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.
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.
SPOILER #REVIEW: Obi-Wan Kenobi
I’m going to be honest, here: if I had written this post a couple of days ago, closer to when I actually watched the show, it would have been much longer and, frankly, more interesting. All of my brain space for the last couple of days has been taken up by working my way through my To Do list and trying to rewrite the Constitution, which I wish was a fucking joke and isn’t.
Here’s the non-spoiler review of this show: It was pretty good until the final episode, but only pretty good, and the final episode was fucking stellar. Lemme toss a little separation line here, so that those of you who don’t want to read the spoilery parts have adequate time to dip out and come back later:
In some ways, the show’s most amazing trick happened in the first episode. I wasn’t exactly digging around for spoilers on this show, but I wouldn’t have bothered avoiding them, and the fact that I’d not even seen a rumor that Lil’ Leia was going to be a major character? Is fucking unbelievable. I have been a frequent and noisy proponent of casting Millie Bobby Brown as Leia and giving her a movie or two (and there are rumors flying recently about that finally happening) but she’s too old to have been in this show and, my God, Vivien Lyra Blair was amazing. I was entertained at the idea that people were complaining about her looking too young, as the actress is the exact same age that Leia was supposed to be; I can only assume that these people haven’t seen children in a while. Sometimes they are small! It happens. I promise.
And this gets right to the crux of the weirdness of the show: at first glance, everything about it seems to utterly screw up the continuity that A New Hope set up, or at least screws up all the assumptions that absolutely everyone made, but are never actually specifically stated in the film.
Because Leia never says she and Obi-Wan have never met.(***) And Vader’s line about “when I left you, I was but the learner” does not actually mean that the last time they met was the battle on Mustafar. In fact, and I’m literally just realizing this right now as I’m typing this sentence, it’s really hard to reconcile the words “when I left you” with what happened there, since Obi-Wan left him for dead. And knowing that Obi-Wan already knew Leia adds a nice resonance to his last moments during the fight in ANH with Vader; just before he dies he looks to his left and sees both of them, at which point he recognizes that his job is done and sacrifices himself. I’d always assumed before that he was just looking at Luke, y’know?
So this show is, in a lot of ways, the best kind of retcon: never (that I’ve noticed, at least) does it explicitly contradict anything that came before, but it recontextualizes some moments in ways that are really interesting. The whole “from a certain point of view” conversation with Luke, where Obi-Wan says that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Anakin? Vader literally told him that, and it’s interesting to think about that (outstanding) sequence in the final episode where Vader’s voice synthesizer is flipping back and forth between Anakin’s voice and Vader’s, because I genuinely don’t know if that’s Anakin talking and he’s trying to assuage Obi-Wan’s guilt or if it’s Vader talking and he’s bragging.(*) And what happens next? Obi-Wan calls him “Darth” for the first time.
Again: we all know that the real reason that Obi-Wan Kenobi called Darth Vader “Darth” on the Death Star is because at the time George Lucas hadn’t really decided that “Darth” was a title and not Vader’s first name. But from within the story? It’s kind of awesome, because to my recollection Obi-Wan never once uses the word “Vader.” Once whoever that is tells him that Vader is responsible for Anakin Skywalker’s death, Obi-Wan reverts to calling him “Darth,” because as far as he’s concerned there’s no person there anymore. There’s just the Sith. And in context, it makes perfect sense. Frankly, it’s disrespectful, and in a way I really enjoy.
You could probably criticize the show for setting up yet another situation where Kenobi leaves Vader for dead. At this point, he’s absolutely convinced his friend is gone, and they don’t give him any kind of out for not killing him; Vader’s incapacitated and he’s right there. I get why Obi-Wan leaves him on Mustafar. I don’t get why he doesn’t end Vader here, on whatever (very cool, by the way) planet that was.
(Oh, one criticism, just for the hell of it: the show leans a bit too hard into the idea that every Star Wars planet is two or three square kilometers in size and exactly the same climate everywhere. I generally liked Reva as a character but that bit where she just shows up to some random-ass spot on Tatooine and asks the first random-ass moisture farmer she meets where to find “Owen?” Come the fuck on. Also, I absolutely hate the post-sequels decision that anyone can get from anywhere in the galaxy to anywhere in the galaxy in seconds. It’s lightspeed, Goddammit, not, like, Warp Ninety.)(**)
Anyway. This is another place where the overarching story constrains what Kenobi was able to do. Obviously he can’t kill Darth Vader nine years before A New Hope, because Vader’s got three movies left. But they should have given us a reason Vader survived, and they didn’t. Obi-Wan just didn’t kill him, because reasons.
I also really liked Vader’s final conversation with Palpatine. The last thing he does before (he thinks) leaving Kenobi buried and dead is call him “Master,” and while I don’t remember the precise line of dialogue in the conversation, he has to tell Palpatine that he is his only Master who matters during that last conversation. Nicely done, and again, gives Vader a reason not to spend the next nine years constantly chasing Obi-Wan like we all felt like he ought to be doing.
So yeah, this is in Definitely Watch territory for me. Better than either season of The Mandalorian, and infinitely better than Book of Boba Fett. I’ll watch Andor, I suppose, but I don’t have especially high hopes for it, as Cassian Andor was one of the few characters in Rogue One that I didn’t feel like I wanted to know more about. Give me the Goddamn Baze Malbus/Chirrut Imwe show that I want! Give it to me now!
(*) It’s not clear at all how much actual work Hayden Christensen had to do in this show. Obviously Young Anakin shows up a few times, and guys, if there was ever a time to use your creepy de-aging magic, this was it, because Hayden’s got some serious crow’s feet– but a robot imitating James Earl Jones does the voice, there’s someone else in the suit doing the fighting, and I think there was even another person involved in the costume somewhere– but I’m pretty sure that’s him under all that makeup during this scene, and for what it’s worth, for a guy who’s trying to convey a whole lot of complex emotions with, effectively, one eye, and that eye covered by a contact lens nonetheless, it’s a really impressive little bit of acting.
(**) Last gripe: way too many people survive getting stabbed with lightsabers in this
movie show. Okay, granted, it’s a self-cauterizing wound, so I suspect getting stabbed with a lightsaber is actually a little better than getting stabbed with a blade, but in general lightsabers are surprisingly nonlethal in this series– Reva survives getting stabbed twice!– and the bit with the Grand Inquisitor felt especially unnecessary.
(***) This is the third postscript because I didn’t realize it until after hitting publish, so this is a late edit: this also recontextualizes Han and Leia’s otherwise completely inexplicable decision to name their son Ben, which you might now was the name of Luke’s son in the pre-Disney Expanded Universe books. Han thought Kenobi was nuts, and Leia, as far as anyone knew, barely even laid eyes on him. It even makes “Ben” a better name choice than “Obi-Wan” might have been, because Ben Kenobi was the guy who Leia was saved by. I don’t know if they even thought about this when they were writing the show, but it fixes one of the more nitpicky problems I had with the sequel trilogy in a way I really like.