Netflix Review – The Dragon Prince (Book 2): A Little Slow, But Picking Up (Spoiler-Free)

Some of the team from Avatar: The Last Airbender continue to remind us that they are capable of amazing amounts of complexity and emotion from animated characters.

SUMMARY

Azymondias or “Zym” the young dragon prince has been born at the end of the last season… and he is freakin’ adorable. Seriously, look at this little guy.

DragonPrince2 - 1Zym
Between this and Toothless, animated dragons are getting adorable.

But, back to the plot.

Rayla, Callum, and Ezran (Paula Burrows, Jack DeSena, Sasha Rojen) are resting at the home of Lujanne, the illusionist elf of the moon (Ellie King). Callum, having sacrificed his primal stone to save Zym’s life, is depressed that he can no longer do magic, as humans cannot connect to any of the elements. While they rest, Claudia and Soren (Racquel Belmonte and Jesse Inocalla) catch up to them. Claudia shares some romantic moments with Callum and tries to convince him of the merits of her form of magic, Dark Magic, but he refuses to learn it. Ultimately, Claudia and Soren reveal that they’re still trying to take the three back under the orders of their father, Viren (Jason Simpson). The trio manage to elude the pair and continue on their quest towards the land of the Dragon Queen.

DragonPrince2 - 2Amaya.png
Amaya continues to be amazing.

END SUMMARY

This season was pretty solid. With all of the basic introductions out of the way, you’d expect the show to pick up a little, but instead the first few episodes are about expanding all of our characters’ connections. While we’ve gotten some emotional moments between all three of our leads, we get to see how much they’ve grown over the last season and how that’s affecting how they feel about each other. This grows further when we see Claudia and Soren, who haven’t really interacted with the characters since the beginning, try to deal with the fact that their targets are also people they care about, which brings me to one of the best points in the show.

DragonPrince2 - 3Date.png
Perhaps more than just care about.

So far, this show has managed to avoid falling into any cliches about good and evil. Claudia is a witch who literally sucks the life out of small things in order to do magic, but she doesn’t view it as being inherently evil, merely as a tool no different than a sword, which can be used for right or wrong. Soren is an extremely friendly soldier, who also is under orders from his father to kill his friends if he needs to. Viren, who is clearly the biggest villain in the series so far, is trying to do what he believes is right to save the kingdom, because in the past the only way for the humans to survive was to use forbidden magics. He just also is completely blind to how well he can actually administrate a kingdom or how succession works or how much people just don’t like him. Still, it’s impressive that all of the villains are portrayed less as blatantly evil, and more as people with different visions of how to do the right thing.

DragonPrince2 - 4Titan.png
Viren literally uses the heart of a rare, probably sentient monster… to save thousands.

I think that Callum’s journey over this season is a particularly well-crafted narrative. Over the last season he was trying to learn how to be a magic user, something that is rare within the world of the series, but now that he’s lost it he’s having to question what his role is now. It’s not that he misses the power as much as missing having a thing that he really felt was his chosen path. He’s spent his entire life failing at almost everything, only to find one thing where working on improving at it felt right. It’s such a relatable thing that I really love how they cover it.

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Also, there’s a blind pirate. I love him.

Overall, I thought that this was an interesting season, because it’s less of an advancement of the plot but more an exploration of the characters and the world. I think it was a step-up from the previous season and I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

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Netflix Review/Reader Request – Await Further Instructions: An Anti-Vaxxer Horror Film?, Or The Monsters are Dumb at Maple Street (Spoiler-Free and Ending Explained)

I get my first reader request to try and interpret a movie, the British film Await Further Instructions. I regret accepting this request.

SUMMARY

It’s Christmas time. A time for family. Even the family that you don’t really get along with. The last one is the circumstances that our protagonist Nick (Sam Gittins) finds himself in, when he returns home after a long time away, bringing his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) to meet the Milgram Family. They immediately find themselves in conflict with Nick’s racist grandfather (David Bradley), his pregnant and proudly-ignorant sister Kate (Holly Weston), her meathead husband Scott (Kris Sadler), and his authoritarian father Tony (Grant Masters). His mother Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) is just sort of weak and obliging, but everyone seems to manage to get along, though it’s strained. The next morning, Nick and Annji decide to leave early to avoid more conflict, but find that the house is now surrounded by a mysterious black substance.

AwaitFurther - 1Windows.png
I liked the Black substance being somewhat bio-mechanical looking, like the Xenomorph.

All cell phones are down, the internet is down, and the only contact with the outside world is coming through the television, which is displaying emergency messages, telling the family to “Await Further Instructions.” At first they attempt to just continue life as normal as possible, but soon the messages tell them to get rid of their food, to rub their bodies with bleach, then to inject themselves with “vaccines” that come through the chimney and are contained within dirty needles. At every step, the cycle basically goes “Nick and Annji point out that this is a terrible idea, then Tony overrules them.”

AwaitFurther - ATV
This looks professional, right?

Throughout the movie, the people are compelled to do more and more extreme acts by the television, until the truth of the situation is revealed.

END SUMMARY

This movie is an example of “good idea, bad execution.” The premise of people under stress turning on each other is fairly old, including the classic The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” but tying it in with technology and featuring a family representative of the current societal cultural divides does distinguish it. There are, however, three big problems with this movie. First, the characters are too over the top. Tony, Kate, and Scott are all just too irrational, too quickly. Tony is not just immediately ready to believe whatever the TV says, but to use violence to enforce it. When it’s time to pick someone to be isolated, they don’t even consider that Scott, the guy who literally just shoved his hand into a mystery hole, might be the one who is infected. Meanwhile, Nick and Annji, the supposed voices of reason, just keep going along with stuff after they get shouted down. Nobody does much to figure out what’s going on for the first hour of the film, despite that being most people’s first reaction. It just doesn’t work well. Second, the dialogue is clunky as hell. Almost every line is awkward and uninspiring and could basically be called “cliche roulette.” Last, *Minor Spoiler* the last twenty minutes of the movie is such a violent change that it kind of feels like it was intended to be a different movie. *End Spoiler*

AwaitFurther - 3Gash.png
Scott’s too dumb to recognize that the gash is clearly alive. Nobody’s that dumb.

So, the actual request I got was asking if this was an “anti-vaxxer” horror film. It’s pretty obvious why the question comes up, since the people in the movie all inject themselves with vaccines which *Minor Spoiler* doesn’t end well *End Spoiler.* I don’t deny that you can interpret that scene as being against trusting vaccines given to you by authority figures, but I think I can explain it as just being an incidental part of a bigger message.

AwaitFurther - 2Injection
Tony, manning up by injecting himself with a dirty needle.

The film’s about blindly obeying authority, and that’s really any kind of authority. The family that is featured, the Milgrams, are even named after the famous Milgram Experiment, an experiment which confirmed that, if people are told by an authority figure to hurt or even kill someone, about 30% of people (or potentially up to 60%) will eventually do so. Admittedly, the experiment was aimed at being about authority, but subsequent experiments suggest it’s less about obeying and more about disclaiming responsibility. Still, the movie is a clear cautionary tale about the perils of not questioning orders.

AwaitFurther - 5SVU.jpg
Law and Order: SVU actually did it better. 

“But Joker,” I hear my reader say, “isn’t the basis for rejecting vaccines essentially rejecting the authorities telling you that they’re helpful in favor of asserting your own belief (comment below if you actually said it, because that’d be awesome)?” Well, yes, but the difference is that vaccines are supported by scientific authority, whereas policy or command decisions are derived from, eventually, martial authority. The beauty of scientific authority is that any human being could, through study and time, go through the entire history of scientific discovery and eventually understand why and how vaccines work. Science is not an opinion, it’s a system by which we remove opinions until the truth remains. Yes, sometimes prevailing theories wrong, particularly in soft sciences, but the beauty is that if you prove a theory wrong, then your correct theory becomes the new main theory. Science never encourages you to blindly follow it, because the less blind you are, the more it helps science. Scientific authority is best summarized as “what is proved right becomes right, what is proved wrong becomes wrong.” Citation: Every scientist ever (myself included).

AwaitFurther - 6Lorentz
I picked Lorenz’s because he worked on animal aggression.

Command decisions on the other hand, such as Tony’s orders to the family or the TV’s orders to Tony, are backed by martial authority. That means that, eventually, you fall in line because if you don’t, someone bigger than you commits violence upon you. That’s pretty much the way that all of civilization works: If you break the agreed-upon commands, someone kicks your ass. Sure, we’ve got courts and lawyers between us and most of the actual violence, but if you keep breaking the rules, eventually, violence will be inflicted upon you. We actually see that exemplified in the movie multiple times, particularly with Tony’s drafting of Scott as a foot soldier who carries out violence when Nick disagrees. However, the issue with unchecked martial authority is that eventually more and more violence is used in response to smaller and smaller violations of decrees.  The movie weakly tries to bring in religious or divine authority, but it’s mostly tied in with martial authority. Martial authority is best summarized as “what is right is what I say is right or else I smash your face in.” It encourages blindly following authority, because every time you question it, it has to smash your face in and sometimes that encourages you to smash back. Citation: Pretty much all of history.

AwaitFurther - 7Authority.png
Best example ever.

The scene in the movie where the characters take vaccines even has a character point out that the risk isn’t just in the vaccine, it’s that the vaccines are improperly packaged, contain dirty needles, were delivered by chimney, and are in response to a health crisis that there is no evidence is even real. That’s not the same as saying don’t trust doctors and scientists. Hell, the two most educated characters, including one nurse, are the ones who are actually shown to be in the right about everything. So, no, I don’t think the movie is actually anti-vaxxer, it just was a little messy in this scene.

Overall, parts of the film, mostly the eerie way the television communicates and the body-horror, are well done. Other parts, particularly the characters and the dialogue, are just uninteresting and terrible. Horror doesn’t always need great dialogue (so many conversations from 80s slashers about sex come to mind), but it has to at least be INTERESTING dialogue, if you’re not having super strong visuals, and there aren’t many visuals until the end. I actually think they would have done better to have the television be communicating seemingly through regular media broadcasts, which might have given them a more cohesive message at the end, which brings me to…

***ENDING EXPLAINED***

At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the black mass surrounding the house is actually a tentacle monster which is basically made up of coaxial cables and has been infiltrating their television and controlling them. At the end, it even moves to motivating Tony to worship it, allowing it to completely control him. After everyone in the house is dead, the monster dissolves Kate’s body and says hello to her baby. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood is similarly falling apart and being consumed by the black creatures. So what’s happening here?

AwaitFurther - 8Ruby.png
Yeah, this is a weird way to end things.

Well, I admit that the last 20 minutes of this film is a little bit off-the-walls and gets a little confusing in themes. Most of the movie up until this point has been a fairly straight-forward message about the danger of not questioning authority or about succumbing to martial authority, but while the monster had been using the television to control everyone, it doesn’t do anything through traditional media. In fact, any time anyone tries to guess the source of the broadcast, it’s either Tony asserting that it’s the government or Nick asserting it’s coming from a sinister other source. The only statements about traditional media are a few lines about stories that the characters use as a basis to discriminate, but nothing about them really places any message about the media there. Despite that, the ending seems to be a pretty straightforward metaphor… I mean, it’s a child that is going to be raised by a television telling the baby to “worship [it].”

AwaitFurther - 9Ruby2.png

Like I said, the ending gets a little confusing, and I think the key to it is that Annji sees the heart of the television is actually controlled by the monster. This indicates that the monster hasn’t just been there since Christmas, but possibly for a while, meaning that the monster knew how humans can divide themselves over issues and how prone certain people are to taking commands, allowing it to craft a perfect series of commands to the family to get them to kill themselves. Hell, it even knew Christmas was the time when people are the easiest targets, because they’re all together. When Nick and Annji resist, it just has Tony do the job. Finally, when it’s left alone, it seems to gently greet Ruby, the baby. That’s because this has probably been its goal all along, to raise a generation of children under its control to provide it with unquestioned worship. That’s the only way to explain why it chose to spare the baby, but not Tony, who is already its worshipper. Do I have very much to go on there? No, because the last 20 minutes of this movie are insane and hard to nail down. Is it about all authority or media? Is it about killing people or controlling people? I have no idea, but that’s my best guess. If the movie had chosen the television to communicate through, say, hijacked news broadcasts, that would have made a better metaphor, in my opinion, but I didn’t make the film.

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.

Oscar/Netflix Review – Roma: An Intensely Personal Film About Someone Else

Alfonso Cuarón brings us the life of a maid in 1970s Mexico and the family that she is a part of.

SUMMARY

Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio) is a maid for a moderately wealthy family in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. The father of the family, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), regularly leaves for conferences in other countries, leaving his wife, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), to raise their four children with the help of her mother Teresa (Veronica Garcia), Cleo, and another maid Adela (Nancy Garcia).

Roma - 1Cleo.jpg
It’s not the most glamorous life, but it’s amazing.

Adela and Cleo go to the movies with their boyfriends Ramon (José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza) and Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), respectively. Cleo tells Fermin that she’s possibly pregnant and he promptly abandons her. A doctor confirms Cleo’s pregnancy. Meanwhile, around the area, racial tensions are rising, as are tensions between students and the government, as part of the Mexican Dirty War.

Roma - 2NYE
This scene is bizarre, but so beautiful that you will become weepy.

Several months later, Cleo and the children see a movie, only to see Antonio leave the theater with a young woman. It’s revealed that Sofia is aware of her husband’s philandering, but she tries to hide it from her children. Cleo finally manages to track down Fermin at a massive outdoors martial arts class, but he responds by saying he isn’t sure the child is his and threatening to beat Cleo if she contacts him again.

Roma - 3Army.jpg
A Mexican army learning a Japanese martial art encouraged by the US. So very weird.

Teresa takes Cleo to buy a crib, but they are caught in the store during the Corpus Christi Massacre. They witness two people gunned down by angry young people, only to find out that one of the killers is Fermin. It’s then that Cleo’s water breaks, but her baby is stillborn. Back with the family, Sofia announces to the children that she’s going to be divorcing Antonio and takes the children to the beach. At the beach, two of the kids are nearly carried off by the current, but Cleo saves them. Sofia and the children all affirm that they love Cleo as a part of the family, but Cleo reveals that she never wanted the baby. They return home to find that Antonio has moved his belongings out of the house, and life goes on.

Roma - 4Beach
She can’t swim, but she doesn’t hesitate.

END SUMMARY

This movie is Oscar gold. Even though it wasn’t my favorite film nominated for Best Picture this year, it wouldn’t shock me at all if it won. The acting is great, despite the fact that the lead wasn’t a professional actress. The cinematography is as good as exists in film, with great, meaningful, match cuts and perfect control of the imagery. The characters are all interesting and very human. Hell, it’s in black and white, that’s like 10 points on the “is this artsy” scale right there.

Roma - 6Dong.png
And full frontal male nudity opposite this scene is another 10 points for “avant garde.”

The problem with analyzing a movie like this is that much of what makes it amazing is all of the little scenes that seem to have come straight from the memory of Alfonso Cuaron, because they’re so genuine and so unusual that they just don’t feel like they could have come from fiction. It’s not particularly a secret that the family in this is based on Cuaron’s, and the film is even dedicated to the memory of the inspiration for Cleo. One scene from the beginning of the movie that stands out is where one of the sons lies on the roof telling Cleo that he can’t move, because he’s dead. Cleo ends up laying next to him until he can’t resist talking to her, only for her to tell him that she’s dead. There are a number of these small, unusual scenes throughout the film that really seem to represent the tiny moments that bring a level of authenticity to the characters that most films don’t really achieve. It’s doubly impressive because the main character isn’t the surrogate for the author. 

Roma - 5Dead.jpg
This scene is amazing.

Cuaron’s skill in cinematography and editing shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, since it’s pretty much the thing that set the film Gravity apart from other space films, nor should we be surprised at his skill in characterization, given that he wrote Y Tu Mama Tambien and helped adapt Children of Men. However, those movies didn’t really get the level of parallel narrative that this film develops through the great use of the structure of the shots in the film. Themes of classism, of eradication of native cultures, of suppression of the masses, all are interwoven with the much tighter family themes. This all culminates with Cleo’s water breaking during the Corpus Christi Massacre. This was a brutal paramilitary (and military) attack on protesting students demanding greater educational freedom which was notable for ending at hospitals, where Los Halcones, a shock group trained partially by the US, would kill off the wounded, including in surgical suites. We see Fermin sew death directly at the massacre, and also symbolically, with his abandoned child being stillborn. While a lot of other symbols are more blatant (there’s a cut to three crosses that will make you hear the words “meaningful imagery” shout in your head), the film is still emotionally captivating even if you aren’t looking for something deeper. I think that’s probably the hallmark of a truly great film: It doesn’t require a ton of investment, but the more you give it, the more you get.

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Even this car is massively meaningful. Damn, man, that’s awesome.

Overall, I can’t really do this movie that much justice in a review, since it’s so visual and subjective. It’s available on Netflix and I highly recommend watching 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/Oscar Review – Black Panther: The Importance of Breaking Barriers

Black Panther, the highest-grossing film in history with a majority black cast and crew, is also the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture.

SUMMARY

Following his father, T’Chaka’s (John Kani) death in Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the heir to the mantle of the Black Panther, returns to his homeland of Wakanda, a secretly hyper-advanced but isolated African nation, to become the king and rejoin his superintelligent sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his wise mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Along with his head guard Okoye (Danai Gurira), he rescues his former girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from her undercover duties attempting to end human trafficking so that she can attend the ceremony. T’Challa takes on the only challenger to the throne, M’Baku (Winston Duke), and emerges victorious, but spares his life.

BlackPanther - 1MBakuFight
This setting would be great for UFC. Just saying.

Meanwhile, thief and murderer of Wakandans Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) steal a weapon made from Vibranium, a near-magical metal that is found almost exclusively in Wakanda. T’Challa’s friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) asks T’Challa to capture Klaue, who murdered W’Kabi’s parents. T’Challa captures Klaue in South Korea, but Stevens rescues him… only to kill him shortly after and present his body to W’Kabi to gain entry to Wakanda. Stevens reveals himself to be N’Jadaka, the son of T’Chaka’s  brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), who betrayed Wakanda until being killed by the king. This makes Killmonger a candidate for the throne of Wakanda. He challenges T’Challa and wins, knocking T’Challa off of a waterfall.

BlackPanther - 2Korea
Like most cats, he jumps onto the least convenient place possible.

Killmonger, now the king, prepares to distribute Wakanda’s advanced weapons to secret operatives around the world with the plan of staging insurrections to institute black supremacy in the major world powers. Shuri, Nakia, Ramonda, and CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) flee to M’Baku’s territory and find that T’Challa is alive. They give him the heart-shaped herb that powers the Black Panther and he returns. While Okoye and T’Challa’s loyalists fight W’Kabi and Killmonger’s soldiers, T’Challa and Killmonger battle, with T’Challa emerging victorious. Killmonger, mortally wounded, chooses to die rather than live in prison. T’Challa realizes that isolation from the world has weakened Wakanda and chooses to reveal the nature of the country to the United Nations.

BlackPanther - 3KillmongerDeath
Yeah, the villain chooses death on principle… and it does make an impact.

END SUMMARY

Well, this is the first Superhero Movie to be nominated for Best Picture for Academy Award. Is it a perfect film? Well, let’s Pro-Con this.

Here’s what the movie does well: First, it features a representation of African culture that has not often been seen before, particularly the Afro-Futurist aspects. Most depictions of Africa often ignore the developed areas and instead focus on the more tribal and poor areas. Hell, most movies treat “Africa” like it’s just one country, rather than dozens of countries with wildly different cultures, something that this movie makes a point of avoiding. Even Coming to America, which does depict a similarly wealthy and powerful African country like Wakanda, doesn’t particularly have an underlying representation of the nature of different African cultures like this movie. None of this is by accident, either, as Ryan Coogler spent a lot of time and effort working symbols of various countries and groups into things ranging from backgrounds and sets to costume choices.

BlackPanther - 4Costumes
Oh my god, the costumes.

Second, the supporting characters in the movie are fantastic, particularly the female characters. Letitia Wright’s Shuri is the embodiment of the plucky genius to a degree that, appropriately, is usually found only in comic books. She’s been described by at least one Executive Producer as the single smartest human in the MCU, which means that she’s outclassed Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, and Tony Stark. Despite her intellect, or perhaps because of it, Shuri is one of the more relatable characters, being mostly a rebellious and creative teenager finding her place in the world. Okoye, on the other hand, is not necessarily relatable, instead being a well-crafted rendition of the Amazon archetype, a stoic warrior. However, her wonderful sense of humor keeps her from being too serious and her care for the country and the people in it make her stand out from being generic. Also, they cast Danai Gurira without having seen her in The Walking Dead, something that’s insane to me. Lupita Nyong’o is amazing, as she always is, although her character as the love interest sometimes seems a little underdeveloped, due to always sharing the scenes. In contrast, Winston Duke’s M’Baku, while he has little screen time, is well-developed because he’s always the focus.

BlackPanther - 5Shuri
GIVE SHURI A MOVIE. Actually, give her a buddy comedy with Spider-Man.

Third, and let’s be honest about this, Killmonger is the best part of this film. It’s rare for a film to go out of its way in presenting a villain’s ideology in this way… as having so much of a point that the hero actually has to change his way of thinking in response. Throughout the movie, T’Challa, like all of the kings of Wakanda, is mired in tradition and isolation. Wakanda has never needed allies, nor has it wanted them, but this has limited their way of thinking. For example, they still use TRIAL BY COMBAT as a way to select their leaders, something that is, on every level, freaking ridiculous for a sophisticated society (as the movie even points out implicitly).  Additionally, their refusal to help others has resulted in a much more awful world for everyone, particularly their neighbors. Killmonger points out that Wakanda could have helped stop the slave trade or made Africa technologically advanced enough to prevent colonial exploitation… but just chose not to because of their insular nature. Killmonger points out that they could easily have solved so many of the injustices which have been levied upon black people over the centuries which have resulted in the countries doing the exploiting gaining wealth and power… but, again, chose not to. So, he decides that it’s their obligation now to try and undo that mistake. Unfortunately, he also has a big chip on his shoulder from having his father murdered, which leads him to believe that the only just action is to literally reverse everything that has happened and create a world where black people are subjugating everyone else. Still, it’s telling that, at the end of the movie, T’Challa is forced to admit that isolation has weakened Wakanda and that things need to change.

BlackPanther - 6Killmonger.jpg
Marvel: Now with better villains!

Also, the music was great, most of the action sequences were solid, the locations were all interesting, and the writing was amazing in most of the scenes. So, yeah, lots of good stuff.

As for the things that the movie didn’t do perfectly: Pacing in the movie isn’t great. The first time I saw it I didn’t really notice, because I was kind of caught up in the clever writing, but yeah, there’s a lot of scenes in the second act that feel a little slow.

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The Stan Lee cameo was cute, though.

Several of the action sequences didn’t have the best CGI, particularly of T’Challa. The stunts were great, but when you do a CGI sequence in the middle of a live-action film, particularly one where the CGI figure is close to the camera, you get a lot of uncanny valley action and some of it doesn’t hold up well.

BlackPanther - 8CGI
Is this a movie scene or a video game cut-scene? And could you tell the difference?

Mostly, the biggest problem with Black Panther is Black Panther. T’Challa is well portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, but the character itself is actually a little blunted because of the number of other great characters in the movie. The other problem is that he’s genuinely too overpowered in this film against anyone other than Killmonger. The armor that Shuri gives him is completely invincible against almost anything, so even during the major chase scene in Korea, T’Challa is never really at risk. Also, the final fight just isn’t that interesting, since it’s two nearly invulnerable people punching each other. The best parts of the performance are when it’s Boseman as T’Challa, not the Black Panther.

So, no, this isn’t a perfect movie. I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year… in fact, I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year featuring a black lead (Into the Spider-Verse takes the gold), but it’s still a good movie. Mostly, though, it’s an important movie. A few years ago, the Sony leak confirmed that, within film studios, the myth that “black films don’t travel,” i.e. that black films can’t make money internationally, was still going strong. This movie kicked that myth in the nuts. It proved that representation does not necessarily mean falling into stereotypes or trying to remove the characters from their cultural roots. It showed that a diverse cast and crew can produce a different feel to a film and that a film could address race relations within a structure of a normal action movie. If you don’t think that’s significant, let me remind you that Hattie McDaniel, the first black person to be nominated and win an Oscar, wasn’t allowed to attend the premier of Gone With the Wind due to Georgia’s segregation laws. THAT WAS IN 1940.

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Oh, and my dad got his driver’s license the year this came out.

Overall, I don’t know that I think this movie deserves to win Best Picture, but I do think it deserved the nomination. It’s a well-done film on many levels, even if it has its flaws, and I think it represents something much bigger than itself.

One complaint I do want to address right now is that superhero films aren’t deserving of this kind of accolade. I see a lot of critics online complaining about the idea that this is “legitimizing” superhero films, which are just popcorn flicks. To that I say: Good. Legitimize them. They’re genre films with a lot of rules and shortcuts that can be taken, to be sure, but you know what else that applies to? Westerns. Mob movies. War films. All of which are constantly given critical accolades as art, when they deserve it. So, let’s encourage people to make artsier, more impacting superhero films, and stop treating them like they are just there to grab the box-office.

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 – Russian Doll: A New Take on Groundhog Day (Spoiler-Free and Ending Explained)

Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland bring you this story of a woman who can’t stop dying.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) is a 36 year old software engineer who hooks up with a guy named Mike (Jeremy Lowell Bobb) at her birthday party hosted by her friend Maxine (Greta Lee) and attended by Lizzy (Rebecca Henderson), Nadia’s friend, and Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), Nadia’s surrogate mother. Later that night, while trying to find her missing cat, Nadia is hit by a car and dies.

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However, her hair is unaffected.

She awakes back at the same birthday party. She finds out that she is now on fate’s hit list. Every cycle, within a few hours to a few days, she dies somehow (usually violently) and restarts at the same time at the party. She works to figure out exactly what it is that she needs to do to move on with her life.

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However, she does not learn how to look where she’s going.

END SUMMARY

So, as I pointed out in my list of 5 (really 7) Groundhog Day episodes of television, there are a LOT of TV shows and films that use the mechanic of one person re-living the same experience over and over again. Groundhog Day isn’t the first, but it’s probably the most famous because of how well that movie portrayed the cycle, with it always being one day, whether Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors lived to the end of it, but others have played with the length of the loop or the mechanics of remembering. Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.) was basically the first-person-shooter video game situation played out through a movie. ARQ was about loops where multiple people can remember the loop. Run Lola Run allowed the rebooted Lola’s previous lives to physically impact the next run. Doctor Strange uses a time-loop to force a deity-level threat to give up trying to take over Earth. Happy Death Day puts a survivor girl in a slasher film in a position to get killed repeatedly while trying to figure out how to beat the killer. It’s a fairly used trope, to say the least, which is why it’s good that this TV show manages to make the show more about the characters, particularly Nadia, rather than about the mechanism itself, one of the things that Groundhog Day excelled in. Also, it manages to not mention a single one of the above movies, but doesn’t make it obvious that they’re NOT mentioning them, so you don’t really think about it.

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Her friends are usually drunk when she starts the loop.

The first few episodes, as you’d expect, are mostly Nadia trying to figure out what’s happening. While she doesn’t immediately jump to “I’m in a time loop,” the exploration period actually doesn’t feel too long, because she thinks of more rational explanations like “I’ve been drugged” or “I’m going crazy” before she hits “Space-time continuum rip” or whatever. After that, it’s about trying to stop the loops. It gives the season enough variety to not feel overly repetitive, even for a show that’s literally about repeating things.

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To be fair, she does do drugs.

The acting and writing are both amazing, with full credit to Lyonne for doing both at different points, including doing the script for the excellent season finale. Her performance conveys her feelings of uncertainty, both about her life and about the loops, while also putting forth her insecurities and inner strength. She’s a real person, though not a genre savvy one, being found in a crazy situation. Her interactions with her co-stars, particularly Charlie Barnett’s Alan Zaveri, are all excellent and each connection fleshes the character out further.

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Chemistry… just a weird kind.

Overall, this is a solid show. It just keeps getting better with more elements added until the great ending. Cinematography, acting, writing, and direction are all top notch. Give it a try. Speaking of endings, however, that brings us to the…

****SPOILERS****

If you’ve seen the show, you know that eventually Nadia runs into Alan Zaveri, another person who is reliving the loops, in fact looping at the same time as Nadia. Alan is revealed to have killed himself out of despair at the same moment that Nadia was killed by the car during her first loop. We then watch the loops start to degrade, with the universe going away, until finally Nadia lets go of her past guilt over leaving her Mother (Chloe Sevigny) who ended up dying and Alan gives up pursuing Beatrice (Dascha Polanco), his girlfriend of 9 years who has been the focus of much of his life. After both of them finally get past their hangups, they find out that they have looped again… but separately. There are now two universes: One in which Nadia remembers Alan and another where Alan remembers Nadia, and each of them now has to save the other. So, what happened?

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Mirroring is a thing in the show.

Well, the show doesn’t definitively say it, but the leads to propose an idea and I think the narrative reinforces it: Both of them were supposed to be saved. Nadia was supposed to save Alan, which would lead to her not being killed by the car. Instead, because Nadia was having a crisis over her birthday (due to it being the age her mom died), she made a different, self-destructive choice. Alternatively, Alan should have kept Nadia from sleeping with Mike, which would have saved her life, but instead Alan chose to wallow in despair and kill himself. When each of them manages to truly move past what’s keeping them stuck in the past, time finally resets. If you’re wondering why it’s degrading, I think it’s the universe’s way of saying that they either need to move forward or the deaths will just stick. Nadia’s takes longer, because it’s harder for her to move past, which is why her last few deaths are more graphic than Alan’s.

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Particularly this one.

However, while both of them are now the kind of people who can save the other, they’re no longer the kind of people that need saving. In other words, they’d be violating causality if they reset together, so the universe solves the problem by splitting them into two different worlds: One with the old Alan and the new Nadia, another with it the other way around. Then, we watch the worlds play out, finally seeming to merge in the last scene, with everything the way that it was supposed 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.

 

 

Netflix Review – The Godzilla Trilogy (Planet of the Monsters, City on the Edge of Battle, The Planet Eater)

The largest Godzilla on film appears in these three movies that take place on a kaiju-ravaged Earth.

SUMMARY

It’s the future and giant monsters (Kaiju) have begun appearing all over Earth. Humanity tries to deal with them, but then a new threat arises, a giant monster capable of destroying human and beast alike: Godzilla. Earth is visited by two different species of aliens who promise to help them with the threat in exchange for some boon from humanity. The Exif, the first of the aliens, seek to take humanity to the stars and convert them to their religion. The second, the Bilusaludo, planned on moving to Earth and defeating Godzilla and the Kaiju with their mighty war-machine MechaGodzilla. Unfortunately, an attack prevents them from activating MechaGodzilla and humanity flees with the aliens to the stars, seeking a new home.

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The art style is very distinct, but it works for the monsters.

20 years later, Captain Haruo Sakaki (Mamoru Miyano/Chris Niosi) together with an Exif priest named Metphies (Takahiro Sakurai/Lucien Dodge) figures out a way to kill Godzilla, which convinces the crew of the starship, who have failed to find a habitable planet, to return to Earth. What they find is that, due to time dilation from sub-lightspeed travel, 20,000 years have passed on the planet. In that time, Earth has become home to monsters. The crew must deal with this threat, the much bigger and badder Godzilla, the now-sentient remains of MechaGodzilla, and finally the planet-eater Ghidorah.

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He’s like a giant mountain of lizard flesh and rage.

END SUMMARY

While there have been at least two different Godzilla animated series, I believe these are the first animated films in the franchise. They take advantage of this by filling the films with monsters ranging from the classics like Rodan and Mothra to the more mundane like the Servums, essentially flying creatures infected by Godzilla’s biology. Additionally, the Godzilla featured in this movie is the biggest by far on film. It starts off the film at approximately 50 meters tall, roughly the same height as the original 1954 Godzilla, but when it reappears it is a towering 300 meters, almost three times the 2014 Godzilla’s height, and that was, at the time, the largest on film. For perspective, it’s basically the height of the Chrysler building.

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The original Godzilla is basically a snack to this one.

Despite this, most of the focus of the film is on Haruo and his immense hatred towards Godzilla, the creature that killed his mother when he was a child. While we’ve often seen protagonists in Godzilla movies who are concerned about the threat that the monster presents to their country or their loved ones, I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of relationship with the monster. In most of the movies it wouldn’t even be possible, because the kaiju typically are only out for a few days, whereas this film posits what would happen if they were out for millennia. Using relativity to give Godzilla time to evolve while also keeping someone around who remembers the original destruction was a great plot device.

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Watching him swear to kill a creature that views him as an ant is fun.

I’m trying to avoid spoiling the second and third movies more than you might get from just seeing the Netflix summary, so I’ll just say that the way that they handle MechaGodzilla and Ghidorah are both great. They don’t feel like they’re just rehashing stuff that the old franchise did, particularly with MechaGodzilla, but they also still seem like they’re justified as being added to the canon.

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Three heads of doooooooooooooooom.

The entire series has a weird number of themes, ranging from science versus faith to humanity versus nature, and while they aren’t fully fleshed out as much as I like, it’s still more than they had to do.

Overall, it’s a little rough to watch all three of them if you’re not a Godzilla fan, but maybe someone will recut them into a single, shorter movie online. If you’re a Godzilla fan, though, you should really try 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.