2023 TV & Movie Reviews: The Last of Us / Creed III / Scream 6 / Poker Face

Boxing, stabbing, bullshit and mushroom zombies.

The Last of Us

My current roommate and three of my former roommates were huge fans of The Last of Us on PS4, so I didn’t exactly go into HBO’s small screen adaptation ‘cold.’ However, I’ve never actually played the game myself. I don’t love video games because I’m really bad at them. I’m very poorly coordinated with my hands at times. You should see me try and throw a snowball. It’s embarrassing. Often times I randomly drop things that I’m gripping. My mother, a retired nurse, thinks it might be because I’m having mini seizures. That’s scary. I can’t play video games because I’m having seizures.

Anyway, the only details I knew about this game were that it was super intense, often tragic, took time to explore the humanity of its characters (something I’m assuming most games don’t prioritize) and was more or less about a zombie apocalypse. Excuse me, “infected” apocalypse. Let’s be real though, it’s more or less a zombie apocalypse story. It follows all the basic beats of a zombie apocalypse story, even though their version of zombies are definitely a different flavor than the Savini/Romero classics – they’re fungus zombies whose faces look like little portobello mushroom flowers. Sounds delicious, but they’re actually quite frightening. Anyway, the story follows a smuggler named Joel (Pedro Pascal) who must escort a 14-year-old girl, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), across the country so scientists can do science on her. You see, Ellie has an unprecedented condition where she’s infected but never transitions into a mushroom zombie. Scientists think there’s a cure to be found in her DNA or some shit. So Joel risks his life to get her safely to a place where they’re performing the very best science in this post-apocalyptic version of 2023.

The technical aspects of The Last of Us are impressive across the board. The editing, cinematography, lighting, sound and set design, everything. Even the exterior locations are great although some incorrigible nitpickers on Twitter are whining about one episode not being shot in Boston even though it takes place in Boston. Look, these assholes have obviously never looked into how expensive it is to shoot something in Boston, otherwise they’d shut the fuck up. As with every HBO show, the acting is off the charts good. Ramsey and especially Pascal, the clear stand-out, lead the show as the only two people in all nine season one episodes. The guest stars are also incredible with YellowjacketsMelanie Lysnkey as a terrorist leader, Mindhunter‘s Anna Torv as a smuggler who is Joel’s sort-of girlfirend and theater actor Scott Shepherd in an excellent performance as a religious cult leader. However, none of the guest stars stack up to Nick Offerman and White Lotus Season 1’s Murray Bartlett as an unlikely pair of lovers who build a life together from the mucilaginous ashes of the mushroom zombie apocalypse. The show can’t even stack up to their episode, just the third one released, in which we watch these two slowly come together and fall apart over the course of twenty years.

That’s my biggest criticism of the show, it never reaches the heights of its outstanding third episode. That level of character development and attention to detail is never quite seen again throughout the remaining six episodes. I feel like that episode promised something the show just didn’t deliver. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good show but it’s just shy of being a fantastic one. If the remaining episodes had been of the quality of that third episode, it would have been quite something. It probably would have been Station Eleven with zombies, which is a show I liked significantly more than this but had no zombies or mushrooms, I think. I guess I just wanted more of everything, the show didn’t grip me like HBO’s other recent post-apocalyptic show, Station Eleven (sorry to mention again) or the utterly mind-blowing The Leftovers. It wasn’t as thoughtful or to be real pretentious, as “philosophically probing” as either of those shows in this critic’s mind. However, as far as zombie programs go, this is one of the highest quality. It’s light years beyond The Walking Dead, even in that first, Frank Darabont-helmed debut season. My prediction is by next season or Season 3, the creators will find their bearings and The Last of Us will be a truly excellent show. As it stands now, it’s merely a very good one. Grade: B+ (HBOMax)

Creed III

The Rocky/Creed-franchise boxing sequences have never been better than they are in first-time filmmaker Michael B. Jordan‘s Rocky III. It’s strange to think this is Jordan‘s introduction to directing because most filmmakers (even actors-turned-filmmakers on films they are simultaneously acting in) take it slow and simple with an Ordinary People or Garden State type of drama. The fact MBJ takes on a franchise action sequel shot in IMAX for his debut earns him a lot of industry cred in my book. That’s a bold move and while the movie doesn’t quite live up to the stellar standard Ryan Coogler‘s original set, it gives us the most complex villain of the entire Rocky/Creed franchise in Jonathan Majors‘ Diamond Dame. The story of III, much like a lot of threequels, goes back to the beginning to reveal something we never knew about our hero’s origins. Before Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) was adopted by Phylicia Rashad, he was hanging out and boxing with Diamond Dame. Shit pops off at QuikTrip, instigated by Creed but Dame ends up going to prison for it. At least that’s we think.

In the other movies, Creed is training to fight one or two dimensional baddies, but making him fight a bitter old bestie who believes he took the life he should and would have had, gives the movie real stakes. My biggest complaint is that Creed III doesn’t dive into their relationship deep enough. Creed’s family unit subplot is cute and uplifting, and Tessa Thompson continues to deliver far more than the role could ever require, but I wish less time was spent with that storyline in service of more time spent between Creed and Dame hashing out their past. Credit to Jordan as a director for trying to tackle so many things, but he seems overwhelmed here, especially when the story isn’t surrounding Dame and Creed’s feud. I also could have done with a clear explanation as to why Rocky Balboa wasn’t in this one – the character, I know why The Tulsa Stallion himself dropped off the Creed train – a combination of extreme vanity and not owning the Rocky rights. Overall though, this is a good, well-made action picture that is mercifully under two hours. It features strong performances by the entire cast with Jonathan Majors really standing out as the best villain the franchise has ever had. Grade: B (In Theaters)

Scream 6

The other day at a barbecue, somebody asked if I’m capable of enjoying dumb or shitty movies as they are instead of analyzing every detail about them like some asshole movie critic. “Of course!” I responded, “I love dumb, campy movies. I grew up watching the Halloween, Freddy Krueger and Scream movies.” I wish I would have told her that part of the reason is because I’m able to objectively recognize the glaring flaws and missteps of these movies while at the same time, enjoy watching them like a cheat day at McDonalds. It’s comfort food for my cinema dork brain, and while that’s fine it doesn’t mean every Scream entry is satisfying. After all, there are several ways you can fuck up an Egg McMuffin – by overcooking it (Scream 3) with all this imaginary killer voice technology and exploding buildings, undercooking it (Scream 4) with a new cast of obnoxious movie nerd archetypes we never connect with in a way like we have the legacy characters or forgetting to include napkins in the takeaway bag (Scream 5) – I don’t know where I was going with that one.

I’ll say this, Scream 5 is closer in quality to the first two movies than 3 or 4, but ultimately 5 is undone by a surplus of campy dialogue and a shortage of extravagant action sequences. The sixth entry on the other hand, from the same filmmaking duo who did 5, known as “Radio Silence“, exceeds expectations across the board. Scream 6 is a two-hour horror thriller that’s legitimately scary in parts, successful with more than half of its joke setups and never stops hauling ass in its pacing for just a little over two hours. It’s almost a minor miracle Scream 6 is this good, and I say ‘good’ but not ‘great’ because there are some pretty major flaws, mostly in the third act. The killer reveal this this time around is bafflingly stupid and dips way too far into camp territory. It would have sunk the movie completely if the reveal wasn’t built around an impressive finale action sequence. This is a very well directed film and some credit has to go to a frequently sharp script by Zodiac screenwriter James Vanderbilt. The cast is solid for the most part, with the #corefour returning cast as good or bad as they were in the previous installment. Jenna Ortega, now a major star, blows everyone off the screen while YellowjacketsJasmin Savoy-Brown and Cuba Gooding, Jr.‘s Mason Gooding easily outclass a terribly flat Melissa Barrera. The new cast members are a mixed bag as well – Liana Liberato is really good as their roommate, Quinn, while Jack Champion is roughhhh as their virgin-ass friend. Courtney Cox is better here as Gale Weathers than she was in the last two films, while veteran character actor Dermot Mulroney is glaringly bad as a police cop guy. Hayden Panettiere, who was the best part of Scream 4, doesn’t get nearly a big enough role for her abilities and speaking about underutilized actresses, the great Samara Weaving (Ready or Not, The Babysitter) is in the movie for about 3 minutes…in the beginning…and then she’s not anymore.

The primary reason I recommend Scream 6 is because at the end of the day, the movie is built around four truly outstanding scenes – the opening, the ending, the bodega massacre and a chase through an apartment building involving heights that almost made me swallow my tongue. The series hasn’t been this edge-of-your-seat suspenseful since the recording studio chase in Scream 2. While I think both the original and Scream 2 are better than this one, Scream 6 is the first legitimately good entry to this franchise in twenty-five years. That’s a young man’s worth of time. Grade: B (In Theaters)

Poker Face

Way way long ago when people who are now old were middle-aged, television was dominated by the episodic format. And not just sitcoms, dramatic programs as well. The procedural was the norm and stuff like Law & Order, ER and The Practice reigned supreme. That is until early 1999, when HBO debuted a serialized show about a mobster seeing a psychiatrist. Sure, there had been other serialized dramas with heavy subject matter predating this show (Oz for example) but those programs didn’t have the lasting cultural impact like the Don Vito-in-Therapy show had. After this, cable network serials started popping up everywhere with even edgier content – whether it be a show about a dirty LA cop or a show about dirty Miami plastic surgeons, television was filthier, grittier and richer than a weekly murder mystery being processed by New York City’s only practicing assistant district attorney.

By the 2010s, it was almost too much. By the 2020s, it was more than too much – it was a disaster. There were too many shows. Nobody could keep up with all the shows, and the denser, often more rewarding shows, that required intense concentration from the viewer struggled to find an audience. Nobody can watch all the shows, there isn’t enough time in the human lifespan. Nobody can even watch all the great shows, because there are so many streaming services right now that all need a heaping pile of fresh content. What we need is a show where we don’t have to remember too much from week to week, because each week is a new story. Something episodic. Something like Poker Face, a clever and sometimes silly variation on a whodunnit with a fantastic lead character in Natasha Lyonne‘s Charlie Cale, who solves murders like some kind of smart-ass Gen X Columbo. How does she do it? She’s a human bullshit detector, if you’re lying she instantly knows. It’s 100% fool-proof. Once you suspend belief for that and the fact she’s somehow stumbling upon a murder everywhere she goes, Poker Face is loads of fun.

Each episode is set in a new location with a new central murder, neatly divided into three acts – 1) everything leading up to the murder and the murder; 2) everything leading up to the murder and the murder from Charlie’s POV; 3) Charlie’s process of piecing it together after the murder. The episodes vary in tone though, most are on the comedy-leaning and quirky side (Time of the Monkey, Exit Stage Death, The Stall) but some are really pretty dark (Escape From Shit Mountain, The Future of the Sport) or extra contemplative (The Orpheus Syndrome, The Hook). However for as dark or as contemplative the show can get, it never feels heavy. Thank God. Natasha Lyonne is excellent as always and she’s supported by an impressive slew of guest stars from Joseph Gordon Levitt as a bro’d out insider trader backed into a corner to Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson as a couple of murderous grannies to Lil Rel Howery as a sociopathic BBQ joint operator. There’s two or three episodes that don’t quite live up to the standard the show sets in its stellar pilot, and the season finale really pumps the brakes on a great mystery for a clunky exploration into Charlie and her sister’s estranged relationship. That really drains a lot of suspense from the episode, which is a shame because that’s the note the show departs on until next season. However, these are small criticisms, most of these episodes are truly fantastic and the premise and lead character are so good you could see this lasting a very long time. Grade: A- (Peacock)

Here’s my ranking of all 10 episodes of Poker Face:

  1. Episode 3: The Stall Lil Rel Howery is a dude who runs a successful BBQ joint with his brother who has a revelation about animal cruelty that threatens the future of the business. A
  2. Episode 1: Dead Man’s Hand – In the pilot, Charlie helps a sleazy casino operator played by Adrien Brody and his methodical #2 (Benjamin Bratt) rig a Poker game. A
  3. Episode 9: Escape From Shit MountainJoseph Gordon Levitt is a bro on house arrest whose road accident leads to a series of terrible choices and consequences. Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s Stephanie Hsu plays a small time thief who befriends Charlie. This one is in the snow! A-
  4. Episode 5: Time of the MonkeyJudith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson play former political prisoners from the 70s living out their remaining days in a bougie nursing home. When they encounter someone from their past, they murder him, and Charlie, now working at the nursing home, must figure out why. A-
  5. Episode 4: Rest in MetalChloe Sevigny plays a washed-up heavy metal band front woman, trudging through what’s sure to be her band’s last tour when she spots a golden opportunity she’d kill for. Charlie is hired as the band’s merch girl. A-
  6. Episode 6: Exit Stage DeathEllen Barkin and Tim Meadows play 80s TV stars who try to jumpstart their careers again with a dumb dinner theater play. Charlie just so happens to be working at the dinner theater as a server. B+
  7. Episode 10: The Hook Ron Perlman and Rhea Perlman (no relation) play feuding casino operators and Charlie must patch things up with her older estranged sister (Clea DuVall). B
  8. Episode 8: The Orpheus Syndrome Nick Nolte plays a washed-up special effects guy who must help his grieving friend played by Cherry Jones by creating a detailed bust of her late husband so she can properly say goodbye to him. Meanwhile, Charlie gets a job as Nick Nolte‘s assistant. Luis Guzman steals the episode as a film archivist that takes everybody’s shit. B
  9. Episode 2: The Night Shift – In a tiny town in New Mexico, a mechanic’s assistant (Colton Ryan) and a Subway sandwich artist (Brandon Micheal Hall) get in a lottery ticket-related scuffle that ends in murder, which gets pinned on an eccentric truck driver (The Whale‘s Hong Chau) who Charlie befriends. John Ratzenberger also guest stars. B
  10. Episode 7: The Future of the SportTim Blake Nelson and Charles Melton play dueling late model racing drivers whose feud leads to some murder. This one has a couple of twists but is structured in a way that makes it inherently less suspenseful. The villain is one of the least interesting ones of the season. B-



Out of Sight (1998)

Arguably Steven Sodebergh‘s best movie, Out of Sight is an extremely clever and entertaining crime comedy romance about a small time con man (George Clooners) who escapes prison and crosses paths with a tough-as-nails U.S. Marshall (Jennifer Lopez). Things get really hot. Besides being very funny and featuring a great movie romance, the supporting cast is off the charts with memorable performances from Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn, Luis Guzman, Dennis Farina, Isiah Washington, and cameos from both Viola Davis and Michael Keaton playing his ATF Agent character from Jackie Brown, another Elmore Leonard adaptation.


Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000)

Probably my favorite Jim Jarmusch movie, a celebrated indie filmmaker I’ve never been too crazy about. Forest Whitaker is predictably excellent as Ghost Dog, a samurai-esque Mafia hitman obsessed with pigeons and the Wu-Tang Clan. When shady shit goes down between a couple of disloyal mobsters, Ghost Dog is chosen to be the patsy/fall guy and must be taken out. But no one can take out Ghost Dog, cause he’s that fucking slick. One of the mobsters is obsessed with rap music and that makes for a lot of really funny bits. Overall this is a really enjoyable, unique little movie that ranks among Whitaker‘s best roles.

First Reformed (2017)

Another fantastic movie now streaming on HBOMax is Paul Schrader‘s First Reformed, one of his most compelling films featuring a career-best performance by Ethan Hawke as a morally conflicted priest trying to get over the death of his son in Iraq. When he starts counseling a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) and her husband (Philip Ettinger) he becomes more interested in climate change before he finds a suicide vest, rigged with explosives, in their garage. This is a really bleak, intense drama that doesn’t wrap things up in a nice, tight package. It’s certainly not for everyone but people who like character-focused dramas that don’t pull their punches, First Reformed is a real treat.


Exotica (1994)

A Canadian indie that has the distinct honor of winning both critics’ prizes and an AVN Porn award (for Best Alternative Feature Film) as well as being prominently featured on both Siskel and Ebert‘s end-of-year Top 10 Film lists of 1995. It’s a bit tricky to navigate at first, the intersecting stories don’t immediately define the intentions of their characters but there’s a point about two-thirds of the way through the film involving a grieving father/Fish and Wildlife agent (brilliantly played by Bruce Greenwood) who coerces an exotic animal smuggler (Don McKellar) to spy on and record a young stripper (Mia Kirshner) who reminds him of his dead teenage daughter because the MC of the club (Elias Koteas) has banned him for life, that really puts everything into focus. This is a very intelligent and layered film about processing grief and how sometimes it manifests itself sexually. Some of the dialogue is very on-the-nose and gratingly allegoric and the fact you don’t really understand these characters until over an hour of the movie has passed is a bit off-putting, but stick with Exotica because everything comes together in a great third act and a powerful, haunting ending.


Cocaine BearIn Theaters

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania In Theaters


Magic Mike’s Last Dance VOD & In Theaters

All Quiet on the Western FrontNetflix

Everything Everywhere All at OnceShowtime

She SaidPeacock

Pressure Cooker Season 1Netflix

You PeopleNetflix


Tulsa King Season 1Paramount+

Top Gun: Maverick Paramount+

Infinity PoolVOD

From Season 1MGM+





Marcel the Shell with Shoes OnVOD

Emily the CriminalNetflix

3rd Annual Golden Shrimp Awards

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