the chance.

1. Gunpowder Milkshake (Tie)

Of all the films released this year, Gunpowder Milkshake hit every mark. We’re not sure if it was the cast, if we were in the right frame of mind when we watched it, or if it was just that good to us. Either way, we would (and have) watched it more than once. It’s just that entertaining. Make a bowl of popcorn and just enjoy the spectacle of the entire feature.

2. Cruella

The first Disney entry on our list is one that took us by surprise. Emma Stone was spectacular in the leading role and gave us everything we could want and more from the character of Cruella. The film suffers from some CGI issues that could not be ignored after a while, but overall, the film was really enjoyable. We understand many fans out there don’t want villains to have backstories, but we like them. Villains shouldn’t be one dimensional people. As Kevin Bachelder has said many times, “villains are the heroes of their own stories.” We really enjoy seeing them.

3. Black Widow

The Marvel film fans have been clamouring for finally released in 2021 and did not disappoint. Natasha Romanoff’s origin story gave us a truly heartbreaking film with funny moments. Between Yelena’s pose comments, and her subsequent disgust over using it, to the secret whistle between sisters, Black Widow had action, emotion, and comedy. Its biggest downfall was twofold. First, it felt really late to the MCU. The fans have been asking for an origin story for years and it felt that without the events of Endgame, this might never have happened. Second, the after credit scene felt like it cheapened the entire story and made it about one of the original Avengers. Everything fans were irritated about regarding Black Widow being overlooked or minimized was reinforced.

4. Raya & the Last Dragon

Raya & the Last Dragon had everything one could want in a fun Disney film. The battle for bringing an entire community together with dragons is a fun family film. Plus, Tuk Tuk is absolutely adorable. Where is seems to stall is in the overly idealistic overtones that were formulaic to a fault. With so much available in the story, we wanted more beyond the obvious message. Overall, it’s an enjoyable watch with stunning visuals with amazing actor portrayals.

5. Sweet Girl

Another surprise film was Netflix’s Sweet Girl. We’ve seen Jason Momoa in action films before, but never one like this. Playing a father and husband who fights to help his wife fight cancer. After insurance companies get involved, so do the conspiracies and back door dealings. The story isn’t perfect and requires some suspension of disbelief; however, the ending was something we did not see coming. That’s saying something for Kimberly, who usually sees twists in plot lines from a mile away.

Like we said, this year has been different from years past. The truth is, theaters are still not back to where they were before the pandemic. We don’t know if the larger 20+ screen multiplexes are approaching the end of an era. Maybe theatrical releases with the 45 day window before streaming services and VOD will be the new norm. With TV’s, sound systems, and theater seats wildly available, the landscape is  quickly transforming.

So, what will 2022 bring? We’re unsure, but what we do know is that we cannot wait to cover the upcoming films for you.


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Top 5 TV Shows We Watched in 2021

Good television has always found a way to change the world. It can introduce us to fantasy/sci-fi worlds where a woman with a destiny can fight evil with a flaming sword. It can also have a massive misstep that offends the world over. These top five shows, some we have not covered in our podcast, are the Top 5 Shows we thoroughly enjoyed this year. Our top two on this list are almost interchangeable. The storytelling, the emotions… they gripped us, devoured us, and rebuilt us forever changed by the episodes we watched.

1. Wynonna Earp S4 – Series Ended

With the witty writing, engaging characters, expert portrayals, and a same-sex wedding, the season we Earpers fought for was worth it. The 4th season (& subsequently final one thanks to SYFY) was the culmination of everything the fandom needed, even if we didn’t know it at the time. We needed our wedding. We needed Doc & Wynonna to go off and find Alice. We needed Dark Waverly to do what this show had done for its entire run – break the rules. Now… has anyone seen Eve?

2. WandaVision – Limited Series 

With the backing of Disney & Marvel Studios, WandaVision had very high expectations. It truly delivered. The first of the Marvel Series to hit the streaming service (due to the coronovirus), WandaVision led us through the stages of grief blended in a world of Wanda’s making. The depth of the characters, the gut wrenching scenes… it all led us to an end that is truly the beginning for Wanda Maximoff. We’re still discussing the Ship of Theseus Thought Experiment.

3. Motherland: Fort Salem S2 – Renewed for a 3rd & Final Season

The ending of season one left the fanbase clamouring for more. Season 2 did not disappoint. We delve further into Alder’s past and learn about the Mycelleum. Raelle, Tally, and Abigail all come into their own unique abilities as their strength as a unit becomes even stronger. Scylla’s redemption arc with Anacostia’s help is painful, powerful, and lovely. Time will tell where the fictional world of Fort Salem goes from here, but knowing it is the end brings mixed emotions. There are so many stories that could be told, yet the staff has time to put together an end they want to portray. They’ve been given the blessing of time. Here’s hoping the final season is everything and more.

4. The Equalizer S1 – Renewed. S2 currently airing as of this posting

This series is not a new concept. We grew up watching the original and Kimberly has seen the subsequent movies. All of them are good. Queen Latifa is better. Hands down. She brings an emotion to the role that no one has been able to capture before. There’s a humanity in her every move, every thought, that makes you feel a part of her journey. The cast, the writing, all of it is well done. Even in some slower episodes, you still feel invested enough because the character development is there.

5. Clarice S1 – Cancelled

Why enter a series on the list that’s been cancelled with no hope of ever seeing the light of day? Truthfully, because it should. Clarice was a slow developing series with a depth that pulled you in. Showing the gutsy emotions of Clarice after the events of Silence of the Lambs was a risk, and in truth it was brilliantly done. One can blame circumstance and delays in airing to why this show was derailed. It should never have been on main network television. This series screams for streaming. It screams for a short, tightly woven season… the networks (all of them involved in this) failed. In doing so, they removed a rich story with so much promise.

Special Nod to Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass was wonderful and could be considered on this list at anytime. The undertones, the story, the emotions… they were powerful. The only reason Kimberly pulled it off the list… the dog. When it comes to listing the best, sometimes it’s the little things.


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Moxie (2021) Review

A FUN COMING OF AGE MOVIE

Moxie, based on the book by Jennifer Mathieu, was released on Netflix original film on March 3, 2021. Our niece saw this film and recommended it to us. To be honest, she was right. This was a fun watch.

This film tackles female empowerment in the archaic institutions of male dominated school systems based around athletics. It’s a difficult topic and one that Moxie does and does not cover fully. The fact is, no film that covers these topics will ever fully get it right. There will always be something that could have and most likely should have been addressed.

Looking at the film as a whole, it is about one voice being powerful enough to invoke conversation and action. A girl creates a magazine after being inspired by a new classmate who stands tall regardless of those trying to knock her down. Along the way, she has several missteps but in the end, finds her way.

Since we’ve never read the novel the film is based on, it is hard to judge whether the film took some creative liberties or not. Although a bit dated, the film is a fun watch with solid performances.


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Fear Street Part 3: 1666 (2021) Review

THE FINAL ACT DOES NOT DISAPPOINT

Fear Street Part 3: 1666 the final chapter of the Fear Street Trilogy launched on July 16, 2021 on Netflix. The final entry is upon us. Will we learn about Sarah Fier and the reason behind the curse? Spoilers ahead because frankly we can’t talk about part three without significant ones.

It’s 1666 and we get to see where the curse began. Kiana Madeira who portrays Deena in the previous two films, brings Sarah Fier to life in part three. Olivia Scott Welch who portrays Sam in the previous two entries, brings Hannah Miller to life. It’s a perfect way to ensure the audience knows the relationship between these two characters without the need to develop it with two new actresses. We know Sam and Deena love one another. Is it centuries old love? One could argue the film lays this out but in a more sub-textual way.

During the course of the film, the water supply is poisoned, the pastor commits heinous crimes and the town’s peacefulness is destroyed by evil. Due to the time and the fact that women were to be blamed for a ton of things mankind couldn’t control, women are being hung for bringing this darkness to them all. Sarah and Hannah are strung up, but Sarah begs to save Hannah. She lies about being a witch and takes on the full responsibility. Hannah is saved, but Sarah Fier pays with her life.

The twist here: witchcraft is real and one who wields it lives outside of town. She has books of satanic spells and if one of her books got into the wrong hands… it would be very dangerous. Once Sarah dies, we’re thrust forward to 1994 and Deena knows what she has to do to save Sam.

The final battle reveals the big bad was Nick Goode and his family the entire time. His ancestors stole the book and cast a spell. Every generations eldest would need to select names of Shadysiders. Those individuals would go on a rampage and feed the curse. In return, Sunnyvale would be peaceful and the Goode family line would prosper.

While we were a little, ehh, about how the final battle ensues, the final installment is good. The ending was strong and very 90’s horror with the possibility for a sequel. It was an enjoyable series with the difficulties one expects from three films released within the same year. It’s not easy, but this was executed well.

One final thought. From part one, Kimberly kept saying Nick Goode can’t be good. He has to be the villain. His name, for her, was too on the nose. 


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Fear Street Part 2: 1978 (2021) Review

BRUTAL, HONEST & GORY

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 came to Netflix on July 9, 2021. The second film in the Fear Street Trilogy continues building the suspense and terror of the Sarah Fier story. While the first film laid down the foundation with less visual bloodshed than we’ve seen in straight up horror films. The second entry into the series is darker, bloodier and leaves us with the feeling of helplessness.

At the end of part one, Deena receives a call from Cindy Berman, the only living survivor of the Camp Nightwing Massacre. Cindy meets with Deena, her brother, and a possessed Sam, at her house. We then crash back into the past and to Cindy’s nightmare.

Now that we’ve said that… welcome to Camp Nightwing in 1978! Once again, we’re shown that Shadyside houses deplorable teenagers, do-gooders who think they can get away from the stink of their hometown and the troublemaker tweens who don’t care anymore. On the other side of the tracks, this installment reinforces Sunnyvale as the good kids with bright futures. But death doesn’t discriminate… or does it?

Ziggy, Cindy’s baby sister, is a tormented camper. She’s bullied by other campers and almost strung up by Sunnyvale campers. She befriends Nick Goode, the future sheriff of Sunnyvale, and it’s revealed they have feelings for one another. He wants to protect her and maybe get a bit of revenge on those bullies.

During the course of the film, a counselor named Tommy becomes possessed and goes on a killing spree through the camp. Nick Goode gets the campers out of town, but not before Cindy and her sister Ziggy are attacked at the base of Sarah Fier’s hanging tree. When Nick finds them after the bloodshed has stopped, he revives Ziggy and tells police her name is Cindy. In a twist, Cindy Berman never survived. Ziggy did.

We are then left with a really excellent cliffhanger involving Deena.

That’s the short and sweet of the film. While many believed the first to be the weakest installment of all three, we think this film is. That said, it’s a good film and does what a second installment should, it gives us more information about what would be going on before passing us to the final one. It’s brutal, it’s harsh, and it works.


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Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (2021) Review

A REASON TO LIKE HORROR AGAIN

Fear Street Part One: 1994 launched on Netflix on July 2, 2021. A three-part film story, 1994 delivers the groundwork of a classic horror trilogy. Although not a direct adaptation of R.L. Stein’s books, he praised Netflix’s creative team as they “captured the essence of them.”

We’re introduced to Shadyside, where life is hard and murder sprees are just another day at the office. Just a few minutes away, Sunnyvale brings out the best in people. There’s no crime and murder isn’t a concern. The students, like any rival public school system, do not get along. That’s putting it mildly.

It’s here that we meet Deena and her ex-girlfriend Sam, who moved to Sunnyside, complete with new boyfriend on her arm. After Shadyside and Sunnyside have a brawl over a memorial ceremony over Shadyside’s latest victims, Deena and her friends head back home on the school bus. 

But like any horror film, something needs to go wrong. Sam’s boyfriend taunts the bus from his car. Deena and her friends cause them to wreck. Sam crawls out of the broken car and touches a set of bones. Sam’s vision fills with memories of a witch named Sarah Fier.

Thus begins the witch’s pursuit of Sam. Meanwhile, Deena desperately tries to keep Sam and her friends alive.

Production spares no expense for the blood, guts and gore within the film. The violence is grotesque, but if you’re watching a slasher film, this is to be expected. The story in the first film might feel thin. It might seem as if the characters are one-sided, but remember, it is a trilogy. Writers, producers, cast, etc, all must save points to get us through all three. 1994 is the foundation and it felt solid to us.

Overall, the first film was enjoyable. It was campy, scary, funny, and nostalgic. Sure, they might have gone overboard with the music, but if they were aiming to replicate horrors films of this decade – they were spot on. 

PS: Having worked in a mall… Kimberly can truly agree, closing was the worst shift.


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The Clovehitch Killer (2018) Review

A THRILLER WITH PROMISE THAT LOSES ITS WAY

The Clovehitch Killer (2021), released in November 2018, is now available on Netflix. The thriller tells the story of Tyler Burnside (Charlie Plummer) discovering his idyllic Christian family is anything but. After coming across a cache of disturbing information in his father’s possession, Charlie enlists school pariah Kassi (Madisen Beaty) to decipher what it all means. The premise leads us down a twisted road with an ending that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the film.

As we’ve alluded to in past reviews, it isn’t just how a film or a television series begins. It’s how they hold our interest and finish with a bang.

Serial killers hiding in plain sight are nothing new. BTK was a father. Ted Bundy was one too. They had jobs, lived two lives. In Clovehitch, Don Burnside (Dylan McDermott) is no different. He’s a troop leader, donates his time to helping the food pantry and attends church regularly. The community respects him. His son reveres him until a revelation happens that threatens to unravel Burnside’s image and reputation.

It’s here that the film loses its way. Characters thrust together to confirm suspicions. They left several tendrils of plot open open without explanation or closure. The film switches from a slow-paced thriller to one that felt it needed to finish under a certain runtime. 

Clovehitch starts off with an interesting premise. It reels you in and makes you want to stay for a bit. Then, for some inexplicable reason, it lets the line go as they rush to the finish line. While McDermott and Plummer do their best with the material, their interactions at the end feel forced and almost lost. It’s sad, as the beginning had so much promise.


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Oxygen (2021) Review

A NEW TWIST ON BEING BURIED ALIVE

Oxygen (2021), released on Netflix in May 2021, is a nightmare of a film for those scared of small or tight spaces. Truthfully, that made this film a difficult one to watch and write a spoiler free review.

A woman wakes up from cryogenic sleep locked in a pod. Worst yet, she’s running out of oxygen and does not know who she is, where she is or how to fix the situation. All of this plays out in the box. She can’t sit up. She can’t open the pod. The tight fitting space, the emotions of actress Mélanie Laurent, and the AI in her pod are all we really get to see. They are also the only two sources of actual information for the first half.

This is where Oxygen succeeds as a film. The direction and acting are on point. You can feel the desperation, the fear of impending oxygen depletion, and understand how irrational the characters responses are. There is no shying away or hiding from what Liz, played by Laurent, is facing. Time is not on your side and you feel as if it’s passing faster than normal.

The second half of the film felt slower and slightly disconnected from the first half. We learn more detailed information fully fleshed out before us. Yet, the immediacy doesn’t feel quite the same as when we first meet Liz. Maybe it was a deliberate change for creative reasons. We’ll never know.

The ambiguity of the ending gave us pause. Not because it was outrageous or unfathomable… but because at that point – the emotional connection was weak. No matter which way we viewed it, any of the options felt okay. There was nothing that made us so attached that we could only see one outcome happening. 

Overall, the film is a very interesting take with tremendous acting. While the film might not have pushed us to the four-star mark – it is worth an evening watch. 


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The Reef (2010) Review

BAD DECISIONS = BITE

The Reef (2010) is our final film dedicated to our shark month of July. The Australian Film, based on the true story of Ray Boundy, hits a lot of terrifying moments but left us feeling indifferent.

Please be aware, there is a slight spoiler for a specific scene in this review.

The film’s tagline “Pray that you drown first” is spot on. Five individuals head out on a boat trip along the Great Barrier Reef. Without spoiling too much, the boat capsizes and leaves the five passengers to figure out a way back to a small island. Four go in the water and one remains behind, terrified of what is underneath the surface. Along the way to the island, they realize a Great White is following them.

Will they make it to shore? You’ll have to watch the film to find out. Suffice it to say that, the film does a good job with character development so we feel an emotional connection to each one. Be aware, they don’t hit the water until about 30 minutes into the film. They really do set things up. This might be a turnoff for those looking for a quick action shark thriller.

The editing uses real life shark footage that adds to the film’s tension. That being said, there is one instance of a CGI shark that is so fake it made us laugh. Specifically, a Great White shark jumps over the shoulder of a female character. The character wasn’t harmed at all. Her body barely moved or registered the closeness. The way the shark jumps her (not jump the shark LOL) the power should have forced her under, forward…. something. Additionally, wouldn’t the pectorals have hit the back of her head? Maybe it would have knocked them unconscious? Literally, she was just terrified. It felt like a cheap jump scare that was unnecessary.

Overall, The Reef is a film that makes you keenly aware of the ocean’s top predator. It is a reminder that while we enjoy playing within those waters, deadly creatures do inhabit them. It uses our fear of the unknown and potentially becoming prey to its advantage.

Several reviews have compared this film to Open Water (2003), a film done with no budget and the actors surrounded by real sharks. In fact, looking at the trivia on the IMDB page, the actors wore chain mail under their wetsuits in case the Caribbean Reef Sharks bit them. Thankfully, no one had a negative encounter. The film, also based on a true story, came out years before The Reef. Yet, their movie posters look eerily similar. Click on their links to see for yourself.

While we can see some comparisons between the two, each is unique in the emotional context. Open Water is a slow descent into the acceptance of death. There is no hope. There is no way out. There are only the sharks, the vast ocean and you. That in and of itself is more terrifying than anything else. The Reef, while scary in its own right, has hope. There is land. They can get there. You hold on to that glimmer as they swim, because you saw the reef earlier in the film. To compare the two seems an injustice to both.

*****

NOTE: We truly believe sharks are not the man-eating monsters movies portray them to be. Remember, we kill more of them daily than they do us. The Inertia reports that humans kill closer to 100,000,000 sharks per an average 10 shark attack fatalities annually. Padi even lists 18 things more dangerous than sharks. While these films might be fun, they are also dangerous to the perception of shark encounters. No one wants to have one, but we have to understand and respect that when we enter the oceans, we are entering their domain.


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47 Meters: Uncaged (2019) Review

CAVES, LOW O2, SHARKS – OH MY!

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019), the sequel to the original Mandy Moore led film 47 Meters Down (141 feet down), tries to scare us with cave diving and sharks. While some jump scares were effective, it was more the idea of being trapped that made our hands sweat.

According to the summary on IMDB: “Two sisters diving in a ruined underwater city quickly learn they’ve entered the territory of the deadliest shark species in the claustrophobic labyrinth of submerged caves.”

We’re scuba divers so this film and its predecessor were right up our alley. The first film has us on the edge of our seats with the oxygen sensors beeping. We know what that feels like and the film nailed it. In the sequel, they’ve upped the ante with cave diving, no guide rope, low oxygen, and, of course, sharks.

First, cave diving requires additioanl skills and training to navigate the dive. In one entrance to a cave at Devil’s Den in Florida (we did not go in – just stayed around the opening) we saw a sign with the Grim Reaper warning of death. These signs are posted for a reason. So when these characters admit they’ve never done this before was rather irritating. Second, why doesn’t anyone in these films follow the “Plan Your Dive. Dive Your Plan” rule? They’d know this system was out of their ability, but that film would never sell.

47 Meters: Uncaged’s dark footage makes death feel inevitable and survival helpless. One by one, characters are picked off by the sharks or drown. One death scene flashed Kimberly back to the classic shark film, Deep Blue Sea. Beyond that, nothing stands out about the fate of these characters. In truth, we’re not given enough information to care about who dies or when. Then again, if we’re watching this film, do we expect to care? Aren’t we watching it expecting them to die?

It’s not a perfect film, but it kept our nerves on edge. There’s a reason we don’t cave dive and this film, sans the sharks, is it. So, make some popcorn, grab a drink and just enjoy it for what it was, an entertaining horror film.

A real sign from Devil’s Den.

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