Like The Grabber, The Quarry is another Are You Scared episode that basically serves as an extended advertisement for another movie/video game. This one is worse; the unoriginal story screams Blair Witch Project, following a group of idiots who venture into the woods and come into conflict with a witch. The cliffhanger ending is equally cliche and uninspired. And despite the script being written by Garrett Werner (a pro who penned several Buzzfeed Unsolved and Puppet History episodes) there's dumb dialogue too. An example of this is seen as Ryan and Shane make fun of one part where the group reacts to finding their friend in a jaw-dropping state.
In the style, this episode takes Are You Scared in unwelcome new directions. Mollie Ong's creepy sketches have always been a hallmark of the show, but this one gives us much more animation in addition to Ong's work. The problem is that the more realistically-drawn animation conflicts with Ong's more impressionistic, horror-driven style. It smothers the atmosphere Ong's illustrations and Ryan's narration often creates.
Longtime fan of Lisa Simpson here. Should have liked this short, and didn't. The Simpsons shorts in the post-Tracey Ullmann era started out good (The Longest Daycare, Willie's Views on Scottish Independence, Playdate with Destiny), and gave a breath of fresh air to these characters having them respond to current events, or explore new directions such as Maggie having a silent little adventure. Since moving to Disney+, it's been generally downhill.
The shorts all seem intended to advertise both the show or other Disney products. Plusaversary was particularly bad with the way it shilled for Disney+, and there's a bit of that with this one too, particularly in the end credits. Three minutes long and not a single laugh, and a few cringey moments too (spiders out of Billie's mouth, eww). I think it's time for The Simpsons writers to stop and rethink, "What are we doing here?"
Pitched as the first NFT cartoon, "The Arrival", a pilot for The Red Ape Family, is complete trash. Everything about it is terrible. The look of the cartoon is ugly as sin; the quality of the movements in the animation (particularly looking at the dogs running) is equally bad.
As a story, the episode has no context, no clear plot to follow, and feels like a mess of non sequiturs; nothing is funny. The voice acting is horrible and unconvincing, which makes assertions like an NFT is more valuable than the entire city of Paris unconvincing and particularly cringeworthy. Kill Red Ape Family before it has a chance to multiply into a series.
This is a cute idea for a Simpsons short. It basically involves Bart and Lisa admiring how cute Maggie is in her crib, tickling her and trying to play games with her, and imagining what Maggie's thinking. What she's actually thinking: Doesn't want to be tickled, Bart and Lisa are monsters, desire for revenge.
What's really distracting though, isn't just the animation quality (hey, it's the Tracey Ullman years), but the fact that Bart and Lisa keep referring to Maggie as "it." Don't they realize Maggie is a girl and a human? Since when do we refer to people as "it"?
A new vision for Macbeth, but with some "borrowed" elements
Another Macbeth with the 2015 misfire still fresh in memory, The Tragedy of Macbeth at least seems like a more promising shot. Directed by a Coen brother (where's the other?) with Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth. What can The Tragedy of Macbeth bring new to the table?
Shot in black and white for unclear, possibly gimmicky reasons, The Tragedy of Macbeth suffers from poor pacing. Denzel Washington as Macbeth gives a good enough performance near the end of the play, but at the beginning he's spitting his lines out so fast they seldom get a chance to sink in. When he says he's afraid, we don't feel it, unlike Jon Finch in Polanski's Macbeth (1971), or for that matter, Toshirô Mifune in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957). A few scenes are notably absent from this outing as well. It's not like the performances were rushed to keep the runtime reasonable. Coen's film is only 105 minutes long. Macbeth in 105 minutes! Building up the Ross role (including as Third Murderer) also doesn't feel like much of an innovation after Polanski did the same in 1971. Also, this film yet again gives us a view of the killing of Duncan, something Shakespeare never intended, and like 2015, just copies 1971 - Duncan wakes up shortly before.
Still, there are a few innovations I liked about this film. These include the way the Double, Double, Toil and Trouble scene was reworked and its magic reimagined. The use of birds and how this ties into the witchcraft was inspired. As I mentioned, Washington is better toward the end of the film; McDormand is competent throughout; Kathryn Hunter is great. At least compared to 2015, the weird sisters (or only one sister?) actually have a presence, and better yet, make an impact.
Stylistically, putting aside the black and white, I'd give this film props for doing something different than 1971 or 2015 - it goes for minimalism, more of a stage feel, and it allows for a focus on the performances and dialogue (whenever the pacing allows). The film also has its share of thrills, including the scene were Ross pursues Fleance, Altogether, much better than 2015, still not on the level of 1948, 1957 or 1971.
After a season finale that left Puppet History fans stunned, Watcher comes back with Puppet History's second Christmas special, despite obvious questions about whether our hero will be able to show up. And so he does ... in flashback and hologram form, that is. That's our lump of coal - if the Professor is to star in season 5, we don't yet know how and in what circumstances. The puppets in this episode tease Beef Boy will somehow bring him back, but we're fuzzy on the details.
I miss the game show feel and standard format, which this special lacks and the first Christmas special had. We sadly don't learn anything about a historical subject, Christmas-related or not.
But the candy cane is that this special is better than nothing. We get reacquainted with some old friends, with a giant puppet cast and many of the show's human guest stars dropping in for a few words. And there's laughs to go around and a shocking revelation at the end. I'd say this special is good .... canonically good.
Too Many Spirits - just barely a year old, but now somehow in its fourth season. Similar to the second instalment, the fourth is Christmas-themed (we skipped over Halloween 2021 this time). The Krampus, Santa and elf costumes are gone; this time, the ghoul boys are just placed into sweaters, apparently to change every week.
As is common with Too Many Spirits, the reading of the viewer-submitted stories is funny and entertaining. A surprising number of stories this time around aren't even claimed to be supernatural, but some are still entertaining in their own right, eg. Bloody Mary. Watching Steven's jealousy (real or acted) of the new bartender is also worth a few chuckles.
Finally, RIP Ted the Snowman! First the Professor, now this? Actually, it's not so much Ted I'm missing as the log puppet from season 3. Hopefully he'll be back.
A Halloween treat from Disney Plus, Muppets Haunted Mansion comes off better than their current Muppets Now, which got off on a slow start. The hour-long special is based on both the Muppets and Disney's Haunted Mansion ride (which already got a movie in 2003, though not seen by many and now forgotten). Although this sounds like a cynical move, the spooky fun played off against the Muppets' irreverence and sarcasm play off on each other nicely. And, I'm glad the Great Gonzo was made the star, as he is my favourite secondary Muppet, better than Fozzie. What's missing is, of course, Rizzo, who is Gonzo's natural sidekick.
Muppets Haunted Mansion goes over nicely with enjoyable musical numbers and visuals, including the ghostly puppetry. Arrested Development's Will Arnett is a welcome addition to the Muppets franchise and works well. The usual meta humour is here.
Matt Vogel still needs to work on his Kermit, unfortunately. And, we need Rizzo back. Steve Whitmire's departure from the franchise has hurt, and I'm still hoping Vogel can pull this together. In the meantime, it's good to keep the Muppets franchise alive - or undead, in this case.
The Alan Arkin episode is vintage Muppets. I understand some people didn't like the level of violence in this episode, which actually isn't that bad. The Muppets isn't supposed to be Sesame Street, anyway. The whole plot revolves around Arkin (and later Kermit) taking some of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's Jekyll and Hyde potion, which turns them into monsters. Arkin goes berserk both on Beaker (natch), then the bunny rabbits in the "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" sketch, which allows some quirky physical humour. And, Kermit is rather funny looking as Hyde.
Before Arkin shows up, the Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah number is plenty good in Muppet-style, but the big highlight of this episode is the Muppets' take on the great song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which tells the story engagingly and is fantastic in its puppetry and effects. The Devil shows up later in another number, this time set in heaven, and this is also highly enjoyable. Again, the Muppets isn't Sesame Street, and as with what we saw in the Alice Cooper episode, The Muppets isn't afraid to get Satanic once in a while.
There are some other numbers in this episode not quite as memorable. The Alan Arkin episode is worth its place in the Muppet canon, though, for the Devil sketches alone.
Spearphishing presents itself as a timely political thriller, but comes across as amateurish. Basically, it follows a rural RCMP officer who is contacted by intelligence about Russian businessmen in his neck of the woods, who might be up to no good. The Mountie quickly finds the Russians. He immediately becomes convinced they're engaging in cyber crimes to support the prime minister as he goes into an election year. Mysteriously, the prime minister is running against only one opponent in Canada's typically multi-party system, and mysteriously, he's also called "Mr. Prime Minister" though the correct address is simply "Prime Minister."
Performances are generally poor and unconvincing, though the actors are also challenged to get out dialogue that comes across as clunky and awkward, and particularly in the beginning expositional. Although the film picks up on the fact that Russians are currently engaging in political cyber crimes, it still falls into the trap of outdated Cold War tropes, with many references to the Politburo, Soviet Union and bears. There's also the question of whether the Russians in this film pose any threat anyway; even before "the Mounties get their man," the film repeatedly makes a point that their cyber efforts aren't making any headway anyway, with the actor playing the prime minister doing a poor job of acting irate about it.
Spearphishing boasts some nice backdrops but they're still poorly shot; for example in the fishing scene in "Hard Luck Falls," much of the frame is taken up by the lead actor's back and butt. A sequel is apparently already in the works, but the question is why?
An episode that head-on addresses the big taboo of putting dinosaurs and cavemen together in the same show, The Discovery is a metaphor for 1492 and colonization. In the process, the cavemen become the stand-ins for Native Americans, which gets into potential politically and socially dicey territory. The TV show Cavemen (of Geico genesis) derogatorily equated cavemen with black people. Yet The Discovery doesn't get that offensive; to the extent that the cavemen are referred to as savages in this episode, it's mainly by bigoted dinosaurs who don't understand the depth of the humans' civilization. As well, it should be noted that humans, as a whole species, are indeed a savage animal.
The plot follows Earl as he hits a golf ball over the trees and discovers a completely new territory. Wesayso and the ruthless Mr. Richfield intend to develop it, on the understanding Earl gets to name everything after himself. The episode becomes a parable about egotism and wanting to be remembered, and of course Christopher Columbus had a lot of territory named after himself.
We all remember Columbus too, often with scorn now. That becomes the opposite side of the coin. The episode gives its take on the colonization in a neat little package, with plenty of laughs. And shock, in this episode the cavemen actually speak. The ending gets a little convenient but then wraps up on some sly references.
It seemed as if Unsolved lived its life like a candle in the wind
Right off the bat, I'll say I was disappointed that with only two episodes of Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime left, one of them was wasted on a Princess Diana episode. Sure, as Ryan said, it was one of the most highly requested cases. But fans aren't always right; in fact, some fan ideas, in regard to any given show or movie, are plain awful.
As Ryan himself states, the case is solved; there's no mystery about it. This is Buzzfeed Unsolved, not Buzzfeed Solved. There are some looney conspiracy theories out there, but the case has already been discussed to death. You don't need Ryan and Shane to go over the theories; you can find plenty about it out there already. Contrast this to the series finale, "The Bizarre Death of Alfred Loewenstein" which I hadn't heard of before and comes across as much more interesting.
Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime, my favourite Buzzfeed Unsolved show, had a good run of five years in eight instalments, and while it hasn't been as great as before the pandemic, it still ends on a respectable note with this season and the finale. Cheers!
Okay, I didn't expect to be quoted in the season 3 premiere. I found that funny in a mortifying kind of way, and kudos to Shane for doing the mogwai voice as well as making the Log Bros. Bit very fun with the Log Bro puppet! Still waiting for the Professor to make a cameo.
The third instalment of Too Many Spirits is off to a good start with a more summer-themed motif. It's all still true to form as there's a lot of laughs in simply seeing the three stars Ryan, Shane and Steven interacting and playing off each other, and reading and interpreting these stories. There were some stories that were alright this time around, but as usual the best part of them is seeing Ryan and Shane read and react to them. Also, let's give Steve some credit for the colourful concoction. As usual, looking forward to seeing what happens when the alcohol sets in more.
I was looking forward to this for most of the day (it's Star Wars Day and Disney now owns both Star Wars and The Simpsons). Maggie previously knocked it out of the park with her first short The Longest Daycare, and Playdate with Destiny is a bit underrated. The Force Awakens from Its Nap feels a bit lazy in comparison. No effort is made to explain how Maggie enters this world; she simply crosses the street from the Ayn Rand School for Tots. In a Star Wars-themed daycare, the only genuine laugh comes from Maggie's handling of the Death Star, which lampoons the films effectively. The plummeting Disney stock was also an attempt at subversive humour. But the ending doesn't come close to the cleverness of that in The Longest Daycare, which The Force Awakens from Its Nap is really a pale imitation of. Aside from the underwhelming story and jokes, the animation and all technical aspects of this film are top notch.
Puppet History, Shane Madej said, is trying to go beyond France in season 3 to places whose stories we don't often hear. In The War of the Golden Stool the Professor delivers with a story from Ghana, about .... the War of the Golden Stool. To tell the truth, all of this was new to me except for the fact that the British colonized Ghana. This episode covers a lot, and is fun.
Ryan, Kate and the Professor have great chemistry as usual, and a lot of the laughs come from watching the three interact. This is also the first time a guest star is brought in to voice a historical figure, with Shane usually doing that, even for female characters. Shiro Kihagi as Yaa Asantewaa does a forceful job and her dialogue is excellent and powerful.
And of course, I have to mention the brilliant lyrics in the musical number. The animation in this segment is great, with Mollie Ong (who illustrates Are You Scared?) pitching in on this one. A top-banana episode!
Judas & Jesus, a German animated short, takes the classic Looney Tunes-style of animation (complete with the classic opening and "That's all sheeps!" closing) and uses it for pure blasphemy. It retells the story of the Gospels using anthropomorphic sheep, and then goes full pornographic - the males look like sheep, but the females look like always-naked babes. The story is told from the point of view of Judas, not an apostle turned traitor, but in this version, a full-blown Satanist and rebel who hates Jesus. Wanting to get with Mary Magdalene, and into her sex show, he snitches on Jesus for 30 euros.
Jesus is portrayed as uptight, heavy-handed, severe and prudish. Judas and the adult Mary Magdalene are treated as perverse, but one has to feel for them given the scorn thrust upon them by Jesus. The story of the Gospels may have been that Jesus brought a vision of love and outreach, but what this short shows us is closer to how Christian authorities actually act. Therein lies the satire. The pictures the teen Judas has of Mary are too outrageous for words. All in all, a short of interest.
High Life is obviously a polarizing film, as if it weren't obvious by looking at the user reviews. Grown out of the gardens of Solaris, I feel it is worth of those origins. It tells the story of ex-cons sent into space to perform scientific experiments. One man has a daughter, and they journey to complete their mission, to extract energy from a black hole.
Similar to Kris Kelvin, we have a sad-eyed protagonist with a tragic past; unlike Kelvin, he's trying to make a good man out of himself, and reaches the cusp of heroics. What really stands out about High Life, to me, is its direction and cinematography - mesmerizing in its style, it hits us with nightmare images again and again, and sucks the viewer into its universe, allowing those receptive to it to feel its lonely, turned loving atmosphere.
There are things about this film that scare me. According to the protagonist's final report, some 210 years have passed on Earth since they launched 18 years ago. That makes me think not only about how many have died or which nations have fallen, but whether there are any humans left on Earth at all. Could our protagonist and his daughter now be alone in the universe, humanity's only representatives? This sense of isolation is heightened in a scene where they discover another ship. Could this be the fate of humankind - relict survivors in space? Or can our protagonists give humankind on Earth a wealth of resources and riches? Are they heroes or lost souls? Does it matter if they have each other, and their mission? High Life is an abstract painting - see in it what you will.
Puppet History's first holiday special could have been an irreverent take-down of Christmas with a look at Saturnalia or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or about the Christmas Truce (which the Professor flippantly shrugs off), or could have gone into the origins of any number of strange Christmas customs or stories. So I was a little surprised when he went for Saint Nicholas, an obvious choice; and I didn't think there was much interesting to say about him other than that slap of Arius (as it turns out, there were also Pickle boys).
But, The Story of St. Nicholas is a worthy addition to the Puppet History canon. Aside from a good story, Shane goes the extra mile with this production, with multiple musical numbers and the reappearance of classic puppets of past episodes. Kate is back and appears more laid-back than usual, but still appears excited at the appearance of certain puppets. According to the Professor, she joined in while having a "green Christmas."
With Puppet History being Watcher's breakout show, it's very fitting to mark Christmas Day and the end of their "Watchermas" marathon with the Professor and his old friends. I'm not sure when we'll get season 3 of Puppet History, but hopefully this will tide everyone over until then.
Darkwing Duck's only Christmas episode, "It's a Wonderful Leaf," (hey, the pun was there for the taking), is given to Bushroot. Typically not my favourite villain due to his lack of villainous nature, his episodes can still be great when he's done right. "It's a Wonderful Life" is orchestrated well and apt for both children and older viewers to enjoy.
The episode plays off Bushroot and Darkwing smartly, with the typically innocent Bushroot becoming antagonized by a realistically pushy Black Friday rush; meanwhile, the typically dark Drake Mallard is shown to have a soft spot for the holiday. Gosalyn has issues with being patient and well-behaved for the season, which is true to her character. Bushroot's revenge scheme goes from prank-like to more criminal as the episode progresses.
The jokes are generally good, and not just because they play on the usual plant puns we can expect when Bushroot's around. There's plenty of physical humour that's smartly staged and varied commentary on the craziness of the Christmas season. Ho ho ho!
Too Many Spirits is an innovative concept that itself is praiseworthy, and obviously one the folks at Watcher Entertainment knew would be a hit from the get-go. In celebration of Halloween, you need to get Ryan and Shane together to chew over something spooky. But Too Many Spirits goes the extra mile and tries to include Watcher's other founder, chef Steven Lim. Have him prepare the drinks, and bingo! You have Too Many Spirits. In the show's four episodes, shot over a single night, Ryan and Shane read stories submitted by their viewers.
Truth be told, almost all the stories submitted to Too Many Spirits are awful. The show isn't scary - it's just funny, but it's very funny. At the very first episode, Steven's spirits seem to be getting to Ryan and Shane, to the point where I'm not sure if it's the alcohol or if they're just having too much fun with these stories. By the third episode, the results of the last two drinks are noticeable almost immediately: They laugh at stories constantly to start with, including at Twitter names. The fourth episode is even more overboard with the hysterical laughing.
Sure, there are some criticisms one can make of the show. The "Log Bros" segments aren't as fun as the Watcher crew think it is, and the beginnings of each episode kind of drag, but oh well - it's a romp, and laugh-out-loud hilarious.
The third episode of Too Many Spirits was, like all four episodes, shot on the same night, meaning Ryan and Shane already have two cocktails in them to start with before going into sake prepared by Steven Lim. The results are noticeable almost immediately: They laugh at stories constantly to start with, including at Twitter names, and laugh when one author mentions his dad died. (Hope it wasn't a true story!). Moreover, they get extremely generous with their ratings in this one - instead of ranking on a zero to 10 spirits, they give out many more spirits than 10, and reference the title - "that's too many spirits."
Truth be told, almost all the stories submitted to Too Many Spirits are awful. The show isn't scary - it's just funny, but it's very funny. The cat and Krampus are highlights of this episode.
Too Many Spirits is an innovative concept that itself is praiseworthy, and obviously one the folks at Watcher Entertainment knew would be a hit from the get-go. In celebration of Halloween, you need to get Ryan and Shane together to chew over something spooky. But Too Many Spirits goes the extra mile and tries to include Watcher's other founder, chef Steven Lim. Have him prepare the drinks, and bingo! The "Log Bros" bit isn't as fun as they think it is, but oh well - it's a romp.
Are You Scared? is back for a "season 2" (even though the first three episodes just ran this summer) in time for Halloween. This batch of episodes is off to a promising start with The Red Man. Watcher's other October show, Too Many Spirits, is far more funny than scary, but The Red Man manages to be both. Parts of it are gripping and terrifying, and then we cut back to Ryan and Shane doing their thing, and we can laugh and have fun with it. For laughs though, the debut episode of Too Many Spirits was better.
The idea of looking out the window and seeing a face staring back at me - a twisted, evil face - terrified me as a child, so this story resonated with me. It is well written enough that it comes across as a good yarn, with some twists. As well, Mollie Ong deserves praise for her illustrations in every episode.
I won't spoil whether it's true or false, or grounded or supernatural, but it is interesting to see stories start to be submitted by Watcher viewers rather than found by Ryan on the Internet. Just like Too Many Spirits, but this was a better and more fleshed out story. Hopefully we'll get more!
Too Many Spirits is an innovative concept that itself is praiseworthy, and obviously one the folks at Watcher Entertainment knew would be a hit from the get-go. In celebration of Halloween, you need to get Ryan and Shane together to chew over something spooky. Indeed, Are You Scared? is being resurrected this week for a "season 2" (even though the first season was only a couple months ago). But Too Many Spirits goes the extra mile and tries to include Watcher's other founder, chef Steven Lim. Have him prepare the drinks, and bingo! You have Too Many Spirits.
At the very first episode, Steven's spirits seem to be getting to Ryan and Shane, to the point where I'm not sure if it's the alcohol or if they're just having too much fun with these stories. Either way, the result is infinitely more funny than it is scary. None of the stories are real knockouts, and most are much too short to be great. Still, Ryan and Shane put entertaining spins on a lot of them. This is going to be a fun October.
I'm thrilled the Professor has finally begun to explore ancient history, starting last week with The Terrifying Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and now with The Forgotten Pharaoh, as someone who studied ancient history (especially Rome in university, Egypt only casually). When I saw Puppet History was doing an ancient Egypt history featuring a queen, my first thought was that it would be about Cleopatra - an interesting figure, no doubt, but one already covered extensively. Same goes with Nefertiti. Hatshepsut is an interesting choice, one with a high probability of teaching audiences something new and valuable.
I retract what I said about the Abe Lincoln episode -The Forgotten Pharaoh has the most lacklustre song to date. That said, the goose puppet is well constructed, beating Mt. Vesuvius in the design department. The mummy goose is an inspired character for the musical number (really, maybe the only choice). And, it's impressive Shane does a musical number for each episode, even if this one's not particularly great.
Ryan and Shane play off each other well, as they do at their best. The Professor channeling Ryan's BuzzFeed Unsolved narration is great; Ryan's frustration with the Professor at the end is hilarious. The point system in the contests are getting rather fishy - but that goes into the Shane vs. Ryan dynamic as well. And a horrifying revelation: Aside from jelly beans, the Professor's diet also consists of ... spiders. Jeez. Not sure I can look at that guy the same way again.
Watcher Entertainment's best show to date is back! According to producers/stars Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej in their other show Watcher Weekly, a second season of Puppet History was shot over the weekend (after season 2 of Shane's Weird (and/or) Wonderful World was cut short). The season premiere doesn't show many signs of being rushed - on the contrary, the online "university" (because the contestants can't be in the same room) is established and Shane still produces a song at the end, with a stylized puppet. It may not be his catchiest number, but it works.
For a guest contestant, Kate Peterman makes her second appearance on the show. She enjoys Puppet History way too much, and it brings a ray of sunshine to the show. Aside from Kate being a good guest, Ryan and Shane play off each other well, as they do at their best. Including bloopers throughout the episode adds to the appropriate anarchic tone.
For a story, this is a good one, though the title character doesn't actually play that huge a role in the story as you would expect. I'd never actually heard of the Baltimore Plot before. Looking forward to finally getting more Puppet History!