2022 TV & Movie Reviews: Harley Quinn / Pearl / House of Darkness

Two beauties and a turd.

Harley Quinn

The freshest take on a superhero property since Damon Lindelofs Watchmen, Harley Quinn is a proudly R-rated and surprisingly poignant animated half-hour comedy centering around Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco, fantastic) and her lover Poison Ivy (Lake Bell, good) as they bring chaos to Gotham and deal with a Rolodex of DC characters. This is the first thing I’ve seen with Batman that’s not from his POV, which allows the audience to see how other people perceive him. Here he’s a well-intentioned but delusional billionaire unable to deal with the trauma of seeing his parents get murdered, and while that doesn’t explicitly sound hilarious, Drew Carey actor Diedrich Bader adds a lot of subtlely funny touches to his voice-acting performance. There are actually a shit ton of prestigious actors doing voice work here from Sanaa Lathan as Catwoman, to Andy Daly as Two-Face, to Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk in a double role as both Joker and Clayface, and my personal favorite, SVU‘s Christopher Meloni as a total dip shit interpretation of Commissioner Gordon. The third season sees Harley and Ivy trying to figure out their relationship and realizing they maybe want different things, while the existence of Gotham hangs in the balance. When Harley Quinn is on a roll, it’s unstoppable. The first half of this season is excellent, culminating in a possible series-best episode about Joker running for mayor so he can get his stepson, Benicio, into a Spanish education program. After that episode, the quality of Season 3 dips a bit and often trips up when it’s trying to be something deeper and more emotional than just a really funny, ridiculous show about DC characters. While Season 3 might not be as overall great as Season 2, it’s still for my money the most unique, enjoyable, and creative superhero series on the air right now. Grade: B+ (HBOMax)

Pearl

Even by his early work like House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, it was easy to tell Ti West was a very gifted and detail-oriented filmmaker who actually understood how to generate suspense and pace his films (even though he is a die-hard fan of the slowwwww burns). Ti West isn’t everyone’s cup of tea as he seems to occupy a space between grindhouse and elevated horror, but a lot of that changed with his other film this year, X, a hybrid of horror, comedy, and social commentary wrapped in the shell of a 70s exploitation flick about a makeshift collective of pornographers. It was his biggest hit, and while I admired the craft that went into it, I ultimately found it to be an uneven blend of genres that needed to be either funnier or scarier. That’s why I was so surprised when Pearl, a prequel to X that felt more like an afterthought than anything, ended up being twice as good. It blends comedy and horror much more evenly, settling on this campy, bloody horror comedy about a farmgirl gone cuckoo. It helps that Mia Goth, who also co-wrote the script, delivers a fantastic and wonderfully funny lead performance as the titular Pearl. Set in 1918, Pearl might not be as meticulous about its time period as X was, but it does feature some wonderful period staples like extended romantic dance sequences — tweaked here to be with Pearl and an eerily human-looking scarecrow — and wonderfully captured close-ups. It does however deploy more modern techniques such as tracking shots, and I doubt those old movies had the level of graphic violence and sex as this has, at least not in 20s movies I’ve seen. Regardless, I didn’t really care. Pearl gave me something better than the meticulous filmmaking of X, it gave me a lead character I understood and could empathize with. It also made me laugh a fucking shit load. For a dude (Ti West) famous for slow burns, this is his most entertaining, and fast-paced film. It’s also his best. Grade: B+ (In Theaters)

House of Darkness

I really disliked this. It’s like a pretentious grad school play that doesn’t realize it’s a movie and doesn’t realize we’re even there. I’m all for a horror movie that’s dialogue-driven if it’s well-written and has complex and clearly defined central characters. Here, everything is surface-level and so on-the-nose that it will make you grit your teeth into sawdust. House of Darkness is an extended, rambling jerk-off of a monologue that Neil LaBute, the jack Mormon playwriting king of portraying powerful women as these predatorial monsters that feed off of weak men, has finally made a movie about LITERALLY THAT. I guess he had some bad dating experiences at BYU or something, who knows? Let’s talk about the characters and the actors playing them. Look, it’s not Justin Long or Kate Bosworth‘s (good to have you back, Kate) fault at all, they deliver all of their stupid lines well enough, but the material is just so shitty and condescending it can’t be saved. After what feels like three hours (but is actually less than 90 minutes), the movie limps to its painfully predictable ending via a dumb monologue that sounds beat for beat like a Bond Villian spiel. Also, I’m still not convinced Neil LaBute knows how to direct a movie because all of his features feel like a videotaped play. I’m absolutely convinced he has no idea how to direct a horror movie, because every time House of Darkness tries to build suspense or ratchet up the tension, it fails almost comically. Grade: C- (In Theaters & $6.99 rental on Amazon)

ALSO Streaming & In Theaters

FILM

Barbarian (B+) – In Theaters

Top Gun: Maverick (B+) – In Theaters & $19.99 purchase on Amazon

Watcher (C+) – AMC+ & Shudder

The Innocents (B-) – AMC+ & Shudder

Bodies Bodies Bodies (B-) – In Theaters

Prey (B) – Hulu

On the Count of Three (C+) – Hulu

Fire Island (B-) – Hulu

Bob’s Burgers: The Movie (B) – Hulu

The Last Duel (B) – Hulu

Nope (B+) – In Theaters & $19.99 rental on Amazon

Elvis (B) – HBOMax

The Black Phone (C+) – Peacock

Jurassic World: Dominion (D) – Peacock

Everything Everywhere All At Once (A-) – $4.99 rental on Amazon

TV

(L-R): Jane Widdop as Laura Lee, Alexa Barajas Plante as Mari, Mya Lowe as Yellowjacket #1, Courtney Eaton as Lottie, Sophie Thatcher as Natalie, Princess Davis as Yellowjackets #2 and Sophie N?lisse as Shauna in YELLOWJACKETS, “F Sharp”. Photo credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME.

The Rehearsal (A+) – HBOMax

Only Murders in the Building (B+) – Hulu

Better Call Saul (A) – AMC+

Black Bird (B+) – AppleTV+

Yellowjackets (A-) – Showtime

STRANGER THINGS. Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Barry (A) – HBOMax

I Just Killed My Dad (B-) – Netflix

The Staircase (A-) – HBOMax

Under the Banner of Heaven (B+) – Hulu

Stranger Things (B) – Netflix

Photograph by Paul Schiraldi/HBO Rob Brown, Ham Mukasa, Robert Harley, Jon Bernthal HBO WARNERMEDIA HBO & HBO Max | TCA | Winter 2022 We Own This City

Heartstopper (A-) – Netflix

Severance (A-) – AppleTV+

Pachinko (A-) – AppleTV+

The Kids in the Hall (B+) – Amazon Prime

We Own This City (A-) – HBOMax

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