Lovecraft Country: Or How To Love a Work and Hate Its Author at Once – HBO Max Review

HBO brings us a show about the horrors of racism and also monsters.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors) is a Korean War vet in 1955 who discovers his father Montrose (Michael K. Williams) is missing. Atticus, his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance), and his friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) set off to find Montrose in the town of Ardham, Massachusetts, the town that H.P. Lovecraft wrote as “Arkham.” They deal with a group of racist law enforcement officers and are going to be killed until the group encounters a herd of monsters. They discover that the town of Ardham is tied up in a secret society and a woman named Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee). Soon, Tic and Leti’s fate are tied up in the supernatural, as are the fates of Leti’s sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), Tic’s aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), Hippolyta’s daughter Diana (Jada Harris), and Tic’s former lover Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung). 

It’s not a pleasant story.

END SUMMARY

H.P. Lovecraft was, as I have stated in reviews of other adaptations of his work, a horrible racist. Not in the sense of “oh, it was the 1920s and everyone was racist,” but in the sense of people in the 1920s kept asking him to tone down his opinions on black people. Apologists will try to say his views were common, but not many people have literally published poems about the fact that black people are not human, just sin-filled beasts. Now, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t also create some of the most influential horror ideas of the 20th century, it just means that sometimes you have to appreciate the work of a person while also giving that person the finger for their general shittiness. Like how Roman Polanski should have gone to prison, but Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown were amazing. 

There’s a lot of hoods and robes in Lovecraft and I think that’s probably a warning sign.

This show, though, goes a step further by tying up the concepts and monsters from the Lovecraft Mythos directly with the horror of racism. It depicts the terrible treatment of black people by many of the white people throughout America, including things like the Tulsa massacre of 1921 and “sundown towns,” or places that ordered black people to leave the area after dark (usually maintained through violence even after such things became illegal), making you feel the helplessness and anger of the characters as they’re subject to it. Then, it usually adds in a layer of general horror, like facing down nigh-invincible monsters or unstoppable racial stereotypes brought to life, then adds a level of cosmic horror by making it apparent that all of humanity is but a blink in the eye of the universe. However, we see black people overcoming the horror, whether slaying the monster or traveling through time itself to take hold of their own infinite destinies, something that the protagonists in Lovecraft are almost never able to do. It’s almost as if the horror is something they’ve learned to overcome, unlike Lovecraft’s characters. 

So much cool imagery.

The performances are excellent, including both the main and supporting characters. Jurnee Smollett’s role as Letitia is particularly strong, having to bounce between sidekick, love interest, and heroine, as the story requires, while still being the same character. Jonathan Majors, while always having Atticus as the main protagonist, has to play him trying to figure out the rules of the new world into which he has been thrust and manages to keep him likable even when the plot might not. Aunjanue Ellis gets some of the more interesting character moments in the series, which truly allow her to showcase a wide number of her talents. Abbey Lee, while playing a character whose actions seem mostly inscrutable for much of the series, does a good job being the seemingly-less-antagonistic antagonist. 

It helps that she’s the whitest white person ever.

The direction of the show is superb, as is the cinematography. Possibly the only weakness of the show was that it, like Lovecraft, doesn’t always keep the rules of its universe consistent. Then again, maybe that’s part of the point and I just didn’t absorb it as fully as I would have liked. I will say that the writing is at its strongest when dealing with combining the elements of supernatural horror and historical horror, but it seems to be at its weakest when trying to weave all of the plot threads together. The ending seemed a bit off, but maybe that will all correct itself in the next season (which it greatly deserves).

Although, it gave us two of the most horrifying monsters in recent years.

Overall, a great show that everyone should watch.

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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Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – Suicide Squad Done Right

DC tries to give Harley Quinn a second shot at a decent film along with a team of female anti-heroes.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has been dumped by the Joker (Technically Jared Leto) and is setting out on her own. Unfortunately, during the process of moving on, she earns the ire of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), the supervillain and mob-boss known as the Black Mask. Sionis is being investigated by Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who also starts chasing Quinn. Montoya, Harley, singer/asskicker Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and assassin Helena “Huntress” Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) all get caught up in a plot involving Sionis and a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

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Montoya’s the only one smart enough to carry a gun. Or maybe sane enough.

END SUMMARY

I hated Suicide Squad. Admittedly, a lot of that was because I was angry that I had been suckered by the trailers into thinking it was going to be a good movie, even though I should have known from the earlier trailers that it was never going to work out. The way that characters were introduced, the generic plotlines, the constant desire to be “edgy” but never actually being edgy, all of that just made me hate that film. I even really didn’t like Margot Robbie’s version of Harley Quinn, but I don’t think it had to do with Robbie’s performance. The writing was just awful.

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This is the outfit she wears to fight an evil demi-god. The Fresh Prince has armor.

Unlike that movie’s over-the-top promotion, I almost didn’t realize this movie came out. The advertising focused so heavily on “the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn” over the Birds of Prey that, after Suicide Squad, I really wasn’t that interested in this movie. However, after hearing a few people praise the movie, I gave it a shot, and somehow this movie does almost everything Suicide Squad did, but does it mostly correctly. The writing is still bad, but it’s not AS bad and the characters and directing manage to mostly salvage it.

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And we don’t get a completely unearned “hero walk” in ours.

One of the biggest things about the movie is that it’s narrated by Harley Quinn who stylizes most of the narration, captions, and flashbacks. The first thing this does is actually justify the stylized character screens that were present throughout Suicide Squad, where the introductions were being done by Amanda Waller, a person who would never try to be that cutesy. Also, Waller’s explanations are to other people, whereas Harley is just crazy enough to talk to the imaginary audience. Harley breaking the fourth wall can be a bit over-the-top at times, but for the most part Robbie makes it charming. I’ll admit that the opening 10-15 minutes weren’t great, but once Harley gets a cheese sandwich, it starts to find its feet. In fairness, the sandwich was the emotional center of the movie. Still, having a good point of view to follow actually erases quite a few of the mistakes of its predecessor. 

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Being Fabulous helps.

It also helps that the character introductions are less “blatant narration” and more “scene depicting, through their actions, what kind of people they are.” I admit that Huntress’s backstory is way more narrated, but she’s so damned fun that I will overlook it. Moreover, the characters aren’t all introduced to us en masse, instead, they are explained when they enter the story. It feels less forced and the movie even admits that when the team finally comes together, they’re not really a team at that point, they’re just four women and a kid who have to work together out of necessity. Given their varied personalities and predilections, that’s really the only way they could have ever agreed to cooperate. 

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Professional killer, psychopathic psychiatrist, hero who needs a hair tie.

The characters are very different from their comic counterparts in a lot of ways, but it never annoyed me. Black Canary spends much of the movie refusing a call to heroism because her mother was killed being a superhero. Huntress was raised with a desire to kill her family’s murderers, but this has made her completely insecure and socially awkward. Rene Montoya, as played by Rosie Perez – Actually, I’m going to stop here and just give a round of applause to Rosie Perez for A) playing an action movie character over 50, B) getting work as a leading woman over 40 in a big budget film, and C) selling a character who admits to being a cliche half the time. Seriously, just… good job, Rosie. Anyway, Rene Montoya, as played by Rosie Perez, is a grizzled veteran who has been screwed over by the system repeatedly, a stark contrast to the naive rookie that the character was originally. Cassandra Cain is an in-name-only character, who bears no resemblance to the mute super martial artist of the comics. 

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This character is portrayed as socially awkward and it’s great.

Despite all of the changes, they just serve to drive home that this “team” really has nothing in common. Canary fights because she’s got just too much hero in her to let Sionis capture a girl, Harley does it because she likes Cassandra and because Sionis is going to kill her, Montoya believes in stopping Sionis even if the rest of the department doesn’t support her, and Huntress is just after vengeance. We have a vigilante, a self-serving antihero, a cop, and an assassin, and it somehow comes together organically for the final major action set piece.

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Spoiler: It involves Roller Skates and I love that they point out how insane that is.

Actually, I really liked all of the action sequences in this film. They vary a lot and many of them capture the fun slapstick element of violence that the John Wick films did well. I will admit that some of the gore is a bit more than I was expecting and, honestly, maybe more than the film needed, but they’re overall solid. 

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She uses a confetti gun at one point, just to balance it out.

I also loved Ewan McGregor’s performance as Roman Sionis. He perfectly nails a combination of psychopath and insecure over-compensating douche. He has no emotional strength and whines constantly, but due to his wealth and influence can get away with anything, so he just moves straight to violence as a response. He seems almost unbelievable as a human being, except that YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE MET THIS GUY ON THE INTERNET. It’s also amazing that he is utterly incapable of doing almost anything on his own, but is still threatening to everyone. It helps that his chief henchman, Zsasz (Chris Messina), is a grade-A serial killer, but still, McGregor sells that Sionis can be simultaneously weak and yet overwhelming.

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He’s not the comic book Black Mask, but he’s just so great.

Overall, I genuinely liked this film. I don’t know why it’s failing at the box office aside from the fact that it felt like a tacked-on sequel to a terrible movie, which it absolutely is not. I mean, it’s poorly written, but still better than Aquaman. I wonder if there’s a reason a female superteam movie with some admitted flaws would have 1/10th the box office of Jason Momoa in spandex, despite getting better critical and audience reviews? Dang it, Drogo…

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.