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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether said show is currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings. I may discuss events from past seasons, however. Which is to say, I won’t spoil The Witcher, Season 2, without a heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 are totally fair game. (Though that’s just an example, like. NGL: The Witcher didn’t exactly get a lot of love here.)

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

Let’s get started, shall we?

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

Gunpowder Milkshake

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

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

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

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

Black Widow

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

Speaking of prequels . . .

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

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

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

The Long Kiss Goodnight

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

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

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

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

So 90’s. So cheese. (So scrumptious.)

World’s Worst Trekkie: A Piece of the Action, The Immunity Syndrome, and A Private Little War

All right. I have a sinus infection. I’m running on caffeine, antibiotics, Ibuprofen, and not nearly enough sleep, and we’ve got roughly three hours of Star Trek to discuss. Let’s just dive into it, shall we?

DISCLAIMER

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

“A Piece of the Action”

Oh, God. Folks. Fellow humans. I can’t with this episode. I was so bored.

“A Piece of the Action” is about Kirk, Spock, and Bones beaming down to 1920’s Mobster World, and I know it’s supposed to be funny, but good lord, it’s like a ten-minute gag that’s stretched, kicking and screaming, into a full episode. I’d watch it again, maybe, but only as a drinking game. The first and second rules are obvious: 1) drink whenever Kirk, Bones, or Spock get the drop on any of the gangsters, and 2) drink whenever any gangster gets the drop on Kirk, Bones, or Spock. I cannot emphasize enough how often this happens, and if that sounds somehow exciting or action-packed, let me assure you that it is not. This episode is like watching someone playing Hot Potato with a Tommy gun, only somehow boring. There is simply a limit to how many times one can get and lose the upper hand before any sense of tension or stakes are annihilated; this episode surpasses that limit by a wide and wild margin.

Another rule: drink whenever Kirk shows off all the noir slang he’s picked up. You will be drinking non-stop for the last 10 minutes straight.

Here are a few things I did enjoy: the origin of fizzbin. How absurdly large The Book (AKA, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties) actually is. It’s basically a giant Bible, like, it’s gotta be the size of Kirk’s whole torso at least. I also enjoy Kirk and Spock in their respective suits, and the irrefutable fact that, in the Prime timeline, Kirk absolutely cannot drive. (Obviously, he learned how to do this at a very young age in the Kelvin verse. These are the important canon divergences to analyze, people.)

Unfortunately, that’s about all I really enjoyed here. The whole concept of this episode–an alien society so imitative that they rewrote their entire culture just to mimic one (ridiculously gigantic) book–is ludicrous, of course, but ludicrous can be entertaining. This, however, mostly struck me as tiresome and grating, particularly the slang, (which I found too cartoonish to be convincing) and the constant Tommy gun Hot Potato.

Chief Asshat: All the mob bosses, mostly for the crime of being annoying.

MVP: The kid who briefly teams up with Kirk and Spock, I guess.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

“But the odds of getting a Royal Fizzbin are astro–Spock, what are the odds in getting a Royal Fizzbin?”
“I’ve never computed them, Captain.”
“Well, they’re astronomical, believe me.”
*Spock silently mouths astronomical and looks away, resigned*

“The Immunity Syndrome”

“The Immunity Syndrome” is unlikely to make it to my personal Top Ten, but it’s not a bad episode. The stars disappear at some point, which is always creepy. There is a giant amoeba (and not a “giant glowy space fish with one eye,” which was my immediate impression). Kirk has to decide whether to send Spock (Friend/Lover #1) or Bones (Friend/Lover #2) on what’s almost certainly a suicide mission. (He picks Spock, and I desperately hope that there’s fanfic about all of this.) And Spock essentially senses a great disturbance in the Force when 400 Vulcans die, because his touch telepathy will forever and always be dependent upon what the plot requires. (I now find myself wanting to see Spock in Star Trek 2009 psychically reeling from the collective death of basically everyone on Vulcan, which would admittedly be a lot on top of killing his mom. But since Winona Ryder played the only version of Amanda Grayson I’ve ever liked . . . yeah, let’s save her and do this scene instead.)

There are things that don’t totally work for me here. Spock’s idea that the dead Vulcans could not have conceived of their doom because Vulcans, as a species, have never been conquered feels like incredibly sketch logic. (Also, it’s a retcon, at least if Bones in “Conscience of the King” is to be believed–which, to be fair, I never really did.) I don’t know if I entirely buy Bones actively campaigning to go on the suicide mission for the sake of Science, either. I can absolutely see him sacrificing his life to save others, but that’s not quite how this is framed. Like, I bought Bones helpfully interrupting to say “I recommend survival” (without any suggestions as to how, natch), much more than Bones asking Spock, “Do you think that I intend to pass up the greatest living laboratory . . .” when the cost of going is near-certain death.  I also wish someone at least brought up the possibility of trying to save the giant amoeba, too.

I remain amused, also, about A) how quickly Bones resorts to just drugging everyone with stimulants–space cocaine definitely feels like a solid medical treatment–and B) how both Bones and a nurse personally come to the Bridge to administer, like, six adrenaline shots, when 2/3 of the ship have also been affected and are waiting on treatment, goddamnit. All this aside, “The Immunity Syndrome” is a totally decent episode, and much better than what came before . . . or what’s coming next.

Chief Asshat: Actually, no one’s really terrible here, but I’m giving this to Kirk anyway, for not slamming those breaks early.

MVP: Spock, maybe, for verbally bitchslapping human history.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode:
“Shut up, Spock, we’re rescuing you!”
“Why, thank you, Captain McCoy.”

“A Private Little War”

If you look very, very carefully, you might be able to find a good episode hiding somewhere in the depths of this one, but boy, it would be a long and arduous excavation. I do have some suggestions, of course. Buying better wigs is probably not the most important one, but holy Jesus, these wigs are awful–not to mention that the subtle symbolism of Good Blond Aliens vs. Evil Brunette Aliens leaves something to be desired.

A bigger problem is Nona. The Good Blond Aliens are led by Pacifist Tyree, who is Kirk’s friend; Nona is his duplicitous brunette witch wife who drugs men with aphrodisiacs and heals them with plants, blood, and sexy writhing. I hate literally everything I just wrote. Nona potentially could be interesting, if you altered her ridiculous healing process and straight-up cut the gross non-con behavior. See, this planet used to be a very peaceful one, but a Klingon spy is giving the Evil Brunette Aliens superior weapons, and Nona wants Kirk to give the Good Blond Aliens the same weapons (or even better ones) to defend themselves with/wipe out their enemies.

This is a perfect setup for a morally ambiguous character who advocates for terrible things but for pretty understandable reasons, which is so much more interesting than Sexy Evil Chick who tries to sell out her husband’s people and inevitably gets killed for it. A better episode, IMO, would still have Nona knock out Kirk and steal his phaser, but this time she’d die after successfully assassinating the Evil Brunette Leader. It would be a much more satisfying/badass death for her personally, but would still be tragic overall–because while Nona would die thinking she sacrificed her life to save Good Blond Aliens, the audience would see how her death actually served as a catalyst for Pacifist Tyree’s transformation into Vengeful Tyree, thereby only extending the war.

You see how bad this episode is? I’m basically just pleading for this show to fridge women better. And I haven’t even gotten into how this episode is also somehow a mangled Vietnam War allegory, or the whole side plot where Spock gets shot and must literally be slapped in the face, like, twenty times to properly heal. (Okay, this is hysterical, actually, but I can’t help but feel that Plot A and Plot B have been horribly mismatched here.) Or how the Klingon spy is is basically just dropped from the story–and why was this guy getting involved, anyway? These people are unlikely to be a big asset to the Klingon empire. And yeah, that whole serpent of Eden metaphor, too. Ugh, guys, enough is enough. Please leave Eden alone, I am so tired of it.

Oh well. At least we got the introductions of M’Benga and this dude, I guess.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, who continues to be an asshole about Klingons, snaps at Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov, and justifies giving the Good Blond Aliens rifles with some pretty shaky logic. But M’Benga is also a candidate, as he’s a bit of a condescending dick to Nurse Chapel when she asks for some pretty reasonable clarification.

MVP: Definitely the mugato.

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: “This man believes the same thing we believe in, that killing is stupid and useless.” (A great quote from Bones, but I’d hardly call it a consistent TOS philosophy.)

“What Kind of Killer Do You Think Stops to Save a Dying Fish?”

Well, the Clarion West Write-a-Thon finished up last week, and I succeeded in writing things! Perhaps they weren’t the stories I should have been focusing on, necessarily, but it’s been a dark year, and it’s still only August. Sometimes, the joy of fanfic is more important than the projects that might someday get you paid.

Per usual, I offered up a movie review/essay as a possible reward, and two sponsors took me up on it. The first sponsor, Tom, has donated to the WaT several times now and has delighted in making me watch everything from classic SF that I’ve never seen (Dune) to laughably terrible movies about Big Foot that no one should see (Night of the Demon). Today, however, we’ll be discussing a film I have watched before, albeit not in a very long time: the late 90’s SF neo-noir, Dark City.

To my relief, it actually holds up pretty well.

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Now Available At The Dark: “You Were Once Wild Here”

Friends, enemies, wayward strangers stumbling over this blog: I am delighted to announce I have a new story out today. “You Were Once Wild Here” is now available to read at The Dark!

If you are perhaps already familiar with my extensive 2019 oeuvre–it’s two stories, including this one–you might notice some similarities in my recent work: 2nd-person POV, for one; also, ace teenage protagonists. I’m extremely fond of both stories; this one, however, is much more noir in both plot and tone. If you happen to like psychic dreams, werewolves, cheerleaders, dysfunctional family dynamics, witchcraft, and murder, this might be something you’d enjoy. Official Radiohead pairing: “We Suck Young Blood.”

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.

Clarion West Write-a-Thon 2017: Week 6 Update

Top Secret Code Name of Current Project: Fedoras and Trust Issues
Current Pitch: Hardboiled fairy tale noir!
Slightly More Detailed Pitch: In an alternate post-WWII America, a cranky, bisexual PI and his ace, teenage Girl Friday try to solve the disappearances and/or murders of three different women.

Number of Unexpected Arguments Between Characters: 1
Number of Big Reveals This Chapter: 1
Number of Secret Plans Involving Murder: Well, lots. But in this chapter? 1

Song From Current Project Playlist: “Elias” – Ramin Djawadi, Stephen Coleman, & Hollywood Studio Symphony

Goal Met: YES

Last week of the Write-a-Thon, and I have met my goal! I wish I could just slack off now and go indulge in some fanfiction, but unfortunately I really need to keep up the pace to meet my deadline. I did, however, reward myself by buying an unconscionable amount of books from Barnes & Noble. The multiple shipping notices I received from them yesterday made me downright giddy.

This latest chapter is a relatively short one. It’s a scene pretty much lifted straight from “The Price You Pay Is Red,” and I wasn’t really expecting any surprises . . . only to find myself writing a brief but surprisingly intense argument between one of my protagonists and his love interest. And it was Prince, for once, playing the role of the idealist, while mild-mannered Hank was the angry cynic during the fight. It’s kind of a role reversal for both of them, but (hopefully) not out of character in scene, and I found it kind of exciting. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about turning these stories into a novel is having more time to spend on the side characters, especially Jack (obvs, since she’s no longer a side character), Hank, and Mr. Nguyen.

On the other hand, giving Jack a POV meant I had to add even more side characters–because unlike what too many stories would have you believe, most ladies have lady friends of their own. I didn’t want Jack’s whole world to be populated by people who were only important to Prince. So, there may or may not still be a Battle Royale going on for screen time (so to speak), because, as anyone reading this probably knows, I can be a wordy motherfucker sometimes.

Finally, Your Last Random Line of the Week:

People here, we don’t revolt. We just step over the bodies.

Clarion West Write-a-Thon: Week 5 Update

Top Secret Code Name of Current Project: Fedoras and Trust Issues
Current Pitch: Hardboiled fairy tale noir!
Slightly More Detailed Pitch: In an alternate post-WWII America, a cranky, bisexual PI and his ace, teenage Girl Friday try to solve the disappearances and/or murders of three different women.

Number of Murder Weapons Discovered: 1
Number of Brief, Fever-Induced Hallucinations: 1
Number of Snow White references in this chapter alone: At least 5

Song From Current Project Playlist: “Sinnerman” – Nina Simone

Goal Met: Halfway there

Making some progress. Still slower than I’d like, but I’m actually on schedule. I have to keep reminding myself of that because my Writer Brain routinely waffles between “holy shit, maybe this could be great” and “Jesus Christ, this is the worst thing I’ve ever written, burn it, BURN IT NOW.” Lately, I’ve been feeling more the latter than the former, and the temptation to put the novel away and write basically anything else is very strong.

You’re stronger, I try to tell myself. You are mighty like Thor. This declaration is not deeply convincing, but it does make me smile.

This week’s chapter: Prince, still trying to wrap his head around the potential fallout from the Big Discovery he made two chapters ago, finally finds the Scene of the Crime and does some sleuthing. Couple more chapters, and we’ll hit the big, climactic showdown shit. And two short wrap-up chapters after that, we’ll finally be at Part III!

Guess it’s time to go back to work. One more week of the Write-a-Thon to go!

Finally, your Random Line of the Week:

I understood money coming before blood.

Clarion West Write-a-Thon: Week Two Update

Top Secret Code Name of Current Project: Fedoras and Trust Issues
Current Pitch: Hardboiled fairy tale noir!
Slightly More Detailed Pitch: In an alternate post-WWII America, a cranky, bisexual PI and his ace, teenage Girl Friday try to solve the disappearances and/or murders of three different women.

Number of Dead Bodies On the Page Thus Far: 3
Number of Surreal Nightmare Scenes Just Because I Could: 2
Number of Secrets Our Heroes Are Keeping From One Another: LOTS

Song From Current Project Playlist: “Life in A Glass House” – Radiohead

Goal Met: Yes

This week’s chapter is a short one. It’s 1/3 plot advancement, 1/3 secret nighttime confessions, and 1/3, er, morning-time confessions. (An aside: why is nighttime a word but morningtime isn’t? In news shocking no one, the English language continues to make no sense.) Fair amount of Feels in this chap. That’s been an interesting challenge of the book so far, actually, trying to determine if my Plot to Feels ratio is working. I have a lot of characters and relationships to juggle. Since I’m basically obsessed with character dynamics, I obviously want to do justice to said dynamics. I also don’t want readers to think, “Jesus Christ, can we get back to the mystery yet?”

I’m a little worried about the word count, even though it’s kinda early for that. I don’t even have a completed draft yet, much less an edited down draft. Still, the nature of the story makes me uneasy about the length: mysteries tend to run shorter than SF/F because SF/F novels almost always have a lot more world-building and magic systems and shit to describe. My book might not have magic systems, but it is an alternate history with a quarantined city shaped by corruption and disease. I’m actually expanding the world-building quite a bit from the original stories, and while that’s kind of exciting for me, it’s also been something of a roadblock. I don’t come to world-building quite as naturally as I come to character work, I’m afraid.

Finally, your Random Line of the Week:

That’s life in Spindle, dear. If you can’t make the hard calls when you need to, well. You’ll never make it out at all.