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

Death on the Nile

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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.”

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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

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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.

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.)

TV Superlatives: March, April, May – 2020

Well. All is chaos right now, and it’s an absurd time to be talking about TV Superlatives. Regardless, that’s what we’ll be doing here today because at MGB, we believe that when people could use a moment’s break or distraction, what they really want is 5000+ words about cartoons, Chinese dramas, and CW shows.

Still. Before we get to any of that, let me list a few of the many places you can donate to help protestors and support Black Lives Matter:

Black Lives Matter

Campaign Zero

Black Visions Collective

Know Your Rights Camp

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

National Bail Fund (with a Directory of Community Bail Funds)

Please feel free to comment with links to any other related organizations or crowdfunding campaigns that you think need attention/donations. Please do not comment to say “blue lives matter” or any other inane bullshit. Save that crap for your Facebook page that nobody wants to read.

And now for the main event: our Spring TV Superlatives!

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Most Adorable, Best Kiss, Most Unintentionally Hilarious Moment, etc. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked.

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

The Untamed
Altered Carbon (Season 2)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 7)
Star Trek: Picard
Nancy Drew
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 5)
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
Nailed It (Season 4)
Harley Quinn (Season 2)
Kingdom (Season 2)
Medical Examiner: Dr. Qin (Season 1)
Village Survival: The Eight (Season 1)
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (Season 5)

Let’s get to it, shall we?

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TV Superlatives: September, October, and November – 2019

I didn’t watch as much TV this autumn as I have in months past, probably because I spent a good chunk of that time watching scary movies for Horror Bingo instead. (And, like, also writing. I do that too, occasionally.) Regardless, it’s time for another round of my seasonal TV Superlatives!

Here’s your quick catch-up for how these work:  I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Favorite Fight Scene, Least Favorite Ship, Chief Asshat, etc. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked.

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

Wu Assassins
Hotel Del Luna
Barry (Season 1)
The Good Place (Season 4)
Nancy Drew
She-Ra (Seasons 3 and 4)
The Mandalorian
Busted! (Season 1)

Let’s get started, shall we?

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Now Available At The Dark: “You Were Once Wild Here”

Friends, enemies, wayward strangers stumbling over this blog: I am delighted to announce I have a new story out today. “You Were Once Wild Here” is now available to read at The Dark!

If you are perhaps already familiar with my extensive 2019 oeuvre–it’s two stories, including this one–you might notice some similarities in my recent work: 2nd-person POV, for one; also, ace teenage protagonists. I’m extremely fond of both stories; this one, however, is much more noir in both plot and tone. If you happen to like psychic dreams, werewolves, cheerleaders, dysfunctional family dynamics, witchcraft, and murder, this might be something you’d enjoy. Official Radiohead pairing: “We Suck Young Blood.”

“A Pack of Vultures At the Feast: Knives Out, Beaks Bloody.”

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday, a stressful mix of good food, family dysfunction, and bullshit historical narratives. (Football and parades, too, if that’s your jam. FWIW, today also happens to be my birthday, and as you read this, I may very well be eating birthday cake instead of pumpkin pie. The sacrilege of it all.) Now when it comes to holiday movies, Thanksgiving obviously isn’t big business, not like Christmas. Still, there are a few films that might work well for annual viewings. You’re Next. Addams Family Values. Ready or Not, maybe. And . . . okay, that might be all I got.

. . . or all I had, anyway. Until now.

Comrades, collaborators, potential enemies: may I present to you Knives Out.

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Triple Scoop Reviews: Captain Marvel, Cast a Deadly Spell, and Bad Times at the El Royale

Captain Marvel

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other (Theater)
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Chocolate

Well, I finally did it; I left my house and got my ass down to the movie theater for the first time in, like, a bunch of months. I confess, I don’t know exactly where Captain Marvel fits in my Ultimate Marvel Movie Ranking, but I had a pretty good time: Brie Larson is a joy to watch, she has amazing buddy cop chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, and I really like her friendship with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). I know some people were really into Carol/Maria, though personally, I can’t say I ship it myself. I didn’t quite see that type of chemistry, and besides, I’m (unsurprisingly) ecstatic that Captain Marvel a) features an important friendship between two women, and b) doesn’t waste time on a needless romantic subplot. That all being said, should Carol end up with, say, Nebula or Valkyrie in later films? I’m saying, I could be here for that.

I do feel like Captain Marvel starts a bit rough. I’m not totally sure why, either, just that I wasn’t super engaged with the first, say, 20 minutes of the movie? The second Carol lands on Earth, though, the whole story comes alive. Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson are comedy gold; I particularly enjoy seeing a younger, happier, cat-loving Nick Fury. Obviously, Goose is fantastic, too. And actually, I really like all the supporting players: Ben Mendelsohn steals half the scenes he’s in, Annette Bening’s character, Dr. Lawson, goes in a pretty neat direction, and I always enjoy seeing Agent Coulson pop up. Although. Whatever they did to his eyebrows? No. Just no.

What I really like about this one, I think, is that it’s just a fun movie with a badass female lead. There’s often so much pressure on women-led films to not only be flawless but also Significant; like, if the films themselves aren’t Perfect Feminist Victories, then they’re automatic failures that only prove how this “trend” of gender-flipped and/or women-dominated films are unnecessary, a PC ploy, etc. But that’s crap for a lot of reasons: for one, every damn movie has flaws or things that could be improved; for another, a film can be significant without having to be Significant. And for the most part, Captain Marvel strikes me as a fun, easy-breezy installment in the Marvel machine; it’s another superhero movie that just so happens to have a badass lady at the forefront. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly groundbreaking material; I would say that it’s a lot of fun, and it would’ve meant a lot to me especially if I could’ve seen it as a kid.

A few final notes:

A. Gemma Chan doesn’t have a ton to do here, but I like her and I’m interested in seeing more from her in other films.

B. I’m a 90’s kid, so obviously, I’m all about this soundtrack. Garbage! Hole! No Doubt! TLC! Surely I’d buy it if I didn’t already own a good chunk of the songs.

C. Any superhero who’s dressed in a NIN shirt for half the movie is a superhero I’d like to see more of.

D. I really do like Brie Larson a whole lot in this. I’ve loved her since Envy Adams and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and I’m eager to see her in Avengers: Endgame . . . even if I’m still not super pumped to see Avengers: Endgame itself.

E. There are lots and lots of great lines in this movie, but without a doubt, the most powerful one for me was “I have nothing to prove to you.” That’s already on a T-shirt, right? I need to buy it immediately.

Cast a Deadly Spell

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other (HBO)
Spoilers: Yeah
Grade: Strawberry

Look, I was five, mostly, in 1991, so there were a few things I missed out on. For instance, did you know that HBO made a fantasy-noir TV movie about H.P “Philip” Lovecraft, a private eye who refuses to use magic in a world where everyone else does? It’s true! Fred Ward plays our shamus; meanwhile, Clancy Brown plays a gangster, Julianne Moore plays the femme fatale, and David Warner the rich, shady client. And it’s not just witches and warlocks, either; there are unicorns, gremlins, vampires, werewolves, gargoyles, demons, voodoo zombies, and, of course, the Old Ones. This is full-on urban fantasy, set in a noir backdrop, and I can’t believe I had to wait almost 30 years to discover it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean this movie is any good. Oh God, no. There’s a reason film noir is so easy to parody: hardboiled dialogue is tricky to pull off naturally, and I’m not convinced Fred Ward quite manages it. The script has a number of issues, from problematic queer rep to problematic racist shit to forgetting the basic principles of Chekhov’s magical gun. And the special effects are . . . well, let’s just say HBO has come a long way in 30 years.

But Christ, I’d love the opportunity to remake the hell out of this. I mean, I’d change a LOT. Our detective absolutely does not need to be named Lovecraft; seriously, fuck that guy. I’m keeping the Old Ones, sure, but HP goes. I’d also prefer our gumshoe had a better reason for abstaining from magic than condescending moral superiority. Everything about the queer couple (the gay guy is fat, sweaty, and pathetic; the trans woman is attacked both verbally and violently by our hero, both die badly, etc.) must fuck right off. It’d really be for the best if all the zombie slaves weren’t black, and if a virgin is going to save the day by losing her virginity before she can be sacrificed, it would help if a) she had more agency, b) wasn’t underage, and c) was actually allowed to be the hero. Instead, it’s the schmucky, adulterous, very adult cop who’s called a “hero” for having sex with her.

Still, if I could write an adult hardboiled noir urban fantasy series with or without Lovecraftian undertones for HBO today? Oh my God, that is the dream. Until then, I’ll just have to console myself with the fact that Hypolite (a witch, Lovecraft’s landlady, and presumed dead meat character) actually lives. Also? There’s a sequel. Starring DENNIS HOPPER.

I take it back. That’s the fucking dream right there.

Bad Times at the El Royale

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: ALL OF THEM
Grade: Vanilla

Man. I wanted to like this so bad.

It starts out great. The movie has a fantastic premise, a talented cast, and atmosphere in spades. I like Cynthia Erivo a lot, as well as Lewis Pullman and Jon Hamm. Hamm’s whole section–where he discovers 80 bazillion bugs in his motel room, as well as all the two-way mirrors–is particularly creepy. Unfortunately, the film also starts falling apart shortly after he dies. Specifically, I think it starts falling apart when Chris Hemsworth arrives on scene, which feels sacrilegious to say, I know. But it’s not an acting problem. The third act just desperately falls short of all the movie’s potential.

One problem, I think, is that cult leader Billy Lee (Hemsworth) doesn’t feel important enough to be this film’s chief antagonist. Creepy shirtless dancing aside, his presence and placement in this story feels a bit too random; he should just be one of the strangers at the motel with a secret agenda, not a Big Bad who strolls in thirty minutes before the end of the movie. He is, honestly, a little too boring to hold the whole third act. This story’s real Big Bad ought to be Management; they’re the villains that tie everyone’s stories together, or should, anyway. But Management is only briefly discussed, a vaguely nefarious non-entity who drops out of the movie entirely, presumably because the writers don’t know who or what the hell Management really is.

Or maybe they do know but don’t care–there’s something of a smug “we don’t have to tell you all the answers” vibe to this movie. Who’s on the film reel, for instance, and hey, I actually agree with that: we don’t need to know which famous dead person was filmed. Still, there’s a limit to how many times a movie can cheekily avoid giving you a straight answer before you wanna smack it right in the face, and Bad Times at the El Royale well surpassed that limit. Not to mention, there are just so many dropped plot threads by the end of the movie that you know it can’t all be intentional.

For instance, who murdered bank robber Nick Offerman? The movie sets it up as a mystery–we never see the killer’s face–but presumably it’s the third partner we barely glimpse in flashback, someone who’s only referred to as “the kid.” And wouldn’t you know it, desk clerk Miles (Pullman) certainly fits the bill: he’s roughly the right age, still working at this dodgy ass motel for some reason, and keeps trying to confess something that isn’t all the pervy spy shit to Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges). Except it turns out that Miles is not that guy, considering he’s literally the only character in this movie who actually thinks Flynn’s a priest–and, well, that’s it. The movie sets up a mystery in the opening act and then promptly forgets about it for the rest of the film. Also! Why the hell set a movie in a place where a literal line divides characters in different states if you’re not going to prominently use said line in an interesting way during some awesome climactic scene? Or, shit, at least figure out a way to tie it into some goddamn themes.

At 2 hours and 20 minutes, Bad Times at the El Royale is easily 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, with too much time spent on lengthy or unnecessary flashbacks. (Case in point, Miles’s incredibly last minute Vietnam War scene.) Despite all this, though, the movie is still totally watchable, especially if you, like me, are a sucker for these kinds of stories. Unfortunately, that only makes it more disappointing when what started out so promising turns out to be such a hot mess by the end.

The Great Book Superlatives of 2018, Part I

The time has come for, you guessed it, exactly what it says in the header: BOOK SUPERLATIVES.

This year, however, I’m shortening these rather drastically. Don’t worry; that still means I’ll use about 3,000 words more than necessary; a new year heralds change and all, but not, like, that much change.

In Part I, you’ll find important literary awards such as Best Christmas Story, Book I’d Most Like To See As a Movie, and–of course–my Top Ten of the Year. As always, feel free to leave your own favorites in the comments; I’d love to hear some recommendations, especially if they come with a side of muuurder.

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“Belgian! Belgian Eavesdropper!”

My sister and I have been watching old Hercule Poirot movies lately, as Tom–only completely wrong in his movie opinions about 80% of the time–informed me of their existence. Most recently, we watched Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov, and while I don’t have too much to say, I thought I’d at least write up a few, quick impressions, if only because I’d like to post something this week, and I’m not done with my next gender-swapped movie essay yet. (Spoilers: it’s about a highly regarded horror film with some seriously problematic elements.)

On to the Baby Review!

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