Sunday, January 24, 2021

Reason for the Season- Venture Bros. Season 3

      Alright, Season 3, let's gooooo:

      This is the first fully strong season of the show, in that there isn't a bad episode in the bunch. The first season starts off rough, and season 2 has some episodes that aren't as good as they could be. Every episode of this season works, it fits into the continuity of the show, and serves some sort of purpose, whether it's building the characters, building the world or just being a straight comedic or adventure episode. Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman" is an example of this. It has some small connection to continuity, but it serves more as a comedic episode, focusing on the awkward sexuality of the Venture clan, and the comedic possibilities inherent in it. It mostly works, and I'm surprised it hasn't been part of my rewatch cycle. Anyway, we get a nice mix of Monarch focused and Dr. Venture focused episodes, each exploring the characters and helping them become fully formed figures, especially as they are no longer official enemies. The Monarch has some great episodes, really showing his passion for loathing Dr. Venture and how difficult it is moving on from said hatred, cementing this key part of his character going forward. Dr. Venture being just as villainous, if not more, is firmly and decisively established in "The Doctor is Sin", which, again, becomes a key part of the character going forward. "The Buddy System", while another comedic episode, helps establish the dysfunctionality of the world and the very idea of "boy adventuring". "The Invisible Hand of Fate" is one of the best episodes of the season, perfectly balancing the worldbuilding and character origins. However, tied for the three best episodes, not only of this season, but the series in general are "What Comes Down, Must Come Up" for its sublime mix of humor, history, and plain insanity, balancing out each of its interweaving stories,  "Now Museum, Now You Don't", which is just a great episode exploring the characters just interacting and the inherent tension in those sorts of interactions, and of course, "ORB", which is a straight adventure, which manages to exhibit the very best of the show's writing, a great mixture of pulp and comic tropes and real world history and some good obscure references to follow, and in the grand tradition of great season finales, "The Family that Slays Together, Slays Together", sees a stunning, unbelievable status quo change which will come to mature the series as it reaches its fourth season, and upping the stakes for characters in a big way. (And a Babes in Toyland reference, so that's cool.)

   Alright, no big outro this time. Again, a link to my Ko-fi: and to my Paypal:

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Reason for the Season- Venture Bros Rewatch Season 2

     Alright, on to Season 2 for our Venture Brothers rewatch

    This is really when the show starts to pick up steam. You have first a great opening episode in "Powerless in the Face of Death", which satirizes the comic book tendency towards defaulting towards the status quo in the most hilariously dark way possible. It feels like a good season opener to reestablish the characters and the shocking ending of season 1. Then, a couple of weaker episodes, ... crap, haven't written in a few days. Christmas and all that. Anyway, yeah, the two next episodes weren't very memorable, and kind of still have that season 1 edginess to them. "Assassiniy 911" is one of those episodes that I didn't quite remember a lot of, at least the A plot... Actually, on second thought, the Hunter Gathers storyline stuck out. Some say it was dated for its trans politics. I didn't really feel that or at least didn't feel it was especially egregious. Maybe it was the later reversal that bothered people. Anyway, it wasn't a bad episode per se, but it wasn't memorable. Hate Floats was a little better, but again not memorable. Things really get into first gear with "Escape from the House of Mummies, Pt. II". This still stands out as one of the best episodes of the show for many fans. Certainly one of my favorite episodes. It combines the petty squabbles and disillusionment that is the show's bread and butter and combines it with a pretty insane adventure. I think this is a very good first episode to start off on if you don't want to do a full rewatch (though definitely check out some season 1 episodes for context). It's definitely when the series really becomes great. It cements its greatness with "Twenty Years to Midnight", which is also a favorite of mine, with its adventure and parody reaching some of the best in these early seasons. Those two episodes still hold up, and helped set the tone for how the show was going to go, so they're definitely the best of this season. "Love Bheits" is probably my least favorite not only of this season, but of the show. It really feels like filler, and it doesn't seem to have had any particular point to it, aside from just making strange references. After that, we get a trio of incredibly funny episodes (including the introduction of Dr. Orpheus' Defenders parody "The Order of the Triad", a welcome addition to the show, in "Fallen Arches", an extremely underrated episode in "Guess Who's Coming to State Dinner", and the insanely wild and funny "I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills"). Then, much as the first episode was a real knock-out, the season finale is incredible, endlessly rewatchable, and just is exciting. It fits with season 2 being when the show and its parody finally starts to get its streak of dark humor. I think season 2 shows why the show is so beloved. It has all of its best traits. Honestly, this is a really good place to start if you need a good intro. 

   Alright, that's it for this month's rewatch. I'm still debating whether to do my annual list, because it's been a rough year and I don't know how I would do it. Anyway, if you like this, donate to my Ko-Fi:, and I'll see you soon with Season 3

Monday, November 30, 2020

Reason for the Season- Venture Bros Rewatch Season 1

Much to the shock and sadness of its many fans, the Venture Bros has been canceled by Adult Swim. Over the past year, it has basically become my all-time favorite show, with its blend of comic book parody, adventure genre homage, and obscure references very much in my own wheelhouse. I spent the first part of the year eagerly waiting for a Season 8, in the midst of this godawful pandemic. Well, there are hopes to revive it at HBO Max, but until its confirmed, why not at least go back through the seasons and see how the series changed and evolved to become something truly special. A beloved classic now of television. So, with that, lets begin our rewatch with, of course, how it began. 

  I frequently rewatch Venture Bros, but I don't really rewatch Season 1. Mostly, it's just because, in comparison to later seasons, it doesn't have the right elements yet. Sure, a lot of the best episodes and characters are built on these early episodes, but they don't have that same ... zing that later seasons often have. Honestly, most of my rewatches begin after "Escape from the House of Mummies, Part II" in season 2, where the show's parody actually starts to begin more decisive and its world building clearer. However, in rewatching the first season, I find a lot more episodes hold up better than I thought. The show's thesis statement of generational toxicity and the idea of the show being "between adventures" (as expressed by the creators in the show's art book) is very present in these early episodes. The episodes focus on the characters not going on adventures with jokey villains and gags, but is more of a Woody Allen-esque look into the character's particular quirks and personalities and how between adventures, they suffer from their own neurosies and often have failure in their personal lives. If you've seen the show, you already know that, but it's very clear in these early episodes, and it helps set up how the series will progress in its later seasons. Still, honestly, the first few episodes are rough. Especially the pilot, which doesn't have the best animation and it feels very "mid-2000's Adult Swim", which means a lot of weirdness and oddity in place of actual jokes. Luckily, it starts to pick up with "Careers in Science", which sets the format for many episodes of the show, dealing with the main characters as they each deal with their own crises, and how these characters handle (or don't handle) their own problems. Even still, the show really doesn't pick up until  "Eeney, Meeney, Miney... Magic!", when it really feels like the parody is spot on with the introduction of the ever loveable Dr. Orpheus, whose introduction is bombastic. The episode helps transition the show less from its original as yet another weird Adult Swim riff on an old Hanna-Barbara property into something a lot more interesting. An examination of the comic book world, through the lens of Gen-X disillusionment in the vein of Dan Clowes. That, "Tag Sale, You're It", "Past Tense", and "Ice Station Impossible" are the few episodes I do rewatch from this season. "Tag Sale, You're It" is not only the best episode of this season, but of the whole show even now, because it really shows the satire of it at its best. It shows the sheer ridiculousness of the whole "hero/villain" conflict is as portrayed in comic books and genre fiction and also really cements the idea of failure and self-propellment in this world. The Monarch has the best line when he realizes he doesn't want to wreck Dr. Venture's lab: "What can I do that life already hasn't", which sums up the theme of the show in a nutshell. "Past Tense" is second best, merely because it is very funny and it shows the writers had bigger plans. Worst episode..... None of them are bad, per se, but the first few are rough and forgettable. Maybe .... "The Incredible Mr. Brisby", because it feels superfluous in the continuity, but even that has some good moments. It's weird to say, but the pilot is likely the worst episode, just because it feels like the initial concept with nothing on it. Like I said, another Adult Swim animated show deconstructing an old Hanna-Barbara property.  It feels very different from what it would become, while still retaining the same structure and some of the same themes. Anyway, rewatching it, Season 1 is actually a little better than I remember it. I might start adding these episodes to my rewatch list. Oh yeah, and the season 1 ending was really when this show sold me on itself. No spoilers, but you don't see it coming, and its resolution really helps the show develop. 

Which we'll get back to next time. If you like my writing, you can support me on Ko-Fi: Just a one-time donation should be sufficient. I'm trying to gradually move my writing towards getting money, and I'm hoping the Ko-Fi is a good start. Please check it out, and I'll see you next month for Season 2.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Masterpiece of Horror Theatre- Bit

       Alright, so not a lot of history behind this, which, again, good news for me. Director Brad Michael Elmore, after directing two horror films, decided to make a film with a transgender protagonist played by a transgender lead, combining it with an idea of "Jem and the Holograms" meets the Lost Boys. Elmore felt that a lower budget horror movie could be a good avenue to introduce a trans lead such as this. Said lead, Nicole Maines, got famous for fighting for her right to go to the bathroom of her gender identity. She had a lot of input into the role. The film was released to relatively postive reviews in 2019 at the LGBTQ+ themed Inside Out in Toronto. 

     So, the film begins with the ending of another film. In this case, introducing one of the main foci of the film, an intersectional lesbian vampire group led by Duke (Diana Hopper), consisting of Izzy (Zolee Griggs), Frog (Char Diaz) and Roya (Friday Chamberlain) , who confront one of their own (Julia Voth), after she makes a man a vampire, verboten in their clique. Meanwhile, Laurel (Nicole Maines) is a young trans woman from Oregon who moves in with his brother Mark (James Paxton), and she soon crosses pathes with this gang. Hijinks ensue. 

      Well, the main thing I enjoyed about the film was the representation. Not just the trans representation (though that obviously appeals to me as a trans woman), but the representation of race, sexuality and gender was especially fantastic. It was very much a film that doesn't necessarily ignore these issues, but also doesn't obsess over them. The characters are their identities, but they're also fleshed out and sympathetic. I liked that the film didn't make a big deal out of Laurel's gender identity, but it's obviously still affects her and her outlook. I liked that it also examines power dynamics in a very nuanced way, showing that Duke's misandrist perspective, while understandable, can just as easily be turned against her (which it is.)

     Not much bad about this film. I felt parts could've been explored more deeper, like Laurel's journey as a trans woman, the backstory of the rest of the gang, and more of the characters interacting and having their misadventures. Not to say there isn't any of that, but a little more could've been explored. Then again, the fact that my main criticism is that a movie doesn't have enough, it's probably a good thing.

   So, yeah, really loved this movie. Already inclined towards it as a trans horror fan, but it definitely exceeded expectations.Definitely recommend to horror fans, trans people, both and even neither. It's definitely been a highlight of the year.

   So close to finishing this on time. Well, I suppose election weekend is hard to avoid. Anyway, regardless of how this election turns out, as always I want to thank everyone for reading these, and hopefully, we get to the next October alive. Please check out my rewatch of the recently departed Venture Bros. coming up this month.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Masterpiece of Horror Theatre- Darkman

      Director Sam Raimi had a pretty good 1980's. From his smash hit Evil Dead in 1981, and its sequel in 1987, he would become something of a rising star, along with his good friends Joel and Ethan Coen (themselves rising on the opposite end of the indie circuit with films like Blood Simple and Raising Arizona). A longtime comic book fan, he sought out the rights to Batman and, later, the Shadow, but failed to get them. So, in the grand comic tradition, he decided to make his own character to tell essentially their story. He also took inspiration from the Universal Monsters, especially the idea of a tragic, freak hero and a doomed love story. He would turn in a 40 page treatment called "The Darkman", which he submitted to Universal. Universal accepted the script, and Raimi, his brother Ivan and some other writers hashed out the script. Originally, Raimi wanted his friend, Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell to star as the titular character, but Universal wasn't keen on it. Eventually, the role went to Northern Irish actor Liam Neeson, at the time a minor actor notable for his role in John Boorman's Excalibur. Francis McDormand, the wife of Joel Coen, was cast as the romantic lead. Danny Elfman, who had just come off Tim Burton's Batman, also did the score for this film. The film went through a difficult production, with Raimi finding some friction with cast and crew. The film would be a relative success critically and financially, spawning three sequels, two comics, and several novels. Of course, both Neeson and McDormand would be Oscar winners in later films, and Raimi would go on to direct some actual comic book films in the Spider-Man trilogy and, just recently, the Dr. Strange sequel.

     Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a scientist working on a new synthetic skin to help burn victims. His girlfriend Julie Hastings (Francis McDormand) is an attorney investigating a real estate developer Strack Industries, led by Louis Strack (Colin Friels). She confronts him with evidence that they're bribing the local zoning commission. In vengeance (and to get rid of incriminating evidence), Strack's ally Robert Durant (Larry Drake) breaks into Westlake's lab, killed Westlake's assisstant Yakitito (Nelson Mashita), and torture Westlake. After burning his hands and putting his face in acid, Westlake is left to die, but manages to barely escape, leaving Hastings to think he's dead. He ends up a John Doe, given a radical new treatment that makes him impervious to pain. He breaks out, and as with any good superhero story, decides to take vengeance on those who wronged him. 

     I'll admit, I never really cared for Tim Burton's Batman. It was well-shot, and the production design looks good, but the story is really haphazard and it gets kind of silly, especially towards the end. I honestly think this was a better execution of the general idea behind that film. Raimi manages to evoke the panels and settings of a comic (especially a Marvel comic book with the idea of a freak as a hero) onto film, including psychedelic features and really creative action scenes. It's always entertaining to watch. Of course, Liam Neeson and Francis McDormand are great actors, and they bring a lot of pathos to these characters and their interaction. I like that Raimi makes this a full-on tragedy, taking the best part of the Universal Monsters (the idea of the monsters as tragic heroes) and applying it to a superhero story, making this a very dark, dramatic film about injury and loss. With, you know, comic book villains and fight scenes. 

     Two main problems I can think of. Parts of this film are very slow, and they tend to stretch longer than they need to. This is a problem with the climax of the film. I also felt the film had too much information. Maybe it was just more anxiety focus, but I had trouble following parts of the film because the events tended to get to complicated with the zoning conspiracy and the details about the mask. 

    This is definitely worth a watch, if only to see two Oscar winners in a very early role, and an acclaimed director doing a prototype of his more successful work. Plus, it's just a really fun, really entertaining film that works as a drama. I highly recommend it to superhero fans, and for those who, like me, didn't really care for Tim Burton's Batman.

    Alright, November 1st, and I've finally caught up to my own schedule. This year.... Well, we close out on an excellent film that came out last year, Bit. Thanks for reading, and happy Halloween. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Masterpiece of Horror Theatre- Red Dragon

         This was the third film in the trilogy of films with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, and the final time he would play the character. Dino De Laurentiis, who had the rights to the Lecter character, had given the rights to the name for free to Silence of the Lambs, because of the financial failure of Manhunter, but would return to produce the last film in the series, Hannibal and this one, effectively a remake of Manhunter. Brett... (oh, Jesus) Brett Ratner, fresh off Rush Hour 2 directed this (this time, not an insipid comedy). Edward Norton, who would use his salary to make The 25th Hour, was the new Will Graham. It was receive mixed reception and box office success, though not enough to apparently sustain interest in a prequel.

          Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) attends an orchestra performance, and later entertains some of the board (while getting rid of a flutist he disliked). FBI agent Will Graham (Ed Norton) comes over to discuss a serial killer called "The Chesapeake Ripper," who appears to be a cannibal, and who Graham has been consulting Lecter with. Of course, Graham puts two and two together, and Lecter and Graham do battle, before Lecter is subdued. However, Graham can't handle the encounter, and retires. A few years later, another serial killer, "The Tooth Fairy" (Ralph Fiennes) is on the loose. Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) recruits Graham back, and when they stall, Graham decides to look at the one source he has, aka Hannibal.

        Perhaps the most distinct and interesting part of this film is Ralph Fiennes. He manages to bring the character of Francis Dolarhyde to life better than Manhunter, with a more interesting performance, and a more menacing presence on screen. It's well worth watching the film for him and the way he portrays the character. It also fully emphasizes the connection to the Red Dragon painting to its fullest extent. Anthony Hopkins continues to do well as Hannibal, especially in the few scenes he has, managing to be menacing, but charming, as the character should.

     Ed Norton's terrible dyed hair is perhaps a symbol for the entire film in general. It appears to be closer to the book, but that's ultimately to its detriment. Manhunter mostly stuck to the important bits, and just cut all the unnecessary parts. Not only are the additions the worst part, they make the film a lot less interesting. A lot more is explained (again, to its detriment), and the film is just stretched. Ratner directs this in such a generic way, with all the marking of studio film. None of the tense moments of Manhunter. It's also just completely forgettable. Nothing stands out, especially with the generic directing and writing. 

    So, yeah, you want a really good adaptation of this book, watch Manhunter. I didn't hate the film, but it wasn't really one that worked, especially with a better adaptation around. Maybe if you want to compare the two, or just want to complete Hopkins performance as Lecter, it might be worth watching, but otherwise, definite skip. 

    So, finally caught to the schedule. To finish off at the right film, our penultimate film is a very different sort of horror film in Darkman.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Masterpiece of Horror Theatre- Silence of the Lambs

    The Silence of the Lambs, Harris' 1988 sequel to Red Dragon, was originally optioned by actor Gene Hackman and Orion Pictures, with Hackman starring in the role of Jack Crawford. Hackman would exit the film eventually (uncomfortable in violent roles after starring in the Civil Rights drama Mississippi Burning), but Orion covered all costs, confident in the film and the developing script from Ted Tally. Eventually, Jonathan Demme (known at the time for quirky films like Melvin and Howard, Swimming to Cambodia, and Married to the Mob) was chosen as director. Demme cast Anthony Hopkins as Lecter based on his performance in David Lynch's The Elephant Man. Jodie Foster was interested in the role of FBI agent Clarice Starling, but Demme didn't consider her until he had exhausted other actresses. Ted Levine (a friend of William Petersen and Michael Mann, the star and director of Manhunter) was cast as the villain Buffalo Bill. Filmed in Pennsylvania, the cast would research the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit and actual serial killers to study their roles. Released in 1991, it is, of course, one of the most iconic films ever made, and was the first horror film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (indeed, the third film to win the Oscars for Best Picture,  Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins as Lecter), Best Actress (Foster as Starling), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Tally, adapting Harris). The film would become a perennial favorite, and would make Hannibal Lector a household name. 

      Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is a trainee at the FBI Academy in Quantico, who is called by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the Behavioral Science Unit. He wants her to interview notorious cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), stuck in a Baltimore asylum run by arrogant Dr. Fredrick Chilton (Anthony Heald). Lecter could give insight into the whereabouts of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who has been kidnapping women and murdering them. Lecter gives some clues, which is useful as Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), the daughter of a prominent US senator, is kidnapped by Bill, upping the stakes.

         The film is very well shot. That's the first thing that stood out to me when I watched this many years ago. It's well shot, a lot of interesting angles, an especially interesting climax with complete darkness and night vision goggles. It helps build the tense atmosphere of the film, while providing both the investigation and the scares with intense action. Anthony Hopkins is iconic as Hannibal. Again, not necessarily sure if his performance is better than Brian Cox's, but it's definitely the definitive version. A lot of his quirks and coldness shine through, and Hopkins makes the character work despite him not being in the film. Foster does well as the main character, carrying the film with her chemistry with Hopkins and her Southern accent is fine. The film is easier to follow and less confusing than Manhunter

      The biggest thing hanging over my head watching this was the transphobia. As a newly out trans person myself, I did look at this film in a new light, especially an excellent documentary on Netflix you should watch called Disclosure, about transgender representation in film. Even as a questioning person, I figured that the film does explain that Bill wasn't actually trans, but merely thought themselves trans (itself a faulty concept in retrospect), so the film had an out in that . Rewatching the film, I'm less convinced of that. The character has all the signifiers stereotypically attributed to trans or other LGBTQ people, and whether or not they were actually  trans, the portrayal does resemble the stigma of us being mentally ill, especially the idea of a serial killer making a suit. So, that aspect is probably the most uncomfortable part of watching this in the modern day, especially as it may have contributed to the aforementioned stigma. Also, after a rather deliberate first two acts, the film just rushes to an end. Clarice doesn't even find out Buffalo Bill's identity, and she stumbles on them by accident. 

    It's definitely a well-crafted, well-directed film with good cinematography and good acting all around. The main specter on this film is Buffalo Bill and the transphobia, so I wouldn't quite know if to recommend this film. Maybe check the facts, and see if you, as an individual would be comfortable seeing this film. 

    I suppose it's an impromptu trilogy now, because for my next review, I'm doing the second adaptation of Red Dragon.