Avengers: Endgame – The Power of Spectacle (Spoilers)

Before I start, I’m gonna have to get personal for a second. I wasn’t supposed to see this movie. As those of you who have paid attention or read the “First Post” page know, I started doing these reviews because I was diagnosed with cancer. That was in 2012. One of the first things that, in retrospect, I should have known was a sign of my disease was that I had extreme pain during watching the original The Avengers film. Despite that, I didn’t get diagnosed for a few months. By then, the cancer went from my neck down to my pelvis. Even after successful chemotherapy and radiation, when this film was originally announced in 2014, I assumed I would never live to watch it. I don’t know if this gave me a form of closure on this chapter of my life, but I do know that it was an odd realization afterwards. Now to the movie.

Maybelline

SUMMARY OF A SUMMARY (Full Summary at the end due to length)

Thanos won. Thanos destroys the Infinity Stones. Avengers kill Thanos. Avengers go through time to find the stones before Thanos destroyed them. Past Thanos follows them to the present. Avengers undo the snap. Past Thanos tries to take the stones back. All Avengers Assemble. Thanos loses. Iron Man dies. Captain America gets old. Thor gets Lebowski.

Endgame - 1Group
Oh, and there’s a raccoon.

END OF AN END OF A SUMMARY

Spectacle has always been a big part of cinema. A lot of critics will argue that the audiovisual medium enhances storytelling through reducing the distance between the audience and the material, and that’s true, but sometimes you just have to admit that reading about an epic battle scene will rarely be nearly as effective as watching one. That’s how it’s always been, too. The Lumiere Brothers famously marveled people by showing a train pulling into the station, something that previously had required going to a train station. Georges Méliès became acclaimed for showing people color films and a man in the moon. Let’s go more modern: Have you ever watched Ben-Hur? There are some good scenes in it, maybe 20 minutes worth of decent acting in the 212 minute runtime, but the main reason it’s regarded as a classic is just the chariot race. That scene has been ripped off repeatedly, but the actual size, grandeur, and just plain spectacle of the scene has never been duplicated. When I watch it now, even with all of the amazing cinematic advances that have happened in the 60 years since, I’m still amazed by it. The same is true of Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, The Lord of the Rings, or even Buster Keaton’s The General. These films all give you something that you can’t really get anywhere else. This film is another entry into this pantheon, although I know it will be much more controversial.

Endgame - 2Transformers
Transformers was mostly lousy, but still showed us something new. Then ran it ragged.

First, the negatives.

This movie truly is the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning that you do actually have to have seen all of the films and remember a lot of elements of them for some of the scenes and plotlines in this to not feel out of nowhere. Captain America being able to wield Mjolnir, for example, is based on a less than 10 second scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film also has cameos from basically everyone who has appeared in a film that’s still alive, including Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, Taika Waititi’s Korg, and even James D’Arcy’s Jarvis from the TV Show Agent Carter. This movie, viewed in isolation, would probably just be noise. Now, is this inherently a negative? No, because this is a sequel, and sequels depend on the audience knowing previous information, but since this is a sequel to SO MANY films, it does make it tough on the audience to remember everything.

Endgame - 3Rumlow
Everyone remembers Brock Rumlow, right?

The first two acts of this movie are basically Marvel patting itself on the back and setting up the finales for many of the characters. I mean, the plot involves the characters visiting the first Avengers film all over again, even redoing some of the more iconic scenes and lines, as well as the iconic opening to Guardians of the Galaxy, and reconstruing some of the scenes from the worst-ranked MCU film Thor: The Dark World in such a way that it kind of redeems some of it. Then, it has an entire sequence that basically just gives Tony Stark closure and Captain America some incentive to try and regain his lost life. In any other film, these two things would be unworkable. It’s only because this film is so grandiose and has had so much build up that it feels somewhat natural. We’ve known this world better than any other fictional world in film, so we are a little more inclined to welcome nostalgia and character moments. Still, it does make it slow at the beginning.

Endgame - 4Avengers
This scene was amazing the first time. The second time, it feels a little like pandering.

Also, the first twenty minutes of the film, prior to the time-skip, probably should have been the end of Infinity War. It would have been really dark, given that it basically doubles down on Thanos being, as he puts it, “inevitable,” but I think it would have been the best place to split the films. Still, it would require introducing Captain Marvel outside of her film, so I guess it didn’t work economically.

Endgame - 5CaptainMarvel
Although, for the first 20 minutes all we’d need to know is “she flies and glows.”

Now the positives.

The third act of this film is basically everything I’ve ever wanted out of a superhero film. It starts with the three core Avengers fighting Thanos and, despite constantly pulling new and better tricks out, they keep losing. He’s just too strong for them. Then, when all looks lost, we get Falcon finally returning Cap’s great line “on your left.” When all of the sling ring portals opened, I basically squealed like an 8 year old girl in anticipation of what was going to happen. Then, finally, we get Captain America delivering the line that they’ve teased in multiple films before this “Avengers assemble.” He doesn’t even say it in a roar of defiance or a confident battle-cry, no, he says it simply and firmly, because they don’t need Captain America inspiring them, they just need to know it’s go time. What follows is a battle that is so grand in scale that it overwhelms almost anything in the history of film, but still gives all of the character cameos and interactions that we want, from Spider-Man using insta-kill mode to the female Avengers line-up aka A-Force. The pacing of the battle, too, is nearly perfect, with every attempt to actually end it being thwarted dramatically, until, finally, Tony Stark ends the threat by delivering the line that Robert Downey, Jr. improvised during the first MCU movie, erasing the concept of secret identities and changing the MCU forever: “I am Iron Man.”

Endgame - 6IronMan
Disney started with a Mouse. Endgame started with a Stark.

All of the performances are great in the film, but let’s be honest, Robert Downey, Jr. always has a slight lead in that. Hemsworth, now that he’s allowed to be funny, is right behind him. The comedy in the film is exactly what you expect from the Russo brothers: It’s funny, it’s unexpected, it’s perfectly timed. The drama is also what you expect: When they want you to cry, you cry. The emotional depth in the film is really what surprised me, although it probably shouldn’t have. One big surprise plus is the way they handled Hawkeye. The scene of him losing his family is just ruthless and Renner’s portrayal of a man who’s just hurting people so he doesn’t hurt himself is great.

Endgame - 7Ragnarok
“He’s a friend from work.” We needed 5 movies to get to that line?

The thing is, if you’re asking me if I thought this was a “great” movie, I’d have to say that I don’t know. It’s so different than almost any film in history that it’s hard for me to say what metric I would even use. However, I think it’s fair to say that this film provides a spectacle that you can’t find anywhere else. The film aside from the third act is still good, don’t get me wrong, but the third act just has to be seen to be believed. This is the Great Wall. This is the Hoover Dam. This is the Grand Canyon. You can describe it, but you really don’t envision the sheer scale of it without seeing it. So, see it.

SUMMARY (Hero names in quotes because… I don’t know, I felt like it)

Thanos (Josh Brolin) won. Half of the universe is gone. The surviving Avengers, now with Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers (Brie Larson) in tow and without Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), decide to try and mount an attack on Thanos’s new home. They quickly overwhelm the Titan, only to find out that he had almost killed himself destroying the infinity stones so that they could never be used to undo what he had done. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) beheads him.

Five years later, the world is still recovering from the snap. Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner) is now a vigilante, hunting down criminals and executing them out of anger at losing his family. Tony Stark is now married to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and has a daughter, Morgan (Lexi Rabe). Thor has founded a New Asgard and has been drinking and wallowing in guilt. Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is serving as an organizer while Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) is acting as a grief counselor. Bruce “The Hulk” Banner (Mark “The Man” Ruffalo) has managed to put his genius brain inside of the body of the Hulk, a form dubbed “Professor Hulk.”

Scott “Ant Man” Lang (Paul Rudd) escapes from the Quantum Realm following the events of Ant Man and the Wasp. Based on the fact that, for him, only five hours have passed, he believes that the Quantum Realm is the key to time travel. Banner, Lang, and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) work on it, but it fails until Tony Stark returns to help. They realize that they can send 3 teams into the past to collect the Infinity Stones while they still existed, travel to the present, and then undo the snap.

Banner, Rogers, Lang, and Stark travel to 2012 to the events of the first Avengers film. Rogers steals Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) scepter containing the Mind Stone by pretending to be a member of Hydra, but Loki steals the Tesseract containing the Space Stone. Bruce Banner meets with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who gives him the Eye of Agamotto containing the Time Stone after telling him that they have to return all of the stones back to their places after they use them or reality will unravel. Stark and Rogers travel back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in 1970 where they steal Pym Particles from a young Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), retrieve an earlier version of the Tesseract being worked on by Howard Stark (John Slattery), Tony’s father, and avoid running into the love of Steve’s life, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Rocket and Thor travel to Asgard in the year 2013 during the events of Thor: The Dark World to retrieve the Aether which contains the Reality Stone from the body of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Thor speaks with his soon-to-die mother, Frigga (Rene Russo) and regains his confidence when he summons his original Mjolnir to himself, taking it with him back to the present while Rocket retrieves the Reality Stone.

Romanoff, Barton, James “Rhodey the War Machine” Rhodes (Don “I retweeted the Joker” Cheadle), and Nebula (Karen Gillan) travel to 2014, during the events of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Romanoff and Barton go to planet Vormir, where Natasha sacrifices herself to give Clint the Soul Stone guarded by the Red Skull (Ross Marquand). Nebula and Rhodey knock a young Peter “Starlord” Quill (Chris Pratt) unconscious and take the power stone, however, Nebula is stopped from returning. It turns out that her cyborg consciousness interacts with a cosmic version of the internet which has been discovered by the Thanos of that time. 2014 Thanos discovers that he will win, but that the survivors will all fight to reclaim their lost loved ones. He captures the present Nebula and sends 2014 Nebula back to the future in her place.

After everyone returns to the present, Stark puts all of the gems into a gauntlet and Banner snaps it, injuring himself severely but bringing back all of the people that Thanos killed. At the same time, the Nebula from the past brings Thanos and his entire army through the time portal to reclaim the new Infinity Gauntlet. Thor, Stark, and Rogers battle Thanos, but even with Thor wielding two hammers, and eventually Captain America wielding the original Mjolnir, Thanos still wins the fight. Just as everything seems lost, a reborn Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict “Burmberderb Cabbagepunch” Cumberbatch) returns, opening gateways all around the galaxy, and allowing all of the reborn heroes to join the fight, as well as the armies of Wakanda, Asgard, and the Ravagers from Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos, realizing that he might be at a disadvantage, tells his ship to fire on the battle, but his ship is soon downed by the returning Carol Danvers. Everyone on the battlefield works to get the Infinity Stones into Scott Lang’s van which contains the portal to the Quantum Realm, but eventually Thanos reclaims it, only to find that Stark had stolen the stones and put them on another gauntlet. Stark snaps away all of the bad guys, but dies in the process.

After the funeral, Thor joins the Guardians of the Galaxy and Rogers goes back in time to return the stones, but ends up marrying Peggy Carter and living to old age. As an old man, he bequeaths his shield to Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie).

END SUMMARY

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

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

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Grouch’s Netflix Review – The Silence: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love A Quiet Place

Netflix released this movie and, appropriately, seemed to mostly keep quiet about it, because it is like getting stung by tiny, irritating things.

SUMMARY

Some scientists find a bunch of small winged creatures, referred to as “vesps” (Latin for Wasps) because the writers quit thinking after the first Google result for “Small flying things.” The creatures are attracted to sound, ravenous, and proportionally pretty strong.

TheSilence - 1Vesp
Editors note: In Florida, the mosquitoes remain a bigger threat. 

Ally (Kiernan Shipka) is a late-in-life deaf girl (having lost her hearing in a car accident) who never acts like she’s deaf. At all. Because of that, it will be brought up repeatedly to remind the audience that, yes, this character cannot hear. She lives with her parents, Hugh and Kelly (Stanley “Yes, I agreed to this” Tucci and Miranda “Whoa, I agreed to this?” Otto), her grandmother (Kate Trotter), her brother Jude (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), and a dog who, because story demands it, barks at everything.

TheSilence - 2Cast
Patient Zero and then this, eh Stanley? YOU HAVE 3 EMMYS.

They are all in the city as the Vesps start to go through the US, killing anything that makes noise. The government tells everyone to stay indoors and quiet, but Ally says they should head for the countryside, which is quieter. Glenn (John Corbett), Hugh’s best friend who is randomly there, joins them. However, shortly after finding a massive traffic jam composed of all the other people who got the same idea, Glenn goes off-roading and crashes, attracting vesps. Glenn sacrifices himself to save the family who is being attacked because the dog won’t stop barking. They sacrifice the dog and make it to a house in the countryside. The owner conveniently dies because they didn’t hear the news. The family sneaks in through a storm drain, but Kelly gets bitten by vesps. Hugh kills them by turning on a woodchipper and leading them to fly into it, proving conclusively how dumb this movie is.

TheSilence - 3WoodChipper.png
41. This kills 41 of them as far as I can tell. WHY AREN’T YOU JUST RUNNING IT ALL THE TIME?

Ally contacts her new boyfriend, Rob (Dempsey Bryk), a guy who knows ASL, who reveals that his parents are dead. He also reveals that cults have started to spring up that involve cutting their own tongues out. I remind you that this is only a few days into the attacks. Kelly’s leg gets infected, so they have to rip-off The Day After Tomorrow and go on an antibiotic run. It’s revealed that Vesps lay eggs in corpses, something that sure seems inconvenient for a species that apparently didn’t have contact with anything else for at least hundreds of years. It’s also revealed that they’re weak to cold.

TheSilence - 4Music.png
Thank God you told me. I was thinking “Jubilant.”

A reverend (Billy MacLellan) and his cult who Ally had refused to join earlier show up at the house, interested in impregnating Ally, because bad guy is bad. Hugh shows them a gun, something that, when fired, would probably result in everyone’s death by Vesps, which leads the cult to leave. Rob reveals there’s a “refuge” to the North. The cult sends over a little girl strapped with phones in what is one of the only legitimately clever moments in the film, activating them to summon the Vesps. The cultists run in and abduct Ally, but Lynn kills several of them by tackling them and shouting to attract the Vesps, sacrificing herself, after which the family manages to kill almost all of the other cultists. They make their way north to the refuge where Ally finds Rob and they go Vesp hunting with bows and arrows, where Ally wonders if humans will get used to silence before the Vesps get used to cold.

TheSilence - 5CorpseBabies.png
This reproduction makes no sense. At all. 

END SUMMARY

A Quiet Place is a great movie. It’s one of the few films where sound really does have a massive effect both on the story and the audience. The sense of terror that occurs throughout the movie is basically its own tinnitus ringing. At the same time, we are watching a family go through an internal upheaval from the loss of a child that they are dealing with just as much as the external upheaval. It gives us a way to connect emotionally with the characters that makes everything they’re going through feel just real enough to make us want to suspend disbelief to the rest of the story, and some disbelief definitely has to be suspended. The monsters in A Quiet Place are terrifying not only because they’re fast, but because they are unstoppable. Despite that, at the end of the film, in order to give the characters an arc and some hope, they are revealed to have a weakness. Realistically, this opens up a lot of holes in the idea that they destroyed humanity’s resistance so easily, because that means that no one thought to use sound against the monsters who can only use sound to navigate. I mean, we have ultrasonic weapons already, so apparently every military and police force on the Earth is pretty dumb in that world. But, the movie is so good that you don’t think about stuff like that until you’ve left the theater and ruminated. A lot of movies have similar issues in retrospect, but if you aren’t noticing the flaws until you’re at home, the film’s experience was still effective, so that’s still a quality film.

This film drives home its flaws at almost every chance.

TheSilence - 6Arrows.png
The Narration is one of the biggest flaws, especially over this scene.

First, Kiernan Shipka. I know that the Joker loves her in the new Sabrina series (MJH forever!) and I loved her in Mad Men, but dear God do I never, ever, ever, at any f*cking point believe she’s a deaf person. At several points she seems to react to things that are happening behind her. I understand she’s not totally deaf, but even when stuff doesn’t seem loud enough to get to her, she still jumps and turns, unless the plot demands she doesn’t. Also, if she’s reacting to people reacting to the other thing, then she should be a half-second behind everyone else. Second, the monsters in this movie are crap. They’re tiny flying dinosaurs, something that SHOULD be cool, but there are so many massive flaws with them that the movie points out. Yes, there are a lot of them and they breed somewhat quickly, but they’re vulnerable to basically everything and they can’t get through most structures. You can kill them with a bow and arrow or block them with a suit of armor, let alone a tank, and you can force them to blindly fly into anything loud. If you just threw a ton of firecrackers onto a bonfire, they’d burn themselves to death trying to eat the fireworks. I can understand why it might take a few days to get things under control, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s really an “apocalypse” level threat.

TheSilence - 3WoodChipper
Forty. One. In like 15 seconds. 

Third, the cult subplot is just so damned nonsensical. We find out that these cults are popping up everywhere only a few days, maybe a few weeks, after the vesps appear. To give you an idea of where society is at that point, we still have the internet. It gets even worse when you consider that these people just cut their tongues out, but they still make noise. I mean, cool, you stopped yourself from being articulate, but the monsters still want to eat you. Hell, the Reverend growls at people.

TheSilence - 8Reverend.png
It’s SO HARD to find him threatening. Or even interesting.

This movie might have been in production before A Quiet Place came out, so maybe they didn’t start out with the goal of making a mediocre knock-off, but that’s damn well what happened. It’s not compelling enough to distract me from the logical flaws, and it’s not visually or aurally interesting. I mean, Stanley Tucci couldn’t make me like this film. What else is there to say?

TheSilence - 7Signs.png
Also, who SPRAY PAINTS their message of nihilism about a sound-based plague?

JOKER’S REBUTTAL

I didn’t really care for the movie either, but a few points. One, Stanley Tucci is always amazing. Two, Kiernan Shipka actually learned ASL to do the movie and that’s dedication. Three, adding an element of societal collapse driving people crazy does at least flesh out the world a little bit.

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.

Prime Review – The Tick: Seasons 1 and 2 (Spoiler-Free for Season 2)

Probably the most beloved superhero spoof of all time got his second (Patrick Warburton’s was short lived) live-action adaptation and it is filled with the sweet stench of mighty blue justice.

SUMMARY

Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman) is a mild-mannered accountant… except that he’s not particularly mild-mannered, more neurotic and borderline PTSD. When he was young, his father was killed by the world’s greatest supervillain The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), who then singled him out for torment before eventually being apparently killed by the world’s mightiest superhero, Superian (Brendan Hines). Arthur believes the Terror is still alive and sets out to prove it, before running into a giant blue man known only as The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz). The Tick is amnesiac, super-strong, nigh-invulnerable, overly-dramatic, and pretty much insane, but with a good heart and a desire for justice. The Tick gifts Arthur with an experimental flying suit he found in a warehouse and, after some initial complications, Arthur agrees to become his sidekick. Together, the two dive into the world of superheroes and supervillains, encountering the villainous Miss Lint (Yara Martinez), the violent anti-hero Overkill (Scott Speiser) and his sidekick Dangerboat (Alan “I’m amazing” Tudyk), Arthur’s sister Dot (Valorie Curry), and culminating in them gaining fame for helping defeat the still-alive Terror.

Tick2 - 1Partners.jpg
He is very abdominal in this episode.

The second season focuses on the Tick and Arthur dealing with the return of the government agency A.E.G.I.S., the best S.H.I.E.L.D. knock-off on film so far, and trying to find their place in the new order.

Tick2 - 2Outfits.jpeg
He also does the funniest costume change on film.

END SUMMARY

This show is one of the few Amazon Prime shows that were picked up based on their pilot and I don’t think I can tell you how happy that made me. It makes me even happier to say that they really fixed some of the problems that were present in the pilot almost immediately. See, the pilot’s core joke was basically “what if we stuck The Tick in a gritty reboot, but we didn’t make the Tick gritty or serious?” Admittedly, that premise was funny and every second The Tick was on film was amazing, particularly him dealing with realistic criminals in his goofy manner. The only problem was that the world itself was just a hair TOO gritty. One of the best parts of every version of The Tick is the other goofy characters that populate it. The show quickly managed to fill that void with a bunch of great supporting characters, many of whom are comical exaggerations of the “gritty” superhero image, particularly Overkill.

Tick2 - 3Overkill.jpg
He has to talk in a deep, gravely voice or his Alexa doesn’t recognize him.

The first season was flat-out hilarious to me once it found its rhythm, although it did take a few episodes to really get it. Griffin Newman and Valorie Curry both subtly adjusted their characters to fit a little better within the post-pilot world the show was developing. Arthur became more similar to his animated counterpart, though with a lot more realism and backstory, while Dot became a badass. Jackie Earle Haley, on the other hand, played the perfect self-indulgent villain from start to finish. I think few things will ever stick with me as well as his line “You don’t kill people because they call you names; you kill them because it’s fun.” It’s literally the most evil but also surprisingly reasonable thing you can say: Evil should be about enjoyment whether it’s at the expense of others or not. After all, why be evil if it’s not fun?

Tick2 - 4Terror.jpg
He literally stops in the middle of a mass murder to harass a child. For fun.

I will say that there are two things in the pilot which did convince me that the show had a lot of potential. The first is the scene of The Tick effortlessly defeating a bunch of warehouse thugs while using his typical goofy dialogue. Second, at the end of the episode, The Tick is monologuing about his future with Arthur as superheroes and says “Destiny’s got her hand way up in their puppets.” That’s basically the perfect line for The Tick’s very specific brand of insanity and spoofing.

Tick2 - 5Destiny
Even the hero poses are perfectly exaggerated. 

The Second Season has the advantage of being able to introduce more of the bizarre and goofy characters that we were looking for because the world has now been expanded enough for someone to just randomly appear with superpowers. They also having a running plotline about coercion that plays out very well.

Overall, I love this show. It’s just a solid spoof of superheroes, particularly gritty reboots. Peter Serafinowicz is a treasure and is just as good in the role as Patrick Warburton was (though that show’s writing was nowhere near the level of this one, Warburton was amazing). If you’ve got a Prime subscription and love comedy, just power through the first 2-3 episodes and then get ready for a great time.

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 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Season 2 (Spoiler-Free)

Sabrina returns in a new season with a few changes to the formula that worked well.

SUMMARY

Following the events of the Midwinter Special, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) takes a break from her mortal side and enrolls more seriously in the Academy of the Unseen Arts, mostly to avoid her awkward break-up with Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). However, it quickly becomes obvious that a lot of the policies of the Academy will be completely against her relatively progressive moral code, bringing her into conflict with the more archaic policies of the Dean, Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle). A lot of stuff happens after that, but spoilers and such.

CAOS2 - 1Blackwood.jpg
He’s a prick. Shocking, right?

END SUMMARY

While the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina clearly demonstrated that Sabrina and her mortal friends were very presenting a progressive agenda, it was usually secondary to the plot of the episodes. In this season, it usually isn’t. Several of the episodes are Sabrina finding out about some absurd rule that the Academy has and fighting to change it, while Roz (Jaz Sinclair), Harvey (Ross Lynch), and Susie/Theo (Lachlan Watson) do the same thing to a rule or policy in the Greendale School in the B-Plot.

CAOS2 - 2Mortals
Fools, these mortals ain’t.

While most of the time the show did a solid job of trying to make some points about the nature of feminism and equality, I admit that the show did sometimes feel like they were presenting straw-men to represent their regressive opponents. I mean, it isn’t exactly subtle when your main regressive figure is Father Blackwood, whose daughter was literally kept from him on the basis that everyone believed he’d kill her to make sure his first legitimate child was a boy. Any time he’s the adversary, he’s taking a position that is openly “women are lesser.” While it does make for some interesting plotlines, it kind of hurts the narrative that it’s hard to believe that he’s supported in saying this in Witch society, where we’ve seen many witches who flat-out dwarf warlocks in power. Or maybe that’s the point and I would get that if I were a woman.

CAOS2 - 3Privilege.png
Much like Harvey, I should check my privilege.

Similarly, in a plotline involving Susie/Theo (he identifies as a boy as of this season, although the show originally said he was non-binary) trying out for the basketball team, the coach is an exceptional dick, as are most of the other players, to the point of being unbelievable. It even kind of undercuts the message when the coach himself points out that Theo wouldn’t be able to get on the team if he just gave him a regular tryout, due to Theo not being tall, athletic, coordinated, or particularly good at basketball, eventually getting on only due to Sabrina magically enhancing him. I will say, however, that there is a scene in the locker room where Theo is being ogled by the other players that came off as simultaneously horrifying and also realistic in how it portrayed the mistreatment of transgender people.

CAOS2 - 4LockerRoom
Jesus, guys, what the f*ck is wrong with you?

In the first season review I said that the version of Satanism presented in the show is more akin to a perverted version of Southern Baptism than actual Satanism, and that has carried through to this season, only with the added element of being set more in a church school. They even address some of the issues with revisionist doctrines contained in religious education systems by having Father Blackwood propose his own “revised” version of Satanism… something he hilariously doesn’t get approved by Satan. It turns out that even the Great Adversary of God doesn’t want to support some misogynist prick.

CAOS2 - 5Satan.png
The goat man looks down on you. That’s a bad sign, man.

The acting and writing in the show has always been pretty good in my opinion, but I think there were three major improvements over the last season. First, the chemistry and interplay between Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) got much better. I thought they really started to seem like sisters. Second, they added Adam (Alexis Denisof) as the fiance of the woman who is now possessed by Lilith (Michelle Gomez), and that opens the character up a bit, rather than making her just an antagonist. Third, the humor got a lot sharper, particularly coming up with good lines. Heck, Satan has a line to Sabrina that made me laugh for like a solid five minutes.

Overall, I thought this was a marked improvement over the last season.

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.

What We Do In The Shadows (TV Series) – Pilot (Spoiler-Free)

The amazing film by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement has been adapted into a TV series, but the question remains: Can it hold up against its predecessor?

SUMMARY

Shot in the same Mockumentary format of the film, this show is about three vampires who live together in Staten Island: Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Nastasia Demetriou), and her boyfriend Laszlo (Matt Berry), along with Nandor’s familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) and energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Prosch). While the group maintains a relatively low profile, after a higher-ranking vampire Baron named Afanas (Doug Jones) comes to America to see them, they are told to work on expanding the power of the American vampires so that they can rule the world. If they don’t conquer America before he wakes up again, he’s going to kill them.

WWDitS - 1Cast
How did they photograph the cast?

END SUMMARY

Alright, it might not be entirely fair to gauge the series by its pilot, since pilots often are subject to a lot of changes before the show gets picked up, but this show needs to avoid that. This pilot was excellent. It basically sets the tone for the series, and that tone is hilarious. Since it was made by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, it has almost all of the feel of the film, but at the same time expands upon the vampire lore and the world that the film created.

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Aside from the other spin-off that they already have, that is.

One of the things that made the film What We Do in the Shadows work was that all of the characters were so quirky and interesting, reflecting the fact that they are humans who have far outlived the worlds they were born in. This show picks that up directly, such as giving Nandor a backstory built around being an Ottoman Turk named Nandor the Relentless (a little derivative of Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), but not much). However, they also expand on it a bit by adding in the dynamics of having two of the characters in a relationship and having Colin, who no one likes, living in the house. Additionally, while Jackie (Jackie van Beek) played a relatively small role in the film as a familiar, Guillermo gets as much focus as the other characters, giving us a human to vicariously experience some of the eccentricities from an outsider perspective.

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It’s like a “three guys walk into a bar” joke already.

The writing in the pilot is extremely funny, particularly some of the interviews when they’re contrasted to the normal filming. The actors, particularly Matt Berry, are all excellent at comic delivery. I think one of my favorite moments is that, before turning into a bat, Laszlo just loudly shouts “BAT!” It’s so perfectly absurd that I just laughed out loud.

Overall, this show has a lot of promise. I think they’ve set up a lot of great plotlines that could be very funny and the idea of these incompetent vampires trying to take over the world is just inherently hilarious. 

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.

Jordan Peele’s US: Symbolism Overload (Ending Explained)

Jordan Peele has brought us a new masterpiece that has a lot more to say than what’s on the surface. The spoiler-free version was Monday.

SUMMARY (SPOILERS)

In 1986, Adelaide Thomas (Madison Curry) wandered off at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. While in an abandoned house of mirrors, she finds herself seeing a little girl who looks exactly like her. 33 years later, Adelaide (Lupita “I’m gonna get more Oscars” Nyong’o) is now Adelaide Wilson, married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and the mother of Zora and Jason Wilson (Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex). The family heads to Santa Cruz for vacation at their beach house, but Adelaide reveals she still has nightmares about her encounter from the past. That night, Jason sees another family of people clad in red in the driveway. Gabe tries to confront them, but they quickly attack and infiltrate the house. They are revealed to be doppelgängers of the four named Red (Nyong’o), Abraham (Duke), Umbrae (Wright), and Pluto (Alex).

US - 2Tethered

Red explains that she was the “shadow” of Adelaide who has been living underground for her entire life, forced to live a perversely mirrored existence of Adelaide’s life, having been forced into marriage with Gabe’s doppelgänger Abraham and forced to bear his children, one of whom, Umbrae, is a monstrous psychopath and the other, Pluto, is obsessed with fire. Red doesn’t speak well, but the other doppelgängers only communicate with animalistic grunts. Red handcuffs Adelaide around a table. Abraham overpowers Gabe who flees to the family’s boat. Gabe manages to kill Abraham with the motor. Zora tries to outrun Umbrae, but only escapes when Umbrae attacks a bystander. Jason manages to lock Pluto in a cabinet and Red goes to free him, allowing Adelaide to free herself. The family flees to their neighbors’ house, arriving only after their neighbors Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss) and their daughters Gwen and Maggie (Cali and Noelle Sheldon) are killed with scissors wielded by their own doppelgängers: Tex, Dahlia, Io, and Nix, respectively. Confronting the new versions of their neighbors, Gabe kills Tex on Josh’s yacht, Zora kills Io and knocks Nix over the bannister, then Jason kills Dahlia to save his mom and sister. Adelaide kills the wounded Nix with her own scissors.

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Nothing to see here. Perfectly normal family.

The four find out that this is happening everywhere, with the red-clad duplicates, dubbed “the Tethered” killing their originals and then joining hands in a long line. Gabe, Zora, and Jason want to just hide, but Adelaide insists they flee the country. Zora kills Umbrae by hitting her with a car and, the next morning, Jason tricks Pluto into setting himself on fire, killing him. Red then abducts Jason and Adelaide follows her to the boardwalk, going through the house of mirrors and into an underground facility. Red explains that the Tethered were created by the government to control the population, but were then abandoned underground. They have acted out the actions of their above ground counterparts mostly mindlessly. Red believed that her contact with Adelaide in 1986 meant that she was destined to lead the Tethered and that this was all a display for Adelaide, who ends up killing Red. It’s revealed that, in 1986, Adelaide met her doppelgänger, who choked her unconscious, crushing her windpipe, switched clothes with her, and chained her to a bed before taking her place. Jason realizes this, but says nothing. The Tethered are revealed to have made an unbroken human chain stretching into the distance.

END SUMMARY

Okay, this movie is two nested levels of story and corresponding allegory: Personal and social.

On the personal level, this story is about Adelaide and her family facing off against their doppelgängers. Now, the doppelgänger is an old concept literally meaning “double-goer” and it refers to seeing a non-biological double of a living person (so The Parent Trap doesn’t count, but The Prince and the Pauper does). Mythology tends to be inconsistent about what a doppelgänger represents. In older Teutonic Myths, they’re just a person out there who represents another you, typically an evil version, and seeing them is a sign of misfortune. Later, this was expanded to encompass another German myth, the fetch, which is an apparition of a living person, having form and mind but no soul. This film originally describes the Tethered in these terms, saying they have the mind and body but they don’t share the soul with the people they mirror, explaining their lack of speech and animalistic behavior.

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The guttural screaming. 

Usually, when the doppelgänger is used as a literary figure, they are intended to represent the duality of man. Where we are good, they are evil. Where we are peaceful, they are violent. Where the person fails, the doppelgänger succeeds, and vice-versa. One reason why this device has lasted so long and permeated through so many different cultures is because humans tend to naturally envision other hypothetical versions of ourselves, including the raw, feral version. Our dark reflection.

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Or our short-haired reflection, I guess.

This movie really tries to drive that idea home with its portrayals. Gabe is erudite, Abraham is brutish. Zora is snarky and somewhat lackadaisical while Umbrae is a psychopath. Jason masks himself to be scarier, Pluto hides his disfigurement under a mask. Kitty is vain, Dahlia mutilates her face. Even the names of the characters somewhat mirrors their counterpart: Gabe is short for Gabriel which is the angel that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, while Abraham is the longer form of Abram, the Biblical figure who entered into the covenant to create Israel. Zora means dawn while Umbrae means shadow. Jason means healer or life-giver while Pluto refers to the god of death. Pluto and Jason even tend to literally mirror each other, possibly due to the fact that, since they’re younger, they haven’t had as much time to diverge and therefore their connection is stronger.

Us - 5Pluto
This kid is amazing.

The only real exception is Adelaide, because even though Red calls her the shadow, the two have more traits in common than any of the others because they’ve each lived part of their lives as the other one, becoming somewhat more harmonized. This was one of the many things which first hint at the ending. This includes the revelation that Red is the only doppelgänger who can talk, even if her voice was damaged by Adelaide’s attack. “Red” likely isn’t even the fake Adelaide’s name, only a name that the real Adelaide gave herself, because the red exit sign, the red apple she dropped, and the red shirt all represent freedom and the life she lost. Meanwhile, the fake Adelaide suppressed the memory of the event completely.

The majority of the film is based around Red trying to send a message to Adelaide using the Tethered, although the first thing that triggers it is the image of a small real spider emerging from beneath another fake spider. This reminds her of how she first encountered the real Adelaide while she was singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” a song about a creature who, much like the Tethered were supposed to be, keeps attempting to climb up only to be knocked back down (keep this in mind for later). The next sign was the outfits worn by the Tethered (presumably made over the last 20 years since Red became their leader). They’re red outfits with a single glove, which is the Michael Jackson outfit from Thriller, which was on the shirt that Adelaide was wearing that night. The last is the fact that the Tethered all join together in a human chain, reminiscent of Hands Across America, the last ad that Adelaide saw before her abduction. It’s all designed to remind her of the truth about the two of them: Hence, “us.”

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However, it’s the fact that either one could be the “real” Adelaide that makes the personal allegory work. The fact that the fake Adelaide took the real Adelaide’s place and lived a mostly normal life means that it isn’t that the doppelgängers are inherently evil or lesser, it means that they could go either way but their circumstances force them to be the way they are. Just like regular people.

The movie’s conclusion almost wants us to conclude that the Adelaide who is alive at the end is the “evil” one, but I don’t think it’s that simple. We only get a glimpse into what Fake Adelaide’s life was like before she took Real Adelaide’s place, but it is a horrifying bastardization of an existence, with most of her actions out of her control. We hear the Real Adelaide, as Red, recount her life, where she was forced to marry Abraham and bear his children against her will, which is implied to be exactly what would have happened to Fake Adelaide. So, is Fake Adelaide really evil for wanting to avoid a tortured existence? If she’d done it without putting Real Adelaide in her place, we’d call her a hero. But instead she chose to condemn a person to a tortured existence and then ignore her… which is something that, on a social level, the film accuses everyone of doing.

US - BRed.png

As for the societal allegory, the Tethered are a fairly straightforward metaphor for The Other. They are a group that is defined by being “not us.” They could be any number of things, and the movie gives equal credibility to several interpretations.

First, they could represent the poor, as evidenced by the use of Hands Across America, which is one of the truly colossal failures among fundraisers, earning only $15 million of the desired $50 million and having many breaks in the chain of people. The Tethered are the people below the “real” people who starve and are ignored or forgotten, much like the poor and the homeless. During the initial scene of the Wilson doppelgängers confronting the Wilsons, the Wilsons are all wearing outfits representative of their prosperity, a college sweater from Howard University, a soccer mom outfit, a hoodie with an iPod, and a tuxedo t-shirt. When they later kill the doubles, it’s using a golf club, an expensive car, a decorative geode, a boat, and a yacht, things that are representative of the upper class. At the end of the movie, the Tethered actually make a continuous chain, seemingly representing a successful version of hands across America, representing America’s poor finally being noticed. The bible verse cited in the movie, Jeremiah 11:11, reads “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.” This could be either an interpretation of the Tethered as the evil which descend upon humanity as punishment for humanity’s evil, or the verse is reflective of the fact that the Tethered have been tortured and ignored by their creators. Either way, it works.

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The organized poor could do anything.

Second, they could represent African-Americans. The Tethered are essentially former slaves that have been released without giving them any resources or help integrating into the rest of society. They’ve been stuck in the same place for generations which is represented through a red-lined corridor, which I’d even argue is probably a reference to the fact that the act of excluding African-Americans from owning property was called “red-lining.” Red even forces Adelaide to spend the movie shackled so as to feel how she felt waking up having been abducted and shackled and transported into a different society against her will. I’m not saying that’s a metaphor, but if it’s not then I don’t know what is.

Third, they could represent the image of foreigners. They were created by the government as a way to control the populace, much how governments tend to play up the threats of foreign attacks as a way to manipulate their populace into giving them more power. If you need an example, I’m going to ask you to look at pretty much any government. While they seem to be a violent threat, the reality is that after they get through a period where they have trouble communicating (i.e. not being able to talk), they tend to acclimate and assume the same traits as their surroundings.

One thing that works pretty much regardless of the interpretation is the presence of “the itsy bitsy spider,” which is just a song about a futile existence of attempting to advance only to be knocked back down into your place. The only way Fake Adelaide breaks the cycle is by throwing another spider down the waterspout in her place.

Whatever the interpretation, the key is that Adelaide proves that they would be indistinguishable from the “normal” people if only they were given similar circumstances. While the movie suggests that the Tethered don’t have souls, the fact that Adelaide risks her life for her child while “Red” orchestrates a genocide indicates that perhaps that’s just how the creators justified their mistreatment of the Tethered. Under any of these interpretations, the allegory is a comment on America. Rather than “US,” then, the film is actually “U.S.”

Overall, it’s trying to cram all of this into the movie that is its biggest weakness. It’s hard to make this much allegory work within a cohesive narrative. It leaves a lot of questions for the audience which, while they mostly can be answered, require way more thought and observation than most people are willing to put forth to fill plot holes. This film was meant to be broken down and chewed by the viewer, but at some points it basically shoves a ton of stuff at you in quick succession and you start choking. I still thought this was an amazing movie, but I also admit that I understand why a lot of people won’t, and those people aren’t wrong not to like it. That said, I would tell everyone to at least give it a shot, because it does have something to say that might be helpful to you.

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.