TV Superlatives: June, July, August – 2020

It’s that time again! We must discuss only the most prestigious of TV Awards: Favorite Sidekick, Best Revenge, Most Horrifying Fashion, Favorite Ship, and more!

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching with such awards, whether they’re currently airing or not. 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:

Agents of SHIELD (Season 7)
Village Survival: The Eight (Season 2)
Star Trek (Season 2: Ep. 7-10)
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (June 7th – August 30th)
13 Reasons Why (Season 4)
Floor is Lava
Mystic Pop-Up Bar
Dear White People (Season 1)
Unsolved Mysteries (2020)
Dark (Season 3)
The Baby-Sitters Club
I Remember You (Hello Monster)
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Chip-In
Love in the Moonlight (Moonlight Drawn by Clouds)
Lovecraft Country (Ep. 1 – 3)
Running Man (er, just a bunch of random episodes from multiple seasons)

(You may notice that some shows have two titles listed. K-dramas usually have at least two, and sometimes my brain flip-flops helplessly between both. I’m going to attempt some consistency throughout these superlatives, but I make absolutely no promises.)

Also, clearly, it’s just . . . it’s a lot of K-Dramas, folks. MY LIFE HAS BEEN TAKEN OVER BY K-DRAMAS AND VARIETY SHOWS, AND I’M OKAY WITH IT.

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TV Superlatives: March, April, May – 2020

Well. All is chaos right now, and it’s an absurd time to be talking about TV Superlatives. Regardless, that’s what we’ll be doing here today because at MGB, we believe that when people could use a moment’s break or distraction, what they really want is 5000+ words about cartoons, Chinese dramas, and CW shows.

Still. Before we get to any of that, let me list a few of the many places you can donate to help protestors and support Black Lives Matter:

Black Lives Matter

Campaign Zero

Black Visions Collective

Know Your Rights Camp

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

National Bail Fund (with a Directory of Community Bail Funds)

Please feel free to comment with links to any other related organizations or crowdfunding campaigns that you think need attention/donations. Please do not comment to say “blue lives matter” or any other inane bullshit. Save that crap for your Facebook page that nobody wants to read.

And now for the main event: our Spring TV Superlatives!

A quick reminder 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 Most Adorable, Best Kiss, Most Unintentionally Hilarious Moment, 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:

The Untamed
Altered Carbon (Season 2)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 7)
Star Trek: Picard
Nancy Drew
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 5)
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
Nailed It (Season 4)
Harley Quinn (Season 2)
Kingdom (Season 2)
Medical Examiner: Dr. Qin (Season 1)
Village Survival: The Eight (Season 1)
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (Season 5)

Let’s get to it, shall we?

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

Shazam!

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

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

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

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

A few quick asides:

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

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

C. That last scene with Superman? Fucking amazing.

Joker

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

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

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

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

Little Women

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

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

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

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

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

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: Leprechaun, The Witch, and The Cell

Leprechaun

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yeah, but come on
Grade: Strawberry

Horror Bingo was briefly put on hold last week during the great Sonoma County Evacuation, but that doesn’t mean horror wasn’t achieved! Mekaela, Lindsey, and I ended up nostalgia-watching Leprechaun, and boy, is it just as bad as I remember.

I mean, okay, some of the comedy is obviously intentional. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the intentional comedy is actually funny. Honestly, it’s hard to know where to begin with this one. The terrible prologue. The ridiculous storyline. The overall poor acting. The “slow friend” as comedic device. The Leprechaun’s makeup. The fact that our painting crew is apparently painting the house fire engine red and bright blue, like, what the fuck even is that? Tori’s weird shorts, which even in the 90’s were a choice. Also: the truly tragic fact that Warwick Davis does not succeed in murdering our heroes because they’re all pretty awful; the only one I even halfway like is Alex, the precocious child, and honestly, that might just be because I remember the actor from Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. I would happily have pushed Jennifer Aniston’s character down a well, and her love interest, too. Oh, that whole “feminism” exchange is so, so painful.

Although credit where credit’s due: death by pogo stick is always genuinely hilarious. More pogo stick deaths, please!

The Witch

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

Well, My Geek Blasphemy is about to earn its name today: The Witch is one of the biggest horror movies of the decade, and unfortunately, I didn’t much like it.

I do like parts of it. It’s very well-shot, of course. The scene with the ravens is, ah, effectively memorable. (Poor Kate Dickie. Between this and Game of Thrones, I can’t imagine how many breastfeeding jokes she must get every day.) The performances by Anna Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw, and Kate Dickie are all very strong, and I kind of enjoy this movie’s whole “if Shakespeare wrote Puritan-horror” vibe–although I did have to concede defeat about twenty minutes in and put on subtitles because between the accents and the colonial American vernacular, I realized I was only catching maybe one word out of ten. I also genuinely enjoy this story’s pace. There aren’t a lot of negative reviews for The Witch, but the few complaints I did find were mostly about the film being slow and dull. Those were definitely not problems I had with the movie.

So, what didn’t I like? Honestly, I’m having trouble articulating that. Certain scenes are easy enough to point to: Caleb’s whole religious ecstasy–heavy emphasis on the ecstasy–sorta icks me out, and, like, not the good kind of ick? You know, maybe, let’s not with kids? But I have larger thematic problems, too. Like, I have never said this before, ever, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve enjoyed The Witch more if it was just a psychological horror film. If, say, Caleb came back from the woods all weird and dying, and we never knew exactly what happened to him out there, only that it sent the family into paranoid self-destruction . . . those were the moments I genuinely liked. That’s where I think the horror is most successful. And to be fair, I don’t hate all of the supernatural elements: Black Phillip was cool, also those ravens, and I did like the shot of the levitating witches–although they’re naked because of course they are. (See also: the witch who seduces Caleb with her extremely prominent and wicked breasts.) Which, I get it: the witches here are presented like they would’ve been in the 1600’s. Research, historical accuracy, blah blah, woof woof.

The problem is you’re telling this historical New England folktale in 2019, when I’m well-aware of what happened to the actual women accused of witchcraft in this era, and while I think you can tell a story about evil Satanic witches from the 1600’s, I’m not totally convinced you should. (I didn’t love how The Conjuring handled this, either, BTW.) At the very least, I don’t think this is the way to do it: surely, there must be a way to discuss/delve into/update these Puritanical fears without also embracing such awful misogynistic stereotypes. And I do think this movie embraces those stereotypes; since watching this film, I’ve come across at least three different articles praising the subversive feminism of The Witch, and if that was your takeaway, okay, I’m not trying to rip that from you. But personally, I came away with the exact opposite reaction, and ultimately, I think that’s because this is a “driven to evil” story that I just don’t buy.

There are ways Thomasin’s turn to Satan could’ve worked for me. For instance, I might’ve bought it if her motivation had been wholly pragmatic, the desperation to survive in this awful, barren landscape on her own. I might’ve bought it if she’d gone mad with vengeance and grief, if she’d needed the Devil to find and punish the twins who she’d come to blame for all of this. And sure, you can argue those are subtextual motivating factors, but they’re also pointedly not what Satan actually offers; instead, he pitches pretty dresses and the chance to live deliciously. (To be fair, wouldst thou like to live deliciously is a damn good line.) Because, you know. Thomasin mentioned missing stained glass windows that one time, and that’s how you get women: through materialism.

Likewise, I’ve seen it argued that Thomasin is making a baller power move here, that she and all those other floating, orgiastic witches in the woods are finally embracing their sexuality. But to me, all they’re really doing is validating the belief that without God, without men, women are both easily manipulated and spiritually vulnerable. They can be won over by shiny things, and they will grind up babies for beauty and power, and if they’re not vigorously protected from their baser instincts, they will lose themselves to their instinctual sexual mania, becoming wanton creatures capable of luring innocent boys to their deaths. Seriously. There are lots of ways to symbolically depict “embracing your sexuality,” but I can’t help but feel that a girl stripping down for a goat and joining a bunch of other writhing naked women ritualistically chanting their devotion to some eternal dude is, well, a very dude fantasy to have.

Ultimately, The Witch condemns religious paranoia while also making the argument for its justification, and that just doesn’t really sit right with me, thematically or morally.

The Cell

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

The Cell has a lot of problems; I know this. Some actors were spectacularly miscast, like, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a great scene stealer and Vincent D’Onofrio with his proto-Anton Chigurh haircut is dead-on, but Vince Vaughn as our FBI profiler dude? Honey, no. Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t have been my top choice for our psychologist heroine, either, but honestly, she’s not bad in the role; it’s how they use her that’s ridiculous, like, that scene where she’s in a shirt and panties and so ludicrously, so obviously posed next to the refrigerator? Ugh. Come on, dudes. Also, I can’t imagine this film’s depiction of schizophrenia is any more accurate or less offensive than most horror movies. And I just can’t get over this ending where Jennifer Lopez locks everyone out of the system, brings permanently comatose serial killer D’Onofrio into her mind, ends up mercy killing him–and then? Not only doesn’t she get arrested, not only does she keep her job, she somehow gets permission to bring the comatose child into her brain after she just murdered someone during that procedure!

Regardless, I have a lot of nostalgia for this movie; it kind of blew my mind when I was 15, and while the special effects have aged predictably poorly after 20 years, I still love a lot of the cinematography, fashion, and design. This shot for instance–maybe begin at the 2.17 mark–is still absolutely gorgeous. (Watch this whole clip if you’d like a lesson/reminder on the aesthetics of early 2000’s horror because this NSFW scene is strongly reminiscent of 2002’s Thir13en Ghosts.) All the art history inspiration is really cool, too: the creepy women in the sand, the fucked up horse, all the H.R. Giger shit. I like that Anne Marie, our current victim, figures out how to survive long enough to be saved by the FBI. And I’m just a sucker for this basic premise, like, it’s basically Inception meets Silence of the Lambs, and I am all about that. I’d have watched more standalone sequels in a heartbeat. Shit, I’d probably still watch those sequels, or maybe an updated remake, or, ooh, what about a whole TV show? (Okay, I think that’s basically what Reverie was, but despite the awesome presence of Sarah Shahi, that show didn’t even make it a full season. We can do better.) So, yeah, this one has serious flaws, but I still kinda treasure its surreal what-the-fuckery.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Conjuring, Insidious, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Well, I’d intended to post this a few days ago; however, due to the insane winds and the Kincade Fire up north, my sister and I had to evacuate over the weekend, along with nearly 200,000 other people in the county. I’ve gotta tell you: fire season is really doing its best to dampen my enthusiasm for what’s otherwise the greatest time of the year.

I’m back home now, though, and as of writing this, the Kincade Fire is contained at 45%. (Earlier, I mistakenly told people it was 45% when it was really 30%, and then maybe an hour later, it actually jumped to 45%. I’m pretty sure this just means I’m psychic now.) Hopefully, things will only continue to improve; in the meantime, it’s back to business as usual at My Geek Blasphemy, which is to say, more Horror Bingo!

Happy Halloween!

The Conjuring

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

I enjoyed this for the most part. It’s a decently creepy film with a lot of good scare moments, especially considering there’s very little bloodshed. Some bits that particularly stood out: many of the shots with the music box, the ghost perched on top of the wardrobe, the entire “hide and clap” game. I like that the haunting is spread out amongst the family: one girl has the invisible friend, one continuously sleepwalks into the wardrobe, etc. I also like there are multiple children: sure, these characters are based on real people, but families in horror movies usually consist of one, maybe two kids. Here we have five daughters, and that’s just kind of neat. I was also extremely relieved that Roger didn’t spend the entire movie insisting his family was imagining things. I’m very tired of the whole “woman is superstitious and scared/dude believes in facts and science” dynamic. In fact, the general lack of skepticism in this movie was a refreshing change of pace. And speaking of refreshing, hey, Drew made it out alive! This was also a delightful surprise.

There are things that don’t work so well for me, though. While I like everyone in the Perron family (Lili Taylor is my MVP here), I don’t always buy our actual exorcists. Patrick Wilson is often a hit-or-miss actor for me, but I’ll admit, Vera Farmiga was a surprise because I’ve liked her in just about everything I’ve seen. In Farmiga’s defense, though, some of that expository dialogue is pretty rough; for instance: Look, I’ve got to tell you, you have a lot of spirits in here, but this is the one I’m most worried about because it is so hateful. I genuinely don’t know if anyone could’ve pulled that line. I also didn’t love the whole “yeah, Salem witches were real witches who actually sacrificed their children to Satan” backstory because one, ick, and two, why? I’m not thrilled with the score, either: some of the “tense” music threw me out of the story, and the happy times music at the end was like something out of a Disney film. OTOH, I was kind of delighted–if utterly bemused–by the anachronistic appearance of Dead Man’s Bones halfway through the film. I’m always up for some Dead Man’s Bones.

I enjoyed The Conjuring enough to potentially check out the sequel, although I don’t have much interest in any of the Annabelle movies. Still, I kinda adore the fact that a relatively small haunted house movie was the starting point for this whole shared universe of horror.

Insidious

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

Huh. It appears we’re following up James Wan and Patrick Wilson with more James Wan and Patrick Wilson. Unfortunately, I don’t find Insidious nearly as successful as The Conjuring, and not just because it has that superstitious wife/skeptical husband dynamic that I was specifically hoping to avoid. I do like the basic story well enough. I also thought the first attempt to communicate with Dalton was pretty fun (holy shit, I love the medium’s gas mask), and everything in The Further looks pretty cool–even if I do think a name like “The Further” is trying way too hard, like, it just doesn’t feel natural. (Like when American Muggles became No-Majes, for example, and basically every American was all hard pass.) I also like that Patrick Wilson used to astral project as a child, though I think that particular reveal comes way too late, and I’m disappointed the movie doesn’t follow-through on exploring his repressed childhood trauma.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot that just doesn’t work for me on any level. For one, I don’t find this movie creepy at all. Basically none of the scares were scary: I laughed out loud at the opening credits when INSIDIOUS popped up on screen to the sounds of excessively dramatic violin, and sadly, things didn’t improve much from there. (Darth Maul the Ghost was not a turn of events I was expecting.) I’m bummed that Rose Byrne gets nothing interesting to do in the second half of the film; I’m even more disappointed that Lin Shaye bites it, something that surprised me–even though it shouldn’t have–because I knew she was in all the sequels. (In my defense, I didn’t know some of those films were prequels.) How awesome is it, I thought, to actually have an actress play a heroic character who a) survives multiple horror films, and b) is above the age of 60? What other franchise has done that? Poltergeist, maybe? (I don’t actually know; despite loving the original film, I never did see the sequels. Are they worth watching? Does Zelda Rubinstein make it through the whole trilogy?)

And while I don’t mind that Josh gets possessed, exactly–dude’s a weird combo of shifty, bland, and really annoying–I find the actual ending of the film fairly uninspired. Ultimately, this one’s just not my favorite.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no
Grade: Vanilla

The weirdest thing about this moody Iranian vampire-western is that it was filmed in Taft. Taft is a tiny ass town in Middle of Nowhere, California; it also just happens to be the place where I saw Rogue One on Christmas with my dad a few years back. This is not relevant to the film, of course, but it blows my fucking mind.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is interesting, and I haven’t totally made up my mind about it yet. It’s extremely well-crafted and something I’d recommend, but it’s also unlikely to be a personal favorite. (Well. Maybe. I don’t know. Some movies take time and space to sink in.) The overall pace is slow, which is fine, but I find myself itching to shave minutes off multiple scenes, like, it often takes four beats too long for my liking for anyone to actually use their words. It’s all intentional, of course; this movie is definitely a mood piece, and good God, it’s got aesthetic like whoa. The music, the filming, just the whole style of it . . . this movie has such voice, and that’s pretty cool. It’s also always awesome to see horror movies directed by women, and considering this was the first Iranian vampire film at all? Like, that’s just neat.

I do wish I cared a little more about the relationship between Arash and the Girl. I do like the role reversal here–boy vamps can be so boring–and the Girl herself is pretty awesome. She’s strange and eerie, particularly whenever she’s mimicking and/or trailing after someone–and of course, I’m all about her striped shirt, chador, and skateboard. That is some cosplay gold. And yeah, Arash is fine, too, with his whole James Dean thing going on, and I get it–two lonely people in the night–but still, I just can’t seem to make myself care about them together. They spend so little time with one another, like, it’s really only a few scenes, and after, well, events . . . I’m just not sure I totally buy the ending. Which is frustrating because I actually love the ending: it’s interesting and original, and you can see exactly what Arash is thinking and when he comes to his decision without him ever saying a word. It’s such a cool conclusion, but that doesn’t mean I buy it exactly, not from him, not quite yet.

I don’t know, dudes: ask me again in six months. I’m still mulling over here.

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

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

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

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

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

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

The Skeleton Twins

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

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

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

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

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

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

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

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

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

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.