Wondering what to do with your upcoming free time? Good thing we have some suggestions for what you should be watching, playing, reading, listening to, etc.
Ben’s Movie Pick: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm – Batman: The Animated Series served as the foundation for my life-long love of almost everything superhero, and its sequel film is my all-time favorite Batman movie. No other feature so far has portrayed the traumatized and tortured soul that is Bruce Wayne like Mask of the Phantasm does, with such uncompromising tragedy and bleakness. Some may (unfairly) dismiss it as a “kids movie” because it’s animated, but MotP‘s story is one of the darkest, most depressing and well-crafted I’ve seen in a superhero flick. It also has an outstanding voice cast that includes Dana Delaney as Bruce’s first love interest, alongside Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the greatest versions of Batman and Joker in any medium. The Phantasm (Stacy Keach) is also incredible, and in my opinion, one of the greatest antagonists in Batman’s entire rogues gallery. That’s really saying something because the Caped Crusader has the best assortment of villains in the history of superheroes. Oh, and the incredible animation, paired with the haunting soundtrack brings the dreary, crime-ridden Gotham City to life far more than even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. I’d love for the upcoming The Batman to top this, but honestly, how can you do better than perfection?
Ben’s Movie(s) Pick: The Evil Dead Trilogy – Sam Raimi’s supernatural horror franchise is one of the most iconic series in the genre, and has inspired countless filmmakers. Each movie is noticeably different in tone, but they all bring something truly “groovy” to the table. The first entry, 1981’s The Evil Dead was made on a shoestring budget, but succeeds because of Raimi and his crew’s seemingly limitless creativity and style. The 1987 semi-remake/sequel, Evil Dead II is even more impressive thanks to its higher production values and the way it slowly transforms Ash into the badass buffoon action horror hero we know and love. The final chapter (at least it was for a while), 1992’s Army of Darkness, is a damn-near perfect blend of great action set pieces, campy gross-out horror, and slapstick humor, making the most out of Bruce Campbell’s charisma to cement Ash as one of the most iconic characters in the entirety of horror cinema.
Just be sure to do yourself a favor by skipping the reboot. It trades the entirety of the franchise’s charm and scariness for some of the most gratuitous, sickening, torture-porn gore that I’ve ever seen.
Ben’s Movie Pick: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – It has been roughly 15 years since my previous (and first) viewing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and only now do I realize what a damn shame that is. Apparently my teenage self wasn’t able to appreciate this movie for some reason, which is honestly quite embarrassing for a horror fan like myself. Tobe Hooper’s genre-defining classic may not be as bloody as its reputation implies, but that’s honestly a good thing. Instead of relying on gore, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre scares you with its haunting music, sound design, disturbing visuals, and a few insanely effective jump scares to assault your senses in a manner that’s equally memorable and terrifying. Leatherface and his twisted, demented family truly are the stuff of nightmares, and their home is one of the most disgusting settings I’ve seen in any film. The movie takes a little while to get going, but once the mask-wearing murderer enters the picture, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre becomes damn near perfect descent into pure, unadulterated horror that is rightly recognized as a landmark of slasher cinema.
Lauren’s Movie Pick: Unpregnant – If describing Unpregnant as a feel good abortion film makes you uncomfortable then this HBO Max pro-choice movie is probably not going to be for you, no matter how much you like road trip films. Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira star as estranged best friends who are much too trusting of strangers as they journey from Missouri to New Mexico when Veronica discovers she’s pregnant and doesn’t want to tell her parents about the abortion she plans to get. Though there are one or two moments of “is this the character talking or is the writer taking a moment to soapbox?” during the film, I think Unpregnant handles the subject matter really well, always making the choice seem like a valid option, never really shaming our guilt-tripping Veronica for making the best choice for herself. I was a bit surprised by how big some of the moments along the road get, seeing as I wasn’t really expecting escalating hijinks after the more earnest and level start, but even as the plot started to lose me, the relationship between the two girls is what kept me enjoying the film overall.
Ben’s TV Pick: The Haunting of Hill House – There are very few horror movies or shows that have completely terrified and emotionally destroyed me like The Haunting of Hill House. The somber, spooky tale is centred around the Crain family during their time in the titular mansion as supernatural happenings take place, and also shows that the damage the house instilled affects them even decades later. THoHH builds up its frights and characters equally well, which is the show’s strength: it isn’t a horror with drama elements or the reverse, but an equal, potent mix of both that pulls at your heartstrings as often as it makes your blood run cold. And with all the ghosts hidden in the background, my blood ran cold a lot. The writing and talented cast truly make you care about each of the Crains and hope that they can move past their trauma and tragedy into a life of peace, and that makes the moments of terror, grief, and unsettling twists that much more effective. Director Mike Flanagan – who was already a rising horror star before THoHH – cemented himself as one of the most talented and creative minds in the genre working today with what is, as of now, his greatest work.
Ben’s TV Pick: Samurai Jack – Samurai Jack was way, way ahead of its time. The series, which follows its titular character as he seeks to travel back in time after being thrown far into the future by his nemesis (Aku’s summary is better than mine), features outstandingly beautiful animation that is still incredible by today’s standards, a great soundtrack, tons of interesting characters, and many breathtaking action set pieces and sequences. Creator Genndy Tartakovsky and his team also use some wonderfully clever tricks and character designs to give a mature edge to a Cartoon Network show (apparently CN was cool with robots getting sliced up and “bleeding” oil everywhere?) until the fifth season, which aired after a 13-year gap on the less than kid-friendly Adult Swim. That final season was a welcome, yet brief return, and a bittersweet goodbye to the beloved samurai that offered closure to his story, and earned the series its place among the most impressive animated shows or films I’ve ever seen.
Lauren’s TV Pick: Teenage Bounty Hunters – Though Teenage Bounty Hunters had an initially unimpressive start – this is one of the first times the immediate sexualization of high schoolers has made me feel super old and skeevy as I’ve now probably aged out of the target audience range, the humor between the twins wasn’t quite landing as it should, and oh boy is there a lot of God talk – this is yet another example of a show finding its footing after a couple of episodes. Maddie Phillips and Anjelica Bette Fellini star as the titular twins, with their performances and twin dynamic being the key factor in winning me over, though there are plenty of other standout roles that make the show what it is (Devon Hales as the school’s mean girl with hidden depths being my favorite, along with Wynn Everett as the “How do you do, fellow kids” teacher and Method Man as an atypical rival bounty hunter). The humor in the dialog and shenanigans provides plenty of laughs, but the amount of heart that this show blindsided me with was eventually what kept me coming back for more. Now if only it had shown a bit more lacrosse…
So what do you think about these picks? What content did we miss over the past two weeks while we were spending time with these? Be sure to leave a comment below letting us know about everything (both current and simply new to you) you’ve been consuming lately!
And while you’re here, be sure to check some of the site’s other recent content:
- Lauren’s book review of Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3).
- Zac’s film review of Tenet.
- Middle of the Row: The Podcast episodes on the newly released Project Power, as well as flashback episodes to Best in Show and Memento.