Triple Scoop Review: Doctor Sleep, Underwater, and Tigers Are Not Afraid

Doctor Sleep

Year: 2019
Director: Mike Flanagan
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

Let’s get this out of the way for anyone who doesn’t already know: I’m not a huge fan of The Shining. (Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Kubrick’s work in general: I tend to like the cinematography and not much else.) Many adaptational changes annoyed me, especially as I saw the film soon after reading the novel. Admittedly, that was all roughly 15-20 years ago now, so I might feel differently if I were to ever try it again. Point is, unlike many horror fans, I didn’t come into this weird hybrid of a sequel with much in the way of expectations, high or low. It was pretty easy to judge Doctor Sleep as its own thing. And fortunately for me, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Unlike The Shining, which is straight-up horror, Doctor Sleep has more of a dark fantasy vibe. Like, there are creepy moments, absolutely (I fucking loved it when Abra turned the tables on Rose), but the overall flavor of scare is different, kinda like the transition between the quiet, claustrophobic horror of Alien to the action-fueled horror of Aliens. It seems like a natural progression, but I can also see how fans of the original might have been disappointed. What’s really impressive, though, is how much I enjoyed this film, despite its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Horror movies, especially, have to work hard to earn that length without losing tension or momentum, and Doctor Sleep does a pretty good job with that: there are problems in the third act–which we’ll get to shortly–but overall, the slow, steady pace of the film works well for me.

The cast is great, especially Kyliegh Curran (who’s absolutely fantastic as Abra) and Rebecca Ferguson (who makes for a pretty iconic villain, one who I’d like to cosplay immediately.) Ewan McGregor does solid work as grown-up/fucked up Danny Torrance, and I like pretty much the entire supporting cast: Carl Lumbly is a stellar choice as Dick Hallorann, Cliff Curtis is instantly likable as Billy, and Zahn McClarnon is an excellent right-hand man/second banana bad guy. All of McClarnon and Ferguson’s interactions are pretty great; in fact, the whole villainous family dynamic is awesome and makes these guys much more compelling as antagonists.

Unfortunately, that third act is where things start to falter, which is frustrating because most of the problems here could easily be solved by just not returning to the Overlook. Physically, that is; half the Final Battle takes place in Danny’s head, anyway, so why not just make the entire thing one big mental showdown? We could still get all those iconic references and flashbacks without Danny and Abra literally driving to Colorado for no goddamn reason. (There is a reason: Danny is convinced that they can’t beat Rose on their own, but that’s sorta nonsense because at this point, their batting average against her is pretty goddamn phenomenal.) This would also eliminate the awkward sense of Abra just chilling alone in the car for ten minutes, while Danny has an emotional catharsis inside the hotel with his dad. Like, I genuinely enjoy that scene, but also . . . maybe don’t leave the kid alone outside when a monster is literally hunting you down?

Random Notes:

1. Actually, maybe we could scale back just a bit on those iconic references? Cause I do want them, but also, it feels like Mike Flanagan is vomiting The Shining at you for the last 20 minutes? Like, hey, here are the twins, here is the blood, here is the bartender, the axe, the door, the boiler room, etc., etc., etc. Give me these moments, but not one for every goddam minute, please. Space them out or whittle them down.

2. Snakebite Andi might be the most Stephen King name I’ve ever heard in my whole fucking life. I really liked Emily Alyn Lind in the role, though, since I forgot to mention her before. Also, MR. HOMN!

3. I wish Rose the Hat’s hat was, like, more important? Especially after the grocery store scene, I kind of expected something else. Still, I’m never gonna complain too hard about fashionable millinery. I will complain about Danny hitting rock bottom, however, because I definitely interpreted that scene as “baby starved to death after Danny left him alone with his dead mom,” which . . . yeah, didn’t sit well with me. Apparently, though, there are multiple different interpretations of what actually happened to Mom and Baby? Still. If you’re trying for a redemptive story, IDK, I think everyone should be real clear on exactly what your MC is being redeemed for. Especially if it’s dark ass shit like that.

4. Now that I’ve read the differences between book and movie, holy shit, I’m kinda glad I never read this. The 9/11 subplot? The “we’re related” nonsense? What the actual fuck?

5. I’m just gonna say it: “steam” is a little hard to take seriously.

6. Finally, there is a RWBY poster in Abra’s room. I haven’t watched that show in years, but still, I found this small detail surprising and delightful.

Underwater

Year: 2020
Director: William Eubank
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: VERY MUCH SO
Grade: Strawberry

This was fun enough, but it also could’ve been better. Some scenes are successfully creepy and tense: whenever our characters are crawling through Way Too Tiny Shit, for example, or when poor Mamoudou Athie fucking implodes. (I was disappointed by this; I really thought he was going to last longer.) Most of the cast is pretty great, although I’d probably recast and rewrite Paul (TJ Miller). Still, I’m here for Kristen Stewart’s whole aesthetic, am happy that Smith survived, was amused by last minute Cthulhu, and really enjoyed that Jessica Henwick was our surprise Final Girl. Holy shit, that’s two Western horror movies now with Eastern-Asian women who live. 2020, this is actually something I like about you.

So, that’s the good. As far as the bad, well. The voiceover shit completely fails, like, I honestly have no idea what it’s even doing in this movie? The beginning is especially weird because the first few minutes have this strange, in medias res quality to them that makes the whole scene kinda feel like a dream. It doesn’t fit at all; in fact, I seriously wondered if they were trying to set up some kind of unreliable narrator here. But the rest of the movie is a pretty straightforward action-horror movie (with just a bit of a Lovecraftian twist).

Not all the action scenes work for me, either, because some of them are so muddy it’s impossible to tell what’s happening to whom. Like, I get it: Underwater is underwater. Chaos, poor visibility, all that. Still, when a monster drags two characters away, I wanna be able to tell who they are. I might’ve been more inclined to forgive this if these scenes were strictly from Norah’s POV, as she sadly loses her glasses early in the film and presumably can’t see for shit; unfortunately, that’s not really how they play. Which is a bummer, actually: if I ever lost my glasses in any kind of horror movie scenario, like, it would very much impact my day and/or likelihood of survival. It might’ve been kind of neat, seeing Norah actually dealing with this during the film.

Also, the character work needs, well, work. Norah (Stewart) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) both lost someone–the same someone–prior to the events of this movie, but for some reason, they barely have any interactions throughout to build their dynamic and/or lay in the groundwork for this reveal. More space, too, could’ve been given to the Captain and Norah’s relationship, or to Smith and Emily’s. Instead, we spend too much time with TJ Miller, who’s supposed to be the funny, weird guy, and generally lands harder on the latter than the former. (Although I will admit to laughing when he fake-volunteers Emily (Henwick) to investigate something, all, “This is your moment.” That shit was funny.)

Random Notes:

1. I love that Emily saves Norah, and Norah saves Emily, and they both save Smith together. Also, kinda love that Norah punches Emily in the face. Not because she deserves it, but because it’s a good “who will sacrifice themselves for the other” moment.

2. I’m considerably less impressed by how the women have to get way more naked than the dudes. Except TJ Miller, of course, but this is purposefully meant to be comedic, rather than sexy, presumably because he’s fatter than anyone else in the cast. #RAGE

3. The hands-down funniest thing about this movie: Paul carries around this stuffed bunny, right, like, he cradles it, strokes it, makes sure it’s okay as he’s going through dangerous, water-logged parts of the station, etc. He is 100% acting like it’s a real bunny, and I was seriously wondering if we were gonna get some kinda high-pressure nervous syndrome/space dementia subplot shit going on, especially because of all the Alice in Wonderland references. But apparently, there actually was a real bunny while filming, until the director got a stuffed one instead because of safety concerns. Only for whatever reason, he never bothered telling Miller that the stuffed rabbit wasn’t a stand-in. So, dude acted like the rabbit was real because he thought it would be post-production. I can’t begin to tell you how much this all delights me.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Year: 2017
Director: Issa López
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Mild
Grade: Chocolate

I’ve been meaning to watch this Mexican dark fantasy film for a while now, and I’m so glad I finally did, because it’s pretty fantastic. Admittedly, I probably could’ve picked a better week for it, like, if you need an escapist upper, uh, this isn’t it. (I literally held my breath when two of the kids walked up to a police car, and was utterly relieved when the cops just took off without killing them.) The violence here isn’t particularly gratuitous; in fact, it’s not a very gory film at all. But children do die, and die violently, on screen. Best to know that going in.

All of the kids are fantastic, especially Estrella (Paola Lara) and Shine (Juan Ramón López). I’m amazed that none of them had any prior acting experience because they’re all so good in this movie. One of the things that works best about Tigers Are Not Afraid: the quiet, funny moments when the kids are just hanging out: play-acting some American Idol shit in an abandoned building, telling ghost stories about this dude who eats kids with his pepperoni, etc. And while I can be hit or miss on stories that walk the line between “literal magic” and “is it, though?” I think the ambiguity serves this dark fairy tale well. Which probably isn’t so surprising, as it’s definitely a Monkey’s Paw kind of story.

I honestly don’t have many criticisms with this one. There are a few moments with this stuffed tiger that I found sorta hard to take seriously, but . . . yeah, that might kind of be it. While I’d hoped for a few specific things that didn’t end up happening, the actual ending itself fits the story well and isn’t wholly, needlessly bleak. And since I am, for once, trying not to spoil too much here, let me leave you with a vague list of some other things I really enjoyed:

The trails of blood
The goodbye scene
Morro is adorbs
The chalk
When the bodies are found

Also, the movie was both written and directed by a woman. YES!!!! I’m always excited to see more horror crafted by women!

TV Superlatives: December, January, and February – 2019/2020

It’s that time again: our winter 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 Favorite Bromance, Favorite WTF Moment, Best Profanity, 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:

Busted! (Season 2)
His Dark Materials
Nancy Drew
The Mandalorian
DC Universe’s Harley Quinn
Watchmen
The Expanse (Season 4)
A Black Lady Sketch Show
The Witcher
Barry (Season 2)
The Good Place (Season 4)
Star Trek: Picard
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 5)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 7)

Let’s get to it, shall we?

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Best of 2019: BOOKS

Normally, I enjoy celebrating the books I’ve read with some silly and–inevitably–lengthy superlative lists, including awards like Favorite Villain, Best Booyah Moment, and Super Ability I’d Most Like To Steal. This year, however, that just sounds kind of daunting? And not terribly fun, which is obviously antithetical to the whole point. So instead, I present you with my only sorta-lengthy Best Of list, i.e., a list of my favorite books in various genres and sub-genres. (From any year. I read all of these in 2019, but one of them was written in 1937, so, yeah. I wouldn’t exactly characterize these recommendations as super current. If you’d like the full list of everything I read, go ahead and click on the link.)

No spoilers were produced in the making of this post.

FAVORITE FAIRY TALE STORY

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher

Bluebeard is one of my favorite fairy tales, specifically Mr. Fox–like, I’m the weirdo who actually adds Post-Its with be bold, be bold . . . but not too bold to bedroom doors and the like. So, when I realized that Ursula Vernon (a.k.a. T. Kingfisher), one of my very favorite writers, had published her own Mr. Fox retelling*, well, obviously, I was ecstatic. Like nearly every T. Kingfisher book I’ve ever read, The Seventh Bride features a compelling heroine, a cool animal sidekick, and a lot of humor, weirdness, and heart. Also, some truly creepy shit. Also, a fantastic supporting cast: Maria is my absolute favorite. I really enjoyed the hell out of this–it also wins for FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY–and I’m looking forward to reading T. Kingfisher’s other fairy tale retellings, namely Byrony and Roses and The Raven and the Reindeer.

*In nearly every review I’ve seen, this book is described as a Bluebeard retelling, but personally, it strikes me more as a Mr. Fox/Rumpelstiltskin mashup. I know it doesn’t have some of the bigger earmarks of the latter–no naming game, no “I’m gonna steal your baby” stuff–but Rhea is literally a miller’s daughter, and her parents play an arguably significant role in why she’s in this mess in the first place. Plus, “do this impossible thing, or I’ll do something horrible to you” is a plot structure from Rumpelstiltskin, not Bluebeard/Mr. Fox. Also, let’s be real here: the King in Rumpelstiltskin is totally a villain. Like, make me gold or I’ll kill you; make me more gold and I’ll marry you?” Fuck this guy.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: The Black God’s Drums; Clockwork Boys; The Killing Moon; The House of Shattered Wings

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Oh, this was a delightful book. I loved so much about it: the voice, the dialogue, all the humor and Feels. Undead Girl Gang is laugh out loud funny, but it also handles grief in a very real way, and I enjoyed that. The characters are all great; Mila, in particular, is a wonderful protagonist, and I related so hard to how she finds hope and laughter and a certain measure of control in Wicca. (Oh, you don’t even know the middle school flashbacks I was having while reading this one.) The fat positivity in this book was also really refreshing, especially in a year where I managed to stumble across even more fat shaming than normal.

This was easily my FAVORITE YA BOOK I read all year, something I’d happily give my teenage kids if I, you know, had any. As is, I’m just gonna have to keep enjoying Lily Anderson’s writing for myself.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Contemporary Fantasy: A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark; Magic for Liars

FAVORITE HORROR

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay

What’s interesting about this, to me, is that I don’t generally consider myself a big fan of psychological horror, but I absolutely love this novel. It’s occurring to me, finally, that it’s not the entire sub-genre I dislike, just stories where the narrative tension is largely drawn from the majority of characters (plus the reader) questioning the MC’s sanity. That’s just not really my thing; thankfully, it’s also not quite what’s happening here.

And this book, man. It’s a wildly clever and entertaining page-turner (which is why it also wins for FASTEST READ) with a solid conclusion and some absolutely brutal moments. This is my first Paul Tremblay book, and I can absolutely guarantee it will not be my last.

Honorable Mention for Favorite Horror: The Sundial; The Migration; The Twisted Ones

Honorable Mentions for Fastest Read: Undead Girl Gang; Magic for Liars; A Man Lay Dead; The Twisted Ones; From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World To Find The Good Death; The Seventh Bride

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
Artificial Condition – Martha Wells

I enjoyed the hell out of The Calculating Stars: it’s an equally fun and fascinating alternate history, and I really like our MC, Elma. I especially appreciated how this novel explored her anxiety, like, that was just phenomenal. I also enjoy Elma’s friendships with other women in the novel, particularly Nicole and Helen. Elma and Nate, too, were a joy to read: it was lovely to find such a healthy, supportive romantic relationship in this story. I’m very eager to continue with the Lady Astronaut series in 2020.

But no way could I choose between The Calculating Stars and Artificial Condition, which was an amazing follow-up to All Systems Red. (In fact, I actually liked it even more than All Systems Red, which is incredibly impressive.) It is the rare novella that feels like it’s exactly the right length–one of many reasons it’s also winning FAVORITE NOVELLA–and I just absolutely adore MurderBot’s somewhat antagonistic friendship with ART. People. I was invested. This series is so damn good.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite SF: Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; Record of a Spaceborn Few; To Be Taught, If Fortunate; An Unkindness of Ghosts

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: The Black God’s Drums; In an Absent Dream; Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; To Be Taught, If Fortunate

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans

I mean, just the whole concept of this: teenagers being sucked into a fantasy RPG, experiencing massive amounts of emotional (and in some cases, physical) trauma, and then having to return to the game years later as adults? It’s like It meets D&D. Or, as Kieron Gillen apparently describes it: “goth Jumanji.” People. You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to read goth Jumanji.

This one is such a creative and exciting comic, full of fun plot turns and great characters and just awesome magical abilities. Highly recommended.

Honorable Mentions: Young Avengers: Style > Substance, Vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie; Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia & Gabriel Picolo

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World to Find The Good Death – Caitlin Doughty

This is both an incredibly informative and fascinating look at how different cultures around the world handle death and death rituals, and while it is occasionally hard to read because of, well, death anxiety, it’s also just vastly neat. There were so many things I didn’t know. Learning more about Indonesian death customs or the ñatitas in Bolivia or the fertilization experiments in North Carolina . . . it’s all just so immensely interesting. I might actually have been most surprised by the open pyre ceremonies in Colorado; I honestly didn’t think that was a thing you could do in America.

I also didn’t know that family had the option of viewing cremations (the more standard kind), though I confess reluctance at the possibility of viewing any myself. Doughty brings up excellent points in its favor, especially as she discusses the idea of giving grieving family members meaningful tasks–but when I imagine going back and witnessing my own father’s cremation, my whole brain just balks in horror. I don’t know. It’s an obviously difficult subject. Regardless, this was a pretty great book, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in cultural anthropology, or books that frankly discuss death without looking down on readers for their own death anxiety. That’s big for me.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara

FAVORITE NOVEL

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers

I’ve been slowly making my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey novels for years, but to my very great surprise, it’s this final book in the series that’s been my absolute favorite–and not just of the series but also of the whole year. (Also, it wins for FAVORITE MYSTERY, in case that wasn’t already glaringly obvious.) Busman’s Honeymoon is regularly characterized as either a “detective story with love interruptions” or a “love story with detective interruptions,” and to my very great joy, I found the balance of murder mystery and established romance utterly delightful. (Many mysteries from this time period include a hasty and thoroughly underwhelming romance, but Busman’s Honeymoon has been building the Peter/Harriet ship for several books and literal years, and I am so thoroughly obsessed with them.)

The mix of witty banter, murder, and newlywed shenanigans are really the best, and I was both extremely surprised to see the novel actually come back to Peter’s PTSD in a surprisingly emotional way. So many Feels with this one. An instant comfort read.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Mystery: The Nine Tailors; Magic for Liars; The Song Is You; A Rising Man; Gaudy Night

Finally, here is the rest of my Top Ten of 2019, not in any particular order. (With links for the books that I didn’t already link above.)

2. The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
3. An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
4. The Seventh Bride – T.K. Kingfisher
5. Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
6. Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
7. The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
8. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
9. The Twisted Ones – T.K. Kingfisher
10. Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Happy New Year, everyone! I’d love to hear your favorite books of 2019 in the comments!

Triple Scoop Reviews: Robin Hood, The Sword and the Stone, and Spider-Man: Far From Home

Robin Hood (1973)

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: Not really. Besides, come on. It’s Robin Hood.
Grade: Strawberry

I grew up on two Robin Hoods: Prince of Thieves and Men in Tights. Disney’s Robin Hood, though? Not so much. But now that we have Disney Plus, Mek and I decided a viewing was in order, if for no other reason than to investigate the root cause of everyone’s sexual attraction to foxes. (I have to admit, I predictably remain mystified on that front.)

As far as the movie itself goes, it’s . . . there? I can’t really say I enjoyed it, but I was certainly bemused by it. Sir Hiss is my favorite character, or maybe I just felt the most sorry for him. (The name, of course, is amazing; it would work nearly as well for a cat. Clearly, I need more cats: Sir Hiss and Ser Pounce would obviously go well together.) I find Sir Hiss particularly interesting because a) he doesn’t seem to have an equivalent character in any other Robin Hood story I’m familiar with, b) he wears fashionable hats, and c) after explaining how he hypnotized King Richard into leaving for the Crusades, Sir Hiss’s hypnosis powers never come back! Writers, seriously. Did no one teach you about Chekhov’s Hypnotic Powers? (Dedicated MGB readers: yes, I’ve made this joke before and fully intend to make it again. In fact, Chekhov is gonna be a whole damn tag now.)

I was also fond of Lady Kluck because to my very great surprise, she kind of kicks ass. Sadly, once she’s done kicking the shit out of Prince John’s guards, she mostly drops out of the movie. (As does Maid Marian, oddly enough.) Prince John himself is . . . ah . . . well, it’s certainly an interpretation. The constant thumb-sucking weirded me out, and generally, I found him more aggravating than funny, although he does actually have two of the best lines in the whole movie: “release the royal fingers!” and “I sentence you to sudden, instant, and even immediate death.” Alas, the rest of the film? Meh.

The Sword and the Stone (1963)

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: I mean, I guess? There isn’t really that much to spoil.
Grade: Vanilla

Continuing the Nostalgia Train–well, Mekaela’s Nostalgia Train, anyway, because she apparently watched a lot of old Disney movies before I was born or while I was doing other important things, like napping–we have The Sword in the Stone. I’m not sure how I would’ve felt about it as a child, but as an adult, well. It’s kind of a hot mess. Like, there are a few genuinely funny moments, sure. Honestly, I think I enjoyed this one more than Robin Hood, despite the fact that Robin Hood at least has something resembling a plot. This movie . . . yeah. There’s no plot to be had: it’s just Arthur turning into various animals and being chased around by other animals. That’s it. That’s the movie.

Of course, these scenes are supposed to be lessons. And that could actually be pretty cool, except a) Arthur never really learns anything (except that knowledge is power, I guess), and b) he never uses what little he does learn during the course of this movie. Like, I thought maybe he’d figure out how to trick Sir Ector and Ser Kay into taking him to London? But nope, Arthur’s just a last minute replacement because Sir Kay’s squire got sick. Then I thought, okay, Arthur must do something semi-crafty to find our titular sword, like, maybe he’s forbidden from trying to lift it? Instead, Arthur just stumbles across said sword when he forgets Sir Kay’s blade and needs a hasty replacement weapon. In short, Arthur proves he deserves to be the King of England by being the worst fucking squire of all time.

It’s also hilarious that three different actors voice Arthur, and at least one of those voices is really bad. OTOH, I generally liked Merlin and Archimedes well enough. Merlin is a delightfully irresponsible and terrible teacher, and I can’t lie: I kinda wanna cosplay Bermuda Merlin now. So, the film isn’t wholly without merit; it just has serious narrative problems, and also, how the fuck could they just leave Girl Squirrel crying like that? This is some bullshit. Justice for Girl Squirrel!

Spider-Man: Far From Home

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

Moving on from Classic Disney to Present Disney (We Own Everything, Including Your Souls), we have the latest Spider-Man film. I didn’t see Far From Home in theater, partly because Mek didn’t want to, partly because I’ve really been feeling the Marvel burnout this year. Still, I did enjoy this one. I continue to really like Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and not just because he hurts so pretty; that kid’s been great since Civil War, and obviously won my heart forever with “Umbrella.” Which, yeah, you’ve already seen 76 times, but I just linked the video, so now you have to watch it for the 77th time. Those are the rules.

This is a decent follow-up to Endgame, a solid balance of humor and action and Feels. I’m happy that the film spent at least a little time addressing the consequences of the Blip, though I can’t in good conscience say that “blip” with a straight face. We’re not . . . we’re not really going to keep calling it that, are we? (We should never, ever stop saying “the Peter Tingle,” though, because that shit’s hilarious.) I’ll admit, what I want more than anything is a character drama and/or missing person detective story that takes place in a post-Endgame world, but obviously, that’s something I’ll never get.

The supporting cast is also great: Jake Gyllenhaal appears to be having a blast in this movie, I absolutely adore Zendaya as MJ, and Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove are pretty great as the class chaperones. Other than that, I’m honestly not sure how much else I have to say. If comparing to other Spider-Man movies . . . I think I liked Homecoming more, and I know I liked Into the Spider-Verse more. But I also didn’t have any major problems with it, either. If comparing to everything else in the MCU . . . fuck that shit, there’s been like 700 of these movies, and I have things to do. In general, I’d say it’s somewhere upper-middle for me? Not one of the more ambitious or groundbreaking of the Marvel films (yes, I would qualify some as such), but also fairly charming, entertaining throughout, and overall pretty solid.

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 – Rogue Nation

We’re closing in now: only two films left to discuss in this Mission: Impossible Mega Re-Watch! (Well, until 2021, anyway, which is when M:I – 7 is currently scheduled to release.) First up is Rogue Nation, a movie notable for many fine qualities, but none more important than its introduction of Ilsa Faust.

Year: 2015
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Not really

It’s been roughly four years since I first saw this movie, and–much like with Ghost Protocol–my feelings about it are largely unchanged, except that I like it even more than I did on first blush. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have one or two minor grievances: Luther and Brandt tracking down Ethan by concentrating their search on Ilsa, who they know Ethan implicitly trusts because of the way he sketched her, continues to be bullshit, like, this is just ridiculously, ludicrously dumb. The fact that Ethan and Benji survive this one car accident is equally ludicrous, although admittedly, it’s also pretty standard action movie fare. And it’s true that Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is essentially just a gussied up Moriarty, but I’m mostly okay with it because his clear agenda and mildly creepy line deliveries still make him easily one of the best villains this franchise has ever had. Obviously, that’s not exactly a high bar to clear, but still, Lane works for me–at least in this particular movie.

Pretty much everything else I have to say is overwhelmingly positive: the action scenes–from the great fight sequences to the various heists and car chases–are all spectacular. I’m definitely a sucker for everything during the Sydney Opera House Mission. The humor continues to work well: Rogue Nation nails that comedy and team camaraderie from the very first scene and only builds on it throughout the film. I especially love the scene where Benji tells Ethan he won’t be left behind. In general, I continue to adore Benji, considering he essentially plays the damsel in distress here, right down to being menaced by some unnecessary, up-close villain leering.

Still, it’s really Ilsa Faust who makes this movie for me. She’s just such a great, complex heroine: badass, funny, has her own agenda. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she saves Ethan’s ass no less than three time in this movie. And I love that while there’s a certain amount of romantic/sexual tension between the two, Rogue Nation never wastes time getting them together or dropping the L bomb–not because I hate romance, but because you know it would’ve been rushed as hell and deeply unconvincing in this tightly plotted film. By delaying said romance until later installments, Rogue Nation actually provides a much better foundation for Ilsa and Ethan’s love story.

As great as Ilsa is, though, the best, most ridiculous line in this whole movie still goes to Alec Baldwin, who calls Ethan Hunt “the living manifestation of destiny,” a description I’m still very seriously considering putting on my business cards. People. It is sublime. There will never be a funnier, more perfect moment in this franchise than this.

Of course, considering that Ilsa repeatedly saves Ethan’s life in Rogue Nation, perhaps Alec Baldwin is actually describing the wrong spy here.

The Current Ranking

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

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