Triple Scoop Reviews: Pipeline, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, and Dune

Pipeline

Year: 2021
Director: Yoo Ha
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Nope
Grade: Rocky Road

I’m a sucker for a fun heist story, and I have a soft spot for Lee Soo-Hyuk, so Mek and I decided to check out Pipeline. The movie is . . . fine, but also kind of oddly charmless, and a bit on the slow side for me. Oh, that sounds mean, doesn’t it? I didn’t hate this movie. The acting itself is fine (though I’m starting to wonder if Seo In-Guk has ever been in anything where he didn’t play the Arrogant Male Lead), and there were a few moments that did make me laugh; unfortunately, they weren’t very memorable because I can’t think of a single one now. I just never got very invested in the story, and that’s probably because I never grew to care about anyone on the team.

Heist stories usually go one of two ways: A) they’re grim little affairs, full of twists, betrayal, and murder, or B) they’re much wittier and light-hearted, often centering on the Team as Family trope. Pipeline is very much the latter (which is personally great for me), but none of the characters are very dynamic or interesting, and they just don’t have the platonic chemistry that really makes these kinds of stories sing. Honestly, we never learn much about any of them, not even our main lead. I kinda vaguely liked Counter (Bae Da-Bin), I guess, but that’s about it. Frankly, I found myself half-voting for the rich scumbag villain, because I didn’t really care about our heroes, and because Lee Soo-Hyuk wears the hell out of a nice suit. Like. I’m not always shallow, but yeah. I’m a little shallow.

Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings

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Year: 2021
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

This was fun. I don’t quite love it, for a variety of reasons that we’ll get into shortly, but it was definitely an easy watch. The Final Battle is weirdly murky, but all the other fight scenes are great; I particularly like the chaotic Muni fight, and also when Ying Li kicks Wenwu’s ass at the beginning. (Not to mention, Ying Li’s whole look is fucking fabulous. Christ, I hope to see this cosplay the next time I actually go to a con.) I like how this isn’t quite your typical origin story; it’s a delight when we realize that Shang-Chi already knows how to fight. The music is fun. I am all about that dragon. (Also, the qilin, the huli jing, and all the other mythological creatures that I’m less familiar with.) And I enjoy pretty much the whole cast. I was especially delighted to see Michelle Yeoh and Tsai Chin, even if the latter was only there for a few moments.

Still, I don’t love this one quite as much as other folks, and I think that’s partially because the whole story is just built from one of my least favorite tropes of all time. Like, introducing this awesome, badass, immortal lady who just gives up all her powers because she falls in love (for God knows what reason) with this evil warlord who totally doesn’t deserve her? Yeah, pass. I found myself checking out a bit even before we got to associating tropes like Evil Man Changes His Ways Because of Romantic Love and Evil Man Goes Back To His Evil Ways Because His Love Died. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the acting; Tony Leung is perfectly good in the role; unfortunately, none of this interests me.

Also, for a movie with this many flashbacks, I think it’s completely bizarre to exclude the one where Young Shang-Chi actually decides to run away. It’s a Big Moment for his character, particularly considering the emotional conflict between him and his sister, and the only reason I can think not to include it is if we’re postponing it for a Big Reveal, namely, if it turns out that the man Young Shang-Chi assassinated is also Katy’s dead grandfather. I am desperately hoping this isn’t the case because, ugh, talk about tropes I’m not into. (I think it’d also be kinda cool if Katy and Shang-Chi did remain platonic, but that seems pretty unlikely, and I don’t hate them as a romantic ship. TBH, I kinda like their low-key, just wanna dance vibe. They could totally date and do late night karaoke and save the world without being all tortured and shit–that is, unless Shang-Chi’s lying to Katy about vengance-murdering her grandpa.)

Finally, I appear to be in the minority here, but Ben Kingsley in the role of Comic Relief didn’t do much for me. Like, I loved it when they brought up his character at dinner, absolutely, but the second we actually get him on screen for Kooky Fun Times? Nah. OTOH, seeing Benedict Wong join in on the karaoke? Excellent.

Dune: Part One

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Year: 2021
Director: Denis Villeneuve
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Rocky Road

So, I finally watched this movie, 20% because I was curious, 80% because Mekaela bribed me with a bottle of Moscato that we somehow ended up with. The wine was tasty. The movie was . . . okay? I’ve never read the book, and I have very mixed feelings on the David Lynch adaptation, so I doubt I was anyone’s target audience here. But sure, there are things I like about this. Exposition and worldbuilding are handled much better here than in the 1984 version. Rebecca Ferguson makes Lady Jessica a million times more interesting than I remember that character being. (Also, her costumes are just cool.) And some of Paul’s visions are intriguing, particularly the ones with Jamis, considering he’s set up to be this someday friend/mentor figure, but instead, Paul kills him. (Other visions are less interesting because, much as I like Zendaya, there’s a limit to how many times I need a quick flash of her looking all romantic/enigmatic. I’m definitely looking forward to her having more actual dialogue in the sequel.)

Still, Paul himself? Meh. I genuinely like that he’s a child of two wildly different lineages, but kid’s got all the personality of a celery stick, and I don’t care even a little about his whole Chosen One narrative. (Frankly, I kinda wish Lady Jessica was the Chosen One.) I continue to hate Baron Harkonnen, too, and I’m still royally pissed about the decision to put Stellan Skarsgård in a fat suit, especially while reading bullshit about how careful they all were to avoid using the fat suit for comedic effect in the film; meanwhile, in the very same article: “Stellan  just loved being naked as the Baron. We all used to kill ourselves laughing when Stellan would ask for more nude scenes. He felt, quite correctly, that the Baron appeared more frightening and dangerous unclothed than cloaked in robes or armor.” Cool. That’s way less shitty!

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The only positive thing I will say about the Baron is that at least Villeneuve cut the Depraved Homosexual shit because FFS.

Also, for a 2 1/2 hour film, I do think Dune, Part One has a couple of pacing problems. Like, I kinda feel there should be a little more time between “fuck, we’ve been set up to fail” and “Massacre Night.” And there’s been, what, five minutes between Paul whining that Lady Jessica made him a freak (dude, you’ve got bigger problems right now) and Paul deciding, “Well, okay, I guess I’ll just be Emperor, then!” The second half of the film feels especially off to me. I also kinda just miss how bizarrely weird the 1984 version looks in comparison, although obviously that’s a very subjective criticism. This movie is pretty; it’s just not very fun. Like, it’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie that takes itself SO seriously. Plus–and I know this is the most minor of complaints–I feel like the desaturated colors of this film are a bit at odds with this oppressive desert heat everyone keeps talking about. I never even once bought that heat.

So, will I watch Part Two? IDK, probably, though I suspect bribery will be involved again, and I don’t think I liked this one enough to see the sequel in theater, no matter how much Villeneuve abhors the idea of people watching his art on the small screen. (Yes, I’m petty. This shit pissed me off.) TBH, I’m a little surprised about how many people were apparently worried there wouldn’t be a sequel, like, I know every iteration of Dune ends up being divisive as shit, but also, this was a wildly anticipated film with a huge cast and well-respected white director, like, the kind of director who actually gets Oscar nods for his science fiction work. I just wasn’t quite sweating the sequel getting the green-light, you know?

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Funhouse, Friday the 13th, and Halloween

Well, my friends, Horror Bingo has reached its conclusion and I’m afraid to say that my two-year winning streak has also met its end.

Oh, The Watcher in the Woods, alas. We came so close.

Before we get to the wrap-up, though, let’s discuss our last three movies.

The Funhouse

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Year: 1981
Director: Tobe Hooper
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Peacock
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Pistachio

Most of the movies I’ve watched this year for Horror Bingo have been somewhere between decent and awesome. Even my least favorites have been pretty watchable; The Funhouse, however, is the first movie I’ve actively disliked.

For starters, it’s slow as hell. It takes roughly 80 years for anyone to die, and while a slow build can totally work, like. You gotta do something interesting with that screen time. Give me some character development. Give me some funny dialogue. Give me some deeply unnerving atmosphere. I think The Funhouse is trying to accomplish that last one, but mostly, I was just bored. The atmosphere isn’t so much creepy as it is . . . seedy, especially considering this particular carnival seems right out of the 1930’s. Which, hey, I wasn’t alive in 1981, so possibly this is period accurate? Still, it all felt a bit contrived and over the top to me, only not in a fun way.

I’m also just not really into the whole Deformed Killer thing, a trope which often has icky ‘the outside reflects the inside’ implications, even when said character is supposed to be pitiable. The Disposable Sex Worker isn’t my favorite trope, either (I would argue Zena counts in this context), and quite frankly, raises some deeply disturbing questions about what Gunther wanted from the Girl Scouts that he murdered prior to this movie. We also spend way more time than I wanted with Evil Gunther’s Evil Dad, and JFC, the final showdown between Gunther and Amy went on for another 80 years. Yes, that’s 160 years total. I am a dusty corpse now. Give me an RIP in the comments.

There were a few things I did genuinely enjoy, like, IDK if anything has ever made me laugh so hard as watching the Final Girl assure her date that, no, no, she got the joke. (People. The authenticity.) I also enjoyed the opening credits, which had some serious Halloween vibes, and the poor dude who got hanged before getting an axe to the head. I also laughed at how Gunther carried Buzz’s body out like he was the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. (Gunther’s makeup, BTW, is–uh–something. He looks like the secret murderous lovechild of Sloth from The Goonies and the Dancing Alien from Spaceballs.)

It appears that when The Funhouse came out, it received pretty decent reviews, and while art is obviously subjective, I have to admit I’m surprised. I mean, motherfucking Siskel and Ebert liked this movie, and I thought they’d have rinsed their mouths out with bleach before ever admitting they enjoyed a slasher.

Friday the 13th

Year: 2009
Director: Marcus Nispel
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Rocky Road

As far as Friday the 13th movies go, the sequel/remake is pretty middle of the road for me. Watchable but a bit boring, probably because I don’t care about either of the potential Final Girls. In other roles, I like Amanda Righetti and Danielle Panabaker well enough (particularly Panabaker, who I liked as Killer Frost on The Flash), and I should totally be rooting for these two. Sadly, neither Jenna nor Whitney are allowed even the smallest scrap of personality. (It’s especially unfortunate with Whitney, who I wish had more on screen interactions with Jason.) I get slashers are not well known for their in depth character work, but we can still do a lot better than this.

I do remember being surprised by Jenna’s death the first time I watched this, though it’s hard to say if it would surprise me as much now, being more familiar with the Jason mythos. At the time, though, I thought it was kinda cool Clay and his sister lived, rather than Clay and his potential  love interest. (Well. We do end on a last second surprise attack–sigh– so maybe I should be saying “survived the longest” rather than “lived.”) I kinda like the idea of a more territorial Jason, too, like, this isn’t the Jason who hops on cruise ships towards Manhattan. This guy’s just killing any outsider who gets too close to home. But it doesn’t seem entirely consistent to me (like, why did Scuzzy Donnie have to die), and I wish the film did something more with it. Maybe the cops could’ve been sacrificing tourists to their local drowned god? On the upside, I did wholeheartedly enjoy the Updated Sleeping Bag Death! I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who likes The New Blood, but by God, we all love the Sleeping Bag Death.

Finally, a scattering of random thoughts:

A) Trent is The Worst, but I must say that Travis Van Winkle really commits to Rich Yuppie Asshole, like, this is solid work. I have no idea why Jenna would date this guy, but I suppose I’ve thought that about women in RL, too. Meanwhile, Lawrence, who just wanted to save his buddy Chewie, deserves better. Poor Lawrence.

B) Wow, I don’t know if I can think of anything that sounds more uncomfortable than topless wakeboarding. Slamming my naked breasts into water at, IDK, 20 miles an hour when I inevitably wipe out? I mean, that just sounds painful.

C) Hey, Pamela Voorhees is played by Nana Visitor! Hi, Homicidal Kira!

D) Seriously, why did Whitney and Clay dump Jason’s body in the lake anyway? That would’ve made sense for characters in previous films, sure, but it makes no sense here. They literally had to drag him all the way there! The cops are likely to be dubious! I don’t understand!

E) If Whitney does survive her last second surprise attack, she’ll learn that her mom died, and that she missed the funeral. Damn, Whitney’s life is bleak.

Halloween

Year: 2018
Director: David Gordon Green
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Mekaela won Horror Bingo with The Funhouse, but I had one more space in this Triple Scoop Review, so we each picked a film and played roshambo for it. Mek won, and thus we watched a different sequel/remake: Halloween.

This is okay. I definitely enjoy parts of it, but I’m not in love with the film, either, which is, well. Pretty in line with my feelings on this franchise, TBH. Some things I genuinely enjoyed: the opening credits, a lead female character in a horror movie who’s over 60 years old, Judy Greer’s face when she says, “Gotcha,” Laurie Strode’s whole death trap house, the many times we see Laurie echoing Michael Myers from the first movie (Laurie standing outside her granddaughter’s classroom, Laurie disappearing when Michael looks for her dead body, etc.) I also think it’s really interesting, watching multiple generations of the Strode/Nelson family dealing with the fallout from one terrifying night in 1978 . . . but I still think the movie could do more with it. Specifically, I’d like to see more of Laurie and Karen’s relationship, like, we definitely get the broad strokes, but I feel there’s room for more depth and nuance.

As far as what doesn’t work for me, well. I’m still trying to puzzle that out, so I apologize if the rest of this review is a bit murky. I have a vague idea that part of my problem stems from how much these characters seem to buy into, hm. Let’s call it meta knowledge. Laurie Strode knows Michael Myers is coming back for her. She’s been waiting for it her whole life. And I think we’re supposed to agree: for one, Michael obviously does find Laurie, but also, we get Dr. Sartain’s theories about Laurie and Michael, as though they’re inextricably linked, not to mention Allyson goes to class and literally learns about fate. It all feels pretty Thematic, only here’s the thing: Michael pretty much goes wherever he’s taken. I don’t see much evidence that he’s specifically gunning for Laurie, particularly because we’ve erased every instance that he’s done so out of canon. (Not to mention, goodbye the whole sibling connection.) Honestly, it’s a bit sadder if Laurie’s spent her whole life believing in this Final Girl vs. Boogeyman destiny, but really, she’s just traumatized and has incredibly shitty luck.

And to be fair, Halloween doesn’t actually rule out that interpretation. Still, I can’t entirely shake the impression that this movie feels haunted by the canon it erased. The podcasters, particularly the dude, feel pretentious to the point of absurdity. When Aaron’s shaking the Michael Myers mask around (LOL to his convenient friend at the attorney general’s office, BTW) and asking, “You feel it, don’t you?” Like, I don’t buy any of that, and not just because this dude never seems to realize he could easily walk around the square and actually face his interviewee. Officer Hawkins running over Michael Myers could theoretically work, given that he was around in 1978, but the movie doesn’t give much space to his trauma, definitely not enough for me to buy Actually, Murder is the Best Approach Here from him. And while I’m sorta relieved Dr. Sartain is evil because I was getting real frustrated by his whole Michael Myers fanboy ass, he also just feels . . . weirdly artificial to me, like his dialogue could’ve been taken straight from some Pop Culture & Philosophy essay. Which is something I would totally expect from the Scream movies, but not so much here.

Halloween is entertaining enough, and I’ll probably see the sequel eventually (if only to see what’s causing these seriously mixed reviews), but there’s just something that, on a first viewing, feels oddly disingenuous to me.

(Finally, a few quick last minute things: A) I need Halloween: The Multiverse in my life immediately, where the various Laurie Strodes all face one another, and Karen meets the other two kids who were written out of continuity, B) I’m goddamn amazed that Cameron lives; also, Sheriff Barker, C) sadly, poor Vicky never had a chance, and neither did the Sandwich Cops, who legit were the best, D) much as I like Karen’s “gotcha” moment, I really wish it had more room to breathe, and E) Michael killed a child to show this movie isn’t fucking around, but didn’t kill the baby because, apparently, even Evil has limits.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO 2021 WRAP UP

Of the films I’d never seen before, my favorites were easily The People Under the Stairs and A Quiet Place Part II.

My least favorite movie, OTOH, was definitely The Funhouse, with Till Death as a very distant runner up. The Funhouse was this year’s Dream Home. Or Mandy.

Movies I’m Most Disappointed We Didn’t Get To: Pontypool, Lake Mungo, and One Cut of the Dead have become the redheaded stepchildren of Horror Bingo. We keep throwing them in, and they stubbornly refuse to be chosen.

Movies I’m Most Likely to Add to 2022 Horror Bingo, assuming I don’t watch them before: As the Gods Will, The Call, Bit, and maybe The Fly. (Last year’s nominees were Mayhem, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hereditary, and Cube, which. Well, hell, that was damn accurate.)

Triple Scoop Review: The Ninth Guest, Mortal Kombat, and Palm Springs

The 9th Guest

Year: 1934
Director: Roy William Neill
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

Despite the low Strawberry grade, I actually found this movie quite a bit of fun. No surprise there, really, considering it’s about a group of people who are invited to a mysterious small party, where they’re subsequently trapped and killed off one by one. I mean, come on. If that’s not my favorite type of story, it’s easily in the Top 5.

In a remake–which, personally, I’d be all for–there are some changes I’d love to see. First and foremost: cut the villain being in love with the girl. I’ve never particularly cared for this trope, and the story doesn’t require it at all; it’s much more interesting if the bad guy just wants to kill these people for their various nefarious deeds, a la And Then There Were None. (Much to my amusement, there is a veritable war in this movie’s IMDb trivia page, where one person insists that ATTWN is a blatant rip off of this movie, while another commenter actually took the time to write out a seven point rebuttal rebuking this claim.) The love story between our two survivors could use some work, too, as I mostly just wanted our lead heroine to shoot her tool of a love interest.

And while I kind of enjoy how the party guests are, for the most part, getting themselves killed (a dude accidentally poisons himself while trying to murder another guest, etc.), it still gets a bit frustrating because it’s so obvious that everyone would survive if they just sat still for a damn hour. The asshole love interest keeps pointing it out, too, but no one listens–and while that could work as an exploration of fear, greed, and human nature, it mostly comes off as contrived instead. I suspect this might work better if the guests died more sporadically (rather than on the hour) or if we, the audience, took a while to figure out how each person died.

Still, this is a fun setup, and I enjoyed a lot about this movie: the beginning (where we realize, oh shit, half these guests hate each other), a good chunk of the dialogue, the bits where the guests search the house, the radio reveal, etc. There are a few specific shots that strongly remind me of Clue, enough that I actually wonder if this movie might’ve been a direct inspiration. I’d straight up cut the servant characters, who aren’t that funny and get dropped halfway through the movie anyway, and the film quality is not stellar, cause, like, it’s a 90-year-old movie on Youtube. But if you’re also a sucker for fancy parties with a side of MURDER, this one’s worth checking out.

Mortal Kombat

Year: 2021
Director: Simon McQuoid
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

The 1995 Mortal Kombat will probably always be the Mortal Kombat of my heart, but this was a good time, too. Specifically, it was a very rated-R time, which is excellent. From the dawn of man (which is to say, the early 90’s), the MK games have always been brutal. Naturally, I was quite happy to see that brutality here as well: the vicious fight scenes, the fatalities, the all-around glorious violence. Kung Lao’s killer hat! Jax’s arms! Stabbing someone with their own frozen blood!

Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion and Josh Lawson as Kano are probably my standouts–and boy, I never expected Kano to be one of my favorites–but I also liked Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Mileena, and Mileena’s teeth. I really love how diverse this cast is, too. Like, as much as I love Christopher Lambert as Raiden–and I do so love him–it’s nice to see this part actually played by an Asian man and not, you know, some white French dude. It’s a fun film, and I’m glad I watched it, and I’m sure I’ll happily watch it again.

But I do have criticisms–because yes, me, but damn it, I get so tired of this attitude that you’re automatically expecting too much or missing the point if you enjoy thinking critically about popcorn movies. Like, you have to know the genre you’re talking about, sure. If your main criticisms of an MK movie are “too many fight scenes” or “too much gore,” then yes, I’d suggest this just isn’t the franchise for you. But there are changes we can discuss here that might have made this film even more entertaining. For instance, let’s discuss Cole Young, our everyman protagonist, cause despite Lewis Tan–who I did enjoy quite a bit in Wu Assassins–I’m afraid that Cole is just too generic to live.

I’m not 100% against the idea of introducing an OC into this mix (though I admit, I’m not sure why you’d bother when you’ve got, like, a billion characters to choose from), but I honestly don’t see how this particular Chosen One hero serves the story in any real way. Cole’s arc (such as it is) is boring. His nearly refrigerated family parallel to Scorpion is boring, and most of his dialogue–save a few funny lines–is boring, too. I also would’ve loved to see some better lady rep. There are like six female characters here, which is cool, except that one gets fridged immediately, two are mostly around just to be in danger, and two look incredibly badass, but don’t actually get to do much of anything. Which leaves us with a half dozen dudes and Sonya Blade. It’s disappointing.

(Also, I’m sorry, but why the fuck are Cole’s wife and kid still living at home? Once an immortal ice assassin tracks you down, you immediately get the fuck out of dodge; you do not just go back home and hope for the best while Hubby/Dad fucks off to Magic Martial Arts School. Get thee asses out of town and to a Best Western, goddamnit.)

I think, too, that this film suffers a bit when SPOILER REDACTED dies, mostly because shortly afterwards, a lot of the bad guys are easily defeated in the span of, like, ten minutes? And that felt really anticlimactic to me. Finally–and I fully acknowledge that this just might be a me thing–I can’t help but be kinda bummed that there is no actual tournament in this movie. The fight scenes are so much fun, but damn it, I wanted an actual competition with, like, matches and spectators and shit. IDK if I can call it a real problem with the movie, but I must admit, I did find it pretty disappointing.

Palm Springs

Year: 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I liked this one a whole lot. Unlike Mortal Kombat, I don’t know how much I actually have to say about it? But I really enjoyed Palm Springs, and am annoyed with myself for taking so long to check it out. Like, why do I sabotage myself this way? This movie had great reviews, I like Andy Samberg, and I love time loop stuff. Honestly, I can’t think of a single time loop story that I dislike–with the possible exception of Groundhog Day, which is, admittedly, a pretty funny exception to have. But yeah, time loops are the best; they’re fantastic for exploring character growth and relationship dynamics, and they almost always come with a heavy side of humor, angst, and hilarious montages. I especially enjoy it when more than one person goes through the loop (as is the case here), and I thought it was neat how Palm Springs more or less begins in medias res.

The cast is absolutely fantastic. I’d forgotten  how many people are in this one: Andy Samberg, of course, who is pretty much perfect for this role, and Cristin Milioti, who I’ve never seen before and now want to see in everything. She was so funny; her reaction in that one scene with the arrows? I was dying. I was dying. Then we’ve got a supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, Peter Gallagher, and Dale Dickey? Like, that is a spectacular lineup, and everyone does great work here.

Palm Springs is, like the best time loop stories, pretty wacky. It’s a little dark, a little sweet, and just generally a really great SF romantic comedy overall. It also–and this is very important to note–showcases the absolute worst suit I’ve ever seen, seriously, it horrifies me just so much, so obviously kudos for that, too.

Man. I still really need to write my own time loop story. Possibly more than one. I have So Many Ideas.

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

A Tale of Two Sisters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Black Christmas

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

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

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

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

Genderbent Wednesdays Presents MAVERICK

Happy Wednesday, everyone! It’s time to fulfill my second Clarion West Write-a-Thon reward, only this time, we’re doing things a little different. Huw–my friend, WaT sponsor, and unofficial Class President of CW 2012–asked for a genderbent essay, rather than a typical review. Kindly, he provided a whole list of films which I could choose from, and while several movies might have proven interesting, I simply couldn’t resist picking Maverick. I grew up on this film, after all, was 8 going on 9 when it first came out. Pretty sure it was my introduction to both Jodie Foster and James Garner, honestly. (Though not Mel Gibson. That was almost certainly Lethal Weapon.)

Anyway, thus far, I’ve really only examined action, suspense, and horror films for my Genderbent Wednesday reviews. Analyzing a western (okay, a western-comedy) and reimagining it with an almost entirely female cast?

Yep. I’m here for it. Let’s dive in, shall we?

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Triple Scoop Review/Year of Monsters: BONUS VAMPIRE ROUND – Drácula, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Dracula 2000

Drácula

TFW you have to improvise because there aren’t any GIFs or trailers for the 89-year-old movie you’re reviewing.

Year: 1931
Director: George Melford
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

In 1931, Dracula (the English language film starring Bela Lugosi) was shot during the day, while Drácula (the Spanish language film starring Carlos Villarías) was shot during the night. Earlier this year, I’d wanted to watch Drácula to compare and contrast; alas, I wasn’t able to find the film streaming anywhere online. Fortunately, I have an incredibly sweet friend, Rob, who bought me a special edition DVD copy of both films because he is the absolute best. Thank you, Rob!

In regards to which film is better . . . honestly, I like both for different reasons. On one hand, I think Pablo Álvarez Rubio makes for a fantastic Renfield. I didn’t have any particular problem with Dwight Frye, but Rubio is the superior choice as the bug-eating lackey, and delightfully, this film gives him a little more screen time to work with. (At least I’m pretty sure it does, but admittedly, I have watched like four different adaptations of this novel now, and they are starting to bleed together a bit.) I like this version of Mina (named Eva here) a little better, too, specifically when she’s all dark and vampire-influenced. And this version actually bothers to give Lucía’s story an ending, unlike poor Lucy in Dracula, who is pretty much just forgotten about between scenes. There are some particularly nice shots in this film, too, specifically the last one where Eva and Juan Harker ascend the staircase, leaving Van Helsing below with Renfield’s body–although to be fair, I like some shots in the English language version, too, like when the vampire brides back away from Dracula and Renfield’s unconscious body.

OTOH, I’m afraid I can’t take Carlos Villarías as Dracula seriously at all, like, he’ll have an okay moment or two, and then he’ll smile, and I’ll just start cracking up. Dude’s just so damn goofy. Bela Lugosi is very stagey, but somehow that feels more stylized, theatrical. This is different. This just feels absurdly cartoonish. And I prefer Van Helsing in the English language version, too, probably because this one seems shocked by things that just aren’t very shocking. Like, he’ll present some hypothesis (for example, Dracula is a vampire, and therefore must not have a reflection), and then seem flabbergasted when he immediately proves himself correct. He also has a hilarious reaction when Dracula threatens to kill him; likely, he’s supposed to seem scared, but it comes across more like, “Whaaaat? You’d . . . you’d really kill me?”

Watching both of these movies is absolutely fun, but my perfect film would be some unholy combination of the two, with Bela Lugosi and Pablo Álvarez Rubio and, most especially, the Philip Glass score from the 1990’s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Year: 1992
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
First Watch or Rewatch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon, I think? TBH, it’s been a few weeks.
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Strawberry

Look, there are some amazing things about this movie. The opening music, for instance? Fantastic. And the fashion? Oh my god, the FASHION in this film. Dracula’s costumes alone, like, we’ve got the grey suit and top hat pictured above, his memorable Transylvania look, the red armor he wore as a human (which is basically just what J-Lo wore in The Cell,) etc. Then, of course, we have Mina’s lovely green dress and hat, as well as Lucy’s hilariously anachronistic red dress. And then, of course, Dead Lucy, which is the absolute cream of the crop. God, I’d love to cosplay the hell out of this someday.

So, yeah. I’d watch the hell out of this movie as a series of well-made fanvids; unfortunately, as a whole ass film, I have . . . problems. The entire prologue, for instance: like, the BS reincarnation love story I don’t care about (I was so baffled by this addition the first time I watched this movie), or how Anthony Hopkins is playing this ancient priest dude for no apparent reason. The fact that someone apparently fetched Mina’s perfectly undamaged corpse out of the river just to throw her ass on the floor, even taking the time to grab her suicide note and artfully tuck it into her hand. (Oh, apologies, there was physical damage: a single trail of blood from the corner of her mouth. Holy shit, that just makes it even funnier.) And Gary Oldman’s rage freakout, like, don’t get me wrong, I know the guy is a good actor, but also, dude sometimes makes some ridiculously over-the-top choices that I just cannot take seriously. I was giggling like mad throughout this whole prologue, which I really don’t think was Coppola’s intent here.

If the whole movie was like that, I could happily enjoy Dracula as a so-bad-it’s-great film. But those kinds of movies are generally best appreciated when they’re under two hours; this film is 2 hours and 35 minutes, and unfortunately, its dreadfulness isn’t always the sheer delight that is this gloriously terrible train ride into Hell scene. Which is to say, some of the bad stuff just drags, particularly in the second half of the film, where I slowly became consumed by boredom. And honestly, there’s a lot of bad to go around: Dracula as a wolf-troll-thing raping Lucy? Nope. All the orgasmic vampire shit and the plethora of relentless boob shots? Thanks, pass. I’d love to know whose idea it was to make Dr. Seward a morphine addict for, like, a scene. Also, why, in a movie with such fantastic costumes, does Keanu’s gray hair look like someone just threw flour over his head? And while I’m genuinely delighted by the current Resurgence of Keanu Reeves–he seems like a nice dude, and I enjoy a lot of his movies–like, this is easily his worst performance, and I’m including Much Ado About Nothing in that. (A film I have a huge soft spot for, honestly, but there is more than one woeful miscasting in that movie.) It’s not just that Reeves’s accent is terrible, though it is; it’s more that he’s so damn stilted here. Winona Ryder’s accent isn’t winning awards, either, but at least there’s some flow to her dialogue.

Finally, a few random things:

A) Everyone’s kind of an asshole in this movie, including Jonathan, who doesn’t like Mina staying with her BFF cause Lucy is rich, and what if Mina wants a rich boy now? Jonathan, you’re a tool. Van Helsing, though, is probably my favorite asshole because of hilariously casual lines like this: “Yeah, she was in terrible pain; we cut off her head. She’s dead now.”

B) The Texan suitor, played by Billy Campbell, is shockingly the least objectionable character, which is presumably why he dies.

C) Wow, I forgot there are so many other people in this movie! Cary Elwes! Richard E. Grant! Tom Waits as Renfield, what?

Renfield’s hair, at least, is properly fantastic.

Dracula 2000

Year: 2000
Director: Patrick Lussier
First Watch or Rewatch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

Okay, sure, this isn’t a great movie, but unlike Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it never really pretended to be, either. Dracula 2000 is so incredibly of its time, and I have all kinds of silly nostalgia for it. Ton of people in the cast, too: Jonny Lee Miller (the hero), Justine Waddell (the heroine), Christopher Plummer (the dead meat vampire-hunter mentor), Vitamin C (the dead meat BFF and vampire bride #1), Jennifer Esposito, (the brief fake-out love interest and vampire bride #2), Jeri Ryan (the random hot reporter and vampire bride #3), Sean Patrick Thomas (a thief), Danny Masterson (a thief who gets a leech to the eyeball), Lochlyn Munro (a thief and also the First to Die), Omar Epps (the Thief Boss who very suavely wears glasses), Shane West (the cameraman who dies very, very quickly), Nathan Fillion (a young priest who shockingly doesn’t die), and, of course, Gerard Butler (the Big Bad, AKA, Judas “Dracula” Iscariot).

Miller and Plummer probably do the strongest work here, but I enjoy pretty much everyone except maybe Jennifer Esposito, who I never quite buy–although to be fair to the actress, she does get some of the worst dialogue. Like the “all I wanna do is suck” pun or the “how does one become a lover” exchange, ugh. There’s some bad dialogue to go around, though: JLM’s “never ever FUCK with an antiques dealer” is beyond awful, like, as a blooper line? It’s hysterical. I’d have laughed my ass off had I seen this in the blooper reel. As an actual line in the movie? NO, GOD, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS, NO.

OTOH, I do genuinely enjoy a lot of the humor, even the very on-the-nose stuff. I’ll admit to laughing at the “sorry, sport, I’m an atheist/God loves you anyway” exchange; also, Masterson’s hilariously petulant “I said I was sorry.” The sheer outrage in Miller’s delivery when he says “undead–UNDEAD!” cracks me up every time. I’m also very amused by Dracula calling the Bible “propaganda” as Simon tries to defend himself with it. And when Dracula perfectly describes Mary’s Mom’s interior decorating style as “Catholic,” yeah, I laughed pretty hard at that.

And while Dracula’s secret origins as Judas are kinda unbelievably silly, I suspect someone could actually make this work in a miniseries or TV-show, something with a serious, historical bent and plenty of room to focus on the themes of evil, forgiveness, and redemption in a universe where choice and action are presumably predestined. Dracula 2000 was obviously never gonna be that story, as it’s a campy ass horror film, and its reliance on Dracula’s origins as a twist means it only has about 15 minutes to even remotely address the philosophical and theological ramifications of this identity reveal, while also wrapping up the entire main plot. So, yeah, that was kinda doomed to silly failure. But credit where credit’s due: this is the first and only time I’ve ever seen a vampire die by hanging.

Finally, a couple last thoughts:

A) I owned a fair amount of horror and SF movie soundtracks in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and you better believe that Dracula 2000 was one of them. (See also The Faculty, Scream, Queen of the Damned, and The Matrix.) I still listen to songs from it, too, especially System of a Down’s cover of “Metro.”

B) Remember in The Last Jedi, how Rey and Kylo spend a lot of time psychically gazing at each other from separate locations? Well, Dracula and Mary Heller-Van Helsing did it first, only with Godhead (and Marilyn Manson) playing in the background, so, obviously, they kinda win.

Shit. Now I just wanna see TLJ with the Dracula 2000 soundtrack. SOMEONE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

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

Shazam!

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

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

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

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

A few quick asides:

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

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

C. That last scene with Superman? Fucking amazing.

Joker

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

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

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

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

Little Women

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

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

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

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

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

Year of Monsters: The Mummy

I adore The Mummy (1999). I adore The Mummy Returns. I do not adore The Mummy (2017) with Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, but to be fair, I only watched about ten minutes of it. Maybe it gets better. (It doesn’t get better. We all know it.)

Now it’s time to see where all these movies began.

May I present The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff and Zita Johann.

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Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Suspiria, Us, and Jason X

It’s the end of an era, folks! Okay, fine, it’s just the end of our first annual Horror Bingo–which, yes, should have been finished well over a month ago, but life! Holidays! Disney Plus! The point is, I got it done by Christmas, and that’s just gonna have to be good enough.

More importantly . . .

That’s right, I WON! Honestly, this was a lot of fun, and I’m already looking forward to Round 2 next year. Before I get into conclusions, though, we have three more movies to discuss: our final two Horror Bingo films and, of course, our reward movie: Jason X.

Suspiria (2018)

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

Well. That was a movie.

I was hopeful for this one. I do really enjoy the original film. (Gore! Maggots! Technicolor!) But also, I was kinda excited to see a different take on Ballet Witch Academy cause there are a lot of ways to go with that concept. (Not gonna lie, folks: if Ballet Witch Academy was a show on CW, I’d watch the hell out of it.) Add in Tilda Swinton and a score by Thom Yorke, and I was fucking sold. And credit where credit’s due: I do really enjoy that score. Listening to it now, as a matter of fact, and let me tell you: “The Hooks” is a particularly disturbing song when you’re listening to it by yourself at midnight. Also, the Susie/Olga dance scene is nothing short of horrific: grotesque, intense, and masterfully shot. There are certain plot developments I like, too, at least conceptually: the reveal that Susie is Mother Suspiriorum, for instance, is certainly intriguing. And that whole line about how the witches won’t suffer any retaliation for their votes? HA! I didn’t buy that bit of bullshit for one second, so the violent payoff at the end works well for me.

Overall, though, I just really didn’t enjoy this movie. I didn’t like the opening scene at all, like, Chloe Grace Moretz seems to be going for Crazy, Oh So Crazy, and it feels both atonal AF and, yeah, just kinda ick. At 2 1/2 hours, I think the film is far too long. I’m not saying you can’t have long horror films, but I am saying they’re hard to do well. (It: Chapter Two also failed at this.) We spend way more time on the psychiatrist than I think is warranted, and I don’t love that he’s played by Tilda Swinton; the performance is fine (I mean, it’s Tilda Swinton), but I find the choice itself unnecessarily distracting. I like the idea of Susie’s twist, but not the build or execution of it, and I don’t think the film does a very good job developing her and Madam Blanc’s relationship, either. Sure, they stare at each other a lot, and I suspect I’m supposed to get mad lesbian chemistry or maybe, IDK, incestuous mother/daughter vibes? Mostly, though, I feel like Suspiria relies way too heavily on its artsy mood and funky editing in an attempt to overcompensate for a lackluster script. I’m not particularly convinced the political backstory is working in the film’s favor, either. There were a few moments of interesting horror here, but primarily, I found myself bored, frustrated, or both.

Us

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: All of them. Watch the film first, please.
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, this is difficult. There’s an awful lot I do like about this movie. The acting is great. Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic, Winston Duke is hilarious (he plays Such A Dad), and I really enjoyed Shahadi Wright Joseph quite a bit, too. I’d forgotten Elisabeth Moss was in this movie, and though it’s a small role, my God, if she doesn’t make the most out of it. There are so many wonderful scenes and moments here: the death of Pluto, basically everything that happens at the Tyler’s house, Adelaide and Red’s final fight/dance, etc. The soundtrack is phenomenal (I’ve now switched over to “Anthem,” naturally), and I liked a lot of the humor. I’m a huge sucker for family dynamics in horror, and I was definitely invested in these characters as we watched the film.

But I have criticisms, too, and unfortunately, they’re not minor ones. Like, when Red gives her monologue near the end of the movie about how the Tethered were kept underground as part of a government experiment and how she banded them together and such, it felt . . . messy. Interesting, certainly, but messy, like there’s enough story and metaphor in these five minutes alone to make a whole other movie, but instead of really doing something with it, it’s just sorta . . . thrown out there, slapdash as hell. I can’t quite decide if we’re given too much information here or not nearly enough, but either way, I think the writing is a bit weak in the third act. Still, I was willing to forgive it because, messy or not, Us is weird and fascinating, and I was having a pretty fun time watching it. And then we get Adelaide’s Big Reveal, and I just . . .

Look. We were roughly five minutes into this movie before I thought, “Oh, shit, maybe this is an evil changeling story! Maybe Adelaide isn’t traumatized; she’s just not Adelaide.” And you know, there is evidence to support that, particularly whenever Adelaide kills one of the Tethered. But the more Red talked, the more I realized I wouldn’t buy that twist anymore. Part of that’s dialogue: would she really have a whole speech about the humans Above, specifically calling them “your people,” without ever mentioning they were once her people, that the sky was once her sky? Would she say “we’re humans too, you know” to someone who, of course, does know? Would she use intentionally ambiguous (and slightly more awkward) phrasing like “how you could’ve taken me with you” instead of “you could’ve come with me” or “we could’ve both lived Above?”

But it’s not just dialogue. It’s also that the logic and mechanics of this place feel murky as hell: Little Adelaide starts behaving like a shadow while trapped Below, but . . . I don’t really know how or why: she isn’t mindless like the others, after all. So much here feels vague and inconsistent, and while horror doesn’t always have to be logical or explained in full to be successful, that doesn’t fly so well when you need to support a Big Twist. And it doesn’t help that I just don’t think this particular Big Twist adds much to the story, emotionally or thematically; mostly, it just strikes me as an unnecessary cheat, and considering Cheat Unreliable Narrators are one of my biggest storytelling pet peeves? It’s a really unfortunate note to end this otherwise very enjoyable film on.

Jason X

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Vanilla

Oh, Jason X. This gloriously silly movie. This loving parody of its own franchise. You can come at me with your “Michael Myers is the best masked killer” until you’re blue in the face, but has Michael Myers ever been cryogenically frozen for 400 years? Has he ever cut off a dude’s arm purely by falling over? Was he resurrected and reconstructed into Uber Michael by futuristic nano ants? Yeah, I rest my case.

Jason X knows exactly what kind of movie it is. The puns are over the top, the kills are as violent as they are ridiculous, the fashion is hilarious (sometimes even intentionally!), and and everyone just seems like they’re having a really good time. The whole movie is a string of meta in-jokes punctuated by absurd violence. (See: the gratuitous nudity holograms and the nod to everyone’s favorite sleeping bag death from Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood.) Hell, the whole plot structure is basically one giant homage to Aliens. Also, holy shit, David Cronenberg has a cameo in this! I don’t think I even realized that the first time I watched this movie.

I will say it’s a little disappointing that a) both black characters on the ship die, and b) they die sacrificing themselves for white people, which is certainly a shitty trope prevalent in horror. That being said, if you’re gonna go out in a heroic blaze of glory, you’ve gotta do it like Peter Mensah, whose character impossibly zooms in from out of nowhere, tackles Jason in space, and steers their bodies towards Earth 2, where they continue to fight even as they burn up in the atmosphere. It is exceptional. It is a thing of beauty.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO WRAP-UP:

Of the horror films I’d never seen before, my favorites were probably Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Babadook, It Follows, and The Wailing. Meanwhile, my least favorites were Suspiria (2018), Ghost Story, Insidious, and The Witch.

Of the horror films I have seen before, I think The Legend of Hell House remains my favorite, whereas my appreciation for Hostel has considerably dipped.

Movies I’m most disappointed we didn’t get to on this go-around: Deep Red, Overlord, and Phantasm.

Movies I’ll probably add to next year’s Horror Bingo, if I don’t watch them before then: Tigers Are Not Afraid, Happy Death Day, and Hausu.

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

Robin Hood (1973)

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

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

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

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

The Sword and the Stone (1963)

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

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

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

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

Spider-Man: Far From Home

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

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

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

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