TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2021

It’s December, which means–well, a bunch of things, really, but today it means that I’ve come to talk about all the television I’ve been watching for the past three months. Here are the shows:

What If . . . ? (Episodes 1-5)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (Season 2, Episodes 4-10)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 8, Episodes 7-10)
Running Man/Classic Running Man (Random Episodes)
Black Spot (Season 2)
Last Week Tonight
Nailed It! (Season 6)
Squid Game
Slasher: Flesh and Blood
Yumi’s Cells (Ep. 1- 7)
Evil (Season 2)
The Great British Bake-Off (Collection 9)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Ep. 1 – 7)
Hawkeye (Ep. 1-3)

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. I may discuss events from past seasons, however, without such a warning. Which is to say, I won’t spoil any of Nancy Drew, Season 3, without a big heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 or S2 are totally fair game.

Shall we begin?

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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 Scoop Review: Gunpowder Milkshake, Black Widow, The Long Kiss Goodnight

Gunpowder Milkshake

Year: 2021
Director: Navot Papushado
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Nope
Grade: Strawberry

I’ve been looking forward to Gunpowder Milkshake for quite a long time now, and it’s . . . okay. The cast is outstanding. Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, and Ralph Ineson? Yeah, I am here for this cast. I’m especially here for Michelle Yeoh because oh my God, Michelle Yeoh in this movie, with that hair, and those clothes, and that chain. Like, could we just have thirty more minutes with Michelle Yeoh, please?

Actually, that might be the crux of my problem with Gunpowder Milkshake: it feels a bit spread thin, a bit rushed. Please believe me, I am ecstatic to see an action movie under two hours, but I also feel that we just barely skim the surface of this world and these characters, particularly their relationships to one another. I wanted more with these badass women; in fact, I wonder if the story might have benefited from being a two or three part series, where we get to spend a decent amount of time A) with the Aunts, who are awesome, B) seeing more of Scarlet’s sorta-thrown-in-there backstory, and C) just establishing this world. Especially cause, like . . . okay, I often get extremely worked up when people complain that Work X is obviously derivative of Work Z just because they have a similar setting or something, and I was ALL prepared to insist how Gunpowder Milkshake was very much its own thing and not just a weak, gender flipped version of John Wick, which is still true, but . . . IDK, I can’t deny that it did heavily remind me of John Wick. I just feel like if the story was a little less go-go-go, maybe we’d have the opportunity to see something that sets this story and world apart aside from its fucking phenomenal cast.

The stylized action scenes are fun (particularly the diner and everything that happens in the library), and of course, I love both the violence and just the general aesthetic. I mean, this movie has fashionable LIBRARIAN ASSASSINS. There are things to enjoy here, clearly. And they did successfully trick me into thinking that a certain character would bite it, and surprise, they didn’t, so kudos on that. It’s just that, overall, I felt a bit distant from the movie. I was hoping to really get into it more than I actually did. OTOH, if Netflix gave me a prequel series with the Aunts (played by the same actresses, not younger ones, thank you very much), I would be ALL onboard. Do you hear me, Netflix? I am actually asking for a prequel, ME.

Black Widow

Year: 2021
Director: Cate Shortland
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: Yes, for this and for Endgame
Grade: Vanilla

Speaking of prequels . . .

As with most of Marvel’s properties lately, I watched this for Mek (we have a whole trade-off system), and I enjoyed it more than I expected, although I must admit, my expectations weren’t particularly high. Still, this is a very fun cast: I adore Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz, I’m very fond of David Harbour, and despite the fact that I usually cringe whenever Scarlett Johansson decides to talk about casting, I do actually like her as Black Widow. I don’t think it would’ve hurt to cast, you know, at least one Russian actor in the bunch, but wandering accents aside, I enjoy most of the action, and most of the humor, and I really like the whole spy family dynamic, particularly between the sisters. This one isn’t breaking the Marvel mold, but considering it’s only the second female-led Marvel superhero movie? To hell with it. I’m just happy to see a lady superhero get her fun popcorn flick–or I would’ve been 5 years ago. But we’ll come back to that.

There are some things I don’t think work quite so well. I’m not sure the Taskmaster twist does much for me, like, not because of the genderbent thing (I didn’t even know who Taskmaster was until I read the whining on Twitter), but because I thought her secret identity was pretty obvious, and also because it read, to me, like a way to soften Natasha’s backstory, which I felt was unnecessary. Also, the bit about Natasha’s birth mom, like, why? That definitely felt unnecessary. I didn’t love the fat jokes about Alexei, either, although at least there weren’t so many of them. (Fuck you forever, Endgame.) And sweet Jesus, how did Natasha even survive this movie? She should’ve died, like, four different times. (This one isn’t really a serious complaint, but I did need to mock.)

Still, my real problem with Black Widow is that nothing, nothing, about this movie works better as a prequel, except that Florence Pugh might not have been cast if it had come out in 2017 instead of 2021. I just couldn’t stop thinking it as we watched the movie: this story would’ve meant so much more to me if we’d seen it after Civil War, you know, when it actually takes place. This story would’ve meant so much more to me if we saw it before Natasha died. Seeing it now doesn’t provide some kind of meaningful perspective. At best, it keeps me at a distance; at worst, it actively pisses me off.  I desperately wanted a Black Widow movie once. Now, I only watched it so Mek would check out the first season of Evil with me. Like, the film is fine, and I could watch it again, but goddamnit, I would’ve actually cared back in 2017.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

Year: 1996
Director: Renny Harlin
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

After watching Gunpowder Milkshake and Black Widow, it just felt like the right time to sit down and finally check out The Long Kiss Goodnight, which is, like, 90’s over-the-top Christmas-action-noir-cheese. (Obviously, it was written by Shane Black.) And I had a good time with it: the script is chockfull of witty lines, the action scenes are fucking ridiculous, and the whole cast is great. Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson have just fantastic buddy amnesiac assassin/sleazy PI chemistry, and we’ve got some great players in the supporting cast. My favorites are probably Tom Amandes (who I first saw in Everwood and does solid work here as Aggressively Normal Husband), Melina Kanakaredes (who’s in this movie for all of two minutes, but I liked her, and bonus, she doesn’t die!) and most especially Brian Cox (whose line deliveries in this movie are the fucking best, but unfortunately does die, and a bit sooner than I was hoping.)

There are some jokes here I don’t think have aged well, and while I don’t necessarily mind a plot that has white bad guys framing their evil deeds on Islamic terrorists, I do think those stories should probably have at least one decent role for a Muslim character, like, a good guy who’s not a terrorist and has actual lines and motivations and everything. When your entire representation in a movie is one frozen dead guy, like, that’s not amazing. I also think that some of the action scenes are a bit drawn out, and I suspect I laughed at more moments than I was actually supposed to? But I like to laugh, so that was okay.

Nobody wears a fucking seatbelt even once in this movie, and basically everyone should be dead from all these insane car accidents, like, I know I just said that about Black Widow, but BW doesn’t even hold a candle to this absurdity. How are any of these people still alive? HOW DID THAT BOMB NOT GO OFF WHEN THE TRUCK CRASHED, HOLY SHIT?! I haven’t seen anything that egregiously ludicrous since Nicolas Cage ran around Alcatraz without exploding his little green toxin ball.

So 90’s. So cheese. (So scrumptious.)

TV Superlatives: March, April, May – 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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TV Superlatives: December, January, February – 2020/2021

It seems I’m capable of watching either a lot of TV shows or a lot of movies, but not both. Fall 2020 was Movie Time, specifically, Horror Movie Time, and TV definitely fell by the wayside. Winter, however, was rather the other way around.

Here is the list of TV shows I’ve been watching over the past three months:

Tale of the Nine-Tailed (Episodes 10-16)
Running Man (Random Episodes)
The Uncanny Counter
Alice in Borderland
The Expanse (Season 5)
Sweet Home
The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
WandaVision
Nancy Drew (Season 2, Episodes 1-6)
Busted (Season 3)
Infinity Train (Season 2)
L.U.C.A.: The Beginning (Episodes 1-5)
Last Week Tonight
Star Trek: Lower Decks

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve been currently watching with my usual nonsense awards, whether they’re currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark these awards with spoiler warnings.

With that said, let’s begin!

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TV Superlatives: June, July, August – 2020

It’s that time again! We must discuss only the most prestigious of TV Awards: Favorite Sidekick, Best Revenge, Most Horrifying Fashion, Favorite Ship, and more!

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching with such awards, whether they’re currently airing or not. 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:

Agents of SHIELD (Season 7)
Village Survival: The Eight (Season 2)
Star Trek (Season 2: Ep. 7-10)
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (June 7th – August 30th)
13 Reasons Why (Season 4)
Floor is Lava
Mystic Pop-Up Bar
Dear White People (Season 1)
Unsolved Mysteries (2020)
Dark (Season 3)
The Baby-Sitters Club
I Remember You (Hello Monster)
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Chip-In
Love in the Moonlight (Moonlight Drawn by Clouds)
Lovecraft Country (Ep. 1 – 3)
Running Man (er, just a bunch of random episodes from multiple seasons)

(You may notice that some shows have two titles listed. K-dramas usually have at least two, and sometimes my brain flip-flops helplessly between both. I’m going to attempt some consistency throughout these superlatives, but I make absolutely no promises.)

Also, clearly, it’s just . . . it’s a lot of K-Dramas, folks. MY LIFE HAS BEEN TAKEN OVER BY K-DRAMAS AND VARIETY SHOWS, AND I’M OKAY WITH IT.

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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.

Triple Scoop Reviews: A Wrinkle in Time, Kong: Skull Island, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A Wrinkle In Time

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

I absolutely fell in love with A Wrinkle in Time when I was eleven, but it’s not a particularly easy story to adapt. Like, it’s a SFF children’s book from the early 1960’s that’s heavy on the Christianity, complicated mathematics, weird aliens, and Love; it’s peculiar, is what I’m getting at, and when it comes to kids movies, I feel like Hollywood is often afraid of any real peculiarity. The 2003 TV film adaptation is particularly generic, just utterly lifeless. Ava DuVernay’s 2018 film is, thankfully, a billion times better than that, but I do think it has some issues. Pacing, for one (Charles Wallace’s possession goes far too fast for my liking), but more importantly, I find the movie both visually and tonally disjointed, almost like two different adaptations being sewn together. Neither is bad, exactly, but together, I don’t think they work nearly as well as they could.

For instance, at several points, A Wrinkle in Time does look and sound like what I’d expect from a more generic fantasy film aimed at kids. Some of the dialogue is very on the nose, particularly in regards to love–although considering the source material, that’s not exactly surprising. (This is very much a Power of Love story.) Some of the CGI isn’t great, particularly when Mrs. Whatsit turns into a giant flying leaf-thing, and that whole filler flying sequence with the kids? I don’t know, it feels very . . . expected? Obligatory? I wasn’t crazy about the scene where Meg and Calvin run from the tornado-earthquake thing, either, although I do love that Meg’s the one who figures out how to survive. Also, Mrs. Which’s makeup and especially eyebrows strike me as comical, but, like, not in a good way? (Admittedly, that could just be personal taste, and happily, I have nothing but positive things to say about Mrs. Who’s hair and costumes. They are delightful.)

The thing is, I was okay with most of that because this is a kids movie, and it’s supposed to appeal to them, not my cranky ass old self–but then there are these gorgeous scenes that feel much more sophisticated, like when Meg uses Mrs. Who’s glasses to find her way to the invisible staircase or when Meg finally successfully tessers home. It’s not that these scenes are inappropriate for a kids movie, far from it. But they definitely feel like they belong in a different one: there are these incredibly compelling moments, both visually and narratively, but they feel extremely disconnected when compared to scenes like Kids Whee Around Whilst Atop Lousy CGI Creature.

I do think many of the modern updates and source material deviations work quite well. Updating Mrs. Who’s Big Book of Quotations to include Hamilton is a particularly inspired choice. (And pretty cool for me, personally, as I’d literally just seen the play for the very first time that night.) I miss Aunt Beast, of course, but I completely understand the exclusion of Sandy and Dennys. It’s also pretty great that the Murrays are a multiracial family, and that Meg–brilliant and angry and caring and insecure–is a very fully realized protagonist whose ethnicity is always a part of her characterization but never the only defining factor. I love watching her progress from someone who doesn’t like herself to someone who can acknowledge her strengths and flaws, who can stand up and say she’s worthy of love. My personal favorite microcosm of this is watching Meg finally accept a compliment about her hair. It’s a wonderfully empowering moment, and if I think that as an adult white woman, I can’t imagine how much it might mean to a young black girl.

Storm Reid is excellent in the role: the scene where she first reunites with Chris Pine–also excellent–is particularly well done. I enjoy Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon, too, although 11-Year-Old Carlie is a bit disappointed with how Mrs. Whatsit’s attitude towards Meg has become so disapproving that it borders on adversarial, like, no, she’s nice; she’s a self-sacrificing, exploded star! (This is exactly the sort of thing I mean about Hollywood eliminating weirdness.) Thematically, though, the switch-up definitely works for this particular adaptation, even if it gets a bit repetitive for my tastes.

All in all, I like A Wrinkle in Time and suspect I would’ve loved it as a kid, which is obviously the most important thing. I just can’t shake the feeling that overall, it’s a B movie which easily, easily could have been an A.

Kong: Skull Island

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

So, this was okay. I might’ve liked it more if I had some nostalgia to pull from, but I didn’t grow up watching any of the King Kong movies. As is, I think this one has a great cast and a strong start but a much weaker second half.

What delighted me about Skull Island is that, initially, it almost felt like a heist movie. You know, it had that whole “let’s get the crew together” segment where we’re introduced to all our main players–and a surprising number of them really felt like characters who could easily serve as protagonists. Like, Corey Hawkins is not just the lead scientist but also our introduction to the main story. Tom Hiddleston is the smooth, ex-military tracker extraordinaire. (And, you know. Tom Hiddleston.) Brie Larson is, well, the Girl (she’s a photojournalist and spunky!), while Toby Kebbel is easily the most well-drawn of the good guy soldiers, the only one who doesn’t feel like a red shirt waiting to happen. It’s fun because it really gives you a sense of “oh shit, who’s gonna make it out of this alive,” which doesn’t always happen with action movies.

And some of the action itself is pretty great. The scene where King Kong just starts killing the shit out of the helicopters left and right is crazy fun. There’s a lot of amusing dialogue, mostly from those soldiers I mentioned, and even the blatant implausibility of this island is kinda delightful. Like, an absolutely ludicrous storm-shield? Sure, why not?

But Skull Island heavily starts falling apart for me as soon as John C. Reilly comes into the picture. Which bums me out because I like Reilly in plenty of things, but the choice here to play this traumatized WWII pilot who’s been stuck on this island for almost 30 years as “hilariously loopy” is, IMO, a pretty poor one. Another poor choice is killing the Japanese pilot offscreen so that only the white dude gets to speak Japanese and wield a katana. Like, come on, dudes. It doesn’t help that the indigenous, non-white people who live on this island don’t talk, like, at all; instead, it’s Reilly’s character who provides all the exposition, which a) not great, and b) is way too lengthy. All the time we spend on this guy is time I’d rather be spending on the other less frustrating characters.

Because that’s my other big problem here: after such a promising start, most of the cast is stuck with almost nothing to do. Killing off Toby Kebbel so early could work–like, shit, I expected him to make it to the third act, at least–but then Corey Hawkins completely fades away into the background, leaving us with only Hiddleston and Larson as our protagonists, and they are Nilla Wafer bland, like, the script just gives them nothing. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson’s turn to the Ahab Dark Side is . . . fine, I guess, but what could’ve been a good-if-expected arc ends up so damn cheesy, particularly considering the many, many slow-mo shots of his Vengeance Eyes.

A few more random notes:

A. Seriously, the slow-mo in this movie is ridiculous. I outright laughed when I definitely wasn’t supposed to.

B. A lot of this music is my jam, but man, this is a soundtrack that really, really wants you to remember this movie is set in the 1970’s. Honestly, I think the only surprise here is that Edwin Starr’s “War” doesn’t pop up.

C. Brie Larson’s character may be a walking Nilla Wafer with a camera, but boy, does she have some of the best reaction faces while King Kong is murdering all the helicopters. Side note: you can always tell if a helicopter will explode upon crashing based on which cast members are sitting inside it.

D. Finally, one positive thing I will say about Skull Island is that a few characters live who I definitely thought were toast. Three of the soldiers (the young guy, the funny guy, and Pillboi from The Good Place) all make it, as well as Corey Hawkins and the Asian biologist/only other woman on the expedition. (It’s a pretty minor win, though, considering how little she actually does in this movie.) Shea Whigham, sadly, does not, because I don’t think he’s ever survived anything I’ve seen him in. (His death is especially sad here, since he goes for a self-sacrifice moment that 100% fails to work.) And Marc Evan Jackson–also from The Good Place–was clearly doomed for death the moment he expressed his shock that famous photojournalist Mason Weaver was, gasp, a woman–but even he managed to surprise me by just how ludicrously dumb his death was, like, rather than go with Tom Hiddleston’s group trying to get off the island, he instead goes with the soldiers who are planning to directly confront King Kong. Like, what? What? WHAT?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Only mild ones
Grade: Chocolate

Yes, I have finally watched Into the Spider-Verse, and loved it, thank God. I did not want to be the asshole writing about what a letdown it was. ItSV is funny and clever and moving without ever being cloying. It was pretty awesome to finally get a Spider-Man movie not starring Peter Parker, and of course, we got several Spider-Man iterations here: Gwen Stacey is fun, and Peter B. Parker and Spider-Man Noir just crack me up. (Spider-Ham is amusing, too, in a cracktastic, “wow, you really went there” sort of way.) But Miles Morales, especially, just makes for a great lead, not to mention it’s pretty cool to hear him speak Spanish while just going about his day. With the exception of Xhosa in Black Panther, I feel like it’s rare to hear superheroes on the big screen speak anything other than English. Fictional alien languages, sure, but the second most commonly spoken language in this country? Not so much.

My only real problem with this movie is the barrage of tubby jokes at Peter B. Parker’s expense. I don’t know that it bothers me as much as Fat Thor in Endgame, but I’m honestly not sure why: the basic joke, after all (a hero gains a bunch of weight after his life goes to shit, and everyone cracks wise about it for the next two hours), is pretty much the same. Is it because this is a cartoon, a medium where I’ve just become numb to the rampant fat phobia? Is it because I didn’t see this in theater with a bunch of strangers chuckling around me while I tried to melt into my chair? Or am I simply giving Into the Spider-Verse a little more leeway because I just like the film more? One way or another, though, I was disappointed with this aspect of the film.

Other than that, I really loved this movie. The animation, of course, is just outstanding, imaginative and innovative and so, so colorful. And there were all these little moments I really enjoyed, like the scene where Miles gets ready to jump off a high-rise, then abruptly runs downstairs and finds a much shorter building to practice from? That shit cracked me up. I thought the scene where Miles’s Dad talks to him through his bedroom door was well-done, too, not to mention all the various “get up” moments. And, of course, the whole soundtrack, up to and very much including “Spidey-Bells (A Hero’s Lament).”

It is my favorite. Chris Pine is kinda my favorite. I have listened to this song, like, A LOT.

“I Love You 3,000.”

For a while now, I’ve been trying to maximize my time and minimize my excessive word counts with my Triple Scoop Reviews; today, however, we’re going back to the old standard because Avengers: Endgame is kinda the end of an era here, and I feel like it deserves its own space.

Or, in other words, I’ve got a few things to say, and while some of it’s really positive, some of it’s really not.

Continue reading

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

Captain Marvel

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

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

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

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

A few final notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Cast a Deadly Spell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Times at the El Royale

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

Man. I wanted to like this so bad.

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

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

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

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

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