Okay, guys, last chance

I may or may not have girlishly squeed, possibly more than once, while watching this trailer. If this movie, featuring two of my favorite comic book heroes of all time, does not get me back into a movie theater, the MCU is offically-really-I-mean-it-this-time, no-bullshit dead to me forever:

#REVIEW: The Menu (2022)

Remember when I used to do reviews of stuff? I feel like it’s really been a while, but I do actually still have opinions about media once in a while, and last night my wife and I sat down and Watched a Movie Together, that being Searchlight Pictures’ The Menu. I miss movies; I used to reliably see at least thirty or forty a year, then I went into this long period where I only saw superhero movies, and now I don’t even give a damn about those, so it was a good feeling to be able to carve a couple of hours out of a Friday night to be able to watch this. Given that 90% of the television I watch involves cooking in some form or fashion, there really wasn’t any way I was going to be missing this.

And … man. I really didn’t know last night what I thought about it, and it took until taking a shower just now (yes, it’s the second-to-last day of break and 6:52 PM and I just took a shower) to figure out what I think. And the tl;dr is that if you watch the trailer and think Yeah, I might want to see that, then go ahead and follow up on that feeling, and if you feel like the trailer is for what seems to be a really schizophrenic movie that maybe can’t decide what it wants to be when it grows up, well, roll with that feeling too.

I can imagine people loving this film and I can imagine them hating it, although people who hate it are maybe a little easier to imagine? And one way or another, I think maybe they made the wrong movie. Want details? Massive spoiler territory from here on out, although it’s not like the trailer conceals a lot of secrets and one way or another the film tells you exactly where it’s going at about the halfway point and I think counts on you to not believe it in order to continue to maintain dramatic tension.

So! A short black line, and then spoilers ho!


The one thing that you might be thinking and be wrong about, having watched the trailer, is that there’s probably a scene where they discover that they’re eating people at some point during this movie. No! I am as surprised as you are that they resisted their urge, but no; I don’t know how much the food can be considered food, really, but there’s no cannibalism, intentional or not. What there is is basically a suicide cult among the head chef and his various kitchen and front-of-house staff, and they’ve decided that this is their last service and as such it’s the one where everybody dies.

You get no insight into how this decision was reached or how he (presumably) managed to talk everybody into this nonsense, and you will discover as you watch that the dinner guests are remarkably passive about their impending demise. At about the halfway point the head sous chef shoots himself in the head right in front of everybody, and Ralph Fiennes’ Chef Slowik literally says “You’re all going to die” to the guests at more than one point during the movie, so there’s no real argument to be made that they aren’t aware of what’s going on, especially when one of them actually does attempt to get up and leave and gets a finger chopped off for his trouble. It eventually turns out that everyone in the room has offended Chef Slowik in some manner or another (and some of them are really cheap; John Leguizamo’s character is a washed-up movie actor and apparently he was picked for death because he was in a movie Slowik didn’t like) except for Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, who is effectively a replacement +1 after her dinner date’s girlfriend dumped him.

There’s some effective creepiness here, and some fun satire of the way high cuisine works and (especially) the way major chefs are treated as gods and eventually expect to receive that treatment. Unfortunately basically every character in the film, especially the dinner guests, is some form of douchebag or another, really excepting only Taylor-Joy’s Margot and the hostess whose name escapes me. There are a lot of words that describe her, but “douchebag” isn’t one of them, I think. In some ways she’s the movie’s scariest character. And the thing is, a lot of what’s going on in the film either doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t make any sense, or some combination of both, and the notion that any of these people just sit around and wait to die is almost too ridiculous to bear. Also, Slowik’s operation apparently involves both a sophisticated hacker and an actual kidnapper, along with one hell of a surveillance and intel operation.

The movie should have been about one of the sous chefs.

The problem is that Slowik is such a guarded character, and the chefs by and large are entirely faceless, that you really can’t get any clue as to why any of them might go along with this insane plan to, eventually, and this is not a joke, dress up all of their guests as human s’mores and then burn everyone involved to death. And the fact that the guests don’t fight back just doesn’t make any damn sense. No; what you do here is you make the guests mostly faceless and terrified and you pull us into the cult of personality around this chef, and you hire a more charismatic actor than Ralph Fiennes, or at least cut him loose to be charismatic, because Julian Slowik, as he’s portrayed, couldn’t talk a kid into eating ice cream. I don’t know if I should blame Fiennes for that, or the director, or the script, or all three, or what, but this is not the guy. Nobody dies for this dude, or if they do, we’re gonna have to get a lot more background as to why, and you can keep all of the satire elements without them descending into utter ridiculousness like this one does.

(A prime example: the guests pay their bills and are given gift bags, all while wearing marshmallow serapes and chocolate hats, before they are set on fire and killed. Slowik tosses off a line about how their gift bags each contain a finger from a guy who is drowned as one of the “courses” earlier in the film. I have no idea whether the line was supposed to be funny or creepy or what. It’s ridiculous.)

The movie should have started off with a hot young chef getting hired by this dude– go ahead and let Anya Taylor-George play that character instead– and go through a couple of normal dinner services and some moments with Chef where it becomes clear why people might be willing to kill/die for him before getting into the murder shit, and have her be the one chef who decides she can’t be part of it. Or, hell, leave her conflicted! You can still have your horror satire if you want. Or, hell, have her be the hostess, so she’s outside the dynamic of the kitchen and maybe not part of The Plan but still enough on the inside of everything that we can see why this guy might have made the decisions he did, and why people might have followed him, and why people might have decided to go ahead and be burned to death instead of fighting back, which … no, sorry, I can’t buy it.

On complexity

What you’re looking at here is the engine block of the Lego model for the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. I’ve had it for a little while and wanted to get it built this weekend, so I’ve been been coming back to it intermittently for the last couple of days and right now I’m about halfway through the build. I’ve been really impressed with it so far, and it continues to amaze me how much entirely unnecessary complexity Lego builds into their modern models. First of all, they modeled the engine block. I don’t actually know if the hood for this thing is going to be removable or openable or what once it’s finished (if there’s a hinge assembly for it, I haven’t built it yet) but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they modeled the engine block carefully enough that you can actually identify individual parts of the engine and then covered it with a hood assembly that wasn’t meant to be removed. The grille in the front? Each of those little silver rectangles is an individual piece. That yellow X-shaped piece in the back with the yellow circle around it is attached to the steering wheel, which is actually set up in such a way that turning the steering wheel turns the front wheels of the car. There’s a whole steering column and what appears to be a gearshift next to it. There are stickers in places on the car that you will never see. The engine has belts, for Christ’s sake– you can see a bit of one of them, the red band next to what is clearly meant to represent the battery.

Do I want to find out what model of Cadillac the Ecto-1 was supposed to be and see where the battery actually is? Yeah, I kind of do.

I’ve been kind of in a funk lately regarding writing and the internet and a few other things, so this has been a nice change for me to focus on for a few days. The problem is these sets are expensive and they’re starting to kind of build up around the house and I don’t really need one more fucking thing to figure out how to display. But fuck it, that’s a problem for later, for right now I’m going to continue enjoy building the car.

EDIT: The hood does open. Entertainingly, the hood is one of the few actual flaws with the build, as it doesn’t quite close as tightly as I like and wants to be no more than about 98% closed. That doesn’t sound like it should be an issue but it means a few things don’t line up. I just need to make sure to display the car with the passenger side facing out, I guess. 🙂

EDIT EDIT: The hoses from the battery were in the way. I shoved them deeper into the engine and it’s fine now.

#REVIEW: The Princess (2022)

You could be forgiven– I would forgive you, at least— if you dismissed the idea of watching Hulu’s The Princess almost immediately upon hearing about it. You have literally heard the plot a thousand times; the titular Princess, who is never named in the movie, is expected to marry a Bad Guy to ensure the also-unnamed Kingdom has an heir, refuses to do so on account of he’s an obvious sociopath, blah blah blah everyone’s captured and she’s chained up in the top of a tower awaiting her forced marriage because apparently the Bad Guy’s only rule is that he can’t just usurp the kingdom by killing the king; he has to do it “legitimately,” even though the wedding is a farce.

The movie has the distinct feel about it, especially in any scene not starring Executive Producer and star Joey King, of something that Disney would make with 7-10 year old girls as the expected demographic. There’s a lot of broad humor. At one point there’s a trap pulled directly from Home Alone. There’s a guy whose only role in the film is to be fat. The first forty minutes or so are structured in a way that feels very video-gamey. It’s all very, very Disney, and while there’s nothing wrong with making movies for 7-10 year old girls, it is also fine (especially if you aren’t a 7-10 year old girl) if you are someone who does not enjoy said movies.

And then, maybe five minutes into the start of the movie, the Princess dislocates her own thumb on camera so that she can slip out of her chains and then messily kills the two men who are there to keep her quiet and under guard. And, uh, we’re off to the races after that.

So take that Disney movie you had in mind, and then cross it with a really hard-R Charlize Theron action film, only with better fight choreography and a petite redhead who doesn’t immediately scan as a monstrous badass, and understand that there is DNA of both of those things in this movie (which is, for the record, rated R), and that this film, which starts out with the Disneyest of imaginable plots, ends with a beheading.

It’s … really something.

I only found out about this movie from TikTok, which advertised it to me relentlessly for weeks until I caved. I haven’t seen any promo for it anywhere other than TikTok and Hulu.

You want to see this movie for a couple of reasons: 1) the fight choreography really is fucking amazing. It’s well-shot, which is getting rarer and rarer in action films, and the choreographer never (well, really rarely) forgets that his heroine is a 120-pound girl, and despite fighting lots of grown men who are much bigger than she is, she manages to come off … realistic? She uses her agility and size to her advantage throughout the movie, fighting with accuracy rather than strength– there’s a bit where she’s fighting a knight in full armor that is just remarkably well-done, as she focuses on dodging big, heavy swings and counter-attacking at the gaps in his armor, and the movie never lets you forget that swinging a sword around is exhausting, as King spends roughly half her time on-screen gasping for breath.

Oh, and she has virtually no dialogue at all for about the first 45 minutes of the film. There’s only escaping, hiding, and kicking ass. The film’s even really light on badass quippery, which wouldn’t feel appropriate with this character. She does get a great “to the pain” monologue late in the movie, but there’s surprisingly little badassery for the sake of badassery in this movie.

The second reason is closely related to the first: Joey King is awesome, and I want to see her in many many more movies, only movies that know from the start that they’re geared for adults. I don’t know how well this has done for Hulu (it’s possible it’s been a runaway success; I genuinely don’t know) but it straddles two genres that really don’t generally … uh … straddle together, and I fear that that might have cost it some well-deserved viewership. This kid’s the real deal, and the fact that she somehow snagged an executive producer role for this and a couple of other Hulu projects makes me think that she’ll be around a while. The movie itself? Harder to say, but the bad parts are wrapped around some seriously cool shit, and I think it’s probably worth your time.

#REVIEW: The Batman

The short version of this review is this: That they have finally made a Batman movie that I approve of, something I had formerly thought was impossible.

Slightly longer version: I am hard on Batman movies, y’all. I liked Tim Burton’s first Batman movie way back in 1989 and that has been it. I hated the second one so much that my neighbor came over when I got home to ask me to rant about it to my parents less quietly, and when I say neighbor, I would like to remind you that we lived in a house. I don’t even recognize the Nolan movies as having Batman in them. That’s a murder-happy bat-ninja. That’s not Batman. And the less said about Batfleck the better.

This movie is not perfect, but it is closer to being about Batman than any other live-action Batman thing I have ever seen. I am sorely tempted to dive into gripes; the Batsuit is ridiculously tough, rendering Batman virtually immune to gunfire and at one point a C4 explosion that goes basically directly into his torso and doesn’t even scratch him; the chief of police is completely forgotten about as a character after Batman beats up Jim Gordon and flees police custody, and a few other things. There are bits where it is goofy and I suspect that the goofiness is not intentional. Also it is three fucking hours long and yet somehow lacks a few pieces of critical exposition that should probably have been in there somewhere. We watched it over two nights; I highly recommend this approach.

This is also a very different Bruce Wayne than we have seen before, either in the movies or the comics. Bruce Wayne has always been portrayed as a charming playboy; I’m pretty sure this one is a virgin, and he’s a shut-in to a degree that it constitutes clear evidence of a mental health problem. My wife referred to Bruce as a “weird little goblin” at one point during the film and a “drama queen” during another and frankly those are both pretty damn accurate assessments. There is some romantic stuff going on with Catwoman (who hasn’t really adopted that role with a capital-C yet, but whatever) but it’s all at her initiative and they both play it like she’s toying with him because it amuses her.

So it’s not perfect. That doesn’t stop it from being real real good, though, mostly because of the things it gets right: first and foremost, unlike every other Batman movie ever, Batman is a fucking detective in this movie. He is a detective and he is working directly with the GCPD for large chunks of the movie despite many of them not being especially happy with it. And while they do veer into what I think is unintentional camp a couple of times, the movie never forgets how weird it is that this dude is literally running around in a cape trying to beat up criminals. He’s new enough that people are scared of him, but he’s also new enough that some clearly don’t take him seriously, and watching the reactions during the scenes where he strides into a packed nightclub in full gear is really something. This doesn’t appear to be a world with superheroes; there’s a mention of Bludhaven at the very end of the film but no, like, coy references to blue Boy Scouts or anything like that. This is, essentially, entirely separate from any of the rest of the DCU, and frankly, I don’t see this guy being buddies with Superman.

But you know what else he does? He saves people. Which is something you see sadly little of even in superhero movies I like. You know what he doesnt do? Kill people. Or use guns. Which is a huge deal, and they make it very clear at multiple points in the movie that Batman doesn’t like guns, and especially in the big fight at the end the film is at pains to make sure you realize that the criminals he’s fighting are being incapacitated, or taken out of the fight one way or another, and not killed. This is, to me, a big deal; not killing and not using guns are the two most critical aspects of Batman’s character and the one thing the movies have consistently gotten wrong.

Now, beyond the Batman-centric issues: the cast is phenomenal. Colin Ferrell is unrecognizable as the Penguin (and now I want him to replace Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin) and provides one of the movie’s most unexpectedly hilarious moments when he reacts with absolute disgust to the idea that Batman has gotten, no shit, a detail of Spanish grammar wrong. The Riddler is creepy as all hell, which is not a sentence that anyone had ever even thought prior to this movie being filmed. Zoey Kravitz and John Turturro as Catwoman and Carmine Falcone are great. I also really liked Robert Pattinson. His Bruce Wayne, as I’ve said, is certainly a different take on the character than what we’ve seen before, but his Batman is spot-on. There has been a lot of talk about the raspy, growly voice that other actors tend to adopt as Batman, and I think one of my favorite things about how he plays the character is that his “Batman voice” just projects calm. That’s it. There are definitely some moments where he lets the rage through (there’s a great bit with Riddler toward the end of the film, and another where he thinks someone is in danger and is freaking out) but in general he just sort of radiates this preternatural calm for 90% of his screen time, and it’s a really interesting take. Also appreciated are a couple of moments where his inexperience shows; there’s a great moment where he tries out a gadget for what sure looks like the first time and he has a moment of absolute undeniable terror on his face as he activates the thing. And while I complained about the Batsuit being bulletproof, there are a couple of places where he does take some seriously brutal hits (one right after activating the device I just mentioned) and he might actually inject himself with Venom at one point in the film.

The movie looks great, and the action scenes are phenomenal; you always know what’s going on and where everybody is, which is something that a lot of directors simply haven’t mastered. The score is great, and I feel like I’ve said that already but it’s worth saying twice. Gotham itself is a grotesque, broken mess; this is the ugliest Gotham we’ve seen on screen, I think, and it fits the aesthetic of the film, which owes a lot to Se7en in a lot of places.

So, yeah. It’s streaming. Go watch it, now that you can do it without spending three hours sitting in a pool of aspirated Covid. You’ll like it.