Oscar/Netflix Review – Roma: An Intensely Personal Film About Someone Else

Alfonso Cuarón brings us the life of a maid in 1970s Mexico and the family that she is a part of.

SUMMARY

Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio) is a maid for a moderately wealthy family in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. The father of the family, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), regularly leaves for conferences in other countries, leaving his wife, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), to raise their four children with the help of her mother Teresa (Veronica Garcia), Cleo, and another maid Adela (Nancy Garcia).

Roma - 1Cleo.jpg
It’s not the most glamorous life, but it’s amazing.

Adela and Cleo go to the movies with their boyfriends Ramon (José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza) and Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), respectively. Cleo tells Fermin that she’s possibly pregnant and he promptly abandons her. A doctor confirms Cleo’s pregnancy. Meanwhile, around the area, racial tensions are rising, as are tensions between students and the government, as part of the Mexican Dirty War.

Roma - 2NYE
This scene is bizarre, but so beautiful that you will become weepy.

Several months later, Cleo and the children see a movie, only to see Antonio leave the theater with a young woman. It’s revealed that Sofia is aware of her husband’s philandering, but she tries to hide it from her children. Cleo finally manages to track down Fermin at a massive outdoors martial arts class, but he responds by saying he isn’t sure the child is his and threatening to beat Cleo if she contacts him again.

Roma - 3Army.jpg
A Mexican army learning a Japanese martial art encouraged by the US. So very weird.

Teresa takes Cleo to buy a crib, but they are caught in the store during the Corpus Christi Massacre. They witness two people gunned down by angry young people, only to find out that one of the killers is Fermin. It’s then that Cleo’s water breaks, but her baby is stillborn. Back with the family, Sofia announces to the children that she’s going to be divorcing Antonio and takes the children to the beach. At the beach, two of the kids are nearly carried off by the current, but Cleo saves them. Sofia and the children all affirm that they love Cleo as a part of the family, but Cleo reveals that she never wanted the baby. They return home to find that Antonio has moved his belongings out of the house, and life goes on.

Roma - 4Beach
She can’t swim, but she doesn’t hesitate.

END SUMMARY

This movie is Oscar gold. Even though it wasn’t my favorite film nominated for Best Picture this year, it wouldn’t shock me at all if it won. The acting is great, despite the fact that the lead wasn’t a professional actress. The cinematography is as good as exists in film, with great, meaningful, match cuts and perfect control of the imagery. The characters are all interesting and very human. Hell, it’s in black and white, that’s like 10 points on the “is this artsy” scale right there.

Roma - 6Dong.png
And a guy hanging dong opposite this scene is another 10 points. 

The problem with analyzing a movie like this is that much of what makes it amazing is all of the little scenes that seem to have come straight from the memory of Alfonso Cuaron, because they’re so genuine and so unusual that they just don’t feel like they could have come from fiction. It’s not particularly a secret that the family in this is based on Cuaron’s, and the film is even dedicated to the memory of the inspiration for Cleo. One scene from the beginning of the movie that stands out is where one of the sons lies on the roof telling Cleo that he can’t move, because he’s dead. Cleo ends up laying next to him until he can’t resist talking to her, only for her to tell him that she’s dead. There are a number of these small, unusual scenes throughout the film that really seem to represent the tiny moments that bring a level of authenticity to the characters that most films don’t really achieve. It’s doubly impressive because the main character isn’t the surrogate for the author. 

Roma - 5Dead.jpg
This scene is amazing.

Cuaron’s skill in cinematography and editing shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, since it’s pretty much the thing that set the film Gravity apart from other space films, nor should we be surprised at his skill in characterization, given that he wrote Y Tu Mama Tambien and helped adapt Children of Men. However, those movies didn’t really get the level of parallel narrative that this film develops through the great use of the structure of the shots in the film. Themes of classism, of eradication of native cultures, of suppression of the masses, all are interwoven with the much tighter family themes. This all culminates with Cleo’s water breaking during the Corpus Christi Massacre. This was a brutal paramilitary (and military) attack on protesting students demanding greater educational freedom which was notable for ending at hospitals, where Los Halcones, a shock group trained partially by the US, would kill off the wounded, including in surgical suites. We see Fermin sew death directly at the massacre, and also symbolically, with his abandoned child being stillborn. While a lot of other symbols are more blatant (there’s a cut to three crosses that will make you hear the words “meaningful imagery” shout in your head), the film is still emotionally captivating even if you aren’t looking for something deeper. I think that’s probably the hallmark of a truly great film: It doesn’t require a ton of investment, but the more you give it, the more you get.

Roma - 7Car.jpg
Even this car is massively meaningful. Damn, man, that’s awesome.

Overall, I can’t really do this movie that much justice in a review, since it’s so visual and subjective. It’s available on Netflix and I highly recommend watching it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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Futurama Fridays – S2E17 “War is the H-Word”

The Planet Express crew is going to war… for a pack of gum.

SUMMARY

Fry (Billy West) and Bender (John DiMaggio) join the military reserves so they can get a 5% military discount on ham-flavored gum. They plan on quitting after buying the gum, but a second after they join, war is declared and they’re drafted. Leela (Katey Sagal) tries to enlist to keep them safe, but the army of the future is men-only, due to Zapp Brannigan’s (West) constant sexual harassment. She signs up anyway as a man named Lee Lemon, who Zapp crushes on.

S2EH - 1Poster.png
Well, there went the subtlety.

After getting through basic training, the three are dropped onto planet Spheron I, a planet which Zapp admits has no natural resources or strategic value. It turns out to be populated by living balls. During the first battle, Fry hides, resulting in other members of the platoon being injured, while Bender jumps on a bomb to save the others. Fry is punished by being made Kif’s (Maurice LaMarche) assistant, while Bender is fixed under orders of President Nixon (West).

S2EH - 2Balls.png
They’ve got a lot of Chutzpah.

Bender is sent along with Henry Kissinger’s Head (DiMaggio) to negotiate with the leaders of Spheron, the Brain Balls. However, Leela finds out that Nixon had a bomb put in Bender’s chest which will activate when he says the word “ass.” Leela and Fry steal a helicopter from Zapp, revealing that Lee Lemon is a woman in the process, to Zapp’s relief, and arrive in time to stop Bender from blowing up the planet. The Spherons surrender, revealing that this is their homeworld which Earth has invaded for no real reason, and Fry and Bender leave the military. Being unable to remove the bomb, the Professor changes the codeword, which Bender correctly guesses as “antiquing.” However, he survives the explosion.

S2EH - 3End.jpg
Yep, there goes the subtlety.

END SUMMARY

This is Futurama’s take on war, specifically the kind of asymmetrical warfare which had been waged during the 90s… and would mostly be waged after this episode aired. We see the Earth Army, composed of professionals with spaceships and laser weapons, attacking the Spherons, whose most sophisticated weapon is a cartoonish bomb. They mostly attack by bouncing on top of the humans, something that doesn’t seem to be lethal (until they’re sent to Zoidberg (West) for their injuries). This war is completely one-sided and, perhaps most depressingly, completely without any merit. In previous episodes, we’d seen Earth on the losing side of this (like “When Aliens Attack”), but now we see humans as the pointless aggressors, stealing another race’s planet for, again, literally no strategic reason.

S2EH - 4Zoidberg
He attacks more people than the balls do.

Much like in Blackadder Goes Forth, this episode also depicts the divide between the soldiers fighting the war and the people who make the decisions to wage it. Nixon is never in danger, nor, really, is Zapp, who at one point even is depicted more worried about his horse being spooked than the men around him being overrun by balls. Even Kif, who ostensibly is subordinate to Zapp, is still more concerned about the fact that his nut bowl isn’t sufficiently mixed than the fact that they’re fighting a war. It’s a common theme, but it’s well represented here.

S2EH - 5Scotch
The Pre-War Scotch is key.

The depiction of Fry in this episode seems fairly consistent with his development, when he’s a coward who eventually learns to overcome his fear to save his friends. Leela gets a little more development when she uses her disguise as Lee Lemon to find out if Fry has a crush on her, then seems flattered to find out that he does, hinting that she is realizing that she returns his feelings (something she’ll go back and forth on for the rest of the series).

S2EH - 6LeeLemon
Where she found a purple beard that quickly is still a mystery.

In contrast, we see one of the most out of character moments for Bender in the series, when he jumps on top of a bomb to save others. They do try to couch his self-sacrifice by having him say that he wants a young version of himself on a stamp, but it still seems weird that Bender, of all people/robots, would jump on the grenade. Still, it gave us an easy segue to the M*A*S*H parody that remains one of my favorite short references in the series.

S2EH - 7IHawk
The easiest way to understand M*A*S*H is this scene.

This episode is also crammed with references, from M*A*S*H to Starship Troopers to Star Wars to, well, real life. I’m always on the fence about how they depict Henry Kissinger here, but I suppose that’s because Kissinger is a tough figure. On the one hand, he encouraged the US to commit numerous acts (like carpet-bombing Cambodia, supporting the Bangladeshi genocide, the use of Agent Orange and Napalm in Vietnam) which don’t look great in retrospect. However, he also literally stopped a Nuclear War once by claiming Nixon was too drunk to make any decisions, masterminded the opening of trade between China and the US, and repeatedly lowered tensions between the USSR and the US to avoid the big boom that would end the world. That’s why it’s interesting to see him here, presumably ending a war through diplomacy that he also helped start. Tom Lehrer once said political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but this episode actually uses him to keep it alive. Well done.

S2EH - 8Kissinger
Is the episode comparing these two morally? Maybe…

FAVORITE JOKE

It’s not even a close contest. The funniest line in this episode is this exchange:

Leela: You know, Zapp, someone ought to teach you a lesson.

Zapp: If it’s a lesson in love, watch out; I suffer from a very sexy learning disability. What do I call it, Kif?

Kif: “Sex-lexia”.

S2EH - 9Sexlexia.gif

Only a character as absolutely amazingly crafted as Zapp Brannigan could even hope to make this work. This is like a guy bragging that the fact that he has a lot of STDs is a sign that he’s had sex and therefore you should sleep with him. He’s so confident that what he’s being seductive that it’s almost overwhelming. If Kif didn’t sound so despondent when answering, it might even work as a somewhat legitimate pick-up line. Hell, if I can find someone to do it with me, I might even try to figure out a way to use it.

Well, that’s it for this week.

See you next week, meatbags.

PREVIOUS – Episode 29: Anthology of Interest I

NEXT – Episode 31: The Honking

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Greatest Valentine’s Day Episodes

The Joker On The Sofa

Okay, so, I’m going to die alone, but for those of you who aren’t, here’s a list of some of the best Valentine’s Day episodes of TV. Or, really, just the first 5 episodes I could think of that were good. I didn’t think of this until Monday, so cut me a break.

Runner Up: Galentine’s Day (Parks and Rec)

Why is this a runner up? Because it’s not a V-day episode…  and although most of it takes place at a Valentine’s Dance, it’s mostly about breakups.

ValentinesParksAndRec

Galentine’s Day is the 13th of February, and it’s a holiday made up by Pawnee, Indiana resident Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) to celebrate strong, independent women. Leslie’s widowed mother, Marlene (Pamela Reed), a guest at the Galentine’s celebration, tells the story of her first love, a lifeguard she met years before she met Leslie’s father, with whom she had a passionate affair…

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Oscar Review – The Favourite: Or The Wonderful Cycle of Suffering

Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) brings us a historical fiction about a rivalry for the ages.

SUMMARY

It’s the early 1700s and Queen Anne’s War (or, in Europe, the War of Spanish Succession) has been going for nearly a decade. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is not in good health and most of the ruling decisions are made by her friend and secret lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). While Sarah favors taxing the landowners to continue the war, the head of the Tories, Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), opposes taxation and seeks to convince the Queen to end the war.

Favourite - 1Blindfold
Oddly, this scene’s not sexual.

Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s cousin, arrives to seek employment, her father having squandered her family’s wealth (and having lost Abigail previously in a card game to a German). Abigail becomes a maid, but after she puts some healing herbs on the Queen’s gout-ridden leg, she is promoted to Lady-in-Waiting. Abigail soon discovers that Sarah and the Queen have sex, but does not tell Harley, even after he threatens her to be his spy.

Favourite - 2Harley
America needs more big fluffy wigs and fake moles in our legislature.

Abigail and Sarah develop a friendship, but as Abigail becomes closer to the Queen, it becomes a rivalry. Abigail first talks to the Queen about her rabbits, which she discovers represent each of Anne’s 17 unsuccessful pregnancies, something Sarah clearly never cared to ask about. Eventually, Abigail uses her position to sleep with the Queen, which Sarah finds out immediately and dismisses her. However, Queen Anne hires her back. With Sarah now actively trying to curry back the Queen’s favour to get rid of Abigail, Abigail poisons Sarah’s tea, resulting in her being dragged for days on a horse and nearly forced into sex slavery. While she’s gone, Abigail convinces the Queen to allow her to marry Baron Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), regaining her title and wealth. When Sarah returns, she threatens the Queen to either send Abigail away or have their sexual relationship revealed. Sarah eventually destroys the evidence of their relationship, but this has ended her friendship with the Queen. Sarah is sent away and then framed for theft by Abigail, resulting in her exile from Britain.

Favourite - 3OneEye.jpg
She also looks like a Victorian Supervillain.

At the end of the film, Abigail has now become cruel and egotistical, and the Queen dislikes her because of how she forced Sarah out. After going one step too far and hurting one of the Queen’s rabbits, the Queen forces Abigail to rub her legs like a common servant.

Favourite - 4Constipated.png
It’s tough to stare someone down while looking up, Abigail.

END SUMMARY

The general story behind this movie isn’t exactly original (whether in fiction or history). It’s the powerful being corrupted and overthrown by the downtrodden… only for the downtrodden to now become the powerful and corrupted. When we see Sarah in the film, she mostly takes Queen Anne for granted and talking to her like a child, despite the fact that Anne, being, you know, QUEEN is actually much more powerful. She also antagonizes almost everyone, from the Tories to Abigail (who she pretends to shoot as a threat when Abigail learns her secret love life). The only advantage she really has is that she’s the Queen’s only lover and confidant. She also risks her husband’s (Mark Gatiss) life, seemingly with only a moderate amount of concern, by continuing a war that he is fighting. Despite that, she is trying to do what she thinks is best for the country, not necessarily just herself.

Favourite - 5Sarah.png
She also knows how to work a room.

When we first see Abigail, she is ostensibly fairly honorable, but has dealt with a lot of hardship because of her father, including having to be the sex slave of a German man to honor her father’s wager. She’s basically a classic tragic figure. While she sees the merit in gaining the Queen’s favor, she does also seem to be genuinely interested in helping her and being friendly towards her and Sarah. However, as the movie progresses, we see her scheme more and more and with less and less concern for the morality of her actions. She even says at one point that her honor won’t be much comfort if she’s forced to become a prostitute to survive. Eventually, she stops caring about anyone besides herself, becoming even more antagonizing to everyone than Sarah was.

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Sarah would never have resorted to the fake cry.

Anne is the most sympathetic character, because she’s constantly in a position that she doesn’t want, is in physical pain, is dealing with a number of traumas, and her closest friends are constantly taking vengeance upon each other. However, she also is someone who could have prevented many of the issues in the movie had she just been more assertive. That’s part of why it’s satisfying in the end to see her take control over Abigail and diminish her feeling of invincibility.

Favourite - 7Comparison
It’s tough to be the queen. 

Neither Sarah nor Abigail ever chooses to end the cycle of escalating attacks between them, even though either one could end it. Abigail even points this out to Sarah after she becomes a Baroness again, but neither can stand the other one having the last strike at them. Sarah does finally try to stop, choosing to burn the letters between her and the Queen for Anne’s sake, but by this time it’s too late, and Abigail realizes that she has to remove Sarah forever to ensure her power, which cements her as truly corrupted.

Favourite - 8Blood
It gets really rough.

The costuming and sets in the movie are excellent, as expected for a period piece like this. They’re not exactly accurate (I’m told), but the outfits do a good job of conveying how the characters are trying to present themselves in a scene, particularly the more masculine shooting outfits that Sarah adopts to try and show dominance over Abigail.

Favourite - 9Outfit
I don’t know period accuracy, but I know what Queen Anne likes.

The cinematography is interesting, with a lot of the film using wide-angle fisheye lenses. From a practical standpoint, this shot shows the entirety of a room, something that shows off the setting rather than just the character, but from a narrative standpoint it tends to isolate the characters, showing how they are trapped within the rooms because of their choices. It’s definitely the easiest Yorgos Lanthimos film to watch, but it will still throw some people off.

Favourite - AParty
It also serves to give distance between the characters… and create this neat mirror effect.

The performances are all amazing, and I think Olivia Colman’s performance as a stroke-ravaged Anne is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. Given how much of the communication between characters relies on what is being intended rather than what is being said, anything less from the actors might have wrecked the film.

Overall, it’s a great movie and practically screams “Oscar Bait.” I don’t know that it’ll win, but it’s definitely worth seeing and Olivia Colman is the only person who might take the Oscar from Glenn Close this year.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – Everything’s Still Awesome (Spoiler-Free)

The Lego Movie, the movie that should have been crap but instead was a masterful meta-commentary, got a sequel which should have been crap, but instead was a masterful meta-commentary. I wonder if they actually help sales.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

It’s been five years since the events of “Taco Tuesday” depicted in the first movie. Duplo/Mini-Doll aliens from the Systar System have repeatedly invaded and destroyed Bricksburg, occasionally taking people and things away with them. In response, the citizens now live in “Apocalypseburg,” a Mad Max-esque desert wasteland. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is the only person who has maintained a positive attitude about their circumstances, something that annoys Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), who wants Emmet to be more gritty and dark. Emmet, however, is troubled by a dream of “Ourmomageddon,” which has all of the Lego citizens sucked into a void.

Lego2 - 2Apocalypseburg.jpg
Apocalypseburg does have some solid architecture going on.

One day, the town is attacked by the General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), who abducts Lucy, Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), Batman (Will Forte), Benny the Spaceman (Charlie Day), and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) and takes them to the Systar System to meet the ruler of Systar, Queen Whatevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Emmet takes off to rescue them, with the help of Rex Dangervest, a raptor-training space cowboy archeologist who has chiseled features under his baby fat (Also Chris Pratt).

Lego2 - 3Defending.png
Saying “Galaxy Guarding” would be too much, clearly.

Also, the whole thing is actually a metaphor for the imagination of some kids.

END SUMMARY

So, up front, you have to see the first movie for this one to really work well. This movie goes straight into the meta-narrative that was sort of the big “twist” of the last movie: Everything that’s happening is both part of the narrative (i.e. the Lego World) and also a representation of the meta-narrative (i.e. what’s happening in the Real World). Stuff that happens in each one actually impacts the other, however, which almost makes this a pataphysical movie… something that is really unbelievably complex for a children’s film and impressively done so well that this movie is actually really easy to follow.

Lego2 - 4Queen
The Queen, Whatevra Wa-Nabi is pretty straightforward, admittedly.

Unlike the last movie where the revelation is pretty late, this movie makes it pretty explicit up front that the “Systar System” is a representation of Finn’s (Jadon Sand) sister, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince). In fact, if you don’t get that pretty quickly, I’d actually say that the first few scenes don’t really make sense. For example, in the opening battle against the Duplos, the Duplo monsters respond to being shot with lasers with “okay, I eat lasers” and to being hit with batarangs with “you missed.” Anyone who has ever tried to play an imaginary game with a small child will immediately recognize this interaction. What’s great is that you could analyze almost every scene from both the normal and meta levels and both work perfectly. I’m not sure how Lord and Miller keep doing it, but I’m damned glad they are.

Lego2 - 5LordAndMiller
These guys do good work. Weird, good work.

The messages of the movie, and yes there are several, similarly work on a bunch of levels, both as the lessons learned by the characters and also the lessons learned by the kids through the characters. Everything is a pretty wholesome moral, ranging from the value of family to the nature of maturity to the fact that it’s easier to be a judgmental dick than it is to genuinely keep opening yourself up to people and hope for better. No matter who you are, there’s something to get out of this movie.

Lego2 - 1Mayhem
Sweet Mayhem provides great commentary on gender roles in film.

The music is just as fun as the last movie, particularly the movie’s signature song “Catchy Song” which is such an earworm while also being a song about how the song is an earworm. I also would give credit to all of Tiffany Haddish’s songs, which are hilarious and awesome, as well as Lonely Island’s song with Beck and Robyn.

Last, I have to complement how well the movie handles references, much like its predecessor. Unlike the last one, where most of the characters that pop up are just there because Finn’s dad (Will Ferrell) owned the kits, in this one, you can actually figure out why Finn and Bianca themselves would have these figures and the reasons range from funny to borderline profound. My personal favorite is ***MINOR SPOILER ALERT*** the fact that Finn keeps seeing Bruce Willis in ducts… because his dad showed him Die Hard and, as a teenager trying to be “mature,” that’s a movie that you tend to focus on ***SPOILER OVER***.

Overall, I loved this film. It definitely has a few slow scenes which tend to make more sense from the meta-level, but most of the movie is just so clever you’ll forget about it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix/Oscar Review – Black Panther: The Importance of Breaking Barriers

Black Panther, the highest-grossing film in history with a majority black cast and crew, is also the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture.

SUMMARY

Following his father, T’Chaka’s (John Kani) death in Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the heir to the mantle of the Black Panther, returns to his homeland of Wakanda, a secretly hyper-advanced but isolated African nation, to become the king and rejoin his superintelligent sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his wise mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Along with his head guard Okoye (Danai Gurira), he rescues his former girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from her undercover duties attempting to end human trafficking so that she can attend the ceremony. T’Challa takes on the only challenger to the throne, M’Baku (Winston Duke), and emerges victorious, but spares his life.

BlackPanther - 1MBakuFight
This setting would be great for UFC. Just saying.

Meanwhile, thief and murderer of Wakandans Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) steal a weapon made from Vibranium, a near-magical metal that is found almost exclusively in Wakanda. T’Challa’s friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) asks T’Challa to capture Klaue, who murdered W’Kabi’s parents. T’Challa captures Klaue in South Korea, but Stevens rescues him… only to kill him shortly after and present his body to W’Kabi to gain entry to Wakanda. Stevens reveals himself to be N’Jadaka, the son of T’Chaka’s  brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), who betrayed Wakanda until being killed by the king. This makes Killmonger a candidate for the throne of Wakanda. He challenges T’Challa and wins, knocking T’Challa off of a waterfall.

BlackPanther - 2Korea
Like most cats, he jumps onto the least convenient place possible.

Killmonger, now the king, prepares to distribute Wakanda’s advanced weapons to secret operatives around the world with the plan of staging insurrections to institute black supremacy in the major world powers. Shuri, Nakia, Ramonda, and CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) flee to M’Baku’s territory and find that T’Challa is alive. They give him the heart-shaped herb that powers the Black Panther and he returns. While Okoye and T’Challa’s loyalists fight W’Kabi and Killmonger’s soldiers, T’Challa and Killmonger battle, with T’Challa emerging victorious. Killmonger, mortally wounded, chooses to die rather than live in prison. T’Challa realizes that isolation from the world has weakened Wakanda and chooses to reveal the nature of the country to the United Nations.

BlackPanther - 3KillmongerDeath
Yeah, the villain chooses death on principle… and it does make an impact.

END SUMMARY

Well, this is the first Superhero Movie to be nominated for Best Picture for Academy Award. Is it a perfect film? Well, let’s Pro-Con this.

Here’s what the movie does well: First, it features a representation of African culture that has not often been seen before, particularly the Afro-Futurist aspects. Most depictions of Africa often ignore the developed areas and instead focus on the more tribal and poor areas. Hell, most movies treat “Africa” like it’s just one country, rather than dozens of countries with wildly different cultures, something that this movie makes a point of avoiding. Even Coming to America, which does depict a similarly wealthy and powerful African country like Wakanda, doesn’t particularly have an underlying representation of the nature of different African cultures like this movie. None of this is by accident, either, as Ryan Coogler spent a lot of time and effort working symbols of various countries and groups into things ranging from backgrounds and sets to costume choices.

BlackPanther - 4Costumes
Oh my god, the costumes.

Second, the supporting characters in the movie are fantastic, particularly the female characters. Letitia Wright’s Shuri is the embodiment of the plucky genius to a degree that, appropriately, is usually found only in comic books. She’s been described by at least one Executive Producer as the single smartest human in the MCU, which means that she’s outclassed Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, and Tony Stark. Despite her intellect, or perhaps because of it, Shuri is one of the more relatable characters, being mostly a rebellious and creative teenager finding her place in the world. Okoye, on the other hand, is not necessarily relatable, instead being a well-crafted rendition of the Amazon archetype, a stoic warrior. However, her wonderful sense of humor keeps her from being too serious and her care for the country and the people in it make her stand out from being generic. Also, they cast Danai Gurira without having seen her in The Walking Dead, something that’s insane to me. Lupita Nyong’o is amazing, as she always is, although her character as the love interest sometimes seems a little underdeveloped, due to always sharing the scenes. In contrast, Winston Duke’s M’Baku, while he has little screen time, is well-developed because he’s always the focus.

BlackPanther - 5Shuri
GIVE SHURI A MOVIE. Actually, give her a buddy comedy with Spider-Man.

Third, and let’s be honest about this, Killmonger is the best part of this film. It’s rare for a film to go out of its way in presenting a villain’s ideology in this way… as having so much of a point that the hero actually has to change his way of thinking in response. Throughout the movie, T’Challa, like all of the kings of Wakanda, is mired in tradition and isolation. Wakanda has never needed allies, nor has it wanted them, but this has limited their way of thinking. For example, they still use TRIAL BY COMBAT as a way to select their leaders, something that is, on every level, freaking ridiculous for a sophisticated society (as the movie even points out implicitly).  Additionally, their refusal to help others has resulted in a much more awful world for everyone, particularly their neighbors. Killmonger points out that Wakanda could have helped stop the slave trade or made Africa technologically advanced enough to prevent colonial exploitation… but just chose not to because of their insular nature. Killmonger points out that they could easily have solved so many of the injustices which have been levied upon black people over the centuries which have resulted in the countries doing the exploiting gaining wealth and power… but, again, chose not to. So, he decides that it’s their obligation now to try and undo that mistake. Unfortunately, he also has a big chip on his shoulder from having his father murdered, which leads him to believe that the only just action is to literally reverse everything that has happened and create a world where black people are subjugating everyone else. Still, it’s telling that, at the end of the movie, T’Challa is forced to admit that isolation has weakened Wakanda and that things need to change.

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Marvel: Now with better villains!

Also, the music was great, most of the action sequences were solid, the locations were all interesting, and the writing was amazing in most of the scenes. So, yeah, lots of good stuff.

As for the things that the movie didn’t do perfectly: Pacing in the movie isn’t great. The first time I saw it I didn’t really notice, because I was kind of caught up in the clever writing, but yeah, there’s a lot of scenes in the second act that feel a little slow.

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The Stan Lee cameo was cute, though.

Several of the action sequences didn’t have the best CGI, particularly of T’Challa. The stunts were great, but when you do a CGI sequence in the middle of a live-action film, particularly one where the CGI figure is close to the camera, you get a lot of uncanny valley action and some of it doesn’t hold up well.

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Is this a movie scene or a video game cut-scene? And could you tell the difference?

Mostly, the biggest problem with Black Panther is Black Panther. T’Challa is well portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, but the character itself is actually a little blunted because of the number of other great characters in the movie. The other problem is that he’s genuinely too overpowered in this film against anyone other than Killmonger. The armor that Shuri gives him is completely invincible against almost anything, so even during the major chase scene in Korea, T’Challa is never really at risk. Also, the final fight just isn’t that interesting, since it’s two nearly invulnerable people punching each other. The best parts of the performance are when it’s Boseman as T’Challa, not the Black Panther.

So, no, this isn’t a perfect movie. I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year… in fact, I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year featuring a black lead (Into the Spider-Verse takes the gold), but it’s still a good movie. Mostly, though, it’s an important movie. A few years ago, the Sony leak confirmed that, within film studios, the myth that “black films don’t travel,” i.e. that black films can’t make money internationally, was still going strong. This movie kicked that myth in the nuts. It proved that representation does not necessarily mean falling into stereotypes or trying to remove the characters from their cultural roots. It showed that a diverse cast and crew can produce a different feel to a film and that a film could address race relations within a structure of a normal action movie. If you don’t think that’s significant, let me remind you that Hattie McDaniel, the first black person to be nominated and win an Oscar, wasn’t allowed to attend the premier of Gone With the Wind due to Georgia’s segregation laws. THAT WAS IN 1940.

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Oh, and my dad got his driver’s license the year this came out.

Overall, I don’t know that I think this movie deserves to win Best Picture, but I do think it deserved the nomination. It’s a well-done film on many levels, even if it has its flaws, and I think it represents something much bigger than itself.

One complaint I do want to address right now is that superhero films aren’t deserving of this kind of accolade. I see a lot of critics online complaining about the idea that this is “legitimizing” superhero films, which are just popcorn flicks. To that I say: Good. Legitimize them. They’re genre films with a lot of rules and shortcuts that can be taken, to be sure, but you know what else that applies to? Westerns. Mob movies. War films. All of which are constantly given critical accolades as art, when they deserve it. So, let’s encourage people to make artsier, more impacting superhero films, and stop treating them like they are just there to grab the box-office.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Reader Request/Amazon Prime Review – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: A Spoof Before Its Time

The 1970s decided that everything on Earth could be a threat to humanity: Jaws, Piranha, Grizzly, Frogs, worms in Squirm, an octopus in Tentacles, and even bunnies in Night of the Lepus. So, a team got together and decided to make one of the most absurd spoofs ever by making a movie about people dealing with the least threatening monsters on film.

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Yes, this movie exists. 

SUMMARY

So, the beauty of this film is mostly in the absurdity, largely presenting the characters and the world through ridiculous scenes that parody other films or genres. Nothing I can do can convey the insanity of the plot, the dialogue, the sight-gags, or the settings of this film. That said, here’s the actual plot:

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Here’s a Random Black Hitler. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. 

Tomatoes are killing people. Some eat people, some crush people, some poison people who drink their juice. The President’s Press Secretary Jim Richardson (George Wilson) claims there is no threat, but the President (Ernie Meyers) puts a man named Mason Dixon (David Miller) in charge of a taskforce to deal with the tomatoes. Dixon recruits disguise expert Sam Smith (Gary Smith), deep sea diver Greg Colburn (Steve Cates), and olympic swimmer Gretta Attenbaum (Benita Barton), as well as para-soldier Wilbur Finletter (Senator Stephen Pea… wait, Senator? Holy hell, Stephen Peace became a California State Senator).

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Scuba guy is less than useful.

It’s discovered that the regular-sized tomatoes seen thus far in the film are, in fact, cherry tomatoes and that regular tomatoes have now become massive. To combat this threat, the President sends Richardson to get ideas from an ad agency headed by Ted Swan (Al Sklar), who pitches a bunch of slogans but no useful plans. A masked assassin attacks Dixon, revealing himself to be with the tomatoes, but Dixon escapes. Meanwhile, a Senate committee tries to address the problem (hilariously ineffectively), but instead leaks the committee guide to the crisis to a newspaper, which sends reporter Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor). Finletter mistakes Fairchild first for a prostitute and second for a spy and tries to kill her, but fails. He also tries to catch the masked assassin when he strikes again, but loses him.

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His ads are so powerful they appear in the film!

Gretta gets killed by the tomatoes and the Army is defeated by the giant fruits. One tomato chases Dixon, but it jumps out the window when Dixon hides in a young boy’s room playing the awful song “Puberty Love.” Dixon spots the assassin and chases him, but is captured. The assassin is revealed to be Richardson, who, though he didn’t create the tomatoes, figured out their weakness and can now control them. He’s about to reveal his secret when Finletter appears and kills him. Dixon realizes that the secret is “Puberty Love” which has driven off the tomatoes throughout the film.

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This Senator just stabbed someone to death on film. Good start to politics.

Dixon gets all of the tomatoes into a stadium and tells Finletter to bring all the people left in the town to fight. However, only crazy people are left in town (everyone with sense left), so all the people that show up are in funny costumes. Dixon plays “Puberty Love,” which cripples the tomatoes, allowing the crowd to destroy them, except for one tomato who found earmuffs. The last tomato attacks Fairchild, but Dixon saves her by having the tomato read the sheet music to “Puberty Love.” The two profess their love for each other. Then, the carrots start talking…

 

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Our heroes… several of whom are dressed as Groucho Marx.

END SUMMARY

This was one of my favorite films when I was a kid. It had jokes that I was positive were “adult,” goofy over-the-top characters, a weird soundtrack, and the kind of oddball humor that I never could quite figure out. Plus, there was a TV Show on Fox Kids in the 90s, which was when television was awesome. Admittedly, it was based on the sequel film Return of the Killer Tomatoes and the best part of it, John Astin’s Dr. Putrid T. Gangreen, wasn’t in this film, but… well, the title was the same. 

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See the sequels. He is freaking amazing.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a huge critical flop when it came out and it’s not hard to see why, in 1978, this film didn’t do well. It’s a surreal farce in the vein of Airplane! or Police Squad!, but the comic timing (and talent of the performers) wasn’t near the level of those two. This isn’t to say that the performances or the writing are bad, in fact, they’re pretty good, but this was essentially trying to make a surreal humor spoof a few years before the ground was really broken and this movie is even more surreal than most. Audiences probably weren’t ready for this yet. We needed a Star Wars to break the ice, but instead we got… I’m gonna say The Last Starfighter.

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Which is still pretty good.

However, if you watch this film, you realize how influential it was on later media. A lot of gags that you see in this film are repeated in other, later, comedies, most notably the “Slow Car Chase” scene and the “Too-Small Meeting Room.” Hell, the idea of a song killing the evil monsters by being truly terrible would later be ripped off by Mars Attacks (though Howard Stern claimed to have come up with it in 1982… 4 years after this movie came out). Also, fun fact, “Puberty Love” was sung by Matt Cameron, drummer for Soundgarden and later Pearl Jam.

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The intentionally goofy battle scenes are great.

I have to admit that I had forgotten a lot of elements of this film, because some of the scenes are a little forgettable due to their disconnect from the rest of the movie. For example, I had forgotten most of the scenes with the Ad Man, Ted Swan, which include some interesting musical numbers and a parody of the extremely stupid “Whip Inflation Now” campaign… something I didn’t know existed as a kid. That’s definitely one of the reasons why this film is a little weaker, since a lot of the vignettes are connected to the tomatoes, but not directly to the central plot of the film. They’re funny, but they’re not outstanding enough to be remembered independently.

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There’s like 5 scenes of this senate committee doing nothing.

Overall, I really did enjoy re-watching this film. Despite being made in the 1970s, there aren’t a ton of things in it that aged poorly, including the (intentionally) awful effects and camerawork. Sure, some of the contemporary references are hard to catch, but most of the movie is pretty timeless. Is it the best horror spoof? No, but it’s pretty damned fun. If you’ve never seen it, you definitely need to. Much like with Airplane, a lot of what makes this film work are the non-sequiturs and the clever gags. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.