A girl and a masked slasher switch bodies. Hilarity and gore ensue.
For decades the people of Blissfield have been attacked by the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), a masked slasher. During one of his newest attacks, the Butcher acquires the dagger of La Dola. The next day, he attacks local teen Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), who manages to survive after being stabbed in the shoulder after her police officer sister, Char (Dana Drori), arrives and scares the killer away. The next day, Millie awakes inside of the Butcher’s body and vice-versa. Now the murderer is plying his deadly trade in her body and she has to convince her best friends Nyla and Josh (Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich) to help her get her body back before the high school is a bloodbath.
After several years and three series, we get the last chapter of Trollhunters.
Back in 2016, Guillermo del Toro debuted his Trollhunters series as the first entry in the franchise that he called “Tales of Arcadia,” after the town in which the shows take place. It ended up being a blend of genres with magical realism and science-fiction both working in the same space. Moreover, the shows did a good job of focusing on the characters and their motivations, giving the stories a lot of emotional weight beyond many shows designed for children. They also shared characters, with several secondary characters from one show becoming leads in the next. While Trollhunters and 3Below mostly stood on their own, Wizards was less self-contained and relied heavily on the audience to have watched Trollhunters in order to follow the plot. Naturally, as the conclusion, you really had to watch all of those series to get this film.
At the conclusion of Wizards, there was a strong hint that the greatest threat to all of the characters was still ahead, even though Nari (Angel Lin) of the Arcane Order had switched sides. Sure enough, the film reveals that the two remaining members, Bellroc and Skrael (Piotr Michael and Kay Bess), can kidnap her and force her to help summon the Titans, beasts that will remake the Earth back to the moment of creation. Merlin’s apprentice Douxie (Colin O’Donoghue) tries to buy time, but ultimately, the Titans arise. Now it’s up to the Trollhunter Jim Lake (Emile Hirsch), whose powers currently aren’t working, as well as his girlfriend and powerful spellcaster Claire Nunez (Lexi Medrano), his best friend Toby (Charlie Saxton), and the trolls Blinky and Aaaaargh (Kelsey Grammer and Fred Tatasciore) to stop them. Fortunately, they’ve got a lot of help coming, ranging from dragons to aliens to the occasional suburban mom.
I’m going to go ahead and say that this film was probably re-written at some point. The film, like the franchise, is built around the nature of sacrifice and what heroes do in order to help the rest of the world. Jim is a hero because he is willing to risk his life for others. Krel and Aja (Diego Luna and Tatiana Maslany) are willing to sacrifice their freedom in order to keep the peace. Douxie has sacrificed centuries to try and be a guardian of magic and the Earth itself. The end of this series was probably always going to have a lot of loss, because that’s usually the price we pay for keeping the world safe, and much of this movie really drives that home. A lot of characters die or sacrifice themselves, and those losses really hit you in the gut. I was really glad that a series took the stakes of the film seriously and didn’t just wave everything away. ***SPOILERS*** At least until the ending, which undoes the events of literally everything that’s happened in the entire franchise. I’m not kidding, everything is undone and, honestly, I’m not sure that I believe the new timeline won’t result in everything dying. It’s genuinely selfish of Jim to go from a situation in which some of his friends are dead but the world is safe to putting everything back up in the air, completely, out of a hope of saving them. It really not only ruined the movie, it ruined the character.
Overall, until the end, it was a solid film, but man, did they drop the ball.
Here are the things I didn’t have time to review this week.
Tom and Janet (Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé) have been married for 14 years and still act like horny newlyweds, constantly in love and lust with each other and doing caring gestures towards each other. This, naturally, drives all of their friends insane. Eventually, they get a visit from a stranger (Stephen Root) before going on a couples’ retreat that changes everyone involved. The thing about this movie is that the idea of having a couple that is so in love that everyone hates them is pretty solid. After all, as they point out, why are you married if you don’t think of your partner as your best friend? The problem is that the movie ends up going too far beyond reality and, honestly, it just plays out pretty blandly. Good premise, bad execution. The performances are really good, which only hurts me more.
The Ones Below
Kate and Justin (Clémence Poésy and Stephen Campbell Moore) are a couple expecting a baby who, through an accident, are blamed by their neighbors for the loss of their pregnancy. Kate begins to suspect that Jon and Theresa (David Morrissey and Laura Birn) are trying to steal her baby, but Justin believes she’s just having a mental breakdown. The biggest problem with this movie is that it doesn’t leave as much ambiguity as you would want for this kind of set-up, nor is the payoff big enough to justify being able to guess the ending early on. Still, there are some good parts to it. It’s not a “must-see,” but it’s shot very well and for a first-time director, there are a number of solid elements.
If you loved the show Leverage, good news, it’s back. With Noah Wyle coming in as the newby and Aleyse Shannon replacing Aldis Hodge in some of the episodes as the tech person, the team is (mostly) back, albeit without Timothy Hutton (possibly due to the statutory rape allegations). The show pretty much starts to go back to formula, but when it’s a formula as fun as Leverage, you’re not too upset about that. I still absolutely love Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, and Beth Riesgraf in their roles as con-woman, hitter, and thief, respectively. It’s notable that the show has done a lot more “ripped from the headlines” this season, clearly addressing actual criminal behavior in the world that’s going unpunished, which will work for some people more than others. Personally, I liked it.
Too Hot to Handle (Season 2)
Well, the show about hot and horny people trying to find real romance is back and… yeah, it’s still dumb and trashy and I still watched the whole thing. I think they gave commentator Desiree Birch some better lines this season and it does help. Other than that, it is much the same as last season, with you rooting for some couples and against others. This season seemed to have a lot more brazen rule-breaking, so if you are into that, you will enjoy the show. If you don’t like trash, this will not be your thing.
The Naked Director
This show is a fictionalized account of the rise of Japanese adult film director Toru Muranishi (Takayuki Yamada) and adult film star Kaoru Kuroki (Misato Morita). It’s mostly an exploration of the Japanese pornograpnic film industry throughout the 1970s to 90s and how it reshaped Japan’s perception of indecency. It’s very interesting to see how restrictive japanese society was towards sexuality and how it has impacted their societal development over the last few decades.
Pretty sure I just watched the longest commercial not starring Adam Sandler, but it did make me laugh.
The original Space Jam is a complicated movie. On the one hand, it was part of my childhood and I have a lot of nostalgia for it, it has one of my favorite Bill Murray cameos, and it perfectly encapsulates the year 1996 by being part of a giant commercial featuring Michael Jordan. On the other hand, it is a giant commercial featuring Michael Jordan (who cannot act), it has a lot of jokes that really don’t hold up when you aren’t a kid, and it is so dated that it probably seems absolutely bonkers to a modern audience. They have been speculating about making a sequel to this movie for *checks calendar* over twenty years and now have decided to use the nostalgia cash in at the very end of a pandemic, I guess. But at least this time it’s featuring LeBron James, so that’s different, right?
The story this time is that LeBron James and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) are at a meeting at Warner Brothers Studios. LeBron is a bit overbearing as a dad and wants his son to attend basketball camp rather than game design camp. After the Warner Bros. algorithm, an AI named Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), pitches an idea that LeBron rejects, Al-G abducts LeBron and Dom into cyberspace (thus the space in the title) and forces LeBron to play basketball against a group of CGI players called the Goon Squad (Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Nneka Ogwumike, Diana Taurasi). LeBron’s only hope is, unfortunately, Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman) and the rest of the Looney Tunes (due mostly to Bugs Bunny being a sociopath).
This movie mostly failed on a lot of levels. On the most basic level, it hurts that this film is little more than a giant add for Warner Brothers properties. They reference Harry Potter, The Matrix, and Game of Thrones (proving this movie was written before the last season of that aired) constantly. The actual basketball game features a variety of cameos by WB animated and live-action characters that boggle the mind, particularly since a number of them are NOT kid friendly (the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange, the Nun from The Devils, Pennywise from IT, etc.). Hell, Rick and Morty have a speaking cameo which, admittedly, was funny. The film constantly has a tone of “look at what we own!” Then there are some of the style choices, most notably having CGI Looney Tunes for the actual game that really never stop looking unsettling. Also, LeBron James, who is a decent performer, is made into kind of a jerk towards his son for reasons that seem completely unnecessary. You can just have his son get abducted, guys, that’s a motive to play the game. Instead, they try to have Dom turn against his dad, which seemed like overkill.
On the other hand, this movie does actually have quite a few legitimate laughs. More than the original, for sure, even if I’m not sure it’s a more enjoyable film on the whole. A lot of them are at LeBron’s expense, something that Michael Jordan probably wouldn’t have tolerated. Michael also probably wouldn’t have tolerated being animated for so much of the film, which LeBron clearly endorsed. There is a Michael Jordan cameo and it is the absolute best joke for me in the film. Then there’s Don Cheadle. Don Cheadle puts way more effort into this than you would expect from someone of his caliber. He has to sell all of the over-the-top and borderline insane stuff that Al-G Rhythm comes up with and he pulls it off beautifully. Also, the Goon Squad is vastly superior to the Monstars in terms of creativity of both appearances and powers.
Overall, it’s not a great movie, but it wasn’t too bad.
Josh Ruben has now made two amazing horror comedies in a row.
If you were to ask me the absolute best part of doing this blog, this is it: Finding an amazing movie that I would not have otherwise heard about. This film was only on my radar because I watched another hidden gem of a film, Scare Me, and saw that the writer/director, Collegehumor veteran Josh Ruben, was working on an adaptation of the video game Werewolves Within. For those not familiar, the game is just an adaptation of “Werewolf,” which is also called “Mafia,” and is about a group of people who are trying to find the killer hidden in their midst. This movie perfectly captures that element.
The film starts with maybe the funniest joke to ever open a film, which I will not spoil here. The movie’s protagonist is introduced as Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson), a forest ranger who has recently been assigned to the small town of Beaverfield. The town is currently divided over whether or not to allow an oil pipeline to be built by businessman Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall). Finn quickly hits it off with local mail carrier Cecily Moore (Milana Vayntrub) and is introduced to the locals, almost all of whom are crazy in their own way: Jeanine Sherman (Catherine Curtin) runs the local lodgings, environmentalist Jane Ellis (Rebecca Henderson) is staying with her to help stop the pipeline, Trisha and Pete Anderson (Michaela Watkins and Michael Chernus) are the ultra-conservatives who want the pipeline’s money, Marcus and Gwen (George Basil and Sarah Burns) are the local drug-altered trash, tech millionaires who are against the pipeline Devon and Joaquim Wolfson (Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén), and hermit Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshler). That night, all of the generators in town are destroyed and a dog is killed (offscreen). When Dr. Ellis can’t figure out the species of the attacker, people start to believe that one of them may be a werewolf.
The point of the game Werewolves Within, like Mafia or Among Us, is to try and find the impostor in the group, but you can also end up attacking innocent people if manipulated by the werewolf or paranoia. This movie perfectly captures that. The entire town, when we’re introduced to it, is already heavily divided. Trisha and Pete are angry at Jeanine and the Wolfsons for trying to block the pipeline that they think will make them rich, Sam Parker hates the work of Dr. Ellis for similar reasons, and Emerson hates and is hated by everyone because he’s a crazy violent survivalist who lives in a log cabin. When the generators are destroyed, it forces everyone into the same building, which leads to all of the grievances being aired and the tempers flaring. The wonderful mix of humor and over-the-top characters into all of these scenes keeps it from getting too boring or uncomfortably intense. It plays out like a fun game night, but with more graphic visuals.
Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub are amazing as the leads, with her cynicism and snark balancing his impossible positivity. Honestly, though, all of the performances are great, as you’d expect from most of these actors. Harvey Guillén gets extra credit because, even though I recognized immediately that he was Guillermo from What We Do In the Shadows, he never seemed to do anything like that character. The film’s pacing and cinematography are great, really driving home the isolation of the location without making it unrelenting like in The Thing.
Overall, this is just a masterpiece of a film. Spend the money. Rent the movie.
Netflix gives us a series about a young Indian woman who is dealing with loss, love, and just being a dumb teen.
Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is a nerdy 15 year old Indian American in California. Her father, Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy), passed away last year of a heart attack, leading Devi to have a subsequent psychosomatic episode that paralyzed her from the legs down during her Freshman year. She recovers, thanks in part to her therapist Dr. Ryan (Niecy Nash), and plans to improve her life during sophomore year along with her two best friends: Science genius Fabiola Torres (Lee Rodriguez) and aspiring actor Eleanor Wong (Ramona Young). She decides that she’s going to try to hook up with the hottest guy in the class, Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darret Barnet), and avoid her “nemesis” Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison). At the same time, Devi’s overbearing mother Dr. Nalini Vishwakumar (Poorna…
Sometimes solid performances and a few good added twists can elevate an old set-up back into interesting territory. This movie could have fallen on its face, because a lot of the elements are old tropes reheated, but giving Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro the lead and having a cast full of excellent supporting characters really manage to keep this film thoroughly enjoyable. It helps that Soderbergh’s pacing is pretty tight, moving from one source of tension to another without making it unbearable on the viewer.
Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) is an ex-convict who is desperate for cash. He is contacted by mob recruiter Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) and agrees to help babysit a family as part of a blackmail scheme. He’s joined by fellow crooks Ronald and Charley (Benicio del Toro and Kieran Culkin) and they break into the house of accountant Matt Wertz (David Harbour). They hold Matt’s wife, Mary (Amy Seimetz), and his children hostage while forcing him to get a copy of a document for the mob boss Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta). When Matt returns, without the real document due to it being removed, Charley decides to execute the family and Matt, but Curt shoots him in the head to prevent a massacre. Now Ronald and Curt are both wanted by the mob and the police, but they both decide to try and steal the real document and use it to buy their freedom.
This movie has just the right number of moving parts introduced at just the right times, because as the plot builds, it ends up having a large number of characters and subplots colliding but you never really feel lost. It helps that, by having so many talented supporting cast members, the characters are more memorable. Aside from those listed above, other supporting characters are played by Jon Hamm, Bill Duke, Matt Damon, and Julia Fox, all of whom keep you focused on their actions better than expected. The film also keeps the focus on the fact that Curt and Ronald are at the mercy of any number of people, because anyone can want to turn them in for a reward. In a way it changes the heist film formula from being two parts getting in to one part getting out and instead makes most of the plot about getting away with the goods. Thankfully, Soderbergh is very used to these types of films and can handle this shift in the structure.
In honor of the anniversary of the nation in which I was born and to which I swear my allegiance, I post the following quotes.
By Mark Twain:
In a republic, who is the country?
Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a temporary servant: it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.
Who, then is the country? Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it, they have not command, they have only their little share in the command.
In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country: In a republic it is the common voice of the people each of…
We finally get another animated Godzilla series, but no Godzooky.
So, this isn’t the first Godzilla television show, but it is, surprisingly, the first non-educational Godzilla anime series. Yeah, until the 90s, the Hanna-Barbera adaptation was the only animated version of Godzilla. I find that crazy for a popular character that’s been around since 1954. Much like the three anime Godzilla films that Netflix debuted over the last few years, this show decided to go ahead and reinvent the Godzilla mythos, this time tying Godzilla and his fellow kaiju to extra-dimensionality and time travel. Honestly, after so many crazy twists and gimmicks over the decades, this seems almost par for the course.
The show is set in the near future in Japan. Two engineers working for the “do-it-all” Otaki Factory (aptly named as they appear to literally do anything they feel like), Yun Arikawa and Haberu Kato (Johnny Yong Bosch and Stephen Fu), are dispatched to an old building which has been having strange occurrences. At the same time, cryptozoology student Mei Kamino (Erika Harlacher), is investigating signals coming from an abandoned building. Both parties hear the same strange song, which leads to the awakening of creatures that start to attack Japan, including the pterosaur swarm called Rodan, the armored Anguirus, sea serpent Manda, and, of course, the mack daddy king of the monsters, Godzilla. The only thing that they have to fight back is an experimental robot built by the crazy head of the Otaki Factory called Jet Jaguar. It’s awesome.
The designs of the monsters in this series are all adapted from their traditional images, but they still are clearly recognizable. For example, Rodan, who is traditionally a nearly Godzilla-sized pterosaur, is reimagined as a flock of car-sized flying dinosaurs. Anguirus, at least in the dub, is acknowledged to be named after an ankylosaurus, with a line thrown in about the name coming from a kid who couldn’t pronounce the dinosaur. I think that was a shot at the 1990s Godzilla film, where the name “Godzilla” is a mispronunciation of Gojira. Godzilla is a bit more aquatic in this adaptation and his signature atomic breath is redesigned to be a sign of his drawing power from outside of this world.
This show’s hook is that all of the kaiju are made up of extra-dimensional material, thus avoiding the question of how such creatures can move given the square-cube law. It also sets up that a lot of this series involves time-travel and an amount of technobabble that would make a Star Trek script blush. One of the devices in the series, the Orthogonal Diagonalizer, is both the stupidest name and also somehow the cleverest, because the idea is that it orthogonally shifts the dimensions of reality the way you would shift a matrix in linear algebra. The show makes a great use of time travel and expresses the nature of its interconnected timelines not only on the show but also through the naming of the episodes. If you were to lay the names of the first 12 episodes along the edges of a cube in 3 dimensions, they would have 8 intersections that share letters. Those letters form the name of the 13th episode, “Together.” The extra effort really is appreciated.
A zombie virus starts tearing apart an elementary school.
Zombies have pretty much always been an ideal monster to work into comedies. On their own, they’re not particularly threatening, as they are usually slow, unintelligent, and, since they come in mobs, can be killed repeatedly on film without really diminishing the overall threat. Even the original modern zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, had two different much more humorous sequels, Return of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Because of this, zombie comedies have been mined heavily over the years, but every so often, a new comedy uses the genre well and makes it hilarious again, ranging from Shaun of the Dead’s satire of modern life to Zombieland’s witty banter mixed with over-the-top zombie kills. Unfortunately, I think it’s the run of great Zombie comedy films that hurt this movie when it came out, because, while it is funny, it’s just not quite as good as some of its competitors. However, that doesn’t mean that you should overlook it, because it has a few elements that set it apart.
Taking place in “Fort Chicken,” Illinois, a fourth-grade student eats a contaminated chicken nugget, and because, let’s be honest, that’s up there on the list of most likely causes of an outbreak, she soon starts to turn feral and develop skin lesions. This is our version of zombie for the film, and rather than Romero shamblers, they’re closer to small 28 Days Later running virus zombies, although at times they have better problem-solving skills. The first student scratches her substitute teacher, Clint (Elijah Wood), who will mostly be our protagonist throughout the film. He’s an aspiring horror writer who has had a crush on the same girl, Lucy McCormick (an underappreciated Alison Pill), since high school. Naturally, she’s dating the gym teacher, Wade, played amazingly well as a supermacho dork by Rainn Wilson. Other people at the school are played by Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Peter Kwong, and Nasim Pedrad as the absolutely hilarious ultra-religious teacher. When all of the children start to become killing machines, it’s assumed that Clint is next… only for it to be revealed that the virus only works on children. The group hides with Calvin (Armani Jackson) and Tamra (Morgan Lily), the only two uninfected kids, and have to find a way to survive the school day.
There are a lot of funny moments in this movie, like how one of the security officers, played by Jorge Garcia, is on shrooms and hallucinates a random giraffe, or how the doctor character seems incapable of remembering to use gloves. The overall premise, having children that are constantly attacking and murdering adults, largely because adults ignore them at first, is pretty great. They do a decent amount of sunshine horror (scenes in bright light) featuring a playground of tiny cannibals, but then also have the traditional low-light scenes in the school. Since most of the kids are around 7-10, they’re all tiny, which makes it kind of inherently hilarious that the adults are terrorized by them. It’s a decent idea.
There are two main problems with this film, though. The first is that they really don’t do much with the set-up during the second and third acts. Aside from the occasional sight-gag, they don’t treat the kid zombies much differently than regular zombies. It also doesn’t really play up a metaphor or anything the way that most zombie movies do, despite the fact that there a lot of prime opportunities. The second problem is that there is a lot of filler humor, where the jokes are there but they’re not blowing your socks off or really adding to the movie. Some of these work, but a lot of them just produce polite chuckles. Sometimes just focusing on the really good gags and playing the rest straight is the way to go. Granted, with so many talented people, even some of the gags that shouldn’t have worked did.
Overall, it’s still a pretty solid comedy, it just has the burden of competing against a really good subclass of film.