TV SUPERLATIVES: June, July, and August – 2019

Summer is almost over–not that you’d know it in sunny ass California–so it’s about that time for my Occasional TV Superlatives. If you weren’t around for the last time I did this, it’s pretty straight-forward: I just gush and/or rant about whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Favorite Ship, Favorite Fight Scene, Most Disgusting Moment, and Most Comically Tragic Character. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked.

As a reference point, here are the shows I’ve been watching for the past few months:

Agents of SHIELD, Season 6
Into the Badlands, Seasons 2 and 3 (currently still watching)
Good Omens
Dark, Season 2
Stranger Things, Season 3
Kingdom, Season 1
Yuri on Ice
Infinity Train
, Season 1
13 Reasons Why, Season 3
Los Espookys, Season 1
Hotel del Luna (currently still watching)
Young Justice, Season 3B

With that in mind, let’s get started, shall we?

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Triple Scoop Reviews: The Call, Event Horizon, and Ready Or Not

The Call

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Crap, I don’t even remember. Amazon, maybe?
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Strawberry

So, I actually watched this with my folks shortly before I went on vacation, and initially, I was surprised by how much I was actually enjoying it. Like, some silly things, sure, but for the first, say, 2/3 of the film, I found it to be a surprisingly claustrophobic little thriller starring two female leads I was rooting for. Both Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin give strong performances here; I specifically like watching Berry balance her character’s ultra-competence with her semi-recent trauma. And the relationship between these two characters is interesting: Casey (Breslin) is fighting to survive and sees Jordan (Berry) as her only lifeline, while Jordan quickly gets over-invested, determined not to lose another caller. It’s actually a pretty interesting dynamic.

Unfortunately, things rapidly fall apart in the last, maybe, 15 or 20 minutes of the movie. For starters, we get a lot more of the serial killer’s backstory, which besides trying way too hard to be creepy–he’s scalping blondes that remind him of his dead sister (COD: cancer), who he had skeevy and presumably unrequited Lannister love for–it’s just not really what this movie’s about, like I don’t give a shit about Bobo the Serial Killer* and his bullshit psychology. Then, after she loses contact with Casey, Jordan takes it upon herself to go looking for her, which–while predictable–is both incredibly unrealistic and just kinda dumb. In its defense, I will say that if Jordan had been a dude, I suspect a lot less people would’ve complained about the realism because audiences have been trained to expect Heroic Male Action, no matter if it makes sense or not. Also, there is, admittedly, something pretty empowering about watching our two heroines repeatedly save one another and kick the shit out of Bobo the Serial Killer.

Still, when Jordan’s boss (Roma Maffia) tells her that her part in this unfolding drama is over, like, there’s actually something really compelling about that. How exciting would it have been if Jordan did just have to go home, and Casey, using something that Jordan taught her, kills her abductor and rescues herself? There could even be an awesome Powell-McClane meet-up moment at the end. I’d be really into that. But we don’t go that way, and worse, after our Empowering Beatdown of Bobo, The Call goes for a completely dumb and “edgy” twist where, instead of calling the cops, the ladies decide to tie up our bad guy and leave him to starve to death, which, like, look, I’m all about dark turns and vengeance stories, but the twist comes out of left field. It’s totally unsupported, and I just don’t buy it from either character at this point. It’s a hugely disappointing ending for a movie that, up till that last act, really wasn’t so bad at all.

*I couldn’t be bothered to look up the character’s name, but the actor, Michael Eklund, plays Bobo in Wynonna Earp, so Bobo the Serial Killer he became. It is, of course, another excellent band name.

Event Horizon

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Vanilla

I watched this for the first time about nine years ago with my friend Denise, and until just now, I’d totally forgotten that I’d reviewed it before. (God, it’s so painful to read early reviews, both for writing skill and for shit I just wouldn’t say now. I still have high school journals I fear looking at.) Many of my general impressions are the same: fun, cheesy, gory SF in space. I like the movie, despite (or possibly because of) its flaws, like shitty mid-90’s CGI, occasional poor acting, excessive slow motion, etc. Though I do still wish we got more time with all our characters being properly tormented by their hell visions. Also, more time with Starck, who I like better this go-around but has very little to do, possibly because they cut some whole romantic arc between her and Miller.

I think my biggest takeaway this time is that Sam Neill’s character just doesn’t really work for me. Everybody starts hallucinating terrible shit, yeah, but no one starts turning evil or even really seems to change, personality-wise, because of it; no one, that is, except Dr. Weir (Neill). Which is weird because while he’s clearly an annoying, arrogant motherfucker, nothing he actually experiences really lends itself to this type of character arc. Like, the whole sad backstory of how his wife killed herself because he worked too much, or something? Yeah, it’s terrible, but at least I’d get it if Dr. Weir thought his dead wife was in the Hell Dimension and he was determined to find her, even if it killed everyone else. I’d get that. But instead, Weir quickly descends into villainous madness, you know, Because. And the whole backstory mostly seems to be an excuse for irrelevant creepy imagery and the opportunity to see Dead Wife’s boobs, which, uh, yay?

I have a surprising amount of nostalgia for this movie, considering that I didn’t see it until roughly fifteen years after its initial release, but I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing a remake now, maybe one that differentiated itself with not just better effects but a different tone: a little less cheese, a little more atmosphere.

Ready or Not

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: actual goddamn movie theater
Spoilers: Not this time (unless you look at the tags)
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed the hell out of this. As I already mentioned on my various social media accounts, Ready or Not is the most recent example of what’s swiftly becoming one of my favorite sub-genres of horror: “Welcome to the Family. Here There Be Bloodshed.” (There’s probably a more succinct, less pirate-y name for said sub-genre, but this is what I’ve got right now.) There are some definite You’re Next vibes here, of course–much with the Feels and dysfunctional family dynamics couched between all the comedy and gore–but there are differences, too, and not just plot ones. The jokes in You’re Next are less overt, I think; the horror played more straight. Meanwhile, Ready or Not is campier, but it’s smart, purposeful camp–not to mention, it’s just a really fun spin on that whole “The Most Dangerous Game” type of horror story.

I do have quibbles, of course, but they are very few and relatively minor and I can’t really discuss them without spoilers. Suffice it to say, they don’t take away from what I love about the film: great dialogue, delightful characters, and an utterly brilliant ensemble cast. Kristian Brunn and Melanie Scrofano (from Orphan Black and Wynonna Earp, respectively) are hilarious, as is Nicky Guadagni as Aunt Helene. I would cosplay her in a goddamn heartbeat; she is–as I’m sure many people have already pointed out–one Big Ass Mood. Henry Czerny was just born to play the rich asshole patriarch of this family, while Andie MacDowell is a lot of fun as his considerably more practical and competent wife. Adam Brody fucking excels at tragicomedy, like, I definitely wanna see more of this from him. And Samara Weaving just shines as Grace, who is funny and real and a terrific Final Girl. Weaving’s performance really stands out here, which–considering just how good this cast is–is all the more impressive.

I keep seeing reviews that stress how this movie isn’t anything new or original, even though it’s fun, and like . . . maybe, I guess? And if it’s not your thing, then it’s not your thing, and that’s totally okay. But while it’s always exciting when a film truly breaks the mold, not every movie has to be the next Get Out, you know? Besides, making a movie like this and making it well are two very different things. Tone is difficult. Balancing violence, Feels, and laughter is hard work. You really have to thread that needle, and, IMO, Ready or Not does a pretty great job with it.

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“Why Is There A Watermelon There?”

It’s the final week of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon and, coincidentally, my last week before vacation. Which means you probably won’t see me around much for a little while. Before I go, though, I have my second (and final) WaT reward essay to share. While last week we discussed John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (a film where Satan is a bunch of green goo in a vat, and bugs are fucking everywhere), today we’ll be shifting gears to talk about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a film where a brain surgeon/comic book hero/test pilot/rock star/physicist saves the world with his buddies, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, from hostile aliens.

My friends, this movie is an experience.

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“Say Goodbye To Classical Reality.”

I have something of a hit-and-miss relationship with John Carpenter’s work. I adore The Thing. I like Big Trouble in Little China. Escape from New York is enjoyable enough, but ultimately, I liked Snake Plissken more than the actual movie itself. Halloween is a classic that I don’t love nearly as much as I’m supposed to, and The Fog, unfortunately, really didn’t much for me. All I remember about Vampires is that it was goddamn dreadful.

Today–as my first reward essay for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon–we’ll be discussing John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which, I can tell you right now, is not destined to be one of my favorites. But there are aspects of this movie that I find really intriguing.

Let’s talk about them, shall we?

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World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “Mirror, Mirror”

People. Compatriots. Fellow nerds across the galaxy. I am extremely pleased to report that we have officially hit one of the most iconic Trek episodes of all time, the episode that first introduced us to the Mirror Verse and–more importantly–Spock’s Beard of Evil. This is the episode that actually created the whole Evil Counterparts Have Goatees trope. This, my friends, is television history.

It also happens to be one of my favorite TOS episodes to date.

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Triple Scoop Reviews: A Wrinkle in Time, Kong: Skull Island, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A Wrinkle In Time

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Vanilla

I absolutely fell in love with A Wrinkle in Time when I was eleven, but it’s not a particularly easy story to adapt. Like, it’s a SFF children’s book from the early 1960’s that’s heavy on the Christianity, complicated mathematics, weird aliens, and Love; it’s peculiar, is what I’m getting at, and when it comes to kids movies, I feel like Hollywood is often afraid of any real peculiarity. The 2003 TV film adaptation is particularly generic, just utterly lifeless. Ava DuVernay’s 2018 film is, thankfully, a billion times better than that, but I do think it has some issues. Pacing, for one (Charles Wallace’s possession goes far too fast for my liking), but more importantly, I find the movie both visually and tonally disjointed, almost like two different adaptations being sewn together. Neither is bad, exactly, but together, I don’t think they work nearly as well as they could.

For instance, at several points, A Wrinkle in Time does look and sound like what I’d expect from a more generic fantasy film aimed at kids. Some of the dialogue is very on the nose, particularly in regards to love–although considering the source material, that’s not exactly surprising. (This is very much a Power of Love story.) Some of the CGI isn’t great, particularly when Mrs. Whatsit turns into a giant flying leaf-thing, and that whole filler flying sequence with the kids? I don’t know, it feels very . . . expected? Obligatory? I wasn’t crazy about the scene where Meg and Calvin run from the tornado-earthquake thing, either, although I do love that Meg’s the one who figures out how to survive. Also, Mrs. Which’s makeup and especially eyebrows strike me as comical, but, like, not in a good way? (Admittedly, that could just be personal taste, and happily, I have nothing but positive things to say about Mrs. Who’s hair and costumes. They are delightful.)

The thing is, I was okay with most of that because this is a kids movie, and it’s supposed to appeal to them, not my cranky ass old self–but then there are these gorgeous scenes that feel much more sophisticated, like when Meg uses Mrs. Who’s glasses to find her way to the invisible staircase or when Meg finally successfully tessers home. It’s not that these scenes are inappropriate for a kids movie, far from it. But they definitely feel like they belong in a different one: there are these incredibly compelling moments, both visually and narratively, but they feel extremely disconnected when compared to scenes like Kids Whee Around Whilst Atop Lousy CGI Creature.

I do think many of the modern updates and source material deviations work quite well. Updating Mrs. Who’s Big Book of Quotations to include Hamilton is a particularly inspired choice. (And pretty cool for me, personally, as I’d literally just seen the play for the very first time that night.) I miss Aunt Beast, of course, but I completely understand the exclusion of Sandy and Dennys. It’s also pretty great that the Murrays are a multiracial family, and that Meg–brilliant and angry and caring and insecure–is a very fully realized protagonist whose ethnicity is always a part of her characterization but never the only defining factor. I love watching her progress from someone who doesn’t like herself to someone who can acknowledge her strengths and flaws, who can stand up and say she’s worthy of love. My personal favorite microcosm of this is watching Meg finally accept a compliment about her hair. It’s a wonderfully empowering moment, and if I think that as an adult white woman, I can’t imagine how much it might mean to a young black girl.

Storm Reid is excellent in the role: the scene where she first reunites with Chris Pine–also excellent–is particularly well done. I enjoy Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon, too, although 11-Year-Old Carlie is a bit disappointed with how Mrs. Whatsit’s attitude towards Meg has become so disapproving that it borders on adversarial, like, no, she’s nice; she’s a self-sacrificing, exploded star! (This is exactly the sort of thing I mean about Hollywood eliminating weirdness.) Thematically, though, the switch-up definitely works for this particular adaptation, even if it gets a bit repetitive for my tastes.

All in all, I like A Wrinkle in Time and suspect I would’ve loved it as a kid, which is obviously the most important thing. I just can’t shake the feeling that overall, it’s a B movie which easily, easily could have been an A.

Kong: Skull Island

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Strawberry

So, this was okay. I might’ve liked it more if I had some nostalgia to pull from, but I didn’t grow up watching any of the King Kong movies. As is, I think this one has a great cast and a strong start but a much weaker second half.

What delighted me about Skull Island is that, initially, it almost felt like a heist movie. You know, it had that whole “let’s get the crew together” segment where we’re introduced to all our main players–and a surprising number of them really felt like characters who could easily serve as protagonists. Like, Corey Hawkins is not just the lead scientist but also our introduction to the main story. Tom Hiddleston is the smooth, ex-military tracker extraordinaire. (And, you know. Tom Hiddleston.) Brie Larson is, well, the Girl (she’s a photojournalist and spunky!), while Toby Kebbel is easily the most well-drawn of the good guy soldiers, the only one who doesn’t feel like a red shirt waiting to happen. It’s fun because it really gives you a sense of “oh shit, who’s gonna make it out of this alive,” which doesn’t always happen with action movies.

And some of the action itself is pretty great. The scene where King Kong just starts killing the shit out of the helicopters left and right is crazy fun. There’s a lot of amusing dialogue, mostly from those soldiers I mentioned, and even the blatant implausibility of this island is kinda delightful. Like, an absolutely ludicrous storm-shield? Sure, why not?

But Skull Island heavily starts falling apart for me as soon as John C. Reilly comes into the picture. Which bums me out because I like Reilly in plenty of things, but the choice here to play this traumatized WWII pilot who’s been stuck on this island for almost 30 years as “hilariously loopy” is, IMO, a pretty poor one. Another poor choice is killing the Japanese pilot offscreen so that only the white dude gets to speak Japanese and wield a katana. Like, come on, dudes. It doesn’t help that the indigenous, non-white people who live on this island don’t talk, like, at all; instead, it’s Reilly’s character who provides all the exposition, which a) not great, and b) is way too lengthy. All the time we spend on this guy is time I’d rather be spending on the other less frustrating characters.

Because that’s my other big problem here: after such a promising start, most of the cast is stuck with almost nothing to do. Killing off Toby Kebbel so early could work–like, shit, I expected him to make it to the third act, at least–but then Corey Hawkins completely fades away into the background, leaving us with only Hiddleston and Larson as our protagonists, and they are Nilla Wafer bland, like, the script just gives them nothing. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson’s turn to the Ahab Dark Side is . . . fine, I guess, but what could’ve been a good-if-expected arc ends up so damn cheesy, particularly considering the many, many slow-mo shots of his Vengeance Eyes.

A few more random notes:

A. Seriously, the slow-mo in this movie is ridiculous. I outright laughed when I definitely wasn’t supposed to.

B. A lot of this music is my jam, but man, this is a soundtrack that really, really wants you to remember this movie is set in the 1970’s. Honestly, I think the only surprise here is that Edwin Starr’s “War” doesn’t pop up.

C. Brie Larson’s character may be a walking Nilla Wafer with a camera, but boy, does she have some of the best reaction faces while King Kong is murdering all the helicopters. Side note: you can always tell if a helicopter will explode upon crashing based on which cast members are sitting inside it.

D. Finally, one positive thing I will say about Skull Island is that a few characters live who I definitely thought were toast. Three of the soldiers (the young guy, the funny guy, and Pillboi from The Good Place) all make it, as well as Corey Hawkins and the Asian biologist/only other woman on the expedition. (It’s a pretty minor win, though, considering how little she actually does in this movie.) Shea Whigham, sadly, does not, because I don’t think he’s ever survived anything I’ve seen him in. (His death is especially sad here, since he goes for a self-sacrifice moment that 100% fails to work.) And Marc Evan Jackson–also from The Good Place–was clearly doomed for death the moment he expressed his shock that famous photojournalist Mason Weaver was, gasp, a woman–but even he managed to surprise me by just how ludicrously dumb his death was, like, rather than go with Tom Hiddleston’s group trying to get off the island, he instead goes with the soldiers who are planning to directly confront King Kong. Like, what? What? WHAT?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Only mild ones
Grade: Chocolate

Yes, I have finally watched Into the Spider-Verse, and loved it, thank God. I did not want to be the asshole writing about what a letdown it was. ItSV is funny and clever and moving without ever being cloying. It was pretty awesome to finally get a Spider-Man movie not starring Peter Parker, and of course, we got several Spider-Man iterations here: Gwen Stacey is fun, and Peter B. Parker and Spider-Man Noir just crack me up. (Spider-Ham is amusing, too, in a cracktastic, “wow, you really went there” sort of way.) But Miles Morales, especially, just makes for a great lead, not to mention it’s pretty cool to hear him speak Spanish while just going about his day. With the exception of Xhosa in Black Panther, I feel like it’s rare to hear superheroes on the big screen speak anything other than English. Fictional alien languages, sure, but the second most commonly spoken language in this country? Not so much.

My only real problem with this movie is the barrage of tubby jokes at Peter B. Parker’s expense. I don’t know that it bothers me as much as Fat Thor in Endgame, but I’m honestly not sure why: the basic joke, after all (a hero gains a bunch of weight after his life goes to shit, and everyone cracks wise about it for the next two hours), is pretty much the same. Is it because this is a cartoon, a medium where I’ve just become numb to the rampant fat phobia? Is it because I didn’t see this in theater with a bunch of strangers chuckling around me while I tried to melt into my chair? Or am I simply giving Into the Spider-Verse a little more leeway because I just like the film more? One way or another, though, I was disappointed with this aspect of the film.

Other than that, I really loved this movie. The animation, of course, is just outstanding, imaginative and innovative and so, so colorful. And there were all these little moments I really enjoyed, like the scene where Miles gets ready to jump off a high-rise, then abruptly runs downstairs and finds a much shorter building to practice from? That shit cracked me up. I thought the scene where Miles’s Dad talks to him through his bedroom door was well-done, too, not to mention all the various “get up” moments. And, of course, the whole soundtrack, up to and very much including “Spidey-Bells (A Hero’s Lament).”

It is my favorite. Chris Pine is kinda my favorite. I have listened to this song, like, A LOT.

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The Clarion West Write-a-Thon 2019

It’s that time of the year again: I’ll be participating in Clarion West’s Write-a-Thon for the next six weeks. Well, five weeks. We’re already several days in now, and so far, it’s going pretty well.

Last summer, I began work on a project that I’ve been thinking about for, oh, I don’t know, a whole bunch of years now. It’s my “a group of amnesiacs wake up trapped together with a dead superhero” murder mystery–or, if you like comp titles: Six Wakes meets Justice League, with a healthy dose of philosophy a la The Good Place. I had a really great time working on it last year, too, but unfortunately, I had to set the novel aside to focus on a higher priority project. One year, one novel rewrite, a couple short stories, and a few very important fanfics later, and I’m ready to begin work on said Amnesia Murder Mystery again.

So far, I’ve primarily gone over and reorganized all my notes. (I have lots of them. There was a Twitter question recently about your favorite part of the writing process. Mine has always been the “so, let’s play with this idea” and “ooh, but what IF” notes.) I’ve also reread everything I’ve written so far and sharpened up Chapter 1 a bit. I was really worried I’d have difficulty sinking back into this story after nearly a year away, but so far, my interest levels are still high.

While I normally post a regular weekly progress report here on MGB, I haven’t decided if I’m going to do that for this year’s Write-a-Thon. After all, I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll just end up repeating whatever the hell I wrote last year. I might post a few semi-regular updates, or maybe just talk about mysteries in general and what I find so compelling about them, particularly in regards to this project. Time will tell.

Either way, I’ve officially hit the part of the program where I ask for your hard-earned money. I participate annually in this fundraiser because I’m incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to go to Clarion West; it quite literally changed my life, giving me the tools to become a much stronger writer and introducing me to people who have become some of my closest friends. Any money I can raise that might help fund this program or allow another writer to attend feels like the very least I can do.

So. If you’re interested and able to donate to Clarion West, you can sponsor me HERE. There are some incentivized rewards for sponsors, like, I will recap and review an episode of your favorite TV show, or your least favorite TV show, or the TV show that has disappointed you the most bitterly. You could force me to hate-watch some terrible movie and analyze what, if anything, works about it. I could write a Genderbent Wednesday film essay for you, if that’s more your thing. Or I can simply help you discover your hidden mini super power. The choice is yours. Full details at the link.

If you’re interested in donating to Clarion West, but not so much my superhero-murder-shit, you can also browse all these other participants and read about their writing goals and incentives. And if the financials are tight and you feel your money is best spent on a non-writing cause, I totally get it: the world is a pretty terrible place right now. What’s happening at the border is particularly unconscionable, so if you haven’t already, may I suggest Raices? Your money will be going towards helping separated and detained families.

For now, I think, that’s all I have for you. Happy Friday, everyone!

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