Netflix Review – Murder Party: How to be Amazing on No Budget

Ever witness a really great performance by a street musician or a student actor? A display that makes you think “why the hell aren’t they famous? They’re better than most of the professionals.” Well, part of that is because, unfortunately, opportunities aren’t usually given entirely on merit. You may have all the talent in the world, but getting your foot in the door of most industries is a Herculean task unless you happen to be friends with, or related to, someone within the business already. For Jeremy Saulnier, this film was his epic drum solo… that was played on a pair of trashcans because that’s all he could afford.

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I assume he didn’t have cocaine.

SUMMARY OF A SUMMARY

Lonely guy finds invitation to Halloween “Murder Party.” Finds out it’s an actual Murder Party with him as victim. Fortunately, the murderers are all incompetent art students who mostly kill themselves trying to kill him, before he gets free and turns the tables.

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No relation. To the film.

SUMMARY

Christopher (Chris Sharp), a super sad and lonely guy, finds a random invitation to a Halloween “Murder Party” on the street. Rather than re-use his previous Halloween costume, he makes a new one, a suit of armor, out of a cardboard box. He makes pumpkin bread and heads to the party, which takes him through some bad neighborhoods to a crappy warehouse on the Brooklyn Shore.

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Seriously, I love this costume. I may MAKE this costume.

There, he meets the hosts of the party, a group of art students who, being broke, are all also in cheap costumes. There’s Vampire Paul (Paul Goldblatt), The Warriors Baseball Fury Bill (William Lacey), Zombie Cheerleader Sky (Skei Saulnier), Werewolf Macon (Macon Blair), and Lexi (Stacy Rock) who’s dressed as Pris from Blade Runner. Macon tries to murder Chris, but fails, forcing the group to tie Chris to a chair, revealing that he is the victim of their very real Murder Party.

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He loses the vampire costume… I assume because the rental was up.

While they wait for the mysterious “Alexander,” their patron (Sandy Barnett), Sky eats Chris’ pumpkin bread which contains non-organic raisins, which she is allergic to. She says she just gets dizzy, but falls down and impales her head on some rusty machinery, killing her comically. Angry, Macon pours a bottle of acid on Chris, but it turns out to be diluted Acetic Acid (Vinegar) and does nothing. The group finds out that Alexander is near and hides Sky’s body. Alexander arrives with his friend Zycho (Bill Tangradi), who no one knows.

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Now she’s a real zombie. Sorry, I mean corpse.

Throughout the night, the remaining art students get high and kiss up to Alexander hoping he’ll pay them to make art, resulting in them starting to turn on each other. Then, it’s revealed that Alexander’s not actually wealthy, resulting in the group turning on him as well. Everyone starts killing each other, mostly with Chris watching, until finally Chris escapes and is chased down by Bill, who Chris is forced to kill, before finally heading home, exhausted, in his knight costume.

END SUMMARY

So, if you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard me talk about Jeremy Saulnier’s other two movies Blue Ruin and Green Room because I think they’re both masterworks. Green Room, in particular, is a horror movie that somehow never has any character acting irrationally, takes place mostly in one room, is almost unnervingly realistic, and is intense from start to finish. This movie shows where a lot of those elements would come from.

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Including a lot of colored lighting in the scenes.

This movie was made on a small budget. I mean, it’s estimated to have cost $190,000 by Saulnier, but that’s still a pretty cheap for this kind of film. To put this in perspective, Roger Corman, the king of B-movies, thought you couldn’t make a professional-looking film for $250,000. Sure, Clerks was shot for $27,000 and El Mariachi only cost $7,000 (and $250,000 of labor by Robert Rodriguez), but you can see the difference in the quality of the camerawork and lighting versus those movies. It does explain why the majority of this film is set in one location and consists mostly of the characters just talking to each other. There aren’t a ton of effects in the film, so the ones that are there tend to be used very well.

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The melted werewolf mask was a solid effect.

One interesting thing about the movie that helps make it feel less awkward that we’re just watching the people talking in a circle is that the protagonist is in the same state. Chris spends most of the movie bound to a chair, just watching these events unfold, frequently being the only one to see certain things happen, which makes us feel connected to his PoV.

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He also only says a handful of lines.

It’s also interesting that the movie forces Chris at points to deal with the bland inconveniences that are mostly hand-waved by other films, something that is hinted at early on when it has Chris return to the kitchen to turn the light off before he leaves. When Chris first tries to escape, he’s unable to figure out a plan despite being in a room full of objects that could be used as weapons in a traditional horror film, opting instead just to throw stuff at them and try to run. He can’t resist making a pun when the group starts doing it. When he does escape, he has to pee immediately, having held it for hours, resulting in Bill finding him. He stops to take his meds during the climax chase. Best of all, at the end of the movie, he’s lost his wallet and has to walk home while dressed as a cardboard knight and covered in blood. It’s little touches that distinguish the movie and show the origin of the elements of realism that set Green Room apart.

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He keeps getting better.

Also, much like Green Room, the protagonist in this movie isn’t a complete dumbass. Yes, he goes to the party in the first place, but who would have thought it was an actual murder party? When he tries to escape, he takes the freight conveyer up, then when Bill follows him, he reverses it. When he gets to the student house, he keeps trying to find a phone first. He does actually do a decent job of representing how an average person would deal with something this crazy.

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And the chainsaw to the face was inspired.

The villains aren’t exactly brilliant, however, and that’s part of the fun of the movie. They’re the least competent people to attempt a murder plot and they’re desperately seeking the approval and money of a man who is manipulating them with basically no effort. The movie takes a not-so-subtle shot at the nature of many “artists” who are more focused with the image of being an artist than with the actual work. They even have one of the characters admit that the rest of them want to kick Bill out of the group because he actually has talent and makes them feel inferior. At the end of the movie, Bill seems to be rejecting the art scene in favor of just killing everyone, but then stops to have a fancy drink at a party and talk with his friend who likes his work, indicating that even his rejection is still just an act.

I also love that they kowtow constantly to Alexander on the almost inane hope of getting a magically huge grant, to the point that they’re willing to ritualistically murder a person for it. It’s also a nice touch that each of them has a different medium (Painting, photography, film, performance art) which kind of reflects their personalities within the film. They’re actually much more traditionally explored than Chris is, except that we are given some great scenes to get to know Chris in a short amount of time without a lot of dialogue (which every other film should take note of). By the end of the movie, you feel like you know a surprising amount about each of these people.

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They all focus around the guy with the money.

Overall, I think this movie needs to get more attention, particularly with Halloween approaching. It’s funny, it’s got a lot of the Halloween spirit in it, it’s got gore, it’s got two scenes of costume sex, it’s got candy… it’s basically everything that’s great about the holiday. Give it a watch this October!

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

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

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100 Greatest TV Episodes Add-on – Free Churro (BoJack Horseman)

*SPOILER WARNING* – This literally just came out, but I couldn’t not add it. I watched it four times in the 24 hours it came out. I may regret this over time.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will acknowledge that this episode hit me especially hard as it deals with giving a eulogy, something that I recently had to do. I know that it feels different than giving a speech or doing a performance or speaking to a courtroom or reciting a monologue. I would not have believed that a show featuring an animated horse could have managed to address all of the complicated elements of trying to summarize how you felt about the life of a person (or horse) that you knew deeply in 25 minutes (let alone the five that I took). However, somehow, they managed to not only nail it, but nail it while having the eulogy be done by a character whose relationship to the deceased was extremely complicated.

SUMMARY

The cold open features a young BoJack (Will Arnett) being picked up by his father, Butterscotch (Arnett), who proceeds to give his son a horrifying lecture that concludes with the lesson that you can’t depend on anyone.

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Butterscotch is every angry failed writer.

We then see BoJack at a funeral parlor next to a coffin. It’s revealed that his mother, Beatrice Horseman (Wendie Malick), has died. BoJack then proceeds to give a eulogy about his mother which alternates between funny, horrifying, poignant, and depressing. That is the entirety of the episode.

END SUMMARY

I can’t really summarize this episode, obviously. It needs to be seen to be believed. Aside from the cold open, this entire episode is just a speech by BoJack. I’ve never seen anything like it. One of the best monologues in the history of television was at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but that was only 6 minutes and included audience reaction shots. This was over three times that length and the camera never leaves BoJack. We don’t even see the audience until the last 5 seconds of the episode.

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We never see the body, but BoJack does an impression.

BoJack hated his mother, but he didn’t want to. That’s really an insane thing to have a character state outright. Maybe the worst part is when he mentions that he had always hoped that his mother would figure out how to love him the way that she should and that losing her means he finally has to accept that he will never get the love he wanted. Both of his parents, rather than loving him, chose to drown in sadness, something BoJack says he, too, will always chose to do. Because that’s sadly part of the cycle of abuse and depression. In the previous season we had seen how much Beatrice had herself been abused as a child, so she almost became sympathetic, but this episode removes much of that sympathy by reminding us that she knew something was wrong with her and she never tried to change it, even for BoJack’s sake. Instead, she took the love and trust of a child and broke it over and over again, watching her son try to fix it only so that she could destroy it once more, until he never could trust someone again.

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Granted, her dad lobotomized her mother, so she technically did better than that.

The episode’s title comes from what is one of the most uncomfortable but also somehow accurate parts of the eulogy, where BoJack relates that he stopped at Jack in the Box for food on the way to the funeral and the girl at the counter asks him if he’s “having an awesome day.” He opines that he’s usually not allowed to respond to that with anything except “yes,” because that’s a societal expectation, but he tells the girl that his mom died. She cries, horrified at what she’s done, and gives BoJack a free churro. He thinks about the fact that he got a free churro because his mom died, something he later comments was more kindness than he ever got from her.

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They don’t even look that great.

There’s one external reference I found particularly telling in the episode and, honestly, it might be the only one in it. Butterscotch mentions that Beatrice broke down crying after seeing a production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. If you haven’t read or seen the play, it features a man, Torvald, who, much like BoJack’s father, Butterscotch, treats his wife like a living doll, rather than a person. Some of the play involves his wife, Nora, preparing to dance the Tarantella on her husband’s request, something which her arouses her husband. The Tarantella signified violent movement which was supposedly designed to remove poison from the body. Within A Doll’s House, the idea is that Nora is trying to dance the poison out of her circumstances. This is mirrored within this episode by a story of Beatrice dancing at her supper club, while being watched by her husband. BoJack mentions that those were the only times where he felt that his family stopped drowning and remembered how to swim. If you want to know why Beatrice is crying, I imagine it’s because, at the end of A Doll’s House, Nora leaves her family. Beatrice didn’t, instead choosing to stay around the people who were just as miserable as she was.

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This truly is a masterpiece of an episode. The animation and Arnett’s voice acting are unbelievable, all building to a very sincere last thirty seconds, undercut by the last five.

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

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

Netflix Review – BoJack Horseman: Season 5 (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

Given that I put one of the episodes of BoJack Horseman on my list of The Greatest Television Episodes while saying it was one of the best shows on television currently, it’s probably fair to say I’m a fan. It’s hard to say whether or not I love the show more after watching this season, but I definitely respect it more for its dedication to improvement. If this isn’t the best season of the show, it is damned close.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

BoJack (Will Arnett) starts working on his new show, Philbert, which co-stars Gina Cazador (Stephanie Beatriz), a veteran TV actress who starts casually sleeping with BoJack. Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) deal with the end of their marriage, while Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) tries to adopt a baby and produce Philbert. Todd Chavez (“Ya done f*cked up” Aaron Paul) has moved in with Princess Carolyn and is trying to make his asexual relationship work with Yolanda Buenaventura (Natalie Morales).

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Sadly, character actress Margo Martindale has disappeared after a pasta accident.

Some stuff happens. Literally describing any of it would be a spoiler and this season is too good to spoil.

END SUMMARY

I truly loved this season.

On some level, BoJack knows that its fans trust it by this point and that it can coast a little and play off of some of the formulas it has set-up, knowing that we’ll still find the elaborate gags and surrealist jokes funny. However, what really sets this show apart is its dedication to constantly build upon them. It doesn’t just subvert established tropes, it subverts the subversion, then subverts that subversion’s subversion. Then, sometimes it plays things straight and the tropes that in most shows would be tired and overused are played out like it’s the first time and we remember why we loved those tropes in the first place. This season does all of that and more, but it tries to really blend the darkness and sadness that is constantly in the show with elements of hope and a lot more social commentary.

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And a lot more meta-fiction.

Part of the beauty of the show has always been that BoJack is aware of how sitcoms work, since he was in a notoriously formulaic one, which gives him an excuse to point out that his life is devoid of growth. But, after spending years having characters in the show telling us how television characters are hopeless because they’re stuck in a sitcom and are never allowed to grow, the series has also been showing their growth. It’s not always in a straight line, to be sure, and there are lots of setbacks, but that’s because that’s how growth actually works. Sometimes you’ll skip the gym because you had a bad day. Sometimes you’ll quit altogether for a while when you start to think that it’s not worth prolonging your life when you hate it. But, then, maybe, after trying enough times, you’ll be a little better. Then you’ll screw up again, but maybe you’ll be better after that. It’s not ever easy, it’s not always even a choice you can make, and life can, and does, kick you down for no reason, but it’s possible to get better. Even a show about characters that are supposed to be stuck in a cycle can remind us that growth really is possible.

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Even if it’s just having only one bottle of vodka every day.

Now, you might watch this season and think that I’m nuts and that BoJack is just going to reset after all of this or that he’s reset after the last season, but after re-watching seasons two and three recently, this season really does show that he’s grown. Yes, he is still unbelievably flawed, but he’s past the stage of believing that it’s everyone else’s problem and he’s past the stage of believing that it can’t be changed. Those are both steps towards improvement. Also, the “reset” in this season isn’t entirely his fault, as he is caught up in an addiction that is, sadly, all too realistically portrayed (though it culminates in him doing something unspeakable). At the end of the season, he does something that almost no one else will ever do and asks to be held accountable for all of the things he has done. Because of that, even more than all of the other things, I do get the feeling that he might be becoming a better person… or horseman, whatever.

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Why yes, there’s an episode about #MeToo. It’s unrelated.

Another thing I noted was that this show, like Rick and Morty, is often criticized for the fact that it has such a compelling lead that it glamorizes being a shitty person. This season finally makes one thing clear: Even BoJack hates BoJack. You shouldn’t like him for being shitty, you should like him for learning how to NOT be shitty.

Also, it’s not just BoJack that grows with the story. All of the supporting characters have been tested and have changed (except, perhaps, Mr. Peanutbutter, something the season directly addresses). Diane is probably the most notable change at the end of the season, delivering a short speech in the last episode which is both touching and devastating. Princess Carolyn, too, has grown, and shows exactly how much during one episode of this season.

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It also shows us how far she’s come already.

The Good Place once said that it’s our connections to other people that make us want to be better, because we feel we owe it to each other to be better.  I think that’s true and I think that’s what makes the characters on BoJack grow, because as the show has gone on their connections have been severed, altered, and repaired, but they’ve mostly deepened through moments of genuine connection, even if they’re rare. The reason why that can happen here, as opposed to most sitcoms, is because things don’t just get dropped. The plots carry on, with things that were skipped over for a season or two resurfacing to confront the protagonists. Hell, they still call it “Hollywoo” after the D got destroyed in season one. That’s really the biggest subversion about the show, particularly for an animated series.

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It caused hell with title cards, though.

The humor in this season is a step up from the last one, which I thought was a little bit of a drop from the previous ones. They really went back to embracing the “shotgun approach” to comedy that I loved from seasons two and three, where jokes can be puns, sight gags, but mostly brick jokes that are set-up with such subtlety that I sometimes just had to pause, go back, and trace all the steps in order to show the proper respect for how amazing it was.

Like I said, I loved this season. I was a little worried after the last one, but this one just blew me away. All the returning characters were great, all the new characters were great, and the world of BoJack just keeps getting simultaneously more absurd and yet more honest. It’s a reflection of the real world through a mirror that shows our true selves, which sadly are kind of shitty. Still, we can get better… mostly if we have shows that keep reminding us how to do so.

Oh, and one of the episodes is one of the best half-hours of television I’ve ever seen, to the point that I’m adding it to the list of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes tomorrow.

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

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

Netflix Review – Next Gen: A Robot Movie Lacking Emotion

Hey kids! Do you like Short Circuit? Do you like The Iron Giant? Do you like The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? How about Big Hero 6, Wall-E, Blade Runner, and The Terminator? All of those movies were great, right? Wouldn’t it be great if we combined all those movies, but also threw in a bunch of 80s movie bullying, some teen angst, and a dash of Up and I, Robot? Surely it wouldn’t be a giant thematic mess that constantly undercuts itself, right?

I assume the company that made this pitch was also the company that created Wild Wacky Action Bike.

SUMMARY OF A SUMMARY (Summary is too long)

Girl finds robot. Girl bonds with robot. Robot fights evil organization that created it. Robot ends up sacrificing itself, but not really, so happy ending.

SUMMARY

In the future year 20XX, we have robots everywhere. They’re cute and harmless little servants of humanity, constantly upbeat, and they are embedded into everything from security systems to noodle bowls. Yes, the noodle bowls are talking, self-cooking, and self-disposing. But it’s okay, because the movie tells us none of these are sentient, despite seeming to have emotions and feelings and independent thought.

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… I would consider tap-dancing noodles a Utopia.

Mai (Charlyne “Ruby” Yi) is a 12-year-old girl who hates robots because her mom, Molly (Constance Wu), bought one after her dad left them and then died, causing her mom to transfer many of her emotional bonds onto their robot. She’s also bullied for being different, although exactly how isn’t really clarified. Oh, and the bullies have their robots beat her up, something that is apparently just allowed to happen, because the human adults at the school are all too obsessed with VR and games to do their jobs.

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“You love robots more than me” – Actual movie line in actual movie.

Her mom takes her to the launch of the new major robot line, watching a presentation by the founder of the IQ corporation that makes them, Justin Pin (Jason Sudeikis), who is basically Jon Hamm playing Steve Jobs. Mai sneaks off and finds a secret lab belonging to the other founder, Dr. Tanner Rice (David Cross), who is working on the first true AI robot, 7723 (John Krasinski). Mai accidentally powers up 7723, but is taken away by security and leaves her bag. 7723 follows her to return the bag, revealing himself to be an overpowered war-machine with no understanding of the value of human life or property, but he gets injured in the process. This injury damages his memory, resulting in him only being able to hold 72 hours’ worth of memories at a time. To deal with this, he only keeps memories he likes and deletes the others.

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He has to literally shred them.

He finds Mai and she convinces him to help her go on a spree of destroying other robots. Over time, 7723 becomes more emotional, bonding with Mai. He also stops enjoying their mischief and destruction, trying to convince Mai to do other things. After Mai tries to get him to hurt one of her bullies, 7723 deletes his weapons system. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that the new robots coming out of IQ are programmed to explode when told by Pin. Rice finds 7723 and tries to fix his memories, but is killed by Pin, who is revealed to actually be a robot who took over his body. Pin and his other body, a war machine named Ares, are trying to destroy humanity, but are stopped by 7723 when he re-installs his weapons at the cost of his memories, losing them slowly as he fights. Eventually, he wins, but is now blank. At the end of the movie, he now lives with Mai, making new memories.

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This is the villain. Shocking, right?

END SUMMARY

If you didn’t read that I don’t blame you. This movie is so dense that I left out most of the sub-plots and that summary is still huge. There’s a subplot about 7723 being able to understand Mai’s dog Momo (Michael Peña), who speaks mostly in bleeped swears and constantly shifts moods between angry and loving. It’s funny, but it also feeds into why this movie fails: It never gives the characters time to really feel things.

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I wish the movie was more of this, because Momo and the robot are adorable together.

Think about any great animated movie you’ve ever seen. Almost all of them, particularly Pixar, How to Train Your Dragon, and the good Don Bluth films (The Secret of NIMH), have strong emotional moments. These aren’t real people, so we need to have those connections even more than in real films in order to close the audience-screen gap and give weight to the characters’ actions (I’m sure there’s a real term for this). This movie doesn’t really do that, because it never lets the moment sit long enough for us to feel anything. The second there should be an emotional moment, the movie cuts from it to the next scene. At one point, a robot in the film basically calls the movie out for it by saying that he “needs time to process” an emotional development, but just beeps and says “I’m done” immediately.

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It’s not just that Bing Bong dies, its watching Joy realize what he did. That’s a moment.

It’s not like there weren’t a ton of opportunities for an emotional core to the movie. You could deal with the fact that 7723 is manipulated by the one human he trusts to be a force of destruction which he ends up regretting. You could, and almost did, deal with the idea of a person having to select what memories they keep and how that affects their personality and life. You could deal with Mai’s issues stemming from her mother being more obsessed with her replacement for her husband than with her daughter. You could deal with Mai being bullied or her feeling of loss over her father. You could even take a step back and deal with bigger concepts, like humanity being dependent on robots or why the IQ Corporation can apparently manufacture the police force and military without any kind of oversight or even why the hell you’d make robots that would be able to beat up children at the commands of other children. This movie instead tries to do all of these in 90 minutes, resulting in the last 15 minutes mostly being a game of “say 3 lines and pretend we wrapped this plot up.”

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Oh, cool, the bully just came back to risk her life for her victim. That’s not actual character development, guys.

I will admit that the rapid pace of all the plot threads did keep me from paying attention to all of the things the movie doesn’t really answer or address, like how did Pin make a sentient robot before 7723 if Rice was the actual genius or how did Mai not get in trouble for destroying dozens of robots while on film or why did Mai just murder a police officer or how was it not a bigger deal that DOGS CAN TALK? There are ton of these things that really don’t hold up to scrutiny, but the movie wasn’t awesome enough to keep me from considering them, instead trying to just not give me time to think. Still, most of this movie doesn’t make any sense in retrospect.

The real tragedy is that much of this film is actually excellent. The animation is beautiful, the progression of 7723’s display from two circles to eyes and a mouth is a great way to signal his development, a lot of the robots are adorable, the final fight scene SHOULD have been epic (instead it just feels unearned), and some of the humor actually works. David Cross plays all the generic robots and they have some hilarious lines, including a Gen5 saying “The Gen6’s slightly bigger screen will complete you emotionally in ways I never could,” which is genuinely good commentary. But if you try to make a cake/salad/ham/meringue at the same time, it doesn’t matter if you made each part well and put it in a nice box, it’s still a mess.

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Not every jumble works out well. 

To the filmmakers, I say the following: the best film isn’t necessarily the one with the “most plot.” If it were, the third Godfather would be the best one, rather than a mediocre conclusion to an unbelievable franchise. What we want is to go on a journey with the characters. We can’t do that if the characters are on 15 different journeys at once. I understand that you didn’t want to feel like you were just re-hashing old plots, so you tried to combine a lot of them, but that’s not necessarily what makes a movie new. Think about How to Train Your Dragon. The movie is literally a list of clichés over a generic story, but even though it is all of those things, the film focused on how the characters feel going through the story, rather than the story itself, and it does that by showing us how everyone feels after all the cliché moments. Like, this shot from after Stoick yells at his son and disowns him still shows him almost crying with the realization that, even though he did what he had to do, he’s still hurting from having to do it.

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This. This is how you have an emotional moment in a movie. It’s not big, but it’s relatable.

Also, as a side-note, I love Jason Sudeikis, but you will never convince me that they didn’t intend for the character to be voiced by Jon Hamm. He looks like Hamm, he talks like Hamm’s characters usually talk, and he is a glorified pitchman with a dark side, something Hamm is most famous for playing. It’s like how the snowman in Jack Frost looks like George Clooney rather than Michael Keaton or how the vultures in the Jungle Book were supposed to be the Beatles: It just seems to indicate that the casting changed after the production started. Or maybe I’m wrong.

Overall, it’s a movie that I think kids might enjoy, but adults wouldn’t. Unfortunately, given the number of terrible things that the protagonists do in the movie, I wouldn’t recommend showing it to kids.

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

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

STILLWATER: It Runs Deep-ish

SpoilerFree

As I said in my mini-review last week (sorry for the delay and thank you for the messages of condolence about the loss in my family), this review was, ostensibly, requested by Nino Aldi, the film’s director/writer/producer/star. I can’t imagine how far down the internet reviewer hierarchy I am, so this was flattering, to say the least. But, enough about that, on with the show:

SUMMARY (SPOILER-FREE)

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I refuse to believe none of them has a flask in this shot.

The movie starts with the police interviewing Willie (Paul Elia) about recent events. Six former high-school baseball teammates, including Willie, all now in their mid-30s, go on a reunion camping trip into the wilderness in Northern Minnesota on the Boundary Waters. On the way, Willie, a podiatrist, and Dawson (Tyler Ritter), his best friend whose marriage is ending, pick up Coop (Ryan Vincent), a self-centered womanizer. They meet up with military veteran Richie (Nino Aldi), Alcoholic Jack (Travis Quentin Young), and perpetually irresponsible Leech (Eric Michael Roy) who has brought along his Goth Drug-Dealing friend Wizard (Mike Foy) and Wizard’s girl companions Vera and Fauna (Georgie Guinane and Carlena Britch).

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Goths in the mist.

That night, the group takes a large amount of drugs and alcohol and wakes up to find that Coop is dead at the bottom of a cliff. They determine that it’s impossible for Coop’s injuries to have come from the fall, so one of them is the killer. The group is divided over whether or not to go to the police but ultimately decide to try and figure out whodunnit before calling the police. Slowly, paranoia and trauma start to work through the group, turning them on each other.

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It’s in the trailer, therefore not a spoiler.

END SUMMARY

So, it’s not the most original set-up: Friends are isolated, they find out that one of them may not be what they think, paranoia starts to drive them apart. The idea of mistrust causing people to betray each other is older than Lord of the Flies and has been explored in almost every way, but this movie manages to put a few new twists on it, particularly in the third act.

So, let’s go through the pros and cons of the film:

In the pro column, I think I first have to say that the music in this film is excellent. I noted it several times while watching the movie and I even made it a point to look up Bill Appleberry, the person behind it. It turns out that he is the person who mixed every song ever on The Voice for which Nino Aldi was a field producer, as well as the keyboardist on Kiss’s Psycho Circus, so it makes sense that he knows how to set a mood. In a film genre like mystery/thriller, where tone is so important, having good music is extremely valuable, so this was a big plus. It doesn’t have anything as memorable as the Exorcist theme, but it damn well tells you how to feel at any point in the story.  I also liked the song they used during the opening:

The cinematography is pretty solid, with a number of shots that isolate the characters or convey distance between them as they grow apart. Again, that’s something that’s needed in this kind of film. The setting is conveyed as being both beautiful and isolated, making it perfect for the events of the film. I also thought that most of the performances were really good. Actually, I should say instead that all of them were very good, it’s just that a few of them felt like they weren’t exactly all on the same page as to how exaggerated some of their traits should be. In an ensemble whodunnit, you really need the characters to be distinct (think Murder on the Orient Express or Hateful Eight) so it actually pays off to be a little more exaggerated, whereas some of these performances were underplayed for this kind of film. I do think that Ritter and Elia nailed it, though.

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Shot in shadow while being deceptive. Worked for Welles, works here.

I’ll address the other big pro after the spoiler break, but it’s by far the biggest pro.

As to the cons, I’ll say that it takes the movie about 20 minutes to really get going and there is a HUGE amount of semi-awkward exposition at the beginning. I mean, there are a lot of characters so some dialogue that’s heavy on the backstory was inevitable, but it still goes a bit overboard. Now, after the movie really starts going, the dialogue actually starts being revealing without being overly expositional for a while, which only makes the earlier awkwardness more apparent. I think it’s this slow start putting people in a bad mood that probably hurts viewers’ opinions of the film. If I had been just watching this randomly and caught only the first 15 minutes, I probably would have turned it off and switched to The Third Man.

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I won’t apologize for loving Orson Welles.

A few other things: Some of the character motivations seem kind of random, particularly Richie’s over-the-top hatred of Wizard and its fallout from his PTSD. The decision not to go to the police seemed especially dumb, although I admit the scene of them literally picking sides was pretty powerful. The police station framing device, as I’ve mentioned at least once before on this site, is something I hate, even though it was at least used decently at the end of this film (unlike most others). The movie contains a lot of lines that are referential to other movies, but most of the references don’t really help elevate the narrative, they’re just there. Also, everyone gives Willie shit for being a podiatrist, which is weird for people in their 30s. Like, I get that they’re jocks re-living high school, but most of them are pretty successful, it seems, so mocking the doctor comes off a little disingenuous. If most of them were poor, then it would be jealousy, but here, it just seems arbitrary.

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The movie tells us who wants what… BUT DRAMATICALLY.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Okay, now for the big pro of this movie: The ending was great. Not only did it make sense, it actually made more sense than any of the other options. One of my notes from watching the film was that it seemed entirely possible that Coop knocked himself out while drunk/high and that the movie characters were ignoring that. So, when it turned out that Coop was actually still alive and HAD done just that, it was a wonderful moment of reality grabbing hold of the movie. To recontextualize everything that was done to be based on a false assumption turned the entire movie on its head. Then, it immediately capitalizes on that by pointing out that Willie, who had seemed to be the rational one, was an unreliable narrator and had, in fact, killed Dawson himself and conjured up Dawson’s confession as a way to get around being the one responsible for the entire series of events. It also calls into question whether Richie actually killed himself or if Willie did it and tried to imagine that Richie had committed suicide in a way that seemed similar to murder. Everything can be re-considered in that light.

It also explains why it seems like everyone gives Willie shit for being a podiatrist, since, in his mind, not being a “real” doctor led to the misdiagnosis that led to the deaths of his friends. They may not even have said much about it, but he interprets them as cruel attacks in his memory.

Honestly, if you watch the film knowing the ending, much of the film now makes more sense. With Willie being the one shaping the narrative, the dialogue is now what he is saying people are saying, not necessarily what was actually said. Basically, it shifts the whole film from an objective telling to a subjective retelling, and that makes some of the weak points stronger. Now, it doesn’t necessarily forgive everything, since a movie with a twist needs to work strongly on the first watch and still work on the re-watch now that you know the twist (think Fight Club), but any other ending probably would have dropped this movie down quite a bit in quality.

*END SPOILERS*

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. It’s got great sound, some beautiful shots, a few solid performances, and a hell of a third act. Honestly, my notes at the end of the film devolve into various ways of saying “Holy Hell, that’s awesome.” It has issues, mostly in the First Act (to the point that I almost recommend just skipping to about 25 minutes in), but it’s still worth seeing if you’re a fan of the mystery/thriller genre. You can rent it on Amazon for $4 or through other sources at the movie’s website.

I’ve included my viewing notes for this one after the read more tag.

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

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

Continue reading STILLWATER: It Runs Deep-ish

Joker Mini-Review – STILLWATER Trailer

Well, this was a strange occurrence. I received a request from (apparently) Nino Aldi, an independent film producer and director, asking for a review of his new film STILLWATER and its trailer. As you regulars know, I try to do any requests I can feasibly undertake (given that I have almost no money at the moment, there are some challenges), so I will do this one. I’m reviewing the trailer today and the film tomorrow, because doing it the other way around would be weird.

Update: After I decided to undertake this, I had a loss in my family. As such, I have moved the movie review to Monday in order to travel and help with the funeral arrangements.

Okay, so, here’s the trailer:

SUMMARY for those of you who can’t watch

A group of friends who were apparently former champions of something go camping in the middle of the woods near a lake. They have a night of drinking, only to find in the morning that one of them, Cooper (Ryan Vincent), has fallen off of a cliff to his death. For reasons that aren’t explained in the trailer, because time-saving, they realize that Cooper’s death wasn’t an accident. However, they’re the only ones in the area, so it has to have been one of them. They start to turn on each other out of suspicion, with at least one image suggesting another murder.

END SUMMARY

It’s odd to review a two-and-a-half-minute trailer, but here are the positives:

The set-up and isolation are established pretty quickly, as is the nature of the relationship between the characters. The sound definitely plays into the atmosphere from the beginning, not trying to surprise you with a cheap switch from, say, a traditional party movie track to a mystery theme. Obviously, I tend to favor a trailer being representative of the film, in tone if not in content, and the sound and score definitely seem consistent with the “suspicious death and ensuing accusations” vibe of the movie.

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As opposed to, say, focusing a trailer on a 90 second dream sequence that misleads as to tone and content.

As to the content of the trailer, it has a few overly expositional lines in it, but… well, it’s a trailer, you need to convey a lot quickly if you aren’t a major studio. Lines like “there’s no way he fell down this cliff” on their own don’t carry much aside from saying “yes, the premise of the movie will include us finding our friend murdered.” In a movie, saying that without build-up or without a subsequent explanation, would be terrible. In a trailer, it’s just getting the point across, and works fine. When the group first starts turning on each other, it seems like they’ve skipped a little bit, but it does convey an idea of how seriously some of the members are taking this. Since it’s a murder, that makes sense.

The use of switching between group and isolation shots works well with the idea that everyone has gone from being part of a team to individuals suspecting each other. I’m always a fan of using the camera to convey the truth behind the scene and that’s usually what that kind of shot indicates.

And here are the drawbacks:

This trailer needed to have about 30 seconds cut from it. I don’t know if the length is just an industry trend, so maybe some of the material is there for that purpose. The reason I say that is that this film appears to be a mystery and that aspect of a movie will sell itself: Put out a good murder set-up and fans of the genre will want to see it just to find out what happens. Once you’ve sold the set-up, quit selling, because everything else can only make us less interested. In this case, it’s all the shots showing us the elements of the fallout amongst the group and the reiteration that the person who killed Coop was one of them. For the former, it just tells us that what we’re expecting happens, which can dull the fun a bit. For the latter, we’ve established that Coop was killed by one of them, so saying it again either accomplishes nothing or makes us think the twist is that he wasn’t killed by one of them. Neither of these really helps with selling the trailer.

Overall, I’m not saying the trailer really has me super amped to see the movie, but it also hasn’t shown me anything that screams “mistake.” I do at least want to find out who killed Coop, so… hopefully the movie either answers that or gives me a solid reason why it doesn’t answer that.

The movie’s available on Amazon and a few other places online, and their website is found via this helpful link.

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

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

Netflix Review – The Good Place: Season 2

Already reviewed one episode of this season, but since they finally put it on Netflix, I’m going to go ahead and do the whole thing. Spoilers, I’m trying to do this so you can watch Season 3 when it comes up, even if you don’t want to catch up on the last two.

SUMMARY

Michael (Ted Danson) commences the reboot from the end of the last season, trying a new version of the original strategy to get Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) to torture each other for thousands of years. However, Eleanor placed a note in the mouth of Janet (D’Arcy Carden) at the end of last season, telling her to find Chidi, which quickly leads her to realize that she’s already been in this situation before. This leads to her figuring out that they’re in the Bad Place in a few days, rather than the months in the original run. Michael decides to just reboot them yet again, without the note, but has to conceal this from his boss, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), who told him he only had two chances. Unfortunately for Michael, it turns out that his plan is inherently flawed. Every time he reboots them, Eleanor still realizes that they’re in the Bad Place somehow (although, once, Jason realizes it, something that Michael admits “hurts”).

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Granted, Michael was stupid for trying to put a 3 hour Jazz Opera in. 

Over 800 attempts later, the other demons in the fake Good Place finally go on strike, led by Vicky, the “real Eleanor” from the first attempt (Tiya Sircar). She blackmails Michael to take over, but Chidi and Eleanor see a demon out of his human suit and realize they’re in the bad place. They flee to the Medium Place, where Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe) reveals that they’ve been over a dozen times before, but each time they return to the fake Good Place and get rebooted. She also reveals that Chidi and Eleanor almost always are together and once even said they loved each other, something neither of them has ever really done. However, in this timeline, they barely know each other.

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And Mindy has the illegal voyeur porn to prove it!

Michael talks with Jason, who accidentally convinces him to join the human team. As a condition of working with him, Eleanor insists that Michael also take ethics classes, something that doesn’t come naturally to a demon. Eventually, he starts to understand the concept and bond with them. Janet begins to malfunction, and it’s revealed that she’s still in love with Jason from the first reboot, when they got married. She attempts to get over him by creating a rebound guy named Derek (Jason “How did this get made” Mantzoukas), but eventually is forced to realize that she has to deal with her feelings, something no previous Janet has ever really had (Janets become smarter every time they’re rebooted, and she’s been rebooted the most by a lot).

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Derek doesn’t quite have a “working” brain.

Shawn returns and ends the fake Good Place, believing that it was a massive success and promises Michael a promotion. Michael betrays Shawn, however, and sides with the humans and helps them avoid going to the real Bad Place. Instead, they sneak through the Bad Place and head to meet the inter-dimensional judge who rules over all the matters of good and evil, Judge “Gen” Hydrogen (Maya F*CKING Rudolph). The Judge gives each of the four a test of their growth, but only Eleanor passes. She tells the others that she failed because they’d agreed to all go to the Bad Place if anyone failed.

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She’s so wonderful.

At the last minute, Michael arrives and intervenes, convincing Gen that, since people can become better by working at it, they should give each of the four another shot on Earth and see if they get better. Eleanor goes back to the moment of her death, is saved by Michael, and resolves to become a better person. However, after it proves difficult, she starts to backslide. Michael pretends to be a bartender (because he’s Ted Danson) and asks her a question: “What do we owe each other?” She Googles this question and finds a lecture series by Chidi, leading her to fly to Australia to meet with him, ending the season.

END SUMMARY

Okay, do you see how long that summary was? That’s me condensing the hell out of this season. So much happens that I had to double check that each episode, aside from the first one, is only 22 minutes long. Granted, there are less actual discussions about philosophy in this season, because most of it is just so packed, but they still have several episodes dedicated to it, including an episode called “The Trolley Problem” which is about… well, the Trolley Problem. If you want to find out about that, my Grouchy counterpart wrote some crap on it. The season addresses the concept of moral absolutes and moral relativism, existential crises, whether utilitarianism or deontology is better for deciding a course of action, and whether or not throwing a Molotov cocktail is actually a solution to anything. If you didn’t understand any of those things, this show will explain them to you better than I can, and will do them in hilariously entertaining ways that don’t even feel like you’re learning (that way it doesn’t hurt).

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The Trolley Problem: Now with squishy balloons of organs and blood and bone! 

The structure of good and evil within the show is also elaborated upon and it is so interesting and yet relatable. Is it wrong for a person to innocuously start a really annoying trend, like a waiter seeing an empty plate and saying “I see you hated it?” Is it okay to murder someone if your intent is solely to make someone else’s life better? Are burritos better when coated with a dash of envy? I didn’t even know I needed the answer to some of these.

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Respect. The. Burrito.

The main thing about this season is that it feels like a very different show, while still being almost the same at its emotional core. The characters still relate to each other much the same ways they did during the last season, even if the background behind their connections has changed. They’re going through different challenges, however, and those struggles don’t feel at all like the things they were dealing with in the last season. Then, several episodes even change the setting and the stakes, making a lot of the actions feel more urgent than they were before. It’s a great ramp-up to the finale, which, itself, changes the show’s framework. This isn’t a show where the characters stay the same, they grow and change and the show changes so that it continues to make sense. Brilliant storytelling.

The acting and writing in this season is just as good, if not better, than the last one, so see yesterday’s review if you want to know my opinions on that (hint: GREAT!). Some notable additions are Jason Mantzoukas as Derek, the fake rebound guy that Janet builds, Dax Shepard as Chet, the demon who tortures people with toxic masculinity, and Maya Rudolph as Judge Gen. Mantzoukas plays a character who literally doesn’t follow any laws of human development, since he was spontaneously created, which he somehow pulls off, never seeming even close to a regular person in the funniest way possible. Shepard doesn’t get a huge role, but, like Adam Scott in season 1, he portrays a hilariously douchey take on the traditional demon idea, being not an old-school evil figure, but a more modern version of dickish evil. And Maya Rudolph is Maya f*cking Rudolph, if you need more than that, I advise you to go watch anything Maya Rudolph is in, particularly Idiocracy. She’s amazing and you should pay respect to her.

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Also, Carden as “Bad Janet” and “Bad Good Janet” are amazing.

Overall, when this season ended I was just pissed off that I was going to have to wait a year to watch the next one. If that’s not a sign of quality television, I don’t know what is. The next season starts this month on NBC, so get caught up and watch, people.

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

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