Nicolas Cage apparently needed money and I am so glad for that.
A drifter (Nicolas Cage) runs over a spike strip in the middle of the road in a remote Nevada town. He’s picked up by a local mechanic named Jed (Chris Warner), who tells him that he will only fix the car if he is given a large amount of cash up front. No other payment will be accepted. Unable to pay the man, the drifter is given an offer by wealthy local Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz): spend the night shift as a janitor cleaning up the once successful but now abandoned children’s entertainment facility Willy’s Wonderland. It turns out that the animatronics inside the building are evil and will kill anyone inside at night. However, it turns out that this silent drifter may be the only one who is prepared to really clean up Willy’s Wonderland.
Unfortunately, earlier in the day, local girl Liv Hawthorne (Emily Tosta), attempted to burn the building down, but was stopped by her adopted mother Sheriff Eloise Lund (Beth Grant) and deputy Evan Olson (David Sheftell). Her friends, Chris, Kathy, Aaron, Bob, and Dan (Kai Kadlec, Caylee Cowan, Christian Del Grosso, Terayle Hill, and Jonathan Mercedes) free her and join her in her attempt to burn down the building. Damned kids will ruin everything if you let them.
I wish that I had been present at the pitch meeting for this film. I can only imagine it went something like “Hey, the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie isn’t out yet. What if we rip that off so hard that it will basically be plagiarism, but add in Nicolas Cage?” Then, after taking another large hit of blow, everyone in the room applauded wildly. And rightfully so, because, while this movie is a terrible adaptation of Five Nights at Freddy’s, putting Nicolas Cage onscreen against killer animatronics is just a brilliant idea.
I think if you’ve been reading this blog for long enough, you are aware of my opinion that Nicolas Cage is a national treasure. I wrote that before I realized how terrible of a pun that is, so I will leave it out of penance. In any case, Cage is one of the rare actors who has a tremendous amount of ability, but also a willingness to take absolutely terrible movies on which to squander it. Sometimes, these movies are terrible. Sometimes, these movies are awesome. This movie is somewhere in between, but it is through no fault of Nicolas Cage himself. Every scene in which he is on screen in this film is so much better than it has any right to be, that I can only attribute it to his unnatural screen presence. Even though the movie doesn’t do a particular great job in designing the animatronics, watching Nicolas Cage dispatch them, and brutally at that, is just so enjoyable that you will forgive any of the other flaws. There may be no shot in film I’ve enjoyed more than when an evil possessed ostrich animatronic suddenly realizes that he has absolutely f*cked with the wrong man.
Perhaps the biggest mistake in this film is that it isn’t just Cage versus the characters. Since Cage proves to be the kryptonite to these figures, mostly because he seems to follow some insane self-imposed rules about surviving the night (which are nonetheless apparently effective), there had to be other characters to get the body count up. Enter the teens, who, for the most part, do nothing except be stereotypes and die. While I realize that’s something that a horror movie needs, it’s still kind of a let-down in this film. It also hurts when they try to actually add some backstory to the animatronics. I know that the backstory is a big part of Five Nights at Freddy’s, but it’s all hidden throughout the games and, much like all of the information about the drifter, it would have been better to just leave everything in hints around the building.
Overall, though, if you want to see Nicolas Cage punch an animatronic ostrich to death, and you do, you should watch this. Maybe wait until it’s free, though.
The grandson of the world’s greatest thief returns to thwart some Nazis.
In the 1940s, French Professor Bresson was killed after discovering something that was sought by the Nazi think tank “Ahnenerbe.” His family was killed, aside from his granddaughter, Laetitia (Suzu Hirose/Laurie Hymes), who was adopted by the Nazi professor Lambert (Kōtarō Yoshida/David Brimmer). His famous research diary was lost for twenty years. Now, it’s the swinging 60s and the world’s most charming thief, Arsene Lupin III (Kanichi Kurita/Tony Oliver), is seeking to steal the Bresson Diary, which is the only treasure his grandfather failed to steal. Unfortunately, the Ahnenerbe group has survived the war and are seeking to beat Lupin to the punch. Along for the ride are Lupin’s associates: the sharpshooting Daisuke Jigen (Kiyoshi Kobayashi/Richard Epcar), the swordsman Goemon Ishikawa XIII (Daisuke Namikawa/Lex Lang), and the femme fatale Fujiko Mine (Miyuki Sawashiro/Michelle Ruff). As usual, they’re pursued by Interpol Inspector Koichi Zenigata (Kōichi Yamadera/Doug Erholtz).
I’m a big fan of Arsene Lupin, as I pointed out when Netflix released their show Lupin last year, but I am also a fan of Lupin III. While Arsene Lupin was the ultimate gentleman thief, Lupin III is a crass womanizer who is nonetheless the greatest thief in the world by virtue of his unmatched intelligence, gadgetry, and physical prowess. The series, created by Monkey Punch (the best pseudonym that doesn’t involve porn) was marked by its visual style, sense of humor, and frequent leaning on the fourth wall.
Having run for over 50 years and through six TV series and more than a dozen films, this film is a prime example of why the formula can still work. While Lupin is a criminal mastermind with skills to rival Batman, he always adopts the appearance of a rakish goofball who, more often than not, has a greater sense of morality than the people from whom he steals. Jigen is the more dour but ever-loyal partner whose ability with a gun borders on superhuman. Goemon can cut a building in half as long as the building has offended his honor. Fujiko, who is the focus of Lupin’s romantic efforts, will always stab them in the back if it benefits her, but will usually do the right thing in the end. Zenigata will chase them to the ends of the Earth, unless he needs their help to stop someone worse. This film gives the group a common enemy that everyone can focus on, because the bad guys are literally Nazis.
The action and theft sequences are among the best in the series and the animation style not only matches the feel of the original but enhances some of the faster-paced scenes. The humor is classic Lupin, which is to say the right balance of irreverent jokes and brilliant slapstick. The soundtrack is an updated version of the original series. The plot is, surprisingly, actually pretty solid and contains a lot of decent twists and even the occasional sincere emotional moment.
Overall, just a great movie and now I want to take a month or three to rewatch the rest of the series.
Alan Tudyk brings us a new show about an alien trying to fit in.
Alien Captain Hah Re (Alan Tudyk) crash lands on Earth during a mission and ends up killing a Colorado doctor named Harry Vanderspeigle. When the doctor in the nearest town is murdered, the alien is forced to take his place, having taken on the doctor’s appearance. He is assisted by the doctor’s former aide, Asta (Sara Tomko), but quickly draws the suspicion of the town’s Sheriff, Mike Thompson (Corey Reynolds), and the ire of Max (Judah Prehn), the son of the mayor, Ben Hawthorne (Levi Fiehler), as Max has a genetic anomaly that allows him to see Harry for what he really is. Harry befriends the local bartender D’arcy (Alice Wetterlund) as well as Deputy Liv (Elizabeth Bowen) and Ben’s wife Kate (Meredith Garretson). While Harry mostly finds humans interesting and enjoys interacting with them, he also is trying to fix his ship and save his mission: Killing every human.
The show is significantly darker than I had expected. I mean, I suppose the concept of “alien has to pretend to be human, hilarity ensues” has been played to death, so this is a fun way to try and breathe some life back into that very specific genre. Harry frequently finds things to like and even love about humans, but he also is painfully aware that we are, in all likelihood, a blot on the universe. While this first season is only about halfway done, so far Harry appears to still be committed to the plan.
I’m not going to say the show would not work without Alan Tudyk, but a lot of the humor really only works because the man is so perfect with his delivery. He can make almost any line that he delivers sound funny, which is a thing that you desperately need in a show where the main character is supposed to be a genocidal figure and also humorous. Harry frequently contemplates or even does things that would shock most people, and would likely be too dark if the main character were supposed to be human. For example, he frequently attempts to either kill or otherwise remove Max in order to cover his identity. In most shows, the main character attempting child murder would probably be the end of the series. Here, it’s a fun running gag, and it’s almost entirely because Alan Tudyk makes it seem like harmless tomfoolery, despite being completely serious.
The rest of the cast is also pretty great. This series is supposed to take place in a relatively small mountain town in the middle of Winter, and you do get the feel that all of these people know each other and are deeply involved in each other’s lives, which makes Harry an outsider on two different levels. However, it also creates an environment in which Harry’s eccentricities are able to be overlooked and even accepted, because these people live in a situation where they have to get along with each other. Also, D’arcy is one of my favorite characters because she frequently mistreats people and then reveals that they’re actually the kind of friends where that’s acceptable.
Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised at how funny this show is, but more so about how the show has made itself feel unique even when using an old premise. Also, some one give a Alan Tudyk a lot of awards. He has earned them all.
Brandon Cronenberg shows he can continue the family business.
In an alternate world, Tanya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is an assassin who operates by using a machine to take over the bodies of unsuspecting people in order to carry out killings. The hosts are given special implants without their knowledge and Vos commits suicide at the end of each hit in order to cover up the job and return to her body. The amount of time that Vos dedicates to impersonating others causes immense problems in her personal life, including issues with her husband, Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and her son, Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot). Her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), constantly tries to convince Tanya to leave her family behind in order to be a better killer.
Tanya agrees to perform a hit on a CEO named John Parse (Sean Bean) and his daughter, Ava (Tuppence Middleton), by taking over Ava’s fiance, Colin (Christopher Abbott). However, after some of the plan goes awry, Colin’s personality starts to reassert itself and now Tanya and Colin are fighting for control over his body.
Brandon Cronenberg, writer and director of this film, is the son of legendary director David Cronenberg, famed for his body horror and sci-fi movies. As expected, this movie contains a number of themes and elements similar to his father, but the film overall still has a distinct feel from the older Cronenberg’s work. If you liked Videodrome, though, you will probably enjoy this film. Also, there are two versions of this film, the Uncut version and the US release version. If you bought the Sundance copy, that’s the Uncut. It’s only a few minutes difference, but the Uncut version is definitely preferable. It has a bit more gore and more nudity and it definitely has a few scenes that hit harder than the other. However, no substantive plot elements or character moments are really changed, so if you only want the R-rated version, you still get the movie. Note: Amazon only has the R-rated one as of now, but YouTube has the Uncut.
As to the movie itself, holy hell is this a great film. It starts off with an incredibly tough premise for many of the performers, which is that they have to act like they’re being possessed by a different person pretending to be them, but Christopher Abbott, who has to do most of it, does an amazing job. When we do see Riseborough both as Vos and as a version of the Possessed Colin throughout the film, her performance is similarly incredible. She acts like a person who is completely void inside trying to pretend to be a human being. You’d think that’d be hard to portray, but she nails it. All of the supporting roles were great.
The dialogue in the film is solid, although many of the scenes are more about the visuals. I’m impressed with how much can be conveyed with relatively little actually being said despite the convoluted nature of the premise. It’s also impressive how well the script maintains the characters’ voices while they’re in other bodies at times. Just a sign of how much effort went into this and how much it was Cronenberg’s vision.
Then there’s the horror. The premise is horrifying enough, but when you start to see both Colin and Tanya fighting over the body, that’s when it starts to ramp up to eleven. I don’t want to spoil anything from the second half of the film, but it does a hell of a job exploring this premise to the fullest. And yes, the body horror is real.
Overall, this is just a terrific film. Give it a try.
This revenge story isn’t quite what you would expect, but it gets the job done.
Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) is a 30-year-old medical school dropout who lives with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge) and works at a coffee shop under her friend Gail (Laverne Cox) and starts dating her former classmate Dr. Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham). Cassie dropped out of college along with her friend Nina when Nina was raped and the school refused to do anything about it, leading to Nina’s apparent death. Every weekend, now, Cassie dresses up and pretends to be drunk in order to trick random “good guys” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson) into taking her home and trying to have sex with her without her consent, prepared to punish them for what they’re doing. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that Cassie is planning on getting back at all of the people involved in Nina’s case, ranging from the women who didn’t help her (Alison Brie, Connie Britton) to the lawyers (Alfred Molina) to the men involved (Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield).
It’s interesting to me that I have gone back and forth repeatedly about whether or not this is a great movie, but I cannot question that it is an effective movie. I’m not sure exactly what the term is for what this movie does, likely because I don’t have any formal schooling in theater or film, but it clearly is designed to make you think about it more than most films. I’d say it is similar to Bertolt Brecht in that the film is designed in such a way that you can’t quite be pulled into it the way that you would with most other films, but instead of doing so by eliminating the fourth wall, this film does it by constantly subverting your expectations on every level. Rather than being able to pretend to be an unseen viewer into the story, the film tries to force you to analyze yourself and those around you in relation to what’s happening by constantly keeping you on your toes.
First, the casting is intentionally done to be against type. All of the guys in this movie that Cassie ends up confronting are usually either love interests or fun best friends in films (Adam Brody, for example). They’re actors who seem harmless and non-threatening, which makes it all the more impactful when we see them start to grope a half-aware woman. In contrast, the guys who we actually can kind of trust are mostly cast by people who play villains, like Clancy “The Kurgan” Brown, which adds to that same effect.
Second, much of the film is based around slow reveals that not everything is what it seems. While the advertising and the opening scene suggest that Cassie is doing is quickly revealed to be slightly different than reality, and the film keeps changing things just enough and not quite explaining everything directly enough that you keep being forced to think about the narrative and that’s how the film gets you in a mindset to contemplate.
Third, the cinematography in many of the scenes are designed to make the audience feel like they’re the bad guy or girl. The confrontations are often directly at camera, making us empathize not with the heroine, but with the people she’s forcing to think about their actions. It’s a brilliant technique, particularly when combined with the other elements above. It compels you to think about your own actions in the past, even, or especially, the ones that you justified to yourself at the time.
More than trying to tell a complete story (although it does that as well), I think this movie was designed to affect the audience in ways that few movies do. It’s making you think about your real life and your actions, whether you’re a man or a woman, and it does it very effectively.
The performances are all fantastic, particularly Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham. Their chemistry is so strong that it allows for their relationship to move forward in a fairly rapid montage without it being at all distracting. It’s also strong enough that you can buy that a woman who is focused on getting back at men could really find a romantic interest in one.
Overall, without going into spoilers, I think this is a movie that everyone should see. I’m not sure that it’s a great movie in the traditional sense, but it is doing something effectively that many movies can’t. That’s impressive.
ON THE SOFA WITH THE JOKER AND THE FACELESS OLD WOMAN
So, after watching this, we started talking and, after having a fairly long discussion of the movie, we decided that maybe we should convey our back and forths rather than just talking about the film separately.
Faceless Old Woman: Hey stranger.
Joker: Welcome back to the Sofa.
FOW: Well, I do live here.
JotS: Somehow I always forget that. Possibly due to the whole faceless thing.
JotS: In any case, Promising Young Woman. When we saw this, you already knew the ending. Do you think that’s something people should be warned about?
FOW: I read a spoiler for the ending because a critic who saw it at Sundance thought the ending was a reason not to watch the movie at all, and when I read it I thought that maybe they were right. Having now watched the movie, I don’t really agree. I definitely would say that anyone who’s experienced sexual trauma or violence needs to be warned that this movie could be really upsetting or retraumatizing to them. If they really want to see the movie and think that reading a synopsis would make it easier for them to handle, they should.
JotS: Do you feel that knowing the ending spoiled the effect for you? I personally didn’t see that coming and it was pretty profound, but I don’t know that it would be any less impactful if it wasn’t a surprise.
FOW: It’s hard to compare an experience I didn’t have with one I did have. I did feel stressed out and on-edge while watching the movie because I knew where it was going, but that could have been even worse if I didn’t know. It was still an extremely upsetting scene to watch, if that’s what you mean.
JotS: Yeah, that’s what I meant. Side Note: I’ve already put up the spoiler warning, but if you got to this point here’s your second chance to bail. … Okay, well, for those of you who watched the movie or are just reading this, at the end of the film Cassie is killed by Alexander Monroe, the same person who raped her friend Nina years before. I get why people might view that as a reason not to see the movie.
FOW: It’s more complicated than that, because Cassie turns out to have a full contingency plan for her murder that leads to Alex’s arrest. So that’s clever and humorous in a very dark way. Still, at the end of the day, two dead women. It’s not the healthiest message, that you should let a traumatizing event completely consume your life and then you should be willing to die to get the ultimate revenge. On the other hand, that’s such a classic story, so am I unfairly penalizing this movie because I’m worrying too much about these implications?
JotS: I think it’s appropriate to worry about the fact that the movie ends on a note like that. Sure, Alexander is going to jail, but, when you think about it later, Cassie literally tried to cut him with a scalpel after handcuffing him to the bed. He’s rich and there’s a good chance he’d either win a self-defense claim or that he’d plead down to a lesser charge, even after burning Cassie’s body (which is also a crime, kids). But I think this is part of the movie trying to get your attention more than provide a good example of how to deal with trauma. And that ending DEFINITELY gets you thinking. I don’t know that I’ve considered the implications of a film’s ending this much in a long time and I do these every day.
FOW: Specifically, I remember it made an impression on you that Alex was able to kill her when he was only able to free one arm and Cassie had a scalpel.
JotS:I mean, yeah, that’s kind of a horrifying thing I would never consider. Alexander isn’t like a big, muscular guy, and he’s able to kill a woman with only one arm. Guys don’t realize that women are probably very aware of that power disparity. If I were to walk behind a woman on the street, I wouldn’t think about it at all, but she might be on edge because, despite the fact that I’m only maybe average strength for a man, I could probably overpower her. That’s fucking insane and half of the population lives with that all the time.
FOW: Insert reference to the John Mulaney bit where he realizes he’s chasing a woman through the subway station without intending to.
JotS: Speaking of comedians, let’s talk about Bo Burnham.
FOW: See, possibly because I knew the ending, Ryan’s (Bo Burnham’s character) situation is what actually kept me awake at night.
JotS: I cannot blame you. For those of you who are reading this, it’s revealed that Ryan had been a witness to Nina’s rape (which he had seemingly forgotten). Later, after Cassie is killed, he lies to the police about her disappearance. Now, this is a woman whom he had dated for months and claimed to love, but he flat-out lies to the cops about her, knowing full well that she’s probably dead, all just to cover his ass. That’s some dark shit.
FOW: Well, yeah, that was what I said, what you pointed out was that they did a really good job of setting him up as a very likeable, sweet, handsome, charming guy in the first place. The thing that kept me awake at night after watching it was the reality that someone who says they love you, that you’ve let your guard down to trust, someone who’s met your parents, would hurt you to save their own ass. That’s a pretty terrifying reality.
JotS: Yeah, you don’t expect Bo Burnham to be the bad guy. You particularly don’t see it coming after they even make him out to be the injured party when he sees Cassie on one of her weekend revenge outings. You understand completely why he was hurt by this and you feel like he’s the good guy when he forgives her. This movie is built around throwing your expectations off.
FOW: It’s subverting an audience expectation (and as you’ve pointed out there’s a lot of that in this movie) but it’s also about our own expectations in these situations. The movie is already pointing out that there are people you’re told you can trust, like your female friends or the female dean of your school. You’re told those people will have your back when you tell them that something happened to you. Girl power, right? And the movie explicitly shows the reality is they might not! In the worst ways! Secondly, we get an early hint that Ryan has issues when, on his first date with Cassie, leads her right to his apartment and then springs that fact on her. It might seem cute but it’s actually very pressure-y!
JotS: Yeah, but we also see him recognize that she doesn’t like that, realize immediately that he has messed up, and try to apologize and fix it, something that we often see male protagonists do in rom-coms. This movie kind of makes you recognize that a lot of stuff we’re accustomed to seeing in films is actually not great to serve as a cultural example of behavior. And yeah, a big part of this film is that you absolutely never know who a person really is on the inside. One of the only characters who actually recognizes his mistakes is the lawyer, a character that is typically the ruthless one.
FOW: Oh hey Alfred Molina, didn’t expect to see you here.
JotS: Yeah, that’s another subversion. The guy who usually plays villains is the one with the conscience.
FOW: You pointed out they do that with pretty much the whole cast of this movie.
JotS: AND IT. IS. AMAZING. And it really does contribute to the theme that the people that Hollywood or society tells you to trust might not be the ones you really should.
FOW: When Ryan is confronted by Cassie he asks “So you’ve never done anything you regret?” But the thing is, he didn’t regret it, or seemingly even remember it, until he was confronted with it!
JotS: Yeah. That’s the thing. To Nina, it was her life being ruined. To Ryan, it wasn’t even worth remembering. What the hell else has he done that watching a girl get raped at a frat house wasn’t even memorable?
JotS: Then again, maybe it’s a statement on how the rapists get to move on. They get to forget. The victims don’t.
FOW: Everyone gets to forget except the people who can’t. When you do get to Alfred Molina’s lawyer who does actually feel bad about his part in it, Cassie doesn’t continue to berate him for just a little bit longer after that point. She’s clearly so relieved that SOMEBODY acknowledged that they did something bad and ACTUALLY remembered and deeply regretted it. I was moved by that.
JotS: I think it helped that this was right after we had her dealing with both Alison Brie’s character, who didn’t remember that A) Nina had died and B) that she had a video of Nina’s rape on her old phone, and Connie Britton’s character, who didn’t remember the incident really. These were two women who were involved in Nina’s life at the time and they both just kind of ignored it. Then you have Alfred Molina who probably never even met Nina in person and he’s the one who is broken over what happened to her. Yeah, it’s a hell of a moment.
JotS: So, would you recommend that people see this movie despite the fact that the plot ends in kind of a bad place?
FOW: I have to say that watching a cishet man react to this movie made me immediately think “all men should see this movie, including young men.” For everyone else, it’s a reminder not to be complicit in this culture of silence and “forgetfulness.” I hope that some people who see this movie also feel heard – it’s truly maddening when everyone acts like nothing has happened and this movie echoes that situation in a way that could feel validating. And of course, the movie is extremely well done and Carey Mulligan is incredible. But it’s not the fun revenge movie you might think you’re getting from the trailer!
JotS: Or even from the opening scene, honestly, but I agree, I think everyone should see it. It’s not the movie you want, but it’s the movie you need.
Look, I’m not going to say that I thought Tiger King was the best show of the year, but I can say without a doubt that Tiger King was the most 2020 show. It was an absolute thrill ride into the most disturbed and depraved group of people you could get to sign a release. I don’t think we’ll see anything like it for a long time.
Everything about this show was insane and somehow I think that made it one of the most original things on television. Essentially made of recordings of Duncan Trussell’s podcast with completely unrelated (or seemingly unrelated) images animated over them, this show ended up being a bunch of powerful and existential messages concealed in weird and wacky clips.
While some shows reinvent themselves a bit with their second seasons, this show instead decided to start expanding its universe beyond just the existence of vampires, bringing in ghosts, witches, and zombies while also giving its characters more fleshed-out and hilarious backstories. Also, it gave us Jackie Daytona, the ultimate human disguise.
An adaptation of Matt Ruff’s book of the same name, Lovecraft Country managed to combine the cosmic horror and monstrosities of H.P. Lovecraft with the existential threat and atrocities of racism in the United States. A number of the episodes and characters in this show were up at the top of television. Unfortunately, it did seem to get a bit off-kilter towards the end or it would be ranked higher.
I only reviewed it last week, but this show brought Bruce Lee’s desire for a television show to life almost fifty years after his death and it is glorious. Filled with great action sequences, this show conveys the story of a martial artist in San Francisco during the late 1800s and it approaches that with an unwavering resolve towards accuracy.
A complete surprise to me, this show about a nerdy high-school girl trying to lose her virginity and achieve popularity was one of the best-written things I’ve seen in a while. It’s one of the funniest shows Netflix put out last year and I was surprised that it seemed to fade off of critics lists very quickly. Still, it’s going on mine.
If someone told me there’d be such a compelling mini-series about a woman playing chess in the 1960s, I’d have thought they were crazy, but this show managed to pull it off. Anya Taylor-Joy brought an amazing amount of charisma to a character that could easily have come off as shallow, often acting solely with her very expressive eyes. Also, it made chess awesome. Truly, a great accomplishment.
This show decided to use its second season to try and incorporate more traditional elements of the Star Wars universe into the series and rather than overshadowing the core characters, it made it clear that this was a universe filled with fun and exciting stories everywhere and that we’re only seeing a part of them. It’s what I wanted out of Star Wars for a long time. Plus, BABY YODA!!! (Now Grogu)
3) Perry Mason – HBO Max
It’s tough to do a new take on a series that ran from the fifties to the nineties, but HBO Max managed to pull it off. With a film-noir vibe and some new characterizations, this show made Perry Mason feel a little dirty while still emphasizing that he’s the good guy; the system he fights against is not. I hope they keep it going.
I hadn’t watched this show until it finished, but once I started I could not stop. It’s as funny as it gets and you will fall in love with the characters despite how much you would want to hate them at the start of the show. Containing as many moments that’ll make you cry as laugh, it deserves all of the acclaim it got.
I would never have thought you could bring The Good Place to a satisfying end. It’s a show that starts off with the premise that all of the characters are already dead and, therefore, are already living an essentially eternal existence. However, somehow, the show managed to not only pull it off, but pull it off in a more touching and more real way than I could have ever thought. It was an amazing ride and we are all the better for taking it.
This show is amazing and some other network needs to pick it up.
Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) is a Chinese-American martial artist who arrives in San Francisco searching for his sister Xiaojing (Dianne Doan). He quickly runs afoul of local authorities and gains the attention of local black marketer Wang Chao (Hoon Lee) who introduces him to Father Jun (Perry Yung), head of the Hop Wei Tong (gang), and his bastard son Young Jun (Jason Tobin). Ah Sahm saves Young Jun from being abducted and the pair become friends. Ah Sahm also becomes involved with Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng), a local Madame. However, Ah Sahm’s arrival comes at a time in which the violence between the Tongs, as well as the violence between the Irish gangs and the Chinese all are on the rise. As a result, Mayor Blake (Christian McKay) orders the creation of a Chinatown police squad under Big Bill O’Hara (Kieran Bew) and his new officer Richard Lee (Tom Weston-Jones). This comes from the machinations of the deputy mayor, Walter Buckley (Langley Kirkwood), and against the wishes of Blake’s wife, Penelope (Joanna Vanderham). There’s gonna be a lot of fighting in the future.
So, before his death, Bruce Lee pitched a series to Warner Bros. Television called Ah Saham about a martial artist in the Old West, but the network passed… only to quickly create Kung Fu starring David Carradine. The network says it’s a coincidence, which is code for “we have lawyers and you don’t.” While I do like Kung Fu and its sequel series, this show is a completely different animal. What Lovecraft Country and Watchmen did in opening people’s eyes to some of the horrible things that America did to black Americans, this show tries to do for some of the things that were done to Chinese immigrants in California, including the incipience of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the only law ever implemented specifically to prevent all members of an ethnic group from immigrating to the US (so far). It’s a hell of a demonstration, since many of the more fleshed-out and likable characters are also some of the most mistreated by this society.
I will also give the show credit for pointing out that the Irish-Chinese labor wars really just served to make the wealthy land and labor barons even wealthier. Each group kept undercutting the other and directing their violence towards their fellow laborers, while the people who are encouraging the fighting reap the benefits of the cheap labor. The show not only demonstrates this on multiple levels, but outright states it multiple times just to make sure the audience understands it.
The action sequences in the show are fantastic. They occur reliably, but not so often that they become trite. Notably, there’s a tribute to Enter the Dragon in the second season and it’s beautiful. Andrew Koji, while he does not appear to have studied Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, was a competitive martial artist in Shaolin kung fu and taekwondo and has been doing his own stunts and fight choreography for many years. He knows how to sell a fight scene as well as almost any actor I’ve seen in quite a while. When the moment calls for it, he can also deliver a solid emotional performance, though his character mostly maintains a “silent badass” vibe. He works perfectly for this role.
The acting in general is excellent. The actors are all given a lot of solid material to work with and I cannot think of a single performance that I thought was inferior. I particularly thought that Olivia Cheng was great as the historical character Ah Toy and that Perry Tobin was great as the ambitious and kind of easily-swayed Young Jun. I also like how the show switches between subtitles and English depending on whether there are non-Mandarin speakers in the area. Sometimes it even uses the switch to great comic effect.
Overall, this was a fantastic show. Unfortunately, Cinemax has stopped making original content, so this show is now in limbo. I’m hoping that HBO Max or Netflix picks up the baton.
This cinematic mistake has never been released officially and that’s for the best.
SUMMARY (Spoilers, but you should be thanking me)
Look, here’s the damn video:
It’s Life Day, which is apparently like Wookie Christmas. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is trying to get Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) home to his wife, Malla (Mickey Morton), his father, Itchy (Paul Gale), and his son, Lumpy (Patty Maloney). Most of the special is dealing with the family waiting for his return. Malla contacts Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill *Applause*) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker wasn’t in this, but he’s awesome and I’m putting his name here), who explains that Chewy already left with Han. Malla contacts the trader Saun Dann (Art Carney), who tells her that Han is on the way and heads out toward her house. Malla watches Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman) demonstrate cooking a Bantha loin. Saun arrives with a VR program as a gift for Itchy that features Diahann Carroll and is uncomfortably erotic. The Imperials arrive at the house searching for Chewbacca and Saun distracts them with a VR performance by Jefferson Starship.
Malla keeps Lumpy distracted with a cartoon featuring the adventures of the cast of Star Wars meeting Boba Fett (Don “Iron Buffalo” Francks). A video is played by the Imperials announcing that Tatooine is being placed under curfew, represented by Ackmena (Bea Arthur), the Mos Eisley Bartender, having to kick out her clients while singing. Lumpy creates a translation device that mimics the voice of the Imperial commander and tricks the stormtroopers into leaving. One stormtrooper sees through it and attacks Lumpy, only for Han to arrive and kill him. Saun covers for the dead trooper and the whole group joins Luke, Leia (Carrie “Space Mom” Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 at the Tree of Life church “Our Lady of WRaaaaaaagh.” Leia gives a short speech and a song, then the Wookies sit down to eat.
There’s also a crazy troupe of mummers, a bad instruction manual featuring Harvey Korman, and enough drugs to put a charging rhino down.
This is the third time I’ve seen this special. It seemed bad when I was a teenager and some people from my school had a bootleg. It seemed really bad when I was in college and a friend of mine showed it while we were drunk. It somehow was even worse when I watched it this time, probably because I was mostly sober. That was a mistake.
Almost everything in this is astonishingly bad and it’s bad in the worst way. Someone said it was written by a sentient bag of cocaine and I find that to be completely untrue. If it was a bag of cocaine it would likely have been alert, wild, and interestingly off-kilter (cards on the table, I haven’t done cocaine, but I’ve been with people who have). This was crazy, but in a lazy way where everything is left on the screen for so long that any charm it might have had slowly dies a painful death. It’s like it was written by a sentient barrel of laudanum.
It’s all about the tolerance we have for these scenes. Wookies talking without subtitles is fine as long as you either A) have someone who can clue us in or B) the conversations are completely clear from their body language and actions. In this case, some of the wookie-only scenes are so long that I assume there was a discussion of either baseball statistics or the plot of Inception. The mummer troupe goes from “kind of amusing” to “way too creepy.” In two entirely different bits, Harvey Korman, one of the funniest people alive, is forced to stretch for time. My only conclusion is that this was written for one hour and then they were spontaneously told that the Love Boat had sank or something, so they had to fill double the time. It’s just painful how everything goes on well past what you would have tolerated. Even if the scenes had been good, 10 minutes of watching a four-armed chef is just going to get old.
Then there are the other, much more bizarre moments. For example, the video program that Itchy watches is pretty clearly the Star Wars version of pornography. My first thought on re-watch is “oh damn, they still dragged poor Diahann Carroll into this.” It would be bad enough to just watch some of the things she says into the camera, but Itchy’s reaction shots ratchet it up from “uncomfortable” to “nightmare-inducing.” The same is true of many of Lumpy’s facial movements. I’m not going to take shots at Stan Winston or at Patty Maloney, I’m just going to say that someone, somewhere, needed to realize the only solution to this costume issue was fire and lots of it. It’s like I’m seeing into the eyes of a damned soul and now I feel only cold. I swear I thought I had a heart attack during some parts of this because my body started going numb.
It doesn’t help that so much of the film is based around watching people watching things as the framing device. Diahann Carroll, Jefferson Starship, the cartoon, etc. are all things that are being watched by the characters. It’s a conceit designed to work the guests into the story, but it’s kind of a terrible one and it really makes you question how media promulgates in the Star Wars universe. Since Star Wars doesn’t really seem to have pop culture or media in any other incarnation, it makes it even more glaringly awkward to inject weird modern-day references.
Overall, this is just so very bad. It’s almost worth seeing just to recognize how bad it is. It’s astonishing that something like this ever got made.
And since she requested that I watch it, here’s a forced commentary from The Faceless Old Woman that Lives on my Couch:
What more is there to say about this work of cinema? I spent most of it wondering “is something going to happen soon?” I was told that was the theme of this special. I’d wanted to see this because it seemed like everyone else had. Everyone had told me it was very bad and never to watch it, but I didn’t really understand. Given what I knew of Star Wars, I assumed it was just very cheesy and not very good. I couldn’t have conceived of how BAD it was, though. Maybe if someone had just explained to me that it is not like a regular piece of Star Wars media, where there is a story and the characters do things in the story – it is meant to be like a variety show. How could I have predicted the uninterpreted Wookie? That the characters everyone likes would barely be in it? The perm machine that’s actually a VR porn viewer? It’s truly an accomplishment to make Star Wars deeply disturbing and NOT entertaining, but they did it! The best thing about it is Mark Hamill in eyeliner and hearing my boyfriend repeatedly moan, “I didn’t know I could be this dead inside.” I’m going to finish this eggnog and try to forget about what I saw.
Nolan goes nonlinear as usual, but this time it doesn’t quite work.
CIA agent The Protagonist (John David Washington) is captured by mercenaries after participating in an operation at an opera house. He consumes cyanide to avoid interrogation, only for it to be revealed as a test. His team was killed and an artifact was stolen from the opera house by another organization. The Protagonist is recruited into the organization called TENET which deals with people and objects whose entropy has been inverted, allowing them to move backwards through time. The Protagonist, along with agent Neil (Robert Pattinson), starts to track all of the inverted objects forward and backward in time with the help of Kat Barton (Elizabeth Debicki), wife of Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). It turns out that all of reality might be at stake. Or not, I honestly might have gotten lost.
Christopher Nolan loves challenging the structure of narrative storytelling. Memento famously is told backwards, Interstellar involves representing four dimensions as three, Inception involves layers of timelines, and The Prestige shows three steps of a magic trick simultaneously as plot. However, this movie clearly was intended to be his opus, because it involves the interaction between characters moving in completely different directions in time. This concept is, at times, visually amazing and can lead to really creative ways to play with character development. If it was pulled off right, this film could have been absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, it turns out that the logistics of trying to have characters moving in opposite directions in time makes it really really vulnerable to logical conflicts. If they just said “superscience magic,” that would have been easier to handle, but they tried to justify it just enough to make the flaws more obvious.
That’s not to say that the movie isn’t still pretty solid. The performances by Washington and Pattinson are both excellent, particularly since they have to convey a very complicated relationship that is expanded well throughout the film. The action sequences all look pretty cool, particularly since so many of them involve characters moving in two different directions in time. They first show it as a bullet being sucked back into a gun, but it gets more interesting when watching explosions, crashes, and other attacks reversing. Granted, the “reverse entropy” thing does make some of the effects very odd and, again, not quite logically sound, but they still look cool. This was definitely a film to see on the big screen, but it wasn’t the year to see it.
It doesn’t help that there aren’t a lot of strong character moments to make you care about what happens to the leads. They try to have a few, but they don’t end up quite being enough, something that is pretty common in Nolan’s more recent films. Not that you need to have that to make a movie watchable, but it does help heighten tension and engagement.
Overall, it’s not a bad film. It just doesn’t quite engage you enough to make it a character study and the concept isn’t played out as well as it should.
This was the most-requested review of all time, because you all hate me.
Jessica Mancera (Justene Alpert) is a young heiress whose mother, Bunny (Tessa Munro), wants her to marry the wealthy Billy Garibaldi III (Chad Doreck). Unfortunately, Jessica doesn’t feel the same way about Billy and turns down his proposal. Soon, she meets the new family chef Harland Sanders (Mario Lopez), a man who has a secret recipe which he believes will change the world. Jessica can’t help but fall for the sensual man who appears simultaneously to be old and white and young and hispanic. Unfortunately, only her best friend Lee (Martin Morrow) is supportive of her new relationship, while her mother and Billy are scheming against the pair. Can love get through this ordeal to the finger-lickin’ good times?
This is one of the greatest commercials ever conceived of by one of the rats that run corporate marketing. It’s everything that is terrible and glorious about bad Lifetime movies condensed into fifteen minutes. The characters are either pointlessly bland, like Jessica, or flat-out insane, like Bunny, just like every other Lifetime film, but due to the short running time the two leads have to go from “first meeting” to “in love” in a scene or two, while the antagonists have to go from “upset” to “maniacal scheming” in the same amount of time. What’s remarkable is how similar that feels to one of their normal films. I think it drives home how much of any Lifetime film is filler and establishing shots. It helps that they stick by the rule of making sure that the two leads are conventionally attractive so we can just assume they each are just physically infatuated.
The commercial was written and directed by “Jean,” which I believe was an acronym for the four people who worked on the technicals: Jay Lifton, Eric Eckelman, Armand Prisco, Natalie Prisco. This clever pseudonym has been labeled “Taylor Swiftian” by the experts or at least by the Faceless Old Woman That Lives on My Sofa. These four clearly were willing to take some big swings with this film, particularly by casting Mario Lopez as a version of Colonel Sanders who is clearly supposed to be old based on his light gray hair but also wears no aging makeup. Apparently this imagery is based on the KFC dating simulator game from last year called I Love You, Colonel Sanders. I have to admit that I’m appreciating how crazy KFC’s marketing team is going in their attempts to get people to keep eating their chicken.
Overall, it was a fun use of fifteen minutes. I’m sure it’s online by now, so you should probably take a look at it.