Horror Bingo 2022: The Black Phone

Now that October is upon us, Horror Bingo has officially begun! (Don’t know what Horror Bingo is? Find out here—and join in, if you’re interested in playing! It’s my very favorite kind of entertainment: a little spooky and deeply low stakes.)

While I typically review three movies at a time, I’ve decided to go one by one again this year. Which means that today we’re just gonna focus on our first film, our free space movie: The Black Phone.

You Are Fabulous Ethan Hawke GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

You know, this was a pretty solid way to get the Halloween season started.

Continue reading

World’s Worst Trekkie: Elaan of Troyius, Whom Gods Destroy, and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Listen, I meant what I said however many months ago: I will finish TOS this year. It might not happen until the very last week of 2022—October, undoubtedly, will be swallowed whole by horror movies—but it WILL happen.

So. Let’s dive back in, shall we?

“Elaan of Troyius”

Oh, boy. Okay. The Enterprise is on an escort mission. They’re transporting Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, to the planet Troyius, where she is to marry their ruler and create peace between their two worlds. Only one problem: Elaan doesn’t want to get married and live on Troyius. She certainly doesn’t want the Troyian ambassador, Petri, to teach her their customs; in fact, when he enters her quarters without permission, she stabs him. (She’s hilariously nonchalant about it, too.) Since Elaan responds (somewhat) better to Kirk, he ends up trying to teach her courtesy and table manners. The lessons go, uh. Well, we’ll come back to that. What’s important here is that Elaan cries on him, which isn’t great because her tears are a biochemical love potion. Meanwhile, Klingons are trying to blow up the Enterprise. Again, not great, as the ship has been sabotaged and needs dilithium crystals to escape. Thankfully, Elaan is wearing dilithium crystals: her necklace is made out of them. Turns out, these crystals are common stones around here, which is why the Klingons are so invested in gaining control of this territory. The Enterprise neutralizes the Klingon threat, Elaan ultimately goes to Troyius, and Kirk conquers his love for Elaan with his love for the Enterprise, or some shit.

“Elaan of Troyius” is basically The Taming of the Shrew in space, and since I hate the ending of that play almost as much as I hate the ending of The Merchant of Venice . . . yeah, this wasn’t my favorite episode. There are some good things, like, the costumes are hysterical. Elaan has kind of a Cleopatra meets Leeloo thing going on, and her guards, well. Just look at these silly ass costumes. And I actually do like Elaan (France Nuyen from The Joy Luck Club). Yes, she’s literally a royal pain in the ass, but she’s also doing her best to get out of an extremely shitty situation where she has to leave not only her home but her entire home world behind to marry her enemy and live in a culture that’s completely antithetical to her own. If this story had a happier ending, Elaan would take off with the Klingons, where she’d obviously thrive; instead, she abruptly makes peace with her situation for no clear reason that I can see and goes off to live a presumably miserable existence with her new husband. I don’t necessarily mind that she does this, like, it’s her duty, it’s for the good of her people, etc. But the story doesn’t bother to present any real turning point in her arc. Elaan just changes her mind because, well. Cause the episode is about to end.

And Jesus, the casual misogyny and ethnocentric bullshit in this one. Like, Kirk supposedly explaining Troian customs to Elaan by yelling at her about (white, Western) human table manners: using silverware, eating food off the plate, not drinking straight from the bottle, etc. He calls her both an “uncivilized savage” and a “vicious child in a woman’s body.” He threatens to spank her and actually does slap her—which, sure, she slapped him first, but you kind of hope that a Starfleet captain could manage to display authority without resorting to physical violence. Kirk also has these wise words to offer Spock: “The women on your planet are logical. That’s the only planet in this galaxy that can make that claim.”

For real. Fuck this guy.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, no doubt.

MVP: France Nuyen, without question. I really do enjoy her performance here.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: “So, Ambassador Petri is going to recover. That is too bad.”

“Whom Gods Destroy”

Angry Star Trek GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Kirk and Spock beam down to an asylum for the criminally and incurably insane on Elba II, a planet with an atmosphere that’s poisonous to humans. They’re bringing medicines that might be able to cure insanity once and for all; unfortunately, one patient, Captain Garth (AKA, Lord Garth), a former Starfleet captain and one of Kirk’s many heroes, has taken over the place, imprisoning the warden (Keye Luke) and quickly capturing Kirk and Spock. Garth almost escapes a few times because he has, er, learned how to shapeshift? Thankfully, though, Scotty isn’t allowed to beam anyone up unless they give the proper chess-themed countersign. (It’s a decent idea, honestly, but it’d make a lot more sense if one, Kirk had actual reason to suspect shapeshifters here, and two, if anyone on this ship had ever thought to use a secret password before—or, presumably, ever again.) Roughly 45 minutes of shenanigans later, Kirk and Garth-Kirk battle it out, Spock finally realizes which is which, and Garth gets the new medicine and seems to regain some lucidity. Uh. Folks? Did Trek just . . . cure all mental illness wholesale?

Honestly, I did have a pretty fun time watching this one. If you enjoy William Shatner’s particular brand of overacting, Garth-Kirk’s temper tantrum alone is well worth the price of admission. But a lot of the dialogue is genuinely funny, too. I enjoy Steve Ihnat as Garth, and I like his girlfriend Marta (Yvonne Craig, AKA, Batgirl), an Orion patient who boldly and hilariously takes credit for Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18.” Marta also attempts to seduce Kirk before quickly trying to stab him, which is frankly something I wish more of Kirk’s ladies would do on this show. (I wonder if Marta and Elaan might get along.) And yes, there’s a sexy dance because of course there’s a sexy dance, but I’m mildly amused that Spock, predictably unmoved, is reminded of a Vulcan children’s dance while watching it. (He does specify the children themselves are not usually so “coordinated.”) There are, I’m sure, a lot of creepy, terrible jokes that can be made here, but I’m genuinely interested in exploring things that are considered obviously sexy by (many) humans, but aren’t considered even remotely sexy by non-humans.

Still, this episode is something of a hot mess. Lots of silly or lazy writing, like the aforementioned password, Garth’s very random shapeshifting abilities, and especially Spock’s inability to tell which Kirk is the real Kirk. Cause one, bullshit, sir. Spock could obviously come up with questions that only Kirk would be able to answer. And two, Spock doesn’t even need to ask questions. He could just stun both dudes, and the problem would immediately be solved. There’s also the subject matter itself, which, admittedly, isn’t nearly as offensive as I’d feared. Garth’s delusional megalomania is played for laughs, but it somehow doesn’t feel as gross as I’d expected, and Kirk does tell Garth that his mental illness isn’t his fault, which is surprisingly progressive. That being said, uh, we’re keeping these people in tiny cells on a planet thats atmosphere is poison; clearly, we’re not that progressive. And while it isn’t Garth’s fault that he’s sick, Kirk also says Garth’s not truly responsible for the terrible things he’s done, and . . . no, that’s not quite how responsibility works. Like, Garth murders Marta here;  he is, ultimately, responsible for that. I also feel like Garth’s mental illness would be more compelling if we got a deeper glimpse of past trauma or something that made his disease feel more character-oriented, rather than simply a plot obstacle. (Also? Garth can’t watch He-Man anymore because he says “Master of the Universe” way too often.) And seriously, DID TREK CURE INSANITY? Like, I have so many follow-up questions.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Garth did blow Marta up. (And not just with any bomb, mind you, but the most powerful explosive in the universe. Seriously, some silly ass writing in this episode.)

MVP: Marta, poor Marta. I will miss your stolen poetry and attempts at homicide.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: Oh, this is difficult. There really are several good quotes here. Kirk has a few nicely delivered lines, like when Garth proposes that Kirk serve as a human sacrifice, and he’s like, “No, I wouldn’t enjoy that at all.” Also, Spock being questioned about whether he and Kirk are brothers or not: “Kirk speaks somewhat figuratively and with undue emotion. However, what he says is logical, and I do, in fact, agree with it.” And of course, Garth telling Kirk, “You continue to resist. That was stupid of you.”

Still, I think I’m going to have to give this one to Marta, notorious poet thief:

“You wrote that?!”
“Yesterday, as a matter of fact.”
“It was written by an Earth man named Shakespeare a long time ago!”
“Which does not alter the fact that I wrote it again yesterday!”

“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”

Oh, no. We’ve hit this episode: TOS takes on racism.

The Enterprise rescues Lokai, a shuttle thief whose skin is black on the left side and white on the right. Then Bele (Frank Gorshin, AKA The Riddler), an alien cop whose skin is white on the left side and black on the right, pops up and demands that Kirk hand over Lokai and fly them back to their home planet. Lokai, himself, demands political asylum, and we quickly discover that Bele’s people once enslaved Lokai’s people, and even now Lokai’s people are still widely oppressed. Bele has apparently been hunting Lokai down for 50,000 years, so he’s pretty obsessed about it; when Kirk won’t do what he wants, Bele psychically takes over the ship and—eventually—gets them back to his world, only to discover that everyone there is dead, having annihilated one another. Despite this, Lokai and Bele are unable to let go of their hatred, so when Lokai escapes to the planet, Bele gives (hilariously pathetic) chase, and the Enterprise leaves them there, presumably to kill each other and/or die of exhaustion.

So. This is not a subtle episode. Subtlety wants absolutely nothing to do with this clunky ass episode. That being said, I like some of it. I enjoy the bridge crew’s quiet reactions when Kirk orders the self-destruct sequence. Frank Gorshin’s performance, for the most part, is really solid throughout—except that chase scene, which I think is supposed to indicate a man on the verge of emotional and physical collapse, but which is really just the silliest and saddest running I’ve ever seen in my life. I like how Spock and Kirk are completely baffled when they discover the cause of this entire racial divide, and Bele is just as baffled (not to mention indignant) to realize that they don’t see any meaningful difference between him and Lokai. And—with serious caveats—the downbeat ending works for me, as I assumed this would be the episode where Star Trek handily solves racism in 50 minutes. I think this works better.

That being said. Some of my problems are plot related, like, why is Bele able to psychically steer the ship but can’t disrupt the self-destruct sequence? That seems silly. Also, 50,000 years? No. That’s ridiculous. That is too much. How long do these guys even live? How often did they think, ‘Hey, it’s been 40,000 years. Maybe I should check in and make sure everyone back home is still alive.’ Also bizarre: our heroes are weirdly startled by Lokai’s two-toned skin, to the point that they decide he must be a genetic mutant; Bones even refers to Lokai as “anyone or anything,” like this guy is the most unfathomable being they’ve ever come across, like this isn’t the crew who met Mother Fucking Horta. Acting like Lokai is some inexplicable creature feels like an off-putting way to begin an episode where all our heroes have long since defeated racism. (Which is hard to swallow, too, like, I genuinely enjoy that Star Trek is an aspirational show. Still, exchanges like this one—There was persecution on Earth once. I remember reading about it in my history class/Yes, but it happened way back in the twentieth century. There’s no such primitive thinking today—are always going to be hard to take seriously, partially because that’s not even true in canon—we’ve definitely had racist crew members—and partially because racism is a thing of the past is how many white people talk right now.)

But maybe my biggest problem with this episode is that it’s framed as a “both sides” racism story. Like I said, the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle here: Bele’s people are white people and Lokai’s people are Black. Bele’s people are in the wrong—because when it comes to slavery and brutal systematic oppression—white people are in the wrong. Like, pretty unequivocally. But TOS doesn’t explore that; what it does, instead, is present Lokai and Bele as equally irrational people consumed by hatred. Consider the scene where Lokai is explaining his behavior and the current living situation of his people. You’d think this would be a moving speech, emotional; instead, the scene has a weirdly sinister edge. We barely see Lokai as he speaks; mostly, he’s depicted as a shadowy presence. The scene is primarily from Spock’s POV, actually, as he eavesdrops outside. We even get, like, danger, Will Robinson, danger music, as if Lokai is a serious threat who might brainwash the crew and/or incite them into mutiny and rebellion. (Also, and this is neither here nor there, but why does Lokai know that racist persecution apparently ended on Earth in the 20th century. Honest to God.) It’s also insinuated that Lokai lets people die for him, rather than face danger himself—a theory of which we’ve seen literally zero evidence for. And the whole ending where Kirk urges Lokai and Bele to give up their hate, as if their hate is equal, as if they both have genuine cause to despise one other and will only be free once they let go of their rage . . . like, this is a totally solid ending for some other episode about prejudice, but for one that’s so clearly about white and Black people in 1960’s America? Yeah, I’m not so convinced on that.

Chief Asshat: Bele, obviously

MVP: Frank Gorshin, continuing the winning streak of Batman alums.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

“All that matters to them is their hate.”
“Do you suppose that’s all they ever had, sir?”
“No . . . but that’s all they have left.”

Triple Scoop Review: Big Match, Inseparable Bros, and The Villainess

Big Match

Year: 2014
Director: Choi Ho
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Viki
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Vanilla

Big Match is enjoyable, pretty light-hearted fare. Once again, Lee Jung Jae is playing a dude trapped in a high stakes game where rich assholes bet money on if he survives; unlike Squid Game, however, Choi Ik Ho (Lee) isn’t playing various deadly children’s games. Instead, he’s a hothead MMA fighter forced to complete various dangerous tasks (escape the police, attack a bunch of gangsters, sing karaoke, etc.) if he wants to see his brother alive again. Shin Ha Kyun, who I’ve been pretty much obsessed with since watching Beyond Evil, plays the villainous mastermind Ace, and his hair in this movie is just . . . it is art. It is perfection itself. If I owned a curling iron, or hair spray, and actually knew how to do anything with my hair, I would 100% style it this way. His whole aesthetic in this film is just . . . *chef’s kiss.*

But yes, yes, the movie itself. Big Match is fun and silly—there are zero tonal similarities between this and Squid Game—and never takes itself too seriously. My attention did start to drift, I don’t know, maybe the last 20-25 minutes of the movie? And of course, it’s always hard whenever an actor I love is playing the villain, since I just end up rooting for them the whole time, particularly since I never did care very much about Ik Ho. (I do feel sorry for his brother, though, poor dude.) Still, I had a decent time watching this. Shin Ha Kyun is campy and petulant and delightful, and it’s fun to see Lee Jung Jae as this buff martial arts dude. I was both surprised and pleased to see Choi Woo Shik pop up, and I enjoyed Ra Mi Ran as Ik Ho’s sister-in-law, Hyung Soo. If you’re in the mood for an easy watch with ridiculous action scenes and fantastic hair, you could probably do worse than Big Match.

Inseparable Bros

Year: 2019
Director: Yook Sang Hyo
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Viki
Spoilers: Some, yes
Grade: Chocolate

. . . LOL, I’m not at all convinced that this trailer does a great job establishing the overall tone of this movie. Like, parts of the film are definitely comedic, but . . . yeah, this isn’t quite it. Also, fuck it, this whole Triple Scoop Review is just gonna be dedicated to Shin Ha Kyun, I guess, because I’ll apparently watch all kinds of shit that I wouldn’t normally sign up for so long as he’s in it. Case in point: Inseparable Bros, which—in fairness—I didn’t watch solely for Shin Ha Kyun. I also wanted to see Lee Kwang Soo and Esom, too. But yeah. My wheelhouse is pretty firmly horror/fantasy/SF/action/mystery. I’m not saying I never venture out of these genres, but inspirational comedy-dramas, particularly ones based on true events, are really not my jam. And a story about two good friends—a very intelligent quadriplegic man and a sweet swimmer with intellectual disabilities—who’ve closely relied on one another for years . . . like, Jesus, I already watched The Mighty, okay? I know where you’re going with this, and my soul’s not in the fucking mood. (I feel the way about tearjerkers that some people feel about horror movies: why would you willingly do that to yourself, why?)

That all being said . . . I actually did enjoy this one.  It helps that while I did get a tiny bit emotional once or twice (because there are sad moments, and/or because I’m a weepy mess of a person), it wasn’t quite the soul crushing tragedy that I’d anticipated. And the movie didn’t feel too, like, cringeworthy inspiration porn, either? (Though as a non-disabled person, I could very well be missing things here.) To me, the focus, really felt like it was on Se Ha and Dong Goo’s relationship, rather than just some, IDK, triumphant underdog story that makes able-bodied people feel good about themselves?

The cast is excellent: Shin Ha Kyun and Lee Kwang Soo both give really solid performances as Se Ha and Dong Goo, respectively, and they have a great rapport. I like Esom in this, too, although I do feel like her character is a bit off balance with the rest of the story; I wish she either had less screen time or a stronger arc. (Although I do like that this isn’t a romance and that any jealousy aspects are minimal. Also, I enjoy the mildly antagonistic friendship between her character and Se Ha.) I was delighted to see other familiar faces in this movie, too: Kwon Hae Hyo, Kil Hae Yeon, Ahn Ji Ho, and Park Chul Min. Ahn Ji Ho and Kim Hyun Bin are both really well cast as Young Se Ha and Young Dong Goo, and despite limited screen time, I really enjoyed Kwon Hae Hyo as Father Park as well.

Inseparable Bros. is kind of a simple story and there aren’t any big surprises except that—SPOILERS—our leads both live! But overall, I think it’s told pretty well: I like Se Ha’s reserve and crankiness, I like Dong Goo’s complicated relationship with his mother, and I think a couple of the flashbacks near the end of the film are used quite nicely. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that I, notably cold of heart, enjoyed a heartwarming dramedy, but there you have it. Sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves.

The Villainess

Year: 2017
Director: Jung Byung Gil
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, absolutely
Grade: Vanilla

Hm. You know, I have mixed feelings on this one, and I’m still trying to sort them out. The Villainess has some serious La Femme Nikita vibes (with a few parts that strongly reminded me of Kill Bill), and obviously, I’m a sucker for badass assassins and revenge flicks. I generally enjoyed all the frenetic action scenes. There are one or two pretty brutal surprises. I’m obsessed with the shot of Sook Hee in a wedding dress holding a sniper rifle. And the cast is pretty great, too. I enjoy Kim Ok Bin as Sook Hee, our assassin protagonist whose life just gets increasingly more and more tragic. Kim Seo Hyung is great as Kwon Sook, the chief of the spy agency who recruits Sook Hee. (I loved Kim Seo Hyung in Nobody Knows; this woman was just born to play a mega cool badass in charge.) Obviously, I continue to like Shin Ha Kyun; motherfucker just exudes charisma in this film, like, hot damn. He is one insanely cold-hearted (and sexy) bastard here. And it was nice to see a couple of actors I didn’t expect: Sung Joon (who I enjoyed in White Christmas) plays Hyun Soo, a spy who falls in love with Sook Hee, and Park Chul Min pops up for the second time this week, this time playing Sook Hee’s father.

Still . . . I feel like something’s missing here, and I’m trying to decide exactly what that is. I saw a lot of reviews arguing that The Villainess has second act problems, and . . . yeah, I probably wouldn’t disagree with that. In a way, I feel like this movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be about—or maybe it does know but never quite supports the thesis? Like, okay. By the end of the film, Sook Hee has lost everything—her child, her husband, her (admittedly not great) spy/assassin job—and all she has to show for it are a bunch of dead bodies (including the body of the man who ruined her life) and yet another arrest for mass murder. That, I think, is supposed to be the tragedy here: Sook Hee could (possibly) have had the normal life she longed for, but her obsession with revenge (and with Joong Sang, himself) ruins any chance of that. Kwon Sook tells her as much shortly before Hyun Soo and Eun Hye are murdered, and Joong Sang tells Sook Hee that the real pain will begin once she kills him—which she does, giving way to the last shot of the film, which (in true cycle of violence style) echoes the beginning of the movie, with Sook Hee violently grinning as she’s arrested.

Of course, “revenge destroys you and everyone around you” is not the most original moral, as far as these things go, but that’s not really my problem here. I think my bigger problem is that I never quite buy that Sook Hee does long to have this normal life. We’re told she does, but . . . I don’t know, I never quite felt it. Maybe I would have if we got more into her acting career, or if we spent more time with her daughter, or if I ever bought her romance with Hyun Soo—but I never did. The actors are both fine separately, but I’m not convinced they have much chemistry together—frankly, I think Kim Ok Bin has the best chemistry with Kim Seo Hyung—and while I think Hyun Soo is supposed to come off as an awkward but ultimately good-hearted spy stuck between a rock and a hard place, he mostly struck me as a Nice Guy creeper, and I spent half the film chanting for his death. I totally buy Hyun Soo’s thing for Sook Hee, but I never quite buy her thing for him, and maybe because of that—because Sook Hee never seems all that invested in her relationship or her career or really becoming this new person who puts her old life behind her—I don’t think the tragic arc hits nearly as hard as it could—even though they kill off her small, adorable child, which I will admit surprised me. Likewise, I don’t think Sook Hee’s implied descent into villainy makes for a particularly strong or satisfying conclusion, either. It’s totally a cool shot, but the emotion doesn’t linger. Which . . . yeah, might be how I feel about the movie as a whole. I could totally watch it again, didn’t have a bad time at all, but was also definitely left with the impression that it could have been so much better with a stronger script.

Triple Scoop Review: Green For Danger, Free Guy, and The Lost City

LOL, I started writing up reviews for these movies ages ago, and then got sidetracked with other projects, travel, etc., and just sorta . . . forgot about them? Whoops.

Anyway, here are some movies I watched, like, probably back in May or something!

Green For Danger

Year: 1946
Director: Sidney Gilliat
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service – ScreenPix
Spoilers: Not really, no
Grade: Chocolate

Before I cancelled my free trial ScreenPix subscription—because dudes, I have way too many channels as it is—I wanted to check out this 1946 British whodunit. I’m glad I did, too, because it’s an awful lot of fun. Green For Danger is apparently based on a novel of the same name by Christianna Brand, and it’s set at an English hospital during World War II. A patient mysteriously dies on the operating table, and when the person who claims it was murder is also very quickly murdered, Inspector Cockrill is sent to investigate.

The basic setup is a lot of fun because we’re told a few things right from the start: there are six people at the scene of the first murder, two of those six will die, and one of those six is the killer. And I mean. You’ve already got me right there because I just adore this kind of shit, trying to guess which of our suspects will die, who is the killer, etc. I really enjoy the hospital setting, and the script is an awful lot of fun, too, particularly if you, like me, also love that dry and snappy British humor. The banter back and forth between Inspector Cockrill and Mr. Eden, for instance, or Mr. Eden and Nurse Woods is just fantastic.

The solution to the mystery is fine—not awful, not great, just sort of there. There are fun suspects to choose from and shadiness which abounds, but probably not any twists or developments that are gonna break your brain with OMG. That being said, there is at least one surprise at the very end that I rarely see pop up in detective stories. Also, the cast is spectacular, particularly Leo Genn as Mr. Eden (wait, surgeons are referred to as Mr. and not Dr. in England? That’s so weird) and Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill. Some great detectives are known for their fastidiousness, others for their aloof nature; Cockrill’s defining quality appears to be that he’s an impish little shit who loves riling his suspects up and watching the drama unfold. At one point, he all but eats popcorn as he watches two doctors come to blows, and it’s hysterical. In fact, I happily would’ve watched a whole series with this guy, and I’m a little disappointed that this is the only adaptation we got. Still, even on its own, Green For Danger was an awfully good time.

Free Guy

Im Up Good Morning GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2021
Director: Shawn Levy
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service – Disney Plus
Spoilers: Some, yes
Grade: Chocolate

I didn’t know much about this film going in, other than that Ryan Reynolds plays a video game NPC who becomes self-aware, but I’m really glad my sister convinced me to check it out. Free Guy is an awful lot of fun. It’s very Stranger Than Fiction meets The Lego Movie (not a bad combination), with a pretty delightful and charming cast who really pull the whole thing together. Ryan Reynolds is kinda tailor-made for Guy, of course, excelling in both quick-witted, breaking the fourth wall humor and being able to surprise you with sudden Feels. But I also really enjoy Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery, and Joe Keery. (NGL: Joe Keery  is at least 70% of the reason I watched the fourth season of Stranger Things; that, and I really thought it was the final season of Stranger Things. Goddamn it, show.)

Honestly, I’m not sure how much I have to say about this one. I know there were a bunch of moments that made me laugh, but fuck, I don’t remember them now. (Actually, I do remember one: “They don’t have thumbs, Phyllis. No thumbs!”) I really like that our designers acknowledge that they’ve created the first A.I. because I thought that was a neat development. I like that Guy doesn’t just wake up and become self aware because he sees, you know, some random attractive girl; it’s because Keys coded his love story into the game. I’m happy that a certain character survives.  I enjoyed the surprise cameos. (Though Alex Trebek was a bit sad. Threw me for a minute, too, since he passed back in 2020.) I honestly don’t have too much to complain about here.

Although I am mad about one thing: Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” It is played a LOT during this movie, which is a serious problem. Not for other people, mind, but definitely for me because that song always gets stuck in my head, Jesus Christ. It’s playing in my head now just because I typed the song title. (See also Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.” FFS, Mariah. Release my brain, I beg of you.)

The Lost City

Channing Tatum GIF by The Lost City - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2022
Director: Aaron Nee & Adam Nee
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Paramount Plus
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Vanilla

This is pretty cute, for the most part, although the romance between Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum doesn’t totally work for me. I want to be into it. They’re both very funny actors, and I’m 100% here for a grumpy/sweet romance with an older lady/younger dude. I genuinely like, too, that Alan is just totally into Loretta right from the start. He’s earnest and enthusiastic and not terribly bright; basically, Alan is the textbook definition of a himbo, and I think that’s neat. The thing is, Loretta is in a depressed funk at the beginning of this film. She’s still mourning her late husband and is extremely bitter about how her life has turned out, all of which is super valid. Actually, I quite like her whole arc. My problem is that Loretta takes her bitterness out on Alan a lot in this story,  and since Alan is basically a golden retriever personified, their supposedly cute banter mostly comes across as Loretta kicking a puppy  for half the movie. It does improve for me in the second half of the film (when Alan gets a bit more backbone, not to mention slightly cleverer and quippier dialogue), but by then, the damage is kinda done, at least for me.

Still, The Lost City is a pretty fun story with some solid LOL moments. I am, per usual, entirely charmed by Daniel Radcliffe. (Actually, the whole press tour has been pretty charming. I’ve watched way too many interviews with Radcliffe and Sandra Bullock riffing off one another.) Comedic villain is a good fit on him; I should really rewatch Now You See Me 2 at some point because I seem to remember both roles having a very similar energy. I also enjoyed Brad Pitt’s small role in this film, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph made me laugh a lot, too, although I’m still not entirely sure if Beth is Loretta’s. . .  editor? Publicist? Agent? Beth totally deserved her own B- romance storyline, I think. At the very least, she deserves so many drinks after going above and beyond to rescue Loretta. (I think she does get one, but still. ALL THE DRINKS.)

Someone oughta write another “romance novelist adventure romcom” so we can have a spiritual trilogy with this and Romancing the Stone. (I’m trying to think of who I want to cast. Ooh, maybe Ashley Nicole Black could write and star. She’s hilarious.) Also, I know I haven’t hit the novelist stage of my writing career yet, but something tells me that when I get there, this movie will not be an accurate representation of how it works. Alas. No sequins for Carlie.

Triple Scoop Review: Death on the Nile, The Batman, and Appointment With Death

Death on the Nile

Gal Gadot Love GIF by 20th Century Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2022
Director: Kenneth Branagh
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: YES, for both the film and the book
Grade: Rocky Road

I mean. It’s watchable?  It’s a little weird watching it, mind you, considering the public trainwreck of a cast, up to and including Possible Cannibal Armie Hammer. Still, I like Agatha Christie stories, and I’m always a sucker for a whodunit, so I didn’t have a bad time watching this, just, whew, some of the choices they make. Why?

Let’s begin with World War I and The Secret Tragic Mustache History of Mr. Hercule Poirot, a real sentence that I’m really saying right now. We get non-canonical flashbacks to our hero as a soldier, which is . . . fine, I guess, and see that Poirot is A) typically brilliant, B) too brilliant to become a farmer, which is, uh, apparently what he’s planning to do after the war? And C) clean-shaven, at least until he gets kinda blown up, and his nice fiancée suggests that he grows a mustache if he hates his facial scars so much. And, I mean. None of that’s awful. I probably wouldn’t blink twice at it in a non-Hercule Poirot story, but here it just feels so silly, like finally, AT LONG LAST, we learn the Secret History of the Ridiculous Mustache—a question that absolutely nobody was asking. (Also, at the end of the movie, Poirot shaves off his facial hair, which like, yay for acceptance of scars, but also . . . IDK, the Angst Beard has a long tradition in Hollywood, but the Angst Mustache is somehow just so much harder to take seriously?)

Anyway, what’s much worse is how Death on the Nile doubles down on one of my least favorite things about Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express: Poirot’s random dead fiancée, Katherine. The actress who plays Katherine is totally fine. But her tragic death is why Poirot, you know, Renounced Love, and became a great detective instead of a farmer, and how he can be so cold and removed and unfeeling, and ugh to all of this, especially this fucking line: “He told me how much he hoped you’d be happy one day, too. That you’d get tired of being just a pure cold detective. Be human instead.”

Cartoon Network Reaction S GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Look, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this. I know I’m tired of saying it. But it is VERY POSSIBLE to be both happy and human without romantic love in your life. And what’s funny is, I’m not even 100% against the idea of a Poirot Love Story, like, do I think that shit is necessary? Nope, not remotely. But I will say that—in one of the many, many deviations from the original text—Poirot and Salome (Sophie Okonedo) have this whole quiet, flirty thing where she’s all awesome and he’s kinda cutely awkward, and it actually does work for me? But Death on the Nile pushes so HARD on this idea that you’re not truly living without romantic love, and that bullshit is just annoying AF.

Other unexpected adaptational choices: killing off Buoc, a character who isn’t even in the original novel. Instead, he’s the comic relief from Murder on the Orient Express, and his death is both surprising and genuinely pretty sad. It’s funny because I did think Branagh was gonna change up the third victim here, but I was so sure it was going to be Annette Bening, not Tom Bateman. Buoc’s death is much more tragic, and on one hand, WAAAAH, but OTOH, I think this switch-up actually does play pretty well. Certainly, Poirot’s sorrow about his dead friend feels way more earned than it ever did about poor dead Katherine.

Death on the Nile is a bit hard to judge as a whodunit since I already know, well, whodunit. I do feel like it’s less rushed than Murder on the Orient Express, which is good . . . although it also takes quite a while before the murders begin, which is less good. The cast may have been a PR disaster, but they’re a decent bunch of actors, and I’m mildly amused by how almost everyone here is putting on a fake accent. (The American actors are playing English, the English actors are playing American or Belgian or French, etc.) Strongest players are probably Kenneth Branagh, Annette Bening, Tom Bateman, and Sophie Okonedo. (She’s the MVP for sure.)  Armie Hammer probably gets Worst Player, if only because, wow, I burst into laughter during his weepy scene, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be funny. If I hadn’t already known he was one of the bad guys, I definitely would’ve figured it out then.

Oh, this has gotten way too long. Some final random thoughts: A) JFC, the camera angles in this film have only gotten weirder, WHY, why are you doing this to me, Branagh? B) The CGI is also pretty terrible, like, that pyramid shot? Oh no. Oh, no. C) The sexy dancing in this movie seems incredibly forced to me, like, I am not always the best judge at what qualifies as steamy? But good Lord, this is just, like, lingering, awkward, faux-fucking on the dance floor. D) Some of the quippy dialogue is fun. I’m a simple girl, and I like a good quip. And E) I love, love, LOVE that Poirot straightens the dead woman’s foot. That might’ve been my favorite moment in the whole movie.

The Batman

Robert Pattinson Reaction GIF by The Batman - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2022
Director: Matt Reeves
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: VERY MUCH YES
Grade: Vanilla? Or, IDK. Vanilla-chocolate swirl, maybe?

TBH, I was kinda dreading watching The Batman, mostly because of the three hour runtime (superhero movies, when will you stop), but honestly? I was pretty entertained. Like, I wouldn’t call it the Batman film I’ve been waiting for my entire life or anything, but I had a good time watching it.

I like that The Batman is a slow burn mystery, that we really do get more of a detective story than any of the previous films. I like some of the dark humor (thumb drive, heh), and I’m utterly grateful that we skip the Crime Alley scene. I also enjoy how the film really commits to its whole emo noir aesthetic. (Holy shit, does Bruce lives in a gothic cathedral now? WTF.) Did those emo vibes occasionally make giggle? You’re damn right they did. I was absolutely grinning through Robert Pattinson’s noir VO (though, TBH, I think we could’ve cut that down just a bit) and definitely at Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” . . . but IDK, even though I couldn’t quite get through that with a straight face, it still worked for me, somehow, particularly with Pattinson as a younger, reclusive, moody AF Bruce Wayne. It felt fitting. I think there’s only one moment in the hospital where I just couldn’t quite buy him; otherwise, I like RP just fine as Batman.

Most of the cast is pretty solid, honestly: Jeffrey Wright feels instantly correct as Jim Gordon, Zoë Kravitz is enjoyable as Catwoman, John Turturro works really well as Falcone, I like Andy Serkis’s take on Alfred, and though it’s a kind of a minor role, I really enjoy Peter Sarsgaard as D.A. Colson. Paul Dano and Colin Farrell, though, I have mixed feelings about. Dano, himself, chews scenery like no one’s business, which . . . IDK, kinda works for me, but also not always? I do like the parallels between Riddler and Batman, and I did love Dano singing the “Ave Maria,” but I also definitely started cracking up when he was all “NOOO!” and IDK. It felt silly and over the top in a way that—unlike Batman’s bangs or Kurt Cobain—just didn’t quite work for me. Meanwhile, I actually enjoy pretty much all of Colin Farrell’s line deliveries here; he’s kind of the comic relief and—to my very great surprise—the jokes aren’t generally about his size or appearance. (They’re more about him trolling Batman and Gordon for their mediocre Spanish, which I am absolutely here for.) Still . . . I hate the fat suit. I hate the prosthetics. Sure, Farrell is unrecognizable, but that doesn’t add anything to this story; mostly, it just kept distracting me. At least, this doesn’t piss me off the way that Dune did or anything; it’s just like . . . why? Why not just cast someone else?

With a 3-hour runtime, I expected The Batman to drag considerably, but I actually think it’s pretty well paced for the most part. I do wish Batman and Catwoman worked together more throughout the film, partly because their quasi-romance felt a bit forced to me, and partly because I just wish we had more time with Catwoman in general. Alfred, too, gets pretty much dropped after the hospital scene, which disappointed me, although at least they didn’t kill him. (Oh, I would’ve murdered people.) I do wonder if we could’ve trimmed the third act a bit and maybe given those two characters a bit more time?

It also must be said that I just can’t bring myself to give a shit about that Joker tease, like, no disrespect to the actor, but Christ, I could go another full decade without the Joker; I am begging you. Still, I genuinely like that Batman ends this movie realizing that being vengeance isn’t enough, that he needs to be a symbol of hope as well. (Side note: I kinda loved the Vengeance name, if only because I kept thinking of this song and wanting people to come up to Batman and be all, “What’s up, Vengeance?”) The idea of Batman as a symbol of hope as well as a symbol of fear interests me, maybe because it’s kinda the whole antithesis of movies like The Dark Knight and is actually something I’d love to see explored in a sequel, should a sequel  be made. I am all about character growth, and if we could actually get a compassionate Batman in a live action film, not just in cartoons like JLU? IDK, that could be pretty neat to see.

Appointment With Death

Year: 1988
Director: Michael Winner
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – ScreenPix
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

And we’re back to Agatha Christie! Funny story: I’ve been wanting to check out Appointment With Death for actual years now, only it’s not an easy film to find, streaming or otherwise. However, while working on the Death on the Nile review above, I found myself looking up a list of obscure whodunit movies, and while looking up Green for Danger (number #1 on the list), I stumbled across the fact that Appointment With Death was available on ScreenPix. A free one week trial later, and here we are!

Peter Ustinov will never be my favorite Poirot, but I enjoy watching his movies well enough, and while Appointment With Death definitely isn’t knocking Evil Under the Sun from its top spot, I had a decent time watching it. This movie is, truthfully, a bit on the forgettable side, but I also feel like I have less glaring problems with it than I did with Branagh’s Death on the Nile—although that isn’t to say there aren’t flaws to be had because oh, there are. For one, we wait quite a while before anyone gets murdered—although admittedly, this does allow us more time with Piper Laurie, who excels in this film as the cruel Mrs. Boynton. For another, the insta-love between Dr. Sarah King and Raymond kinda kills me, although I’m pretty sure Agatha Christie is the one to blame for this. Insta-love is pretty common in these mysteries. There’s also the fact that Appointment With Death is about a bunch of white, snotty, British and American people in Jerusalem; there are definitely a few cringey moments, up to and including how little anyone cares about Hassan, a boy who tries to give Poirot critical information and ends up getting murdered for it. This immediately leads to a scene where Sarah, who initially looks guilty of Hassan’s murder, is briefly menaced by a bunch of silent men with brown skin, and it’s . . . yeah, it’s not great.

On the upside, this cast. Along with Peter Ustinov and Piper Laurie, we have Carrie Fisher, Lauren Bacall, and Hayley Mills, all of whom I had fun watching. Hayley Mills doesn’t have a super interesting role, but I enjoyed seeing her all the same, having grown up on the 1961 version of The Parent Trap. I like Carrie Fisher in this (I mean, when do I not like Carrie Fisher), and Jenny Seagrove is good, too. Honestly, all the women in this movie are more interesting than the men, but it’s Piper Laurie and Lauren Bacall who are the true standouts here. I would’ve paid, like, so much money to watch a film solely about these two squaring off. They are both an absolute delight.

Anyone who doesn’t generally enjoy whodunits is not gonna be won over by Appointment With Death, which is, well. Pretty formulaic in the long run. But since I’m a person who is deeply comforted by dysfunctional murder families, secret wills, and detectives who insist on giving dramatic reveals for absolutely no good reason, well. I’m ecstatic that I finally managed to track this one down.

World’s Worst Trekkie: And The Children Shall Lead, Is There In Truth No Beauty, and Spectre of the Gun

“And The Children Shall Lead”

Ah, I see it’s time for another episode of Kirk vs. Creepy Children!

In this particular episode, the Enterprise responds to a distress call from some science colony and finds A) a bunch of dead scientists who’ve died by suicide, and B) the scientists’ very alive and disturbingly cheerful children. Bones is concerned that the children won’t cry or otherwise acknowledge their dead parents and thinks they’re in traumatic shock. He insists that Kirk shouldn’t interrogate them until they’re seen by a child specialist, and like, I am genuinely happy that Bones is a strong advocate for kids here, but as we don’t have a child specialist on board the ship, FFS, yes, we should still probably question them about what the hell happened to their very dead parents.

Well, it turns out that the kids are secretly in contact with  an “angel,” AKA, this malevolent alien entity who’s been giving them psychic powers so they can take over the Enterprise. The five children are able to do this absurdly easily, mostly by making our crew hallucinate shit they fear. Like, Uhura sees herself as a super old and wrinkly woman (sigh), and Sulu sees, er. Giant floating space swords? (They’re hysterical.) Kirk, meanwhile, is infected by an overwhelming anxiety that he’s losing command, so obviously Spock comes to the rescue by dragging him from the Bridge and meaningfully murmuring Jim into his ear. It’s fantastic. I mean, it’s also hilarious because Shatner is overacting, per usual, but come on. The ship. The SHIP.

Kirk then saves the day by emotionally torturing the children with happy home movies juxtaposed with recordings of their parents’ corpses and graves. This makes the kids cry and turn their back on the entity, who gets all melty/gross and quickly fades away. Bones insists that—with the children finally experiencing their grief—they can be helped now and everything will be okay! Personally, I think he might be calling victory a mite early, because these kids are absolutely gonna be traumatized for life.

“And The Children Shall Lead” is often considered one of the worst episodes of TOS and, like. Yeah, it’s not good. Characters make wild leaps in logic, the kids take over the ship far too easily, and also they do this whole “shake their fist in the air” routine whenever they use their magic powers, which gets old real fast. Also, uh. The Enterprise tries to beam two officers down to the planet, only due to magic fuckery, they don’t realize they’ve long left orbit, so I think . . . I think they just beamed two dudes into space? And no one ever mentions it again? Holy shit. Still, I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t even crack my Top 5 Worst TOS Episodes. Remember, I just watched “The Paradise Syndrome.” This show’s gonna have to work pretty hard to top that bullshit.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Psychologically terrorizing small children isn’t great, but Kirk kinda had to do it to save everyone on board and all. Still, he could probably stand to feel a little worse about it afterwards, instead of standing around like a smug asshole.

MVP: George Takei has to pretend to be afraid of giant floating space swords. I’m giving this one to him.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: “Humans do have an amazing capacity for believing what they choose and excluding that which is painful.”

“Is There In Truth No Beauty?”

First, it needs to be said that these red visors are nothing short of glorious. Move over, “Spock’s Brain” because I’ve got a whole new dream cosplay.

Fashionable visors aside, I actually think this is one of the more interesting TOS episodes I’ve watched in a while. The Enterprise has been tasked with escorting Ambassador Kollos to his home planet. Kollos is a super highly evolved alien, basically a bunch of weird psychedelic light in a box, and this physical appearance is apparently so ugly that if any human were to look upon him, they’d instantly go mad. Only Vulcans can manage it, and even then, only if they’re wearing the proper “warding off insanity” visors. BTW, guess what these aliens are called? Medusans. SERIOUSLY.

Assigned to the ambassador is Dr. Miranda Jones, AKA, Diana Muldaur, and I like her an awful lot here. (Way more than I liked Pulaski in TNG and more than I remember liking Mulhall in “Return to Tomorrow,” too.) Miranda is human, but she’s also a born telepath and has studied on Vulcan for several years for the chance to achieve a true mind link with Kollos. It’s her passion and life’s work, and she has absolutely zero time for romance, which will not stop literally every dude listening to this bullshit toast—

“How can one so beautiful condemn herself to look upon ugliness the rest of her life? Will we allow it, gentlemen?”

—from nodding along in agreement. Creeps. It also doesn’t stop Bones from kissing Miranda’s hand or Kirk’s usual icky flirting or this other dude, Larry, from declaring his extremely unrequited love. Ugh, this guy is so gross. This is apparently like his sixth unwanted confession, and he kisses her without asking, and whines shit like, “Why did I ever meet you?” This petulant fucker even manages to whine when Miranda, psychically intuiting his murderous impulses, still kindly offers to listen to him and get him psychological help. (I would’ve run screaming in the other direction, myself.) Larry’s response: “Great psychologist. Why don’t you try being a woman for a change?” THROW THIS WHOLE MAN INTO A FIRE.

Thankfully for everyone, Larry soon dies. He tries to murder Kollos, gets an eyeful of THE HORROR, loses his mind, and drops dead. (We get an honest to God, “He’s dead, Jim!” and I was so happy!) Unfortunately, Larry also briefly gained control over the Enterprise before dropping dead, speeding the ship up super fast and stranding them in some completely uncharted space—because weird shit happens on Trek when you go faster than warp 9. The Enterprise’s only hope is to achieve a mind link with Kollos, who has the superior knowledge to navigate them back home. However, Kirk and Spock decide that Miranda can’t make the link herself because she doesn’t know how to operate the ship—which kinda seems like bullshit to me, personally. I mean, there are plenty of people onboard who could help with that. This feels like it could’ve been a group effort. Furthermore, they don’t even bother discussing the situation with her because Miranda’s had (an admittedly pretty obvious) chip on her shoulder about Spock and Kollos interacting so far. (She wouldn’t have received the position if Spock hadn’t previously turned it down, see.) Thus Kirk decides to distract her with his Sexy Seduction Skills, while Spock secretly mind melds with the ambassador.

To my absolute delight, Miranda is wholly uninterested in Kirk’s creepy flirting and psychically senses what Spock’s up to. She insists that she can do the job. However, Bones tells her that while she can do almost anything a sighted woman can do, she can’t pilot a starship if she can’t see the controls. It turns out that Miranda is blind and that the elaborate beading on all her dresses actually provide this super sophisticated sensor web, which is just awesome. It’s extremely exciting to see far-future vision impairment and mobility aids, and combining them with fashion? YES. Also, Miranda’s quietly angry monologue here about pity is pretty fantastic. Unfortunately, it’s decided that Miranda’s blindness disqualifies her, which . . . IDK, maybe it’s cause I grew up on TNG and I’m used to Geordi doing all sorts of neat shit, but I just feel like they could’ve made this work. I’m seriously bummed for Miranda.

So, Spock does the mind meld with Kollos, allowing Leonard Nimoy the chance to smile, which is, admittedly, always delightful. They successfully navigate the Enterprise back home, but oh noes! Spock forgets to put his red visor on before he and Kollos break the mental link, so naturally, Spock goes mad. There’s only one chance to save him: Miranda must psychically connect to Spock and restore his sanity.

. . . And sadly, here is where the episode kinda goes to shit because when Miranda—not currently wearing her sensor web, BTW—says that she can’t save Spock, Kirk insists that she secretly wants Spock to die. He accuses her of psychically causing Spock to forget the visor in the first place and then full on manhandles her, like, throws her up against a wall and everything. Yup, that’s Kirk, our hero, just blatantly assaulting a disabled woman. He seems to regret it pretty quickly, but less because it was a terrible thing to do and more because it’s a pretty stupid way to treat the only person who can save your first officer/boyfriend/BFF.

Of course, Miranda does save Spock, and vexingly, thanks Kirk for his violent assault, telling him that he was right about her motivations, which just—doesn’t feel even remotely true. I mean, sure, she was jealous of Spock. I get that and, TBH, actually like it—people are flawed, after all—but nothing in this episode has convinced me that Miranda is so goddamn petty that she would’ve either attempted to MURDER Spock or happily allowed him to die. It’s frustrating because Miranda is otherwise such a fantastic character: intelligent, disabled, reserved, compassionate, envious, confident, and potentially aromantic. (Fuck it, that’s my headcanon, anyway.) So, I’ve chosen to raise my hand and wave this bit of blatant fuckery away because, without it, “Is There In Truth No Beauty” easily makes my TOS Top 10.

Chief Asshat: I think both Larry and Kirk are taking the crown here. Assholes.

MVP: Diana Muldaur, obviously. She’s absolutely fantastic in this.

Grade: Chocolate, if you subtract the last five minutes.

Line of the Episode:
“Bones, why hadn’t you told me?”
“She’d have told you herself if she wanted you to know.”

“Spectre of the Gun”

Well. It’s the Wyatt Earp episode, I guess.

The Enterprise has orders to enter Melkotian space and make contact, but the Melkotians are all, “GTFO, invaders, we don’t want you here.” (In fact, they’re like “GTFO” in every language, which is honestly pretty cool.) You’d think the Federation would respect that, but . . . nah. They’re more like, “Look, if a non-space faring species needs our help, we can’t do shit, but if an advanced species says, ‘Fuck off, we don’t want you here” . . . well, obviously, we have no choice but to ignore them.” So, Kirk’s all, “Well, I’ve got orders, so I guess we’re gonna go ahead, anyway,” which, IDK, like . . .

GIF by moodman - Find & Share on GIPHY

Kirk, sadly not nearly as cool Samuel L. Jackson, ends up beaming down to the planet with Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov, where they are quickly confronted by a Melkotian, who looks kinda like a giant rock head with glowy eyes, and is also (pretty rightfully) pissed off. Our heroes, sentenced to death, are seemingly transported to Tombstone, Arizona in 18-whatever. Everybody there is convinced that they’re members of the Clanton gang, which is obviously unfortunate, since the Clantons are destined to die at the hands of the Earps later that night. And if you’re thinking, gosh, this seems like a really random and unlikely execution method, well, you’re not wrong. I mean, it’s kinda neat that our telepathic aliens devise punishments based on the memories they uncover, but come on. The year is 2268. Wyatt Earp, really? Besides, think how neat it would’ve been to see our heroes act out some old Vulcan tragedy or something. That would’ve been WAY more interesting than watching Kirk run around, trying to convince everyone he’s an interstellar traveler from the future.

Jason Bateman Cotton GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Our heroes try to escape, but can’t. Chekov isn’t quite as bummed as the others because he’s got a girlfriend here; unfortunately, he dies while defending her honor. (Kirk displays regret for half a second, all, hey, maybe I shouldn’t have ignored the Melkotians’ warning. Like, yeah, MAYBE NOT.) Happily, since Chekov died hours before he should’ve, the gang realizes their futures can be changed. They try making a sedative to use against the Earps, but their test run fails for seemingly no reason, causing Spock to realize that this is all an illusion. Chekov didn’t die because he was shot by real bullets; he died because he believed the bullets were real. Since our heroes will also die if they have even a smidgeon of doubt, Spock mind melds with each one of them, instilling the belief that nothing here can kill them. It is kind of interesting to see Spock do, like, conveyor belt mind melds, though—per usual—I wish this led to some kind of cool side effects or consequences. It’s also at least mildly interesting that the Earps are portrayed as full on villains here. I mean, it’s been an admittedly long time since I watched Tombstone OR Wyatt Earp, but I feel like the whole town isn’t usually quite so supportive of the Clantons?

Anyway, the away team obviously survives the climactic gunfight. They have the chance to kill the Earps, but Kirk refuses to take it, which of course impresses the Melkotians enough that they decide to allow for some friendly chitchat, after all. And everyone’s magically returned to their ship, including Chekov, who is—not surprisingly—still alive.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, for obvious reasons, but also Bones and Scotty, too, who are absolute dicks to Spock about his typically reserved reaction to Chekov’s death. (Thankfully, they at least look mildly chastised when Spock reminds everyone that he is, in fact, half-human. But man, sometimes, I really wanna slap Bones.)

MVP: Leonard Nimoy, mostly, because Spock’s the only character here who doesn’t piss me off. But also, whoever designed the Melkotians, cause sure, they’re kinda hilarious, but also, it’s pretty fun seeing aliens who actually look very alien.

Grade: Hm. Vanilla?

Line of the Episode: “Captain, since we have seen that death is the one reality in this situation, I seriously suggest you reseat yourself immediately.”

Triple Scoop Review: Seo Bok, Scream, and Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

So, I’ve basically been ignoring movies in favor of marathoning television for the past three months, but hey! Here are a few films I’ve watched recently!

Seo Bok

Year: 2021
Director: Lee Yong Joo
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Not directly, I don’t think, but inferences can probably be made
Grade: Rocky Road

Whew. That was . . . yeah, a bit darker than I was expecting from a “jaded ex-agent has to protect the first human clone” movie. Although sometimes, that can be kind of a fun thing about watching foreign films: genre expectations are not necessarily universal, so sometimes, damn, you get a surprise.

Truthfully, I haven’t quite made up my mind about Seo Bok just yet. There are parts that I genuinely like. The acting, in particular: Gong Yoo and Park Bo Gum are  strong leads—I mean, obviously, they’re like 95% of the reason I watched this movie in the first place. I especially enjoyed Park Bo Gum, who was giving me some serious Hello, Monster nostalgia, but I was also happy to also see Jo Woo Jin (who I really enjoyed in Happiness) and Jang Young Nam (who I quite liked in It’s Okay to Not Be Okay). The action is fun. Some of the shots were rather lovely. Some of the thematic material works well for me.

However, not all of it does, and I’m still trying to pinpoint why that is, exactly. Admittedly, the basic thesis of this movie—we’re not meant to be immortal—has never been one of my favorite morals in the world. Still, I think my bigger problem isn’t so much the message but its execution. Seo Bok feels murky, convoluted. Too much going on and not nearly enough time to explore it. I often felt that characters—particularly the antagonists—were making decisions that felt nonsensical and inauthentic. Our heroes are essentially caught between dueling villains here, and I quite like the idea of that; however, that structure can go somewhat awry when you have villains with nebulous motivations making pretty dubious choices.

 Seo Bok is certainly not meant to be an upper; in fact, to me, it sorta feels like the nihilist answer to Space Sweepers. Still by the end, I feel like I was perhaps left with an even stronger sense of futility than the film actually intended. I don’t regret watching it at all, but I also feel like there’s a stronger story here, waiting to be whittled free.

Scream

Film Horror GIF by ScreamMovies - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2022
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Paramount Plus
Spoilers: ABSOLUTELY
Grade: Chocolate

I admit, I was pretty excited when news of the latest Scream movie was announced, considering it’s probably my favorite horror franchise of all time, and I figured the guys who did Ready or Not might be a good fit for it. But I was also a bit nervous because, you know. It’s probably my favorite horror franchise of all time, and there comes a point when you just really don’t want to see certain characters die. For me, that specifically meant Sidney. I am emotionally invested in Sidney Prescott’s survival. Fortunately, I have good news: she makes it!

Overall, I enjoyed Scream. TBH, I enjoy all the movies in this franchise. Even Scream 3, which is probably the worst of the bunch, surprisingly has more to recommend than I’d initially remembered. Which isn’t to say I don’t have criticisms because, well. Me. My biggest problem here is that Melissa Barrera does very little for me as Sam. I wish I liked her more, I really do. I adored Jenna Ortega as Tara and spent the majority of the film wishing she was the primary Final Girl. Actually, I really like most of the cast. Jack Quaid being a villain isn’t exactly, er. Surprising? But I don’t even care because he’s hilarious, and I’ve really liked this actor in everything I’ve seen him in thus far. Also shoutouts to David Arquette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and Skeet Ulrich—but NOT to Skeet Ulrich’s CGI because good Christ, stop. Just stop.

And I really do love the idea of our Final Girl being cheered on by hallucinations of Evil Daddy Billy Loomis. The scene where Sam stabs the shit out of Richie is easily her best in the whole film. Still, I would’ve loved it so much more if I ever bought Sam or had any investment in her character. I also think Scream might have some second act problems, but I’m not quite sure yet where I think it missteps. I do feel like Tara’s friends get dropped too long, which makes the Amber reveal a little underwhelming. Wes and Judy’s death scenes are good, but feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the film. (I still can’t bring myself to give a shit about Judy, but I do feel sorry for Wes.)  And I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Dewey’s death. I don’t mind that it happened, exactly, just . . . it’s so obvious that he’s gonna die when he goes back that it ends up feeling like a stupid move to me. IDK. I’m still thinking on it.

(Also, FFS. Is the hospital a 9-5 gig? Where are ANY of the employees here? Or for that matter, other patients? Hollywood continues to drive me crazy with this nonsense.)

Overall, though, I was pretty entertained. I had fun guessing suspects and motives and how many killers there would be this time around. Toxic Fandom is the Real Killer here feels pretty apropos for this franchise, and almost all of the dialogue and in-jokes worked well for me. (Poor Courtney Cox is never gonna live those terrible bangs down.) I also enjoyed the step up in gore, and while I may find Sam very dull, I’m always happy to see sisters survive. (See also, Sidney and Gale—I know, not actually sisters—who I really liked in this movie.) I do wish Kirby had come back, but it’s nice that we got confirmation she’s alive! (Though I admit, I absolutely missed said confirmation when it happened.) This movie isn’t perfect, no, but compared to some other horror franchises and their dismal ass sequels? Yeah. The Scream movies still got it.

Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

Year: 2017
Director: Kim Yong Hwa
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Vanilla

So, this is a Korean fantasy-action film about a firefighter who dies and is escorted through the afterlife, facing seven trials in seven hells to see if he can be reborn. It’s a fun premise and an overall great cast with several actors I’ve enjoyed in other shows. Joo Ji Hoon from Kingdom. Kim Hyang Gi, who was (briefly) in Space Sweepers. I’m currently watching Kim Dong Wook in The Guest, and—like presumably many Americans—first saw Lee Jung Jae in Squid Game. Also D.O. (Hello Monster—yes, I know he’s also in EXO, but I know him from Hello Monster), Kim Soo An (Train to Busan), Ye Soo Jung (also Train to Busan), and a half a dozen other people I’ve seen pop up here and there. This is actually the first thing I’ve seen Ha Jung Woo in, but I enjoy him here, too.

My main problem with this film is easily Kim Ja Hong (Cha Tae Hyun), our firefighter, who is just . . . boring. He’s so boring, just zero personality whatsoever, and it feels like half his dialogue is incessantly calling after his mom. Literally everyone around him is much more interesting. My personal favorites are Joo Ji Hoon, who gives a very funny performance that’s wildly different from his work in Kingdom, Kim Soo Ann, because the God of Deceit is just the Best, and Kim Dong Wook, whose performance here alongside Ye Soo Jung provides the movie its heart. I’m probably supposed to feel moved by Ja Hong, too, but unfortunately . . . yeah, no. That’s partially because the character is so boring, but also because we learn some things about this guy that, well. I don’t want to get too deeply into spoilers, but let’s just say that the movie really wants me get into this heartwarming redemption, and I just couldn’t quite get there.

I do think the script could be tighter, and I wish the visual effects did justice to the premise (cause the CGI here is, uh, hilarious), but I also probably enjoyed the film enough to check out the sequel, especially since my least favorite character isn’t in it. Man. I wish that happened in more films. Like, give me Scream 6 without Sam. Or Guardians of the Galaxy 3 without Peter Quill, or Jurassic Whatever without Owen Grady, or . . . yeah, feel free to just pass up Chris Pratt at any opportunity in favor of Chris Pine, Chris Evans, or Chris Hemsworth, please and thank you.

Triple Scoop Reviews: Pipeline, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, and Dune

Pipeline

Year: 2021
Director: Yoo Ha
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Nope
Grade: Rocky Road

I’m a sucker for a fun heist story, and I have a soft spot for Lee Soo-Hyuk, so Mek and I decided to check out Pipeline. The movie is . . . fine, but also kind of oddly charmless, and a bit on the slow side for me. Oh, that sounds mean, doesn’t it? I didn’t hate this movie. The acting itself is fine (though I’m starting to wonder if Seo In-Guk has ever been in anything where he didn’t play the Arrogant Male Lead), and there were a few moments that did make me laugh; unfortunately, they weren’t very memorable because I can’t think of a single one now. I just never got very invested in the story, and that’s probably because I never grew to care about anyone on the team.

Heist stories usually go one of two ways: A) they’re grim little affairs, full of twists, betrayal, and murder, or B) they’re much wittier and light-hearted, often centering on the Team as Family trope. Pipeline is very much the latter (which is personally great for me), but none of the characters are very dynamic or interesting, and they just don’t have the platonic chemistry that really makes these kinds of stories sing. Honestly, we never learn much about any of them, not even our main lead. I kinda vaguely liked Counter (Bae Da-Bin), I guess, but that’s about it. Frankly, I found myself half-voting for the rich scumbag villain, because I didn’t really care about our heroes, and because Lee Soo-Hyuk wears the hell out of a nice suit. Like. I’m not always shallow, but yeah. I’m a little shallow.

Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang Chi GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2021
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

This was fun. I don’t quite love it, for a variety of reasons that we’ll get into shortly, but it was definitely an easy watch. The Final Battle is weirdly murky, but all the other fight scenes are great; I particularly like the chaotic Muni fight, and also when Ying Li kicks Wenwu’s ass at the beginning. (Not to mention, Ying Li’s whole look is fucking fabulous. Christ, I hope to see this cosplay the next time I actually go to a con.) I like how this isn’t quite your typical origin story; it’s a delight when we realize that Shang-Chi already knows how to fight. The music is fun. I am all about that dragon. (Also, the qilin, the huli jing, and all the other mythological creatures that I’m less familiar with.) And I enjoy pretty much the whole cast. I was especially delighted to see Michelle Yeoh and Tsai Chin, even if the latter was only there for a few moments.

Still, I don’t love this one quite as much as other folks, and I think that’s partially because the whole story is just built from one of my least favorite tropes of all time. Like, introducing this awesome, badass, immortal lady who just gives up all her powers because she falls in love (for God knows what reason) with this evil warlord who totally doesn’t deserve her? Yeah, pass. I found myself checking out a bit even before we got to associating tropes like Evil Man Changes His Ways Because of Romantic Love and Evil Man Goes Back To His Evil Ways Because His Love Died. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the acting; Tony Leung is perfectly good in the role; unfortunately, none of this interests me.

Also, for a movie with this many flashbacks, I think it’s completely bizarre to exclude the one where Young Shang-Chi actually decides to run away. It’s a Big Moment for his character, particularly considering the emotional conflict between him and his sister, and the only reason I can think not to include it is if we’re postponing it for a Big Reveal, namely, if it turns out that the man Young Shang-Chi assassinated is also Katy’s dead grandfather. I am desperately hoping this isn’t the case because, ugh, talk about tropes I’m not into. (I think it’d also be kinda cool if Katy and Shang-Chi did remain platonic, but that seems pretty unlikely, and I don’t hate them as a romantic ship. TBH, I kinda like their low-key, just wanna dance vibe. They could totally date and do late night karaoke and save the world without being all tortured and shit–that is, unless Shang-Chi’s lying to Katy about vengance-murdering her grandpa.)

Finally, I appear to be in the minority here, but Ben Kingsley in the role of Comic Relief didn’t do much for me. Like, I loved it when they brought up his character at dinner, absolutely, but the second we actually get him on screen for Kooky Fun Times? Nah. OTOH, seeing Benedict Wong join in on the karaoke? Excellent.

Dune: Part One

Serious Film GIF by Dune Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2021
Director: Denis Villeneuve
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Rocky Road

So, I finally watched this movie, 20% because I was curious, 80% because Mekaela bribed me with a bottle of Moscato that we somehow ended up with. The wine was tasty. The movie was . . . okay? I’ve never read the book, and I have very mixed feelings on the David Lynch adaptation, so I doubt I was anyone’s target audience here. But sure, there are things I like about this. Exposition and worldbuilding are handled much better here than in the 1984 version. Rebecca Ferguson makes Lady Jessica a million times more interesting than I remember that character being. (Also, her costumes are just cool.) And some of Paul’s visions are intriguing, particularly the ones with Jamis, considering he’s set up to be this someday friend/mentor figure, but instead, Paul kills him. (Other visions are less interesting because, much as I like Zendaya, there’s a limit to how many times I need a quick flash of her looking all romantic/enigmatic. I’m definitely looking forward to her having more actual dialogue in the sequel.)

Still, Paul himself? Meh. I genuinely like that he’s a child of two wildly different lineages, but kid’s got all the personality of a celery stick, and I don’t care even a little about his whole Chosen One narrative. (Frankly, I kinda wish Lady Jessica was the Chosen One.) I continue to hate Baron Harkonnen, too, and I’m still royally pissed about the decision to put Stellan Skarsgård in a fat suit, especially while reading bullshit about how careful they all were to avoid using the fat suit for comedic effect in the film; meanwhile, in the very same article: “Stellan  just loved being naked as the Baron. We all used to kill ourselves laughing when Stellan would ask for more nude scenes. He felt, quite correctly, that the Baron appeared more frightening and dangerous unclothed than cloaked in robes or armor.” Cool. That’s way less shitty!

Players GIF by Dots - Find & Share on GIPHY

The only positive thing I will say about the Baron is that at least Villeneuve cut the Depraved Homosexual shit because FFS.

Also, for a 2 1/2 hour film, I do think Dune, Part One has a couple of pacing problems. Like, I kinda feel there should be a little more time between “fuck, we’ve been set up to fail” and “Massacre Night.” And there’s been, what, five minutes between Paul whining that Lady Jessica made him a freak (dude, you’ve got bigger problems right now) and Paul deciding, “Well, okay, I guess I’ll just be Emperor, then!” The second half of the film feels especially off to me. I also kinda just miss how bizarrely weird the 1984 version looks in comparison, although obviously that’s a very subjective criticism. This movie is pretty; it’s just not very fun. Like, it’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie that takes itself SO seriously. Plus–and I know this is the most minor of complaints–I feel like the desaturated colors of this film are a bit at odds with this oppressive desert heat everyone keeps talking about. I never even once bought that heat.

So, will I watch Part Two? IDK, probably, though I suspect bribery will be involved again, and I don’t think I liked this one enough to see the sequel in theater, no matter how much Villeneuve abhors the idea of people watching his art on the small screen. (Yes, I’m petty. This shit pissed me off.) TBH, I’m a little surprised about how many people were apparently worried there wouldn’t be a sequel, like, I know every iteration of Dune ends up being divisive as shit, but also, this was a wildly anticipated film with a huge cast and well-respected white director, like, the kind of director who actually gets Oscar nods for his science fiction work. I just wasn’t quite sweating the sequel getting the green-light, you know?

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Funhouse, Friday the 13th, and Halloween

Well, my friends, Horror Bingo has reached its conclusion and I’m afraid to say that my two-year winning streak has also met its end.

Oh, The Watcher in the Woods, alas. We came so close.

Before we get to the wrap-up, though, let’s discuss our last three movies.

The Funhouse

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 1981
Director: Tobe Hooper
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Peacock
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Pistachio

Most of the movies I’ve watched this year for Horror Bingo have been somewhere between decent and awesome. Even my least favorites have been pretty watchable; The Funhouse, however, is the first movie I’ve actively disliked.

For starters, it’s slow as hell. It takes roughly 80 years for anyone to die, and while a slow build can totally work, like. You gotta do something interesting with that screen time. Give me some character development. Give me some funny dialogue. Give me some deeply unnerving atmosphere. I think The Funhouse is trying to accomplish that last one, but mostly, I was just bored. The atmosphere isn’t so much creepy as it is . . . seedy, especially considering this particular carnival seems right out of the 1930’s. Which, hey, I wasn’t alive in 1981, so possibly this is period accurate? Still, it all felt a bit contrived and over the top to me, only not in a fun way.

I’m also just not really into the whole Deformed Killer thing, a trope which often has icky ‘the outside reflects the inside’ implications, even when said character is supposed to be pitiable. The Disposable Sex Worker isn’t my favorite trope, either (I would argue Zena counts in this context), and quite frankly, raises some deeply disturbing questions about what Gunther wanted from the Girl Scouts that he murdered prior to this movie. We also spend way more time than I wanted with Evil Gunther’s Evil Dad, and JFC, the final showdown between Gunther and Amy went on for another 80 years. Yes, that’s 160 years total. I am a dusty corpse now. Give me an RIP in the comments.

There were a few things I did genuinely enjoy, like, IDK if anything has ever made me laugh so hard as watching the Final Girl assure her date that, no, no, she got the joke. (People. The authenticity.) I also enjoyed the opening credits, which had some serious Halloween vibes, and the poor dude who got hanged before getting an axe to the head. I also laughed at how Gunther carried Buzz’s body out like he was the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. (Gunther’s makeup, BTW, is–uh–something. He looks like the secret murderous lovechild of Sloth from The Goonies and the Dancing Alien from Spaceballs.)

It appears that when The Funhouse came out, it received pretty decent reviews, and while art is obviously subjective, I have to admit I’m surprised. I mean, motherfucking Siskel and Ebert liked this movie, and I thought they’d have rinsed their mouths out with bleach before ever admitting they enjoyed a slasher.

Friday the 13th

Year: 2009
Director: Marcus Nispel
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Rocky Road

As far as Friday the 13th movies go, the sequel/remake is pretty middle of the road for me. Watchable but a bit boring, probably because I don’t care about either of the potential Final Girls. In other roles, I like Amanda Righetti and Danielle Panabaker well enough (particularly Panabaker, who I liked as Killer Frost on The Flash), and I should totally be rooting for these two. Sadly, neither Jenna nor Whitney are allowed even the smallest scrap of personality. (It’s especially unfortunate with Whitney, who I wish had more on screen interactions with Jason.) I get slashers are not well known for their in depth character work, but we can still do a lot better than this.

I do remember being surprised by Jenna’s death the first time I watched this, though it’s hard to say if it would surprise me as much now, being more familiar with the Jason mythos. At the time, though, I thought it was kinda cool Clay and his sister lived, rather than Clay and his potential  love interest. (Well. We do end on a last second surprise attack–sigh– so maybe I should be saying “survived the longest” rather than “lived.”) I kinda like the idea of a more territorial Jason, too, like, this isn’t the Jason who hops on cruise ships towards Manhattan. This guy’s just killing any outsider who gets too close to home. But it doesn’t seem entirely consistent to me (like, why did Scuzzy Donnie have to die), and I wish the film did something more with it. Maybe the cops could’ve been sacrificing tourists to their local drowned god? On the upside, I did wholeheartedly enjoy the Updated Sleeping Bag Death! I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who likes The New Blood, but by God, we all love the Sleeping Bag Death.

Finally, a scattering of random thoughts:

A) Trent is The Worst, but I must say that Travis Van Winkle really commits to Rich Yuppie Asshole, like, this is solid work. I have no idea why Jenna would date this guy, but I suppose I’ve thought that about women in RL, too. Meanwhile, Lawrence, who just wanted to save his buddy Chewie, deserves better. Poor Lawrence.

B) Wow, I don’t know if I can think of anything that sounds more uncomfortable than topless wakeboarding. Slamming my naked breasts into water at, IDK, 20 miles an hour when I inevitably wipe out? I mean, that just sounds painful.

C) Hey, Pamela Voorhees is played by Nana Visitor! Hi, Homicidal Kira!

D) Seriously, why did Whitney and Clay dump Jason’s body in the lake anyway? That would’ve made sense for characters in previous films, sure, but it makes no sense here. They literally had to drag him all the way there! The cops are likely to be dubious! I don’t understand!

E) If Whitney does survive her last second surprise attack, she’ll learn that her mom died, and that she missed the funeral. Damn, Whitney’s life is bleak.

Halloween

Year: 2018
Director: David Gordon Green
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Mekaela won Horror Bingo with The Funhouse, but I had one more space in this Triple Scoop Review, so we each picked a film and played roshambo for it. Mek won, and thus we watched a different sequel/remake: Halloween.

This is okay. I definitely enjoy parts of it, but I’m not in love with the film, either, which is, well. Pretty in line with my feelings on this franchise, TBH. Some things I genuinely enjoyed: the opening credits, a lead female character in a horror movie who’s over 60 years old, Judy Greer’s face when she says, “Gotcha,” Laurie Strode’s whole death trap house, the many times we see Laurie echoing Michael Myers from the first movie (Laurie standing outside her granddaughter’s classroom, Laurie disappearing when Michael looks for her dead body, etc.) I also think it’s really interesting, watching multiple generations of the Strode/Nelson family dealing with the fallout from one terrifying night in 1978 . . . but I still think the movie could do more with it. Specifically, I’d like to see more of Laurie and Karen’s relationship, like, we definitely get the broad strokes, but I feel there’s room for more depth and nuance.

As far as what doesn’t work for me, well. I’m still trying to puzzle that out, so I apologize if the rest of this review is a bit murky. I have a vague idea that part of my problem stems from how much these characters seem to buy into, hm. Let’s call it meta knowledge. Laurie Strode knows Michael Myers is coming back for her. She’s been waiting for it her whole life. And I think we’re supposed to agree: for one, Michael obviously does find Laurie, but also, we get Dr. Sartain’s theories about Laurie and Michael, as though they’re inextricably linked, not to mention Allyson goes to class and literally learns about fate. It all feels pretty Thematic, only here’s the thing: Michael pretty much goes wherever he’s taken. I don’t see much evidence that he’s specifically gunning for Laurie, particularly because we’ve erased every instance that he’s done so out of canon. (Not to mention, goodbye the whole sibling connection.) Honestly, it’s a bit sadder if Laurie’s spent her whole life believing in this Final Girl vs. Boogeyman destiny, but really, she’s just traumatized and has incredibly shitty luck.

And to be fair, Halloween doesn’t actually rule out that interpretation. Still, I can’t entirely shake the impression that this movie feels haunted by the canon it erased. The podcasters, particularly the dude, feel pretentious to the point of absurdity. When Aaron’s shaking the Michael Myers mask around (LOL to his convenient friend at the attorney general’s office, BTW) and asking, “You feel it, don’t you?” Like, I don’t buy any of that, and not just because this dude never seems to realize he could easily walk around the square and actually face his interviewee. Officer Hawkins running over Michael Myers could theoretically work, given that he was around in 1978, but the movie doesn’t give much space to his trauma, definitely not enough for me to buy Actually, Murder is the Best Approach Here from him. And while I’m sorta relieved Dr. Sartain is evil because I was getting real frustrated by his whole Michael Myers fanboy ass, he also just feels . . . weirdly artificial to me, like his dialogue could’ve been taken straight from some Pop Culture & Philosophy essay. Which is something I would totally expect from the Scream movies, but not so much here.

Halloween is entertaining enough, and I’ll probably see the sequel eventually (if only to see what’s causing these seriously mixed reviews), but there’s just something that, on a first viewing, feels oddly disingenuous to me.

(Finally, a few quick last minute things: A) I need Halloween: The Multiverse in my life immediately, where the various Laurie Strodes all face one another, and Karen meets the other two kids who were written out of continuity, B) I’m goddamn amazed that Cameron lives; also, Sheriff Barker, C) sadly, poor Vicky never had a chance, and neither did the Sandwich Cops, who legit were the best, D) much as I like Karen’s “gotcha” moment, I really wish it had more room to breathe, and E) Michael killed a child to show this movie isn’t fucking around, but didn’t kill the baby because, apparently, even Evil has limits.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO 2021 WRAP UP

Of the films I’d never seen before, my favorites were easily The People Under the Stairs and A Quiet Place Part II.

My least favorite movie, OTOH, was definitely The Funhouse, with Till Death as a very distant runner up. The Funhouse was this year’s Dream Home. Or Mandy.

Movies I’m Most Disappointed We Didn’t Get To: Pontypool, Lake Mungo, and One Cut of the Dead have become the redheaded stepchildren of Horror Bingo. We keep throwing them in, and they stubbornly refuse to be chosen.

Movies I’m Most Likely to Add to 2022 Horror Bingo, assuming I don’t watch them before: As the Gods Will, The Call, Bit, and maybe The Fly. (Last year’s nominees were Mayhem, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hereditary, and Cube, which. Well, hell, that was damn accurate.)

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Happy Death Day 2U, Cube, and Mayhem

Okay, I know. Halloween is over. Guess what? Horror Bingo continues until there’s a winner, and so far, it’s still neck and neck. The stakes are high! (There are literally no stakes of any kind.)

Happy November. Let’s twist this.

Happy Death Day 2U

Hdd2U GIF by Happy Death Day 2U - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2019
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Happy Death Day 2U is an interesting sequel in that it slightly genre hops from “horror comedy with an SFF plot device” to “SFF comedy with vague slasher leanings.” I don’t know that it totally works for me, though. I really enjoy the embrace of parallel dimensions–it’s always fun to see what’s the same and what’s different in any given universe–but I’m also a tiny bit bummed by just how much of a backseat the whole slasher part takes. I was also a little disappointed when I realized that only Tree would get caught in the parallel dimension time loop. That’s what I’d been initially expecting, mind you, but then we began the movie with Ryan caught in his own time loop, and I had just long enough to think, Oh, that’s so INTERESTING, before we essentially just restarted Happy Death Day in Earth 2.

That being said, Tree’s reaction to realizing she’s back in the loop? Priceless. I still like Jessica Rothe as Tree, and a lot of the humor still works for me. (Some, admittedly, is a bit goofy for my tastes.) The emotional beats work too, mostly: I like that Tree is tempted to stay, though sometimes the swelling background music is trying way too hard; also, I definitely don’t care enough about Tree/Carter to make the World Where Mom is Alive vs. World Where Carter is My Boyfriend even remotely a debate. I also enjoyed getting to see the nicer, less homicidal Lori, though I do wish we had more time to spend on Comic Relief Scientist Friends.

I’m also still a little unsure about, well, most of the time/dimension mechanics, honestly. Why, exactly, was Ryan in a time loop again? Tree got stuck in hers when the quantum machine went off, but I don’t think it went off again, so . . . not sure? Also, while Alternate Ryan is interesting, I don’t know if he makes much sense, especially considering we get 2 Ryans in Earth 1, but only 1 Tree in Earth 2. I’m curious, too, about Alternate Tree, like, I get that her mind went traveling when our Tree came into the picture, but did she actually come back? Does she remember what happened to her? Would she have been stuck forever if our Tree decided to steal her life? It’s possible I missed some of these explanations, and even if I didn’t, I’m sure many would consider them nitpicks. But IDK. In some ways, Happy Death 2U is kinda intriguing; in other ways, I feel like there’s just so much more it could’ve played with and explored.

Cube

Year: 1997
Director: Vincenzo Natali
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, in this paragraph and in the trailer above
Grade: Vanilla

Cube came out when I was about 12, and I haven’t seen it since I was, IDK. 13? 15? It’s the first horror film I can think of, offhand, that uses an escape-the-booby-trapped-room set up; it’s also the oldest film I can remember that uses the Razor Floss death trope, which became popular a few years later. (Though if you can think of older films, please do let me know in the comments.) It’s definitely influential, and I can see why it’s gained something of a cult following. (Plus two sequels, neither of which I’ve watched.)

Some parts of this movie hold up better than others. I won’t pretend I can speak expertly about good autistic rep, but everything I’ve ever read suggests that the autistic savant character is a frustrating stereotype, one that’s become dominant in film and television since Rain Man. Some of the scene transitions are kinda laughable. Also, some of the actors are notably better than their costars, though I did have fun playing spot the actor. When I first watched Cube, the only person I knew was Nicole de Boer, who was on DS9. Now, I also recognize Nicky Guadagni from Ready or Not, David Hewlitt from Stargate: Atlantis, and Julian Richings, That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada. (You may also remember him from Urban Legend, which I just reviewed a few weeks ago.)

Still, it’s a fun concept and easily watchable, if you don’t mind how awful some of these characters are. Leaven, in particular, is so much worse than I remember, both incredibly whiny and also just a total jackass to Kazan. I enjoy how Quentin, a cop, is initially presented as the calm Good Guy, only for him to slowly reveal his true nature: namely, Sexist Murderous Dick. After all, the traps only kill 2 people; Quentin, himself, kills 3. I also like the twist that the rooms themselves are moving around. (Which, uh, the trailer just straight up spoils? Way to go, trailer.)

Cube is never gonna hit my personal Top Ten, but its influence cannot be denied, and it’s worth a watch if you also enjoy this type of horror. (Also, there’s apparently a new Japanese remake? Ooh, I hope it becomes available in the US. I want to check it out!)

Mayhem

Year: 2017
Director: Joe Lynch
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mildly
Grade: Vanilla

I mean, look. I could watch Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving running around being chaotic neutral all day. They’re pretty delightful here, talking metal bands and Dave Matthews Band in between murdering people with power saws. This premise promises, well, mayhem, and it certainly delivers on that front. There were definitely moments I laughed out loud, although annoyingly, I’m having trouble remembering specific ones right now. I did love the moment when Derek confronts The Reaper in his office. Also, Ewan asking, “Do you think I like the taste of kale?” Heh.

As an actual satire, I do feel like it’s missing something. Maybe it’s because I feel like there’s something of a missed opportunity with all the other mistreated coworkers, who are by and large just around for background gags or to act as no-name henchmen. Maybe it’s because almost everyone on the board of directors acts normal, despite the fact that they’ve also been infected. The only person really acting any different is our chief villain, John (AKA, The Boss), and even then he’s mostly just yelling more and doing a lot of cocaine. The film would be stronger, I think, if none of the bosses were infected, especially if they proved to be just as violent without the excuse of an infectious, inhibition-removing disease. I also can’t help but feel like Derek Cho is resting a lot on the legal precedent of one case, as if America’s justice system is just gonna automatically treat a person of color the same as some white guy.

So, yeah, I do think the satirical aspects of this script could be stronger. (Also, the accents, which is totally not a big deal, but like. Couldn’t this just have been an international company?) OTOH, if you’re mostly watching to see Steven Yeun absolutely flip his shit or Samara Weaving add another notch to her Fun Violent Ladies On Screen belt–and let’s be real, that’s absolutely why I watched it–I mean, yeah, it’s totally a decent movie to check out.