Netflix Review – Love, Death, and Robots: A Heavy Metal Reboot without the Rights

Netflix decided to give Tim Miller (Deadpool) and David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Game, Gone Girl) a shot at the reboot of Heavy Metal that they’d been pitching for years, only without the name or the soundtrack.

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Yep, this aged perfectly.

SUMMARY

It’s an anthology. It’s 18 different stories done by different teams that have basically no common theme. Sure, the title makes it seem like everything is Sci-Fi, but they’re not. Most are, to be sure, but not all.

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Art styles vary immensely and awesomely.

Here’s a sentence about each of them, in the order that they originally posted them, though Netflix is playing with the order:

Sonnie’s Edge: A woman psychically commands a bio-engineered monster in future gladiatorial matches.

Three Robots: Three different AIs explore the remains of Earth in a parody of most people taking a trip to a foreign country.

The Witness: A woman witnesses a murder and is pursued by the killer all through the city.

Suits: Farmers in Mech-Suits defend their crops against futuristic coyote-like aliens.

Sucker of Souls: Vampires vs. Cats does not favor the Vampire.

When the Yogurt Took Over: Yogurt is smarter than people, but you probably knew that already.

Beyond the Aquila Rift: Lost space crew ends up finding what they hope are familiar faces.

Good Hunting: Probably the one with the biggest metaphor in the entire series… and also a steampunk transformer.

The Dump: A guy who runs a dump finds out there are more than just rats living there.

Shape-Shifters: The US has werewolves fight the Taliban and it’s pretty awesome.

Helping Hand: Someone crossbred Gravity and 127 Hours.

Fish Night: Two stranded salesmen find a mystical doorway to a time before people.

Lucky 13: A pilot tells stories about her connection with an “unlucky” ship.

Zima Blue: A journalist finds out the truth behind the last great work of the universe’s greatest artist.

Blindspot: Cyperpunks try to rob a convoy.

Ice Age: The Simpsons episode “The Genesis Tub” (itself a ripoff of The Twilight Zone’s “The Little People”) gets ripped-off in a fun short with a solid ending.

Alternate Histories: We watch Hitler get killed a lot in fun ways, including being beaten to death by angry Jewish people.

Secret War: The Red Army fights a demon invasion.

END SUMMARY

Since this was originally supposed to be a new version of Heavy Metal, I think it should go without saying that this is very Not Safe For Work. Now, sometimes it is actually done quite well, with nudity that is artistic or swearing that feels natural or in-character. Sometimes, it’s just boobs for the sake of boobs… but not in the way that Heavy Metal did them. See, Heavy Metal was always about hyperbolic exaggeration and exploitation, going so over-the-top that it bordered on self-parody. It’s that full-on almost comedy feel that allowed you to avoid any form of introspection about exactly why you thought a movie featuring mostly half-naked and incredibly busty women committing acts of ultra-violence was more fun than, say, . However, some of these shorts are actually very thought-provoking, which, unfortunately, means that sometimes you actually do notice when the nudity is just there for titillation.

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… This is like 2 minutes of nothing plot-essential.

I’d say that, and this is a rarity for an anthology, I don’t think there’s actually a “bad” short in here. Some are better than others, to be sure, but there’s not one where I point to it and say “nothing in this was good.” The animation styles range quite a bit, going from basically photorealistic CGI to moving pulp comics, but all of them are very impressive. Given that all of them are shorts, it’s difficult to really get involved with the characters as much as you would in a traditional movie, but very few of these are actually character-driven. Most of them are just about the action or the scenario playing out, often with a solid twist at the end. Some are deep and require an exploration of the use of symbolism or allusion, while some of them are just people blowing stuff up or robots making funny jokes.

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Seriously, all of the animation is amazing. 

I’m going to go ahead and address the elephant in the review that I keep seeing on people’s social media comments about the series: Yeah, several of these are very exploitative towards women and, as I said earlier, not in the original “oh, this is so ridiculous it’s basically harmless” way. Good Hunting, for example, includes scenes of things being done to a woman which are deeply disturbing on many, many levels. Now, yes, they’re supposed to be deeply disturbing because the person doing them is a monster (part of the theme of the short), but the fact is that it’s still graphically evoking the theme of violence against women. It’s definitely something that was bound to cause controversy, particularly when you consider it was an almost all-male production crew. If you’re not into exploitation, the following shorts are probably still fine for you: Zima Blue, Three Robots, Alternate Histories (there’s sex, but it kills Hitler and is super abstract, so…), Suits, Sucker of Souls, When the Yogurt Took Over, Helping Hand, Fish Night, Lucky 13, Ice Age, Blindspot.

The best short in the show, in my opinion, is Zima Blue. I was shocked to see that TV Guide’s review called it “a big old bucket of bolts.” The art in it is magnificent, but it’s actually what you can understand about the story on a second watching, having learned the ending, that really sets it apart. It’s about the nature of being an artist, about creating, and about trying to make others see that which you hold within you that is so basic and primal that you can’t even bring into words. What the artist, Zima, figures out, is something so complicated that it’s moved all the way back to simple and it’s that particular moment of clarity that the ending captures beautifully.

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So beautiful.

Overall, I will say that I like that Netflix is trying new things, particularly taking advantage of its lack of a rating system.

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.

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Reader Request – The Real McCoy (Beverly Hills: 90210)

This was requested before Luke Perry’s untimely passing, but I feel it is all the more appropriate now to review this strange, strange episode which has a great performance by him.

If you’ve never seen Beverly Hills: 90210, the premise of the show is that it’s a soap opera focused on a group of California teens (and eventually young adults) who deal with overly dramatic relationships and near-nudity on a regular basis. All of the actors are gorgeous and most of the characters are wealthy. The only other background information you need to know is that one gimmick from this season is that Dylan McKay (Luke Perry), who has been dealing with rehab for his drug and alcohol addiction, has been seeing a hypnotherapist to help him understand a character in his friend Charley’s (Jeffery King) screenplay.

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Would you have guessed they were mostly models?

SUMMARY

Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestly) is endorsed by the student body to seek another term as the president of the Student Body of California University, the setting for the show after the Third Season. He ends up getting screwed over by the School Administration and loses the race to Alex Diaz (F.J. Rio), the former campaign manager of the other candidate when he won the position in the first place. Sadly, resident man-eater Valerie (Tiffani-Amber “I’m Kelly Kapowski, I don’t care what you think” Thiessen) decides that Brandon is now her perfect guy and aims to seduce him. Only Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), his girlfriend, seems to realize that Valerie is kind of a monster at this point. Also, Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) and Ray Pruit (Jamie Walters) try to go on a double date with David Silver (Brian Austin Green) and Clare Arnold (Kathleen Robertson), but the latter couple hates Ray for his infidelity… and yet they don’t tell Donna about it.  But enough about this crap, let’s get to the reason this episode was requested.

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Valerie is evil, but… Kelly Kapowski isn’t.

When Dylan McKay undergoes a session of hypnotherapy, he finds himself in the shoes of one of his past lives, Billy McCoy, a gunfighter and criminal from the Old West. A drunk, degenerate, murderer, he falls in love with a young woman whose stagecoach he robs. It turns out that woman is the past life of Kelly. McCoy gives up his life of debauchery and crime in order to be with her. Years later, he lives a life of Godliness as a family man and farmer. He is called by one of his former associates to save the life of one of his ex-lovers. McCoy agrees, bidding his wife and children farewell for a while. He saves his former girlfriend without having to hurt anyone, putting her on a train bound for the West Coast. He’s then shot in the back by the son of a man he killed and dies. At the funeral, Dylan sees the view from the coffin as McCoy’s family and friends throw flowers on his grave… only to be replaced by Brandon Walsh and the rest of the cast of the show. Dylan’s therapist tells him that sometimes past regressions lead into premonitions of the future. Dylan says that he was told by a fortune teller when he was younger that he didn’t have a long life ahead of him. He goes to Kelly’s apartment and kisses her passionately, something she quickly reciprocates.

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Even his kill face is a smolder.

END SUMMARY

First of all, holy hell, this season has 32 episodes. That’s almost inconceivable if you’ve only watched TV for the last 20 years or so. Most shows nowadays don’t come close to that. Breaking Bad’s longest season was only half that, and it was formed from two different production seasons. What this show lacked in quality writing, it more than made up for in quantity, which worked well, I guess.

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Correction: Works well, since it’s back on.

I’m not saying this is where the show jumped the shark, but I’m only not saying that because I didn’t watch this show close enough to know where it jumped the shark. I remember reading that later in the series Dylan finds out that his father faked his death by explosion and had decided to abandon his son to enter Witness Protection, but I also have heard that most of the end of the series was pretty bad. Therefore, I have to think that this episode was a sure sign that the show was running out of ideas and jumped the shark hard.

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It’s enough to get you to drink.

While the idea of having a Western episode in a show which is set in modern day California, and also features a group of rather yuppie 20-somethings, might seem like a guaranteed failure, the Western part of the episode is way more interesting than the rest. I get that this show was a serial drama, but honestly the B- and C-plots were basically without any real stakes to me since I didn’t see the rest of the show. Is it fair for me to judge these elements since I didn’t get them in context? Maybe not, but I’m gonna. I know that everyone should hate Valerie and that Ray is a cheating bastard, but since I didn’t watch anything up until this point, I don’t fully understand what that means, and the episode doesn’t really reflect it through the eyes of the other characters very well. I guess it’s tough to emote heavily when you also have to look beautiful all the time.

However, the Western segment is actually pretty well contained and has a lot of solid elements which express deeper aspects of Dylan McKay’s personality. The initial Billy McCoy represents how Dylan sees himself: A drunk, a backstabber, and a cocky rogue. Much like with Dylan’s life, Billy only gets worse, more selfish, and more self-destructive as time goes on. Eventually, however, he chooses to do one good thing, which is to save a Native American from some thugs, and that earns him the admiration of Western Kelly. His relationship with her ends up making him a better person, until finally all of his sins catch up with him and he’s killed before his time. He then relates that a gypsy told him he wasn’t going to live very long, something that, while it never came up again in the show, apparently was sadly true in real life. Again, I’d remind you that this episode was requested BEFORE Luke Perry passed.

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This was actually pretty touching.

Perry’s performance as McCoy is actually pretty great, managing to convey a huge amount of character growth between the scenes, reflecting the changes within the cowboy’s life from drunken killer to family man. It’s basically the opposite of Unforgiven.

Overall, I enjoyed the episode, even if most of it didn’t really resonate with me. I am, however, sad that one of the best parts of it has left the world too soon. R.I.P. Luke Perry.

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

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

 

Captain Marvel: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back is Still One Step Forward (Spoiler-Free)

The Twenty-First entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe gives us the first superheroine central protagonist, but also displays a huge lack of faith in itself.

SUMMARY

Vers (Brie Larson) is a superpowered elite fighter in the Kree Starforce, an alien peacekeeping force, under her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She is plagued by dreams of her past that she can’t remember. During a mission against the shapeshifting Skrulls, Vers is captured by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). She escapes and crash lands on Earth in 1995, where she is met by a young-ish Nick Fury (SAMUEL L. MOTHER****ING JACKSON), who must work with her to deal with the impending alien invasions while also finding out that *ONLY KIND OF A SPOILER IF YOU COUNT SOMETHING YOU SEE IN THE OPENING SHOTS OF THE FILM AS A SURPRISE, AND I DON’T* she’s actually Carol Danvers actually from Earth.

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They have a Right Stuff walk… then the movie shows “The Right Stuff.” I liked that.

END SUMMARY

If this movie came out in 2000, when X-Men came out, it would be hailed as a revolution in superhero films. If it came out in 2004, when Spider-Man 2 came out, it would have been considered a little familiar, but still fresh. Hell, if it came out in 2008 along with Iron Man, it would still feel mostly new. Unfortunately, unless I managed to get the DeLorean up to 88 MPH while typing this, it’s now 2019 and the last decade has been filled with superhero movies that tend to constantly recycle tropes, and this one recycles the hell out of them while managing to import other old tropes at the same time. The beginning is so chock-full of them that I was actually starting to wonder if the film had a human writer, or if this was the first computer-generated script that actually got produced. It basically felt like someone took most of the common cliche elements from Phase One of the MCU and just switched the gender.

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Hell, I think they even shot a scene from Iron Man here.

The hero with amnesia is something that the MCU has managed to mostly avoid until now (unless you count Bucky being brainwashed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and this movie is a fresh example of why: Unless you’re going to play with it in clever ways, it basically forces the main character to spend half the movie as a different character. People are defined, in large part, by their experiences, so when you have a character who suddenly remembers most of her life, the character should be at least somewhat different, particularly when her post-amnesia life was so different. It basically robs the audience of some of the time we need to connect with the character, or forces you to make the character act similarly as both their old and new selves. Now, this can really work out, like in Memento or The Usual Suspects if the way that the film is done takes advantage of the lack of information it’s giving to the audience about a character, but this movie doesn’t do that, for the most part. Instead, it’s hard to say where Vers ends and Carol Danvers begins, because her core personality is mostly the same as both.

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That core being “confident despite everyone putting her down.”

Now, I want to take a second to make one thing clear: Tropes are not inherently bad. The best comic book movie of last year, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is so filled with tropes that it could be a codicil, but it uses all of them perfectly as a way to enforce the importance of certain storytelling elements. This movie uses them to skip over certain parts of the storytelling and it does show at times. I think my biggest one is that the villain in the film is possibly the worst in the MCU. Everything [it] tries is so miscalculated, so dumb, and so unnecessary, that I almost ended up shouting at the damned screen. The only reason any of it even happens is so that we can eventually get Captain Marvel asserting herself and giving us the character change that leads into the final fight scenes.

Speaking of which, the action sequences range from the fights at the beginning where the shaky-cam and editing renders the shots almost pointless to film to the last fight scene which is, admittedly, pretty freaking awesome and almost worth the ticket cost on its own. Given that the directing duo of Boden and Fleck haven’t really done an action film before now, this is commendable, but it does still make the first act even worse than most of the writing did.

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The more she glows, the better the movie gets.

The real problem with this movie is the same flaw that helped make Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2 so bad: This film plays it safe. To be fair, the studio probably pushed this upon them, because when you’re trying to sell something new to an audience, like a female-led Marvel film, it’s tempting to want to give them some familiar elements to keep them from getting lost. If you try to subvert literally everything that the audience expects, then you can end up with a super-divisive film involving space llamas and blue milk. So, I imagine the studio tried to keep the directors “in their lane,” forgetting that the reason why Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War felt so fresh is that the directors were allowed to have a lot more control over the films, giving them more distinct style and original elements than the first few Marvel movies. Even Doctor Strange, which is just Iron Man on shrooms, was at least visually distinct. Captain Marvel didn’t even trust its main character to be the sole focus of the story, instead mostly being a buddy comedy with her and Nick Fury. This film is, sadly, just a lot more generic than it needed to be.

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Jude Law is like 3 different generic characters at different points.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of good parts to it. Some of the shots and worldbuilding elements are excellent. Brie Larson’s performance, while somewhat muted by the way her character is being handled in the film, is solid. Sam Jackson is a treasure, even if he doesn’t exactly feel like the guy who will, 13 years later canonically, be the superspy head of S.H.I.E.L.D. The third act is actually pretty great, including a few of the better moments in the MCU. Heck, it manages to have a scene of a completely overpowered protagonist not feel boring. It makes some changes to Captain Marvel, but nothing too big to piss off the purists. Also, it has solid feminist elements without feeling like they were shoved inorganically into the scenes, which is the best way to get a point across.

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Thankfully, they skipped some HORRIFYING canon history of Captain Marvel.

Overall, it has a terrible start, but after it finds its feet, it manages to get some good sequences on film. Hopefully what this movie does is allow the studio to trust the directors more in the future and that the next female superhero film (PLEASE GIVE ME SHE-HULK) will be allowed the same leeway now afforded other MCU entries.

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

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

Netflix Review – Green Room: One of the Best Modern Horror Films (Spoiler-Free)

Due to not being able to run a 90210 DVD on my computer (someone requested I review an episode before Luke Perry died), I have decided to give you all a special treat and review one of the best films of the last 10 years, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. I’m choosing to make it spoiler-free because I really want to encourage people to see this film.

SUMMARY

Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) are members of  the punk band the “Ain’t Rights.” While traveling through Oregon, they have one of their gigs cancelled and, to make up for it, local DJ Tad (David W. Thompson) tells them that he can get a performance through his cousin, Daniel (Mark Webber), at a bar outside of Portland. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that the bar is actually a Neo-Nazi skinhead bar. The group, half of whom are Jewish, having pure metal in their hearts, decide to play anyway, even opening with an amazing cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks F*ck Off!!!” They end up impressing the crowd and getting paid for the show.  

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They truly do rock the hate-filled house.

On the way out, Sam leaves her phone in the green room. Pat goes back to find it and sees the body of a dead girl (Taylor Tunes), having been stabbed to death by a Neo-Nazi. Pat calls the cops, but two Neo-Nazis, Gabe and Big Justin (Macon Blair and Eric Edelstein), take the phone and hold the Ain’t Rights hostage in the Green Room along with the dead girl’s friend, Amber (Imogen Poots). What follows is a solid 70 minutes of horrifying tension between the band and the Neo-Nazis and their leader, Darcy (Patrick “I am the man” Stewart).

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The old man is scarier than the big, tattooed guy.

END SUMMARY

This movie is one of the rare horror movies where no one has to be arbitrarily stupid to move the plot along. Do people sometimes make choices that result in bad things happening? Absolutely, but they only do when either A) they don’t have any way of knowing that bad things will result, B) they are forced to make the choice while under duress or pressure, or C) there are no good options available. Personally, nothing frustrates me more in a horror film than where the writer has to force the cheerleader to run up the stairs rather than out the door or the character with the baseball bat to just assume that they killed the masked slasher rather than keep beating until they’re sure. Are there movies where these actions are justified? Absolutely, the original Halloween does both of them well, but most of the time it’s just a sign that the writer had a great idea for another scene, but not the wherewithal to get there organically. This film avoids all of that.

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Like, for example, these guys actually get a gun.

Most of the film is tension developed from both of the groups trying to out-gambit each other while they’re on different sides of a door. It’s basically a super-high-stakes negotiation and, full credit to Saulnier’s control over the setting and interactions, as well as Sean Porter’s great cinematography, it always feels like everything is building up to something bad. Without ever saying it, every moment tells you that the film is not going to end well for someone, whether it’s the Ain’t Rights or the Neo-Nazis. It’s a movie where the sets are basically caked with dread.

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Even the lighting says “misfortune ahead.”

The performances are all top-notch, particularly Anton Yelchin’s Pat, who manages to maintain control over a situation despite often having a weak position, Imogen Poots’ Amber, who is dealing with PTSD from the beginning of her performance and only gets more stressed throughout, and Macon Blair’s Gabe, who acts as a perfectly rational counterbalance to most of the Neo-Nazis. Then, there’s Patrick Stewart. It’s so hard to describe how perfectly he plays this character. He’s a grizzled leader of a group of racists, but he views most of them only as easily-controllable grunts. It’s not even clear that he actually cares that much about the ideology, but is perfectly willing to exploit all of them. Mostly, he’s always completely calm and rational. At every point, he counters any attempts by the band to gain the upper hand, often by talking them into not taking any actions at all. The film only really works as well as it does because he always conveys an inherent wisdom, authority, and control from everything he says.

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Possibly because he commanded a starship.

If you haven’t seen this film and you have any love for horror or just great performances, you should see it.

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

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

Netflix Review – The Dragon Prince (Book 2): A Little Slow, But Picking Up (Spoiler-Free)

Some of the team from Avatar: The Last Airbender continue to remind us that they are capable of amazing amounts of complexity and emotion from animated characters.

SUMMARY

Azymondias or “Zym” the young dragon prince has been born at the end of the last season… and he is freakin’ adorable. Seriously, look at this little guy.

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Between this and Toothless, animated dragons are getting adorable.

But, back to the plot.

Rayla, Callum, and Ezran (Paula Burrows, Jack DeSena, Sasha Rojen) are resting at the home of Lujanne, the illusionist elf of the moon (Ellie King). Callum, having sacrificed his primal stone to save Zym’s life, is depressed that he can no longer do magic, as humans cannot connect to any of the elements. While they rest, Claudia and Soren (Racquel Belmonte and Jesse Inocalla) catch up to them. Claudia shares some romantic moments with Callum and tries to convince him of the merits of her form of magic, Dark Magic, but he refuses to learn it. Ultimately, Claudia and Soren reveal that they’re still trying to take the three back under the orders of their father, Viren (Jason Simpson). The trio manage to elude the pair and continue on their quest towards the land of the Dragon Queen.

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Amaya continues to be amazing.

END SUMMARY

This season was pretty solid. With all of the basic introductions out of the way, you’d expect the show to pick up a little, but instead the first few episodes are about expanding all of our characters’ connections. While we’ve gotten some emotional moments between all three of our leads, we get to see how much they’ve grown over the last season and how that’s affecting how they feel about each other. This grows further when we see Claudia and Soren, who haven’t really interacted with the characters since the beginning, try to deal with the fact that their targets are also people they care about, which brings me to one of the best points in the show.

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Perhaps more than just care about.

So far, this show has managed to avoid falling into any cliches about good and evil. Claudia is a witch who literally sucks the life out of small things in order to do magic, but she doesn’t view it as being inherently evil, merely as a tool no different than a sword, which can be used for right or wrong. Soren is an extremely friendly soldier, who also is under orders from his father to kill his friends if he needs to. Viren, who is clearly the biggest villain in the series so far, is trying to do what he believes is right to save the kingdom, because in the past the only way for the humans to survive was to use forbidden magics. He just also is completely blind to how well he can actually administrate a kingdom or how succession works or how much people just don’t like him. Still, it’s impressive that all of the villains are portrayed less as blatantly evil, and more as people with different visions of how to do the right thing.

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Viren literally uses the heart of a rare, probably sentient monster… to save thousands.

I think that Callum’s journey over this season is a particularly well-crafted narrative. Over the last season he was trying to learn how to be a magic user, something that is rare within the world of the series, but now that he’s lost it he’s having to question what his role is now. It’s not that he misses the power as much as missing having a thing that he really felt was his chosen path. He’s spent his entire life failing at almost everything, only to find one thing where working on improving at it felt right. It’s such a relatable thing that I really love how they cover it.

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Also, there’s a blind pirate. I love him.

Overall, I thought that this was an interesting season, because it’s less of an advancement of the plot but more an exploration of the characters and the world. I think it was a step-up from the previous season and I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

Netflix Review/Reader Request – Await Further Instructions: An Anti-Vaxxer Horror Film?, Or The Monsters are Dumb at Maple Street (Spoiler-Free and Ending Explained)

I get my first reader request to try and interpret a movie, the British film Await Further Instructions. I regret accepting this request.

SUMMARY

It’s Christmas time. A time for family. Even the family that you don’t really get along with. The last one is the circumstances that our protagonist Nick (Sam Gittins) finds himself in, when he returns home after a long time away, bringing his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) to meet the Milgram Family. They immediately find themselves in conflict with Nick’s racist grandfather (David Bradley), his pregnant and proudly-ignorant sister Kate (Holly Weston), her meathead husband Scott (Kris Sadler), and his authoritarian father Tony (Grant Masters). His mother Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) is just sort of weak and obliging, but everyone seems to manage to get along, though it’s strained. The next morning, Nick and Annji decide to leave early to avoid more conflict, but find that the house is now surrounded by a mysterious black substance.

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I liked the Black substance being somewhat bio-mechanical looking, like the Xenomorph.

All cell phones are down, the internet is down, and the only contact with the outside world is coming through the television, which is displaying emergency messages, telling the family to “Await Further Instructions.” At first they attempt to just continue life as normal as possible, but soon the messages tell them to get rid of their food, to rub their bodies with bleach, then to inject themselves with “vaccines” that come through the chimney and are contained within dirty needles. At every step, the cycle basically goes “Nick and Annji point out that this is a terrible idea, then Tony overrules them.”

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This looks professional, right?

Throughout the movie, the people are compelled to do more and more extreme acts by the television, until the truth of the situation is revealed.

END SUMMARY

This movie is an example of “good idea, bad execution.” The premise of people under stress turning on each other is fairly old, including the classic The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” but tying it in with technology and featuring a family representative of the current societal cultural divides does distinguish it. There are, however, three big problems with this movie. First, the characters are too over the top. Tony, Kate, and Scott are all just too irrational, too quickly. Tony is not just immediately ready to believe whatever the TV says, but to use violence to enforce it. When it’s time to pick someone to be isolated, they don’t even consider that Scott, the guy who literally just shoved his hand into a mystery hole, might be the one who is infected. Meanwhile, Nick and Annji, the supposed voices of reason, just keep going along with stuff after they get shouted down. Nobody does much to figure out what’s going on for the first hour of the film, despite that being most people’s first reaction. It just doesn’t work well. Second, the dialogue is clunky as hell. Almost every line is awkward and uninspiring and could basically be called “cliche roulette.” Last, *Minor Spoiler* the last twenty minutes of the movie is such a violent change that it kind of feels like it was intended to be a different movie. *End Spoiler*

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Scott’s too dumb to recognize that the gash is clearly alive. Nobody’s that dumb.

So, the actual request I got was asking if this was an “anti-vaxxer” horror film. It’s pretty obvious why the question comes up, since the people in the movie all inject themselves with vaccines which *Minor Spoiler* doesn’t end well *End Spoiler.* I don’t deny that you can interpret that scene as being against trusting vaccines given to you by authority figures, but I think I can explain it as just being an incidental part of a bigger message.

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Tony, manning up by injecting himself with a dirty needle.

The film’s about blindly obeying authority, and that’s really any kind of authority. The family that is featured, the Milgrams, are even named after the famous Milgram Experiment, an experiment which confirmed that, if people are told by an authority figure to hurt or even kill someone, about 30% of people (or potentially up to 60%) will eventually do so. Admittedly, the experiment was aimed at being about authority, but subsequent experiments suggest it’s less about obeying and more about disclaiming responsibility. Still, the movie is a clear cautionary tale about the perils of not questioning orders.

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Law and Order: SVU actually did it better. 

“But Joker,” I hear my reader say, “isn’t the basis for rejecting vaccines essentially rejecting the authorities telling you that they’re helpful in favor of asserting your own belief (comment below if you actually said it, because that’d be awesome)?” Well, yes, but the difference is that vaccines are supported by scientific authority, whereas policy or command decisions are derived from, eventually, martial authority. The beauty of scientific authority is that any human being could, through study and time, go through the entire history of scientific discovery and eventually understand why and how vaccines work. Science is not an opinion, it’s a system by which we remove opinions until the truth remains. Yes, sometimes prevailing theories wrong, particularly in soft sciences, but the beauty is that if you prove a theory wrong, then your correct theory becomes the new main theory. Science never encourages you to blindly follow it, because the less blind you are, the more it helps science. Scientific authority is best summarized as “what is proved right becomes right, what is proved wrong becomes wrong.” Citation: Every scientist ever (myself included).

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I picked Lorenz’s because he worked on animal aggression.

Command decisions on the other hand, such as Tony’s orders to the family or the TV’s orders to Tony, are backed by martial authority. That means that, eventually, you fall in line because if you don’t, someone bigger than you commits violence upon you. That’s pretty much the way that all of civilization works: If you break the agreed-upon commands, someone kicks your ass. Sure, we’ve got courts and lawyers between us and most of the actual violence, but if you keep breaking the rules, eventually, violence will be inflicted upon you. We actually see that exemplified in the movie multiple times, particularly with Tony’s drafting of Scott as a foot soldier who carries out violence when Nick disagrees. However, the issue with unchecked martial authority is that eventually more and more violence is used in response to smaller and smaller violations of decrees.  The movie weakly tries to bring in religious or divine authority, but it’s mostly tied in with martial authority. Martial authority is best summarized as “what is right is what I say is right or else I smash your face in.” It encourages blindly following authority, because every time you question it, it has to smash your face in and sometimes that encourages you to smash back. Citation: Pretty much all of history.

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Best example ever.

The scene in the movie where the characters take vaccines even has a character point out that the risk isn’t just in the vaccine, it’s that the vaccines are improperly packaged, contain dirty needles, were delivered by chimney, and are in response to a health crisis that there is no evidence is even real. That’s not the same as saying don’t trust doctors and scientists. Hell, the two most educated characters, including one nurse, are the ones who are actually shown to be in the right about everything. So, no, I don’t think the movie is actually anti-vaxxer, it just was a little messy in this scene.

Overall, parts of the film, mostly the eerie way the television communicates and the body-horror, are well done. Other parts, particularly the characters and the dialogue, are just uninteresting and terrible. Horror doesn’t always need great dialogue (so many conversations from 80s slashers about sex come to mind), but it has to at least be INTERESTING dialogue, if you’re not having super strong visuals, and there aren’t many visuals until the end. I actually think they would have done better to have the television be communicating seemingly through regular media broadcasts, which might have given them a more cohesive message at the end, which brings me to…

***ENDING EXPLAINED***

At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the black mass surrounding the house is actually a tentacle monster which is basically made up of coaxial cables and has been infiltrating their television and controlling them. At the end, it even moves to motivating Tony to worship it, allowing it to completely control him. After everyone in the house is dead, the monster dissolves Kate’s body and says hello to her baby. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood is similarly falling apart and being consumed by the black creatures. So what’s happening here?

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Yeah, this is a weird way to end things.

Well, I admit that the last 20 minutes of this film is a little bit off-the-walls and gets a little confusing in themes. Most of the movie up until this point has been a fairly straight-forward message about the danger of not questioning authority or about succumbing to martial authority, but while the monster had been using the television to control everyone, it doesn’t do anything through traditional media. In fact, any time anyone tries to guess the source of the broadcast, it’s either Tony asserting that it’s the government or Nick asserting it’s coming from a sinister other source. The only statements about traditional media are a few lines about stories that the characters use as a basis to discriminate, but nothing about them really places any message about the media there. Despite that, the ending seems to be a pretty straightforward metaphor… I mean, it’s a child that is going to be raised by a television telling the baby to “worship [it].”

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Like I said, the ending gets a little confusing, and I think the key to it is that Annji sees the heart of the television is actually controlled by the monster. This indicates that the monster hasn’t just been there since Christmas, but possibly for a while, meaning that the monster knew how humans can divide themselves over issues and how prone certain people are to taking commands, allowing it to craft a perfect series of commands to the family to get them to kill themselves. Hell, it even knew Christmas was the time when people are the easiest targets, because they’re all together. When Nick and Annji resist, it just has Tony do the job. Finally, when it’s left alone, it seems to gently greet Ruby, the baby. That’s because this has probably been its goal all along, to raise a generation of children under its control to provide it with unquestioned worship. That’s the only way to explain why it chose to spare the baby, but not Tony, who is already its worshipper. Do I have very much to go on there? No, because the last 20 minutes of this movie are insane and hard to nail down. Is it about all authority or media? Is it about killing people or controlling people? I have no idea, but that’s my best guess. If the movie had chosen the television to communicate through, say, hijacked news broadcasts, that would have made a better metaphor, in my opinion, but I didn’t make the film.

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

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Joker’s Oscar Ballot

 

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Explanations

Best Picture: Blackkklansman

Spike Lee has been snubbed too many times, so the Academy probably feel like they owe him, with the added bonus that it gives them the most direct way to show off their dislike of a current public figure. Also, it was a really well-done movie.

Best Director: Spike Lee

He’s literally never been nominated for this award before. He’s never had a nomination for Best Picture before. Meanwhile, they actually were against screenings of Do The Right Thing, because they were worried it would lead black people to riot. This was in 1989. Again, they are gonna feel like they owe him.

Best Actress: Olivia Colman

Look, I want it to be Glenn Close. I’ll be pretty happy if it’s Glenn Close. But Olivia Colman’s performance in The Favourite contains so many wonderful levels that you could spend hours dissecting it. She could have made Anne an ancillary character in the rivalry between two women, but no, she made her a focus.

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King

I think this is going to happen because the people who like the two nominees from The Favourite are going to split the ballot. That said, Regina King freaking nailed this performance, and she totally deserves the award.

Actor in a Leading Role: Christian Bale

I didn’t even like this movie that much, but damn, that’s a performance for the ages. Bale probably can’t mutilate his body with impunity for much longer, so this is a good chance to get an award for his particular brand of weigh shifting.

Best Supporting Actor: Richard E. Grant

If you haven’t seen Can You Ever Forgive Me, you’ll know that Richard E. Grant’s performance is one of the more amazing parts of a film that, for the most part, is fairly predictable. Yes, he has great dialogue, but his character could so easily have been much worse that it’s amazing how well he carries it.

Best Costume Design: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

I know a lot of people probably think it’s going to be a period piece, but I think it was amazing how many costumes they put in this movie, and how varied and elaborate the costumes were. Liam Neeson’s coat alone took days to make.

Best Film Editing: The Favourite

Okay, all the people in Editing probably want it to be Blackkklansman because there was some pretty awesome tricks involving overlaying faces during shots, but if you’re a regular person, I think you vote for The Favourite. I’m a regular Joker, I pick that.

Best Sound Editing: A Quiet Place

Okay, this is one of the two Oscars where I’ll actually be pissed if I’m wrong. This movie was amazing and it was the completely perfect use of silence and sound that really makes it work.

Best Sound Mixing: A Star Is Born

This was, for me, one of the best parts of the film. If I can sit in a movie and go “wow, they really did a great job mixing this,” then that probably means at least a few other people did the same.

Best Documentary – Short Subject: Lifeboat

It’s a short film about refugees and it goes out of its way to humanize all of them, as well as the people who try to help them. It’s a great short film if you haven’t seen it.

Best Documentary – Feature Length: RBG

This category is bullsh*t as the best Documentary of last year was Won’t You Be My Neighbor and all other movies are lesser to that. But RBG was also a good movie.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Blackkklansman

This was an amazing true story that is amazingly well-adapted in this script. Some of the dialogue was among the best of last year.

Best Original Screenplay: Green Book

As I pointed out in my review, this is the only one that really generated controversy and I think that generally helps rather than hurts.

Original Score: Black Panther

 I think they’re going to give Black Panther something, and this was definitely one of the more stand-out parts of the film. It has an amazing score and it combines a lot of elements not seen in many films before it.

Best Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

This is the second award that I will actually be p*ssed off about if I’m wrong. This was the best animated movie and just flat-out one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a work of art with amazing dialogue and a great message.

Best Foreign Language Film: Roma

Like with Toy Story 3, I think the fact that this one was nominated for Best Picture means that it has a massive advantage. Also, this could win Best Picture and I would not be at all surprised, because this movie is a beautiful thematic tale with a lot of amazing shots.

Original Song: Shallow (A Star is Born)

This scene was the best scene in the movie, and the music video of it is hauntingly beautiful. It’s a great song, Bradley Cooper blew me away, and IT’S LADY FREAKING GAGA. Just accept that it’s amazing and let it make you happy.

Best Animated Short Film: Late Afternoon

This is basically a short-film about dementia that is told through some of the best animation transitions I’ve seen in a while. I almost picked Bao because everyone saw it since it was attached to a feature, but this film hit me so hard I can’t not pick it.

Best Production Design: Black Panther

Again, this was one of the best parts of the film, and had so much more thought put into it that I would ever have expected. It combined African Cultural History with Sci-fi perfectly.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice

This movie ages almost every character over several decades and does it so well it rarely looks like makeup and prosthetics.

Best Live-Action Short Film: Skin

First of all, why are all of the films about killing kids? Seriously, I think all of the shorts were about child-murder. Second, this was a short film about racism that kind of screws up the message. That seems like Oscar Bait to me.

Best Cinematography: Roma

Alfonso Cuaron is a freaking genius when it comes to cinematography and the fact that the film is in Black-and-white only makes this more obvious.

Best Visual Effects: Ready Player One

I actually don’t know that these were the best visual effects, but they were definitely the MOST visual effects.

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

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