Halloween Review/Amazon Prime Review – Human Lanterns: The Kung-Fu Horror Movie Someone Asked For

I got a request to review a Chinese horror movie and it was definitely unique.

SUMMARY (Partially inspired by Romeo and Juliet)

Two Households, both alike in dignity,

In pre-industrial China, where we start the show,

Where Master Tan humiliates Master Lung,

By showing Lung’s wife Chin, Yen-Chu, Lung’s former ho.

Okay, that’s all the poetry, because I’m running out of time. 

So, two local rich guys, Kung-Fu Masters Tan (Kuan Tai Chen) and Lung (Tony Liu), have a long-standing rivalry. Lung mocks one of Tan’s lanterns before the upcoming lantern festival, but in return Tan shows Lung’s wife Chin (Ni Tien) a prostitute, Yen-Chu (Linda Chu), with whom Lung had an affair. Yen-Chu is now with Tan. Lung proceeds to insult Tan and decides to show him up by commissioning the most magnificent lantern imaginable for the festival. He goes to the best local lantern maker, Chao Chun-Fang (Lieh Lo), whom Lung had formerly defeated in a battle for the hand of his wife. Despite still hating Lung, Chun-Fang agrees. 

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Lung is throwing SHADE at Tan’s LAMP. Get it?…. I hate myself for that joke.

Soon, a man in an ape suit and skull begins abducting women related to the two Masters and skinning them to make them into lanterns. Each master believes the other is behind it, leading to growing enmity between the two while the women of the town are at risk. 

END SUMMARY

So, this is an interesting combination of horror and kung-fu (Wuxia) film. The style of the movie is reminiscent of the other martial arts movies of the 1970s (though this was 1982), and the two leads are all veterans of the genre. Tony Liu was in three separate Bruce Lee films, and Lieh Lo was a superstar before Bruce Lee’s star was on the rise. The writer of the film, Kuang Ni, as well as the director, Chung Sun, both did a lot of those movies, including 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the namesake of the Wu-Tang Clan’s first album. The reason I bring this up is that the horror elements in this movie are significantly smaller than the kung-fu elements, but I imagine that’s because the latter was more solidly in the team’s wheelhouse. That said, while the horror elements are relatively small, they’re horribly graphic and disturbing. 

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Seriously, well choreographed fight scenes.

Naturally, since a lot of the movie is done in the Wuxia style, the villain in this movie can’t just be a crazy person who abducts and skins women, though that would be horrifying enough on its own. No, instead the villain is a martial arts master whose physical prowess is on display most of the time that he’s on-screen. It’s not just that he’s clearly extremely dextrous and has the traditional Wuxia ability to jump 30 feet in the air and land on a lily pad, his movements are wild and erratic, reminiscent of capoeira or drunken boxing, which only feeds into the idea that he’s insane. When he’s abducting women, the camera adopts a predatory feel, following him as he stalks his prey, particularly the first abduction. More horrifyingly, he’s not just crazy, he’s loving what he’s doing. When he knocks out a victim at one point, he just keeps flipping her skirt up and down and laughing maniacally, something that is more notable because the other laughter in the film is very formally styled. Seriously, it’s like people loudly reading the word “HA” off of the script. 

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Looks ridiculous, is insidious and vicious. Books are not their covers, people. 

Unlike most US horror films at the time, most of the victims in this story are not guilty of any particular societal indiscretion (as far as I know of Chinese culture). Yes, one of them is a prostitute, which I suppose merits death in almost all cultures for some reason, but she’s still portrayed as a good person. One of the victims even appears pretty much random and is shown to be a skilled martial artist in her own right. I guess pretty much all the victims are guilty of the crime of being women attached to powerful men, and that’s, again, something that usually can merit death in a film in the 80s in almost any country. However, they aren’t just murdered, they’re fairly graphically sexually humiliated, raped, and then skinned alive. While the blood and gore in the movie truly look fake, we get a look at all of the minute details of the things that the villain is preparing to do and then the actual flaying is shot from a distance, which lets our imagination take over. The effect is disturbing. 

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Oh, and close-up reaction shots which just make it all the more tragic.

The rivalry aspect of the film adds another layer because, even though the villain is the maker of the human lanterns, the two Masters are more focused on each other than the abductor. At one point, the villain literally just capitalizes on an opening because they’re trying to kill each other. Now, the two aren’t unreasonable for believing that the other is behind the abductions, given their mutual hatred, but it really is interesting to see just how much distrust exists between the two. When they do manage to work together, that makes it all the more interesting, because they can’t quite cooperate fully. It’s always a struggle to get past old grudges. 

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For the record, more horror movies need this kind of finale.

I’d never heard of this film before, so this request was definitely one of the more random ones, but I am glad I saw it. Sure, it has a bunch of stuff in it that was so upsetting I genuinely thought about turning it off, but it also had a lot of things in it that were extremely impressive, particularly the martial arts scenes. Also, it has a fan made of knives, which is one of the first times that it makes sense as a weapon to me. If you’re a fan of horror, particularly visceral horror, and also love martial arts films, this is your Citizen Kane. If you aren’t, then I’d recommend giving it a miss and watching Modern Love. Either way, go on Amazon Prime.

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

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

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Amazon Prime Review – Modern Love: The Highs are Worth the Lows

Amazon gives us a series of interesting portraits of love in the modern world. 

SUMMARY

It’s an anthology, people. I can’t summarize every episode without kind of ruining the surprise. Just know that each of the stories focuses on something about love between people. Mostly romantic, but not always.

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Such a cast. Much wow.

Eh, fine, here’s a 1 sentence summary of each episode:

WHEN THE DOORMAN IS YOUR MAIN MAN

A woman (Cristin Miloti) has a doorman (Laurentiu Possa) who’s a gatekeeper for more than just her building.

WHEN CUPID IS A PRYING JOURNALIST

A woman (Catherine Keener) interviewing a tech billionaire (Dev Patel) about his lost love (Caitlin McGee) reveals her own (Andy Garcia).

ModernLove - 2Dev
Journalism at its finest.

TAKE ME AS I AM, WHOEVER I AM

A bipolar (Anne Hathaway) woman tries to have a relationship with a guy (Gary Carr), despite her condition getting in the way.

RALLYING TO KEEP THE GAME ALIVE

A married couple (Tina Fey and John Slattery) start to realize that they might not be meant to last, but don’t want to quit. 

AT THE HOSPITAL, AN INTERLUDE OF CLARITY

Two people on their second date (Sofia Boutella and John Gallagher, Jr.) get a crash course in each other after an injury derails their evening.

SO HE LOOKED LIKE A DAD. IT WAS JUST DINNER, RIGHT?

A young woman (Julia Garner) tries to replace her father with an older co-worker (Shea Wigham), but he misunderstands her attention.

HERS WAS A WORLD OF ONE

A couple (Andrew Scott and Brandon Kyle Goodman) tries to adopt a baby from a homeless woman (Olivia Cooke).

ModernLove - 3Couple
They’re so cute together.

THE RACE GROWS SWEETER NEAR ITS FINAL LAP

A woman (Jane Alexander) who found a new love (James Saito) late in life takes a run around the rest of the series in his memory.

END SUMMARY

The upside of the show is that it’s an anthology, so if you don’t like an episode, you can still try the next one and it’ll be different. The downside is that it’s an anthology and if you really like the way an episode is done, the next one is probably going to go a different way. The episodes, though they all focus on love, are varied in style and also in their focal interpretation of love. Since love comes in all different colors, flavors, shapes, sizes, sexes, Tex-Mexes, and Shrekses (guess what I’m drinking? Hint: Whisky), that also means that a creator is pretty much allowed to justify whatever interpretation they want to put into their story. Apparently, each of these stories were taken from a column published in The New York Times every week, but I have to confess that I don’t think I ever read it, even when I read the paper. Not that I don’t enjoy a good love story, I just never did.

ModernLove - 4Column

The quality of the episodes also varies a lot, although, on balance, I thought the series was pretty good. I do admit the finale montage is weird to me. Since there were only eight episodes, it seems kind of unnecessary to spend a bunch of time recapping the series, particularly since the clips don’t really interact, so they don’t give us a ton more perspective on the characters. They could just as easily have added the post-credits epilogues to the actual episodes and maybe spent ten more minutes on the narrative of the last story.

So, since I don’t want to spoil the show too badly, I’m going to do a 1-2 sentence review of each episode, in ascending order of quality. 

8) SO HE LOOKED LIKE A DAD. IT WAS JUST DINNER, RIGHT?

This story is super creepy and includes a girl trying to force herself to sexually fantasize about her fake father figure, which is double creepy. Emmy Rossum directed this, and it’s only a slight step up from Dragonball Evolution

ModernLove - 5Goat
Seriously, it’s awful.

7) AT THE HOSPITAL, AN INTERLUDE OF CLARITY

Two good actors are absolutely ruined by stilted dialogue and pacing taken from a silent film. The ending feels forced, as do a lot of the moments of supposed clarity.

6) THE RACE GROWS SWEETER NEAR ITS FINAL LAP

The story of finding a second love late in life is adorable, but too much is wasted on the series recap. Still, it was cute.

5) RALLYING TO KEEP THE GAME ALIVE

Tina Fey and John Slattery are great, but honestly it has a melancholy that never feels either closed or cemented as unending to me. 

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Also, how did these two meet? I mean, that’s a real story.

4) WHEN CUPID IS A PRYING JOURNALIST

A cute story, but even with the epilogue, the story just doesn’t feel like it’s that significant. 

3) TAKE ME AS I AM, WHOEVER I AM

By far the most artistic episode, the representation of Bipolar may not be accurate, but it does make the condition more relatable. Also, Anne Hathaway’s breakdown is just damned heartbreaking.

ModernLove - 7Market.png
It’s a musical.

2) HERS WAS A WORLD OF ONE

This one is the most complex story in terms of characterization and Andrew Scott’s performance is just damned perfect.

1) WHEN THE DOORMAN IS YOUR MAIN MAN

The person who requested I review this series said that if I don’t end my review of this episode with “I cried like a tiny child,” then I have no soul. Well, I may have no soul, but I definitely cried like a tiny child.

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Like. A. Tiny. Child.

I hope they keep this show going. Even though some of the episodes weren’t great, I think they’ve got a lot of stuff left that they could cover. 

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.

Halloween Review/Amazon Prime Review – Ticks: The Most Early-90s Horror Movie Ever Made

Alfonso Ribeiro of Fresh Prince, Rosalind Allen of SeaQuest DSV, Seth Green, and Peter Scolari of Bosom Buddies star in a movie about mutant ticks.

SUMMARY

It’s California and it’s the 90s and the greatest threat to the world is Marihuana (Spelled that way at one point in the movie, no joke), followed by Steroids, apparently. Drug grower Jarvis Tanner (Clint Howard) is using steroids to grow stronger cannabis, but it turns out that the runoff has made the ticks in the area gigantic and given them a neurotoxin that’s akin to LSD. 

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He’s one of those infamous tea-drinking cash croppers.

In Los Angeles, Tyler Burns (Seth Green), a boy whose father once abandoned him in the woods for two days, is forced by that same father to go on a wilderness retreat in order to cure him of his fear of the woods and being alone… that he got from when his dad got drunk and abandoned, alone, him in the woods. And no, no one ever goes “wait, your dad got drunk and left you in the woods and HE’S telling YOU to just get over it?” Oh, and he drops him off under an overpass in downtown LA.  In the early 90s. When violent crime peaked and roughly at the time of the Rodney King riots. I assume that his father wants him to die, is what I’m saying.

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Parenting: Not all of them need to live, right?

The wilderness retreat is run by Holly Lambert (Rosalind Allen) and Charles Danson (Peter Scolari), and includes several fellow campers: “Thug” Darrel “Panic” Lumley (Alfonso Ribeiro), Rich girl Dee Dee Davenport (Ami “my dad was in the Monkees” Dolenz), Dee Dee’s boyfriend her parents hate for being Hispanic Rome Hernandez (Ray Oriel), mostly mute rape-survivor Kelly Mishimoto (Sina Dayrit), and Charles’ daughter, Melissa (Virginya Keeyne). While stopping on the way into the woods, the group meets local pot growers Redneck Jerry (Barry Lynch) and a British cross between Gary Busey and Gilderoy Lockhart called Sir (Michael Medeiros). 

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“Yo Chuck, these burgers ain’t half-bad” – A line someone thought someone else would say.

At camp, Tyler discovers a giant tick egg in the cabin and destroys it. Later, in the woods, he finds a giant tick on Melissa’s back and kills it, but when they report it Charles dismisses it as normal. Panic’s dog Brutus is attacked by a tick, leading Panic to quit the retreat and head off into the woods. Tyler and Charles take Brutus to a vet (Judy Jean Berns), where a giant tick pops out of him, killing the dog before the vet kills the tick. Panic gets lost in the woods until he’s attacked by a tick that burrows inside him and makes him hallucinate. He ends up finding Jerry and Sir’s pot farm, leading Sir to shoot him and also accidentally start a forest fire. To survive the shooting, Panic downs a bag of steroids he stole from Rome. 

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It’s alive!!! IT’S ALIVE!!!!!

Dee Dee finds Jarvis in the woods, infested with ticks, before he dies. She gets bitten by a tick and is rescued by Rome back to the cabin. Melissa and Kelly go fishing and find that the local Sheriff (Rance Howard) has been killed by Sir and Jerry. Everyone ends up back in the cabin as the fire that Sir started forces the ticks towards them. Charles lets Sir and Jerry in, but Panic arrives and tells them Sir shot him before dying. Sir shoots Charles and forces Jerry to go and get the van so they can escape. A tick kills Jerry and he crashes the van into the cabin. Sir forces everyone to hide by trying to shoot them, before a man-sized Tick bursts out and kills Sir. Tyler manages to fight off the ticks, get to the van, and rescue everyone, before the supertick attacks Rome. Tyler sets it on fire and drives off with everyone. Back in the city, a giant tick egg falls out of the van.

END SUMMARY

This movie is so very, very bad in all the best ways, bringing it right back to awesome.

First of all, this movie clearly tried to make sure that none of the characters were in the same social group. In the ‘90s everyone was trying to make sure that diversity was in every film and this one goes above and beyond. We have a protagonist group made up of almost every race, class, and background, none of which really has any impact on the movie. We have a kid with trauma who frequently shows no signs of it. A rape victim who stays silent until the movie decides “okay, she can talk now” and then NOTHING IS EVER SAID ABOUT IT AGAIN. Then we have Panic, who is supposedly an inner-city tough guy who still goes on retreats with these yuppies, with no explanation as to how that happened. The fact that he’s played by Alfonso Ribeiro makes it ambiguous as to whether he was actually just a softy, or that Alfonso Ribeiro just isn’t capable of playing a tough guy. Hell, even the villains are a dirty redneck and an English guy who’s obsessed with his appearance, two groups that just don’t seem to mesh without some sort of explanation. This part of the 90s really focused on saying “these people totally hang out, but we don’t want to explain anything about how that happened.” I’m not saying diversity is bad, I would advocate the opposite, but, screenwriters, it’s actually interesting to hear how groups like this come together, or at least see signs of it, rather than just going “we made this character Asian, are you happy now?”

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She’s a rape victim who is too traumatized to speak, but then casually talks about rape. Dafuq.

The special effects in this movie are actually not as bad as I would have expected. Sure, none of the ticks look real, but they all look sufficiently gross and alien to get the point across. They also squish in a disgusting way that makes me kind of squeamish. The “fake blood and guts” budget was pretty sizable, is what I mean. The final scene of the tick bursting out of Alfonso Ribeiro looks simultaneously fake and satisfyingly unnerving. 

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They try to keep it in the dark, but… it’s a bad fake head.

The performances in the film are all cheesy, but they’re above what you’d expect for a low-budget horror movie. Given that Clint and Rance Howard, Ron Howard’s brother and father, respectively, are in the movie, I’m assuming that someone on the film had enough clout to get the other people on the film as a favor. I mean, most of these people peaked in the 80s and 90s, aside from Seth Green, but that means this film happened when they all actually could have gotten other work. 

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These two deserve their own show.

However, the MVP for this film is the person that did the closed captions. This is only half a movie if you have them off. First of all, whoever did it does not know what a car horn is, because whenever one goes off, it’s just called “background noise.” Second, it inconsistently goes between describing sounds and doing onomatopoetic renderings of them. Some of the best ones include “Terk-er-Terk-er-Terk-er,”  “Chucka-Chucka-Chucka,” and “simple engine chugging” all for the sound of an engine, “thick liquid splatting” and “ploop” for the sounds of tick eggs falling, and the absolute, uncontested, best sound effect description in the history of cinema:

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“Oh. Right. Those.” – Every human.

The weirdest thing about this movie is that it clearly suggests that everything that happens is as a result of steroids and marijuana. The application of steroids to cannabis is what makes the ticks in the first place, then the man-sized tick comes from Panic’s body being filled with steroids. Now, I’m not saying that steroid abuse isn’t bad, but… it’s still freaking ridiculous to make a monster movie with that as the cause. I mean, people on steroids don’t suddenly get 20 times larger and they certainly don’t get more fertile. Pot doesn’t make people aggressive and I don’t believe it has that effect on any animals, either. It’s just such a sign of when this movie was made that those things could be the source of the monster. 

Ticks - 3Marihuana
These people believed Reefer Madness.

Overall, I will say, this is a must-see for fans of bad monster movies. Really, you’ve got to check it out, if only for Alfonso Ribeiro trying to be a thug. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen. And make sure to keep the captions on, because they are just a treat.

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.

Amazon Prime Review – Fleabag: The Truth Hurts (Spoiler-Free)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fourth-wall breaking comedy ends after two seasons of hilariously blunt social commentary.

SUMMARY

Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a single woman living in London who is fond of drinking, sex, wisecracking her way out of her own misery, and being the subject of ridicule at the hands of others and, more commonly, herself. She runs a café that she opened with her deceased friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), fights with her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford), deals with the sh*tbag that Claire married, Martin (Brett Gelman), and tries to tolerate the relationship between her widower father (Bill Paterson) and her Godmother (Olivia FREAKING Colman). In the second season, she begins to have a crush on her family’s Catholic priest (Andrew Scott). 

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She wants to genuflect so badly.

END SUMMARY

I’ve mentioned before that horror and comedy are always related. They’re both our ways of dealing with the absurdity of reality, both are often based on showing us a deviation from expectation, and the primary difference is really whether we’re being cued to respond to the situation with revulsion or relief. This is why a comedy genius like Jordan Peele can be so good at horror or why John Carpenter can make a hilarious action-comedy like Big Trouble in Little China, because the genres are naturally separated only by the relief/revulsion response. This show frequently eschews that distinction and asks that we feel both. We should feel absolutely revolted at some of the things that are said and done to our lead in the show, as well as how often we’ve seen or heard them done to people in real life. The relief comes not just from the quip or hilarious face that Fleabag makes to the audience, assuring us that she’s fine, but also from the fact that someone is actually willing to say some of the stuff that this show is saying. I watched the entirety of this show with a woman and, to quote the Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch (and who did not get to select her pen name), the show is “the brutal comedy of everyday life.” I think that pretty much nails it, but more on that in a second.

Fleabag - 1Crying
This.

While Fleabag’s life and her family and the people she encounters are all absurd, the absurdity is closer to a type of hyperrealism. You know some people who are similar to ALL of the characters, because they’re all “that girl/guy” archetypes. It’s made even more pronounced by the fact that, aside from Claire, Martin, Claire’s extremely creepy stepson Jake (Angus Imrie), and Fleabag’s overly-emotional ex-boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner), none of the recurring characters in the series actually has a name. Appropriately, though, those characters are, if anything, even more familiar archetypes than the others: The uptight workaholic/woman who married an a**hole and doesn’t leave him, the a**hole who somehow is still married, the creepy kid, and the guy who thrives on making sure everyone knows that he’s in touch with his emotions. All of these characters are played completely honestly with almost no other defining attributes, but the solid performances and great writing keep them from feeling tired. It helps that they’re only used sparingly (aside from Claire) and that the show is only 12 episodes long. 

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Claire’s hair, however, is quite prominent.

One of the keys to the show is the device of allowing the main character to directly address the audience through the fourth wall, but I have rarely seen a show play with it so well. It’s particularly interesting to see her fourth wall breaks when she’s dealing with the Priest, because his belief in a comforting higher power (God) gives him an insight into Fleabag’s belief in a comforting lie (the Audience), to a shocking and unnerving degree. Rather than doing the traditional fourth wall breaks, which are derived from Shakespearean soliloquies and thus given time and weight, Fleabag’s fourth-wall breaks are quick and often in the middle of conversations or even sentences, acting as quick punctuations rather than explanations. It gives the show a unique feel and the dialogue a distinct style and pacing.

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Seriously, this is an amazing medium disruption.

Another big thing about the show is it is not hopeful nor is it crushing. It doesn’t make the world out to be a darker and more cruel place than it is, but it also doesn’t give us any of the comfort that we typically expect from our media. We’re not told, at any point, that things are going to be okay. We aren’t told that love conquers all. We aren’t told that you’re going to find fairness or happiness. We’re just shown the world of the show that so closely mirrors ours, with all the nerves exposed. In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, one of the characters, Samuel Vimes, is described as “two drinks sober,” meaning that he was always so sober that he couldn’t even tell himself the harmless lies that people have developed as part of society in order to sleep at night. That’s what this show is for media: It’s two drinks sober. It’s a hair too real to give us the comfort we expect or the painful distancing we secretly crave. It isn’t the show we want, it’s the show we need.

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It asks the real questions.

Overall, I loved this series. I thought it was funny, exciting, and so novel that it deserves an audience. However, I do concede that I might not have gotten out if it the same things that other people might have, particularly The Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch. So, in a first for this blog, I asked her to give me her perspective, rather than try to interpret hers through my own lens. She submitted this: 

*SPOILERS*

As absurd as the show can get, it’s absurd in a very real, human way and it just doesn’t stray that far from the ordinary kind of ridiculous. It’s not only hilarious but extremely cathartic. When Claire tells Martin to leave her and Martin’s counter-argument includes “I vacuum” and “I made dessert at Easter” and “I pick up my son from bassoon lessons” I actually put my face in my hands and said “Oh my god that is literally men.” It’s just such a perfect sendup of the ways we pat men on the back for doing the bare minimum in domestic life and relationships. 

I’d been struggling to describe why this show feels different and refreshing compared to other shows that could also be described as both “brutal” and “funny,” but it’s best encapsulated by a speech in the show itself from a savvy businesswoman Fleabag has a martini with (Kristin Scott Thomas). “Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pain, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these gods and demons and things just so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on her own. Then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other, and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby.” The show goes for honesty over melodrama, and there just isn’t the feeling of the writers trying to wring all the emotion out of you like there is in a lot of prestige TV. (Why it takes me forever to watch most of it.) And the comedy doesn’t feel like a bunch of writers in a room thinking about what the most offensive thing to say is. The show puts its trust in the writing and in the hearts and jagged edges of its characters and as a result it doesn’t have to try so fucking hard.

“I love you,” says Fleabag.

“It’ll pass,” says the Priest.

It’s brutal, without brute force.

*END SPOILERS*

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.

Amazon Prime Review – Carnival Row: Great Visuals, Good Storytelling, Classic Metaphor

Amazon gives us a new urban fantasy series with a few fresh takes on old tropes.

SUMMARY

Fairies, Trolls, Satyrs (“Pucks”) and other such things are real, they come from the lands of the Fae. Humans plundered the Fae lands, started a war, and ended up abandoning the Fae to their mortal enemies “the Pact.” Because of this, the Fae flee to the closest human empire, Burgue. Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) is a war veteran who works as an inspector for the local constabulary. Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) is a former soldier in the Fae army and Philo’s former lover who thinks he’s dead. Vignette flees from the Fae lands and ends up in the Burgue capital city where Philo now works to track down a serial murderer or two. As racial tensions are rising in the land, Philo and Vignette seem to be caught in the middle of everything. Because they’re the main characters and that’s how it works.

CarnivalRow - 1Leads
Their child will be beautiful. 

END SUMMARY

So, there are a lot of good things in this show. First, the show looks fantastic. Despite the amount of CGI they’ve had to blend in with practical effects, the visuals very rarely look unnatural, and those that do are typically SUPPOSED to look unnatural. The city looks like a 1910s Urban Fantasy and it really helps to give the setting an identity, something that any alternate history setting needs. The ways in which the fantasy characters have adapted to their new lifestyle and locale are clever, if at times a little crude (I admit that people probably would pay for fairie prostitutes, but it’s weird that they seem so cheap). It’s also odd that the humans understand the advantages of using some of the abilities of the magical creatures (using fairies to reconnect down telegraph wires, for example), but they don’t really exploit them very well. The show implies that the reason is just pure discrimination and, while that might fight the narrative, I just find it odd that any business would forego having flying delivery people or superhumanly strong laborers in the name of racism… or I would if so many industries have in the past foregone advanced employees because of it. Bigotry is one of the few things that really can outperform human greed. Which brings us to the themes of the show…

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Surprisingly, “War is Hell” is relatively low on the list.

Hey, humans can be racist and hate things they don’t understand and can be classist and all the other morals that five million previous urban fantasy novels and shows have told us previously. It’s not particularly new, is what I’m saying. While the theme may be old, the show does try to show us a multitude of viewpoints of people dealing with it, with a particularly interesting one being the story of Agreus (David Gyasi), a very wealthy Puck, and Imogen (Tamzin Merchant), a broke heiress who offers to take money from him in exchange for granting him social status. While that is itself an old story (and the subject of William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress), this combines it with the element of interracial romance (even if it’s for money). The show demonstrates that Agreus does not have sympathy for any of the other fae, because he believes that he made it on his own, therefore he doesn’t believe the others are being suppressed… until finally he runs into an issue where his wealth cannot buy past his race. In addition, the show demonstrates the conflicts arising from the recent influx of refugees on every level, from local workers to employers to law enforcement to lawmakers. While it definitely appears to be based primarily on the English Immigrant Debate from the late 60s, including having a version of the “Rivers of Blood” speech, it holds up as a representation of almost any country’s debate of such an issue. Much like any of those times, too, the show demonstrates that while some people do believe in discriminating, others merely state the talking point because it allows them to claim the support of the regressive elements of the country.

CarnivalRow - 3Agreus
Oh, and skin color is ALSO a thing in this world, so double lesson.

The biggest flaw in the series is that the “mystery” is basically answered in the first 3 episodes if you’re paying attention closely. While it’s still a decent narrative, it doesn’t feel like much of a reveal at the end when you’ve been waiting 5 hours to confirm what you already know. Still, the fact that it holds up even if you know what’s going to happen is a sign of decent storytelling.

Overall, the show’s pretty good. It’s not quite what I was hoping it would be, but it’s still worth watching if you like urban fantasy. I get why critics are down on it for the overused metaphor and the lousy dialogue, but I enjoyed it, so screw them.

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.

Amazon Prime Review/Reader Request : Gravy – James Roday’s Dark, Dark Comedy (Spoiler-free)

James Roday of Psych fame brings us an unbelievably dark and gory horror-comedy and it mostly works.

SUMMARY

It’s Halloween and the workers at Chuy’s Mexican Bar and Cantina are getting ready to close. They consist of the bartender Kerry (Sutton Foster), a waitress nicknamed Cricket (Molly Ephraim), Yannick (Lothaire Bluteau) the French cook, Chuy (Paul Rodriguez) the manager, Hector (Gabriel Luna) the busboy and aspiring MMA fighter, and security guard Winketta (Gabourey Sidibe). The only customers are the recently dumped Bert (Ethan Sandler), the exceedingly affectionate couple Stef (Jimmi Simpson) and Mimi (Lily Cole), and Stef’s clown-costumed brother Anson (Michael Weston). However, it’s soon revealed that all the doors have been welded shut, all the phones are down, and that Stef, Mimi, and Anson are taking over the restaurant and making a few changes to the menu… namely, who’s on it.

Gravy - 1Bunny
Also, Sarah Silverman has a bunny suit at some point.

END SUMMARY

James Roday, best known as Shawn Spencer on Psych, wrote and directed this film and, I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty impressive effort for a first-time feature film. This is a dark comedy, which is something that’s usually pretty hard to pull off to begin with, that decides to go to some insanely dark places, but it still mostly works.

Gravy - 2Hostage
Yes, they’re trying to eat an Oscar Nominee.

A lot of it comes from the talent in the cast. Michael Weston, an actor who is one of the ultimate “that guy in that thing” answers, manages to balance playing a complete sociopath with a genuinely somewhat sympathetic character. Jimmi Simpson, a talented actor who hadn’t yet broken out for his Westworld performance, plays his even more insane but also somewhat likable brother. Everyone else is similarly amazing, all managing to get laughs out of how horrifying the situation their stuck in really is. 

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Seriously, the cannibal family is somewhat charming. That’s disturbing.

As this is a B-Grade Horror Movie, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that some people die, and holy heck do they have some fun kills. They’re so absurd that you almost find yourself laughing at it even though they are VERY graphically depicted. Part of it is that all of the characters don’t really show a ton of emotional damage at the other deaths, which makes it easy for the audience to detach from what the reality of the situation would be. One of the best recurring bits is the interactions between Stef and Yannick, who reveals that he is a world-class chef capable of cooking anything, including people, to perfection. Their banter is pretty much always funny, even though it’s literally about cannibalism. Comedy is frequently just horror from a distance, as I have now gotten in the habit of repeating, and this movie needs a lot of distance. 

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So. Much. Distance. 

 

That’s actually part of the downside to the movie: It’s definitely going to be too dark and too gory for most audiences. Hell, even I felt uneasy at some parts of the movie, though usually someone would quickly say something funny enough to bring me back. Also, without spoiling it, the movie does subvert a lot of tropes, including never really making you feel like any of the victims deserve anything that happen to them. Even in regular horror movies, we usually like our characters to earn their fates, even if only slightly, whereas these characters often die during moments of nobility. Still, it mostly works.

If you have a dark sense of humor, this is a great film to watch. It’s on Amazon Prime right now if you’ve got it. Really, I have to give James Roday credit for putting this together. I hope he tries to make another movie in the future.

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.

Amazon Prime Review – The Boys (Season 1): Adapting to the Audience (Spoiler-Free)

Amazon Prime makes a television show based off of the famously exploitative comic book by Garth Ennis and manages to make it stronger by toning it down. 

SUMMARY

Boys - 1Seven.jpg
Ironically, crime was all to their left.

In this world, Superheroes are real and they pretty much all have sold the hell out. The most powerful heroes are The Seven: The Superman-esque Homelander (Antony Starr), Amazon Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), Speedster A-Train (Jessie Usher), Sea King The Deep (Chace Crawford), Mysterious Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), Invisible and Invulnerable Translucent (Alex Hassell), and new girl Starlight (Erin Moriarity).  The team works for Vought-American, a company that makes films depicting the fictional exploits of their real heroes and is attempting to militarize superheroes, under Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue). However, with great power comes the great likelihood that you’re going to abuse it, which most of the superheroes do liberally, often at the cost of the lives of the citizens. When a supe goes too far, that’s when The Boys come in.

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Karl Urban makes that shirt look bad-ass. That’s an accomplishment.

The Boys are a team of vigilantes loosely associated with the CIA who take down the superheroes who go too far. The Boys had been disbanded for a while before the series starts, until Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) loses his girlfriend Robin (Jess Salguerio) to a Superhero and is dragged into the world of anti-heroics by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), the former leader of the Boys. Together with The Frenchman (Tomer Kapon), Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), and the Female (Karen Fukuhara), the Boys work to take down superheroes, using just their wits, guts, and occasionally powerful explosives.

Boys - 3Female
The Female of the Species is deadlier. Yes, that’s a poem. 

END SUMMARY

The Boys was Garth Ennis’s attempt to, and this is a quote, “Out-Preacher Preacher.” This is a reference to the series Preacher’s famously over-the-top violence and sexuality which The Boys took to literally insane levels. There are things in The Boys that are clearly designed to disturb even those who were already pretty disturbed and no, I’m not going to mention the worst of them here. Let’s just say that in the TV show they put a rape warning that is well-deserved on the first episode, but the scene is still SIGNIFICANTLY less horrifying than the same events from the comic book. 

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There are a lot fewer “headsplosions” in the TV show.

Actually, that’s something that happens in general throughout this adaptation. This show has some horrifyingly graphic deaths and other traumatic images, but all of it has been extremely sanitized in order to operate within the medium. See, in an exaggerated comic book where some things can just be referenced with a reaction panel, it can be somewhat ignored that your main characters curb-stomp someone to death or, as above, a bunch of heads explode. It’s so far removed from reality, that it’s like a Tom and Jerry cartoon: Yes, it’s hyper-violent, but it’s also not real and therefore more amusing or easily processed. Hell, some shows like SuperJail or Metalocalypse basically made that the source of their humor. But once you move that to live action, your audience (hopefully) cannot enjoy hyperviolence in the same way because they’re naturally going to feel the pain of the victims more. Similarly, the fact that SO MUCH of the comic also relies on similar hyperbolic exaggeration of rape, drug use, racism, and sexism means that if they shifted those elements to the live-action show, people would probably be vomiting with rage at every episode. And probably just vomiting at the thought of the realities of some of the things that the comic depicts, come to think of it. I’d also say that it helps that the show feels like the sex and violence actually tends to serve the plot and the themes, rather than just being there for gags, but there’s still a bunch of gratuitous elements. 

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They skipped the room literally painted with the blood of the innocent.

However, that’s not to say that this show is tame. Even though it’s restrained when compared to the source material, the show pushes a ton of boundaries, but, by reducing the ridiculous violence and over-the-top conduct of the characters somewhat, the villainous superheroes actually become more relatable and therefore more detestable. A genocidal maniac with a god complex isn’t someone you’re likely to run into, but you probably have met a guy who would use his position at a company to try and coerce a woman into sex. Rather than just being amoral psychopaths, many of the heroes are more common figures: The athlete who uses performance enhancing drugs because he’s worried of slowing, the hypocritical evangelical preacher, the alcoholic who used to be a dreamer, etc. There’s a reason people hate Dolores Umbridge more than Voldemort – You probably don’t know Hitler, but you probably know a teacher who picks on kids to make herself feel bigger.

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People literally hate her more than Wizard Hitler and it’s completely understandable.

The key thing that the show does have in common with the source material is the themes: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Or, as Butcher puts it, “with great power comes the total f*ckin’ certainty that you’re gonna turn into a c**t.” The show explores how power affects people and it picks a number of sources of power, ranging from Money (Vought-American), Emotional Manipulation (Stillwell), Political Power (various politicians and Vought-American), and finally good-old-fashioned violence (The Seven). Vought’s political and financial influence tends to make them just as immune to consequences as Homelander’s invulnerability and their immorality grows as they find that they can do more and more without it coming back to bite them. The purpose of The Boys is to try and remind these entities that they can actually be punished for their bad conduct, because that’s the only way to keep them in check. They attack Vought with bad publicity and they attack the Seven by finding ways to actually hurt or kill them, something that’s much more impressive because in this version the Boys don’t have superpowers. 

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They do have trigger fingers, though.

The performances in the show are, for the most part, excellent, though Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher does tend to overshadow others when in a scene with them just due to the nature of the actor and the character. Elisabeth Shue, likewise, manages to be simultaneously more human than her comic counterpart James Stillwell and also much more cruel and manipulative, making for a great character that you can believe puts a Man of Steel in his place. A lot of the plot additions are great and serve to flesh out the world that they can afford to build. The female characters have been fleshed out quite a bit compared to Ennis’s versions of them. While his versions were supposed to be pastiches and grotesque parodies of female superheroes, that tended to make many of them weak characterizations in some ways. 

Overall, the show’s not going to be for everyone, but if you can get past the visceral elements, it does have some great performances and themes. Still, I wouldn’t blame anyone for not making it past them. 

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.