Uncle Frank: Great Performances, Mediocre Film – Amazon Prime Review

Paul Bettany brings some heavy emotions, but the film can’t hold up.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

In 1973, Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis) moves from her traditional Southern family in South Carolina to go to college in New York where her uncle, Frank (Paul Bettany), teaches. Beth attends a party and finds out that Frank is gay and has been living with his boyfriend Wally (Peter Macdissi) for a decade. Beth agrees to keep Frank’s secret, but this is quickly put to the test when Frank’s dad, Frank Sr. (Stephen Root), dies. Frank has to go visit his mother (Famous Celebrity Character Actress Margo Martindale), brother Mike (Steve Zahn) and his wife Kitty (Judy Greer), and the rest of his family, which is complicated when Wally tries to secretly follow along. 

You could guess what decade it is just from this shot.

END SUMMARY

I constantly go back and forth about how much a good performance can salvage a mediocre or even bad film, but this movie is proof that a bunch of good performances can at least keep a mediocre outing interesting. What’s really sad is that, with relatively few changes, it feels like this movie could have been amazing, because Bettany and Lillis really seem to nail their characters far beyond what was on the page. 

Their interplay is strong.

The problem with this movie is the same problem that many films about a queer character coming out to a conservative family has: It wants to have it both ways. It wants the main character to go through the dread of interacting with a family that might reject him (despite the fact that he’s used a beard for a while) and also to have the family not really be monstrous towards him so that it seems reasonable that he still wants to be with them. To its credit, the film does a better job than many movies, like Happiest Season for example, because not everyone in the film goes immediately from “gays are defective” to “rainbow pride,” but it still makes a lot of the characters come off as less real than they need to be for this kind of drama. 

Stephen Root’s character is too unbelievable in a different way.

The other problem with this movie is that they actually waste a ton of the talent in the cast by not giving them more to work with. While I may have thought Judy Greer ended up being a little underused in Halloween, this is exactly the kind of film where she could have shone if given something good to say. The same is true of Margo Martindale, who, as BoJack Horseman repeatedly informed us, makes everything she’s in better, as well as Steve Zahn, who, honestly, has a few decent scenes as Beth’s cantankerous and somewhat off-putting father. 

Margo Martindale is a treasure. Always.

Overall, the movie isn’t bad. It’s actually pretty good. It just needed a little polish to be great and I think it’s sad that it didn’t reach that mark. 

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

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Santa Jaws: It’s Ho-Ho-Honestly Pretty Jawesome – Amazon Prime Review

The movie was better than the subtitle pun. Hopefully Street Sharks won’t sue me.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Cody (Reid Miller) is a young illustrator who has made a comic with his friend Steve (Hawn Tran) called “Santa Jaws” about a magical shark that ate an evil Santa Claus (Creek Wilson). On Christmas Eve, Cody has a fight with his family and his Grandfather, Papa Joe (Ritchie Montgomery), gives him an antique pen. Cody angrily uses it to ink a drawing of Santa Jaws, but it turns out the pen is magic and it brings the Christmas-themed Carcharodon to life. The shark quickly starts attacking the town of Port City, including Cody’s family. Now it’s up to Cody, Steve, and Cody’s crush Jena (Courtney Lauren Cummings) to stop the beast.

She eats you when you’re sleeping…

END SUMMARY

When I saw this title, I knew it was going to be a perfect watch for my bad movie group. This was supposed to be a complete and utter trainwreck of a film. Instead, this was one of the rare gold nuggets that you can find going through the river of crap that is the “horror film based on bad pun” genre. One of the best decisions in the film was to make the central conceit that it’s a comic book come to life. Comics are frequently full of weird physics and terrible puns, which allow for the movie to do over-the-top moments that might not work as well in other films. Since the main characters either wrote or read the comic, it seems more justified that they are willing to start engaging in the surreal logic… and making glorious puns while dealing with the shark. It also adds in a lot of great Christmas atmosphere, like having “Carol of the Bells” and “Ave Maria” in the movie soundtrack, and has a strong family theme.

She bites when you’re awake…

Santa Jaws, the shark, is everything that I wanted out of this film. It’s not just that she (yes, despite the name, Santa Jaws is female) wears a Santa hat on her fin, as the movie goes on, she acquires progressively more holiday-themed accessories to become a living tribute to the holiday. Perhaps I should say weapons rather than just accessories, since the shark actually manages to use them in its killing spree, like using Christmas lights as a rope to pull people into the water. The shark is also mostly invulnerable and it’s weakness is nothing short of hilarious. While you’ll probably guess the ending a mile away (the film foreshadows it pretty well), it also allows the film to go pretty extreme on how it gets there, and I mean that in the best way. 

She spears you if you’re bad or good…

The supporting characters are all pretty archetypal. Cody’s parents, Peter and Caroline (Jim Klock and Carrie Lazar), run a restaurant (and Peter teaches physics) and don’t listen to the kids no matter what they say. His brother, Josh (Arthur Marroquin), is the favorite who mocks Cody. His uncle, Mike (Miles Doleac), is a businessman so stereotypical that he first appears while talking on the phone about business and accompanied by his younger instagram model girlfriend Georgia (Haviland Stillwell). Oh, and there’s the comic-book store owner, Clark (Scott Allen Perry), who is, naturally, a pervy scumbag. While the basic roles are normal for this kind of film, the performances are definitely above average for “pun-based horror.”

So stay on land for goodness sake. Seriously, it’s a shark, just stay on land.

Honestly, if you’re a fan of low-budget horror movies, this should immediately jump to the top of your list this season. 

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Christmas Catch: A Masterpiece of Cheesy Xmas Movies – Netflix/Amazon Prime Review

I may have just watched too many bad movies, because I enjoyed this.

SUMMARY

Detective Mackenzie “Mack” Bennett (Emily Alatalo) is single at Christmas and, due to her natural awkwardness, has trouble finding dates. This causes no end of derision from her partner, Reid (Andrew Bushell), and her superior/mom (yes, her boss is her mom) Captain Bennett (Lauren Holly). However, when trying to find a guy at a singles night, she accidentally falls, literally, into the arms of Carson (Franco Lo Presti), a perfect guy with whom she immediately connects. The only problem is that the next day FBI Special Agent Robertson (Genelle Williams) arrives to inform the local police that Carson is a professional diamond thief along with his ex-wife. Now Mack has to go undercover, as herself, and date Carson in order to find the diamond encrusted reindeer that he supposedly stole. 

Yes, there’s a Santa sting.

END SUMMARY

Cheesy Christmas movies usually tend to involve two people who learn to love each other despite starting out disliking or not understanding each other. This movie kind of eschews that by having the two main characters fall in love at first sight. Literally, when he catches her (get it?) as she falls, they immediately are attracted to each other and bond quickly. There’s no question that they’re going to get together. Honestly, I buy their chemistry a little more than I should, because the dialogue they exchange is actually more than just “oh hey, you’re a hot guy and I’m a hot girl and it’s Christmas.” It’s a genuinely decent meet-cute scene that actually makes you root for them throughout the film. 

Also, this film lets the lead guy be more roguish than usual.

The general plot of the movie is predictable, of course, but the actual way it plays out has some fun moments, mostly because Mack’s character is almost entirely defined as “can’t flirt, not good under pressure.” It doesn’t help that her mother is her boss and combines the tropes of those roles we usually see in these films: too involved, inappropriate comments, lots of catchphrases, etc. It’s an insane conceit that her mother could somehow also be her commanding officer and no one seems to question that, but it leads to some interesting moments. 

Nepotism. It’s a thing.

The actual humor that comes from the characters interacting is not bad, the only problem is that almost no one ever quite nails the delivery. I will be frank, aside from Franco Lo Presti (whose appearances on Letterkenny might make me biased), most of the performances are a little too clearly composed of people acting. Line delivery is often unnatural, but I admit that it is more challenging to do the style of comedy the film is asking for from the actors. Alatalo is being asked to flirt badly at one point and, while she does flirt badly, it’s not quite the trainwreck that the screenplay seems to call for. The other person is supposed to be repulsed, but it’s hard to buy that from what Alatalo does in the scene. Still, there are at least some genuinely funny moments. 

There’s a lot of Christmas in it, too.

Overall, I have to say this was close to one of the best cheesy Xmas movies I’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s got some bad acting moments, but it actually skips the “will they won’t they” facade and I appreciate that. 

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Wayne: A Psychopath with a Heart of Gold – Amazon Prime Review

The story of a boy, a girl, and a quest for an awesome car.

SUMMARY

Wayne McCullough (Mark McKenna) is a violent teen from Massachusetts whose father is dying of cancer. He meets a local girl named Del (Ciara Bravo) who lost her mother and lives with her violent father and brothers. After Wayne’s dad passes, Wayne resolves to get back his father’s stolen 1979 Pontiac Trans Am that is in the possession of Wayne’s mother’s (Michaela Watkins) new husband (Kirk Ward). They’re pursued by two police officers, Geller and Ganetti (Stephen Kearin and James Earl), as well as Del’s father (Dean Winters), Wayne’s best friend Orlando (Joshua J. Williams), and his principal (Mike O’Malley). 

Do not mess with this kid.

END SUMMARY

This series came out on YouTube Premium back in 2019 and did pretty well for being on YouTube Premium, but, as the platform seems to mostly have stopped making original content now, didn’t end up continuing. They finally moved it to Amazon Prime and, having watched it, I really hope Amazon keeps it going. This show is an interesting blend of action comedy that we don’t often see on television, because it combines a dark, twisted sense of humor with a heavy dose of graphic violence. Of course, this was made by the same people that made Deadpool, so really we should have seen this coming.

Wayne doesn’t have super healing, though.

The lead character is described throughout the series as a kind of Robin Hood or avenging angel figure. He is violent and probably a little psychopathic, but he always makes sure his targets have it coming. When he sees a woman being mistreated by her boyfriend, he can’t help but intervene, even at his own detriment. Early on, the principal indicates that Wayne, like his father, sometimes bullies people, but mostly protects the innocent by bullying other bullies. From a storytelling standpoint, this is brilliant, because we never feel bad about all of the horrible things Wayne does to people, and he does do some horrible things. It helps that we do get a lot of cute moments between him and Del in which it becomes apparent that he does have a very soft side underneath his mean exterior. McKenna’s performance has to carry a lot of narrative weight without a huge amount of dialogue, but he pulls it off flawlessly.

He is really good at the subtle looks.

Similarly, Del is shown to be dealing with the tragic loss of her mother, with whom she was very close. Her mother was a con woman, leading Del to often have the same traits, but like Wayne Del has a strong moral center that appears to be born out of spiting her father’s criminal ways. She also is shown to want to stand up for the little guy and be a leader, initially selling cookies to supposedly raise funds for her mayoral run in five years, when she’s eligible. Of course, like most politicians, she’s also funding the campaign through theft. Bravo manages to be likable and demonstrate a connection to Wayne despite the fact that he’s violent and mostly emotionless.

They have pretty good chemistry, too.

The general theme of the series is that these two are rebelling. They’re good people but not the kind of “good” people that the world is prepared to accept. They don’t care about the rules and they really hate people who use the rules to hurt others. That’s what bonds them. Moreover, that’s what leads them to inspire many of the supporting characters to be more honest about how messed up things can be and to change it. It also includes just a ton of humor which is supplemented, rather than detracted from, by the violence. 

It’s a Bonnie and Clyde with fewer ethical issues.

Overall, this is a great show that everyone needs to watch so that we can maybe get more of it. 

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Truth Seekers: British Comedy Horror Done Right – Amazon Prime Review

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg return to television and it’s pretty great.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Gus Roberts (Nick Frost) is the number one broadband installer for SMYLE, Britain’s biggest internet provider. His boss Dave (Simon Pegg), the head of the company, partners Gus up with new hire Elton John (Samson Kayo). Gus reveals to Elton that he is more than just an internet installer, he also runs a paranormal investigation web channel called “Truth Seekers.” Despite having little luck with finding ghosts in the past, Gus and Elton quickly find themselves uncovering numerous supernatural occurrences. They’re joined on occasion by Astrid (Emma D’Arcy), a formerly haunted woman, Gus’s aged father-in-law Richard (Malcolm McDowell), and Elton’s sister Helen (Susie Wokoma). Together, they uncover a plot involving ghosts, mad scientists, and a cult run by the mysterious Dr. Peter Toynbee (Julian Barratt).

They install internet and hunt ghosts. Surprisingly, those can be related.

END SUMMARY

I’ll be upfront that part of why I instantly took to this show is my love of all of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg’s previous collaborations, from Spaced to the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End). Even though Pegg is only a recurring character in this series, whenever they’re on screen together their natural chemistry takes over and brings a smile to my face. Frost and Kayo, though, also play off of each other masterfully and since they’re the majority of the show, that really elevates this above other “comedy version of the X-Files” series. It helps that all of the supporting characters are played with a huge amount of likability and with some great character development over the series. Helen, for example, is an agoraphobic cosplayer who also becomes fast friends with Richard, a tech-incompetent misanthrope. The interactions between the characters really get you invested in what’s happening to them and it pays off as the show goes on.

They’re awesome together.

The actual plot of the show is a nice blend of episodic mysteries that tie into the larger plot thread. Almost everything that happens early in the show ends up paying off down the line. While that does make some of the first episodes a little slower, it’s a streaming series and you don’t really have to wait that long to get through it. It helps that a number of the “monsters of the week” are fun and creative, but really it’s the dialogue and the performances that will get you through the weaker parts. Since it’s only eight episodes long, you never really have to worry about having invested too much. 

This pays off more eventually.

I will give the show credit for having some legitimately good horror to balance out the comedy. There are a few parts of the series where I was shocked at how far they were willing to push the envelope. The ghosts that follow the characters are often played straight with horrific wounds or disfigurements and the kind of jerky motions that we associate with the inhuman. There’s an episode involving possessed objects that was even more disturbing on a number of levels, but I don’t want to spoil it here. Similarly, the show has a number of solid dramatic moments that end up standing out when contrasted with the mainly comedic tone, but never feel like they’re conflicting with it.

Creepy flashing monk-thing? No thanks.

Overall, I really liked the show. It also ended with a lot of potential for future plotlines, so I hope it keeps going. Give it a try.

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The Boys (Season 2): No Subtlety, All Awesome – Amazon Prime Review

The Boys are back and America is in trouble. Those things aren’t related.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free for Season 2)

After the events of Season 1, the Boys are now fugitives. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) survived his encounter with Homelander (Antony Starr), who impregnated Billy’s wife Becca (Shantel VanSanten), resulting in their son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti). Hughie (Jack Quaid), Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Frenchie (Tomer Capon), and the Female (Karen Fukuhara) are all underground. Hughie’s paramour Starlight (Erin Moriarity) is still a member of the Seven, along with Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), Homelander, Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), and newcomer Stormfront (Aya Cash). They’re now being directly overseen by Mr. Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito), the head of Vought International. The Boys have to deal with both the superheroes and the newly-minted supervillains, while also finding a way to get themselves out of trouble with the law.

Also, Homelander is not a good dad.

END SUMMARY

I really don’t want to spoil things in this article, but it’s almost impossible to talk about one of the best parts of the season without spoiling it, so I’m going to briefly say the following:

This show took a big swing this season and it paid off. If you didn’t like the first season of the series, you might still like this one. It ratcheted the social commentary up to eleven and it was merciless. Rather than just satirizing superheroes and the superhero film industry, this season satirized America and American politics. The performances remain excellent, the show’s violence remains over-the-top enough to be almost comically entertaining while also being devastating when the narration calls for it. The dialogue isn’t the best, but it’s a bit better than the first season.

They also focused the cast of characters a bit better.

Without spoilers, I really recommend this season even if you weren’t thrilled with the last one.

***SPOILERS***

This season’s about America’s relationship with white supremacy. It’s not subtle. Stormfront, a character named after the former largest white supremacy publication in the US, is revealed to be a racist who murders minorities for fun and claims they died of other causes. However, when she first appears, she just seems confident, outspoken, and in favor of “law and order.” Naturally, she uses the internet to make herself more popular and to fully muddy the truth of any of her actions. Later, when Homelander murders someone on film, she’s able to shift public opinion back towards him by use of these troll farms and masterful public relations. She and Homelander become romantically involved, with her being one of the only people capable of standing up to him and capable of making him submit to her wishes. But the real revelation is that she’s not a new hero. In fact, in the 1970s, she was operating in the South as a hero named Liberty who was removed from circulation because she kept murdering minorities. She’s just been rebranded as “Stormfront” and given a heavy internet cult following. Moreover, the Liberty persona was not her original self either. She’s actually a Nazi and the first person given superpowers by Compound V. 

Why would a Nazi like a tall, blonde, ubermensch… ooooooohhhhhhh.

By intertwining her history and existence with Homelander’s, the show gives us a strange commentary on the relationship between the USA and racism. Homelander’s formation was based on DNA from Stormfront. In other words, his existence always contained traces of racism. Then, she rebranded herself based on the American image and used it to secretly try and destroy African-Americans, but eventually she risked getting exposed and had to go underground. Now, thanks to the internet, she can rebrand herself again. By marketing herself just right, she can be out in public and tie herself directly into the supposed movement to support America. In other words, she’s made it so that people supporting patriotism are supporting racism and those that condemn racism are accused of being unpatriotic. This is, of course, only a fictional world and none of this is happening right now in reality. No one kneeling to protest racism, for example, would ever be accused of being unpatriotic, particularly since the right to protest was one of the most fundamental ensconced in the Constitution. 

Naturally, she loves having her boobs lasered.

Overall, though, this show does a great job of giving some commentary about the nature of racism in America. I look forward to seeing Season 3.

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

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Addams Family Values: The Creepiest Family in Film Returns – 13 Reviews of Halloween/Amazon Prime Review

One of the few sequels I like better than the original.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Gomez and Morticia Addams (Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston) welcome their third child, Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper). Unfortunately, the older siblings, Wednesday and Pugsley (Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman), don’t take well to the new child, attempting to murder him, as Addams are wont to do. To help, the Addams parents hire a nanny named Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) who is, in reality, a serial murdering black widow. She seduces Gomez’s brother, Fester (Christopher Lloyd). When Wednesday becomes suspicious, Debbie has her and Pugsley sent to summer camp under relentlessly chipper Counselors Gary and Beck Granger (Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski). Fortunately, the Addams family can handle more than a mere serial killer and a summer camp. Also featuring Christopher Hart as Thing, Carel Struycken as Lurch, and Carol Kane as Grandmama.

They don’t usually come out during this time of day.

END SUMMARY 

I am a fan of the original Barry Sonnenfeld Addams Family movie from 1991, but it’s more for the stand-out scenes than the film as a whole. The plot of the original film was pretty incoherent and is wrapped up by one of the strangest series of dei ex machinae in history. Still, the cast was so good that it was still incredibly fun. This film has the same cast, but also comes up with more entertaining things to do with them and a more compelling plot. It doesn’t hurt that the slightly lighter tone here allows for some more varied, but actually ultimately darker, humor.

And some great quips.

I really can’t understate how perfect the casting was for this film. I don’t think I will ever envision Morticia Addams as being anyone other than Anjelica Huston. She was born to play the role. I mean, I loved Carolyn Jones in the live-action series, but Huston nails it as hard as Hopkins nailed Hannibal. Raul Julia and John Astin are both very different but equally good portrayals of the ultimate loving husband, although Julia unfortunately was sick during filming and it does make his performance a little less energetic than the first movie. Christina Ricci proved herself to be an incredible Wednesday in the first film, but in this movie she also has to play Wednesday dealing with both puberty and her captivity within a camp that promotes “normalcy.” Honestly, the scenes of the kids rebelling against the counselors are some of my favorite gags. Christopher Lloyd’s portrayal of Fester always surprises me because it’s so very different from any of his other iconic characters, but he disappears into it just as much. In this, he has to be the lonely man who believes he’s found love and is willing to constantly overlook the obvious red flags. Speaking of red flags, Joan Cusack was a great addition to this cast. Her ability to play a sociopath who is able to put up with the oddities of the Addams family and, in fact, able to manipulate them presents an actual, believable obstacle to the perfect family. 

The best marriage in film.

It also is impressive that this movie can get away with so many of the jokes it does. The older Addams children repeatedly attempt to murder a baby, only to be thwarted in borderline slapstick ways. If it weren’t for the cartoonish nature of their attempts, we might be put off by the infanticide. Similarly, after Wednesday leads a revolt at the summer camp, it’s implied that at least some of the children have been killed and that the counselors are going to be roasted to death on a spit like Saint Lawrence, but it’s mostly offscreen and played for laughs by every character, so you can ignore it. The darker and more dryly humorous tone of the first movie only allowed for dark references to the horrors, this movie gets to show them off. 

Still better for MacNicol than “The Powers That Be.” Remember that 90s kids?

Overall, just a great movie and a fantastic sequel. It’s still my favorite incarnation of the Addams family. 

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

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Get Duked!: Take a “Fun” Walk in the Highlands – Amazon Prime Review

This was one of the funniest dark comedies of the year.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Three delinquents named DJ Beatroot, Dean, and Duncan (Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben) are taken to the Scottish Highlands by a teacher named Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris) in order to try and win the Duke of Edinburgh award. They are joined by a shy kid named Ian (Samuel Bottomley) and given a map of the Highlands that they must navigate in order to qualify for the award. Carlyle drives off to the campsite that they’re supposed to reach and leaves the boys, who reluctantly set out while getting high. Unfortunately, a well-dressed man wearing a mask (Eddie Izzard) and his masked wife (Georgie Glen) are both watching the boys. It turns out that in the Highlands, someone is out to hunt the most dangerous game: stoned teens.

They have a bit of a rough day.

END SUMMARY

This film is a solid blend of slapstick, trippy visuals, and satire with a dark premise like “rich people hunting poor teens for sport.” Well, not exactly for sport. It turns out that there are certain British people who just enjoy culling the population of “underachievers” and, being rich and bored, they decided the fun way to do that is to hunt them down in Scotland with antique rifles and weird masks. It’s obviously not a fair fight, as they have guns and the boys have a “well-sharp” fork, but it probably doesn’t help that the main characters are all pretty stupid. Despite that, they do sometimes come up with creative solutions to their problems, which is, appropriately, what they were sent on the walk to do.

Not great on the map reading, though.

Eddie Izzard, the biggest star in the film, doesn’t get a ton of focused screen time, but when he does it is used to the utmost. He plays his character, who the boys believe to actually be the Duke of Edinburgh, as the perfect blend of upperclass twit and raging sociopath. He never breaks his calm and happy demeanor, even when the boys do manage to successfully counterattack. Instead, he and his “wife” just continue to joke about the situation. 

The masks are creepy as hell.

One of the funniest parts of the film is how it represents the local police officers who get caught up in the events. They’re so rural that their biggest concern at the beginning is the local bread thief. As they get more involved with the case, they continually misunderstand the already ridiculous events and it just keeps getting funnier every single time until it finally comes to an insanely satisfying conclusion. 

Same with DJ Beatroot’s attempts to become successful.

Overall, I really recommend this film. It’s pretty hilarious.

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

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Vivarium: Nature is Cruel, Even Unnaturally – Amazon Prime Review

A couple are trapped in a suburban nightmare.

SUMMARY

Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a couple who are looking to buy their first house together. Gemma is a schoolteacher and Tom is a landscaper. They visit a real estate agent, Martin (Jonathan Aris), who tells them of a new development called Yonder. Yonder is revealed to be filled with identical houses, all of them empty except for number 9. Martin disappears while showing them the location, and when Tom and Gemma try to leave, they can’t find an exit to the suburb, eventually running out of gas. No matter what they try, they can’t get out of the maze of houses. They end up finding a box filled with food, and a second box filled with a baby, with instructions that if they raise the baby, they will be released. Unfortunately, the child (Côme Thiry/Senan Jennings/Eanna Hardwicke) proves to be just as unnatural as Yonder itself.

I feel like this is a number of red flags.

END SUMMARY

First of all, both of the leads in this movie are fantastic actors who I have loved in other films, including The Art of Self-Defense, their previous collaboration. They’ve both got a knack for balancing dramatic roles with a heavy dose of relatability and humor. This movie takes full advantage of that by having just the right amount of levity to drive home how horrible their situation is. We see two people whose relationship is suffering not necessarily because of their own actions, but because they are in a situation which is literally driving them both insane. The third lead role belongs to Senan Jennings, who I have never seen in anything before, but who absolutely nails his role as the Boy. Not only is his voice constantly unnerving because it sounds so adult despite his young age (I think he was only like 8 when filming this), but everything about him seems like a mockery of humanity. Since he ultimately seems to be just trying to copy Gemma and Tom in order to better understand how humanity acts, much as how the suburb is set up to be a pale imitation of how humanity lives, this is just perfect.

Seriously, this kid’s freaking great.

That’s really where this movie shines. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not that Gemma and Tom are really being tortured most of the time, although having a crazy child that is rapidly aging would be disconcerting for anyone, but their existence is not really existence. The food they have doesn’t have taste. The house they live in doesn’t have any real smells. There’s even a great scene of them going into their car just because it’s the only thing they have left that still feels “real.” The houses are too identical. Even the clouds aren’t right, because they just look like clouds. It’s like living in a twisted caricature of reality. Watching how much it starts to drain the psyche of our leads, particularly Poots, just drives home that this is a torture which is more cruel than any thumbscrews could ever be. 

God, so disturbing.

The one big problem I have with the movie is that it might be a bit too direct in trying to tell everyone what it’s “about.” The film opens with footage of a cuckoo bird’s life cycle, which consists of being placed in another bird’s nest as an egg, hatching before the other eggs and developing faster than most species of birds, which allows the adolescent cuckoo to knock the other chicks out of the nest. Having killed their competition, the cuckoo is then raised by the mother bird until it’s an adult. So, that’s a bit of a massive spoiler about this film’s arc. Also, the title tells us that the neighborhood is supposed to be a Vivarium, a place where life is grown while observed as part of data collection or experimentation. I think the film was clear enough, so it feels unnecessary to have it spelled out so much, but maybe that’s nitpicking. 

Hey, it was just a critique.

Overall, this was a solid horror film. I recommend giving it a try. 

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

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My Spy: It’s Cute, Just A Bit Too Adult – Amazon Prime Review

Dave Bautista stars in this action comedy about a spy being outsmarted by a 9 year old.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

JJ (Dave Bautista) is a former US Army Ranger who now works as an agent for the CIA. Unfortunately, he’s not particularly good at infiltration, so he blows his first major mission, resulting in him losing part of a plutonium core. Because of this, he’s assigned to keep an eye on Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman), the in-laws of a major illegal arms dealer. JJ is accompanied by his Tech Operator Bobbi (Kristen Schaal). Unfortunately, Sophie soon discovers that JJ and Bobbi are watching over her family and starts to blackmail JJ into being her friend and guardian while she tries to fit in at her new school. 

Also, she gets ice cream, because she broke the CIA. You get Cake for cracking the FBI.

END SUMMARY

There’s a long history of “action star with cute kid” comedy, ranging from fun movies like Kindergarten Cop and The Pacifier to terrible movies like Cop and a Half and The Tooth Fairy (I love The Rock, but that movie sucks). However, most of those movies are smart enough to be marketed and targeted towards children. This movie, bizarrely, decided to get a PG-13 rating, but only to add a little bit more violence and a few swears, without trying to make the movie more appealing to adults. 

This isn’t a scene that should be in a PG-13 movie.

It’s pretty sad that the film decided to make itself mostly inaccessible to children, because the chemistry between Bautista and Coleman is honestly pretty solid. Their interactions are really cute, particularly when Bautista is teaching her spycraft. Her desire to use him as a father figure is not really subtle, but it works anyway because of Bautista’s sincerity in being concerned for her. Unfortunately, the film mostly relies on “cute” over “funny,” which is also a bad call if you want it to be for everyone. 

A kid on a lie detector is cute, but the lines weren’t very funny.

It’s not like Bautista can’t be funny; he’s great as the straight-man in Guardians of the Galaxy and was pretty funny in Stuber with Kumail Nanjiani. Kristen Schaal, who is tragically underused in this movie, is typically hilarious. Coleman, although young, also has some decent comedy instincts. Yet, somehow, aside from a few scenes of Bautista’s tough-guy character being paired with Brittany Spears music, which is an old gag to begin with, there’s not a ton to laugh about in this film. There are a lot of heartwarming moments, but the humor isn’t there, at least not for adults. We get some scenes of Coleman humiliating the two grown spies, which should be funny, but it’s been done so much in other movies that it’s really predictable. I will admit that I liked the part where she just Googles how to find the source of the hidden cameras, because I constantly wonder why people don’t just search for answers in films more often.

How dare you not fully use Kristen Schaal!!!!

Even more bizarrely, the action sequences in this film aren’t particularly outstanding. The opening of the film does contain Bautista kicking a decent amount of villainous backside, but after that it is a long time before we see any more of his action chops, and the final fights just aren’t great. 

People falling and fire aren’t exactly blowing my skirt up.

Overall, I just don’t get why the heck this movie wasn’t just made into a kids film. It’s not like there would be a huge amount to change to do so, and I think kids would like it. Adults, though, not so much.

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.