TV Superlatives: September, October, and November – 2019

I didn’t watch as much TV this autumn as I have in months past, probably because I spent a good chunk of that time watching scary movies for Horror Bingo instead. (And, like, also writing. I do that too, occasionally.) Regardless, it’s time for another round of my seasonal TV Superlatives!

Here’s your quick catch-up for how these work:  I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Favorite Fight Scene, Least Favorite Ship, Chief Asshat, etc. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked.

As a reference point, here are the shows I’ve been watching for the past few months:

Wu Assassins
Hotel Del Luna
Barry (Season 1)
The Good Place (Season 4)
Nancy Drew
She-Ra (Seasons 3 and 4)
The Mandalorian
Busted! (Season 1)

Let’s get started, shall we?

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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 Spooky Scoop Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hostel, and The Legend of Hell House

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Absolutely, and not just for this film. I will also heartlessly spoil Alien, Aliens, Scream, AND Halloween
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed this. I wish I could judge it against the 1956 film, but unfortunately, I haven’t watched that movie since I was 16 (studying McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare in US History, natch), and while I liked it at the time, I remember very little about the film now. Still, this 1978 remake is a lot of fun, and hey, look at all these people in it! Jeff Goldblum as a spiteful and atypically charmless writer! Leonard Nimoy as the evil psychiatrist version of Spock! (I’m specifically thinking of “This Side of Paradise.”) Robert Duvall as some rando priest on the swings! (It’s an uncredited cameo.) And, of course, Donald Sutherland as our fluffy-haired love interest turned doomed protagonist. I can’t believe I’ve finally seen the movie for this GIF! (You might think said GIF would’ve been a spoiler, but since I almost always see it in a “no, God, not YOU” context, I didn’t realize what was going to happen until right before it did.)

Also? Veronica Cartwright is the actual final girl here! Sure, things aren’t looking great for her right now, but nevertheless, Nancy is a side character–the second female lead, even–who makes it further than anyone else in the film, and I am fascinated by that. Try to think of other horror movies where that even happens. It’d be like Halloween where Annie makes it instead of Laurie. Or Tatum outliving Sidney in Scream, or Vasquez surviving Aliens when Ripley does not. (Or hell, Veronica Cartwright herself in Alien.) It’s pretty much just not a thing, is my point. Besides, Nancy’s really clever: she’s the one who figures out how to evade detection, successfully continues doing so when Elizabeth cannot, and hey, she likes to read! I’m extremely excited to add Nancy to my list of Interesting Final Girls.

There are, admittedly, a few moments that are pretty hard to take seriously, like the mutant dog or how it initially looks like Earth is being invaded by space sperm. On the other hand, the scene where Donald Sutherland takes an axe to his own half-formed pod face is pretty great, and the moment when Elizabeth crumples apart is surprisingly sad. It’s always great when a horror movie can hit you with surprise Feels, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers successfully does this for me.

Hostel

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Strawberry

I first watched Hostel (and reviewed it*) way back in 2010, and at the time, I really enjoyed the movie. But I also hadn’t seen it in several years, and had a sneaking suspicion that I’d feel differently about it now. My suspicions proved accurate.

Even now, I still don’t hate Hostel. But things have changed in the past decade, and one of those things is my tolerance for watching assholes be assholes for any elongated period of time. We’re with these dudes for about 40 minutes before we really get what we came for, and while it does make sense to have a lengthy first act when the bulk of your horror is  gory, torture-based violence . . . like, who wants to sit through 40 minutes of these little shitheads running around, being jerks, and seeing a truly improbable number of tits? (Jesus God, the ludicrous amount of tits in this movie.) It seems like there are two ways to fix this: either make these characters a lot more likable, or have Oli and Josh go missing much earlier in the film, putting the focus on Paxton as Amateur Detective rather than Paxton, Infuriating Dick.

Other problems I have with Hostel: a) Paxton’s backstory, not because of the backstory itself but because of just how lazily it’s dumped into the script, like, this is a teachable moment on How Not To Handle Exposition, b) how Josh, our only gay** and non-villainous character, dies, and c) Kana’s suicide, because come on, what the actual fuck. If she’d decided to kill herself months or even days after the fact, okay, that’s one thing, but to have her jump in front of a train here, just five minutes after escaping, because half her face is fucked up? Thanks, I hate it. Honestly, I hated this ten years ago, too, but when I read that the actress thought it was plausible, I tried giving it the benefit of the doubt. No more. This is total bullshit. Absolutely cannot deal.

All that being said, there are still things I like about this movie. For instance, that Achilles tendon shot remains fucking iconic. I think it’s interesting that Paxton is the only person you actually see murder anyone on screen. (Well, except for the Bubblegum Sociopath Street Gang, of course. I still kinda adore these random violent little children.) I actually like a lot about Paxton, if not Paxton himself: his ability to speak German, his revenge scene, his general ingenuity when it comes to survival. (Not to mention, Jay Hernandez’s performance; he’s pretty great in this.) Again, this is fascinating trope subversion because Paxton seems like the kind of asshole who gets killed off halfway through, when instead that’s Josh, our shy, asthmatic Nice Guy. Josh is such an obvious Final Boy that I really enjoy his surprise death–or would, anyway, if it weren’t for the Bury Your Gays thing.

*As always, the older the post, the more horrified I am by it. I do stand by some of my opinions in this review (I’m not linking to it; you can find it if you really want to), but I’ve also grown as both a writer and a feminist, and some of this review is just hideously painful to reread. It’s particularly jarring, too, because I mention some things about myself that just blatantly aren’t true . . . only I hadn’t realized that yet. Ah, the slow, frustrating process of self-discovery.

**Josh’s sexuality is not directly stated, but it is heavily implied.

The Legend of Hell House

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

I enjoyed The Legend of Hell House when I watched it on a whim last year, but I think I might’ve enjoyed it even more on the second go-round. The things that bothered me then still bother me now, unfortunately: like, the (apparently toned down) erotic hauntings are total bullshit. The only reason Ann is even here is so that someone can get possessed by a horny ghost. (You’ll notice it’s always the women who are getting “sex-possessed” in these movies.) The character literally does nothing plot relevant, not once, and considering this story really only has four characters? Come on. Florence, at least, is extremely plot-relevant, but she also decides to have sex with Daniel the Friendly Ghost in order to free his spirit, or something–only to find out that Daniel never actually existed; instead, Florence gets raped and possessed by Evil Belasco’s Ghost.

So, yeah. That’s . . . that’s a lot. But there is genuinely a lot to enjoy, too: the premise is basically my dream story, like, a scientist, a psychic, and a traumatized sole survivor–who’s also psychic–are hired to uncover the mysteries of the spooky haunted house? People, I’m in love. I also really like how this movie deals with physical mediums versus mental mediums and how our skeptical scientist does believe in psychic energy and scientific exorcisms; he just doesn’t believe in actual ghosts. I enjoy all of the trances and hauntings that aren’t based in shitty erotica, like, there’s some decent atmosphere in this movie. Young Michael Gough as Evil Preserved Corpse is perfectly creepy. And the mystery of “Who Is Actually Haunting Us?” is pretty fun throughout, although I will say that I’d like the “multiple ghosts” theory better if the mediums came across a fake ghost besides Daniel. (Say, Evil Belasco was impersonating someone Ben knew from the last expedition.) Also, while I quite like that it was Belasco All Along, the big reveal about his homicidal Napoleon Complex is, I think, pretty underwhelming. Although credit where credit’s due: the clues leading up to this in Ben’s backstory are pretty expertly handled.

The Legend of Hell House doesn’t always get a ton of love (at least, not when compared to other classic haunted house movies) and clearly there are things I’d like to change. But I honestly do think it’s a pretty neat take on the sub-genre and well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.

Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Ghost Story, The Wailing, and The Purge: Anarchy

Ghost Story

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

So, I like parts of this. I can’t really judge it as an adaptation because while I’ve technically read the novel, that was roughly 15-20 years ago, and I remember very little about it now. I knew a bunch of old dudes (AKA, the Chowder Society) liked to meet up and tell ghost stories. I knew spooky supernatural shit would happen. And I remembered that I was disappointed by the novel’s resolution, though for the life of me, I can’t recall what troubled me about it. But that’s about it.

I enjoy the movie’s setup: an elegant old school horror society, a secret coming back to haunt them, a second generation drawn into the mystery, etc. (Although I think it would’ve been way more awesome to see the wives get involved in the investigation, too.) I like the revelation that Eva was still alive when she went into the water–frankly, these geriatric assholes deserve to die–and I enjoy how the film’s conclusion cuts between Ghost Eva menacing a helpless Don and Ricky finally revealing Eva’s rotting corpse. It’s also just neat to see these cinematic legends here, like, Fred Astaire in a horror movie! How cool is that?

Still, on the whole, Ghost Story isn’t my favorite. A lot of that’s due to writing and poor adaptational choices: the idea of ghost servants, for instance, is interesting on the surface, but Gregory and Fenny Bates have little actual purpose in this story. Fenny murdering Sears is an especially big letdown, and hey, whatever happened to this feral child, anyway? There are a number of logic leaps that annoy me, too, like when Don decides his fiancee isn’t “real,” despite the fact that all evidence at this point indicates a mentally ill woman with, like, a thyroid condition to explain her occasionally low body temperature. I mean, come on, Alma had a job! Other people saw her! I get that she literally ghosted him and all, but nothing that Don’s experienced thus far should make him think “ghost” yet. I also have no idea why Eva is so desperate to marry either Don or David, like, at first I assumed she needed someone to physically take her across the Milburn threshhold, but that’s clearly not the case, so, yeah, IDK. Also, what triggers the haunt to begin now? Don gives us some offhand bullshit about how decades of the Chowder Society’s ghost stories has given Eva/Alma’s spirit power or something, but man, they don’t sell that at all.

And unfortunately, the writing isn’t my only problem here. While most of the acting is fine (Alice Krige is enjoyable as Eva, and I like all the old men, especially John Houseman as The Asshole Friend), I find Craig Wasson as Don very hard to take seriously. Some of the scares are pretty laughable, and sure, 1981, but man, David’s death scene is ridiculous. (Points, I guess, for the surprising full-frontal shot? Sadly, Alice Krige has to be naked about 78 more times, so let’s not pretend this is equal opportunity nudity here.) The pacing is off. The score doesn’t fit the film at all. It’s just kind of a hot mess.

The film did provide some generation gap amusement, though. These fancy old fuckers are whining that men will soon only wear ties to wedding and funerals; meanwhile, Mekaela and I were completely baffled by Edward’s reaction to his son’s appearance. Dude basically says, “Don, you look like a hooligan!” And we’re like ” . . . uh, he’s wearing a sweater?”

The Wailing

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: YES
Grade: Chocolate

I didn’t know a lot about The Wailing before watching it. I knew it was critically beloved. I knew there was a mystery element of some kind. And I knew it was long, like, not quite It: Chapter 2 long, but pretty close. Good news, though: I really enjoyed this one! It’s lengthy, yes, but I was quickly engaged in the story, and while the pace is slow, it’s also steady, never dragging unnecessarily or crashing to a halt at the halfway point. I enjoy the blend of mystery and horror; even the comedy works for me, which I find interesting because similar comedy didn’t work for me at all in The Host. The acting here is great, too; Kwak Do-Won gives a strong, multi-layered performance as our protagonist, and I really enjoy Kim Hwan-Hee as his possessed daughter: she has some amazing facial expressions.

Until that final act, where both Old Japanese Dude and Mysterious Woman seem shady AF, I was pretty confident that Old Japanese Dude wasn’t the bad guy because a) I was getting shades of “mob justice dooms us all” themes almost right away, and b) I had Mysterious Woman near-immediately pegged as a ghost, and I was all, Oh, no, she’s totally leading these guys into killing the one dude trying to help. But then Mysterious Woman insists she’s been protecting them, and I’m like, Well, shit. Now I don’t know WHAT the fuck to think. This part of the film was spectacularly well done. Also, like Jon Snow, I clearly know fuck-all since I was so obviously wrong about literally everything.

I am still trying to decide how I feel about a few things. I find myself wanting to know more about how that trap works: how does Jong-Goo returning home ruin it, exactly? Is it comparable to breaking a line of salt? Much more importantly, what would’ve happened if he had waited? How would it have stopped Hyo-Jin from killing everyone? I haven’t fully decided how I feel about the shaman yet, either; his secret villainy does seem a bit convenient to me, but to be fair, dude absolutely does come off as shifty throughout; he just seems more like a potential scam artist than, IDK, Devil’s helper? Maybe that’s the problem I’m having, the fact that I don’t really know the shaman’s relationship to the demon. It makes his villainous turn feel a bit out-of-nowhere, although I’m not certain that it actually is: an exorcist getting rich while working with his supposed enemy does, of course, make a certain grim capitalist sense.

It’s difficult. Sometimes, we need more than one viewing to fully appreciate a story’s layered complexity, not to mention that as long as we tell stories, we’ll almost certainly argue about how much information needs to be revealed in order to make a story successful versus being lazy, a cheat, or weak. And, of course, we can’t overlook the cultural component, either: as an American, I’m an outsider looking in here, and that obviously influences my perception of the film. One notable example: basically every character in this movie uses a slur to refer to the Old Japanese Dude, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a factor into how quickly I latched onto the “mob justice” narrative. But it’s also important for me to remember that America and Japan have a very different history than Korea and Japan. Also important: my knowledge of Korean mythology and folklore is extremely limited, which means that exposition I might consider necessary (like the nature of that trap, or the upper body/lower body symbolism of stolen items) is information that Korean audiences might not require at all. It’s not that my ignorance makes me a bad person or anything, but expecting a foreign film to stop their story just to give global audiences Folklore 101 is probably an ethnocentric dick move.

I will say, however, that no matter how much I learn, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied by the police officer who, I guess, is too horrified to point out the pictures/stolen items he discovered while they’re at the Old Japanese Dude’s cabin. And then Jong-Goo doesn’t even come back until the next day, and he’s upset because the guy burned all the incriminating evidence? Of course he did, you worthless sonofabitch. I mean, I genuinely do feel bad for this guy, but also? Nope. All the nope.

The Purge: Anarchy

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

Believe it or not–and by now, you probably will–this is actually the first time I’ve seen any of the Purge films. What surprised me here is the genre itself: this has elements of horror, I suppose, but mostly, Anarchy just feels like an action movie, especially when we get to the Most Dangerous Game portion of the evening: the Sergeant kicks rich people ass, while our other survivors twiddle their thumbs for 15 minutes. I’ll admit, it’s not my favorite section of the movie: the Sergeant just isn’t interesting enough to dominate this much screen time. He’s so one-note, it’s not even funny; I genuinely don’t know why we waited the whole movie to confirm that, yep, he’s out here to murder the man who killed his son. Surely everyone understood this within the first 15 minutes? Surely?

Despite the lack of horror, I think this universe is pretty fun. Outlandish, sure, but I’ve said it before: I’ll take most wacky premises, so long as they’re given upfront. And it’s fun, contemplating what you’d do during the Purge: I can tell you what I sure as shit wouldn’t do, though, and that’s go to the grocery store the evening before, like, you assholes, you’ve had a year to plan for this. (The wife grew on me, and I liked that she stayed with the rebels. The whiny ass husband did not grow on me, and I clapped when he died.) But yeah, there’s a lot in this universe to play with, and I really find myself wanting to know more about how things specifically work. Like, I know emergency services are out for the evening, but what about long-term/gravely ill patients who can’t be discharged? Are they just left to die, or are there, like, secret underground hospitals somewhere? (I would 100% be up for a crossover between The Purge and Hotel Artemis, BTW.) Conventional horror movie wisdom insists the former, but personal experience and anecdotal evidence from real life natural disasters suggest otherwise. I kinda want to see sequels where specific communities (rather than individual families and/or random strangers) work together to survive the night. I’m also wildly interested in the story about the morning-after clean-up crew. You think I’m joking, but I’m dead serious: I would watch the shit out of that movie.

There are a shocking amount of people I recognize here, mostly in very small roles. I knew Justina Machado would be in this, and mourned her character’s death accordingly. Michael K. Williams was a delightful surprise, as was John Beasley, Edwin Hodge, and Lakeith Stanfield. (I specifically liked Stanfield because his character was just a morally bankrupt kidnapper-for-hire. Like, why aren’t there more thieves running around? Why is it only bloody murder and attempted rape here?)

A few final thoughts:

A. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul were absolutely fine in this movie, but I immediately started daydreaming about a fanfic crossover where Penelope and Elena Alvarez from One Day at a Time replaced their characters. I’m now trying to come up with a semi-likable Unhappy Married Couple and a Mournful Badass who’s more interesting than Sergeant.

B. I kinda enjoy that the Sergeant’s mercy is what saves him in the end, but I hated Big Daddy’s whole “we can’t have heroes” speech, like, dudes, come on. Even for me, this is too on the nose.

C. I find it very difficult to hear “purge” as a verb and not think of vomiting, which means I had trouble taking it seriously whenever a character, ominously holding a gun, would say something like, “I’m here to purge,” or whatever.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Babadook, It Follows, and Jennifer’s Body

Yes, my friends, victims, and mortal enemies, it is that most wonderful time of the year again: October, the Month of Halloween. There are people that only celebrate Halloween on the actual day, of course, or the weekend before. Those people are fools. Pity them.

Mekaela and I have instituted a new game this year: HORROR BINGO. We’ve written down a variety of scary movies to choose from–nostalgic favorites, recent sequels and remakes, horror masterpieces that basically everyone but me has seen–and thrown them into a glass skull jar to be chosen one by one. I’m afraid to inform you all that, thus far, I’m nowhere near bingo. Still, my sheet is not entirely without potential. Keep your fingers crossed for drawing Us or Cabin in the Woods soon.

The Babadook

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

Yes, it’s true: I really hadn’t watched The Babadook until just last week. This is going to be something of a recurrent theme all month, I expect, so just prepare yourselves now. Because you have to understand: I love horror, I do. It’s just that I love bad horror so much–it’s like comfort food–that if I’m given the choice, I’m much more likely to say, “You know, it’s been a long day. Why don’t we save the critically acclaimed and inevitably depressing film for tomorrow and instead watch Naughty or Dead IV: The Final Kringle. Santa’s come back from Hell, and this time he has six more names on his list!”

Man. I would watch the hell out of that movie.

The point is, I finally watched The Babadook, and it’s pretty great. I don’t know that I’d ever feel any particular need to rewatch it, exactly–even when I’m in the mood for serious scares, psychological horror has never actually been my favorite flavor of the genre–but I can definitely appreciate how well-crafted it is. Director Jennifer Kent does a phenomenal job here: building the tension inch by inch, then flipping the script halfway, so that we begin with a monster child and transition to a monster mother. I really love how this movie presents motherhood, too: it doesn’t flinch back at all from showing how much parenthood well and truly sucks sometimes. Mothers especially, I think, are rarely allowed to be anything other than mothers in film and television; either they don’t have any interests, passions, or concerns outside of their kids–my BAY-BEE, Claire from Lost still screams endlessly in my head–or they’re simply never allowed to show any resentment towards their children. A mother who sometimes does not like her child, a mother who feels regret or doesn’t believe her kid is the greatest gift she’s ever been given, is a Bad Mother in most stories. The Babadook, however, rejects such a narrative. We’re invited to sympathize with Amelia over and over. Even after she’s been possessed, even after she kills the dog, Amelia is a victim here, not a villain.

The acting is also fantastic: Essie Davis really goes through this incredible transformation right before your eyes, and Noah Wiseman was what, like, six when he starred in this? That’s bullshit; you’re not supposed to be this talented at six. It’s rude, goddamn it. And, of course, the Babadook himself is not just a queer icon; he’s also creepy AF, and I’m a little obsessed with his top hat. Also, that book, like, damn. I’ve never particularly cared about owning first editions, but man, this is a first edition I’d actually be super excited to have.

What really makes The Babadook work for me, though, is just how well it nails the ending. I assumed we’d get something boring like this: Amelia kills small child, then gets arrested, then gets thrown into an outdated insane asylum, and then–just as we’re wondering if she was really crazy all along–we get one last jump scare and murdered orderly and a big evil grin. Instead of that predictable nonsense, we get a resolution that’s far more thoughtful and original. Amelia is successfully exorcised, but the Babadook cannot be banished entirely. Thus in our mostly-happy denouement, the Babadook lives in the basement, subsisting on the worms Amelia feeds him, still violent and terrifying and needing daily attention. And what I love about that, besides the fantastic blend of positive change and lingering consequence, is that this ending works whether you take the Babadook as a literal monster (as I am often wont to do) or simply as a manifestation of Amelia’s grief (something that she can never fully let go of, something that must be both accepted and constantly fed). This ending ties the whole story together and makes everything that came before just that much more powerful.

It Follows

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

I’d actually hoped to see It Follows in theater way back in 2014 . . . and yet somehow here we are, five years later. I continue to fail this city.

I liked this one, though I feel like I might need to see it a few more times to decide exactly how much I like it. It’s certainly creepy: the opening act, the various shots of the unnamed it walking in slow motion. Wonderful cinematography, and the music is awesome. I also quite liked the whole out-of-time feel to the story, how you can never quite pinpoint what decade it’s set in. I don’t think that would work for every movie, but I rather enjoy this film’s vague retro feel. The Halloween influence is certainly present, but It Follows still comes across as its own thing, which is nice.

What I also liked: a) Jay’s friends trying to help out, even when they don’t fully believe her, b) the little-to-no drama between said friends, c) how their third-act electrocution plan completely and utterly fails, and d) the surprisingly non-judgmental tone of the film. Like, I was pretty worried about that last one, considering the basic premise of this movie can be summed up by the words “ghost STDs.” Thankfully, I never really got the impression that It Follows was punishing Jay for the sin of having sex. That was a welcome relief.

However, that might simply be because this movie seems to have very little to say about sex at all, like, don’t get me wrong: less sex is usually a bonus for me, but . . . IDK. You sorta expect some kind of relevant theme to emerge when your story has a sex-based haunting mechanism, don’t you? If it’s here, however, I confess that I missed it, and weirdly, that’s a bit of a disappointment for me. Like, they have such a fantastically original premise, and yet it never quite feels like they bother saying anything with it. There’s also a bit more male gaze here than I would’ve hoped for: tame compared to an 80’s slasher, sure, but for real, did we really need that whole one exposed breast thing? Like, let’s just say that I didn’t need to check to know this was directed by a dude.

I’m also not entirely sure how I feel about the ending quite yet. It might grow on me, IDK. I really do like the last actual shot of Jay and Paul going down the street with a menacing figure walking some distance behind them. But I also feel like the ambiguity here–you know, what’s their plan, do they even have one, what will happen to them now, etc.–doesn’t totally work for me. It doesn’t feel so much deliberately open-ended as it does “we’re not sure how to solve this, so . . . let’s just be vague and creepy.” (Also, Paul himself has a sorta Nice Guy feel to him, and I think I was a little disappointed that nobody called him on it. I was way more invested in Jay’s relationship with her sister than with this kid.) To be fair, though, ambiguous resolutions just often aren’t my thing, so what doesn’t work for me here might work really well for a lot of other people.

Jennifer’s Body

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

Yes, this is yet another movie I’d planned to see upon its initial release–although in this case, my enthusiasm waned due to the veritable mountain of poor reviews it received, going from a “must-see” to a “I’ll get around to it, eventually.” Because I’m a failure of a human being, “eventually” turned out to be “a decade.” Fun fact: Adam Brody apparently hasn’t aged in about ten years. Again, rude, right? Like, what an asshole.

There’s a lot I enjoy about this: a fair bit of the humor (“lasagna with teeth”), a lady monster, unexpected cameos, J.K. Simmon’s unexplained hook hand, Satanist indie rock musicians, etc. (Seriously, that whole scene where they sacrifice Jennifer? Man, I was dying.) I really like the ending, too, with Needy telekinetically busting out of the mental hospital to enact bloody revenge on Low Shoulder. All end credits should feature violent murders, like, it should just be a rule.

Still, I can’t help but feel something’s missing here. It’s the friendship between Jennifer and Needy, I think; the whole story hangs on it, and I never quite buy it, mostly because it seems like the movie is trying to sell too many different dynamics in too short a time. Are they unlikely BFFs who will do anything for each other? Is their friendship toxic and manipulative? Is Needy secretly in love with Jennifer? Obviously, people don’t fit in easy boxes and relationships of any kind can be complicated, but the dynamic here doesn’t feel complicated to me; it feels short-changed and confused. The romantic stuff, for instance: a story about a girl who doesn’t know if she platonically loves her best friend or is In Love with her best friend is a totally valid and interesting one to tell, but to me, it feels shallow here, underdeveloped. The Kiss (well-shot as it is) mostly just comes across as an excuse for some Hot Wicked Bisexual Trope Time, which, come on. Must we?

Meanwhile, when Needy accuses Jennifer of always being a terrible friend, well, sure, that rings true because Jennifer has proven herself to be kind of the worst, even before she was possessed by a literal demon. Unfortunately, that’s both a) kind of dull–admittedly, a matter of opinion, but I’ve grown pretty bored of most toxic girl friendship stories–and b) really pushing the audience to embrace the dissolution of this friendship rather than mourn its loss. Which would be fine if this was a Friend Overcomes Emotional Abuse empowerment story, but that’s not really the impression I get from this ending. Consider the scene where Needy rips Jennifer’s BFF necklace off: the quick flashback to them as children and the way Jennifer, betrayed, goes still and empty and slowly falls back to the bed. It’s a surprisingly lovely and powerful shot, and I am really into it, like, I’ve rewatched it at least three times now. And yet, I’m also not totally convinced that the movie has earned this scene. I want more buildup to that moment. I want to be super invested in these two as friends. I wanna feel that tragedy, but it’s just not quite working for me.

Jennifer’s Body has become a cult phenomenon, of course, and I agree that it’s a lot better than people gave it credit for back in 2009. I definitely had a good time watching it, and I could easily watch it again. It’s just that while the comedy is there for me, and the gore is there for me, The Feels, unfortunately, are a bit of an uneven letdown.

Triple Scoop Reviews: The Call, Event Horizon, and Ready Or Not

The Call

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Crap, I don’t even remember. Amazon, maybe?
Spoilers: Yes
Grade: Strawberry

So, I actually watched this with my folks shortly before I went on vacation, and initially, I was surprised by how much I was actually enjoying it. Like, some silly things, sure, but for the first, say, 2/3 of the film, I found it to be a surprisingly claustrophobic little thriller starring two female leads I was rooting for. Both Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin give strong performances here; I specifically like watching Berry balance her character’s ultra-competence with her semi-recent trauma. And the relationship between these two characters is interesting: Casey (Breslin) is fighting to survive and sees Jordan (Berry) as her only lifeline, while Jordan quickly gets over-invested, determined not to lose another caller. It’s actually a pretty interesting dynamic.

Unfortunately, things rapidly fall apart in the last, maybe, 15 or 20 minutes of the movie. For starters, we get a lot more of the serial killer’s backstory, which besides trying way too hard to be creepy–he’s scalping blondes that remind him of his dead sister (COD: cancer), who he had skeevy and presumably unrequited Lannister love for–it’s just not really what this movie’s about, like I don’t give a shit about Bobo the Serial Killer* and his bullshit psychology. Then, after she loses contact with Casey, Jordan takes it upon herself to go looking for her, which–while predictable–is both incredibly unrealistic and just kinda dumb. In its defense, I will say that if Jordan had been a dude, I suspect a lot less people would’ve complained about the realism because audiences have been trained to expect Heroic Male Action, no matter if it makes sense or not. Also, there is, admittedly, something pretty empowering about watching our two heroines repeatedly save one another and kick the shit out of Bobo the Serial Killer.

Still, when Jordan’s boss (Roma Maffia) tells her that her part in this unfolding drama is over, like, there’s actually something really compelling about that. How exciting would it have been if Jordan did just have to go home, and Casey, using something that Jordan taught her, kills her abductor and rescues herself? There could even be an awesome Powell-McClane meet-up moment at the end. I’d be really into that. But we don’t go that way, and worse, after our Empowering Beatdown of Bobo, The Call goes for a completely dumb and “edgy” twist where, instead of calling the cops, the ladies decide to tie up our bad guy and leave him to starve to death, which, like, look, I’m all about dark turns and vengeance stories, but the twist comes out of left field. It’s totally unsupported, and I just don’t buy it from either character at this point. It’s a hugely disappointing ending for a movie that, up till that last act, really wasn’t so bad at all.

*I couldn’t be bothered to look up the character’s name, but the actor, Michael Eklund, plays Bobo in Wynonna Earp, so Bobo the Serial Killer he became. It is, of course, another excellent band name.

Event Horizon

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

I watched this for the first time about nine years ago with my friend Denise, and until just now, I’d totally forgotten that I’d reviewed it before. (God, it’s so painful to read early reviews, both for writing skill and for shit I just wouldn’t say now. I still have high school journals I fear looking at.) Many of my general impressions are the same: fun, cheesy, gory SF in space. I like the movie, despite (or possibly because of) its flaws, like shitty mid-90’s CGI, occasional poor acting, excessive slow motion, etc. Though I do still wish we got more time with all our characters being properly tormented by their hell visions. Also, more time with Starck, who I like better this go-around but has very little to do, possibly because they cut some whole romantic arc between her and Miller.

I think my biggest takeaway this time is that Sam Neill’s character just doesn’t really work for me. Everybody starts hallucinating terrible shit, yeah, but no one starts turning evil or even really seems to change, personality-wise, because of it; no one, that is, except Dr. Weir (Neill). Which is weird because while he’s clearly an annoying, arrogant motherfucker, nothing he actually experiences really lends itself to this type of character arc. Like, the whole sad backstory of how his wife killed herself because he worked too much, or something? Yeah, it’s terrible, but at least I’d get it if Dr. Weir thought his dead wife was in the Hell Dimension and he was determined to find her, even if it killed everyone else. I’d get that. But instead, Weir quickly descends into villainous madness, you know, Because. And the whole backstory mostly seems to be an excuse for irrelevant creepy imagery and the opportunity to see Dead Wife’s boobs, which, uh, yay?

I have a surprising amount of nostalgia for this movie, considering that I didn’t see it until roughly fifteen years after its initial release, but I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing a remake now, maybe one that differentiated itself with not just better effects but a different tone: a little less cheese, a little more atmosphere.

Ready or Not

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: actual goddamn movie theater
Spoilers: Not this time (unless you look at the tags)
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed the hell out of this. As I already mentioned on my various social media accounts, Ready or Not is the most recent example of what’s swiftly becoming one of my favorite sub-genres of horror: “Welcome to the Family. Here There Be Bloodshed.” (There’s probably a more succinct, less pirate-y name for said sub-genre, but this is what I’ve got right now.) There are some definite You’re Next vibes here, of course–much with the Feels and dysfunctional family dynamics couched between all the comedy and gore–but there are differences, too, and not just plot ones. The jokes in You’re Next are less overt, I think; the horror played more straight. Meanwhile, Ready or Not is campier, but it’s smart, purposeful camp–not to mention, it’s just a really fun spin on that whole “The Most Dangerous Game” type of horror story.

I do have quibbles, of course, but they are very few and relatively minor and I can’t really discuss them without spoilers. Suffice it to say, they don’t take away from what I love about the film: great dialogue, delightful characters, and an utterly brilliant ensemble cast. Kristian Brunn and Melanie Scrofano (from Orphan Black and Wynonna Earp, respectively) are hilarious, as is Nicky Guadagni as Aunt Helene. I would cosplay her in a goddamn heartbeat; she is–as I’m sure many people have already pointed out–one Big Ass Mood. Henry Czerny was just born to play the rich asshole patriarch of this family, while Andie MacDowell is a lot of fun as his considerably more practical and competent wife. Adam Brody fucking excels at tragicomedy, like, I definitely wanna see more of this from him. And Samara Weaving just shines as Grace, who is funny and real and a terrific Final Girl. Weaving’s performance really stands out here, which–considering just how good this cast is–is all the more impressive.

I keep seeing reviews that stress how this movie isn’t anything new or original, even though it’s fun, and like . . . maybe, I guess? And if it’s not your thing, then it’s not your thing, and that’s totally okay. But while it’s always exciting when a film truly breaks the mold, not every movie has to be the next Get Out, you know? Besides, making a movie like this and making it well are two very different things. Tone is difficult. Balancing violence, Feels, and laughter is hard work. You really have to thread that needle, and, IMO, Ready or Not does a pretty great job with it.

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.

TV SUPERLATIVES: April and May, 2019

TV Superlatives are a pain in the ass. I love coming up with them–I kind of love superlatives in general–but it’s hard to keep up when there are, at any given time, 87 different TV shows to watch, and they can start any month and be any episode length, and available all at once or only week-to-week. I tried for a couple of years and eventually gave up.

Now, I’m going to try something new, and we’ll see if it works or not, but here it is: Quarterly TV Superlatives! Or, who knows, maybe Occasional TV Superlatives! Look, it’s a work in progress. But the idea is to discuss whatever TV I’ve been watching recently (whether it’s currently airing or not) and come up with fun awards like Best Musical Number, Worst Death, or Best Reaction to a Supposedly Dead Parent Coming Back to Life.

For today’s post, we’ll be focusing on the television I’ve been watching during, say, the past two months or so. Any spoilers, as always, will be clearly marked in the very hard-to-miss Spoiler Section.

With that all said, let’s get started, shall we?

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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

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

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

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

Hotel Artemis

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

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

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

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

Ocean’s Eight

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

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

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

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

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

The Last of Sheila

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

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

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

But. But. But.

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

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