Triple Spooky Scoop Review: A Tale of Two Sisters, Black Christmas, and Black Christmas

A Tale of Two Sisters

Year: 2003
Director: Kim Ji Woon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Vanilla

I know. I’m probably the last horror fan alive who hasn’t seen A Tale of Two Sisters–but no longer! I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect here (I’m only vaguely familiar with the folktale that inspired it), but I enjoyed this one–though do I suspect I might like it better on a second viewing, to better appreciate all the clues carefully being laid out. Still, I caught enough this time around to figure out the major plot twists. How Soo-yeon isn’t real, considering that her father never looks at her. How Eun-joo also isn’t real, considering she can see Soo-yeon. Not to mention, Moo-hyeon is weirdly cold and awkward with his supposed wife; also, it’s just incredibly rare for two characters to simultaneously suffer from “am I going mad” unreliable narrator syndrome, so the whole split personality angle was really the only explanation that made sense.

I definitely didn’t guess the truth about that wardrobe, though. Obviously, something terrible had happened, but I had no clue on the actual details. Poor Soo-yeon! Poor Soo-mi! The real Eun-joo is obviously The Worst, but also Moo-hyeon? Holy shit, what an asshole. For one, like, he kept the wardrobe; he even tells Soo-mi not to talk about it, all, “Yes, I decided to keep this giant piece of furniture which housed your mother’s dead body and also crushed your sister to death, but stop bringing it up, like, don’t be weird about it.” Also, once it’s clear that your daughter is still very unwell and needs inpatient psychiatric care, you absolutely cannot keep leaving her alone like this, WTF. And just this dude’s whole attitude, too, like, I’m sure he’s exhausted and grieving and all that, but Moo-hyeon talks to Soo-mi like she’s just having tantrums; he might as well say, “Stop being crazy; I’m tired of your dissociative identity disorder.” Like–

I do think that while A Tale of Two Sisters is well constructed, I might’ve found it more mind-blowing if I’d watched the film back when it premiered in 2003. That was almost 20 years ago (she says, sobbing), and I’ve seen variations on this twist a lot now. Still, nothing really comes off as cheat to me. The only thing that does feel off is the dinner scene where Eun-joo’s sister-in-law has a coughing fit that abruptly becomes a very violent seizure. I know why it happens, like, for Writer Reasons, but I wasn’t totally clear about the in-story reasons. Does she have a medical condition? Is this some kind of emotional trauma response? Did the ghosts poison her soup? It doesn’t seem like she sees the ghost until she’s already seizing, but I will fully admit to ignorance here.

After watching A Tale of Two Sisters, our next film was John Carpenter’s The Thing, which I’m not going to review because I’ve already done so twice now. (Most recently here.) I’m mostly mentioning it because with The Thing, we have a winner for Horror Bingo, and it’s not Mekaela or me, but my good buddy, Marisa! Congrats, Marisa!!!

Mekaela and I have a gentlewomen’s agreement to keep playing until one of us gets a Bingo, though. And thus, we continue with . . .

Black Christmas

Year: 2019
Director: Sophia Takal
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO
Spoilers: Yes, but mostly just in the third paragraph
Grade: Strawberry

This is . . . okay. It’s certainly better than the 2006 remake, anyway, although the bar on that is so low it’s near sunk into the ground. The thing about this Black Christmas is that it very much wants to be a Feminist Movie, and while I think it does have successful moments, the overall story is kinda sloppy and relies so heavily on a superficial idea of Girl Power™ that it often comes across as pandering rather than empowering.

Things I do enjoy: most of the characters, especially some of the minor roles. I was particularly fond of Fran, Jesse, and Kris. (Though awesome as Kris is, she does have a few moments where I’m like, ah, no–and the film doesn’t address it as fully as I’d like.) Some of the humor is great. I bust up at this line: “If you make me late for the train, I swear I’m never feeding you again. Ask my childhood hamster. He’s super dead.” Also, I really enjoyed the whole sexy Christmas number; it’s a hilarious “fuck you” song, yes, but also A) a great moment for Riley’s character arc, and B) just an awesome scene where the girls stick up for each other. There are some nice nods and reversals to the original film, too. And hey, there’s a DivaCup in this movie! Always nice when menstruation is something that’s actually acknowledged in Hollywood.

Still, a lot of the dialogue feels obvious and cheesy. It’s a problem throughout the film, but gets especially painful in the third act. I just . . . I don’t buy it, is the thing. (And the part where the white girl has to explain to her Black friend why the police aren’t trustworthy, like, yikes? Maybe not?) The script reads like someone had a long list of feminist catchphrases to get through in a very short amount of time. The plot, too, doesn’t quite work for me, partially because Riley jumps to “we’re obviously dealing with evil frat boy magic” way too fast for my liking, but also because for a story that heavily criticizes misogyny, it kinda lets men off the hook. Brainwashing pledges into mindless killers is a lot less horrific than young men actively choosing to kill outspoken women. Landon, too, mostly feels like he’s here to prove Not All Men, though I like Caleb Eberhardt’s performance; the character himself just feels distracting. Credit where credit’s due, though: I very much enjoyed Cary Elwes, as he always seems to be having so much fun, whether he’s playing a Ridiculously Smarmy Jackass (this, Stranger Things, etc.) or a Ridiculously Suave Motherfucker (The Princess Bride, Psych, etc.)

This Black Christmas works best, I think, as something meant to  introduce young girls to horror, like, part of a 101 starter pack: something that’s modern and broadly relatable and none  too gory or frightening; the PG-13 rating helps with that, though IMO, the downside to obscured shots and fade-to-black kills is that it doesn’t allow the Girls Who Won’t Survive any time to fight back, which I think is unfortunate. Still, if the target demographic is, IDK, 11-15-year-olds interested in giving slashers a go? I honestly think that would raise my estimation of the movie as a whole. (Though I’d still do at least one more editing pass. Probably two. This could’ve been better, damn it.)

Black Christmas

Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Chocolate

So, yeah. This is one of my absolute favorite horror movies, one I’ve already analyzed in considerable detail in this Genderbent Wednesday essay. I don’t know that I have many new thoughts on it now: I still think Jess is a very important and relevant Final Girl, though I’ll admit I don’t always buy Olivia Hussey’s line deliveries. Still, I love that she’s a goal-oriented protagonist who’s made a decision to have an abortion, never seems particularly upset about it, and refuses to change her plans to appease her worthless ass of a boyfriend. It’s also worth noting that the women are largely supportive of each other in this film, too, and there’s nary an exploitative tit shot in sight. Barb has a few lines I’d definitely like to cut, but overall? I’ll go to my grave arguing that Black Christmas is a feminist horror film, especially for 1970-fucking-4.

It’s also easily creepier than either of its remakes, like, Black Christmas has atmosphere, damn it. Those phone calls are deeply concerning, and Dead Claire in her rocking chair is iconic as hell. There are things I’d like to change, of course: at one point, the girls mention they haven’t locked the doors or windows, and I’m like WHAT? No, nope, that is absolutely ridiculous this late into the movie. Also, while I love so much about the film’s ending (Jess killing Peter, never learning the real killer’s identity, the last phone call ringing us into the credits, etc.), it remains completely unacceptable to me that the cops leave an unconscious Jess alone in a House of Dead Bodies with only one officer to guard her, like, I get it, she’s sedated and they think the threat is over. I do not care; this is nonsense. I need much better justifications than the ones the script provides.

Still, this is always gonna be a favorite. Peter is the absolute worst, and I enjoy rooting for his impending demise. Phyl is cool, and I mourn her offscreen death. Barb is interesting, and I could probably write a whole essay on her character alone. (Did you know that Barb is A) not a nerd, and B) asthmatic? Did you even realize that was something that could happen in Hollywood?) I enjoy John Saxon as Lt. Ken Fuller and Marian Waldman as Mrs. Mac. Laughing Detective is one of my favorite bit parts of all time. I love that there’s such a strong case against Peter, that it 100% makes sense for both Fuller and Jess to assume he’s the murderer. Black Christmas is just an incredibly well-constructed horror film that is disturbing, entertaining, and still surprisingly relevant almost 50 years after its release. Bob Clark might be best known for his other holiday movie, A Christmas Story, but Black Christmas remains my favorite of his work.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Becky, The Burning, and Deep Red

Becky

Year: 2020
Director: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Oh, barely
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed Becky; it’s fun and it’s gory, very gory. Lulu Wilson is excellent as our angry 13-year-old MC, who, ah, zealously defends her home against Neo-Nazi escaped convicts. Wilson, all of 15, already has an impressive horror resume (The Haunting of Hill House, Annabelle: Creation, Ouija: Origin of Evil, etc.); Kevin James, meanwhile, is not so well-known for horror, so seeing him here as the Big Bad is, uh, startling at first. That being said, I actually think James does a pretty decent job; his performance is more understated than I would’ve expected, and overall, it worked fine for me.

The whole cast is pretty solid, actually: I like Joel McHale  as Jeff (Becky’s Dad), and I had fun playing spot-the-actor with Ryan McDonald (from Fringe) and Robert Maillet (Sherlock Holmes). I also really enjoyed Amanda Brugel as Kayla, Jeff’s fiancée; in fact, my biggest problem with the movie is that it doesn’t give Brugel enough to do. Like, I get it: in a movie called Becky, I expect our titular heroine to do the lion’s share of the homicide. Still, this is also a movie with Nazi villains spouting gross bullshit about mixed races; it’d be nice to see the film’s only Black female character get in on the violent action. There were several opportunities in Becky, all of which were missed.

Still, I had a good time watching this. As plenty of other people have noted, Becky’s not here to fuck around; this is a horror movie for people who like creative violence, with weapons ranging from rulers to boat propellers; if that doesn’t sound like your bag, this probably isn’t the film for you. Personally, I found it delightful; it’s clear that between Becky and You’re Next, I have a serious weakness for the “Home Alone but VIOLENT” sub-genre of horror. I also like the moment when Becky switches from Surviving Mode to Killer Mode; I thought it worked well. She has a pretty great costume, too, like, a striped shirt? A fox hat? Blood? I could cosplay the shit out of this.

Also, apropos of nothing, but this Child of Divorced Parents absolutely felt the whole ‘Wow, did YOU pick the wrong way to break the news about your GF.’ Like, dude, come on. I recognize that Becky is kind of a pill, but also, get your shit together.

The Burning

Year: 1981
Director: Tony Maylam
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Strawberry

This one’s got something of a rough start, and not just because I highly doubt the plausibility of anybody this severely burnt turning into such a spry serial killer. (Don’t @ me with Freddy Krueger. Dude is dead; normal rules don’t apply.) I also kinda can’t stand some of the people you’re apparently supposed to be rooting for, like, am I supposed to feel sorry for Nerdy Alfred instead of chanting for his death? Whoops. And the ‘let’s murder this random prostitute’ is bullshit, too, like, this whole story is based on some East Coast urban legend about a dude who kills kids; leave the poor sex workers alone, please. (Also, fuck you, whoever wrote the Wikipedia summary: the sex worker didn’t “lure” Cropsy anywhere; she’s the actual victim, not some kind of evil sexy trap brainwashing the helpless serial killer. Goddamnit.)

Still, there’s a lot I enjoy about The Burning. The whole raft massacre is pretty great, actually, like, sure, it’s silly that Cropsy was apparently just chilling in that canoe all day, waiting to attack, but also, this is a genuinely awesome scene. There’s a ton of tension as we slowly approach the canoe. I absolutely assumed we were getting a creepy body reveal, when BAM! Cropsy attacks instead! It’s a delightful surprise, but also, dude takes out like five kids at once, which is exceedingly rare in a slasher.

Which is worth talking about, I think, because I saw several reviews for The Burning complaining about how formulaic it is, which, like, nah? Cause A) in 1981, the slasher formula was still being written, sorry, and B) while there are formulaic elements (all the unnecessary tit and ass shots, for example, and/or Wow, Teens Like Sex in the Woods), there are interesting subversions, too. For one, there’s no Final Girl. Girls do survive, but The Burning is all about the Final Boy–though I suppose there are two nominees for the position. (Personally, I’m Team Todd, rather than Team Alfred, because his origin story is inextricably linked with the villain’s; also, he’s ultimately the one who kills Cropsy.) Also, while the score is undeniably 80’s, it really doesn’t sound anything like most 80’s slashers. The climax takes place in this abandoned mine, which is just visually interesting. There are actually kids at this damn camp, for once. There’s even a plus size girl who A) is never made fun of, B) pushes this one asshole into a lake, and C) LIVES. I mean, she also barely has lines, but fuck it, I will take the small victories I can get.

Other random notes: A) The Burning was the film debut of Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, and Jason Alexander; unfortunately, it was also the film that helped start Harvey Weinstein’s career, which great, now I feel all dirty, B) Tom Savini did the makeup here, which was very apparent from the first death, C) That being said, the burn makeup is kind of laughable; see also: “Cropsy Vision,” D) Some of the supporting players are surprising likable kids, instead of being horrible little assholes, and E)  while Eddy and Glazer are clearly the worst horrible little assholes, I maintain that both Alfred and Todd also suck. Alfred is just a creeper; Todd, meanwhile, is the Nice Guy who has big “okay, calm down, let’s not be irrational here” energy whenever his girl Michelle is angry at someone. (Todd, naturally, gets to yell at whoever he wants.) Todd also has so little remorse for his childhood prank-gone-wrong that he just turns the whole thing into a campfire story. Dude’s all, “Remember how I almost killed a guy once and ruined his life forever? How can I turn that into some spooky summer fun?” Clearly, Todd is kind of a sociopath, which I respect. Still, I wish the movie owned it a little more.

Deep Red

Year: 1975
Director: Dario Argento
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah. Like, all of them.
Grade: Vanilla

There are many different flavors of WTF Horror; unlike Mandy, Deep Red is definitely more my speed. I have a lot of ideas for a remake, actually; for instance, it’d be great if I didn’t spend half the film chanting death death death at our detective pianist hero. Marcus, you see, believes that women are inherently “weaker” and “gentler” than men, and boy is he a whiny little shit about it when Journalist Giana quickly proves him wrong. Giana drops out of the story for far too long, IMO; I really wish we saw them both conducting their own investigations into Psychic Helga’s death. Probably could also use a few better leads; how Marcus gets to the author, for instance, is pretty weak sauce. And more suspects would be great, too, because while I always love getting the killer right, I can’t exactly pretend I had to work for it, here.

Still, I had a lot of fun watching this. The whole premise is so my jam, and the score is just so delightfully weird; it shouldn’t work at all, and yet I love it, spent the whole film bopping around to the jaunty music. (And am listening to it now, as a matter of fact.) And course I enjoyed most of the death scenes: Prof. Giordani’s is probably my favorite, partially because that teeth shit is brutal, and partially because of that weird fucking doll, like, holy shit, it’s so creepy and hilarious simultaneously; I love it. (Though I will say Carlo’s death did little for me; that was a little too Final Destination for my tastes.)

Other things I really enjoyed: pretty much ALL the weird doll shit, the ultimately pragmatic motive behind the murders, Marta’s hat, gloves, and leather jacket combo (Marta’s also on the Dream Horror Cosplay list), the fact that Marta’s actually visible after killing Psychic Helga, the giant abandoned house, the hilariously creepy mural–oh my God, I LOVE it, I NEED it, I want that shit on my walls immediately–and YES, there are stickers at Redbubble; excuse me, I have to go buy one RIGHT NOW.

Random notes: A) If you weren’t sure this was a Dario Argento movie, look no further than Helga’s death scene (hint: there’s glass), B) I was 100% sure we were gonna get a transphobic twist that Carlo had once been Carla, so I’m extremely happy to be wrong here; also, Marcus is shockingly not an asshole to either Carlo or Carlo’s transgender lover, which was a huge relief, C) that being said, Carlo’s not exactly a winner himself (there’s a whole rape joke; it’s gross), and he’s kind of a pathetic character with a miserable death, so I can’t say the queer rep is, y’know, fantastic, D) I wish Marta’s crazy was dialed back from an 11, especially considering her motive is ultimately practical, E) Colin Firth will absolutely play Marcus in my remake, and while the music will probably need to be toned down at least somewhat for modern audiences, I adore the idea of specific themes for our main characters; his will be something on the piano because, you know, detective pianist (while Giana will get the more jaunty 70’s shit as an homage), and finally, F) here’s the moral of the story: if you find an inexplicable baby doll hanging from a noose inside your presumably empty house, DON’T STAY INSIDE THE HOUSE. Hitchhike your ass to town, if you must; you are about to die BADLY.

Triple Scoop Review: BLOODY HEARTS – Dead Body, Overlord, and The Void

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, so you know what that means: HORROR MOVIES.

Dead Body

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yes, but only in the last two paragraphs.
Grade: Chocolate

To my surprise and delight, this low-budget indie is a pretty decent little slasher film. (And directed by a woman! Yay, more women in horror!) The premise, of course, is absolutely my jam: a bunch of high school graduates (and one older boyfriend) play Dead Body, where one person is secretly assigned the role of the murderer and “kills” someone, and everyone else has to figure out who did it–only then people actually start dying. This is a Golden Age of Detective fiction staple and absolutely the kind of morbid shit I would definitely play, so of course, Mek and I had to try this movie out. Where it shines best is dialogue, characterization, and surprisingly intentional humor: Dominic’s mostly relatable bitchiness about his uninvited guests (“I need to go set up the loft I wasn’t planning on using”) or Dwayne immediately going for hacksaws, hooks, and nail guns after finding the dead bodies. I also genuinely like how protective Marcus is of his weird brother. (Or friend? I was never actually clear on this.) And there are one or two big surprises here: one didn’t do much for me, but the other I LOVED.

The thing that wasn’t a surprise, unfortunately, is the identity of the killer. Which, hey, correctly solving a whodunnit can provide a glorious sense of satisfaction, or even vindication. Here, however, Mek and I were pretty sure about the killer maybe 25 minutes into the film and were all but proven right about 25 minutes later–which is still a solid 15 before the Big Reveal. Some of the setup is actually pretty clever, but there are a few missteps, which I’ll discuss in the next two paragraphs. Other disappointments: the opening scene doesn’t do much for me–we should probably cut the last 30 seconds at least–and the two foreign exchange students are barely even in this movie, which is especially annoying because they’re the only POC in the whole cast.

SPOILER territory: I initially assumed Marcus was the killer because he’s the Nice Guy Love Interest and I figured he’d brought Rumor along as an obvious patsy. However, suspicions were quickly transferred to Dominic, partially because finding him so suddenly dead was shocking enough to be suspicious, partially because of the Harvard motive (which I thought was nicely handled), and partially because I’ve seen enough movies/read enough Agatha Christie to know you can’t trust dead bodies. Even if I hadn’t, Kenji playing dead is pretty obvious foreshadow. I think that bit could probably be cut, along with the whole it was YOU line from the opening scene, and that moment when the camera lingers a beat too long on the hammer. (Because that’s how Mek and I went from, like, 90% sure that Dominic was the killer to 190%: he kills Rumor with the hammer obviously left behind.) If we really want Dominic to be a shock, we probably need another viable suspect and/or a costume change; alternatively, it might work to do the Big Reveal with Rumor’s death, so the audience finds out well before our surviving heroes. That way, we’d get to watch Dominic’s surprise/delight when his intended victims start killing each other out of paranoia. I’m kinda warming up to that idea, actually.

Finally, the two big surprises are the last-minute resurrections of Sarah and Marcus. Sarah is really interesting: for one, her survival is pretty shocking because she seems like such a Dead Meat character. (Shocking survival, as it turns out, became quite the theme of the evening.) For another, Sarah pulls a nail out of her own face to kill the bad guy. I thought the scene where Ilsa pulls nails out of Sarah’s face was pretty great, but this is just badass. Unfortunately, Marcus’s miraculous resurrection kinda feels like it’s just taking away from Sarah’s. I felt bad for the dude when he died, but once dead? Yeah, stay dead, my dude.

Overlord

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

I’m always excited by the idea of genre-blending, especially when mystery or horror come into the mix, but Overlord feels uneven to me. It’s strongest, I think, in the first act, when the movie is pure action/war drama. (Did anyone watch this movie without seeing the trailer full of spoilers? Cause damn, no one’s getting Nazi Zombie Shit from the first 20 minutes of this movie.) The plane scene is dramatic AF and the ominous clues in the woods that “something is amiss” are decent. I like most of the cast. Jovan Adepo gives an especially strong performance as our kind-hearted protagonist Boyce. I know Adepo primarily from a two-episode stint in Watchmen, and I definitely want to see more of him.

But we start hitting problems in Act II when our heroes make it to the French village. Part of that’s pacing: it takes way too long to for anyone to find all the horrific experiments. This movie is only 1 hour and 48 minutes, but boy, I’d have bet money it was a lot longer. And then, part of it’s content: I’m not sure Wafner (Pilou Asbæk, AKA, Euron Greyjoy) is doing much for me as a Big Bad, and I definitely found the coerced sexual assault shit completely unnecessary. (Boyce interrupts Wafner before he rapes Chloe, but this is still a yuck subplot and incredibly lazy writing.) The aunt, too, is much more foreshadow than actual character: she barely has screen time, much less dialogue.

Still, the worst problems, I think, begin after Boyce discovers all the Nazi Zombie Shit. The discovery scene itself is great: it’s weird, creepy, maybe a bit silly (I’m specifically thinking of the decapitated head pleading in French), but overall, just a lot of fun. And Boyce has spectacular reactions to the body horror/general impossibility; his freakout is super relatable, TBH. This is the moment the whole film has been building toward–which is why I’m just baffled by the decision to completely cut the tension by stopping for a 15-minute time-out, like, Overlord goes right back to straight-up war movie again, all unethical interrogations and “is it right to beat up a Nazi” and “do we even recognize ourselves anymore?” These are all perfectly fine themes that should not be dwelled on here, five minutes after this shit. And while we do kinda get back on track with the death/zombie resurrection of Chase (Iain De Caestecker), the film never fully recovers; instead, the whole third act loses its creepy body horror vibe and just becomes a really bad Resident Evil movie. It’s so bland and cartoonishly over-the-top that there’s just no tension at all. I was honestly bored, and that’s about the last reaction you want from your audience here.

Finally, some additional notes:

A. Secret histories, admittedly, are not always my bag, but I’m not sure that tying this story  to D-Day really does much for me.

B. I can’t decide if De Caestecker’s American accent is bad or if I’m just very aware it’s not his natural, lovely Scottish. I am fond of the actor, though. When Chase gets shot (inevitably, I mean, maybe don’t send the kid with the camera to secure the Big Bad Nazi Dude, FFS), I was all, “A-ha! This is why you cast De Caestecker, for the emotional death scene!”

C. Overlord’s “Holy Shit, This Guy Actually Lived!” is Jacob (Dominic Applewhite) and, to a lesser extent, Tibet (John Magaro). Tibet is the semi-redemptive asshole, whereas Jacob is Boyce’s buddy from the plane, the one who Boyce repeatedly promises, “I’ll be right behind you!” Obviously, I marked Jacob as First to Die. It is lovely to be wrong sometimes.

D. Alas, Private Dawson (Jacob Anderson) does not fare so well. Mekaela and I had just enough time to say, “Wait, is that Grey Worm?” before he blew the hell up. Sorry, buddy.

The Void

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry again
Grade: Strawberry

This one starts out so strong, but kind of spirals into an incoherent mess. Mileage is definitely gonna vary on that, depending on your A) tolerance for how much a story refuses to explain, and B) nostalgia for 80’s cosmic horror. I tend to be skeptical of the former and like the latter more in theory than execution. For example, The Void reminded Mekaela of Hellraiser, a movie I enjoyed for its aesthetics and not much else. (I’m tagging this whole review a blasphemy just for that sentence.) Meanwhile, The Void reminded me of Prince of Darkness, which I reviewed in great detail last year and, ultimately, didn’t love. Which is all to say I may not have been the target audience here.

Except . . . damn it, I still feel like I really could’ve enjoyed this movie. For starters, there’s an awful lot I do like about The Void. The initial setup and “WTF is going on here” mystery is a lot of fun. The look of the film is pretty great. I enjoy the whole cast. The reveal that our kindly old doctor isn’t just Dead Meat Walking but the actual Big Bad is awesome, especially since it comes after he does predictably “die.” Likewise, the reversal that our blatantly evil murderers from the beginning are actually good guys (well . . . good-sh) is pretty cool, too, although I do feel like their backstory gets a little lost in the chaos. The ending with the Sheriff and Allison is interesting, if sorta huh, and I’m fucked shocked that our ultimate survivors are the unnamed mute guy and Ellen Wong–people. I have finally found a Western horror film where an Asian woman lives. Holy shit.

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons Prince of Darkness came to mind wasn’t the portal sacrifice similarities or the supernatural pregnancy BS–more on that in a bit–it was the ominous cultists converging on the hospital. We know absolutely nothing about this cult, like, who the hell these dudes are, why they don’t bother coming inside, where they peaced out to at the end, etc. (Seriously, did the ascend or something? The fuck?) Apparently, this is one of the many things intentionally left open for the viewer to decide, but this viewer has decided: we learn nothing about these guys because the creators don’t care about these guys; they just needed something to trap the heroes in the hospital, and that’s it. In Prince of Darkness, the cultists are actually possessed homeless people, but they serve the exact same plot function, and IMO, that’s lazy as shit writing.

And therein lies my main problem with The Void; rarely does the script feel purposefully ambiguous and thought-provoking; mostly, it feels lazy, chaotic, and confused. The hallucinations in the not-exactly-there basement feel muddled. Most of what happens in the whole third act feels pretty muddled. And I’m especially disappointed by Allison, who starts out as a potentially interesting character and ends up just becoming a vessel, a body, a plot device rather than an actual person. Allison exists to A) draw our heroes into the Basement of Doom, B) add to our MC’s ongoing man pain, and C) give us some old-fashioned pregnancy horror, I guess? (She lost a baby prior to the story, so Big Bad impregnates her with monster juice, and she gets to die of symbolism. And getting chopped up by her tearful hubby, of course. Cool.) This is all especially tedious because we already have Maggie for the pregnancy horror, but I guess one eldritch nightmare birth where the mom/vessel violently dies wasn’t enough? Basically, this whole bit sucks.

Finally, additional notes:

A. I did actually enjoy the twist that Maggie was also a bad guy. I probably should’ve caught that, but I just assumed she’d have a gross demon baby, which, hey, that part was dead on. Poor Sarah got mighty ugly in her second life, didn’t she?

B. Much like with Grey Worm in Overlord, I had just enough time to be excited about Iris Rouse (Stephanie Belding) from Shadowhunters popping up before she got killed off. (Then transformed into an eldritch horror and then killed off again.) Sorry, buddy.

C. As always, doing clerical/errand work in a hospital hardly makes me a medical expert. And this story is admittedly set in some rural town in the . . . 80’s? 90’s? Still, I had a ball laughing at the medical inaccuracies in this movie. The aborted C-section wasn’t actually as bad as I thought (when you’re primarily familiar with a low transverse incision, a classical cut looks weird AF, like, Jesus, why are you all the way up there), although I highly suspect that whatever pain relief Kim used wouldn’t cut it for fucking surgery. But I straight up cackled when Allison walked to the med room, which appears to just be a basic supply closet where they keep narcotics unlocked on the shelf. Also, seriously, there’s only one patient here. Why the fuck are we keeping the supplies this far away? For that matter, why hasn’t the one and only patient in this hospital been transferred literally anywhere else? Like, I get the idea that this place is still supposed to be open for emergency services or something, but uh, dude’s clearly just an inpatient now. Ship that motherfucker out. And how in Christ’s name is anyone still working out of this hospital? Again, I get the idea–emergency services for locals while everyone else has moved off to hospitals that weren’t recently half burned down–but also, bullshit. The nearest hospital is only 20 minutes away, which of course is shitty, but shocking? In a rural county? HA. Hell, that’s the distance between the high school I went to and its closest hospital. Besides, the state of this place? No one should be working here. This especially kills me dead because the hospital I work at now has been temporarily shut down twice in the past few years just for smoke damage, much less a fire that actually destroyed part of the fucking building. These people have not heard of JCAHO, that’s all I’m saying.

D. Finally, more fun casting: our Big Bad is played by Kenneth Welsh, who I know from one episode of The Expanse but also from Twin Peaks, where he played Windom Earle. I had no idea that was the same guy! Meanwhile, Art Hindle, who was in both the original Black Christmas and the 70’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has a small role here, too. Horror cameo casting is just the best.

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.

MEGA REWATCH – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Well, here we are, folks: the end of the Mission: Impossible line, at least, until 2021. Fallout is the sixth film in this franchise; it’s also, as you may remember, the reason Mek and I decided to do this rewatch in the first place. Because while critics last year unanimously praised the film, even proclaiming it the best in the series, Mek and I were somewhat less enthused.

Now that I’ve recently rewatched the previous five films, it’s time to give Fallout a second chance and see if the critics were right all along.

Year: 2018
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yes, definitely

One of the unusual things about the M:I movies is that every single film has been directed by a different dude, at least, until this installment. Christopher McQuarrie, who saw considerable success with Rogue Nation, decided to come back for Fallout, and considering how phenomenally well Fallout did, it’s no surprise that he was asked back for M:I – 7 and M:I – 8. Initially, I was excited about this, considering how much I loved Rogue Nation, and indeed, many of my favorite things about that film (amazing fight scenes, awesome car chases, Badass Ilsa Faust) reappeared here.

Unfortunately, other aspects of this film feel more like inferior echoes than cool trademarks, like, I’m pretty done with both “the CIA doesn’t trust the IMF” and “hey, let’s frame Tom Cruise again!” The plot’s a bit thin here, and I sort of wish we hadn’t brought Solomon Lane back so soon, either. Though as far as villains go, he’s actually less of a problem for me than Henry Cavill, who I like in the role, except for how the role doesn’t really work. Like, as a jerk CIA assassin, Cavill’s actually pretty great; unfortunately, it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to be a secret bad guy, which is . . . fine, I guess, though it’d be nice if there were some other suspect in the running besides Angela Bassett. (Much like Laurence Fishburne in Mission: Impossible III, Bassett is far too obvious to actually be the traitor.) Still, Cavill is enjoyable as a frustrated second banana villain, too; the part where he gets in (Fake) Solomon’s face, all, “Why do you have to make this so fucking complicated?” works for me on, like, a spiritual level. But I also don’t for a second believe he’s the same dude who wrote a fucking apocalyptic manifesto; like, I get it, people have layers; I’m not saying you can’t break heads and write manifestos, but this guy ain’t it.

Angela Bassett, sadly, is somewhat wasted in the role; she owns what little screen time she has, but is given virtually nothing to do, as she’s mostly here to play the role of Bureaucratic Antagonist that Alec Baldwin played last movie. Baldwin, meanwhile, has rapidly transformed from Reluctant Jerkface Ally to Personal Cheerleader for the IMF, and it’s a problem for me, one, because I absolutely don’t buy it (seriously, they also did this same shit with Fishburne in Mission: Impossible III), and two, because the writers might as well have given Baldwin a shirt that said “DEAD MEAT” on it. And even if you weren’t sure from the get-go, you probably figured it out when our heroes welcomed Baldwin to the team, like, seriously, folks. I remember sitting in theater, thinking, Ha-ha, okay, YOU’RE dead. And it can be hard to appreciate a heroic death when you see it coming at a million paces. Everything about Hunley in this movie felt artificial AF.

That all being said, I do enjoy Fallout more than I did on first viewing. It’s honestly an extremely solid action film, and there’s a whole lot about it to both enjoy and admire. The bathroom fight scene is easily one of my favorite fight scenes in the whole franchise. The car chase through Paris is incredibly well done; despite taking up a significant amount of screen time, the sequence is broken up into manageable chunks and otherwise edited so beautifully that I never found myself fidgeting or wondering how long this would go on for. Other action movies, take note: this is how you do a car chase.

I also absolutely adore the addition of Vanessa Kirby as the White Widow, AKA, Max’s daughter. I was not expecting such a tie-in from the first film, and I think they nailed the casting here; Kirby is such a wonderful combination of posh, mercenary, hungry, and wild, and I will be sorely disappointed if she does not show up in future films. Benji and Ilsa, too, remain my absolute favorites, and I am all about scenes with these two working together, saving each other’s lives, etc. Give me more platonic world saving, please! I am always here for it, and Fallout, disappointingly, doesn’t focus on the team dynamics nearly as much as the past two films. I am, and forever will be, a sucker for a good team dynamic.

Finally, I am genuinely impressed with how Ethan and Julia’s relationship wraps up here: Fallout officially closes the chapter on their romance without killing off Julia or turning her into some bitchy, shrill, bullshit version of herself. They still can’t be together, but it’s okay because they’ve both moved on. She’s not bitter about how her life has turned out; on the contrary, she’s in love with another man, doing the work that she wants to be doing, and is grateful that meeting Ethan allowed her the opportunity to find her happiness and purpose. It’s genuinely so refreshing to see such a positive, healthy end to a fictional romance. It’s rare that love interests are treated with this amount of consideration. Even if I had absolutely hated Fallout, I would respect the movie for this bit alone.

Which leaves us, at long last, with our Best to Worst of the M:I Movies:

The Final Ranking (as of 2019)

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

If you’ve been enjoying these reviews–or hell, if you just happened to read this one–please comment and let me know! It’s always nice to have confirmation that I’m not just analyzing into the void. Plus, if you have suggestions for what movie series or body of work I should cover in my next Mega Re-Watch, I want to hear them! (Just don’t say Marvel. Please, anything but Marvel. After I see Endgame this week, I suspect I’m going to need a serious Marvel break. NO ENDGAME SPOILERS, PLEASE.)

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

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

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

Hotel Artemis

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

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

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

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

Ocean’s Eight

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

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

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

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

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

The Last of Sheila

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

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

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

But. But. But.

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

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

“Belgian! Belgian Eavesdropper!”

My sister and I have been watching old Hercule Poirot movies lately, as Tom–only completely wrong in his movie opinions about 80% of the time–informed me of their existence. Most recently, we watched Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov, and while I don’t have too much to say, I thought I’d at least write up a few, quick impressions, if only because I’d like to post something this week, and I’m not done with my next gender-swapped movie essay yet. (Spoilers: it’s about a highly regarded horror film with some seriously problematic elements.)

On to the Baby Review!

Continue reading

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

The Fast and The Furious movies fascinate me.

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

“The Beauty of American Arrogance Is That They Can’t Imagine A World Where They’re Not A Step Ahead.”

Years ago, Mek and I saw a trailer for Vantage Point and were intrigued by the initial premise. A conspiracy thriller about a presidential assassination from the POV of multiple people at the scene? I’m a huge sucker for Rashomon-esque stories, and this movie sounded like it could be a lot of fun . . right up until the point where the trailer revealed a Really Big Twist–and like, not some subtle turn of events that only obsessive pop culture nerds like me could figure out by overanalyzing the trailer frame by frame and spotting some dude wearing a significant costume in the background. No, I’m talking about a preview that outright told you a huge plot reveal. It was just . . . baffling. And after the film failed to garner almost any positive reviews, I kind forgot about the whole movie.

My sister, however, did not. So guess what we finally watched a few weeks ago?

The verdict? Well. It doesn’t start out so bad, anyway.

Continue reading

“Is That Classical?”

Plenty of Trekkies despise NuTrek Abramsverse the Kelvin Timeline, but–as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before–I’m really not one of them. I’m a completely unabashed fan of the 2009 Star Trek, and while I think Into Darkness has some deeply frustrating problems, I don’t think it’s, like, THE DEATH OF STAR TREK or anything, either. Honestly, it’s not even my least favorite Trek film: out of Wrath, Search, Whales, God, Captain von Klingon, Bridge, Borg, Insurrection, Reboot, and Huge Dead Tribble, God is easily my least favorite–although it should be noted that I haven’t seen The Motion Picture or Nemesis yet, and I barely remember Bridge at all, much less Insurrection, which I KNOW I’ve seen but has obviously been so thoroughly erased from my brain that I couldn’t even come up with a clever 1-3 word nickname for it. (Meanwhile, Wrath would clearly be KHAAAAN!, while I’m thinking Search should either be Spock Lives! or maybe Star Trek: A Study in Negating Everything Interesting About The Previous Film in the Series. Or do you think that’s too long?)

I feel like I’ve digressed. The point is this: I can now add Star Trek Beyond to the list.

st beyond cover2

And how did I like Star Trek Beastie Boys? Well, I have some problems because, you know, me. Overall, though, I had a pretty decent time watching it in theater.

Continue reading