The Mitchells vs. The Machines: Another Great Lord and Miller Comedy – Netflix Review

The guys behind the Lego Movie and Into the Spider-Verse bring us a funny family film.

SUMMARY

Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is a college-bound aspiring filmmaker. Her brother, Aaron (Mike Rianda), is a dino-loving pre-teen, her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), is an outdoorsman, and her mom, Linda (Maya Rudolph), is an upbeat first grade teacher. After fighting with her dad the night before she is supposed to head to college, Katie finds out that Rick’s plan to make it up to her is to take a cross-country trip with the family. Unfortunately, this is the same week when tech guy Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) announces an upgrade to his digital assistant PAL (Olivia Colman), that results in the robot uprising that is determined to end humanity. Eventually, the only humans who are not captured are the Mitchells, leaving them, along with two broken robots (Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen), as the only force that can save humanity.

Don’t pretend you haven’t been one of these people.

END SUMMARY

As I have said multiple times in the past, I believe that the show Gravity Falls is one of the rare shows with no bad episodes. As such, anyone who worked heavily on the show should be assumed capable of delivering great work. Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, who both co-directed and co-wrote this movie, were both writers on that show. Add in the fact that the producers (and apparently partial joke writers) of this film were Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, writers of The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and you have a recipe for a good time.

There’s a dinosaur with bombs. That’s how you make a movie, people.

Part of the success of this movie is that it balances sincere emotional moments with goofy comedy. You can believe that there is tension between Katie and Rick despite both of them often wanting to be on the same side. Katie is an artist who is constantly using computer technology in order to make films and Rick is completely computer illiterate and believes that filmmaking doesn’t provide secure employment. Their issues don’t feel forced at all because they both behave like a real parent and child, caring for each other but also not really understanding each others’ interests. Because of this, when the movie wants to tug at your heartstrings, it can do so in a way that hits you harder because it feels real. 

Their confusion over what to do in a crisis is also relatable.

As to the comedy, the movie has both the signatures of Gravity Falls and Lord and Miller, which is to say that it cashes in heavily on absurd lines that still somehow arise naturally. For example, and I’m only saying this because it was in the trailers, this movie genuinely manages to make a forty foot tall Furby shouting “LET THE DARK HARVEST BEGIN” in Furbish seem like a logical conclusion of a sequence of events. As the movie progresses, the humor gets more and more extreme and fast-paced, much like an avalanche of laughs. I’m not even positive how they manage to pull that off, but maybe that’s why I don’t have an Oscar. 

LET. THE. DARK. HARVEST. BEGIN.

The animation in this film is stylish, unique, and awesome. It’s an exaggerated use of cel-shading that I think is supposed to make the characters look like they were drawn in a 2-D cartoon style. Because the film is told from Katie’s perspective, the movie also repeatedly adds cute animations and musical cues that indicate her imagination is making everything more cinematic. It adds a nice touch, similar to the “pow” words and splash effects from Into the Spider-Verse

Commentary during the movie. Awesome.

The voice casting is naturally amazing. Abbi Jacobson pulls off a great emotional range. Danny McBride and Maya Rudolph are both amazing as the overprotective dad and the sensitive mom. Weirdly, though, I kept thinking that the characters seemed to be made for Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly (outdoorsman and sometimes flighty weirdo). Olivia Colman is a hilariously unexpected choice for an evil A.I. Eric Andre is perfect as the flighty Silicon Valley “tech bro” who clearly doesn’t think about his decisions very hard.

Behold, the fall of man.

Overall, this movie was amazing. Recommend it highly.

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.

Yasuke: A Not-So-True Version of a True Story – Netflix Review

The creator of Cannon Busters brings us the story of the only black samurai.

SUMMARY

In a version of feudal Japan populated by magic, mecha, and monsters, a former samurai, the only African retainer of Lord Oda Nobunaga (Takehiro Hira), named Yasuke (Jun Soejima/LaKeith Stanfield) has spent twenty years in hiding as a boatman. He previously watched the fall of Nobunaga to the forces of the Dark Daimyo (Yoshiko Sakaibara/Amy Hill), a powerful dark magic user. Now, a young girl named Saki (Kiko Tamura/Maya Tanida) who has magical powers is being hunted by Catholic Church operative Abraham (Shigeru Ushiyama/Dan Donohue) as well as the forces of the Dark Daimyo. Yasuke must help keep the girl safe from robots, werebears, mutants, and madmen.

Rowing a boat in Feudal Japan apparently keeps you absolutely jacked. Makes sense.

END SUMMARY

So, I deeply suspect that this series was commissioned back when Chadwick Boseman was set to produce and star in a film adapting the life of the real Yasuke back in 2019. Unfortunately, as we now know, Boseman’s illness was winning and he was unable to make the movie in his lifetime. I think that’s why this version went ahead and took so many creative turns, including the over-the-top fantasy/sci-fi kitchen sink world, because it was assuming people would just have seen a terrific performance of the real story. 

Wakanda Forever.

The story of the real Yasuke is one of the more interesting historical oddities about Japan. Yasuke was, as the show depicts, an African who was in service of a Jesuit missionary who came to the capital of Japan. When the Daimyo Oda Nobunaga saw him, he supposedly didn’t realize that his skin was black, thinking that Yasuke was either very dirty or completely tattooed. This led, somehow, to Yasuke entering Nobunaga’s service and, eventually, fighting for the Daimyo during the war that would become his downfall. He usually is considered to be the only black samurai (although he probably didn’t actually have that title). 

He might even have been memorialized by this ink box.

Because the series veers so far from reality, it allows for incredibly creative powers, characters, and visuals. For example, among the mercenaries that serve Abraham are a Russian woman who is also a werebear (Hiroki Nanami/Julie Marcus), an assassin with giant scythes (Eri Kitamura/Dia Frampton), an African shaman who summons warriors (Kenji Kitamura/William Christopher Stevens), and a hilarious malfunctioning robot (Shunsuke Kubozuka/Darren Criss). Watching them fight a samurai is an amazing sequence that would be hard to put in any other medium and would be impossible to put in almost any other series.

Ah yes, the traditional Shaman/Samurai/Robot fight.

The voice acting is naturally great, regardless of the language. The soundtrack is amazing and is used to emphasize the story and Yasuke’s journey in a way that is reminiscent of James Gunn or Edgar Wright. The animation is very stylized and I’m a big fan of it. The biggest downside to the series is that it does require a lot of your attention to keep track of events sometimes, with major plot points being only a single line or two. To its credit and detriment, it is very short. 

Great visuals.

Overall, I thought this show was great. I recommend you give it a try. Just don’t expect it to be a true story of Yasuke.

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.

Shadow and Bone: Solid Fantasy Series – Netflix Review

The series wisely combines a few books from the same universe and does so well.

SUMMARY

Ravka is a kingdom that is divided into East and West by the wall of darkness called the Shadow Fold. Inside the darkness, monstrous beasts devour anyone they can find, making travel between the two halves of the kingdom perilous. While on such a journey, cartographer Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) is attacked by the monsters and discovers that she has the power to create light which repels the darkness of the fold. It turns out she is a “Grisha,” a group of people who can manipulate various elements, and the only known one that can use light. Naturally, she is considered a valuable asset to the kingdom and its head of the army General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) and taken to be trained. Her childhood friend, Mal (Archie Renaux), worried about her, sets out to find her. At the same time, a group of mercenaries, the Crows, set out to capture her for their own ends. The Crows consist of: Kaz, the mastermind (Freddy Carter), Inej, the former acrobat and assassin (Amita Suman), and Jesper, the sharpshooter (Kit Young). All of these groups are now on a collision course with the future of this kingdom on the line.

She’s literally the light in the darkness. Subtle.

END SUMMARY

One of the things this show does correctly is that it assumes that the audience is already at least passingly familiar with this kind of setting. It’s a world where science is still at the beginning of the industrial age (there are trains and guns), but where certain people also have fantastic abilities that allow for other aspects of life to be completely different (mostly the military). Since you’ve probably heard of a setting like that before, this show wisely focuses on the aspects that are much more unique to this particular world and on the characters. It makes it feel like there was a lot more creativity in worldbuilding when a number of elements were just pulled wholesale from other series. It helps that, rather than being modeled after Western European kingdoms, the setting takes much of its cultural and fashion inspiration from Russian history.

At least it’s not Stalinist Russia. All the furry hats, less murder.

The plot of the season roughly equals the plot of the first Grisha novel, Shadow and Bone, but has the addition of the Crows from one of the other books set in the same world. This is probably the best decision the show makes, because it gives us a decent B-Plot that feels more original than the central plot, gives the show a lot of freedom to expand the world in fun ways, and, most importantly, gets us three of the most interesting characters before we would have gotten to them if the show followed the book releases. Jesper is personally my favorite character in the series, a gunslinger who is apparently a criminal with a lot of anxiety issues who becomes an unstoppable force when he’s calm.  

Also Jesper (left) has the best hat.

I’m not going to say this show is up there with The Witcher or Game of Thrones (pre-last season), but it tells an interesting number of stories that incorporate the more inventive elements of the world of Ravka. It showcases an interesting variety of powers of the Grisha, but also makes it clear that they’re becoming less important to the society every year as science grants people aspects of their abilities… and guns get better. The performances are all top-notch (again with a special shout-out to Kit Young as Jesper), the setting is elaborate, and the pacing is exactly what it needed to be.

They have some good visuals peppered throughout as well.

Overall, pretty good show. Check it out.

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.

Synchronic: Too Dense, Well Acted (Ending Explained) – Netflix Review

There’s a magic drug that sends you through time, and they really put too much into the “how.”

SUMMARY

Steve Denube (Anthony Mackie) is a paramedic who, along with his partner Dennis (Jamie Dornan), starts to get called into very strange crime and injury scenes. In the first, there’s a domestic violence injury that also has an archaic sword lodged into the wall. In the second, a completely burned body is found in a place that did not have a fire. In the third, there’s a bite from a venomous snake that hasn’t existed in the area for centuries. At the same time, Steve is diagnosed with cancer of the pineal gland, which his doctor notices is similar to that of an adolescent’s. At another call, they discover that one of the people present was Dennis’s daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides), who has now disappeared. Steve realizes all of these cases are related to a drug called “synchronic.” It turns out that if you take Synchronic, it allows you to move through time… and get lost in it. Now Steve is going to use the last of the supply in order to find Brianna and bring her back.

They’re a pair o’ medics.

END SUMMARY

About 20 minutes of this film is taken up by Anthony Mackie attempting to mess around with the drug and explain how it works. The problem is that almost everything about the way the time-travel functions is kind of dumb, but, mostly, it’s not important enough to merit the number of scenes spent explaining it. The pill sends adults back in time as ghosts, but anyone without a calcified pineal gland goes back whole along with anything they’re touching. The amount of time you go back is directly tied to the physical location you’re in when you take the pill. This is explained by saying that time is curved and when you take the pill you move through time straight, but, again, they spend way too much screentime on this. This also results in a number of scenes of Steve testing places to move through time and what he can move with him, but his behavior during these sequences is also kind of ridiculous (and costs him a dog rather than, say, a gerbil which he could have used for like $5). It’s even worse because this method of time travel is actually kind of a cool gimmick, but the more you think about it, the more it starts to fall apart, so devoting more time to explaining it undercuts the effect.

Also, why can you only move through the periods where humans existed?

It also doesn’t help that the movie really has to keep fabricating reasons why the story has to be Steve trying to rescue Brianna. For example, there’s only a handful of Synchronic pills left in the world and Steve has all of them. This is explicitly told to him by the chemist who created them who, rather than collecting his Nobel prize for discovering TIME TRAVEL, kills himself so that no one can make more. Also, they make it so that Steve is basically the only adult without a calcified pineal gland (in reality, even if you’re in your 80s, you have about a 1 in 3 chance of having no calcification). Again, I wouldn’t have even thought about this except that the movie kept bringing it up.  

Also, cancer is mostly of no consequence.

Now, on the other hand, having the movie almost entirely focused on Anthony Mackie is a great decision. His character is going through so much in the film that it’s impressive how well Mackie portrays a man whose response to finding out he has cancer is mostly to dedicate himself to one project as a way of both ignoring his mortality and of trying to make up his mistakes to his partner. Steve, who is a clear ladies man that has been avoiding responsibility, has been leaning on Dennis throughout his career. Mackie manages to give a lot of emotional depth to the character by conveying all of these elements throughout the film, while also still bringing enough levity to keep it from getting bogged down. The visuals, also, were pretty great.

Beware, the dog has a rough scene.

Overall, while it could have benefitted from a little more “show, don’t tell,” it was a decent movie.

***ENDING EXPLAINED***

For some reason I see people online questioning whether Steve gets home. The movie already answered that, no, he doesn’t. Steve realizes that the location where Brianna disappeared was a stone that takes them back to the revolutionary war. The reason he realizes this is because he finds a message on the rock that Steve and Dennis believe is from Brianna. However, when Steve gets back there, Brianna doesn’t know about the message and then she goes home. This means, in order to complete the time-loop, Steve has to leave the message there and stay back in the 1700s. It’s likely that his cancer kills him soon after, but at least he did what he wanted to do.

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.

Arlo the Alligator Boy: A Feature-Length Pilot – Netflix Review

It’s the set-up for a TV show, but it’s cute.

SUMMARY

Arlo Beauregard (Michael J. Woodard) is a singing and dancing anthropomorphic alligator who was found as a baby by a swamp-dweller named Edmée (Annie Potts). She raises him to adolescence, but finally tells him that he has a father named Ansel (Vincent Rodriguez III) in New York City. Arlo sets out into the world and meets a giantess named Bertie (Mary Lambert) who saves him from a group of hillbillies aiming to kidnap him: Ruff, Stucky, and The Beast (Flea, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Tatasciore). The pair then encounter a group of scamming wrestlers: Tiger girl Alia, pink furball Furlecia, fish-man Marcellus, and rodent leader Teeny-Tiny Tony (Haley Tju, Jonathan Van Ness, Brett Gelman, Tony Hale). Together, the whole squad heads up north to New York to try and reconnect Arlo with his father.

He’s got a warm heart for someone cold-blooded.

END SUMMARY

So, at the end of this film, it’s revealed that the entire thing was a pilot for a show called I Heart Arlo which apparently revolves around the cast of this film trying to revitalize a dilapidated neighborhood near New York. It’s not unusual for a show to do a feature-length pilot, usually a two or three episode arc, but this is the second one I can think of where a completely independent movie tells its own story just to set up the world and then the show takes it from there. The first was Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, which people seem to forget was a movie first. The world this film builds is sufficiently interesting to set-up a lot more stories, but it does it in a way that feels incidental to the story.

Like… are there other giants? Is she actually a giant or just a big person?

The characters are surprisingly well-crafted for a movie like this, mostly due to the fact that the majority of them are foils for Arlo’s outgoing nature, optimism, and innocence. I mean, there aren’t a lot of kids films where they introduce some of the heroes as people who are faking losing a deathmatch in order to scam people for money. Also, the fact that Furlecia, who is a giant pink furball, is the wrestler just makes it that much better. We don’t get a full picture of all of their backstories, but we do get a fairly clear image of who they are, and that’s enough for something like this.

The bad guys are sufficiently creepy, too.

As far as the plot, it’s a pretty straightforward odyssey going from the swamp to the Big City. It’s been done before, so the focus is mostly on the feelings of the people involved rather than the plot. The musical numbers are pretty great. They vary in style throughout the film, but many of them are akin to big Broadway numbers which are in line with the movie’s New York setting. The character designs are excellent as are the settings. 

The fish guy still creeps me out.

Overall, not a bad movie, but the fact still remains that it holds back on a lot of stuff just to save it for later. I’m sure the show will be fun for kids.

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.

Concrete Cowboy: The Real Urban Cowboys – Netflix Review

Idris Elba tries to bond with his estranged son.

SUMMARY

Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is a high schooler who keeps getting in trouble. His mother sends him from Detroit to Philadelphia to stay with his father, Harp (Idris Elba). When Harp brings Cole inside, Cole finds a horse in the living room. It turns out that Harp is a member of the Fletcher Street Riding Club, a group of equestrians located in urban North Philadelphia. Despite being estranged, Cole and Harp start to bond. However, the riding club is being attacked by the City of Philadelphia, who doesn’t like having people on horseback going through the streets. At the same time, Cole is questioning his involvement with his drug-dealing cousin Smush (Jharrel Jerome). Smush was himself a rider in the past, but now is selling narcotics in order to save up to move out West. Cole finds himself caught between Smush and Harp.

That’s a damned cowboy.

END SUMMARY

I’m going to skip my usual Idris Elba fanboying and just assume that by this point everyone knows that he’s an amazing actor who deserves any role that Hollywood needs filled. He’s a damned treasure. This is not his best role, but his natural charisma really helps sell his place as a cowboy living in the inner city in a modern era. The other performances in the movie, particularly Caleb McLaughlin, are also fantastic. McLaughlin has to balance out his character’s insecurities that lead to his troublemaking and rule breaking while also making him self-aware enough to eventually realize that’s why he does it.  

The other ride.

Much of the film’s strength comes from exposing this little-known and definitely unexpected subculture. As the characters point out, most real-life cowboys were minorities, but the depiction of Westerns has essentially erased that. When the real members of the Fletcher Street Riding Club speak, they point out that no one believes them when they say that they manage horses in a primarily urban area, not just because of the lack of fields, but because they assume black people don’t ride horses. The more the film exposes the realities of trying to be a rider in a place like Philadelphia, the more you start to realize how impressive it is that this even exists and how hard the people involved have to fight to keep it. While that’s not the main emotional focus of the movie, it’s the part that’ll stick with you longer.

Welcome to North Philly.

The downside to the movie is that it does tend to take its time on things. They even try to justify the slow pace at points, but it still tends to weigh down some parts of the film if you aren’t really into the plot. The performances can keep you engaged, but the pacing is just a little off. Maybe it should have been 90 minutes instead of almost two hours. 

Strong moments, for sure.

Overall, solid film, but some parts are best watched at 1.25 speed.

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.

Two Distant Strangers: Caught in the Cycle – Netflix Oscar Review

This short film shows the worst time-loop ever.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

In New York, graphic designer Carter James (Joey Bada$$) wakes up next to Perri (Zaria Simone), a beautiful woman he met the night before. He heads home to check on his dog, Jeter, only to be suspected of pot possession by NYPD officer Merk (Andrew Howard). When James tries to resist the unlawful search, Merk arrests him and kneels on his neck, suffocating him. Carter then wakes up back in bed with Perri. It turns out that Carter is now in a time-loop which restarts every time that Merk (or another officer) kills him, and the cops kill him every single time. How exactly do you get out of a cycle like that?

His headphones are in. That’s a bad start to the interaction, but not his fault.

END SUMMARY

I want to talk about the ending of this short film, but I also really think that everyone should see this film without spoilers. It has a great ending that doesn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but also will surprise you in its execution. I give this film a lot of credit for how well it uses the Groundhog Day premise (something that a number of films have been expanding on lately, from Palm Springs to Doctor Strange to Boss Level), taking it to a point of social commentary rather than just using it as a way to explore character growth. I honestly can’t think of another film or show that’s used it in quite this way. Joey Bada$$ does a great job showing Carter as the epitome of a completely non-threatening guy while Welsh actor Andrew Howard draws on his vicious cop character from Perry Mason to give us an immediately threatening villain. Perhaps the best thing about it is that they never actually clarify whether Carter has weed, because it never should matter. You shouldn’t get killed over a misdemeanor. Really, check out the film, it’s only 29 minutes.

The same stop and frisk kills him a ton of times.

***SPOILERS***

At the end of the 99th loop, Carter, who has used the entire loop to talk to Merk and try to get him to empathize with him, finds out that Merk also is going through the loops and, despite Carter’s attempts to bond, is still fully intent on killing Carter. It turns out that Merk isn’t a cop who is fated to kill him, he’s just a guy who really, really likes killing Carter. It seems like Merk is aware that if Carter gets home to Jeter, the loops end (we have no reason to know this to be true, but it seems like the implication). At the end of the movie, Carter is still determined to get home to his dog, no matter what he has to do to get there. It’s a tough ending, but it would be difficult to end the film with Carter getting out of the loop, because the point is that the cycle doesn’t end. The movie then drives the point home by showing a long list of black Americans who have died in encounters with police, including several who were asleep at the time or were killed in their own apartments or by accident. 

Or were suffocated.

Overall, it’s a great short film, but the ending hits you really hard. Of course, when you need to make a point like this, you don’t tap the audience on the shoulder, you hit them on the head with a hammer. 

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.

My Octopus Teacher: You Wouldn’t Believe You Could Love a Cephalopod – Netflix Oscar Review

Seriously, this documentary makes you emotionally connect with the most alien animal.

SUMMARY

This film depicts filmmaker Craig Foster spending a year of his life free-diving in the (apparently freezing) underwater kelp forest in False Bay, near Cape Town, South Africa. Foster began to document his dives and, eventually, discovered an octopus which was disguised as a pile of rocks. Intrigued, Foster started trying to track the octopus and win her trust. They eventually start to bond, with the octopus allowing Foster to be close to it and even touch it. As Foster watches the octopus battle for survival and move through the ocean, he describes how it impacts the way he views his relationships, learning from his relationship with one of the most unusual creatures on Earth.

Such a strange and beautiful landscape.

END SUMMARY

Octopuses are among the strangest creatures on Earth, often being the closest thing we have to an alien life form when considered from an anthropocentric viewpoint. Their body structure is completely different than any mammal, they have relatively high amounts of ammonia in almost all of their bodily fluids, and to top it all off they’ve got blue blood, three hearts, and a donut-shaped brain. They’re also among the smartest creatures on Earth, capable of navigating mazes, learning how to solve original problems, and capable of telling humans apart by sight (and thus holding grudges). There are countless stories of octopi messing with humans when kept in captivity and some species, like the mimic octopus or the common octopus shown in this film, are capable of using their surroundings for either defense, camouflage, or even offense. All of this is to say: Octopodes are freaking cool (alright, that’s all three plurals). 

There’s an octopus right in front of you.

This film starts off as a nature documentary and, at the beginning, there’s a decent amount of distance between the observer and the subject, particularly since Foster was unaware that he would find the octopus, much less continue to track it for months. However, in a surprising turn, the octopus starts to move closer to Foster, almost begging to befriend him. I cannot blame Foster for wanting to be more involved with the octopus, because, again, it’s freaking awesome. However, we also feel it when Foster is caught between his affection for the animal and his goal to stay objective, particularly when the octopus is in danger. You too will probably be feeling the extreme tension and emotional roller coasters that Foster experiences. You would not believe how much you’ll feel for the little cephalopod.

She’s so cute.

Overall, this is just a great documentary and I cannot recommend it more. Give it a 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.

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.

The Trial of the Chicago 7: Sorkin Cares Not for Truth – Oscar Netflix Review

A true story of one of the most insane trials, only not true.

SUMMARY

In August 1968, Vice President Hubert Humphrey was set to be nominated as the candidate for the Democratic Party. Eight activist leaders from various groups were in attendance when a riot broke out: Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). After Richard Nixon becomes president, Attorney General John N. Mitchell (John Doman) tells prosecutors Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Tom Foran (J.C. MacKenzie) to prosecute the eight as a way to punish their protests. Aside from Seale, who is the only black Defendant and the head of the Black Panthers, the defendants are represented by ACLU lawyer William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman). When the trial begins before Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), what follows is one of the most bizarre trials in US History.

Oooh, Eddie Redmayne glare.

END SUMMARY

So, the story of the Chicago 7 (or 8, depending on if you count Seale) is one of those things that’s almost too crazy to be true. Much like the Scopes Monkey Trial, the trial of the Chicago 7 was never meant to be anything like actual prosecution. It was a political move by everyone involved except, perhaps, for the judge. Many of the witnesses, questions, and even actions by the lawyers were abnormal for any trial. Part of it, and something that the film does somewhat capture, was that the people on trial were largely doing this as a way to emphasize their message. Since this was 1970 and public perception was beginning to turn against the Vietnam War and almost all of them were part of anti-Vietnam groups, this publicized event was an easy soapbox and they mostly used it just to put on a spectacle, and, by court standards, it was a hell of a spectacle.

Strolling into your Federal Trial like it’s a fun day out.

Unfortunately, apparently Aaron Sorkin didn’t think it was interesting enough, because he decided to screw around with it massively. So much of this film heavily fictionalized the events to make them more palatable, but also to try and remove some of the ambiguity from the trial. After all, we have to be rooting for the Chicago 8, regardless of the fact that they were a group of very diverse people whose only common ground was their desire to end the Vietnam War. Some of them did advocate violence as part of their mission, even though the film tries to make them all appear to be completely peaceful. The timeline of many parts of the story is completely rewritten in order to keep certain characters around longer. The most notable one is that Bobby Seale, whose dismissal from the trial resulted in the Chicago 8 becoming the Chicago 7, is kept in the trial for an additional 2 months so that there can be a scene announcing the death of Fred Hampton. In the film, Hampton is constantly at Seale’s trial, whereas in reality Fred Hampton was working on other stuff the entire period before his murder. I do think it’s interesting that two films (the other being Judas and the Black Messiah) involving the murder of Fred Hampton are nominated for Best Picture, but this one forces it it.

That said, Yahya Abdul-Mateen is great in the movie.

My dislike of heavily fictionalizing stuff like this comes from the fact that it’s done to make a story easier on the audience. Hell, they even make Richard Schultz much more affable towards the defendants than he was in real life. It’s even more annoying in court films because there is a literal transcription of this entire trial that can be used as a source. Instead, Sorkin focused on trying to make it an easily consumable morality tale in which the good guys win and everyone is now united on that page. 

Pictured: A guy who would not have stood at the end of the movie.

The performances in the film are solid, particularly Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, who is both a stand-up comic narrating parts of the film and also one of the sassiest people to ever be put on trial. Frank Langella is great as the overly irritating and often infuriating Judge Hoffman, because he makes him easy to hate without falling into a stereotypical racist judge character. 

Not the worst Judge I’ve seen, though.

Overall, it’s not that it’s a bad movie, it’s that it personally irritates me by its choice to inaccurately portray these events just to make it easier to pick a side. History is complicated, and our obsession with making it more black-and-white just makes people think less when dealing with reality.

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.

Mank: Hollywood Loves Its Own Stories – Oscar Netflix Review

The story of the screenplay for the greatest American movie ever made.

SUMMARY

It’s 1940 and Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) is recuperating from a broken leg when he is asked to write a screenplay for a film by Orson Welles (Tom Burke). Mank dictates the story of a newspaper magnate named Charles Foster Kane to his secretary Rita Alexander (Lily Collins). Periodically, the story cuts back to the 1930s when Mank and his brother Joe (Tom Pelphrey) were working for Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) of MGM fame and Mank became an acquaintance of William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). While they start off as friends, Hearst’s actions, particularly towards Upton Sinclair (Bill Nye) and other liberal platforms, and Mank’s alcoholism lead to a slow and painful separation between the two and eventually to Mank writing a screenplay based on Hearst.

There’s a lot of suits and pointing.

END SUMMARY

Hollywood loves stories about Hollywood, particularly during one of their “golden ages.” This story is probably the peak of that, since it’s almost entirely about the inner workings of MGM during the 1930s and about the events that led to the writing of Citizen Kane, a film that consistently ranks as being among the best ever made. I’m going to be frank, I think that it’s only because of this self-obsession Hollywood has that this movie was nominated for Best Picture. Even in a year with relatively few releases like 2020, this still should not have been considered in competition for the best movie of the year. Particularly when things like Hamilton and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and even Soul were not given such an honor. 

I think people liked the Sorkin-esque walk-and-talks.

That’s not to say this isn’t a bad movie, but most of it feels like it’s based on gimmicks. The film is shot in black-and-white and the sound is edited so that it seems like it was made in 1940, just like Citizen Kane. A lot of people have the fake “Mid-Atlantic” accent that was so popular at the time for actors, even when they’re not acting. The flashbacks in the film are structured similarly to the film Citizen Kane, a thing which even the movie acknowledges can be hard to follow. They try to make up for it by having a number of titles on-screen which describe the time period and location, but I actually think that addition is an admission that they couldn’t figure out how to convey the passage of time without them. 

No, being the period where “everyone wore hats” does not clarify it.

The performances, though, are amazing. Naturally, Gary Oldman does a great job portraying Herman Mankiewicz, a man frequently stated to be one of the funniest men in the motion picture industry in the 1930s. He’s witty at all times, but deeply flawed, mostly by his alcoholism and his mistreatment of his wife. Amanda Seyfried gives a lot of depth to Marion Davies by making her more observant and smarter than she lets on, something that is probably more accurate than most of her portrayals as a drunk and a golddigger. Charles Dance, who can play a bad guy better than almost any living actor, really just lets the historical Hearst’s dickishness and pettiness seep through and do a lot of the heavy lifting until the third act, in which he takes it up a level. 

Remember when she was the ditz in Mean Girls? God, Amanda Seyfried is talented.

Overall, it’s a well-performed movie, but I think it would be considered mediocre if it weren’t for Hollywood’s lust for its own history.

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.