Firefly Fridays – Episode 3: “Bushwhacked”

Welcome to the third episode in the series, the second to air, and the second one that had to have awkward parts shoved in to account for “Serenity” not airing.

SUMMARY:

The episode starts with the crew of Serenity playing a future version of Calvinball. If you don’t understand what that means, please go and read the entirety of Calvin and Hobbes. Or, just read the next sentence: It’s a game where the rules can change at almost any time, and you never play the same game twice. It’s a goofy childish game based around fun, rather than rules. Simon, naturally, doesn’t understand it at all.

FireflyEp3Calvinball

Wash goes to check on a proximity alarm, and a corpse hits the windshield. They find an abandoned ship floating through space. Mal decides to investigate. When he asks what it is, River mutters “Ghosts.”

FireflyEp3DerelictThe crew determines that the ship was likely a group of colonists, but are suspicious that there is no emergency beacon coming from the ship. Mal and Zoe head over to the ship, finding signs that the ship was occupied normally immediately before whatever killed the crew happened. Food is out, someone was writing a log entry, the ship’s power was on, etc.

Jayne tells Simon to come over onto the ship, but then pranks him by telling him to wear a bulky spacesuit, something Simon fears, despite the ship now being filled with oxygen and connected to Serenity. The crew explores the ship, meanwhile, River sneaks onboard. They notice that the lifeboat is missing, but that the shuttle wouldn’t house even 1/3 of the passenger manifest. Despite this, no corpses.

FireflyEp3CorpsesMal and Zoe find a sealed room and cut their way inside, with River following, but inside they find a group of corpses that have been hung from the ceiling and gutted. Mal says he knows what did this and orders Jayne to get everyone off of the ship, but Jayne is attacked by an unseen man. Jayne knocks him off, and the crew find a scared young man in the corner.

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The “Survivor”

They bring the man back to the ship, where Mal reveals that the ship was attacked by Reavers, something that terrifies everyone on the ship that knows the word. Jayne wants to deny that it was Reavers, desperately, to the point of outright contradiction and rebellion. Book says it was just bad men, but Jayne says the famous line “Reavers ain’t men,” to which Mal agrees.

Mal allows Inara, Book, and Simon to go perform funeral rights for the ship, but it’s revealed that Mal just wants them to be out of the way while the rest of the crew disarms a booby trap left by the Reavers. Kaylee manages to disarm it. The crew starts to leave, but they are met by what looks like the Alliance cruiser from the first episode. There is an alert about the Tams issued to the cruiser, so Mal is forced to hide them at the cost of all of the goods that they just acquired. Simon is skeptical, but ends up hiding with River.

FireflyEp3River.jpgThe crew is interrogated, and this sequence is pretty great, because they cut between the different characters mid-question which creates a lot of funny juxtapositions and suggestive questions. As the Alliance soldiers search, we’re finally shown where the Tams are hiding: They’re in spacesuits clinging to Serenity’s hull. While Simon is panicking, River keeps gazing at the stars, a smile of pure delight on her face.

As Mal is interrogated, the Commander of the Alliance, Harken (Doug Savant) accuses him of attacking the derelict ship. Mal tells him to ask the survivor, but Harken informs him that the man can’t speak due to his tongue being split down the middle, in contrast to how he was earlier. Mal quickly realizes something is wrong, and warns the Commander to look out, but we’re shown that the survivor is now killing the Alliance medics.

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Yes, he pierced himself everywhere

Harken doesn’t believe that Reavers are real, but Mal explains that the Reavers torture their victims sometimes to the point that the victims become Reavers themselves and start self-mutilating and turning to cannibalism.

Simon and River go back inside the ship, while Mal, Harken, and a group of soldiers go in from the other side, suspecting the survivor has returned to Serenity. Mal prevents Harken from seeing the Tams long enough for the survivor, now mostly Reaver, to attack the soldiers. Mal saves Harken’s life by strangling the Reaver-lite to death… or breaking his neck. I think it’s the latter, but I don’t get how.

Harken takes Mal’s cargo, despite saving his life, but Mal says that “He had to. Couldn’t let us profit. Wouldn’t be civilized.” Harken then follows Mal’s advice and blows up the derelict from space.

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END SUMMARY

Alright, so, the problems that arose from adding things to try and help the audience catch up from missing the Pilot weren’t as bad in this episode as the last. Obviously, they have to basically re-establish the Reavers as being terrifying and inhuman, but they do a pretty good job of it in this episode without making it obvious the lines are for exposition. The lines about the Alliance that kind of re-address the anti-authoritarian messages in “Serenity” are also not over-the-top.

There are some decent recurring themes that stand out within this episode, too.

FireflyEp3SamaritanFirst, Mal and Book have another dust-up about the nature of Mal’s atheism, which has an interesting message about morality. When they see the ship, Book brings up the parable of the Good Samaritan. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the parable concerns a man who was attacked by robbers, beaten, and left bleeding on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite both pass the man by without helping him. A Samaritan then passes by, sees the man, and carries him into town and pays for him to be healed. The parable ends with Jesus saying that all of his followers should go and do likewise.

This parable is also appropriately said by Book, a black man, because the last major speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr., was his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the day before his murder. In it, King said:

And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so, the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

FireflyEp3Book
… I don’t want to ever make fun of Ron Glass. So, I won’t.

That is exactly what Book is doing here. He knows that there is danger in coming up to the station. It could be (and, ultimately, IS) a trap. However, Book unquestionably advises them to try and help anyway. Mal, though he stops Book from reciting the parable, still agrees with the principle behind it, even if he justifies it (particularly to Jayne) by saying that they can steal from the derelict if no one is alive. Despite Mal’s distaste for overt religion, he still has a strong sense of morality which involves accepting risk for himself.

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Oh, and Kaylee, because… well, nobody else could disarm it.

Later, he allows Book to perform a funeral for the victims of the Reaver attack, something that seems like a concession on Mal’s part, but, in reality, Mal is hiding the fact that their good deed is about to be punished by the Reaver’s booby trap. It’s not overt, but I think on some level this is Mal trying not to hurt Book’s faith in charitable acts. Or maybe he just wants to avoid worrying the most innocent of his charges. Either way, despite his lack of religion, Mal still has some moral compass, even if other episodes suggest that it’s a different one than Book. Book, meanwhile, is best summarized by his quote: “I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”

There’s one other element of the show that’s really brought up in this episode, and that’s the emptiness of space. Now, Firefly has always been really good at portraying space a bit more realistically than other shows. There’s no sound in space, for example, which is a huge element. This episode, though, also addresses another aspect of the setting: The crushing vastness of the universe. We’re presented with two contrasting impressions of it, as a source of despair and as a source of wonder.

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Jayne teases it first as the former when he describes it as “nothing.” He says “It’s impressive what ‘nothing’ can do to a man” when Simon mentions that he’s uncomfortable being separated from space by a suit. Later, the camera plays through a sequence of Simon petrified that he’s so close to the infinite nothingness, only for it to be Jayne’s prank. Then, it gets brought up by Mal later: “…Reavers ain’t men. Or they forgot how to be. Now they’re just nothing. They got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothing, and that’s what they became.” Basically, it’s the ultimate extension of “the abyss gazes also.” By being confronted with the void of space, Reavers responded by becoming cruel, unfeeling monsters. Of course, we later find out that isn’t the case, but the fact that Mal believes that looking out into the blackness could create them is telling.

FireflyEp3Watchmen
Okay, not the ULTIMATE extension

FireflyEp3RiverHowever, we’re also shown the opposite. When River looks into the vastness of space, she focuses not on the blackness but on the stars twinkling in the distance. It’s one of the only truly happy moments River gets during the series. When she looks out, she doesn’t see emptiness, but beauty. Also, since we later find out that she’s essentially a punching bag for the minds and emotions of others, the isolation provides one of the least vulnerable positions she can be in, even though she’s just a spacesuit away from nothingness.

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Pictured: Not this episode

The Reavers are, naturally, also a big part of this episode. Unfortunately, we don’t get that much information about them. We find out that most of the Alliance doesn’t believe they’re real, that the Reavers enjoy torturing people to the point that those people become Reavers out of desperation, and that the booby-trap their prey. However, whether they’re human, where they come from, what they really look like, none of these things are addressed for certain in the episode. This was really a sampler for things that didn’t get answered until the movie Serenity. Unfortunately, since the series got cancelled without addressing this much, this episode really stands out as being a tease. It seems like we’re supposed to just view them as the opposite of the Alliance, the chaos to their oppressive order, but all we get is one guy going nuts for like 3 minutes. The fact that Mal literally sneaks behind him and kills him in 10 seconds doesn’t allow him to feel like a threat. It just doesn’t land.

Ultimately, this episode has one huge weakness: It just doesn’t have that much in it. It has some great lines, but so does every episode of the show. It portrays the Alliance as being oppressive, but other episodes do it better. It tries to introduce us to the Reavers, but it really doesn’t. And, honestly, it sometimes feels like it’s two ideas (finding the wreck, being captured by the Alliance) that are just mashed together, rather than one whole story. Still, not the worst episode.

Score: 2.5 Fireflies (or 1 Alliance Cruiser)

 

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See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 2: The Train Job

NEXT – 4: Shindig

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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Evil Toons: The Greatest C-Movie Ever Made

First of all, the title to this movie is wrong. There is actually only one “toon” in the entire movie. Second, this movie is either A) The best parody film of 80s Haunted House B-movies or B) the worst Haunted House B-movie ever. It might also be C) a low-budget Skinemax movie, and, after looking at the director’s IMDB, it’s probably C. But it’s the best damned C of all time.

SUMMARY

EvilToonsIntroCard
Actual beginning of the movie. Really sets the tone.

The movie starts out with David Carradine trying to burn what is very clearly the Necronomicon. It’s a talking book bound with human skin. He fails to destroy it, and the book vanishes.

EvilToonsGideon2
Rest in Peace, Sir

 Flash forward, and a group of “teenage” girls who are clearly in their mid-20s (something the movie cheerfully jokes about multiple times) are planning on spending the night in a creepy house. Apparently, they’re a cleaning crew before the new owners inspect the house. The characters immediately introduce themselves through clunky, poorly-delivered, absolutely beautifully bad dialogue. There’s Roxanne, the really slutty one; Jan, the kinda slutty one; Terry, the mildly slutty one in charge; and Megan, the insecure nerd (Madison Stone, Barbara Dare, Suzanne Ager, Monique Gabrielle, and yes, they’ve all done porn). You can tell who Megan is because she wears glasses and has a ponytail, and definitely doesn’t have the kind of physique that would make a woman Penthouse Pet of the Month in December 1982 then allow her to portray famous erotic figure Emmanuelle.

EvilToonsMegan.jpg
Totally the nerd, right?

Again, I’d like to state, most of these girls are soft-core porn level actresses, because they are, and that’s pretty obvious in every line. The thing is, the movie clearly KNOWS they’re terrible, so it makes them as ridiculous as possible. I can’t tell if that’s a great thing or an awful one, but it amuses me. In addition to David Carradine, the movie features appearances by Dick “You know who I am, just look it up” Miller, and Arte “Veeeeerrrry Interesting” Johnson. I can only assume all three of them lost a bet to someone.

EvilToonsDickJohnson
Update: RIP, sirs.

The girls go into the basement to clean, at which time one of the girls mentions that these things all begin with four young girls going into a creepy basement. Then they see a trunk that has a language on it that Terry can’t understand, which intrigues her because “She’s seen a lot of odd languages.” The tag is actually in James Joyce’s language from Finnegan’s Wake. If you read it out loud as it appears, you’d get the message, even if you might not understand all of the words. However, the movie translates it for us: “In Gods’ [sic] name please! Never ever open this trunk! I swear you’re gonna be real sorry!”  They open it, because movie, and take the dagger within it. They even make the joke that “well, we might need it later.”

The next scene is probably the most hilariously exploitative thing in the movie. It’s literally Roxanne, apropos of nothing whatsoever, saying “do you want to see how I seduced [some guy, I didn’t want to rewind]?” This statement is followed by her stripteasing to a song that was clearly made for a B-grade movie. The dance is punctuated with some odd sound effects during her twerk (it’s the “boyoyoing” spring sound). Roxanne then tries to get Megan to join her, but Megan becomes uncomfortable when Roxanne opens Megan’s shirt and comments on her attractiveness. Megan runs away upstairs. Because, unlike Roxy, she’s insecure , get it?

EvilToonsRoxanne
The most clothed Roxy will be in the film.

David Carradine returns and delivers the book, filled with weird cartoons of a wolf demon, to the other three girls, for… some reason that isn’t obvious yet. They open the book and the girls say that Megan, of course, can read from it, because she speaks “Ancient Latin.” Also, there’s a joke about Roxanne being multilingual, but only if she’s answering the question “How much?” I laughed. Judge me.

We now follow Megan upstairs where she stands in front of the mirror and takes her clothes off to try and help her confidence in her appearance. This seems somewhat ridiculous because she has an absolutely amazing figure, but the film suggests that she still is upset, because it doesn’t matter what you look like, you can still have body issues based on your own perceptions and insecurities. Holy shit, did this movie just make a valid point about an important issue?

EvilToonsMegan2
A feminist picture.

Megan proceeds to read the book IN ENGLISH (she translates that fast), which apparently does not stop it from working. Also, apparently Megan goes to H.P. Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. That’s not my joke, the film says that. She then reads the footnote to the incantation which basically reads “Don’t read the above incantation out loud.” Megan, Terry, and Jan all go upstairs to bed, with appropriate amounts of random nudity, while Roxanne waits for her boyfriend Biff (Don Dowe) to arrive. Yes, this movie actually named the boyfriend Biff.

So, the “toon” finally appears out of the book. Despite the relatively small period of time the toon is in the movie, it had 6 animators, and this is a crazy weird collection of people: 1 did nothing else. 1 went to work for Disney. 2 worked on Courage the Cowardly Dog, including John Dilworth, one of the creators of the show. 1 worked for Don Bluth. The last became animation director on The Venture Brothers. It appears that most of them were just starting out, and were working in modest capacities on other projects at the time, which I guess was a lucky break for the director.

EvilToonsToon1

The toon wolf demon stalks Roxanne, who gets naked in very natural “I’m erotically changing clothes while no one is around” poses in the middle of the room. She then hears the toon talk, but assumes that it’s Biff messing with her. The toon then attacks her. Roxanne screams, but the girls upstairs assume that it’s just sex with Biff. The toon proceeds to eat Roxanne, and then take on her appearance, because why would you want a toon in a movie called Evil Toons when you could have a naked girl covered in bloodstains? No, really, I think this was a good call.

EvilToonsRoxanneBiffMegan goes down to check on her, but, despite her being naked and covered in blood, Megan accepts Toon Roxanne’s explanation. Biff shows up, and he is wearing a wife beater and faded-washed jeans, because he’s named Biff. Roxanne proceeds to start grinding on Biff, then kills him by biting his throat out. David Carradine watches this, but does nothing. The girls upstairs hear Biff screaming, but, aside from Megan, they assume that it’s just Biff getting head. It’s becoming clear that these women either A) Don’t know what sex sounds like, or B) Have done a bunch of stuff I can’t conceive of, erotically. I fear it’s B.

Megan decides to go downstairs again, but asks the others to come with her, to which Terry responds with one of the best lines in the movie: “It’s a dark, stormy night, we’re four young, attractive girls in a big spooky house all alone. If we don’t go downstairs one at a time, how will we ever get bumped off without the others knowing about it?” She means it, ostensibly, as a joke, but it really is a nice shot at the formulaic nature of this kind of movie. When Megan says she’s going to the bathroom anyway, Terry jokingly says “I wouldn’t do that if I were you….” This weird level of self-awareness is amusing.

The movie then cuts to Dick Miller watching a movie scene featuring himself, and asking why he never won an Oscar. Fourth wall be damned. He gets a call from a neighbor complaining about screaming in the house. Since he is the girls’ employer, he has to go. He is stopped momentarily by his ridiculously hot wife who wants her “Friday Night Special,” something he seems very unenthused about. She then goes back to the bedroom and starts what sounds like a chainsaw and a jackhammer. Apparently, she needs a heavy-duty marital aid.

EvilToonsDick.jpgIt cuts back to Megan, who goes downstairs to find Biff’s corpse. The other two come down to join her, and Megan explains that Biff is under a “soul shroud” which is basically gift-wrapping for Satanic offerings. When asked how she knows this, she indicates that it’s on the tag for the shroud. Seriously, I cannot tell if this is the best or worst movie ever, but my first response was “makes as much sense as most movies.”

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Still just creepin’.

Dick Miller arrives, and the girls try to clean up Biff’s body after determining that it’s better to be implicated in murder than to lose the $100 each that they’re getting paid for this. No, really, they make that comparison directly and, because they’re all poor and this is their alternative to prostitution or porn, they decide that they’d rather not lose the money, even at the risk of possible criminal charges. Again, is this movie making a point on an actual issue?

Toon Roxanne proceeds to meet Dick and convince him to come around to the basement. She then tries to seduce him, which, despite having a super-hot wife he doesn’t want to bang, works. Apparently, he’s just bored with his wife and wants something new. She proceeds to bite his penis off, because something something poetic justice.

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The total of what she does to “seduce him” is sit this way.

David Carradine continues to watch from the shadows. I can only assume that he isn’t actually scripted in these scenes, and is just screwing around on the set. The girls then run into Arte Johnson, who describes the book as a “Kandarian Spellbook,” and I can only assume Sam Raimi just decided not to sue at this point. Johnson proceeds to explain the history of the book before turning into Toon Roxanne again while they aren’t looking. Toon Roxanne convinces the girls that she was just playing a trick on them, so they should come back to the cellar to deal with Biff and Dick. It’s quickly apparent that they are both actually dead, and Toon Roxanne reveals her identity. She attacks Jan while Terry and Megan flee, and, in what is very clearly just a strange soft-core porn scene, struggles with her in such a way that her top comes off, then kills her. The other two make it inside, but Terry is attacked and, similarly, soft-core-porned to death.

Carradine finally enters dramatically, claiming that he’s here to destroy the book, and the Toon. When the Toon points out that he’s failed in the past, Carradine brandishes the dagger from the chest earlier. The Toon begins to overpower him while Megan watches and does nothing, until she grabs a bottle and hits Toon Roxanne over the head with it, allowing Carradine to stab her to death. The toon emerges from Roxanne and Megan throws the book in the fire. The toon then dies as the book burns. During this, the toon’s dialogue is hilarious: “You bitch, I’ll get you in the sequel for this,” “not the fire, that’s where hot is born,” and “oh, what a world, I’m melting.”

EvilToonsToon2

Carradine explains that he had to wait for the right time to act, which, apparently, was now. He explains that he’s a ghost of a wizard who brought the book back to America, and that he needed someone to make the cartoon demon real before he could destroy the book. As he fades, it’s revealed that all the victims from the movie are brought back to life with no memory of the events. Arte Johnson shows up with a TV for the girls, which causes Megan to scream when he suggests watching cartoons.

END SUMMARY

EvilToonsFredOlenRay.jpgAlright, so, this movie has one of the most interesting histories I’ve ever seen. The director/writer, Fred Olen Ray, is a big director in low-budget movies, including soft-core porn. His IMDB is hilarious, and I recommend checking out some of the titles. Apparently, he also got Quentin Tarantino his start, loaning him a camera to make My Best Friend’s Birthday, which is the basis for True Romance. What’s crazy is that this movie was pitched to the god of B-grade exploitation films Roger “I made the original Little Shop of Horrors” Corman. Ray said that he could make the movie for $250,000 to save Corman money. Corman refused, saying no one could make a good B-movie for so little money. To prove it, Ray made this movie for $140,000. He did this by filming the entire movie on the leftover film that was going to be thrown out from bigger movies at local studios, which he taped together to create a solid reel. The entire thing was shot in 8 days.

Since actresses wanted more money to appear nude, Ray just hired porn stars to do the movie, because the point of the characters WAS to be poor caricatures of bad horror tropes. And that’s the thing that really makes this movie kind of awesome: It’s so aware of how bad it is, but not in a way that really pisses you off. Yeah, there’s a lot of nudity and sexploitation, but that’s just an over-the-top version of what usually happens in 1980s horror films. It’s just taking it to its logical conclusion.

Honestly, I can’t tell if this is a parody, if it’s just a so-bad-it’s-good film that appears to be a parody, or if it’s really just a bunch of boobs and awkward lines. Whatever it is, if you love schlock horror films, this is a must-see.

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Reader Bonus: The Sad Tale of Henry (Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends)

Alright, so, this episode of a children’s show is fairly infamous and goes around the internet on occasion. Why? Because it’s basically an example of cruel and unusual punishment.

Quick background on the show:

Image result for thomas and friends sodor

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends takes place on the Island of Sodor. It’s a fictional island in the Irish Sea that’s heavily industrialized with a massive railway system, and all of the trains, and many of the other vehicles, possess human faces, emotions, and a degree of autonomy. This becomes important in a minute.

ThomasAndFriendsHenry.pngThe most famous character is Thomas, a tank engine (meaning he carries his water for his steam on-board in a water tank), who is engine number 1, and has a very cheeky but upbeat personality. However, the focus of this episode is Henry, engine number 3. The episode is narrated by none other than Ringo freaking Starr.

ThomasAndFriendsHenry2When it starts to rain on the island, Henry, worried that the rain is going to ruin his nice new paint job, goes into a tunnel to hide, blocking off one of the two tunnels to get through those hills. Sir Topham Hatt, the fat controller of the rail system, tells the train guard to get a rope, and has all the workers on the rail line try to pull Henry out of the tunnel. Henry refuses to budge, stating that he doesn’t want to ruin his paint. The workers point out that it isn’t raining anymore, but Henry says that it will eventually, and then it’ll ruin his paint. Topham Hatt has the workers try to push Henry through, but Henry refuses to budge.

It’s worth noting that Topham Hatt does not actually try to pull or push with the people, instead citing that he has a note from his doctor not to do any actual work.

Finally, they send Thomas to try and push him through, but Henry still refuses to budge. Frustrated, Topham Hatt decides that they’re going to punish Henry. So, they brick him up inside of the tunnel.

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Now, again, this is a train with emotions, who talks, feels, and thinks just like a human. He’s been inconveniencing the rail for about a day, if that. And their solution is to BRICK HIM INSIDE OF THE TUNNEL, rendering the tunnel he’s in useless anyway. They only do the bottom half, however, so that he can see out, and the other trains can mock him as they pass. But, Henry can’t really respond anymore; he has no steam left, because he’s TRAPPED IN A F*CKING TUNNEL. Since, apparently, he can’t die, they leave him in there just to be mocked at and stay there forever, with a sad look on his face.

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ThomasAndFriendsMontressor.jpgEdgar Allan Poe once described a similar idea in a short story called “The Cask of Amontillado.” A man, Montressor, bricks up an enemy, Fortunato, leaving him to die behind a wall, over what is stated to be an “insult.” Fortunato doesn’t appear to have realized it was that big of a deal, or that he’d even offended Montressor. To justify his actions, Montressor merely states that it comes from his family motto: “No one attacks me with impunity.” It’s basically a massive, cruel overreaction to a small grievance. This children’s show just did the same thing, and made it even worse by having Ringo end the narration with: “Soot and dirt from the tunnel had spoiled his green paint with red stripes anyway. Henry wondered if he would ever be allowed to pull trains again. But I think he deserved his punishment, don’t you?”

Yes, Ringo, teach the children that minor inconveniences should be handled with horror-story punishments. Other kid steal your toy? Cut their heart out and bury it under the floor. Someone pushes you on the playground? Tie them to the ground and slowly lower a razor-sharp pendulum towards their stomach. This episode is basically made to create sociopaths.

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Goes well with the “My First Hieronymus Bosch” coloring book.

Fortunately, if you watch the very next episode, Henry is actually let out of the tunnel after another of the trains is disabled, and Henry agrees to go back to pulling the train cars again. That episode ends with Henry learning that the best way to keep his paint nice is to ask his driver to “rub him down after a run.”

So, remember, kids: Over the top punishments are fine, but you can stop once you need that person to perform an essential task and you have literally no other options. That way, you’ve tortured them into complacency.

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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Firefly Fridays – Episode 2: “The Train Job”

Alright, so, now we get to what actually acted as the opening to the show, and it’s not a bad surrogate for the pilot. It doesn’t fill in all of the questions the audience probably needed answered in order to really start grabbing onto the show, and tries a little hard to give the audience some “cliffsnotes” on the characters, but, it still is a solid episode. I’m not recapping who everyone is, so, here’s a link to the first episode.

SUMMARY

FireflyEp2BarThe episode begins with Mal, Zoe, and Jayne in a bar on “Unification Day,” which is a holiday that celebrates the end of the Unification War. Mal, having fought for the losing side in that war, picks a fight with an Alliance zealot, who wasn’t “burdened with an overabundance of schooling.” In the middle of a bar full of Alliance supporters. So, Mal get thrown through a holographic window, in one of the best shots in the series. Zoe and Jayne help out, but at the end the trio are backed against a cliff by the crowd. Luckily, Wash arrives in the ship in time to save them by threatening to blow a new crater in the moon they’re on (which he couldn’t, since Serenity has no weapons).

FireflyEp2RiverOn board, Zoe comments that Mal has made a tradition out of starting a bar brawl on Unification Day in order to express his anger. Meanwhile, Simon is tending to River, who is still crazy, just so everyone is clear. She is still having traumatic nightmares about her time in the Alliance Academy where they experimented on her, and her emotional responses to questions about it range from hysterics to dispassionate disinterest. She also spontaneously states Serenity’s make, model, and class code, something that Mal comments even he doesn’t usually remember, hinting again at River’s superhuman intelligence.

FireflyEp2NiskaThe crew heads to Serenity’s next job, aboard a space station owned by a man named Adelai Niska (Michael Fairman). Niska is simultaneously every Eastern European Mob Boss you’ve ever seen in a film and yet still a fairly unique character. He doesn’t yell. He talks calmly and in a very intelligent and educated manner, and, to him, everything is a business transaction. He gives a short speech about how he knows of Mal by reputation, and Mal knows of him by his own vicious reputation. Then, Niska shows Mal a hanging corpse of the last person who failed him, in order to drive home that his reputation is completely deserved. Despite this, the crew of Serenity take the job to rob a train, but are not told what they’re stealing. In fact, Mal seems to prefer not knowing.

Image result for the train jobThe team prepares a plan which involves Mal and Zoe boarding the train and Jayne being lowered into the car where the crates they’re stealing are located, then pulling all three of them into Serenity with the goods. Unfortunately, the plan fails when an Alliance guard stumbles on them, which leaves Mal and Zoe on the train, while Jayne and the goods get back to the ship. Fortunately, the two aren’t seen taking part in the theft. Unfortunately, the sheriff (Gregg Henry) at their destination finds their cover story as a married couple to be suspect, possibly because Zoe cannot pretend to view Mal in that way. While Mal works to charm his way out of trouble, the pair learn that they stole crates of medicine which were supposed to treat a degenerative disease plaguing the planet. We also get a cut to the Alliance authorities, who dismiss investigating the theft or helping the town on the grounds that they’re a poor planet. Just to drive home that the Alliance are basically all dicks, so you never need to feel bad about when they get screwed.

FireflyEp2Jayne.jpgJayne tries to assume command of the ship in Zoe and Mal’s absence, but he is drugged unconscious by Simon. Inara uses her status as a companion to bail out Mal and Zoe, but Mal decides to return the medicine to the townspeople. When they do, the sheriff clearly knows they took it, he decides to overlook the theft out of respect for Mal’s decision to return the goods after hearing about how desperately the town needed it. Naturally, they are aware that this will piss Niska off, and are quickly proven right when Niska’s chief enforcer finds the ship when Serenity misses the rendezvous time due to having to rescue Mal and Zoe.

Mal offers to return all of the money paid by Niska to Niska’s hulking enforcer, Crow (Andrew Bryanarski), who politely disagrees with Mal’s argument of “I’ll make it square,” because Mal clearly doesn’t understand the concept of expectation damages in Contract Law. Granted, this contract isn’t enforceable in court, and Mal couldn’t possibly pay Niska the amount that Niska lost due to Mal’s decision, but when you f*ck up on a job for a gangster, you always offer them the amount that they were expecting to make on the deal. They might still kill you, but that at least doesn’t seem like as much disrespect. That’s Thief Subcontracting Rule 1.

FireflyEp2Crow.jpg

Crow and his team attack, but the Serenity crew ends up prevailing and capturing them. Mal attempts to reason with Crow outside of Serenity, saying:

“Now this is all the money Niska gave us in advance. You give it back to him, tell him the job didn’t work out. We’re not thieves… well, we are thieves, but the point is we’re not taking what’s his. We’ll stay out of his way as best we can from here on in. You’ll explain that’s best for everyone, okay?”

Crow responds by telling Mal that he may as well keep the money, because Mal is now going to be hunted. He is going to be tailed to the far ends of the universe, and the last thing that Mal will ever see is Crow’s knife taking his life.

Mal calmly, and with a little disappointment in his voice, says “darn.”

THEN KICKS CROW INTO SERENITY’S ENGINE, VAPORIZING HIM.

I don’t think anything quite expresses exactly how perfect the timing is by Nathan Fillion in this sequence. There’s Mal clearly weighing his options for a split-second, realizing that he doesn’t have any other options, and doing what he has to do.

Another henchman is brought in front of Mal, who begins the same speech over again, verbatim, but the henchman interrupts him to tell him he got the speech the first time, and that he’ll tell Niska what Mal said.

Back on the Alliance Cruiser from before, two men come in wearing blue-gloves and inquiring about River Tam to the colonel who refused to investigate the theft earlier. River earlier had uttered the phrase “Two by Two; Hands of Blue,” indicating that either she knew about these men previously or that she is sensing them now.

Image result for the train job

SUMMARY END

This episode has some pretty great moments in it. The opening where Mal is thrown through a holographic window from what appears to be an old-timey saloon is probably the best quick explanation of the nature of this universe. The next shot, featuring multiple moons and what appears to be a Gas Giant behind them, also speaks volumes: They’re on a moon that has been terraformed to sustain Earth life. Wash confirms this a few seconds later when he calls it a moon. This hints to how so many planets can appear in the series without faster-than-lightspeed travel. The entire show is in one solar system, which contains at least one or two large gas planets that have multiple planetoid moons orbiting. They never explain exactly how terraforming solves the heat/gravity problem, but it’s the future, shut up and love it.

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The scene also drives home one of the aspects of the series that helps motivate and justify Mal’s position: It’s the future, but a lot of people don’t get the benefit of it. Most of the planets on the “outer rim” don’t get futuristic technology or, at least, not much of it. The Alliance, despite governing “the Verse,” doesn’t really build these outer planets up. As Mal says in the first episode: “Once they’re terraformed, they’ll dump settlers on there with nothing but blankets, hatchets, maybe a herd. Some of them make it, some of them….” The placement of this bar is a great indicator of that.

FireflyEp2NiskaAdelai Niska is one of the best characters created for the show, despite his relative lack of screentime and characterization. He’s basically a dark reflection of Mal’s “noble thief” archetype. While Mal is willing to take a job without knowing what he’s doing, once he finds out that he’s killing desperate people, he admits that he doesn’t believe anyone has a choice but to do the right thing. Niska, clearly, thinks otherwise, since he’s fully aware of the condition of the planet. Given that it seems like the medicine is only for the plague that the planet is suffering from, and that the plague is apparently unique to the planet, Niska is likely just stealing it in order to sell it back to the planet at an outrageous price, given the desperation of the citizenry. That’s probably the most despicable thing a person can do, but damned if it isn’t profitable (ask… God, how many companies could be listed here? I mean, it’s literally why we have medical patents (different discussion on this later)).

The thing is, Niska also appears to have a code that he obeys. There is nothing to suggest that he would have double-crossed Mal or was underpaying him. He did not lie about what was in the crates, and Mal chose to do the job blind. Niska did not threaten Mal to convince him to take the job, nor did he do anything to sabotage Mal’s efforts, he just made sure that Mal knew that failure would not be tolerated. He is a businessman, it’s just that he does less of the “sue for breach of contract” thing, or the “firing for bad performance” thing, and more the “skin you alive” thing. He is pretty much the lawful evil to Mal’s chaotic good. It really makes their scenes extra intense.

We also get another instance of Jayne’s irregular version of loyalty to the crew. When Mal and Zoe are gone, Jayne decides that the first priority is completing the job. Book disagrees on the basis that, from Niska’s reputation, if Niska finds out that Mal is being interrogated, he would likely kill Mal, Zoe, and a number of innocents to avoid any information being leaked. Jayne, however, still asserts that they should complete the job, and says that he is in charge, with the great line:

“You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go get and beat you with ’til you understand who’s in ruttin’ command here!”

Fortunately, Simon keeps the issue from coming to a head, but it still shows the odd version of loyalty Jayne owes to Mal.

Ultimately, this is a pretty good re-do for the pilot episode. It conveys a lot of information without too much exposition, and has a lot of elements that really represent some of the best parts of the show. Plus, it’s a train robbery with a spaceship. That’s just a great premise on its face. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of lines that were clearly filmed to introduce things to the audience that they would have known if they had watched the last episode. Most of the character relationships are either shoehorned into clunky dialogue or skipped entirely. In a show with such a diverse cast and a lot of character development over the series and the movie, that’s not great. Even the line by the sheriff about how Mal had a choice probably could just have been conveyed with him seeing Mal return the crates and not arresting him. If Fox hadn’t interfered, this problem probably wouldn’t have existed, but, since I don’t have the ability to view parallel worlds at the moment, I can only judge this by what I have seen.

Serenity Scale: 3.5 Fireflies (Or 1 Chain of Command)

FireflyEp1Scale

See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 1: Serenity

NEXT – 3: Bushwhacked

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Reader Request: People Who Live in Brass Hearses (Tales from the Crypt)

Tales from the Crypt was a horror anthology show and, honestly, it wasn’t the best one on its face. However, it did have some things going for it that set it apart. First, it was on HBO, which allowed the show to feature graphic violence, sex, the good swears, and nudity. Second, it had The Cryptkeeper, and John Kassir’s voice gave that puppet the perfect amount of creepy joy at telling people tales of terror. Third, great intro. If you watched the show, you can hear it in your head right now. Or watch it here:

Last, and possibly most importantly, the show managed to snag an insane number of guest actors and directors, and some pretty big names playing outside of their normal comfort zone. One episode is the only time that Isabella Rossellini ever agreed to portray her mom, Ingrid Bergman, on film. Another episode was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of the only two things he ever directed (Don’t see the other!!!). I have no idea how they got such big names for a tv show, except, oh right, the show was produced by Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, and Joel Silver, and it was the late 80s/early 90s. If Steven Spielberg had been involved, I assume that the Emmys would just have been held on the set.

TalesFromTheCryptCrew
Right: Mulcahy; Left: Nimerfro

This particular episode took place in the fifth season and, admittedly, the show was starting to run out of steam. The director of this episode was Russell Mulcahy, who was famous for directing Highlander, as well as all of Duran Duran’s music videos. Unfortunately, he was also infamous for directing a movie that supposedly followed Highlander that kind of tanked his career for a decade, despite the fact that he openly disclaimed the movie. Which, I guess, is why he agreed to direct this episode. The writer was Scott Nimerfro (R.I.P.), who was just starting out, but later wrote for Once Upon a Time, Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. So, decent crew behind the camera.

On the other side, the performers in the episode were Bill “I’m Bill Paxton” Paxton (R.I.P.), Brad Dourif, Lainie Kazan, and Michael Lerner, who are all pretty notable B-actors, except for Paxton, who’s an A+. The ingredients were all there for a good episode of schlock horror.

TalesFromTheCryptCast

SUMMARY

TalesFromTheCryptKeeperFirst, I just love the title of this episode. It’s exactly the kind of pun the Cryptkeeper would make. Which, for some reason, he does while dressed as the quarterback to a skeletal football team. I assume the opening was filmed independently of the episode and they just mixed-and-matched. It’s a puppet, you can make it say whatever you want later.

The episode starts by showing us that Billy (Paxton) and Virgil (Dourif) are two criminal brothers planning to rob an Ice Cream Manufacturing Plant. Billy, who has a weird butter obsession to the point of eating sticks of it, has only just gotten out of jail and is clearly the more aggressive of the two, whereas Virgil is fairly meek and kind of dim. Virgil thinks of them as a modern Western bandits, but Billy is more realistic about the nature of their craft.

TalesFromTheCryptBrothers.jpg

Billy decides that the pair are going to get some ice cream to put them in the mood for their heist, so they find a local ice cream truck driven by Mr. Byrd (Lerner), a charismatic man who loves to entertain children. Notably, he has a puppet that he can perform with while drinking and eating, apparently independent of him.

TalesFromTheCryptByrd.jpgBilly approaches Byrd in the middle of a crowd of children, where it’s revealed that Billy went to jail for stealing from the company that Byrd works for, which used to employ Billy. Byrd turned him in, leaving Billy wanting revenge. Virgil tries to talk him out of it, but Billy bullies him into going along with it.

TalesFromTheCryptGrafungarIt then cuts to the Ice Cream Plant where Virgil and his friend Cooter (Pat Asanti) are routinely yelled at by their boss, Mrs. Grafungar (Kazan), who apparently has a crush on Byrd. Byrd arrives for his supply pick-up, but is noticeably less confident and charming than he was before. Billy arrives, knocks Cooter out, and initiates the plan, now adapted in order to get revenge on Byrd during the robbery.  Virgil approaches Grafungar in her office, but, after she insults Billy, he stabs her repeatedly with an ice pick. She tries to crawl to Byrd for help, but Billy brutally kills her with a crate-hook to the head. Byrd, assertive again and now sick of waiting, drives off.

TalesFromTheCryptHook.jpg

Billy finds out that Virgil didn’t get Grafungar to open the safe before stabbing her, so the pair have now committed murder without being able to get any money. They decide to rob Byrd’s truck to at least make a few hundred dollars. Byrd says that it “wasn’t his idea” to turn them in, but Billy tells Virgil to “show him we got ways of making him talk.” This turns out to be a mistake, as Virgil decides that’s code for “blow half of his head off with a shotgun.”

TalesFromTheCryptHead.jpg

The pair search the house for the money, before Billy finds out that Byrd had kept a fortune in his freezer. He calls for Virgil, but, instead of his brother, a gunshot comes out from the darkness and blows off one of Billy’s legs. Byrd emerges, appearing unharmed, holding a shotgun and Virgil’s dead body. Byrd tells Billy that, while he imagines Billy and Virgil were close, they’ll never be as close as he was to his brother. At that point, Byrd turns to reveal:

He and his brother were conjoined twins.

Image result for tales from the crypt people who live in brass hearsesYeah, they were conjoined at the back (do not ask about pooping). Each of the brothers operated a different half of the ice cream truck. Earl, the meek brother, drove the truck, while the other brother worked the window. The remaining, unnamed, twin, kills Billy. It then cuts to a few weeks later where Byrd is trying to sell the rest of his ice cream before quitting, but the kids complain that the truck smells bad. It’s then revealed that Byrd’s twin is still attached, and now a rotting corpse. The Cryptkeeper, in his outro, tells the audience that Byrd stayed in the ice cream business, as “Ben and Scaries.” Because pun.

END SUMMARY

This isn’t my favorite Tales from the Crypt, but it is a pretty great one, because they took a lot of care to make the twist organic. If you re-watch the episode, it’s obvious that, in addition to the dialogue being different, Lerner played each of the brothers as very different individuals. However, since he’s only seen in the truck until the end, you might not have noticed that he only appears while leaning out to one side.

Image result for rocky and mugsyDourif and Paxton are perfect. Yes, their characters are kind of cartoony, but you’re supposed to be watching a show hosted by an undead puppet featuring an adaptation of a horror comic from 50 years ago. This is exactly what you should be expecting. Paxton’s Billy is so over the top that it almost manages to be charming. Yes, he’s aggressive towards Virgil, but the episode soon shows why: Virgil is by far the more dangerous of the two. Dourif plays Virgil as being so weak and cowardly, but the minute he’s supposed to exert himself, he immediately jumps from 0 to murder. Billy didn’t plan on killing anyone, even Byrd, during the plan. In fact, it’s reveals that Billy’s “criminal history” was apparently just embezzling funds when he was an ice-cream man. His entire criminal façade appears to be significantly less of a real threat than his brother. They come off as a more criminal version of George and Lennie from Of Mice and Men, or a less amusing Rocky and Mugsy from Looney Toons.

TImage result for frank and jesse jameshe best hint to Virgil’s true nature is that early on, he envisions the pair as being like Frank and Jesse James, who were NOT gentleman thieves, no matter what films try to depict. They were mostly just Ex-Confederates who liked robbing banks owned by Unionists and were fine with killing people, which was good press in Missouri during reconstruction. So, much like Virgil’s image of the James Brothers, Billy has an idealized version of his plan which will be quick and efficient, but the reality is far more gruesome.

The revelation that Byrd is twins allows the Byrds to mirror Billy and Virgil. One of the Byrds is meek, the other is aggressive and confident. However, while Billy’s bullying Virgil into compliance with the plan is apparently what prompts the docile and inept little brother to become a mad killer, it appears that the deceased Earl was the one that kept the living Byrd in line. Now, he’s unbound by his weak morality, and free to be himself! But, since the episode needed a goofy ending, it appears that he doesn’t become an evil mastermind. Just kind of a dick.

Ultimately, this episode is pretty much what is best about Tales from the Crypt: It’s goofy, gory, funny, and just a bit surreal.

Image result for Tales from the crypt
Less necrophilia than the movies, though.

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 a month or so.

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Cabin 28: The Worst Movie Ever

By the Grouch on the Couch

Cancel the Razzies. This movie has set a new record low. You want me to watch Gigli? Fine. You want me to double feature Battlefield Earth and Jack and Jill? Deal. Those movies are bad, but at the end of the day, I don’t feel disgusted by humanity. This movie has actually made me less optimistic about the merits of human existence.

Part of it is on me. I didn’t intend to ever see this movie sober, but I got snowed in and decided to put this on in the background at random from a list of sh*tty horror movies available while I worked on other stuff. However, I got so distracted by this movie about 15 minutes in that I had to add a review of it. Then, I got angry.

cabin28sheila.jpg
The real survivor

Cabin 28 starts off with the message that it is “based on real events.” In this case, the events were the unsolved murders of 4 people (a mother, 2 of her children, and a friend) in Keddie, California in 1981. Given that the family’s eldest daughter, who survived the night by being next door and came home to find her family murdered, and the youngest sons, who were IN THE HOUSE WHEN IT HAPPENED, are still alive, I’m sure this movie was done in nothing but good taste.

Oh, wait, instead they make the daughter’s character older and suggest that she’s had at least one back-alley abortion by the time she was 13? Well, that’s a very different way to go about depicting the ACTUAL LIVING SURVIVOR OF HER FAMILY BEING MURDERED WHEN SHE WAS 14.

SUMMARY:

The beginning of the movie is pretty boring, honestly. It’s just a set-up about the dysfunction between the family and the neighbors. It’s fairly boring until there’s a knock on the door late at night which is answered by the younger daughter, Tina (Harriet Rees). Here, she’s in her teens; in real life she was 12. It’s a guy portrayed in silhouette clearly wearing a hoodie. However, and this is why I finally had to start watching this movie, HE HAS THE SINGLE LEAST-BELIEVABLE ACCENT I HAVE EVER HEARD. It sounds like Gambit from X-men banged Mark Twain and the child they conceived was raised by Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester Stallone, and Tommy Wiseau.

Cabin28ShadowTo the girl’s credit, she doesn’t let him in despite all of his requests, locks the door, and she lies to him when he asks her to call a friend. She also notices when the guy accidentally says “we” when referring to his future intentions. Of course, the movie cues this by having a sound that sounds like glass breaking to the point that I thought that was actually what happened (turns out, no, just a bad sound effect). Her mother, Sue (Terri Dwyer), is awakened by the noise and immediately walks outside to “confront” the person, then says that nothing is wrong when she sees nobody, and denies her daughter’s request to call the police.

Again, this is a portrayal of a woman who was actually murdered brutally, likely in front of her children. So why not make her the dumbest person alive? That’s fair, right?

Cabin28Skeletor.jpgAfter her mom goes back to bed, the man returns and tells the daughter that he knows she lied about calling his friend, because he cut the phone line. Her mom returns and says that “it’s probably just some drunken hobo,” despite the fact that her daughter tells her the phone line has been cut. The mom is immediately then grabbed by a man in a skull mask (hereafter Skeletor), who she slips away from. She then grabs a baseball bat and, to her credit, whacks Skeletor over the head. She tells her very young sons to hide under the bed with their friend who was sleeping over, and for her daughter to watch the house while she goes for help. Naturally, Skeletor immediately wakes back up (after being down for 30-ish seconds) and grabs the mom. She tries to lure him away from the kids, but finds out that another guy in a really horrifying demonic clown mask (hereafter Scariest Thing EVEr, or STEVE) has also broken in. She runs back into the kids’ room and barricades the door.

Cabin28SteveThen, her oldest son, John (Sean Rhys-James), returns, drunk, with his friend Dana (Derek Nelson), who is also drunk and smoking pot, thus making sure that these real people are being depicted fairly in the way they lived before they were brutally murdered in real life. They sneak into the house through the window they left open, which appears to be how the killers got in. Dana leaves and gets strangled to death by STEVE while outside. John goes out to find him and the killers turn the radio on to lure him around the building, where he tries to open the door to the kids’ room and the mom brains him with the baseball bat. Skeletor and STEVE use this opportunity to grab Tina and the mom, stabbing the mother in the back. Oddly, while Tina is facing off against Skeletor and STEVE, the mom is just repeating her son’s name over and over again and trying to save him… ignoring that her daughter is about to die. Guess you really do have a favorite child.

Tina kicks Skeletor in the balls (which He-Man should have done), convincing him to go after the mom, and STEVE taunts her to grab the baseball bat. STEVE drops his knife and offers Tina “a fighting chance,” before mocking her for being weak. She proceeds to knock him down and tries to run, only to be confronted with a THIRD killer, who has not been seen or alluded to prior to this. She’s a woman who tries to stab Tina to death on the stairs. Tina finally escapes and runs next door, only for the people next door to turn off the lights. The mom is beaten unconscious with a hammer, John is stabbed, and Tina jumps in a passing car. She asks the driver for help, and he acknowledges that he knows her family is in Cabin 28, revealing that he is working with the killers.

Cabin28Montage

He brings her back to the cabin, where she is tied up with her dying mother and brother in chairs. Her mom begs for her small children in the other room to be spared. John is executed in front of his mother by having his head bashed in with a hammer. Tina then claims she’s pregnant to avoid getting her head smashed in. They hit her in the head with the hammer anyway, before killing the mother with the same hammer. One of the small boys, the friend, walks into the room and is horrified. The killers put Tina into the trunk of their car.

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The next day, the eldest daughter, Sheila (Brendee Green), returns home from her friend’s house and sees her mother, brother, and Dana mutilated on the floor. She finds that the young sons are alive in the next room. I’m going to pause to state that these kids clearly were not given much direction during the first shot of them, because 2 of them appear to be laughing a little at something, which doesn’t really match up with the “just heard your family brutally murdered” vibe.

It then cuts to an interview by a deputy with one of the neighbors, Marty, who lies about seeing a suspicious person in a bar. He then denies that the small boy who came out, who is apparently his stepson, saw anything about the killings. He then says a bunch of stuff that make him look blatantly guilty. When the deputy talks to the Sheriff, the Sheriff says that he just needs to drop it and not “pull threads.” The Sheriff implies that he’ll be convincing the DoJ to drop it as well.

Cabin28Marty

Then, another interview with another neighbor until the Sheriff shuts it down. The two men are shown leaving town afterwards. The end title cards indicate that no one was ever arrested for the murders and that Tina’s fractured skull was found one county over. The case is now active again following the discovery of the murder hammer in 2016.

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, first off: Almost all of the accents in this are terrible. Most of the actors were British, which might explain it if acting didn’t exist. I acknowledge that even some great actors can’t do accents well (*cough* Benedict Cumberbatch *cough* I love you, though *cough*), but seriously, this was exceptionally bad. The film is boring, it’s basically just The Strangers done worse. Since the characters really don’t seem to have done anything to earn their demise in traditional horror fashion, especially the daughter, the brutality of their execution is not entertaining, it’s just uncomfortable. They’re dying not for the narrative, but because they died in real life. I guess they added the Mom’s ineptitude, the brother’s drinking, and the daughter’s pregnancy in the name of “justifying” them dying, but that completely undermines the scary element of “this was completely random” that The Strangers and its ilk use. Fiction, unlike reality, has to be accountable for its actions, but this is just watching a re-enactment of a snuff film. Which brings us to my next point:

I honestly hate this movie on another level. The movie is portraying itself as being about real events, uses the real names for all of the parties, but also A) depicts several of the characters of having done things they probably both didn’t do and wouldn’t want to have depicted in film (one sister, the one who survived, had a pre-teen abortion; the youngest one, who was 12 at the time, is said to be pregnant when she’s killed; the mother is depicted as essentially mortally wounding her own son; the son, 15, was apparently drinking all night on fake IDs), and B) heavily implies that it knows which three people committed this crime. Granted, the two lead suspects are dead, but the third person implied in the movie as committing these murders isn’t. That’s probably why she isn’t made as “explicit” in her portrayal as a killer, to avoid lawsuits. Still, we don’t know who actually committed these murders yet, and actively implying that these people did it borders on slander… or libel, rather. Hell, I haven’t read a report that says there were three killers, except on one weird conspiracy site (which stated that the friend that was over, the 12-year-old stepson, actively took part in the killings, so I’m disregarding that whole thing). Also, it doesn’t just imply that law enforcement was incompetent, it flat-out says they were active in covering it up.

Seriously, this movie just pisses me off. It’s not just bad, it’s f*cking unethical. Don’t watch this movie. I know it wasn’t likely for anyone, but I’m telling you, I don’t think I’ve ever hated a film this much. Maybe Chaos.

Joker’s Rebuttal:

I have literally nothing to rebut here. If anything, I retroactively like The Strangers less after seeing this movie.  The best part of the movie was when I realized I might be able to prevent others from seeing it.

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

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

Firefly Fridays – Episode 1: “Serenity”

Image result for Firefly posterAlright, some a-hole, who will likely share this and identify himself in the process, has asked me to review all of the episodes of Firefly. Since one of the episodes made it into my personal top 10, and because I love this series, I’m going to grant this request. I’m going by the DVD episode order, not the production order or airing order. If you have a problem with that, take it up with the rest of the internet, there are plenty of people who will care. However, you can freely yell at me over what I will put at the end, as I rank the episodes using the time-honored “Serenity Scale” to create a solid determination of what is the best and worst of this series. While most of you might think that “Objects in Space” is already my number 1, that is on an objective basis, while this ranking will be on how well I think the episode is representative of what is good about the series, so that might change. I can tell you it won’t be at the bottom, however.

This’ll be the longest review, because this episode is the length of a movie, and because it’s our intro to the world of Firefly.

Recap:

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Cut from Starship Troopers

The beginning of this episode is in the middle of the Unification War. Specifically, at the Battle of Serenity Valley. For a show that doesn’t really rely too heavily on battle scenes (though they do appear), this starts literally mid-explosion, filled with open-air action and chaos. It really stands as a contrast to how much of the show is spent in a small spaceship. Granted, that’s because this was originally a much different scene to the series, but Fox wanted it to be more “action packed.” Despite that, it’s really a solid hook.

fireflyep1malstare.jpgMalcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe Alleyne (later Washburne) (Gina Torres) are in the middle of the fight, trying to hold off the Alliance forces. This traditional struggling hero image is immediately undercut as the two find out that their air support has abandoned them after claiming that it’s too risky to come in. The camera holds on Fillion as he realizes that the battle is lost, and the war is as well. We’re now 5 minutes into this show, and we’ve already established two of our main protagonists, as well as their general character traits: Zoe is a stoic badass, Mal is a wisecracking rogue who is clearly in charge because he can turn some great phrases (“We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty”).

Image result for wash playing with dinosaursIt then cuts to six years later and it immediately shows our cast floating in space trying to salvage a wreck. As is typical in a pilot episode, we get little intros to each of the characters who crew the ship Serenity (a Firefly-Class transport ship). As is typical in a good pilot episode, these intros are mostly done without exposition. Wash (Alan Tudyk), the pilot, is introduced to us childishly playing with plastic dinosaurs, giving us the unforgettable and over-meme’d line “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal.” Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is the engineer who comes off as a bit of a farmgirl. Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is the muscle, working with Mal and Zoe on the salvage. An alert goes off that an Alliance ship is near, resulting in them having to deploy a fake distress call so that they can get away. Despite Jayne’s optimism about the bounty, Mal is clearly unhappy with the current situation.

Then, we’re introduced to the theme song, and few shows have ever nailed a theme song like this. Okay, that’s a lie, a ton of shows have epic theme songs that perfectly represent the show, but this one does convey the show’s status as a “space western” by having the lyrics imply freedom is found in the sky, but doing so in a western-style ballad with a mix of blues brought by Sonny Rhodes’s performance.

After a brief fight between Wash and Zoe to establish that they’re married and Wash isn’t happy that Zoe has so much loyalty towards Mal, we’re introduced to Inara (Morena Baccarin). Given what we’ll learn about Mal’s opinion of Inara’s profession in the future, Mal describing her as earning “an honest living” really drives home how dissatisfied Mal is right now. Inara is then shown having sex with a client, because Whedon wants you to understand irony. However, we later learn that she’s a “companion,” which is like a geisha mixed with a psychologist, a philosopher, and a legal prostitute. While her position is considered to be honorable, the client offends her before leaving, which leads to Inara expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo similar to Mal, before leaving in her shuttle to rendezvous with Serenity.

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What do I look like? A demon?

Mal and the crew go to sell their salvaged parts to Badger (Mark Sheppard), who breaks the deal he made with them and refuses to buy after delivering a series of put-downs on Mal. This forces Mal to try to sell the goods to Patience (Bonnie “I’m married to Mr. Feeny” Bartlett), a crimelord who shot Mal the last time she saw him. At the same time, Book (Ron Glass), a Shepherd, which is the preacher of tomorrow, joins the crew as a passenger. Following him are Dobson (Carlos Jacott), a man with no obvious personality traits whatsoever, and Simon Tam (Sean Maher), an aristocratic doctor with a large cargo crate in tow.

During the introductory dinner, we get a bunch of one-liners and quick asides to establish Mal’s dislike of religion, Kaylee’s crush on Simon, that Mal is defensive of his crew (even if it’s Jayne being a dick), and that Book is not a conventional Shepherd, but more tolerant.

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In the middle of the flight, Wash discovers that someone has sent a coded message to the Alliance. Mal immediately assumes it’s Simon, but it turns out to be Dobson, who is not after Mal, but Simon. Mal offers to help turn Simon in, but Dobson, stupidly, states that he is going to take in everyone on the ship. The situation escalates until Dobson accidentally shoots Kaylee when she enters, before being skillfully disarmed and knocked-out by Book, who then prevents Jayne from killing Dobson. Kaylee is brought to sick bay, but Simon refuses to treat her unless Mal refuses to hand him over to the Alliance.

After Simon stabilizes Kaylee, Mal opens Simon’s crate, which contains a young woman in stasis. The woman wakes up panicked and speaking nonsense. She’s revealed to be Simon’s sister, River Tam (Summer Glau). Simon tells the crew that River is an unmatched prodigy, but she was sent to an Alliance academy where she was experimented on. She got a message to him, but it took him more than 2 years to get her out. Oddly, his account says that she was rescued by others who snuck her out in cryo-sleep, which contradicts the events we’re shown in the movie Serenity. But, only an asshole would point that out. Like the kind of asshole that points out that a few lines from Scotty’s appearance in Star Trek: TNG makes the opening sequence and plot of the movie Star Trek: Generations nonsensical without some bullshit ret-con (teleportation disorientation, my ass). Basically, nerds.

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Mal decides to dump the Tams, and Inara says that she’ll leave if he does. Simon asks Mal why he’s so afraid of the Alliance, then calls Mal out, resulting in Mal punching him. Jayne interrogates Dobson skillfully (immediately knowing the truth behind Dobson’s lies, which upsets Jayne, who wanted to torture him). Dobson offers Jayne money to help him.

FireflyEp1ReaverShip.jpgWash and Mal discover a non-Alliance ship nearby which is operating without radiation shielding (essentially guaranteeing a slow, poisonous death to everyone onboard). This means Reavers. Reavers aren’t explained at this point, except that Zoe tells Simon “If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.” Which, for the record, is one of the scariest f*cking descriptions in history, perhaps second only to “Nobody f*cks with the Jesus” from The Big Lebowski. Fortunately, the Reavers don’t attack.

FireflyEp1Patience.jpgMal contacts Patience to deliver the goods, but immediately suspects that Patience is planning on double crossing them. He sets up a counter-ambush. Meanwhile, Book goes to talk to Dobson, who knocks him unconscious and fairly brutally keeps attacking him. Dobson captures River, while Mal and Zoe get into a firefight with Patience and her henchmen, with Jayne providing cover fire. Mal ends up taking his money, but declines to kill Patience, telling her “I do the job. I get paid.”

FireflyEp1Explosion.jpgUnfortunately, the Reavers have followed them, apparently now hungry enough to attack. Mal, Zoe, and Jayne head back to the ship, only to find Dobson holding River hostage. Mal shoots Dobson dead without a second thought and they take off, the Reavers now in hot pursuit. The crew manages to escape by igniting the atmosphere behind them with the main engine. Mal asks Jayne why he didn’t turn on him, and Jayne says that “the money wasn’t good enough.” Mal then offers Simon and River a position on the ship. When Simon asks how he knows Mal won’t kill him in his sleep, Mal says “If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed.” He then decides it was a good day, because they’re still flying, and that’s enough.

End Summary

Alright, so, this is the intro to the Firefly universe (or at least it SHOULD HAVE BEEN, FOX!!!), there’s a lot to unpack here.

I’ve decided to split up some of the signature effects, universe rules, and themes (Government v. Freedom, lack of sound in space, Chinese language, lack of FTL travel, Reavers, etc.) within the show into other episode reviews so that this particular entry isn’t another 10 pages. So, I’ll stick to the things that really stood out within this episode in particular.

FireflyEp1Book.jpgFirst, Whedon loves repetition on his jokes. The ones that I most remember within this episode are: When people call Book “grandpa,” he responds “I never married;” people repeatedly asking Mal “didn’t she shoot you?” in reference to Patience; and calling Mal “psychotic.” There probably were others. What’s interesting is that the number of times the gag is repeated is inconsistent, which is something most writers don’t do. For example, in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films, almost every repeated gag is going to be done according to the “rule of three.” That’s just Gunn’s level of adherence to the comedy guidelines. Whedon, not so much. Having re-watched the show, this appears to be the episode with the most repeated lines for joke purposes. Other times in the series, repetition is used for more serious lines, such as Jubal Early’s “Does that seem right to you?”

fireflyep1dobson.jpgSecond, the pettiness of the Alliance is a little more over-the-top here than it is in other episodes. Usually, within the series, the Alliance is the ultimate in overreaching government with shadowy qualities, but, in this episode, the “petty and bureaucratic” aspect seems played up. I think the main contrast here is between Dobson and the Operative from the Serenity movie or the blue-gloved men. While the Operative is ruthless and efficient, while the men are mysterious and amoral, befitting a shadowy government, Dobson is mostly incompetent and irrational. Most notably, when Book comes to warn him, he not only knocks Book unconscious, but then kicks him several times out of, apparently, anger over Book punching him earlier, despite the fact that Book was also the thing keeping Jayne from killing him. Oh, and HE’S A PREACHER. Generally, kicking an unconscious holy man is frowned upon.

Third, I do appreciate the real-ish physics they use in this episode with Serenity’s flight. The “Crazy Ivan” that Wash pulls in the movie is actually a real technique, named for a hard u-turn by a Soviet submarine that enables the sub to clear its baffles (the area directly behind a submarine that cannot usually be detected), then put itself in firing position on a following ship. Essentially, you reverse one of the two engines, which allows for a very quick turn, often so quick it wrecks everything inside the ship. Since Serenity doesn’t have weapons, instead of firing on the Reaver ship, Wash pilots Serenity under the other ship, then they activate the main engine to ignite the atmosphere behind them. Since Serenity’s main engine appears to be driven by high-energy emissions (though not exactly radiation emissions, since apparently that was what they used for Firefly Series 1 engines, and Serenity is Series 3), it makes sense that these could be concentrated to burn up the atmosphere. This energy emission drive might be relatively useless in gravity, but in 0 g, this basically allows for infinite acceleration when you have their mystical engine core through conservation of momentum.

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The “Just a Little Unwell” Ivan – Matchbox 20

Last, Mal and Inara. At the beginning of the episode, both of them seem to have a higher level of dissatisfaction with their lifestyles than they do for the rest of the series. If I had to guess, it’s because they’ve lost a sense of purpose, and appear to just be trying to keep going. When Inara threatens to leave if Mal doesn’t help Simon and, later, when Mal welcomes Simon onto the ship, this actually provides them with the level of purpose: They’re rebelling again. Mal against the Alliance, and Inara against the expectations of her position. While Mal was a criminal at the beginning, he wasn’t really fighting the Alliance anymore. He was just running from the law. Now, he’s actively working against them by sheltering the Tams. It gives him back his spirit.

Alright, that’s one episode down. We’ve met the characters, and, unlike most pilots, they’re pretty consistent with their characterizations for the rest of the series. Inara has a few scenes that are awkward, but that’s probably because those scenes were re-shoots from the original scenes with Inara’s first actress Rebecca Gayheart. Fortunately, Whedon was smart enough to shoot those scenes in singles, allowing them to be more easily re-shot, and even these scenes don’t really detract from the character in any noticeable way. Solid start.

Score: 3.5 Fireflies (or 1 Badger’s Hat)

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See you next Friday, Browncoats.

NEXT EPISODE – 2: The Train Job

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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