The Room (2019)

The Room grew on me, both over the course of the movie and possibly in retrospect over the last few days since I watched it as well. The premise at first appears to be a pretty by-the-numbers riff on the monkey’s paw. A couple moves into a stately, remote farmhouse and while doing renovations finds a secret room, which they quickly (if a little implausibly) learn grants wishes. Wish for something in the room, poof, it appears. Then, for a good 10-15 minutes, the whole movies appears to be about to collapse into a Lynchian commentary on bored American decadence[1], but before this can happen, someone wishes for the kind of thing that you maybe shouldn’t ought to wish for.

And then, mere moments later by the plot clock, the terrible rules of how wishes in the room work are finally revealed, and what follows is a slow burn escalation of bad decisions and impossible choices.

I’m carefully staying away from spoilers (unlike imdb’s three sentence description), because I think that not knowing what was coming is the majority of what makes the movie work. But outside of the identity horror and other bad things that the writer went for, I think the real lesson of the movie is that if I had a wishing room that followed these rules… Sure, I wouldn’t be able to instantly and safely retire[2], but I’m pretty sure I could make a happy and comfortable life for myself without very many needs to be met.

Because I would not make terrible, obviously doomed to turn out badly wishes. That’s why.

[1] Not that any of the characters are American, going by accent. But it definitely has that jaded feel, in the moment.
[2] The IRS alone, you know?

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

After recently rewatching the other two Narnia movies[1], I have now proceeded to watch for the first time The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This was one of young me’s favorite books, in retrospect because of how it involves episodic exploration of unknown parts in which random events occur. Examples: captured for slavery! found invisible monsters with weird tracks! cursed dragon hoard!

And I guess what I think is, without a cohesive throughline, that’s a bad look for a movie? Because “we’re sailing to the edge of the world and also looking for some lords who went this way before, because of some plot thing or other with green mist that frankly none of us[2] can be bothered to really remember well” is not a cohesive throughline. But it’s a perfect long-form episodic throughline, where you talk about the so-called main plot for maybe five minutes every other episode but mainly focus on the island of the week.

As far as the nuts and bolts of the movie… Aslan: mainly around to tell Lucy she should like herself for herself instead of wanting to be glamorous and older, and to take all the credit for making Eustace[3] a better person, even though let’s be real, it was finally having a friend that turned him around. Because Reepicheep is the best mouse, is what. But despite an interlude about heaven and who deserves to be there and when, the Christian trappings of this movie were… no, I’m doing this wrong. Christian trappings were all over the place, but at the expense of any actually useful Jesus values like forgiveness and loving your neighbor.

Ugh. Christian trappings. Goddammit.[4]

[1] They’re… not great. Like, my reviews might speak well of them? My counterpoint is “seeing this book for the first time on a screen” is its own special thing that takes away from noticing that it’s still only okay. And here I refer only to the first one. The second one is nowhere near as good as that.
[2] Okay, maybe me more than them. I would normally here say, well, maybe I was just too busy with work to pay attention. But I watch really a lot of TV and a good number of movies while working, and actually keeping up with the main plot has never been a problem before. So there’s a decent chance that the lack of new sequel was for a good reason.
[3] Eustace is a Pevensie cousin who is a right twit, until later when he is improved by the power of Narnia. If Aslan wanted to teach a Pevensie a lesson, it should have been teaching Edmund that, you know what, you were a right twit once upon a time too, so maybe cut a bro some slack? But CS Lewis is more offended by girls who want to use make-up and date than he is by toxic masculinity, and so here we are.
[4] get it

Wonder Woman 1984

So, I got HBOMax, finally. This is good, as there are a pile of shows I want to watch, and bad, as where will I find the time? But the tipping point, of course, was the release of WW84[1]. If you are looking for a comics movie that leans really hard into the four-color aesthetic and into being a comics movie, look no farther!

I said (unless someone else did, but I’m pretty sure I did too) that Into the Spiderverse was the first movie I’d seen that felt like reading a comic, and that is still true.  Nevertheless, there have been plenty of MCU movies that lean really hard into both the comics aesthetic (anything with Thor) and comics sensibilities (anything with Peter Quill). But this is the first DC movie I’ve seen that did so.

It’s not that the plot didn’t make sense, like I’ve heard plenty of people claim. It hung together quite well, start to finish, with only one big complaint on my part[2]. But everything that happens relies of accepting that the logic of comic books is not the logic of the real world. Things happen that are not really magic, which is what a lot of people rely upon to suspend disbelief; instead things happen that rely on accepting that comics science is not the same as our science (much less when you mix science and magic together!), and that is maybe a harder proposition.

In a nutshell: what if we fast forward Diana to, say, the ’80s, where she is working at the Smithsonian on the strength of her knowledge of artifacts and like 130 languages (living and dead), and also she still isn’t over Steve Trevor yet 70 years later? And then she runs into a magic rock at the same time that a mousy new co-worker and an oil tycoon with a secret also run into said magic rock? And then the writers lay down a righteous comic book plot over these facts, with nary a care in the world for if it could even mildly happen or be fixable back to some kind of status quo that allows her to show up in Dawn of Justice even if it could happen in the first place?

In the end, that kind of thing either makes you want to punch some writers, or it’s your bread and butter. It wasn’t particularly good, but it was pretty damned amazing.

[1] Weird thing, with weird corollary. The movie is never referenced in any way besides WW84, at the start and end. Likewise, Diana Prince has never been referenced as Wonder Woman in either of these movies. Was she in her other DCCU appearances? I have literally no way of knowing!
[2] And that was more science-based than plot. Technically a spoiler: if you are going to electrocute someone for something, then you have to electrocute them for doing something equally electrocutable 30 seconds earlier, or else you don’t get to electrocute them now! Consistency, that’s all.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

It’s not uncanny valley levels of weird, but it is nevertheless weird to see digital animation versions of real actors that you are already very familiar with. To wit, Cal Kestis, who is played by the Joker from Gotham and one of the Gallagher kids on Shameless. And he’s, like, just extremely recognizable, both character and voice. And in Jedi: Fallen Order[1], I’m controlling his jumps and pushes and lightsaber swings, and it’s weird, is what, in a way that a random character would not have been at all.

The game itself is… fine? As has been said by others elsewhere, it’s basically a modern Tomb Raider ripoff, but without that part of the gameplay being as polished. Tradeoffs are that the Force skills parts are in fact pretty cool, and that the plot eventually slides from generic to compelling, somewhere between the halfway and two-thirds point.

If you feel like those tradeoffs (especially the second one) aren’t good enough to make up for the initial complaint, well, I will not try to convince you otherwise. Even for me, as happy as I was to be doing a new Star Wars game for the first time in forever, I occasionally wondered if it would really kill the high and mighty Jedi to pick up a blaster sometimes, instead of fighting through another four or six hand to hand storm troopers.

But the Force skills are pretty cool, except when your Force meter runs out and you can’t use them anymore. And except for wishing you had access to them for the whole game, instead of only starting to get to the good stuff right at the end. (But that’s a problem with all games of this type. See also Ezio re-learning how to be an assassin in two sequels.)

[1] which EA would like to helpfully remind you is a Star Wars property, no matter how awkward it makes the title of the game

The Turing Test

Because I am extremely timely, have another review of a game that’s leaving Game Pass today! The Turing Test is a sci-fi puzzle game[1] in which Ava Turing wakes up from cryosleep above Europa and is tasked by her AI companion, TOM, to go to the surface and find out why communication from the crew has ceased. Not as in “why aren’t they answering anymore” (although that too), as in “why is the communication link down?”

Upon arrival, however, the mystery deepens when the rooms of the base have been repurposed into puzzles that require creative solutions to proceed deeper, apparently to keep someone (or something?) out. Whereupon follows 77 rooms’ worth of puzzles combined with an ongoing discussion between Ava and TOM on the nature of consciousness plus occasional clues as to what happened down there.

The puzzles are very occasionally ridiculous, but mostly the right amount of difficult[2]. The plot is deeper and ultimately stronger than I gave it credit for. On the whole? Pretty impressive game; recommended, even.

[1] If you’re thinking “poor man’s Portal“, well, that’s a fair comparison. Happily, there’s a lot of room to go downhill from Portal and still have an enjoyable and plot-dense experience.
[2] Well, for me at least, and not counting the rooms that were extra simple, just to teach you new rules.

Red Christmas (2016)

Red Christmas is an Australian horror movie which, with the numbers filed off, is a fairly decent flick. Family gathering for Christmas Day, except a weird guy in bandages and a black hooded cloak shows up to settle some history with Dee Wallace[1], with the result being blood and gore and, you know, the various types of things that would make your Christmas red. (It sure wasn’t going to be white! Australia, remember.)

Unfortunately, the numbers are not filed off, and I have not been this unhappy with the premise of a movie since Snowpiercer. Said premise, which you cannot help but be aware of if you watch the first bit of the movie interspersed with the credits, is that the mysterious stranger is in fact an aborted fetus who survived. The implicit lie already had me on edge, but then the rest of the movie, despite making a valiant effort by naming this character Cletus, leaned into the “storytelling possibilities” by making it horror mashed up with family drama, instead of just horror, and offensive family drama based on a pure falsehood of a premise is just… I’m still pissed, is what.

This is a terrible movie that should feel bad and no longer have its rights sold. Shame on you, Shudder + AMC.

[1] Unlike most times when I see Dee Wallace’s name somewhere, this really is the lady who played the mom on ET, instead of secretly being Dee Snider instead, who did not.

Untitled Goose Game

I’ve been vaguely aware of Untitled Goose Game for some time, in the sense of, oh, hey, someone made another game like Goat Simulator, but for geese. Which sounded, you know, fine. At the same time, even though GS is on Game Pass, I have not really been itching to give it another try and finish this time, for whatever reason. Maybe I’m wrong? UGG is what was going to convince me I was wrong, if anything would.

So you’re this goose, right? Or, these geese, if you play multiplayer, as I did[1]. And you have a to-do list, some of which are things that might be fun for you and mostly harmless, but which really seem to annoy the humans around you, while others are, uh, pretty clearly designed to annoy the humans around you with no other particular benefit, except that it’s funny. Eventually your to-do list has an event that causes a new area (with a new to-do list!) to be unlocked. And so on, until you finish the game. Some of the bits are complicated to figure out, while others are complicated to execute, but it’s mostly a light puzzle game that you can breeze through in a few hours.

Which Mary and I did on Friday night, including the list of bonus to-do’s you can accomplish[2], some of which don’t even make sense to try until you’ve won once. And almost all of which are just purely mean, meaner than most of the previous mean things you’ve already done. …I did mention this is a game about geese, right?

Near the end of the night came the cruelest goose trick of all: even though we were both logged in on our accounts, Mary was not getting any of the achievements credited to her gamer score. This was especially painful because she was the one who wanted to cross off all the extra items in the first place; I had already been satisfied.

But I mean, it also ended up being fun, which is much better than if it had been grinding for points.

[1] Multiplayer is mildly annoying in that the screen only gets so big, so the geese have to stay together and can maybe get each other stuck. We played on a shared screen, but I assume that the same limitations apply to a remote multiplayer game. I also assume that remote multiplayer even exists.
[2] And not including the speed runs, which are all we left undone. I understand intellectually that some people are really into speed runs, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Run (2020)

Hulu still makes movies. Which is sad, because any time I watch a movie on another service besides Shudder, I feel a little unfaithful to the cause? Moreso when it’s not Netflix. I cannot justify any part of this, I should be clear.

On the bright side, it’s not like an Amazon movie, where it’s terrible[1]! This particular ironically titled film is about a mother and daughter on the cusp of nest exit. The plot twist to this situation is that the daughter is home-schooled and almost entirely homebound, due to a number of ongoing medical conditions, including, as the text fades at the beginning of the movie helpfully point out, asthma, heart arrhythmia, a weird rash thingy that probably also had a medical name attached, and of course paralysis of the legs, causing her to be wheelchair-bound, which means, as the text fades also helpfully point out, that she cannot walk or run.

Due to genre conventions, this is not an inspirational story about overcoming adversity, so I will dispense with the idea that talking about the [extremely] broad strokes of what happens in a thriller count as spoilers. And anyway, it is mostly bog standard fodder for the genre, elevated in two or three ways.

One: the performances are solid, both by the girl, who I understand to be a first time credited actress, and by Sarah Paulson, who thanks to American Horror Story is maybe in danger of being typecast? But her face really is made for this kind of movie, with sharp, haunting features. Two: It does an excellent job of portraying in a realistic way how damn quickly a house of cards can fall apart, once someone has a realization that the house is in fact built of cards. And, Or Three: this is a rare example of an antagonistic film where both of the main characters are female; and in fact two out of the three secondary characters are as well. (It’s a sparse cast, which was the right way to go.)

Anyway: worthwhile if you’re into this kind of thing, probably not elevated enough above its origins to be worthwhile if you’re not.

[1] Note: I have probably not watched an Amazon original movie, and am not talking about those. They just have a catalog of truly awful dreck that had to find a home somewhere, right? (Plus, I’m glad they do, despite myself.)

Satanic Panic (2019)

I’m going to cut straight to the chase here: what Home Alone did for burglars, Satanic Panic does for devil worshipers.

You have no idea how much I want to just stop there, but I feel obligated to say at least enough that the text reaches as far as the poster, you know? So, this is basically a lazy comedy of errors in which the pizza delivery girl rides into the rich neighborhood hoping for a big tip, and instead finds herself entangled with Satanists on the night of the annual(?) sacrifice, and hijinks? Why yes, they ensue.

Despite my diss above, it was actually pretty funny. It’s just that the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. But the pizza girl’s wide-eyed innocent irritation makes up a lot of ground, and with all the blood splashing around and the fish out of water laughs and the bumbling, ineffective devil worshiper laughs, I didn’t actually care about how nonsensical the plot was.

Basically, if you’ve always secretly believed that rich people are not like you and me, because they got their money and power as a result of sacrifice rather than hard work, and also that they hold orgies on the full moon? (And who hasn’t, at one point or another?) If so, whoever made this movie made it for you. Also, I learned in the last scene that this was made in Dallas, and yeah, if I was going to pick a city where that is what the rich people are like, Dallas or LA would have been the coin toss. (I know, I know, you’re thinking, what about Houston? But the climate was survivable, so Houston was already off the table.)

Bushwick (2017)

I’ve been to New York City once, in the late ’90s before things got “cleaned up”, whatever that means. So I saw Central Park when it was scary, and based on the looks I got in my giant cloak, apparently I was the scary person in the park. Which is okay. And I saw all the peepshow spots on what I have to assume some 20 years later was 42nd Street. The posters in the windows say “a quarter”, but you cannot get into those places for a quarter. Which is false advertising, but “cleaning them up” for false advertising seems a little harsh. About the only other thing I did was, because I was young and foolish, go to the Hard Rock Café. I’m cooler now than I was then, in most ways.

Nevertheless, I have a point to make with all of this, which is that despite my well-traveled worldliness as documented just now, most everything that I know about New York City, I know from Marvel comics. And a place Marvel has never put a spotlight on, at least as of winter/spring 1985, is the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn. So this is definitely a sort of “today I learned” moment, for values of today equal to a couple of days ago.

Anyway, Bushwick is a neighborhood kind of story, in which blonde grad student Lucy emerges from the subway into a war zone. Why are there black helicopters and commandos everywhere, blowing things up and shooting people? Between the targeted violence and the random opportunism, can she make it the few blocks to her grandmother’s house? Will Dave Bautista save her? Will she save him?

The funny thing is, this comes across as a high octane pulse-pounder, when really it’s a quiet portrait of two people just trying to get along in a quiet portrait of an urban neighborhood that Mayor Rudy forgot to “clean up”, except that the quiet introspective moments that fill the portrait are punctuated by explosions and gunfire. I can see why this is a movie that would make fans of exactly no genres happy, but for me, it was a very rare kind of mash-up, and I dug it.