Triple Scoop Review: Death on the Nile, The Batman, and Appointment With Death

Death on the Nile

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Year: 2022
Director: Kenneth Branagh
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: YES, for both the film and the book
Grade: Rocky Road

I mean. It’s watchable?  It’s a little weird watching it, mind you, considering the public trainwreck of a cast, up to and including Possible Cannibal Armie Hammer. Still, I like Agatha Christie stories, and I’m always a sucker for a whodunit, so I didn’t have a bad time watching this, just, whew, some of the choices they make. Why?

Let’s begin with World War I and The Secret Tragic Mustache History of Mr. Hercule Poirot, a real sentence that I’m really saying right now. We get non-canonical flashbacks to our hero as a soldier, which is . . . fine, I guess, and see that Poirot is A) typically brilliant, B) too brilliant to become a farmer, which is, uh, apparently what he’s planning to do after the war? And C) clean-shaven, at least until he gets kinda blown up, and his nice fiancée suggests that he grows a mustache if he hates his facial scars so much. And, I mean. None of that’s awful. I probably wouldn’t blink twice at it in a non-Hercule Poirot story, but here it just feels so silly, like finally, AT LONG LAST, we learn the Secret History of the Ridiculous Mustache—a question that absolutely nobody was asking. (Also, at the end of the movie, Poirot shaves off his facial hair, which like, yay for acceptance of scars, but also . . . IDK, the Angst Beard has a long tradition in Hollywood, but the Angst Mustache is somehow just so much harder to take seriously?)

Anyway, what’s much worse is how Death on the Nile doubles down on one of my least favorite things about Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express: Poirot’s random dead fiancée, Katherine. The actress who plays Katherine is totally fine. But her tragic death is why Poirot, you know, Renounced Love, and became a great detective instead of a farmer, and how he can be so cold and removed and unfeeling, and ugh to all of this, especially this fucking line: “He told me how much he hoped you’d be happy one day, too. That you’d get tired of being just a pure cold detective. Be human instead.”

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Look, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this. I know I’m tired of saying it. But it is VERY POSSIBLE to be both happy and human without romantic love in your life. And what’s funny is, I’m not even 100% against the idea of a Poirot Love Story, like, do I think that shit is necessary? Nope, not remotely. But I will say that—in one of the many, many deviations from the original text—Poirot and Salome (Sophie Okonedo) have this whole quiet, flirty thing where she’s all awesome and he’s kinda cutely awkward, and it actually does work for me? But Death on the Nile pushes so HARD on this idea that you’re not truly living without romantic love, and that bullshit is just annoying AF.

Other unexpected adaptational choices: killing off Buoc, a character who isn’t even in the original novel. Instead, he’s the comic relief from Murder on the Orient Express, and his death is both surprising and genuinely pretty sad. It’s funny because I did think Branagh was gonna change up the third victim here, but I was so sure it was going to be Annette Bening, not Tom Bateman. Buoc’s death is much more tragic, and on one hand, WAAAAH, but OTOH, I think this switch-up actually does play pretty well. Certainly, Poirot’s sorrow about his dead friend feels way more earned than it ever did about poor dead Katherine.

Death on the Nile is a bit hard to judge as a whodunit since I already know, well, whodunit. I do feel like it’s less rushed than Murder on the Orient Express, which is good . . . although it also takes quite a while before the murders begin, which is less good. The cast may have been a PR disaster, but they’re a decent bunch of actors, and I’m mildly amused by how almost everyone here is putting on a fake accent. (The American actors are playing English, the English actors are playing American or Belgian or French, etc.) Strongest players are probably Kenneth Branagh, Annette Bening, Tom Bateman, and Sophie Okonedo. (She’s the MVP for sure.)  Armie Hammer probably gets Worst Player, if only because, wow, I burst into laughter during his weepy scene, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be funny. If I hadn’t already known he was one of the bad guys, I definitely would’ve figured it out then.

Oh, this has gotten way too long. Some final random thoughts: A) JFC, the camera angles in this film have only gotten weirder, WHY, why are you doing this to me, Branagh? B) The CGI is also pretty terrible, like, that pyramid shot? Oh no. Oh, no. C) The sexy dancing in this movie seems incredibly forced to me, like, I am not always the best judge at what qualifies as steamy? But good Lord, this is just, like, lingering, awkward, faux-fucking on the dance floor. D) Some of the quippy dialogue is fun. I’m a simple girl, and I like a good quip. And E) I love, love, LOVE that Poirot straightens the dead woman’s foot. That might’ve been my favorite moment in the whole movie.

The Batman

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Year: 2022
Director: Matt Reeves
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: VERY MUCH YES
Grade: Vanilla? Or, IDK. Vanilla-chocolate swirl, maybe?

TBH, I was kinda dreading watching The Batman, mostly because of the three hour runtime (superhero movies, when will you stop), but honestly? I was pretty entertained. Like, I wouldn’t call it the Batman film I’ve been waiting for my entire life or anything, but I had a good time watching it.

I like that The Batman is a slow burn mystery, that we really do get more of a detective story than any of the previous films. I like some of the dark humor (thumb drive, heh), and I’m utterly grateful that we skip the Crime Alley scene. I also enjoy how the film really commits to its whole emo noir aesthetic. (Holy shit, does Bruce lives in a gothic cathedral now? WTF.) Did those emo vibes occasionally make giggle? You’re damn right they did. I was absolutely grinning through Robert Pattinson’s noir VO (though, TBH, I think we could’ve cut that down just a bit) and definitely at Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” . . . but IDK, even though I couldn’t quite get through that with a straight face, it still worked for me, somehow, particularly with Pattinson as a younger, reclusive, moody AF Bruce Wayne. It felt fitting. I think there’s only one moment in the hospital where I just couldn’t quite buy him; otherwise, I like RP just fine as Batman.

Most of the cast is pretty solid, honestly: Jeffrey Wright feels instantly correct as Jim Gordon, Zoë Kravitz is enjoyable as Catwoman, John Turturro works really well as Falcone, I like Andy Serkis’s take on Alfred, and though it’s a kind of a minor role, I really enjoy Peter Sarsgaard as D.A. Colson. Paul Dano and Colin Farrell, though, I have mixed feelings about. Dano, himself, chews scenery like no one’s business, which . . . IDK, kinda works for me, but also not always? I do like the parallels between Riddler and Batman, and I did love Dano singing the “Ave Maria,” but I also definitely started cracking up when he was all “NOOO!” and IDK. It felt silly and over the top in a way that—unlike Batman’s bangs or Kurt Cobain—just didn’t quite work for me. Meanwhile, I actually enjoy pretty much all of Colin Farrell’s line deliveries here; he’s kind of the comic relief and—to my very great surprise—the jokes aren’t generally about his size or appearance. (They’re more about him trolling Batman and Gordon for their mediocre Spanish, which I am absolutely here for.) Still . . . I hate the fat suit. I hate the prosthetics. Sure, Farrell is unrecognizable, but that doesn’t add anything to this story; mostly, it just kept distracting me. At least, this doesn’t piss me off the way that Dune did or anything; it’s just like . . . why? Why not just cast someone else?

With a 3-hour runtime, I expected The Batman to drag considerably, but I actually think it’s pretty well paced for the most part. I do wish Batman and Catwoman worked together more throughout the film, partly because their quasi-romance felt a bit forced to me, and partly because I just wish we had more time with Catwoman in general. Alfred, too, gets pretty much dropped after the hospital scene, which disappointed me, although at least they didn’t kill him. (Oh, I would’ve murdered people.) I do wonder if we could’ve trimmed the third act a bit and maybe given those two characters a bit more time?

It also must be said that I just can’t bring myself to give a shit about that Joker tease, like, no disrespect to the actor, but Christ, I could go another full decade without the Joker; I am begging you. Still, I genuinely like that Batman ends this movie realizing that being vengeance isn’t enough, that he needs to be a symbol of hope as well. (Side note: I kinda loved the Vengeance name, if only because I kept thinking of this song and wanting people to come up to Batman and be all, “What’s up, Vengeance?”) The idea of Batman as a symbol of hope as well as a symbol of fear interests me, maybe because it’s kinda the whole antithesis of movies like The Dark Knight and is actually something I’d love to see explored in a sequel, should a sequel  be made. I am all about character growth, and if we could actually get a compassionate Batman in a live action film, not just in cartoons like JLU? IDK, that could be pretty neat to see.

Appointment With Death

Year: 1988
Director: Michael Winner
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – ScreenPix
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

And we’re back to Agatha Christie! Funny story: I’ve been wanting to check out Appointment With Death for actual years now, only it’s not an easy film to find, streaming or otherwise. However, while working on the Death on the Nile review above, I found myself looking up a list of obscure whodunit movies, and while looking up Green for Danger (number #1 on the list), I stumbled across the fact that Appointment With Death was available on ScreenPix. A free one week trial later, and here we are!

Peter Ustinov will never be my favorite Poirot, but I enjoy watching his movies well enough, and while Appointment With Death definitely isn’t knocking Evil Under the Sun from its top spot, I had a decent time watching it. This movie is, truthfully, a bit on the forgettable side, but I also feel like I have less glaring problems with it than I did with Branagh’s Death on the Nile—although that isn’t to say there aren’t flaws to be had because oh, there are. For one, we wait quite a while before anyone gets murdered—although admittedly, this does allow us more time with Piper Laurie, who excels in this film as the cruel Mrs. Boynton. For another, the insta-love between Dr. Sarah King and Raymond kinda kills me, although I’m pretty sure Agatha Christie is the one to blame for this. Insta-love is pretty common in these mysteries. There’s also the fact that Appointment With Death is about a bunch of white, snotty, British and American people in Jerusalem; there are definitely a few cringey moments, up to and including how little anyone cares about Hassan, a boy who tries to give Poirot critical information and ends up getting murdered for it. This immediately leads to a scene where Sarah, who initially looks guilty of Hassan’s murder, is briefly menaced by a bunch of silent men with brown skin, and it’s . . . yeah, it’s not great.

On the upside, this cast. Along with Peter Ustinov and Piper Laurie, we have Carrie Fisher, Lauren Bacall, and Hayley Mills, all of whom I had fun watching. Hayley Mills doesn’t have a super interesting role, but I enjoyed seeing her all the same, having grown up on the 1961 version of The Parent Trap. I like Carrie Fisher in this (I mean, when do I not like Carrie Fisher), and Jenny Seagrove is good, too. Honestly, all the women in this movie are more interesting than the men, but it’s Piper Laurie and Lauren Bacall who are the true standouts here. I would’ve paid, like, so much money to watch a film solely about these two squaring off. They are both an absolute delight.

Anyone who doesn’t generally enjoy whodunits is not gonna be won over by Appointment With Death, which is, well. Pretty formulaic in the long run. But since I’m a person who is deeply comforted by dysfunctional murder families, secret wills, and detectives who insist on giving dramatic reveals for absolutely no good reason, well. I’m ecstatic that I finally managed to track this one down.

Triple Scoop Review: Fear Street Part One: 1994, Fear Street Part Two: 1978, and Fear Street Part Three: 1666

So, it’s July 3rd–or at least it is for me, right now, as I write this intro–and we’ll be doing our usual Triple Scoop Review a little differently today. Since Fear Street is a trilogy of interconnected horror films (each released a week apart on Netflix), I’m gonna first try discussing each story one by one, and then after the trilogy is concluded, look at the project as a whole. We’ll see how it goes!

Fear Street Part One: 1994

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, yes, but mostly just romantic relationship stuff in the 2nd paragraph
Grade: Vanilla

This is a silly, almost cute throwback to 90’s slashers, high on energy and relatively light on gore (with one very memorable exception). The PG-13 vibes make sense, considering the whole  trilogy is based on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books. (I’ve never read them. I kinda skipped R.L. Stine as a kid.) I had fun watching the film, though how I feel about this entry  is probably gonna depend on what happens in the next two. Right now, lots of things feel unbalanced–the sheriff, the janitor, the mayor, Shadyside vs. Sunnyside (LOL), the ominous nose bleeds, etc.–but I expect that will change as I learn more in the upcoming installments.

What isn’t quite working for me right now is Deena. Not the actress–Kiana Madeira does fine work–but the character herself, or at least her relationship with her ex, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). Man, I want to root for these two. Are you kidding me? Two queer romantic leads in a slasher film? And a queer Final Girl who’s also a person of color? I desperately wanna be onboard, but frankly, Deena’s kind of an asshole to Sam. And like, emotions are messy, I get it. No one’s gonna act 100% perfect all the time, and that’s fine. But without getting into too much detail (NGL: there’s a bit of detail), Deena blames Sam for shit that’s mostly outside her control, acts all possessive and jealous despite being the one who called it quits, and then endangers Sam’s life, actually getting her hospitalized–and never really apologizes for any of it. Mind you, Sam (emotionally) hurt Deena in the past, too, but A) any pain you cause by not being ready to come out isn’t nearly as cut and dry as this movie wants it to be (especially in 1994, FFS), and B) if Sam did act like an asshole before, okay, but we never actually see that on screen. All we get is Sam apologizing to Deena, like it’s Sam’s fault that Deena’s being a dick. That’s all a BIG problem for me if I’m supposed to ship these two.

Beyond that . . . well, 1994 is, indeed, set in the 90’s, which the soundtrack is definitely not gonna let you forget. It’s a little too in your face for me, TBH, but I also knew and liked literally every single song except one, so. I got over it. (Though for those of you who care: a couple of songs did come out after 1994.) Being a 90’s child, I also enjoyed the homages to 90’s slashers, particularly Scream. I’m not so sure how I feel about Nurse Beddy, though, and upon reflection, there are two deaths that don’t make much sense, so either I’m missing something, or they’re kinda lousy, needless deaths.

Special shoutout to Julia Rehwald, who plays Kate and tends to steal every scene she’s in (despite an unnecessary romantic storyline that I definitely didn’t care about). But the whole cast is pretty enjoyable, and I’m curious to see how the next installment compares. We’ll see next week!

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Chocolate

1978 is, more or less, one very long flashback, as told by C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the sole survivor of the Camp Nightwing massacre–although we are seriously stretching the term “soul survivor” here, like, lots of other people escape this camp alive. It’s an exciting narrative structure, actually, a horror film that functions as both a prequel and a sequel in this ongoing storyline, and I enjoyed watching it–although it does get off to a slow start, and there are a few logic hiccups that may or may not trip you, depending how nerdy you get about narrative. (I am, of course, absolutely That Nerd.) Like how our Final Girl isn’t in every scene, for example, which means she’s relating a lot of stuff that she has little way of knowing. Also, one character kinda gets dropped entirely, which seems like a misstep. And this trilogy’s mythology is interesting, but IDK, messy? We do get answers to some questions (like what’s up with the mysterious nosebleeds), and that’s cool, but some stuff feels all over the place, and there’s a moment where a character comes to a conclusion that makes little sense unless she, too, has watched Fear Street 1994.

OTOH, 1978 is definitely more violent than 1994, which is obviously a plus for me, and I felt more invested in the overall story, probably because I care more about Cindy and Ziggy’s strained sibling relationship (as well as Cindy and Alice’s strained.once-friendship) than I ever did about Deena/Sam. There are similar thematic elements and parallels between the two films (betrayals and confessions, trying to remake your identity and carve yourself a future, etc.), but they work better for me in 1978, probably cause we don’t see Alice respond to Cindy’s snitching and stupid polo shirts by nearly committing involuntary manslaughter. (I’m sorry. Clearly, I’m still bitter about Deena.) I enjoy a lot of the cast, too: it’s especially nice to see Sadie Sink again, who I love in Stranger Things, although I think Emily Rudd also does a good job here.

The end comes with a bit of a twist that, while conceptually interesting, is pretty predictable from the get-go. But I do like getting to see all the little tie-ins from 1994 and 1978, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the trilogy concludes. (Personally, I’m hoping for a secret epilogue that takes place in 2021.)

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

Y

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yes, avoid the third and fourth paragraphs
Grade: Strawberry

Without a doubt, 1666 is the hardest to evaluate as its own thing. It’s certainly the film I’d be the least likely to rewatch on its own, but it also does a pretty good job of tying all the loose threads together and concluding the overall 1994/1978/1666 story.

Hm, what can I say about this one? Well, it’s fun to watch the cast from the first two movies play entirely different roles, although I wish we could spend a little more time with the supporting players. (Though the story doesn’t necessarily require it. I just think it’d be neat.) Also, the accents . . . oh, those accents wander badly. It’s not damning, but it is distracting, which is mostly unfortunate because 1666 seems to be going for a darker, slightly more adult tone than, say, 1994’s PG-13 pop slasher fun or 1978’s violent summer camp horror. It’s a bit hard to sink into the grim witch hunt when half the line reads make me snicker. OTOH, when it comes to actual horror, big thumbs up for the church scene, which I thought was perfectly creepy.

Still, the best thing about 1666, for me, is the twist that Sarah Fier was framed for being a witch, and that Solomon Goode and his descendants were the real villains all along. It works on a lot of levels, like, obviously we all knew that there was more to the story, that Sarah had probably been betrayed by the town, that Sunnyside was fucking over Shadyside in some supernatural way, etc. etc. But I must admit, I did assume Sarah was at least somewhat responsible for the curse. And while the Sheriff absolutely seems, heh, shady for most of 19941978 successfully misdirected me into thinking he was On the Side of Good, which is neat. Also, this twist explains a lot of the seemingly sloppy and convoluted mythology, which is great. (Maybe not everything, though. I’m still not 100% on a few things, like those minor character deaths from 1994. Also, seriously. What is the deal with Adult Ziggy’s clocks?)

1666 wraps up more quickly than I expected, giving way to Fear Street – 1994: Part 2, and our happy ending. I like that everybody survives here, even if (sadly) I didn’t get my 2021 epilogue. (Although a mid-credits scene does technically leave the door open for a sequel.) I also like that we get to see Adult Ziggy’s reaction to the sad truth about her one and only friend, and also the Carrie blood bucket callback. Otherwise, though, not much stands out, like the last showdown is . . . okay, I guess? It’s aiming for light and fun, but doesn’t totally hit the mark, at least not for me. Still, the answers we get here wrap up the trilogy much more successfully than I’d been anticipating, which is fantastic.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like I said, it’s really hard to grade these on an individual basis because while Fear Street is kind of billed as three separate movies, it plays more like a horror miniseries, with episodes that are dependent upon one another to work, especially 1666. Mind you, that’s not a complaint! I do feel like each individual story could be stronger, and there are clearly some significant changes I’d make if I was in charge of, you know, anything.

But I also feel like the trilogy itself is creative and playful and interesting, like, it’s this whole YA horror experience. As a 35-year-old, I enjoyed watching these movies over the course of three weeks. As a 13-year-old just getting into horror, I suspect I would’ve gone feral over them. And I’d love to see more projects like this in the future: horror featuring queer leads and happy endings, horror that deliberately plays with sub-genre and tone, interconnected slashers that play out over the course of several days or weeks. It really gives me just All The Ideas, and you know I love anything that brings The Ideas.

Overall Grade For Whole Trilogy: B (Vanilla)

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

Drácula

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

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

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

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

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

Finally, a few random things:

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

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

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

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

Dracula 2000

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, a couple last thoughts:

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

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

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

Year of Monsters: The Invisible Man

I’ve never considered myself a science person, partially because I have no natural aptitude for it, partially because the science you learn in high school isn’t the kind of shit that interests me. (Well, mostly. We did get to learn forensics my freshman year, and I do remember enjoying it, even if I couldn’t tell a single fucking fingerprint apart.) But I am a science-fiction person, one who’s generally drawn to pro-science stories. We’ve talked about a couple of these already during our Year of Monsters: Creature from the Black Lagoon, for instance, and It Came From Outer Space.

Alas, we’re now heading back to the 1930’s, where science is generally not our path to enlightenment but to our downfall and destruction. Science is the method we foolishly use to try and control what mankind was never meant to master. Clearly, this is a pretty familiar theme: if Frankenstein is about trying to master death, then Jurassic Park is about trying to control life, and Deep Blue Sea is about trying to defeat dementia. Or sharks. The point is, progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged.

Enter . . . The Invisible Man.

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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.

Year of Monsters: The Mummy

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

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

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

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“Why Is There A Watermelon There?”

It’s the final week of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon and, coincidentally, my last week before vacation. Which means you probably won’t see me around much for a little while. Before I go, though, I have my second (and final) WaT reward essay to share. While last week we discussed John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (a film where Satan is a bunch of green goo in a vat, and bugs are fucking everywhere), today we’ll be shifting gears to talk about The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a film where a brain surgeon/comic book hero/test pilot/rock star/physicist saves the world with his buddies, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, from hostile aliens.

My friends, this movie is an experience.

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World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “Who Mourns For Adonais?”

Mythology and sci-fi–especially on television–go together like PB + J: Battlestar Galactica. Stargate. That one episode of SeaQuest DSV where our heroes stumble across Poseidon. I’m not at all surprised that Kirk and co. managed to run afoul of a Greek god in space; the only real shocker is that it’s not Zeus or Always Evil Hades; instead, it’s Apollo, the Sun God, who has gotten ahold of the Enterprise.

Er. Literally. He takes hold of the ship literally.

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World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “The City on the Edge of Forever”

“The City on the Edge of Forever” is one of the handful of TOS episodes I’ve actually seen before. A few years ago, my dad was living with us for a short time and–back in the days of actually having cable–we put on BBC America for a classic Trek marathon. I remember this episode particularly because when it started, Papa said something like, “This is the one where they go back in time to the Great Depression.” And I–who had missed the dialogue about time rifts and had only seen Bones OD on some fictional drug and lose his damn mind–was like, “Uh, are you sure? Because that plot does not feel like a natural transition to this teaser.”

But, of course, he was right. In one of TOS’s most highly respected episodes, Bones, Spock, and Kirk do indeed go back in time to the 1930’s. And even more surprising? I actually agree with everybody: “The City on the Edge of Forever” is a damn good episode of Trek.

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