Higher Power: A Story of Divine Proportions – Hulu Review

A man is given superpowers, but is controlled by a mad scientist. 

SUMMARY

There is a black hole collapsing out in the galaxy and it is poised to release a huge burst of gamma rays. In the event that it does, Earth will be destroyed. A mysterious voice contacts a scientist (Colm Feore) and tells him that there is only one way to save the world. At the same time, Joe Steadman (Ron Eldard), a recovering alcoholic who lost his wife tries to reconnect with his daughters. When he meets with his oldest daughter, Zoe (Jordan Hinson), he loses his temper and attacks her physicist boyfriend, Michael (Austin Stowell). His youngest daughter, Rhea (Marielle Jaffe), is revealed to be a drug addict. Later, Joe is attacked and knocked unconscious. When he awakes, the scientist now has a chip embedded in Joe’s head and eye, and he forces Joe to start committing crimes, eventually causing him to overload an experimental energy source. Now Joe has control over the four fundamental forces of the universe, but they are tied to his emotions. He can potentially save mankind… if he doesn’t destroy everything first. 

The beam of death that renders all of human life pointless. Very pretty.

END SUMMARY

I’ve mentioned repeatedly that I tend to love horror movies especially when they serve as an effective metaphor for some kind of trauma. Even though this movie isn’t solidly in the horror genre, it still contains a lot of horror elements, and one of them is that this movie does convey an excellent metaphor. But more on that in a second.

For example.

Any movie that has Colm Feore in it, particularly as the bad guy, is off to a good start. While my favorite of his villainous performances is in The Chronicles of Riddick, Paycheck and even Stephen King’s Storm of the Century got a boost from his ability to play a calculating and sadistic character. In this, he mostly operates as a disembodied voice that controls Joe, but his voice adds a level of gravitas to it that other actors might not have been able to pull off. Ron Eldard, who I really only remember from the movie Ghost Ship, does a good job playing a morally ambiguous character. Joe is massively flawed, having lost faith in almost everything due to the loss of his wife and instead turned to alcohol and violence. He’s trying to get his life back together, but it’s obvious from his daughter’s reaction that he’s failed at this before and he immediately fails again upon hitting any hurdle. Then he gets dragged into a situation in which he is being forced to do things against his will because they can threaten his daughters. After he gets powers, he has to deal with trying to control his anger in order to become something more than himself. 

Seriously, Colm Feore is so great at villainy.

While the script for this film is kind of basic in terms of dialogue, often having some clunky exposition or over-the-top melodrama, the concepts are so neat and the film progresses so swiftly that you probably will overlook it. It helps that the movie contains a visual style that alternates between being drab and gritty and being vibrant and luminous to separate the local with the cosmic. The film frequently talks around the insignificance of humans on the universal scale, yet it embraces the idea that perhaps humanity can ascend. 

Ascend to control the universe itself.

The big metaphor for the film is that of recovering from addiction. The film’s title, and a few lines in the film itself, reference the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The first step of AA is to admit that you’re powerless over alcohol (i.e. that there is a problem), but the second step is to believe that a higher power (i.e. God) can restore you. In this film, Joe is revealed to be powerless over both his drinking and his anger. However, after the scientist takes control of him (the scientist is literally billed as “Control”), then Joe is forced to give himself up to a higher power who is literally controlling him. Eventually, after successfully giving himself up to it, Joe has recovered enough to finally take control himself, over both his addiction to alcohol and to anger, allowing him to self-actualize. As is common in addiction recovery, the film has Joe put something above himself in order to finally change: His children.

And aren’t we all the children of a god?

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. Give 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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Umbrella Academy (Season 2): Practice Makes Better – Netflix Review

The most dysfunctional family of superheroes on TV comes back for seconds.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

In 1989, forty-three women around the world gave birth to children despite not being pregnant minutes beforehand. A rich alien in human form named Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) buys seven of the children: Luther/Number One (Tom Hopper), Diego/Number Two (David Castañeda), Allison/Number Three (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus/Number Four (Robert Sheehan), Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), Ben/Number Six (Justin H. Min), and Vanya/Number Seven (Ellen Page). All of the children are gifted with fantastic abilities, except for Vanya. They grow up to be the Umbrella Academy, a superhero team that split up after the death of Ben and the disappearance of Number Five. After the death of Hargreeves, the group reunites just in time for Number Five to return and announce that the apocalypse is imminent. Unfortunately, it turns out that the apocalypse is Vanya. More unfortunately, they fail. In a last ditch effort, as the Earth is dying, Five takes the group back in time to try and fix the situation.

The sunglasses show that they’re sexy, but not trying to be.

It turns out that time travel is not an exact science, so the siblings end up getting stranded in different parts of the early 1960s in Dallas, Texas. It also turns out that their jump to the past results in nuclear armageddon happening in 1963, shortly after Kennedy gets killed. Five goes back one more time, giving the team less than two weeks to reunite and prevent the apocalypse. Correctly, this time. 

END SUMMARY

I liked the first season of this show quite a bit, but, when I rewatched it in anticipation of this release, there were a handful of things that did irk me slightly. The first is that Diego was used more as the butt of a joke than as the great psychological specimen he could be. He’s the only one of them who operates as an actual vigilante, which makes him rife for deconstruction, but he mostly gets mocked for wearing tights. There were better openings for development everywhere, but he kind of ended up lacking. The same was true of Allison, as a celebrity who started as a superhero. Instead, most of her development focused on her difficulties as a mother in a dissolving marriage and her feelings for Luther. Lastly, the show itself tried to spend too much time on the mystery of the apocalypse, rather than just using that as a way to get all of the characters to interact. This season fixes all of those flaws and even just flat-out redirects some of the characters who had mostly used up their plotlines into much more interesting ones.

The new bad guys are three Swedish hitmen. It’s pretty cool.

While a lot of the season could feel like a re-hashed version of the first, particularly since the setup is still “dysfunctional family of superheroes need to stop an impending apocalypse that they don’t know the cause of,” most of the characters have changed massively from their time in the past. This makes all of their interactions feel fresh, and gives us a decent amount of new information about the core of their characters. They also expanded the role of Ben, the dead member, which was a great decision. Perhaps the smartest decision is that the season starts off by showing us a vision of what the Umbrella Academy COULD be if they actually managed to achieve their potential. They’re a force stronger than almost anything mankind has ever seen, and when organized together they can be unstoppable. Then, the show takes that from us almost immediately afterwards and shows us the reality that they’re all deeply flawed individuals that keep themselves from being that apex. Just like the rest of us do every day.

Yes, Five is still wearing bowling shoes.

The one thing that I most realized I enjoyed about the first season of the show was how well the show used their soundtrack. While this season doesn’t quite manage to match the amazing sequence of the teleport fight set to “Istanbul, not Constantinople” from the first season, they still did a great job continuing to emphasize action or development through music. 

Don’t ax Five to dance, though.

Overall, if you liked the first season, I think you’ll like this one. If you didn’t like the first season, you might like this one, so… give 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.

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 – The Umbrella Academy: Super-Dysfunctional (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix has adapted Gerard Way’s (The Guy from “My Chemical Romance) superhero deconstruction and it both does and does not stand out.

SUMMARY

In 1989, 43 women simultaneously gave birth to babies around the globe. This wouldn’t be unusual, except that none of the women were pregnant until the moment before they gave birth. A rich entrepreneur and scientist named Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) became fascinated with these children and offered to buy them from their parents. Ultimately, he got seven of the babies and decided to raise them, discovering that each of them had a special ability. Rather than address them by their names, he assigned them each numbers based on how useful they were to him. Naturally, they grew up with a lot of issues.

UmbrellaAcademy - 2Reginald
Who wouldn’t sell this guy a baby?

Number 1/Luther (Tom Hopper) had super-strength. Number 2/Diego (David Castañeda) could throw knives with inhuman precision and control. Number 3/Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) was able to manipulate reality by lying. Number 4/Klaus (Robert Sheehan) communicated with the dead. Number 5 (Aidan Gallagher) could teleport and, poorly, time travel. Number 6/Ben (Justin H. Min) had monsters that were summoned from his skin. Number 7/Vanya (Ellen Page) can play the violin well… but not superhumanly so, making her the only one without powers. As children, they were a sensation.

UmbrellaAcademy - 1Kids.jpg
I also feel like they’re big fans of Angus Young.

Now, almost 20 years later, Number 6 is dead, Number 5 has been missing for years, and Sir Reginald has died. The remaining five come together for his funeral, only for Number 5 to finally reappear and inform them that the apocalypse is coming in the next two weeks, and it’s up to them to stop it.

UmbrellaAcademy - 3Adults
The Apocalypse might have a slight advantage.

END SUMMARY

One strength of this show is that it takes place long after the team’s “Golden Age.” Of the original seven, one’s dead, one’s a drug addict, one’s a vigilante, one is a vapid celebrity, one has been lost in time for decades, one wrote a tell-all about her horrible treatment for being “normal,” and the only one who was trying to keep the team together has been living on the moon. They are about as estranged as it gets, mostly because they were raised in a completely brutal and dehumanizing way. It’s showing us what would eventually happen if we actually had people like the X-Men or Teen Titans being raised in a way that tells them they’re completely separate, and better, than humanity. It gives us a new twist on the “gritty superhero” genre and it works pretty well.

UmbrellaAcademy - 4Funeral.jpg
And yes, they are accompanied by a talking chimp on the right.

All of the performances in the show are great, particularly Ellen Page and Aidan Gallagher, who have to portray the reject with the chip on her shoulder and the only sane man who is also slightly insane, respectively. Every interaction between the members of the Academy is different based on their history, allowing us to get a view of multiple facets of each character over the course of a seaons, making each of them seem much more complex than we usually get out of superhero archetypes. Two of the villains in the show, Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), likewise are well developed beyond the “psychotic and slightly random hitmen” archetypes from which they derive.

UmbrellaAcademy - 5HazelChaCha
They’re “quirky.”

The fight scenes and action scenes are almost invariably accompanied by catchy music that contrasts with the violence on-screen, something that, I admit, works really well, but is starting to get overused. Still, many of the fight scenes are very creative, using each of the characters’ abilities really well, without making them seem completely unbeatable or requiring them to suddenly become stupid or depowered in order to make things seem fair.

Overall, I recommend the show if you’re a fan of superhero shows or deconstructions.

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.