The Grouch on the Couch Rants: Holmes and Watson

BY THE GROUCH ON THE COUCH

I hate this movie too much to give it a stinger.

SUMMARY

Sherlock Holmes (Will “What the hell happened” Ferrell) and John Watson (John C. “Seriously, you guys are usually funny” Reilly) try to protect the queen from being murdered by James Moriarity (Ralph “God, I hope you got this in cash up front” Fiennes). Everything else that would potentially be plot is irrelevant crap.

HolmesWatson - 1Leads.jpg
Shame on you.

END SUMMARY

Because of the bad reviews, I waited until I didn’t have to pay for this movie. I should have seen it in theaters so I would have actual damages for my impending tort claim against this film. This took up like 90 minutes of my life. 90 minutes I could have spent doing anything else. I could have watched Plan 9 From Outer Space, because at least that’s the FUN kind of bad. This film somehow was never even close to amusing.

HolmesWatson - 2Selfie
Oh wow, a selfie joke. This is groundbreaking.

I have never seen a movie this aggressively unfunny. Even the parts of this movie that seem like they SHOULD be funny, particularly given the relatively high-level comedians who are found in the cast, somehow become irritating and flat. Part of it is that the film never feels like it’s surprising the audience. The more obvious the joke, the more likely it’s going to be what’s said next, so why do we even need them to say it? There’s an episode of South Park where Stan starts to see that everything around him is actually crap, envisioning bad films as filled with talking and dancing turds. This film was taken from that episode, then given brain damage from a series of sledgehammer blows to the head, then set on fire by crackheads. This movie makes me almost want to apologize to Uwe Boll for the things I’ve said about him. Almost.

HolmesWatson - 3Marketing
The marketing is them doing this. THIS WAS WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO GET PEOPLE TO SEE THIS FILM.

It’s tough to really nail down everything that doesn’t work here, but if I had to say why I particularly hate it, it’s that nobody in the film appears to be trying. Ferrell and Reilly don’t appear to be invested in any part of this, going through the motions almost robotically without any of their added flair. In 2015, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig appeared in a movie for Lifetime called A Deadly Adoption in which they both play actual Lifetime characters with complete sincerity, the “joke” being that Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig both played straight characters in a Lifetime film. A lot of critics agreed that wasn’t really funny. I actually thought it was kind of amusing, because at least it was original to spend all the time and effort to create a comedy set-up and then play it straight. I would respect this movie it was going for something like that. It wouldn’t be fun, sure, but it would at least have shown that they were trying.

HolmesWatson - 4DeadlyAdoption
Give this a shot if you’re drunk.

What’s extremely weird about the movie is that it can never decide what any of the characters are. It’s like they had 3 different drafts of the movie which each had completely different interpretations of Holmes and Watson and they decided to use all of them. Holmes is portrayed simultaneously as a legitimate genius, a complete idiot, and also an insane person. This isn’t like in Without a Clue or They Might Be Giants where the character is supposed to be completely separate from the actual fictional Sherlock Holmes, thus explaining why they’re not actually good detectives. This movie features Sherlock being honored as one of the most superior minds in the world, something that just doesn’t sync with watching him constantly fumbling around doing slapstick. Watson, who at least can be characterized as a bumbling sidekick, is therefore forced to drop down in intelligence to the point of being a complete fool, despite still ALSO being a recognized figure for his work with Holmes. I think this is why this particular strain of comedic take on Holmes doesn’t quite work. You can’t have both of them be simultaneously competent and incompetent. That’s not to say that films haven’t pulled that off, in fact The Private Eyes with Tim Conway and Don Knotts does it with a pair of detectives, but it only works there because the entire world of the movie is absurd. This film can never decide how serious it is supposed to be and that makes for a lousy comedy.

HolmesWatson - 5PrivateEyes.jpg
They made this movie better 40 years ago.

The supporting characters suffer from similar problems, such as Holmes’s and Watson’s love interests Dr. Hart and the Feral Millie (Rebecca Hall and Lauren Lapkus), who are completely absurd except when they aren’t. Similar things happen with the villain *SPOILERS BUT F*CK THIS MOVIE*, Mrs. Hudson (Kelly Macdonald), who is revealed to be the mastermind of a brilliant scheme that is also pointlessly complicated and dumb. Seriously, these are all good people, and none of them could get a chuckle out of me. 

I will say that one thing did make me laugh: There’s a scene on the Titanic with Billy Zane, and that’s a fun cameo. That’s about it.

Avoid this movie like the plague. I cannot believe the same person that wrote Idiocracy and Tropic Thunder wrote this. Someone should genuinely check on Etan Cohen to make sure he’s okay. I know all of these people will do better in the future, but this… this was rough. That’s about all I can say.

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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Amazon Prime Review – Fleabag: The Truth Hurts (Spoiler-Free)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fourth-wall breaking comedy ends after two seasons of hilariously blunt social commentary.

SUMMARY

Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a single woman living in London who is fond of drinking, sex, wisecracking her way out of her own misery, and being the subject of ridicule at the hands of others and, more commonly, herself. She runs a café that she opened with her deceased friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), fights with her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford), deals with the sh*tbag that Claire married, Martin (Brett Gelman), and tries to tolerate the relationship between her widower father (Bill Paterson) and her Godmother (Olivia FREAKING Colman). In the second season, she begins to have a crush on her family’s Catholic priest (Andrew Scott). 

Fleabag - 2Church.jpg
She wants to genuflect so badly.

END SUMMARY

I’ve mentioned before that horror and comedy are always related. They’re both our ways of dealing with the absurdity of reality, both are often based on showing us a deviation from expectation, and the primary difference is really whether we’re being cued to respond to the situation with revulsion or relief. This is why a comedy genius like Jordan Peele can be so good at horror or why John Carpenter can make a hilarious action-comedy like Big Trouble in Little China, because the genres are naturally separated only by the relief/revulsion response. This show frequently eschews that distinction and asks that we feel both. We should feel absolutely revolted at some of the things that are said and done to our lead in the show, as well as how often we’ve seen or heard them done to people in real life. The relief comes not just from the quip or hilarious face that Fleabag makes to the audience, assuring us that she’s fine, but also from the fact that someone is actually willing to say some of the stuff that this show is saying. I watched the entirety of this show with a woman and, to quote the Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch (and who did not get to select her pen name), the show is “the brutal comedy of everyday life.” I think that pretty much nails it, but more on that in a second.

Fleabag - 1Crying
This.

While Fleabag’s life and her family and the people she encounters are all absurd, the absurdity is closer to a type of hyperrealism. You know some people who are similar to ALL of the characters, because they’re all “that girl/guy” archetypes. It’s made even more pronounced by the fact that, aside from Claire, Martin, Claire’s extremely creepy stepson Jake (Angus Imrie), and Fleabag’s overly-emotional ex-boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner), none of the recurring characters in the series actually has a name. Appropriately, though, those characters are, if anything, even more familiar archetypes than the others: The uptight workaholic/woman who married an a**hole and doesn’t leave him, the a**hole who somehow is still married, the creepy kid, and the guy who thrives on making sure everyone knows that he’s in touch with his emotions. All of these characters are played completely honestly with almost no other defining attributes, but the solid performances and great writing keep them from feeling tired. It helps that they’re only used sparingly (aside from Claire) and that the show is only 12 episodes long. 

Fleabag - 3OliviaColman
Claire’s hair, however, is quite prominent.

One of the keys to the show is the device of allowing the main character to directly address the audience through the fourth wall, but I have rarely seen a show play with it so well. It’s particularly interesting to see her fourth wall breaks when she’s dealing with the Priest, because his belief in a comforting higher power (God) gives him an insight into Fleabag’s belief in a comforting lie (the Audience), to a shocking and unnerving degree. Rather than doing the traditional fourth wall breaks, which are derived from Shakespearean soliloquies and thus given time and weight, Fleabag’s fourth-wall breaks are quick and often in the middle of conversations or even sentences, acting as quick punctuations rather than explanations. It gives the show a unique feel and the dialogue a distinct style and pacing.

Fleabag - 4Priest.png
Seriously, this is an amazing medium disruption.

Another big thing about the show is it is not hopeful nor is it crushing. It doesn’t make the world out to be a darker and more cruel place than it is, but it also doesn’t give us any of the comfort that we typically expect from our media. We’re not told, at any point, that things are going to be okay. We aren’t told that love conquers all. We aren’t told that you’re going to find fairness or happiness. We’re just shown the world of the show that so closely mirrors ours, with all the nerves exposed. In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, one of the characters, Samuel Vimes, is described as “two drinks sober,” meaning that he was always so sober that he couldn’t even tell himself the harmless lies that people have developed as part of society in order to sleep at night. That’s what this show is for media: It’s two drinks sober. It’s a hair too real to give us the comfort we expect or the painful distancing we secretly crave. It isn’t the show we want, it’s the show we need.

Fleabag - 5BigButt
It asks the real questions.

Overall, I loved this series. I thought it was funny, exciting, and so novel that it deserves an audience. However, I do concede that I might not have gotten out if it the same things that other people might have, particularly The Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch. So, in a first for this blog, I asked her to give me her perspective, rather than try to interpret hers through my own lens. She submitted this: 

*SPOILERS*

As absurd as the show can get, it’s absurd in a very real, human way and it just doesn’t stray that far from the ordinary kind of ridiculous. It’s not only hilarious but extremely cathartic. When Claire tells Martin to leave her and Martin’s counter-argument includes “I vacuum” and “I made dessert at Easter” and “I pick up my son from bassoon lessons” I actually put my face in my hands and said “Oh my god that is literally men.” It’s just such a perfect sendup of the ways we pat men on the back for doing the bare minimum in domestic life and relationships. 

I’d been struggling to describe why this show feels different and refreshing compared to other shows that could also be described as both “brutal” and “funny,” but it’s best encapsulated by a speech in the show itself from a savvy businesswoman Fleabag has a martini with (Kristin Scott Thomas). “Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pain, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these gods and demons and things just so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on her own. Then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other, and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby.” The show goes for honesty over melodrama, and there just isn’t the feeling of the writers trying to wring all the emotion out of you like there is in a lot of prestige TV. (Why it takes me forever to watch most of it.) And the comedy doesn’t feel like a bunch of writers in a room thinking about what the most offensive thing to say is. The show puts its trust in the writing and in the hearts and jagged edges of its characters and as a result it doesn’t have to try so fucking hard.

“I love you,” says Fleabag.

“It’ll pass,” says the Priest.

It’s brutal, without brute force.

*END SPOILERS*

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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Batman: Hush – What Do Adaptations Owe the Audience? 

One of the most famous modern stories from Batman is adapted into an animated film and it raises a lot of questions about adapting a 2-volume long story arc into an 80 minute film.

SUMMARY

Bruce Wayne/Batman (Jason O’Mara) is at a dinner where he runs into the recently-returned Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Jennifer Morrison) and his childhood friend Thomas Elliot (Maury Sterling), only for it to be interrupted by a report of Bane (Adam Gifford) kidnapping a small child. It’s quickly revealed that someone is manipulating Bane, and a host of other villains from Batman’s Rogues Gallery, in a complicated attack upon not only Batman, but also Bruce Wayne. At the same time, Batman and Catwoman finally decide to get together, but Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are having a harder time.

Hush - 2Hush.png
No, he’s not secretly invisible.

END SUMMARY

If you’ve been liking the recent DC Animated Films up until this point, you’re probably going to like this. I actually think it’s one of the more well-paced adaptations that they’ve put out, mostly because it’s focused solidly upon Batman and his inner struggle to find a balance between his work and his growing love for Catwoman. Even more so than most of the comic books, the film also puts a lot of effort into exploring that she’s having a similar struggle. After all, she is a thief who steals because she loves it, something that doesn’t exactly make you an ideal partner for a crime-fighter. This dynamic has been featured in many of the film and television versions, but I admit that this one was especially well-done. Actually, aside from the Batman: The Animated Series version and some of the comic book runs, this might be the best take on their relationship (assuming the Arkham Games are part of BtAS). 

Hush - 1BatCat
Their babies will rule the world. 

The animation is basically the same as the other current DCAU, but I actually think they did a great job of emphasizing the differences between the scenes where Bruce Wayne is in charge and the scenes where Batman is in charge. When Bruce is considering things as Batman, the tones all darken appropriately without it really impacting the scenes, but it’s not done so blatantly that it gets annoying or feels like the artists are shouting “SYMBOLISM!!!” The voice-acting is on point, since it’s pretty much the same cast as before. 

Hush - 3Mirror
Good imagery and cinematography, too.

As a movie, I think the story here is pretty entertaining, since it contains a new criminal mastermind who seemingly attacks both Bruce Wayne and Batman at the same time. This thematically intertwines well with the issues that he’s having with being both Batman and Bruce Wayne in his relationship with Selina/Catwoman. Ultimately, he does try to resolve the conflict in his personal life, only for his vigilante life to keep driving a wedge between them. Still, having the central plot and the emotional plot both address the issues that come from breaking down the walls between the secret identity and the superhero one makes the movie feel much more coherent. One scene even shows the extent of the connection between the mask and the man when Batman savagely beats the Joker (Jason Spisak) for murdering Bruce Wayne’s friend to the point that Commissioner Gordon (Bruce Thomas) has to threaten Batman to get him to stop. Also, it’s always good to have a movie where a huge number of Batman’s rogues’ gallery make appearances that don’t feel like they’re just pointless cameos. 

Hush - 4Joker.png
HA! 

However, what I think is simultaneously the best and worst part of the movie can only come after the spoiler-warning, so I’ll just do the wrap-up here: 

This was a fun movie for me, even if it wasn’t what I thought it would be at first. It told a solid story which balanced emotional moments with action and mystery. If you’ve never read the Batman: Hush comic, I recommend this movie. If you have, I also recommend it, but for different reasons. Give it a shot if you’re a fan of Batman.

*SPOILERS*

This is really a major spoiler, so I’m giving you yet another chance to avoid this. I’m telling you now that if you think just because you read the comic book that this is based on that you can’t have things spoiled, you are wrong. 

*SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS*

This isn’t Batman: Hush. Sure, it has lots of elements of the story that are similar, but the fact is that the identity of Hush is completely different. In the comic, Hush is revealed to be Thomas Elliot, a brilliant surgeon who has been holding a grudge against Bruce Wayne for most of his life because Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, saved the life of Elliot’s mother after Elliot tried to kill his parents in an accident. The film seems to follow this for a bit, even including the iconic scene in which the Joker is framed for killing Thomas Elliot, prompting Batman to almost murder the clown prince of crime. However, while the comic shows Elliot to be alive and the actual identity of Hush, the movie directly averts this by having Batman find Elliot’s corpse a second time, decayed and rotting, revealing that no, Elliot is ACTUALLY dead. It turns out that the Riddler, who was Hush’s partner in the original, is actually Hush in this version, explained by him wanting to get revenge on both Batman and Thomas Elliot, because Elliot couldn’t fix his brain tumor. Instead, the Riddler used a Lazarus Pit and, similar to the comic, the madness that followed gave him the ability to deduce Batman’s identity. He then used a new identity to try and destroy Batman and Bruce Wayne. Rather than being threatened into silence, however, this version shows the Riddler being killed by Catwoman and that being what drives them apart rather than her potentially being involved in the plot. 

Hush - 5Harold.png
Oh, and we cut the part where Hush miraculously gives a mute speech.

So I have to ask, is it wrong to do a change like this? I actually thought it was brilliant. The plot still works with the Riddler secretly being Hush and it actually made the ending feel more interesting to me, someone who read the source material. Additionally, just setting up the reasons behind Thomas Elliot’s plot would take a lot more screen time, potentially another 20 minutes depending on how it’s conveyed, but the Riddler just hating Batman and all the other villains due to them treating him like a joke is conveyed in about 2 sentences and completely works for the character. It’s a great storytelling change, it makes the movie flow better, and, most importantly, it means that the audience isn’t JUST getting Hush. Think about the film adaptation of The Killing Joke. Aside from the awful opening act, the rest of the movie was a faithful adaptation of The Killing Joke… to the point that almost nothing about it was surprising at all. Most of the film was just the comic panels animated. The only exception that really stands out, and the best part of the movie in my opinion, is the Joker doing a musical number to torment James Gordon, because that’s at least something that is unique to the movie. So, even though this movie might not have exactly faithfully adapted Hush, it gave us something that isn’t just a carbon copy of what we could already have read. Hell, if you liked the movie, you could, and should, read the comic and find out how much more complex and elaborate the plot in the source is. 

Hush - 6JokerComic.jpg
Even the same scenes look wildly different and worth checking out.

An adaptation doesn’t have to be just a shot-for-shot rehashing of the source, but it does still need to capture the core of the source. I think this adaptation managed to do that. I know a lot of people who love the character of Hush will probably disagree, but I think this still worked. 

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.

Amazon Prime Review – Carnival Row: Great Visuals, Good Storytelling, Classic Metaphor

Amazon gives us a new urban fantasy series with a few fresh takes on old tropes.

SUMMARY

Fairies, Trolls, Satyrs (“Pucks”) and other such things are real, they come from the lands of the Fae. Humans plundered the Fae lands, started a war, and ended up abandoning the Fae to their mortal enemies “the Pact.” Because of this, the Fae flee to the closest human empire, Burgue. Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) is a war veteran who works as an inspector for the local constabulary. Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) is a former soldier in the Fae army and Philo’s former lover who thinks he’s dead. Vignette flees from the Fae lands and ends up in the Burgue capital city where Philo now works to track down a serial murderer or two. As racial tensions are rising in the land, Philo and Vignette seem to be caught in the middle of everything. Because they’re the main characters and that’s how it works.

CarnivalRow - 1Leads
Their child will be beautiful. 

END SUMMARY

So, there are a lot of good things in this show. First, the show looks fantastic. Despite the amount of CGI they’ve had to blend in with practical effects, the visuals very rarely look unnatural, and those that do are typically SUPPOSED to look unnatural. The city looks like a 1910s Urban Fantasy and it really helps to give the setting an identity, something that any alternate history setting needs. The ways in which the fantasy characters have adapted to their new lifestyle and locale are clever, if at times a little crude (I admit that people probably would pay for fairie prostitutes, but it’s weird that they seem so cheap). It’s also odd that the humans understand the advantages of using some of the abilities of the magical creatures (using fairies to reconnect down telegraph wires, for example), but they don’t really exploit them very well. The show implies that the reason is just pure discrimination and, while that might fight the narrative, I just find it odd that any business would forego having flying delivery people or superhumanly strong laborers in the name of racism… or I would if so many industries have in the past foregone advanced employees because of it. Bigotry is one of the few things that really can outperform human greed. Which brings us to the themes of the show…

CarnivalRow - 2Boom.png
Surprisingly, “War is Hell” is relatively low on the list.

Hey, humans can be racist and hate things they don’t understand and can be classist and all the other morals that five million previous urban fantasy novels and shows have told us previously. It’s not particularly new, is what I’m saying. While the theme may be old, the show does try to show us a multitude of viewpoints of people dealing with it, with a particularly interesting one being the story of Agreus (David Gyasi), a very wealthy Puck, and Imogen (Tamzin Merchant), a broke heiress who offers to take money from him in exchange for granting him social status. While that is itself an old story (and the subject of William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress), this combines it with the element of interracial romance (even if it’s for money). The show demonstrates that Agreus does not have sympathy for any of the other fae, because he believes that he made it on his own, therefore he doesn’t believe the others are being suppressed… until finally he runs into an issue where his wealth cannot buy past his race. In addition, the show demonstrates the conflicts arising from the recent influx of refugees on every level, from local workers to employers to law enforcement to lawmakers. While it definitely appears to be based primarily on the English Immigrant Debate from the late 60s, including having a version of the “Rivers of Blood” speech, it holds up as a representation of almost any country’s debate of such an issue. Much like any of those times, too, the show demonstrates that while some people do believe in discriminating, others merely state the talking point because it allows them to claim the support of the regressive elements of the country.

CarnivalRow - 3Agreus
Oh, and skin color is ALSO a thing in this world, so double lesson.

The biggest flaw in the series is that the “mystery” is basically answered in the first 3 episodes if you’re paying attention closely. While it’s still a decent narrative, it doesn’t feel like much of a reveal at the end when you’ve been waiting 5 hours to confirm what you already know. Still, the fact that it holds up even if you know what’s going to happen is a sign of decent storytelling.

Overall, the show’s pretty good. It’s not quite what I was hoping it would be, but it’s still worth watching if you like urban fantasy. I get why critics are down on it for the overused metaphor and the lousy dialogue, but I enjoyed it, so screw them.

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.

Steven Universe: The Movie – The Power of Growth (Spoiler-Free)

The animated show that worked to defy standard hero tropes gets a movie that… does the same thing but with more singing and awesomeness. Best of all, you could watch it with no knowledge of the series and it would still work.

SUMMARY OF THE SERIES (Spoilers for the show)

Steven Universe (Zach Callison) is the first male member of a group of formerly all-female alien superheroes named the Crystal Gems. Unlike the other members Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), and Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall), Steven is half-human through his father Greg Universe (Tom Scharpling) and his mother Rose Quartz (Susan Egan), formerly an alien dictator named Pink Diamond. He and his friends defended the world from the invasion of the other Diamonds (Patti Freakin’ LuPone, Lisa Hannigan, and Christine Ebersole) until finally Steven finally brokers peace through his powers of being super loving and tolerant. Yes, really, and it’s awesome.

StevenUniverseMovie - 1TVShowLogo
Also, they have beachfront property.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

It’s been 2 years since the end of the last season of the show and Steven has successfully helped dismantle the evil empire of the Diamond Authority, achieving a pretty much total happy ending. On cue, a new threat arrives in the form of Spinel (Sarah “I WAS KATE MONSTER” Stiles), a cartoonish and cruel gem whose plan is to destroy everyone, Gems and People alike. 

StevenUniverseMovie - 2Singing
Which is sad, because they were so happy.

END SUMMARY

First of all, I have to say that the show this is based on is amazing. It has one of the absolute slowest starts of any series, to the point that I actually recommend skipping the first half of season 1 (Start with “Mirror Gem”) if you want to try it, but after that it becomes so unique that it’s hard not to love it. Part of it is that the main character is a very deliberate subversion of the typical hero archetype.

StevenUniverseMovie - 3Comparison.png
See some differences?

Steven’s primary weapon is technically a shield, but really it’s his natural compassion towards others. Almost every major ally he gains over the series is a former enemy that he wins over through discourse, understanding, and love. There’s even a joke in the movie where all of the new Crystal Gems compare how long it took them to stop trying to kill Steven. It’s so fun to watch a character win through turning enemies into friends rather than just through martial force, even though some great shows have done it in the past (Goku in Dragonball and its progeny does it all the time… while also punching people). It also has some of the most distinct characters in terms of both design and also writing, from amazing supporting characters to villains with deep and complex motivations. Much like Adventure Time before it, the key is that the show seems so simple at the beginning that you hardly realize how much they’re setting up until suddenly you’re dealing with complex situations derived from well-crafted characters rather than plot contrivance. Additionally, EVERYONE has arcs, meaning that the entire world grows with the main characters, as opposed to just being static figures from which the main character derives events or, worse, Flanderized characters that become more simple over time rather than fully-formed characters. 

StevenUniverseMovie - 4Sadie.png
One of the best ones is the shy donut girl becoming a rock star in a horror-themed band.

This movie does have Steven going through an arc, but most of the other Gems’ arcs are essentially recapping their previous character developments. Since it’s a film and time is limited, that’s not inherently bad and it does allow for people who aren’t familiar with the show to get a good sample of what made it great. Additionally, in true Steven Universe fashion, Spinel gets an excellent character arc including an absolutely amazing backstory and resolution. There are a few seeming Dei Ex Machinae, but the fact that the film is presented as a Broadway musical kind of makes that seem appropriate, since most plays have that as part of the conclusion. 

StevenUniverseMovie - 5Spinel
Surprisingly, she didn’t get really into Siouxsie and the Banshees between these shots.

The music is fantastic, with at least 3 great earworms. When you consider how many great musicians collaborated on it (Aivi & Surasshu, Chance the Rapper, Gallant, James Fauntleroy, Macie Stewart, Mike Krol, Grant Henry (Stemage), Ted Leo, Jeff Liu, Jeff Ball, and Julian “Zorsy” Sanchez, as well as Estelle and Aimee Mann), as well as how many great singers were involved, that makes sense. The animation is fantastic and done perfectly with the songs. I particularly love that Spinel is animated to be a cartoon from the 1930s, a la “Steamboat Willie.” Sarah Stiles’ voice performance makes it even more apparent that she’s designed to be goofy comic relief that’s been tortured into being a villain. This makes her fight animations extremely interesting and creative, because while most of the characters in Steven Universe are relatively humanoid and move like they’re solid and normal, she moves completely erratically and elastically, which adds to her dangerousness. It also ends up making her feel more “obsolete,” something that plays well into her backstory.

StevenUniverseMovie - 6Steg
We even get a one-man duet and it is awesome.

The main thing I love about this movie is that it condenses one of the major themes of Steven Universe within the narrative: Change. Change is the most important thing to Steven, because he not only asks others to change, he shows them that it’s possible by changing himself. It’s routinely pointed out that this is perhaps his greatest ability, because other gems cannot change. They’re born in one form with one purpose and they will stay that way forever. The Crystal Gems are notable for the fact that they have all changed, with Pearl, a born servant, becoming independent, Garnet, two different gems combined, choosing to live as a fusion through the power of love, and Amethyst, a defective gem warrior who works to adapt to a life completely different than the war she was born to fight. However, Steven, as a human adolescent, is constantly changing and growing, going from nearly powerless at the beginning of the series to an incredibly powerful force, but he only ever uses that strength to try and endure until he can show people that empathy is the real way to end conflict. He routinely forgives people for trying to hurt him in order to show others that forgiveness is even possible and can really work. He turns the other cheek when people hit him and loves them anyway, but he mostly shows them that he can be better, so they can be better too. He also chooses to empathize with those who hurt him and understand why they’re hurting too rather than choosing to judge them for their actions. Basically, he’s a half-human half-effective-deity with magic powers that encourages people to love each other rather than judge each other and to try and live your best life rather than yelling at others for what they do that you don’t approve of and I can already feel the DMs in the inbox for this sentence. The film goes ahead and takes this to the next level by having Steven acknowledge that even the changes he’s undergone to this point cannot be enough, that change needs to continue forever because we can always be better than we were yesterday, and that understanding that is his greatest strength. 

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He does still get angry, though, if pushed enough.

Overall, this was an amazing film and I recommend it for everyone with kids because it teaches you things that even a bunch of reptiles doing backflips and killing robots never could. It also has Steven essentially winning a fight with the absolutely devastating line “Only you can.” In context, it’s one of the most poignant and relevant things I’ve seen in film, so see the movie and get the context. Maybe you’ll find you’re changed by it. I’ll leave you with one of the last lines from the show:

I don’t need you to respect me, I respect me. I don’t need you to love me, I love me. But I want you to know you could know me, if you change your mind.

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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Infinity Train – Meaningful Messages Abound in this Mini-Series Masterpiece

A show about teaching kids to deal with divorce approaches it through universal messages and creative storytelling.

SUMMARY

Tulip (Ashley Johnson) is a 12-year-old girl who desires to be a programmer and software engineer. Her parents Megan and Andy (Audrey Wasilewski and Mark Fite) are currently getting a divorce and, due to their scheduling issues, are unable to take Tulip to her session of game-design camp. Angry, Tulip runs away and somehow finds a train in the middle of nowhere. She’s sucked inside and finds that each of the train cars is impossibly huge, each with its own theme and world. She’s aided by the two-in-one robot One-One (Jeremy Crutchley and Owen Dennis) and Atticus, the King of the Corgis (Ernie Hudson). Together, they have to find a way to get Tulip off of the train, which turns out to be more about Tulip than the train.

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The King of the Corgis is a strong contender for cutest monarch.

END SUMMARY

This show is a hallmark of efficient storytelling. The entire series, binged, is 100 minutes long, meaning that you can get through the whole thing in less time than 2 episodes of Game of Thrones. Despite the relative brevity, the pacing of the show is so fast that you will swear you just spent a full day getting attached to these characters. It’s similar to Adventure Time or Over the Garden Wall, both animated series which use a lot of imagery and cuts to convey more to the audience than just the script would. They’re also series that routinely try to convey deeper meaning through extended metaphor rather than just telling the audience what to think, something this series also excels at. 

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This, in particular, is a great storytelling device.

The art style isn’t super unique, but it is incredibly versatile, allowing for a ton of variety of characters and imagery without any of it feeling out of place. Given that the premise of the show is rapidly running through worlds, that was a must. The settings in particular are imaginative, running the gamut between worlds that are more metaphysical to the more grounded. 

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I mean, here’s a random party of monsters in costumes of other monsters. 

Each episode moves forward both the narrative and the metaphor of the show, as well as Tulip’s character arc. It’s pretty clear that this was a mini-series from the outset, because by the end of the season, she’s completed her journey both inside and out. If they do continue the series, I hope it’s the journey of another person through the train, rather than having to undo her progress.

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We’re flat-out shown a ton of other people are on their own journeys.

The main thing is that the show gives you hints about the many things that you might need to do in order to move through a trauma, whether it be a divorce, a loss, or a similar life event. It doesn’t tell anyone outright or lecture anyone, but it conveys the importance of the steps to recovery through every episode. I really think it would help some kids going through tough times. 

Overall, I really recommend this show and I hope it keeps going. If you have 2 hours, it’s available on Amazon for like 10 bucks.

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.

Amazon Prime Review/Reader Request : Gravy – James Roday’s Dark, Dark Comedy (Spoiler-free)

James Roday of Psych fame brings us an unbelievably dark and gory horror-comedy and it mostly works.

SUMMARY

It’s Halloween and the workers at Chuy’s Mexican Bar and Cantina are getting ready to close. They consist of the bartender Kerry (Sutton Foster), a waitress nicknamed Cricket (Molly Ephraim), Yannick (Lothaire Bluteau) the French cook, Chuy (Paul Rodriguez) the manager, Hector (Gabriel Luna) the busboy and aspiring MMA fighter, and security guard Winketta (Gabourey Sidibe). The only customers are the recently dumped Bert (Ethan Sandler), the exceedingly affectionate couple Stef (Jimmi Simpson) and Mimi (Lily Cole), and Stef’s clown-costumed brother Anson (Michael Weston). However, it’s soon revealed that all the doors have been welded shut, all the phones are down, and that Stef, Mimi, and Anson are taking over the restaurant and making a few changes to the menu… namely, who’s on it.

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Also, Sarah Silverman has a bunny suit at some point.

END SUMMARY

James Roday, best known as Shawn Spencer on Psych, wrote and directed this film and, I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty impressive effort for a first-time feature film. This is a dark comedy, which is something that’s usually pretty hard to pull off to begin with, that decides to go to some insanely dark places, but it still mostly works.

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Yes, they’re trying to eat an Oscar Nominee.

A lot of it comes from the talent in the cast. Michael Weston, an actor who is one of the ultimate “that guy in that thing” answers, manages to balance playing a complete sociopath with a genuinely somewhat sympathetic character. Jimmi Simpson, a talented actor who hadn’t yet broken out for his Westworld performance, plays his even more insane but also somewhat likable brother. Everyone else is similarly amazing, all managing to get laughs out of how horrifying the situation their stuck in really is. 

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Seriously, the cannibal family is somewhat charming. That’s disturbing.

As this is a B-Grade Horror Movie, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that some people die, and holy heck do they have some fun kills. They’re so absurd that you almost find yourself laughing at it even though they are VERY graphically depicted. Part of it is that all of the characters don’t really show a ton of emotional damage at the other deaths, which makes it easy for the audience to detach from what the reality of the situation would be. One of the best recurring bits is the interactions between Stef and Yannick, who reveals that he is a world-class chef capable of cooking anything, including people, to perfection. Their banter is pretty much always funny, even though it’s literally about cannibalism. Comedy is frequently just horror from a distance, as I have now gotten in the habit of repeating, and this movie needs a lot of distance. 

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So. Much. Distance. 

 

That’s actually part of the downside to the movie: It’s definitely going to be too dark and too gory for most audiences. Hell, even I felt uneasy at some parts of the movie, though usually someone would quickly say something funny enough to bring me back. Also, without spoiling it, the movie does subvert a lot of tropes, including never really making you feel like any of the victims deserve anything that happen to them. Even in regular horror movies, we usually like our characters to earn their fates, even if only slightly, whereas these characters often die during moments of nobility. Still, it mostly works.

If you have a dark sense of humor, this is a great film to watch. It’s on Amazon Prime right now if you’ve got it. Really, I have to give James Roday credit for putting this together. I hope he tries to make another movie in the future.

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.