Triple Scoop Reviews: The Witch: Part I – The Subversion, Death Bell, and Guns Akimbo

The Witch: Part I – The Subversion

Year: 2018
Director: Park Hoon Jung
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I really enjoyed this Korean SF/F action-horror movie. I confess to not totally getting the title (something lost in translation, perhaps), but the movie itself is a pretty good time. Kim Da Mi is excellent here as Goo Ja Yun, an amnesiac who ran away ten years ago from one of those evil government facilities that likes to experiment on children. (A very specific sub-genre I’m apparently a sucker for, considering Dark Angel, Stranger Things, The Pretender, etc.) I also like Go Min Shi, who plays Ja Yun’s excitable best friend, and Choi Woo Shik, who plays, well, Chaotic Evil. I very much enjoyed the latter’s work in Train to Busan and Parasite, but it wasn’t until I saw this movie that I realized, oh, he’s not just talented; he’s hot. Lots of people try for smirky evil hot but only manage smirky obnoxious. Choi Woo Shik is not one of those people.

The Witch: Subversion – Part I has a slow, steady build with an explosive third act, and I’m looking forward to seeing a sequel. (I believe a trilogy is planned?) There are other things to talk about; unfortunately, they all include spoilers, and I’d prefer not to get into those now. But the movie is an awful lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who also enjoys a) this very specific sub-genre, and b) violence. Because there is most certainly violence. Obviously, I approve of this.

Death Bell

Year: 2008
Director: Chang
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Some. Mind the tags, in particular
Grade: Strawberry

This is apparently a hugely popular horror film in South Korea and was fun enough to watch, but ultimately, I’m pretty meh on the actual execution. I’m all about the basic setup, of course: a group of kids (and teachers) are trapped at a high school and forced to successfully solve a series of test questions, or else their classmates will be violently murdered. I like the idea of the bad guys here and their respective motives. I’d genuinely like to see this film remade by a different director with a better script.

But as is, I have several problems, like, almost none of the death traps work for me, not just because they’re such obvious Saw knock-offs, but because they’re way too elaborate and ridiculous to fit the actual scenario. (Some people are quick to accuse a horror movie of being a Saw knock-off just because its exceptionally violent and/or includes death traps, but these ones really do lack originality.) There is both a human and supernatural angle to this story; unfortunately, the supernatural stuff mostly feels mishandled. The last minute twist seems particularly cheap because it doesn’t feel supported by the actor’s performance at all–though it does, I suppose, at least make another character’s whole storyline less random in retrospect. (Still not terribly fond of it, TBH.)

Additionally, two quick notes: one, I’m all about horror movies acknowledging that girls have periods–seriously, I am all for it–but this mostly felt like an excuse for a weird upper thigh shot, so, eh? And two, any sympathy I might have had for one character completely goes out the window the second she realizes that everyone around her has mysteriously passed out and decides that this is a great time to put on her headphones, alone, in the middle of a school where multiple people have been murdered. I. You. What. WHY?!?!?!

Guns Akimbo

Year: 2020
Director: Jason Lei Howden
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Vanilla

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re into over-the-top, gonzo action flicks like me, but there are also things that don’t quite land. For one, I’m not sure I’m totally buying our Big Bad; Ned Dennehy is okay in the role, but I feel like other actors could’ve done more with it. Neal McDonough, for instance, was made for this kind of villain. Also might’ve enjoyed Clancy Brown, who Mek suggested for some punk Highlander vibes. More importantly, though, Guns Akimbo has this weird tendency to throw in a moral now and then that just doesn’t work. Like when Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) wonders how long it’s been since he went outside without staring at his phone, and I’m like, bitch, that’s some weak tea satire; are you actually mistaking that for an original perspective, and anyway, who the hell is thinking “gosh, I wish I’d stopped to smell the roses” when they’re stumbling around after waking up with gun hands? I feel, too, that there’s a small but annoying thread of “anti PC culture” running throughout the film, an impression that only seems validated after remembering the controversy around director Jason Lei Howden. Yikes.

All that being said, I could watch Daniel Radcliffe and Samara Weaving in this all day. They’re both great here: Radcliffe has some absolutely phenomenal reactions–I am so down for all his absolutely bizarre post-HP projects–whereas Weaving is just as iconic here as she was in Ready or Not. She’s pretty fantastic in this, IMO. Not every bit of humor lands right (Rhys Darby’s character, sadly, feels like a series of punch down jokes, much as my Voltron geek girl heart hates to admit it), but a lot of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious; for example, I about died when Miles tried to cut off this cop’s tragic backstory. I like Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), too; she doesn’t get much to do, unfortunately, but I did find her interesting. Also, Nerf Guy!

If you like the concept of Guns Akimbo, there’s a decent chance you’ll like the movie: there are some really fun fight scenes, amusing bits of meta humor, one or two solid surprise moments, and just a very enjoyable soundtrack. I’m actually glad I watched it; I just really wish I could tweak it some, too. And yeah, it’d also be nice if the writer/director didn’t entirely suck as a person.

Triple Scoop Reviews: Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Skeleton Twins, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Nah, unless you really don’t wanna know who plays Jack
Grade: Chocolate

I haven’t watched Jumpin’ Jack Flash in years, but I grew up on this movie–I grew up on a whole bunch of Whoopi Goldberg films, actually; she was probably my favorite actress as a kid–and I’m stoked to see this one holds up really well. Not everything holds up, like, there are one or two jokes best left in the 80’s and, of course, Marty (Stephen Collins) is super likable until you remember that the actor playing him admitted to sexually abusing minors in 2014.

The movie, though, is pretty great, and I adore Terry (Goldberg), our foul-mouthed, hopeless romantic, total nerd of a protagonist. (If you’re going to argue with me about the nerd thing, you’re wrong: she’s a computer geek, talks to herself, dresses kind of goofy, has toys all over desk, etc. NERDS UNITE FTW.) And Whoopi Goldberg is great in the role: she’s sharp, funny, and somehow manages to make all the many scenes of reading Jack’s messages out loud actually seem natural. The genre blend of romantic-spy-comedy works really well for me, and I just love a lot of little things about this movie: all the dialogue, the Rolling Stones appreciation, the set design of Terry’s apartment–I need that giant toothbrush–etc. I like a lot of the supporting players, too: I particularly get a kick out of Peter Michael Goetz as Mr. Page, not to mention that this was the first movie I knew either Garry Marshall or Carol Kane from. (Kane’s line delivery of she’s unwrapping the STROLLER is often, and poorly, imitated in this house.)

Plus, Jumpin’ Jack Flash has gotta be Hollywood’s very first internet romance, right? Like, this movie was made in 1986. It’s so ahead of its time! (Although I will admit that, as a child, I was very disappointed with how Jack looked when he finally showed up. Apologies to Jonathan Pryce, but deeply shallow 7-or-so-year-old Carlie was like, “That guy? That guy is Jack?” It was like watching the Beast transform into his inferior human self with his inferior human voice all over again. At least Jack’s voice didn’t completely change.)

The Skeleton Twins

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

I’ve been wanting to try out more of Bill Hader stuff’s since watching It, Chapter 2, so naturally I had to a) binge the first season of Barry last week, and b) check out The Skeleton Twins, a dysfunctional family comedy-drama about estranged siblings. I have kind of a soft spot for both sibling stories and dysfunctional family shit, though I’m often not enthused about how said stories turn out, the former because it so often boils down to “opposite siblings are opposite” and the latter because they’re so often focused on unhappy marriages, like, I could easily go ten years without another boring marital affair subplot.

The Skeleton Twins definitely does have some marital affair shit going on, but for the most part, I liked this movie. I’ll admit, I can’t help but feel that there’s something missing from it, but I’m hard-pressed to say what, exactly, just that there’s a certain amount of predictability to all the emotional beats of the story, so I always felt like I knew exactly where it was going. Still, the acting is great all-around: both Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig give strong performances, and Luke Wilson is just spectacularly well cast. There are also several scenes I really enjoyed (this lip-syncing one is obviously a highlight), and I did become very invested in Milo and Maggie’s relationship, like, I’m really rooting for them to work it out and save each other. And sure, while the siblings initially come across as “the responsible one vs. the irresponsible one,” it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that this isn’t really the case, and I liked that.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

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

This is okay, but it’s definitely my last favorite of the John Wick series thus far. On the plus side, all the fight scenes are a lot of fun, obviously–John kills people in creative new ways, like with books or horses! And I like some of our recent additions to the cast: Asia Kate Dillon has got such a cool aesthetic here, and besides which, I’m forever a sucker for the administrative side of the assassin business. (See also my absolute obsession with the tattooed switchboard operators. Jesus Christ, I love them so much. I want a TV show with them so badly.) I also enjoy Mark Dacascos as our slightly psychopathic assassin, mostly because he so often plays a very solemn or dignified character–Double Dragon very much excepted–where here it’s more like “I’m a fan!” and “we could’ve been pals if only I didn’t have to kill you!” I could do without the whole “we’re the same, you and I” stuff, but otherwise, I liked him.

Still, I think Parabellum has some structural issues. Not much about Casablanca works for me, I’m afraid: Halle Berry’s whole section feels like an awkwardly inserted backdoor pilot, which I’d probably be more willing to forgive if I liked her better in the role. Unfortunately, I never really bought Sophia’s whole angry, tough girl thing, anymore than I did in X2 when Storm very suddenly became super angry and super American. And to be clear, I was 140% into all of her fight scenes, like, Berry does a great job with them, and her dogs are obviously the goddamn best, but the scenes with actual dialogue? Yeah, I didn’t love them. Jerome Flynn and Saïd Taghmaoui also felt unnecessary, especially and unfortunately Taghmaoui, who I’ve enjoyed in various small roles over the years, but this one is just . . . meh. Not poorly acted or anything; I just didn’t care about this whole “man who sits above the table” thing. And all John’s wandering through the desert like Jesus just felt . . . silly, and surprisingly, not the good kind of silly.

And it must be said that while I emphatically do not come these movies looking for realism, like . . . come on, there is a limit to how many times a dude can be thrown through a wall of glass without bleeding out before I’m like really? REALLY? I quickly lost count, but I wanna say John got kicked or thrown through, like, 13 different panes of glass in about fifteen minutes, and dude, that boy be dead. That boy is an ex-parrot. And I don’t care if he’s the Baba Yaga or not; if this motherfucker doesn’t have Wolverine’s healing abilities, he’s stick-a-fork-in-me done. It’s not just all the glass, either, although admittedly, that’s probably the most in-your-face absurdity; during this movie, John also gets a) hit by two cars, one right after the other, b) stabbed in the shoulder (where the blade nicks the artery, but a quick five-minute stitch-up with no blood transfusions, and he’s fine), and finally c) shot off a fucking roof–and like, I’m not talking some one-level grocery here. This is a four story building, and this motherfucker bounces off a metal fire escape on the way down. John Wick is basically just a broken meat sack of goo at this point, or should be.

Generally, I enjoy how this movie sets up for the next, but man, if John Wick, Chapter 4 doesn’t reveal his secret origin story as a metahuman or literal creature of the night, well, my friends, we’ve shot past light speed straight into ludicrous speed.

MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

We’re closing in now: only two films left to discuss in this Mission: Impossible Mega Re-Watch! (Well, until 2021, anyway, which is when M:I – 7 is currently scheduled to release.) First up is Rogue Nation, a movie notable for many fine qualities, but none more important than its introduction of Ilsa Faust.

Year: 2015
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Not really

It’s been roughly four years since I first saw this movie, and–much like with Ghost Protocol–my feelings about it are largely unchanged, except that I like it even more than I did on first blush. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have one or two minor grievances: Luther and Brandt tracking down Ethan by concentrating their search on Ilsa, who they know Ethan implicitly trusts because of the way he sketched her, continues to be bullshit, like, this is just ridiculously, ludicrously dumb. The fact that Ethan and Benji survive this one car accident is equally ludicrous, although admittedly, it’s also pretty standard action movie fare. And it’s true that Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is essentially just a gussied up Moriarty, but I’m mostly okay with it because his clear agenda and mildly creepy line deliveries still make him easily one of the best villains this franchise has ever had. Obviously, that’s not exactly a high bar to clear, but still, Lane works for me–at least in this particular movie.

Pretty much everything else I have to say is overwhelmingly positive: the action scenes–from the great fight sequences to the various heists and car chases–are all spectacular. I’m definitely a sucker for everything during the Sydney Opera House Mission. The humor continues to work well: Rogue Nation nails that comedy and team camaraderie from the very first scene and only builds on it throughout the film. I especially love the scene where Benji tells Ethan he won’t be left behind. In general, I continue to adore Benji, considering he essentially plays the damsel in distress here, right down to being menaced by some unnecessary, up-close villain leering.

Still, it’s really Ilsa Faust who makes this movie for me. She’s just such a great, complex heroine: badass, funny, has her own agenda. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she saves Ethan’s ass no less than three time in this movie. And I love that while there’s a certain amount of romantic/sexual tension between the two, Rogue Nation never wastes time getting them together or dropping the L bomb–not because I hate romance, but because you know it would’ve been rushed as hell and deeply unconvincing in this tightly plotted film. By delaying said romance until later installments, Rogue Nation actually provides a much better foundation for Ilsa and Ethan’s love story.

As great as Ilsa is, though, the best, most ridiculous line in this whole movie still goes to Alec Baldwin, who calls Ethan Hunt “the living manifestation of destiny,” a description I’m still very seriously considering putting on my business cards. People. It is sublime. There will never be a funnier, more perfect moment in this franchise than this.

Of course, considering that Ilsa repeatedly saves Ethan’s life in Rogue Nation, perhaps Alec Baldwin is actually describing the wrong spy here.

The Current Ranking

1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
3. Mission: Impossible
4. Mission: Impossible III
5. Mission: Impossible II

MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Hm. It seems we’ve officially hit the point in this Mega Rewatch where I review movies I’ve actually already reviewed, albeit seven years ago. I first saw Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in theater, mostly on a whim; it also happens to be the movie that got me back into the M:I franchise.

It’s been some time since I’ve watched this one all the way through, but having just reread my original review of the film, I can tell you that, nearly a decade later, my opinions about Ghost Protocol are largely unchanged.

Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yeah. Though, honestly, I’m not sure how much there is to really spoil.

While John Woo and Mission: Impossible II are technically responsible for turning an espionage thriller into an action fest franchise, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the first film in the series that’s actually a good action movie. There are things I’d change here, of course: our bad guy, Hendricks, is such an underdeveloped villain that he actually makes Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III look faintly interesting by comparison. None of this is the late Michael Nyqvist’s fault, BTW; he’s given so little dialogue and screen time to work with that he never really had a chance of developing the character. I see a faint glimmer of Old School Bond Villain, maybe–certain line deliveries, the whole white suit–but it’s barely more than a vague impression. I’ve given Marvel a lot of shit over the years for their lackluster villains, but I think Mission: Impossible might be the franchise to beat for utterly lame bad guys.

Also lame: the twist that Hendricks is posing as his own right-hand man because seriously. Why? The Kremlin blowing up remains something of a CGI eyesore in what is otherwise a fantastically shot film. And while Paula Patton is fine in the role, Agent Jane Carter is very much the One Girl on the Team. She’s not terrible, but she does make me yearn for Ilsa Faust. That being said, I’d love to see all the Left Behind Ladies of the M:I Franchise make cameos in future films. I mean, I know that won’t happen, but it’d be cool to watch, like, Paula Patton and Maggie Q heading off for some mission at the beginning of M:I – 7. Or for Thandie Newton to show up and steal something and otherwise be a badass who doesn’t die.

Shifting gears to talk about what does work: well, quite a lot, actually. The action scenes in this movie are on point, especially everything that happens in Dubai. Watching Ethan step out of the billionth story window with nothing but his (soon-to-be malfunctioning) Grippy Gloves still makes me tense, which I think is impressive. I enjoy the fight scenes, too, particularly between a) Avenging Jane vs Lady Assassin, and b) Beat Up Ethan vs Beat Up Hendricks. More than anything, though, I really appreciate the easy humor that’s prevalent throughout this whole film: Sidorov’s face when he finds Ethan stranded outside on the hospital ledge. Ethan being taunted by the Malfunctioning Grippy Glove. Brandt’s total anxiety about jumping into a computer array. Luther mocking Ethan for actually saying “mission accomplished” out loud. And, of course, almost every thing Benji says or does.

A boring villain is always disappointing, sure, but to me, the combination of standout action scenes and laugh-out-loud humor more than make up for any lame bad guy.

Finally, a few asides:

1. Yay! The flash-forward opening credits are back!

2. Holy shit, I totally forgot how Ghost Protocol just brushes past Benji getting prison guards murdered. Like, I know we don’t technically see this one dude get killed, but . . . for real, dude gets killed.

3. Speaking of people who should be dead: Ethan goes legs first through a glass window, gets full on hit by a car, AND nosedives a car into, like, a 100-foot drop. Hendricks, too, should’ve died a good 30-minutes before he actually does; instead, he just walks off a car crash that would’ve broken his body into a billion pieces.

4. Now that I’ve seen Mission: Impossible – III, I’m even happier that Julia didn’t get killed in between movies, because while she only had one awesome sauce scene in that film, I absolutely hate that goddamn “axe the woman while no one’s looking” plot device. This will come up again in my eventual Fallout review, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how this franchise handles Julia and Ethan’s relationship over the space of four movies.

5. Ghost Protocol is obviously a hilarious title, but a more accurate one would still be Mission: Impossible – TECH FAIL. Or maybe Mission: Impossible – Fuck! Even In the Future, Nothing Works. (It could be the near-future. You don’t know.)

6. Up till now, it’s been incredibly easy to rank the M:I movies . . . but here I have a decision to make between this film and the original Mission: Impossible. Both are pretty solid movies in their own right, but they’re also going for wildly different tones, making it harder to pit them against one another, Ghost Protocol is definitely the movie I’m more likely to rewatch, but Mission: Impossible is almost certainly the more ambitious of the two. Both have their standout moments and amazing characters, just like both have their disappointing characters and obvious weaknesses.

I’m still not 100% about this, but for now, at least, I’ve made a decision.

The Current Ranking

1. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
2. Mission: Impossible
3. Mission: Impossible III
4. Mission: Impossible II

“Plan B? We Need A Plan C, D, E. We Need More Alphabet.”

The Fast and The Furious movies fascinate me.

Not so much the movies themselves, necessarily, but how passionate people are about them. I watched the original film back whenever it came out, what, 15 years ago? And I’ve gotta tell you: I found it pretty hopelessly boring, so much so that I had zero interest in checking out any of the sequels. Of course, at the time, I also wasn’t anticipating the franchise going stronger than ever in 2017, with its eighth film having just recently released to a theater near you.

In the space of two days, without seeking anything out, I saw a review saying The Fate of The Furious was a glorious film; I saw another saying it was the worst, a franchise killer. Someone argued that no, Fast & Furious 6 was easily the worst film of the bunch and Fast Five was unequivocally the best. Two people passionately defended Tokyo Drift as the shining star of the series. Loads of other fans seem to detest it. And then I saw two or three people on Twitter whole-heartedly defending the entire series against anybody who tried to say it was crap.

I’ve seen this type of defense multiple times on Twitter over the past few years. Specifically, I’ve heard people celebrating both the multi-ethnic cast and the fact that the action has gotten progressively sillier and sillier. Quite naturally, my interest rose from “Christ, no” to “Okay, sure, I’ll try it” as a result. But I really didn’t want to watch the franchise from the beginning because, like, ugh. So in the past couple of months, Mek and I started slowly working our way through the movies beginning with Fast & Furious (the fourth one). If you’re screaming at me for skipping Tokyo Drift, well, sorry, but I already knew all the important plot elements, and I couldn’t work up the interest in watching a film about that white Southern kid from The X-Files movie, now grown up and presumably a better driver than everyone in Japan–especially when I knew nothing good was gonna happen to the only character I actually was interested in.

My take thus far: Fast & Furious was enjoyable enough, despite them temporarily axing a character I didn’t want them to axe. I found Fast Five pretty forgettable, despite the introduction of The Rock. And then we watched Fast & Furious 6.

This one, well. This one was ridiculous enough to merit a (relatively) short review.

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“Sir, Ethan Hunt is the Living Manifestation of Destiny.”

About four years ago, my sister, my buddy, and I all went to the movie theater to see Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. I had almost zero expectations at the time, having not been invested in the series since, oh, 1996, and surprised myself by really enjoying it. So, of course, we had to go see Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. (Although, according to some annoying blogger and his wife, Shirtless Tom Cruise is the only reason we REALLY went.)

I’m not sure if I liked it more than Ghost Protocol or not, but one way or the other, I had a pretty great time.

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The 2014-2015 TV Superlatives

So, at the end of every calendar year, I make my annual list of Book Superlatives and Movie Superlatives. But the thing is, I watch TV too, like, a lot of TV. So, I decided to try something new this summer: My Geek Blasphemy’s first TV Superlatives.

Unfortunately, I only came to this decision a few months ago, so I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember shit that happened on shows I watched, like, eight months ago. Because the TV Superlatives are going to work a little differently than the my other lists, as TV is a total pain in the ass medium that you judge season by season — and those seasons might begin in fall, winter, spring, or summer, and may or may not be contained in one calendar year.

So. Shows qualifying for the 2014-2015 TV Superlatives will have to have premiered somewhere between June 2014 and June 2015. This will cover all normal fall and winter TV shows. As far as tricky spring/summer shows go, well, Game of Thrones Season 4 will not qualify because it premiered in April of 2014, but Season 5 will, because it aired in April of 2015, even though it didn’t end until after June. Meanwhile Season 4 of Teen Wolf will qualify, but not the currently airing Season 5 or the previous Season 3B.

Everybody got it? Excellent. Let’s begin.

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