Review: Malignant

“Malignant” is one of those movies that is… hard to judge. It’s hard to judge because the intent of it is not entirely clear, and so you’re left unsure whether the filmmaker responsible for it was successful in their ambitions.

Specifically, it’s hard to tell if it was meant to be funny or not.

In the broadest sense, “Malignant” is a horror movie, by the current king of horror, James Wan. And for the first two acts, it serves as a perfectly serviceable buildup to some kind of horrifying revelation, with distinct overtones of the gothic and giallo. Then… the third act happens, and somehow the drama, the absurd action and the bizarreness of it all splatters across the screen like so much CGI blood. It’s absolutely gutsplitting.

When her abusive husband cracks her head against a wall, pregnant Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis) locks herself in her bedroom. But she’s woken in the night by the murder of her husband – and an attack by a mysterious figure with long hair over his face, which leads to her losing her baby. Detectives Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White) investigate, but the only evidence to be found is bizarre and inexplicable, so they suspect Madison.

Upon returning to her home, Madison begins having visions of the killer hunting down and murdering other people – and it turns out that yes, her visions are coming true. The problem is, it’s all tied up in Madison’s mysterious childhood, before she was adopted by her parents… and she can’t remember that. To find out who “Gabriel” is, and how to stop him before he murders again, Madison will have to uncover a horrifying truth about herself.

I’m going to be blunt about this – “Malignant” is not a good movie. It has plot holes up the wazoo, a massive plot twist that can be easily figured out in the first ten minutes, and countless unanswered questions. For instance, why doesn’t Madison have a scar? How is Gabriel able to control electricity? Why does he wear a leather coat? Why does he have superhuman agility? All of these questions will not be answered, because the plot comes unraveled like a cheap sweater when you think about it for more than a few minutes!

But at the same time, there’s something strangely lovable about the movie. It has the innate drama and striking, haunting visual artistry seen in old giallo movies, right down to the copious gore, mingled with a kind of bad 1990s horror-movie aesthetic that just isn’t seen anymore. The opening sequence alone is a block of pure cheese, and it’s beautiful.

This gives the movie a rather inconsistent tone – during most of the police work and Madison’s daily life, we’re given a fairly realistic, subdued directorial style from Wan. Then Gabriel appears, and suddenly everything is crashing lightning, gothic castle-hospitals, and medical awards being used to brutally stab people to death. And of course, there’s the third act, where everything is dialed up to eleven – the sentimentality, the cheese, the bizarre plot twists.

This includes a scene that seems like it was made to be hilarious, but I honestly can’t tell if it was – a scene in which “Gabriel” carves his way through the police station, with superhuman acrobatics, snapped spines and rivers of gore… all performed backwards. James Wan, what exactly was your intent here?

Annabelle Wallis is merely passable as Madison – she’s okay when the role demands she be scared, and her crazy-eyes stare is pretty solid, but most other emotions just make her look like she has a stomachache. Maddie Hasson gives a pretty good performance as Madison’s younger sister, and Young has a striking presence as the police detective who looks beneath the veneer of the obvious to find out what is happening.

If nothing else, be glad that James Wan got the chance to make “Malignant” – an original horror movie that isn’t part of a glossy franchise, and which wears its niche influences like a badge of honor. It’s not a good movie, but it is an entertaining and memorable one.

Review: J.T. Leroy

I have a special fondness for the story of J.T. Leroy, a colorful and bizarre hoax that managed to fool not only readers, but editors, authors and Hollywood stars. Specifically, the fact that J.T. Leroy – a fragile junkie-child-prostitute-turned-bestselling-writer – did not exist, but was the concoction of a woman who liked to pretend to be a young boy on suicide hotlines.

With a story that weird and fascinating, it isn’t a surprise that eventually Hollywood decided to take a stab at chronicling it. “J.T. Leroy” – based on the memoir of Savannah Knoop, who “played” the titular personage – is a serviceable retelling of the highlights of Knoop’s tenure as J.T. Leroy, but doesn’t really stray outside its comfort zone by really embracing the weirdness of the tale.

Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart) moves to San Francisco to be near her brother Geoff, a struggling musician, and his longtime girlfriend Laura (Laura Dern). Laura introduces Savannah to the books of J.T. Leroy, who also happens to be her alter ego, and eventually convinces Savannah to pretend to be Leroy – first in an interview photo, then a whole shoot, and finally on trips to France and movie sets.

Savannah soon finds herself wrapped up in Leroy’s glamorous life, including a romance with a beautiful French actress (Diane Kruger) who wants to adapt one of Leroy’s books into a film. But her lifestyle of lies begins to bleed into her real one, leaving her trying to find out what is real in her double-life – until everything unexpectedly falls apart when a journalist reveals the cold, hard truth about J.T. Leroy.

As you’d expect from a Hollywood chronicle of real-life events over several years, “J.T. Leroy” is a fairly surface-level skim of what happened during Savannah Knoop’s double life. Various things are streamlined out (Laura and Geoff’s son, the band Thistle) or changed (Asia Argento is made into a fictional French actress), and some stuff is added for dramatic effect, but the overall tale is a fairly good representation of the events of J.T. Leroy’s reign and downfall. Effectively, it’s a cliffs-notes version of the story.

And it’s presented in a… serviceable way. Justin Kelly’s directorial style is perfectly adequate, but doesn’t really embrace the weirdness of the tale. But his scriptwriting feels hesitant and unwilling to fully tackle any of the stuff that is brought up – for instance, it’s suggested by Savannah’s boyfriend that being J.T. Leroy is like a drug to her… but the parallel is effectively dropped after that scene.

And that problem extends to analyzing Laura’s motivations for writing as J.T. Leroy, which he seems to be trying really, really hard to justify. For instance, one scene slaps you in the face with the suggestion that Laura only pretended to be a sexually-abused teen prostitute because she was oppressed by evil sexist men… which not only is wholly made up, as far as I can tell, but which is directly contradicted by a whole monologue at the film’s conclusion. It feels intellectually dishonest, and rather desperate to justify what is, essentially, lying.

Kristen Stewart is a pretty good choice for an awkward, sexually-ambiguous young woman, although it’s a little difficult to tell how much of that was intended. Laura Dern is the real star here as Laura Albert – a cracking bonfire of energy and embroidered realities, who is thrilled to be rubbing elbows with the famous and artistic because of her books, but who is also relegated to the role of “annoying hanger-on” because of her secret.

“J.T. Leroy” is a good introduction to the tale of J.T. Leroy for newcomers, but be warned that it’s a deeply Hollywoodized version of the tale, with much of the uniqueness of the story sanded off. Better to stick with the documentaries.

Online Dating

Currently, I am facing a terrifying prospect: online dating.

To be frank, I have not dated someone in years, and I’m riddled with anxiety at the prospect. I’m a very socially awkward person upon first meeting, and I am bad at reading others’ social cues.

Furthermore, I am very critical of my looks, and obviously various apps require a photo. I have this horrible vision of going on a date, and the other person being completely repulsed by how I look. But the alternative is much worse, even though I know there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually find someone compatible or have kids. I feel exhausted and anxious and like life has passed me by.

The Definition of a Mary Sue: What Is a Mary Sue?

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of debate online about what a Mary Sue (or its male equivalent, a Gary Stu) actually is.

That’s because there is no one definition of it that everyone can agree on. For instance, some people think it’s always a self-insert character, but that’s not the case, and not all self-insert characters are Mary Sues. Just look at Agatha Christie’s Ariadne Oliver. Some think that it’s a character who is powerful or superhumanly adept… and again, that is not what defines a Mary Sue.

Some pretend that Mary Sues aren’t a real thing, or are something made up by misogynists to complain about Strong Powerful Women. Both of them are extremely incorrect, and these people are either ignorant of how fictional characters and their narratives work and exist in the real world, or are just cowards who don’t want to risk public disapproval by supporting criticism of this character type.

Seriously, I dare anyone to read the Anita Blake series and tell me, “Oh no, she’s not a Mary Sue.”

But one thing that has contributed to the dismissal of Mary Sues as a concept is just the fact that no two people can agree on what one is. It’s like two people trying to discuss rodents, but one of them is talking about capybaras and one is talking about rats. Furthermore, a lot of people are incorrect in their belief about what Mary Sues are, because they incorrectly believe them to all be synonymous with self-inserts, or characters with superpowers, or things like that.

The thing is, those are not definitions of a Mary Sue. There are self-inserts that are not part of some kind of personal fantasy, and there are Mary Sues who are not self-inserts. There are also Sues who have superpowers, and Sues who do not; conversely, there are many characters with superpowers who are not Sues. You could make a case, for instance, that Batman is much more of a Gary Stu than Superman is, since instead of being a part of his biological makeup, his abilities are simply that he has become the best at almost everything.

There are also gradations of Sueness. It’s not a binary thing, where all characters who qualify as Sues are Rey from Star Wars. Plenty of characters who are not really Sues or Stus have qualities associated with such characters, but because it’s low-grade, it’s easier to forgive. Harry Potter, for instance, has some Stu qualities, but I wouldn’t say overall that he is a Stu, because he is noted to be unexceptional and average in many ways, and his status as the “Chosen One” is confirmed by Dumbledore to be a matter of Voldemort creating the enemy he feared would arise rather than actually just being The Special.

However, it is possible to create a definition or description of “Mary Sue” that pretty much describes all of them, and I stumbled across one a few years ago. I think it more or less covers almost every single Sue or Stu I’ve come across, and addresses the core problems with the characters rather than the superficials like “has amazing powers” or “is extremely capable.”

That description is simply that a Mary Sue is a character who warps the universe, characters and rules of the world he/she is written into.

Let’s use Bella from Twilight as an example. Bella is a petty, selfish, hateful and rather unintelligent person, but every character around her is warped to only think of her as a selfless, glorious, brilliant figure whom everyone is either jealous of or adores. No one gets to legitimately dislike her for any of the things she does, and the universe is slanted so that she will receive everything she desires and more with minimal effort – I mean, the villains literally want her to have exactly what she wants. In addition to the characters, the universe and rules of the world around her are warped, in that she becomes the only newborn vampire to immediately gain perfect control of her thirst, so everyone can stand around marveling at how magnificent she is. The rules don’t apply to her.

And the sad thing is, a character being a Sue can be dodged very easily. All you have to do is write them as not instantly being the most well-beloved, the most improbably powerful, the one for whom the world’s rules, consequences and probability do not apply.

Take John Wick. He’s almost a Stu. He’s ridiculously skilled and practically legendary, and he spends 85% of the movie carving his way through the Russian mob. But John gets hurt, sometimes very badly. He’s forced to abide by the laws of the assassin underground. His actions have consequences. And he can’t do everything alone – he has to be rescued by Willem DeFoe sometimes, which leads to even more consequences. Furthermore, he isn’t an elegant killing machine just mowing through enemies – he almost dies in undignified ways several times, sometimes by stuff like being throttled by a piece of plastic or thrown bodily from a balcony.

So the fact that the universe and characters around John don’t bend to accommodate him is what keeps him from being a Stu. His struggles are what keep him grounded, and also what contribute to us cheering him on. The fact that he’s an elite assassin with superior skills who ultimately wins over everyone does not make him a Stu.

So that’s my perspective on Mary Sues/Gary Stus. It’s not having powers or skills or attractiveness or whatnot that decides whether a character is a Mary Sue – it’s how they bend and twist the universe around them to glorify them and give them what they want.

Again, read Anita Blake if you want proof that they exist.

Review: Mimic Three Movie Collection

I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that most of the world’s population is bothered by bugs. We don’t like them on us, near us, or in anything we make regular contact with like food or bedding. Yes, some people eat them, but we don’t like them alive.

So what do you think would happen if a mutant strain of bugs got as large as humans… and developed camouflage to allow them to walk amongst us? Aside from a lot of screaming and bulk purchase of Raid, it would apparently turn out like the events of the “Mimic Three Movie Collection” — a slow decline from Guillermo del Toro at his most tampered-with, to a sort of “Rear Window” with giant bugs.

In the director’s cut of del Toro’s “Mimic,” children are ravaged by a cockroach-carried disease, forcing Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) to create a drastic a solution — a sterile mantis/termite crossbreed that will destroy the cockroaches, then die. Of course, it doesn’t — a few years later she stumbles across a Judas larva, just before street urchins and subway dwellers start going missing. When an enormous dead insect is found washed into the water treatment plant, Susan knows for sure that the Judas bug has not only survived and reproduced — but it’s evolving at a ghastly rate.

Meanwhile, her hubby Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam), subway cop Leonard (Charles Dutton) and an immigrant (Giancarlo Giannini) looking for his autistic son all venture down into the deserted subways. But Susan has run afoul of the Judas insects — and as all the humans huddle in an abandoned subway car, she finds that the insects have evolved even further than she thought.

And because Hollywood loves it some sequels, “Mimic 2” debuted sans del Toro, and focused a scaled-down story on a supporting character from the first movie. Men are being found de-faced and hung up on wires, and the only thing the victims had in common is that they went on dates with Remy (Alix Koromzay), who has somehow gone from a quirky entomologist to a quirky inner-city schoolteacher who is obsessed with bugs. Well, it turns out that there’s a male Judas bug on the loose in Remy’s school… and it wants to mate with her. Eww.

Then we have “Mimic 3: Sentinel,” which asks the compelling question: what kind of giant-bug movie would Alfred Hitchcock make? I don’t know the answer, but it probably wouldn’t be “Mimic 3: Sentinel.”

Marvin (Karl Geary) was one of the last survivors of the roach-borne disease, and is now confined to a special sterilized room. So he spends his days spying on people, including his drug-dabbling sister Rosy (Alexis Dziena), his neighbor Carmen (Rebecca Mader) and a weirdo he calls the Garbageman (Lance Henriksen). When he notices that people are disappearing, he tries to alert the police that something weird is up… and yes, it involves a Judas bug.

Put in the bluntest possible terms, the Mimic trilogy is made up of one pretty-good-but-not-del-Toro’s-best horror movie, and then two sequels that… aren’t very good. Del Toro’s film is a grimy, slow-build of shadowy horror, which takes full advantage of just how creepy bugs can be, especially in an urban setting. Lots of rusty pipes and eerie underground tunnels swarming with eyeless horrors.

The sequels, though? Well, the second movie has atmosphere, with dark corridors and steam-filled rooms… but the big twist is pretty predictable, and there’s an uncomfortably misogynistic undercurrent to having the only female character be present for her babymaking potential. And the third movie…. feels like a lost TV pilot for an ongoing “Mimic” TV show, honestly, and the climax bounces out of nowhere without much warning or resolution. But it has Lance Henrikson!

The “Mimic Three Movie Collection” is a good way to visit the least of Guillermo del Toro’s movies — a solid horror movie, with two sequels that aren’t as good but might make for a nice spooky watch.

Artemiss Foul: A Rant

This movie is so bad, such a failure in every level of moviemaking, that I’m thinking about writing a review of it even though Amazon doesn’t have a whisper of a DVD/Blu-ray release. It is that bad.

It is so bad that when the trailer came out, I was aghast. I had not even read the first book in full, but I knew that this was an utter betrayal. My sister, who has only read the first CHAPTER of the first book, could see that it was a betrayal.

It’s a failure as an adaptation. They gutted it of the central premise that made it so unique and interesting, because Kenneth Branagh figured that kids couldn’t relate to a super-genius villain kid who doesn’t go to school.

Yo, Kenneth: lack of relatability is frequently a flaw in the audience, not in the character being adapted. If a person can’t relate to someone who isn’t exactly like them, then they’re not very imaginative and probably shouldn’t be watching a fantasy movie. If not going to an ordinary school somehow makes a child character unrelatable to real children, then they’re not going to be able to cope with ideas like fairy folk.

Except real children AREN’T like that — and I know this because quite a few of them read the books and had no trouble relating to Artemis, so I’m not just projecting my weird dark past-child self on the population at large. Because children are not dainty little angels who can’t comprehend things like greed, ruthlessness, anger and so on. They can comprehend why Artemis does things the way he does, even if they wouldn’t do it themselves.

And they LIKE the idea of a child criminal mastermind. They like seeing a kid being the haughty, smarter-than-everyone-else genius who can wrap even powerful fairies around his finger. They love that. The fact that he’s a criminal doesn’t matter to them — they love that he’s the smartest, which in the books is SHOWN rather than simply told to us.

And Branagh also gutted other parts of the story. In the book, Holly Short is the first and only woman in the LEPrecon force, and she has to fight against sexism and the heightened expectations that come with being a trailblazer. Does the movie show this to children? Nope! It decides to fill LEPrecon with female officers, because why show children that sexism is bad when you can just pretend it doesn’t exist?

Then they added the Aculos. What is the Aculos? It is a MacGuffin that serves to fix everything at the end, and nothing else. It was made up for this movie because Disney is stupid.

And there are a billion other changes that either don’t make sense or change things for the worse. Artemis’ mother being dead, because children are dainty angels who cannot cope with subplots about mental illness. Artemis just being told about the fairies instead of deducing it for himself. Cramming in Opal and other elements from the second book. Changing Artemis’ motivation from simple filthy lucre to “I must save my daddy!”

And for some reason, they decided to make the Eurasian Butler… the servant born to be a servant, from an ancient clan of servants… black. There is simply no way that that doesn’t look bad. Also, Butler is supposed to be a terrifying mountain of a man who can snap you in half with his bare hands, and the actor in the movie… looks kind of tubby. He’s not intimidating. And the blue contacts are very distracting; in some lights, they make him look blind.

They also decided, for no apparent reason, to have two different fairy characters talk like Christian Bale’s Batman. It sounds ridiculous, especially coming from Josh Gad’s Mulch Diggums, who looks like (to quote many reviews) a discount Hagrid and sounds like he’s about to tell us that he is the night. And Dame Judi Dench, for some reason, sounds like she smoked ALL the cigarettes and followed them up with a few gallons of whiskey.

Oh, and they removed God from the text of the Irish Blessing, because Mickey Mouse forbid we have even a hint of Christianity in anything. Feck you and your intolerance, Disney.

There was one thing… one thing in the entire movie that they kept, unadulterated and unalloyed. And it was the ONE thing that nobody actually wanted them to keep.

Did they somehow think that changing the very bedrock of the story was essential, but the one part that they COULDN’T change was having Mulch unhinge his jaw like a python and shoot dirt out of his ass? That was just ESSENTIAL. We can have a Artemis Fowl movie where the protagonist is an earnest good boy who surfs, but not have an Artemis Fowl movie where Mulch doesn’t poop large quantities of dirt while we sit there in agony.

Just… why? It was pretty gross and weird in the book, but it’s a thousand times worse when you actually see it in all its terrible CGI glory. Why? Why? Why?

Congratulations, Disney. First you absolutely molested A Wrinkle in Time (where they also erased any hint of Christianity), and now you’ve done even worse to Artemis Fowl. And the worst part is, you’re not going to learn a thing from those failures. You’re just going to conclude that the IPs are bad and unprofitable, rather than admitting that you screwed them up.

I’m going to get some sleep.

Review: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II

The Totally Awesome Team-Up, Take Two! (small spoilers)

The first encounter between the Dark Knight and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a rousing success, despite sounding like a crossover story dreamt up in some kid’s toy box.

So inevitably DC Comics and IDW Publishing decided to have their best-beloved comic-book characters encounter one another for the second time – this time with more dimension-hopping, more city-wide mayhem, and more epic fight scenes between a lot of people. “Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II’s” pacing is a little rushed, with some developments not taking as long as they rightly should have, but the unbridled awesomeness of the final issue almost makes up for that.

After a humiliating (and nearly fatal) defeat at the hands of Shredder’s Elite, Donatello laments that he isn’t as skilled a fighter as his brothers, and wishes that he could have both the intelligence and skill of Batman. To put his mind at ease, he attempts to use a dimensional teleporter to contact Batman – but accidentally switches himself with Bane, whom Batman had been about to fight. Now he’s in Gotham, and Bane is loose in New York.

After Batman and Donnie spend a week assembling a teleporter, they find that Bane has managed to take over the Foot Clan and is well on his way to conquering. Even worse, he’s got Baxter Stockman synthesizing Venom, so he can turn all his followers into roided-up monstrosities. The Turtles are badly outmatched even with Batman on their side – and when tragedy strikes, a guilt-ridden Donatello is driven to terrible lengths in an effort to stop Bane once and for all.

“Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” aspires to be bigger and more explosive than the first adventure – the action consumes a whole city, armies of ninjas are involved, and the final issue is an outright battle royale. It’s also set primarily in the Turtles’ dimension this time, so it features a lot of supporting characters from their world, including Rocksteady, Bebop, Karai, the ever-unfortunate Baxter Stockman, and a certain helmeted ninja lord.

And for the most part, the story unfolds pretty well – there’s a good balance between action-packed fight scenes and the more emotional, low-key stuff, including a ceiling-collapsing battle between the Venom-enhanced Foot Clan and the Turtles/Batman team-up. There’s also a running subplot about Raphael getting into scraps with Damian Wayne, and the way the arrogant boy and the resident Turtle hothead manage to resolve their differences and come to a less violent way of interacting.

However, the miniseries is a little too short for its own good – things like the last-ditch effort to heal Splinter and Donnie taking Venom are far too brief and leave less of an impact than they should. But these flaws are almost compensated for by the final issue – a big, high-octane, splashy battle on Liberty Island with as many characters as possible. It also gives big sloppy affectionate kisses to the 1987 TV series in the form of many Easter egg homages. It’s just a delight to read, and you can tell the people who made it were having fun.

A lot of the character development in this particular miniseries revolves around Donatello, who is a technological genius but not quite the fighter his brothers are. His insecurity and feelings of inferiority are palpable and heart-wrenching, as is his rampant feelings of guilt when he sees what Bane has done to New York. Batman serves as an older, wiser presence who mentors him somewhat, reassuring him and helping talk him back from the brink when his grief and guilt get too out of control.

It’s also worth noting that Freddie Williams II does an excellent job with the art in this comic – it’s a good bridge between DC’s muscled, stocky style of artwork, and the more varied styles seen in IDW’s Turtles. The Turtles and Batman mesh together well artistically, and Williams does an excellent job with the emotions and turmoil in the characters’ faces.

“Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” could have benefited from another issue or two, but is overall a pretty solid sequel to an excellent miniseries – lots of muscles, lots of emotions, and a grand finale that is loads of fun.

Review: Gravity Falls: The Complete Series

The secrets of Gravity Falls

If Twin Peaks had been dreamed up by a ten-year-old on a massive sugar high, the result might be something like “Gravity Falls.”

And though this series lasted only a couple of seasons – both taking place in a single summer – it’s arguably one of the cleverest and most brilliant cartoon series ever to snare the imaginations of kids and adults alike. The weird occurrences are colorful and bizarre (“Onward, Aoshima!”), the characters are completely endearing, and the writing is tight as it winds together one-off strangenesses with some ongoing stories of mystery, magic and world-eating weird.

Twelve-year-old Dipper and Mabel Pines are spending the summer with their Grunkle Stan, an elderly con-man who runs the Mystery Shack, a ramshackle museum of bizarre, mostly fake items. However, Dipper is kind of worried about staying in Gravity Falls (his mosquito bites spell out BEWARB), until he finds finds a journal that reveals the many secrets of the town, but warns “in Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust.”

Also, Mabel meets a strange, extremely-pale boy. She hopes he’s a Twilight-style vampire, but Dipper is afraid he’s a zombie. The truth… is a lot stranger than either theory.

This is only the beginning of the twins’ strange adventures – they face the legendary Gobblewonker, vengeful ghosts, a psychotic fake-psychic named Li’l Gideon, the secret fraud of the town’s founder, a time machine that Dipper tries to use to impress his crush, magical size-changing crystals, the Summerween Trickster, a boy band, a pterodactyl, a mini-golf course occupied by strange little creatures, Soos’ love life woes, a secret society that suppresses news of the supernatural, the Time Baby, alien tech, and many other crazy things.

And through these strange adventures, Dipper tries to uncover the mystery of who created the mysterious journal, and what happened to him – and discovers that it may be tied to Grunkle Stan in some way. He and Mabel also run afoul of a mischievous, devious creature (think a living Illuminati symbol) named Bill Cipher, who has plans for Gravity Falls that the twins must stop.

“Gravity Falls” is proof that just because a TV show is aimed at children, it doesn’t have to be stupid — codes and ciphers speckle the story, some of the stories can be horrifying or bittersweet, and it was obvious that series creator Alex Hirsch had mapped out complicated subplots and to-be-solved-mysteries from the very first episode onward. Pay close attention to everything as it unfolds, including the end credits of each episode.

Part of it is that the writing is really, really tight, with dialogue that is gloriously quotable (“I made this sculpture with my own two hands! It’s covered in my blood, sweat, tears, and other fluids!”) and a dry sense of humor that riddles almost every scene. Hirsch also has a talent for the bizarre, creating everything from hypermasculine minotaurs to a hallucination of a muscular-armed dolphin that spews rainbows from its many mouths. Nothing seems to be off-limits.

The characters are also delightful, endearing even when they aren’t admirable (“This seems like the kind of thing a responsible parent wouldn’t want you doing. Good thing I’m an uncle!”). Dipper is nervy and awkward, but also determined and dogged, while Mabel is a ball of sparkly whimsy and delight (“Are we in JAPAN?”). Also, she has a grappling hook and is perpetually on the hunt for a summer romance.

There’s also crusty old con-man Grunkle Stan, who is more than he seems to be; the endearingly hamster-like handyman Soos, who is more than a little strange himself (“Alas, twas naught but a dream”); and a colorful array of characters like Mabel’s friends, the crazed hillbilly Old Man McGucket, the Time Baby, a pair of government agents, and the nasty Li’l Gideon.

“Gravity Falls: The Complete Series” is a must-have for those who enjoy puzzles, clever writing, or just cartoon shows that might be even more delightful for adults than for their target audience. Onward, Aoshima!