Invincible (Season 1): The Superhero Show We Deserve – Amazon Prime Review

A show demonstrates the glory and horror of living in a super world.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) is the son of realtor Debbie Grayson (Sandra Oh) and writer Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons). Oh, and Nolan is actually Omni-Man, the world’s greatest superhero. Before his 18th birthday, Mark finally gets his superpowers and adopts the superhero moniker of Invincible. Now armed with flight, superstrength, superspeed, and the ability to make bad jokes mid-fight, Mark tries to live up to his father’s example. He works with the Teen Team, a group comprised of the Robot (Zachary Quinto), Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), and Dupli-Kate (Malese Jow). Shortly after this, the Guardians of the Globe, the most powerful superteam on the planet, are killed, leading the world to need the Teen Team and Invincible to start picking up the slack, as new threats seem to be constantly on the rise. These threats include superpowered mob bosses, invading aliens, reanimated corpses, and the occasional kaiju, leading Invincible to learn how tough this work can be the hard way. Unfortunately, it turns out that the one who killed the Guardians was none other than Omni-Man. Omni-Man’s true mission was to weaken Earth so that his people could take over the planet, leading to a drag-out fight between Mark and his father and ending only when Nolan realizes that he cannot kill his son and flees.

Imagine that your dad is your hero and that he is also trying to kill everyone.

END SUMMARY 

I had already reviewed this show a few episodes in, but I was asked to write another one based on the finale. I will be blunt: This was the most incredibly horrifying episode of a superhero show I’ve seen yet. It almost completely outdid its comic book counterpart and that’s damned impressive. While the comic was brutal to Mark and suggested massive damage to the population, this truly brought the scale of what’s happening to the forefront. Aside from some deliberate horror comics and an issue of Miracle Man in which a psychopath with Superman’s powers is allowed a few hours of free rein on England and kills millions of people in increasingly horrifying ways, this show is about the most accurate and intense portrayal of what it would be like to live near a superhero fight. People are basically china dolls to Invincible and Omni-Man. 

Admittedly, Omni-Man didn’t choke the Thames with bodies.

I have to give it up to both the writers and animators of this episode, because even as action packed as it is, they make sure you feel all of the damage that’s being inflicted. Even when Mark is trying to save someone, Omni-Man makes it clear that he can eradicate buildings with a finger, rendering any of Mark’s efforts moot. At one point he starts shoving Mark THROUGH PEOPLE via a subway train. It’s done so viscerally that the image is still in my mind. This is what it would be like to live in a universe with superpowers: If you don’t have them, you’re basically a bug trying to avoid being squashed.

Mark tries to save a person, and only saves an arm.

On the other hand, we also see superheroes and villains producing technological and physical wonders that would be impossible in the real world. Also, if you are one of those superpeople, or figure out sufficient technological advances, then you get to experience things no other being could relate to. The universe is so much easier to explore than in the real one and so much more reward is right at the tips of our fingers. It’s a world of wonders and opportunities. Just one where the risk of dying is very, very high for things as simple as “walking.”

Even being “The Immortal” doesn’t really help that much.

I really appreciate this show subverting the superhero narrative as hard as it did. While Mark is still a good guy and the kind of person who will try to do the right thing, the show makes it clear that this comes with a massive amount of sacrifice. While Spider-Man became beloved for being a person who gets superpowers and it just makes his life worse, Invincible manages to convey this through how much Mark loses out on for so little a reward. His relationship with his girlfriend suffers, his schoolwork suffers, his relationship with his friends suffers, and even, eventually, his relationship with his family suffers. All in the name of trying to be a superhero. Full points to Steven Yeun for how great he is at conveying Mark’s emotions through voice acting, particularly when he’s trying to reconcile what his father has done before the final battle. 

Also, J.K. Simmons, you are amazing.

Overall, just a fantastic show. Cannot wait for more episodes.

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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Invincible: A Solid Adaptation of a Great Comic – Amazon Prime Review

The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman’s teen hero comes to the small screen.

SUMMARY

Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) is the son of realtor Debbie Grayson (Sandra Oh) and writer Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons). Oh, and Nolan is actually Omni-Man, the world’s greatest superhero. Before his 18th birthday, Mark finally gets his superpowers and adopts the superhero moniker of Invincible. Now armed with flight, superstrength, superspeed, and the ability to make bad jokes mid-fight, Mark tries to live up to his father’s example. He works with the Teen Team, a group comprised of the Robot (Zachary Quinto), Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), and Dupli-Kate (Malese Jow). Shortly after this, the Guardians of the Globe, the most powerful superteam on the planet, are killed, leading the world to need the Teen Team and Invincible to start picking up the slack, as new threats seem to be constantly on the rise.

He doesn’t fly super well, but he tries hard.

END SUMMARY

I loved the Invincible comic, as it was a story in which the main character dealt with real problems, hero problems, and the intersection between what a superhero is supposed to do and what would actually help people. Mark grows a lot over the series in believable ways that sometimes reflect his loss of idealism and often demonstrate that this loss allows him to evolve his sense of right and wrong without being broken by the weight of trying to take on the world’s problems. Also, the writing was pretty funny. Naturally, when I heard it was getting an animated adaptation, I was very excited, but also concerned. Invincible, while it was well-done and liked by many comic fans, didn’t have a lot of mainstream success. Typically, this means two things can happen in an adaptation: Either they’ll change everything (hoping the new version gets more attention) or they’ll just adapt it as closely as possible (since not enough people know what’s going to happen for it to matter). 

The trailers included some iconic comic scenes, making me think the latter.

Fortunately, this show seems to be eschewing both of those and giving a mostly-faithful adaptation with enough differences that comic fans will not be sure where it’s going. The story is mostly the same as the comics, so far, dealing with Mark trying to come to terms with being a superhero and also being a teenager. His insecurities about living up to his father’s example are a bit more exaggerated in the show, but that will likely change a bit during this season. There’s a mystery angle going on in the series that didn’t really happen in the comics and I’m excited to see if they play it out the same.

Whatever gives us more Omni-Man.

The voice cast in this show is as good as it gets, possibly rivaled only by DuckTales (woo-oo). Steven Yeun gives a ton of extra personality to Mark and J.K. Simmons as Superman with a mustache is nothing short of awesome. The supporting cast of the Teen Team has a ton of talent, and their expanded roster includes veteran voice actors Grey Griffin and Khary Payton. Walton Goggins plays the uptight and slightly shady head of the Global Defense Agency, Zazie Beetz plays Mark’s love interest Amber, and there are too many other great cameos and recurring performances to count, including Mahershala Ali, Clancy Brown, and Mark Hamill (Applause). 

Clancy Brown voices a demon detective. Perfect.

Overall, give this show a shot if you like solid superhero stories. I can’t wait for it to keep going.

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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Jennifer’s Body: Diablo Cody Wrote This – 13 Reviews of Halloween

Seriously, this might be the most Diablo Cody movie that isn’t Juno.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Insecure high-schooler Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) is best friends with confident hot-girl Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) despite their differences, including that Jennifer hates Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons). One night, Jennifer takes Needy to a concert at a local bar where Jennifer catches the eye of the lead singer, Nikolai (Adam Brody). A fire breaks out and kills a number of people in the bar, but Jennifer is taken away by the band, Low Shoulder, against Needy’s objections. Later that night, Jennifer returns, covered in blood and vomiting black bile. She seems okay the next day, but soon Needy begins to suspect that something evil has decided to take up residence in Jennifer’s body… oh, that’s why they call it that.

Trying to make Amanda Seyfried not hot is impossible, so they just go with “smart.”

END SUMMARY

This movie was Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Juno and, sadly, it bombed horribly. It’s not really hard to see why, honestly. Doing a horror/comedy is harder than it seems, because you have to embrace both film genres together, but it’s really hard to laugh during a gory scene even if the joke is funny. It requires a great sense of timing in switching genres in both the script and the direction. This film has got a lot of clever dialogue, but the timing on it is often just a little bit off putting, because it’s hard to get the full effect of a horror scene when someone makes a great one-liner as they rip open a victim’s stomach without a beat or vice-versa. This movie doesn’t quite pull that transition off as well as other horror-comedies. Despite that, though, the script alone should have made this movie at least a minor hit. It really just has some of the off-beat and laugh-out loud lines that made Juno work so well, just framed around the story of a woman becoming a succubus. The characters are all interesting and well-crafted, although the two leads are the core of the story. From the beginning of the film, you get a feeling that there may be more to their relationship than just friendship and the movie plays with that masterfully. Their dialogue also highlights that the two do get along well, even if they’re very different, and part of that is that they can only be their true selves when together. We see Needy with her boyfriend and he is never as accepting of her feelings and wants as Jennifer. Not that Jennifer isn’t a stereotypical mean girl who bosses Needy around, she is, but it does seem like they do always have each others’ backs until the possession. 

She’s always happy to see Needy.

The gore in the film isn’t the heaviest for a horror film, but a lot of the shots are too bloody for people to get over easily. It probably also doesn’t help that for a movie marketed for sexuality and featuring a succubus, a demon known for seduction, Jennifer almost always kills her victims before actually having sex with them. She just uses her allure to get men close and isolated then feeds upon them. While I think that was actually part of the subversion that the filmmakers were going for, and it works well in that regard, conflicts between marketing and product often piss off both critics and viewers. 

Yeah, it’s not a T&A horror-fest.

The film has been getting some decent respect recently because it’s a story about a woman literally being sacrificed by men so they can achieve fame and success. If that doesn’t sound familiar, I think you might have missed the last decade or so. Jennifer gets thrown away by them after and comes back traumatized and lashing out, seeking revenge on the kind of men that mistreated her. The only problem with this is that the victims we see her prey on mostly seem harmless. They aren’t even usually sexually aggressive towards her. While this could be a statement about how trauma can cause victims to attack others in attempts to reject the feeling of powerlessness that accompanies being assaulted, innocent victims tend to turn horror movie audiences off. 

Although some of them might deserve it for being just that dumb.

Overall, I think this movie deserves more recognition than it got. There might have been more that director Karyn Kusama could have done to make the humor and horror elements work together better, but I think it’s still a must-watch for horror fans. 

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.

Palm Springs: I Love This Movie – Hulu Review (Ending Explained)

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti star in this smart romantic comedy.

SUMMARY

It’s November 9th and Nyles (Andy Samberg) is at the wedding of Tala Wilder (Camila Mendes) and Abe Schlieffen (Tyler Hoechlin) with his girlfriend, Misty (Meredith Hagner). After the wedding, a drunken Nyles delivers an impromptu toast, which bails out Tala’s unprepared sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti). Nyles starts up a conversation with her and the two hit it off. She and Nyles find Misty cheating on him, so they start to make out in the desert until they’re interrupted by someone named Roy (J.K. Simmons) shooting Nyles with arrows. Injured, Nyles crawls into a strange cave and Sarah follows. She finds herself waking up on November 9th, now stuck in a time loop with Nyles. Hijinks definitely ensue.

Some hijinks involve the pool and beer. Most, honestly.

END SUMMARY

So, I went into this movie totally blind. I was told that it was funny and it stars two people I like, so I figured I would watch it eventually, but I didn’t know anything about the film. I almost wish that I could talk about this movie without mentioning the central conceit. However, it is a hallmark of good filmmaking that I was able to guess the underlying time loop premise just based on a few scenes of Andy Samberg interacting with the crowd. It was at that point I paused the movie and said “This is awesome.” It would not be the last time I did so during this film. 

I really hope Andy Samberg got to drink some of that beer.

Actually, that amazing efficiency of storytelling is part of what works best about Palm Springs. It doesn’t have to really tell us everything that Nyles has gone through because we can see how he interacts with the world now. His nihilism (not saying that’s why his name is Nyles, but…) has taken over his life because literally nothing he does matters. He has been through so much that he barely feels human, but we also get the idea that he was never filled with an abundance of ambition before this. Nyles, despite having spent what has to be literal years in this loop, doesn’t appear to have actually used it to gain new skills or better himself, he’s just given up and gotten drunk. The movie takes advantage of the fact that you’re probably familiar with at least some other Groundhog Day loop media and uses that to skip over some of the more common stages in the trope, like moving past the suicide montage. It does the same with many tropes of romantic comedies, allowing us to skip quickly past some of the dumber formulaic elements and move towards some more genuine and compelling interactions.

They even make the wedding hijinks more interesting than most films.

Cristin Milioti is one of my favorite actresses in recent years, mostly due to her amazing performance as the titular Mother in How I Met Your Mother. In this film, she is damned near perfect and the chemistry between her and Andy Samberg is so natural that it never seems forced even under the most bizarre situations. Sarah is a screw-up and basically the black sheep of her family, something that doesn’t exactly seem undeserved based on some of her actions during the film, but we also see that unlike Nyles she doesn’t give up easily. Her growth throughout the film is hard-won, but it’s almost more satisfying than Nyles’s arc because we see her initial fall into depression after she realizes that she’s stuck in a loop. 

She’s so good at reaction shots. “Acting is reacting” is a real thing, guys.

Oh, and then there’s the comedy. My god, there’s the comedy. Andy Samberg isn’t exactly playing his usual goofy layabout like in Brooklyn Nine-Nine or the oblivious Rock Star from most of his Lonely Island projects. Instead, he’s a broken man, and he nails the humor that comes from that kind of darkness. His dialogue delivery and even his physical performances kept me laughing throughout the entire plot, but it only gets better when he’s with Milioti. Her comedy reactions are on-point, as is her delivery. She can give a good line a push into great, or give a look that moves a fun joke into uproarious. I was laughing so hard at points I almost broke, and a lot of that was just the two of them messing around with the time loops. All of the supporting characters, too, help create this hilarious environment.

Did I mention that hijinks ensue? Because they do.

Overall, I just loved this movie. It was one of the most fun times watching a film I’ve had in a while. I recommend it to everyone.

ENDING EXPLAINED

Just making sure that people get what happened at the end here. Sarah, having studied Quantum Mechanics, determines that the only way to get out of the time loop is to destroy the cave while the loop is actually transporting them back to the beginning of the day, because it’s a temporal wormhole. If they destroy the cave and themselves at the same time while the cave is transporting them back, that’ll cause the wormhole to try and restart twice at the same time, essentially overloading it and blowing them into tomorrow. Now, this is entirely insane, but why listen to me, I’m just a physicist. We don’t find out of they started the next day where the first loop ended or where the last loop ended, but since they both have memories of the full loops, probably the latter. 

At the end of the movie, we also see the dinosaurs which the pair saw while they were on mushrooms earlier. It turns out that these are the Cabazon dinosaurs, a set of giant roadside attractions that were previously in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The dinosaurs are visible from Palm Springs due to their size and proximity. They appear to be moving in both scenes, but I think the first time that’s because of the drugs and the second time that’s because of the thermals coming off of the desert. However, it’s also possible that because there’s a magic time portal buried in the mountains, there might also sometimes be dinosaurs near the fake ones. After all, love is just as crazy as a time portal. 

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 – Klaus: You’ve Seen it Before, but It’s Still Heartwarming

I’m a sucker for a good story of the power of kindness to overcome anything, and that’s what this is.

SUMMARY

Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) is the lazy son of the Postmaster of… I’m guessing Norway. Spoiled and perpetually unproductive, his father sends him to the island of Smeerensberg above the Arctic Circle with the condition that if he doesn’t process 6000 letters in a year, he will be kicked out of his family. Unfortunately, Smeerensberg is populated by two warring families, the Krums (led by Joan Cusack) and the Ellingboes (led by Will Sasso), who don’t send mail. The only other people in the town are the sarcastic and abusive ferryman (Norm Macdonald) and the embittered teacher-turned-fishmonger Alva (Rashida Jones). One day he runs into a woodcutter who lives far from the town named Klaus (J.K. Simmons) who has a massive collection of elaborate toys everywhere. Desperate to fill the letter quota, Jesper convinces Klaus to give toys to any of the kids that write him letters, and a legend is born.

Klaus - 1Santa.png
Aside from when Goldberg played him, this is probably the biggest Santa.

END SUMMARY

I don’t know how to say this aside from just being honest: This movie got to me. It’s cheesy, it’s cliché, it has almost everything in it that we’ve already seen from all of the other “true story of Santa Claus” films, but… it worked on me. I just loved everything about it. 

Klaus - 2FishGuts.png
Even the unnecessary fish guts.

Part of it has to be attributed to the animation style. The bulk of the character design is put into the expressiveness of the characters, with huge, exaggerated eyes even by most animated standards (aside from Ducktales and any anime derived from the Uncle Scrooge style [which is most of them]). It helps that when emotional moments are to be found, the shot always takes an extra beat to let the characters process. Rather than just having an emotion, we see the feelings start to spring forth from the characters, letting us take that short journey with them. While the adults are done well, the main thing is how well they animate the innocent joy that children get from receiving simple kindness. One of the things that animation will always have an edge on live-action filmmaking is that they can always exaggerate expressions to sell a scene, and this film capitalizes on it perfectly.

Klaus - 3Eyes.png
I mean, they somehow nail “hopeful disbelief” and that’s not a normal expression.

Another part is that the story, while it absolutely is cliché, with beats being drawn directly from the guide to screenwriting, is played sincerely. There’s no irony about any of the story elements or any of the archetypes. Seriously, we have the selfish main character who learns the value of kindness, we have the love interest who tells them up front they’re never going to be together, we have the stoic old man who everyone is afraid of that ends up being kindly… This movie could just be called Stock Character: The Movie. But, throughout it, even though the characters are stock and the story is derivative, it still manages to grab you on an emotional level. Yes, you know what’s going to happen at any given part of the story, but when these elements are treated with depth and respect, we remember why these tropes became so used in the first place: They work. 

Klaus - 5Teacher.png
Yes, we have the “pessimist who learns to believe again” and it was heartwarming.

That’s the main thing that this movie nails: Sincerity. One of the most repeated lines in the film is that “a true act of goodwill always sparks another.” That’s basically Klaus’s mantra, and it is shown to be true throughout the movie. Even though Jesper is selfish in his desires at the beginning, watching Klaus’s sincerity believably changes him for the better. It’s not all at once, though, nor even in a montage, because he’s still focused on what he wants. It’s only when he is forcibly shown how much joy he’s bringing to others, even if it is inadvertent, that he realizes that spreading happiness is a reward far greater than his own hedonism. While this message would normally ring hollow, it instead comes off as just as powerful as that mantra should be. One small act begets another, which eventually makes the world a better place. All it takes is a little effort. 

Klaus - 4Watching.png
We have the “cynic learning the value of kindness” scene and yes, I was teary-eyed.

It also helps that, in a rarity for this kind of film, nothing in the movie is explicitly magical. Quite the opposite: everything from the Santa Mythos is shown to be derived from mundane misunderstandings that the children have about Klaus. For example, the children see Klaus and Jesper wreck a cart pulled by reindeer, but they misinterpret it as the reindeer flying and landing. Additionally, rather than just being the unflinching paragon of goodwill that Santa usually represents, Klaus is given a more tragic and realistic backstory for why he does what he does. He’s not trying to just do good for the sake of good, although he does believe in it, he’s doing it in memory of someone else. Much as we have idealized Santa, Santa himself was acting based on his ideal vision of another. 

Klaus - 6Toys.png
Bad things happen to even the best people. 

I also have to give credit to the score. Music is always a part of making sure that the audience is experiencing the full emotions of a scene, and this film uses it perfectly.

Overall, I know I’m a sucker, but I love this movie. Everything about it is hopeful and stands for the idea that, no matter how bitter or divided we are, one day we can all come together. It just takes effort and caring.

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.