Netflix debuts an adaptation of a comic about a single mother raising her superpowered son.
Nicole Reese (Alisha Wainwright) is a single mother raising her son Dion (Ja’Siah Young) after the death of her husband Mark (Michael B. Jordan) in a freak storm. She is shocked one day when she finds that Dion can move objects with his mind, something he cannot quite control yet. Nicole and her husband’s best friend Pat (Jason Ritter) struggle to keep Dion’s abilities secret from the world while also dealing with the impact this development has on her and her son.
The best part about this show is that, for the most part, the focus is on the difficulties of being a single parent, rather than on superheroics. Except for when she’s worried that Dion is going to get caught by some assumed shadowy government agency or something like that, Nicole treats him just like a normal kid. We also see Dion handling most situations like he was a normal kid. He has issues with other students. He has trouble making friends. He gets embarrassed when what he enjoys isn’t “cool.” Most of the time, this is just a drama about single parenting.
That isn’t to say that the superhero elements aren’t well done. The powers and abilities that Dion manifests are interesting and his difficulties in using them are understandable. He’s a child who has unbelievable power, so naturally he doesn’t focus it well. Hell, he doesn’t focus well in general, because, again, child. When he uses his abilities, they frequently spin out of control or operate on a bigger scale than he intended. This means that he’s dangerous not only to himself but to everyone around him. Worst of all, he likes seeing his powers work, because of course he does. Who wouldn’t? I mean, Peter Parker enjoyed being superstrong and sticking to stuff and that’s significantly less interesting than seemingly limitless telekinesis. Also, without spoiling too much, he gets to use them in the traditional “end of a superhero arc” capacity and it’s pretty fun to watch.
The performances in the series are excellent. I do admit that I’m sad that Michael B. Jordan isn’t in it too much, as he’s just… so damned good in everything. I mean, the man was good in Fant4stic, and that’s basically the equivalent of overcoming cinematic ebola. Still, the rest of the cast are no slouches. Alisha Wainwright does a great job portraying a mother who suddenly is dealing with an unnatural situation but still trying her best. She makes us feel the concern that permeates her every action towards Dion. Ja’Siah Young is also excellent as Dion. He’s so likeable and conveys his childish curiosity so well that you do believe he’s moving all of the stuff with his mind. He also gives realistic responses to issues with others. He cries, he whines, he gets upset easily, but he also has unnatural resolve when he needs it. Jason Ritter manages to probably portray the widest range in the series and it’s all believable, to the point that you will be very uncomfortable at some parts.
The problem with the show is that the script is just pretty mediocre. The effects are decent for the budget, but it never really grabs you the way that a show like this should. It just doesn’t find the hook.
Overall, I enjoyed the show for what it was. I recommend giving it a shot. It’s not Stranger Things or The Good Place or something that strong, but it’s still good.
I got a request for a Halloween episode of BoJack and I cannot resist going into it.
Taking place in a world populated by humans and anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman is a show about an equine equity actor named BoJack (Will Arnett) who had a popular, but critically panned, show from the late 80s through the 90s. In this season, he is having a career resurgence on a new detective series. His closest companions are his feline ex-girlfriend and ex-manager Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his ex-roommate Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), his ex-ghostwriter Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), and his rival and Diane’s ex-husband Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). BoJack is an alcoholic and chronically depressed in addition to a host of other vices. In the episodes leading up to this, BoJack had developed an opioid habit after sustaining a back injury, had started sleeping with his current TV co-star, and had just discovered that Diane knows that he almost slept with the daughter of a former flame.
This episode takes place over the course of 4 separate Halloween parties in 1993, 2004, 2009, and 2018. It turns out that in 1993, Mr. Peanutbutter mistook BoJack blowing him off as an invitation to host a Halloween party. So, he invited himself, all his friends, and his first wife Katrina (Lake Bell) over to BoJack’s house. Each of the Halloweens features Mr. Peanutbutter bringing a different wife/girlfriend (or his “Boo”) to the party. In 1993, he took his then-loving first wife Katrina; In 2004, he takes his second wife Jessica Biel; In 2009, he takes his then-girlfriend Diane; and in 2018, he takes his girlfriend Pickles Aplenty (Hong Chau), and yes that’s her real name.
At each of the parties, Mr. Peanutbutter screws up somehow, resulting in him causing a rift in his relationship. In 1993, it’s that he keeps abandoning Katrina to talk to other people against her request, resulting in her talking to Ben Stein and Tim Allen and becoming an adulterous and cruel ultra-conservative. In 2004, he fails to protect Jessica Biel from seeing a mummy, reminding her that she didn’t get the part in the Brendan Fraser movie (she auditioned for the role of the mummy). In 2009, he pressures Diane into going to the party even though she hates parties. In 2018, he talks about his exes to Pickles, including Diane, who is at the party. He realizes that all of the women he dates start out happy and fun, then end up being bitter and mean. Diane tells him that it’s because he keeps dating women in their 20s, while he’s now in his late 40s. They don’t change because of him, they just outgrow him. After Diane consoles Pickles and tells her that Mr. Peanutbutter does always love every woman he’s with, including her. She then reminds him that she’s so much younger than him by saying they’re gonna party more.
So, this episode definitely is something that has to be watched and re-watched to really make complete sense, because they constantly cut between the time periods to draw parallels between the stories. In a brilliant stroke, however, you can almost always recognize what year it is in any scene by what costumes people are wearing. The costumes are probably the best part of the episode, but more on that later.
One of the major themes throughout the show, and one that BoJack himself had recently elaborated on, is that there are no such things as happy endings. That’s because everyone in the show is so caught up in Hollywood (or Hollywoo as it is called in the show) that it tends to blur their reality and, in TV sitcoms, there can’t be happy endings. Because, if everyone’s happy, there’s nothing to watch. BoJack’s inability to ever improve himself in any meaningful way is tied to the fact that he is a sitcom character. However, this episode shows us that Mr. Peanutbutter suffers from the same futility of change, but in a different way. He can’t grow up, something that does NOT affect the women in his life. In each party, Mr. Peanutbutter acts essentially the same, even though it’s over a 25 year period, and each party ends essentially the same. The same is true for BoJack and Princess Carolyn. This is possibly the scariest theme in any of the things I’m going to go over this Halloween: That no one can ever really change for the better. All change is only temporary, because the show must go on, and we’re all the characters that have to become simpler over time so that the grand audience can follow it more easily. We’re leads in our own story, but that means we can’t ever be more than we are when we finally are being observed.
Note: I don’t believe the above, but the idea that maybe it’s true horrifies me.
What makes it worse is that we know how Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationships are going to go because we’ve seen what they’re like in other flashbacks in the show. Katrina will become abusive to him, but will say it’s because he never listens to her, the thing that he promises to do in this episode. Jessica Biel will become obsessed with her own fame, even claiming success from movies like Stealth, possibly because Mr. Peanutbutter can’t stop her from being reminded of her failures like he did in this episode. There’s an entire episode about a fight that occurs between him and Diane because he hosts a surprise party for her, even though he tells her that he won’t ever force her into another party. He never learns to listen to others, no matter how much he loves those other people.
The only other major revelation in the episode is that Todd only became BoJack’s roommate because he offered to hang out so BoJack wasn’t alone after his dad died. It adds a layer to their relationship off of such a simple act.
Also, I can’t help but appreciate the effort that went into all the costumes at the parties. There are three people who wear the same costume each year: Princess Carolyn who goes as Amelia Earhart, a roach who wears a Beetlejuice costume, and a moth who goes as a ghost, but eats more of his costume every year, finally finishing it off in 2018. Other fun costumes are dependent on the year. In 1993, there’s a costume of Ellie Sadler from Jurassic Park and a pair as Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World. In 2004, Jorge Garcia from Lost is dressed as Shrek, there’s a woman as a female version of Cast Away, Mrs. Incredible from The Incredibles, three girls as the Plastics from Mean Girls, a Jack Sparrow, and a very untimely costume that’s a Bugs Bunny knock-off wearing a shirt for the movie “Space Jelly.” In 2009, there’s an octopus as Octomom and a cat as Keyboard Cat. In 2018, there’s a maiden from The Handmaid’s Tale and a Wonder Woman outfit. 2004 likely has the most timely references because the Jessica Biel plot is based more on costume jokes.
The best part about the use of the costumes is to remind us that even if we don’t change, the rest of the world does, but not in a meaningful way. Pop culture moves on, but people are people. Some people get older and leave, like Hank Hippopopalous (Philip Baker Hall) from 1993 and some new people come in, like Flip (Rami Malek) in 2018, but the way the party goes is still the same.
Overall, this is a great episode of the show and of television in general.
Netflix releases a miniseries about a bunch of strangers waking up on a beach with no memory. It was pretty forgettable.
A group of people awaken on a beach with items nearby, such as a knife, a shell, or a compass. The only information they have is a sign that states “FIND YOUR WAY BACK.” The people are Gabriela (Natalie Martinez), KC (Kate Bosworth), Cooper (Ronald Peet), Moses (Kyle Schmid), Blair (Sibylla Deen), Mason (Gilles Geary), Donovan (Anthony Lee Medina), Taylor (Kota Eberhardt), Hayden (Michelle Veintimilla), and Brody (Alex Pettyfer). As everyone quickly realizes that their situation is not natural, lines begin to be drawn among the group members as they try to figure out what is happening and who they were.
I don’t consider the following a spoiler, but if you truly want to go into this show totally blind, stop reading now. Okay, now that those people are gone, we’ll begin. In case the title of the series (I-Land, like where Steve Jobs is buried) doesn’t hint at it strongly enough, the title card and the title sequence make it extremely obvious that this show takes place in a simulation. The show also makes it explicit in the second episode, so I don’t think that was ever supposed to be a surprise. I’d also argue that since the Matrix movies and all of the films that have followed in their wake, the reveal that “this was all in a computer” is no longer a viable twist, because now people are firmly aware that they could all be in a simulation. Hell, there are people who argue that it’s extremely likely that we are, like that guy who used to run Tesla. In any case, this show’s cast are in a simulation.
One episode into this show, I thought that the mediocre dialogue and Lifetime-movie-esque delivery of the lines were part of the nature of it being in a simulation and that these people would be revealed to be robots or some kind of sentient AI program. If so, then that would make the unnatural way some of the scenes are filmed a commentary on their unnatural nature. But, no, they’re people who are just given weird stuff to say. Fortunately, like with Hallmark movies, you get used to it fast and it just becomes the new norm. From there, it’s pretty easy to actually appreciate the kind of show the creators were going for and the performances actually work within that dynamic, particularly Kate Bosworth and Natalie Martinez. It also allows for the viewer to more easily distinguish between who the characters are on the island, without their memories, and who they are with their memories back. Unfortunately, both versions of the characters are mostly pretty bland and underdeveloped.
The world that the show takes place in is pretty bleak, though we mostly only find out about it through dialogue. However, we do get flashbacks when the people in the simulation start to remember their pasts and they do not portray the future as happy. Or the past. Or the present, actually. Pretty much everything sucks. It doesn’t help that most of the flashbacks are not only unsettling, but downright disturbing. Still, they are extremely exciting when they happen, because the characters react to them at the same time that we do. Going through something revelatory with a character is a cheap way to make us care for them, but it’s one that works.
The themes that the show are exploring are pretty broad (nature vs. nurture; are we defined by our memories or something deeper like a soul; are we us if we don’t know we’re us?) but rather than trying to take a position on any of them, the show ultimately undercuts all of them and says nothing, because the experiment was broken from before it started. It’s supposed to be more about the journey of the characters, but… honestly, they were just so damned boring I didn’t care about it.
If you like cheesy-ish sci-fi, this will be pretty good for you. Since it’s only 7 episodes, it’s not a ton of investment even if you don’t end up loving it. Personally, I didn’t end up liking it much, but I can see why people would.
I take a look at this critical bomb and ask if it really deserved the hate.
Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) inherits a mansion from his uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham), a ghost hunter who died at the hands of a malevolent spirit. Unaware of his uncle’s work, Arthur moves into Cyrus’s house with his two children, Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), and their nanny Maggie (Rah Digga). Cyrus’s attorney Ben Moss (J. R. Bourne) shows them the house while psychic Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) comes in to warn Arthur that there are 12 captive spirits in the house which were obtained by Cyrus. The spirits are contained behind magic glass, until Moss activates a mechanism designed to release them and seal the building. From there, the ghosts start wreaking havoc. Together with Dennis and self-proclaimed “Spirit Liberator” Kalina Oretzia (Embeth Davidtz), the family has to avoid being killed by the more malicious of the spirits and hopefully stop the opening of the building’s secret: The eye of Hell itself.
So, Roger Ebert famously gave this movie only 1 star, based solely on the art direction, special effects, and makeup; basically every other element was destroyed. He even included it on his 2005 “Most Hated” list. His review includes him saying “oh, never mind” multiple times and opining that the screenplay essentially was too ridiculous to even be worth explaining or considering. I understand where he’s coming from on that. The screenplay to this is actually pretty overly complicated for a movie like this, but it seems to me that it is more accurate to say that there was just too much for a 90 minute movie. Every single ghost in the film has a fairly elaborate backstory… that basically never comes up in the movie. These character descriptions were clearly were given to the costume and makeup people because they managed to come up with elaborate and creative renderings of the characters based on them, but the only background we actually get in the movie is the “Juggernaut,” and it’s fleeting. I appreciate all of the effort that went into the writing and designing, but that means that one of the most interesting things in the movie is relegated only to flashes, for the most part. That was the thing that Ebert criticized the most: That this movie is loud, flashy, and poorly edited. He’s not wrong on that part.
One of the fundamental parts of the movie is that the ghosts are invisible to people. The only way to see them is to put on a pair of special glasses. This is because this is a remake of a movie of the same name from 1960 made by William Castle. Castle was famous for putting ridiculous gimmicks in his films, such as having flying skeletons in the movie theater or having vibrating motors in random seats to scare people. In the film 13 Ghosts, one of the characters wears a device to see some of the ghosts (though they’re also visible sometimes normally). The audience members were given a “ghost viewer,” composed of two sides of cellophane to look through. One, the blue side, hid the ghosts in the movie because the film scenes had red colored filters applied to the ghosts; the other, red side, made them more visible. When the film was released on home video, it was packaged with 2 pairs of glasses, one of each color, so that the effect was still possible. This movie pays tribute to that mechanism by having it so that we, the audience, can only see ghosts when the cast members can. It ends up making every scene inherently more tense, because there is literally always the possibility that a ghost is present in the shot. However, it’s never used all the way to its full potential, because… well, the ghosts look amazing, so they wanted to show them off. Still, even though it’s by design, the fact that they literally pop out of nowhere with loud sound cues does tend to make this “jump-scare: the movie.” If you’re not into that, then you will hate this film.
The plot is… well, it doesn’t end up having a lot of emotional appeal, which is kind of where it fails. Ostensibly, the emotional part of the movie is supposed to be about Arthur and his family moving on from the death of his wife, and the movie has a great set-up for this. However, while it pays lip-service to it, honestly, the movie never gives it the time it deserves. We never feel the emotional weight and therefore the emotional journey feels entirely vacant. Since that’s what every critic is pretty much trained to look for in a movie, this bombs on the most basic level. It mostly happens because they really tried to overload the film with the ghosts and there are 12 of them that they’re trying to give some amount of screen-time and, honestly, the rest kind of gets eaten up by Matthew Lillard and his character’s attempt at redemption which, again, falls flat. The plot elements involving the house being a machine designed to open the eye of Hell is interesting, but all of it is basically just info-dumped in a four minute speech and the significance of it is passed over easily.
And now comes the part of the review where I acknowledge that everything I just said is true, but also… I like this movie. Is it scary? I mean, not in the traditional sense of terror or even horror, since we neither get a real buildup of anxiety nor do we get time to feel revulsion after the ghosts appear, because all of the cuts are pretty damned quick and the spectres are rarely in focus long enough for us to really get a sense of the panic that we need from it. That said… the setting and the spirits are just too damned good not to love. The film literally takes place in a glass house that moves to create a labyrinth that can save or damn you in a single moment. The ghosts look amazing and they really do convey a ton of backstory just through appearance and movement. Tony Shalhoub actually manages to get a decent amount of emotion out of his incredibly limited parts in the script. Sure, it’s “jump-scare: the movie,” but dammit, it’s SUPPOSED TO BE THAT. This movie pulled off exactly what it was going for, it just was going for something that’s a little corny and a little cheap.
It’s not the best film out there, but I enjoy it. I recommend that you give it a shot, if only to see what a top-notch production design looks like.
A mind-bending horror story by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill gets adapted by Netflix.
Becky Demuth (Laysla De Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) are driving across the country. Becky is six months pregnant and trying to find a way to get rid of the baby. They stop by a cornfield near an old church in what I think was Kansas in the book and hear a small boy named Tobin (Will Buie, Jr.) calling out for help. The two go into a field of tall grass and get separated quickly. They discover that the cornfield warps time and space, keeping them from finding each other or a way out. They discover that Tobin’s mom (Rachel Wilson) and dad (Patrick Wilson) are also in the grass field, as is Travis (Harrison Gilbertson), the father of Becky’s child. As madness and confusion start to set in, the group has to find a way out of the field.
So, the story this is based on is ironically much more simple and straightforward than the movie, the opposite of what usually happens with adaptations. This ends up making the movie more in line with the themes of the story involving confusion and uncertainty, with Becky’s uncertainty about her pregnancy mirrored with the uncertainty of the people in the grass. The book attempts to throw off the reader by having characters take actions they know to be logical only to get impossible results. The film has the advantage of being able to show an objective viewpoint of the unimaginable physics of the grass, with some of the shots being extremely unnerving. While the fact that we aren’t as close to the feelings of the characters as we are in the book, the acting and the cinematography still get the point across.
Most of the film isn’t traditionally scary. You’re not dealing with monsters or zombies or whatever. Instead, it’s the fact that the world that our characters are in does not follow any laws that we base our reality on. Events don’t happen in order. Time doesn’t flow at constant rates. Directions mean nothing. Standing still doesn’t mean you aren’t moving. Everything is broken and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s extremely off-putting and eerie, leaving you feel uncomfortable the entire time. The one thing that is certain in the film is death, revealing that the only thing that is beyond the reach of the grass are dead things.
The acting in the movie is solid, though I admit that it’s the atmosphere that makes it scary. Patrick Wilson remains a treasure and his ability to play batsh*t crazy makes for a lot of entertainment. The thing that he ends up finding inside of the grass isn’t exactly explained, but that’s part of the horror. The movie ends significantly differently from the book, although it does contain one of the most disturbing elements in the book’s ending. If you read the story, this is still worth seeing.
If you like psychological horror or, to a lesser extent, cosmic horror, give this one a watch.
Leela’s (Katey Sagal) parents are coming to the surface for a one-time visit, due to their mutant status. After securing them permits, she and Fry (Billy West) have to build a supercollider from πkea, the Swedish furniture of the future, for the Professor (West). This ends up being extremely difficult, making them sore. They obtain a miracle cream for the soreness from Dr. Zoidberg (West), which appears to work. Later, the pair are mugged, but are surprised to find themselves superstrong, invulnerable, and superfast. They realize they got the powers from the Miracle Cream and, with Bender as a third, create a superhero team called the New Justice Team. They adopt the superhero names of Captain Yesterday (Fry), Clobberella (Leela), and Super King (Bender), to protect their secret identities.
The three are challenged by a supervillain known as the Zookeeper (West). They manage to stop the crook, but it prevents Leela from meeting her parents. Desperate to apologize to them, she reveals that she’s a superhero, which her father immediately tells everyone. Now knowing her secret identity, the Zookeeper kidnaps her parents and holds them for ransom. The trio rob the natural history museum for a gem and deliver it to the evildoer, but discover they’re out of miracle cream, ending their careers… after Bender and Fry commit a few more crimes.
This episode would usually be a sign that the team was running out of ideas. “Let’s have them become superheroes” seems like the kind of idea that you just throw out when all of the other options have been explored. Despite that, this episode is actually pretty solid. The A- and B-Plot interplay works well, because even as Leela is living a dream of superheroics, she realizes that it’s causing her to sacrifice her other dream of having a relationship with her parents. This ends up forcing her to choose between the two, and she naturally chooses her parents. It works out well.
The identities and the theme song of the superheroes is hilarious. Fry’s alter-ego is designed to look like a person from the 1970s, despite the fact that he was from the 90s. Leela’s outfit is clearly supposed to be a send-up of the typically revealing costumes female superheroes wear, as well as making her symbol a sexist rolling pin. Bender’s is just him wearing a king outfit and a mask. None of these costumes would be at all useful in keeping their identities secret, as Fry’s shows off his hair and mentions that he’s from the past, Leela’s shows off her cyclopic nature, and Benders still shows he’s a robot. Hilariously, Bender already had these when they revealed their powers to him, meaning that he had anticipated one day forming this team. Also, the theme song includes the line “winners don’t use drugs,” a Reagan-era comic throwback.
The best part of the episode, though, is the Zookeeper. He’s among the most ridiculous supervillains ever crafted. He uses animals, though they are apparently only highly-trained, not controlled by him using any superpowers. His menagerie is the best part, as they are not the kind of animals one would expect. They include: a badger with a troubled past and nothing left to lose, an elephant who never forgets to kill, a crab named Lucky, a.k.a. Citizen Snips, a yak, a boxing kangaroo, a python, piranhas that can walk on land, and a hawk. I mostly love the fact that the crab has two names and attacks Teddy Roosevelt’s disembodied head.
Overall, this is a great episode. It focuses more on gags than on plot development, but the gags are pretty great.
Everything about the trio’s meeting with Mayor Poopenmeyer (David Herman) is great, but I particularly love how they get out of his office in order to change into their superhero personas. Leela claims that she forgot that she left her apartment on fire. Bender says that he’s late for his LSATs. Fry just says he can’t take life anymore and jumps out the window.
While this joke does obey the rule of three, obviously, it also subverts the normal structure of a Futurama rule of three gag by having all three of the statements be absurd. Typically, the first two would be somewhat normal and the third would be the insane one, made more insane by the comparison to the first two, but this time, Leela’s is a subversion of the more normal excuse of “I left my stove on,” and the others are even more insane.
Cheers takes place in a dive bar, because, ultimately, all of the characters are people who need to be in a dive bar. They’re a collection of failures. Sam (Ted Danson), the owner/bartender, drank himself out of a major league career. Carla (Rhea Perlman), the waitress, hates her family and most people in general, both in the bar and out of it. Diane (Shelley Long), the other waitress and Sam’s ex, is a constant failure as an intellectual, and really only stays at the bar because it’s the only environment in which she is the smartest person… unless you count Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), who’s only there because he’s alone (and, at this point, divorced once and left at the altar once). Norm (George Wendt), probably TV’s biggest alcoholic that isn’t animated, is there to escape his wife, and Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) is there because he’s an oft-wrong know-it-all who…