30 December 2021

NMW's Salute to 2021: Movies Seen for the First Time

Every year we have a fun ranking of the films that I saw for the first time this year. Inevitably I usually include movies seen that came out that year, as if we were making a pure list of films that according to my reality, I saw for the first time. I decided to go a different route, and disinclude ANY 2021 films here.

So consider this a way of catching up on recent films and getting a lead on older films that are great.

Life Stinks (1991)

I had always known about his latter Mel Brooks movie, but never watched it because it wasn't a parody film and never had the cultural cache of other films. It's amazing how many deep Mel Brooks cuts there are out there, but unlike say, The Twelve Chairs (1970) or Silent Movie (1976), this really doesn't attempt at all to be comedic, despite a classic 80s / early 90s comedic premise. Mel Brooks as a greedy CEO must spend 30 days as a homeless person to win a bet. Easy enough. But this film is loaded with so much empathy, character, and nuance that I feel like to reject it is to reject the premise of the film itself - that homeless folk aren't bums or stock characters, but human beings. It's pretty good, but decidedly not a laugh riot, which held it back at the time, but worth a revisit now.

A Star is Born (2018)

Hot damn, A Star is Born hit me. This movie hit me hard. I wanted to catch up on it because it was such a big deal a few years ago (maybe "Shallow" more than the movie itself), and it's genuinely a great watch. The tale is old at this point, but Brad Cooper throws in great subtleties and a character progression that you really buy despite well-worn territory. There's also alcoholism, selling out creative endeavors, and of course, "Shallow" is pretty good. This made me really emotional! It's good!

Dead Alive (1992)

This has been on my list forever as a desire to see all of Peter Jackson's pre-Lord of the Rings affairs. This doesn't disappoint. First of all, it's assuredly bonkers, playing with zombies, but not quite our typical zombie affair - it has way more in common with The Evil Dead (1981) than Romero. It is famed as one of the more grotesque horror films of all time, and I suppose that is true. The gore effects are wild and the creativity of the dead and crawling body parts is fantastic. The premise is racist I guess, but this was a really fun Halloween watch.

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)

I forget how this got on my list. But I watched it and was entranced. This is the kind of movie that needs to be remade with star power and an actual budget. Oh wait - they did! It's almost the exact same movie as Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). It was created as a total Mad Max rip-off, which I'm sure fell into the cracks at the time amongst dozens of similar films, but it stands out today when viewed without context under its own merit. It's surprisingly feminist, has giant snake penises and amphibian sex, and stars Rowdy Roddy Piper. I know what you're thinking - why aren't I watching this right now?

Hustlers (2019)

This movie came out a while ago and was a big deal upon release, peaked with some awards buzz that it didn't get, and then fizzled out. But this movie is fantastic! It's totally Scorsese-esque but with strippers, but that's all you need. J. Lo is a fiery dominating presence in this film and it fits into a great blend of current recession films that focus more on well, our need to hustle rather than to make an honest living as the only way of getting by. They're not wrong. This is a trip and a fantastic epic journey. It's also not nearly as voyeuristic as you might think. J. Lo does look good tho.

After Hours (1985)

Just like deep dives into Brooks and Jackson, I made a stark realization that despite me just using Scorsese as an adjective, I haven't really seen many of his non-obvious films. After Hours is one of those, perhaps his least-Scorsese-like (and perhaps his funniest). It depicts a night that gets out of control in SoHo, but never in a violent or chaotic way. Okay, some folks do die, but it feels more restrained than a current comedy would do with the same premise. It's fun to watch in part just to think that none of this would happen with today's technology, and to see how the parents from Home Alone (1990) got together.

Chi-Raq (2015)

This is another movie that always seemed to have good buzz, but got no awards, and no one talked about after its release. Thank Spike Lee as I wanted to expand my understanding of his filmography as well, and Chi-Raq delivers with a Greek narrative, rhyming, rapping, and singing its way to a tremendous second act and conclusion. The only difficult thing about this movie is believing that Nick Cannon can be a hard thug who won't nut with Teyonah Parris. It's a film that is incredibly ambitious in scope and thoroughly pulls it all off.

Nomadland (2020)

Our first of two 2020 films to crack the top, Nomadland obviously found a sweet spot with praise last year, earning Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress honors. It's also again such a product of our time, the transient lifestyle driven by capitalism yet reviled by it. There's a bit of edge here, too, when Frances McDormand has the opportunity to leave her life as a van-dweller, but refuses. It finds a contrast between the natural beauty of this great land of ours and the truly terrible way we treat our people. It's a great, deserving film.

The Holy Mountain (1973)

Yes, I got my Alejandro Jodoworsky share this year. This film is full of surreal allegory, but also hits hard today against the sins of the world as much as it did fifty years ago. It's surely up there as one of the weirdest films you can find, but also one of the richest. It's coated in symbolism, and I mean, literally, that's all there is here. There's hardly a word of dialogue in the first hour or so, but then it hits on everything about life, religion, and well, pretty much anything else you could want to know about the big questions. It's assuredly experimental and pulls off everything it wants to be.

Promising Young Woman (2020)

Speaking of a movie for our times, jeez, this one. It's obviously a #MeToo driven film, but one that thoroughly explores the actual fallout of a drunken rape instead of stats and catchphrases. It hammers the emotional damage that explodes upon friends and family, particularly one friend, whose life becomes a complete wreck in the wake of her friends' rape and subsequent suicide. The ending is unflinching and uncompromising that would feel refreshing if not for its brutality. There is so much explored here, from the nice guy bystanders to weary family ready to give up and move on. When should we give up? Should we move on? What is the best way to move forward out of trauma? This movie's also a comedy.

That's it! My favourite film watched this year is my new best film of 2020. Check out these other oddities, admittedly some of these are more interesting or forgotten bits of cinema you should check out. Bring on 2022!

**Special Commendation added 01/03/22:

Alright, egg on my face whatever. I forgot to include this movie, but I really wanted to talk about it. I saw Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) for the first time this year! Not only is this sketch 100% accurate, but it is suprisingly a movie fit for our times. See, we had all these meta movies like this and Last Action Hero (1993) back in the day that demonstrated how sick and canny we were of movie tropes and corporate meddling. Gremlins 2 pulls off everything it wants to be, breaks the fourth wall, is a biography of Donald Trump, and has so much damn fun with itself. It's amazing and everyone needs to see it. #1 film of the year.

NMW Salutes While It looks Back on What Might Have Been Cool

So, every year we try to forecast what's going to be cool, and the cool thing about 2021 is that we actually saw a lot of these! First, that means that we have full write-ups on nearly all of these films. But let's do a quick rundown on if these were cool or not.

Godzilla vs. Kong

My number one anticipated film. It was definitely good, maybe a little less than Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), but still delivered on its promise of being an outrageous, wacky affair. The fight(s) was thrilling, as was the special guest star. Like all of these Legendary movies, the human characters are proving to be somehow worse than the Toho films, but this was solid, appropriately hyped!


I liked DUNE a lot. I suppose I got out of it what I was excited for going into it. It was suitably epic, but ended up not being quite as big or awesome as I had hoped. That's probably just because I never been a huge DUNE fan. I'm not anti-DUNE or anything, but as a fan on the sidelines this was appropriate.

The Suicide Squad

Cautiously optimistic, and I'm going to say that this exceeded my expectations. It was really well-written, well-shot, and had lasting fun characters that assuredly eclipsed the original. Expectations exceeded.

The Tomorrow War

Is it Chris Pratt movies or original sci-fi movies, or just Amazon movies that are the problem? This was not that good, such a juicy premise that went nowhere and didn't make any sense. This could have been really cool but was instead really safe and uninteresting. Expectations deceeded.

Venom: Let There be Carnage

Why did I hype this? I guess it was about where you'd expect it to be. I'm not sure why I drank the comic book movie sequel Kool-Aid on this one. Ultimately I have to say it came up short of expectations, just because I thought they could really turn this around in a fun and darkly goofy way, but the end result instead looked cluttered, cheap, rushed, and incoherent. Maybe I should have expected as much because this film never tried to be anything different.

No Time to Die

What a great time at the cinema! The last Dan Craig Bond was fitting for the insanely protracted character arc and this was a pretty fulfilling movie that ranked high amongst the Craig Bonds as well as any Bond of the last fifty years. I might even go so far as to say it was better than the modest hype surrounding it.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Spectacular! Well, that's a little strong. It was funny and surprising, and delivered well for a movie I knew next to nothing about. Pray for Edgar, I'd say this blew my expectations away and exists as a positive unicorn in the current landscape of comedy films.

The Last Duel

This is the only film on this list I ended up not seeing. No, Ridley Scott, it wasn't because it didn't have men in capes fighting each other, or because of the pandemic, or anything with millennials. Well, maybe the last part was true, because it did just feel like a dinosaur of a film with archaic notions towards its women, plot, and premise. That may not be true, I don't know what this movie is about, but that was the vibe I got. My life could go on without it and it did just perfectly.

Army of the Dead

Saw this piece of shit! Again, such a cool premise and a dream cast that absolutely floundered. It just didn't use its premise in any creative way. It should be remembered for Tig Notaro and...well, that's probably about it. It probably falls the most short of expectations of any film here, Zach Snyder should just be a cooler director and this wasn't that cool.

The Green Knight

I'm very proud of myself or selecting The Green Knight. I would say this actually exceeded expectations and became a movie I really enjoyed unpacking, decoding, and thinking about in the weeks after I watched it. I need to find more movies like this but I feel like it's hard to get hyped on some of these far out indies without much more than titles, if even that right now. Who am I kidding, I listed The Suicide Squad in my Top 10 this year.

What does 2022 have in store?! We'll soon find out! Stay tuned when we countdown our cherriest of all hype movies after the New Year!

NMW's Salute to 2021: MOVIES!

Well folks, it's finally that magical time of year - ranking time! We're going to look back and reflect on everything that happened this year. Somehow the movie landscape felt even more fractured than in 2020. Maybe that's just because 2020 still had a lot of fun movies to burn off. In 2021 we really felt the impact. And super self-admittedly, I did not see all the 2021 movies I wanted to. Some years I just kind of make it up, but this year I wanted to really stick with just those that I actually laid my eyes on. I barely saw more than ten passable films, so maybe wait until next year for a more proper ranking?

Speaking of which...

2020 Re-rank

Trial of the Chicago 7
Extra Ordinary
Palm Springs
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Color Out of Space
Promising Young Woman

Great example! Six films actually remain from last year, but my #1 fell to #6. Oh well. I actually still like Mank more than I thought I would a year from last year, but not enough to crack my Top 10. Nomandland and Promising Young Woman feel like the kind of towering films that will be high for a long time.

Okay, ready for 2021?

#10: Raya and the Last Dragon

For some reason, it seems like no one cares about Raya and the Last Dragon. No one's talking about, I even ready a weary take that bemoaned a supposed inevitable Oscar win for its studio and Chinese pandering. This film was great. Awkwafina was miscast, just because she sounds too much like Awkwafina, but this was the most OCD-plugging film of all time. It's the kind of movie that can really inspire a little kid, and I pictured a younger self going crazy unpacking the different kingdoms, cultures, and ramifications of personal choices. It was a lot of fun, a compelling adventure, and one that I honestly think folks avoid because it's Disney, Chinese, and starring women. Oh well.

#9: The Sparks Brothers

I really just wanted to talk about how I somehow have this big Sparks gap. How had I not heard of this band? They are so up my alley and when I saw the trailer I started listening to their music constantly for six months and developed a genuine love for their ever-changing sound. I just missed them for so long. But it's never too late to become a Sparks fan. You may think The Beatles: Get Back was the best piece of media to explore the evolution of creative process this year, but give up some credit to The Sparks Brothers, which dives deep into band and song formation more than getting bogged down in the personal drama and drug use like many other musician biopics. The documentary format helps, as does the fact that they've never done drugs and made 25 albums.

#8: The Suicide Squad

Listen, all your lists will include Drive My Car or Shiva Baby but I want to talk about how much I loved The Suicide Squad. It is a positively wacky film with a huge budget, and the greatest, most expensive course correction in franchise blockbuster history. It's a simultaneous sequel and remake and I loved everything about it. The off-beat but three-dimensional characters, the comic book zaniness, and the well-paced and choreographed action scenes that also advance character growth are all high points for other superhero films to shoot for, especially with smaller bullets.

#7: The Power of the Dog

I think this was good. It was definitely boring, but rewards folks who pay attention. Also, the ending is not that ridiculous, he had an open wound with bad cow hide, that's that. It's a strange film with no actual protagonist, though. Maybe it's Benedict, but he's kept at such a distance that you never get into his head. Maybe it's Kirsten Dunst, but she also fades late in the film. We never really get into Jesse Plemons, and Kodi just pops in so later and with such foggy intentions that it's hard to get into his head, too. These are slights in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but Jane Campion presents this as a puzzle to unlock without ever sacrificing compellingness. Okay, it definitely gets boring when she's just trying to learn piano.

#6: Barb and Star Go To Vista del Mar

This sneaky little bastard of a movie. It has flaws for sure, the tired villainous albino trope being at the top, but from the get go it's hard to understand what movie I actually clicked on in Hulu. But it settles into his wackiness, presents cringe, then backs off, pays off, and slays off like no film this year. Jamie Dornan and Annie Mumolo are fantastic, Kristen Wiig surprisingly less so, but it really is a film like no one else is making. And it got totally buried, so go watch it. Pray like Edgar, my favourite movie song of the year.

#5: The Harder They Fall

I'd consider this an average movie experience, until a huge twist at the end, but since it also stars all Black Cowboys it instantly becomes unique. That should certifiably be understood as a dreary take on the industry, considering how much black folk shaped the west (and are both comparatively underrepresented and...the reason they're called cowboys). I don't know why I need to know who Bass Reeves is from HBO's Watchmen. Anyway, it's directed with engaging panache by Jeymes Samuel, who hopefully had more in the tank like this. It's equal parts fun and serious from start to finish and presents its blackness as natural rather than particular. Hope for us all.

#4: Don't Look Up

AKA the late 2010s: the movie. Jeez, this film. Since parting with Ferrell, Adam McKay has been really terribly scattershot. I like The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018), but this is somehow his most complete and traditional narrative. It's also bonkers, but really not that bonkers. In fact I hesitate to think that people in real life would be this rational. It's like a disaster movie without leadership being a given and the ending is really fulfilling. Our decisions have consequences, folks! This could be about climate change, or COVID-19, or anything else. We have some deep problems embedded in our culture, and unfortunately, I agree with the media moguls here that Leo and Jenn screaming at us isn't going to move the needle.

#3: No Sudden Move

Remember No Sudden Move? The fisheye Soderbergh movie that dropped on HBOMax over the summer? Everyone seemed to love it but then immediately forget. It's just that kind of culture, I guess. I still liked it. Definitely boring for stretches, and as soon as you realize that Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro don't actually have any influence on the plot (and that the plot is also about a real-life auto industry conspiracy to suppress the catalytic-converter), it becomes far more watchable. It's subtle, fueled by stellar acting, an impressive cast, and ultimately significant stakes. I'd like to watch it again.

#2: The Green Knight

It was tough between these last two. In many ways, these were the only two movies I truly liked this year, and in my annual review of top films seen for the first time regardless of release year, these were the only two that really stood out. The Green Knight is layered in symbolism to unpack, fueled by unorthodox casting choices that enhance the core message, and updates an ancient tale to a modern audience while avoiding the flash of easy commercial filmmaking. The ending is righteous, ambiguous, and takes its cake while eating it too. Make no mistake, this film delivers on all the promises it makes. It's also ridiculously beautiful, finding breahtaking vistas in muddy rainy England, from forest to cliff to scrungy city. It's a film firing on all possible cylinders.

#1: PIG

That's right. Nic Cage. Haggard. Trying to find his pig. This premise could so easily become ridiculous. Like a John Wick (2014) parody, or...well, like any Nic Cage film. But the film treats its subject matter seriously, and slowly unravels what this guy's deal is. It also delivers on its promises, and never backs down from the stated fact that this truffle-hunter was the real deal chef, but he understands life perhaps better than any cinema character ever. I said it. I watched this on a plane. It's so good.

Films I saw that barely missed this list:

Bo Burnham: INSIDE
Plan B
Bad Trip

Films I did not see that could be here next year:

The Tragedy of MacBeth
Licorice Pizza
French Dispatch
Last Night in SOHO
House of Gucci

That's it. I feel more regretful than usual, mostly because some of these picks are just terribly commercial, but I dug what I dig and that's it, baby. We'll see if any befallen 2021 film can creep back in my re-rank next year, but for now - that's it! Hello 2022!

23 December 2021

First Impressions: Spider-Man No Way Home

Alright, it's time to review the biggest movie of the year, a movie that will push Omicron across the entire United States and proves once and for all that people really, REALLY like Spider-Man - Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). SPOILERS forever, because this movie is impossible to talk about without spoiling everything.

Should we dive into context first? I usually like doing so, but it's going to take forever with this one. Okay, fine. Let's take it back to 2002. I was in High School and a big budget Spider-Man movie was coming out. There has weirdly emerged a distinction between those early 2000s-style superhero movies that cranked out as many low-level heroes as possible that were all pretty formulaic, but also so obsessed with edge (and looking back today - cringe). But that's kind of what makes them memeable today in our regurgitating culture that thrives on nostalgia and post-modernism.

Superhero movies today are simultaneously more grounded while also being less ashamed of their pulp origins. It's a weird zone. Marvel is an obvious juggernaut whose synergy and cross-feature easter eggs are only rivaled by the comic book medium itself. DCEU movies are continuously trying to catch up, but honestly, the last few have ended up pretty good, as just like their comic origins, they focus more on telling serious stories with these godlike figures, more mythology than friendly neighborhood.

Anyway, I generally liked No Way Home a lot with some important caveats. First, it trades on a tremendous amount of nostalgia. I struggle to sort out why I bought into the bait here while reviled similar things in JJ Abrams' Star Wars movies. I suppose it's because this film doesn't just throw up fan service for the sake of fan service. There are moments that exist only to recognize as moments, but most are still in service of THIS particular story. When Osborn says "I'm something of a scientist myself" again, it's part of a genuine new conversation with Peter Parker and advances the story and their relationship.

So, let's just get into it. The film picks up immediately after Far From Home (2019), and deals with the fallout of Spider-Man's identity being blasted across the world and accusations that he's Mysterio's murderer. Here's my first big problem - all this early stuff is incredibly fascinating. These MCU movies have really tried to mess with the Spider-Man formula, I know to a point where fans get upset. I don't really are, we've had five previous Spider-Man movies, two of which are really good. Those stories are out there, and I'm into a new take. It's basically a huge What If story, and I've always been fine with that, especially since all these movies are pretty good in terms of character growth, challenges, and honestly just how damn charismatic Tom Holland is.

We've challenged a lot of our interpretations of Peter Parker. He's a little richer, a little more of a team player, Iron Man's little buddy, all that. The first movie even challenged his webslinging by taking him out of Manhattan. His road to heroism has been shifted. Uncle Ben does exist here, but it seems more likely after this that the circumstances of his death are radically different than what we're used to. It seems like Peter never learned a certain lesson about responsibility that more traditional Peters did. You can see that - this Peter is never evil or vengeful or anything, but he's naive and selfish and struggles making the best decision all the time.

Add to all that the core twist that everyone knows who he is. Spider-Man is great because he's one of the most powerful Marvel superheroes, that can hang with Wolverine, Hulk, and Captain America, but he operates more like the street level heroes like Daredevil and Punisher. He's got both blue collar grit but white collar superpowers. This all means that his secret identity is integral to his operation, which is unlike Cap, Thor, or Iron Man, who are all synonymous with their public identities. It's amazing that the MCU in particular really hasn't cared much about secret identities at all. Every hero is more intrinsically their alter ego, that's their job and public image. Spider-Man, however, is trying to lead both a normal High School life and a superhero life. The sudden notoriety is a huge challenge to his character and his mythos, and presents a fantastic challenge - a threat that he can't punch his way out of.

I get why they didn't want to keep this going. I mean, it's far more fun to watch him punch nostalgic villains, and there's enough going on here that you roll with it quickly. But it's also odd fridge logic that the two biggest cliffhanger issues that extend into the first third of this film are waived away fairly quickly. Matt Murdock deus ex machina's his legal issues (okay side note - FUCK YEAH CHARLIE COX!! I was so pumped to see him here, I kept thinking he'd be the ideal public defender to bring in, but never thought they'd do it. Obvi I was looking for him to suit up and team-up, I get that this isn't that kind of movie, but might we get there?! Also, no one in my theater cheered, did we forget those Netflix Shows so soon? When do we get the Jon Bernthal Kills the MCU What If episode? Oh, we never will because Disney+ only wants Disney+. Ugh).

But Murdock also mentions that Stark Industries is in tremendous trouble. This is never really revisited, which should have been a huge problem. Spider-Man's public identity is also a huge issue, especially when it threatens his friends' college careers. Someone said it better than me - this all happens because Peter Parker didn't want to go to Community College. There are some privilege issues there, especially because they're all obsessed with MIT (How the hell did all four people from this HS, especially Ned and Flash who are definitely dumbasses get into MIT? It did kind of feel like a weirdly specific advertisement for that college. Doesn't MJ feel like a Bryn Mawr person? And Peter has to go to Empire State obvi. Whatever.) Also, didn't Tony Stark go to MIT? No pull there with Happy or Pepper?

The film then cops out of its major issue by just using magic to make everyone forget his secret identity. This would normally be a narratively cheap solution, but it works here for a few reasons. First, magic straight up exists in this universe, and Peter has a connection to the Sorcerer Supreme, why wouldn't he try to abuse magic? Also, his goal is first to reverse time, if you were a teenager who had been in the presence of an infinity stone, why wouldn't you? It trades on cheap narrative devices, but these devices have been already long established, so it's a bit less cheap.

But there's also serious repercussions for this young kid trying to take the easy way out. It pretty much wrecks his life and threatens all of reality. Ultimately it does reset his entire life. It ends up being this solid morality tale, that yeah, uses cheap nostalgia to drive the superhero-ness of the story, but the bones are solid. I was slightly disappointed to see all the early issues that seemed really significant outright dropped in favor of this stuff, but that's honestly what this movie is.

I am still a bit in awe at how this film was even made. SONY really created the deal of the century being able to stick this iteration of Spider-Man squarely in the MCU while also being able to throw in all of its older Spider-Men. It's definitively hokey - everyone who knew Peter Parker is Spider-Man from other Universes are drawn into this one when Doc Strange's spell backfires. This doesn't even work because Electro didn't know he was Spider-Man (he even says as much later in the movie). Whatever, you need to get past that pretty quick, because we're ultimately just here to revel in Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe again.

Right off the bat we can remember how good these casting choices were. Molina is spectacular again here, and he slips right back into this role. His character was always far deeper than the comic origins, where Otto is really just a jerk, but he's always a tortured soul, corrupted by the AI of the tentacles. I loved how he's amazed by the technology of their universe, which is from being set in 2025 as much as it is just advancements in movie effects. The nano-bots controlling Doc Ock's arms is a nice touch of how these worlds would actually interact. Norman Osborn is the same way, honestly, but their internal struggle is compelling. It forms the basis for the long second act of this film (the structure is odd, really. That might be a third act of a five-act film?). Tom Holland is so damn earnest that he pities these men out of time and universes and seeks to cure them.

There's a nice pro-mental health current here, that we don't need to fight or shun these broken members of society, we can rehabilitate them. This is underscored a little bit by the fact that they don't really want help, they want power and destruction (because this is still a comic book movie) so then it actually gets a little problematic that they are cured against their will. But there's also a nice boost to Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man, who has clearly gotten the short stick from fans over the years by appearing in by far the worst Spider-Man movies. It's nice to see Tom and Tobey cheer him up a little and legitimize him as a worthy Spider-Man. Even if he's clearly Spider-Man 3 when they divvy up numbers.

Let's get back to SONY. Putting all three Spider-Men in one movie is downright surreal and it's about damn time they pulled this off. You've got to think that the success of Into the Spider-Verse (2021) helped a little, as has recent comic obsessions with Spider-Totems across universes. This merges a lot of comic ideas, and if you're ever pissed at a giant forgetting spell, Peter being rich, or Aunt May dying, keep in mind that these are all ideas that originated in the comic books!

But SONY finally realized that they had all these great actors and history just sitting there and signed enough contracts to get them all in the same room. Now, it's not as impressive as it seems. Rhys Ifans and Thomas Hayden Church are clearly voice only, and their transformations back into humans are apparently repurposed old footage. There is clearly some upgrading the villains that didn't work, the biggest being Jamie Foxx's Electro, who is just Jamie Foxx now, but a huge upgrade from both the nerdy Max Dillon (a casting that never worked) and the big blue Dr. Manhattan villain (who was really just Ultimate Electro, but whatever). He works here really well, even if it elucidates the fact that Spider-Man's connection to him was never as strong as some of the other villains here.

I'm also struck by how much worse Tobey Maguire looks than Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina! Maybe it helps that they've always looked old and weird, and Tobey looked like the oldest high schooler of all time in the mid-2000s. He still has such earnestness, though, and serves well as the elder statesman Spider-Man. A Peter B. Parker if you will.

Andrew Garfield really takes it, though. His Spider-Man is the most broken, and you can tell that's more from the critical drubbing of his films than anything else. No Way Home does significant work to elevate his status up to that of Tobey and Tom. It reminds me a little of how the Fast and Furious series tried hard to bring up characters from their joke films like 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) and Tokyo Drift (2006), although it took until F9 (2021) to really achieve that with the latter. Anyway, Garfield reminds us that he's probably the best Spider-Man of the lot. He's the only one who can cleverly quip and has an edge during his fights. I always thought he was far too cool to pull off being Peter Parker, but surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), breaking his life apart makes him more believable. He carries this haunting sadness and weariness that's awesome.

And of course there's THAT scene. MJ is falling to her death and Garfield dives and saves her exactly like he did for Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). You can tell that he's thought about this a thousand times and how he'd do it differently, and he is sure to grab her himself and secure her landing. He then just breaks down crying, knowing both what he should have done differently to save Gwen, and out of emotional release of actually saving MJ. It's an amazing ode to a shitty scene from a shitty movie and honestly a great moment here.

Shall we get to Dafoe? Holy crap. This dude BRINGS IT. He's just an amazing actor that can be gentle and sorrowful one moment and then terrible and menacing in the next scene. They also update his costume to be a bit more comic accurate and it looks great. I love that he drives the idea to cure the villains instead of sentencing them to death in their own universes (that doesn't make sense, they're all literally about to die, but whatever) but then also drives the idea that they don't need curing and to rebel.

This brings us awfully, awwwwfully close to a Sinister Six movie. There are only five major villains featured, though. Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Lizard, and Electro. This is pretty close to the original line-up, but assuredly feels like a missed opportunity. When trading in pure nostalgia it becomes hard to justify someone else getting in, though. They could have had James Franco or Topher Grace, but I suppose Franco has his own baggage now. New Goblin also brings baggage because paring him with his father could be a whole movie, and he doesn't quite fit into the "cured" theme.

Topher Grace as Venom would certainly be fun, but that was also the miscast of the century and likely gets a little confusing with Tom Hardy's Venom. Who DOES make an appearance, but only has a glorified cameo. But by the logic of the film, Topher Grace should definitely be there and Tom Hardy should not. It would have been a whole lot of fun to see Tom Hardy mix it up with these folks, but ultimately that wouldn't work, either. He assuredly can't be cured, he doesn't have history to trade on, he's too big of a personality to be a side character here, and SONY is trying desperately to make him into a hero, not a blatant villain like everyone else here.

And that's where the film does itself a disservice. The Six don't have a plan or anything. They're just kind of there, mostly with the same motivation they each had from their respective movies. I still love that the Lizard wants to turn everyone into Lizard-people. That's a very Lizard plot. It'd be nice to see them working together, scheming, or doing something else grand, but there just isn't room in this movie for that, nor is that how it was set-up.

So Venom could be #6, but the sixth member might actually be Peter Parker. He breaks these guys out of Wizard prison and works with them. It's an intriguing zone. I wish that we saw a Tom Holland villain get in the mix. The obvious one is Vulture since he's still alive. A Mysterio return would have been too earth-shattering (or a Mysterio genuinely from another universe). We also haven't seen a lot of villains that have been hinted at or set-up, like Prowler or Scorpion here. This all extends the narrative of the film significantly. It works as is with the villains basically being stock evildoers to come in, have a big action set-piece and leave without a ton of development or motivation.

Let's move on to the side-characters. This iteration of Spider-Man always has a much stronger supporting cast, which has helped with the teen comedy feel of these movies. I will admit however, that for the first time, they became a little grating in this. I think when we start graduating to Willem Dafoe-level villains, who want to blow up and kill random civilians it's hard to fall back on plucky comic relief. I also love how Ned Leeds in the comics is the Hobgoblin, something I can never see this guy becoming, but there are subtle nods to how both Tobey and Andrew's best friends became Goblins. Goblins, after all, are the natural enemy of spiders. But at one point Ned is wearing an orange and blue varsity jacket, which ruled.

Finally, Zendaya as Michelle Jones Watson is great here. It only took her three movies to get into the spotlight! She has more agency, doesn't get kidnapped, has her own wants, but also very supportive of Peter and his crap. It's really fun to see. I don't care about the redhead thing at all, as Jamie Foxx says, it doesn't make sense for Spider-Man to be white anymore, anyway. That's why Miles Morales works so well, but that's a whole other movie series at this point.

Well, there is Doctor Strange as well. He's like a Mephisto who cares! I really couldn't stop looking at his horrible wig, but his fight with Spidey is a great blend of both these worlds. I enjoy watching these properties bounce off each other, and the math vs magic was the kind of counter that works in a world where everything sorta happens at once. Marvel is a weird place where magic, fantasy, aliens, mad science, and technology all co-exist. It's staggering to think anyone can actually live in this place.

The end of this film brings Spider-Man into familiar territory. He has no friends, no support, no money, and a shitty apartment. Aunt May dying and giving the great responsibility speech is the moment where he becomes a hero. You suddenly realize that three whole movies (plus appearances in three more) have just been one long origin story. You can't help but wonder if this was just SONY wresting control back of Spider-Man. Like, they literally made it so that no one else in the MCU remembers him. He just better pay rent to Mr. Diktovitch. But this effectively undoes his Stark connection, his Avengers connection, and all the stuff that made this Spider-Man a little outside the norm.

So what's next? It's fascinating to see this and The Matrix Resurrections (2021) come out so close to each other. Both trade on nostalgia for film franchises that aren't all that old. I was a little bit old for both, at least High School age, but I'm curious about the kids who grew up watching these like I did with Star Wars and Indiana Jones. They're mostly memes now, but there is certainly a powerful recent nostalgia. I have been long waiting for the early-2000s Carson Daly and Tom Green nostalgia wave. Maybe we're here?! It clearly works, and we'll start to see reboots ordered of the gritty reboots age. It's happening!

With the rifts opening up at the end, obviously there are some familiar villains up there. Spider-Man really has a tremendous rogue's gallery, with quite a few still to go to get the big screen treatment. The last really notable one for a serious movie is probably Kraven the Hunter, but as I think about it, maybe it's tough to find a way to do that not racist-ly? Scorpion is okay, but he kind of sucks. He's a better side villain. There's of course way weirder shit like the Clone Saga. Bring back Andrew Garfield and have him fight the Jackal! Demogoblin? I dunno, there's fun things out there. But Kraven's really the only big gap left.

In the end, I did enjoy this a lot, but there are clearly problems here, and the story is built around a marketing idea that's powerful as hell. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and you can go into it with as cynical a viewpoint as you want, but it hits the emotional beats it needs to, busts Peter Parker around more than ever, and in the end, he does the right thing. That's what we want out of any Spider-Man story!

18 December 2021

First Impressions: DUNE

I know I'm behind, but whatever, you're lucky to get anything with any kind of timeliness around here. I'm still trying to put together Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) impressions. But anyway, DUNE (2021) came out a while ago. Let's chat about that, with SPOILERS Forever!

This review comes from someone who has never read the Dune novel, but watched the David Lynch film once, relatively recently. Folks say that this series is unfilmable and too lore-heavy, but I never had much of a problem with this film. You get the just of it - spice is important, the planet Arrakis has spice, but also giant worms, sand, and dangerous natives. Makes sense, let's roll with it!

I am, however, a big Denis Villeneuve fan. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) remains one of my favourite all-time films, and that's certainly the film that echoes this the most. It's a bombastic but grounded sci-fi adaptation that was made for an insane amount of money that never seemed to catch on. Tho it won a handful of Oscars and got universal appraise. DUNE feels the same way, although it may not be the tremendous cultural force it should have been. Some of that is undoubtedly just the current distribution climate, which was in the toilet before climate, and the completely fractured way we consume media, but that's not really for us to discuss right now.

I found myself really enjoying DUNE while watching it, but it hasn't completely stuck with me. It is undeniably the most visually stunning film of the year, maybe since, well, Blade Runner 2049. The scope is wacky, the color palettes distinctive, if not typically muted, and the vistas and sets are breathtaking. It is certainly an event movie that should be watched in a big booming theater. There is more of a Fantasy element than a Sci-fi element to all this stuff, and you constantly get the sense that there is this unearthly presence (literally I guess) to everything going on. Moreso than just being set on other planets, there is such a high element of foreign architecture, costuming, and technology that feels natural within the world itself. It's spectacular world-building.

The cast is also thoroughly made up of the greatest stars of 2021. It's weird to consider Josh Brolin in that zone, but he is. Thanos, Rebecca Ferguson, Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Mamoa, and Bautista are all the hottest actors around right now. Not to mention Charlotte Ramping! I didn't even recognize Javier Bardem at first. Zendaya is probably good, but honestly not in this movie enough to really create a good critique. Stellan Skarsgard, who is contractually obligated to appear in every movie franchise and Sharon Duncan-Brewster round out the cast.

I really did want to see a Bautista / Mamoa fight. I mean, what are we in this for if we can't watch a clash of these titans? I get that that's not how the story goes, but what's even the point. The movie centers around only a few big plot elements, namely the Emperor's transition of spice-mining from House Harkonnen to House Atreides, which was all a set-up to betray House Atreides. Forgive me if I'm questioning holy Frank Herbert logic, but I didn't think it was clear that this was a set-up for Harkonnen to just murder Atreides. Like, why couldn't the Emperor just destroy them without this ploy? It seems like it would severely disrupt the spice flow. There are issues with motivation here that weren't as tight as it wants to be.

But there are far more undercurrents here. The main goal of Atreides is to work with the native population of Freman rather than create violence through subjugation. Some of the colonial subtext is obvious, but it's still relevant. Even though his goals are noble, it still exists in opposition to the Fremen's way of life, and the two entities cannot exist at once. There may be mutual respect and working together, but ultimately the imperialists require the guidance of the natives far more than the natives need the imperialists.

There is much to say about the white savior storyline - again, having never read the novel, it is apparently a critique of the trope, but it's hard to see it here. The ending fight for supremacy feels Black Panther (2018)-y, and honestly anticlimactic after the huge fight earlier. Some of this issue is the fact that this movie is cut in half, with a second part to come. We never see what happens with Josh Brolin, for instance. It thus hardly feels like a complete movie, but again, this might just be more down the line.

My understanding is that Chalamet is supposed to be the Boy of Destiny, the Star-child to Save the Universe, but also his mom, Rebecca Ferguson, messed with the Benet Gesserit thousand-year planned genetic and religious rumour plan to just do her own thing, which I can get behind. I like the idea that it's all bullshit, but we haven't really seen that quite yet.

In the end, that might be why it's hardest to truly evaluate this film. It's not really a full movie with beginning, middle, and end. Moreso than most modern two-parters it ends jarringly, which is a bold move considering Villeneuve wasn't even sure he'd get the chance to do another one. I really love every technical aspect, and it's an incredibly immersive world. I love the rainy throat-singing, the big ships, and the first worm sequence. Like I said, it's more grounded than fantastic, while also being really fantastic. But I'd like the themes and plotting to develop a little more coherently for it to really crack the Top Ten for me. It's a hard call. I think I liked it.

You ready for DUNE 2: TWUNE?! (2025)?

03 December 2021

First Impressions: No Time to Die

Believe it or not, I watched No Time to Die (2021) as a double-feature at a drive-in with Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021). That was two months ago. Let's talk about it! SPOILERS for every Bond movie ever from here on out. To sum up - I liked it. Now let's get into details.

First, superlatives and history and all that stuff. Dan Craig is the longest-tenured Bond by a wide margin, having played the role for the better part of 15 years now. And even if NTTD had come out in 2020 like it was supposed to, he would have still held on to it for longer than Roger Moore, who played the role for a mere twelve years. However, he only made five films, which is well short of both Moore and Connery (even if you count Never Say Never Again [1983] or not). Is it weird that Never Say Never Aagain came out the same year as Octopussy (1983)? Can you imagine having like, a Pierce Brosnan knock-off Bond also coming out this year?

Anyway, the less movies in more years thing is assuredly a product of modern movie-making that takes quite a bit longer than just throwing up whatever on a sloppy green screen. This film feels like it's fighting for attention and relevancy amidst all the other modern blockbusters, while it's always good to remember how Bond lead blockbuster filmmaking in so many ways. It was the original franchise, of course, and continually smashed box office records in the 60s and 70s. Somewhere along the way it assuredly started chasing trends rather than creating them - from Moonraker (1979) trying to be Star Wars (1977) to Casino Royale (2006) trying to be The Bourne Identity (2001) you see it over and over again. So, No Time to Die comes at an interesting crossroads - it is both the culmination of the Daniel Craig era, but it's also trying to acknowledge that the Daniel Craig era was an important thing amidst the simultaneous Era of Reboots, Era of Superheroes, Era of Disney Hegemony, and hell, Era of COVID!

The Craig Bonds seemed to eventually find their niche by just making really good movies. It's the Planet of the Apes method - just straight competency porn. Now, I am actually pretty divided on the Craig Bonds - all the odd ones are pretty good, and the even ones are pretty not. They exist in this weird zone where there's actually an attempt at a coherent storyline through all of them, but through a combination of not having a plan, forgetting the plan over fifteen years and four directors, or just the audience forgetting what the hell happened last time (or we didn't know we were supposed to be paying attention), this all got muddled. How many times can we reveal a secret bad guy that has an even more secret and more badder organization than last time? Every time. That's what's up.

No Time to Die centers around Bond and some French woman who I vaguely remember from S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (2015) combatting a dude worse than S.P.E.C.T.R.E. who wants to kill S.P.E.C.T.R.E. There's some fun here and the latest movies have certainly struggled to find a way to bring Bond out of the 60s and into the modern age. That was always the weirdest part of SkyFall (2012), how the progressive female M was killed to pave way for an old fashioned man to take back control. That's a really great movie but the ending is insanely regressive.

Anyway, remember when Bond was old and washed up in SkyFall? That was like nine years ago and he just keeps trying to either retire or die. I love when he's shot on that desert wall and he doesn't care. Like he's been shot so many times it's just annoying to him. But this movie pulls out all the stops and finds a way to be very Bond-like but also break a lot of the mold. He has gadgets and fun tricks, which have creeped their way up through the Craig Era as it became less ashamed of its pulp, but also Bond has a kid, loses his 007 designation, and then also he dies. Spoiler, although I think he plausibly escaped. Or at least this iteration of Bond is dead forever. Someone keenly pointed out it's the exact same ending as The Rock (1996), which is just great.

So, Rami Malek is a poison-loving dude who makes a nanobot virus that insta-kills specifically coded DNA in close contact. There is some fun when he gets revenge on S.P.E.C.T.R.E. when you think S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is going to kill Bond, although for a major villainous organization that's been supposedly behind everything in this whole franchise, they go out like a bunch of punks. So does Blofield, but I was never that hyped about Christoph Waltz being Bond's long lost brother, so whatever. Bond has to save the day, but for once in his life there isn't an escape. There's no raft to make out with the girl in as it floats away. It's very clear that Craig is so done with this franchise and unabashedly had no desire to return. But also, it's certainly been long enough.

It makes me consider the Era as a whole, and like I said, most of these films have been very good. But Casino Royale feels downright ancient. Remember when they just tried to capitalize on the poker craze? Poker and parkour with a ton of shaky cam - that is such a mid-2000s escapade. I mentioned the competency, this, SkyFall, and to a lesser extent S.P.E.C.T.R.E., really reveled in breathtaking vistas, unique lairs, and a huge sense of scope that I REALLY noticed after watching Venom 2. SkyFall probably still has an edge, but NTtD is easily the second-best looking cinematic Bond of all time, which is saying something for this franchise that is not dying any time soon.

So, how did everyone do? Daniel Craig is fine, he really knows the ins and outs of this character by now, and I've liked the bent that this series has taken where we're not totally letting Bond get away with his trauma and alcoholism. There are the wry one-liners of course, but in this context he's always hiding some significant pain that creates this underlying sadness. Or you can just take the surface level fun.

Lea Seydoux is fine. I guess. It's not much of a role and she's mostly pouty. Ana de Armas is so underused, she really just bursts in, kicks a bunch of dudes in a slit dress and then bounces. I don't totally know why she was even there, but I will always take some Ana de Armas in my life.

Let's spend a little time talking about Lashana Lynch, tho - she takes over the 007 mantle from Bond, and she's fine and all, but I never really got the sense that she was suave or charismatic enough to handle that responsibility. I didn't think she was that great in Captain Marvel (2019), either and thought she was a weird choice here. Now, it's become tough to criticize this diversity move, and I am sure that I will come off as an old racist, but if Lynch is the person to pull this off, the film never gave her a chance to show what she can do. It's ultimately another regressive film flaunting its diversity in an attempt to appear progressive. She even kowtows to Bond near the end, rescinding her 007 designation back to him, which was wholly unnecessary. She needed a bit more to do if she was going to earn this mantle transition. Ultimately the movie was just too packed with Craig goodbyes to make it a transition film, and I'm not sure that's even what they wanted to do.

I don't think they are moving towards having a black woman Bond, I mean, I guess they could, but what makes Bond Bond is the fact that he's a privileged womanizing asshole. I mean...Archer. And I'm not saying this as a way of complementing the character or saying his maleness and whiteness are sacrosanct, but they do inform that specific character, for better or worse (and the Craig Bonds have done a better job highlighting the worse), and it'd be hard to have the same character played by a different gender or ethnicity. I know I'm going to get in trouble for this. That's okay. A black female spy movie would be great, but create a character that's informed by that background. Ultimately it comes down to brand awareness more than anything, so we as loyal manjamunching consumers need to just consume a product with a new character and we'll be all good.

Finally, there's Rami. He's a good actor, I guess, but even though he's a great natural villain, he seemed miscast here. I think the producers were excited to get him hot off an Oscar win and again, he was just born to be a Bond Villain. But he's a little too young here, especially for someone who supposedly encountered Lea Seydoux as a young girl. Malek is only four years older than Seydoux. I remember that's what took me out of Oldboy (2003), too. The ages just don't line up. Also, Malek is 40?! I lowkey thought that dude was like 25, although yeah, I guess he's been around for a while.

But I also struggled to understand his motivation, like, yeah he was pissed at Blofield for killing his parents, but why did he want to destroy the world? They kind of brush past that, and it never seems that strong. Or how he got his face scars. I guess he got burned at some point. Probably got too close to some hamburgers on the grill and they jumped up and got his face.

So, anyway, I really liked this movie. It looked great, it had an engaging, if not convoluted plot, but this is James Bond after all. The character work is solid, even though I complained, and they find a way to make a sixty-year old regressive dinosaur character feel relevant and interesting. It's cool. The Craig Bond just spanned so many eras of blockbuster filmmaking, and we're headed into the murkiest post-COVID world yet.

02 November 2021

I Watched Every Treehouse of Horror in October

Last year we reached a momentous occasion - with 32 seasons of The Simpsons, we finally had enough Halloween Specials that you could watch one every day for the entire month of October! I forgot to do that, but THIS year I watched every single Treehouse of Horror, 1-32, plus Season 27's "Halloween of Horror," which is the only canonical episode to actually take place on Halloween.

Now, I'm not going to rank the shorts or anything, because there's 96 of these, and that's always kind of redundant. The classics are better, what do you want from me? But I'd like to dig into some trends I noticed.

Little Things

So, we all know that there were a handful of traditions that were dropped because they became too exhausting, like the amusing tombstones and the wrap-around stories. The scary names have actually come and gone a handful of times, but seem to have latched on. But what's weird is that the on-screen title was "The Simpsons Halloween Special" and then the roman numeral up until Season 14. That's crazy long.

Regarding the wrap around story, this was actually an interesting departure. Leaving it behind freed up the writers to dive more into parody, often generic (and tragically dated) parody. The first few episodes were ostensibly stories told in-universe by the characters themselves. I found myself a bigger fan of this kind of groundedness. The best stories felt like they could have happened in the actual Simpsons universe, just one step removed. Like, Homer could have bought a homicidal doll, or yeah, there was a space between a bookshelf no one explored before, or suddenly sounds in the attic.

There are obvious exceptions - "The Raven" of course, which is an extremely bold choice that you can believe would never have been done today (or at their peak for that matter). "King Homer" in Season 4 is the earliest movie parody that takes place in a wholly separate universe until "Easy Bake Coven in Season 9. To contrast, we don't get another until Season 12. So we had four in the first twelve seasons. That doubles in seasons 13-24, Season 25 has two in the same episode, and then we get eight more from then to present.

Reused Stuff

I'm not sure if any Simpsons writer is as big of a fan as the fans are. I don't mean this negatively, just that I think we tend to get obsessive. The writers may not necessarily realize the similar themes they use over and over again. There are a handful of odd ones.

Maggie gets possessed in three segments, which would be less jarring if it weren't in Season 29 and 31, which is almost back to back. In XXX, she is in an extended prologue parodying The Omen (1976), which went so long I thought it was the first short. She's also a victim of attempted kidnapping by a demon in Season 24, which feels a lot like "The Exor-Sis" segment of 29. And for the record, I find listing by season a bit easier than deciphering the roman numerals, so that's what I'll go with.

They really like people with two heads. There's "If I Only Had a Brain" early on in Season 3, which ends with Burns' head attached to Homer's, which inverses slightly at the end of Season 16, where Homer growns large inside of Burns, but they still share a body. Then Bart's head is attached to Lisa's body in Season 25. It's largely bizarre how often they revisit this.

It also seems to be a requirement that large figures eat people. King Homer does it, Homer as the Blob does it, the 50-foot eyesores do it. Stampy does it. The Grand Pumpkin. I guess it makes sense, but it seems like they specifically always eat people instead of just stepping on them or something. It's definitely funnier.

I also generally enjoy the trend that whenever they have an alien movie to spoof, they always use Kang and/or Kodos, which is great because of their intrinsically awkward design. They substitute for ET, Na'vi, War of the Worlds, and the Gillman from Shape of Water (2017). It's a solid consistency that I really enjoy.

Zombies appear early on in Season 4, then again in Season 21, but the presentation is radically different, and I consider both to be pretty strong. It's actually pretty fun to see how they adapt to how Zombies have shifted in pop culture during that time to fast Munchers instead of the classic Return of the Living Dead (1985)-style campy shuffling dead.

Likewise, I enjoy how the did King Kong early on, and then Godzilla 23 years later. The Godzilla parody gets real weird, though, and ends up being a film that is then re-made, but then a real Godzilla wakes up? So many of these just...don't know how to end. Let's get into that stuff:

Trends Through Time

The Treehouse of Horrors have always been a nice check-in on the general attitude of the show through time. The early years during the classic seasons are reliably great. There isn't really a bad segment from Seasons 2-9. I think the Itchy & Scratchy segment in Season 10 is a little weak, although it has its share of great gags. Like the show itself, these still have plenty of classic moments but the cracks are starting to show.

The first straight up bad sketch is undoubtedly "Wiz Kids" from Season 13, which is their Harry Potter parody. A lot of that stems from the fact that the writers admittedly just straight up didn't read Harry Potter beforehand. So it's a parody, but doesn't actually know anything about the source material, so it's more a parody of what they thought Harry Potter probably was. It ends up being generic magic jokes instead of making any interesting connection between Hogwarts and Springfield Elementary, which should have been ripe territory. I still like that Death Frog.

Around this zone The Simpsons always seemed to be trying to prove itself. Suddenly the genre it had created was becoming saturated and they were trying really hard to stand out and be relevant. There are a lot of forced jokes and frankly sloppy attempts at political satire (looking at you Season 18 / Iraq War critique). It took them awhile to get out of their own way and settle into the legacy they assuredly had established.

Then we get to Season 21. Treehouse of Horror XX is fucking spectacular. There are individual segments that stand out in later seasons, but from start to end, XX is just an amazing feat. It ignores trying to live up to legacy and just concentrates and writing and every short stands out.

As the 20s go on, it occasionally gets really weird, they get into super body horror with "Coralisa" and "Mmm...Homer" which I still have difficulty watching. These were actually from the same episode, in Season 29. "Coralisa" is good but it ends so abruptly and without catharsis. More episode analysis later.

They seem to be even more cavalier with casual violence than the early years. Looking back, there really aren't that many episodes that feature massive deaths until Season 4 with "King Homer" and the zombies. But there is more casual violence played for laughs in "Mr. & Mrs. Simpson," "Telepaths of Glory," and jeez, all of Season 28.

To be clear, I'm not making any kind of moral judgment, but it does feel odd that they swing so hard into torturing their characters without a ton of motivation or more importantly, humour. These segments definitely get rough and most of them end up not going anywhere, which is typical for short sketches that can't get all they want in, but again, somehow those classic seasons condensed The Shining (1980) into seven minutes.

"Mr & Mrs Simpson" is probably the first really random parody, spoofing Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), which is just not a horror movie...at all. It's also two years late. Then they did a Transformers parody the next year, Jumanji (1995) a few years after that (15 years after that movie came out, which is bizarre), AVABAR (2009), Back to the Future (1985), Chronicle (2012), The Hunger Games (2012), Kingsman (2014), Jurassic World (2015), The Shape of Water, Into the Spider-Verse (2018), and the worst of all, Toy Story (1995), which I guess is still culturally relevant through its sequels, but still feels so damn out of place in an episode coming out in 2020.

Also as we go on, I was surprised about how often Homer took on the villain role when needed, especially in later episodes. He's the assigned big bad in the parodies "Freaks no Geeks", "Moefinger", and "Oh The Places You'll D'oh" in addition to being the general focus of evil when he becomes the blob, Godzilla, kills celebrities, or eats himself.

Stand Out Segments

Fine, you want a ranking? Let's do a quick Top Five. Listen, it's not fair, because the Classic Episodes are going to win. Let's break it down by era with a quick synopsis so you remember:

Classic Years (Season 2 - 8)

#5: "Citizen Kang" The Clinton / Dole Kang and Kodos
#4: "The Devil and Homer Simpson" the one with devil Flanders
#3: "Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace" Willie the Freddy
#2: "Dial Z for Zombies" "He was a zombie?
#1: "The Shinning" Don't be readin' Willie's mind between 4 and 5 THAT'S WILLY'S TIME

Transition Years (Seasons 9 - 14)

#5: "Hell Toupee" Homer gets a Snake hair graft
#4: "Send in the Clones" Homer has a hammock that clones him
#3: "Life's a Glitch, then You Die" Tom Arnold eating peaches
#2: "The Homega Man" Homer is the last man on earth
#1: "Night of the Dolphin" snorky

Crap Years (Seasons 15 - 20)

#5: "You Gotta Know When to Golem" the one with that golem
#4: "I've Grown a costume on your face" The town of Springfield becomes their costumes
#3: "The Ned Zone" Flanders can foresee deaths
#2: "Frinkenstein" Jerry Lewis is Frink's wacko father
#1: "Stop the World I Want to Goof Off" Bart and Milhouse have a watch that can stop time

Redemption (Seasons 21 - 25)

#5: "Freaks no Geeks" 1930s carnival parody
#4: "Master and Cadaver" Homer and Marge are on a boat and kill a guy - whoopsie!
#3: "The Greatest Story Ever Holed" There is a black hole in Springfield
#2: "Don't Have a Cow, Mankind" Munchers!
#1: "Dial M for Murder or Press # to Return to Main Menu" Criss-Cross!

Eating Itself (Seasons 26 - 33)

#5: "School is Hell" Bart excels in Springfield Hellementary
#4: "BFF RIP" Lisa's imaginary friend kills people. Sergeant Sausage!
#3: "Be Nine, Rewind" Lisa is Happy Death Day
#2: "Multiplisa-ty" Lisa is Split
#1: "Wanted: Dead, then Alive" Sideshow Bob Halloween!

General Episode Thoughts:

Here are some random thoughts about specific episodes for you. Let's start beyond the Classic years, because those are just great and I have nothing really insightful to complain about.

XI from Season 12 is pretty weak, except "Night of the Dolphin just elevates it so high.

"Reaper Madness" from Season 15 is exactly like Family Guy when Death sprained its ankle and Peter Griffin took over. But I think that Family Guy came first so who is really at fault for that Clone bit?

Season 17 has great premises that are so rushed. It also has the weirdest ending ever, with the town turned into pacifiers, but what's weird is that Dennis Rodman as a pacifier shows up and talks about the importance of literacy.

Season 20 is the most 2008 episode of television ever. It opens on Homer at the voting booth choosing between Obama and McCain, then goes into Transformers and Mad Men parodies. I have never been a Charlie Brown Halloween fan, and this series has pushed the Great Pumpkin hard into its historical mythos. There is also a solid amount of homophobia in this episode, which is surprising for a generally progressive show like The Simpsons when it comes to this topic.

XXIII from 24 is probably the second most all-around solid episode from the modern era, besides the flawless XX. This is sandwiched between two pretty rough installments.

The by far best part of XXIV from Season 25 is the Guillermo del Toro opening. The episode then immediately grounds to a screeching halt with an out of no where Cat in the Hat parody. I was so high on this after remembering that opening, but I failed to remember how bad the rest of this episode was.

As far as openings go, this might be a reason why some of these sketches are so rushed. VI from Season 7 had Krusty as the Headless Horseman. That's it. Season 27 has a very solid animation from John Kricfalusi. Season 28 strangely has both a lengthy opening featuring famous Simpsons villains, and then an additional lengthy Planet of the Apes parody couch gag that doesn't have anything to do with Halloween. 29 has a Pixar-style CGI candy bit. 30 features Homer out-doing Cthulu in an Oyster-eating contest. I enjoyed that one, but it's long enough to be its own segment!

I wanted to talk about Season 30 more. The Apple stuff claims it's not being paid (and sure, they don't actually say Apple), but it's definitely weird. Especially because The Simpsons is old enough to have made fun of fledgling Apple Computers in the 90s. I really like watching Lisa cut loose in the Split parody, that's very fun. But then the Old People as Dinosaurs in "Geriatric Park" just makes so little sense, it's such a stretch that it wrecks the whole episode. Other than that, it's actually pretty good.

Finally, Season 33 (yeah, the one that came out just a bit ago) actually dramatically broke precedent. Wikipedia claims it has five segments, I don't think that's really true. It does open with a Bambi (1942) parody, and at this point I was confused if I had clicked the right show on Hulu or not. It's not good. There are still three main segments in here, but in between the second and third is a lengthy poem read by a faux Vincent Price ("Quiet, Jody, you're not helping!"). None of this is bad if it were funny, but the episode is a bit of a dud.

Anyway, I could talk at length about each segment, and I promised I wouldn't. In general, if you're looking for episodes to watch, I - VIII deliver, IX - XIV definitely have their moments, starting around XV they really start tripping over their endings and get wonky, but we have solid entries from XVII, XX, XXIII, XXV, XXVI, XXIX, and XXX after that.

See? I told you the roman numerals were tough. Now on to "Thanksgiving of Horror!"
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