Triple Spooky Scoop Review: A Tale of Two Sisters, Black Christmas, and Black Christmas

A Tale of Two Sisters

Year: 2003
Director: Kim Ji Woon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Vanilla

I know. I’m probably the last horror fan alive who hasn’t seen A Tale of Two Sisters–but no longer! I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect here (I’m only vaguely familiar with the folktale that inspired it), but I enjoyed this one–though do I suspect I might like it better on a second viewing, to better appreciate all the clues carefully being laid out. Still, I caught enough this time around to figure out the major plot twists. How Soo-yeon isn’t real, considering that her father never looks at her. How Eun-joo also isn’t real, considering she can see Soo-yeon. Not to mention, Moo-hyeon is weirdly cold and awkward with his supposed wife; also, it’s just incredibly rare for two characters to simultaneously suffer from “am I going mad” unreliable narrator syndrome, so the whole split personality angle was really the only explanation that made sense.

I definitely didn’t guess the truth about that wardrobe, though. Obviously, something terrible had happened, but I had no clue on the actual details. Poor Soo-yeon! Poor Soo-mi! The real Eun-joo is obviously The Worst, but also Moo-hyeon? Holy shit, what an asshole. For one, like, he kept the wardrobe; he even tells Soo-mi not to talk about it, all, “Yes, I decided to keep this giant piece of furniture which housed your mother’s dead body and also crushed your sister to death, but stop bringing it up, like, don’t be weird about it.” Also, once it’s clear that your daughter is still very unwell and needs inpatient psychiatric care, you absolutely cannot keep leaving her alone like this, WTF. And just this dude’s whole attitude, too, like, I’m sure he’s exhausted and grieving and all that, but Moo-hyeon talks to Soo-mi like she’s just having tantrums; he might as well say, “Stop being crazy; I’m tired of your dissociative identity disorder.” Like–

I do think that while A Tale of Two Sisters is well constructed, I might’ve found it more mind-blowing if I’d watched the film back when it premiered in 2003. That was almost 20 years ago (she says, sobbing), and I’ve seen variations on this twist a lot now. Still, nothing really comes off as cheat to me. The only thing that does feel off is the dinner scene where Eun-joo’s sister-in-law has a coughing fit that abruptly becomes a very violent seizure. I know why it happens, like, for Writer Reasons, but I wasn’t totally clear about the in-story reasons. Does she have a medical condition? Is this some kind of emotional trauma response? Did the ghosts poison her soup? It doesn’t seem like she sees the ghost until she’s already seizing, but I will fully admit to ignorance here.

After watching A Tale of Two Sisters, our next film was John Carpenter’s The Thing, which I’m not going to review because I’ve already done so twice now. (Most recently here.) I’m mostly mentioning it because with The Thing, we have a winner for Horror Bingo, and it’s not Mekaela or me, but my good buddy, Marisa! Congrats, Marisa!!!

Mekaela and I have a gentlewomen’s agreement to keep playing until one of us gets a Bingo, though. And thus, we continue with . . .

Black Christmas

Year: 2019
Director: Sophia Takal
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO
Spoilers: Yes, but mostly just in the third paragraph
Grade: Strawberry

This is . . . okay. It’s certainly better than the 2006 remake, anyway, although the bar on that is so low it’s near sunk into the ground. The thing about this Black Christmas is that it very much wants to be a Feminist Movie, and while I think it does have successful moments, the overall story is kinda sloppy and relies so heavily on a superficial idea of Girl Power™ that it often comes across as pandering rather than empowering.

Things I do enjoy: most of the characters, especially some of the minor roles. I was particularly fond of Fran, Jesse, and Kris. (Though awesome as Kris is, she does have a few moments where I’m like, ah, no–and the film doesn’t address it as fully as I’d like.) Some of the humor is great. I bust up at this line: “If you make me late for the train, I swear I’m never feeding you again. Ask my childhood hamster. He’s super dead.” Also, I really enjoyed the whole sexy Christmas number; it’s a hilarious “fuck you” song, yes, but also A) a great moment for Riley’s character arc, and B) just an awesome scene where the girls stick up for each other. There are some nice nods and reversals to the original film, too. And hey, there’s a DivaCup in this movie! Always nice when menstruation is something that’s actually acknowledged in Hollywood.

Still, a lot of the dialogue feels obvious and cheesy. It’s a problem throughout the film, but gets especially painful in the third act. I just . . . I don’t buy it, is the thing. (And the part where the white girl has to explain to her Black friend why the police aren’t trustworthy, like, yikes? Maybe not?) The script reads like someone had a long list of feminist catchphrases to get through in a very short amount of time. The plot, too, doesn’t quite work for me, partially because Riley jumps to “we’re obviously dealing with evil frat boy magic” way too fast for my liking, but also because for a story that heavily criticizes misogyny, it kinda lets men off the hook. Brainwashing pledges into mindless killers is a lot less horrific than young men actively choosing to kill outspoken women. Landon, too, mostly feels like he’s here to prove Not All Men, though I like Caleb Eberhardt’s performance; the character himself just feels distracting. Credit where credit’s due, though: I very much enjoyed Cary Elwes, as he always seems to be having so much fun, whether he’s playing a Ridiculously Smarmy Jackass (this, Stranger Things, etc.) or a Ridiculously Suave Motherfucker (The Princess Bride, Psych, etc.)

This Black Christmas works best, I think, as something meant to  introduce young girls to horror, like, part of a 101 starter pack: something that’s modern and broadly relatable and none  too gory or frightening; the PG-13 rating helps with that, though IMO, the downside to obscured shots and fade-to-black kills is that it doesn’t allow the Girls Who Won’t Survive any time to fight back, which I think is unfortunate. Still, if the target demographic is, IDK, 11-15-year-olds interested in giving slashers a go? I honestly think that would raise my estimation of the movie as a whole. (Though I’d still do at least one more editing pass. Probably two. This could’ve been better, damn it.)

Black Christmas

Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Chocolate

So, yeah. This is one of my absolute favorite horror movies, one I’ve already analyzed in considerable detail in this Genderbent Wednesday essay. I don’t know that I have many new thoughts on it now: I still think Jess is a very important and relevant Final Girl, though I’ll admit I don’t always buy Olivia Hussey’s line deliveries. Still, I love that she’s a goal-oriented protagonist who’s made a decision to have an abortion, never seems particularly upset about it, and refuses to change her plans to appease her worthless ass of a boyfriend. It’s also worth noting that the women are largely supportive of each other in this film, too, and there’s nary an exploitative tit shot in sight. Barb has a few lines I’d definitely like to cut, but overall? I’ll go to my grave arguing that Black Christmas is a feminist horror film, especially for 1970-fucking-4.

It’s also easily creepier than either of its remakes, like, Black Christmas has atmosphere, damn it. Those phone calls are deeply concerning, and Dead Claire in her rocking chair is iconic as hell. There are things I’d like to change, of course: at one point, the girls mention they haven’t locked the doors or windows, and I’m like WHAT? No, nope, that is absolutely ridiculous this late into the movie. Also, while I love so much about the film’s ending (Jess killing Peter, never learning the real killer’s identity, the last phone call ringing us into the credits, etc.), it remains completely unacceptable to me that the cops leave an unconscious Jess alone in a House of Dead Bodies with only one officer to guard her, like, I get it, she’s sedated and they think the threat is over. I do not care; this is nonsense. I need much better justifications than the ones the script provides.

Still, this is always gonna be a favorite. Peter is the absolute worst, and I enjoy rooting for his impending demise. Phyl is cool, and I mourn her offscreen death. Barb is interesting, and I could probably write a whole essay on her character alone. (Did you know that Barb is A) not a nerd, and B) asthmatic? Did you even realize that was something that could happen in Hollywood?) I enjoy John Saxon as Lt. Ken Fuller and Marian Waldman as Mrs. Mac. Laughing Detective is one of my favorite bit parts of all time. I love that there’s such a strong case against Peter, that it 100% makes sense for both Fuller and Jess to assume he’s the murderer. Black Christmas is just an incredibly well-constructed horror film that is disturbing, entertaining, and still surprisingly relevant almost 50 years after its release. Bob Clark might be best known for his other holiday movie, A Christmas Story, but Black Christmas remains my favorite of his work.

Year of Monsters: Dracula

Dracula is one of the rare Universal classics I’ve actually seen before; it was many years ago, though, and at the time, I found the film rather boring. Watching it again, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, while the story is undeniably chaotic, I enjoyed Dracula quite a bit. There are multiple reasons for that, but the most strikingly obvious one is the fantastic score.

And if you’re thinking, Wait, I’ve seen that movie, and there IS no score . . . well, you’re right. Until the late 1990’s, at least.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

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Year of Monsters: The Invisible Man

I’ve never considered myself a science person, partially because I have no natural aptitude for it, partially because the science you learn in high school isn’t the kind of shit that interests me. (Well, mostly. We did get to learn forensics my freshman year, and I do remember enjoying it, even if I couldn’t tell a single fucking fingerprint apart.) But I am a science-fiction person, one who’s generally drawn to pro-science stories. We’ve talked about a couple of these already during our Year of Monsters: Creature from the Black Lagoon, for instance, and It Came From Outer Space.

Alas, we’re now heading back to the 1930’s, where science is generally not our path to enlightenment but to our downfall and destruction. Science is the method we foolishly use to try and control what mankind was never meant to master. Clearly, this is a pretty familiar theme: if Frankenstein is about trying to master death, then Jurassic Park is about trying to control life, and Deep Blue Sea is about trying to defeat dementia. Or sharks. The point is, progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged.

Enter . . . The Invisible Man.

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Year of Monsters: It Came From Outer Space

Today’s film–chosen randomly because I like a little organized chaos in my life–is It Came From Outer Space. This is a fantastic title: evocative, mysterious, charmingly cheesy. And the movie was based on a story treatment by Ray Bradbury, which, that’s clearly a good sign, right?

Alas, my friends, I must inform you that in the case of It Came From Outer Space, I vastly prefer the title to the actual film. Continue reading

Triple Scoop Reviews: Shazam!, Joker, and Little Women

Shazam!

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: HBO Now
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

Imbalanced, but cute. Tonally, Shazam! is wildly different than its DC live-action brethren, which makes it both a breath of fresh air and also a little, like, huh? Shazam! doesn’t always feel like a superhero movie to me; instead, it’s more of a fantasy-action film about magical kids, a film geared towards young children and their long-suffering parents. I’m having trouble describing exactly why those two sub-genres are different, but they have become different, at least in 2020.

There’s a fair bit in Shazam! that doesn’t work for me. Mark Strong’s villainy game, for example, is usually on point–all hail SEPTIMUS!–but he makes for a pretty boring villain here. Dr. Sivana’s origin story has potential, but it goes nowhere interesting, and the film would be better off if the majority of his scenes were cut. Zachary Levi, meanwhile, is generally funny, but it rarely feels like he’s actually playing Billy; mostly, he comes across as any random kid who’s been magically transported into an adult’s body. It creates a real disconnect for me throughout the film, especially when it comes to the conflict between Billy and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Which is unfortunate because that relationship is a huge part of the story. This movie falls down hardest, I think, in its second act.

OTOH, I really do love Billy’s foster siblings, especially Freddy and Darla (Faithe Herman), who are charmingly chaotic and adorably sweet, respectively. The script is sometimes (okay, often) very on the nose about the found family stuff, but fuck it, these kids are cute, and their parents are sweet and well-meaning, and I just want them to all be happy, OKAY? And can I tell you just how much I adored these kids becoming superheroes at the end? The cameos are fantastic: I am 100% here for Adam Brody as Superhero Freddy, plus Ross Butler was a nice surprise, and Meagan Good was delightful as Superhero Darla. It’s especially awesome they get to remain superheroes, too, like I just assumed this would be a one-time sidekick deal, not that we’d end the movie sharing a secret lair. (Obviously, other viewers were prepared for this, but the majority of my Shazam knowledge comes from animated movies like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and TV shows like Young Justice.) I’m kinda so-so on this particular film overall, but I find the ending so charming that I’m genuinely interested in seeing a sequel.

A few quick asides:

A. Poor Djimon Hounsou. He so rarely gets to play anybody interesting, and this movie is no exception to that rule. Hounsou plays the Wizard who gifts Billy with his powers, and the most interesting thing about him–other than his hilariously fake hair–is that he is just such an incredible dick. Like, I just called him Asshole Dumbledore the whole movie. (Yes, Dumbledore himself is also Asshole Dumbledore, but still.) Cause, sure, you can’t hold this guy responsible for everything our villain does, but you can definitely hold him responsible for being needlessly cruel to a small child, traumatizing countless people across the world, and, oh yeah, that whole car accident thing. I’m just saying.  No one’s weeping for you, my dude.

B. It’s a very minor complaint, but when your bad guy unleashes the seven deadly sins as his henchmen, like, I just wish they were a lot more fun and distinct than this.

C. That last scene with Superman? Fucking amazing.

Joker

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: On Demand, I think? (My friends rented it)
Spoilers: A few, yes
Grade: Strawberry

Well, I watched it. And as suspected, I just wasn’t into Joker. Joaquin Phoenix is undoubtedly creepy with his weird laughter and off-putting grin and seriously disturbing ribs–like, man’s got a freaky AF energy to him, I will absolutely give him that. But his performance also feels pretty static to me, like, once I’d seen roughly 15-20 minutes, I felt like I’d seen the whole thing. Plus, I’m just kinda tired of awarding rich white dudes for being difficult to work with, and continuing to glorify actors who starve themselves for roles? Like, no, this is so unhealthy for everyone involved; please, let’s just stop.

The narrative structure of Joker goes something like this: introduce a mentally ill man and present him with about 80 triggers until he inevitably explodes. Which is . . . fine, but the build feels off to me here. The revolution is weak, primarily off-screen and inspired by murders I never quite bought as a rallying point. The social commentary feels thin, too; like, “eat the rich” is a pretty popular theme these days, but this might be one of the least successful versions of it I’ve seen. There are some ideas I like, if not always their execution: Gotham from the POV of the lower classes, for instance, or reinterpreting Thomas Wayne as a mega Chief Asshat. The eternal, cyclical nightmare that is this city, how Gotham creates villains by failing the people, and how those villains in turn create our heroes, who only ever perpetuate the system . . . but the writing is just such weak sauce, lazy and muddled. If this wins for Best Adapted Screenplay over Little Women, I swear to God . . .

I also can’t say I’m particularly impressed with any of the female roles, either. Zazie Beetz is criminally underused: her character has no real function, except to serve as a Big Twist, one that fails to be meaningful, compelling, or even surprising. It would, at least, take a modicum of effort before one could cut Penny (Frances Conroy) out of the film, but still, the whole backstory about Joker’s mom is just so . . . meh, all of it, meh. Joker is hardly the worst film I’ve ever seen: the acting is generally fine, and I quite like the cinematography. I had a good time hanging out with my friends and eating pizza, at least. But I just didn’t connect to this film at all, and I remain a bit baffled by its multiple Oscar nominations. There are so many better movies than this. My nerdish heart wants more.

Little Women

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Actual Goddamn Movie Theater
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Chocolate

Initially, my interest in Little Women was mild. I’ve never read the book, and I was pretty content with the 1994 adaptation I’d grown up with. I didn’t know I needed another version of this story. But then I became more interested, partially because I’d like to support more female directors, partially because I desperately didn’t want Joker to be the only Best Picture nominee I’d actually seen, and partially because of this video by Be Kind, Rewind, which examines four different film adaptations of Little Women and discusses how each teaches us something about the era it was made in. (Oh, and because I wanted to finally check out the Alamo Drafthouse, and Little Women was the only film playing that I wanted to see. Not gonna lie, folks: if either Parasite or the less cinematically beloved Underwater had been available, you probably would’ve gotten a different review.)

Happily, I thought Little Women was fantastic. I was surprisingly engaged throughout the film, which is partially due to the changes in narrative structure. It’s not that telling a story using flashbacks is some groundbreaking approach never accomplished before; it’s that using flashbacks to tell this story gives these characters so much more dimension (and their respective arcs better shape) that I could’ve possibly imagined. Not to mention, the juxtaposition of certain scenes, like watching Beth’s miraculous recovery right before Beth’s tragic death, is just beautifully heartbreaking. And while I had my doubts, initially (as “ambiguous” and “meta” are not always words I enjoy when applied to endings), I quite like how this movie concludes. I love that Little Women never forgets Jo’s consistent antipathy towards marriage, and the more I learn about Louisa May Alcott, the more this ending really appeals to me.

The acting, too, is all-around spectacular. Amy is a much more interesting character in this version of the story, and I think Florence Pugh does an absolutely fantastic job. Her acting nod feels well-earned, and the same for Saoirse Ronan, who I think makes for a very compelling Jo. I quite like Emma Watson as Meg, too; considering she previously played both Hermione and Belle, Meg is the non-standard choice, and I’m kind of obsessed with it. I also like Eliza Scanlen as Beth, but I’ll admit, she’s probably the character that suffers most by comparison, if only because “Claire Danes,” “90’s,” and “ugly cry” are so inextricably linked in my head. You know who really gets me to ugly cry in this movie, though? Mr. Laurence, as played by a nearly unrecognizable Chris Cooper. Jesus Christ. I was bawling well before Beth even died because of this kindly motherfucker.

TBH, my only real problem with Little Women is that for a film which gives us a much more sympathetic Amy, I’m at least twice as mad about the whole “burning Jo’s book” scene. Partially because I’m slightly more inclined to forgive Kirsten Dunst purely on the basis of age, partially because Pugh’s Amy is much more deliberate, methodical, and smug about what she’s done, partially because Amy’s apology here feels so obviously forced and insincere . . . but mostly, I think, because there’s something about this new version that seems to especially condemn Jo’s fury, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll freely admit to carrying some personal baggage with “be the bigger person” arguments, but there are times when that message works for me: Jo not lashing out at Amy about Europe, for example, is one such occasion. But to expect Jo to forgive Amy in less than 24 hours, to show Jo’s righteous fury wholly and immediately redirected at herself after Amy’s near-death experience . . . you know, maybe it’s not that this version is any more cruel than the others. Maybe it’s just that in such a revisionist adaptation, I wish Greta Gerwig had updated this scene as well. Because the idea that you have to forgive your family, no matter what, simply because they’re your family . . . I think it’s an unhealthy message, and it’s my only real disappointment in what I think is otherwise a thoughtful and fantastic film.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hostel, and The Legend of Hell House

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Absolutely, and not just for this film. I will also heartlessly spoil Alien, Aliens, Scream, AND Halloween
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed this. I wish I could judge it against the 1956 film, but unfortunately, I haven’t watched that movie since I was 16 (studying McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare in US History, natch), and while I liked it at the time, I remember very little about the film now. Still, this 1978 remake is a lot of fun, and hey, look at all these people in it! Jeff Goldblum as a spiteful and atypically charmless writer! Leonard Nimoy as the evil psychiatrist version of Spock! (I’m specifically thinking of “This Side of Paradise.”) Robert Duvall as some rando priest on the swings! (It’s an uncredited cameo.) And, of course, Donald Sutherland as our fluffy-haired love interest turned doomed protagonist. I can’t believe I’ve finally seen the movie for this GIF! (You might think said GIF would’ve been a spoiler, but since I almost always see it in a “no, God, not YOU” context, I didn’t realize what was going to happen until right before it did.)

Also? Veronica Cartwright is the actual final girl here! Sure, things aren’t looking great for her right now, but nevertheless, Nancy is a side character–the second female lead, even–who makes it further than anyone else in the film, and I am fascinated by that. Try to think of other horror movies where that even happens. It’d be like Halloween where Annie makes it instead of Laurie. Or Tatum outliving Sidney in Scream, or Vasquez surviving Aliens when Ripley does not. (Or hell, Veronica Cartwright herself in Alien.) It’s pretty much just not a thing, is my point. Besides, Nancy’s really clever: she’s the one who figures out how to evade detection, successfully continues doing so when Elizabeth cannot, and hey, she likes to read! I’m extremely excited to add Nancy to my list of Interesting Final Girls.

There are, admittedly, a few moments that are pretty hard to take seriously, like the mutant dog or how it initially looks like Earth is being invaded by space sperm. On the other hand, the scene where Donald Sutherland takes an axe to his own half-formed pod face is pretty great, and the moment when Elizabeth crumples apart is surprisingly sad. It’s always great when a horror movie can hit you with surprise Feels, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers successfully does this for me.

Hostel

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Strawberry

I first watched Hostel (and reviewed it*) way back in 2010, and at the time, I really enjoyed the movie. But I also hadn’t seen it in several years, and had a sneaking suspicion that I’d feel differently about it now. My suspicions proved accurate.

Even now, I still don’t hate Hostel. But things have changed in the past decade, and one of those things is my tolerance for watching assholes be assholes for any elongated period of time. We’re with these dudes for about 40 minutes before we really get what we came for, and while it does make sense to have a lengthy first act when the bulk of your horror is  gory, torture-based violence . . . like, who wants to sit through 40 minutes of these little shitheads running around, being jerks, and seeing a truly improbable number of tits? (Jesus God, the ludicrous amount of tits in this movie.) It seems like there are two ways to fix this: either make these characters a lot more likable, or have Oli and Josh go missing much earlier in the film, putting the focus on Paxton as Amateur Detective rather than Paxton, Infuriating Dick.

Other problems I have with Hostel: a) Paxton’s backstory, not because of the backstory itself but because of just how lazily it’s dumped into the script, like, this is a teachable moment on How Not To Handle Exposition, b) how Josh, our only gay** and non-villainous character, dies, and c) Kana’s suicide, because come on, what the actual fuck. If she’d decided to kill herself months or even days after the fact, okay, that’s one thing, but to have her jump in front of a train here, just five minutes after escaping, because half her face is fucked up? Thanks, I hate it. Honestly, I hated this ten years ago, too, but when I read that the actress thought it was plausible, I tried giving it the benefit of the doubt. No more. This is total bullshit. Absolutely cannot deal.

All that being said, there are still things I like about this movie. For instance, that Achilles tendon shot remains fucking iconic. I think it’s interesting that Paxton is the only person you actually see murder anyone on screen. (Well, except for the Bubblegum Sociopath Street Gang, of course. I still kinda adore these random violent little children.) I actually like a lot about Paxton, if not Paxton himself: his ability to speak German, his revenge scene, his general ingenuity when it comes to survival. (Not to mention, Jay Hernandez’s performance; he’s pretty great in this.) Again, this is fascinating trope subversion because Paxton seems like the kind of asshole who gets killed off halfway through, when instead that’s Josh, our shy, asthmatic Nice Guy. Josh is such an obvious Final Boy that I really enjoy his surprise death–or would, anyway, if it weren’t for the Bury Your Gays thing.

*As always, the older the post, the more horrified I am by it. I do stand by some of my opinions in this review (I’m not linking to it; you can find it if you really want to), but I’ve also grown as both a writer and a feminist, and some of this review is just hideously painful to reread. It’s particularly jarring, too, because I mention some things about myself that just blatantly aren’t true . . . only I hadn’t realized that yet. Ah, the slow, frustrating process of self-discovery.

**Josh’s sexuality is not directly stated, but it is heavily implied.

The Legend of Hell House

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

I enjoyed The Legend of Hell House when I watched it on a whim last year, but I think I might’ve enjoyed it even more on the second go-round. The things that bothered me then still bother me now, unfortunately: like, the (apparently toned down) erotic hauntings are total bullshit. The only reason Ann is even here is so that someone can get possessed by a horny ghost. (You’ll notice it’s always the women who are getting “sex-possessed” in these movies.) The character literally does nothing plot relevant, not once, and considering this story really only has four characters? Come on. Florence, at least, is extremely plot-relevant, but she also decides to have sex with Daniel the Friendly Ghost in order to free his spirit, or something–only to find out that Daniel never actually existed; instead, Florence gets raped and possessed by Evil Belasco’s Ghost.

So, yeah. That’s . . . that’s a lot. But there is genuinely a lot to enjoy, too: the premise is basically my dream story, like, a scientist, a psychic, and a traumatized sole survivor–who’s also psychic–are hired to uncover the mysteries of the spooky haunted house? People, I’m in love. I also really like how this movie deals with physical mediums versus mental mediums and how our skeptical scientist does believe in psychic energy and scientific exorcisms; he just doesn’t believe in actual ghosts. I enjoy all of the trances and hauntings that aren’t based in shitty erotica, like, there’s some decent atmosphere in this movie. Young Michael Gough as Evil Preserved Corpse is perfectly creepy. And the mystery of “Who Is Actually Haunting Us?” is pretty fun throughout, although I will say that I’d like the “multiple ghosts” theory better if the mediums came across a fake ghost besides Daniel. (Say, Evil Belasco was impersonating someone Ben knew from the last expedition.) Also, while I quite like that it was Belasco All Along, the big reveal about his homicidal Napoleon Complex is, I think, pretty underwhelming. Although credit where credit’s due: the clues leading up to this in Ben’s backstory are pretty expertly handled.

The Legend of Hell House doesn’t always get a ton of love (at least, not when compared to other classic haunted house movies) and clearly there are things I’d like to change. But I honestly do think it’s a pretty neat take on the sub-genre and well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.

“Why Is There A Watermelon There?”

It’s the final week of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon and, coincidentally, my last week before vacation. Which means you probably won’t see me around much for a little while. Before I go, though, I have my second (and final) WaT reward essay to share. While last week we discussed John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (a film where Satan is a bunch of green goo in a vat, and bugs are fucking everywhere), today we’ll be shifting gears to talk about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a film where a brain surgeon/comic book hero/test pilot/rock star/physicist saves the world with his buddies, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, from hostile aliens.

My friends, this movie is an experience.

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Triple Scoop Reviews: Solo: A Star Wars Story, Stripes, and Love, Simon

Solo: A Star Wars Story

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yep. Heavily implied spoilers for Rogue One, too.
Grade: Vanilla

So, I finally watched Solo. It was okay, I guess.

On the plus side: Alden Ehreneich is perfectly respectable as Han. I adore Donald Glover as Lando. I am equally obsessed with Lando’s fabulous wardrobe. And I love, just LOVE, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37. Enfys Nest is super intriguing, and Qi’ra turning out to be Darth Maul’s disciple is . . . . interesting? (Especially since that motherfucker should be dead. Don’t come at me with Clone Wars. Darth Maul got sliced in half and he is DEAD.) Like, I’m into it, but also this twist doesn’t really go anywhere? If we’re setting up for a new Qi’ra-centered prequel–or for Old Qi’ra to return as an important villain in Star Wars IX–I guess that’s one thing, but as is, my reaction was more like, “Okay, cool, and . . .?”

Which, honestly, is a fair representation of how I feel about Solo as a whole. Like, why did we make this? To tell us how Han got his last name? Please. That was some unnecessary bullshit right there. To show us how Cynical Han used to be more trusting and idealistic?

Who really needed that story? Especially since it’s such an obvious story: I felt like I spent most the movie waiting for both Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clarke to double-cross Han. It wasn’t a question of if; mostly, it was just a question of who first. That’s not what I would call awesome narrative tension, which is one of my largest complaints about prequels in general. L3-37’s death is pretty obvious from the get-go, too, because she–like every character in Rogue One–isn’t around for the later films. Also, am I the only person who’s upset that Han took the Millennium Falcon? Like, I know Lando cheated the card game and all, and, sure, later left them to die (I cheered, BTW), but still, whether it was romantic love or otherwise, Lando obviously cared a lot about L3-37. The last of her knowledge–her essence, so to speak–was put into that ship . . . and then he doesn’t even end up with it? WHAT MONSTER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?

Also, I can’t help but note that Lando grieved more for L3-37 than anyone did for Thandie Newton, and for Christ’s sake, how the fuck do you cast Thandie Newton in your movie and do that little with her? I don’t care how busy she was with Westworld; this is a HUGE waste of her talent, and I am feeling deeply salty about it. In fact, if this film were to be remade to my satisfaction? You kill off Woody, not Thandie: he’s a bigger name, so his cameo death is actually more of a shock; more importantly, Val’s antagonistic chemistry with Han would be a much more interesting dynamic to watch, especially as they reluctantly grow to depend upon and like one another. After that, you can go one of two ways: Val, like Beckett, could betray Han (which I suspect would be more surprising), or she could step up to join the Rebellion with Enfys Nest, while Han, burned by Qi’ra, turns away from all that. I actually think the latter could have a lot of emotional punch, and the only thing I’d regret losing is the scene where Han shoots Beckett. I did genuinely enjoy that moment.

And if you do go with the latter, there’s  clearly only one course of action: an immediate sequel to this prequel, in which Val and Enfys go up against Qi’ra in an epic showdown. (Hopefully using this song because it’s also pretty goddamn epic, if not a little . . . odd . . . when paired with the train heist scene.)

Stripes

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: I mean, yeah, technically? It’s a comedy from 1981, though, so . . .
Grade: Strawberry

Yes, this really is the first time I’ve ever watched Stripes. It’s . . . also okay?

Look, here’s my confession: Bill Murray’s shtick doesn’t always work for me. I mean, sometimes it does! But other times, not so much, and while I understand I should’ve spontaneously burst into flames just for daring to commit such blasphemy to the written word, like, dude’s built a career out of playing snarky little assholes. And while I’m generally down for the “snark” part of that equation, the asshole part? Don’t always love it. Which is a long-winded way of explaining that for every Murray line that makes me laugh in Stripes, there are two more that make me wanna punch him in the face. Freaking out the rich lady who was a snotty jerk to him, for example? Sure, no problem. Causing a huge backup on the bridge (plus at least one accident) just to get back at the rich lady, and, I don’t know, The Man? Dude, fuck you. I was glad when John’s GF left him, just like I was glad when Hulka punched him in the stomach.

Worse, John never actually grows or develops or learns anything. There’s a part where he steps up, I guess, but it doesn’t seem like he’s changed in any meaningful way. In fact, we know he hasn’t, because immediately after said step-up moment, he fucks off to Germany in a stolen Army SUV to have some weekend sex with his GF, inadvertently getting the rest of his unit captured when they go after him. John’s character arc is less of an arc than a flat line, and the movie–while occasionally funny–seems pretty directionless as a whole.

That all being said, certain scenes did make me laugh. The whole dance/drill sequence at graduation was pretty great. I was giggling during the creaking bones and push-ups scene (I’m 33; it’s relatable content), as well as when Russell (Harold Ramis) attacked Bill Murray for trying to desert. And I had a great time playing spot-the-actor. I mean, my God, this cast. I was particularly delighted to see a young John Larroquette playing against type, not to mention a cameo by Baby Danny Concannon. (I was excited about PJ Soles for a hot second, too, until she pretty much just transformed back into Lynda from Halloween, all giggly in love with John for God knows what reason.)

So, it’s okay. It’s just that, all in all, I would’ve been completely fine if John Winger had blown up during basic training and the movie had switched to focus on Sean Young, instead.

Love, Simon

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other (HBO)
Spoilers: Yup, for both book and movie
Grade: Chocolate

I actually read this book (or, rather, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda) last year and had, per usual, every intention of seeing the movie in theaters as well. For once, I’m so grateful I failed to do that. Not because I didn’t enjoy the movie; I absolutely did, but I was also not counting on the cringe factor being this high, like, JFC. I just spent two hours hiding behind my hands, taking off my headphones, muting the volume on my computer, lowering the screen of my laptop, and otherwise literally squirming in my seat. The sheer awkwardness, people. I’m fucking twitching over here.

Moving past that. Overall, I thought Love, Simon was a pretty great teen comedy: hilarious, cute, very often moving. I do have some disappointments: while I understood (and even liked) many of the adaptational changes, I’m not totally crazy that Leah secretly loves Simon now, rather than Nick. It feels a little . . . cliche? Unnecessary? I just didn’t love it, although I will admit that Movie Leah, who is considerably less passive aggressive and jealous than Book Leah, was a welcome change. I’m also pretty bummed that Bram didn’t get a bigger moment at the end of the movie, like, him joining Simon on the Ferris wheel is great and all, but their actual scene together feels pretty rushed. The story spends all this time on the mystery of Who is Blue, but once we find out it’s Keiynan Lonsdale, we only get, like, fifteen seconds with him, and then the movie’s over. I find it disappointing. (Especially because I like Lonsdale, damn it.)

Still, this movie is laugh out loud funny and has a spectacular cast. Nick Robinson is not at all who I pictured for Simon–honestly, I was thinking of Miles Heizer, who plays a smaller part in the film–but he does a pretty decent job with the role. Despite my frustrations with Leah’s storyline, I like Katherine Langford quite a bit. I also really enjoyed the hell out of Alexandra Shipp: she has a lot of energy, a lot of presence, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from her outside the painfully dull X-Men movies. And as far as the adults go, well, Tony Hale is absolute perfect as the awkward vice principal, I would legit watch a whole spinoff about Natasha Rothwell as Ms. Albright, and Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are great as Simon’s parents. Garner, in particular, stands out here. Not gonna lie: I definitely cried at her “exhale” speech, like, Jesus, that shit got me.

Of course, this movie both is and isn’t your typical high school romcom; proving once again that Hollywood moves at the pace of a dead turtle, Love, Simon is our first mainstream gay teen romance. It’s a lot of hope and expectation to hang on a single film, and I suspect not everyone’s gonna get what they wanted out of it. For my part, though, I really liked this one. And hopefully, we actually follow this up with more LGBTQIA films soon, especially if they focus on some of those letters that get a little less attention.