Two More New eBook Collections: SUPERHERO CINEMA and GEEK STREAK

You have seen yesterday that I’ve begun rolling out my new series of MovieBob Anthology eBooks, which collect the best of my written work from this blog, The Escapist and elsewhere into a series of individually-themed volumes. Yesterday saw MOVIEBOB’S REEL BREAKDOWN drop, which collected the best of my written (read: non-Escape to The Movies) film reviews. Today, I’m proud to make available two new volumes: MOVIEBOB’S SUPERHERO CINEMA and MOVIEBOB’S GEEK STREAK; which collect a selection of non-review features on comic book movies and “geek culture,” respectively.

Digital-storefront-specific versions are pending, but you can buy all three in epub-format (which works on almost all devices and desktops) directly from Lulu NOW by clicking their respective titles above. Hit the jump for more info…

There’s a lot to recommend in SUPERHERO CINEMA, which surprised me as I thought I’d have to forego republishing a lot of such material because so much of it was timestamped to various stages of development for now-completed films. But quite a bit turned out to be (largely) evergreen and/or worth preserving for posterity’s sake, including “look ahead” pieces for Dark Knight Rises, Spider-Man and the broader MCU itself and just-for-fun stuff like a comprehensive look at who can/cannot lift Thor’s hammer and why.

What I’m happiest to include in this volume are the retrospectives of the various pre-MCU Marvel TV attempts; including full writeups on The Incredible Hulk, the three Hulk TV movies, the failed attempts at Captain America and Doctor Strange, Generation X, the live-action Spiderman, Japanese Spider-Man, Hasselhoff as Nick Fury and four whole decades of Marvel-based cartoons.

GEEK STREAK, meanwhile, contains a great number of the most-requested “thinkpiece”-style work I’ve published over the years. If you enjoyed the “Re-Tales” series (possibly my favorite thing in the Anthology, period) from the old Intermission column, or “Bat-Mitt Vs. Obamavengers” from this blog, or “I May Have Been Wrong About Maleficent,” or my introduction to the philosophy of C.S. Lewis, or “On Geek Privilege,” those are all in here – finally yours to own directly from the author.

So is more just-for-fun stuff like my Renaissance Fair travelogue and my two-part report on the behind-the-scenes work of guest-paneling on the sci-fi/fantasy convention circuit. “The 50 Most Boring Opinions in Geek Culture” are in here, too, as in “The Movie Nerd Bible” folks have frequently requested links to. This is some of my more divisive work, I’ve found, but I’m really proud of this volume and I hope you enjoy it.

Price is $4.00 US each for all three, incidentally, and I’m expecting that the remaining 5-6 volumes will be similarly priced. Could I have charged more? Yes, but I marked-down of my own volitition

Finally, just to address some questions about the format: Right now, these are all available directly for self-publishing site Lulu in “.epub” format, which is compatible with most tablets, readers, etc and also with desktops. Device-specific versions for certain digital storefronts like Kindle and Nook are pending, but I have no control over how long that will take given their approval process. Obviously, you’re free to buy or not buy in any format you want; but if it makes a difference to anyone (and, sincerely, bless you if it does) buying the .epub directly from Lulu is significantly better for my bottom line. So there’s that.

Depending on how things go over the next few days, the volumes-yet-to-come will likely include a volume of television writing, reviews of classic films and volume devoted entirely to video-games – including a selection of early Game OverThinker transcripts and several of the original GamerGate essays. So look out for those. Once I get these all out, I’m planning to put together a YouTube campaign laying them out in more lively detail. As for printed copies? Ideally, I want to make them – at least for the ‘Con circuit so I have more things to sell and sign; but that’s an expensive undertaking and I need to let these ebooks play out for awhile so I can gauge interest and costs.

I’m also looking at how this does as a model for how to proceed with some plans to potentially enter the fiction-writing realm, so keep an eye out for that as well 🙂

P.S. Have you been following my new gig at ScreenRant? If not, you may enjoy these three new editorials:

Why R-Rated Batman V Superman Could Be Bad News For Superhero Movies

Let’s Give Stan Lee An Honorary Academy Award

Will Luke Cage Be Marvel’s Most Political Show Yet?

NEW EBOOK COLLECTION: MovieBob’s Reel Breakdown

UPDATE: An error that was discovered with one of the reviews featuring incorrect text (Tomorrowland) has been corrected in the finished product. If anyone who already purchased a copy would like to talk replacement, please feel free to contact me.

Hey hey! Remember when I said I was going to publish me some eBooks collecting my earlier reviews and other articles? Well, the first one is now available through for just $4.00 US!

“MovieBob’s Reel Breakdown” is a collection of reviews NOT from Escape to The Movies (it’s complicated) but a specially-curated selection of criticism culled from my written Escapist columns, blogs originally posted here and transcripts from my independent video reviews – yes, including the PIXELS review. I’d call it a healthy, eclectic mix encompassing newer fare like JURASSIC WORLD and a “supplemental review” of INTERSTELLAR alongside “older” fare like FUNNY GAMES or BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and infamous disasters like WINTER’S TALE and STONEWALL. All told, there’s about 60 total full-length reviews in here, each one preceded by an all-new exclusive introduction offering context and my current thoughts on the piece.

You’ll note that the cover indicates that this is the first book in the “MovieBob Anthology;” and indeed 5-6 more volumes are coming soon. Titles are still pending, but subjects could (tentatively) include Classic Reviews, Video Games, Geek Culture, Hollywood History/Business, TV Commentary/Reviews and Superheroes.

It should be available in Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks formats soon enough, but for now it’s being sold on Lulu – and I recommend you pick it up from them 🙂 FWIW, this is my first crack and independent self-publishing these things, so any feedback would be appreciated.

I Need an Editor – Is It You?

UPDATE: It’s possible that the position may have already been filled – please refrain from sending emails if this bold message is still visible. Thank you.

Straight to the point: I have a project that requires some fairly tedious pain-in-the-ass editing, and I’m willing to pay someone to do it because my schedule doesn’t fit with this sort of additional workload – at least not in a decent timeline. So I’m looking to talk to a freelance editor – preferably NOT a total stranger, hence using my blog and social-media instead of whatever LinkedIn actually does.

Interested? Read on.

Okay, here’s the deal.

Followers of this blog may recall that I’m looking to publish a series of ebooks collecting the bulk of my pre-existing blog entries, text reviews, old columns from websites, etc by theme. At current count, I’ve nearly finished compiling and I now have a total 7 books running between 100 and 140 pages apiece, divided up by theme (Film, Television, Hollywood, Geek Culture, Video Games, etc.) ready-made… but they’re all currently formatted for print (i.e. margins, headers and footers, page breaks, no style-headings, etc) which will be FINE for the eventual print versions – but I’m looking to do the ebooks first as a demand-gauge.

Here’s where I’m running into a crunch: To become a proper ebook in 2016 and be widely sold, they all need to be reformatted for conversion to what’s called EPUB format, which involves (among other things) removing all page, paragraph and space formatting and (since these are MSWord docs) using “Styles” to tag chapter-headings for automated-indexing. So basically, all the work I already did putting everything together needs to be undone then done again a different way – not exactly building The Great Wall, but cumbersome all the same and enough so that I’m willing to look for help.

So. I’m looking for someone who’d be willing/able to do the above-described formating work on the above-described amount of writing within a reasonable amount of time and for pay that can be negotiated somewhere that’s not a public blog – suffice it to say I know better than anyone the scale of the task and the tendency for writers/editors to be underpaid, and I’m not looking to screw anyone over: I’m looking to pay good money for good work. Again, just so we’re clear: This would be formating/unformating only – you wouldn’t be doing any editing to the actual text, so no proofreading, spelling, grammar, structure, etc work is needed. In addition, I’ll be able to provide links to pages outlining the exact requirements being asked for by where I have to send the finished version.

I’m willing to entertain the possibility of working with anyone, but I’m hoping that by putting this up and Tweeting it out I’ll hear from friends, colleagues, people I know or have worked with before, etc – just because that always makes collaborations work better in my experience.

Interested? Want more info? Contact me via

Review: THE WITCH (2016)

THE WITCH is good. Pretty goddamn great in fact. It’s got killer atmosphere, it’s scary, it’s original, it’s fiercely well made, the acting is stellar, the effects are sparse but excellent, the screenplay is a marvel and the whole production feels unique, fascinating and endlessly watchable. It works as a drama, it works as a horror film, it works as historical recreation and it even works an arthouse movie that you can just let wash over you like rainy day museum visit.

It’s also the kind of “serious-minded” horror movie that critics tend to go nuts for but mainstream horror fans end up regarding as “overrated,” and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those good but “difficult” movies where people act like assholes if you don’t like it. So lemme just say up front that THE WITCH is great and if you don’t think so you’re wrong… but I understand.

The thing is that while THE WITCH is indeed “scary,” it’s not so much interested in either the visceral or psychological variation on the theme: Not only are there precious few jump-scares, the characters are fairly simple people whose “issues” and “hangups” are fairly easy to wrap our heads around. There aren’t really any “twists” or “cheats” going on until right near the very end and even there opinions are going to differ on whether or not any of that meets the definition.

Rather, THE WITCH is aiming more for atmospheric horror, which is probably the most difficult type of The H Word to pull off on film if what youre going for is “classy” instead of “grueling.” The film doesn’t want to frighten you outright nearly as much as it wants to overwhelm you with an omnipresent sense of dread and hopelessness by creating an unmistakable mix of situation and presentation that effectively conveys that these characters are totally fucked, nothing good is gonna come of anything your witnessing and no matter what it’s going to end badly.

It’s a film that doesn’t want to “scare” an audience viscerally so much as it wants them to stagger out of the theater like they all just woke up from a particularly personal, particularly disturbing nightmare that they can already tell is going to bug them and haunt them all goddamn week – and in that respect, it succeeds mightily: THE WITCH does atmosphere and dread with such easygoing aplomb its hard to believe that its director Robert Eggers’ debut considering that he’s crafted a mood piece worthy of being mentioned alongside ROSEMARY’S BABY and Carl Theodore Dreyer’s VAMPYR.

Our premise: A family of early New England Puritans are kicked out of their village because dad is too damn religious – for Puritans – and forced to make a new start of it as independent farmer on a plot of land that backs up to an ominous-looking forest that also happens to be home to a Witch. Not metaphorically, not revisionist – a straight-up, old-school, child-murdering, black magic practicing, Satan worshipping scary old crone Witch lives in the forest and makes it her business the torment the family for the duration. That’s probably the first and biggest surprise of the whole production. Ever since THE CRUCIBLE, fiction about Witchcraft in Puritan times has defaulted to the Salem paradigm i.e. there are no witches it’s just hyperreligious assholes doing what they do.

But THE WITCH takes the idea of Witches existing in the form the Puritans imagine them to exist as a given for the duration of its runtime; which is likely going to be jarring even for seasoned horror audiences who’ve been taught to expect certain things from movies – particularly from movies that are as impressionistic and character-focused as this is – when it comes to this kind of monster as an antagonist.

After more than a few decades of movies preferring to clear separate symbolic fears from literal ones in a clearly-defined way, it takes a bit of adjustment to realize that THE WITCH is “making a point” but also playing things relatively straight – as in: Yes, the presence of the Witch and her things she inflicts on the settlers are symbolic of the deleterious effects of religious radicalism and Puritan patriarchy on their psyches in terms of the older children being frighteningly ill-equipped to deal with their emergent sexuality, the father being incapable of acknowledging that he’s utterly incapable as a provider and everyone else having to grapple with the fallout thereof thanks to a strict Calvinist belief-system that teaches them that they’re inherently unworthy just by virtue of being human… but there’s also literally a Witch.

…and also a goat who may or may not be The Devil, because the film makes every effort to be as authentic to the way Puritans typically imagined that Satanism and Black Magic in the wilderness of the New World actually “worked,” right down to the main characters unusual but eventually hypnotic way of speaking their lines.

Like I said, I completely understand why not everyone is going to groove on this film’s particular wavelength, but if you can get there its well worth the effort. It may not be the visceral shocker that some have made it out to be (it puts it’s nastiest foot forward right at the beginning, for one thing) but it’s a wholly unique wonder of a thing in its own right, aiming to fill an audience with dread that comes from realizing that these people are trapped in their own doom and we’re trapped with them. And it works.


So. Hayley Atwell is apparently getting a contemporary-set pilot for a non-Marvel production, which (combined with the lower than last season ratings) many are taking to mean that Season 2 will be the last we see of AGENT CARTER for awhile – maybe for good. Which means there’s only five more episodes (three, after the twofer hitting tonight) for Season 2 to really pull this thing out and end on a high note.

Thus far? Signs are still fairly discouraging that this will ever get as good as Season 1 started out being, but that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time.

This time, at least, the various plot threads came together to work efficiently in between what was mostly a series of setups for the character-schtick that’s become the focus of season: Wilkes figures out that he, too, can absorb Zero Matter (aka “Darkforce,” but we’re still pretending not to know that) and goes looking for the flash-frozen body of the victim that started this whole thing off; angling that absorbing even more of it will make him tangible again. Unfortunately, he and Peggy arrive just in time to learn the truth about Whitney Frost when she beats them to the prize and drains the corpse’s ZM supply herself – leading to the revelation that she plans to detonate an atomic bomb in order to bring more of the stuff into our dimension.
The atomic bomb subplot sets off the “setpiece” for this episode, with Carter, Jarvis, Sousa, Rose (the SSR receptionist) and a scientist named Samberly team up to try and liberate the (eventually) stolen bomb before it can be detonated. It’s mostly fun stuff (though there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to Samberly as yet) especially seeing Rose get to do some big fight scenes and play sexy-spy-couple with Samberly – though, at this point, AGENT CARTER giving an unconventional female character dimension and guts is to be expected.
Not expected, on the other hand, is having Peggy actually get impaled on that re-bar spike after slugging it out with Frost (aka “Madame Masque,” though still no gold mask.) Bold decision… but it might have worked better saved for a “to be continued” rather than just a commercial break. More problematically, the payoff to the development is a serious letdown: Sousa brings Carter home to his nurse fiancee (of a few hours, at least) for care and – sing along if you know the words – she decides she can’t marry him because she (like everyone else) can tell he’s still in love with Peggy.
It’s not so much a “bad” moment (it’s performed just fine, all things considered) as it is so disappointingly expected. AGENT CARTER has been at it’s best when subtly subverting what we expect from a series like this; but that moment feels like something that would happen in any other procedural featuring an ex/almost-couple having to work together. On the plus side, no sign of the boring FBI/”red scare” plot this week, for which I’m grateful.

  • I feel like Jason Wilkes is going to end up in “sad/noble ending” territory sooner or later, maybe sacrificing himself to The Dark Dimension to stop whatever Frost ultimately gets up to. The obscure pre-superhero Marvel story he’s inspired by ended with the (not a good guy) intangible-scientist “haunting” his own home as essentially a ghost made of science – maybe he’ll stick around to pop up in contemporary times for AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D?
  • I feel like, if Wilkes ends up stuck in Dark Dimension people will be looking for him to turn up as a DOCTOR STRANGE character. I’ll admit – that’d be pretty cool, yes.
  • Speaking of which, the notion that the Arena Club not-HYDRA cultists (for those who skipped AGENTS thus far: It turns out HYDRA’s real-deal origin is as the most recent permutation of an ancient death cult that worships an evil offworld Inhuman) are going to step in and try to stop Frost’s schemes is going to wind up being the “origin” of how/why HYDRA was able to exert early influence over S.H.I.E.L.D at whatever point it breaks off from the SSR (which will probably be red-menaced into closure by the end of this season.)
  • Yes, sharp-eared Marvel fans, you heard that right: Whitney Frost’s mob boss former lover is Joseph Manfredi, aka Blackwing. One imagines that he’ll be stepping into a more prominent position once the Arena Club tries (and fails?) to put her back in her place.

NEXT WEEK (aka tonight):
It’s a two-parter with “LIFE OF THE PARTY” and “MONSTERS,” the former of which involves the Peggy/Dottie team-up (against Frost, probably) I predicted back in episode 1. What’s “MONSTERS” about? Not entirely sure – but the early synopsis sounds like something rough is in store for poor Jarvis (please, show, don’t kill off him or Anna to try and retroactively imbue Vision/J.A.R.V.I.S with extra pathos). I’d bet that the title in “MONSTERS” refers to Frost and Manfredi forming a mutually-villainous power-couple.

REVIEW: "Deadpool"

Reviews like this made possible in part through The MovieBob Patreon. If you like what you see, please consider becoming a Patron.

Let’s get one thing straight here, folks: DEADPOOL should not be the lead character of anything. He’s gonzo comic-relief, a bit player with a VERY specific bit to play, and that’s where he’s always belonged – or rather, its where he belonged once somebody figured out what to DO with him.

Look, I don’t wanna pile on Rob Liefeld because the guy probably does probably get way too much hate on the internet (I mean fucking hell, people, YOU draw that many comics at once during your peak and get everybody’s proportions and perspective right 100% of the time!) but the fact is Deadpool “Mark I” was pretty one note even for a 90s X-MEN character. Seriously: “Wolverine + The Punisher + generically sarcastic and also a Ninja?” If original Deadpool embodied any more overused comic-book tropes of the 1990s he’d be an episode of The Anti-Gravity Room.

The character didn’t really get interesting until years later when someone (Joe Kelly usually getting the credit) realized that being a sarcastic asshole who couldn’t die no matter what you did to him effectively made Deadpool a superhero equivalent to Bugs Bunny or Freakazoid or The Mask or whoever your particular frame of reference for that character type is and decided to just lean into it and make him a fourth-wall breaking human cartoon. And just as the “straight” version of Deadpool is cool in limited doses, the “funny” version works well for about as long. Yes, this schtick is funny, but it gets old fast.

I bring this up because, if there are criticisms I imagine to be levied at DEADPOOL by people who were otherwise predisposed to love DEADPOOL, it’s that Deadpool himself isn’t really “in” DEADPOOL for most of DEADPOOL. The film basically “opens” at the end of the second act with our protagonist killing a bunch of people to find out where the main bad guy is, then he finds out and hooks up with a pair of X-Men guest stars to go fight the main bad guy for the ending. 

That’s pretty much it – no, really: All the “classic Deadpool” stuff you’ve seen in the trailers with the red suit and the weapons and the meta “he knows it’s only a movie” jokes essentially comprise two big action scenes, which have been time-expanded into an hour and 47 minute movie by intercutting a series of extended flashbacks wherein the titular mercenary gives us his backstory, explains how Wade Wilson became Deadpool and why he’s trying to kill these specific people. 

It’s a weird structural decision and I’m not sure it totally works on a narrative level, but what it DOES do is allow the movie to “feel like” Deadpool – as in the red-suited human cartoon bouncing around doing bad standup and slaughtering people – is our focus the whole time even though what the film is actually doing is making sure the character doesn’t actually get to stick around long enough for us to get sick of him. And… I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work.

DEADPOOL is a good movie. It’s not GREAT… but once you key on the idea that it’s actively avoiding being great because just being good let’s you get away with more that makes it okay. It’s a fairly weightless, depth-averse, easily-processed lark of thing, but it gets to where it wants to be and stays honest within its own very particular parameters. There’s actually even some real heart and humanity at the core of the thing that, if explored just an inch or two more might’ve pushed it to greatness but, again, it doesn’t really WANT to be great so there you go.

Ryan Reynolds is, of course, perfect for the title character; both in personality and on the meta level in that he’s another gifted comic actor who’s been repeatedly forced into the mold of a traditional leading man by virtue of being too conventionally handsome for Hollywood to imagine that he’d be good for anything else. As such, there’s something enormously cathartic and “right” about watching him engage in an extended lowbrow subversion of the now-standard superhero movie, which is both the joke and also as close as DEADPOOL comes to having a “point”: In case you were wondering what the hell Colossus was doing here, the idea is that the metal-skinned X-Man is acting as a stand-in for the traditional square-jawed, morally-righteous family-friendly comic-book movie lead who (for some reason) has decided he’s fond of Deadpool and keeps bugging him about setting all the violence and profanity aside to become a more conventional superhero. Ha. Ha.

Colossus is fun, but in terms of the X-Men tie-ins that DEADPOOL is all too happy to point out feel low-rent and tacked-on the breakout star turns out to be Brianna Hildebrand as Colossus’ X-Men trainee “Negasonic Teenage Warhead.” She has real screen presence, but it’s also inspired and close to “brave” to add a character who seems to “get” Deadpool but just doesn’t find him all that amusing – a quintessentially jaded Millennial who seems to regard “The Merc With a Mouth’s” routine as just so much warmed-over Generation-X tryhard clowning that she simply doesn’t the time for. They only really have two extended “moments” together, but it’s endearing to watch Deadpool be alternately frustrated and reactively-invigorated by a “kid” whose already too old to put up with his bullshit. Of all the meta humor one could’ve expected from a DEADPOOL movie, I’d didn’t foresee that it would have the wherewithal to take the piss out of its own piss-taking. Well done.

It’s a fun routine, though, even if it is mainly about reminding us of how supposedly “edgy” it is for people to be swearing, spilling blood and having sex in the Marvel Age of superhero movies almost to the point where you might notice that it’s not really THAT excessively violent or perverse when you get right down to it. Oh, if you’re among the 13 year olds sneaking into the movie demographic DEADPOOL was tailor-made for, I’m sure it’ll blow your fuckin’ mind – but anyone old enough to see this legally is probably A.) again, already too old to properly enjoy it and B.) going to feel like they’ve seen plenty of genre-entries just as if not more extreme.

But yeah, it’s an “angry little boy” movie and as angry little boy movies go it’s probably in the upper echelon thereof; particularly when you consider how much it gets away with in terms of being (on a thematic level) mostly a love story involving Wilson and Morena Baccarin as his similarly off-kilter would-be fiancée in a movie primarily aimed at an audience whose outlook has only JUST started to roll-over from “Girls eeeeew!” to “Boobies yaaaay!” In many ways this might be the best role Baccarin has ever been afforded in a movie – she’s interesting, affecting, attractive and evenly-matched with Reynolds in terms of playfully-naughty comedy chops. Even though DEADPOOL is actively working to undermine every moment that even begins to approach sincerity, that it actually does almost become a better movie than it wants to be is owed almost entirely to how invested we become in this central relationship; which feels earnest and sweet and real and… kind of quietly, half-jokingly forward-looking in certain respects I wouldn’t want to spoil.

If there’s a downside to all this, it’s that it’s occasionally difficult to tell which aspects of the film are deliberately aping the aesthetic of a cheapjack 90s superhero movie for laughs and which ones are honest-to-god flaws because this IS pretty-much a cheapjack 90s superhero movie. Are the bad guys one-note and kinda lame because it’s part of the joke or did they just not try all that hard on the bad guys? Does it all take place in generic action locations like “random freeway,” “grungy basement,” “gratuitous strip club” and “final-boss junkyard” because we’re supposed to laugh in recognition, or were they just saving money? Is Deadpool’s groaner sitcom-punchline sense of humor meant to be genuinely funny, or are we supposed to laugh at his weirdly dated material?

It’s stuff like this that keeps the movie from being great, but doesn’t necessarily keep it from being great fun. DEADPOOL is not, despite the inevitable impending overstatement, the grand deconstruction that the omnipresent superhero genre was waiting for; but it’s a fun “B-side” to the genre and a clever snark-off at the expense of its own weird moment in pop-culture history. I don’t necessarily see how this becomes a “franchise” since it’s already openly acknowledging that this guy wears out his welcome fast; but for now as a one-off gonzo side-project for the X-MEN universe it’s the right movie at the right time – an amusing, decidedly well-made distraction that will likely be received as revelatory by the younger audiences who find a way to see it. 

It’s NOT, of course (not “revelatory,” that is) but if there’s one thing DEADPOOL is good at reminding us of it’s that sometimes it’s okay to just let the kids misbehave for a little while.

Reviews like this made possible in part through The MovieBob Patreon. If you like what you see, please consider becoming a Patron.

REVIEW: "Pride + Prejudice + Zombies"

Reviews like this made possible in part through The MovieBob Patreon. If you like what you see, please consider becoming a Patron.

Full review-text after the jump:

PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES is the latest attempt to answer the question of whether or not you can stretch one joke into an entire movie, though this time the joke being adapted is less of the “setup-misdirection-punchline” and more of a “hey, isn’t it funny that this is a thing that exists” variety. Yes, COULD in fact read the original parody novel and get some laughs from it, but the main JOKE in play was that someone actually did sit down and rewrite a Jane Austen novel so that same basic story takes place in an alternate timeline where Regency Era Great Britain went through a zombie apocalypse that necessitated its heroes become martial-arts trained zombie-killers in addition to class-conscious countryside aristocrats. Set it on the shelf, let people flip through and discern “Oh my, they actually went all the way through with this, how silly!” and there you go the joke has been told.

Such as it is with the new movie adaptation, which has a certain amount of style amid some oddly haphazard direction and salvage-job editing to its credit but mainly seems to exist in service of trailers and YouTube mashups to be compiled later: It’s not at all unpleasant to sit through and at times hits some suitable high notes – but there’s no “joke” to be told in the movie-proper that’s any funnier than the mere fact that it actually IS a movie and not a 2 ½ minute Lonely Island skit of SNL.

Perhaps inevitably, making a movie out of a premise that by all rights ought to be a comedy sketch means that it really only feels engaged when it arrives a specifically-timed “Jane Austen Plus Zombies And Zombie-Hunting” setpieces that play out like skits in and of themselves: The Bennett Sisters violent rescuing a fancy party from a zombie attack? Funny! Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s argument over his proposal turning into a full-blown mixed martial-arts duel? Inspired! Keeping big chunks of the original dialogue intact even though scenes have been completely recontexualized? Clever! The connective tissue between segments to get us there? Not so much. To be perfectly honest, while also far from flawless, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPRIE HUNTER is overall probably the superior telling of this particular joke.

A lot of the blame for what doesn’t work has to be laid at the feet of director Burr Steers, who doesn’t seem to yet have a full handle on what to do with a large-budget film that requires such a careful balance of tone and aesthetic to get its central gags across. On the other hand, the film adds a few more conventional zombie-horror subplots to the story that pull the narrative even further away from the original; a strange decision since it’s actively undercutting the premise of its own joke. Then again, they’ve been working on the screenplay to this thing for a ridiculously long development cycle – hell, at one point years ago David O. Russell and Natalie Portman were supposed to make this, so by now it’s amazing that it got to screen at all.

What’s generally disappointing is that the fairly obvious opportunities for this to actually rise above its one-joke premise and have some real thematic merit are all but completely ignored. Zombies are better than almost any monster in terms of creating the opportunity for satire since they are LITERALLY walking caricatures of humanity. But PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES can’t seem to find anything to say about such fertile subject matter as the British class system, arbitrary rules of social decorum or even the broad observational humor at the expense of the landed gentry present in Austen’s original text – even though the poor zombies keep wandering through the frame practically SCREAMING: “Excuse me, sir! Would perchance anyone be having any need of an ideal allegorical shorthand for disruptive inhumanity among humans?”

But, instead, the movie is basically content to just settle in on “Stuff that looks like THE WALKING DEAD happening to people who look like DOWNTON ABBEY” and ride it out to the end. There are some laughs to be had, some inventive action beats and the cast all seems exceptionally “game” for keeping straight faces through all of this absurdity… but it just doesn’t quite get all the way there. I didn’t hate it, I laughed at it, ironically the people who enjoy it MOST will almost certainly be hardcore Jane Austen fans who’ll get all the references and scene-reimaginings; but in terms of all the hype PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES just doesn’t come fully to life.

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TV RECAP: "Agent Carter: Season 2 – Episodes 3 & 4"

Well. Needless to say my plans to get back on track for weekly updates didn’t go exactly as planned, though I’m sort of glad of that. Episode 3 (“Better Angels”) felt a bit lackluster, falling back on elements that have been the least interesting part of the season so far in order to let subplots of later importance (Whitney Frost discovering she can kill with a touch thanks to her Zero Matter infection, Jason Wilkes being a “living ghost” thanks to a blast from the same) handle their setup.

Episode 4, on the other hand? Much better – and the immediate payoff to the aforementioned subplots made them retroactively more compelling. I still feel like the dye is already cast that this just isn’t going to be the dynamo that Season 1 was, but maybe still solid in its own right.

What I’m liking already is that, after threatening to overwhelm the narrative in Episode 3, The Arena Club (aka Clearly-HYDRA-But-Somehow-Not-Noticeably-So-By-Organization-Founded-Specifically-To-Fight-HYDRA) seem to be receding into the background to make room for Whitney Frost (aka Madame Masque) to be the true heavy of the season, though since the whole “HYDRA is actually an Inhuman-worshiping interplanetary death-cult” thing is the direct lead-back to AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D this season I imagine they’ll still be a big reference point… or maybe just popping in at the end to make goo-goo eyes at Arnim Zola and Doctor Faustus as a “how S.H.I.E.L.D got infiltrated” stepping-stone.

Still, Frost is a more interesting villain so I’m glad to see her getting the focus. The cross-cutting of her and Carter’s respective childhoods was a nice touch and kept the proceedings interesting, along with being pretty “real world dark” as this series goes. It’s a bit of a letdown to realize that we’re getting another bad guy whose conception is “Bad Version of Peggy” (Dottie was “evil lady-spy,” Frost is “evil rebellious-tomboy”) on the other hand, and while the backstory involving Carter’s brother was nicely executed I feel like eventually they’re going to need to find something to motivate her actions other than the example-setting sacrifices of male loved ones (Captain America in Season 1, Jason Wilkes and her brother in Season 2).

Speaking of Wilkes (who’s based off an inversion of an obscure early Marvel scifi story), he’s getting more interesting as the invisibility story continues and his relationship with Peggy is compelling (of course she’s into him, he’s basically a Black Nerd Steve Rogers); but I’m glad to see that they’re getting right to the point of the “Zero Matter is Dark Force is Dark Dimension” business as he’s concerned. I still wish they hadn’t gone and spoiled that that was the deal before the show started, since it’d be more fun to figure this stuff out organically: the clear implication of Wilkes being “pulled” to hallucinations of a rift like the one that’s growing behind Frost’s scar is that she (Frost) is acting as a human portal to the Dark Dimension, which is a cool premise.

The main angle that still isn’t working for me at all is the Red Menace stuff with Kurtwood Smith’s evil FBI guy. It feels perfunctory, as though they felt they had to do communist-witchhunt subplots because it was the 50s now, and it just doesn’t seem to jibe as naturally with the material as Wilkes and Frost’s respective “brilliance overlooked because of race/gender” stories do alongside Carter’s fight for respect. It’s possible that there’s a bigger “thing” coming that we can’t see yet (the proto-Black Widow and Faustus stuff came out of nowhere in Season 1) but as of now every time this storyline shows up it feels like wasted space.

I’d also like them to maybe dial back the comedy whenever Jarvis and Peggy are on a joint mission – a little of that goes a long way, and by now I think everyone “get’s” that Jarvis is fussy and fidgety despite his hypercompetence otherwise; so you don’t need to keep reminding us. The Season has room to grow yet, and this is something that should be addressed sooner than later.