World’s Worst Trekkie: Wolf in the Fold, The Trouble With Tribbles, and The Gamesters of Triskelion

Well. There are many fascinating things in this trio of episodes. Tribbles. Serial killers. Talking alien brains that orchestrate death matches. Prepare yourselves, my friends, for the road ahead is paved with hilarity, absurdity, misogyny, violence, unexpected historical references, and fantastic hair.

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“Wolf in the Fold”

Oh, wow. That was, yes. That was surely an episode.

At first, I assumed we were in for our standard ‘Starfleet officer is framed for murder’ story, but oh no, my friends. Oh no. Things take a turn for the WTF when it’s revealed that it’s not Scotty who’s murdering women but Jack the Ripper. JACK THE FUCKING RIPPER. Redjac is a non-corporeal alien entity who kills women because they’re more easily terrified than men. (According to Spock, that is, who you’ll remember is absolutely perfect 80% of the time and sucks so hard the other 20%.) Obviously, I was unprepared for this turn of events. Mek mentioned JtR early in the episode (cause murder, fog, etc.), but it was supposed to be a joke. Reader. It was not a joke. Kirk actually says things like “but everything we’ve uncovered points to Jack the Ripper,” which is just categorically untrue, BTW. It has literally been less than 20 seconds since JtR even became a possible suspect. Redjac is also played by John Fiedler, who notably voiced Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. Which means that “Evil Piglet is Jack the Ripper!” is now a real thing that I have said.

That’s obviously the most ludicrous thing that happens in the episode, but never fear: absurdity abounds in many forms today! Like how Scotty is only on this planet at all because Bones prescribed him a rehabilitative trip to the local belly dancer tavern, which is supposed to cure him of his “total resentment toward women,” an affliction he’s been suffering from ever since some woman caused an explosion that knocked Scotty into a bulkhead?

I . . . I can’t. I just can’t.

There’s also the “psycho-tricorder” (a device I’m relatively sure is never used again), Spock’s random ass theory of the “hypnotic screen,” the fact that Kirk seems way more concerned about making sure Scotty gets cleared of all charges than he is about any of the dead women (including one of his own officers, for Christ’s sake), and the fact that Kirk ultimately defeats Jack the Ripper by getting everyone on board high.

I can’t stress enough that this is all a real episode, a real episode that really aired.

It’s terrible. I wanna watch it twice.

Chief Asshat: I’m gonna have to go with all of them? Yeah, all of them.

MVP: Whoever’s responsible for Sybo’s hair and wardrobe because it’s incredibly rare for me to see women’s fashion on TOS and think, Hell yeah, I’d wear that.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:
“I . . . I don’t remember.”
“Really, sir, that is hardly helpful.”

“The Trouble With Tribbles”

HOLY SHIT WE’VE REACHED THE TRIBBLE EPISODE!

I’ve never actually seen this episode in full before. I have seen the above GIF plenty of times–which is actually more morbid than you’d expect, considering how many of those cute cascading Tribbles are already dead–plus “Trials and Tribble-ations” a billion years ago.  But this is the first time I’m seeing the OG version, and folks, it’s delightful. There’s a reason this one’s a classic: the script is hilarious, and the actors land every damn line. (Well. Okay, I found Chekov’s “everything was invented in Russia” shtick a little forced today, but everything else.)

Some of my many favorite moments:  Scotty being able to endure any insult except an insult to the ship, Spock fooling absolutely nobody when he insists that he is immune to the charms of the tribble, Uhura archly reminding Kirk how often she gets short leave, Kirk putting his foot down due to the tragic loss of his chicken sandwich and coffee, and nobody wanting to take responsibility for beaming all the tribbles over to the Klingon’s engine room. (Which is hilarious, but also, holy shit, this is an act of WAR. Like, they basically just sentenced Cyrano Jones to 17 years of fuzzy labor for this kind of irresponsible shit.)

Short of quoting half the episode, I’m not sure how much I have to say. I do, of course, deeply relate to Scotty trying to pass up shore leave in order to stay inside and read, but I wish he’d also said something like, “Yeah I’ve had trouble relaxing on shore leave ever since that unfortunate time I was framed for multiple murders by Alien Jack the Ripper.” And the Klingons, once again, do not particularly act like the Klingons I’m familiar with, though I was kinda amused to see Klingon Trelane, or rather, the actor who played Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos” showing up in this episode as Koloth.

Chief Asshat: Oh, Baris, just for being a whiny little shit.

MVP: Kirk and Scotty. They both made me laugh a lot.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: Oh, this is hard. “Extremely little, ensign” is a fantastic burn by Spock. I always enjoy some Bones and Spock banter, and of course, “You gave them to the Klingons?” is just fantastic. Still . . .

“My chicken sandwich and coffee . . . this is my chicken sandwich and coffee . . .”
“Fascinating.”
“I want these things off the ship. I don’t care if takes every man we’ve got. I want them off the ship.”

It’s all about Kirk’s delivery. It’s so incredulous/plaintive. It makes me think fondly of Janeway, who we all know would’ve burned every tribble alive if they got between her and her coffee.

“The Gamesters of Triskelion”

. . . can I have Jack the Ripper back?

Seriously. “Wolf in the Fold” is terrible, but like, drinking game terrible. It’s delightfully bad. There is no such delight to be found in “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” The script physically hurts me. There are discussions of freedom, slavery, love, and beauty, and every single line is the worst line. The fight scenes are terrible, too, which of course is totally normal, but as this is a classic “you must fight to the death for our amusement” episode, it’d be cool if I could at least say nice things about the death battles. Alas, there is very little to praise here. Like, okay, I did laugh when Galt says he’s been sent to welcome our heroes, and we immediately cut to Kirk being forcefully cuffed to the wall. That was funny. Also funny: the fashion. Kirk’s battle harness, for instance. Also, I wanna get a bald cap and cosplay Galt. His collar is so sparkly!

Otherwise, yeah. We get a weird amount of closeups and poorly acted monologues delivered to the sky. We get a lot of pointless filler scenes where Bones and Scotty argue with Spock, which is especially galling because it’s so goddamn obvious that Spock is correct. (There is, admittedly, a funny moment where Spock totally trolls these two as he leans in, all hush-hush, and brings up mutiny–but it’s too little, too late.) We get Kirk seducing an alien woman for the 87th time. (I initially thought of her as Sexy Oompa Loompa, which isn’t entirely fair, considering her green hair is fantastic, and her skin isn’t nearly orange enough. Mek mentioned that Lady Gaga could rock this look, which is absolutely correct–and yes, Google tells me the similarities have definitely been noted before.)

Alien Lady Gaga wants to leave on the Enterprise and learn about the stars, but isn’t allowed to despite her newfound freedom because, IDK, it’s more important that she stays here, being taught by the evolved, colorful brains who enslaved her in the first place? Bullshit, sir. You take this woman away from this terrible place. Also, Kirk wins everybody’s freedom far too easily, like, what the hell happened to the whole “to the death” part of the rules? And did I mention the scene where Lars the Thrall tries to sexually assault Uhura offscreen? Yeah, no, what the fuck was THAT shit, writers? Absofuckinglutely not.

In conclusion:

Chief Asshat: Lars, obviously, but Kirk kinda sucks here, too

MVP: Uhura, who’s had an immensely shitty day and deserves better

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode:
“Your–your terms are unfair!”
“On the contrary, they’re extremely fair, since your alternative is death.”

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!

Continue reading

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Sinister, Ready or Not, and Happy Death Day

My friends! Finally, we are at the end! Of course, Marisa is the real winner of Horror Bingo, but the St. George household required its own champion before the game could be properly concluded. There could be only One–

–and it was ME! Two years running, I AM THE WINNER.

We’ll get to the official Horror Bingo 2020 Wrap-Up at the very end, but first, our last three movies.

Sinister

Year: 2012
Director: Scott Derrickson
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Amazon
Spoilers: YEP
Grade: Strawberry

You know when something is relatively well-crafted but just isn’t your thing? Yeah, that’s Sinister, for me.

Some stuff is genuinely creepy. Like, a few of those snuff films are pretty disturbing, and I fucking adore all the Netherworld Children and their perfect little outfits and their dead little faces. Is it wrong that I kinda want kids just so I can dress them up like this for Halloween? Probably. Anyway, the all-around acting is fine, although my favorite is James Ransone as Deputy So-and-So. (I love that this is his official name in the sequel, even when he’s apparently the main character.) That bit where So-and-So’s like “You kidding me, I believe in all that stuff. I wouldn’t spend one night in this place, are you nuts?” HA. I also like the ending quite a bit–except the last minute jump scare, which is cheap and worthless. Admittedly, it is pretty obvious what fate awaits Ethan Hawke and his fam, like, once you discover that the Hanged Family moved from one murder house to the next, it’s not exactly a big leap to realize that all the families did the same. Still, I enjoy a story where leaving the cursed house is actually what kills you.

The thing is, though . . . I’m just not very invested in anyone’s survival. Ellison is kind of a schmuck, and schmuck protagonists, by and large, just aren’t my thing. I really feel sorry for his wife because moving into the Murder House without telling her? I mean, wow. Wow. That being said, I don’t actually like this woman. It’s a lot of little things, like how she keeps referring to their kids as his kids whenever they do something wrong, which yeah, I do that with my cats all the time, but I don’t actually mean it, and also they’re cats and don’t give a shit? But Tracy, she seems to mean it. She feels like that Stereotypical Uptight Wife that you kinda know a dude wrote: even when we’re meant to sympathize with her, she still manages to come off as slightly nagging? It’s not so much acting as script; in fact, I quite like Juliet Rylance’s performance when Tracy finally discovers Ellison’s lie. But Tracy still has virtually nothing in the way of interiority or plot-relevance, and she and her son feel less like full characters than thinly drawn victims waiting around to die. None of it’s terrible; it’s just that this is exactly the kind of family dynamic I’m not interested in seeing, especially in horror.

Ready or Not

Year: 2019
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

Yep, I still love this movie. I really enjoyed Ready or Not when it first came out last year, and I love it even more now. The concept is just fun: Murder Hide-N-Seek, plus Homicidal In-Laws, Eat The Motherfucking Rich, etc. The script is witty and entertaining, and the whole cast is phenomenal, like, I adore so, so many of them. Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell. Melanie Scrofano and Kristian Bruun. Nicky Guadagni, thank you; thank you for giving me so much joy with this perfect face. Obviously, obviously, Adam Brody. He really is such a perfect fit as Daniel. And then, of course, Samara Weaving, who is the true star of the show; she goddamn shines in this film: the big laughs, the small emotional beats, the badass action scenes–she owns them all. Plus, she just has some of the best reactions. I could watch this scene all day.

Honestly, I don’t have a lot of quibbles here; I vaguely remember having a few, the first time around, but they seem to have faded on a second watch. (Wishing that Daniel would live just because I like him so much is less of a quibble and more of a “thank God for fanfic” moment.) Thus, I’ll just give you a short list of some of my favorite things: the glorious cosplay potential, pretty much all of Daniel’s lines, Emilie’s continuous fuckups, Fitch trying to learn crossbow via Youtube, Grace punching one of the kids in the face, OnStar Employee Justin, Tony’s exquisite meltdowns, the Good Brother/Evil Brother reversal, this song, and of course, the literally explosive climax. It is the best.

The only thing I really wish we got from this movie? A montage of deleted scenes where we saw the people who married into the family playing, like, Midnight Checkers and Old Maid and shit. That would be the absolute best.

Technically, I won Horror Bingo when I drew Ready or Not, but we decided to watch one last horror movie, anyway, mostly because of my frankly ridiculous reviewing system. Which brings us to . . .

Happy Death Day

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Mildly? Nothing that should ruin the movie for anyone.
Grade: Vanilla

It’s ridiculous I waited so long to see this movie. I’m obsessed with both slashers and time loop stories, and I’d planned to see this one in theater, you know, back when going to the movies was a thing you could do. Maybe I was worried I’d be letdown and thus sought to avoid the inevitable disappointment? If so, my procrastination was unnecessary, because I thought Happy Death Day was cute and probably one of the more successful PG-13 horror films, in that I didn’t find myself constantly thinking about how hard they were working to avoid that R rating.

I will say the movie isn’t . . . hm, I’m not sure how to say this without sounding like a total snot. Happy Death Day has an incredibly fun concept, but it doesn’t really do anything terribly ambitious with it. It doesn’t need to, necessarily; I meant it when I said I enjoyed the movie. I liked searching for all the clues and little details. There are tons of suspects because everyone hates our protagonist, and this is one of the rare films where a thoroughly unlikable MC (at least, initially) actually works for me. It’s also just funny. I laughed several times, and I’m sure I’ll watch the sequel at some point.

But when I talk about ambition . . . look, the time loop is a time-honored trope in SF/F TV, and I’ve seen shows do some really exciting things with it in terms of meaningful plot development, character development, etc. The Librarians, Agents of SHIELD, Person of Interest, Dark Matter, Supernatural, Legends of Tomorrow, the entire series of Russian Doll, etc. These shows have both delighted and surprised me with how they’ve played with time loops; Happy Death Day is absolutely enjoyable, but I don’t know if it did anything to surprise me, that’s all. The most original element, I think, is that Tree can’t continue endlessly through these loops without suffering eventual physical consequences, which is genuinely interesting; unfortunately, that’s mostly dropped in the final loop or two, and as such, doesn’t do a particularly good job adding a plot clock or raising the stakes. It’s not a huge problem, though.

I’ll tell you what is a huge problem: my brain, all twitching around inside my skull, trying to force me into beginning a new story when I have 87 other projects to finish. There’s just so many ways you can go, exploring time loops in horror. Ugh. STOP IT, BRAIN.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO 2020 WRAP UP

Of the films I’d never seen before, my favorites were probably Hausu, Becky, Deep Red, Midsommar, and Tragedy Girls.

My least favorites, on the other hand, were easily Mandy and Dream Home.

Movies I’m most disappointed we didn’t get to: One Cut of the Dead, A Bay of Blood (Twitch of the Death Nerve), and Lake Mungo.

Movies I’m most likely to add to next year’s Horror Bingo list, assuming I don’t watch them before then: Mayhem, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hereditary, and maybe a rewatch of Cube. (It’s been a long, long time.)

Triple Scoop Review: BLOODY HEARTS – Dead Body, Overlord, and The Void

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, so you know what that means: HORROR MOVIES.

Dead Body

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yes, but only in the last two paragraphs.
Grade: Chocolate

To my surprise and delight, this low-budget indie is a pretty decent little slasher film. (And directed by a woman! Yay, more women in horror!) The premise, of course, is absolutely my jam: a bunch of high school graduates (and one older boyfriend) play Dead Body, where one person is secretly assigned the role of the murderer and “kills” someone, and everyone else has to figure out who did it–only then people actually start dying. This is a Golden Age of Detective fiction staple and absolutely the kind of morbid shit I would definitely play, so of course, Mek and I had to try this movie out. Where it shines best is dialogue, characterization, and surprisingly intentional humor: Dominic’s mostly relatable bitchiness about his uninvited guests (“I need to go set up the loft I wasn’t planning on using”) or Dwayne immediately going for hacksaws, hooks, and nail guns after finding the dead bodies. I also genuinely like how protective Marcus is of his weird brother. (Or friend? I was never actually clear on this.) And there are one or two big surprises here: one didn’t do much for me, but the other I LOVED.

The thing that wasn’t a surprise, unfortunately, is the identity of the killer. Which, hey, correctly solving a whodunnit can provide a glorious sense of satisfaction, or even vindication. Here, however, Mek and I were pretty sure about the killer maybe 25 minutes into the film and were all but proven right about 25 minutes later–which is still a solid 15 before the Big Reveal. Some of the setup is actually pretty clever, but there are a few missteps, which I’ll discuss in the next two paragraphs. Other disappointments: the opening scene doesn’t do much for me–we should probably cut the last 30 seconds at least–and the two foreign exchange students are barely even in this movie, which is especially annoying because they’re the only POC in the whole cast.

SPOILER territory: I initially assumed Marcus was the killer because he’s the Nice Guy Love Interest and I figured he’d brought Rumor along as an obvious patsy. However, suspicions were quickly transferred to Dominic, partially because finding him so suddenly dead was shocking enough to be suspicious, partially because of the Harvard motive (which I thought was nicely handled), and partially because I’ve seen enough movies/read enough Agatha Christie to know you can’t trust dead bodies. Even if I hadn’t, Kenji playing dead is pretty obvious foreshadow. I think that bit could probably be cut, along with the whole it was YOU line from the opening scene, and that moment when the camera lingers a beat too long on the hammer. (Because that’s how Mek and I went from, like, 90% sure that Dominic was the killer to 190%: he kills Rumor with the hammer obviously left behind.) If we really want Dominic to be a shock, we probably need another viable suspect and/or a costume change; alternatively, it might work to do the Big Reveal with Rumor’s death, so the audience finds out well before our surviving heroes. That way, we’d get to watch Dominic’s surprise/delight when his intended victims start killing each other out of paranoia. I’m kinda warming up to that idea, actually.

Finally, the two big surprises are the last-minute resurrections of Sarah and Marcus. Sarah is really interesting: for one, her survival is pretty shocking because she seems like such a Dead Meat character. (Shocking survival, as it turns out, became quite the theme of the evening.) For another, Sarah pulls a nail out of her own face to kill the bad guy. I thought the scene where Ilsa pulls nails out of Sarah’s face was pretty great, but this is just badass. Unfortunately, Marcus’s miraculous resurrection kinda feels like it’s just taking away from Sarah’s. I felt bad for the dude when he died, but once dead? Yeah, stay dead, my dude.

Overlord

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

I’m always excited by the idea of genre-blending, especially when mystery or horror come into the mix, but Overlord feels uneven to me. It’s strongest, I think, in the first act, when the movie is pure action/war drama. (Did anyone watch this movie without seeing the trailer full of spoilers? Cause damn, no one’s getting Nazi Zombie Shit from the first 20 minutes of this movie.) The plane scene is dramatic AF and the ominous clues in the woods that “something is amiss” are decent. I like most of the cast. Jovan Adepo gives an especially strong performance as our kind-hearted protagonist Boyce. I know Adepo primarily from a two-episode stint in Watchmen, and I definitely want to see more of him.

But we start hitting problems in Act II when our heroes make it to the French village. Part of that’s pacing: it takes way too long to for anyone to find all the horrific experiments. This movie is only 1 hour and 48 minutes, but boy, I’d have bet money it was a lot longer. And then, part of it’s content: I’m not sure Wafner (Pilou Asbæk, AKA, Euron Greyjoy) is doing much for me as a Big Bad, and I definitely found the coerced sexual assault shit completely unnecessary. (Boyce interrupts Wafner before he rapes Chloe, but this is still a yuck subplot and incredibly lazy writing.) The aunt, too, is much more foreshadow than actual character: she barely has screen time, much less dialogue.

Still, the worst problems, I think, begin after Boyce discovers all the Nazi Zombie Shit. The discovery scene itself is great: it’s weird, creepy, maybe a bit silly (I’m specifically thinking of the decapitated head pleading in French), but overall, just a lot of fun. And Boyce has spectacular reactions to the body horror/general impossibility; his freakout is super relatable, TBH. This is the moment the whole film has been building toward–which is why I’m just baffled by the decision to completely cut the tension by stopping for a 15-minute time-out, like, Overlord goes right back to straight-up war movie again, all unethical interrogations and “is it right to beat up a Nazi” and “do we even recognize ourselves anymore?” These are all perfectly fine themes that should not be dwelled on here, five minutes after this shit. And while we do kinda get back on track with the death/zombie resurrection of Chase (Iain De Caestecker), the film never fully recovers; instead, the whole third act loses its creepy body horror vibe and just becomes a really bad Resident Evil movie. It’s so bland and cartoonishly over-the-top that there’s just no tension at all. I was honestly bored, and that’s about the last reaction you want from your audience here.

Finally, some additional notes:

A. Secret histories, admittedly, are not always my bag, but I’m not sure that tying this story  to D-Day really does much for me.

B. I can’t decide if De Caestecker’s American accent is bad or if I’m just very aware it’s not his natural, lovely Scottish. I am fond of the actor, though. When Chase gets shot (inevitably, I mean, maybe don’t send the kid with the camera to secure the Big Bad Nazi Dude, FFS), I was all, “A-ha! This is why you cast De Caestecker, for the emotional death scene!”

C. Overlord’s “Holy Shit, This Guy Actually Lived!” is Jacob (Dominic Applewhite) and, to a lesser extent, Tibet (John Magaro). Tibet is the semi-redemptive asshole, whereas Jacob is Boyce’s buddy from the plane, the one who Boyce repeatedly promises, “I’ll be right behind you!” Obviously, I marked Jacob as First to Die. It is lovely to be wrong sometimes.

D. Alas, Private Dawson (Jacob Anderson) does not fare so well. Mekaela and I had just enough time to say, “Wait, is that Grey Worm?” before he blew the hell up. Sorry, buddy.

The Void

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry again
Grade: Strawberry

This one starts out so strong, but kind of spirals into an incoherent mess. Mileage is definitely gonna vary on that, depending on your A) tolerance for how much a story refuses to explain, and B) nostalgia for 80’s cosmic horror. I tend to be skeptical of the former and like the latter more in theory than execution. For example, The Void reminded Mekaela of Hellraiser, a movie I enjoyed for its aesthetics and not much else. (I’m tagging this whole review a blasphemy just for that sentence.) Meanwhile, The Void reminded me of Prince of Darkness, which I reviewed in great detail last year and, ultimately, didn’t love. Which is all to say I may not have been the target audience here.

Except . . . damn it, I still feel like I really could’ve enjoyed this movie. For starters, there’s an awful lot I do like about The Void. The initial setup and “WTF is going on here” mystery is a lot of fun. The look of the film is pretty great. I enjoy the whole cast. The reveal that our kindly old doctor isn’t just Dead Meat Walking but the actual Big Bad is awesome, especially since it comes after he does predictably “die.” Likewise, the reversal that our blatantly evil murderers from the beginning are actually good guys (well . . . good-sh) is pretty cool, too, although I do feel like their backstory gets a little lost in the chaos. The ending with the Sheriff and Allison is interesting, if sorta huh, and I’m fucked shocked that our ultimate survivors are the unnamed mute guy and Ellen Wong–people. I have finally found a Western horror film where an Asian woman lives. Holy shit.

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons Prince of Darkness came to mind wasn’t the portal sacrifice similarities or the supernatural pregnancy BS–more on that in a bit–it was the ominous cultists converging on the hospital. We know absolutely nothing about this cult, like, who the hell these dudes are, why they don’t bother coming inside, where they peaced out to at the end, etc. (Seriously, did the ascend or something? The fuck?) Apparently, this is one of the many things intentionally left open for the viewer to decide, but this viewer has decided: we learn nothing about these guys because the creators don’t care about these guys; they just needed something to trap the heroes in the hospital, and that’s it. In Prince of Darkness, the cultists are actually possessed homeless people, but they serve the exact same plot function, and IMO, that’s lazy as shit writing.

And therein lies my main problem with The Void; rarely does the script feel purposefully ambiguous and thought-provoking; mostly, it feels lazy, chaotic, and confused. The hallucinations in the not-exactly-there basement feel muddled. Most of what happens in the whole third act feels pretty muddled. And I’m especially disappointed by Allison, who starts out as a potentially interesting character and ends up just becoming a vessel, a body, a plot device rather than an actual person. Allison exists to A) draw our heroes into the Basement of Doom, B) add to our MC’s ongoing man pain, and C) give us some old-fashioned pregnancy horror, I guess? (She lost a baby prior to the story, so Big Bad impregnates her with monster juice, and she gets to die of symbolism. And getting chopped up by her tearful hubby, of course. Cool.) This is all especially tedious because we already have Maggie for the pregnancy horror, but I guess one eldritch nightmare birth where the mom/vessel violently dies wasn’t enough? Basically, this whole bit sucks.

Finally, additional notes:

A. I did actually enjoy the twist that Maggie was also a bad guy. I probably should’ve caught that, but I just assumed she’d have a gross demon baby, which, hey, that part was dead on. Poor Sarah got mighty ugly in her second life, didn’t she?

B. Much like with Grey Worm in Overlord, I had just enough time to be excited about Iris Rouse (Stephanie Belding) from Shadowhunters popping up before she got killed off. (Then transformed into an eldritch horror and then killed off again.) Sorry, buddy.

C. As always, doing clerical/errand work in a hospital hardly makes me a medical expert. And this story is admittedly set in some rural town in the . . . 80’s? 90’s? Still, I had a ball laughing at the medical inaccuracies in this movie. The aborted C-section wasn’t actually as bad as I thought (when you’re primarily familiar with a low transverse incision, a classical cut looks weird AF, like, Jesus, why are you all the way up there), although I highly suspect that whatever pain relief Kim used wouldn’t cut it for fucking surgery. But I straight up cackled when Allison walked to the med room, which appears to just be a basic supply closet where they keep narcotics unlocked on the shelf. Also, seriously, there’s only one patient here. Why the fuck are we keeping the supplies this far away? For that matter, why hasn’t the one and only patient in this hospital been transferred literally anywhere else? Like, I get the idea that this place is still supposed to be open for emergency services or something, but uh, dude’s clearly just an inpatient now. Ship that motherfucker out. And how in Christ’s name is anyone still working out of this hospital? Again, I get the idea–emergency services for locals while everyone else has moved off to hospitals that weren’t recently half burned down–but also, bullshit. The nearest hospital is only 20 minutes away, which of course is shitty, but shocking? In a rural county? HA. Hell, that’s the distance between the high school I went to and its closest hospital. Besides, the state of this place? No one should be working here. This especially kills me dead because the hospital I work at now has been temporarily shut down twice in the past few years just for smoke damage, much less a fire that actually destroyed part of the fucking building. These people have not heard of JCAHO, that’s all I’m saying.

D. Finally, more fun casting: our Big Bad is played by Kenneth Welsh, who I know from one episode of The Expanse but also from Twin Peaks, where he played Windom Earle. I had no idea that was the same guy! Meanwhile, Art Hindle, who was in both the original Black Christmas and the 70’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has a small role here, too. Horror cameo casting is just the best.

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!

“A Pack of Vultures At the Feast: Knives Out, Beaks Bloody.”

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday, a stressful mix of good food, family dysfunction, and bullshit historical narratives. (Football and parades, too, if that’s your jam. FWIW, today also happens to be my birthday, and as you read this, I may very well be eating birthday cake instead of pumpkin pie. The sacrilege of it all.) Now when it comes to holiday movies, Thanksgiving obviously isn’t big business, not like Christmas. Still, there are a few films that might work well for annual viewings. You’re Next. Addams Family Values. Ready or Not, maybe. And . . . okay, that might be all I got.

. . . or all I had, anyway. Until now.

Comrades, collaborators, potential enemies: may I present to you Knives Out.

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TV SUPERLATIVES: June, July, and August – 2019

Summer is almost over–not that you’d know it in sunny ass California–so it’s about that time for my Occasional TV Superlatives. If you weren’t around for the last time I did this, it’s pretty straight-forward: I just gush and/or rant about whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Favorite Ship, Favorite Fight Scene, Most Disgusting Moment, and Most Comically Tragic Character. 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 6
Into the Badlands, Seasons 2 and 3 (currently still watching)
Good Omens
Dark, Season 2
Stranger Things, Season 3
Kingdom, Season 1
Yuri on Ice
Infinity Train
, Season 1
13 Reasons Why, Season 3
Los Espookys, Season 1
Hotel del Luna (currently still watching)
Young Justice, Season 3B

With that in mind, let’s get started, shall we?

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Triple Scoop Reviews: Krampus, Hush, and Phenomena

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I confess, I haven’t been watching very many movies lately, choosing to binge-watch shows like Killing Eve and Shadowhunters instead. (Yeah, I said Shadowhunters. Come at me. I AM IMPERVIOUS TO YOUR SCORN.)

Still, the few movies I have been watching these days have mostly been horror, ranging from the clever to the weird to the very fucking weird. Let’s discuss.

Krampus

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

This one is actually pretty hard to rate. I enjoyed it, I think. I’m reasonably certain that I’d like it more and more with each viewing. But tonally, it’s definitely bizarre: part family drama, part inspirational holiday, part holiday horror, and part crack comedy, this is the movie for you if you like some killer gingerbread men and homicidal Christmas angels along with your “what it means to be a family” stories. Honestly, that sounds pretty much exactly like my jam, so I’m trying to figure out what my hesitation is on this one.

Maybe it’s the PG-13 rating. The vast majority of the violence here is of the “you never actually see it” variety, and I’m not 100% sure it works, like, I feel there’s maybe a lack of payoff or balance. At first, we only get glimpses of the horror, and that’s fine, but when we eventually do get to explicitly see the delightfully absurd Christmas monsters, I feel like we should also get some equally explicit, over-the-top gore, too, and that never happens. Not even mild gore, TBH. I don’t know, I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it, exactly. Something just doesn’t quite feel right with the build.

Great cast, though: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, David Koechner, Conchata Ferrell, etc. And I really enjoyed the ambiguous ending, too, which is not something I say very often. I’m always looking for more alternative holiday classics; we’ll see if this one gets another viewing next year.

Hush

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

This is a really solid horror film. I enjoyed it a lot: it’s original, well-acted, generally well thought-out, like, the staging of certain scenes and moments pan out pretty much perfectly. It’s also a really good length, which can be tricky with this kind of ‘one dude tries to murder one woman in a house’ story. Hush doesn’t outstay its welcome, which is nice.

My primary disappointment with the film is that it doesn’t actually star a deaf actress. Which isn’t a knock to Kate Siegel, who also co-write the script–she’s fantastic, and I like her performance a whole lot. (And, of course, I also loved her in The Haunting of Hill House; she and husband Mike Flanagan have teamed up for some pretty good horror stories, though this one, I think, has a much better ending.) That being said, Maddy is still a deaf lead character, and it would’ve been nice to see that role actually go to a deaf actress. And if you’re gonna argue that Hush needed a hearing actress because of the one scene where Maddy listens to her inner voice, let me just cut that off, because the movie already told us that Maddy’s inner voice sounds like her mother. While I like the scene as it plays in the film, there is absolutely no reason Maddy’s Mom couldn’t have worked for this role as well. (Also, there’s a weird beat at the beginning of the movie where the director uses ominous music while showing you that Maddie is deaf. And while that’s probably just to establish genre and set mood, it has the unfortunate side effect of making her deafness itself seems ominous in the everyday context of chopping onions and shit. I’m not a fan.)

That all being said, I did enjoy Hush quite a bit. It’s a smart, claustrophobic horror flick, and while the kill count is admittedly low, Maddy still makes for an awesome Final Girl.

Phenomena

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

Well. That was a movie, all right.

Look, I adore the premise of this film. A baby-faced Jennifer Connolly plays the new girl at a Swiss boarding school in a town where, unfortunately, several murders have taken place over the past eight months. (Which is why we do our research before we send our kids off to boarding school, thanks.) Our heroine is special, though: she has psychic dreams, psychic somnambulism, and she can control/communicate with insects. Under the mentorship of consulting entomologist Donald Pleasance, Jennifer tries to track down the killer. I am all on board with that level of weirdness. I want Netflix to remake this into a surreal, binge-worthy TV show immediately.

But wow, this movie’s fucked up and not always in a good way. The killer, it turns out, is a deformed little boy, who’s being protected/helped by his mother, who was raped by a mental patient years ago, and you can just miss me with ALL that bullshit. Donald Pleasance has a chimpanzee BFF who, I shit you not, avenges the entomologist’s murder at the end of the movie when he kills the shit out of Evil Mom with a razor. There is also some poor writing, odd editing choices, and a weirdly intrusive soundtrack with music that often feels completely mismatched with the scene itself. Goblin and Suspiria, this is not.

Mostly, Phenomena just feels like something of a hot mess. A hot maggoty mess. Mekaela, the best gift I’ve ever given you is watching this one on my own. There are so MANY maggots in this movie. You would never have forgiven me.

Triple Scoop Reviews: Ant-Man and The Wasp, The Dark Crystal, Rehearsal for Murder

The holidays are basically over, thank God. (I kid. Sort of.) Now that we just have New Years and the inevitable what have I been doing with my life anxiety that comes with it, let’s get back to reviewing a random assortment of movies, shall we?

Just a reminder for all of you strawberry ice cream loving weirdos out there, the rating system goes like so: chocolate equals favorite, vanilla equals second favorite, and strawberry equals least favorite. Though, admittedly, that doesn’t always mean much when I like all three films, especially if they’re wildly different films as they are today. (Gotta be honest: I pretty much just did a coin toss when it came to choosing who got chocolate and who got vanilla this time.) It’s a messy ratings system borne out of silliness, rather than practicality.

With that in mind . . .

Ant-Man and the Wasp

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix (DVD)
Spoilers: Very few
Grade: Chocolate

I never got around to seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp in theaters. Maybe it was Marvel fatigue. Maybe I was just lazy. Maybe it was leftover annoyance with the first Ant-Man. (I laughed pretty hard at some of the jokes, but I was so frustrated for Hope Van Dyne by the end of the movie that I basically just wanted to murder people.) Still, after the trailer for Avengers: Endgame came out, Mek and I were like, “Yeah, we should probably go ahead and watch this.”

Fortunately, I enjoyed Ant-Man and the Wasp so much more than its predecessor. In fact, I don’t know that I have any complaints about it: I’m so much happier with how Hope’s treated in this movie, and I love that she and Scott both get the chance to save one another. Michael Peña is hilarious, particularly in the truth serum scene. (Oh my God, the truth serum scene.) Scott’s daughter is still cute. Randall Park might be even cuter. I either didn’t know or totally forgot that Walton Goggins was in this, Laurence Fishburne, too, and I’m always excited for any chance to see Michelle Pfeiffer. I also really appreciate the movie’s relatively small stakes: no one’s trying to save the world or conquer another universe. This is just a hero who wants freedom from house arrest, another hero who wants to save her mom, and a sympathetic villain who doesn’t want to die and/or be in constant pain anymore. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a joyful, funny, feel-good story, which is the kind of thing I’ve been into lately. Also, not shockingly, the size gags are the best.

I should go see if there’s any good Janet Van Dyne fanfic out there (specific to this particular iteration, that is). I understand why the film didn’t have time for it, but holy shit, is there some serious fanfic potential in her arc. Good lord.

The Dark Crystal

It me.

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

After Netflix announced the cast of the upcoming Dark Crystal TV series–which, if you didn’t hear, was EVERYONE–I decided it was maybe time I finally got around to watching the actual movie. No, I never saw it as a kid. I’m not sure why, exactly; I loved The Labyrinth well enough. Unfortunately, I suspect The Dark Crystal works best when you’re young–assuming it doesn’t scar you for life, that is, which it totally could’ve. Shit gets dark in that movie.)

Some stuff, I really do enjoy. I like that the Skeksis and the Mystics are two halves of the same beings. I really enjoy the memory swapping scene, random as it is. (Dreamfasting sounds like Slim Fast for dreams, which is a story I need to write immediately.) Kira herself doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but she’s still pretty cool: she speaks multiple languages, can call animals, manages to resist brainwashing, and, oh yeah,  HAS WINGS. And, of course, Fizzgig is the absolute best; I desperately want one immediately. Y’all don’t even wanna know how much ranting you would’ve endured if Fizzgig had actually died.

Still, for a fairly short film, The Dark Crystal has a pretty slow, plodding pace. Lengthy exposition and narration don’t help much, and the Skeksis, in particular, are kind of excruciating to watch. (Though watching Mek’s mounting homicidal rage as the Chamberlain repeatedly made this noise was kind of worth it. Also, I feel it’s important to note that the design of the Skeksis was killing me because I knew I’d seen these assholes before; it wasn’t until Mekaela suggested Farscape that I realized they were totally the Halosians.) The worst, though, is definitely Jen, who is a deeply worthless hero: whiny, useless, and boring, like all the farm boy protagonists he’s drawn from. Visually, the Gelflings themselves are enjoyably creepy in that whole uncanny valley sort of way; vocally, though, Jen mostly reminds me of a young Matthew Broderick doing a young Luke Skywalker on Tatooine impression, and it is insufferable.

But maybe the biggest bummer about watching this movie is that I’m actually less interested in checking out the TV series, now that I know it’s a prequel about three Gelflings who work to start a rebellion against the Skekis. Prequels are so rarely ever my jam anyway, but especially when there’s such an obvious foregone conclusion, like, the rebellion’s gonna fail, folks, and the Gelflings are all gonna DIE. Yes, yes, except Jen and Kira; I’m saying, we’re still looking ahead to mass puppet genocide. I don’t mind dark children’s stories, but even for me, that’s a bit much.

Rehearsal for Murder

Look, there aren’t a lot of GIFS for TV movies made in the 1980’s, okay?

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

Last month, Claire suggested in the comments that if I enjoyed murder mysteries, I might want to check out this TV movie, Rehearsal for Murder. Since it was free on Amazon, we did just that, and let me tell you, people: Claire was right.

Rehearsal for Murder is a pretty clever story. I’m a sucker for the whole setup: an actress dies, supposedly having killed herself after a poor opening night, and a year later her playwright fiancee gathers a group of people from that show (a few other actors, the director, a producer, etc.) to test read his new play . . . only the play is clearly a front for catching the real killer. I wish I could say I figured everything out, but that wouldn’t be true, although I did get pieces. I noticed the cab, but forgot about it later. I knew the lighter was important, but thought it was a clue indicating someone else. I was immediately sure that there was an affair/blackmail situation going on, and I figured the actor-cop was involved somehow, maybe as an accomplice or a hitman. It definitely never occurred to me, though, that everyone was in on the set-up, like a reverse Murder on the Orient Express. The twist was set-up extremely well, and I was very satisfied by the story and its structure. TBH, I’m a little surprised this movie wasn’t based on a play.

As this is a TV movie from 1982, the film quality is . . . not the best. I wouldn’t mind seeing it redone with decent cameras for the big screen. But if you’re looking for a clever mystery that’s also a Boy Meets World reunion, this is it: both Mr. Matthews and Mr. Feeny play significant roles here. (Hence the GIF above. Also, God bless William Daniels; I just love that man’s voice.) Also of note: Robert Preston, who has a lot of presence as our playwright detective hero, and Jeff Goldblum, who is his usual delightful self.

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

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

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

Hotel Artemis

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

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

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

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

Ocean’s Eight

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

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

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

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

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

The Last of Sheila

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

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

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

But. But. But.

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

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