Triple Scoop Reviews: The Witch: Part I – The Subversion, Death Bell, and Guns Akimbo

The Witch: Part I – The Subversion

Year: 2018
Director: Park Hoon Jung
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I really enjoyed this Korean SF/F action-horror movie. I confess to not totally getting the title (something lost in translation, perhaps), but the movie itself is a pretty good time. Kim Da Mi is excellent here as Goo Ja Yun, an amnesiac who ran away ten years ago from one of those evil government facilities that likes to experiment on children. (A very specific sub-genre I’m apparently a sucker for, considering Dark Angel, Stranger Things, The Pretender, etc.) I also like Go Min Shi, who plays Ja Yun’s excitable best friend, and Choi Woo Shik, who plays, well, Chaotic Evil. I very much enjoyed the latter’s work in Train to Busan and Parasite, but it wasn’t until I saw this movie that I realized, oh, he’s not just talented; he’s hot. Lots of people try for smirky evil hot but only manage smirky obnoxious. Choi Woo Shik is not one of those people.

The Witch: Subversion – Part I has a slow, steady build with an explosive third act, and I’m looking forward to seeing a sequel. (I believe a trilogy is planned?) There are other things to talk about; unfortunately, they all include spoilers, and I’d prefer not to get into those now. But the movie is an awful lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who also enjoys a) this very specific sub-genre, and b) violence. Because there is most certainly violence. Obviously, I approve of this.

Death Bell

Year: 2008
Director: Chang
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Some. Mind the tags, in particular
Grade: Strawberry

This is apparently a hugely popular horror film in South Korea and was fun enough to watch, but ultimately, I’m pretty meh on the actual execution. I’m all about the basic setup, of course: a group of kids (and teachers) are trapped at a high school and forced to successfully solve a series of test questions, or else their classmates will be violently murdered. I like the idea of the bad guys here and their respective motives. I’d genuinely like to see this film remade by a different director with a better script.

But as is, I have several problems, like, almost none of the death traps work for me, not just because they’re such obvious Saw knock-offs, but because they’re way too elaborate and ridiculous to fit the actual scenario. (Some people are quick to accuse a horror movie of being a Saw knock-off just because its exceptionally violent and/or includes death traps, but these ones really do lack originality.) There is both a human and supernatural angle to this story; unfortunately, the supernatural stuff mostly feels mishandled. The last minute twist seems particularly cheap because it doesn’t feel supported by the actor’s performance at all–though it does, I suppose, at least make another character’s whole storyline less random in retrospect. (Still not terribly fond of it, TBH.)

Additionally, two quick notes: one, I’m all about horror movies acknowledging that girls have periods–seriously, I am all for it–but this mostly felt like an excuse for a weird upper thigh shot, so, eh? And two, any sympathy I might have had for one character completely goes out the window the second she realizes that everyone around her has mysteriously passed out and decides that this is a great time to put on her headphones, alone, in the middle of a school where multiple people have been murdered. I. You. What. WHY?!?!?!

Guns Akimbo

Year: 2020
Director: Jason Lei Howden
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Vanilla

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re into over-the-top, gonzo action flicks like me, but there are also things that don’t quite land. For one, I’m not sure I’m totally buying our Big Bad; Ned Dennehy is okay in the role, but I feel like other actors could’ve done more with it. Neal McDonough, for instance, was made for this kind of villain. Also might’ve enjoyed Clancy Brown, who Mek suggested for some punk Highlander vibes. More importantly, though, Guns Akimbo has this weird tendency to throw in a moral now and then that just doesn’t work. Like when Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) wonders how long it’s been since he went outside without staring at his phone, and I’m like, bitch, that’s some weak tea satire; are you actually mistaking that for an original perspective, and anyway, who the hell is thinking “gosh, I wish I’d stopped to smell the roses” when they’re stumbling around after waking up with gun hands? I feel, too, that there’s a small but annoying thread of “anti PC culture” running throughout the film, an impression that only seems validated after remembering the controversy around director Jason Lei Howden. Yikes.

All that being said, I could watch Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving in this all day. They’re both great here: Radcliffe has some absolutely phenomenal reactions–I am so down for all his absolutely bizarre post-HP projects–whereas Weaving is just as iconic here as she was in Ready or Not. She’s pretty fantastic in this, IMO. Not every bit of humor lands right (Rhys Darby’s character, sadly, feels like a series of punch down jokes, much as my Voltron geek girl heart hates to admit it), but a lot of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious; for example, I about died when Miles tried to cut off this cop’s tragic backstory. I like Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), too; she doesn’t get much to do, unfortunately, but I did find her interesting. Also, Nerf Guy!

If you like the concept of Guns Akimbo, there’s a decent chance you’ll like the movie: there are some really fun fight scenes, amusing bits of meta humor, one or two solid surprise moments, and just a very enjoyable soundtrack. I’m actually glad I watched it; I just really wish I could tweak it some, too. And yeah, it’d also be nice if the writer/director didn’t entirely suck as a person.

World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “Journey to Babel”

Spock’s family tree is weird. Not, like, Skywalker weird–I’m relatively sure no one was impregnated by a mystical energy field–but still, people can’t seem to resist giving this guy completely random siblings. This happened first in The Final Frontier (23 years after TOS first aired) and then in Discovery (51 years after TOS aired). “Journey to Babel,” however, introduces us to a slightly higher branch of that tree: Sarek and Amanda.

Yes, friends, foes, and total strangers, it’s time for Meet the Parents: the Star Trek edition.

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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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“Isn’t This Fun? It’s Like a Sleepover.”

Birds of Prey (and The Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) apparently underperformed at the box office last weekend–although, also kind of not, like, maybe we could wait half a second before pronouncing it DOA and throwing its corpse to the wolves, thanks? (ETA: Don’t even get me started on the rebranding. I’m flat out ignoring that nonsense.)

Since I did actually see Birds of Prey last Friday, though, let’s talk about the movie, shall we? Because it’s an awful lot of fun, and I really hope more people go out to see it. If Charlie’s Angels meets Deadpool with a side of, IDK, Smokin’ Aces sounds intriguing to you–or if you liked Margot Robbie and the cotton candy sparkle of Suicide Squad but hated the inconsistent tone, the incoherent storyline, the muddy action scenes, the Joker, and basically everything else about that film–well, this one might be worth checking out.

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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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Triple Scoop Reviews: Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Skeleton Twins, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Nah, unless you really don’t wanna know who plays Jack
Grade: Chocolate

I haven’t watched Jumpin’ Jack Flash in years, but I grew up on this movie–I grew up on a whole bunch of Whoopi Goldberg films, actually; she was probably my favorite actress as a kid–and I’m stoked to see this one holds up really well. Not everything holds up, like, there are one or two jokes best left in the 80’s and, of course, Marty (Stephen Collins) is super likable until you remember that the actor playing him admitted to sexually abusing minors in 2014.

The movie, though, is pretty great, and I adore Terry (Goldberg), our foul-mouthed, hopeless romantic, total nerd of a protagonist. (If you’re going to argue with me about the nerd thing, you’re wrong: she’s a computer geek, talks to herself, dresses kind of goofy, has toys all over desk, etc. NERDS UNITE FTW.) And Whoopi Goldberg is great in the role: she’s sharp, funny, and somehow manages to make all the many scenes of reading Jack’s messages out loud actually seem natural. The genre blend of romantic-spy-comedy works really well for me, and I just love a lot of little things about this movie: all the dialogue, the Rolling Stones appreciation, the set design of Terry’s apartment–I need that giant toothbrush–etc. I like a lot of the supporting players, too: I particularly get a kick out of Peter Michael Goetz as Mr. Page, not to mention that this was the first movie I knew either Garry Marshall or Carol Kane from. (Kane’s line delivery of she’s unwrapping the STROLLER is often, and poorly, imitated in this house.)

Plus, Jumpin’ Jack Flash has gotta be Hollywood’s very first internet romance, right? Like, this movie was made in 1986. It’s so ahead of its time! (Although I will admit that, as a child, I was very disappointed with how Jack looked when he finally showed up. Apologies to Jonathan Pryce, but deeply shallow 7-or-so-year-old Carlie was like, “That guy? That guy is Jack?” It was like watching the Beast transform into his inferior human self with his inferior human voice all over again. At least Jack’s voice didn’t completely change.)

The Skeleton Twins

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

I’ve been wanting to try out more of Bill Hader stuff’s since watching It, Chapter 2, so naturally I had to a) binge the first season of Barry last week, and b) check out The Skeleton Twins, a dysfunctional family comedy-drama about estranged siblings. I have kind of a soft spot for both sibling stories and dysfunctional family shit, though I’m often not enthused about how said stories turn out, the former because it so often boils down to “opposite siblings are opposite” and the latter because they’re so often focused on unhappy marriages, like, I could easily go ten years without another boring marital affair subplot.

The Skeleton Twins definitely does have some marital affair shit going on, but for the most part, I liked this movie. I’ll admit, I can’t help but feel that there’s something missing from it, but I’m hard-pressed to say what, exactly, just that there’s a certain amount of predictability to all the emotional beats of the story, so I always felt like I knew exactly where it was going. Still, the acting is great all-around: both Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig give strong performances, and Luke Wilson is just spectacularly well cast. There are also several scenes I really enjoyed (this lip-syncing one is obviously a highlight), and I did become very invested in Milo and Maggie’s relationship, like, I’m really rooting for them to work it out and save each other. And sure, while the siblings initially come across as “the responsible one vs. the irresponsible one,” it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that this isn’t really the case, and I liked that.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

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

This is okay, but it’s definitely my last favorite of the John Wick series thus far. On the plus side, all the fight scenes are a lot of fun, obviously–John kills people in creative new ways, like with books or horses! And I like some of our recent additions to the cast: Asia Kate Dillon has got such a cool aesthetic here, and besides which, I’m forever a sucker for the administrative side of the assassin business. (See also my absolute obsession with the tattooed switchboard operators. Jesus Christ, I love them so much. I want a TV show with them so badly.) I also enjoy Mark Dacascos as our slightly psychopathic assassin, mostly because he so often plays a very solemn or dignified character–Double Dragon very much excepted–where here it’s more like “I’m a fan!” and “we could’ve been pals if only I didn’t have to kill you!” I could do without the whole “we’re the same, you and I” stuff, but otherwise, I liked him.

Still, I think Parabellum has some structural issues. Not much about Casablanca works for me, I’m afraid: Halle Berry’s whole section feels like an awkwardly inserted backdoor pilot, which I’d probably be more willing to forgive if I liked her better in the role. Unfortunately, I never really bought Sophia’s whole angry, tough girl thing, anymore than I did in X2 when Storm very suddenly became super angry and super American. And to be clear, I was 140% into all of her fight scenes, like, Berry does a great job with them, and her dogs are obviously the goddamn best, but the scenes with actual dialogue? Yeah, I didn’t love them. Jerome Flynn and Saïd Taghmaoui also felt unnecessary, especially and unfortunately Taghmaoui, who I’ve enjoyed in various small roles over the years, but this one is just . . . meh. Not poorly acted or anything; I just didn’t care about this whole “man who sits above the table” thing. And all John’s wandering through the desert like Jesus just felt . . . silly, and surprisingly, not the good kind of silly.

And it must be said that while I emphatically do not come these movies looking for realism, like . . . come on, there is a limit to how many times a dude can be thrown through a wall of glass without bleeding out before I’m like really? REALLY? I quickly lost count, but I wanna say John got kicked or thrown through, like, 13 different panes of glass in about fifteen minutes, and dude, that boy be dead. That boy is an ex-parrot. And I don’t care if he’s the Baba Yaga or not; if this motherfucker doesn’t have Wolverine’s healing abilities, he’s stick-a-fork-in-me done. It’s not just all the glass, either, although admittedly, that’s probably the most in-your-face absurdity; during this movie, John also gets a) hit by two cars, one right after the other, b) stabbed in the shoulder (where the blade nicks the artery, but a quick five-minute stitch-up with no blood transfusions, and he’s fine), and finally c) shot off a fucking roof–and like, I’m not talking some one-level grocery here. This is a four story building, and this motherfucker bounces off a metal fire escape on the way down. John Wick is basically just a broken meat sack of goo at this point, or should be.

Generally, I enjoy how this movie sets up for the next, but man, if John Wick, Chapter 4 doesn’t reveal his secret origin story as a metahuman or literal creature of the night, well, my friends, we’ve shot past light speed straight into ludicrous speed.

MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Well, here we are, folks: the end of the Mission: Impossible line, at least, until 2021. Fallout is the sixth film in this franchise; it’s also, as you may remember, the reason Mek and I decided to do this rewatch in the first place. Because while critics last year unanimously praised the film, even proclaiming it the best in the series, Mek and I were somewhat less enthused.

Now that I’ve recently rewatched the previous five films, it’s time to give Fallout a second chance and see if the critics were right all along.

Year: 2018
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yes, definitely

One of the unusual things about the M:I movies is that every single film has been directed by a different dude, at least, until this installment. Christopher McQuarrie, who saw considerable success with Rogue Nation, decided to come back for Fallout, and considering how phenomenally well Fallout did, it’s no surprise that he was asked back for M:I – 7 and M:I – 8. Initially, I was excited about this, considering how much I loved Rogue Nation, and indeed, many of my favorite things about that film (amazing fight scenes, awesome car chases, Badass Ilsa Faust) reappeared here.

Unfortunately, other aspects of this film feel more like inferior echoes than cool trademarks, like, I’m pretty done with both “the CIA doesn’t trust the IMF” and “hey, let’s frame Tom Cruise again!” The plot’s a bit thin here, and I sort of wish we hadn’t brought Solomon Lane back so soon, either. Though as far as villains go, he’s actually less of a problem for me than Henry Cavill, who I like in the role, except for how the role doesn’t really work. Like, as a jerk CIA assassin, Cavill’s actually pretty great; unfortunately, it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to be a secret bad guy, which is . . . fine, I guess, though it’d be nice if there were some other suspect in the running besides Angela Bassett. (Much like Laurence Fishburne in Mission: Impossible III, Bassett is far too obvious to actually be the traitor.) Still, Cavill is enjoyable as a frustrated second banana villain, too; the part where he gets in (Fake) Solomon’s face, all, “Why do you have to make this so fucking complicated?” works for me on, like, a spiritual level. But I also don’t for a second believe he’s the same dude who wrote a fucking apocalyptic manifesto; like, I get it, people have layers; I’m not saying you can’t break heads and write manifestos, but this guy ain’t it.

Angela Bassett, sadly, is somewhat wasted in the role; she owns what little screen time she has, but is given virtually nothing to do, as she’s mostly here to play the role of Bureaucratic Antagonist that Alec Baldwin played last movie. Baldwin, meanwhile, has rapidly transformed from Reluctant Jerkface Ally to Personal Cheerleader for the IMF, and it’s a problem for me, one, because I absolutely don’t buy it (seriously, they also did this same shit with Fishburne in Mission: Impossible III), and two, because the writers might as well have given Baldwin a shirt that said “DEAD MEAT” on it. And even if you weren’t sure from the get-go, you probably figured it out when our heroes welcomed Baldwin to the team, like, seriously, folks. I remember sitting in theater, thinking, Ha-ha, okay, YOU’RE dead. And it can be hard to appreciate a heroic death when you see it coming at a million paces. Everything about Hunley in this movie felt artificial AF.

That all being said, I do enjoy Fallout more than I did on first viewing. It’s honestly an extremely solid action film, and there’s a whole lot about it to both enjoy and admire. The bathroom fight scene is easily one of my favorite fight scenes in the whole franchise. The car chase through Paris is incredibly well done; despite taking up a significant amount of screen time, the sequence is broken up into manageable chunks and otherwise edited so beautifully that I never found myself fidgeting or wondering how long this would go on for. Other action movies, take note: this is how you do a car chase.

I also absolutely adore the addition of Vanessa Kirby as the White Widow, AKA, Max’s daughter. I was not expecting such a tie-in from the first film, and I think they nailed the casting here; Kirby is such a wonderful combination of posh, mercenary, hungry, and wild, and I will be sorely disappointed if she does not show up in future films. Benji and Ilsa, too, remain my absolute favorites, and I am all about scenes with these two working together, saving each other’s lives, etc. Give me more platonic world saving, please! I am always here for it, and Fallout, disappointingly, doesn’t focus on the team dynamics nearly as much as the past two films. I am, and forever will be, a sucker for a good team dynamic.

Finally, I am genuinely impressed with how Ethan and Julia’s relationship wraps up here: Fallout officially closes the chapter on their romance without killing off Julia or turning her into some bitchy, shrill, bullshit version of herself. They still can’t be together, but it’s okay because they’ve both moved on. She’s not bitter about how her life has turned out; on the contrary, she’s in love with another man, doing the work that she wants to be doing, and is grateful that meeting Ethan allowed her the opportunity to find her happiness and purpose. It’s genuinely so refreshing to see such a positive, healthy end to a fictional romance. It’s rare that love interests are treated with this amount of consideration. Even if I had absolutely hated Fallout, I would respect the movie for this bit alone.

Which leaves us, at long last, with our Best to Worst of the M:I Movies:

The Final Ranking (as of 2019)

1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
4. Mission: Impossible
5. Mission: Impossible III
6. Mission: Impossible II

If you’ve been enjoying these reviews–or hell, if you just happened to read this one–please comment and let me know! It’s always nice to have confirmation that I’m not just analyzing into the void. Plus, if you have suggestions for what movie series or body of work I should cover in my next Mega Re-Watch, I want to hear them! (Just don’t say Marvel. Please, anything but Marvel. After I see Endgame this week, I suspect I’m going to need a serious Marvel break. NO ENDGAME SPOILERS, PLEASE.)

MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Hm. It seems we’ve officially hit the point in this Mega Rewatch where I review movies I’ve actually already reviewed, albeit seven years ago. I first saw Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in theater, mostly on a whim; it also happens to be the movie that got me back into the M:I franchise.

It’s been some time since I’ve watched this one all the way through, but having just reread my original review of the film, I can tell you that, nearly a decade later, my opinions about Ghost Protocol are largely unchanged.

Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yeah. Though, honestly, I’m not sure how much there is to really spoil.

While John Woo and Mission: Impossible II are technically responsible for turning an espionage thriller into an action fest franchise, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the first film in the series that’s actually a good action movie. There are things I’d change here, of course: our bad guy, Hendricks, is such an underdeveloped villain that he actually makes Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III look faintly interesting by comparison. None of this is the late Michael Nyqvist’s fault, BTW; he’s given so little dialogue and screen time to work with that he never really had a chance of developing the character. I see a faint glimmer of Old School Bond Villain, maybe–certain line deliveries, the whole white suit–but it’s barely more than a vague impression. I’ve given Marvel a lot of shit over the years for their lackluster villains, but I think Mission: Impossible might be the franchise to beat for utterly lame bad guys.

Also lame: the twist that Hendricks is posing as his own right-hand man because seriously. Why? The Kremlin blowing up remains something of a CGI eyesore in what is otherwise a fantastically shot film. And while Paula Patton is fine in the role, Agent Jane Carter is very much the One Girl on the Team. She’s not terrible, but she does make me yearn for Ilsa Faust. That being said, I’d love to see all the Left Behind Ladies of the M:I Franchise make cameos in future films. I mean, I know that won’t happen, but it’d be cool to watch, like, Paula Patton and Maggie Q heading off for some mission at the beginning of M:I – 7. Or for Thandie Newton to show up and steal something and otherwise be a badass who doesn’t die.

Shifting gears to talk about what does work: well, quite a lot, actually. The action scenes in this movie are on point, especially everything that happens in Dubai. Watching Ethan step out of the billionth story window with nothing but his (soon-to-be malfunctioning) Grippy Gloves still makes me tense, which I think is impressive. I enjoy the fight scenes, too, particularly between a) Avenging Jane vs Lady Assassin, and b) Beat Up Ethan vs Beat Up Hendricks. More than anything, though, I really appreciate the easy humor that’s prevalent throughout this whole film: Sidorov’s face when he finds Ethan stranded outside on the hospital ledge. Ethan being taunted by the Malfunctioning Grippy Glove. Brandt’s total anxiety about jumping into a computer array. Luther mocking Ethan for actually saying “mission accomplished” out loud. And, of course, almost every thing Benji says or does.

A boring villain is always disappointing, sure, but to me, the combination of standout action scenes and laugh-out-loud humor more than make up for any lame bad guy.

Finally, a few asides:

1. Yay! The flash-forward opening credits are back!

2. Holy shit, I totally forgot how Ghost Protocol just brushes past Benji getting prison guards murdered. Like, I know we don’t technically see this one dude get killed, but . . . for real, dude gets killed.

3. Speaking of people who should be dead: Ethan goes legs first through a glass window, gets full on hit by a car, AND nosedives a car into, like, a 100-foot drop. Hendricks, too, should’ve died a good 30-minutes before he actually does; instead, he just walks off a car crash that would’ve broken his body into a billion pieces.

4. Now that I’ve seen Mission: Impossible – III, I’m even happier that Julia didn’t get killed in between movies, because while she only had one awesome sauce scene in that film, I absolutely hate that goddamn “axe the woman while no one’s looking” plot device. This will come up again in my eventual Fallout review, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how this franchise handles Julia and Ethan’s relationship over the space of four movies.

5. Ghost Protocol is obviously a hilarious title, but a more accurate one would still be Mission: Impossible – TECH FAIL. Or maybe Mission: Impossible – Fuck! Even In the Future, Nothing Works. (It could be the near-future. You don’t know.)

6. Up till now, it’s been incredibly easy to rank the M:I movies . . . but here I have a decision to make between this film and the original Mission: Impossible. Both are pretty solid movies in their own right, but they’re also going for wildly different tones, making it harder to pit them against one another, Ghost Protocol is definitely the movie I’m more likely to rewatch, but Mission: Impossible is almost certainly the more ambitious of the two. Both have their standout moments and amazing characters, just like both have their disappointing characters and obvious weaknesses.

I’m still not 100% about this, but for now, at least, I’ve made a decision.

The Current Ranking

1. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
2. Mission: Impossible
3. Mission: Impossible III
4. Mission: Impossible II

The Big TV Recap: Umbrella Academy, Russian Doll, Shadowhunters, Killing Eve, and One Day At A Time

Lately, I’ve been ignoring pretty much every movie in my queue (not to mention my TOS recaps) in favor of binge watching non-Star Trek-related TV. That’s not particularly unusual for me, but it has meant I’ve been thinking all these random, pop culture thoughts without anywhere to express them in my characteristically lengthy and over-analytical fashion.

So, I figured I’d take some time to discuss the handful of TV shows I’ve been (sometimes obsessively) watching over the past few months. I did consider stacking them against one another, even adding a couple of flavors to my Triple Scoop Rating System–Mint Chocolate Chip would be the lowest of the low–but then it just seemed like work, so. Meh.

The Umbrella Academy

Netflix GIF by The Umbrella Academy - Find & Share on GIPHY

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Yes, a comic book series
Have I Read It: Nope. Always meant too, but nope
Spoilers: YES

Man, this show is all over the place. Some of it I really like. The basic premise (Potential murder mysteries! Child superheroes becoming bitter adults! Stopping the apocalypse together like a family!) really works for me. Also, I am–and forever will be–obsessed with mediums and their dead partners-in-crime, so I pretty much had to like Klaus despite myself. (But seriously, more Ben, please!) I was honestly surprised by how much I cared about Diego’s relationship with Robot Mom, and some of the shows’s overall weirdness worked well. Cha-Cha and Hazel in their masks, for example. Or the dance scene to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which I’ve rewatched, like, four times at least.

Still, I definitely struggled with The Umbrella Academy. Vanya was the source of much of my frustration, despite the fact that I like Ellen Page just fine in the role. It just takes so long for her storyline to progress in any interesting way, and even when it does, like, it’s still pretty obvious how it’s going to go. Of course she’s going to develop powers, and of course those powers are going to cause the apocalypse. Her annoying love interest/bad guy only makes things worse for me. He isn’t charming or likable enough to buy into Vanya’s insta love for him; I do not care that he’s supposedly the only person who’s ever paid her attention. (Maybe because I just don’t quite buy that, either? That bit irks me for reasons I’m having trouble articulating.) I was so grateful when she finally killed him, but still, that took how many episodes? Meanwhile, Vanya’s snap to the dark side somehow manages to feel rushed, like Luther locking her up was obviously a bad call, but she had just slit her sister’s throat, so, it didn’t seem entirely unreasonable? More importantly, it felt like she was imprisoned for all of twenty minutes before she suddenly went all Possess-Y Blue Eyes, and I just never bought that transition. It’s not the only storyline where the pacing bothers me (even Cha-Cha and Hazel, who I generally enjoy, seem to fizzle in the back half of the season), but it’s easily the one that bores me the most.

Also, I can’t get past the feeling that The Umbrella Academy is just trying WAY too hard to be, like, So Different, So Weird, So Buzzworthy. Which, it really doesn’t need to do. When your story includes a talking chimpanzee butler, you don’t have to try that hard. And yet so many of the music choices and fight scenes just feel like they’re screaming for attention. Some of them I genuinely enjoyed, but others kept throwing me out of the story.

I don’t regret watching the show at all, but I’m also pretty relieved to have a break from it, too. I’ll probably check out the second season–assuming it gets renewed–but I suspect I won’t be counting the seconds till its return, either.

Russian Doll

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Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Nope
Spoilers: Some. Nothing the trailer doesn’t tell you, but I’d still recommend skipping the first paragraph if you haven’t seen the show yet.

I’m a huge sucker for a time loop–particularly in television–so obviously, I had to watch this show where Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) keeps dying over and over on her 36th birthday. For the most part, I really enjoyed Russian Doll. The first couple of episodes didn’t fully grab me, but I quickly got on board once Alan came into the picture. The dynamic between him and Nadia really interested me, and of course, adding a second person to a time loop is just goddamn cool.

The further you get into Russian Doll, the more it starts punching you in the face with emotions, rather than just a string of wacky death sequences. To be clear, I absolutely do not object to wacky death sequences at all. Still, I feel like the show doesn’t fully come together until you really get the Feels in the second half. It wasn’t a big problem for me, though: each episode is about half an hour, I think, and there are, what, eight episodes total? So, not a big time commitment. That’s a glorious goddamn feeling.

Both Natasha Lyonne and Charlie Barnett are fantastic in this, and the ending of the show is perfectly, beautifully bittersweet. I know there’s already been talk about making more seasons (as an anthology show, maybe) but personally, I kind of hope they just keep this as a one-and-done. Even without answering everything, it already feels very complete.

Shadowhunters

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu (by way of Freeform)
Seasons: 3. Well, 2 and 1/2. 3B airs in just a few days.
Adapted Material: Yes, Christ, yes. There are so many books and companion books it’s hard to keep track. Also, a 2013 film I never saw.
Have I Read It: Nope. Some interest in The Magnus Bane Chronicles, though.
Spoilers: Some, yes. Nothing that should ruin the show for you.

My latest obsession and guilty pleasure, even though I’m not wild about that term. Still, I can’t help but feel it applies here because there is SO MUCH I want to fix. I can easily forgive the shitty special effects because, hey, there’s a charm to low budget SFX (though, admittedly, the first season is particularly charming in that regard, even for Freeform), but Clary, the primary lead, mostly annoys me, and the initial love triangle between her, Simon, and Jace is so awful, oh my God. I would like this show 170% better if I hadn’t had to deal with two seasons of that crap.

That all being said, if you like urban fantasy, positive queer representation, and/or attractive people, there’s a fair bit to like here. I enjoy the general concept of the world: the angelic rune magic is pretty cool, if not terribly consistent (often a problem with TV, especially SF/F), I really enjoy the warlock marks (Madzie’s gills are the BEST), and I’m a sucker for a psychic soul bond (though I’d kill to see some lady parabatais on this show). Some good side characters, too: Maia (Alisha Wainwright), a werewolf bartender studying marine biology, is such a badass, and Luke (Isaiah Mustafa) is a hot, werewolf, ex-Shadowhunter, father-figure type and homicide detective, so, yeah, I’m okay with that.

And, of course, Magnus and Alec own my fucking soul. #Malec4Life

Like, I’m not gonna lie, kids: there’s some serious aesthetic appeal going on here. Matthew Daddario has pretty eyes, a great smile, and is stupidly tall, while you don’t get much more my type than Harry Shum Jr. in dark eye makeup and fabulous jackets. But I genuinely love these characters, too, and the chemistry between them: Magnus is a sassy, dangerous warlock with a heart of gold, so, OBVIOUSLY, I love him, and in my own way, I actually relate pretty hard to wary, repressed Alec, especially in the first season as he struggles to accept himself and understand who he is and what he actually wants. And like I said, the queer rep is pretty decent: for main players, Alec is gay, Magnus is bi, and Raphael is asexual (canonically and briefly discussed in scene, though unfortunately, no one uses the actual word). Meanwhile, there are multiple minor LGBTQ+ characters, too, namely, Ollie, Aline, and Underhill.

I know this show isn’t for everyone, but damn, I’m enjoying it right now. Which is why I’m extremely bummed that I only discovered it right before its final season.

Killing Eve

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu (by way of BBC America)
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Yes, a series of novels
Have I Read It: Nope. I’m really starting to feel like I’m letting my fellow readers down
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no

Here’s something kind of funny: the first thing I saw Sandra Oh in wasn’t a movie or a TV show but a play. I had the extremely unlikely opportunity to see The House of Bernada Alba in LA when I was a teenager, and Oh played Adela, the youngest daughter. (And holy shit, I had NO IDEA that Tsai Chin was in it until just now. Chita Rivera, I knew, but Tsai Chin? Damn it, why didn’t I REALIZE?) If I’m being honest, I don’t remember much about the play itself, other than the fact that I liked it, but Sandra Oh herself left a big impression on me, so much so that I remembered her name years later when I saw promos for Grey’s Anatomy and thought, Wait, is that . .  holy shit, it IS. Sandra Oh is the primary reason I decided to check out Grey’s Anatomy in the first place, and she’s definitely the main reason I decided to finally check out Killing Eve.

People who have not yet watched this show: start watching this show. It’s macabrely funny and touching and violent and weird, all in a way that a TV show starring two female leads rarely gets the opportunity to be. Honestly, cat and mouse has never actually been one of my favorite dynamics (maybe because it often feels so tired?), but to watch Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in that particular dynamic is just sort of breathtaking. It all just feels so new.

Clearly, I don’t need to sing the praises of Oh, between that opening paragraph and her winning every award under the sun, but Jodie Comer is equally magnetic as Villanelle, and I’d really like to see her garner some nominations next year, too. And the whole supporting cast is also great: Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who I fell in love with on The Good Place, is fantastic here and hopefully gets more to do in second season. Fiona Shaw is wonderfully, gloriously strange, and I really enjoy Sean Delaney as Kenny, too. Really, if we could just kill off Eve’s husband sooner rather than later, I’d pretty much be all set.

One Day at a Time

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 3
Adapted Material: No, but it’s a remake
Have I Seen the Original: No. It aired a full decade before I was born.
Spoilers: Some, yes, but only in the fourth paragraph

No one who knows me, I think, would be hugely shocked to discover that I like shows about dysfunctional families and time travel and apocalypses, or obsessed lady serial killers and MI-6 agents. Time loops and angelic magic probably wouldn’t surprise them, either. But One Day at a Time is definitely unusual for me: for one, it’s a sitcom with a live audience, for another, it absolutely delights in making you cry. Neither of these things are my personal TV sweet spot.

However, after several glowing recommendations online, I decided to check out the show last year, and I’m so glad I did because I fucking love One Day at a Time. I won’t lie: it did take me a bit to get used to the laughter (it’s not canned, anyway?), and the first few minutes, I don’t know. The jokes felt forced. But that got better pretty quickly, and by the end of the first season, ODAAT had completely won me over. The show pulls off the rare trick of being genuinely funny while also being topical and heartfelt. Real life issues are regularly brought up without coming across as simplistic or preachy. And seriously, the show consistently kicks your heart in the ass without being manipulative. It’s all pretty impressive.

Everyone in the cast is spectacular, but Justina Machado and Rita Moreno are particularly fantastic. People. They are SO GOOD. I cannot tell you how angry I am that neither have gotten an Emmy nod for this show yet. (And probably won’t, unfortunately. I had a bad feeling about this show’s chances of renewal even before Wednesday’s hashtag. Though, obviously, I would be delighted to be proven wrong.)

ODAAT’s third season aired a few weeks ago, and it’s just as good as the previous two, with some amazing guest stars (Gloria Estefan, Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Fumero, Alan Ruck, etc.) and some outstanding storylines. Schneider falling off the wagon wasn’t hard to see coming, but I was impressed with how well that whole arc was handled; not to mention, it was really interesting to see Todd Grinnell in a more dramatic role. I desperately love, too, how Elena continues to have issues with her father after his total dick move at her quinceañera, that moving forward isn’t just a snap of the fingers. In particular, I really like the show’s acknowledgment that she shouldn’t have to do all the work in repairing their relationship. That’s big for me. And, of course, I’m happy about the positive queer rep here, too. (Though this isn’t specific to third season.) Elena is a lesbian and Syd (her SO, or Syd-nificant Other) is NB.

Like I said, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if ODAAT gets cancelled. And, I suppose, the third season at least ends on a solid, positive note–but still, there’s a lot more story to tell here, more laughter and more tears and more dramatic entrances from Lydia. If you haven’t watched this show yet, I’m pretty much begging you to check it out. #SaveODAAT #AllMyLovesGetAxed

Triple Scoop Reviews: Hotel Artemis, Ocean’s Eight, and The Last of Sheila

Welcome to My Geek Blasphemy’s first Triple Scoop Review–a concept I may or may not stick with, depending on how well it goes and also how hungry I am. (Let us be under no illusions here: the criminal lack of ice cream in my freezer probably has much to do with this whole “triple scoop” idea in the first place.) Triple Scoop Reviews will function much the same as Lil Spooky Reviews, only they won’t be limited to horror movies, and I will assign each film thematically flavorful ratings. A Chocolate rating will be awarded to my favorite of the bunch, while my least favorite will clearly be inferior Strawberry and the middling film will be assigned an equal middling Vanilla.

Like I said, we’ll see how long this lasts; if I start getting frustrated that I can’t rate everything Chocolate, for instance, I may have to tweak the formula. In the meantime, however, let’s get started.

Hotel Artemis

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix (DVD)
Spoilers: Only super mild ones
Grade: Vanilla

I enjoyed this, though by the end, I couldn’t shake the feeling it was missing something. I like all of the actors: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, and Dave Bautista are particularly great, and I’d happily watch more of their characters any day of the week. It’s a fun concept, too (high-tech hospital/hotel for criminals), and I like how the film sets up a lot of moving parts in the beginning with various little mysteries and parallel storylines. (Who is the woman outside, what is the significance of the pen, who does Nice want to kill, etc.)

Unfortunately, I don’t know that the payoff to these mysteries works as well: multiple side characters feel underused or extraneous, the few Big Reveals are unsurprising, and at some point the plot complications just sort of whimper out. I can’t help but wish the futuristic backdrop had played more into the story, too. It kinda feels like the whole idea of this plot structure is to light six matches near a powder keg and wait to see which one goes off, which is a neat idea in theory, but how it plays out in actuality . . . you know, I don’t quite know how to describe it. Everything just runs in a horizontal line, one event after the next in a chopped, hurried fashion, all racing to wrap up as quickly as possible. Like they’re on a deadline. Like the chaos is suddenly, noticeably scripted.

Hotel Artemis is totally enjoyable (it even clocks under 2 hours) and I’d watch a sequel in a heartbeat, but that third act is just missing something, making it a B movie when it could easily have been an A-.

Ocean’s Eight

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix (DVD)
Spoilers: YES
Grade: Strawberry

Man, I wanted to like this one so much. Ocean’s Eleven might have been the first movie I remember thinking, “God, how cool would this be with all women?” And parts of it are genuinely great. The idea of a heist at the Met Gala is just fun. The cast is amazing. I enjoy some of the callbacks to the 2001 film, and I really love a lot of the smaller moments, like Nine-Ball’s little sister, Debbie and Lou blowing bubbles, or pretty much every line out of Mindy Kaling’s mouth. Also, holy shit, I should probably go over to Archive of Our Own and find all the Debbie/Lou fanfic because sweet Jesus, there must be a ton of it.

Unfortunately, this plot’s got some serious weak sauce writing, particularly in the second half. I could forgive the scene between Debbie and Lou that feels like an inferior version of this scene. I could forgive how Anne Hathaway’s involvement is pretty obvious to anyone who can do basic math. I could maybe even forgive how every Reveal in the last third of the movie (including Hathaway) feels clumsy and rushed, but I cannot forgive the abysmal lack of plot complications and stakes in this movie. Pretty sure the last thing to actually go wrong for our crew is the busboys stopping to chat. It takes Sarah Paulson less than a minute to solve that problem, and then there’s still, what, twenty minutes left in the movie? Maybe thirty? The magnet problem prior is also just as quickly solved, and while I actually like the idea that there’s another act after the Big Heist, Insurance Investigator James Corden comes out of absolutely nowhere and isn’t even remotely a hindrance to our crew: shit, he helps them. Admittedly, I kind of enjoy that scene with him and Debbie at the diner, but again, it takes all of twelve seconds to turn him from potential antagonist into eager collaborator. A heist story where everything goes smoothly isn’t much of a story. Even comedies need basic tension, and this film has almost none.

Mek and I wracked our brains, trying to figure out how to fix this. Like, I know I said I could forgive them, but some of those last-minute twists (Hathaway’s involvement, the theft of multiple necklaces, etc.) are really a problem for me because they depend upon needless secrets being kept from the team and thus come across as lazy writing. Unless Debbie, who’s been burned before, secretly brings in Anne Hathaway because she doesn’t trust anybody on her team, maybe not even Lou. Now, that could create some genuine plot complications: perhaps Debbie has good reason to doubt her team because, say, Helena Bonham Carter betrays them, or better yet, maybe Debbie’s mistrust almost gets them all caught at some point, causing a rift/chaos/whatever, until they all work past it and pull the whole thing off like the badass ladies they are. That just leaves Scummy Ex-Boyfriend, who I’m mostly inclined to drop anyway, because his presence at the Met Gala feels like another failed setup, a potential complication that proves no trouble whatsoever. It’s really hard to have payoff if the characters face no actual challenges along the way.

Much like Hotel Artemis, I’d honest-to-God watch a sequel to this movie, but I’d definitely want different writers on board. Because the problem here isn’t the ladies. The problem is the script.

The Last of Sheila

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: My God, YES.
Grade: Chocolate

It is a well-documented fact that Mekaela and I are mystery junkies. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a good classic mystery these days: dinner parties with a side of murder just aren’t the rage anymore, much to our infinite sorrow. So we ventured into the way-back machine and found The Last of Sheila, a 1973 film where a young James Coburn invites six guests to his yacht a year after his wife, Sheila, was killed in a hit-and-run. Entertainment is provided in the way of a mystery scavenger hunt, where each guest is assigned a pretend-secret and has to discover everyone else’s . . . only the secrets are all-too real. Naturally, people start dying.

The Last of Sheila is actually one of the more clever and engaging mysteries I’ve seen in quite a while, not to mention boasts quite the cast and crew: the film stars a young Ian McShane, Raquel Welch, and Dyan Cannon, and was written by–wait for it–Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim. What? There are lots of small clues and red herrings to sort through, enough that just remembering them all provides a bit of a fun challenge. Mek and I immediately figured that Lee had killed Sheila; also, that Clinton was already dead when Lee supposedly murdered him and that Tom was either the outright killer or, at the very least, involved. That last bit seemed clear because we never forgot the A is for Alcoholic card–though I initially seized on it for the wrong reason, considering I thought Tom was the alcoholic. At any rate, we had a lot of fun watching this. I like the idea that two group detectives, so to speak, were actually the guiltiest people in the bunch. I really enjoyed Tom and Phillip’s extended standoff (including the WTF puppets). And I like that the mystery is also a bit of a Hollywood satire, especially considering Tom’s “rewrites are a fate worse than prison or death” ending. There’s really a fair amount to recommend here.

But. But. But.

The biggest twist in this movie is that Clinton’s party game is just that: a party game. He didn’t write the Hit and Run Killer card and he certainly isn’t trying to find out who murdered Sheila. Actually, the secrets he chose were relatively small: shoplifting, for instance, or being an ex-convict. But you know what else Clinton considered a small secret, an embarrassing bit of gossip, a Not Big Deal? Being a child molester. YEAH. Phillip–probably the most likable character of the bunch and lead protagonist after the last lead turned out to be a double-murderer–has apparently molested kids, which not only puts the audience in the deeply uncomfortable position of rooting for a pedophile, nobody else in the movie gives a shit about it. Seriously, Mek and I just kept sitting there, dumbfounded, waiting for one of the other characters to justifiably freak out or denounce the guy or discover the accusation isn’t true . . . but it is true, and everyone in the story is just like, well, directors, you know. For Christ’s sake, Phillip gets a happy ending!

And seriously, what the fuck? What the holy fuck? What the fucking holy fuck?