Grave of the Fireflies: I’m Just Gonna Go Cry Now – Hulu Review (Day 18)

This is my third watch-through of a movie I tell everyone should be watched exactly once.

SUMMARY (CW: Children dying horribly)

On September 21, 1945, less than three weeks after WWII ends, a young boy named Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi/Adam Gibbs) starves to death in a train station. As a janitor goes through Seita’s possessions, he finds a tin of Sakuma drops (a hard candy from Japan) and discards it into a field. Several small bones fall out, and, along with some fireflies, the spirit of a small girl, Seita’s younger sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi/ Emily Neves), emerges. Together, Seita and Setsuko’s spirits board an ethereal train. 

Seita dies of hunger surrounded by people.

The film then moves a few months back to the end of WWII. Seita and Setsuko live in Kobe with their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara / Shellee Calene-Black), who dies when the US firebombs the city, getting burned to the point that she is unrecognizable. Seita and Setsuko move in with a distant aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi/Marcy Bannor). The aunt is kind to the children at first, but eventually she convinces Seita to let her sell his mother’s valuable silk kimonos in exchange for rice. Seita also gives his aunt all of their possession, except for a tin of Sakuma drops that he keeps for Setsuko. As the war gets to the final stages, rations start to decrease and the number of people in the house starts to increase. The aunt starts to accuse Seita, whose school has been burned down and who can’t get work due to the factories being destroyed, of being lazy and ungrateful. Seita, who wants independence, buys a stove using his mother’s savings and cooks for just himself and Setsuko. Eventually, he decides that the pair should live in an abandoned bomb shelter. 

The bomb shelter is not cozy.

The pair survive off of the land for a brief period while living in the shelter. When Setsuko gets scared of the dark, Seita catches fireflies and keeps them in the shelter with them. The next morning, all of the insects are dead. Setsuko buries all of them in a grave and starts to ask why everything has to die, like their mother. After their supplies start to run low, Seita tries to trade with the farmers, but is refused. Eventually, he starts stealing from farms and running into houses to steal during bombing raids. Eventually, he’s caught and beaten, but is saved from prosecution by a friend of his father, who is currently in the Japanese Navy. 

It’s a cute scene that ends badly.

Setsuko starts to fall ill and a doctor tells Seita that it’s just malnutrition. Seita withdraws the last of the money from their mother’s bank account just as he learns that Japan has surrendered and that his father is probably dead. Seita returns with food for Setsuko, but she dies before he finishes cooking it. Seita cremates her body and stores her remains in the candy tin. In the present, their spirits arrive in modern Kobe, sitting on a hilltop and watching the world happily.

END SUMMARY

I absolutely hate whoever came up with “Film that Depresses You Horribly” as a prompt, but I hate the fact that I didn’t get rid of it even more. Trying to decide which horribly depressing film you want to watch is like asking what brand of liquid laxative to drink before your colonoscopy. No matter what you pick, it’s a shitty time. Anyway, after nominating Sophie’s Choice, Blue Velvet, Lars Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, and this film, I picked this one because it seems the most relevant. No, not because we’re fighting a war with Japan right now (we’re not, right?), but because of the actual intended message of the film.

Also, it does at least have some light scenes.

People who watch this movie will almost uniformly declare it to be an anti-war film, something which the late director, Studio Ghibli founder Isao Takahata, would say was incorrect. In fact, he directly opposed the idea that this is an anti-war anime, because he believed that anyone that used the suffering of the citizens as a justification to avoid war could also use it as a justification for just attacking first. After all, if you kill all of their innocent citizens first, then yours get to live. Not hard to imagine why a guy born in Japan in the 1930s and who lived through a 1945 bombing might have some negative opinions about trying to justify starting a war. 

Look at all the fireflies the planes create.

However, I think that the film does successfully convey the horror of being a citizen when your country is being attacked. There is one scene in the film in which almost everything on screen is on fire, with the entire block just being erased from existence by the bombers. When we next see the area, it’s now a completely scorched landscape, with factories, homes, and even people rendered into a charred mass. It’s incredibly disturbing, but it’s only compounded when we are shown the image of Seita’s mother burned over her entire body. She’s unrecognizable to almost anyone, and later, her wounds are filled with insects and rot. The movie makes sure that we understand that this was not a pleasant end. The same is true of Seita and Setsuko starving to death. It’s not a fast ending, it’s slow and painful. Moreover, it was easily preventable by any number of people.

They make you feel it.

That’s apparently closer to the film’s actual aim, at least from what I can find. Obviously, if you’re a fan of ignoring authorial intent, then that’s a completely valid point of view, but I do like to consider it, particularly in films like this. It seems that the intent in this film wasn’t to say that war is terrible, but instead to say that these children died because no one helped them. They were socially isolated because their aunt kept telling them that they were ungrateful, leading them to leave, and she never checked on them again. Children become aware that the two are living there, but no one comes to check on them. Seita takes Setsuko to a doctor who tells him the child is malnourished, but when Seita asks how to feed her, the doctor just ignores him. The farmers don’t offer to help the children. Even the janitor seems unphased by the dead pre-teen in front of him. The society has become cold and insular because of the stresses from the war, rather than working together or trying to help each other. These children die because everyone abandons them. 

Right, a child asking for help from an adult is unacceptable.

Overall, this is a great film, but it’s hard to watch. Not just because it revolves around kids dying, but because the message isn’t just about war, but about humanity. People need to care for each other, even more when everything is going badly. 

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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10 Things I Hate About You: Kiss Me, Heath – Disney +/Hulu Review (Day 4)

I legitimately forgot how awesome this movie was, and I remembered it being great.

SUMMARY

Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is an antisocial student at Padua High School outside of Seattle. Her father, Walter (Larry Miller), is overprotective of Kat and her sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) due to the loss of his wife and the fact that he is an obstetrician who works with teenage pregnancy. While he originally forbade the pair from dating, he modifies it so that Bianca can only date when Kat does. Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a new student at Padua, wants to ask out Bianca. Realizing that the way to Bianca requires Kat to get a date despite her hostile attitude, he decides to recruit local delinquent Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat. Cameron, using his friend Michael (David Krumholtz), convinces Joey (Andrew “Apparently I run a Cult now” Keegan), the wealthy jerk who has made a bet that he can bed Bianca, to hire Patrick to seduce Kat. 

Yes, this is the 90s, why do you ask?

Kat immediately rebuffs Patrick, but Michael and Cameron provide him with insider information gleaned from Bianca. Patrick starts to gain Kat’s trust and interest, leading to the two going to a party together. Bianca also gets to go and upsets Kat by talking to Joey over Kat’s objection. Kat gets drunk and cuts loose, then knocks herself out on a chandelier. Patrick takes care of her and she finally opens up, but he can’t reciprocate when she attempts to kiss him. Meanwhile, Joey’s behavior angers Bianca and she ends up kissing Cameron. 

Gabrielle Union was 27 here. Gordon-Levitt was 18. She has earned that look.

Joey, still wanting to sleep with Bianca, hires Patrick to ask Kat to prom. Though she’s still mad about him not kissing her, he wins her back by arranging for the marching band to play Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and serenading her. However, Kat refuses to go to prom with him due to her hatred of popular and sexist events. She finally confesses to Bianca that her rejection of social norms is because she slept with Joey years ago due to peer pressure. Bianca tells Kat not to make decisions for her, so Kat relents and goes to Prom with Patrick. Bianca goes with Cameron despite Joey asking her, leading Joey to take Chastity (Gabrielle Union), Bianca’s former best friend. 

The opposite of a Joker smile.

At Prom, Chastity tells Bianca about Joey’s bet to sleep with her and Joey reveals that he paid Patrick to date Kat. Kat storms off and Joey punches Cameron, only for Bianca to beat Joey up for his actions. The next day, Bianca reconciles with Kat, as do Kat and Walter. Kat reads aloud a poem entitled “10 Things I Hate About You” which reveals that she still loves Patrick and the two reconcile. 

I MADE A THING AND I THINK IT LOOKS GOOD!

Also, Daryl Mitchell plays the most aggressive English teacher ever and Allison Janney plays an erotica-writing guidance counselor.  

END SUMMARY

Upon watching this film again, I realized that there’s nothing more appropriate for Shakespeare than to take a tired plot and revitalize it with clever lines and fun performances. As most of you probably remember from High School (where you might have been allowed to watch this film as part of the course), this is an updated version of the play The Taming of the Shrew. Much like this film, the core of the play consists of a man being hired by a suitor to seduce and marry the older sister of the second man’s intended. The twist is that the “Shrew” in the title, Kate (here Kat), is constantly rejecting proposals and has a harsh way with words. In the play, Petruchio (here Patrick), convinces Kate to marry him by being the only man willing to trade verbal jabs with her (in some of Shakespeare’s funniest dialogue). 

The promotional materials don’t capture the verbal exchanges that well…

However, the play doesn’t age well after that because he starts to psychologically torment her into being completely subservient to him and a “good” wife. This film mostly tries to avoid the latter part while keeping the harsh verbal jabs, which is probably the ultimate way to “update” the Bard. Instead of trying to “tame” Kat, Patrick mostly just tries to get her to open up about her interests and for him to realize that he actually likes her. Kat’s changes, while prompted by Patrick, are mostly internal, such as realizing that she only is anti-social because she has to push against any kind of peer pressure. While the film doesn’t make it explicit, it seems like part of her willingness to go to the prom is because she finally recognizes that only doing things because they’re against the crowd is still letting the crowd influence your behavior. 

You. You are the sheep.

I remembered this being a fun movie, to be sure, but I actually was amazed how much I had forgotten about it since the last time I watched it, which, and I’m dating myself, was probably in High School. Right at the beginning of the film, I had forgotten how we were introduced to the characters and the world. Most of it is through either David Krumholtz introducing the various “cliques” around the school (something that would be taken to the extreme in Mean Girls and parodied in Not Another Teen Movie) or through Allison Janney interviewing the various students as a guidance counselor while attempting to write her own pornography. Interestingly, the only two students who actually contribute to the erotic language are Kat (who contributes “quivering member”) and Patrick (whose antics motivate Ms. Perky to use Bratwurst as a euphemism). These are intercut with some witty dialogue exchanges between the various characters which gives us an idea of who everyone in the film is within just a few minutes. 

But Mean Girls didn’t have the “cowboys” subset.

Between Ms. Perky’s wildly inappropriate behavior with the students and Mr. Morgan’s tendency to bluntly berate the students for failing to acknowledge their privilege, the film doesn’t treat teachers like impartial authority figures as much as most high school stories, but more like regular people who somehow fail to get fired. In contrast, Larry Miller, the actual authority figure, is shown being genuinely just concerned for his daughters, even if he’s over the top. Mr. Morgan seems to mostly serve to keep taking the students down when they forget to check their privilege, something that becomes incredibly blatant when he tells Kat “[i]t must be tough for [her] to overcome all those years of upper middle class suburban oppression. His character seems a bit ahead of his time, when you consider this movie is from the late 90s and Mr. Morgan repeatedly points out that the school refuses to let him teach black authors and that Shakespeare’s prevalence, while valid, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t still complicated by being a white guy from the 1600s.  Both of the teachers just seem to exist to give the characters an opportunity for honest and funny interactions. 

YOU ARE ON A WORD PROCESSOR. IT HAS A THESAURUS.

While the story is an update of a play, I will acknowledge that this movie is very dated. From the slang to the outfits to the pop culture references to the soundtrack, this movie screams “welcome to the 90s.” If you were a kid in the 1990s, you’ll probably find almost everything nostalgic. If you weren’t, then there are a number of jokes in this film that will fall flat. While I do love the soundtrack, I will also acknowledge that the heavy presence of Letters to Cleo also feels off, since the band broke up shortly after this film. Their cover, with Save Ferris, of “Cruel to Be Kind” does really elevate the prom scene, though. However, all of the other music gets overshadowed by the sheer beauty of Heath Ledger’s iconic singing of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” That scene is so over-the-top and ballsy and genuine that it really should never have worked, except that Ledger completely commits. You can feel that he knows it’s ridiculous but that he is willing to do it anyway. It’s iconic for a reason.

Then there’s the poem that gives the movie its name. I remembered that it existed, but I will admit that I forgot that it really is the climax of the film. Kudos to Julia Stiles, it comes off as completely sincere even though the poem is slightly ridiculous. I mean, one of the lines is “I hate you so much it makes me sick – it even makes me rhyme.” That’s pretty corny. However, when she reaches the end, she finally breaks down as she openly admits that, as much as Patrick did to her, she still can’t hate him.

Overall, this film really does still work. Yes, it’s mostly for 90s kids, but I think anyone would appreciate the clever dialogue and great performances by most of the cast. 

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.

Dirty Dancing: It’s Cheesy, It’s Controversial, It’s Still a Classic – Hulu/Prime Review (Day 2)

I watched the first of the Audience picks, and I still like it.

SUMMARY

It’s the Summer of 1963, the British Invasion isn’t happening for a few months, and 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) is vacationing with her family in the Catskills. It turns out that Max (Jack Weston), a friend of Baby’s father, Jake (Jerry Orbach), runs the resort and has instructed the wait staff to seduce the daughters of the guests. One night, Billy (Neal Jones), one of the locals, invites Baby to a secret dance party that the staff throws after hours. There she meets and briefly dances with Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), a 26-year-old dance instructor at the resort. Yes, he’s more than one-and-a-half times her age, but I guess it was the 60s?

Or maybe he’s just so damned sexy you don’t care.

Johnny’s dance partner, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), gets pregnant after sleeping with Robbie (Max Cantor), one of the staff who goes to Yale Med School. Robbie quickly starts to move onto Baby’s sister Lisa (Jane Brucker) and abandons Penny. Baby borrows money from her father to get Penny an abortion, but Baby has to take Penny’s place at a dance performance at another resort. Baby and Johnny train together repeatedly and do a decent job, aside from not being able to pull off the finale. However, Penny’s back-alley abortion turns out to be done by a hack and she starts to bleed out. Baby gets her doctor father to stabilize her, but Jake assumes that Johnny was the father and bans Baby from seeing her. They continue to see each other in secret.

You disappointed Jerry Orbach. Never disappoint the Orbach.

Johnny gets hit on by a cheating wife, Vivian (Miranda Garrison), but he rejects her. She sleeps with Robbie instead, which fortunately turns Lisa off of Robbie when she catches them. Vivian sees Baby leaving Johnny’s cabin, however, and tries to frame him for theft as revenge for turning her down. You’d think the fact that she got laid anyway would have assuaged her anger, but I’m guessing Robbie is crap in bed. Also, missing out on some Patrick Swayze lovin’ is probably going to anger any woman. Fortunately, Baby alibis Johnny to save him from being arrested and the real thieves are caught, but Johnny gets fired for sleeping with Baby. 

The two worst people in this film.

At the talent show at the end of the Summer, Jake gives Robbie a recommendation for med school, but then retracts it because he admits he got Penny pregnant. Also, he’s just a jackass in general. Johnny arrives and declares his love for Baby, leading him to inform her father that “nobody puts Baby in a corner.” They end up performing the dance that they’d practiced but this time they nail the final lift, which is so powerful that Dr. Houseman apologizes to Johnny and Baby and apparently classism ends forever. 

END SUMMARY

The prompt here was a movie which began with my first initial (D). I let you all nominate films and I picked a movie using a random number generator. The first time, I let the films be weighted by how many people nominated them and got this movie. I decided to try just assigning one number to each movie to see what would win that way and… this movie won again. So, apparently, the universe wanted me to watch this again.

The universe… or something more?

It’s only when I attempt to summarize this film that it fully hits me just how ridiculous much of this movie is. I know that a ton of people have made fun of it before, but the idea that Dr. Houseman is the bad guy for forbidding his daughter from sleeping with a guy who would be a statutory rapist in some states does not age well. While it’s clear that he’s a bit overprotective and doesn’t have great communication with his children, I’m pretty sure every parent with a high-schooler would be wary of her banging a guy who is pushing 30. Of course, to balance this movie putting the idea that this is okay in the audience’s head, we have Lisa’s journey trying to lose her virginity to Robbie, the elitist jerk, and only being spared that presumably terrible moment of regret by catching him with another woman. On the other other hand, Robbie was literally ordered by his boss to have sex with the customers, so maybe Max is the real crapbag of this film. I was shocked that I’d remembered that we were supposed to hate Robbie but had completely forgotten about Max. 

Encouraging prostitution. That’s why he makes the big bucks.

Actually, that’s one of the things that surprised me most on re-watch, how much of this movie really gets forgotten about while we mostly remember Patrick Swayze flexing and Jennifer Grey being thrust into the air. A back-alley abortion that was so poorly done that it almost killed the mother is a large plot point in this film. Having to bring Baby’s father in to save Penny’s life is responsible for Baby and Johnny being separated for the second half. I don’t know if it was intentionally trying to make a point, but this film is one of the rare instances of media pointing out how desperate women would seek abortions even when it was illegal and that it would often go horribly because of the clandestine nature. 

The “doctor” had a dirty knife and a folding table.

Also, I had forgotten exactly how horny this movie was. I know it’s a film that’s famous for conflating dirty dancing and sexuality, but that’s kind of ignoring the unbelievable amount of actual sex that’s in the movie. Everyone in the catskills wants to get it on, from the guests and the wait staff to Lisa and her burning desire to lose her virginity to Johnny and Baby to Vivian the adulterous housewife. Sex so permeates this movie that I am shocked how many parents let their kids watch it. Hell, I think I saw it before I was 10. I think it’s because the dancing sequences are so overwhelming that people literally just forget about all of the wanton sexuality. Given that the movie is set in 1963, it stands to reason that this is really just on the gap between the uptight social mores of the 1940s and 1950s (which consisted of banging people but not admitting to it) and the free love movement of the 1960s (which consisted of banging people and telling everyone about it). 

So damned sexy. Also, Jennifer Grey was cute.

The performances in this movie are solid, no question. The characters are pretty simple (poor guy with heart of gold, poor little rich girl), but there’s a reason why Swayze and Grey are icons for the roles. She has a natural ability to convey her desire through a mask of being a meek good girl. On the other hand, Swayze has a natural earnestness that makes him seem heroic while he has so much charisma that it practically oozes off of his shirtless body. It gives them the perfect balance.

Such perfect balance.

The soundtrack to this movie is so good that, if it had not won the vote, it would be a strong contender for Day 6’s “best movie soundtrack.” Aside from the iconic “The Time of My Life,” which will forever be associated with this film (for which it was composed), the background music is a litany of great 50s and 60s songs. There’s Otis Redding, The Drifters, The Four Seasons, and the Ronettes, and they help convey the setting far better than most of the other aspects of the film. The hairstyles and outfits make this the most 80s version of the 60s ever, but at least the soundtrack puts it on track. A weird thing I’d never noticed before is that they use The Blow Monkeys’ cover of “You Don’t Own Me” rather than Leslie Gore’s original version. While Gore made it into a powerful feminist anthem, the Blow Monkeys sing it from a man’s point of view, which is really odd since the famous line is “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” not “nobody puts Johnny in a jail cell.” I just think it’s a weird twist.

She was having the time of her life, though.

Overall, still a great film. It’s got a lot of stuff in it that I just plain didn’t remember about it, but it’s got so many iconic scenes that it deserves its status as a perennial watch.

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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Dora and the Lost City of Gold: The Above-Silver Standard of Adaptation – Hulu Review

I checked out the live-action Dora the Explorer film and it was surprisingly good.

SUMMARY

Dora (Isabela Moner/Madelyn Miranda) was raised in the jungles of Peru by her parents Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria), who were trying to locate the lost Inca city of Parapata. The only other person she saw was her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg/Malachi Barton), who left when she was 6. Ten years later, Dora is sent by her parents to live with Diego’s family in Los Angeles while they try to finally travel to Parapata. Dora doesn’t fit in well at the school, but due to her positive attitude she doesn’t tend to get dragged down too much by it. Her intelligence earns her the ire of A-Student Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and her kindness earns her the adoration of Randy (Nicholas Coombe). When Dora, Diego, Sammy, and Randy get grouped together on a school field trip, they are abducted by a group of mercenaries under a man named Powell (Temuera Morrison) who take them to Peru. Powell and his men want to find Dora’s parents and the city of Parapata, which is made of gold. Dora and the kids escape with the help of Dora’s pet monkey, Boots, and a man named Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) who worked with Dora’s parents. Dora resolves to track down her parents and, with the help of her friends, find the lost city of gold. Also, Benicio Del Toro is a masked fox named Swiper.

I’m not saying I want Michael Peña to be my dad, but… I mean, don’t you?

END SUMMARY

I never saw Dora the Explorer or its spin-off Go Diego Go because it was after my time but before my nieces and nephew came along. Or maybe they watched it and I didn’t care enough to notice. I’m not a great uncle. I don’t know if that made this movie better or worse for me, because I am sure there were a ton of inside jokes that I didn’t get, but also I wasn’t so nostalgic for the series that this film’s mockery of the source material offended me. Regardless, I only watched this movie at all because I saw someone online say that it was a pleasant surprise, so I felt like I should pass on the good word.

Yes, there’s an animated sequence. Yes, it involves drugs.

This movie feels like one of the best examples of self-parody out there and I’m kind of astonished that Nickelodeon actually agreed to make it. The movie starts off by having the young Dora and Diego mimic their cartoon counterparts, only to reveal that the events are entirely inside of their imaginations. Young Dora even talks to the camera, which is revealed to be perceived by others as her talking into the air. Her father (all hail Michael Peña) just says that she’ll grow out of it. When she is older, she instead records herself using a GoPro, which allows her to still act as if she’s talking to an audience. It keeps one of the show’s elements in the film, but also pokes fun at how ridiculous constantly asking for a non-existent audience to talk to you would look in real life. 

Also, there’s monkey looks really messed up.

That’s actually most of the film. It’s gently poking fun at how insane a person like Dora the Explorer would be, particularly when she grew up, but it also loves the relentless hope and positivity of the character. This affection shines through even in absurd situations, like when Dora tries to use an instructional song to help another character dig a latrine hole. Unlike most films where the outsider would have a long rejection period, this one mostly cuts that short because Dora doesn’t care too much about what people think about her. It’s more empowering than most other films, because she really is stronger than most people. The film likewise mocks adventure film tropes frequently, but also pays tribute to them in the end. It’s a tough balance, but the film walks the line well while also having a ton of fun moments and funny dialogue. It also has possibly the greatest Danny Trejo cameo in history.

It has some solid Indiana Jones-esque moments.

Overall, this movie was really fun to watch. I’d recommend it, particularly after a few drinks.

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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Higher Power: A Story of Divine Proportions – Hulu Review

A man is given superpowers, but is controlled by a mad scientist. 

SUMMARY

There is a black hole collapsing out in the galaxy and it is poised to release a huge burst of gamma rays. In the event that it does, Earth will be destroyed. A mysterious voice contacts a scientist (Colm Feore) and tells him that there is only one way to save the world. At the same time, Joe Steadman (Ron Eldard), a recovering alcoholic who lost his wife tries to reconnect with his daughters. When he meets with his oldest daughter, Zoe (Jordan Hinson), he loses his temper and attacks her physicist boyfriend, Michael (Austin Stowell). His youngest daughter, Rhea (Marielle Jaffe), is revealed to be a drug addict. Later, Joe is attacked and knocked unconscious. When he awakes, the scientist now has a chip embedded in Joe’s head and eye, and he forces Joe to start committing crimes, eventually causing him to overload an experimental energy source. Now Joe has control over the four fundamental forces of the universe, but they are tied to his emotions. He can potentially save mankind… if he doesn’t destroy everything first. 

The beam of death that renders all of human life pointless. Very pretty.

END SUMMARY

I’ve mentioned repeatedly that I tend to love horror movies especially when they serve as an effective metaphor for some kind of trauma. Even though this movie isn’t solidly in the horror genre, it still contains a lot of horror elements, and one of them is that this movie does convey an excellent metaphor. But more on that in a second.

For example.

Any movie that has Colm Feore in it, particularly as the bad guy, is off to a good start. While my favorite of his villainous performances is in The Chronicles of Riddick, Paycheck and even Stephen King’s Storm of the Century got a boost from his ability to play a calculating and sadistic character. In this, he mostly operates as a disembodied voice that controls Joe, but his voice adds a level of gravitas to it that other actors might not have been able to pull off. Ron Eldard, who I really only remember from the movie Ghost Ship, does a good job playing a morally ambiguous character. Joe is massively flawed, having lost faith in almost everything due to the loss of his wife and instead turned to alcohol and violence. He’s trying to get his life back together, but it’s obvious from his daughter’s reaction that he’s failed at this before and he immediately fails again upon hitting any hurdle. Then he gets dragged into a situation in which he is being forced to do things against his will because they can threaten his daughters. After he gets powers, he has to deal with trying to control his anger in order to become something more than himself. 

Seriously, Colm Feore is so great at villainy.

While the script for this film is kind of basic in terms of dialogue, often having some clunky exposition or over-the-top melodrama, the concepts are so neat and the film progresses so swiftly that you probably will overlook it. It helps that the movie contains a visual style that alternates between being drab and gritty and being vibrant and luminous to separate the local with the cosmic. The film frequently talks around the insignificance of humans on the universal scale, yet it embraces the idea that perhaps humanity can ascend. 

Ascend to control the universe itself.

The big metaphor for the film is that of recovering from addiction. The film’s title, and a few lines in the film itself, reference the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The first step of AA is to admit that you’re powerless over alcohol (i.e. that there is a problem), but the second step is to believe that a higher power (i.e. God) can restore you. In this film, Joe is revealed to be powerless over both his drinking and his anger. However, after the scientist takes control of him (the scientist is literally billed as “Control”), then Joe is forced to give himself up to a higher power who is literally controlling him. Eventually, after successfully giving himself up to it, Joe has recovered enough to finally take control himself, over both his addiction to alcohol and to anger, allowing him to self-actualize. As is common in addiction recovery, the film has Joe put something above himself in order to finally change: His children.

And aren’t we all the children of a god?

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. Give it a try.

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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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu): A Masterpiece – Hulu Review

I take a look at this French period piece about a forbidden romance. SEE IT.

SUMMARY

Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is a female painter who has inherited her father’s studio. She is teaching a class when one of her students brings out a painting which she calls “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” causing her to think about the events that led to it.

She appears to be a good teacher.

Earlier in her life, Marianne had been commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman named Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) before Heloise is married off to a Milanese noble. Marianne is told by Héloïse’s mother, the Countess (Valeria Golino), that Héloïse has refused to sit for previous portraits, so Marianne will pretend to walk with her in order to study her appearance and paint her. She accompanies Héloïse for a week, only to end up bonding with her. It is revealed that Héloïse was originally in a convent, but was set to be married to her sister’s fiance after her sister died. At the end of the week, Marianne shows Héloïse the painting, which she derides. Héloïse agrees to sit for a proper portrait while her mother is away. The only other person in the house is Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), the maid. During the ensuing days, Héloïse and Marianne grow closer, falling into a passionate affair, which threatens to consume them both.

So much passion. And all in French, the language of Passion.

END SUMMARY

I really loved this movie, to the point that I thought it would be a good idea to take notes while watching it. Unfortunately, my first note was simply “French just sounds classier,” so I believe that my mind may have fallen into disrepair from the amount of bad movies I watch on this blog. I blame all of you.

You did this to me.

This turned out to be the second film that I have seen by director Céline Sciamma, because I didn’t remember that I had seen the film Water Lillies. That was Sciamma’s first feature film as a director and screenwriter as well as her previous collaboration with Adèle Haenel. Water Lillies similarly involved women coming to understand their sexual attraction to each other, but that film appears to have focused more on juvenile and youthful attraction, while this film focuses on a more adult relationship. It’s been a while since I watched it, but the filmmaking techniques seem to similarly have matured in the decade of work between them. I haven’t seen the rest of Sciamma’s work, but a quick read-through of her curriculum vitae behind the camera suggests that her most frequent themes involve making the viewer question the nature of masculine and feminine roles in film, focusing almost entirely on either female or non-binary protagonists and main characters. 

And of course the male gaze.

A lot of this film’s strength comes from how well it manages to convey backstory without having to waste time with exposition. It was doing so well at the beginning that when the film spent an extra two or three scenes, albeit short ones, to explain the circumstances of how exactly Héloïse became engaged to the nobleman, I actually was a little disappointed. However, the rest of the film was so tight in its storytelling that I forgot about it. That same efficiency really starts to shine when the full scope of the movie becomes apparent. Even though the movie is only two hours long, each act of this film contains enough development that they would normally be the plots of independent films. When the first painting is complete, that might be the end of a story, but here it’s just the start of the real one. 

This time, they have to interact all day long.

There are a host of themes in this movie, but the biggest one is that of control. Control is naturally a big subject for feminist films, because… well, historically women haven’t had it. Setting this in the 1800s means that the characters in this film have even less than their modern counterparts. Marianne has more than most of her contemporaries by virtue of being in a profession that at least allows women to operate independently (though mostly only under her father’s name), while Héloïse, having been placed into a convent and then forcibly married without her consent, actually has less freedom. In the middle is Sophie, who is a servant, but is also revealed to have a secret private life. First, we see her try to assert her control over her own body, then we see that she is part of a group of women on the island that hold secret meetings. These women experience a kind of freedom in their collective bond. We see a single bonfire celebration with these women in which they chant repeatedly “Non Possum Fugere,” which means “I am not able to flee.” It’s an accurate sentiment, since they can’t possibly ever escape a society that condemns them, but it turns out that Sciamma meant to say “they come fly,” as a reference to Nietzsche and the idea that most people cannot bear the loneliness of true freedom. People hate the Ubermensch, so it is hard to deal with that. I’m not sure exactly what the point of this reference is. I think it means that perhaps the reason why these women have not sought freedom is because of the fear of independence. Or maybe I’m misremembering Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Symbolism. Overload.

The use of color and lighting in this film is phenomenal, as you would expect from a movie that is about creating an elaborate art piece. The first distinct thing I remember is the film getting washed out the first time that Marianne goes outside to follow Héloïse on a walk. It mimics the effect of the human eye going from darkness to bright light, and it makes Héloïse’s outfit appear to be more like a black convent outfit. Since we were told earlier that she only wears convent clothes, that’s to be expected. However, as the film adjusts, it’s revealed that the outfit is actually a patterned blue. It’s at roughly that moment that we see her face for the first time, and the effect is way more pronounced because it feels like we’re really experiencing it first-hand. That’s just one example of the use of colors, but the movie has many more. 

As a picture, this is almost mundane. As a scene, it is triumphant.

Symbolism and allusion permeate almost everything in this film, from the outfits and settings to the position of the characters and even the position of hands in paintings. A big one that the film makes more explicit than others is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but I would rather you watch the movie than have me explain it. 

Other times, the symbolism is blatant and brilliant in equal measure.

The performances. Dear God, the performances. For a film that only has four real character, each one of them has to carry a lot of their screentime, including Valeria Golino, who I mostly knew for her comedic work in Hot Shots! She gives a surprising depth to a character that could literally have just been a plot device. The chemistry between the leads is so fiery, you can honestly feel their passion coming through the screen. 

So much comes out behind what seem like reserved performances.

Overall, I cannot tell you how much I loved this movie. I could write another three thousand words on this and still feel shallow. However, instead, I’ll turn it over to a more qualified voice.

THE FACELESS OLD WOMAN WHO LIVES ON MY COUCH

I know my perspective was requested because I’m a queer woman, but I also just wanted to take a second to say how visually beautiful this movie is. The colors. The use of light. The scenery, especially by the sea. Simultaneously, the film’s confinement to one (beautiful) setting for almost the whole movie makes it feel eerily relevant for quarantine. 

The location is breathtaking.

While the countess is gone, the three remaining women cook, work, and play together. On the other hand of Héloïse being betrayed by her mother, we see Marianne, Héloïse, and the women of the nearby village all try to help Sophie abort her pregnancy. These scenes are harrowing to watch in many ways, but what’s remarkable is the complete lack of pushback on the decision – only support. I think this part of the movie also serves to set it apart from period pieces that feel like they’re only about rich people problems. After the abortion, Héloïse decides she wants Marianne to recreate the scene in painting. Which I suppose is meant to drive home this vision of abortion being represented from a woman’s perspective and not colored by the patriarchy, but still is somewhat uncomfortable as Sophie is roused from her convalescence and posed by the other two women. (Perhaps this is an intentional reminder that not all women have the same problems?) Nevertheless, at the end of the movie, the countess brings a man with her to transport the portrait, and (to paraphrase Andy Samberg) ruins the whole vibe of this space without men.

It’s strange sometimes to watch actually queer media when I feel like I’m immersed in fandoms that imagine queer relationships between canonically straight characters or real-life straight people. I was reading a piece about Taylor Swift’s recent album folklore that discussed how queer the album feels, even though it is by a straight artist. And the reason it does is the expression of longing. Longing feels queer because of all the roadblocks that queer lovers face, particularly societal expectations and fear that the other person doesn’t feel the same way and maybe you’re misinterpreting all the signals you think they’re sending. (And what the consequences might be if you make your feelings explicit.) So a movie about actual lesbian lovers, whose longing echoes through the corridors of the house and against the rocks by the sea? Peak sapphic.

And there’s a lot to be said for Yonic imagery.

But of course, Marianne and Héloïse’s love cannot be. As Angelica laments in Hamilton, “I’m a girl in a world in which my only job is to marry rich.” (And male, of course.) There isn’t even a father to force this marriage on Héloïse, only her mother who likes Milan and thinks Héloïse will also like Milan, I guess. Marianne knows this, and has ghostlike visions of Héloïse in her wedding dress. The first time this happens, she is climbing the stairs to Héloïse’s room after their first kiss, and I gasped. It was confusing at first, as this is not a ghost story. But she’s obviously still alive and the ghost is wearing a wedding dress, and I came to realize that this isn’t a ghost in the way of a vision of a person who disappeared in the past – it was a vision of a person disappearing in the future. And it’s such a familiar feeling, when you’re pursuing something that you know isn’t going to work out – you see exactly how it’s going to end, even as that thought fades to the back of your mind when you think about seeing that person again, right this second.

“I wasted time.” Marianne laments on their last night together.

“I wasted time too.” Héloïse assures her.

The movie doesn’t force a perspective on what is and isn’t a waste of time. We’re left with the impact of that time, forgotten until those moments when it comes sharply into focus.

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.

The Unicorn: Finding a Third is Menage a Tricky – Hulu Review

Lauren Lapkus and Nick Rutherford star in this tale of a couple trying to branch out.

SUMMARY

Mal and Cal (Lapkus and Rutherford) are a couple that have been together for seven years, engaged for four, and have not yet set a date to get married. They go to the vow renewal of Malory’s parents (Beverly D’Angelo and John Kapelos) and find out that the couple have kept their marriage alive through being sexually adventurous. That evening, the pair go out to try and reinvigorate their relationship and end up deciding that they should have a threesome. They end up running into a very open young woman named Jesse (Lucy Hale), a gay strip club owner/dancer named Tyson (Beck Bennett), and a very helpful “masseuse” named April (Dree Hemingway) in their hunt to find the elusive “unicorn,” the person that is down for a threeway with a couple. 

That face when you realize your parents are swingers.

END SUMMARY

This movie asks the important question: Is everyone having group sex except you? It’s similar to the trope of most high school or college sex comedies where everyone feels like they’re the only one that isn’t sexually active. The thing is, this is never really about having sex or having group sex or whether it’s a good idea or not; just having to ask the question means that you are feeling insecure about something. In the case of the film, it’s that Mal and Cal both are trying to avoid the fact that their relationship has grown extremely stagnant. They feel like the idea of having a threesome is the best way to breathe new life into their rut, but they instead find out that there are lots of things that they didn’t know about each other. 

They’re super awkward.

That’s actually the subtle thing The Unicorn does that separates it from other, similar, sex comedies. There are moments of genuine emotional honesty that come out as the two find out that there are always more layers to the other person than you would expect. Unfortunately, that also means that there are things that the other person didn’t feel comfortable sharing, and if you’ve been together for seven years, you should probably not have a ton of those. Everyone has secrets, to be sure, but most of the ones in this movie are just told to the other person to avoid an honest discussion, something that ends up overwhelming the pair as more and more come out. While Lapkus and Rutherford are both more naturally comical, they also pull off the dramatic scenes well.

There are some really solid emotional scenes.

The supporting cast are also excellent. Each of the potential partners that the couple tries to find are all a different kind of inappropriate for them. Hale plays Jesse as being fairly ambiguous as to what she actually wants, and the final scene with her plays out perfectly. Bennett is… well, Beck Bennett is just damned funny. Here, he thrives on being just the right kind of inappropriate. Hemingway is a combination of effortlessly sexy and naturally understanding and contemplative. They’re all interesting characters that evoke different things from our leads. However, at the end, it seems likely that no one would ever REALLY be the right person for them, because they were only ever trying to find a way to avoid dealing with reality. As such, the right person doesn’t exist, like a unicorn.

God, Beck Bennett nails this character.

Overall, it’s a decent movie, but I wasn’t blown away by 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.

Palm Springs: I Love This Movie – Hulu Review (Ending Explained)

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti star in this smart romantic comedy.

SUMMARY

It’s November 9th and Nyles (Andy Samberg) is at the wedding of Tala Wilder (Camila Mendes) and Abe Schlieffen (Tyler Hoechlin) with his girlfriend, Misty (Meredith Hagner). After the wedding, a drunken Nyles delivers an impromptu toast, which bails out Tala’s unprepared sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti). Nyles starts up a conversation with her and the two hit it off. She and Nyles find Misty cheating on him, so they start to make out in the desert until they’re interrupted by someone named Roy (J.K. Simmons) shooting Nyles with arrows. Injured, Nyles crawls into a strange cave and Sarah follows. She finds herself waking up on November 9th, now stuck in a time loop with Nyles. Hijinks definitely ensue.

Some hijinks involve the pool and beer. Most, honestly.

END SUMMARY

So, I went into this movie totally blind. I was told that it was funny and it stars two people I like, so I figured I would watch it eventually, but I didn’t know anything about the film. I almost wish that I could talk about this movie without mentioning the central conceit. However, it is a hallmark of good filmmaking that I was able to guess the underlying time loop premise just based on a few scenes of Andy Samberg interacting with the crowd. It was at that point I paused the movie and said “This is awesome.” It would not be the last time I did so during this film. 

I really hope Andy Samberg got to drink some of that beer.

Actually, that amazing efficiency of storytelling is part of what works best about Palm Springs. It doesn’t have to really tell us everything that Nyles has gone through because we can see how he interacts with the world now. His nihilism (not saying that’s why his name is Nyles, but…) has taken over his life because literally nothing he does matters. He has been through so much that he barely feels human, but we also get the idea that he was never filled with an abundance of ambition before this. Nyles, despite having spent what has to be literal years in this loop, doesn’t appear to have actually used it to gain new skills or better himself, he’s just given up and gotten drunk. The movie takes advantage of the fact that you’re probably familiar with at least some other Groundhog Day loop media and uses that to skip over some of the more common stages in the trope, like moving past the suicide montage. It does the same with many tropes of romantic comedies, allowing us to skip quickly past some of the dumber formulaic elements and move towards some more genuine and compelling interactions.

They even make the wedding hijinks more interesting than most films.

Cristin Milioti is one of my favorite actresses in recent years, mostly due to her amazing performance as the titular Mother in How I Met Your Mother. In this film, she is damned near perfect and the chemistry between her and Andy Samberg is so natural that it never seems forced even under the most bizarre situations. Sarah is a screw-up and basically the black sheep of her family, something that doesn’t exactly seem undeserved based on some of her actions during the film, but we also see that unlike Nyles she doesn’t give up easily. Her growth throughout the film is hard-won, but it’s almost more satisfying than Nyles’s arc because we see her initial fall into depression after she realizes that she’s stuck in a loop. 

She’s so good at reaction shots. “Acting is reacting” is a real thing, guys.

Oh, and then there’s the comedy. My god, there’s the comedy. Andy Samberg isn’t exactly playing his usual goofy layabout like in Brooklyn Nine-Nine or the oblivious Rock Star from most of his Lonely Island projects. Instead, he’s a broken man, and he nails the humor that comes from that kind of darkness. His dialogue delivery and even his physical performances kept me laughing throughout the entire plot, but it only gets better when he’s with Milioti. Her comedy reactions are on-point, as is her delivery. She can give a good line a push into great, or give a look that moves a fun joke into uproarious. I was laughing so hard at points I almost broke, and a lot of that was just the two of them messing around with the time loops. All of the supporting characters, too, help create this hilarious environment.

Did I mention that hijinks ensue? Because they do.

Overall, I just loved this movie. It was one of the most fun times watching a film I’ve had in a while. I recommend it to everyone.

ENDING EXPLAINED

Just making sure that people get what happened at the end here. Sarah, having studied Quantum Mechanics, determines that the only way to get out of the time loop is to destroy the cave while the loop is actually transporting them back to the beginning of the day, because it’s a temporal wormhole. If they destroy the cave and themselves at the same time while the cave is transporting them back, that’ll cause the wormhole to try and restart twice at the same time, essentially overloading it and blowing them into tomorrow. Now, this is entirely insane, but why listen to me, I’m just a physicist. We don’t find out of they started the next day where the first loop ended or where the last loop ended, but since they both have memories of the full loops, probably the latter. 

At the end of the movie, we also see the dinosaurs which the pair saw while they were on mushrooms earlier. It turns out that these are the Cabazon dinosaurs, a set of giant roadside attractions that were previously in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The dinosaurs are visible from Palm Springs due to their size and proximity. They appear to be moving in both scenes, but I think the first time that’s because of the drugs and the second time that’s because of the thermals coming off of the desert. However, it’s also possible that because there’s a magic time portal buried in the mountains, there might also sometimes be dinosaurs near the fake ones. After all, love is just as crazy as a time portal. 

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.

Miss Snake Charmer: Not As Crazy As You Want – Hulu/Amazon Mini-Review

There’s a documentary about a strange pageant that isn’t strange enough.

SUMMARY

Every year since 1958, in Sweetwater, Texas, the Sweetwater Jaycees conduct the world’s largest rattlesnake roundup. Hundreds or even thousands of rattlesnakes are captured and turned into exhibits, boots, and, of course, delicious snake meats. The festival includes a gun and coin show, a literal giant tub of snakes, and the Miss Snake Charmer beauty pageant. 

It’s very wriggly in there.

END SUMMARY

If you’re from a small town you’re probably familiar with a festival like this. I’ve been around Florida to many of their festivals, ranging from watermelon to railroad to ‘possum (not to be confused with opossum, which is how it’s spelled by Yankees). All of them are usually fun, local events that are designed to boost the local economy. Much like the Rattlesnake Roundup, there’s often a beauty pageant or a similar contest associated with it. Sadly, the Miss Snake Charmer pageant is pretty much the same as those: Cute and unconventional, but only moderately interesting.

Just some small town girls. Living in a… wait, no.

When this documentary started, I imagine that the people filming it assumed that any festival dedicated to capturing hundreds of rattlesnakes must inherently be staffed by the kind of crazy people that we usually see only in Christopher Guest movies. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most of the people featured, ranging from the festival hosts to the pageant contestants, are painfully normal. Despite the fact that they hold a festival dedicated to poisonous snakes, the citizens of Sweetwater are mostly just regular folks, most of whom only value the festival for the fact that it clears out snakes and brings in revenue. Given that the town of less than 11,000 people gets an $8.3 Million boost from the festival, that’s understandable. 

Seriously, check out the crowd.

While, yes, the media day for the pageant does include having the girls kill and skin a rattlesnake, the other parts of the event are fairly mundane. It’s not that it’s not a nice pageant, it’s very well done, but it’s not likely to be what you envision when you hear “Miss Snake Charmer.” It would likely have been more fun to follow a snake handler church service.  Honestly, the roundup looks fun, it just doesn’t have anything too out of the ordinary. 

The red hand prints are blood, so that’s kind of unique.

Overall, the documentary is a bit of a letdown, unless you want to see a literal tub of snakes. This seems like the kind of thing that needs to be seen live to be fully enjoyed.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time 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.

Why Everyone Should Watch Steven Universe – Hulu/Cartoon Network Op-Ed

There’s a reason why the people of the world believe in Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl… and Steven.

SUMMARY

Welcome to Beach City, Delmarva (yes, that’s a state here). It’s a quiet seaside town, except for all of the monster attacks. Fortunately, it has long been guarded over by the Crystal Gems, a group of sentient magical alien gemstones in human form. The team consists of leader Garnet (Estelle), wild child Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), and strategist Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall). At the beginning of the series, they are raising their future fourth teammate, Steven Universe (Zach Callison), the son of their former leader Rose Quartz (Susan Egan) and her human lover Greg Universe (Tom Scharpling). Steven starts to inherit his mother’s powers when he’s 13, leading him to want to take a more active role in the team. As his abilities grow, however, so too do the threats against humanity, ranging from the cracked gem Lapis Lazuli (Jennifer Paz) to the agents of the Crystal Gem Homeworld’s Great Diamond Authority, Peridot (Shelby Rabara) and Jasper (Kimberly Brooks), to the Diamonds themselves, Yellow Diamond (Patti LuPone), Blue Diamond (Lisa Hannigan), and White Diamond (Christine Ebersole). Fortunately, Steven’s natural empathy makes him really good at gaining allies. He also regularly interacts with his best friend Connie Maheswaran (Grace Rolek) and local donut sellers Lars and Sadie (Matthew Moy and Kate Micucci). Also, they’re later joined by former Crystal Gem Bismuth (Uzo Aduba). After the show ends, Steven deals with the threat of the mad gem Spinel (Sarah Stiles), and then an existential crisis.

The cast page is huge by the end.

END SUMMARY

When I talked about Adventure Time, I said that the show was the ultimate coming-of-age story because it represents a shift from a childish world to a more complex and, despite the setting, a more realistic adult one. Steven Universe has a similar progression, but the world it progresses towards is more of an ideal than a reality. Whereas Finn in Adventure Time sometimes averted conflict through empathy, he still often just chooses the “violent” solution, because it’s expeditious and works on people who will not listen to reason. Steven Universe, on the other hand, starts off with the gems often choosing the more direct solution of beating the crap out of monsters, but as the show progresses and Steven takes on a greater role, conflicts are increasingly resolved through a combination of endurance and empathy. No matter how resolved the enemy is, Steven can still find a way to connect with them and turn them to his side. Heck, the series finale is called “Change Your Mind.” 

And yes, it includes a song based on the title.

While the show was filled with bold choices (more on that in a minute), one of the most profound was giving Steven powers that are traditionally not associated with a male superhero. His abilities are almost exclusively related to defense (a shield and a bubble), healing, and empathy through astral projection or empathetic telepathy. While he does eventually learn how to fight, for most of the show he leaves that up to the other Crystal Gems, whose powers manifest as weapons. Moreover, when he does finally start flinging his shield or throwing punches, he still always does so with non-lethal intent. The show ends up proving him right in doing so because defeating an enemy gives Steven a chance to speak with them again as an equal, rather than an opportunity to humiliate them. When Steven talks to enemies, he’s really trying to find the source of their anger and to help them with it, something that is way outside of the typical hero role. This ultimately allows Steven to get most of his enemies onto his side, meaning that he’s turned a weakness into his strength. It’s a message that so many people should heed: Defeating an enemy will likely breed more enemies, making a friend from an enemy won’t.

Other lesson: Hugs are good.

As to the other bold choices the show made, there are a lot of them. 

First, every body type is represented in this show and, moreover, every body type is presented as attractive. The main characters are a perfect example: Pearl is extremely thin and angular, Amethyst is short and callipygian, Garnet is taller, more muscular, and has an hourglass figure. More than that, Steven and Connie frequently “fuse,” combining into a non-binary character called Stevonnie (AJ Michalka), who is considered to be beautiful by men and women alike. 

Also, Stevonnie kicks a lot of butt.

Second, this show probably pulled the greatest move in getting an LGBT relationship into the series without causing a major “moral panic” by revealing that Garnet is, in fact, a fusion of two other gems, Ruby (Charlyne Yi) and Sapphire (Erica Luttrell). Garnet’s existence is powered by the love of these two characters, meaning that Garnet literally IS a lesbian relationship (and eventually a marriage). Pearl, too, is shown being attracted not only to other female gems, but also to human women. Rose Quartz is revealed to have been bisexual and, eventually, the show had the first non-binary character played by a non-binary actor in Shep (Indya Moore) in a kids show. In short, this show has a ton of LGBTQ+ representation, breaking all sorts of barriers. 

This is way more adorable in context.

Third, the series never shied away from a lot of musical experimentation. A clever storytelling supplement is that each of the main characters has an instrument associated with their music (Pearl: Piano, Garnet: Synth Bass, Amethyst: Drums, Steven: Chiptune Tones), as do almost all of the recurring characters, but each of their themes changes and combines when they fuse. For example, when Pearl and Amethyst fuse to become Opal (Aimee Mann), Amethyst’s drums become more ordered and Pearl’s piano more experimental. Moreover, the show itself has a heavy musical influence that increases as the show goes on, growing from relatively simple tunes on the ukulele and guitar to showtunes to some ridiculously complex works by Estelle or Chance the Rapper towards the end. Steven Universe: The Movie is a flat-out musical and I loved all of the numbers. 

Also, Ted Leo and Aimee Mann are fusions. Their band is called “The Both.” I love that.

Lastly, the final story arc of this show isn’t about fighting some intergalactic war or a typical escalation of villain a la Dragonball Z or Supernatural. Instead, this show ends on an introspective journey, analyzing the hero’s role after the show ends and how a person with traumatic experiences and a self-sacrificing nature adjusts to a more normal life. Showing that may be one of the most impressive and original things in a show filled with impressive and original things.

You. Will. Cry.

Now, similar to my statement about Adventure Time, I will caution anyone wanting to give this show a try that it is a pure kids show at the beginning. In fact, I genuinely advise against watching the beginning of the series unless you have small children. If you just want to get into the show, here’s my recommendation: Skip the first half of the first season to “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem.” Watch those two episodes, then skip to “Lion 3: Straight to Video” and go from there. I’ve just reduced the first season from 52 episodes to 21, and you will thank me for it. 

Just know that Steven has a pet pink lion that can teleport.

I loved this show, which is all the more impressive because when I watched the premiere, I assumed it was a waste of time. I can’t emphasize how much I didn’t enjoy the beginning of this series, to the point that I didn’t start watching it again until someone convinced me to give it another try a few years later. Please, give this show a try, particularly if you have kids. You may learn some things about yourself. 

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.