Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Movie and TV Mini-Reviews: The Boogeyman, Yellowjackets, Star Trek: Picard, Beavis & Butt-Head, and More

As the prophecy of a recent post foretold, I'm back with some short reviews of movies and TV I've been watching lately. I'm including The Boogeyman, Yellowjackets, Star Trek: Picard, Beavis & Butt-Head, John Wick 4, Sinister, Insidious, and X. These reviews get weirdly impressionistic, so if you're looking for elaborate plot summaries and the like, you may be disappointed. Just the mood I'm in these days, I guess. Enjoy!

The Boogeyman

My love of Stephen King has been well documented on this blog, so when I heard that King's 50-year-old story "The Boogeyman" (collected in Night Shift) was going to be adapted, I figured I'd check it out. I also wasn't sure how a 10-page story (a bit of a rough one that's not King's best in my opinion) would be expanded into a feature film in 2023, but I heard some good buzz and headed to my local theater for a matinee. It's always weird to see horror movies in the afternoon, but the darkness finds you inside. 

What did I think? I don't think the film is going to revolutionize the horror genre, but it's a solid scary movie with a deeper point. While King's story focuses on the character Lester who seeks an appointment with a therapist, the film focuses on the therapist Dr. Harper (Chris Messina), or really more his daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher), although I love David Dastmalchian as Lester in the film. Is is scary? Yes! Even at 3pm, I could feel the chills, and I loved the way director Rob Savage played with light and darkness (there are some rolling glow globes used to delightfully creepy effect). But the real monster is grief -- and that is not a monster you defeat for good. If you're lucky, you maybe fight it and lock it in a closet for a while. Given my own experiences with grief, I can say this film hit me harder emotionally than I was expecting. But it's also just plain scary fun if that's what you're looking for.


Since I mentioned Sophie Thatcher, she's killing it on the TV show Yellowjackets as well. I've been hearing great things about this show, but I finally got a Showtime package and dug in. Great stuff! A high school soccer team in 1996 crash lands in the Canadian rockies, and then things get ... weird, unnerving, and oddly engrossing, along with plenty of flashforwards to the teens in middle age in the present day and a few days in between (at least the ones that survived, anyway). As someone just about the age of the soccer team in 1996 and the grownups in 2023, it's fun to think about my own life and the lives of my contemporaries (thankfully less dramatic and less, um, culinarily adventurous). It's also a great chance to listen to some classic stuff I consumed in the 90's: PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star, Nirvana, Tori Amos, etc. It's nice to see such meaty roles for women of the caliber of Melanie Lynsky, Juliette Lewis, Tawny Cypress, Christina Ricci, and Lauren Ambrose. They're all great, but I particularly love Ricci's Misty, a delightfully unhinged Annie Wilkes type (to get back to Stephen King for a second) who may chew the scenery (and other things) but is always fascinating to watch.

Yellowjackets is best enjoyed unspoiled, but one of my favorite things is the eerie imagery in the weirder parts (see above for an iconic example). I also love the mysteries of a (maybe?) supernatural variety combined with surprises that keep you guessing what will be served up next. And maybe there's a bit about how we grow up and whether we keep digesting the same trauma or if we really remember who we were (maybe a bit of King's IT on that front... okay, I promise I'll stop thinking about Stephen King... okay, probably not). But really, Yellowjackets is some of my favorite TV as of late. Its menu offers some unexpected courses that are always engrossing even if you're not sure you like the taste it leaves in your mouth. Check it out if you think you can stomach it.

Star Trek: Picard

Some of my friends think I like everything, but that's not true. It's more that I rarely hate something just because it's not what I would have done. Still, I liked the first two seasons of Picard just fine. Did the end of season 1 (robots want to kill us!) mildly annoy me? Maybe, but I got to see some old favorites and I enjoyed the echo of the frustration with the system many of us feel today. Did the time travel plot of season 2 make any sense? Not really, but I just stopped worrying and loved it just the same. Still, my favorite parts of Picard were always learning what my old friends from Star Trek: The Next Generation were up to, because, cheesy though it may sound, that show informs a lot of who I am today (I watched TNG almost every day for a few of my formative teen years; I'm rewatching TNG now and may someday write about why I love it so much).

I was lucky to meet Jonathan Frakes briefly at a con recently, and I told him that TNG meant a lot to me for the last 35 years... and that I loved Picard! He probably forgot immediately (no worries; he meets a lot of fans), but for a brief few seconds, Jonathan Frakes knew my name! (see below)

Anyway, while I liked the first two seasons of Picard, the third season was by far my favorite. We got more of the old gang back, including Dr. Beverly Crusher, Geordi La Forge, and Worf! Beverly found her inner badass, Geordi got a bit more depth than he sadly usually got back in the day, and I really loved where Worf's character went as a chilled out warrior-monk. Sure, they have to save the galaxy or something (you know, typical Starfleet stuff), but mostly I loved seeing how these characters evolved, including meeting some new friends, all while embodying the moral core that's the real reason Star Trek has been popular for over half a century. Is this fan service? Maybe, but if so, it's the best kind of fan service that reminds us why we're fans in the first place.

Beavis & Butt-Head

I've been cackling at Beavis & Butt-Head for about 30 years now. Is it dumb? Yes. Is that why it's funny? Also, yes (I read an interview with creator Mike Judge recently where he said that writing the show is difficult precisely because the duo is so dumb that it's hard to imagine what they would do--there's a refined art to their stupidity).

The 2011 Beavis & Butt-Head revival was okay, but this latest iteration on Paramount+ (also the home of Star Trek now!) is by far my favorite. But why am I discussing it on this blog that at least used to be about science fiction and philosophy? The show follows the 2022 movie Beavis & Butt-Head Do the Universe. There we meet an alternate universe version of the duo called Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head. I love them so much! In that movie, regular B&B jump ahead 20+ years due to a wormhole they encounter after they accidentally get sent to space in some of their typical stupidity-fueled hijinks.

So some of the episodes follow teenage Beavis and Butt-Head in the current day. How do they just go back to Highland High and their old jobs at Burger World? How is Tom Anderson sill alive? Why has Mr. Van Driessen seemingly not aged? Where are Principal McVicker and Coach Buzzcut? Who knows? Who cares?

But I love Old Beavis and Old Butt-Head, who are as Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head inform the audience, as B&B would be in an alternate universe in which they lived out their lives sans time travel, that is, if Beavis and Butt-Head grew up, or as close to "grown up" as those two guys are going to get. And they look exactly like you'd think those two dudes would look now (maybe a weird resonance with Yellowjackets: teens in the 90's being adults now?). It's hilarious. It's also mind bendingly science fictional for a show so often derided for being morally corrupt idiocy. And I'm loving every bit of it in this universe. Maybe Smart Ethan is enjoying another version somewhere else in the multiverse!

John Wick 4

John Wick is the goth James Bond. And like James Bond movies, John Wick movies are a kind of low grade science fiction, maybe even more so, what with its secret societies with secret histories and cultures and wild technology and whatnot. I don't need to get into the plot (I don't really remember much of it), but John Wick showcases everything that we all love about Keanu Reeves: he's effortlessly cool with a quiet depth and a core of decency. Sure, he kills people by the dozen, but to be fair, they're all trying to kill him (and famously, at some point of course there was that business with his dog). Honestly, I feel bad that I used to make fun of Keanu Reeves's acting, even though I've loved him from Bill and Ted through Matrix Ressurections. I now think he's a --dare I say it--good actor, just a bit understated compared to most. And of course as we've all come to know, he's also a fundamentally decent human being. 

I've also loved the rest of the cast, and it was particularly poignant to see the great Lance Reddick in one of his last roles. RIP.

John Wick may be the most stylish and interesting action movie franchise since, well, ever (sorry, Bond). It's all so cool and interesting to look at that I don't mind that I don't completely understand this world. And maybe there's something a bit comforting in the rigidly rule-bound world of John Wick compared to the confusion of the real world where nothing makes sense, you have to hire lawyers instead of dueling at dawn, and canine deaths go unavenged.

Sinister and Insidious

I'm going to discuss these together under the banner of "2010's super popular ghost horror that I somehow missed until now." Sinister is my favorite of the two: a legitimately scary movie with a great cast including that other Ethan, Ethan Hawke (I used to think it was cool to have a movie star named Ethan when Ethan was a relatively uncommon name in the US, but then about 18-22 years ago people started naming their kids Ethan in higher numbers and now I sometimes have 2-3 Ethans in my college classes!). Sinister is a creepy meditation on the power and threat of obsession: ultimately the main character's obsession with true crime dooms his entire family. It's also a great use of the visual medium as his obsession plays out through watching old home movies he finds in the attic. The protagonist's obsession leads him to conveniently forget to tell his family that they just bought the house where the murders he's obsessed with took place! D'oh! But he's also doing this out of an economic/patriarchal pressure to publish a new bestseller to support his family (which feels, dare I say it, very Stephen Kingian as well...). Oh, and there are creepy kids, which is always fun.

Insidious came out earlier than Sinister, but I'm going to buck the laws of time and say that it feels very much in the same vein as Sinister. Let's call it the Single Adjective Horror Franchise Cinematic Universe. But it's also a great example of how well-made James Wan's movies are. I'm also bucking the limitations of time and space by the fact that I went to see Insidious 3 with a friend in 2015 without having seen the first two, which was probably okay as Insidious 3 a prequel. Anyway, Insidious is what made James Wan the major player in horror that he remains to this day, as cemented by The Conjuring franchise (when I saw The Boogeyman this week there were two trailers for upcoming films in his franchises: another iteration of The Nun in the Conjuring universe and yes, another Insidious sequel, both of which I will probably see in some time or space). Back to Insidious. I love the Lovecraftian/Clive Barkerian (?) idea of The Further as a creepy other realm, even if it's basically a backdrop to a more traditional sort of ghost/possession horror. Wan's films (and those he inspired) always look amazing, and you can tell a lot of care went into the filmmaking, scenery, costumes, etc. I always want just a little more conceptual innovation in rethinking old horror tropes, but Wan delivers solid horror offerings. Insidious is a great example. And talk about creepy kids! Yikes.


X made an impact in horror last year, but I didn't get around to seeing it until recently. It definitely has Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibes as a group in 1979 travels to a remote location in Texas (played here by New Zealand) to make an adult movie. Jenna Ortega (of Wednesday and Scream fame) and Kid Cudi (of rap and latter-day Bill and Ted fame) and the rest of the cast are all great, but the biggest challenge goes to Mia Goth for playing two roles: both the young aspiring porn star Maxine and the delightfully evil old woman Pearl (about whom there is also a prequel that I have yet to see). X is intense in sexuality and gore, but that's, of course, the point: how do sex, violence, and death (and the desire/aversion toward all three) fuel much of what we do as human beings? You may not like the answers explored in X, but there are less entertaining ways to explore them.

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