In The Heights: How to Do a Musical Adaptation – HBO Max Review

If you’re not familiar with In the Heights, it’s the musical that first brought Lin Manuel Miranda to the attention of all of the people who watch the Tonys. In 2008 it debuted on Broadway and, much like his later, better known play Hamilton, it managed to combine elements of traditional musicals with hip-hop. It tells the story of the mostly Hispanic neighborhood in the Bronx called Washington Heights which is slowly being gentrified out of existence. Miranda grew up in Inwood, which is the neighborhood right next to Washington Heights that also is part of the Little Dominican Republic. Miranda himself played the lead role of Usnavi on Broadway, but, being that 13 years have passed since then, the role wisely went to Anthony Ramos, who played the role later on, in this screen adaptation. Ramos, who grew up in Bushwick, another mostly-Hispanic neighborhood in New York, perfectly portrays the nostalgia for the old days when speaking as the “older” Usnavi that narrates the events of the film. Miranda plays the guy selling Piragua, which is basically a Puerto Rican snow-cone.

While Anthony Ramos is technically older than Usnavi, he still looks the part.

My assumption has always been that the “musical” parts of the film are derived from Usnavi’s memory being recolored by the rhythm of the streets he remembers, with the music encapsulating the spirit of the people who lived there. Usnavi, the owner of the local bodega, naturally sees everyone on their way to start their day. We’re introduced to them all at the beginning: Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), the elderly matriarch of the neighborhood; Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), the owner of a local dispatch company and whose daughter, Nina (Leslie Grace), is back from Stanford; Benny (Corey Hawkins), Kevin’s chief employee and Nina’s ex; Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), Usnavi’s crush; the “Salon ladies” Daniela, Carla, and (film-exclusive character) Cuca (Daphne Ruben-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco); and Usnavi’s cousin and sole employee Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). While Usnavi is the narrator, as the film’s title suggests, it’s a story about the neighborhood. I don’t know if it’s the New York setting or the fact that it takes place during a heat wave, but I often find myself comparing it a little to Do the Right Thing, in the sense that the main character is only there to give us an excuse to experience the entire community.

Continue to give Stephanie Beatriz work.

My opinion of director John M. Chu is a bit complicated. On the one hand, he did Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D, which are pretty decent dance films with terrible scripts. On the other hand, he did G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which was at least not as bad as the previous G.I. Joe movie but was still not good, and Jem and the Holograms, a movie that not only was terrible but went out of its way to hurt the fans of the series it was based on. Then came Crazy Rich Asians, which was flat-out great and well directed. So, going in, I was not sure if this was going to be a masterpiece or a trainwreck. Fortunately, start to finish, everything he did in this film works. 

Yeah, try this on stage.

All of the changes from the original play work well (admittedly, it was usually described as having a weak book), all of the numbers are done bigger and bolder than they could be in a theater, and the added visual effects make us feel more deeply what the characters are going through and dreaming of. We also get a number of shots of local residents which both add a level of distinction from the stage show and also drive home that this is the story of a community and their dream more than any person. It does exactly what an adaptation should do: Furthers the themes, enhances the visuals without destroying the focus of the play, and shows you things bigger than what you could have gotten on stage. In short, it’s exactly the things that Cats and Les Miserables did wrong. Someone needs to tell Tom Hooper to watch this… or force him.

Yes, they are dancing on the walls.

Overall, just a fantastic movie. Better on the big screen, but still great on the small one.

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Sweet Tooth: Saccharine in the Good Way – Netflix Review

As the world falls apart, one young boy tries to make his way.

Well, it’s the apocalypse, again. This time it comes in the form of a virus that mostly spreads because people don’t take it seriously. Eventually, the virus proves to be extremely lethal and that is only compounded by the government’s poor response and the mistrust of various groups based on their reactions to the situation. This was in production before 2020, so don’t think this was commentary, it just happens that people being shitty started before a pandemic. At the same time that the virus is ravaging humanity, people start giving birth to “hybrids,” human babies which also have animal traits. One such baby is Gus (Christian Convery), a half-deer hybrid.

You can tell it’s the apocalypse from the fashion choices.

Gus is raised by his father, Pubba (Will Forte), on a preserve away from society, being told to avoid people at all costs, for ten years. Unfortunately, the preserve is eventually found by the “Last Men,” a group of hybrid hunters whose military force appears to be among the most powerful in the US after the “great crumble.” Without his father, Gus quickly starts to journey beyond the fence, hoping to eventually find his mother, Birdie (Amy Seimetz). The first person he encounters is former football player and mercenary Tommy “Big Man” Jepperd (Nonso Anozie). Despite Big Man’s dislike of hybrids, he eventually starts to take a liking to the young deer-boy, even nicknaming him “Sweet Tooth” due to Gus’s love of sugar. They are eventually joined by “Bear,” the leader of a pro-hybrid army played by Stefania LaVie Owen.

Forte is great in the parts that he’s in.

Naturally, a big part of this show is watching the impact of a massive pandemic on the population. People naturally start being less trusting of others because anyone can be a threat. Despite that, we see that people mostly believe that “certain people” are the ones who will die from the disease and thinking that they are the exception. We see neighborhoods of yuppies throwing parties (despite knowing a wave of the virus is coming again) and then burning the suspected infected alive. We witness this through the eyes of deuteragonist Dr. Aditya Singh (Adeel Akhtar) and his wife, Rani (Aliza Vellani). Dr. Singh has been working on a cure for the virus for a decade and his wife is the longest-surviving infected person. His arc is one of the most interesting in the show, because even though he is trying to save humanity, it’s clear he mostly just wants to save his wife at almost any cost. 

These two watched their neighbors immolate their friends. After a party.

There is also a third series of events with yet another deuteragonist named Aimee played by Dania Ramirez. Aimee runs a secret sanctuary for hybrids, particularly her adopted daughter Wendy (Naledi Murray), who is one of the rare hybrids who can speak normally. It’s not certain if hybrids are actually incapable of normal cognition or if they are just kept away from people so much that they don’t develop the ability to speak human language. Aimee’s sanctuary is being hunted for by the leader of the Last Men, General Abbot (Neil Sandilands). Also, James Brolin narrates the series, but hasn’t been on the show in person yet.

The world is hunting him like he was a… deer, I guess.

The key to the show is really the cute optimism of Gus contrasted with the pessimism of the Big Man and the cynicism of Bear. While it seems like another “surviving the apocalypse” show, the sincerity of each of their viewpoints comes through and makes everything feel a bit more personal. While the three plotlines don’t actually intersect until the very end of the season, which clearly sets up for a major second season, the interplay works great. They aren’t always thematically connected, but we see how many of the acts of each character end up impacting the others. We also see them all confront the big question of what is acceptable in the name of survival. 

Helps that the kid is just adorable.

Overall, solid show. I recommend giving it a try. 

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Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan: Don’t Eat Blue Ox – Amazon Prime Review

Who didn’t want a Bunyan-centric horror film?

There are times in your life when you see something so majestic, so beautiful, and so mysterious that you just can’t help but stare with your mouth agape. This movie’s title was that for me. I mean, I remember the period in the 90s when they churned out a bunch of fairy tale-themed horror movies like Pinocchio’s Revenge and Snow White: A Tale of Terror or the video game American McGee’s Alice, but I definitely didn’t think we’d reached the point of doing a folk hero horror film. It’s kind of brilliant, because Paul Bunyan is exactly what this film’s title promises: A giant with an axe. He’s basically a villain from a D&D campaign but wearing the clothing of a Midwestern dad. My biggest question is whether or not this is going to be the start of a folk hero horror shared universe. Will we soon be talking about an undead Pecos Bill gunning down teens and cyborg John Henry taking revenge on humanity? Will this lead to the horror version of that movie Tall Tale in which all of them battle to the death? As this movie is now eight years old, I’m guessing not, but hope springs eternal.

Will we see the Babe vs. Widowmaker fight that we all need?

The movie starts off with a flashback of a group of loggers whose outfits definitely don’t match the time period eating a massive wall of meat. If you can’t guess where this is going, don’t worry, the movie only gives you about 90 seconds before a giant man (Chris Hahn) murders all of the loggers. It then jumps to the modern day where a bunch of kids in a reform program for first-time offenders are being sent into the woods under the supervision of Sergeant Hoke (Tom Downey) and guidance counselor Mrs. K (Kristina Kopf). The five kids are Marty, Trish, Zack, Rosa, and CB (Clifton Williams, Jill Evyn, Jesse Kove, Victoria Ramos, Amber Connor). Their personalities range from bad boy to bad girl to generic horror protagonist (CB). If you’re looking for depth, good news, other movies exist. These characters are here to die in interesting ways involving a giant man and they don’t need to be believable for that.

They’re five teens in a creepy cabin. What could go wrong?

While in the woods, the group encounters local crazy hermit Meeks (Joe Estevez), but after he earns his cameo money as the only name in the film, he is driven away. While hiking the next day, two of the teens find a skull from a giant ox and steal a horn. Naturally, this was Babe the Blue Ox’s resting place and they’ve just pissed off Paul Bunyan. He follows them and kills Trish by bisecting her vertically, which is admittedly the kind of stuff that makes these movies worthwhile. When Hoke tries to fight back, Bunyan kills him by splitting him in half horizontally, because he’s not an axe giant if he doesn’t use that axe. The survivors escape to a cabin, but Bunyan destroys their van. They’re joined by Meeks who tells them that Bunyan was born with a condition that makes him gigantic and also long-lived. He was imprisoned for murder when he killed the loggers for eating Babe. He got bigger since then. 

He’s about to give Trish a splitting headache.

They try to return the horn, but Bunyan just uses it to kill one of the teens, because he does NOT care anymore. Bunyan smashes up the cabin and kills yet another of the teens, so now we’re just down to CB, Marty, and Mrs. K. They’re joined by CB’s dad, who is the sheriff of the town, and he incapacitates Bunyan with tranquilizers. Meeks takes Bunyan’s side and shoots Marty, but Bunyan continues not to care and murders Meeks. The giant chases all of the remaining cast over a bridge in time to be shot to death by a militia. Turns out that a big human still doesn’t do well with hundreds of bullet holes. And now he’s dead, since, again, sequel unlikely. Also, since the writer/director, Gary Jones, hasn’t done anything since, I’m guessing he’s not building his own cinematic universe.

You thought the T-Rex was scary to outrun? Well, it is. But this guy has an axe.

This isn’t the worst B-movie I’ve seen by a long shot, but it definitely was trying a bunch of stuff that it did NOT have the budget for. Some of the scenes of Bunyan holding people or interacting with them look super fake. I will say that Bunyan himself actually looks pretty good for the money. The design looks like a person who is both deformed and also has been suffering from living outdoors for a century. The characters are mediocre, but at least the kills are kind of fun.

If that looks like a man holding a Barbie… it probably is.

Overall, it’s not a top-tier B movie, but it’s fun. 

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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Mare of Easttown: A Great Crime Drama – HBO Max Review

Kate Winslet deserves another Emmy.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) is a detective in the small town of Easttown, Pennsylvania who was formerly a town hero for her basketball skills. She is ordered to reopen an investigation into the disappearance of a young girl, Katie Bailey (Caitlin Houlahan) after Katie’s mother, Dawn (Enid Graham), complains about the ineffectual police work. At the same time, another dead body is found and it’s connected to Mare’s daughter, Siobhan (Angourie Rice). While Mare tries to solve two different crimes, she is also weighed down by her ex-husband Frank (David Denman) getting remarried, her son’s suicide, and her heroin-addicted former daughter-in-law Carrie (Sosie Bacon) trying to take away her grandson. There are a huge number of supporting characters along the way.

Kate Winslet is a treasure.

END SUMMARY

I hadn’t really heard anything about this until it was four or five episodes in when some of my siblings told me to check it out. While I prefer comedies overall, this is a drama that you just can’t help but get sucked into. Kate Winslet’s performance is among the best in her career. Somehow she basically embodies the atmosphere of the show. She’s bitter, she’s miserable, and life keeps kicking her in the face, but she’s still working on a way to get through it all. She was the town’s hero, but much like the town she’s wildly past her prime. At one point I was legitimately curious how someone as unbelievably talented and constantly praised as Kate Winslet can so perfectly capture the feeling of having peaked. Then a female friend said “she’s an actress in her 40s, she’s probably constantly worried that she’s peaked.” Whatever she draws from, she’s perfect in the role. 

Oh, and Evan Peters is there, being all handsome.

The show’s not shy about directly addressing the drug problems that plague a lot of small towns in America, nor the effect it has on the families of addicts. A great scene early on involves a woman punching her brother for burglarizing her and admitting, privately, that she can’t handle his slow march towards destruction. Many of the people in the show are battling either addiction or someone with it and scenes like that are common. It helps that the show treats almost all of these characters as real people and perpetually defies TV drama stereotypes. 

There are some issues with police conduct, but they aren’t as focal.

The supporting cast is amazing, but I would have to say that most of the members of Mare’s family are all brilliant. I particularly love Jean Smart as Mare’s mother, but then again I love Jean Smart in anything lately. Much like with the townspeople, the family all feel genuine and not like cookie-cutter copies of most TV families. It also helps that Mare’s relationships with all of them are distinct and it gives the show a number of moments of levity mixed with moments of bold sincerity. 

Hey, people aren’t supposed to sit on all sides of the table on TV!

Overall, give Kate Winslet another Emmy and give this show a shot.

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Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie (Parts 1 and 2): In the Name of the Moon, I Watched This – Netflix Review

Having watched almost no previous Sailor Moon, I felt like I could go ahead and take on this challenge. I was wrong.

There’s not going to be a real summary section to this. I decided that my limited comprehension of what was going on is best represented by me drunkenly dictating my thoughts into my computer’s voice-to-text. I’m four shots in, and I have no f*cking idea what happened, but here’s what I remember. 

****SPOILERS****

It started off with a knock-off Rita Repulsa actually named Zirconia (Naomi Watanabe/Barbara Goodson), then there was an eclipse, a pegasus (but actually an alicorn) called Helios (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Brian Beacock), and an H.R. Geiger circus. I assumed this meant there would be xenomorph clowns or something coming, but fortunately it ended up mostly being girls in form-fitting outfits. Anyway, Tuxedo Mask/Mamoru (Kenji Nojima/Robbie Daymond), Sailor Moon/Usagi (Kotono Mitsuishi/Stephanie Sheh), and their time-travelling 900-year-old-but-somehow-still-five-years-old daughter Sailor Chibi Moon/Chibiusa (Misato Fukuen/Sandy Fox) are having a sleepover.  Oh, and Chibiusa is hot for her dad, which is creepy on several levels, but I guess daddy issues are still a thing in the future. 

If it has a horn and wings, it’s an alicorn. Friendship is magic.

Zirconia’s boss, Nehelenia (Nanao/Laura Post), orders her to attack the Sailor Scouts so she can get a crystal that I am guessing I should have known about from previous arcs. Zirconia passes the task to her minions, the Amazoness Quartet: JunJun, VesVes, CereCere, and PallaPalla (Yuko Hara/Erika Ishii, Rie Takahashi/Erica Lindbeck, Reina Ueda/Cassandra Lee Morris, Sumire Morohoshi/Xanthe Huynh). They have a tiger attack Usagi and Chibiusa and the girls almost die cuz they can’t transform but then they get an upgrade and the horse blesses them and then everything is back to normal. There are things called Lemures that the dub pronounces “lemurs,” and I wanted to break the f*cking TV every time they said it, that the Amazons from the creepy circus summon to trap people in nightmares, but the horse upgrade lets Sailor Moon and Mini Moon get rid of them. Then Mamoru gets lung cancer, but apparently it’s actually a flower? Modern medicine was not prepared for this. 

Oh, and Usagi and Chibiusa switch ages for like 3 minutes and that’s still weird.

The Amazon Quartet turn a fish, a tiger, and a bird into three members of a knockoff version of the Misfits. Not the real band, the ones from Jem and the Holograms. The three animals in human form try to trap Sailors Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter (Hisako Kanemoto/Kate Higgins, Rina Satō/Cristina Vee, Ami Koshimizu/Amanda C. Miller) in their own nightmares, but the scouts beat them really easily (though Mercury does it the easiest, because she’s the best). Sailor Venus (Shizuka Itō/Cherami Leigh), whose cat Artemis (Taishi Murata/Johnny Yong Bosch) has a boner for her, gets attacked by the circus’s knife throwers, but she ends up killing them before the Amazons capture all of the scouts aside from Usagi, who collapses from another flower in her lungs. Turns out that Helios is also a priest from the center of the Earth and that he has a black flower in his chest because he’s actually projecting from a cage in the center of the Earth. Then, weirdly, Sailor Saturn (Yukiyo Fujii/Christine Marie Cabanos) is shown reading W.B. Yeats as part one ends. 

These are the evil minions, not a new all-girl J-pop band.

Part two starts with the reveal that Sailor Neptune (Sayaka Ohara/Lauren Landa) and Sailor Uranus (Junko Minagawa/Erica Mendez) are married now, and hopefully nobody tries to make them cousins again, because that’s f*cking weird. Or they’re not married but they wear matching rings along with Pluto? I’m hoping it’s a polycule, but I bet they wouldn’t allow that on television. Whatever, Neptune and Uranus are adorable together. Along with Sailor Pluto (Ai Maeda/Veronica Taylor), they are raising Sailor Saturn, who was apparently reborn as a kid? Anyway, Saturn gets her memory back of being a teen, then gives powers back to Sailors Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto. They go save the other non-Moon scouts, because they’re still trapped by plants somehow, and then Tuxedo Mask and Sailor Moon show up only to be injured. They get healed and there’s something about crystals that, again, is probably part of the mythology that I skipped by not watching Sailor Moon Crystal (oh, THAT’S why they call it that). Also, the horse dies, but death means less here than it does in a comic book, so he’ll be fine.

Don’t call them the B-Team, they get sh*t done.

All of the scouts go to fight Nehelenia, whose backstory is revealed as basically Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and they all get trapped until some power of love stuff. Sailor Moon gets another transformation sequence into Eternal Sailor Moon, and she fixes everything with the power of… moon love crystal stuff. The horse comes back to life (told you), and the Amazons are revealed to be asteroid scouts, because we’re out of other celestial bodies. Everyone lived happily ever after until next season, unless this is the finale. 

Tuxedo Mask is there too, but who cares.

It’s really funny that throughout most of this, it really hit me how much Sailor Moon is just Dragon Ball Z for girls. Death means nothing, time travel subplots abound, random villains show up that are somehow stronger than the last ones despite the last ones being “the strongest in the universe,” and the new bad guy is always beaten by some new transformation or technique pulled out at the very last minute. Given how much of my childhood I spent watching roided up people with spiky hair yelling at each other before firing beams, it’s not surprising that a lot of people spent theirs watching cute girls transform into superheroes and… well, still largely stand around yelling before firing beams. At least on Sailor Moon there are a lot of characters with varied personalities and a nice overlap between personal problems and superhero problems. The movie even drives this home by having the villains attack their insecurities more than attack their physical forms. 

And at least some of that insecurity is that they will never look as fabulous as these anthropomorphic minions.

Overall, it’s a movie that’s designed for young girls, but I get why so many people love it. More power 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.

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Avenue 5: DS9 As Crewed by Idiots – HBO Max Review

A sci-fi comedy with some not-so-subtle commentary.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Avenue 5 is a luxury passenger ship captained by the acclaimed Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie). During a routine cruise, the artificial gravity malfunctions resulting in the death of the chief engineer, as well as the ship’s course being altered by a few degrees. Unfortunately, those few degrees will extend the 8-week trip to over three years. Now it’s up to Captain Clark, the second engineer Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow), head of mission control Rav Mulcair (Nikki Amuka-Bird), assistant to the owner Iris Kimura (Suzy Nakamura), and former astronaut Spike Martin (Ethan Phillips) to get the ship back to Earth. Unfortunately, they are generally hampered by the incompetence of the Billionaire Owner Herman Judd (Josh Gad), the head of customer relations Matt Spencer (Zach Woods), and entitled passenger Karen Kelly (Rebecca Front). It also turns out that most of the passengers are also complete idiots. 

This is an absolutely enormous ship.

END SUMMARY

I realize that the premise of a ship being massively off course and having to get back home, as well as the presence of Ethan Phillips, make this show more closely resemble the show Star Trek: Voyager, the fact that it’s set in a single location and doesn’t feature the crew stopping off at other spots makes it sometimes feel a bit more like Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5, after which it is probably named. Of course, either way, this show does not really feel like Star Trek as much as it seems like Idiocracy. Most of the people on Avenue 5 are rich (hence 5th Avenue) and most of the staff don’t really have any knowledge of how the ship works due to almost everything being automated. Even the crew are revealed to have almost no idea what they are doing, because the ship, like most things in the future, is better at flying itself than humans are at flying it.

Josh Gad is particularly dumb for a supposedly brilliant engineer.

The key to this show is that the cast are all pretty hilarious and great at playing characters who are out of their depth. Possibly one of the best running gags is that Captain Clark speaks with an American accent because people find it reassuring, but when he gets angry, or drunk, he reveals that he is actually British. Little details like this seem small at first, but the show actually accumulates them as the show goes on and, unlike many shows, actually has them all pay off in one absolutely hilariously dark episode. It’s not even the finale, it’s just the point at which the show really had to let everything come to a head or else it would have become stale. That’s another good aspect of the show is that it tends to let stuff simmer for just the right amount of time.

Not exactly starfleet.

Overall, I really recommend you give this show a shot if you like farces or sci-fi comedies. 

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.

Panic: It’s All Fun and Games until Someone Loses a Life – Amazon Prime Review

Graduating seniors compete in a series of dares trying to win money. 

SUMMARY (Spoiler Free)

Carp, Texas, is a terrible place to live, but almost nobody ever seems to get out. However, there has long been a secret game played by the seniors of the local high school: PANIC. Each year, the mysterious organizers manage to come up with a series of challenges that test the physical and mental strength of the competitors. Challenges range from surviving a tightrope walk to breaking and entering. Among this year’s contestants are college-bound Heather Nill (Olivia Welch), “new guy” Dodge Mason (Mike Faist), Heather’s best friend Natalie (Jessica Sula), and brother of a former winner Ray Hall (Ray Nicholson). Bishop (Camron Jones), Heather’s other best friend, chooses to watch instead of compete. Unfortunately, due to the deaths of two competitors the previous year, the Sheriff of Carp, James Cortez (Enrique Murciano), is determined to shut it down, meaning that the competitors will not only be dodging the obstacles, but the police.

Everything is bad when teens are involved.

END SUMMARY

This show’s kind of the definition of “streamable.” It’s not mind-blowing, but the events of the game are entertaining and compelling enough that you kind of want to see how it turns out. Admittedly, many of them are very creative, in the sense of “stuff that would realistically be available to a small town in Texas.” The overarching questions of who the organizers are and whether or not the Sheriff will catch them is similarly interesting enough that you will keep the show going for a while. 

Heather, seen here in the traditional wind-blown hairstyle of a dramatic lead.

The main characters are likewise. Heather just wants to get out of Carp and gets screwed by her mother. It almost makes no sense because Heather hides the money in a place her mom can get to and her mother is a drug-using alcoholic. Heather wasn’t even supposed to be in the game, but joins at the last minute solely because she needs the money to go to school. This is as opposed to, say, taking out loans. She’s not going to Harvard or something like that, she could just pay for it like the rest of us. The show does a decent job of explaining why each of the other main competitors want to win, giving them some reasonable motivations, but they still mostly feel like stock characters rather than real people.

I would rather do this than pay my loans, admittedly.

Overall, not a bad show, but if you’ve got other stuff in your queue, keep it where it’s at.

Cruella: A Great Movie Weighed Down by Forced Premise – Disney+ Review

This movie is like 90% great and 10% WHY?????

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Estella Miller (Emma Stone) was born a bit of an outcast due to her black-and-white hair, but it certainly isn’t helped by her mischievous streak. Her only friend growing up is a young girl named Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), decides to move the two of them to London, but when she stops to get help from a “friend,” Estella wanders into a fashion show and gets caught, resulting in a pack of Dalmatians chasing after her. The Dalmatians attack her mother and kill her. Yes, that actually happens. Now orphaned, Estella meets two street urchins named Horace and Jasper (Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry). The three grow up as thieves until Estella finally manages to get a job working for famed fashion designer The Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) and befriends local fashion shop owner Artie (John McCrea). Soon, however, Estella decides she needs to pull a heist on her employer and debuts herself as the new face of fashion: Cruella. 

She makes all of her own outfits.

END SUMMARY

I will start by saying that having Cruella de Vil’s mother killed by Dalmatians is possibly the absolute dumbest thing they could have done. Moreover, it doesn’t even make her hate Dalmatians, not even the ones that actually orphaned her, thus making it completely useless to her origin. Combine that with the idea that Cruella de Vil’s black-and-white hair is somehow natural and the terrible “this is how I died” set-up and I’ll admit that at the 10 minute mark, I was about ready to call this movie a disaster (despite a great performance by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as young Cruella). Surprisingly, though, once the movie kind of settles into its ultimate 1970s London location, the film actually gets pretty entertaining and impressive.

She. Was. Born. With two-toned hair.

First of all, the makeup and hair design and set design in this movie might both merit Oscar nominations, if not outright wins, but the costume design takes it to another level. The costumes in the film have to be beautiful, diverse (they are coming from multiple designers, after all), thematically appropriate, and inventive as heck. Somehow, they pull it off repeatedly. At one point, without spoiling anything, it’s revealed that Cruella is wearing almost the entire shot and I legitimately shouted at the brilliance of it. As far as makeup and set design goes, this movie looks absolutely gorgeous. Spots are hidden everywhere to reference the Dalmatians, the colors are bold, they look period appropriate while also containing references to locations of famous art shows (if you just watched Halston, then you’d probably recognize some stuff), and they’re just cool looking. 

Welcome to the future. It involves a lot of spray paint.

Emma Thompson and Emma Stone are both amazing. They’re both strong women with more similarities than they’d like to admit, particularly since Emma Thompson resembles the person that we are told Cruella will one day become. She definitely seems a bit influenced by Glenn Close in the live action version as well as Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Emma Stone plays Estella as a bit of a split personality with Cruella, changing quite a bit as she indulges further and further into her criminal persona, which starts to actually behave like a young version of her future self. Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry both give a lot more personality to their characters which is helped by the fact that they deal with both Estella, who treats them like close friends, and Cruella, who treats them like lackeys. It’s interesting to see them react to the change, because at first they just try to deal with it because they care about her, but then they slowly get worn down by her abuse.

I literally don’t know if this is a wig. We see dye, but then we see wig later.

The biggest problem, though, is that the film can’t actually let Cruella be the villain. While she does START to do a turn towards darkness, she never actually falls to it. By the end of the movie, she’s basically just a successful fashion designer with no indication that she’d ever order the murder of a bunch of Dalmatians just to make a coat. In fact, a big part of the movie is that one of her closest companions IS A DOG. Even when she is actually given the chance to be cruel to animals, the film makes it clear that she is not even considering it. At the end of the film, there is absolutely no way that the character we’ve been following will EVER be Cruella de Vil except in name. It’s not that she’s a bad character, in fact, she’s very interesting, but she’s not Cruella de Vil. Oh, and the mid-credits scene only drives that home way more.

She even has a dog. And Horace has the cutest chihuahua ever.

Overall, the only parts of this movie that don’t work are the ones that seem to be forced to make it a “Cruella de Vil” movie. If you just let it be independent of that, the movie was actually pretty enjoyable and, again, damned gorgeous.

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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Bo Burnham: Inside: Dark and Funny as Hell – Netflix Review

Bo Burnham filmed a comedy special in his house and it’s brilliant.

SUMMARY

Well, while the rest of us were wasting time inside of our houses or trying to avoid being killed by douchebags sneezing out on the street or maybe just trying not to get shot by our racist neighbors (I’m white, but I didn’t fly a conservative enough flag), Bo Burnham decided to do his first comedy special in five years. He had previously hinted that he might never do another one because he was getting a lot of panic attacks performing for an audience, but I guess he used this opportunity to change that. While this special is massively different from any of his previous shows, particularly in that Bo was forced to shoot, write, and edit this entire thing all on his own, it is no less brilliant and insightful than his previous specials. It starts off with him questioning whether he should even do comedy when the world is in such a state, then justifies it (and admits, repeatedly, that he’s going to get paid a lot for this), then proceeds to deal with all of the feelings of isolation, social unrest, and dealing with the constant self-reflection that accompanies living with yourself for a long period of time. Also, a lot of the dark thoughts that come from self-reflection.

And a lot of projections.

END SUMMARY

Bo Burnham is a genius of the highest order and I think if I met him in person I would attempt to eat his brain just to acquire his power. I know that almost certainly doesn’t work, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, right? Unlikely cannibalism aside, Bo Burnham is amazing in his ability to constantly tell you the truth that you likely already knew and then confront you with the fact that you knew it but constantly act like you don’t. I mean, it’s not like you aren’t aware that the wealthy control corrupt politicians and use them to set up a system which supports them both and makes it almost impossible to stop them. It’s just that we try to ignore that we live in a horrible broken system and instead focus on people being wrong on the internet. Burnham has an uncanny ability to show you that you’re being dishonest with yourself by being punishingly honest and empathetic. During a mostly mocking song about white women’s Instagram accounts, he seems to almost pause and reshuffle the movie in order to present an honest message from a woman who is trying to write a message to her dead mother. Like most of Burnham’s work, these tonal shifts serve to try and keep the audience engaged and introspective. Since he’s not having to deal with a real audience, they are even more jarring here.

Including a sudden “I’m horny.”

The quality of the special really does speak to Burnham’s ability to direct. Aside from writing and directing the great movie Eighth Grade, Burnham has been directing other comedians’ specials during his hiatus from stand-up. Also, of course, he appeared in the film Promising Young Woman, which tried to confront and challenge viewers similar to Burnham’s comedy (albeit from a different perspective). The directing not only allows Burnham to better time his comedic shifts and to fully emphasize the isolation of the experience, but also helps to promote part of the point of the movie. This film has an underlying theme of depersonalization and derealization (a term he uses at one point) arising from the isolation, both of which are about capturing the feeling of being outside of your own body and looking at yourself. At several points he tries to illustrate this by having himself comment on videos of his own performances or “stream” his own life, but this becomes even more meta when you realize that he had to edit himself doing all of these things. He had to sit down and film himself talking about observing himself externally and then watch that footage and make it funny. It somehow again adds to the sincerity of what he’s talking about. 

So meta they don’t have words for it.

Overall, this is one of the best comedy specials I’ve ever seen. It somehow perfectly captures the surreal nature of the past year and also hits on so many universal truths about the human condition that much of it will be timeless. It’s brilliant. 

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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Cottage Country: A Whiffed Horror Comedy – Amazon Prime Review

This movie put a lot of talent onscreen and couldn’t use it properly.

SUMMARY

Todd Chipowski (Tyler Labine) is planning a romantic weekend at his family’s cabin to propose to his longtime girlfriend Cammie (Malin Åkerman). While everything seems to be going well at first, his slacker brother Salinger (Dan Petronijevic) and Salinger’s girlfriend Masha (Lucy Punch) show up unexpectedly. The next day, while the girls are off picking mushrooms, the pair of brothers get into an argument as Todd tries to tell Salinger to leave. Salinger tries to make it physical and Todd accidentally kills him with an axe. He covers it up, then tells Cammie everything. Cammie, determined to keep the incident secret, helps Todd plan to kill Masha. While Cammie distracts Masha, Todd tries to hit her with a cleaver, only to find himself unable to do it. Cammie then kills Masha with a frying pan. The pair chop up the bodies and drop them in the lake, at which point Todd proposes. 

Yes, we have the sex scene between these two

When the couple return, they unfortunately find out Salinger invited a ton of people to the cabin, including a very suspicious Rabbinical student named Dov (Benjamin Ayres). Dov becomes very concerned about Salinger while Todd begins to hallucinate the dead bodies of Salinger and Masha talking to him. Todd and Cammie try to keep their story straight, but end up having Dov suspect them of killing Salinger, so they kill and bury him. The police arrive based on a tip from Dov and search the premises, finding evidence of the murders but not the bodies. Eventually, Todd’s parents arrive and Todd’s mom begins to suspect them, particularly after Cammie sleepwalks while having a nightmare about murdering Salinger. A convenient drifter is arrested breaking into cabins nearby, giving Todd and Cammie an out, but Todd decides to confess and break up with Cammie. He drives to the station, pursued by Cammie, who kills a police officer before being shot repeatedly. Todd cements their breakup and she shoots him in the head before dying. The film ends with Todd now having anterograde amnesia, being cared for by his dad.

END SUMMARY

This film’s principle cast is basically a list of people who deserve better careers than they had at the time of filming. Tyler Labine is a great comic actor who starred in the show Reaper and the excellent comedy-horror film Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. If you have no idea who Dan Petronijevic is, he plays the character of “McMurray” on Letterkenny and is an absolute f*cking comedy beast in that role. Lucy Punch is one of my favorite farcical actresses and in this film she nails it as Masha as well as she nailed Esme Squalor in A Series of Unfortunate Events. You can also watch her in the BBC show Motherland. Malin Åkerman has actually been pretty successful, but she only got the lead roles in Trophy Wife and, of course, Rampage after this movie. I mean, she was technically a lead in Rampage, although she kind of got stuck between the Rock and a large ape. 

Lucy Punch, probably not aware she’s on film and just naturally being hilarious.

The beginning of this movie, particularly watching the interactions between the two couples, is damned funny. Labine and Petronijevic have great chemistry as brothers and you can believe that one of them is the more “serious” brother while the other one picked an “artistic” path (that is almost certainly just pornography). You also get the feeling that, on some level, Todd really does want to get rid of his brother, something that really makes him feel all the more guilty later. Todd and Cammie’s relationship is not great, despite all of their pet names and seemingly shared dreams of domesticity. Basically, both of them admit that they’re too old to start over and do better. It makes it more believable that Cammie is onboard with murder because she’s not really into Todd as much as she just needs him to reach “married” status. 

It was not going well at this point.

Unfortunately, once Salinger and Masha are corpses, the movie kind of stalls. The idea that Salinger called a ton of people in order to have a party makes some sense, but even Salinger not telling Todd and Cammie or making any effort towards “throwing” the party seems like a stretch. Also, they didn’t do a great job of working the dead couple back in as hallucinations. While the makeup looks pretty good and the performances are solid, they don’t quite fit well into the plot. I will admit that Labine and Åkerman talking about honoring Dov’s Jewish heritage is hilariously dark.

I JUST WANTED TO AXE YOU A QUESTION!!!!

The end of the movie really kind of spirals. The introduction of Todd’s parents is supposed to add another dysfunctional relationship that kind of highlights how messed up Todd and Cammie are, but it just isn’t that amusing. It’s just two people who apparently really don’t like each other. Even the culmination of the film, where Todd and Cammie chase each other, which should be very amusing, just doesn’t end up being quite funny enough.

You guys were missed.

Overall, it’s an okay movie, just feels like they wasted a bit of potential.

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.