Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Candyman, Urban Legend, and A Bay of Blood

Friends! Enemies! Other Random People! It is October, and that means it is finally time for our 3rd Annual Horror Bingo!

The Game Set-Up: Mek and I each came up with our own list of 15 horror movies. We wrote those movie names down and put them together in a little Halloween bucket; then we randomly drew titles until we’d finished creating our own bingo cards. (The Free Space, if you were wondering, is the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th. We’ll watch it sometime later this month.) Then all the movies went back in the bucket, and now we’re taking turns drawing and watching scary movies until one of us finally hits Bingo.

Here’s to hopefully winning for the third year in a row!

Candyman

Horror Candyman GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2021
Director: Nia DaCosta
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Strawberry

For me, Candyman doesn’t quite come together. I definitely don’t regret watching it; in fact, there’s an awful lot to like here. The cast, for instance, is fantastic. I particularly like Teyonah Parris and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Troy is so extra, and I love him), but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Colman Domingo also do solid work here. A lot of the individual creepy moments are great. Peeling skin. Shadow puppets. The wrong reflection in the mirror. Some awesome funny moments, too: Brianna’s reaction to the dark staircase. Most of Troy’s dialogue. Anytime anyone nopes out of saying Candyman. (White people are, almost exclusively, making poor life choices here.)

Candyman has a lot of interesting things to say about gentrification, about police brutality, about the exploitation of Black pain and the holy shit cringe of white people trying to dictate what stories Black people are allowed to tell. It talks about legends and collective trauma and makes some fascinating choices in terms of updating the Candyman mythology. This movie has so much to say; unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly enough time to say it.

Candyman is only about 1 hour and 30 minutes long, and while that initially excited me (I am not, generally speaking, a huge fan of the 2 hour, 45 minute horror film), I think this particular story needed to be at least two hours, easy. Everything just feels extremely rushed or underdeveloped to me: Anthony’s spiral, Brianna’s backstory, and definitely a couple of Reveals that I can’t discuss without spoilers. It felt like we were flying past important steps, which kept me from ever really feeling that buildup of tension that can be so pivotal in horror. I love the idea of the ending (the scene in the police car is particularly fantastic) but the ten-minute lead-up to that scene felt so hurried and convoluted that it just doesn’t land for me nearly as well as it could. There’s also a tie-in to the the original film that I’m not totally sure is necessary; I don’t hate it, exactly, but it’s one more thing in a story that already has a lot going on.

Finally, dear God. Google what a normal bee sting looks like, and if you’re noticing some rather noticeable differences between your search results and your fucking death hand, go to the ER immediately. I am begging you.

Urban Legend

Year: 1998
Director: Jamie Blanks
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Chocolate

It’s been years–maybe 20 of them, JFC–since I’ve seen Urban Legend, so I thought it’d be fun to finally rewatch it. This movie is one of the quintessential 90’s slashers, with hilarious 90’s problems (the internet is tying up the phone line!), some very 90’s music (OMG, “Zoot Suit Riot”), and an extremely 90’s cast. Holy shit, this cast. Final Girl Alicia Witt. Jared Leto, who’s more off-putting than I remember. (And not just because he’s kinda insufferable now.) Rebecca Gayheart, who–holy shit, she accidentally killed a child. I knew there had been a vehicular manslaughter charge (which is particularly . . . something, considering Brenda’s villainous motivations), but I didn’t know it was a nine-year-old boy. I just found all these ‘Rebecca Gayheart finally breaks her silence on tragic accident that left a kid dead’ articles, and like, I don’t know this actress, I’m not gonna offer an opinion on her sincerity or guilt, but wow, these headlines are passive, deliberately distancing Gayheart from her actions. And the tone of each article, like. They all really center her grief, her trauma, in a way that feels . . . yeah, kinda icky to me.

Okay, I got sidetracked. Also in this cast: Joshua Jackson (in his brief blond phase), Michael Rosenbaum (always funny to see him with hair), Danielle Harris (of Halloween and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead fame), Brad Dourif (also in Rob Zombie’s Halloween, plus the Chucky movies, plus eight billion other weirdo roles), Robert Englund (I mean, do I even need to say), Loretta Devine (who rather surprisingly doesn’t die!), John Neville (who I vaguely remember from The X-Files), and Julian Richings (That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada).

While slashers aren’t, by and large, known for their likable characters, seriously, almost everyone in Urban Legend is kind of a dick. Like, am I supposed to be rooting for Natalie and Paul? Cause, yeah, nope. Frankly, I was cheering Brenda on until, y’know. She microwaved a puppy. (Apparently, this is an actual urban legend?) Tara Reid is playing one of the more likable characters here, which, I mean, I’m not saying it never happens–all hail Josie and the Pussycats–but still. These people are dire.

Urban Legends is silly but enjoyable, and I laughed a lot. Sometimes when I was supposed to (the “I Don’t Want to Wait” gag, Damon’s sleaze act, Natalie punching Damon for being a sleaze, etc.), sometimes when I probably wasn’t (pretty much the entire opening act or how Rebecca Gayheart’s hair suddenly grows three sizes when she’s revealed as the villain). It does feel a bit slow at times, probably because I truly don’t give a shit about anybody here, like, just zero investment in these characters. But I do really enjoy that Brenda’s the bad guy. It’s the only slasher I can think of offhand where the BFF is the killer. And hey, she even unambiguously survives! Not something BFFs are known for in this genre. (Villains, naturally, can go either way.)

A Bay of Blood

Year: 1971
Director: Mario Bava
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: All of them
Grade: Vanilla

Ah, A Bay of Blood, AKA: Ecologia del delitto, AKA: Reazione a Catena, AKA: Carnage, AKA: Blood Bath, and–my personal favorite–AKA: Twitch of the Death Nerve. It’s sorta hilarious to me how controversial this movie was when it first came out. I mean, I get it. This was a huge inspiration for the slasher genre and just crazy gory for 1971; in fact, some of the shots are still striking today, particularly the octopus slithering all over the dead body, like, Jesus. (Other moments that stick out: the countess’s hanging, the kid who gets a billhook machete to the face, the tarot reader’s decapitation–mostly because it made me laugh–and Laura’s corpse, partly because of the transition from flashback to dead body, partly cause she reminds me of Casey Becker in that shot.)

There’s a lot I like here. As a murder mystery nerd, I’m kind of obsessed with stories with more than one murderer–and not just partners-in-crime, but multiple separate killers. A Bay of Blood has 13 deaths and FOUR different killers. Six, if you count the accidental Murder Children, and boy, will we get back to those two. Anyway, I just think that’s neat. I’m really into the whole chain reaction of death, too, all, whelp, guess I gotta go murder again, or hmm, looks like an ideal time to bump someone off. I’m also very fond of the OST, which–in true 70’s Italian style–is totally weird and somehow still works, from the grandiose piano music to the more jaunty stuff to the ludicrously cheerful song that plays right after the Murder Children unwittingly kill their killer parents.

Structurally, though, I have problems. It should work: open with an inciting death or two, set up your cast of characters, kill off a few here or there, and then 3rd Act Blood Bath! But the pacing really feels off in the 1st half of the film. We spend fucking forever on these teenagers. (One has possibly the worst haircut I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know what to call it. Fluffy Mullet With Wings, maybe?) And while some shots and editing choices are great, others feel extremely random and choppy. The dialogue isn’t the best, either, although that’s hard  to judge, considering the dubbing and poor sound quality. Possibly, I missed stuff, like . . . why did these people just decide to leave their kids behind in a camper on the side of the road in the middle of the night again?

I can’t quite decide how I feel about that ending, either. The awful parents are the last murderers left standing, only they immediately get killed by their own children, who shoot them without realizing the guns are very real. These kids fucking skip off into the sunset, thinking their parents are only playing dead, and I mean–yeah, I definitely laughed to the tune of what the actual fuck. But the last minute Comeuppance Twist doesn’t always play for me, and ultimately, I’m not sure if I love it here.

I do really feel like A Bay of Blood might be one that grows on me, but I’ll have to think it over. TBH, I kinda want to see a remake. The cinematic blasphemy, I know.

Triple Scoop Review: The Ninth Guest, Mortal Kombat, and Palm Springs

The 9th Guest

Year: 1934
Director: Roy William Neill
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

Despite the low Strawberry grade, I actually found this movie quite a bit of fun. No surprise there, really, considering it’s about a group of people who are invited to a mysterious small party, where they’re subsequently trapped and killed off one by one. I mean, come on. If that’s not my favorite type of story, it’s easily in the Top 5.

In a remake–which, personally, I’d be all for–there are some changes I’d love to see. First and foremost: cut the villain being in love with the girl. I’ve never particularly cared for this trope, and the story doesn’t require it at all; it’s much more interesting if the bad guy just wants to kill these people for their various nefarious deeds, a la And Then There Were None. (Much to my amusement, there is a veritable war in this movie’s IMDb trivia page, where one person insists that ATTWN is a blatant rip off of this movie, while another commenter actually took the time to write out a seven point rebuttal rebuking this claim.) The love story between our two survivors could use some work, too, as I mostly just wanted our lead heroine to shoot her tool of a love interest.

And while I kind of enjoy how the party guests are, for the most part, getting themselves killed (a dude accidentally poisons himself while trying to murder another guest, etc.), it still gets a bit frustrating because it’s so obvious that everyone would survive if they just sat still for a damn hour. The asshole love interest keeps pointing it out, too, but no one listens–and while that could work as an exploration of fear, greed, and human nature, it mostly comes off as contrived instead. I suspect this might work better if the guests died more sporadically (rather than on the hour) or if we, the audience, took a while to figure out how each person died.

Still, this is a fun setup, and I enjoyed a lot about this movie: the beginning (where we realize, oh shit, half these guests hate each other), a good chunk of the dialogue, the bits where the guests search the house, the radio reveal, etc. There are a few specific shots that strongly remind me of Clue, enough that I actually wonder if this movie might’ve been a direct inspiration. I’d straight up cut the servant characters, who aren’t that funny and get dropped halfway through the movie anyway, and the film quality is not stellar, cause, like, it’s a 90-year-old movie on Youtube. But if you’re also a sucker for fancy parties with a side of MURDER, this one’s worth checking out.

Mortal Kombat

Year: 2021
Director: Simon McQuoid
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

The 1995 Mortal Kombat will probably always be the Mortal Kombat of my heart, but this was a good time, too. Specifically, it was a very rated-R time, which is excellent. From the dawn of man (which is to say, the early 90’s), the MK games have always been brutal. Naturally, I was quite happy to see that brutality here as well: the vicious fight scenes, the fatalities, the all-around glorious violence. Kung Lao’s killer hat! Jax’s arms! Stabbing someone with their own frozen blood!

Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion and Josh Lawson as Kano are probably my standouts–and boy, I never expected Kano to be one of my favorites–but I also liked Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Mileena, and Mileena’s teeth. I really love how diverse this cast is, too. Like, as much as I love Christopher Lambert as Raiden–and I do so love him–it’s nice to see this part actually played by an Asian man and not, you know, some white French dude. It’s a fun film, and I’m glad I watched it, and I’m sure I’ll happily watch it again.

But I do have criticisms–because yes, me, but damn it, I get so tired of this attitude that you’re automatically expecting too much or missing the point if you enjoy thinking critically about popcorn movies. Like, you have to know the genre you’re talking about, sure. If your main criticisms of an MK movie are “too many fight scenes” or “too much gore,” then yes, I’d suggest this just isn’t the franchise for you. But there are changes we can discuss here that might have made this film even more entertaining. For instance, let’s discuss Cole Young, our everyman protagonist, cause despite Lewis Tan–who I did enjoy quite a bit in Wu Assassins–I’m afraid that Cole is just too generic to live.

I’m not 100% against the idea of introducing an OC into this mix (though I admit, I’m not sure why you’d bother when you’ve got, like, a billion characters to choose from), but I honestly don’t see how this particular Chosen One hero serves the story in any real way. Cole’s arc (such as it is) is boring. His nearly refrigerated family parallel to Scorpion is boring, and most of his dialogue–save a few funny lines–is boring, too. I also would’ve loved to see some better lady rep. There are like six female characters here, which is cool, except that one gets fridged immediately, two are mostly around just to be in danger, and two look incredibly badass, but don’t actually get to do much of anything. Which leaves us with a half dozen dudes and Sonya Blade. It’s disappointing.

(Also, I’m sorry, but why the fuck are Cole’s wife and kid still living at home? Once an immortal ice assassin tracks you down, you immediately get the fuck out of dodge; you do not just go back home and hope for the best while Hubby/Dad fucks off to Magic Martial Arts School. Get thee asses out of town and to a Best Western, goddamnit.)

I think, too, that this film suffers a bit when SPOILER REDACTED dies, mostly because shortly afterwards, a lot of the bad guys are easily defeated in the span of, like, ten minutes? And that felt really anticlimactic to me. Finally–and I fully acknowledge that this just might be a me thing–I can’t help but be kinda bummed that there is no actual tournament in this movie. The fight scenes are so much fun, but damn it, I wanted an actual competition with, like, matches and spectators and shit. IDK if I can call it a real problem with the movie, but I must admit, I did find it pretty disappointing.

Palm Springs

Year: 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, I liked this one a whole lot. Unlike Mortal Kombat, I don’t know how much I actually have to say about it? But I really enjoyed Palm Springs, and am annoyed with myself for taking so long to check it out. Like, why do I sabotage myself this way? This movie had great reviews, I like Andy Samberg, and I love time loop stuff. Honestly, I can’t think of a single time loop story that I dislike–with the possible exception of Groundhog Day, which is, admittedly, a pretty funny exception to have. But yeah, time loops are the best; they’re fantastic for exploring character growth and relationship dynamics, and they almost always come with a heavy side of humor, angst, and hilarious montages. I especially enjoy it when more than one person goes through the loop (as is the case here), and I thought it was neat how Palm Springs more or less begins in medias res.

The cast is absolutely fantastic. I’d forgotten  how many people are in this one: Andy Samberg, of course, who is pretty much perfect for this role, and Cristin Milioti, who I’ve never seen before and now want to see in everything. She was so funny; her reaction in that one scene with the arrows? I was dying. I was dying. Then we’ve got a supporting cast that includes J.K. Simmons, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, Peter Gallagher, and Dale Dickey? Like, that is a spectacular lineup, and everyone does great work here.

Palm Springs is, like the best time loop stories, pretty wacky. It’s a little dark, a little sweet, and just generally a really great SF romantic comedy overall. It also–and this is very important to note–showcases the absolute worst suit I’ve ever seen, seriously, it horrifies me just so much, so obviously kudos for that, too.

Man. I still really need to write my own time loop story. Possibly more than one. I have So Many Ideas.

TV Superlatives: September, October, and November – 2019

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started, shall we?

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Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Suspiria, Us, and Jason X

It’s the end of an era, folks! Okay, fine, it’s just the end of our first annual Horror Bingo–which, yes, should have been finished well over a month ago, but life! Holidays! Disney Plus! The point is, I got it done by Christmas, and that’s just gonna have to be good enough.

More importantly . . .

That’s right, I WON! Honestly, this was a lot of fun, and I’m already looking forward to Round 2 next year. Before I get into conclusions, though, we have three more movies to discuss: our final two Horror Bingo films and, of course, our reward movie: Jason X.

Suspiria (2018)

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

Well. That was a movie.

I was hopeful for this one. I do really enjoy the original film. (Gore! Maggots! Technicolor!) But also, I was kinda excited to see a different take on Ballet Witch Academy cause there are a lot of ways to go with that concept. (Not gonna lie, folks: if Ballet Witch Academy was a show on CW, I’d watch the hell out of it.) Add in Tilda Swinton and a score by Thom Yorke, and I was fucking sold. And credit where credit’s due: I do really enjoy that score. Listening to it now, as a matter of fact, and let me tell you: “The Hooks” is a particularly disturbing song when you’re listening to it by yourself at midnight. Also, the Susie/Olga dance scene is nothing short of horrific: grotesque, intense, and masterfully shot. There are certain plot developments I like, too, at least conceptually: the reveal that Susie is Mother Suspiriorum, for instance, is certainly intriguing. And that whole line about how the witches won’t suffer any retaliation for their votes? HA! I didn’t buy that bit of bullshit for one second, so the violent payoff at the end works well for me.

Overall, though, I just really didn’t enjoy this movie. I didn’t like the opening scene at all, like, Chloe Grace Moretz seems to be going for Crazy, Oh So Crazy, and it feels both atonal AF and, yeah, just kinda ick. At 2 1/2 hours, I think the film is far too long. I’m not saying you can’t have long horror films, but I am saying they’re hard to do well. (It: Chapter Two also failed at this.) We spend way more time on the psychiatrist than I think is warranted, and I don’t love that he’s played by Tilda Swinton; the performance is fine (I mean, it’s Tilda Swinton), but I find the choice itself unnecessarily distracting. I like the idea of Susie’s twist, but not the build or execution of it, and I don’t think the film does a very good job developing her and Madam Blanc’s relationship, either. Sure, they stare at each other a lot, and I suspect I’m supposed to get mad lesbian chemistry or maybe, IDK, incestuous mother/daughter vibes? Mostly, though, I feel like Suspiria relies way too heavily on its artsy mood and funky editing in an attempt to overcompensate for a lackluster script. I’m not particularly convinced the political backstory is working in the film’s favor, either. There were a few moments of interesting horror here, but primarily, I found myself bored, frustrated, or both.

Us

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: All of them. Watch the film first, please.
Grade: Chocolate

Oh, this is difficult. There’s an awful lot I do like about this movie. The acting is great. Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic, Winston Duke is hilarious (he plays Such A Dad), and I really enjoyed Shahadi Wright Joseph quite a bit, too. I’d forgotten Elisabeth Moss was in this movie, and though it’s a small role, my God, if she doesn’t make the most out of it. There are so many wonderful scenes and moments here: the death of Pluto, basically everything that happens at the Tyler’s house, Adelaide and Red’s final fight/dance, etc. The soundtrack is phenomenal (I’ve now switched over to “Anthem,” naturally), and I liked a lot of the humor. I’m a huge sucker for family dynamics in horror, and I was definitely invested in these characters as we watched the film.

But I have criticisms, too, and unfortunately, they’re not minor ones. Like, when Red gives her monologue near the end of the movie about how the Tethered were kept underground as part of a government experiment and how she banded them together and such, it felt . . . messy. Interesting, certainly, but messy, like there’s enough story and metaphor in these five minutes alone to make a whole other movie, but instead of really doing something with it, it’s just sorta . . . thrown out there, slapdash as hell. I can’t quite decide if we’re given too much information here or not nearly enough, but either way, I think the writing is a bit weak in the third act. Still, I was willing to forgive it because, messy or not, Us is weird and fascinating, and I was having a pretty fun time watching it. And then we get Adelaide’s Big Reveal, and I just . . .

Look. We were roughly five minutes into this movie before I thought, “Oh, shit, maybe this is an evil changeling story! Maybe Adelaide isn’t traumatized; she’s just not Adelaide.” And you know, there is evidence to support that, particularly whenever Adelaide kills one of the Tethered. But the more Red talked, the more I realized I wouldn’t buy that twist anymore. Part of that’s dialogue: would she really have a whole speech about the humans Above, specifically calling them “your people,” without ever mentioning they were once her people, that the sky was once her sky? Would she say “we’re humans too, you know” to someone who, of course, does know? Would she use intentionally ambiguous (and slightly more awkward) phrasing like “how you could’ve taken me with you” instead of “you could’ve come with me” or “we could’ve both lived Above?”

But it’s not just dialogue. It’s also that the logic and mechanics of this place feel murky as hell: Little Adelaide starts behaving like a shadow while trapped Below, but . . . I don’t really know how or why: she isn’t mindless like the others, after all. So much here feels vague and inconsistent, and while horror doesn’t always have to be logical or explained in full to be successful, that doesn’t fly so well when you need to support a Big Twist. And it doesn’t help that I just don’t think this particular Big Twist adds much to the story, emotionally or thematically; mostly, it just strikes me as an unnecessary cheat, and considering Cheat Unreliable Narrators are one of my biggest storytelling pet peeves? It’s a really unfortunate note to end this otherwise very enjoyable film on.

Jason X

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Vanilla

Oh, Jason X. This gloriously silly movie. This loving parody of its own franchise. You can come at me with your “Michael Myers is the best masked killer” until you’re blue in the face, but has Michael Myers ever been cryogenically frozen for 400 years? Has he ever cut off a dude’s arm purely by falling over? Was he resurrected and reconstructed into Uber Michael by futuristic nano ants? Yeah, I rest my case.

Jason X knows exactly what kind of movie it is. The puns are over the top, the kills are as violent as they are ridiculous, the fashion is hilarious (sometimes even intentionally!), and and everyone just seems like they’re having a really good time. The whole movie is a string of meta in-jokes punctuated by absurd violence. (See: the gratuitous nudity holograms and the nod to everyone’s favorite sleeping bag death from Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood.) Hell, the whole plot structure is basically one giant homage to Aliens. Also, holy shit, David Cronenberg has a cameo in this! I don’t think I even realized that the first time I watched this movie.

I will say it’s a little disappointing that a) both black characters on the ship die, and b) they die sacrificing themselves for white people, which is certainly a shitty trope prevalent in horror. That being said, if you’re gonna go out in a heroic blaze of glory, you’ve gotta do it like Peter Mensah, whose character impossibly zooms in from out of nowhere, tackles Jason in space, and steers their bodies towards Earth 2, where they continue to fight even as they burn up in the atmosphere. It is exceptional. It is a thing of beauty.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO WRAP-UP:

Of the horror films I’d never seen before, my favorites were probably Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Babadook, It Follows, and The Wailing. Meanwhile, my least favorites were Suspiria (2018), Ghost Story, Insidious, and The Witch.

Of the horror films I have seen before, I think The Legend of Hell House remains my favorite, whereas my appreciation for Hostel has considerably dipped.

Movies I’m most disappointed we didn’t get to on this go-around: Deep Red, Overlord, and Phantasm.

Movies I’ll probably add to next year’s Horror Bingo, if I don’t watch them before then: Tigers Are Not Afraid, Happy Death Day, and Hausu.

The Big TV Recap: Umbrella Academy, Russian Doll, Shadowhunters, Killing Eve, and One Day At A Time

Lately, I’ve been ignoring pretty much every movie in my queue (not to mention my TOS recaps) in favor of binge watching non-Star Trek-related TV. That’s not particularly unusual for me, but it has meant I’ve been thinking all these random, pop culture thoughts without anywhere to express them in my characteristically lengthy and over-analytical fashion.

So, I figured I’d take some time to discuss the handful of TV shows I’ve been (sometimes obsessively) watching over the past few months. I did consider stacking them against one another, even adding a couple of flavors to my Triple Scoop Rating System–Mint Chocolate Chip would be the lowest of the low–but then it just seemed like work, so. Meh.

The Umbrella Academy

Netflix GIF by The Umbrella Academy - Find & Share on GIPHY

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Yes, a comic book series
Have I Read It: Nope. Always meant too, but nope
Spoilers: YES

Man, this show is all over the place. Some of it I really like. The basic premise (Potential murder mysteries! Child superheroes becoming bitter adults! Stopping the apocalypse together like a family!) really works for me. Also, I am–and forever will be–obsessed with mediums and their dead partners-in-crime, so I pretty much had to like Klaus despite myself. (But seriously, more Ben, please!) I was honestly surprised by how much I cared about Diego’s relationship with Robot Mom, and some of the shows’s overall weirdness worked well. Cha-Cha and Hazel in their masks, for example. Or the dance scene to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which I’ve rewatched, like, four times at least.

Still, I definitely struggled with The Umbrella Academy. Vanya was the source of much of my frustration, despite the fact that I like Ellen Page just fine in the role. It just takes so long for her storyline to progress in any interesting way, and even when it does, like, it’s still pretty obvious how it’s going to go. Of course she’s going to develop powers, and of course those powers are going to cause the apocalypse. Her annoying love interest/bad guy only makes things worse for me. He isn’t charming or likable enough to buy into Vanya’s insta love for him; I do not care that he’s supposedly the only person who’s ever paid her attention. (Maybe because I just don’t quite buy that, either? That bit irks me for reasons I’m having trouble articulating.) I was so grateful when she finally killed him, but still, that took how many episodes? Meanwhile, Vanya’s snap to the dark side somehow manages to feel rushed, like Luther locking her up was obviously a bad call, but she had just slit her sister’s throat, so, it didn’t seem entirely unreasonable? More importantly, it felt like she was imprisoned for all of twenty minutes before she suddenly went all Possess-Y Blue Eyes, and I just never bought that transition. It’s not the only storyline where the pacing bothers me (even Cha-Cha and Hazel, who I generally enjoy, seem to fizzle in the back half of the season), but it’s easily the one that bores me the most.

Also, I can’t get past the feeling that The Umbrella Academy is just trying WAY too hard to be, like, So Different, So Weird, So Buzzworthy. Which, it really doesn’t need to do. When your story includes a talking chimpanzee butler, you don’t have to try that hard. And yet so many of the music choices and fight scenes just feel like they’re screaming for attention. Some of them I genuinely enjoyed, but others kept throwing me out of the story.

I don’t regret watching the show at all, but I’m also pretty relieved to have a break from it, too. I’ll probably check out the second season–assuming it gets renewed–but I suspect I won’t be counting the seconds till its return, either.

Russian Doll

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Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Nope
Spoilers: Some. Nothing the trailer doesn’t tell you, but I’d still recommend skipping the first paragraph if you haven’t seen the show yet.

I’m a huge sucker for a time loop–particularly in television–so obviously, I had to watch this show where Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) keeps dying over and over on her 36th birthday. For the most part, I really enjoyed Russian Doll. The first couple of episodes didn’t fully grab me, but I quickly got on board once Alan came into the picture. The dynamic between him and Nadia really interested me, and of course, adding a second person to a time loop is just goddamn cool.

The further you get into Russian Doll, the more it starts punching you in the face with emotions, rather than just a string of wacky death sequences. To be clear, I absolutely do not object to wacky death sequences at all. Still, I feel like the show doesn’t fully come together until you really get the Feels in the second half. It wasn’t a big problem for me, though: each episode is about half an hour, I think, and there are, what, eight episodes total? So, not a big time commitment. That’s a glorious goddamn feeling.

Both Natasha Lyonne and Charlie Barnett are fantastic in this, and the ending of the show is perfectly, beautifully bittersweet. I know there’s already been talk about making more seasons (as an anthology show, maybe) but personally, I kind of hope they just keep this as a one-and-done. Even without answering everything, it already feels very complete.

Shadowhunters

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu (by way of Freeform)
Seasons: 3. Well, 2 and 1/2. 3B airs in just a few days.
Adapted Material: Yes, Christ, yes. There are so many books and companion books it’s hard to keep track. Also, a 2013 film I never saw.
Have I Read It: Nope. Some interest in The Magnus Bane Chronicles, though.
Spoilers: Some, yes. Nothing that should ruin the show for you.

My latest obsession and guilty pleasure, even though I’m not wild about that term. Still, I can’t help but feel it applies here because there is SO MUCH I want to fix. I can easily forgive the shitty special effects because, hey, there’s a charm to low budget SFX (though, admittedly, the first season is particularly charming in that regard, even for Freeform), but Clary, the primary lead, mostly annoys me, and the initial love triangle between her, Simon, and Jace is so awful, oh my God. I would like this show 170% better if I hadn’t had to deal with two seasons of that crap.

That all being said, if you like urban fantasy, positive queer representation, and/or attractive people, there’s a fair bit to like here. I enjoy the general concept of the world: the angelic rune magic is pretty cool, if not terribly consistent (often a problem with TV, especially SF/F), I really enjoy the warlock marks (Madzie’s gills are the BEST), and I’m a sucker for a psychic soul bond (though I’d kill to see some lady parabatais on this show). Some good side characters, too: Maia (Alisha Wainwright), a werewolf bartender studying marine biology, is such a badass, and Luke (Isaiah Mustafa) is a hot, werewolf, ex-Shadowhunter, father-figure type and homicide detective, so, yeah, I’m okay with that.

And, of course, Magnus and Alec own my fucking soul. #Malec4Life

Like, I’m not gonna lie, kids: there’s some serious aesthetic appeal going on here. Matthew Daddario has pretty eyes, a great smile, and is stupidly tall, while you don’t get much more my type than Harry Shum Jr. in dark eye makeup and fabulous jackets. But I genuinely love these characters, too, and the chemistry between them: Magnus is a sassy, dangerous warlock with a heart of gold, so, OBVIOUSLY, I love him, and in my own way, I actually relate pretty hard to wary, repressed Alec, especially in the first season as he struggles to accept himself and understand who he is and what he actually wants. And like I said, the queer rep is pretty decent: for main players, Alec is gay, Magnus is bi, and Raphael is asexual (canonically and briefly discussed in scene, though unfortunately, no one uses the actual word). Meanwhile, there are multiple minor LGBTQ+ characters, too, namely, Ollie, Aline, and Underhill.

I know this show isn’t for everyone, but damn, I’m enjoying it right now. Which is why I’m extremely bummed that I only discovered it right before its final season.

Killing Eve

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu (by way of BBC America)
Seasons: 1
Adapted Material: Yes, a series of novels
Have I Read It: Nope. I’m really starting to feel like I’m letting my fellow readers down
Spoilers: Surprisingly, no

Here’s something kind of funny: the first thing I saw Sandra Oh in wasn’t a movie or a TV show but a play. I had the extremely unlikely opportunity to see The House of Bernada Alba in LA when I was a teenager, and Oh played Adela, the youngest daughter. (And holy shit, I had NO IDEA that Tsai Chin was in it until just now. Chita Rivera, I knew, but Tsai Chin? Damn it, why didn’t I REALIZE?) If I’m being honest, I don’t remember much about the play itself, other than the fact that I liked it, but Sandra Oh herself left a big impression on me, so much so that I remembered her name years later when I saw promos for Grey’s Anatomy and thought, Wait, is that . .  holy shit, it IS. Sandra Oh is the primary reason I decided to check out Grey’s Anatomy in the first place, and she’s definitely the main reason I decided to finally check out Killing Eve.

People who have not yet watched this show: start watching this show. It’s macabrely funny and touching and violent and weird, all in a way that a TV show starring two female leads rarely gets the opportunity to be. Honestly, cat and mouse has never actually been one of my favorite dynamics (maybe because it often feels so tired?), but to watch Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in that particular dynamic is just sort of breathtaking. It all just feels so new.

Clearly, I don’t need to sing the praises of Oh, between that opening paragraph and her winning every award under the sun, but Jodie Comer is equally magnetic as Villanelle, and I’d really like to see her garner some nominations next year, too. And the whole supporting cast is also great: Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who I fell in love with on The Good Place, is fantastic here and hopefully gets more to do in second season. Fiona Shaw is wonderfully, gloriously strange, and I really enjoy Sean Delaney as Kenny, too. Really, if we could just kill off Eve’s husband sooner rather than later, I’d pretty much be all set.

One Day at a Time

Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Seasons: 3
Adapted Material: No, but it’s a remake
Have I Seen the Original: No. It aired a full decade before I was born.
Spoilers: Some, yes, but only in the fourth paragraph

No one who knows me, I think, would be hugely shocked to discover that I like shows about dysfunctional families and time travel and apocalypses, or obsessed lady serial killers and MI-6 agents. Time loops and angelic magic probably wouldn’t surprise them, either. But One Day at a Time is definitely unusual for me: for one, it’s a sitcom with a live audience, for another, it absolutely delights in making you cry. Neither of these things are my personal TV sweet spot.

However, after several glowing recommendations online, I decided to check out the show last year, and I’m so glad I did because I fucking love One Day at a Time. I won’t lie: it did take me a bit to get used to the laughter (it’s not canned, anyway?), and the first few minutes, I don’t know. The jokes felt forced. But that got better pretty quickly, and by the end of the first season, ODAAT had completely won me over. The show pulls off the rare trick of being genuinely funny while also being topical and heartfelt. Real life issues are regularly brought up without coming across as simplistic or preachy. And seriously, the show consistently kicks your heart in the ass without being manipulative. It’s all pretty impressive.

Everyone in the cast is spectacular, but Justina Machado and Rita Moreno are particularly fantastic. People. They are SO GOOD. I cannot tell you how angry I am that neither have gotten an Emmy nod for this show yet. (And probably won’t, unfortunately. I had a bad feeling about this show’s chances of renewal even before Wednesday’s hashtag. Though, obviously, I would be delighted to be proven wrong.)

ODAAT’s third season aired a few weeks ago, and it’s just as good as the previous two, with some amazing guest stars (Gloria Estefan, Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Fumero, Alan Ruck, etc.) and some outstanding storylines. Schneider falling off the wagon wasn’t hard to see coming, but I was impressed with how well that whole arc was handled; not to mention, it was really interesting to see Todd Grinnell in a more dramatic role. I desperately love, too, how Elena continues to have issues with her father after his total dick move at her quinceañera, that moving forward isn’t just a snap of the fingers. In particular, I really like the show’s acknowledgment that she shouldn’t have to do all the work in repairing their relationship. That’s big for me. And, of course, I’m happy about the positive queer rep here, too. (Though this isn’t specific to third season.) Elena is a lesbian and Syd (her SO, or Syd-nificant Other) is NB.

Like I said, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if ODAAT gets cancelled. And, I suppose, the third season at least ends on a solid, positive note–but still, there’s a lot more story to tell here, more laughter and more tears and more dramatic entrances from Lydia. If you haven’t watched this show yet, I’m pretty much begging you to check it out. #SaveODAAT #AllMyLovesGetAxed

“WAKANDA FOREVER!”

I went to see Black Panther last Sunday, mostly excited but also a little nervous. Not so much on the “Hollywood-fucks-up-black-representation” front; reviews had been pretty overwhelmingly positive about that. In fact, save for a few racist trolls saying the kinds of things you’d expect racist trolls to say, reviews on pretty much every front had been overwhelmingly positive–

–Which, yeah, was pretty much why I was nervous. Despite the name of this blog, I really didn’t wanna be the Meh Girl about this one, like, I didn’t want Black Panther to be my Arrival of 2018, you know?

Happily for me, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie.

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“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.

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“I Am One With The Force. The Force Is With Me.”

Mekaela and I spent Christmas in Taft, California this year, visiting our dad. Taft is a small place in the middle of absolute nowhere (though, in fairness, I feel obligated to point out that it is actually larger than the place I grew up) and during the holidays, when everything is closed downtown except the movie theater and one corner mini market, Taft feels quite a bit like an actual ghost town. Which made walking through it pretty awesome, actually.

As none of us had seen Rogue One yet, the family St. George decided to watch it on Christmas afternoon. Considering the movie had come out weeks before and I had just spent the last hour walking through a town that I had happily pretended was post-Rapture, I thought there was a more than decent chance that I would finally, finally see a movie with no one but the people who had accompanied me to the theater.

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Alas. Others emerged, like total bastards, and ruined my Christmas miracle. The Grand Movie Theater Dream remains unrealized.
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“It’s Not Slime. It’s Mucus!”

It’s time to head back to the Disney Princess Movie Challenge. This time we’re discussing The Princess and The Frog, which is kind-of-sort-of based on “The Frog Prince,” but not the hilarious version where the ungrateful princess tries to murder the frog and somehow ends up getting married to him instead, like, gee, how romantic. Instead, things go a little differently.

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My advice to all young women is to be like Tiana: when confronted with a talking frog, go with your first instincts: retreat, then attack viciously with stuffed animals.

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