Netflix Review – 3Below: Tales of Arcadia Part 2 (Season 2) (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

Guillermo del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia Trilogy wraps up the second act in a solid season of sci-fi and fantasy comedy.

SUMMARY 

It’s been a few weeks since the events of the Season 1 finale that coincided with the final episode of Trollhunters. Arcadia is now aware that trolls exist, but the troll battle managed to conceal the presence of any alien life, including the Akiridion protagonists Aja and Krel Tarron (Tatiana Maslany and Diego Luna), as well as their dog Luug (Frank Welker) and their ship’s AI Mother (Glenn “Yes, that Glenn Close” Close). They are joined by Akiridion-5 Lieutenant Zadra (Hayley Atwell), who arrived last season to save them from Varvatos Vex (Nick Offerman), who is revealed to have aided General Morando (Alon Aboutboul) in overthrowing the planet before changing back to serve the royals. Varvatos Vex ended up imprisoned on the moon by the Zeron Brotherhood (Darin De Paul and Ann Dowd). 

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Raise your hands if you think that’s a lot of cast members.

The siblings are still being pursued by bounty hunters, including the powerful Trono (Danny Trejo), sought by the US Government, particularly Colonel Kubritz (Uzo Aduba) who is now willing to start dealing with some devils to get the Akiridion Royals, and soon will face threats to Earth, Akiridion, and the very universe itself.

END SUMMARY

This season was a massive step up in a lot of ways. 

First, it moves the timeline past the end of Trollhunters and the changes to Arcadia that arose from the events of the series finale are played out through this season. A lot of the supporting cast are now quite a bit funnier and more absurd now that the world itself has become more absurd, particularly Stuart the alien (Nick Frost), Coach Steve (Thomas F. “I’m not just Biff” Wilson), and Principal Uhl (Fred Tatasciore). Each of them is just a little bit more exaggerated than their already unusual character traits had allowed and it really helps. Expanding Colonel Kubritz’s role, particularly in a world that has just dealt with an apocalyptic scenario, creates a more compelling villain who progressively represents the kind of hypocritical and almost insane xenophobia seen throughout the world. 

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Plus, Uzo Aduba just makes her so darned charming and evil.

Steve Palchuk (Steven Yeun) and Eli Pepperjack (Cole Sand) have evolved from just their roles as the stereotypical bully and nerd to being legitimate heroes, something that both feels natural and compelling. Making them have such major character arcs without having them be the main characters of either series is a great set-up for their presumably bigger role in the third Tales from Arcadia series, Wizards

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They also have the “Creepslayers” handshake worked out.

One expansion that I don’t actually think worked was playing up the role of Toby Domzalski (Charlie Saxton) as the comic relief. Without Jim Lake (Anton Yelchin (R.I.P.)/Emile Hirsch) and Claire Nuñez (Lexi Madrano) to balance them out and provide emotional moments, Toby and AAARRRGGHH (Fred Tatasciore) rely too hard on the “dumb, weird characters” archetype in this season. Granted, the mix of Sci-Fi and Fantasy does work at several points, including having AAARRRGGHH’s magical nature basically trump a sci-fi trope in a humorous way, but it still needed to give them a little more maturity. 

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I do like that nobody finds Aaarrgghh weird. Everyone acclimated immediately.

There are a lot of decent gags in the season as well. I particularly love all the jokes about the Foo-foos, a race of robot rabbits on the moon. It’s simultaneously a reference to “Little Bunny Foo-Foo,” even having characters threaten to bop them on the head, and to the Asian myth of the rabbit on the moon. Also, their primary battle strategy is breeding an army quickly, because… rabbits breed. Get it? Get it??? GET IT??? Eh, still, it’s mostly funny. Also, they take some solid shots at Michael Bay and I love that. 

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One thing that really plays well is the season’s theme, because it’s much more coherent than in the last one. This season is mostly about intolerance and the fact that we as humans tend to immediately want to isolate people that are strange to us, but that it’s ultimately better to try to work together. It comes at it from a number of directions and I think it mostly gets the point across without being too preachy. 

Overall, it’s a pretty solid show for kids. I’d recommend parents work it into the rotation. If you’re an adult, well, you can enjoy it, too.

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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Netflix Review – Green Room: One of the Best Modern Horror Films (Spoiler-Free)

Due to not being able to run a 90210 DVD on my computer (someone requested I review an episode before Luke Perry died), I have decided to give you all a special treat and review one of the best films of the last 10 years, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. I’m choosing to make it spoiler-free because I really want to encourage people to see this film.

SUMMARY

Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) are members of  the punk band the “Ain’t Rights.” While traveling through Oregon, they have one of their gigs cancelled and, to make up for it, local DJ Tad (David W. Thompson) tells them that he can get a performance through his cousin, Daniel (Mark Webber), at a bar outside of Portland. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that the bar is actually a Neo-Nazi skinhead bar. The group, half of whom are Jewish, having pure metal in their hearts, decide to play anyway, even opening with an amazing cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks F*ck Off!!!” They end up impressing the crowd and getting paid for the show.  

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They truly do rock the hate-filled house.

On the way out, Sam leaves her phone in the green room. Pat goes back to find it and sees the body of a dead girl (Taylor Tunes), having been stabbed to death by a Neo-Nazi. Pat calls the cops, but two Neo-Nazis, Gabe and Big Justin (Macon Blair and Eric Edelstein), take the phone and hold the Ain’t Rights hostage in the Green Room along with the dead girl’s friend, Amber (Imogen Poots). What follows is a solid 70 minutes of horrifying tension between the band and the Neo-Nazis and their leader, Darcy (Patrick “I am the man” Stewart).

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The old man is scarier than the big, tattooed guy.

END SUMMARY

This movie is one of the rare horror movies where no one has to be arbitrarily stupid to move the plot along. Do people sometimes make choices that result in bad things happening? Absolutely, but they only do when either A) they don’t have any way of knowing that bad things will result, B) they are forced to make the choice while under duress or pressure, or C) there are no good options available. Personally, nothing frustrates me more in a horror film than where the writer has to force the cheerleader to run up the stairs rather than out the door or the character with the baseball bat to just assume that they killed the masked slasher rather than keep beating until they’re sure. Are there movies where these actions are justified? Absolutely, the original Halloween does both of them well, but most of the time it’s just a sign that the writer had a great idea for another scene, but not the wherewithal to get there organically. This film avoids all of that.

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Like, for example, these guys actually get a gun.

Most of the film is tension developed from both of the groups trying to out-gambit each other while they’re on different sides of a door. It’s basically a super-high-stakes negotiation and, full credit to Saulnier’s control over the setting and interactions, as well as Sean Porter’s great cinematography, it always feels like everything is building up to something bad. Without ever saying it, every moment tells you that the film is not going to end well for someone, whether it’s the Ain’t Rights or the Neo-Nazis. It’s a movie where the sets are basically caked with dread.

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Even the lighting says “misfortune ahead.”

The performances are all top-notch, particularly Anton Yelchin’s Pat, who manages to maintain control over a situation despite often having a weak position, Imogen Poots’ Amber, who is dealing with PTSD from the beginning of her performance and only gets more stressed throughout, and Macon Blair’s Gabe, who acts as a perfectly rational counterbalance to most of the Neo-Nazis. Then, there’s Patrick Stewart. It’s so hard to describe how perfectly he plays this character. He’s a grizzled leader of a group of racists, but he views most of them only as easily-controllable grunts. It’s not even clear that he actually cares that much about the ideology, but is perfectly willing to exploit all of them. Mostly, he’s always completely calm and rational. At every point, he counters any attempts by the band to gain the upper hand, often by talking them into not taking any actions at all. The film only really works as well as it does because he always conveys an inherent wisdom, authority, and control from everything he says.

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Possibly because he commanded a starship.

If you haven’t seen this film and you have any love for horror or just great performances, you should see 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.

Netflix Review – Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia Part 1

Guillermo Del Toro takes an imaginative crack at a kids show.

SUMMARY

Jim Lake Jr. (Anton Yelchin/Emile Hirsch) is a high-school outcast, because he’s the protagonist and that’s pretty much the only thing a teen protagonist can be since Peter Parker. One day, while biking to school with his friend Toby Domzalski (Charlie Saxton), he finds an amulet in what appears to be the remains of a shattered statue. Naturally, it turns out that it’s really a magical talisman left by Merlin (David Bradley) and the statue was actually the remains of its last wielder, the Troll Kanjigar (Tom Hiddleston/James Purefoy). Jim is gifted with the title of “Trollhunter,” the protector of all the good trolls and the slayer of evil ones. Jim is the first human to hold the title. It’s revealed that Jim’s hometown, Arcadia, is actually built on top of a portal to “Trollmarket,” a magical kingdom where Trolls live peacefully, for the most part. However, there is an evil troll named Gunmar (Clancy Brown) who, along with his son, Bular (Ron Perlman), is trying to take over the world. The only thing keeping both the troll and human worlds safe is Jim, along with Toby, his tutor Blinkous (Kelsey Grammer), his protector AAARRRGGHH (Fred Tatasciore), and Claire Nuñez (Lexi Medrano), a gifted martial artist and magically-inclined human.

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The gnome on the right is named “Chompsky.” Because that’s fun.

END SUMMARY

This show’s strength is world-building. Almost everything about the set-up is a cliche that we’ve seen a thousand times before, but the show uses the audience’s familiarity with the set-up to quickly start expanding its mythology and its setting. The recurring characters each become well fleshed-out and distinct as the show goes on. The locations are all interesting designs that each convey a lot more than any of the characters say, something that always gets credit from me. The villainous monsters-of-the-week, too, are usually very clever concepts or at least visually stimulating, ranging from hive-minded goblins who have amusing idiosyncrasies to mummy assassins.

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Oh, and big guy with swords. Gotta have swords.

The main strength of the show is that it’s not really “happy” like most kids shows from my youth. The good guys are good and the bad guys are, for the most part, bad, but we do get a lot of gray areas and the entire series constantly has a bittersweet tone. Everyone has to compromise for victory and the mark of the heroic characters is knowing when and where to make those compromises so that they don’t end up destroying the things that they were trying to preserve. The characters make mistakes, sometimes grave ones, when they try to make those calls, and they keep getting more and more consequences for their actions as the series progresses. The emotional growth of the characters is also a big part of the series, with everyone changing a great deal in order to deal with all of the events they go through.

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Also, the power of friendship is a big thing. 

The animation style is going to be divisive, but I thought it was actually pretty spectacular for a television series. The character designs are simple enough for ease of computer animation, but are all distinct enough that you never get anyone confused. Action sequences are, for the most part, very good for this kind of series. It takes a while for them to get more creative than slash and stab, but once it gets there, we start to get fairly inventive sequences.

Overall, this isn’t the best animated series for adults out there (BoJack Horseman exists), and it starts slow, but kids will like it and it does get better over time as you become more invested in the world that you’re watching. It also serves as the first chapter of Tales of Arcadia, which looks to be a very interesting meta-series, combining Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and whatever Wizards turns out to be.

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.