TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2021

It’s December, which means–well, a bunch of things, really, but today it means that I’ve come to talk about all the television I’ve been watching for the past three months. Here are the shows:

What If . . . ? (Episodes 1-5)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (Season 2, Episodes 4-10)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 8, Episodes 7-10)
Running Man/Classic Running Man (Random Episodes)
Black Spot (Season 2)
Last Week Tonight
Nailed It! (Season 6)
Squid Game
Slasher: Flesh and Blood
Yumi’s Cells (Ep. 1- 7)
Evil (Season 2)
The Great British Bake-Off (Collection 9)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Ep. 1 – 7)
Hawkeye (Ep. 1-3)

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether it’s currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings. I may discuss events from past seasons, however, without such a warning. Which is to say, I won’t spoil any of Nancy Drew, Season 3, without a big heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 or S2 are totally fair game.

Shall we begin?

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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

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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

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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!

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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: A Quiet Place Part II, The People Under the Stairs, and Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Horror Bingo continues, but first! An important change to our Very Serious Ice Cream Rating System:

The Old System: I review three films and award them Chocolate (first place), Vanilla (second place), and Strawberry (third place), regardless of how silly it is to compare wildly different movies like this. Every Triple Scoop Review has one of each flavor.

The New System: I review three films and grade them individually with this totally objective and highly scientific ice cream rating system:

God-Tier – Chocolate Salted Caramel
Really Enjoyed This – Chocolate
Enjoyed This Okay – Vanilla
Technically Proficient, But Not My Thing – Strawberry
Well, I Liked SOME of It – Rocky Road
I Actively Disliked This Movie – Pistachio
I Could Not Finish This Movie – Mint Chocolate Chip

Each Triple Scoop Review will be any combo of these flavors. Chocolate Salted Caramel probably won’t get used very often (I suspect it will primarily be awarded to old sentimental favorites), and I honestly kinda doubt I’ll use Mint Chocolate Chip at all because I can’t even remember the last time I started a movie and didn’t finish it. Feel free to argue about how I’ve unfairly maligned mint chocolate chip (or any of the other ice cream flavors) in the comments below, of course, but just know that your opinions are wrong and wrong forever.

With that, let’s get back to our movies!

A Quiet Place Part II

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Year: 2020
Director: John Krasinski
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Paramount Plus
Spoilers: Yes, in paragraphs 3 and 4
Grade: Chocolate

A Quiet Place Part II is a very competently made sequel, and for the most part, I had a pretty great time watching it. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first one, but I have the general sense that AQPP II got the Aliens treatment, you know, a little louder than its predecessor, more action all around, a bit less claustrophobic in terms of both setting and scope. But like Aliens, that totally works here, and most of what  I really enjoyed about the first film (an active Deaf protagonist, creepy Demogorgon monsters, the close focus on the Abbott family) is still present in the sequel.

Many of the scenes in AQP II have serious video game energy: the opener (which would also make for one hell of a Disneyland ride), the destroyed train scene, any of the moments when someone has to stay perfectly silent and still. (It’d be like in Until Dawn, where periodically you can’t shake the controller or INSTANT DEATH FOR YOU.) It’s all very fun, tense and entertaining. I also enjoyed Cillian Murphy in this, less because Emmett is a particularly groundbreaking character and more because Murphy is just a fantastic actor who elevates the material. All the acting is really solid, actually, and I hope to see Millicent Simmonds in more stuff because once again she’s excellent.

My primary quibbles are these: A) JFC, stop casting Djimon Hounsou just to waste him like this, and B) the feral people don’t totally work for me, mostly cause they seem, like, weird fucked up instead of normal “we kill people for food and joy” fucked up? Like, their eyes are all weird and shit, I don’t know. Maybe they’re sick with some kind of radiation? Vague Zombie Disease? It’s not that I particularly wanted a detailed backstory for these ten-minute antagonists, but they also feel slightly out of place to me like this: a bit forced and unnecessarily distracting

That being said, I did enjoy how “dive” came back around. I also like that the island community isn’t some devious trap and how nobody in the family dies; even Cillian Murphy doesn’t get the obvious redemption death I’d initially predicted. Sometimes, going optimistic works in your favor because, in horror, optimism is often the more surprising and exciting choice. (Which is another reason Djimon Hounsou’s death here annoys me so much; it’s such a predictable, throwaway moment. If his character has to die, fine, but why like this?) I like the triumph in this ending, too, as the kids each literally step up to kill the monster and protect their respective adults. It feels a touch abrupt, since we don’t actually see our heroes meet up again, but I also kinda enjoy it.

The People Under the Stairs

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Year: 1991
Director: Wes Craven
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Peacock
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no, not really
Grade: Chocolate

You know, I really enjoyed this movie. I’d never gotten around to seeing it before and the very little I knew–basically, there are weird people, and they live under the stairs–had me expecting something a bit more Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes. I wasn’t at all prepared for a satirical gothic horror criticizing conservatives, landlords, and gentrification, certainly not one with dark fairy tale sensibilities, deliciously over-the-top villains, cannibalism, bondage suits, and jokes, just like, all the jokes. This movie is a weird mishmash of a story that’s rocking at least four different tones, and I don’t exactly know why it works so well for me, but it really does.

I enjoy all of the acting, especially Wendy Robie as Mommy (or the Woman, as she’s credited). Her performance is so energetic and creepy and hilarious, and she makes for a delightful villain. This Lack of Impressed face right here, as she looks at Daddy?

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Oh, man. I felt that in my bones.

But the whole cast is pretty great. Fool is a funny, resourceful MC, and I think Brandon Quintin Adams does a great job with him, especially considering he’s all of, what? 10 or 11 here? I enjoyed A.J. Longer as Alice, too. Ving Rhames and Bill Cobbs were both a delightful surprise, and of course, this Twin Peaks fan was deeply amused to see Everett McGill here alongside Wendy Robie. I also really liked Sean Whalen, who I will always remember from Michael Bay’s “Got Milk” commercial. (Heh. I love that isn’t a joke.)

This is a story about a Black child living in a Black neighborhood trying to save his family from eviction, but it’s written and directed by a white man; as such, there are probably improvements that could be made here. If TPUtS ever does get a remake (and I know there’s been some talk), I’d really hope to see it in the hands of a Black filmmaker. But I don’t have a lot else that I wanna criticize. I thought the pacing was a bit off, maybe? But I also watched it with a couple of commercials (sacrilege, I know) and I had to take a couple additional pause breaks for my cat, so that easily could’ve been the problem. And yeah, there were a couple gags that were bit corny for my personal preference; mostly, though, I just laughed a lot. I adore pretty much the whole aesthetic: the costumes (particularly Mommy’s and Alice’s) and also the design of the house, with its multiple hidden passages and secret doors. I quite like the ending, too.

I kinda wish I’d seen this as a kid. I didn’t really get into horror until I was in junior high, but I wonder if this might’ve been the rare exception because in some ways, it kind of plays like a children’s movie–albeit a very, very dark, very, very weird children’s movie. I could absolutely marathon this with Return to Oz and The Witches.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

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Year: 2021
Director: Adam Robitel
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Only in the 4th paragraph (but spoilers throughout for the first film)
Grade: Vanilla

We watched the theatrical cut of this movie, and that’s important because the theatrical cut and the extended cut are apparently wildly different films, with completely different beginnings and endings and even different people pulling the Escape Room strings. That’s . . . weird, right? I feel like that’s weird.

Tournament of Champions is a decent sequel, though I did enjoy its predecessor more. (To be fair, my expectations for the first film were . . . not high.) I did have a good time watching this: I like death games and ridiculous horror, and obviously, yours truly was happy to see Holland Roden as one of the new players. Indya Moore was also a fun addition to the cast. I wish I found Zoey a more compelling protagonist, but I still don’t buy many of Taylor Russell’s line deliveries. I do enjoy Zoey and Ben together, though. Logan Miller is fun, and there’s something potentially interesting about a team who survived the first game entering a whole new one with a bunch of soul survivors.

The rooms and death traps are silly and enjoyable, but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Tournament of Champions was trying a little too hard to top the previous film. I did have fun (I definitely laughed when one one of the characters clowned on a dude for trying to be the Chosen One), but the sequel has basically the exact same formula as the first movie, only slightly more . . . rushed? Ludicrous? I just feel like something’s missing, and I’m not quite sure what. Maybe I just wish the puzzles themselves had been more interesting. There aren’t many surprising or exciting plot developments here except for a twist that’s telegraphed a bit too hard.

Regarding that twist, well. In the first movie, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), who was kinda awesome, fell to her death, only it turns out that she survived, and was forced to design this Escape Room, otherwise Evil Minos would kill her daughter. I was bummed when Amanda died, so I kinda like this, except . . . IDK, it almost feels weirdly more depressing, like Amanda was pretty badass in the first film, but now she’s just broken, and never really gets an arc or a standout moment or even much screen time; in fact, she’s basically dropped once they all “escape.” Mostly, it feels like she’s around to show that unlike Amanda, Zoey would never break. Which, meh. Frankly, I’d probably have traded Rachel and Brianna for Zoey in a heartbeat. Partially because I just like them more, but also because their deaths specifically feel predetermined by the game, like they never really had a shot at winning, and that’s kind of a bummer, too.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Hereditary, Till Death, and Tag

Horror Bingo continues! Once again, we have three wildly different movies to discuss today. Let’s just skip straight to the blasphemy, shall we?

Hereditary

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Year: 2018
Director: Ari Aster
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, specifically in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs
Grade: Vanilla

Hereditary is . . . okay. It’s well-acted, particularly by Toni Collette. It’s well-shot. There are definitely some nice creepy moments and a few good surprises, which I’ll detail in the Spoiler Paragraphs. I like the use of the miniatures, which are clearly eerie AF.

But on the whole, I feel removed from this story, distant. I feel vaguely bad for this family because a bunch of truly awful shit happens to them, but I also don’t know that I particularly connect to any one of them as characters. There’s never really a moment that I became fully invested in their lives or the story in general. The whole movie is kinda, hm, flatly miserable I guess? Which, yeah I get it: this is horror, and no one’s here to have a good time. But I do feel like I’ve watched other horror films about suffering and grief that I’ve enjoyed a lot more and that have meant more to me. It probably doesn’t help, either, that I just read a handful of reviews that really have that whole “yes, Hereditary is a horror film, but it’s actually about something” energy, like the entire genre was trash before Blessed A24, Lord and Savior, came to save us from ourselves. I fucking despise that shit.

As far as the actual plot goes, I initially thought that the evil cult was trying to bring Dead Grandma back to life. (The evil cult itself was pretty, obvious, right, like we all knew that Ann Dowd was definitely Evil Grandma’s Equally Evil Friend?) Once we learned about Paimon, though, I was all, Oh, got it, we’ve been trying and failing to do this for a WHILE now, first with Long Dead Grandpa and then Long Dead Uncle and now Recently Dead Charlie. I completely missed that Charlie actually was Paimon since, IDK, she was a baby, basically? Until the ending reveal, I’d just assumed she was all emotionally fucked up due to the prolonged exposure to Evil Grandma.

There are some disturbing and/or holy shit moments I liked. When Charlie died, for instance (I thought she might go out early, but didn’t expect it to happen like that) or when Gabriel Byrne went up in flames. (Damn, that was a good surprise.)  Possessed Toni Collette decapitating herself; also, when she channeled Charlie during the seance. And the ants, God, I fucking hate ants. There really is some genuinely good stuff here.

But for me, the film as a whole didn’t linger. When Hereditary was over, I was kinda like, “Well . . . that was definitely a movie I watched,” and moved about my day. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t connect to it, either, and I don’t think I was nearly as disturbed as I was meant to be.

Till Death

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Year: 2021
Director: S.K. Dale
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, technically, but nothing that should ruin the movie for you
Grade: Strawberry

Again, this is okay. It’s a fun concept: woman who’s been handcuffed to her dead asshole of a husband has to find a way to survive, especially when a couple of dudes come to rob and kill her. You know, it’s like Gerald’s Game, but worse. (I presume. Despite having been a Stephen King fan since I was 11 or 12, I’ve still never actually read or watched Gerald’s Game.) There are some specific moments I like: golf clubs, the various troubles with staircases, a nice reversal where one of the bad guys gets handcuffed to a dead body. Dead Husband (Eoin Macken) is The Fucking Worst, and rudely, this movie makes you wait a little over 20 minutes for him to die, which is obviously criminal. But mostly, it’s an easy enough way to spend an hour and a half.

Unfortunately, Emma is played by Megan Fox, and while I genuinely like Megan Fox in some things–Jennifer’s Body, for instance–I don’t think she quite works here, which is a bummer cause the whole movie kinda rides on her performance. In the first 20 minutes, she’s going for . . . hm, meek, I suppose? Sad and subservient? But it falls a little flat for me, never quite manages to feel genuine or nuanced. Her performance is a bit stronger when Emma gets to the “fuck you, corpse-husband, I will survive no matter what” stage of the game. Still, even then I don’t buy a lot of her reactions. There’s one moment when Emma yells “Fuck you!” or something, and I flat out laughed.

Mostly, I just couldn’t stop thinking of actresses I’d rather have seen in the role. Like, we’re currently watching Season 2 of Evil, right, so immediately, I’m thinking, “Man, Katja Herbers would’ve owned this.” Other possibilities: Kate Siegel (double feature this and Hush!), Florence Pugh (double feature this and Midsommar!), Samara Weaving (this scream, it is the best, I will never shut up about it), Sandra Oh (Jesus Christ, I would cut off someone’s right arm to see Sandra Oh in a horror movie.) Till Death is decent enough, but a stronger actress could’ve made this one sing.

Tag

Year: 2015
Director: Sion Sono
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, primarily in the last two paragraphs
Grade: Chocolate

I mean, damn. Tag is WILD. I knew that going in, of course, but let’s be clear: in no way does that fucking trailer prepare you for the film you’re about to watch. Holy shit.

I’m finding this one hard to talk about. Tag is a madcap rush of action, gore, and surrealism, and for the majority of the film, I had very little idea of what was going on–though I did accidentally hit on a Big Twist, which I’ll discuss in more detail later. It helps, I think, to have a “fuck it, let’s just see what happens” mindset–which isn’t to say don’t engage with the film, just, like. It’s probably not gonna make much sense until the end. If that sounds super frustrating, this might not be the movie for you. Likewise, if you hate gore (or only like it when it’s tasteful) this is also probably not your movie. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t a big problem for me. The opening scene alone, I mean, shit.

Tag is also a bit difficult to discuss because–as with any foreign film–I’m almost certainly missing cultural references or important context that Japanese audiences would know, not to mention this is Amazon, so how accurate are these translations, really? I can tell you that I enjoyed the score: I really like what I’ve heard from MONO so far; plus, there’s a brief instance of The Walking Dead theme music, which TWD, bah, but it’s damn good theme music. I can also tell you that I’d absolutely love to read an essay on this film from a queer feminist perspective. It’s not apparent from the outset, but by the end, there are some definite  fuck the patriarchy vibes here, which I enjoy. (Though there are also about a billion panty shots, which I guess you can argue makes sense, but I think the argument is weak.) And I can say–with only moderate spoilers– that one of the various antagonists in this movie is Evil Wind, a fear I deeply relate to, since apparently fire season has just sorta permanently traumatized me, goddamnit.

Here’s a funny thing: maybe halfway through the film, I told Mekaela that Tag would make for a decent video game, like, you could see how each reality felt like a different level, with different Bosses and different characters you could fight with, etc. Mek (who’d forgotten she’d seen this movie until it started) had zero reaction to this, which surprised me until we hit the end, and I realized Mitsuko actually has been in a video game this whole time, and Mek had been all, “Keep a straight face, keep a straight face.”

Tag is honestly a bit sad, although we do get that hint of optimism at the last moment. That old fucker doesn’t get his “prize,” at least, which is good. Mitsuko escapes, too, although she has to kill herself to do it, and it’s unclear exactly where she is now. Still. For a movie with Mass Murdering Wind, a pig-head groom, and absurdly comical levels of violence, Tag lands a bit heavier in the chest than I expected. This movie shows women the future, and it’s just Gross, Entitled Men Are Now Even More Entitled and Gross. I just feel very sorry for Mitsuko; also Aki, Sur, and all the other dead girls.

Triple Scoop Review: The Suicide Squad, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, and The Green Knight

The Suicide Squad 

Year: 2021
Director: James Gunn
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yes, but only in the last paragraph
Grade: Chocolate

You know, I liked this. In comparison to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, obviously, which was a convoluted disaster, but also as its own thing. Gunn’s a pretty solid fit for the irreverent, kooky violence of this particular franchise, and I laughed a lot watching the film. Which isn’t to say that every joke or plot beat works for me. There’s this whole running bit with Polka-Dot Man’s mom that fell flat almost every time. There’s something about the Harley and Silvio Luna subplot (subplot might be a stretch) that feels a bit contrived, although I absolutely love how it concludes, so. It’s not a big complaint. The movie kinda comments on America’s propensity for fucking over other nations, while also . . . IDK, how to put this, exactly. Sorta makes a joke out of it? Which, you know, felt poorly considered. And I do think Peter Capaldi is a bit wasted here.

OTOH, this is an absolutely fantastic cast. I adore Idris Elba in this, like, he has just so many great lines and reactions. Obviously, Margot Robbie as Harley continues to be the Best, and I really like Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, too. (Although I’ll probably always wish Waller was being played by a fat actress.) Joel Kinnaman got a serious glow up as Rick Flag, like, I enjoyed him so much more this time around. John Cena has pretty great comedic timing, and Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2 is sweet and sleepy and awesome. Also, a big shoutout to the scene stealers playing Waller’s support staff: Tinashe Kajese, Steve Agee, and Jennifer Holland.

Some things I can mention without spoilers: the music is great. I think Gunn is really fantastic at creating a fun, vibrant soundtrack without completely overwhelming every scene. I enjoy all the silly gore, obviously, and the flower gunfight scene, too. King Shark, of course, is a violent delight. And like I mentioned before, I laughed a LOT. That opening scene alone, like, holy shit. It’s been a stressful time. I appreciate the laughter.

With SPOILERS: I’m still tired of the Daddy Redemption trope (I swear to God, I just watched this exact setup in The Long Kiss Goodnight, it’s so ubiquitous), but I will say that Idris Elba and Storm Reid screaming at each other was kinda fun. Rick Flag bites it, which–not unexpected, but more of a bummer than I was prepared for. Captain Boomerang dies super early, which I called, as did almost everyone on Team 1. (Including Michael Rooker, who is the Nobu–that is, the character who exists to prove the bomb collar/bomb chip actually works). I really love all the background check fails: Weasel can’t swim, Bloodsport has a rat phobia, etc. Also, the intertitles are great, especially “Warner Bros Pictures presents” and “The Suicide Squad vs. Starro The Conqueror.” Finally, I was really hoping King Shark would eat Peacemaker, but . . . alas, spinoff. And as much as I enjoyed John Cena here, like. Why, of all possible characters, is Peacemaker getting a spinoff?

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Year: 1972
Director: Emilio Miraglia
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Not really, no
Grade: Strawberry

So one day, I’m hanging out, flipping around on Shudder, as you do, and I see the title of this giallo movie. Naturally, I’m like, “Holy shit, that’s the best title ever,” and check out the plot description, which reads: Two sisters inherit their family castle that is supposedly haunted by their murderous ancestor. When their friends begin disappearing, they suspect that there might be some truth to the rumors. And I’m like, “OMG, this was MADE for me.”

And yeah, I did enjoy this one. The bad guy isn’t super hard to guess, like, Mek and I got that straight away, but there were enough red herrings and general shifty behavior to keep things interesting; also, a couple of twists I genuinely didn’t expect. The murders are fun and appropriately bloody, the killer has a signature maniacal laugh, the score by Bruno Nicolai is great, and JFC, the fashion in this movie. (Much of which can be seen in this fan-made trailer.) I basically wanna own Kitty’s whole wardrobe, not to mention, steal one of Rosemary’s outfits, the one paired with the most spectacular glasses I’ve ever seen. Martin’s sexy robe amuses me (more mid-thigh robes for men!) and Franziska’s nightgown is, uh. Well, it’s certainly a look.

There are things I’d change here, like, I’d straight up cut the completely unnecessary sexual assault that has absolutely zero bearing on the plot and is never mentioned again by anybody. I’d seriously rewrite almost everything about Elizabeth, “the crazy wife” character. And I’d kill off one of the survivors because, nah. Never liked them, anyway.  But overall, I had fun. Like, cool clothes, great hair, multiple ridiculous murders, weird dream sequences, spooky old family legends, and mildly perplexing castle designs? I mean, really, what’s not to like?

The Green Knight

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Year: 2021
Director: David Lowery
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Only mild ones
Grade: Vanilla

You know. This was okay. I can see how The Green Knight might be a love-it-or-hate-it movie for some folks, but I find myself kind of caught in the middle. Again. It’s shocking, I know. Some of that might be the subject matter: Arthurian legends aren’t, by and large, my jam, and the only part of this story I knew prior to watching the film was the opening act. TBH, I really thought that was the whole story for a long time: Dude A says, “You can take the first shot, but I’m gonna hit you back just as hard next year,” Dude B says, “Ha-ha, no, you won’t,” and decapitates Dude A, and then Dude A picks up his decapitated head and says, “See you in a year, sucker!” I’m starting to wonder if maybe I read this in a spooky stories for kids book or something. But I digress.

The cast is great. Dev Patel is a solid leading man, and Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Alicia Vikander, Erin Kellyman, and Ralph Ineson all make up a strong supporting cast. There are several scenes or small moments that I enjoy: Kate Dickie reading the Green Knight’s challenge, or basically any other time the Green Knight is on screen, all the fabulous costumes and crowns and hair, the fox, the intertitles, pretty much the entire subplot with Erin Kellyman, etc. “A Meeting With Saint Winifred” was easily my favorite part of the journey, partially because I like the actress, but also because it’s such great classic ghost story shit. (Also, I was already familiar with Saint Winifred, so I got to be all, “Ha! See, I know some references!”)

It’s interesting because, in some ways, The Green Knight actually isn’t as weird as I was expecting. Surreal? Sure, and I definitely didn’t catch all the symbology involved, but the basic plot is easy enough to follow, and while the the ending is arguably ambiguous, I also wasn’t blinking, all, WTF just happened? Much of the cinematography is, of course, lovely, although to me, some of the editing choices and camerawork just felt kinda distracting. (In fairness, the Ibuprofen for my headache had not fully kicked in, so some of the spins probably weren’t doing much for my mood.) My least favorite part, without question, was the whole section with The Lord and The Lady cause, like. I was so bored. I’ve now skimmed through several interviews and reviews explaining all the hidden clues, context, visual metaphors, interpretations, etc., but . . . I’m sorry. SO. BORED.

This is my thing about The Green Knight: the trailer looked wild, and I’m glad I tried it out, but while I enjoyed bits of it, on the whole, I felt kinda *shrug* about the movie after it was over. I honestly don’t have many criticisms and would never suggest it was a bad film, but sometimes you try something and find that, meh, maybe it just wasn’t for you. Which is fine! And it’s totally possible that I might like the movie more on repeat viewings, although at present, I don’t feel any particularly need to watch it again. If I do, though, it’s definitely gonna be around Christmas.  I’m always on board for more non-traditional Christmas movies. Adding this to list!

Triple Scoop Review: Gunpowder Milkshake, Black Widow, The Long Kiss Goodnight

Gunpowder Milkshake

Year: 2021
Director: Navot Papushado
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Nope
Grade: Strawberry

I’ve been looking forward to Gunpowder Milkshake for quite a long time now, and it’s . . . okay. The cast is outstanding. Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, and Ralph Ineson? Yeah, I am here for this cast. I’m especially here for Michelle Yeoh because oh my God, Michelle Yeoh in this movie, with that hair, and those clothes, and that chain. Like, could we just have thirty more minutes with Michelle Yeoh, please?

Actually, that might be the crux of my problem with Gunpowder Milkshake: it feels a bit spread thin, a bit rushed. Please believe me, I am ecstatic to see an action movie under two hours, but I also feel that we just barely skim the surface of this world and these characters, particularly their relationships to one another. I wanted more with these badass women; in fact, I wonder if the story might have benefited from being a two or three part series, where we get to spend a decent amount of time A) with the Aunts, who are awesome, B) seeing more of Scarlet’s sorta-thrown-in-there backstory, and C) just establishing this world. Especially cause, like . . . okay, I often get extremely worked up when people complain that Work X is obviously derivative of Work Z just because they have a similar setting or something, and I was ALL prepared to insist how Gunpowder Milkshake was very much its own thing and not just a weak, gender flipped version of John Wick, which is still true, but . . . IDK, I can’t deny that it did heavily remind me of John Wick. I just feel like if the story was a little less go-go-go, maybe we’d have the opportunity to see something that sets this story and world apart aside from its fucking phenomenal cast.

The stylized action scenes are fun (particularly the diner and everything that happens in the library), and of course, I love both the violence and just the general aesthetic. I mean, this movie has fashionable LIBRARIAN ASSASSINS. There are things to enjoy here, clearly. And they did successfully trick me into thinking that a certain character would bite it, and surprise, they didn’t, so kudos on that. It’s just that, overall, I felt a bit distant from the movie. I was hoping to really get into it more than I actually did. OTOH, if Netflix gave me a prequel series with the Aunts (played by the same actresses, not younger ones, thank you very much), I would be ALL onboard. Do you hear me, Netflix? I am actually asking for a prequel, ME.

Black Widow

Year: 2021
Director: Cate Shortland
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: Yes, for this and for Endgame
Grade: Vanilla

Speaking of prequels . . .

As with most of Marvel’s properties lately, I watched this for Mek (we have a whole trade-off system), and I enjoyed it more than I expected, although I must admit, my expectations weren’t particularly high. Still, this is a very fun cast: I adore Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz, I’m very fond of David Harbour, and despite the fact that I usually cringe whenever Scarlett Johansson decides to talk about casting, I do actually like her as Black Widow. I don’t think it would’ve hurt to cast, you know, at least one Russian actor in the bunch, but wandering accents aside, I enjoy most of the action, and most of the humor, and I really like the whole spy family dynamic, particularly between the sisters. This one isn’t breaking the Marvel mold, but considering it’s only the second female-led Marvel superhero movie? To hell with it. I’m just happy to see a lady superhero get her fun popcorn flick–or I would’ve been 5 years ago. But we’ll come back to that.

There are some things I don’t think work quite so well. I’m not sure the Taskmaster twist does much for me, like, not because of the genderbent thing (I didn’t even know who Taskmaster was until I read the whining on Twitter), but because I thought her secret identity was pretty obvious, and also because it read, to me, like a way to soften Natasha’s backstory, which I felt was unnecessary. Also, the bit about Natasha’s birth mom, like, why? That definitely felt unnecessary. I didn’t love the fat jokes about Alexei, either, although at least there weren’t so many of them. (Fuck you forever, Endgame.) And sweet Jesus, how did Natasha even survive this movie? She should’ve died, like, four different times. (This one isn’t really a serious complaint, but I did need to mock.)

Still, my real problem with Black Widow is that nothing, nothing, about this movie works better as a prequel, except that Florence Pugh might not have been cast if it had come out in 2017 instead of 2021. I just couldn’t stop thinking it as we watched the movie: this story would’ve meant so much more to me if we’d seen it after Civil War, you know, when it actually takes place. This story would’ve meant so much more to me if we saw it before Natasha died. Seeing it now doesn’t provide some kind of meaningful perspective. At best, it keeps me at a distance; at worst, it actively pisses me off.  I desperately wanted a Black Widow movie once. Now, I only watched it so Mek would check out the first season of Evil with me. Like, the film is fine, and I could watch it again, but goddamnit, I would’ve actually cared back in 2017.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

Year: 1996
Director: Renny Harlin
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

After watching Gunpowder Milkshake and Black Widow, it just felt like the right time to sit down and finally check out The Long Kiss Goodnight, which is, like, 90’s over-the-top Christmas-action-noir-cheese. (Obviously, it was written by Shane Black.) And I had a good time with it: the script is chockfull of witty lines, the action scenes are fucking ridiculous, and the whole cast is great. Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson have just fantastic buddy amnesiac assassin/sleazy PI chemistry, and we’ve got some great players in the supporting cast. My favorites are probably Tom Amandes (who I first saw in Everwood and does solid work here as Aggressively Normal Husband), Melina Kanakaredes (who’s in this movie for all of two minutes, but I liked her, and bonus, she doesn’t die!) and most especially Brian Cox (whose line deliveries in this movie are the fucking best, but unfortunately does die, and a bit sooner than I was hoping.)

There are some jokes here I don’t think have aged well, and while I don’t necessarily mind a plot that has white bad guys framing their evil deeds on Islamic terrorists, I do think those stories should probably have at least one decent role for a Muslim character, like, a good guy who’s not a terrorist and has actual lines and motivations and everything. When your entire representation in a movie is one frozen dead guy, like, that’s not amazing. I also think that some of the action scenes are a bit drawn out, and I suspect I laughed at more moments than I was actually supposed to? But I like to laugh, so that was okay.

Nobody wears a fucking seatbelt even once in this movie, and basically everyone should be dead from all these insane car accidents, like, I know I just said that about Black Widow, but BW doesn’t even hold a candle to this absurdity. How are any of these people still alive? HOW DID THAT BOMB NOT GO OFF WHEN THE TRUCK CRASHED, HOLY SHIT?! I haven’t seen anything that egregiously ludicrous since Nicolas Cage ran around Alcatraz without exploding his little green toxin ball.

So 90’s. So cheese. (So scrumptious.)

World’s Worst Trekkie: The Omega Glory, The Ultimate Computer, Bread and Circuses, and Assignment: Earth

I know I usually tackle this show three episodes at a time, but with only four episodes left in Season 2, I thought it’d be best to lump them all together.

This is important because it means I have to adjust my very scientific ice cream based rating system. I will now be introducing a fourth flavor: mint chocolate chip. And while I know that many of you will be incorrectly thinking yum, mint chocolate chip is, in fact, the worst flavor–yes, even worse than strawberry–because mint is the devil’s food. There is no lower grade on this blog than mint chocolate chip.

“The Omega Glory”

Wow. Wow. I guess I know what’s winning the mint. “The Omega Glory” may very well be the worst Star Trek episode I’ve ever seen, which is saying something. I mean, it’s worse than the Nazi episode. The Nazi episode. It’s almost impressive, how awful this is. The fact that touch telepath Spock mind controls a woman from across the room simply by Intense Staring is the very least of this episode’s problems.

It doesn’t start so bad. The Enterprise discovers that nearly the entire crew of the U.S.S. Exeter were infected with some weird disease which essentially dehydrated them so badly that their bodies collapsed into crystals. Like, yikes. Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Red Shirt, also now infected, beam down to this planet where they’ll be safe so long as they don’t leave. Captain Tracy, sole survivor of the Exeter, pretends to be a good guy for a whole three minutes before vaporizing Red Shirt and holding our heroes hostage. Turns out, the people on Omega IV all live for centuries or longer, and Tracy wants to figure out this Fountain of Youth shit so he can leave the planet and live forever.

Tracy is a weirdly cartoonish bad guy, especially considering how he’s introduced as this legendary Starfleet captain. (It’s almost funny, just how few fucks this dude gives about his entire dead crew.) Of course, Immortality Seeker is a classic villain trope, but it feels bizarrely random here, like they picked it because it was classic, not because it actually makes sense for this character or this story. Still, the aliens are the real problem here: the Yangs (portrayed by white actors) and the Kohms (portrayed by Asian actors). The Kohms are peaceful and “civilized,” while the Yangs are the unreasonable “savages,” something that’s clearly presented as a surprise, like, isn’t it shocking how the brown people are the civilized ones? It’s definitely no accident that Sulu remains onboard for the majority of this racist ass episode.

It turns out that, somehow*, this planet mirrors Earth’s history to a ludicrous degree. Like, the Big Twist is that the Yangs are actually this planet’s equivalent of Yankees, complete with their own version of the U.S. Constitution, the Pledge of the Allegiance, and–I shit you not–a whole ass American flag. Meanwhile, the Kohms are communists, I guess, and unlike Earth (where a war was avoided), the Kohms defeated the Yangs way back when, pushing them out of civilization and taking over their lands. Which is why the Yangs dress, act, and speak the way they do–because they’re also supposed to represent the Native Americans in this world. It’s, whew. It’s real bad.

Honestly, there’s so much gross bullshit here that it’s hard to even know where to begin. Like, how this episode fully embraces several racist Native American stereotypes, or how Cloud William (the Yangs’ leader) speaks in what I guess is meant to be some kinda generic Native American accent? How the Kohms were secretly bad guys all along, kicking the freedom-loving Yangs out of their land, and how the poor white people were just trying to fight for their own home. How incredibly, ludicrously stupid these language parallels are, and how Spock refers to the Kohms as “Asiatics.” Like, dear God. I can’t even get into Kirk’s hypocritical treatment of the Prime Directive here, which is also garbage. I just . . . wow, there really is nothing good to say about this episode. It is appalling. My eyes are weeping blood.

*There are apparently explanations in some tie-in novels, but in the episode itself? Nope.

Chief Asshat: Gene Roddenberry, who actually wrote this shit

MVP: Scotty and Chekov, for having the good sense to not be in this episode

Grade: Mint Chocolate Chip

Line of the Episode:

(about the Vulcan neck pinch)
“Pity you can’t teach me that.”
“I have tried, Captain.”

“The Ultimate Computer”

We’ve already had a ton of supercomputers on TOS, so I may have facepalmed when I saw the name of this episode. Surprisingly, though, I enjoyed “The Ultimate Computer.” The Enterprise is ordered to install the M-5, a system so sophisticated that it only requires a skeleton crew, which very well may put Kirk out of a job. (And you know. Most everyone else on the Enterprise, but nobody really addresses them.) All the job anxiety stuff still feels pretty relevant now, TBH, and I love how the M-5 totally calls Kirk out for assigning himself and Bones to away missions when their presence is definitely not required. Not that this pattern will be changing anytime soon, alas.

For a while, things go great. Then the M-5, having difficulty distinguishing between a real threat and a false alarm, obliterates an empty freighter. That’s enough for Kirk to call the whole thing off; unfortunately, as he insists on saying this out loud, it’s no real surprise when the M-5 easily locks them out of control before killing a dude who gets in the way and then starts attacking Federation vessels for good measure. Bunches of people die. The M-5 is desperately trying to protect itself because its whole purpose is to keep people from dying in space; when Kirk points out the obvious logical inconsistency, the M-5 self-destructs–a logic bomb that works better than others, I think, because it’s actually written as the M-5’s decision, rather than an inability to compute some paradox it would totally be able to compute. Then Kirk saves the day by relying on human intuition, and everything ends happily . . . except for Dr. Richard Daystrum, that is, who created the M-5 and has a full breakdown.

Some things I enjoy: the M-5 was created with human engrams and is, for all intents and purposes, an AI, which is kind of neat. And Daystrum (who will be referenced in multiple other Trek shows), is played by William Marshall, AKA, Blacula. Marshall was a very, very tall man and had a rather nice voice, so I just like listening to him talk–usually to insult Kirk. He has a few moments here I enjoy: his whole “men no longer need die in space” monologue and when he’s trying to reason with the M-5. Also, I think we see a space station for possibly the first time? Oh, and when Kirk is feeling low, Spock tells him, “A starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it or him.” Which is obviously Vulcan for, “Dude, I love you, and I’ll follow you anywhere.”

My only real problem here is that I’m not wild about how Daystrum’s motivation goes from “saving people” to “no one thought I was relevant and cool anymore, so I made this (ultimately terrible) thing.” It’s not that the latter motivation can’t work (or that Daystrum couldn’t feel both simultaneously), but the bitter childhood prodigy angle felt a bit forced to me, a bit too late in the game for my liking. I’m much more interested in Daystrum as this tragic figure who simply tried his best to help people and failed. Still, overall, this is a pretty solid episode.

Chief Asshat: Oh, Commodore Wesley, no doubt. He needles Kirk by calling him “Captain Dunsel,” essentially saying Kirk serves no useful purpose anymore, and then immediately assumes Kirk is responsible for the attack when it makes way more sense for it to be an M-5 malfunction.

MVP: William Marshall. Could listen to that man all day.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode:

“Please, Spock, do me a favor and don’t say it’s fascinating.”
“No, but it is . . . interesting.”

“Bread and Circuses”

“Bread and Circuses” makes a lot of Top 10 Worst TOS Episodes lists, and I get why: it’s pretty dumb, and it’s dumb in a lot of the same ways that “The Omega Glory” is. This is yet another world that’s basically just alternate Earth, only here we have 1960’s tech in a world where Rome never fell . . . which means we get gladiator fights on reality TV. Honestly, that part was great; I laughed out loud when they pulled back to reveal the Hollywood set. Unfortunately, it also means that we have to learn about Hodgkin’s Bullshit Law of Parallel Planet Development to explain budget problems, ethnocentrism, a criminal lack of imagination how these people could possibly speak English, amongst other nonsense. I guess that’s better than not explaining it at all?

Despite this, “Bread and Circuses” is considerably less offensive than “The Omega Glory” and far more fun to watch. For one, Kirk isn’t the guy engaging in (seemingly unending) fisticuffs! Bones and Spock get that honor this time, facing off against a pair of gladiators, and it’s delightful. Spock gets a new undercover beanie, too; this one is tan and, per usual, he loses it almost immediately. Let’s see . . . I immediately and correctly predicted Evil Roman Dude would stab Last Minute Redemptive Bad Guy in the back, so yay, me. And there’s a really interesting scene between Bones and Spock, where Bones tries to thank Spock for saving his life and ends up accusing him of being afraid to live. I don’t know if the whole scene works for me, exactly–I don’t think it has quite enough space to breathe–but it is, well, fascinating.

Of course, it’s not all fun fight scenes and antagonistic heart-to-hearts. I can forgive the bad guy, I guess, who doesn’t exactly have a firm grasp on the concept of “incentives.” (“Beam your whole crew down so that most of them can die, or else I’ll . . . kill only these two officers?”) The Prime Directive stuff here, too, is pretty ridiculous, and I’m not sure why we’re only clearly defining it now, anyway, at the very end of the second season.

But the worst bits are definitely these: A) it’s heavily implied that Kirk sleeps with the pretty sex slave who, while apparently “willing,” definitely cannot give actual consent, and B) our heroes save the day by . . . running away, leaving behind the last few survivors they actually came to rescue. They don’t defeat the bad guy or end slavery or any of that good jazz, but it’s okay, see, because it turns out that the rising rebellion of Sun worshippers are actually Son worshippers, which means we don’t have to feel bad for abandoning the planet because Christianity is coming to save everyone.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, no question

MVP: Scotty, who basically saves the day by interpreting Kirk’s orders as guidelines

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: Ooh, difficult. There’s Bones taking the time to yell at Spock, even as he’s poorly defending himself in the gladiator fight. There’s also Spock dryly agreeing with Kirk that the people shooting at them do, indeed, seem to mean it. But I think I have to go with Bones’s somewhat relatable anti-Prime Directive wish:

“Once, just once, I’d like to be able to land someplace and say, ‘Behold! I am the archangel Gabriel!”

“Assignment: Earth”

“Assignment: Earth” is the season finale of S2 and kind of an odd episode all around. For one thing, our heroes have intentionally time-traveled back to Earth 1968 for, I guess, historical research? Which is just not how time travel usually works in Trek. (It also remains unclear how they were gonna conduct said research, as Kirk and Spock make it seem like the initial plan was not to leave the ship, which seems . . . counterintuitive?) More importantly, however, our heroes are largely absent for half the episode and mostly just manage to fuck things up when they are around. (Spock insists they actually helped history play out as it was supposed to, but he’s just trying to save face. Kirk absolutely almost gets everyone killed.) Instead, the action mostly focuses on this mysterious dude, Gary Seven, and his pet cat, Isis, who have come to stop a missile launch that will doom everyone. The setup is so strange that the whole episode almost feels like a backdoor pilot, except did they even have backdoor pilots in the late 1960’s?

Apparently, yes. They did because that’s exactly what “Assignment: Earth” is, a backdoor pilot for a show that nobody picked up. It’s unfortunate, too, because although the pacing of this one is a bit off, I actually really enjoyed Gary Seven and Isis. Seven is sort of an understated character, but he has a dry sense of humor that appeals to me, and I had fun watching him deal with his delightfully snotty computer, the Beta 5, and communicate with his cat. (Isis has a human form too, of course, but we only briefly see it at the end of the episode.) All of Isis’s cat attacks are hilarious. Also in one scene, Seven clambers up to the missile to sabotage it, while Isis helpfully hangs out on his back. It’s fantastic. I’d have watched the holy hell out of this show.

Teri Garr is fun in this, too. She’s playing Roberta, the secretary who accidentally gets wrapped up in all these secret agent/time travel shenanigans, and she feels like the rare female character in TOS who, by God, actually gets to be funny. The new characters all click here; it’s mostly that the action, itself, isn’t terribly interesting, particularly in the second half. Plus, yeah, the characters you actually showed up for are kinda twiddling their thumbs a lot. Still, I had a decent time watching this episode.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Kirk doubting Seven totally makes sense, but it also nearly starts World War III, so . . .

MVP: The Gary Seven, Isis, and Beta 5 trio.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode: “That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know? We wonder if we’re gonna be alive when we’re thirty.”

TV Superlatives: March, April, May – 2021

It is time, once again, for me to spend far too many words discussing all the television I’ve been watching. In today’s post, we will be awarding TV shows (or maligning them) with silly superlatives like Favorite Weapon, Favorite Product Placement, Least Favorite Ship, and The Blood Thirst Letdown (AKA, The Stannis Award).

Here is the list of everything I’ve been watching these past few months:

Ancient Detective
Star Trek: TOS (Season 2, Episodes: 11-22)
Last Week Tonight
Detective L
Star Trek: Discovery (Season 3)
Nancy Drew (Season 2, Episodes 7-18)
The Head
Heaven’s Official Blessing
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
A Murderous Affair in Horizon Tower
The Mandalorian (Season 2)
Murder Princess
Word of Honor
A Black Lady Sketch Show (Season 2)
Sell Your Haunted House (Episodes 1-13)
Shadow & Bone

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether it’s currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings.

Lots to get through today, so let’s go ahead and begin.

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

The 9th Guest

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

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

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

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

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

Mortal Kombat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palm Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DISCLAIMER

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

“A Piece of the Action”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

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

“The Immunity Syndrome”

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: Chocolate

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

“A Private Little War”

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

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

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

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

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

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

MVP: Definitely the mugato.

Grade: Strawberry

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