Horror Bingo 2022: The Black Phone

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

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

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

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TV Superlatives – June, July, August – 2022 – PART II

Hello again! It’s time to dive back into TV Superlatives, this time with ALL THE SPOILERS. (You can check out Part I if you missed it.) Here’s a quick reminder of all the shows I’ve been watching this summer:

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Another
Floor is Lava (Season 2)
Last Week Tonight (Season 9, Episodes 13- 22)
Running Man (Episodes 63-75 and 606-618)
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Stranger Things (Season 4, Volumes 1 and 2)
Evil (Season 3)
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
Tomodachi Game
The Great Shaman Ga Doo Shim
Inspector Koo
Harley Quinn (Season 3, Episodes 1-7)
The Sandman
Soundtrack #1
Adamas (Episodes 1-10)
KinnPorsche (abandoned)
Baking Impossible (abandoned)
Resident Evil (abandoned)

Again, SPOILERS abound in this post. We’re gonna start off real light (the first award barely even counts as a spoiler, honestly) and then bounce straight into character deaths, so please do scroll with caution.

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

Big Match

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

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

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

Inseparable Bros

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

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

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

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

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

The Villainess

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

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

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

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

TV Superlatives: December, January, February – 2021/2022 – PART TWO

And we’re back! Welcome to Return of the Winter TV Superlatives: The Big Spoiler Edition. A reminder of the shows I’ve been watching for the past 3 months.

Midnight Mass
Guardian
Hawkeye (Episodes 4-6)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Episodes 5-13)
Running Man (Episodes 36-49 and Episodes 582-593)
The Expanse (Season 6)
The Witcher (Season 2)
The Silent Sea
Ted Lasso
Yellowjackets
Happiness
All of Us Are Dead
Beyond Evil
Star Trek (Season 3, Episodes 1-3)
Last Week Tonight (Season 9, Episodes 1-2)

SPOILERS will start off light, but we’ll be getting to the plot twists and secret villains and such very quickly, so read carefully, my friends! (Seriously, read lightly if you’re even considering watching shows like Beyond Evil—WHICH YOU SHOULD. Remember, the Honorable Mentions are spoilers, too!)

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TV Superlatives: December, January, February – 2021/2022 – PART ONE

Now that we’ve hit March,  it’s time to discuss the last three months of television! Here are all the shows I’ve been watching.

Midnight Mass
Guardian
Hawkeye (Episodes 4-6)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Episodes 5-13)
Running Man (Episodes 36-49 and Episodes 582-593)
The Expanse (Season 6)
The Witcher (Season 2)
The Silent Sea
Ted Lasso
Yellowjackets
Happiness
All of Us Are Dead
Beyond Evil
Star Trek (Season 3, Episodes 1-3)
Last Week Tonight (Season 9, Episodes 1-2)

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether said show is 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. Which is to say, I won’t spoil The Witcher, Season 2, without a heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 are totally fair game. (Though that’s just an example, like. NGL: The Witcher didn’t exactly get a lot of love here.)

Also, I apparently had a LOT to talk about because by the time I was finished writing this post up, it was already over 8,000 words, which some might consider, you know, excessive. Thus I decided to split my TV Superlatives in half, which is . . . well, still an excessive word count, honestly, but that’s just how it goes at MGB. Part I is generally spoiler-free. The Big Spoiler Stuff will all be in Part II.

Let’s get started, shall we?

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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: Happy Death Day 2U, Cube, and Mayhem

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

Happy November. Let’s twist this.

Happy Death Day 2U

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

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

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

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

Cube

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

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

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

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

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

Mayhem

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

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

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

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

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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