Freak Show: It’s Cute, but the Script is Weak – Netflix Review

A queer teenager has to deal with moving to a Conservative high school.

SUMMARY

Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) is a young, flamboyant, and proudly gay kid who was raised by his very dramatic alcoholic mother “Muv” (Bette Midler). He ends up getting sent to live with his father (Larry Pine) and his nanny (Lorraine Toussaint) after Muv goes to rehab. Unfortunately, the local high school is extremely conservative, and Billy is immediately labeled a “Freak.” Rather than being ashamed, Billy tries to be even more outlandish and outspoken, and even makes a friend in Mary Jane (AnnaSophia Robb) and a friend/ambiguous love interest in Flip Kelly (Ian Nelson), but ends up being the target of a beating. After he recovers, Billy decides that he wants to be the first male homecoming queen, to the chagrin of Lynette (Abigail Breslin), the queen bee of the school, and to the delight of local reporter Felicia (Laverne Cox). 

His eyeshadow is on point.

END SUMMARY

This movie is so close to being great, but unfortunately only ends up at “good.” Lawther’s performance is fantastic, as you would expect if you’ve watched The End of the F***ing World. At one point he does a dramatic monologue as Zelda Fitzgerald that is so over the top that it seems like it should fail miserably… except that Lawther nails it. That’s basically how his role frequently feels in this movie. He’s written so over the top and so unrealistically self-aggrandizing that he doesn’t ever really ring true as a character, but somehow Lawther actually makes it work. It’s hard to make a character work when he’s constantly thinking about how much better he is than everyone, although the movie does make him inherently the underdog, and it’s even harder when the character seems so undeveloped. It’s not that Billy couldn’t be interesting, in fact much of what happens to him in the movie should be, it’s that he doesn’t really seem to grow at all during the course of the film. Maybe that’s supposed to reflect that he doesn’t need to change who he is, but we watch films to see a journey, and Billy doesn’t really go on one. 

I almost want to say that he does just because this outfit gets into the movie.

Similarly, we don’t really get the full impact of the journeys of any of the other people. Flip is depicted as a jock who is trying to figure out who he is, particularly given his interest in Billy and his love of culture, but we only get a little bit of that story because Flip also doesn’t seem to grow much. While having such static characters could work if everyone else in the film was changing, and the very end of the movie almost makes that point, it still feels like it only touches upon that theme. The movie seems more fixated on showing the glamorous side of Billy rather than his more human side. 

Although, his relationship with Bette Midler almost brings it out.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s only okay. I wouldn’t mess your hair up trying to get it on your watchlist.

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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Modest Heroes (Chīsana Eiyū: Kani to Tamago to Tōmei Ningen): Three Heartwarming Stories – Netflix Anime Review

I take a look at a collection of shorts about unlikely heroes.

SUMMARY

This movie is a collection of three stories which have no connections as far as I can tell.

The first story is “Kanini and Kanino.” Kanini and Kanino (Fumino Kimura and Rio Suzuki) are tiny anthropomorphic freshwater crabs. Their mother goes away to give birth, leaving their father to look after them. Unfortunately, he gets caught up in the stream and the pair must face fish and other predators on their way to find him.

The second story is “Life ain’t gonna lose.” It tells the story of Shun (Sōta Shinohara/ Henry Kaufman), a young boy who is allergic to eggs. His allergy is so great that even incidental contact with them is almost immediately fatal to him. One day, unfortunately, while he is alone, Shun accidentally gets exposed, and has to struggle to stay alive.

The last story is “Invisible.” A businessman (Joe Odagiri) finds people ignoring him so strongly that he starts to become invisible. Eventually, he’s given the chance to do something noteworthy.

Three very different groups of protagonists.

END SUMMARY

So, this is the second film to be released by Studio Ponoc after the film Mary and the Witch’s Flower. If you haven’t seen that one, it’s a fantasy story about a girl who finds a magic flower and ends up joining a School for Witches and it’s pretty darn cute. Studio Ponoc was founded by a producer from the legendary Studio Ghibli, Yoshiaki Nishimura, following his consecutive Oscar nominations for The Tale of Princess Kaguya and When Marnie was There. At the same time, Ghibli took a break from releasing films which they’ll hopefully resume soon. Ponoc has since picked up a number of people from Ghibli, including the three directors of the shorts in this film. There were apparently originally supposed to be four shorts, but Isao Takahata, the acclaimed director of Grave of the Fireflies, died before he could make the fourth one. Because of that, this movie is actually only 53 minutes long, rather than the 80 minutes that it likely was supposed to be. 

The animation in their first feature was amazing.

The first segment is the most surreal. It’s a nature story about freshwater crabs, however, the crabs are portrayed as being tiny humans. Their claws are represented by weapons that they carry with them. Apparently this species of freshwater crab, which lives in mountain streams, only gets a few inches wide. The world we see is scaled to them, so fish, birds, and even rocks are all massive. They can fight, but mostly, they just have to hide and hope to be ignored by the bigger animals. We see the two children having difficulty doing things like catching minnows, showing their helplessness. That raises the stakes all the more when we see them set off on their own to find their father, who is depicted as a strong provider. The animation in this segment is great, but the water is particularly impressive. It looks almost real when we see it from above. It is a little weird that the crabs are humans and the dragonflies are humans, yet the fish are fish, but it’s still a cute story.

Admittedly, this makes crabs much easier to find cute.

The second story is the most grounded and ultimately the darkest. We’re given an inside look at the life of a person with a fatal allergy. Shun has been allergic since he was a baby, meaning that he has never known a life without constantly being in mortal danger. He has to take precautions around literally everyone, including avoiding having his classmates touch him if they’ve handled eggs. A part of the segment revolves around him trying to work out how to go on a field trip, something that most everyone else takes for granted. Then, we finally see him have to survive when he’s having an episode all by himself, straining to stay alive. It’s a hard story to watch in some ways because it’s real, but it also is more inspiring because it’s a thing that people really have to overcome regularly. 

If you’re a parent, this will be so very hard for you.

The last segment is about a relatable feeling for many of us, being ignored. However, here, the man is ignored so much that he literally starts to become invisible. As he shrinks further and further away from any other people, he then starts to become untethered from the world, making him start to physically float away. Finally, he manages to find one person who can recognize his presence and have a real human connection, which leads him to finally be able to do something that makes everyone else recognize him. While the short is heavy in metaphor, it’s still very powerful when it gets going because it’s a metaphor that most people can easily relate to. Also, the animation of the invisible man is just brilliant. It’s not animating a thing, but instead the absence of a thing and, honestly, it works better in animation than it does in live action films. 

The less of him there is, the cooler it looks to see parts of him.

Overall, solid film and it takes less than an hour to watch 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.

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Teenage Bounty Hunters: Funny, Dirty, and Just the Right Amount of Sinful – Netflix Review

Two sisters try to make a living tracking down fugitives.

SUMMARY

Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini) are fraternal twins who attend a very strict Christian Academy. Sterling is the more prominent and demure one publicly, but privately she’s the wilder of the two. She starts the series off by losing her virginity to her very chaste boyfriend Luke (Spencer House), having to work hard to talk him into it. After the sisters get distracted talking about it, they get into a car accident. The man they hit mistakes them for a car that was tailing him, and mistakes the pair of them for bounty hunters. They defend themselves ably and end up helping the actual bounty hunter, Bowser (Kadeem Hardison), to take the fugitive down. They soon start helping Bowser while trying to deal with school and their family. 

Their cover is a yogurt place.

END SUMMARY

About five minutes into this show, when it went from hormone-driven teenagers to a car wreck to a firearm-filled standoff, I was asking myself “Did I just miss something?” The answer is that no, I did not, the show just very quickly shifted from one to the other. That’s actually how the show works sometimes, and you get used to it pretty quickly. One cold-open is basically a character dying that you have never seen before and have no reason to care about. However, as the series goes on, you realize that it’s mostly about largely reactive subjects (being a teenager and bounty hunting), which means that having things happen and adapting to them puts the audience more in line with what the characters are going through. 

They get surprised a lot.

The dialogue in the show, when it’s good, is really good. There are a number of fun quips and quotations in every episode. Periodically, the sisters will try to do a fast-paced semi-psychic “twinspeak” conversation which is represented as a look between the two to outsiders, and these are often perfect examples of the humor in the show. A lot of the humor comes from how frank the two can be to each other while also code-switching to “Southern Church Lady” whenever they’re interacting with their neighbors.

Or with their fellow students.

Some of the humor comes from the fact that the two are bounty hunters and fairly rebellious and progressive while in a very Conservative area. Despite the fact that many of the older people in the show exhibit very regressive attitudes, the youth characters mostly exhibit positive examples of Christianity, trying to be body positive and non-judgmental. However, they do get called out at times by the narrative for their narrow worldviews and they find out more and more how damaging their environment can be for themselves and their friends. There’s also a solid joke when one of the leads interacts with the Satanic Temple only to discover that they’re pro-reproductive rights, social justice, and the separation of church and State, rather than goat burning demon worshippers. 

Although I think it exaggerates the merits of religious private education.

The leads are all pretty good, but it really shines in the twins. The chemistry between Fellini and Phillips really does come off as sisterly, which is genuinely impressive. They also have a solid rapport with Hardison, who plays what could have been a simple archetype into a nuanced character. It’s also great to see him when he deals with his more publicized “rival,” played by Method Man. The biggest drawback to the series is that there are some long stretches where they aren’t allowed to play to their various strengths. Still, when they’re together, it’s usually pretty great.

The Dryer is loaded.

Overall, I thought it was a fun show. It suffers from a lot of slow periods, but when it’s good, it’s very good. 

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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We Summon the Darkness: A Crazy Cult Film – Netflix Review

A group of girls meet three guys at a metal concert. The panic will be Satanic.

SUMMARY

Welcome to the ‘80s, where the Satanic Panic is in full swing. Anything with five points is going to warp fragile young minds and any loud music with heavy distortion is a threat to society itself. At least that’s what the televangelists, like John Henry Butler (Johnny Knoxville), say. It’s July of 1988, and three girls, Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson), and Bev (Amy Forsyth) are heading to a heavy metal concert. When they stop at a store on the way, they hear that there is a national society of Satanists who have been abducting and sacrificing young people for their dark ends. At the show, the three girls meet a group of rock fans, Ivan (Austin Swift), Kovacs (Logan Miller), and Mark (Keean Johnson). The girls agree to head back to Alexis’s empty house with the guys, but the trio soon comes to regret it when a game of Never Have I Ever goes out of control. 

I mean, that game usually goes out of control eventually, but more than usual.

END SUMMARY

I cannot do this review without a few spoilers, so you’ve been warned. If you really want to go into this film blind, just know that the movie is fairly average. It has some good points, particularly the acting by the lead girls and the kills, so if you are a true horror fan, you’ll probably enjoy it, but the pacing and the dialogue are not great. It has a single big element that it really clings to, and it’s a solid one, but other than that it can’t quite hold your focus for the whole running time. I found it constantly having overly tropey moments just to keep some momentum going. There are better horror movies, there are better horror movies with this film’s particular slant, and there was not enough of Johnny Knoxville as a crazy preacher. However, it’s almost worth watching just to see Daddario’s performance. Now for the banner.

This face screams “I’m done with this sh*t” perfectly.

***** SOME SPOILERS AHEAD*****

This movie is a take-down of the Satanic Panic, which unfortunately stopped roughly 25 years ago, making this not the most timely of commentaries. Moreover, they didn’t really update the theme enough to make it solidly applicable to the modern US, which is a bit disappointing because that would have been so sweet to watch. The killers, very early in the movie (maybe too early), are revealed not to be actual Satanists, but Christian Fundamentalists who are committing fake Satanic sacrifices in order to inflame the panic and gain more followers for their fellowship. Given that, thirty years later, there remain almost no proven cases of actual Satanic ritual killings compared to the huge number which were claimed by rural communities in the 1990s, it is actually more realistic to have crazy power-hungry people faking it than for there to actually be a national Satanic Cult murdering people. 

Also, picking heavy metal concerts seems… cliche.

The thing that really kills this movie is that, like I said, the reveal happens pretty early in the film. If you’re going to start with something like a Christian false flag operation, you really need to keep pushing up the crazy, but the film just kind of limps forward. Our victims get trapped in a cupboard for most of the film and other parties just kind of stumble into the building in order to quickly be killed off or to do a quick reveal that was obvious already. That’s a big part of the third act’s failings: The foreshadowing in the first act was too heavy. If you’d shifted the reveal that the Satanists were fake until the beginning of the third act, then you still would have the impact of that reveal hitting the audience and they might not have already figured the full extent of it out. 

Points for boat motor as a weapon, though.

*****BIGGER SPOILERS*****

I will say that I did approve of the subversion of having the women being the killers rather than the men. By having us follow the three girls for a while before the movie actually gets going, they do seem to be the typical victims for this kind of slasher. Any of them could have been revealed to be a final girl pretty easily, although it leaned towards Beverly early on. The subversion that I was expecting originally was that the guys weren’t the killers, but the killers were a completely different group that would be hunting the six, so when the big reveal happens, I was definitely down for it. Daddario’s absolute batsh*t craziness as Alexis made for a pretty fun and almost believable psychotic killer, and Beverly’s hesitation towards what they were doing came off as genuine in the film. 

Her religious fervor is great.

Overall, though, the pacing and the dialogue just weren’t great. This film is for big time horror fans, but the average moviegoer will probably be a bit bored before the third act. 

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.

Seven Deadly Sins/Nanatsu no Taizai (Seasons 1-4): A Little Formulaic at Times, but Still Fun – Netflix Anime Mini-Review

It’s always fun to watch bad guys be the best good guys.

SUMMARY

In the land of Brittania (not to be confused with any real place with similar name), the kingdom of Liones lived in relative peace until the king was overthrown by the Holy Knights, his elite armed forces. The Princess, Elizabeth Liones (Sora Amamiya/Erika Harlacher), set out to find the exiled warriors who previously betrayed the Holy Knights, the Seven Deadly Sins. She actually manages to find Meliodas (Yūki Kaji/Bryce Papenbrook), the captain of the Sins, and the pair embark on a quest to find the others. They succeed in locating four more of the group: Ban the immortal (Tatsuhisa Suzuki/Ben Diskin), Diane the giant (Aoi Yūki/Erica Mendez), King the Elf (Jun Fukuyama/Max Mittelman), and Gowther the doll (Yuhei Takagi/Erik Scott Kimerer). The five, later joined by Merlin the sorceress (Maaya Sakamoto/Lauren Landa), manage to liberate the kingdom from the Holy Knights, only to discover that the entire takeover was engineered to release an even greater threat: The demonic Ten Commandments. Together with the seventh Sin, Escanor (Tomokazu Sugita/Kyle Hebert), the group must stop the Demon Clan from taking over Brittania.

But only King wears a hoodie.

END SUMMARY

I will admit that when I first checked out this series, I had already read some of the manga, so I think I might have expected too much of it. The anime is a pretty faithful adaptation, particularly compared to some others that I’ve seen, but it didn’t feel like it added enough for me. As a result, I kinda bailed after the second season. However, since the manga has wrapped up in the interim, I decided I wanted to see how the story ended. So, I checked it out again and I will say that they did get a little bit better at layering extra imagery onto the anime that wasn’t in the manga to keep it fresh. 

They did a good job on some of the possession movements, for example.

The main thing that I liked about the series at the beginning was that most of the main characters were, in fact, depicted as sinners. Meliodas was a pervert who constantly groped Elizabeth (which she apparently liked, but is still wrong) and was presumed to be concealing an impossible amount of rage beneath his joking facade. Ban was a thief, King was responsible for his species nearly being destroyed, Diane constantly tried to force Meliodas into a relationship with her, Gowther was literally amoral, Merlin was willing to experiment on people without their knowledge, and Escanor, as is true to his sin, was the embodiment of haughty pride. Having protagonists with such flaws almost always makes the story more interesting, but they tried to make a few of them a little more likable at the cost of removing that moral ambiguity. Still, the personalities and character traits are pretty solid for a show like this. 

Seriously, dude, not cool.

It also helps that the show references a diverse number of mythologies, either directly or via allusion, and that it builds on elements from them to quickly create a world that contains a huge number of species and cultures. The show has traditional fantasy races like elves and giants, but also celestial and demonic forces that are a blend of DnD and Abrahamic religions. Arthurian mythology is directly invoked, as is modern vampire mythology and even some Western pop literature. 

I mean, there’s an Arthur Pendragon who rules Camelot. That’s… blatant.

The biggest problem, for me, was that the series had to do the Dragon Ball Z thing of having to constantly level up the powers of the characters in order to keep them as the underdogs. The series even gives you a “power level” reader just to make sure that you understand that these threats completely outclass our protagonists, such that when the Ten Commandments are first introduced, one of their number is stronger than all of the Sins combined. This seemed almost unnecessary because the Commandments also had innovative powers that could have made them a threat even if they were just even in power. Still, so many series have done this, I can hardly hold it against them. I just appreciate it more when series, like One Piece, for example, at least hint from the beginning that this kind of power exists in the world, so that it doesn’t just feel like the narrator saying “well, you beat Bob the Unbeatable, now you have to beat Tim the More Unbeatable who we didn’t mention before now.”

Screw you, Tim.

Overall, I do still think it’s a solid series. Plus, it has an apparent end point in the next season or two, so you don’t have to worry about sitting around 10 years from now waiting for the arc to finish. Lookin’ at you, One Piece.

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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What Keeps You Alive: Marriage is About Give and Taking Lives – Netflix Review

A married woman finds out that her wife is not who she thought.

SUMMARY

Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) is married to Jules (Brittany Allen), and the two are celebrating their first anniversary at a remote cabin in the woods that Jackie went to as a kid. On their first night, a young woman named Sarah (Martha MacIsaac) stops by to check on the cabin and recognizes Jackie, but calls her “Megan.” Jackie and Jules later visit Sarah and her husband, Daniel (Joey Klein), and Jules finds out that Jackie witnessed a girl drown as a child. Jackie claims that she blamed herself for not saving the girl and changed her name by choice, which Jules doesn’t quite buy. When the couple talk on a hike later, Jules finally starts to let her suspicions go, only for Jackie to push her off of a cliff. Jules barely survives, gravely injured, and now must survive a woman who apparently has been hiding a dark side this entire time.

They look so cute until the attempted homicide.

END SUMMARY

This movie has only four characters and has a plot (person you trust that turns out to be psychotic killer) that has been reused throughout horror movie history more times than I can count. However, most of the film is done so well that you will likely be on the edge of your seat anyway. It doesn’t matter that it’s a trope plot, it’s one that works. A big part of the appeal of films like Night of the Hunter and The Bad Seed is having a character who seems so innocent turn out to be a monster. It’s a reminder that no human can ever really know another one perfectly, and that those dark sides can be really dark. It’s not something that is likely to change in the near future. Have other movies done it better? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean this film doesn’t have merits.

There are some super tense scenes.

It’s really the interplay between the two leads that makes it work, and it works no matter which dynamic is on screen. Yes, Anderson plays a complete manipulative sociopath, but Allen has to sell how completely caught off-guard she is by the situation. This isn’t just a friend who has a dark side; this is her wife. This is the woman she loves, she sleeps with, she trusts implicitly with everything. Even when Jackie pushes Jules off of the cliff, you can tell that Jules isn’t quite sure of what to make of it. It’s only when she catches Jackie feigning an emotional plea that she really starts to realize that all of it, everything they experienced together, was just an act. It’s an absolutely amazing scene and both parties capture the feelings precisely.

Boats can be horrifying with the wrong company.

Now, there are upsides and downsides to being very formulaic. On the one hand, you will be predictable and that will annoy a lot of viewers. On the other hand, it makes the scenes better when you deviate. For example, unlike most films where a person is revealed to be a serial killer, this movie actually has some slow character moments that interrupt the “chase,” due to Jules’ machinations. She buys time before Jackie can kill her, which forces them to stay in proximity while Jackie just gets to keep trying to convince Jules that she’s going to die, while Jules tries to find some humanity in her wife. These scenes really set this movie apart from most horror/thriller films. Plus, it’s over in 90 minutes (plus credits), and that’s about as long as this movie could be. 

It walks a knife edge.

Overall, I can understand why the IMDB for this movie is so low (it is tropey as heck, and people may hate that), but I personally thought it was worth the watch. If you’re not into thrillers, don’t waste your time. The rest of you, 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.

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Elizabeth Harvest: Well Done, but Not Quite What It Should Be – Netflix Review

A young woman finds out that her husband is a monster. 

SUMMARY

Elizabeth (Abbey Lee) is newly married to Henry (Ciarán Hinds), a brilliant scientist. They arrive at Henry’s manor and are greeted by the staff, Claire (Carla Gugino) and Oliver (Matthew Beard). Elizabeth enjoys her new married life, but is told by her husband that there is one room which she may never enter. Henry leaves soon on a work trip, and eventually Elizabeth decides to investigate the room. After she looks inside, Henry comes home and, realizing she looked, kills her. A few weeks later, Elizabeth is newly married to Henry, a brilliant scientist. They arrive at Henry’s manor and are greeted by the staff. It turns out that Elizabeth is being cloned by Henry over and over again, and periodically the Elizabeth harvest must come.

This is the most excited new bride ever.

END SUMMARY

I’ll start by saying that I think this movie is well shot and well acted. Hinds is one of my favorite actors in anything and having him portray a vicious Bluebeard-esque husband with a genius mind and a penchant for dropping strange trivia is great casting. Abbey Lee, who I thought was great in the film The Neon Demon does a great job playing the innocent girl who is married to an aloof, but powerful and impressive, man. Gugino and Beard each have great scenes that give them a moment to shine. Even Dylan Baker, who is only in the movie briefly, is solid. Behind the camera, the cinematography does a good job of heightening Elizabeth’s isolation and the distant relationship between her and Henry, then later between her and the other people. In fact, the cinematography and acting are so good that it almost makes up for the fact that this movie really isn’t that good. 

Looks great, sounds great… but is only mediocre.

See the plot summary I just wrote? That covers about the first half of the film. The rest of the movie, which clocks in at about an hour and forty minutes, is mostly just a convoluted explanation of why Elizabeth is being cloned. You know how I’m a big fan of “show, don’t tell?” Yeah, this is a ton of tell that has very little show. Moreover, almost everything that is revealed to the audience is so very, very obvious, mostly from the good performances and visual storytelling at the beginning. You keep waiting for there to be some kind of surprise twist, but… nope. It’s really just telling you a bunch of stuff that you probably could have guessed from the start. Sure, you might not have gotten all of the details, but you could have gotten the broad strokes. Instead, you are force fed a bunch of strangely elaborate motivations and plots by all of the characters that led to the current situation. Motivations that really fall apart upon closer examination. It reminded me of a great line from the Simpsons: “It’s so simple… wait, no it’s not, it’s needlessly complicated.” 

They do great work with symbolism, not so much with plot.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie, particularly from a technical standpoint, but it never really did anything super original or interesting. I would recommend just watching Ex Machina if you’ve never seen it, because it’s a similar story, but touches on more themes. 

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.

Transformers: War for Cybertron: Pure Nostalgic Goodness – Netflix Anime Mini-Review

We get a darker take on the classic series, even if it’s just a taste.

SUMMARY

The planet Cybertron was once peacefully populated by robotic life (somehow, that term is accurate). Then, a new faction of synthetic organisms arose, the Decepticons, led by Megatron (Jason Marnocha). They began a war for control of the planet. Their only opposition ended up being the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (Jake Foushee). The war has raged for years, and now, the Autobots stand on the edge of defeat. Hope comes in the form of the rogue Cybertronian Bumblebee (Joe Zieja) and the possible source of all life on the planet, the Allspark. The battle for the future of the planet is on.

Robots not in disguise.

END SUMMARY

If you have never watched a Transformers property before, this show is not for you. It is not interested in really giving you any introductions to the world or the characters, nor is it interested in fleshing out a ton of the backstories of any of them. Given the sheer number of Transformers featured as secondary characters, this may overwhelm a lot of viewers. However, in some ways, I appreciate this kind of setup, because it prevents a lot of the overdone exposition which is common in many Transformers series. Also, it’s not like Transformers needs to be complicated. There are good robots and bad robots and some of the bad ones turn good or vice versa. Good ones are usually the underdogs, bad ones usually end up losing. 

Starscream betrays someone. It’s a formula.

Actually, this adaptation has way more moral ambiguity than most of the previous series. At the beginning of the show, we see Megatron, typically shown to be a mass-murdering conqueror, talking about honor and attempting to resolve the war without having to kill all of the Autobots. At the same time, we see Optimus Prime, typically the ultimate symbol of goodness, considering some darker and less honorable tactics than we usually wouldn’t associate with him. As the series progresses, they both end up moving more towards their traditional roles. The series seems to indicate that their actions throughout the entire war are as much about their personal feud as they were for their principles. 

Rock them and sock them robots. Too sophisticated for the ’em.

The war for Cybertron has long been a part of the mythology of the Transformers, but this show is the most explicit version that I can remember. While the Autobots are usually shown to be fighting a losing battle, this show makes that painfully clear by having most of the planet in shambles, all of the autobots injured or battle-damaged, and random robot remains strewn about the locations. While it is bloodless, since they don’t have blood, this would resemble the battlefields from the film 1917 otherwise. Moreover, a big part of the struggle is to find enough energon to survive, something that both sides are having trouble with. That means that the two armies are both starving to death throughout the series. It makes this whole series darker than any I’ve seen before. 

The battle damaged figures will be very popular.

The biggest problem with the show is that it really just doesn’t have a lot of time. At 6 episodes, the plot feels a bit rushed, even without the backstories. Since this was only the first chapter, though, there are plenty of opportunities to expand in the future. On the lighter side, I do enjoy the fact that the show makes some fun references, including a recurring Blade Runner joke, and that it does point out sometimes that many of the Transformers look like others, only with different colors. Since many of the toys were made by taking the same figures and giving them new patterns, this is kind of a fun shot at the nature of the show being to sell toys. 

Gotta catch ’em all… wait…

Overall, I enjoyed it. I admit that I’ve only dipped into the franchise a few times since Beast Wars, but this was a solid miniseries and I look forward to the next installment. Thank you to the readers who recommended this series.

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.

Japan Sinks 2020: Either the Most or Least Timely Series Ever – Netflix Anime Mini-Review

Based on a 1970s novel, we follow a family living through a natural disaster.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

It’s 2020, the Tokyo Olympics are over (tells you when this was written), and a massive earthquake strikes. Four members of the Mutou family survive: Mother Mari (Yuko Sasaki/Grace Lynn Kung), Father Koichiro (Masaki Terasoma/Keith Silverstein), and children Gou and Ayumu (Tomo Muranaka/Ryan Bartley, Reina Ueda/Faye Mata). After reuniting, they set off walking across Japan in search of a place to get off. It turns out that the earthquakes are a sign of something more dire: The Japanese archipelago is sinking. 

The level of destruction in the series is horrifying.

END SUMMARY

Masaaki Yuasa, the mind behind the grim and violent Devilman Crybaby and the extremely trippy Mind Game is being hailed as the lead behind this show, but aside from the subject matter it doesn’t have most of his bitter touches or his creativity. I can’t tell if that’s a sign that he left most of the series to the other director, Pyeon-Gang Ho, or if he just completely whiffed on this one. It’s not that Japan Sinks 2020 is bad, I actually still enjoyed it, but it’s pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of disaster films or television. Nature kicks the crap out of people, people then kick the crap out of each other, rinse and repeat. 

Girl looking for family sees violent fight over a can of beans.

There are a few things that the show definitely gets “right.” First, plot armor pretty much doesn’t exist in this show, for good or ill. Anyone can die, much like Game of Thrones, and that includes the people you like. In fact, having a conscience often proves a liability. This becomes apparent early on when Ayumu helps an older couple by offering them some water, but they immediately take advantage of her generosity. Stuff like that happens throughout, and even though the story does ultimately show that we are stronger together, the fact that times of chaos result in people killing each other for resources (that they don’t even need) is shown painfully well by the show. Second, the show does a good job of demonstrating the extent to which people will act irrationally when confronted with things out of their control. Considering that America is currently dealing with a preventable pandemic that is largely due to the inability for people to take reasonable steps, this seems… on the nose. Third, the relationships between the family members and those of their temporary family are strong and believable. There is a love that speaks to a great willingness to sacrifice for others, and that’s always going to be a powerful message when done right. 

Nature can always just kill us all if it wants. Fun.

Unfortunately, some of this is somewhat undermined by the show. Even though anyone can die, for some reason natural disasters appear to pick off the greedy or the selfish at opportune moments. It’s like the Earthquakes are paying attention for “d*ck moves.” The message of sacrifice appears mostly to be based on the old being willing to sacrifice for the young, which seems to often have the older people dumping all of their failings on the next generation. It’s like someone saying “sorry about the global warming, but I’ll be dead before it’s a big deal.” Ultimately, that’s the biggest weakness of the series, it keeps trying to force narrative occurrences in order to try and make the story into an allegory, rather than just letting the journey of the characters supply the meaning. 

Also, the animation is not particularly creative.

Overall, the series is not the strongest, but if you want a disaster anime, the scale of this one does still make it worth watching.

The Old Guard: Amazing Superhero Action Film – Netflix Review

Charlize Theron leads a team of immortal warriors against Big Pharma.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are four soldiers who are recruited to rescue a group of kidnapped children in the Sudan by CIA agent Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor). They’re betrayed, but end up surviving because the four are actually a group of ancient warriors with nigh-immortality. At the same time, U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) is mortally wounded in Afghanistan, but recovers, revealing her to be the next in the line of immortals. She’s soon recruited by the four and they discover that they are being hunted by Steven Merrick (Harry Melling), a billionaire pharmaceutical executive who wants them for his research.

They have been killing longer than most countries.

END SUMMARY

If you’ve never seen Love and Basketball, you absolutely should, because it is a well-crafted story that combines a tight script with a lot of non-verbal storytelling to craft a drama. This movie is basically that, except that instead of telling a romance about athletes, it’s a series of amazing action set pieces combined with some solid character moments that really flesh out what could easily have been one-dimensional characters. The reason why I compare these films is that they both are directed by the incredibly talented Gina Prince-Blythewood, who is now, officially, the first black woman to direct a superhero film (and she’s already set to direct another in the next year or so). Her films, including The Secret Life of Bees or Beyond the Lights, are marked by something that almost seems rare nowadays: Sincerity. She doesn’t mock her subject matter, regardless of what it is, and for a comic book film that can be a game changer.

There’s a lot less snark than your average Marvel movie.

It’s that same sincerity that really sets the characters apart. Rather than just telling us how each of the characters is haunted by the fact that everyone they know will die, the film gives us a number of flashbacks and memories that reflect upon the pain and loss that they’ve suffered. We’re shown the story of Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo), a former immortal who was trapped in an iron coffin and drowned over and over again for centuries, and that image is burned into the cast as well as the viewers. That’s the kind of stuff that would normally be subverted in a modern comic film, but instead here is played painfully straight. These kind of character moments are peppered throughout and make everyone a little bit deeper and a lot more complex than you would expect from a movie with a team of gun-toting immortals.

Or an adaptation of a comic about said immortals.

Neither the story of this film nor the characters themselves are particularly original. The concept of a super-regenerating or nearly unkillable action hero has been done from Wolverine to Painkiller Jane. However, The Old Guard is one of the first movies where the choreography actually reflects that these people know they can take a beating, but they still feel pain. You see them willing to use their immortality to throw people off guard, since most people would evade things like “getting shot in the heart,” but they still only do it sparingly. As a reflection of their age, they also are all experts with melee weapons that are indigenous to their origins, including Andy, who wields a battleaxe, which is basically the most kickass of backup weapons. Unfortunately, I kept waiting for someone to say “let me axe you a question,” because that seemed like a thing that would eventually happen. I was happy that such a pun did not, in fact, occur. 

I love the intricate work on her outfit, too. Details make the big picture work.

Overall, honestly, this is just a great movie. 

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.