***This post contains spoilers for the end of both Thor: Ragnarok AND Black Panther. Don’t read this if you haven’t watched either film. You have been warned.***
I had a lot of thoughts floating through my head as I watched Black Panther this weekend. First and foremost was awe — Marvel pulled off another great movie, which is increasingly becoming the norm for that company. Secondly was tremendous respect for Ryan Coogler, who managed to not only deliver an incredibly fun superhero movie, but a blockbuster with something important and fascinating to say. Third was a simple wish to have Letitia Wright as my new best friend which, c’mon, shouldn’t be that hard, right?!
But one thought that was in the back of my mind throughout most of Black Panther was, admittedly, a rather geeky one. And the kind of geeky thought that stems from nothing more than the rather childish instincts of having all my favorite toys playing together. Sure, that is a major part of the fun that the Marvel Cinematic Universe represents, but it doesn’t make the instinct of “oh, what if these two met and became BEST FRIENDS?!” any less of a reductive thought. All that being said…wouldn’t it be super awesome if Thor: Ragnarok’s Valkyrie met the Wakandians?! I mean, she would LOVE it there, right? A warrior culture of advanced lifeforms who are primarily protected by a troop of badass, all-female fighters? She would have SO MUCH fun! And since she was the undeniable MVP of Thor: Ragnarok (next to Korg, at least), it would be a lot of great to see her hang out with the great ensemble that was built up in Black Panther.
…Which got me thinking.
The way Thor: Ragnarok ended left a huge question mark in that particular area of the MCU. Choosing to literally destroy all of Asgard, leaving its occupants in flight and in search of a new home, was kind of a ballsy choice for the sequel. And then when Thor suggested immigrating to Earth in the final line of the film, I couldn’t help but stifle a chuckle. The world can barely handle the people it has — Thor is in for a rude awakening if he thinks that they will just invite a whole crop of alien refugees to share their resources. In a post Brexit, Syrian refugee crisis world, the idea of the Asgardians just coming to Earth and being welcomed with open arms is (sadly) laughable.
But, regardless, the question still remained: what would become of the Asgardians as they made their way to Earth? Clearly, Marvel has a plan here, as it would be very unlike them to set up this plot point without ever addressing it again in the future. If they had no plan for the ship full of Asgardians, why even save them? Well, I have a theory: they were saved because they will serve an important purpose in a future MCU installment. Namely? Black Panther 2. Or whatever it will end up being called. Marvel doesn’t like numbers anymore.
But that’s beside the point. Let’s now shift focus to the aforementioned Black Panther, which concluded with King T’Challa finally realizing (through the inactions of his ancestors) that Wakanda could no longer be a nation of isolationist. That, in the modern world, Wakanda could just not turn its back on people who need aid. He spoke to the UN about creating “bridges” rather than barriers to outside countries, which made for a rather rousing and uplifting message for the film to conclude on.
But what made Black Panther a great movie is how it didn’t rely on moral absolutism, even for things that seemed obvious (i.e you should help those that need it.) Killmonger was one of Marvel’s best villains because he had a point, and was correct in many of his stances towards how Wakanda was doing a disservice to the world. But opening the doors to the outside world has its fair share of potential issues and problems too, which the film briefly addresses as light rebuttals to Killmonger’s main points. If Wakanda shared its advance knowledge with the world, how much of it would be used for ill? What responsibility does Wakanda even have towards the world at large? Should it take precedence over their well being as a singular culture? The film wisely doesn’t provide clear-cut answers for these issues and, though what T’Challa does is ultimately the “right” thing, the right thing can often lead to consequences of their very own.
Which is what I imagine the potential sequel will tackle. Just like how Iron Man 2 delt with the fallout of Tony revealing his identity to the world, and how Captain America: Winter Soldier dealt with the fallout of Steve Rogers being a man out of time, Black Panther 2 will absolutely have to tackle how the massive change in status quo for Wakanda impacts its people and their king. And what better way to do that then by actually showing Wakanda literally opening its doors to another people? Say another people with an equally strong sense of culture and traditions, who are currently floating through space without a home of their own? If my theory is even slightly correct, than Wakanda would be the perfect place for the Asgardians refuges to settle…and Black Panther 2 would be a perfect place to give such a move its due.
After all, such a migration would lend a Black Panther sequel a ton of interesting, relevant themes to dwell upon, themes that can build upon those of the first Black Panther, and can be just as politically relevant and insightful. What kind of conflicts arises when two ancient, powerful cultures are forced to share the same living space? What becomes of the nation of Wakanda when it actually puts its money where its mouth is and adopts a more multi-cultural approach to its civilization? Would doing so risk diluting the culture of Wakanda as it stands, erasing the identity of the people with it? And how would the Asgardians, previously a nation of conquerors and “protectors” over all others, move into a more submissive position in which they have to rely on another people for support? And how would the two kings caught in the middle (Thor and T’Challa) deal with such a cultural clash? Now normally I wouldn’t predict a superhero blockbuster to so strongly address a real-world issue (in this case, the Syrian refugee crisis), but I sure as hell didn’t expect Black Panther to address the themes it did either. So if any modern blockbuster series would, it would be this one. The themes are already baked into its DNA, after all, and the way the way the overall story is moving in the MCU itself would seem to lead to such a plot turn.
And while I can see certainly see a bit of cynicism to the concept of Black Panther 2 so heavily absorbing another branch of the MCU (“What, does Marvel not think Black Panther is a strong enough series to support itself without a big crossover?), I think the potential of the story outweighs the fear of this becoming a paint-by-numbers superhero team-up film. And recent Marvel history not only shows how open and willing they are to play with their characters in this way, but also gives them the benefit of the doubt to do it. Even if this hypothetical Black Panther includes Thor and his brood of supporting characters (who at this point are only Valkyrie and Heimdall, really — technically Loki is with him too but, let’s be honest, that dude is TOAST come Infinity War), I trust the people at Marvel can find a way to add these characters into the world while still allowing the movie to be a Black Panther sequel. Throwing in Hulk for Thor: Ragnarok never made that one feel like less of a Thor movie. And, despite what could have happened, Spider-Man: Homecoming remained a Spider-Man film, and didn’t ever become “Iron Man and His Amazing Web-Swinging Friend” as initially feared. Hell, Captain America: Civil War included nearly all the Avengers in substantial roles, and I still feel like the center of the story was on Steve Rogers and his overall arc. I see no reason why bringing in Thor, Valkyrie, Heimdall (and, of course, Korg) would take away from the focus of the story being on T’Challa, Shuri, Nakia, Okoye, W’Kabi, M’Baku, et al. And the dramatic potential this story could have on the Black Panther AND Thor characters far outweighs the potential negatives, in my mind.
Of course, I have to end all this blatant fan theorizing by stating the obvious: I have no idea whatsoever what will happen in future Black Panther installments, or the rest of the MCU for that matter. Everything I am writing here is pure conjecture, based on nothing, and I very well could be wrong about where this entire thing is heading. After all, Avengers: Infinity War is going to come and blow all my MCU theories out of the water anyways. What the shape of this universe will be post-Infinity War/Avengers 4 is anyone’s guess. For all I know, Infinity War might go full Alien 3, and begin with Thanos killing off every Asgardian aside from Thor. But, like I said, I have more faith in Marvel’s storytelling abilities than that.
And even if Black Panther 2 doesn’t have anything to do with the universe of Thor and its characters…I have to imagine there will be a grander purpose for the Asguardian refugees. And with the movie directly after Thor: Ragnarok concluding with a separate, powerful group deciding to open their borders and help those in need (including by taking in refugees, as directly stated by Nakia earlier in the film)…well? All I can do as a viewer is try to connect the dots.
…AND fanboy out about my favorite characters meeting some of my other favorite characters. Valkyrie and Okoye need to swap war stories about protecting kings. And share fighting tips. And just be awesome, in general. And since the MCU is built specifically to facilitate such team-ups, I argue: why the hell not? We might end up getting something pretty damn interesting out of it along the way.
Also published on Medium.
Feel Free To Take The Rest of The Day Off, The John Wick: Chapter 3 Trailer Is Here
The national holiday known as John Wick Trailer Day begins…now.
I love movie trailers. I know for some they find the mere act of watching a movie trailer a “spoiler” for what is to come in the final film, and look, I get it. Sometimes, there are moments and things I see in a trailer that, when I watch the full movie, I wish I could have taken back seeing. But, for me, there’s something so magical about the trailer watching experience that I can’t throw away the art form entirely. And though you might bristle at my definition of trailer making as an “art form”…eh, you’re wrong. There is a beauty to a well produced, well edited trailer, and the best ones are examples of the power that come with the form. Yes, they’re marketing, and yes, they’re sometimes scattershot, thrown together bores. But the good ones? Watching those come hand in hand with watching movies, at least from my perspective.
All of which is a long preamble to me saying that, on Youtube, I have a private little playlist of trailers for movies, TV, and video games that I absolutely LOVE. Trailers that I return to again and again and again, just because the craft that went into them is so staggering. One of those trailers is this first one for John Wick: Chapter 2, which was my first indication that “Woah, this one is going to be something special.” And it very much was! But even outside the general kickassery of that sequel, the trailer was and is absolutely delightful. So coming into today’s big release of the John Wick: Chapter 3 trailer, I had some very high hopes. Would — and could — this trailer manage to match the quantified hype levels™ that the Chapter 2 teaser put out?
Honestly, no, not quite. But the first trailer for Chapter 2 didn’t show us a FREAKING KATANA MOTORCYCLE CHASE/FIGHT, so it rather evens out, don’t you think?
And not being as masterful as the first Chapter 2 trailer ≠ being bad. In fact, from a purely technical and academic level, this trailer would probably best be described as something that, fundamentally, “fucks to the max.” You got the aforementioned motorcycle chase, which indeed fucks hard. You got the much teased “Keanu on a horse” action, which indubitably fucks. You got John Wick murdering people with a book, which of course fucks, how could you even question such at thing. And you got Halle Berry and her attack dogs joining in on all the fun, which in this franchise of course, is murdering people. Sounds like Trailer Fucks Bingo, if you ask me.
And what the trailer does so well (and what I hope the film will do well too) is amp up the tension, to an insane degree. Ending the second film on that huge cliffhanger was a brilliant move, as seeing Wick prepare in the “one hour head start” he has to get the hell out of New York before literally every hitman around comes to assassinate him makes for a heck of a sequel pitch. And the trailer plays around with that deliciously, racketing up the tension in the first half to deliver the true fireworks in the second. Set to a remixed version of the crooner tune “The Impossible Dream” by Andy Williams, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the operatic, pulse pounding remix of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” used in the Chapter 2 trailer, but it still makes for an interesting, exciting contrast.
And everything else about this trailer is classic John Wick greatness, from the many, MANY creative kills (seriously, that book thing) to the surprisingly crisp, exciting photography brought to life by cinematographer Dan Laustsen. Lausten took an already pretty presentation from the original John Wick and made it flat our gorgeous, and that sense of visual beauty is all over this trailer. I love action movies that take the time to actually look good, and John Wick is one of the few franchises committed to having that kind of aesthetic. In addition to the mayhem, carnage, and wacky-ass world building, of course.
Anywho, this is a great trailer, but it does little to change my overall excitement for the film — after all, it’s hard to go much farther than “PUMP THIS SHIT IN MY VEINS NOW,” right?
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (yes, this one has a subtitle, to the annoyance of SEO managers everywhere) hits theaters on May 19. And even if the first trailer is a smidge below the one for John Wick: Chapter 2, the astounding first two posters released for the film more than make up for it. BRB, clearing wall space.
“John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run for two reasons… he’s being hunted for a global $14 million dollar open contract on his life, and for breaking a central rule: taking a life on Continental Hotel grounds. The victim was a member of the High Table who ordered the open contract. John should have already been executed, except the Continental’s manager, Winston, has given him a one-hour grace period before he’s “Excommunicado” – membership revoked, banned from all services and cut off from other members. John uses the service industry to stay alive as he fights and kills his way out of New York City.”
Also published on Medium.
God Damn It, Sony is Back On That Ghostbusters 3 Shit Again
“I am so freaking tired writing about Ghostbusters sequels.” – Me, in the year like Two-Thousand-God-Damn-Twelve
I thought we were passed this, you guys. I really, truly did.
After nearly a decade of writing stuff about Ghostbusters 3, I thought the release of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot (maybe subtitled Answer the Call? I don’t fucking know) signified the end of an era. All the in-fighting, fanboy hyperbole, acute sexism, accusations of sexism, controversies, cameo wrangling, and nostalgia baiting all led up to 2016’s Ghostbusters — and it all fizzled like a recently used Muon Trap. The reboot got mixed-positive reception from critics, but absolutely bombed at the box office, grossing a paltry $229 million worldwide off a budget of $144 million. After literally decades of build-up, I thought this was how the saga ended: a middling-to-bad reboot that would end up being forgotten to time, in a franchise that likely wouldn’t see the light of day for decades to come.
Oh, but don’t underestimate the folks at Sony Pictures! Apparently it only took them two years to turnaround from the failure of 2016’s Ghostbusters, wipe their hands on their jeans, and get back to work on revitalizing the series. So in a move that I can’t imagine anyone in the year of our lord 2019 asked for, we’re getting another Ghostbusters movie, completely divorced from everything set up from the last one. So another reboot, essentially!
But, no, that would be inaccurate. Because this project will be a sequel of sorts…a sequel to the original two Ghostbusters, that is. In what should have been clear from the start, but inexplicably wasn’t for the team behind 2016’s reboot, these “thirty years later” revitalizations are incredibly popular nowadays. From The Force Awakens to Creed, every series that was once popular decades ago is now being revitalized, with a younger cast indeed “rebooting” the series, but the old guard sticking around to serve as a continuation, rather than a rehash, of what came before. It’s like having your cake and eating it too: the studio gets their “new” franchise off the back of an old one, but you respect and excite fans by showing more of what they loved the first time. It’s a win-win and, quite honestly, I think the quality of these legacyquels (as Matt Singer so brilliantly coined) has been better than the standard reboot/remakes we were getting for a while there.
By going this route, franchise films can at least make a statement about their own impact, or their place in the pop culture cannon, which is a lot more than standards reboots usually do. Those end up just saying the same exact story over again, trying to tap into the magic of seeing it for the first time, but absolutely failing to do so. You know, like how the 2016 Ghostbusters did. As much as one group might like to bitch and moan about how casting women ruined everything, it wasn’t the genitals of the cast that took down Ghostbusters, and it’s absolutely insane I have to write something like that in the first place. It was the uninspired, meandering, and ultimately forgettable way Ghostbusters tried to cash in on its predecessor’s clout that ultimately did it in.
But let’s make like Sony, and forget that whole movie ever even happened: a new Ghostbusters is coming, whether you like it or not. And if you think this is just in the planning stages, or something Sony rattled off as a potential project during an investor’s meeting, think again. Because, slightly burying the lede here (that you probably read everywhere else, so forgive me for assuming you already know) is the fact this project is coming from none other than Jason Reitman, the filmmaker behind Tully, Juno, and the like. He’s also the son of franchise director Ivan Reitman which, y’know, I’m sure is totally unrelated.
Anywho, he has been working on it in secret for a while now alongside Monster House writer Gil Kenan, and the project is already set to begin shooting by the end of the year for a Summer 2020 release. Still don’t believe me? Just take a look at the already released teaser for the film, reportedly done by Reitman himself, and brandishing the “Summer 2020” release in plain sight. This one’s coming folks, and coming fast.
Now just in case you needed reminding, this one DEFINITELY takes place in the original continuity — you hear that Elmer Bernstein score? Oh yeah, buddy, that’s OG shit right there. And on the surface, yeah, it’s pretty cool to ape that aesthetic. And Jason Reitman is a strong director, even if this one seems like a very strange fit for him (his films are funny, sure, but not out-and-out comedies: his sensibilities are more Sofia Coppola than Judd Apatow). But I just can’t get excited about this thing, not in a way I might have back in 2012 or whatever. After years and years of talk about further Ghostbuster films, only to get the subpar 2016 reboot, I’ve rather soured on this franchise. Unless the pitch is really strong, and the actors involved (all teenagers, from what’s been reported) are interesting, I just can’t get enthused about the prospects of Ghostbusters 3: Here We Fuckin’ Go Again.
Even worse will be the discourse around it, and the shit that stained the last one floating back up to the surface. Another round of talking about whether or not the original movie is good (it is.) Another round talking about whether Ghostbusters 2 is bad (it is, very.) Another round of needless appreciation for Paul Feig’s tepid reboot. Another round of MRA asshats whipping their dicks out and complaining about how only men can shoot imaginary beams out of imaginary packs while capturing imaginary beings in an imaginary story. Another round of well-meaning but overbearing people, in kind, giving more credit than necessary to a movie that frankly doesn’t deserve it. And another round of me whining about the discourse, whilst doing absolutely nothing to divorce myself from it.
It’s all just…so…tiring.
Like Bill Murray in another, non-Ghostbusters movie (that actually is a lot better than Ghostbusters if you think about it), I can’t help but feel I am stuck in an endless loop writing about this thing. Ten years from now? I’ll be writing about Ghostbusters 3. Twenty years from now? Ghostbusters 3. Thirty years from now? I won’t be writing about anything, what with the collapse of all life on the planet and what not. But the last thing I write before I fight in the water wars, or engage in vehicular combat for gasoline, or — most likely — drown in the rising sea levels?
Fucking Ghostbusters 3, man.
Also published on Medium.
The Crushing, Existential Sadness of The Disappointing Glass Reviews
R.I.P. Shyamalanassaince: September 2015 – January 2019.
I am eternally fascinated by the career of M. Night Shyamalan. After bursting on the scene with The Sixth Sense nearly 20 years ago, the man went on to gain an incredibly rare status amongst his directing brethren: actual name recognition! He’s one of the few directors who many people outside Film Twitter can name — up there with Spielberg, Scorsese, and Tarantino. But unlike those other directors, Shyamalan’s brand can probably be described more as “infamous” than famous, especially in recent years. The man went from the New Spielberg to a laughing stock…literally.
And well his fall from grace is, in some accord, deserved (his movies post Signs are all dire to varying degrees), I still can’t help but feel pretty bad for the guy. He went from being a huge up-and-coming talent, the next big thing in the world of Hollywood, to an absolute joke amongst critics, audiences, and his peers. It’s the classic Hollywood rise-and-fall, played out in slow motion over a twenty year period. But right when all things seemed over for Shyamalan, and he delivered for the first time something Hollywood would not allow (a legitimate box office bomb in the form of After Earth), Shyamalan attempted what few failed artists can surmount: an honest-to-goodness comeback.
And it wasn’t a sudden comeback either: Shyamalan spent years revitalizing his public image, first doing so with the surprisingly solid The Visit back in 2015. It was a return to low-budget roots for the director, and its nature as a sort of pallet cleanser for the director was very much apparent. It was a movie he seemed obliged to make to get even an ounce of his creative juices flowing again, and it turned out to be a pretty fun little comedy/horror movie to boot.
After some decent television work developing and directing Wayward Pines, Shyamalan came roaring back to life with another low budget delight, 2017’s Split. It was a film that was thrilling, funny, well crafted, and genuinely exciting. Basically, it was something we hadn’t seen from the man in damn near 15 years, and audiences took notice. On the backing of a bravado post credit scene, linking the film to his previous cult classic Unbreakable, response to the movie was incredibly promising. And remember that whole thing about Shyamalan’s Hollywood clout running out because he made a bomb? Well, Split, off a $9 million budget, made $238 million — making it a massive, massive hit. A good movie AND a hugely successful one? Yup, Shyamalan was back, and as a huge fan of his first three features, I couldn’t have been happier for him.
Now we stand a mere five days away from the release of Glass, Shyamalan’s newest feature. As a sequel to his current hit Split, and one of his past hits, Unbreakable, it serves as pretty much a crescendo for the entire man’s career. One of those “everything has been leading up to this” moments those voiceover guys are always talking about in the commercial. Glass was — had to be — the thing that solidified the Shyamalanassaince.
…And he whiffed it. Goddamn it, he fucking whiffed it.
That’s at least according to the first reviews for the film, which were released Wednesday following the lift of the film’s press embargo. To say they were incredibly mixed is an understatement. Here’s just a sampling of some of the notable ones:
‘Glass’ Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Grounded Superhero Movie Is the Biggest Disappointment of His Career
I don’t say this often because I’m not a character in an early 90’s sitcom, but…ouch-a-rooney. Those are not pretty reviews, and are a direct return back to the critical dragging that was unleashed upon films like Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender. And though it would be easy to cry “Well, the critics are wrong!” here (as people on the internet often do, bafflingly)…they weren’t wrong with those last three. They were all terrible. And with Shyamalan’s track record, I’m unfortunately going to have to take the critic’s side here: by all accounts, Glass is an excruciating disappointment. And, man…what a fucking bummer.
Of course, I have yet to see film myself (I’m not special like all those other film journalists), and I remain somewhat hopeful I’ll come out on the positive side of things. But, at this point, it’s undeniable that this whole thing has put a massive dent in the pent up anticipation for the film. Since Split, it’s been a solid two years of anticipation from Shyamalan apologists like myself: we finally got the sequel we spent a decade asking for and, even better, it came in a way that seemed unique, fresh, and necessary. It wasn’t just a last ditch effort for Shyamalan to gain some clout back from his former fans. He did the work, guys! But like a drug addict who was on the op-and-up, only to suffer an insurmountable relapse, Shyamalan has fallen once more. He was supposed to be our Timothee Chalamat — our Beautiful Boy. And now we’re all very, very sad Steve Carrell.
Because, on a personal note? This has massively curbed my enthusiasm for Glass which, up until this point, was pretty sky high. I really had faith in the movie — naively, I admit — and my hype was frankly off the charts for it. I’m currently in the process of writing up my list of most anticipated films of 2019 (yeah, yeah, I’m late, whatever), and let’s just say Glass had a very high ranking amongst that list. Emphasis on the had — as much as I want to see the film still, I just can’t get excited for it like I was before the negative reviews. And I doubt I’m the only one either; this really puts a damper on the pre-release hype, as you would expect.
On my planned path to MAXIMUM HYPE, I just got done re-watching Unbreakable in the lead up of Glass‘s release. And guess what? That movie still fucking rocks. It’s slow and contemplative and weird, but it manages to engross me with every single frame. And just seeing it again made me slightly more optimistic for Glass, if anything to see these characters again. But in the back of my mind, that voice was still being cautious: “it’s going to be a disappointment. It’s very bad, apparently. DON’T. GET. EXCITED.” That voice is probably right…but also a fucking buzzkill.
And the saddest thing of all, to me, is that it seemed no one really saw it coming. Usually when a film is going to be poorly received by critics, press releases are held very close to the film’s opening weekend. You don’t want bad word-of-mouth to sour the launch, so you cut off as many people from seeing it as you possibly can. And yet, Glass screened almost two weeks earlier for critics: usually, a sign that the people involved imagined that it would be, at the very least, tolerated. Hell, when I first saw Film Twitter commenting about the press screenings, I got exciting, thinking that Universal and Shyamalan probably imagined the film was going to get great reception, and wanted to ride that buzz into the film’s launch. I mean, you wouldn’t set up a series marathon across the country a week before the film’s domestic release if you didn’t have faith people would respond well to it…right?
That’s my thinking at least, which leads to a pretty depressing conclusion: the poor response is blindsiding everyone involved. They screened the movie early because, generally, they thought that people were going to end up liking it. The fact that a majority didn’t (and, even worse, some outright despised it) probably came as something of a sneak attack. And for a director whose probably experienced that experience MANY times in his career (for better or worse, Shyamalan seemed to buy into his own hype there pretty bad for a while), for it to happen to him again right on the cusp of his grand return is probably the harshest sting of all. Or in Simpson meme:
There’s a reason why so many movies are about underdogs: everybody loves them. To see a character rise up from the bottom and make it to the top is one of the most common — yet satisfying — forms of storytelling. Even more satisfying is the “comeback kid,” someone who manages to rise from the bottom, fall from the top, and rise up yet again. It’s inspiring to know that, despite our failures, we can still succeed — and we love to see that narrative play out. But this is no movie: this is real life, and things don’t always turn out as we want them to in real life. Rocky gets knocked out in the first round. The Slumdog Millionaire beefs it on Question #1. Daniel-San gets his ass handed to him instantly. And M. Night Shyamalan makes yet another bad movie. For as much as the characters in his movies might be Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan sure as hell isn’t.
Also published on Medium.
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