Monday, May 16, 2022

Review of Reviews: TV and Movies, May 2022


Apparently I haven't done a "review of reviews" since February 2021 and most of my reviews on the blog lately have been for books, so I figured it was time to do a "Review of Reviews" for some of the TV and movies I've been watching lately.

So check out my review of reviews of Firestarter (2022), Everything Everywhere All At Once, Severance, Outer Range, Inside Job, Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch! (Okay, you got me. Gremlins 2 is hardly new, but I did watch it recently, so here you go.)

I've also been watching all the new Star Trek shows as of late: Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Prodigy, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It's a fantastic time to be a Star Trek fan! But that's a lot of Star Trek, so I will cover those in a separate post.

Without further ado: my review of reviews!

Firestarter (2022)

A funny thought that occurred to me while I was watching this new adaptation of Firestarter: in 2022 a movie based on a Stephen King book with a score by John Carpenter feels a lot like an episode of Stranger Things!


I finally got around to reading the book a few years ago, and I rewatched the 1984 movie soon after. Neither are exactly my favorite Stephen King properties, but still, I was excited for this remake. So how did it fare?

It was... okay. I like some of the changes to the story, and casting Michael Greyeyes as as the Native American character Rainbird was an excellent choice (as opposed to ... George C. Scott in the 1984 movie... WTF?). I think I like the ending the more I think about it, which departs from both the book and the previous adaptation. And the fire effects were really cool, er, or scalding, rather!

I was a bit confused by some of the choices (like cutting a long and integral part of the book), and the movie felt a bit rushed to me.

So all-in-all: okay. Except that score! John Carpenter has retired from directing, but I'm glad he's still doing scores (this time along with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies). Honestly, I might go see it again just to hear that score in surround sound (although I did of course download it to listen at home, too).


Everything Everywhere All At Once



I LOVED this movie. It's probably the best movie I've seen in a long time, at least in this universe. But it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. And that's okay. 


Everything Everywhere All at Once has a little bit of, well, everything: taxes, laundry, martial arts (with and without dildos), family drama, love (even for middle aged married people!), big laughs, big emotions, an everything bagel as metaphor, nuanced Asian American representation, and above all: the most fun I've ever seen with the concept of the multiverse on screen. Seriously, this is such a great idea from both a science fictional and philosophical perspective, but I've rarely seen creators have so much unadulterated fun with it.


It's all a bit bonkers at times, but I love to see art that tries to do something unique and meaningful. I'll take interesting over safe any day. The film sticks with its premise and goes so hard and so earnestly it's hard not to love it. I can't wait to see what creators Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert come up with next.


Michelle Yeoh is amazing as always (I've particularly loved her in Star Trek: Discovery recently). But I also thought Ke Huy Quan as her husband and Stephanie Hsu as her daughter were great. And people really ought to cast Jaime Lee Curtis as an antagonist more often. I laughed a lot, and a few lines (like Quan's line that kindness is how he fights or Yeoh's line about doing laundry and taxes) brought me to tears in the theater.


You may notice I didn't really say anything about the plot. And that's intentional. I could say it starts with a Chinese American family struggling to pay their taxes on their small business, and that's accurate, but to be honest, I can't really explain this movie in any way that does it justice. As Morpheus might say, you must experience for yourself. And it is quite an experience.


But if you love movies that are just plain science fictional fun combined with a bit of absurdist humor and some deep existentialist messages about love and kindness in this wild mixed up multiverse, well, then Everything Everywhere All At Once might become one of your favorite movies in this or any nearby universes, too.





I've been enjoying a lot of what Apple TV has to offer ever since we got a free trial (and subsequently paid for it like suckers, or I mean, like knowledgeable consumers). Like almost everybody, I loved Ted Lasso. While Foundation wasn't perfect and it was barely an adaptation of the novels, I did enjoy Foundation (weirdly my favorite parts were the parts that departed entirely from the books). I started For All Mankind, but wasn't totally hooked by the first episode. Lisey's Story (another Stephen King adaptation) was hauntingly beautiful. See was a bit uneven and often dragged into trying-to-be-Game-of-Thrones territory, but kept me interested enough to stick with it. Servant started out delightfully bonkers but I couldn't stick with it. I also enjoyed the comedies Mythic Quest and The Afterparty. So wow, I guess I've watched a lot on Apple TV...

But Severance was probably the most interesting of them all. It may be the best example of what philosophers call personal fission (making two persons from one) that I've seen on screen. (Arkady Martine's A Desolation Called Peace also features two persons in one body, but by different means).

Adam Scott plays a man Mark who has been "severed": he is quite literally a different person during work hours than he is outside work hours. And due to the proprietary technology owned by his company that switches him back and forth, neither his "innie" or his "outie" have any memories of the other's life. So is he really two different people? Or a single person split? Is there hope for reintegrating the two halves/persons?

Not only is this a fascinating science fictional and philosophical premise concerning personhood, it also allows the show to look at alienation and labor conditions in modern corporate capitalism (somewhat ironically given the fact that the show is produced by a company that has had its own labor issues including worker suicides in its Chinese plants). The corporation may also literally be a cult (again, maybe not unlike Apple... as I type this on an Apple laptop, of course). 

But amidst all this,  we also come to care about these somewhat quirky characters. I particularly loved Zach Cherry's Dylan, not to mention the endearing duo of John Tuturro's Irv and Christopher Walken's Burt (I can't resist pointing out that Walken will be playing the Emperor in Dune, Part 2!). Patricia Arquette is fabulously creepy as Mark's boss, and Michael Chernus's Ricken is a hilariously bad self-help author who is probably based on exactly the kind of thing popular in Silicon Valley.

What will happen if the severed try to reintegrate? What are they actually doing at their jobs? What's the deal with this shadowy corporation (in a show produced by an only slightly less shadowy corporation)? Most importantly: Will our heroes reach their quota and get a melon party?


Outer Range

Amazon's Outer Range is a weird show wrapped in a fairly conventional show. Unsurprisingly, I was in it for the weird. It does get considerably weirder as it goes on, occasionally verging into Lost or even Twin Peaks territory in terms of central mysteries and kooky small town characters with unfathomable secrets. Still, if you watched the first few episodes you could easily be forgiven for thinking this is a fairly conventional drama about ranchers in Wyoming. 

I've been wanting to do a big road trip to the mountain Western states I haven't visited, including Wyoming, so I appreciated the scenery. I was thinking that Wyoming looks a lot like New Mexico (where I lived for six years in grad school), and then I found out that the show is actually filmed near Las Vegas, New Mexico. But whichever side of Colorado they are on, the scenery is a beautiful part of the show.

I imagine the show was pitched as appealing to audiences of shows like Yellowstone (which I haven't seen), but also a science fiction audience (of which obviously I am part!). The horror/sci-fi aspect of the show is rooted in the quotidian drama, much in the sense of Stephen King, and prompts a lot of the deeper philosophical questions about reality and our knowledge (or lack thereof) of this reality and the ensuing sense of absurdity. Speaking of King, another thing that drew me to Outer Range was my love of the weird Western/sci-fi/fantasy mashup of The Dark Tower, although The Dark Tower is more firmly rooted in its fantastical elements.

While most of the acting is great, especially from Josh Brolin and Lily Taylor, the ranch-life parts of the scripts veer a bit into family melodrama. Brolin gets a few existentially dramatic monologues like one unforgettable "prayer" at dinner with his family. I thought Tamara Podemski's character, a lesbian Native American sheriff in rural Wyoming, was an interesting representation of the human legal and epistemological order running up against the unexplainable (I just started reading Stephen King's The Outsider, where you get a somewhat similar dynamic).

Honestly I would have liked more science fictional weirdness and less rancher drama, but you get plenty of weirdness as it goes on... and plenty of mysteries left for season 2.


Inside Job

Inside Job was a show I found on Netflix when I was looking for a half-hour comedy that's not The Simpsons. Nothing against The Simpsons at all, it's just that I've watched almost 16 seasons of The Simpsons in the last couple years (I'm not one who thinks it's unwatchably bad after season 10, and no, I don't want to rehash that debate, and yes, I'm still watching it). I've also been enjoying the new iteration of another old favorite from the 90's: Kids in the Hall. But I digress. Let me digress in a different direciton for a bit.

Like many American nerds of my age range, I was a huge fan of The X-Files (even the latter day iterations had their moments). And while that show had its legitimately funny moments (as in most of my favorite episodes), I always thought it could use a good spoof, which, combined with a heavy dose of the sort of thing you get in recent animation like Rick and Morty, is basically what you get in Inside Job.

The main character Reagan works for the shadow government with her sassy team of assorted weirdos (and by "weirdos" I mean basically the standard adult animation types you see in almost every Adult Swim show). You also get a lot of family trauma from her distant and problematic father (voiced by Christian Slater) and, of course, the now-ubiquitous in nerdy media theme of "working through trauma with your chosen family." 

So for a show with so many quirky and amusing premises, the structure honestly feels a little, I hate to say, generic. Also, the idea that conspiracy theories are harmless fun feels antiquated in 2022. On the other hand, the relationships Reagan forms with her coworkers and starts to form with her father are nice and maybe a good laugh with a little heart is just what we need right now. So, if you're looking for something funny to watch while eating lunch (when I usually watch half-hour comedies) and you love The X-Files, I totally recommend it.


Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


Another Marvel movie...? (or maybe "!" depending how you feel about Marvel movies). Sure, why not?  While the first one has the Orientalist trope of a white man going to Asia and learning all their secrets, the magic stuff is kinda cool and the multiverse is always a good idea (even if Everything Everywhere All at Once does the multiverse best!). I thought this sequel looked cool from the trailers. And then I found out Sam Raimi (of Evil Dead fame) was directing. And this is basically what you'd think a Doctor Strange movie directed by Sam Raimi is like. In a good way, I thought!

The plot makes about as much (or little) sense as any other Marvel movie, and while I think there are some legitimate quibbles about how Wanda is treated (especially after the fantastic WandaVision), I was having so much fun with all the multiverse stuff I didn't mind so much. And the pièce de résistance: I never knew I wanted to see someone posses their own corpse from another universe. And now I know.


Gremins 2: The New Batch


I remember seeing Gremins 2: The New Batch when it was released in 1990 or soon after. But for whatever reason, it didn't stick with me. It may be hard for younger people to understand, but a movie this bonkers was not all that unusual in those heady days of the late 80's/early 90's. It was a simpler, sillier time.

But the movie became a sort of cult classic over the years. After seeing it discussed a lot (a Key and Peele sketch and a recent episode of Eli Roth's History of Horror being two salient examples), I thought this might be just the perfect movie to watch last week when I took a day off to decompress after COVID semester 4.5.

It did not disappoint!

Billy and Gizmo find themselves reunited several years after the first one, this time in New York City. And, you guessed it, a whole new batch of Gremlins tries to take Manhattan. The Key and Peele sketch about how this movie was pitched may not be all that far off: they had a brainstorming session for different types of Gremlins and just put all of them in the movie.

I also forgot you get Christopher Lee as a mad scientist and Robert Picardo as head of security. I did remember that Hulk Hogan comes in and breaks the fourth wall.

As if all this bonkers nonsense wasn't enough, the movie has the chutzpah to question the silly premises of the first one ("Don't feed them after midnight?") and the mega-chutzpah to just go with them anyway.

And if that's not all enough, you get a satire of "smart buildings," gentrification, and unchecked corporate power that's, if anything, even more relevant over thirty years later.

So, yes, Gremlins 2 is the perfect movie to watch when you take a day off. It's the perfect movie to watch anytime you need a new batch of exuberant chaos in your life.

Someday soon I can only hope that someone, somewhere will make Gremlins 3: A Multiverse of Gremlins.


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