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

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

SUMMARY

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

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It’s not the most glamorous life, but it’s amazing.

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

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This scene is bizarre, but so beautiful that you will become weepy.

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

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A Mexican army learning a Japanese martial art encouraged by the US. So very weird.

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

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She can’t swim, but she doesn’t hesitate.

END SUMMARY

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

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And full frontal male nudity opposite this scene is another 10 points for “avant garde.”

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

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This scene is amazing.

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

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Even this car is massively meaningful. Damn, man, that’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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This setting would be great for UFC. Just saying.

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

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

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

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

END SUMMARY

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

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

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Oh my god, the costumes.

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

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

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

BlackPanther - 6Killmonger.jpg
Marvel: Now with better villains!

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

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

BlackPanther - 7StanLee
The Stan Lee cameo was cute, though.

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

BlackPanther - 8CGI
Is this a movie scene or a video game cut-scene? And could you tell the difference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Netflix Review – Russian Doll: A New Take on Groundhog Day (Spoiler-Free and Ending Explained)

Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland bring you this story of a woman who can’t stop dying.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) is a 36 year old software engineer who hooks up with a guy named Mike (Jeremy Lowell Bobb) at her birthday party hosted by her friend Maxine (Greta Lee) and attended by Lizzy (Rebecca Henderson), Nadia’s friend, and Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), Nadia’s surrogate mother. Later that night, while trying to find her missing cat, Nadia is hit by a car and dies.

RussianDoll - 1Bathroom
However, her hair is unaffected.

She awakes back at the same birthday party. She finds out that she is now on fate’s hit list. Every cycle, within a few hours to a few days, she dies somehow (usually violently) and restarts at the same time at the party. She works to figure out exactly what it is that she needs to do to move on with her life.

RussianDoll - 2.jpg
However, she does not learn how to look where she’s going.

END SUMMARY

So, as I pointed out in my list of 5 (really 7) Groundhog Day episodes of television, there are a LOT of TV shows and films that use the mechanic of one person re-living the same experience over and over again. Groundhog Day isn’t the first, but it’s probably the most famous because of how well that movie portrayed the cycle, with it always being one day, whether Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors lived to the end of it, but others have played with the length of the loop or the mechanics of remembering. Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.) was basically the first-person-shooter video game situation played out through a movie. ARQ was about loops where multiple people can remember the loop. Run Lola Run allowed the rebooted Lola’s previous lives to physically impact the next run. Doctor Strange uses a time-loop to force a deity-level threat to give up trying to take over Earth. Happy Death Day puts a survivor girl in a slasher film in a position to get killed repeatedly while trying to figure out how to beat the killer. It’s a fairly used trope, to say the least, which is why it’s good that this TV show manages to make the show more about the characters, particularly Nadia, rather than about the mechanism itself, one of the things that Groundhog Day excelled in. Also, it manages to not mention a single one of the above movies, but doesn’t make it obvious that they’re NOT mentioning them, so you don’t really think about it.

RussianDoll - 5Friends
Her friends are usually drunk when she starts the loop.

The first few episodes, as you’d expect, are mostly Nadia trying to figure out what’s happening. While she doesn’t immediately jump to “I’m in a time loop,” the exploration period actually doesn’t feel too long, because she thinks of more rational explanations like “I’ve been drugged” or “I’m going crazy” before she hits “Space-time continuum rip” or whatever. After that, it’s about trying to stop the loops. It gives the season enough variety to not feel overly repetitive, even for a show that’s literally about repeating things.

RussianDoll - 4Drugs
To be fair, she does do drugs.

The acting and writing are both amazing, with full credit to Lyonne for doing both at different points, including doing the script for the excellent season finale. Her performance conveys her feelings of uncertainty, both about her life and about the loops, while also putting forth her insecurities and inner strength. She’s a real person, though not a genre savvy one, being found in a crazy situation. Her interactions with her co-stars, particularly Charlie Barnett’s Alan Zaveri, are all excellent and each connection fleshes the character out further.

RussianDoll - 3Elevator
Chemistry… just a weird kind.

Overall, this is a solid show. It just keeps getting better with more elements added until the great ending. Cinematography, acting, writing, and direction are all top notch. Give it a try. Speaking of endings, however, that brings us to the…

****SPOILERS****

If you’ve seen the show, you know that eventually Nadia runs into Alan Zaveri, another person who is reliving the loops, in fact looping at the same time as Nadia. Alan is revealed to have killed himself out of despair at the same moment that Nadia was killed by the car during her first loop. We then watch the loops start to degrade, with the universe going away, until finally Nadia lets go of her past guilt over leaving her Mother (Chloe Sevigny) who ended up dying and Alan gives up pursuing Beatrice (Dascha Polanco), his girlfriend of 9 years who has been the focus of much of his life. After both of them finally get past their hangups, they find out that they have looped again… but separately. There are now two universes: One in which Nadia remembers Alan and another where Alan remembers Nadia, and each of them now has to save the other. So, what happened?

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Mirroring is a thing in the show.

Well, the show doesn’t definitively say it, but the leads to propose an idea and I think the narrative reinforces it: Both of them were supposed to be saved. Nadia was supposed to save Alan, which would lead to her not being killed by the car. Instead, because Nadia was having a crisis over her birthday (due to it being the age her mom died), she made a different, self-destructive choice. Alternatively, Alan should have kept Nadia from sleeping with Mike, which would have saved her life, but instead Alan chose to wallow in despair and kill himself. When each of them manages to truly move past what’s keeping them stuck in the past, time finally resets. If you’re wondering why it’s degrading, I think it’s the universe’s way of saying that they either need to move forward or the deaths will just stick. Nadia’s takes longer, because it’s harder for her to move past, which is why her last few deaths are more graphic than Alan’s.

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Particularly this one.

However, while both of them are now the kind of people who can save the other, they’re no longer the kind of people that need saving. In other words, they’d be violating causality if they reset together, so the universe solves the problem by splitting them into two different worlds: One with the old Alan and the new Nadia, another with it the other way around. Then, we watch the worlds play out, finally seeming to merge in the last scene, with everything the way that it was supposed to be.

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

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Netflix Review – The Godzilla Trilogy (Planet of the Monsters, City on the Edge of Battle, The Planet Eater)

The largest Godzilla on film appears in these three movies that take place on a kaiju-ravaged Earth.

SUMMARY

It’s the future and giant monsters (Kaiju) have begun appearing all over Earth. Humanity tries to deal with them, but then a new threat arises, a giant monster capable of destroying human and beast alike: Godzilla. Earth is visited by two different species of aliens who promise to help them with the threat in exchange for some boon from humanity. The Exif, the first of the aliens, seek to take humanity to the stars and convert them to their religion. The second, the Bilusaludo, planned on moving to Earth and defeating Godzilla and the Kaiju with their mighty war-machine MechaGodzilla. Unfortunately, an attack prevents them from activating MechaGodzilla and humanity flees with the aliens to the stars, seeking a new home.

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The art style is very distinct, but it works for the monsters.

20 years later, Captain Haruo Sakaki (Mamoru Miyano/Chris Niosi) together with an Exif priest named Metphies (Takahiro Sakurai/Lucien Dodge) figures out a way to kill Godzilla, which convinces the crew of the starship, who have failed to find a habitable planet, to return to Earth. What they find is that, due to time dilation from sub-lightspeed travel, 20,000 years have passed on the planet. In that time, Earth has become home to monsters. The crew must deal with this threat, the much bigger and badder Godzilla, the now-sentient remains of MechaGodzilla, and finally the planet-eater Ghidorah.

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He’s like a giant mountain of lizard flesh and rage.

END SUMMARY

While there have been at least two different Godzilla animated series, I believe these are the first animated films in the franchise. They take advantage of this by filling the films with monsters ranging from the classics like Rodan and Mothra to the more mundane like the Servums, essentially flying creatures infected by Godzilla’s biology. Additionally, the Godzilla featured in this movie is the biggest by far on film. It starts off the film at approximately 50 meters tall, roughly the same height as the original 1954 Godzilla, but when it reappears it is a towering 300 meters, almost three times the 2014 Godzilla’s height, and that was, at the time, the largest on film. For perspective, it’s basically the height of the Chrysler building.

Godzilla - 3Sizes.jpg
The original Godzilla is basically a snack to this one.

Despite this, most of the focus of the film is on Haruo and his immense hatred towards Godzilla, the creature that killed his mother when he was a child. While we’ve often seen protagonists in Godzilla movies who are concerned about the threat that the monster presents to their country or their loved ones, I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of relationship with the monster. In most of the movies it wouldn’t even be possible, because the kaiju typically are only out for a few days, whereas this film posits what would happen if they were out for millennia. Using relativity to give Godzilla time to evolve while also keeping someone around who remembers the original destruction was a great plot device.

Godzilla - 4Haruo.png
Watching him swear to kill a creature that views him as an ant is fun.

I’m trying to avoid spoiling the second and third movies more than you might get from just seeing the Netflix summary, so I’ll just say that the way that they handle MechaGodzilla and Ghidorah are both great. They don’t feel like they’re just rehashing stuff that the old franchise did, particularly with MechaGodzilla, but they also still seem like they’re justified as being added to the canon.

Godzilla - 5Ghidorah.png
Three heads of doooooooooooooooom.

The entire series has a weird number of themes, ranging from science versus faith to humanity versus nature, and while they aren’t fully fleshed out as much as I like, it’s still more than they had to do.

Overall, it’s a little rough to watch all three of them if you’re not a Godzilla fan, but maybe someone will recut them into a single, shorter movie online. If you’re a Godzilla fan, though, you should really try it.

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

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Netflix Review – Nothing To Hide (“Le Jeu/The Game”): Is Honesty Actually The Best Policy? (Spoiler-Free)

7 friends out to watch an eclipse decide to play a game: Everyone’s phone messages are now public property. Stuff ensues.

SUMMARY (SPOILER-FREE)

Seven friends (Played by Bérénice Bejo, Suzanne Clément, Stéphane De Groodt, Vincent Elbaz, Grégory Gadebois, Doria Tillier, and Roschdy Zem), most of whom have known each other for roughly thirty years, are coming together to have a dinner before they see a lunar eclipse. During the evening, they decide to play a game: Everyone has to put their phones face-up on the table and answer every call and message publicly. While it starts off innocent and light, as the evening progresses darker and darker secrets come to light.

NothingToHide - 1Cast.png
I admit, it seems like that should have come out.

END SUMMARY

There’s an interesting background to this movie. It’s a remake of a 2016 Italian film called Perfetti Sconosciuti/Perfect Strangers, which has since been remade in at least 6 languages. In only 2 years. That’s an insane pace to re-shoot a movie and distribute it, and at least two of the remakes are apparently almost shot-for-shot. I think the reason why it’s propagated so quickly is that the film’s central point is so common in the modern world: A lot of our behavior online is predicated on the fact that nobody can tie it to us.

nothingtohide - 2italian
I think French sounds better.

This movie is kind of a rarity nowadays. Almost all of the action is in one room and it consists almost exclusively of people talking about the mundane. Sure, there are scenes that play out about some absurd message and its implications, but many of them are resolved quickly and the evening just continues. Actually, the oddest thing about the characters is how well they handle some of the revelations and keep the dinner going, something that I explained to myself solely by reasoning that they’re French. Is that culturally insensitive and overly stereotypical? Yep. I never said that I was a good person.

Since there are really only 7 characters, we get to know them really well, inside and out. We find out about their histories, their jobs, their fears, their ambitions… mostly because we’re able to see all of the stuff that they normally wouldn’t let anyone find out. That’s really the thing that you’re getting out of the movie, you’re watching a mostly humorous version of one of the greatest fears in the modern world: Complete transparency.

NothingToHide - 3Phones.png

Everyone has secrets, which has been true as long as there have been people, but now we also have a tiny device on hand that keeps all of them. We should always behave in a way that it wouldn’t matter much if our phones got out, but let’s be honest: There’s some stuff on your phone or computer that you would die before letting out into the public. Pornography preferences, embarrassing hobbies, affairs, stupid things you’ve thought about but never posted… there’s an entire world of horrors in your phone. As we see the evening play out in this film, we see those horrors unleashed, but we also see them work out in a multitude of other ways. Some secrets, it turns out, don’t matter much. Some actually improve relationships when they’re revealed. One of the most interesting parts of the film is finding out which ones are which. Also, the ending is great. It takes a second for you to realize what’s happened, but I really appreciated how it resolved the movie.

Overall, I thought this was a solid film and it was worth the watch. I’d recommend you 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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Netflix Review – Polar: Old Killers Die Hard (Spoiler-Free)

An older retiring hitman finds out that his former employer really doesn’t want to pay his pension… Featuring Deadmau5.

SUMMARY

Duncan “The Black Kaiser” Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen) is an elderly hitman famous for being among the best in the world. His former employer, Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas), decides that he doesn’t want to pay Duncan’s owed retirement pension and instead hires a group of killers (played by Ruby O. Fee, Josh Cruddas, Anthony Grant, Fei Ren, and Robert Maillet) to take him out. At the same time, Duncan is trying to mentor and befriend a young woman named Camille (Vanessa Hudgens), who gets caught in the crossfire.

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… Guess which one’s the professional killer. Please, guess.

END SUMMARY

So, a lot of the things in this movie, including the idea of an old killer being chased by younger ones, has been done to death before. It’s also been done better, to be honest, even with the recent film Killing Gunther. But, that doesn’t change the fact that this movie is exactly what it promises: A fun, violent, exploitation film. There’s gratuitous killing, ultraviolence, random nudity and sex, and more violence. It’s not as over-the-top and stylized as, say, Crank, but it’s definitely in the range of RED with Bruce Willis. 

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The new kids are very diverse and proud of that. They also are insane.

The characters are all very distinct, each with a clear comic-like color scheme and dialogue tendencies, similar to Dick Tracy villains. They’re mostly just archetypes, but the movie does, correctly, use that fact to avoid having to go through exposition about what they have done. We don’t get a ton of background on Duncan, but what we do get is mostly conveyed through short flashbacks that indicate his feelings about his career thus far. There’s also a lot of subtext in the scenes between him and the, admittedly greatly underused, Camille. 

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A lot of color stylized scenes. Also, yes, that’s a drill in his hand.

What’s craziest about this movie is that it’s ostensibly based on the webcomic Polar, a series famous for the fact that it had NO DIALOGUE. It was just a black, white, and red (really orange) series that was filled with gore and focused mainly on an assassin trying to kill a retired hitman in a frozen landscape. The creator Victor Santos has openly said that it was inspired in part by the film Le Samourai, a classic noir tale about a hitman whose employers decide to kill him. It’s this intent to convey through style more than dialogue that benefits the film, but, again, it’s been done better elsewhere.

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Yep, looks just like the source material.

The film’s sense of humor, too, doesn’t really set it apart from most modern films of this genre. It’s got a lot of funny moments, some that are genuinely hilarious, and scenes set to ironic songs, but none of them that really stand out. Ultimately, the thing in the movie that might most have distinguished it is the relationship between Mikkelsen and Hudgens, but that is actually minimized throughout the film in favor of showing us the actions of the new generation of killers.

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Also, a few odd cameos… like Chevy Chase’s Sidekick.

So, if all of this stuff has been done better in other films, what did I think of it? I thought it was a fun 119 minutes. Yeah, it’s not deep and there are other movies that do this, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Mikkelsen’s performance is really great and the killing action scenes are still creative. The cinematography, too, is solid, emphasizing all of the sex and violence in the movie in just the right way for an exploitation film. The music is on point, with Deadmau5 score doing a lot of work setting the tone of the scenes. This movie isn’t going to change your life, nor is it the best popcorn film of this type, but it’s worth watching if you like cheesy movies like this. AND I DO.

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.

Netflix Review – Carmen Sandiego: WHY ON EARTH IS CARMEN SANDIEGO?

One of the greatest fictional thieves is given a new origin in a new series, but it aims way too low.

SUMMARY

Carmen Sandiego (Gina Rodriguez) is a white-hat thief… in a red fedora and matching badass longcoat. Together with her hacker associate Player (Finn Wolfhard) and sidekick siblings Zack and Ivy (Michael Hawley and Abby Trott), Carmen travels all around the world to steal back treasures stolen by the evil organization V.I.L.E. (Villain’s International League of Evil) and return them to their rightful places.

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The redheads are from Boston, wicked accents included.

END SUMMARY

So, if you read this regularly, you might think that I’m not a big fan of reboots, but that’s really not true. Lots of reboots manage to take characters and put them in new and interesting situations that provide something new and important for the series. The 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series provided a darker and more serious take than the 1987 version, but they both were still true to the core of the characters. The Ducktales reboot took what was great about the original series (The interplay of the main characters and the “anything is possible” world) while fixing what wasn’t so good about it (weak female main characters, repetitive plots, not having Don Cheadle). The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina took beloved characters and put them in a world where they are inherently doing more morally questionable things, but didn’t change what was fun and interesting about them. The key is that you don’t change what was awesome about the character, because otherwise why wouldn’t you just make a new one?

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Sometimes you just keep the formula going, but pander like hell… and it works.

The creators of this show clearly disagree with me.

Throughout her history, many things have changed about Carmen Sandiego, largely due to the fact that she was originally an educational video game character who became a game show character and an animated series character. She was originally listed as a former spy, but later was depicted as a former detective who found catching criminals too easy and decided it would be more fun to commit impossibly huge crimes. Regardless of her origin, the central, and awesome, trait of the character was that she was a criminal for the thrill of it. She didn’t want riches or world domination or to spread chaos, she just liked planning the perfect heist and beating the authorities in the chase. She’d even leave clues to make it more sporting for the detectives, and allow them to battle wits with her V.I.L.E. henchmen first, not to prove their worthiness, but to build up their skills. She rarely, if ever, resorted to violence and never allowed any of her henchmen to kill anyone. In short, she was the ultimate gentlewoman thief, but she was still, always, a villain. Just check out the intro to the last series:

In this show, Carmen is still a thief, but she exclusively steals from V.I.L.E. and returns the goods to their rightful owners. The show compares her to a white-hat hacker, someone who commits a crime but for the purpose of helping people. This is probably the main reason why I don’t like this reboot, because you changed the one thing that was most awesome about the character: THAT SHE WAS THE BAD GUY. Look, I’m fully prepared to watch a show where she’s the protagonist, but I still want her to be a criminal. In this, she’s not doing it for the thrill, but because she “rejects evil.” She’s only pursued by authorities because of a series of misunderstandings and the fact that some of the officers are idiots. At one point, the detectives of ACME believe that Carmen actually is the head of V.I.L.E. as she usually is, but, again, it’s only because the detective just plain isn’t smart. Making her a pure hero removes any of the wonderful moral ambiguity of her character. She’s supposed to be a noble thief, but not a Robin Hood. In this, she’s just a hero who happens to use thievery. She might as well be Leslie Charteris’ The Saint. Why not just come up with another character (or use a character that already does that) instead of trying to capitalize solely on nostalgic naming?

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At least most of the new VILE heads are some of the best characters from the old series.

I also don’t like the particular way they try to make the show “educational.” Rather than being worked organically into the plot of the episode, most of the information is just given in one single infodump that includes a bunch of awkward facts about the location that the episode is set in. Look, I want kids to be learning during the show the way that I used to learn while playing the games, but that’s not going to happen if your main education is a 30 second exchange of rapid-fire facts in a 22 minute episode. In the original, it was a number of infodumps presented as fun, short, vignettes which made sense because they were being told to the Player, a real person playing the game that made the show, in order to help him win.

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For example, in Indonesia, they have 1:02 of clunky dialogue, including this graphic of a Komodo.

For an even more personal gripe: She doesn’t steal the unstealable, for one. In almost every incarnation of Carmen Sandiego, one of her most famous traits is that she intentionally steals things that cannot realistically be stolen, like the Mona Lisa’s smile or the Orient Express. Admittedly, this was tied into her desire to just commit crimes for the challenge, something this version doesn’t share, but that was one of the more consistent elements of the series. In this, she just takes things that would actually be the targets of theft, like coins or paintings, and that just pisses me off. THIS IS THE WOMAN WHO STOLE THE BEANS FROM LIMA, DAMMIT!!!

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Oh, and she stole the Sydney Opera House. WHILE PLAYING BEETHOVEN.

But, let’s get into some of the things that this show did pretty well on. First, to its credit, while they missed the big picture of what made Carmen Sandiego amazing, they did at least do enough of their homework to include a lot of references from the other media. It does bother me a little that most of their new characters aren’t the same level of punny as the old ones, with the new ones even mocking that idea, but they do still have quite a few of them. Also, they got Rita f*cking Moreno, the voice actress from Where On Earth is Carmen Sandiego to voice Cookie Booker, the evil accountant, who provides this version of Carmen with her signature hat and coat, acting as a covert passing of the torch. The art style is pretty solid and, honestly, though I’m mixed on Carmen so frequently being out of her signature outfit, I think it was a good choice to show that she isn’t always “on the job.” I think it was also clever to make Player, who usually in the media represented a human playing the game that the show took place in, into a hacker who only communicates with Carmen through his computer. It keeps some aspect of their dynamic alive. Carmen is much more of an action girl in this, too, as opposed to her mastermind characterization, but that didn’t bother me much, since it fit the more “Kim Possible” version of the character in the series. 

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Although the coat reminds me more of Secret Squirrel.

Overall, I didn’t like the fact that this reboot didn’t try to take the core of the character and put it in a different setting as much as it just changed the core of the character to something completely different but called it the same thing. If the writing had been better, maybe I could have gotten into it, but I wouldn’t recommend this show to fans of the original or to their kids.

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.