TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2021

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

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

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether it’s currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings. I may discuss events from past seasons, however, without such a warning. Which is to say, I won’t spoil any of Nancy Drew, Season 3, without a big heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 or S2 are totally fair game.

Shall we begin?

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Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Happy Death Day 2U, Cube, and Mayhem

Okay, I know. Halloween is over. Guess what? Horror Bingo continues until there’s a winner, and so far, it’s still neck and neck. The stakes are high! (There are literally no stakes of any kind.)

Happy November. Let’s twist this.

Happy Death Day 2U

Hdd2U GIF by Happy Death Day 2U - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2019
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Happy Death Day 2U is an interesting sequel in that it slightly genre hops from “horror comedy with an SFF plot device” to “SFF comedy with vague slasher leanings.” I don’t know that it totally works for me, though. I really enjoy the embrace of parallel dimensions–it’s always fun to see what’s the same and what’s different in any given universe–but I’m also a tiny bit bummed by just how much of a backseat the whole slasher part takes. I was also a little disappointed when I realized that only Tree would get caught in the parallel dimension time loop. That’s what I’d been initially expecting, mind you, but then we began the movie with Ryan caught in his own time loop, and I had just long enough to think, Oh, that’s so INTERESTING, before we essentially just restarted Happy Death Day in Earth 2.

That being said, Tree’s reaction to realizing she’s back in the loop? Priceless. I still like Jessica Rothe as Tree, and a lot of the humor still works for me. (Some, admittedly, is a bit goofy for my tastes.) The emotional beats work too, mostly: I like that Tree is tempted to stay, though sometimes the swelling background music is trying way too hard; also, I definitely don’t care enough about Tree/Carter to make the World Where Mom is Alive vs. World Where Carter is My Boyfriend even remotely a debate. I also enjoyed getting to see the nicer, less homicidal Lori, though I do wish we had more time to spend on Comic Relief Scientist Friends.

I’m also still a little unsure about, well, most of the time/dimension mechanics, honestly. Why, exactly, was Ryan in a time loop again? Tree got stuck in hers when the quantum machine went off, but I don’t think it went off again, so . . . not sure? Also, while Alternate Ryan is interesting, I don’t know if he makes much sense, especially considering we get 2 Ryans in Earth 1, but only 1 Tree in Earth 2. I’m curious, too, about Alternate Tree, like, I get that her mind went traveling when our Tree came into the picture, but did she actually come back? Does she remember what happened to her? Would she have been stuck forever if our Tree decided to steal her life? It’s possible I missed some of these explanations, and even if I didn’t, I’m sure many would consider them nitpicks. But IDK. In some ways, Happy Death 2U is kinda intriguing; in other ways, I feel like there’s just so much more it could’ve played with and explored.

Cube

Year: 1997
Director: Vincenzo Natali
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, in this paragraph and in the trailer above
Grade: Vanilla

Cube came out when I was about 12, and I haven’t seen it since I was, IDK. 13? 15? It’s the first horror film I can think of, offhand, that uses an escape-the-booby-trapped-room set up; it’s also the oldest film I can remember that uses the Razor Floss death trope, which became popular a few years later. (Though if you can think of older films, please do let me know in the comments.) It’s definitely influential, and I can see why it’s gained something of a cult following. (Plus two sequels, neither of which I’ve watched.)

Some parts of this movie hold up better than others. I won’t pretend I can speak expertly about good autistic rep, but everything I’ve ever read suggests that the autistic savant character is a frustrating stereotype, one that’s become dominant in film and television since Rain Man. Some of the scene transitions are kinda laughable. Also, some of the actors are notably better than their costars, though I did have fun playing spot the actor. When I first watched Cube, the only person I knew was Nicole de Boer, who was on DS9. Now, I also recognize Nicky Guadagni from Ready or Not, David Hewlitt from Stargate: Atlantis, and Julian Richings, That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada. (You may also remember him from Urban Legend, which I just reviewed a few weeks ago.)

Still, it’s a fun concept and easily watchable, if you don’t mind how awful some of these characters are. Leaven, in particular, is so much worse than I remember, both incredibly whiny and also just a total jackass to Kazan. I enjoy how Quentin, a cop, is initially presented as the calm Good Guy, only for him to slowly reveal his true nature: namely, Sexist Murderous Dick. After all, the traps only kill 2 people; Quentin, himself, kills 3. I also like the twist that the rooms themselves are moving around. (Which, uh, the trailer just straight up spoils? Way to go, trailer.)

Cube is never gonna hit my personal Top Ten, but its influence cannot be denied, and it’s worth a watch if you also enjoy this type of horror. (Also, there’s apparently a new Japanese remake? Ooh, I hope it becomes available in the US. I want to check it out!)

Mayhem

Year: 2017
Director: Joe Lynch
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mildly
Grade: Vanilla

I mean, look. I could watch Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving running around being chaotic neutral all day. They’re pretty delightful here, talking metal bands and Dave Matthews Band in between murdering people with power saws. This premise promises, well, mayhem, and it certainly delivers on that front. There were definitely moments I laughed out loud, although annoyingly, I’m having trouble remembering specific ones right now. I did love the moment when Derek confronts The Reaper in his office. Also, Ewan asking, “Do you think I like the taste of kale?” Heh.

As an actual satire, I do feel like it’s missing something. Maybe it’s because I feel like there’s something of a missed opportunity with all the other mistreated coworkers, who are by and large just around for background gags or to act as no-name henchmen. Maybe it’s because almost everyone on the board of directors acts normal, despite the fact that they’ve also been infected. The only person really acting any different is our chief villain, John (AKA, The Boss), and even then he’s mostly just yelling more and doing a lot of cocaine. The film would be stronger, I think, if none of the bosses were infected, especially if they proved to be just as violent without the excuse of an infectious, inhibition-removing disease. I also can’t help but feel like Derek Cho is resting a lot on the legal precedent of one case, as if America’s justice system is just gonna automatically treat a person of color the same as some white guy.

So, yeah, I do think the satirical aspects of this script could be stronger. (Also, the accents, which is totally not a big deal, but like. Couldn’t this just have been an international company?) OTOH, if you’re mostly watching to see Steven Yeun absolutely flip his shit or Samara Weaving add another notch to her Fun Violent Ladies On Screen belt–and let’s be real, that’s absolutely why I watched it–I mean, yeah, it’s totally a decent movie to check out.

“Say Goodbye To Classical Reality.”

I have something of a hit-and-miss relationship with John Carpenter’s work. I adore The Thing. I like Big Trouble in Little China. Escape from New York is enjoyable enough, but ultimately, I liked Snake Plissken more than the actual movie itself. Halloween is a classic that I don’t love nearly as much as I’m supposed to, and The Fog, unfortunately, really didn’t much for me. All I remember about Vampires is that it was goddamn dreadful.

Today–as my first reward essay for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon–we’ll be discussing John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which, I can tell you right now, is not destined to be one of my favorites. But there are aspects of this movie that I find really intriguing.

Let’s talk about them, shall we?

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World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “Mirror, Mirror”

People. Compatriots. Fellow nerds across the galaxy. I am extremely pleased to report that we have officially hit one of the most iconic Trek episodes of all time, the episode that first introduced us to the Mirror Verse and–more importantly–Spock’s Beard of Evil. This is the episode that actually created the whole Evil Counterparts Have Goatees trope. This, my friends, is television history.

It also happens to be one of my favorite TOS episodes to date.

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

A Wrinkle In Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kong: Skull Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more random notes:

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

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

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

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

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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

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

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

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

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

World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “The Alternative Factor”

I assumed that “Mirror, Mirror” would be TOS’s first foray into the subject of parallel universes, but apparently, I was wrong: “The Alternative Factor” is not, as I initially suspected, some sci-fi parable about false alien prophets and resurrection, but a story about the dire consequences of meeting your own parallel self.

I’d really like to say it’s a good story about meeting your own parallel self, but, well. I’ve never been much of a liar.

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