Reader Request: The Barbarians (1987)

Back in the 80s, there were a bunch of movies made which featured a lead who was a ripped body-builder. They usually took place in a fantasy world, filled with magic, swords, and women wearing completely impractical outfits. There was often some comic relief, some loincloths, and a voice-over narration at the beginning and end. This was one of those movies, but this one has twins!

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SUMMARY:

I’m not saying this movie was a rip-off of Conan the Barbarian, but the beginning of the movie is a monologue which appears to just have been someone with a thesaurus altering parts of the opening that Mako delivers in that film.

So, when the movie begins, there’s a tribe called the Ragnicks who dress like the discount LGBTQ pride float at Carnival in Rio. They’re the only tribe that has the ability to go between all of the barbarian kingdoms in this world, because they have a magic ruby that makes people laugh or something like that. The tribe is a group of peaceful entertainers, basically a traveling circus. There’s also only like 50 of them, despite being hundreds of years old, so I’m pretty sure they have a vow of chastity. Or high infant mortality.

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The tribe adopts three orphans, twins Kutchek and Gore (Peter and David Paul, the Barbarian Brothers) and Kara. While the orphans are still kids, the magic ruby is given to Canary (Virginia Bryant), the new queen of the tribe, but a group of black-leather-clad raiders attack the tribe under the orders of the generic bad guy Kadar (Richard “I was literally the bad guy in a movie called The Sword and the Sorcerer” Lynch). The troupe appears to defend themselves successfully, right until they find out that the other side had an insurmountable number of reserves, which… honestly makes everything about the initial chase sequence really dumb.

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Canary and Kadar

Queen Canary is captured by Kadar, and most of the tribe is killed. The orphans attack Kadar and bite off two of his fingers, but Canary agrees to marry him if he will spare them. Some witch under Kadar’s control, named China (Sheeba Alahani), predicts that the two cannot be allowed to live to adulthood, but Kadar has taken an oath that they cannot die by his hand or any of his followers. So, she sends them into separate prisons overseen by the Dirtmaster (Michael “You know me” Berryman) with the intent that they’ll one day kill each other. They grow up to be jacked beyond reason, because that’s what slavery does in an 80s movie.

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China and Dirtmaster

In what is one of the only clever parts of the movie, each of the brothers is tortured by someone wearing a particular helmet, which leads them to grow up to hate everyone who wears those helmets. It turns out that, in the years preceding this, Canary had managed to hide the ruby, and has never told Kadar where it is. Kadar brings out the twins to fight each other in the hopes of convincing her to talk. Each of the twins is given the helmet of the other’s torturer, which leads them both to attack each other furiously… or what passes for furiously under this budget. Eventually, Kutchek’s helmet is knocked off and, realizing that they both look identical, the two remember they are brothers, stop fighting, and escape the arena with the intent of rescuing Canary.

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They flee into the forest and find a captive woman, Ismena (Eva La Rue), who has been taken captive by the remainders of the Ragnicks. The twins are also captured (after, weirdly, being called “Fatty” by one of the leaders), and are almost hanged to death. However, the twins each comically escape their nooses, before finally being recognized by the tribe by the extremely distinct tattoos that they have… that the tribe apparently didn’t notice when they were literally looking at their necks to hang them.

BarbariansArmWrestling.jpgThe brothers, with Ismena as a guide, go to acquire weapons from a local dealer (George Eastman) in order to fight against Kadar. The dealer challenges the twins to arm-wrestling, because… f*ck, I’ve re-watched it 3 times now, and I don’t know. But, the dealer loses, then attacks them, resulting in the three leaving with nothing, rendering this entire side-quest mostly pointless.

They then sneak into Kadar’s harem, and, at one point, the twins kiss each other as a distraction. This scene is dumb both in and out of context, since they’re twins. If you saw two guys making out, you might be uncomfortable, but if they’re literally identical, then that’s not the kind of thing you just shrug off and ignore. Or is it? Maybe I’m just weird.

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We then get a bunch of nudity in the harem to compensate for the brotherly love, which… well, at least is something. The two find Canary, but she opts to stay captive so that the twins can recover the ruby after she tells them its location in the Forbidden Lands. Given that the two have been uneducated slaves, their only knowledge of the situation is through childhood fairy tales that they clearly only half-remember. But, that’s enough I guess. The two then, apparently, bang their way out of the harem, because saving the world is secondary to a good bone train.

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Gilded for Battle

The twins and Ismena quest to find the sacred weapons to fight the dragon that guards the ruby, but the weapons are guarded by… a were-mole? It’s some kind of monster that sticks hands out from the ground that are apparently easily ripped out, rendering it harmless. They’re then attacked by a were-bear that they kill with a single arrow. This is seriously the worst guarded mystical spot in history. At the same time, China, the sorceress, betrays Kadar and tortures Canary for the location of the Ruby, which she receives, but without the warning about the dragon. When she and Dirtmaster find the ruby, they’re eaten by the dragon.

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The trio arrives in the Forbidden Lands, but don’t find the ruby. The twins begin arguing, for some reason, but are interrupted by two of Kadar’s men. They defeat the pair, only for the dragon to rise out of the swamps, and, let me tell you, in the history of special effects, this is a special moment. I assume that the puppetry was done by Jim Henson’s blind cousin, not just because all of the movements appear arbitrary, but also because it’s only the same 2 shots repeated like 4 times. The pair defeat it without any effort and find the ruby inside it.

They send the ruby with Ismena, who Kutchek now recognizes as Kara (something to which Gore shows no surprise or reaction at all), while the twins go to fight Kadar at his castle. This proves ill-timed, however, because Kadar has now reached the Forbidden Lands with Canary in tow.

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Canary calls out to Kutchek and Gore, apparently using some sort of magic to make them hear her, and gets them to turn around and return to the Forbidden Lands. Canary then tricks Kadar into killing her for… some reason. Apparently, it’s so that the ruby will lose its magic, but also so that she can be “free” in death. Despite the fact that she just called for someone to free her in life.

BarbariansKaraIsmena returns to the Ragnicks, where the ruby starts to glow again, signifying that a new queen can be chosen from the virgin maidens. Way to be judgmental, ruby. Some women can both like getting laid and be qualified for leadership. It’s then revealed that there are only 2 virgins in the tribe, and neither one passes the ruby’s test. Weirdly, when they fail, the little person in the tribe laughs amused, despite the fact that this is dooming them. Ismena/Kara gets forced to try, despite her claims of not being a virgin, and the ruby picks her, forcing her to reveal that she’s Kara, and thus eligible. Apparently, magically passing the test isn’t enough? What the hell, Ragnicks?

The twins finally catch up to Kadar, who attacks them alone on horseback while blinding them with a reflective shield. Naturally, they break the shield with a single strike. Kadar then sheathes his weapon and turns his back on the pair, waiting for them to slay him, but when they approach, he turns around and stabs both of them with concealed blade. They then pull him down from his horse and, together, stab him to death by throwing their swords after his crossbow malfunctions.

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The brothers return to the tribe, everything is happy, yada yada yada.

END SUMMARY

BarbariansConanOkay, so, there was kind of a lack of Sword and Sorcery movies in the 1970s. If you check out the Wikipedia list, there’s only three even on there, although I’ve tried to add Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. There had been some of those movies in the 60s, but most of them were of the quality that makes for a good MST3K. Then, Clash of the Titans and Excalibur came out in 1981, Flight of Dragons, Beastmaster, and, of course, Conan the Barbarian came out in 1982, and the genre kind of exploded. Since the “barbarian” variant required a big, muscled lead, it was kind of inevitable that bodybuilders and pro-wrestlers were going to be trying out for these roles. For this one, the Barbarian Brothers were put in the lead, probably based on the assumption that people would like two better than one. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger did it, how hard could it be?

Well, three things:

1) Arnold was not just A bodybuilder, he was THE bodybuilder. Few people have ever looked the part of the over-muscled warrior as well as he did. While the Barbarian Brothers were probably actually bigger than Arnold in terms of muscle mass, they somehow look less like people whose muscles were formed from combat, and they don’t carry themselves in anyway like someone who actually used their muscles to do heavy work. Still, they did at least kind of look the part, even if they couldn’t actually play it, because:

2) Arnold had at least some acting ability, even though he still was starting out (he got better). The Barbarian Brothers… don’t. They literally don’t react correctly to any scene in the movie, which robs the film of pretty much any depth or tension. The fact that they constantly speak with heavy American accents doesn’t help, either. On the other hand, they probably couldn’t have done much with this script, which brings me to:

3) This movie is written terribly, and choreographed even worse. They gave the brothers a lot of dialogue, most of which doesn’t read naturally, and is delivered worse. At least in Conan, Conan’s character doesn’t actually speak that much, which helps with Arnold’s unpracticed delivery, and what he DOES say is usually pretty freaking awesome, because most of it is taken from other sources (Genghis Khan, Robert E. Howard, etc.).

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Game. Set. Match. Conan.

In this, the brothers often just start arbitrarily insulting each other, and… not in clever ways. It’s mostly just the same 5 lines over and over again, and it’s usually unprompted by anything in the movie. Occasionally it’s even during scenes that should be intense, but it doesn’t come across as subversive humor. Also, the plot is so random and rushed, most of the fight scenes last about 10 seconds. The were-animals and the dragon are defeated in basically one hit. The longest fight is against Kadar, and he is literally the only villain that even minorly wounds the heroes, making it seem like they’re never in any danger.

BarbariansKadar2Now, let’s address the villain, Kadar. He wants the ruby for its magic, but at no point does it ever say what he was going to do with it. Apparently, the ruby pretty much can only be used for the purpose of making people feel joy and adoration, which, I guess would be useful, but it also seems like it can’t be used unless it chooses you. Also, he spends years with Canary trying to get her to talk, but apparently China convinces her in like an hour of torture. It’s said that it’s because he’s in love, but why didn’t Canary just tell him the location without warning him of the dragon like she did with China? Also, he has a f*cking sorceress and an army. What exactly is stopping him from just conquering the other kingdoms as is? He just comes off as impotent.

But, it’s not all bad. Here are some great things that you can find in this movie. First, even though the brothers don’t act well, they’re still pretty fun to watch. They’re so stupid and muscular and unresponsive to stimulus that it’s borderline hilarious. Second, this is Eva La Rue’s first role, which, while she had a long way to go in her career before she got on CSI: Miami, her responses to the brothers’ weird antics is often enough to lampshade them appropriately. Third, and most importantly, the bear head. After they kill the were-bear, the brothers start joking around with its decapitated head and moving it around to creep out Ismena/Kara. It’s such a weirdly awkward moment, but it’s also the most genuine and believable one in the movie.

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Overall, this definitely isn’t a “must see” for most people, but if you like cheesy 80s Sword and Sorcery movies, and you’ve already watched the Ator movies, Red Sonja, and Fire and Ice, this should make its way onto your queue. However, if you just want to see the Barbarian Brothers, you should watch the vastly superior film D.C. Cab starring Adam Baldwin and Mr. T.

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

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

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Firefly Fridays – Episode 5: “Safe”

FireflyEp4OrderHey, remember all of that stuff from last week about how the episode order got screwed? Yeah, this aired the week after “Shindig,” so all that stuff applies. They did at least have the sense to air this before “Ariel” which kind of depends on events from this episode, but by airing “Bushwhacked” and “Safe” after “Jaynestown,” you kind of cut-off most of the interactions that make it so devastating, and therefore hilarious, for Simon to find out that Jayne is a folk hero. Well, whatever, children conceived during this episode will be driving soon, it’s time to get over it.

Kidding, never forget. Hold networks accountable.

SUMMARY

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So cute.

So, this episode has some flashbacks in it, this time to the history of the Tam siblings. Notably, Zac Efron plays Young Simon in his first appearance on TV. In the first flashback, we see Simon (~15 yoa) studying. At the same time, a very young River (~6 yoa, Skyler Roberge) is playing around the room, and Simon tries to direct her back to her dance practice. River naturally answers that she already learned the routine, before correcting Simon’s textbook, calling the whole conclusion “fallacious.” We then see Simon begging his father (William Converse-Roberts) for a dedicated Source Box, which is basically an interplanetary internet hook-up. His father makes it clear that, in exchange for one, Simon has to become a brilliant doctor, though he does it in a jovial way. Also, he mentions that Simon would have access to stuff from the “cortex,” which I assume is some sort of “ultraporn.” Although, given how uptight Simon is, it could very well just be women wearing hoopskirts and bloomers. Boy needs to get laid (though we know he won’t for LITERALLY YEARS).

FireflyEp5MalSimonIn the present, Simon is trying to drug River, which is proving hard without her consent. Her rampage causes Mal to ask Simon to keep her a little calmer, due to the cows being on board from the last episode. Mal is surprisingly understanding when it comes to River’s behavior, including the great line “See, morbid and creepifying, I got no problem with, long as she does it quiet-like.” However, ultimately, he tells Simon to get her under control, with an implied “or else.”

The crew unloads the cattle, and River starts to talk with them. Mal comments that, on the ship, River refused to go near the cows. River responds with:

“They weren’t cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see the sky and they remember what they are.”

To which Mal replies: “Is it bad that what she said made perfect sense to me?”

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The only good Riverdance

Mal sends the Tams away while he conducts the transfer of funds for the cattle. The pair join Inara and Kaylee at a local general store, where Kaylee’s attraction for Simon is hurt a bit by Simon’s stupid mouth-brain interactions, particularly when he calls Serenity “垃圾,” (lè sè) which basically equates to “crap” or “garbage.” She leaves, offended, while Simon loses track of River, finding her at a dance festival. At the same time, the authorities arrest the buyers of the cattle for a murder, resulting in a shoot-out that ends with Book taking a stray bullet. When I say “at the same time,” I mean that River’s dancing is intercut with the shootout, until River collapses when Book is hit.

Simon gets abducted by some locals and, when he tries to resist, knocked out, leading to the next flashback, where an adult Simon is talking with his mother (Isabella Hofmann) and father about letters he’s received from River which have a code hidden in them. His parents tell him not to worry about it, because it could jeopardize his future.

FireflyEp5AbductedBack in the present, the Tams are being forced by locals to head through the woods, while Mal, realizing that Simon has been grabbed and he doesn’t have time to find him, takes off to find a doctor for Book, ultimately agreeing to take him to an Alliance facility. Unfortunately, the Tams see the ship leave and believe they’ve been abandoned. It turns out that Simon was kidnapped so that he could be the doctor to the locals.

FireflyEp5Doralee.jpgWhile Book is revealed to have some hidden higher status to the Alliance, River and Simon are getting by, until River reveals the inner thoughts of a mute girl, leading the nurse to declare her a “witch.” Yeah, I’m not kidding, and I still think this is really f*cking stupid. THERE ARE SPACESHIPS WITH APPARENTLY NEAR-INFINITE ENERGY DENSITY IN THEIR CORES, PEOPLE. YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE AT THE POINT WHERE YOU ASSUME MAGIC IS JUST “SCIENCE.” This isn’t a planet that is unfamiliar with the fact that there are unbelievable technologies on other planets: They just watched Serenity take off. I get that this girl is kind of uber-religious and that psychic powers aren’t commonplace, but it still comes off to me as ridiculous that she doesn’t at least consider that maybe it’s just something people from other planets can do, rather than jumping to “witch.” Then again, we have flat-Earthers, so maybe people just will always be dumb.

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Required during any mention of “witches.”

There’s a brief flashback of Simon’s dad bailing him out of trouble and saying that, if Simon doesn’t drop his search for River, then he is dead to the family. This is just to hammer home that Simon’s family sucked more as time went on.

We then get the first inquisition. The next guy who claims River’s a witch makes sense, at least, since it’s apparent that he doesn’t actually think she’s a witch, he’s just worried that she’s a psychic and he’s concealed a murder. Simon steps in front of the crowd and claims that they’re just killing an innocent girl out of ignorance. They say they’re going to do it anyway, because mob. River then says “time to go,” resulting in Serenity swooping in and allowing Mal and Zoe to deliver probably my favorite exchange in the series:

MAL: Well, look at this! Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?
ZOE: Big damn heroes, sir.
MAL: Ain’t we just.

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The crew saves the Tams. Simon asks Mal why he came back, and Mal says that they’re on the crew. It’s not a choice for him. It’s an imperative. The episode ends with River stealing a roll from Jayne.

END SUMMARY

This episode really has some great moments.

FireflyEp5SimonRiverThe flashbacks with the Tams really helps the audience understand the nature of Simon and River’s relationship by showing that their parents generally treated them as tools for advancing their own social status, rather than as people. It shows us why they’re so close, why Simon doesn’t talk to his parents, and truly drives home that he threw away everything in order to get her back. At one point, River even makes this explicit, and Simon says “妹妹, (little sister) everything I have is right here.” When he’s willing to die with her at the end of the episode, it’s really a heartwarming moment… aside from being horrifying.

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Apparently a bad dad

Counterpoint, of course, is that it comes off a little… too much, at times. I get that River is unusual and the school’s prestigious, but the fact that there’s apparently no way to talk to her aside from hand-written letters in a future of instant super-luminal communication should be suspicious to anyone. Especially since, unlike the Outer Rim Planets, the Tams are a wealthy and prestigious family on a firmly Alliance planet. They have connections. The fact that Simon CAN’T get in touch with her directly should not be something immediately dismissed, even by people who don’t feel a strong familial bond with her. Of course, the first scene, where the father seems to genuinely be appreciative and warm towards his children makes the conclusion where he completely writes them both off even more extreme and almost unbelievable. Also, did they find out that Simon eventually abducted her from the facility? Do they know they’re fugitives? Did they realize they were wrong to doubt him, or do they think he’s crazy and are worried he’s kidnapped River? We never got an update since the show got cancelled, so who f*cking knows?

FireflyEp5CowsAlso, this is an episode that makes River’s abilities much more explicit, including showing her being incredibly well-read and intelligent at what can’t be more than 7 years old. One of my favorite moments is when River is swearing at the beginning of the episode, she’s clearly channeling Jayne, even using his swears and tone. Later, when she is dancing at the festival, she empathically feels Book get shot, then reads a mute girl’s mind and the town chief’s dirty secrets. Even if the characters don’t seem to firmly understand by now, the audience gets that she’s psychic. She drops a line about exactly how long it takes to exsanguinate a person, which also hints that she’s been trained in effective ways to kill someone, although it could also just be a random thing she knows. River’s moment with the cows is a great sequence because it is one of the few moments that really hammers home that she’s not quite as “crazy” as you think, sometimes she just is thinking about things on an entirely different level than the norm. Even when it’s not part of her psychic abilities.

The big damn heroes moment is so perfect that TV Tropes named the trope after it, for that moment when the hero saves the day in a moment of awesome. It’s especially impressive because in the last scene we see of Serenity before it, Jayne suggested that life would be easier without the Tams, Zoe seconded, and Mal seemed to agree. Of course, since it’s a TV Show, we know they were going to show up, but at least it does try to make it a little ambiguous.

Now, for the things that the episode didn’t quite nail: Much of it. This episode definitely has its moments, to be sure, but a lot of the episode is kind of forgettable. The dance/gunfight sequence is neat to watch, and showcases Summer Glau’s incredible dancing ability, but it’s not quite intense enough to make up for the fact that a lot of what happens after is basically re-treading some established character development or serving to build up the separation for the finale. The parts with Simon and River on the planet are not bad, but also, they’re not particularly vivid or memorable. The hill people are unsophisticated and desperate and crazy, but it still seems kind of contrived that they literally go to “burn the doctor’s sister for a witch” in like 10 minutes. Nor that they don’t reconsider killing Simon when they already established how desperately they need him just to survive. I guess it’s so we don’t feel bad when he leaves at the end? Either way, there’s a lot of gray fuzz in my memories of part of this episode, because it just isn’t as interesting. But, when the good parts of this episode are on, they’re as good as anything else in the series.

Score: 3.5 Fireflies (or 1 Black-Market Beagle)

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See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 4: Shindig

NEXT – 6: Our Mrs. Reynolds

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

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

Batman Ninja: When Crazy Meets Brilliant (Spoiler-Free)

Since this movie just came out, I’m going to do something I usually don’t do, and I’m going to provide a brief spoiler-free review of this movie before the actual review below.

SpoilerFree

Regular readers of this blog will remember one of my general rules for movies: A movie can do anything, as long as it is consistent in the amount of disbelief it asks the audience to suspend. This movie follows that principle by telling the audience right from the beginning that this movie is going to be insane, and you just need to strap in, hang on, and love it more than your pets or children.

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Afro Samurai

Everything about this movie is borderline insane, from the premise and the plot to the dialogue and the characters. It operates on a logic that is basically akin to a Muppet movie, and that is in no way an insult. It tells you right from the start that this movie is going to be different from any Batman film you’ve ever seen, and it delivers on that promise. The character designs are amazing, as expected from Takashi Okazaki, the creator of Afro Samurai. Each Batman villain and sidekick gets a Japanese re-design, each of which is an homage to an anime trope or Japanese stock character. My favorite small element is that Harley Quinn’s giant hammer now is decorated to be a Den-den Daiko drum (just look at the picture). It’s a detail that I really love. Even better, each character gets an over-the-top intro screen like a video game cut-scene.  Batman himself gets, I think, 4, and if you are a Batman fan, you will be cheering loudly at each of them, for they are all magical.

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A Den-Den Daiko Drum

The art style is one of the most interesting things in the movie, because it varies wildly. Sometimes it’s done more in the traditional comic-book style, sometimes in a more manga style, and at one point it flat out becomes a series of Ukiyo-e drawings (including famous ones like the Great Wave Off Kanagawa, seen below). The movie itself is basically a three-penny tour of Japanese art styles and motifs, which is probably exactly what it wanted to be, since this movie is a great opportunity to pull in some of the people who are only comfortable with Western art.

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Batman himself is pretty interesting within the movie. I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that the movie starts with him basically attempting to defy space-time being  warped around him through sheer force of will. This both serves to confirm that yes, this is Batman, and yes, his will is indomitable. Then, when brought back to Feudal Japan, he’s immediately confronted with the harsh reality that he can’t really be “Batman” here, hilariously exemplified by him attempting to grapple to a skyscraper only to be confronted with the fact that Sengoku-era Japan didn’t have skyscrapers. The movie is about Batman trying to play by his usual rules in this new world and failing repeatedly, until he learns to play by the new rules.

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The fight sequences are great, as are the action sequences, and all of them are really unique, though they’re all tributes to other series and Japanese motifs.

Oh yeah, one other big thing for this movie: It is not slow. At all. If this were collected as an actual comic book, it would be years’ worth of plot progression. If you’re a Batman fan, I’d compare it to the “No Man’s Land” arc, which lasted 80 freaking issues. Despite this, the movie also never feels rushed. It finishes in 80 minutes, and you’re really seeing a ton of stuff. Maybe not all of it is fully clarified, but, again, the movie told you 3 minutes in that you’re watching a movie with Batman fighting samurai after being transported to the past along with Arkham Asylum. Just watch and love it.

Also, it’s great in either English (Tony Hale plays the Joker!) or in Japanese (Koichi Yamadera, who voiced Spike in Cowboy Bebop, plays Batman!), so take your pick. Actually, I recommend watching both, because the English script is not really a translation of the Japanese, so it appears to be two different movies.

That’s all I can say without spoilers, so go see the damned movie (you can buy it on Amazon for $20 bucks right now), then read below.

Continue reading Batman Ninja: When Crazy Meets Brilliant (Spoiler-Free)

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight – When Good Adaptations Go Bad

By the Grouch on the Couch

BatmanGothamFilmCoverGotham By Gaslight is a famous Elseworlds (alternate universe) Batman comic which takes place in a version of Victorian London that just happens to be called Gotham City. In fact, it’s the first “Elseworlds” comic and is still considered one of the best ones. Think about all of the fictional depictions of nights in London at that time, and that’s how this version of Gotham is depicted. Heavy fog. Dark alleys. Dark, ornate clothing. Serial killers, muggers, and some real-life supervillain-esque crimebosses. In other words, it’s the absolute perfect time for a Batman story to take place. It’s such a fitting setting that when someone suggested adapting it into a videogame a few years back, I thought it would be a perfect follow-up Batman game to the Arkham series. But, alas, some things are not to be.

SUMMARY:

batmanbenjaminharrison.jpgIt’s Gotham City. The year is… sometime in the Victorian Era, but we’re still in America, so let’s say it’s between Grover Cleveland’s administrations. You might ask why I didn’t say Benjamin Harrison’s time in office, but I think more of you probably would ask “Who the f*ck is Benjamin Harrison?” It’s that guy. —–>

BatmanGothamPoisonIvyThere’s a serial killer stalking prostitutes in the night around the city. One might say he’s a ripper of women. Perhaps something less than a King Ripper. Yes, it’s Jack the Ripper. Yes, it’s actually Jack the f*cking Ripper, in America, in a setting with Batman. If you’re thinking “okay, that actually sounds kind of awesome,” go read the comic and don’t see this movie, because you will be disappointed. We start the movie off by having Jack kill Poison Ivy, who is apparently a prostitute and an exotic dancer in this universe, and has no other connection to her comic counterpart than a name and red hair.

Image result for gotham by gaslight filmIn this universe, Batman is basically an urban legend at this point, but rumors about him scare everyone, since there aren’t any other vigilantes at this point. At the beginning, Batman stops three orphans from robbing a wealthy couple, and you learn that this is clearly an “adult” cartoon because one of the kids says “shit.” Batman then beats the crap out of the orphans’ boss, and sends them to an orphanage, because Victorian Batman ain’t got time for “wards.” Despite this, it’s obvious that the three orphans are this universe’s version of the first three Robins.

Image result for gotham by gaslight filmWe get a weird expository sequence about the city, just to make sure that the audience sees all of the guns in Chekhov’s collection. There’s a bat-signal projector, and Hugo Strange is there, and there’s a world’s fair. We’re introduced to Sister Leslie, a nun that takes care of orphans around the city as well as young ladies who may or may not be prostitutes (they are), as well as Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Bullock who apparently haven’t been successful in catching Saucy Jack.

Image result for gotham by gaslight filmCut to night, and we follow a young woman through alleys as she’s being pursued by both Jack the Ripper and Batman. Batman apparently decides to wait until Jack gets inside of a literal slaughterhouse before taking him down, despite seeing him from the rooftops. The woman reveals herself to be skilled in self-defense, and also to be this world’s Selina Kyle, evident from her use of a whip and from a cat being in the shot with her. While she holds her own at the beginning, she eventually loses. As she’s about to be overpowered and die, Batman finally decides to intervene. Jack escapes after beating both of them.

Image result for gotham by gaslight filmSelina yells at Batman for interfering, despite the fact that she was clearly dying. We then see Commissioner Gordon dream of the Ripper killing his wife, only to have him wake up and lovingly console his wife in the middle of the night. Batman then appears to talk with Gordon, and ask for his assistance in taking down the Ripper. Gordon agrees to help him.

We’re then shown a cabaret sequence that lasts 60 seconds but feels like it lasts 30 minutes. It’s awkward and pointless and serves only to show what Selina does in her public life. Also, she’s apparently having an affair with Harvey Dent, whose “two-face” persona manifests as him being an adulterer and a drunk with a mean temper.

Image result for gotham by gaslight filmThat night, Sister Leslie is killed by Jack, and Bruce Wayne (if you don’t know this is Batman, I would like to speak with you about your homeland), who is at the scene, gets blamed by a homeless woman. He finds a bloody pin from a gentlemen’s club, telling him that Jack is a rich man. At Leslie’s funeral, Hugo Strange, the local asylum administrator, asks Bruce to send him the Batman. The three orphans try to rob Alfred, who puts them into his employ. Apparently, sending them to the orphanage worked out great, 19th century guy who could have easily given them a home.

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A Saucy Alibi

Later, Batman sees Jack kill Hugo Strange. Batman gives chase, but after a dramatic fight on a zeppelin, Jack escapes. Batman is pursued by the police, despite it being clear that he and the Ripper are different people, and Bruce hides with Selina Kyle, who he spends the night with. The homeless woman who accused Bruce is found dead, leading to his arrest.  The next scene has Harvey Dent prosecuting Bruce at his bail hearing while angry over Bruce sleeping with Selina. Weirdly, one piece of evidence that’s used against Bruce is the pin which Bruce himself had found at the crime scene… which Harvey should never have known about. Oh, and literally no other evidence aside from a dead homeless woman for whose murder Bruce has an alibi.

After Selina says she’s going to tell the Commissioner that Bruce is Batman to clear his name, Bruce escapes from Prison and picks up a steampunk motorcycle, because at least something in this movie should look kinda cool. Batman goes to Gordon’s house looking for Selina, and finds photos of Gordon as a surgeon during the Civil War, as well as a number of tools and organs in jars, indicating that Gordon himself is the Ripper (more on that in a second). Gordon’s wife tries to stop Batman, believing that Gordon is doing “Holy Work,” and showing Batman that Gordon burns her face with acid to “purify” her.

Image result for gotham by gaslight film
The mask is… unexplained

Selina tells Gordon about Bruce’s secret, and Gordon reveals himself as the Ripper, attacking her. He injects her with a “7 per cent” solution, but she manages to escape and create a bat signal from the electric spotlight we were shown at the beginning. Gordon starts to monologue about how he’s killing not just whores, but also the poor, the illiterate, immigrants, anarchists, and pretty much everything else on the “what can I say to make myself seem like an asshole” list. It’s also revealed that Gordon is right handed, but Jack is a southpaw, because the nuns made him use his right hand. Yeah, that’s why he does this, because he was forced to use the wrong hand. I’m not a neurologist, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make you a serial killer. Also, he apparently decided that humanity sucked because of the civil war, which, I’ll grant you, isn’t the worst motivation, but he apparently just hates anyone who isn’t a white male (despite that being most of the people fighting in the Civil War).

Batman and Gordon fight atop a Ferris wheel, because Gotham is hosting the 1889 World’s Fair instead of Chicago, I guess. After the wheel catches on fire and Batman wins the fight, Gordon sets himself on fire and dies. Batman saves Selina with the help of Alfred and the orphans, and the World’s Fair burns down, but the movie ends with the orphans asserting that they’ll make something better.

END SUMMARY

So, this movie doesn’t exactly follow the comic. That wouldn’t be so bad, since adaptations need to be, you know, ADAPTED, except that the omissions and alterations both destroy some of the beauty of the setting and aspects of the Batman mythos itself. The former is more important, honestly, because the latter could have been used well to add levels of surprise to the movie if any of it felt real.

BatmanGothamComicCoverThe art style is great, but it’s wrong. This is a movie taking place in what is supposed to basically be Victorian London. Look at the cover for this comic. See how shadowy and dirty everything looks? Yeah, the movie doesn’t look like that. That isn’t to say the layout and character designs are bad, they’re actually pretty good, they’re just wrong for the setting of this film. And the city is too clean. In the day sequences, everything looks like a gleaming city of marble, which is cleaner and nicer than Gotham City looks even in the 1990s depictions, let alone when it’s supposed to be a substitute for Industrial Age London.

Because of the cleanliness of the art style, Batman’s design somehow is both taken from the comic and still sucks. He looks like he’s cosplaying steampunk Batman, rather than, you know, BEING steampunk Batman. The problem is he doesn’t look like he’s wearing time-period appropriate material, it looks like he’s wearing the same stuff he wears in Batman: The Animated Series, but with a different cut. The comic was drawn by Mike Mignola, the guy who did Hellboy, and that really worked better than this.

BatmanGothamByGaslightComic.jpg

Having Batman meet up with Jack so many times also really reduces Batman’s credibility, rather than boosting the effectiveness of Jack the Ripper as a villain. Jack is, presumably, a normal human with a knife, and yet Batman basically loses three fights with him before the end of the movie. Nothing Jack does really suggests that he should be skillful enough to do this, since Selina almost defeats him at one point. When it’s revealed to be Gordon, they attribute it to him being a boxer, which… doesn’t really explain how he’s good at wielding a knife in combat, or why he’s able to run long distances easily, or disappear like Batman when no one’s looking. Which brings us to the part of the movie I hated the most.

Gordon is the Ripper. Now, this could have been a great twist, especially for fans of the comic who weren’t expecting it. Instead, my first reaction was “bullshit.” My second reaction was “Bull. Shit.” My third through fifth reactions were similar. It just doesn’t make any sense within what we’re shown in the movie.

First, they deliberately give Gordon 0 traits to indicate that he’s the Ripper. They even show that the Ripper is left-handed, while Gordon is not. This serves less to throw the viewer off of the trail, and more to emphasize what an ass-pull this ending was. We’re shown his wife several times, but she doesn’t display any of her crazy until the end, even though no one is around except the audience. Gordon dreams of the Ripper killing his wife, but seems to wake up genuinely concerned about the dream… which makes no sense with the reveal. And Batman never seems to suspect him, despite him being BATMAN. The world’s greatest detective didn’t do any background research on the highest-ranking local police authority?

BatmanGothamGordonTea
A murderous psychotic criminal mastermind, unaware he’s being watched, acting normal

Second, it seems almost physically impossible that Gordon did this, given that, immediately after one murder, we’re shown that Gordon has been asleep and dreaming while Batman made the way to his house. At another point, he apparently fights Batman, murders a prostitute, then appears as himself in a matter of minutes.

Third, killing Hugo Strange made no sense. Gordon clearly didn’t think Strange actually knew his identity, didn’t know Batman’s identity, and Strange isn’t any part of the groups Gordon claims to be “punishing” at the end. Strange is a rich white male, the ONLY group Gordon isn’t attacking, so… why? I mean, Gordon’s weird rant where he basically says that he’s killing everyone except for WASPs is already kind of reducing any interesting aspects of the character by replacing a hatred for women with a hatred for “them.” He’s no longer an interesting psychopath, just an agent of blind rage.

Last, this means that Jack the Ripper literally never was in England. He’s only in America in this universe, which kind of defeats the point of having Batman face a historical serial killer, when you remove one of the most famously concrete facts about an unknown figure.

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Batman: Devil in Gotham City. There, a title.

Also, small note, if you’re going to set a Batman story at the 1889 World’s fair, why wouldn’t you change his enemy to H.H. Holmes? You know, the serial killer who BUILT A REAL-LIFE MURDER PALACE? A murder palace with gas chambers, moving hallways, trap doors, fake rooms, etc., all of which seem to be out of a comic book? How is that not your first f*cking thought there? I WILL WRITE IT FOR YOU IN 10 DAYS, DC.

Most of the time-period references also suck, btw. There are 3 references to Sherlock Holmes, including Bruce calling him “one of [his] mentors.” There’s a reference to Houdini, a reference to the Ferris wheel, and a reference to… shit, I think that’s actually it. Also, if Sherlock Holmes is real in this world, he clearly didn’t teach Batman most of the “good” detecting. Or how to fight. Selina is a proto-feminist, which, while nothing she says is inaccurate, comes off awkward since she’s supposed to be playing a con-woman who ingratiates herself with men while investigating. She even is shown dressing like a man to get into a men’s club, but she provokes fights over gender inequality. I’m fine with her being a feminist, but the context in which she does it is counterproductive to her current mission. Which is especially dumb because there are multiple contexts where it would absolutely have made sense.

BatmanGothamRottenTomatoesApparently, however, I’m alone in thinking this movie was a waste of potential. Critics and audiences seem to be loving this movie. It’s at like 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. But, not this Batman fan. It’s not just because I love the comic, it’s because it just felt wrong the whole time. I didn’t want them to adapt the comic word for word, I just wanted it to feel like it was in the same world. The twist didn’t feel clever, it felt like someone just said “Crap, we’ve only introduced like 7 characters,” and had to pick one. I am glad that it wasn’t the Joker, because that would have been a cheaper cop-out, but it still felt hollow. Even all the violence to justify the “R” rating felt gratuitous, although, admittedly, it made some of the sequences a lot more intense than the average animated movie.

Mediocre plot, good but ill-suited animation style, references seem thrown in awkwardly, and an ending that just made me feel cheated. Please, DC, give this another shot.

Joker’s Rebuttal:

Art complaints and plotting issues aside,

  • This movie managed to not try to inundate the audience by throwing in a thousand Batman references just for the sake of having them there. That’s a huge temptation in doing alternate adaptations of properties, so I’m pretty happy about that decision. Because of this, the story feels mostly self-contained. You could know nothing about Batman, really, and you’d be able to watch this movie.
  • The voice acting is perfect. Batman is voiced by Bruce Greenwood, who played Batman in Under the Red Hood. Alfred is voiced by Anthony Stewart Head from Buffy and Repo!, which is just f*cking perfect. Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter voices Selina. Scott Peterson (Luke from Gilmore Girls) voices Gordon. These are all really great casting choices, and they come off that way.
  • At least they were trying to alter the plot of the movie, rather than making it completely uninteresting for people who are fans of the comic. When they adapted The Killing Joke, they managed to both change it too much to the point where it defeated the merit of the movie, then kept other parts too strictly in line with the comic which made those parts less interesting to everyone who had already read the book. Granted, Gotham by Gaslight is a lot less famous than The Killing Joke, so there would have been fewer people upset about sticking with the comic, but still, at least they were trying to be original.

Ultimately, if you’re a Batman fan, you can probably enjoy this, even if you don’t love it.

Joker out.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews. If you want to check out more by the Grouch, wait two weeks or so.

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.

Firefly Fridays Episode 4: “Shindig”

FireflyEp4Order.jpgOkay, we’re now truly into the f*ckery that was 2002 Fox Network. So, after skipping “Serenity” and airing “The Train Job” and “Bushwhacked,” Fox then aired “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” interrupted the broadcast the next week for Baseball, aired “Jaynestown” and “Out of Gas,” then finally aired this episode. Now, some people would say that nothing in this episode really impacts the three that aired before it, and that’s true, but this episode leads directly into the next episode “Safe,” and that episode has several character developments that build into the three episodes that now had aired already. In short, sh*t be whack.

Well, whatever, that’s over and done with, so let’s review the episode.

SUMMARY:

FireflyEp4Pool

The episode starts with Mal and Jayne playing holographic pool with some men at a bar. Inara is watching, amused, until Mal reveals that he’s picked one of their pockets due to their occupation as slave traders. Unfortunately, he’s caught and a bar brawl ensues.

Back on the ship, the crew prepares to return to Persephone, the planet on which they originally picked up Book and the Tams. On the way down, Inara arranges to spend a few days with a regular client, Atherton Wing (Edward Atterton), which irks a jealous Mal. Still fuming over Inara, Mal insults Kaylee’s femininity. The entire crew, aside from Jayne, leave Mal to his own devices, which results in Mal and Jayne being abducted by Badger (Mark Sheppard), the gangster from “Serenity.” Badger has a deal in place with a man named Warwick Harrow (Larry Drake), but Harrow refuses to deal directly with Badger. So, Badger hires Mal to act as the go-between at the same party that Inara and Wing are attending.

FireflyEp4Badger
If you think I’m not posting an image of Mark Sheppard, you are wrong.

As a sort of apology to Kaylee, Mal buys her the fancy dress she wanted and brings her as his date to the party. Meanwhile, Wing offers to make Inara his “personal companion,” which would take her off of the ship.

fireflyep4washzoe.jpgBack on Serenity, Book, Jayne and Simon play cards, wagering chores they have to do. River wanders around, but then tears the labels off of several cans while saying that “they’re always reaching out.” It’s revealed, though not commented upon, that the containers she destroys all bear the “Blue Sun Corporation” logo. Wash and Zoe are seen in bed, happy. As this is a Joss Whedon property, you can rest assured that they’ll both be together forever.

FireflyEp4Dance.jpgAt the party, Kaylee is insulted by the local elite girls, until she is saved by a group of older gentlemen who admire her technical knowledge. Mal makes contact with Harrow and proposes Badger’s deal, but before he gets an answer, he is interrupted by Inara and Wing. Mal and Inara dance, angering Wing, who pulls them apart. Wing states that she is his property for the night, and almost calls her a whore, before Mal cuts him off by punching him. Wing says he accepts. Mal, confused, is told that his punch constitutes challenging Wing to a duel in the morning. Mal offers to shoot him now, but is told that he’ll be using a sword.

Harrow offers to be Mal’s second on the grounds that he liked watching Mal punch Wing. However, Wing is an expert swordsman who has apparently killed a dozen men in duels before now. Mal tries to practice with Inara’s help, but, unfortunately, he sucks at it.

Badger is sent to Serenity to keep the crew from mounting a rescue. The team tries to figure out a way off of the ship and suggests a diversion. River emerges from the back of the ship and, adopting a surprisingly good accent, pretends to be from Badger’s home world. She mocks him and his aspirations, as well as his false image, calling him “sad little king of a sad little hill.” She then leaves, letting Jayne say that her performance was “exactly the kind of diversion [they] could have used.”

FireflyEp4River

The morning arrives, and Wing toys with Mal during the duel, to the point of setting up ridiculous feints and jests. To every observer, Mal is outclassed. However, Wing breaks Mal’s sword and gets distracted by Inara, leading Mal to punch him with the handle, pick up Wing’s blade and put it to Wing’s throat. The observers insist that Mal kill him, but Mal refuses, saying “Mercy is the mark of a great man.” He then changes this to “good man” and then “alright” after poking Wing in the stomach a few more times.

Wing threatens Inara, but she counters that, as a companion, she actually has more power than he does, and says that he’ll never be able to use her service again. Harrow, impressed with Mal, agrees to contract with him. Mal and Inara talk about the events while Kaylee looks over her nice dress. The episode ends with a shot of the cargo: A herd of cattle.

FireflyEp4Cows

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, this episode appears to have very little in terms of scenes added or subtracted to compensate for the re-ordering, although, that’s probably because this episode was actually re-ordered LATER in the show. So, mercifully, I’m gonna leave that out of this review.

Whedon likes dichotomies, and this episode is no exception, with two pretty big ones.

FireflyEp4JewelStaite
Jewel Staite. ‘Nuff Said

The first is Character vs. Class. Mal pretty much summarizes this at one point in the episode: “My work’s illegal, but at least it’s honest.” Mal is saying that, while he is a thief, he makes no apologies for being a thief, nor does he pretend to be anything else. Meanwhile, everyone at the party is basically portrayed as being two-faced. Atherton is a powerful, rich, and respected man, but he’s killed 6 people for what is implied to be no good reason and at one point says that he should have “uglied [Inara] up so much no one else’d want [her].” He’s literally a murdering misogynist, and yet, the society considers him to be upper class. Harrow is a Lord, and proud of it, but he also is implied to be engaged in at least gray-market smuggling. The women who put Kaylee down are implied to be completely worthless aside from having money… and, also, they are nowhere near as attractive as her, but that’s another discussion. And, though he himself isn’t an aristocrat, River calls Badger out for trying simultaneously to lie about being an honest businessman, while also lying about how tough of a gangster he is. He’s just a “sad little king of a sad little hill.”

FireflyEp4Badger2.jpg

Interestingly, Mal calls Kaylee out for wanting to wear a dress that’s completely impractical for her work, basically reproaching her for wanting to be part of the lie, but this is kind of a contrast for his other assertions, because he ends up regretting it. And that’s because, while it is a lie, it’s also Kaylee’s dream, and it’s not right for Mal to kill that.

Aside from the party, the duel itself is pretty much the penultimate representation of the “lie of it all.” When Atherton challenges him to a duel (or accepts Mal’s unintended challenge, rather), Mal is not averse to fighting him to the death. Mal immediately says that they can shoot each other right now. However, he learns that there is intense ceremony behind the duels which serve the purpose to blur the reality that Mal perceives: This society has decided it’s okay for people to kill each other over mean words.

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If only there was a metaphor for two competing ideologies…

Now, Mal doesn’t generally seem to agree with this notion, since he routinely refuses to kill people who malign him, but he is okay with the idea of dying for a principle he believes in. Still, this is an odd moment for him, because he’s prepared to risk his life, but he’s being told that he cannot do it in a way which he considers appropriate. Then, ultimately, he refuses to kill Wing, despite all that he’s done and despite the “rules” of the society, because Mal doesn’t believe it’s right. So, ultimately, who has more class: The aristocrats who favor petty murder, or the thief who only favors killing and dying when it is on a firm principle?

FireflyEp4MalMalcolm Reynolds. The answer is Malcolm Reynolds.

The other big theme in the episode is related, but, honestly, it feels a little more shoehorned in. This theme comes up in several episodes, this isn’t the best one focused on it, and it has a little more of a “straw man” representation within the episode, possibly just so that Whedon could make sure that people weren’t considering Mal to be part of a “future Confederacy.” It’s the theme of recognizing the function vs. the person, which here is represented by “slavery.”

The episode begins with Mal pickpocketing some men after finding out that they’re slavers. While Mal is a thief, this usually isn’t his preferred method within the series, which kind of makes it stand out. Basically, Mal’s general level of gentleman theft stops applying when he finds out that these people are slavers… but, apparently, he isn’t planning on doing anything further against them. So, he hates slavery, but only enough to steal someone’s wallet. Still, it’s part of the theme that he doesn’t support removing someone’s humanity by treating them as an object.

Later, the focus of Mal’s hatred towards Wing’s treatment of Inara is that Wing starts to call her a “whore” when Mal punches him. Mal then calls Inara’s school “whore academy,” leading to this exchange:

INARA

You have a strange sense of nobility Captain. You’ll lay a man out for calling me a whore, and yet you keep calling me one to my face.

MAL

I might not show respect to your job, but he didn’t respect you. That’s the difference. Inara, he doesn’t even see you.

FireflyEp4MalInara
Head Canon accepted. Always.

And this may seem like an arbitrary distinction, but it isn’t. Wing wants to buy Inara. He wants to make her part of his personal collection, because of her beauty and the prestige surrounding having a companion. Mal, who loves Inara, doesn’t objectify her, but appreciates her for the person that she is. He doesn’t try to control her, except in his capacity as captain.

Now, Mal also doesn’t like prostitution, but, I don’t think we ever really get a definitive statement as to why. Even in “Heart of Gold,” when they’re at a brothel, Mal doesn’t seem to really have an objection to prostitution. When asked about getting “serviced,” the conversation implies that it’s not that Mal doesn’t want to get laid, it’s that he’s a person who likes to save it for people he has feelings for, and he feels for Inara. That doesn’t explain why he seems averse to it when he first meets her, but maybe it was because of the tendency for prostitutes to be treated as less than human, even if he fights against that. Or maybe he really just is that kind of “old-fashioned.”

Ultimately, I have a few problems with this episode, too. Like I said, one of the themes seems kinda forced, even if it’s recurring. The dialogue is good, but it’s not quite as snappy as it is in other episodes. River’s scene with Badger is one of my favorites in the series, but it’s only like 40 seconds and, since the team doesn’t capitalize on it, it’s mostly pointless except to let us know that River can pretend to be other people (something that’s ancillary to the whole “psychic super-genius” thing). The duel is kind of a dumb plot device to rest on, especially given that Mal, as Inara points out, doesn’t have a problem running from a fight he’s sure to lose. Also, when Wing is toying with Mal, it really goes too far. Most of the characters in this episode, especially Wing, are a little too one-dimensional, also. Overall, I like it about the same as “Bushwhacked,” but it’s a little bit more entertaining.

Score: 2.6 Fireflies (or 1 Punch to Atherton’s Face)

FireflyEp4Scale

See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 3: Bushwhacked

NEXT – 5: Safe

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

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

Author Bonus: Heaven Sent (Doctor Who)

This is an author add-on, but I don’t feel like figuring out what number it would be. When I saw this episode, I knew I loved it, but it took me re-watching it to realize something important about it. I’ll get into that in a minute.

Quick Recap of the show:

The premise of the show is that there is a being called the Doctor that travels through time and space with various companions to fight evil. He’s an alien from a race called the Time Lords who lives and journeys in a 60s British Police Box called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). Sometimes he fights aliens, sometimes he eats hot dogs, sometimes he meets famous historical figures. Honestly, he just kind of travels, but the TARDIS tends to take him where he needs to be. Sometimes he changes history, sometimes he can’t, depending on the writing. At the time of this episode, there had been 12 doctors, and the current one was played by Peter Capaldi. His companion at the time was a woman named Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), who had been killed moments before this episode started, and he was forcibly teleported away.

DoctorWhoPeterCapaldi.jpeg
Yes, he plays the guitar.

SUMMARY

The episode begins with a wounded figure walking through a castle, as the Doctor’s voice-over talks about the fact that Death is always following. You run, it walks, but it’s always coming. Then, one day you sit still too long, and it catches you. The unidentified figure flips a switch, writes the word “Bird” in the dirt, expires, and disintegrates into a skull just as the Doctor is teleported into the same room.

The Doctor speaks, assuming that whoever brought him here can hear him, telling them that they should be very afraid right now, if they had any part in Clara’s death, and that he will never stop coming for them.

DoctorWhoCapaldiEntry.jpg

The Doctor finds himself inside of a castle in the middle of an ocean which constantly reforms and shifts around him. He determines from the teleporter that he can only be within 1 light-year of the Earth, so he knows that, when the sun sets, he can use the stars to tell his location. However, he also finds out that he is not alone. There is a monstrous figure of a veiled old woman, covered in flies, which slowly comes after him. The Doctor quickly realizes that the figure is from his childhood, from a funeral of an old woman he knew, where the heat was so great that the flies attacked her veiled corpse. Someone is using his oldest fear against him.

DoctorWhoVeil

Trapped at the end of the hallway, the Doctor confesses that he is afraid to die, which causes the Veil to stop, allowing the Doctor to escape. He realizes that the figure will stop when he confesses a deep truth. It’s not trying to kill him, it’s interrogating him. The Veil shortly catches up to him again, but he escapes by jumping out of a window.

DoctorWhoTardisThen, the scene shifts to the Doctor inside of the TARDIS, talking to himself. It turns out that, due to the extremely advanced nature of his brain, whenever he has to make a quick decision, he goes into a mental version of the TARDIS where he can make calculations about the situation that would take hours outside in the span of seconds. Calculating the time of impact to the water, the Doctor avoids breaking his neck and the shock.

DoctorWhoSkulls.jpg

As he awakens under the water, he sees that the ocean is filled with skulls. Mountains of skulls. He makes his way back to shore and begins investigating the castle. For days, the Doctor explores the castle, avoiding the Veil. He discovers a message to him: “I AM IN 12.” The Doctor escapes the Veil again by confessing another fact: He ran away when he was younger because he was scared. He realizes that the Veil walks so slowly that, if he lures the Veil to one end of the castle, then runs to the other, he has 82 minutes before it catches up.

DoctorWhoDocVeil.png

After more time passes while he works to find room 12 in 82 minute increments, the Doctor returns to the starting room, and sees the word “Bird” written in the dirt, as well as the skull of the figure from the beginning. A passage opens, leading upward. The Doctor stands on the roof of the castle, looking at the stars, and observes that, by their movement, he has traveled 7,000 years into the future. He then accidentally knocks the skull into the water, when avoiding the Veil again. The Doctor confesses one more fact to the Veil: He knows the identity of the greatest fear of the Time Lords – “The Hybrid.” He doesn’t disclose who the Hybrid is, however.

DoctorWhoAzbantium

This confession finally reconfigures the castle so that the Doctor can access Room 12, where he finds the TARDIS behind a wall of crystal. This crystal is Azbantium, a substance 400 times harder than Diamond, and the wall is 20 feet thick. Then, the Doctor thinks back to the word “Bird” and finally remembers everything. More on that in a second.

The Doctor realizes that “Bird” is a reference to the fable “The Shepherd’s Boy” by the Brothers Grimm. And this breaks him, causing him to beg to be allowed to lose. To quit. Not to be the hero this time. However, a memory of Clara makes him press on.

DoctorWhoVeilKills.png

So, with the veil approaching him, the Doctor starts punching the wall until the Veil catches him, and mortally wounds him. Dying, the Doctor crawls back up the stairs to the teleporter room, and uses the re-setting of the room to create another version of himself as he expires. The new Doctor then begins to recite the speech from the beginning of the episode.

doctorwhocapaldidying-e1521148401528.jpgWhat follows is a montage of doctors re-living the same sequence we just watched, over, and over, and over again. For FOUR AND A HALF BILLION YEARS, as he slowly punches through the wall, a punch or 3 each lifetime. Then, he is mortally wounded again, and has to agonizingly limp back to start the whole cycle over with his last breath. However, we watch as the Doctor slowly tells the Veil the story of the “Shepherd’s Boy,” in one of my favorite sequences in the show’s history.

“There’s this emperor and he asks this shepherd’s boy, “How many seconds in eternity?” And the shepherd’s boy says, “There’s this mountain of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it and an hour to go around it! Every hundred years, a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain. And when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed! You must think that’s a hell of a long time. Personally, I think that’s a hell of a bird.”

The Doctor finally breaks through the wall and escapes, revealing that he’s been inside of his confession dial, basically a Time Lord will and testament, the entire time. And he sees that he’s on Gallifrey, and that his own people, the Time Lords, were the ones that put him there. He tells a small boy “Tell them I’m back. Tell them I know what they did, and I’m on my way. And if they ask you who I am, tell them I came the long way around.”

END SUMMARY

DoctorWhoCapaldiEating
This scene of eating soup is amazing. Really.

Okay, so, this paragraph will probably kill me: Peter Capaldi is the best actor to portray the Doctor thus far. I’m sorry, but I genuinely believe that. I love David Tennant, and I think he is the best Doctor, and he is definitely My Doctor, but Tennant is behind Capaldi in terms of actual acting ability. This episode proved it. Capaldi explores every aspect of the Doctor in this episode, and he does it with such a level of subtlety and skill that he manages to get you to forget how relatively little actually happens in this episode. Tennant may have loved the role enough to bring it life that no other Doctor has (sorry Pertwee, Eccleston, Smith, and the Bakers), but dammit, this episode is up there with Martin Sheen in The West Wing or Elisabeth Moss in the Handmaid’s Tale. This is the sh*t people get awards for, and it’s an episode of DOCTOR WHO, a usually lighthearted sci-fi show. It’s the same reason why I love Captain Picard the most, because Patrick Stewart could bring you in with his performances when he was the focus. Capaldi just… f*cking nailed it.

The Groundhog Day-esque loops at the end are amazing, and it really does serve to show exactly how slow the Doctor’s progress is as he punches his way to freedom. Watching him die over and over again really makes us feel uncomfortable, because this is our protagonist undergoing agony dozens of times before our eyes, and billions more offscreen.

DoctorWhoCapaldiQuits

Also, the final remembrance. That’s the part that I think sets this episode apart. See, he’s not just realizing what “Bird” means, he’s remembering all of the times he’s done this before. He’s realizing that he’s suffered this sequence thousands of times, and that he’s going to have to do it billions of times to get free. He wants to quit. He wants to give up. This is a torment that no mind should be able to bear, being chased, tortured, and killed for basically as long as the Earth has existed, but he just quickly resolves that he’ll do it, he’ll bear it, he’ll persevere and he’ll triumph, because that’s what he has to do. He even realizes that he could be free in an instant just by confessing who the Hybrid is: But he refuses to do it, because it’s an important secret that should be kept (it’s later revealed to be a friend of his). He’s willing to undergo hell to protect that secret. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield, as a better author said.

This episode is one of the best hours of Doctor Who, and it is just watching the Doctor through triumph, agony, failure, regret, and overcoming the odds, all in short order. It explores levels of the character that we rarely touch upon, and it rests largely upon Capaldi’s performance combined with some excellent writing and cinematography. Truly, this was wonderful.

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

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Marianna Palka’s Bitch: Great Premise, Okay Follow-Through

Okay, so, this movie was on Netflix, and the description was “The Patriarchy has driven her to the edge. Must she become a raging, snarling, barking beast to finally be heard?” Cards on the table, from that description, I thought this might be like Ginger Snaps. If you haven’t seen that movie, it’s much better than this one, in almost every way. But, while that is a movie that cleverly uses Lycanthropy to address puberty, this film went a very, very different way.

SUMMARY

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It looks like a leash and collar. Get it?

The movie starts with Jill Hart (Writer/Director Marianna Palka), trying to hang herself with her husband’s belt. However, after seeing a dog in her yard staring at her, she relents. As Jill goes about her day, we’re shown that she is the wife to a cheating, selfish husband and the mother to… well, not the worst kids, honestly. I mean, they take her for granted, but… they’re kids. They’re better behaved than many sitcom kids, even. I guess because there are four of them, they’re inherently a ton of stress? Sure, let’s go with that.

However, after her husband, Bill (Jason Ritter), keeps lying to her and not listening to her (especially about the dog), he wakes up to find that she isn’t in the house. After having to spend the day taking care of his kids, which he is objectively terrible at, while also trying to deal with his company failing (and his side-piece getting fired), Bill, along with Jill’s sister, Beth (Jaime King), start to worry about Jill’s whereabouts. When Bill and Beth come home, the kids inform him that they have found their mother. She’s in the basement, but she is acting like a wild dog. Growling, barking, scratching, pooping, the works. Weirdly, the kids seem amused by this, even the older ones, rather than, you know, FREAKED THE HELL OUT.

BitchJillDog

The family brings in doctors to see Jill, but they’re mostly stumped as to what is happening. The doctors suggest that, since this is a serious mental break, Jill needs inpatient treatment for her own safety. Bill, because he is a dick, blames Jill for trying to ruin his life, and tells the doctors to leave.

BitchBethBill
Yes, Beth, he made this about him.

Bill and the kids try to get by without her, to the tune of a weird Leave It to Beaver-esque soundtrack. The kids still don’t seem too concerned about their mother’s welfare, and Bill tries to just move on with his life, drugging his wife’s meals to keep her quiet. Only Beth actually seems to realize that what’s happening is really f*cked up. Meanwhile, Bill stops going to work because he thinks he’s going to be fired.

The oldest daughter confronts Bill about his irresponsibility, but it’s a weird scene because she’s clearly old enough to take care of much of the stuff that she’s complaining about. She’s complaining that they’re completely out of food, but… she’s like 17. He clearly would give her the credit card or some money to go get stuff. Hell, she could probably just have it delivered. They live in a nice suburban neighborhood.

Bill gets fired, then tries to be a decent father to his kids, and tells the girl he was cheating with that it’s over. However, Beth catches him and yells at him, at which point Jill escapes from the home and runs naked through the streets on all fours.

BitchIceCream
You can tell he’s trying, because he got them ice cream.

Beth and Jill’s parents try to take custody of Jill, but Bill fights for her. Finally, the family starts to come together in a redemption montage, and Bill and Jill spend a day together, during which Bill acts like a dog. That night, Jill attacks him, trying to maul him, then immediately tries to flee. Bill catches her and tells her that she can be whatever she needs to be, because he loves her. The next morning, he awakes to her… possibly being normal. It’s a little ambiguous, but I think she’s normal.

BitchEnd
I don’t get “Dog” from this look

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, the premise for this movie is actually pretty good. I like the idea that dealing with the fact that her family doesn’t really listen to her leads Jill to become a wild dog. Palka really sells the performance. The problem is that, after the premise starts in the first act, the movie kind of doesn’t know where to go, and the characters are not well defined enough to carry it without stronger plotting.

BitchJillJill is actually probably the most developed character, despite being a dog most of the movie. Her emoting in the brief flashbacks and human scenes is really strong, and conveys how sad she has been for a long time. The problem is, we don’t get enough of a picture of who she is before she’s a dog, even with Palka’s strong performance. You can even see her start to turn a little feral in the build-up to the breakdown.

The kids are weird. Like half the time they don’t seem to care that their mom is a dog. They even find it funny. But, their mom isn’t acting like a goofy dog. She’s angry and covered in her own crap (which is really weird, because dogs usually don’t immediately roll around in their poop). Then, when Bill freaks out and runs off for a few minutes, they get angry that “he left.”

BitchKids
Seriously, this is them discussing their mother’s plight

Beth complains that she does everything for the family, but the kids are also talking about how they’re out of food, and the milk is spoiled and such. She’s worried about her sister, justifiably, but she really kind of doesn’t do anything when she sees that Bill is doing nothing, so I guess she doesn’t really feel that compelled to address it.

BitchBill
Vodka shower

And then there’s Bill. Bill is an adulterer. Bill literally doesn’t listen to anyone (to the point that he forgets Beth’s married or that her husband is in AA). Bill only seems to care that he’s being inconvenienced by his wife. Bill is worried more that he’s going to lose his job than his family. Bill even suggests at one point, bizarrely, that the reason for Jill’s craziness is that his penis is too big. He’s just… too over the top. He’s too oblivious and useless and patriarchy-propagating, that when he suddenly changes (over the like 3 weeks of the movie) into a good dad and husband and decides to fight against his in-laws over (JUSTIFIABLY) committing Jill, it just seems contrived.

Also, throughout the movie, you keep finding yourself shouting, “WHY IS NO ONE GETTING JILL HELP??” Seriously, she is covered in feces and eating dog food while being drugged involuntarily by her husband. This is not normal. And at the end, Jill is cured apparently by Bill saying that she can be whatever she wants to be? I mean, that’s the moral of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” in the Canterbury Tales and I get if that’s the point, but that’s basically saying that she needs his permission to be herself, which kinda muddles it. Or maybe I’m too male to get this message.

Ultimately, the movie is trying to make a very good point, but by having the character responses to it be so unbelievable, it kind of weakens the moral. Still, I would be on the lookout for this writer/director in the future.

Update: Also, she plays Vicky the Viking on GLOW on Netflix.

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

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