Triple Scoop Review: The Ninth Guest, Mortal Kombat, and Palm Springs

The 9th Guest

Year: 1934
Director: Roy William Neill
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

Despite the low Strawberry grade, I actually found this movie quite a bit of fun. No surprise there, really, considering it’s about a group of people who are invited to a mysterious small party, where they’re subsequently trapped and killed off one by one. I mean, come on. If that’s not my favorite type of story, it’s easily in the Top 5.

In a remake–which, personally, I’d be all for–there are some changes I’d love to see. First and foremost: cut the villain being in love with the girl. I’ve never particularly cared for this trope, and the story doesn’t require it at all; it’s much more interesting if the bad guy just wants to kill these people for their various nefarious deeds, a la And Then There Were None. (Much to my amusement, there is a veritable war in this movie’s IMDb trivia page, where one person insists that ATTWN is a blatant rip off of this movie, while another commenter actually took the time to write out a seven point rebuttal rebuking this claim.) The love story between our two survivors could use some work, too, as I mostly just wanted our lead heroine to shoot her tool of a love interest.

And while I kind of enjoy how the party guests are, for the most part, getting themselves killed (a dude accidentally poisons himself while trying to murder another guest, etc.), it still gets a bit frustrating because it’s so obvious that everyone would survive if they just sat still for a damn hour. The asshole love interest keeps pointing it out, too, but no one listens–and while that could work as an exploration of fear, greed, and human nature, it mostly comes off as contrived instead. I suspect this might work better if the guests died more sporadically (rather than on the hour) or if we, the audience, took a while to figure out how each person died.

Still, this is a fun setup, and I enjoyed a lot about this movie: the beginning (where we realize, oh shit, half these guests hate each other), a good chunk of the dialogue, the bits where the guests search the house, the radio reveal, etc. There are a few specific shots that strongly remind me of Clue, enough that I actually wonder if this movie might’ve been a direct inspiration. I’d straight up cut the servant characters, who aren’t that funny and get dropped halfway through the movie anyway, and the film quality is not stellar, cause, like, it’s a 90-year-old movie on Youtube. But if you’re also a sucker for fancy parties with a side of MURDER, this one’s worth checking out.

Mortal Kombat

Year: 2021
Director: Simon McQuoid
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

The 1995 Mortal Kombat will probably always be the Mortal Kombat of my heart, but this was a good time, too. Specifically, it was a very rated-R time, which is excellent. From the dawn of man (which is to say, the early 90’s), the MK games have always been brutal. Naturally, I was quite happy to see that brutality here as well: the vicious fight scenes, the fatalities, the all-around glorious violence. Kung Lao’s killer hat! Jax’s arms! Stabbing someone with their own frozen blood!

Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion and Josh Lawson as Kano are probably my standouts–and boy, I never expected Kano to be one of my favorites–but I also liked Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Mileena, and Mileena’s teeth. I really love how diverse this cast is, too. Like, as much as I love Christopher Lambert as Raiden–and I do so love him–it’s nice to see this part actually played by an Asian man and not, you know, some white French dude. It’s a fun film, and I’m glad I watched it, and I’m sure I’ll happily watch it again.

But I do have criticisms–because yes, me, but damn it, I get so tired of this attitude that you’re automatically expecting too much or missing the point if you enjoy thinking critically about popcorn movies. Like, you have to know the genre you’re talking about, sure. If your main criticisms of an MK movie are “too many fight scenes” or “too much gore,” then yes, I’d suggest this just isn’t the franchise for you. But there are changes we can discuss here that might have made this film even more entertaining. For instance, let’s discuss Cole Young, our everyman protagonist, cause despite Lewis Tan–who I did enjoy quite a bit in Wu Assassins–I’m afraid that Cole is just too generic to live.

I’m not 100% against the idea of introducing an OC into this mix (though I admit, I’m not sure why you’d bother when you’ve got, like, a billion characters to choose from), but I honestly don’t see how this particular Chosen One hero serves the story in any real way. Cole’s arc (such as it is) is boring. His nearly refrigerated family parallel to Scorpion is boring, and most of his dialogue–save a few funny lines–is boring, too. I also would’ve loved to see some better lady rep. There are like six female characters here, which is cool, except that one gets fridged immediately, two are mostly around just to be in danger, and two look incredibly badass, but don’t actually get to do much of anything. Which leaves us with a half dozen dudes and Sonya Blade. It’s disappointing.

(Also, I’m sorry, but why the fuck are Cole’s wife and kid still living at home? Once an immortal ice assassin tracks you down, you immediately get the fuck out of dodge; you do not just go back home and hope for the best while Hubby/Dad fucks off to Magic Martial Arts School. Get thee asses out of town and to a Best Western, goddamnit.)

I think, too, that this film suffers a bit when SPOILER REDACTED dies, mostly because shortly afterwards, a lot of the bad guys are easily defeated in the span of, like, ten minutes? And that felt really anticlimactic to me. Finally–and I fully acknowledge that this just might be a me thing–I can’t help but be kinda bummed that there is no actual tournament in this movie. The fight scenes are so much fun, but damn it, I wanted an actual competition with, like, matches and spectators and shit. IDK if I can call it a real problem with the movie, but I must admit, I did find it pretty disappointing.

Palm Springs

Year: 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I liked this one a whole lot. Unlike Mortal Kombat, I don’t know how much I actually have to say about it? But I really enjoyed Palm Springs, and am annoyed with myself for taking so long to check it out. Like, why do I sabotage myself this way? This movie had great reviews, I like Andy Samberg, and I love time loop stuff. Honestly, I can’t think of a single time loop story that I dislike–with the possible exception of Groundhog Day, which is, admittedly, a pretty funny exception to have. But yeah, time loops are the best; they’re fantastic for exploring character growth and relationship dynamics, and they almost always come with a heavy side of humor, angst, and hilarious montages. I especially enjoy it when more than one person goes through the loop (as is the case here), and I thought it was neat how Palm Springs more or less begins in medias res.

The cast is absolutely fantastic. I’d forgotten  how many people are in this one: Andy Samberg, of course, who is pretty much perfect for this role, and Cristin Milioti, who I’ve never seen before and now want to see in everything. She was so funny; her reaction in that one scene with the arrows? I was dying. I was dying. Then we’ve got a supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, Peter Gallagher, and Dale Dickey? Like, that is a spectacular lineup, and everyone does great work here.

Palm Springs is, like the best time loop stories, pretty wacky. It’s a little dark, a little sweet, and just generally a really great SF romantic comedy overall. It also–and this is very important to note–showcases the absolute worst suit I’ve ever seen, seriously, it horrifies me just so much, so obviously kudos for that, too.

Man. I still really need to write my own time loop story. Possibly more than one. I have So Many Ideas.

World’s Worst Trekkie: A Piece of the Action, The Immunity Syndrome, and A Private Little War

All right. I have a sinus infection. I’m running on caffeine, antibiotics, Ibuprofen, and not nearly enough sleep, and we’ve got roughly three hours of Star Trek to discuss. Let’s just dive into it, shall we?

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“A Piece of the Action”

Oh, God. Folks. Fellow humans. I can’t with this episode. I was so bored.

“A Piece of the Action” is about Kirk, Spock, and Bones beaming down to 1920’s Mobster World, and I know it’s supposed to be funny, but good lord, it’s like a ten-minute gag that’s stretched, kicking and screaming, into a full episode. I’d watch it again, maybe, but only as a drinking game. The first and second rules are obvious: 1) drink whenever Kirk, Bones, or Spock get the drop on any of the gangsters, and 2) drink whenever any gangster gets the drop on Kirk, Bones, or Spock. I cannot emphasize enough how often this happens, and if that sounds somehow exciting or action-packed, let me assure you that it is not. This episode is like watching someone playing Hot Potato with a Tommy gun, only somehow boring. There is simply a limit to how many times one can get and lose the upper hand before any sense of tension or stakes are annihilated; this episode surpasses that limit by a wide and wild margin.

Another rule: drink whenever Kirk shows off all the noir slang he’s picked up. You will be drinking non-stop for the last 10 minutes straight.

Here are a few things I did enjoy: the origin of fizzbin. How absurdly large The Book (AKA, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties) actually is. It’s basically a giant Bible, like, it’s gotta be the size of Kirk’s whole torso at least. I also enjoy Kirk and Spock in their respective suits, and the irrefutable fact that, in the Prime timeline, Kirk absolutely cannot drive. (Obviously, he learned how to do this at a very young age in the Kelvin verse. These are the important canon divergences to analyze, people.)

Unfortunately, that’s about all I really enjoyed here. The whole concept of this episode–an alien society so imitative that they rewrote their entire culture just to mimic one (ridiculously gigantic) book–is ludicrous, of course, but ludicrous can be entertaining. This, however, mostly struck me as tiresome and grating, particularly the slang, (which I found too cartoonish to be convincing) and the constant Tommy gun Hot Potato.

Chief Asshat: All the mob bosses, mostly for the crime of being annoying.

MVP: The kid who briefly teams up with Kirk and Spock, I guess.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

“But the odds of getting a Royal Fizzbin are astro–Spock, what are the odds in getting a Royal Fizzbin?”
“I’ve never computed them, Captain.”
“Well, they’re astronomical, believe me.”
*Spock silently mouths astronomical and looks away, resigned*

“The Immunity Syndrome”

“The Immunity Syndrome” is unlikely to make it to my personal Top Ten, but it’s not a bad episode. The stars disappear at some point, which is always creepy. There is a giant amoeba (and not a “giant glowy space fish with one eye,” which was my immediate impression). Kirk has to decide whether to send Spock (Friend/Lover #1) or Bones (Friend/Lover #2) on what’s almost certainly a suicide mission. (He picks Spock, and I desperately hope that there’s fanfic about all of this.) And Spock essentially senses a great disturbance in the Force when 400 Vulcans die, because his touch telepathy will forever and always be dependent upon what the plot requires. (I now find myself wanting to see Spock in Star Trek 2009 psychically reeling from the collective death of basically everyone on Vulcan, which would admittedly be a lot on top of killing his mom. But since Winona Ryder played the only version of Amanda Grayson I’ve ever liked . . . yeah, let’s save her and do this scene instead.)

There are things that don’t totally work for me here. Spock’s idea that the dead Vulcans could not have conceived of their doom because Vulcans, as a species, have never been conquered feels like incredibly sketch logic. (Also, it’s a retcon, at least if Bones in “Conscience of the King” is to be believed–which, to be fair, I never really did.) I don’t know if I entirely buy Bones actively campaigning to go on the suicide mission for the sake of Science, either. I can absolutely see him sacrificing his life to save others, but that’s not quite how this is framed. Like, I bought Bones helpfully interrupting to say “I recommend survival” (without any suggestions as to how, natch), much more than Bones asking Spock, “Do you think that I intend to pass up the greatest living laboratory . . .” when the cost of going is near-certain death.  I also wish someone at least brought up the possibility of trying to save the giant amoeba, too.

I remain amused, also, about A) how quickly Bones resorts to just drugging everyone with stimulants–space cocaine definitely feels like a solid medical treatment–and B) how both Bones and a nurse personally come to the Bridge to administer, like, six adrenaline shots, when 2/3 of the ship have also been affected and are waiting on treatment, goddamnit. All this aside, “The Immunity Syndrome” is a totally decent episode, and much better than what came before . . . or what’s coming next.

Chief Asshat: Actually, no one’s really terrible here, but I’m giving this to Kirk anyway, for not slamming those breaks early.

MVP: Spock, maybe, for verbally bitchslapping human history.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode:
“Shut up, Spock, we’re rescuing you!”
“Why, thank you, Captain McCoy.”

“A Private Little War”

If you look very, very carefully, you might be able to find a good episode hiding somewhere in the depths of this one, but boy, it would be a long and arduous excavation. I do have some suggestions, of course. Buying better wigs is probably not the most important one, but holy Jesus, these wigs are awful–not to mention that the subtle symbolism of Good Blond Aliens vs. Evil Brunette Aliens leaves something to be desired.

A bigger problem is Nona. The Good Blond Aliens are led by Pacifist Tyree, who is Kirk’s friend; Nona is his duplicitous brunette witch wife who drugs men with aphrodisiacs and heals them with plants, blood, and sexy writhing. I hate literally everything I just wrote. Nona potentially could be interesting, if you altered her ridiculous healing process and straight-up cut the gross non-con behavior. See, this planet used to be a very peaceful one, but a Klingon spy is giving the Evil Brunette Aliens superior weapons, and Nona wants Kirk to give the Good Blond Aliens the same weapons (or even better ones) to defend themselves with/wipe out their enemies.

This is a perfect setup for a morally ambiguous character who advocates for terrible things but for pretty understandable reasons, which is so much more interesting than Sexy Evil Chick who tries to sell out her husband’s people and inevitably gets killed for it. A better episode, IMO, would still have Nona knock out Kirk and steal his phaser, but this time she’d die after successfully assassinating the Evil Brunette Leader. It would be a much more satisfying/badass death for her personally, but would still be tragic overall–because while Nona would die thinking she sacrificed her life to save Good Blond Aliens, the audience would see how her death actually served as a catalyst for Pacifist Tyree’s transformation into Vengeful Tyree, thereby only extending the war.

You see how bad this episode is? I’m basically just pleading for this show to fridge women better. And I haven’t even gotten into how this episode is also somehow a mangled Vietnam War allegory, or the whole side plot where Spock gets shot and must literally be slapped in the face, like, twenty times to properly heal. (Okay, this is hysterical, actually, but I can’t help but feel that Plot A and Plot B have been horribly mismatched here.) Or how the Klingon spy is is basically just dropped from the story–and why was this guy getting involved, anyway? These people are unlikely to be a big asset to the Klingon empire. And yeah, that whole serpent of Eden metaphor, too. Ugh, guys, enough is enough. Please leave Eden alone, I am so tired of it.

Oh well. At least we got the introductions of M’Benga and this dude, I guess.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, who continues to be an asshole about Klingons, snaps at Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov, and justifies giving the Good Blond Aliens rifles with some pretty shaky logic. But M’Benga is also a candidate, as he’s a bit of a condescending dick to Nurse Chapel when she asks for some pretty reasonable clarification.

MVP: Definitely the mugato.

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: “This man believes the same thing we believe in, that killing is stupid and useless.” (A great quote from Bones, but I’d hardly call it a consistent TOS philosophy.)

World’s Worst Trekkie: Wolf in the Fold, The Trouble With Tribbles, and The Gamesters of Triskelion

Well. There are many fascinating things in this trio of episodes. Tribbles. Serial killers. Talking alien brains that orchestrate death matches. Prepare yourselves, my friends, for the road ahead is paved with hilarity, absurdity, misogyny, violence, unexpected historical references, and fantastic hair.

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“Wolf in the Fold”

Oh, wow. That was, yes. That was surely an episode.

At first, I assumed we were in for our standard ‘Starfleet officer is framed for murder’ story, but oh no, my friends. Oh no. Things take a turn for the WTF when it’s revealed that it’s not Scotty who’s murdering women but Jack the Ripper. JACK THE FUCKING RIPPER. Redjac is a non-corporeal alien entity who kills women because they’re more easily terrified than men. (According to Spock, that is, who you’ll remember is absolutely perfect 80% of the time and sucks so hard the other 20%.) Obviously, I was unprepared for this turn of events. Mek mentioned JtR early in the episode (cause murder, fog, etc.), but it was supposed to be a joke. Reader. It was not a joke. Kirk actually says things like “but everything we’ve uncovered points to Jack the Ripper,” which is just categorically untrue, BTW. It has literally been less than 20 seconds since JtR even became a possible suspect. Redjac is also played by John Fiedler, who notably voiced Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. Which means that “Evil Piglet is Jack the Ripper!” is now a real thing that I have said.

That’s obviously the most ludicrous thing that happens in the episode, but never fear: absurdity abounds in many forms today! Like how Scotty is only on this planet at all because Bones prescribed him a rehabilitative trip to the local belly dancer tavern, which is supposed to cure him of his “total resentment toward women,” an affliction he’s been suffering from ever since some woman caused an explosion that knocked Scotty into a bulkhead?

I . . . I can’t. I just can’t.

There’s also the “psycho-tricorder” (a device I’m relatively sure is never used again), Spock’s random ass theory of the “hypnotic screen,” the fact that Kirk seems way more concerned about making sure Scotty gets cleared of all charges than he is about any of the dead women (including one of his own officers, for Christ’s sake), and the fact that Kirk ultimately defeats Jack the Ripper by getting everyone on board high.

I can’t stress enough that this is all a real episode, a real episode that really aired.

It’s terrible. I wanna watch it twice.

Chief Asshat: I’m gonna have to go with all of them? Yeah, all of them.

MVP: Whoever’s responsible for Sybo’s hair and wardrobe because it’s incredibly rare for me to see women’s fashion on TOS and think, Hell yeah, I’d wear that.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:
“I . . . I don’t remember.”
“Really, sir, that is hardly helpful.”

“The Trouble With Tribbles”

HOLY SHIT WE’VE REACHED THE TRIBBLE EPISODE!

I’ve never actually seen this episode in full before. I have seen the above GIF plenty of times–which is actually more morbid than you’d expect, considering how many of those cute cascading Tribbles are already dead–plus “Trials and Tribble-ations” a billion years ago.  But this is the first time I’m seeing the OG version, and folks, it’s delightful. There’s a reason this one’s a classic: the script is hilarious, and the actors land every damn line. (Well. Okay, I found Chekov’s “everything was invented in Russia” shtick a little forced today, but everything else.)

Some of my many favorite moments:  Scotty being able to endure any insult except an insult to the ship, Spock fooling absolutely nobody when he insists that he is immune to the charms of the tribble, Uhura archly reminding Kirk how often she gets short leave, Kirk putting his foot down due to the tragic loss of his chicken sandwich and coffee, and nobody wanting to take responsibility for beaming all the tribbles over to the Klingon’s engine room. (Which is hilarious, but also, holy shit, this is an act of WAR. Like, they basically just sentenced Cyrano Jones to 17 years of fuzzy labor for this kind of irresponsible shit.)

Short of quoting half the episode, I’m not sure how much I have to say. I do, of course, deeply relate to Scotty trying to pass up shore leave in order to stay inside and read, but I wish he’d also said something like, “Yeah I’ve had trouble relaxing on shore leave ever since that unfortunate time I was framed for multiple murders by Alien Jack the Ripper.” And the Klingons, once again, do not particularly act like the Klingons I’m familiar with, though I was kinda amused to see Klingon Trelane, or rather, the actor who played Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos” showing up in this episode as Koloth.

Chief Asshat: Oh, Baris, just for being a whiny little shit.

MVP: Kirk and Scotty. They both made me laugh a lot.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: Oh, this is hard. “Extremely little, ensign” is a fantastic burn by Spock. I always enjoy some Bones and Spock banter, and of course, “You gave them to the Klingons?” is just fantastic. Still . . .

“My chicken sandwich and coffee . . . this is my chicken sandwich and coffee . . .”
“Fascinating.”
“I want these things off the ship. I don’t care if takes every man we’ve got. I want them off the ship.”

It’s all about Kirk’s delivery. It’s so incredulous/plaintive. It makes me think fondly of Janeway, who we all know would’ve burned every tribble alive if they got between her and her coffee.

“The Gamesters of Triskelion”

. . . can I have Jack the Ripper back?

Seriously. “Wolf in the Fold” is terrible, but like, drinking game terrible. It’s delightfully bad. There is no such delight to be found in “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” The script physically hurts me. There are discussions of freedom, slavery, love, and beauty, and every single line is the worst line. The fight scenes are terrible, too, which of course is totally normal, but as this is a classic “you must fight to the death for our amusement” episode, it’d be cool if I could at least say nice things about the death battles. Alas, there is very little to praise here. Like, okay, I did laugh when Galt says he’s been sent to welcome our heroes, and we immediately cut to Kirk being forcefully cuffed to the wall. That was funny. Also funny: the fashion. Kirk’s battle harness, for instance. Also, I wanna get a bald cap and cosplay Galt. His collar is so sparkly!

Otherwise, yeah. We get a weird amount of closeups and poorly acted monologues delivered to the sky. We get a lot of pointless filler scenes where Bones and Scotty argue with Spock, which is especially galling because it’s so goddamn obvious that Spock is correct. (There is, admittedly, a funny moment where Spock totally trolls these two as he leans in, all hush-hush, and brings up mutiny–but it’s too little, too late.) We get Kirk seducing an alien woman for the 87th time. (I initially thought of her as Sexy Oompa Loompa, which isn’t entirely fair, considering her green hair is fantastic, and her skin isn’t nearly orange enough. Mek mentioned that Lady Gaga could rock this look, which is absolutely correct–and yes, Google tells me the similarities have definitely been noted before.)

Alien Lady Gaga wants to leave on the Enterprise and learn about the stars, but isn’t allowed to despite her newfound freedom because, IDK, it’s more important that she stays here, being taught by the evolved, colorful brains who enslaved her in the first place? Bullshit, sir. You take this woman away from this terrible place. Also, Kirk wins everybody’s freedom far too easily, like, what the hell happened to the whole “to the death” part of the rules? And did I mention the scene where Lars the Thrall tries to sexually assault Uhura offscreen? Yeah, no, what the fuck was THAT shit, writers? Absofuckinglutely not.

In conclusion:

Chief Asshat: Lars, obviously, but Kirk kinda sucks here, too

MVP: Uhura, who’s had an immensely shitty day and deserves better

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode:
“Your–your terms are unfair!”
“On the contrary, they’re extremely fair, since your alternative is death.”

Now Available at The Dark: “Forward, Victoria”

I know I’ve said this before, but man, writing is fickle. Nothing to report for months and months, and then all of a sudden, bam, two stories out a week apart.

Today’s story is “Forward, Victoria,” which is available to read for free at The Dark, and is the latest evidence of my slasher movie obsession. In the past, I’ve written about final girls, as well as the ladies who rarely get the chance to become final girls. Today, we have the girl as monster, the undead girl. The masked killer girl.

There are a lot of presumably obvious horror movie influences here, but the biggest one for me? Definitely this dude.

(Your unofficial Radiohead pairing, BTW, is “Decks Dark,” which has been the first runner up song for so many stories. Listen to it, and all my other silly Radiohead pairings, here.)

If you read “Forward, Victoria,” I hope you enjoy!

Now Available at Daily Science Fiction: “An Ever After Diverged”

I have a new story up today!

I sold this one at the tail end of 2020, and I’m happy it’s found a home at DSF. I am, by nature, a wordy motherfucker, so I always feel a little special extra joy when I manage to write and sell flash fiction. If you like stories that are a little angry, fairytale adjacent, and run backwards through time, you may enjoy this one.

Your requisite Radiohead pairing for this story is “Go Slowly.” Listen to it—and all my other silly Radiohead pairings—here.

Triple Scoop Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Hell Fest, and Space Sweepers

Much Ado About Nothing

Year: 1993
Director: Kenneth Branagh
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Bitches, please, this story is literally over 400 years old
Grade: Chocolate

I grew up on this movie, like, Much Ado is some formative shit, and I absolutely love it to pieces, despite some of the, ah, questionable acting. It’s not just Keanu Reeves, either, although I can’t say this is his finest hour. (Too bad, too; I’d really love to hear someone nail that whole “I cannot hide what I am” speech.) Robert Sean Leonard is also . . . not great, like admittedly, Claudio is the actual worst? Still, dude’s pretty hard to take seriously. And Michael Keaton, just, what? WHY? Branagh, why didn’t you stop this?

However, I love Emma Thompson as Beatrice; oh, she’s so good, and her scenes with Kenneth Branagh are magic. I also kinda adore Denzel Washington here, who I rarely see in comedies and just seems to be having a delightful time . . . and yes, he does rock those leather pants quite nicely, thank you. (I highly approve of Shakespearian men in leather pants, and have since I saw a production of Romeo & Juliet where Mercutio, dancing around without a shirt, was even more enjoyable than usual.) I’m fond of Richard Briers as Leonato, too, whose hilariously nonchalant delivery makes “she does indeed, my daughter says so” my favorite line in the whole movie. (This entire scene is pretty great, honestly, and is actually where I think RSL does his best work. The comedic overacting is perfect. It’s the dramatic bits I don’t quite buy.)

Gosh, there’s so much to discuss with Much Ado. Like butts. If there was an award for The Most Ass Shots in A Shakespearian Adaptation, it would go to this movie, hands down. (Pleasantly, we get equal opportunity ass shots. It’s not just the ladies for once!) I’d also like to mention that while the cast is overall very white, I do love that Denzel and Keanu are brothers, and no one awkwardly inserts some forced exposition about it; they’re just enemy-bros and that’s that. I like many actors in the supporting cast, too. I’m always here for Brian Blessed and his absurdly deep voice, and I’m never gonna say no to Imelda Staunton, either–although Margaret’s a much more interesting character in the play, which is a hill that I will die on. And hell, how did I go all these years without realizing that Emma Thompson’s mom plays Ursula. It’s so obvious once you know.

Finally, a few things: A) Let’s be real here: that friar is sketchy as hell. B) Leonato seems like a pretty good dude, that is, until he’s all “I shall not suffer a slut to live.” Seriously. Fuck this guy. C) Claudio can’t even be bothered to sing his own goddamned lament. He straight up has that one random singer dude lament for him, ugh, Claudio is THE WORST. And D) In the end, everyone happily dances around except Don Pedro, presumably because he’s the only single dude left? Bullshit. Bullshit to that whole idea idea, but also, bullshit to anyone picking Robert Sean Leonard and Kenneth Branagh over Denzel Washington. (I have to admit, much as I ship Beatrice/Benedick–and I very much do–there’s a part of me that’s always wondered what a Beatrice/Don Pedro ship might’ve been like. I’d read that rare pair fanfic.)

Hell Fest

Year: 2018
Director: Gregory Plotkin
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yep, sorry
Grade: Strawberry

This was our Bloody Hearts pick of 2021, and despite the film’s dismal reviews, I think it’s a pretty decent slasher. Admittedly, it doesn’t have the best start. The acting in the opening scene is, yeah, not stellar. Also, the Killer’s habit of humming “Pop Goes the Weasel” gets real old real quick. But the main cast is pretty likable. I am, of course, primarily here for Bex Taylor Klaus–and the Tony Todd cameo, obviously–but all the actors have good chemistry with one another, and there’s a lot of easy banter back and forth, which I very much enjoyed. Also, Mek and I definitely wanna go to this amusement park. Sans the murderer, preferably, but otherwise, this place looks pretty great. Well. Okay. While I’d absolutely love to go on an actual haunted house ride (especially if it “broke down” halfway through, YES), I’d sadly have to skip this one, as I won’t do haunted houses where people get to touch me. I don’t even want most people I know to touch me. I am, and forever will be, this GIF.

It’s great that the love interest dies first. Partially because it’s surprising, partially because that mallet to the face hurts me, and partially cause this guy makes absolutely terrible choices, and I feel little pity for him. (Come on. Who goes back to steal a stuffed toy just cause you can’t win one? I promise you, dude, your girl doesn’t give two shits whether you’re good at carnival games or not, and your fragile sense of masculinity is an impressively stupid reason to risk being arrested.) I love, too, that both our final girl, Natalie, and her BFF Brooke make it out alive. Brooke’s survival is especially awesome, as she’s both the MC’s BFF and the only Black actor in the main cast. These are extremely bad odds in a slasher; I’ve got Brandy surviving I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in 1998, and . . . that’s about it. I only wish that Taylor also survived because I adore Bex Taylor Klaus so much, and they’re awfully fun in this film. Still. Such is life.

Final, random thoughts: I kinda like that Natalie doesn’t have some stereotypical ‘dead mom or other trauma’ backstory to explain why she’s been distant; life’s just a Lot and people get busy, and that’s fine. I really like the ending, too, how we don’t get the usual last minute scare where our killer pops up in Spain or something; instead, he just goes home, adds to his serial killer trophy collection, and interacts with his cute little daughter, all of which is, TBH, much creepier. (Though, as an aside, I’m not sure exactly how Natalie is planning to get to Spain if scholarship money is currently a problem.) I’m not sure, admittedly, why Natalie and Brooke are just chilling outside one of the haunted houses at the end of the movie, presumably still bleeding, while the killer is on the loose, like, maybe we should get them to a hospital under police escort ASAP cause, you know, there are limits to the usefulness of shock blankets. Otherwise, though, yeah, I found this one pretty enjoyable.

Space Sweepers

Year: 2021
Director: Jo Sung-hee
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Only mildly
Grade: Vanilla

Space Sweepers is a lot of fun. I think, maybe, it could’ve been a bit shorter? And I feel like we might be stretching what can realistically be expected of nanotech, but also, I care not at all because seriously, FUN. I love the whole Victory crew, I love how wildly dysfunctional they all are, and I genuinely like how long it takes our protagonist, Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki) to fully get onboard with doing the right thing–but for reasons you get, not just, y’know, Asshole Reasons. I’m obsessed with Captain Jang’s whole aesthetic, I mean, damn. She’s great. Kot-nim is adorable. Tiger Park is kinda adorable, too, and of course, I adore Bubs, because I am always here for both A) sarcastic, money-hoarding robots and B) gender identity and expression in robots. Bubs is awesome.

Our villain is played by Richard Armitage, which is hilarious because I never recognize this guy, ever; my brain just refuses to lock in on his face. Mek will be like, “Hey, is that Richard Armitage?” and I’ll be like “WHAAAAT?” as if we haven’t had this exact same conversation twice before. I enjoyed the whole supporting cast, too, and the effort to really make this story feel international. Just in general, there are a ton of small moments that I loved: the makeup scene, Tae-ho and Tiger Park getting into a water fight, the fact that our heroes are just so hilariously bad at being criminals, etc.

I don’t think there are any plans to make a Space Sweepers sequel or spinoff or anything, and TBH, we don’t really need one. The movie stands fine on its own. Buuuuuut . . . you know. If someone were to do that, I’m just saying. I’d definitely watch another movie or television show in this verse.

World’s Worst Trekkie: Friday’s Child, The Deadly Years, and Obsession

Okay. I started watching TOS, like, actual years ago. This damn show is all of three seasons; I should probably be on DS9 by now, and yet I keep putting TOS off because while I enjoy my recap/reviews, they also take forever to write. This is always my problem with the blog. I’m too damn chatty. I have 18,000 thoughts on any given movie or episode of television, and wrangling these thoughts into something even vaguely coherent is just so time-consuming. It’s been stressing me out. Thus.

We’re gonna trying Triple Scooping this bitch. It’s not a perfect system–it is, in fact, damn silly–but I think I might work better for me. We’ll see if it sticks or not.

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“Friday’s Child”

This episode is very hard to take seriously because–and I don’t say this lightly–the Capellans might have the most ridiculous costumes I have ever seen on this show. You can see them in the background above, but for further examples, please look here. And here. Assuming I ever go to a convention again, I demand to see this cosplay.

“Friday’s Child” is okay. Parts are kinda yikes; for instance, when Bones slaps a pregnant woman. (She slapped him first–twice, even–but I can guarantee you that the doctors at my job are not allow to hit their patients back. Besides, she told him not to touch her. Listen to your patients, dude.) Actually, Eleen (Julie Newmar!) is probably the most interesting part of the whole episode, something I mostly attribute to stage presence. There’s a story in here, somewhere, that could be fascinating: the pregnant widow of an overthrown king whose baby puts her life in grave danger and, thus, wants nothing to do with it . . . a grieving woman who’s not interested in being a mother without her partner . . . a fugitive queen who bonds with a strange outworld doctor who’s trying to help but only half-understands her customs, etc. Unfortunately, nuance and feminism aren’t exactly selling points for TOS, so what we actually get is Bones trying to persuade a patient that of course she wants her baby and other cringeworthy stuff. (Credit where credit’s due, though: I did laugh at Spock reluctantly holding the baby, as well as Kirk insisting that Bones’s baby-talk is an example of an obscure Earth dialect.)

Random Asides: A) Bones can apparently tell a woman’s about to give birth just by touching her belly, which, sure, that’s definitely more effective than his actual Tricorder, B) The Klingon ship backed down from a fight? Fuck you, they did. What utter horse shit, and C) if you need more evidence on TOS’s somewhat mixed moral message, consider this bit where Spock asks, “Revenge, Captain?” and Kirk responds, “Why not?”

Chief Asshat: The Red Shirt who immediately gets himself killed by pulling a weapon on this random Klingon the second he sees him, like, uh, no?  You don’t just get to attack people? Kirk’s all indignant about it, too, offering up a frankly disturbing “he was young and impetuous, it’s all understandable” defense. So, good to see that Kirk’s racism is still going strong here, well before the Klingons murdered his son.

MVP: Probably Scotty, for proving once again that he’s a competent officer. Poor Scotty. The movies did you wrong, man.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode: “I think you’re both going to be insufferably pleased with yourselves for at least a month. Sir.”

“The Deadly Years”

Ah, it’s The One Where Everyone Gets Old! Specifically, Kirk, Bones, Scotty, Spock, and Nurse Dead Meat get old; Chekov, mysteriously, doesn’t age at all, even though he was on the same away mission. At first, I was very excited by this, if only because Spock is usually the anomaly in these kinds of situations, and I was interested to see what made Chekov so special. (Spoilers: it’s FEAR. That is, adrenaline; Chekov sees a dead body in the beginning of this episode and freaks the hell out. Which A) valid, but also B) IDK, I feel like our heroes see a lot of corpses? Shouldn’t Chekov be used to this by now?

Unfortunately, this mystery is barely part of the episode. Instead, “The Deadly Years” is far more interested in examining Kirk’s rapidly progressing dementia as the crew hems and haws over whether he’s currently competent enough to be in charge, which, no, he is not; he is very, very clearly not. And yet we still have to watch, like, a whole tribunal to discuss Kirk’s incompetence, which is basically just a rehash of scenes that, FFS, we just saw. The acting isn’t bad here; in fact, it’s genuinely hard to watch Kirk’s anger and confusion as his mental faculties deteriorate. But we spend a lot of time on this, and I think that’s time that could’ve been spent better elsewhere: on our other aging crew members (like Nurse Dead Meat, who apparently no one cares about, or Scotty, who’s barely in this episode), or into The Mystery of Chekov, or maybe even on Kirk’s 87th Ex-Girlfriend, a blonde, breathy doctor who–and I can’t stress this enough–does absolutely nothing of any plot significance in this episode.

Part of the problem here, too, is that our big dilemma is Who Will Be in Charge Now . . . only it feels like a trumped up crisis. Spock insists that no one on the away mission, including himself, is currently capable of assuming command, which means that this entirely inexperienced Commodore has to do it. But this is nonsense: for one, if a junior officer can’t command the ship in an emergency, then maybe it would behoove us to have more than four senior officers on board; for another, Sulu’s definitely been left in charge before, only we’re conveniently forgetting that now for Contrived Plot Shit. The one good thing I will say here is that it’s nice that our Commodore, while somewhat useless in battle, isn’t actually a mustache-twirling villain. He’s not trying to steal anyone’s command; he’s just trying to step up and do what’s right.

“The Deadly Years” isn’t one of my favorite episodes by any means, but there are things I enjoy about it. Sulu and Chekov get a brief moment to banter. Kirk (now young again) saves the day by bringing back the Corbomite Manuever, which was a fun callback. And the old age makeup is hilarious because it’s absolutely as awful as you’d expect; actually, it might be even worse than normal, as rapidly aging seems to have made Bones’s hair . . . longer? (There are many, many hairline problems in this episode.) Bones’s Southern accent also gets much, much thicker, which happened in “This Side of Paradise,” too.

Chief Asshat: You know, I’m not sure I’ve got one this time. Kirk’s kind of a dick here but, for once, that’s not really his fault.

MVP: Chekov, maybe? In a way, his fear totally saves the day, and also I enjoy watching him bitch about all the medical tests he has to go through. Sulu thinks it’s funny too. His amused little smile is the absolute best.

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: “What a stupid place to hang a mirror.”

“Obsession”

Looks like it’s time to question the captain’s competency again! This time, Kirk is convinced that this strange smoke which killed a few of his crewmen is not some random weather pattern but an intelligent and malevolent creature; moreover, Kirk believes he has encountered this entity before, back when he was an ensign. Young Kirk hesitated for a split second before firing on said entity and thus blamed himself when, like, 200 people died, including his old captain. Now Kirk is obsessed with taking down this creature, even if it costs lives–and not just the lives of his crew, but also of the people on Theta VII, who are waiting for their super perishable vaccine doses.

I like that Kirk’s obsession stems from a mistake he thinks he made, rather than, IDK, a dead girlfriend or something. I like, too, that his trauma is echoed in Ensign Garrovick, who also hesitates and becomes convinced that he’s to blame for the deaths of his fellow officers. (Although I think making Garrovick the old captain’s son is silly and unnecessary.) There are several interactions with Ensign G that I enjoy: from Nurse Chapel’s comfort via tough love (oh my God, it’s amazing, where has this Nurse Chapel been all my life), to Spock’s comfort via tough logic (“I know you would prefer to wallow in a pool of emotion . . .”), to Kirk telling Garrovick that he isn’t to blame and thus quietly realizing that he, too, should forgive himself.

Still, I feel like improvements could be made. Kirk’s irrationality in this episode doesn’t entirely work for me, partially because it comes on too fast for my liking, and partially because I feel like “Obsession” really wants Kirk to be right in the end, which . . . I’m not convinced that he is. Sure, he’s correct about the smoke being an entity, but that doesn’t mean that delaying to Theta VII is the right call here. When the captain’s all nonchalant about the potential deaths of citizens, like, maybe that’s a big problem? It bothers me, too, that Kirk arguably gets some of his own officers killed, yet never seems particularly concerned or guilty about that. Like, how is this not being factored into his trauma? Also, Kirk’s whole instinctual and/or possibly psychic connection to the entity is incredibly vague and just feels like lazy writing to me.

Chief Asshat: Kirk. Which is funny because as soon as we saw this episode’s title, Mek asked, “So, who’s going to be a dick this episode?” to which I immediately replied, “Kirk.” Mek, quite rightly, refused to take that bet.

MVP: Nurse Chapel, hands down. Thus far, Majel Barrett has been wasted on this show. Is it too much to hope we get more awesome moments like this?

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: “You know, self pity’s a terrible first course. Why don’t you try the soup instead?”

TV Superlatives: December, January, February – 2020/2021

It seems I’m capable of watching either a lot of TV shows or a lot of movies, but not both. Fall 2020 was Movie Time, specifically, Horror Movie Time, and TV definitely fell by the wayside. Winter, however, was rather the other way around.

Here is the list of TV shows I’ve been watching over the past three months:

Tale of the Nine-Tailed (Episodes 10-16)
Running Man (Random Episodes)
The Uncanny Counter
Alice in Borderland
The Expanse (Season 5)
Sweet Home
The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
WandaVision
Nancy Drew (Season 2, Episodes 1-6)
Busted (Season 3)
Infinity Train (Season 2)
L.U.C.A.: The Beginning (Episodes 1-5)
Last Week Tonight
Star Trek: Lower Decks

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve been currently watching with my usual nonsense awards, whether they’re currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark these awards with spoiler warnings.

With that said, let’s begin!

Continue reading

Die Hard: The Alternate 80’s Cast

Happy Inauguration Day! Hopefully happy, anyway; I’ll be honest, I’m having trouble feeling the sheer relief a lot of people have been expressing on social media for the past 24 hours. Maybe I’ll manage it on Thursday, if nothing terrible happens. In the meantime, consider this an official Distraction Post.

While reviewing Die Hard a few weeks ago, I mentioned that Mek and I had been having fun recasting the film with actors who could reasonably have been hired in 1988. Reasonably, in this case, meaning people who were actively acting around that time; I didn’t, like, look up people’s film schedules to make sure they were free or anything. Remember folks, this is all for fun and games and blasphemy; I didn’t sweat the nitty gritty, and I encourage you all to do likewise.

Recasting any movie–but especially something as iconic as Die Hard–will always be difficult because no two actors are gonna give the same performance. This John McClane, inevitably, will not be Bruce Willis’s John McClane. The Hans Gruber we all love and cherish simply can’t be replicated by any other actor, no matter how talented. This is a sad truth that we live with forever now: there was, and only ever will be, one Alan Rickman.

Still. I had a great deal of fun coming up with this Alternate Die Hard cast, and I hope you also have a good time, thinking things like “huh” and “hmm” and “sweet Christ, WHY?” This will be a pretty straight recast today: no gender-bending or the like, but if you are interested in a hypothetical genderbent cast, feel free to look here. (If you’re not interested in the rambling essay part, scroll down quite a ways.)

Prepare yourselves, friends. The blasphemy is about to begin.

DIE HARD: THE ALTERNATE 80’S CAST

John McClane – Kurt Russell

Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.

Here’s the thing: originally, I wanted to cast someone who–just like Bruce Willis–was an unconventional choice, someone wasn’t already an action star. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t come up with anyone we liked, not until we thought of Kurt Russell, who, of course, was smack in the middle of the (first) Big Action Phase of his career, with films like The Thing, Escape From New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and Tango & Cash. (Kurt Russell’s career fascinates me. It’s a beautiful, unholy mix of SFF action, regular action, violent westerns, the occasional romantic comedy, and some wholesome Disney shit.)

But Kurt Russell’s heroes aren’t all carbon copies of each other: Jack Burton is definitely not Snake Plissken, and MacReady is not Wyatt Earp. Russell goes deliberately over-the-top sometimes–which, TBH, I goddamn adore–but he can also pull it back, and I can genuinely hear him landing a fair bit of the dialogue. Plus. Let’s concentrate on what really matters, folks: you know he can wear the hell out of that white tank top. (Lipstick, too, clearly . . . but alas, that doesn’t canonically feature.)

Hans Gruber – Rutger Hauer

That’s a very nice suit, Mr. Takagi. It would be a shame to ruin it.

Again, there is no duplicating Alan Rickman. It simply can’t be done. But I’ve always been very fond of Rutger Hauer, too, and his Hans Gruber could’ve been interesting to see. I do suspect it would’ve been a touch more, shall we say, overtly menacing than Rickman’s performance? Like, Hauer was known for playing creepy and charismatic villains for a reason; he was damn good at them.

But I’ve seen some nice subtle bits of humor, too: this scene from Ladyhawke, for example, where he is–for once–the good guy. That expression on Hauer’s face when he says “No?” Oh, it always kills me dead. He could’ve gone for a German accent, I suppose, (apparently, he played several German characters over the course of his career), but . . . IDK, part of me just wants this Hans to have been an exceptional Dutch thief instead.

Holly Gennaro McClane – Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

That’s okay, I have my eye on his private bathroom.

TBH, this is kinda just typecasting. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio definitely played this type of love interest, you know, professional and independent and not afraid to call the lead hero–who may or may not have been her ex–on their bullshit. Lindsey Brigham in The Abyss. Maid Marian in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But I’ve always liked Mastrantonio, and I think she could’ve been a great Holly. I can easily see her stepping up to be the hostage’s spokesperson after Takagi dies. Plus, I mean, come on. Those curls. I’m not saying I’m making all my casting choices based on hair and fashion, but I’m not not saying it, either.

Sergeant Al Powell – Frankie Faison

No, but it’s gonna need a paint job and a shitload of screen doors.

Like Reginald VelJohnson–like a lot of the people in the original cast, honestly–Frankie Faison wasn’t a big name in 1988, at least not compared to some of the other actors you’ll find on this list. But he has a very nice voice and a lot of screen presence, always making the most of even the smallest roles: Barney, for instance, in The Silence of the Lambs. (Shit, does this make Kurt Russell his Clarice? I like it.) Dude’s in that movie for all of twelve seconds, but he always stands out in my memory. And of all the actors we came up with, Faison is the one I can hear the best when it comes to Powell’s dialogue. I absolutely love VelJohnson’s line deliveries, but I think Frankie Faison could’ve done a very nice job with them, too.

Karl – Patrick Swayze

I don’t want neutral. I want dead.

No, but listen. Listen. Is this a ridiculous casting? Yes. Is it the most ridiculous casting you’ve ever seen? Possibly, but you have to respect the legs. People. It is important. Alexander Godunov was a dancer, and by God, our Karl will be one, too. If he does not deliver the most beautiful jump kicks, is he really Karl at all? I rest my case.

Theo – LeVar Burton

Oh my God, the quarterback is toast!

Ah, the reason we did this recast in the first place. During our annual Christmas viewing of Die Hard, I found myself randomly wondering what it might’ve been like to see LeVar Burton as Theo. It amused me, of course, to think of a beloved children’s host (as well as beloved Geordi LaForge) as a bad guy–albeit, the funny bad guy that doesn’t kill anybody and, very thankfully, survives–but I really do think it could’ve worked. At the very, very least, I can absolutely see LeVar Burton rocking that sweater and glasses combo. (I’ll admit to finding the collective online thirst for attractive dudes in old man sweaters kind of baffling, but I’m always willing to be convinced!)

Takagi – George Takei

Ellis, I want you to meet John McClane. Holly’s husband. Holly’s policeman.

Let’s keep with the Star Trek theme for the moment, shall we?

According to IMDb Trivia (which, you know, might be accurate?), John McTiernan wanted to hire George Takei for the role of Takagi, and George Takei wanted the role of Takagi, too, but there was some kind of paperwork mishap due to Takei’s agent, and the part went to James Shigeta instead. I can’t entirely regret this because I’ve always loved Shigeta in the role, but it also could’ve been really neat to see George Takei here as well. Not just because I’m a Sulu stan, but yeah, a little cause I’m a Sulu stan.

Ellis – Bill Paxton

Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Eurotrash.

I’ll admit, Ellis stumped me for quite a while . . . until Mekaela came up with the idea of Bill Paxton, and I was immediately sold. Ellis is kinda scummy, kinda sleazy, thinks he’s the shit (spoilers: he is not the shit), and overall, has a certain ‘cocaine will be my date to this Christmas party’ energy. In other words, think of Ellis as Bill Paxton’s audition for True Lies, and I think you might see it, too.

Bill Paxton was the best. Ugh, this casting is reminding me just how many amazing actors we’ve lost.

Argyle – Wesley Snipes

This IS Christmas music.

Argyle, surprisingly, was another tough character to cast. For a while, I was considering a young Will Smith, but he was still a few years out from his first acting role in 1988, and we decided to keep looking. Eventually, we came up with Wesley Snipes (in his pre-Blade days), and I kinda like the idea: he has just a ton of comedic energy in films like Major League, and I can absolutely see him laughing his ass off at the poor life choices of John McClane. As well he should. Love the dude, but McClane definitely deserves it.

Dwayne T. Robinson – John Larroquette

We’re gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess.

I’ve always thought that Dwayne T. Robinson requires a very specific type of humor. Initially, he’s just that one jerk cop played pretty straight, until the bigger jerk cops (the FBI) come into the picture, and then DTR gets to be . . . well, if not an ally, exactly, then at least funnier, a bit more likable. The comedic moments are small, though; they shouldn’t be overplayed, and I feel like John Larroquette–who can easily play either sharp and incisive or just hilariously incompetent–could make that balance work.

Thornberg – James Spader

Did you get that?

James Spader is 13 years younger than William Atherton, but Thornberg’s age is considerably less important to me than the punchability of his face, and in the 80’s and early 90’s, James Spader was extremely well-versed in the art of playing jerks with punchable faces. I can absolutely see him playing the guy who threatened a woman with deportation and endangered Holly’s life, all for a good story. Plus, let’s keep with the theme: look at that fantastic 80’s hair. Obviously, Die Hard could only be improved with all that amazing blond fluff.

Special Agent Johnson – Michael Ironside

This is Agent Johnson. No, the other one.

Yes. Yes. Michael Ironside as Special Agent Johnson (AKA, Big Johnson), and you know why? Because it’s perfect, that’s why. Come on. Come. On.

Agent Johnson – Eriq La Salle

I was in junior high, dickhead.

I’ve rewatched some ER clips recently, and it’s made me wanna see Eriq La Salle in more things–things that are not Jacob’s Ladder, ugh, that movie. Agent Johnson (AKA Little Johnson) would’ve been a minor role, admittedly, but Die Hard was a few years prior to ER, so that doesn’t bother me–and happily, he’s about the right age, since Eriq La Salle would’ve been in junior high about the time the Vietnam War ended. Also, I can really hear him delivering some of these lines: the one above, of course, but also “when we commandeer your men, we’ll try and let you know.” LOVE IT.

And finally . . .

Uli – Dennis Dun

*double take at the candy display*

Did I really need to cast Uli? No. Was I gonna cast Uli anyway? Absolutely.

Uli’s age definitely isn’t important, but I still kinda wanted him to be under 60, which took out 80’s heavyweights Victor Wong and James Hong. (Well, technically, I think James Hong was 59, but still.) But we did get to thinking about Big Trouble in Little China, which got us to Dennis Dun (and Dun’s glorious eyebrow raise).

Of course, now I want at least one more scene between Uli and John, so we can properly appreciate the reunion between Dun and Russell before our hero unceremoniously kills our wonderful thief who, damn it, just wanted a Crunch Bar. Poor Uli.

Well, that’s all for now! If you have time and were blown away by my legendary casting prowess, or have your own suggestions for an 80’s alternate remake, or would like to express your outrage at the fiendish horror I just put your through, please feel free to comment below!

Best of 2020: BOOKS

Well. 2020 was . . . yeah, catastrophic. But the books, at least, were delightful.  Last week I posted a list of all the novels and novellas I read over the year; today, we’ll be discussing some of those books in more detail.

(A quick reminder: any book I read in 2020 is eligible for these Best Of’s, no matter when it actually came out. If I only discussed books published in 2020, well. Let’s just say this would be a much shorter list.)

FASTEST READ

The Game – Linsey Miller

Listen, I am always, always up for Murder Games of any kind, so this YA–where a high school senior discovers that one of her classmates is killing people for reals in their game of Assassin–was basically my dream premise. I read most of this in one sitting, which is unusual for me; I love to read, obviously, but I don’t have half the speed or focus of many people I know. So, it’s always a delight to find something easy and fun to sink into. Plus, you know. MURDER. Murder is my ultimate jam.

Honorable Mentions: When We Were Magic – Sarah Gailey;  Proper English – K.J. Charles; Silver in the Wood & Drowned Country – Emily Tesh; Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo; Pet – Akwaeke Emezi; My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

FAVORITE MYTHOLOGY STORY

Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika

Okay, I talked about this book last week, I know. But it’s such an entertaining and original urban fantasy. I especially enjoyed the Hindu mythology because I feel like we don’t get to see enough South-Asian myth in UF, or at least I haven’t. There are honestly so many deities from so many different pantheons here, and it’s a lot of fun to guess who’s going to pop up next. I also really love the complicated relationship between our protagonist and her mother because while tricksters do frequently pop up in fantasy novels, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a Trickster Mom before. The mother-daughter relationship here is easily one of my favorite parts of this whole novel.

Honorable Mentions: Circe – Madeline Miller; Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia; A Song Below Water – Bethany C. Morrow

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Velvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men – Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

Velvet Templeton is such a great character. Not that this is news: I’m aware I’m still catching up on five-year-old trades. Nevertheless, the world needs way more awesome middle-aged lady spies. And this volume, in particular, ends on one hell of a conclusion. I should probably dream cast this series, at some point.

Honorable Mentions: Velvet, Vol. 3: The Man Who Stole The World – Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting; Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra – Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau

FAVORITE ROMANCE

Proper English – K.J. Charles

Okay, an F/F country house murder mystery romance novel? Holy Jesus, yes. This book is delightful: charming, witty, and actively queer, the last of which just isn’t something you get in Golden Age detective fiction, unfortunately. Proper English is definitely romance first, mystery second, but I enjoyed both aspects of the story: Pat is a likable, sensible heroine, and it’s a lot of fun to see her and Fen fall for each other and, also, solve crime. I’d like to see this story as a movie immediately.

Proper English is also something of a spinoff-prequel to Think of England, and you can better believe that novel’s already on my 2021 To-Read List.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics – Olivia Waite; Silver in the Wood – Emily Tesh

FAVORITE MYSTERY

The Santa Klaus Murder – Mavis Doriel Hay

Like I said, I’m a huge sucker for a witty country house murder mystery. These kinds of books are the ultimate comfort read for me, and I suspect I came across this one at just the right time. One of the things I specifically like here is the character work: we get multiple POVs for the first five chapters, and while it’s a bit strange, structurally speaking, it also allows the reader more time to really get to know our suspects. Plus, I had no idea how reliable these accounts actually were, so I had an especially fun time looking for discrepancies and clues. The Santa Klaus Murder is also the very rare Golden Age novel that actually ends on a hilariously fitting line, rather than just sorta clunking to a stop. I love this period of fiction, but some of those endings are just oof.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all Christmas stories are improved by a homicidal Santa; thus, this book also wins for FAVORITE CHRISTMAS STORY.

Honorable Mentions: A Morbid Taste for Bones – Ellis Peters; The Skull Beneath the Skin – P.D. James; The Broken Girls – Simone St. James

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

TIE!

Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith – Colin Dickey
Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction – Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

I’ve never read a non-fiction writer whose prose inspires me as much as Colin Dickey. His sentences are thoughtful and elegant, and I always have at least seven new story ideas by the end of one of his books. The material here, too, is fascinating, not just because I find early Christian history interesting, but because of how the saints are analyzed and interpreted here: as punk saints, saints as rejects, etc. Dickey’s most recent book is called The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession With the Unexplained, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Meanwhile, Monster, She Wrote is a remarkably quick read for non-fiction and makes for a fantastic reference guide. I jotted down all kinds of short stories, novels, and authors who I’m shamefully unfamiliar with. I especially enjoyed reading about women authors of the pulp era because that really seems to be a period where women have been selectively deleted from history. Also, seeing The Migration by Helen Marshall get a well-deserved shoutout was a delightful surprise. Helen, buddy, you rock.

Honorable Mentions: The Golden Age of Murder – Martin Edwards

FAVORITE MIDDLE GRADE

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

This one’s a bit tricky: ostensibly, Ursula Vernon’s books are for children, while T. Kingfisher writes for adults, but in this case that appears to be a marketing decision; as Vernon discusses in her author’s note, she visualized this story as a dark children’s novel. That’s certainly how it read to me, so I’m placing it here, marketing be damned.

Shocking no one, I adored this book. It’s sort of warm and fluffy and laugh out loud funny, while also having these fantastically dark and weird bits that I absolutely love. One of the things I particularly like is how this novel discusses responsibility and heroism and never fully lets any of the adults, even the likable ones, off the hook for depending on children to save them. That all felt very real to me. There is also, as you might imagine, quite a bit of bread-related humor. The Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is charming, and probably best enjoyed with something to snack on.

Honorable Mentions: Riverland – Fran Wilde; Peapsrout Chen: Battle of Champions – Henry Lien

FAVORITE YA

Pet – Akwaeke Emezi

There are books you spend years waiting to read, and then there are books that you’ve never heard of before, but which absolutely blindside you with just how goddamn brilliant they are; Pet was the latter for me, just so imaginative and exciting and wholly original. There’s so much voice in this book; I don’t quite know how to describe it, but I could really hear the language somehow, and I loved listening to it. In her review on Tor.com, Alex Brown mentions that the dialogue here is “as poetic as the narrative text itself,” and that definitely rang true to me.

The utopia in Pet is fascinating, particularly because it’s flawed without being secretly sinister or cruel. Jam is a great MC; in fact, I enjoyed all the characters, especially Pet. And monster-hunting creatures that emerge from paintings? Come on. That’s just cool. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more books from Emezi in the future.

Honorable Mentions: Blanca y Roja – Anna-Marie McLemore; A Song Below Water – Bethany C. Morrow; Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo

Despite absolutely loving Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I didn’t run straight to the bookstore for a copy of Ninth House, mostly because secret society mysteries aren’t always my jam; I often have trouble taking them seriously. But I straight up loved Ninth House, like, okay, it definitely reminded me that I know absolutely nothing about Ivy League academia and rich people shit? But it also has so much amazing noir energy, like, this is exactly what I want from modern noir: interesting characters making morally dicey choices for reasons you understand. (As opposed to assholes being assholes for Asshole Reasons). The characters are great here: Alex is a fantastic protagonist, I liked Darlington straight away, and Dawes is kinda the best. Also: Turner and Mercy. I’m really into the world, too: the various houses and their different types of magic. And the way this one ends, I mean, damn. I NEED THE SEQUEL, PLEASE.

Honorable Mentions: The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith; Riverland – Fran Wilde; Blanca y Roja – Anna-Marie McLemore; Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika

FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Silver in the Wood & Drowned Country – Emily Tesh

I’m counting The Greenhollow Duology as one entity here because I could really see these stories as separate halves of the same novel; also, this is my blog and I make the rules, so. Silver in the Wood has a lovely folkloric/fairy tale feel, while I guess I’d characterize Drowned Country as more of a seaside gaslamp fantasy? Both novellas are charming as hell (which is why they also win for BEST NOVELLA) and feature an interesting world, fantastic supporting characters, and an M/M romance to root for throughout. Tobias/Silver, I ship you madly.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia; The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow; A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: Exit Strategy – Martha Wells; Come Tumbling Down – Seanan McGuire; Ring Shout – P. Djélì Clark; Made Things – Adrian Tchaikovsky

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

A Memory Called Empire has just about everything I love to see in SF: murder, political intrigue, and an in-depth focus on identity and culture. The world-building here is incredible, and I was fascinated by all of it: the naming conventions, the linguistics, the profound impact of colonization on one’s sense of self.  Also: the imago tech that connects our heroine Mahit to her dead predecessor, Yskander. Anyone who’s ever wanted more weird Trill shit from Star Trek, well, this is the book for you. Plus, Mahit is an awesome heroine; in fact, I really enjoy the whole cast of characters. I’m eagerly looking forward to the sequel coming out later this year.

But Gideon the Ninth was pretty fantastic, too, a dark and irreverent SF/Fantasy mashup with monster battles, necromancers, creepy nuns, dangerous challenges, and–once again–murder, just like, a LOT of violent, gory murder. Gideon, herself, is incredibly fun: punk, buff, cheeky as hell. This book’s got voice and then some. Also: serious cosplay potential, which isn’t something I usually find in novels. (I’m not great at visualizing stuff, TBH.) Gideon the Ninth also surprised me at multiple points, especially at the very end. Things get pretty bleak for quite a number of characters, which sounds depressing and, occasionally, kind of is. But it’s also easily one of the most entertaining books I read all year.

Honorable Mentions: Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe; Exit Strategy – Martha Wells

FAVORITE HORROR

The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones

This book. Damn. It’s strange and challenging and, like the very best horror, it lingers long after you’re finished reading it. One scene, in particular, honest-to-God shocked me, and while I don’t find most horror novels scary as a general rule, I will fully admit this scene creeped me out in the best of ways. As always, I love Stephen Graham Jones’s prose: the words he uses, the words he leaves out, the way even his shortest sentences can punch you in the gut.

In her review of The Only Good Indians at Locus, Paula Guran says, “The book will be seen as effective ‘social commentary,’ but it is not ‘commentary’: it is simply the truth displayed and injustice portrayed clearly for all to read.” And that feels about right to me. There’s a lot of truth in this one.

Honorable Mentions: Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark; Disappearance at Devil’s Rock – Paul Tremblay

FAVORITE NOVEL

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Per usual, I vacillated like crazy over this decision. Ultimately, however, I picked Gideon the Ninth because–in a year full of fear, incompetence, deliberate cruelty, and a little more fear– this book was just sheer irreverent fun, and I very much appreciated that.

Here is the rest of my Top 10 (not in any particular order).

2. Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
3. A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
4. Pet – Akwaeke Emezi
5. Silver in the Wood/Drowned Country – Emily Tesh
6. Proper English – KJ Charles
7. The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones
8. Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe
9. The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith
10. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Somehow there are always a few fantastic books on this list that I don’t end up individually discussing, so a couple quick shoutouts: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe is a space opera with political intrigue, BIG twists and turns, and characters who are allowed to be both likable and complicated.  Meanwhile, The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith is full of myths, banter, teamwork, and literary tropes. Also, angels. Also, Hell. It’s a very enjoyable read chockfull of excellent quotes. Both books already have sequels out, and they are very much on my To-Do list.

Honorable Mentions For Top Ten: Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark; The Santa Klaus Murder – Mavis Doriel Hay; Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika; My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite; Circe – Madeline Miller

That’s it for now. 2021 Books, here we come!