Netflix Review – The Dragon Prince: Book 1 (Spoiler-Free)

Comedy. Action-Adventure. Child-friendly. Dramatic. Long ago, the four animation show types lived separately. Then, everything changed when Nickelodeon ordered a new series. Only Avatar: The Last Airbender, master of all four styles, could revive their animation department, but when the network needed it most, the show ended, gloriously. A sequel series followed a new Avatar, a waterbender named Korra. And although a lot of the elements were there, it never quite lived up to its predecessor. But I believe the team can strike gold again.

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Shut up, I spent like 5 minutes on that, that’s more effort than I usually spend on one of these jokes.

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Asshole. Anyway, Netflix hired Aaron Ehasz, who was the head-writer (but not creator) from Avatar: The Last Airbender and also a Futurama writer (including “Future Stock”, one of my favorite episodes). He and Justin Richmond (director of Uncharted 3) created this show. So, is it as good as you’d hope? Well, not quite yet.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

A long time ago, there were six elements (this feels f*cking familiar): Moon, Sun, Stars, Earth, Sea, and Sky. These were the sources of magic, which were used by the humans, the elves, the dragons, and whatever else populates this world. Then, a human created Dark Magic which apparently causes nothing but destruction. Angered by this, the elves and dragons banished the humans, dividing the continent in two. The humans live to the West in their kingdom of Katolis, the magic creatures live in the East in Xadia, and the border is watched-over by the Dragon King. Then, the humans killed it and smashed its egg. This meant war.

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Exactly HOW they took the Dragon King down is not yet explained. Because damn.

The show opens with a group of elves, including Rayla (Paula Burrows), trying to assassinate the human king for the death of the Dragon King. She is tasked with also killing his young son Ezran (Sasha Rojen), who is accompanied by his artist step-brother Callum (Jack “I’m Sokka” De Sena). The trio discover that the King’s advisor, Viren (Jason Simpson), had not actually killed the Dragon Prince, but had stolen his egg and kept it. Realizing that this means there is a chance for peace between the peoples, the three join forces to return the Dragon Prince’s egg to its mother, the Dragon Queen.

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Mage, Assassin, Kid with backpack. Perfect adventuring party.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, let’s pro-con this thing.

Pro: The writing’s pretty great, the characters are interesting, the world has enough rules to feel internally logical but not too many to eliminate crazy surprises, and the designs are excellent.

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The magic system seems well-planned.

Con: The animation is 3-D but is cel shaded and uses a reduced frame rate to make it feel more like a traditionally animated show. It threw me off a bit. The show also starts a little slow and doesn’t even really get going during this season, which, to be fair, is only 9 episodes. There are some pacing problems, though, to be sure. Oh, and a LOT of it is going to make you think “this feels like Avatar.”

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A few of the gags take too long, too.

Okay, it seems like I wrote more in the Con column, but that’s not really true. The things that this show have going for it are that it’s already demonstrated it can balance dark and adult themes with having children as main characters, something that many shows can’t handle. The creature designs range from adorable to horrifying. We don’t know too much about dark magic yet, but the implications are unnerving and I want to see them played through. Mortal danger is pretty constant for the protagonists, as is suffering and loss.

One particular stand-out in the show is General Amaya, the boys’ aunt, who is both an unparalleled warrior and also deaf. There aren’t a lot of deaf characters who are depicted as both fighters and leaders, so I was pretty happy about it. She also has the best lines, even if they’re actually spoken by her Commander, Gren (Adrian Petriw).

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Oh, and she fights with a giant shield, because she’s amazing and my new hero.

Given the way that the seasons of the show are being named, it’s implied that this season is only one-sixth of the total story. It hasn’t really gotten going yet, but it’s got enough set up to build pretty rapidly from here. Here’s hoping it does.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time 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.

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Netflix Review – BoJack Horseman: Season 5 (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

Given that I put one of the episodes of BoJack Horseman on my list of The Greatest Television Episodes while saying it was one of the best shows on television currently, it’s probably fair to say I’m a fan. It’s hard to say whether or not I love the show more after watching this season, but I definitely respect it more for its dedication to improvement. If this isn’t the best season of the show, it is damned close.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

BoJack (Will Arnett) starts working on his new show, Philbert, which co-stars Gina Cazador (Stephanie Beatriz), a veteran TV actress who starts casually sleeping with BoJack. Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) deal with the end of their marriage, while Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) tries to adopt a baby and produce Philbert. Todd Chavez (“Ya done f*cked up” Aaron Paul) has moved in with Princess Carolyn and is trying to make his asexual relationship work with Yolanda Buenaventura (Natalie Morales).

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Sadly, character actress Margo Martindale has disappeared after a pasta accident.

Some stuff happens. Literally describing any of it would be a spoiler and this season is too good to spoil.

END SUMMARY

I truly loved this season.

On some level, BoJack knows that its fans trust it by this point and that it can coast a little and play off of some of the formulas it has set-up, knowing that we’ll still find the elaborate gags and surrealist jokes funny. However, what really sets this show apart is its dedication to constantly build upon them. It doesn’t just subvert established tropes, it subverts the subversion, then subverts that subversion’s subversion. Then, sometimes it plays things straight and the tropes that in most shows would be tired and overused are played out like it’s the first time and we remember why we loved those tropes in the first place. This season does all of that and more, but it tries to really blend the darkness and sadness that is constantly in the show with elements of hope and a lot more social commentary.

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And a lot more meta-fiction.

Part of the beauty of the show has always been that BoJack is aware of how sitcoms work, since he was in a notoriously formulaic one, which gives him an excuse to point out that his life is devoid of growth. But, after spending years having characters in the show telling us how television characters are hopeless because they’re stuck in a sitcom and are never allowed to grow, the series has also been showing their growth. It’s not always in a straight line, to be sure, and there are lots of setbacks, but that’s because that’s how growth actually works. Sometimes you’ll skip the gym because you had a bad day. Sometimes you’ll quit altogether for a while when you start to think that it’s not worth prolonging your life when you hate it. But, then, maybe, after trying enough times, you’ll be a little better. Then you’ll screw up again, but maybe you’ll be better after that. It’s not ever easy, it’s not always even a choice you can make, and life can, and does, kick you down for no reason, but it’s possible to get better. Even a show about characters that are supposed to be stuck in a cycle can remind us that growth really is possible.

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Even if it’s just having only one bottle of vodka every day.

Now, you might watch this season and think that I’m nuts and that BoJack is just going to reset after all of this or that he’s reset after the last season, but after re-watching seasons two and three recently, this season really does show that he’s grown. Yes, he is still unbelievably flawed, but he’s past the stage of believing that it’s everyone else’s problem and he’s past the stage of believing that it can’t be changed. Those are both steps towards improvement. Also, the “reset” in this season isn’t entirely his fault, as he is caught up in an addiction that is, sadly, all too realistically portrayed (though it culminates in him doing something unspeakable). At the end of the season, he does something that almost no one else will ever do and asks to be held accountable for all of the things he has done. Because of that, even more than all of the other things, I do get the feeling that he might be becoming a better person… or horseman, whatever.

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Why yes, there’s an episode about #MeToo. It’s unrelated.

Another thing I noted was that this show, like Rick and Morty, is often criticized for the fact that it has such a compelling lead that it glamorizes being a shitty person. This season finally makes one thing clear: Even BoJack hates BoJack. You shouldn’t like him for being shitty, you should like him for learning how to NOT be shitty.

Also, it’s not just BoJack that grows with the story. All of the supporting characters have been tested and have changed (except, perhaps, Mr. Peanutbutter, something the season directly addresses). Diane is probably the most notable change at the end of the season, delivering a short speech in the last episode which is both touching and devastating. Princess Carolyn, too, has grown, and shows exactly how much during one episode of this season.

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It also shows us how far she’s come already.

The Good Place once said that it’s our connections to other people that make us want to be better, because we feel we owe it to each other to be better.  I think that’s true and I think that’s what makes the characters on BoJack grow, because as the show has gone on their connections have been severed, altered, and repaired, but they’ve mostly deepened through moments of genuine connection, even if they’re rare. The reason why that can happen here, as opposed to most sitcoms, is because things don’t just get dropped. The plots carry on, with things that were skipped over for a season or two resurfacing to confront the protagonists. Hell, they still call it “Hollywoo” after the D got destroyed in season one. That’s really the biggest subversion about the show, particularly for an animated series.

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It caused hell with title cards, though.

The humor in this season is a step up from the last one, which I thought was a little bit of a drop from the previous ones. They really went back to embracing the “shotgun approach” to comedy that I loved from seasons two and three, where jokes can be puns, sight gags, but mostly brick jokes that are set-up with such subtlety that I sometimes just had to pause, go back, and trace all the steps in order to show the proper respect for how amazing it was.

Like I said, I loved this season. I was a little worried after the last one, but this one just blew me away. All the returning characters were great, all the new characters were great, and the world of BoJack just keeps getting simultaneously more absurd and yet more honest. It’s a reflection of the real world through a mirror that shows our true selves, which sadly are kind of shitty. Still, we can get better… mostly if we have shows that keep reminding us how to do so.

Oh, and one of the episodes is one of the best half-hours of television I’ve ever seen, to the point that I’m adding it to the list of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes tomorrow.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time 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 – Next Gen: A Robot Movie Lacking Emotion

Hey kids! Do you like Short Circuit? Do you like The Iron Giant? Do you like The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? How about Big Hero 6, Wall-E, Blade Runner, and The Terminator? All of those movies were great, right? Wouldn’t it be great if we combined all those movies, but also threw in a bunch of 80s movie bullying, some teen angst, and a dash of Up and I, Robot? Surely it wouldn’t be a giant thematic mess that constantly undercuts itself, right?

I assume the company that made this pitch was also the company that created Wild Wacky Action Bike.

SUMMARY OF A SUMMARY (Summary is too long)

Girl finds robot. Girl bonds with robot. Robot fights evil organization that created it. Robot ends up sacrificing itself, but not really, so happy ending.

SUMMARY

In the future year 20XX, we have robots everywhere. They’re cute and harmless little servants of humanity, constantly upbeat, and they are embedded into everything from security systems to noodle bowls. Yes, the noodle bowls are talking, self-cooking, and self-disposing. But it’s okay, because the movie tells us none of these are sentient, despite seeming to have emotions and feelings and independent thought.

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… I would consider tap-dancing noodles a Utopia.

Mai (Charlyne “Ruby” Yi) is a 12-year-old girl who hates robots because her mom, Molly (Constance Wu), bought one after her dad left them and then died, causing her mom to transfer many of her emotional bonds onto their robot. She’s also bullied for being different, although exactly how isn’t really clarified. Oh, and the bullies have their robots beat her up, something that is apparently just allowed to happen, because the human adults at the school are all too obsessed with VR and games to do their jobs.

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“You love robots more than me” – Actual movie line in actual movie.

Her mom takes her to the launch of the new major robot line, watching a presentation by the founder of the IQ corporation that makes them, Justin Pin (Jason Sudeikis), who is basically Jon Hamm playing Steve Jobs. Mai sneaks off and finds a secret lab belonging to the other founder, Dr. Tanner Rice (David Cross), who is working on the first true AI robot, 7723 (John Krasinski). Mai accidentally powers up 7723, but is taken away by security and leaves her bag. 7723 follows her to return the bag, revealing himself to be an overpowered war-machine with no understanding of the value of human life or property, but he gets injured in the process. This injury damages his memory, resulting in him only being able to hold 72 hours’ worth of memories at a time. To deal with this, he only keeps memories he likes and deletes the others.

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He has to literally shred them.

He finds Mai and she convinces him to help her go on a spree of destroying other robots. Over time, 7723 becomes more emotional, bonding with Mai. He also stops enjoying their mischief and destruction, trying to convince Mai to do other things. After Mai tries to get him to hurt one of her bullies, 7723 deletes his weapons system. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that the new robots coming out of IQ are programmed to explode when told by Pin. Rice finds 7723 and tries to fix his memories, but is killed by Pin, who is revealed to actually be a robot who took over his body. Pin and his other body, a war machine named Ares, are trying to destroy humanity, but are stopped by 7723 when he re-installs his weapons at the cost of his memories, losing them slowly as he fights. Eventually, he wins, but is now blank. At the end of the movie, he now lives with Mai, making new memories.

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This is the villain. Shocking, right?

END SUMMARY

If you didn’t read that I don’t blame you. This movie is so dense that I left out most of the sub-plots and that summary is still huge. There’s a subplot about 7723 being able to understand Mai’s dog Momo (Michael Peña), who speaks mostly in bleeped swears and constantly shifts moods between angry and loving. It’s funny, but it also feeds into why this movie fails: It never gives the characters time to really feel things.

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I wish the movie was more of this, because Momo and the robot are adorable together.

Think about any great animated movie you’ve ever seen. Almost all of them, particularly Pixar, How to Train Your Dragon, and the good Don Bluth films (The Secret of NIMH), have strong emotional moments. These aren’t real people, so we need to have those connections even more than in real films in order to close the audience-screen gap and give weight to the characters’ actions (I’m sure there’s a real term for this). This movie doesn’t really do that, because it never lets the moment sit long enough for us to feel anything. The second there should be an emotional moment, the movie cuts from it to the next scene. At one point, a robot in the film basically calls the movie out for it by saying that he “needs time to process” an emotional development, but just beeps and says “I’m done” immediately.

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It’s not just that Bing Bong dies, its watching Joy realize what he did. That’s a moment.

It’s not like there weren’t a ton of opportunities for an emotional core to the movie. You could deal with the fact that 7723 is manipulated by the one human he trusts to be a force of destruction which he ends up regretting. You could, and almost did, deal with the idea of a person having to select what memories they keep and how that affects their personality and life. You could deal with Mai’s issues stemming from her mother being more obsessed with her replacement for her husband than with her daughter. You could deal with Mai being bullied or her feeling of loss over her father. You could even take a step back and deal with bigger concepts, like humanity being dependent on robots or why the IQ Corporation can apparently manufacture the police force and military without any kind of oversight or even why the hell you’d make robots that would be able to beat up children at the commands of other children. This movie instead tries to do all of these in 90 minutes, resulting in the last 15 minutes mostly being a game of “say 3 lines and pretend we wrapped this plot up.”

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Oh, cool, the bully just came back to risk her life for her victim. That’s not actual character development, guys.

I will admit that the rapid pace of all the plot threads did keep me from paying attention to all of the things the movie doesn’t really answer or address, like how did Pin make a sentient robot before 7723 if Rice was the actual genius or how did Mai not get in trouble for destroying dozens of robots while on film or why did Mai just murder a police officer or how was it not a bigger deal that DOGS CAN TALK? There are ton of these things that really don’t hold up to scrutiny, but the movie wasn’t awesome enough to keep me from considering them, instead trying to just not give me time to think. Still, most of this movie doesn’t make any sense in retrospect.

The real tragedy is that much of this film is actually excellent. The animation is beautiful, the progression of 7723’s display from two circles to eyes and a mouth is a great way to signal his development, a lot of the robots are adorable, the final fight scene SHOULD have been epic (instead it just feels unearned), and some of the humor actually works. David Cross plays all the generic robots and they have some hilarious lines, including a Gen5 saying “The Gen6’s slightly bigger screen will complete you emotionally in ways I never could,” which is genuinely good commentary. But if you try to make a cake/salad/ham/meringue at the same time, it doesn’t matter if you made each part well and put it in a nice box, it’s still a mess.

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Not every jumble works out well. 

To the filmmakers, I say the following: the best film isn’t necessarily the one with the “most plot.” If it were, the third Godfather would be the best one, rather than a mediocre conclusion to an unbelievable franchise. What we want is to go on a journey with the characters. We can’t do that if the characters are on 15 different journeys at once. I understand that you didn’t want to feel like you were just re-hashing old plots, so you tried to combine a lot of them, but that’s not necessarily what makes a movie new. Think about How to Train Your Dragon. The movie is literally a list of clichés over a generic story, but even though it is all of those things, the film focused on how the characters feel going through the story, rather than the story itself, and it does that by showing us how everyone feels after all the cliché moments. Like, this shot from after Stoick yells at his son and disowns him still shows him almost crying with the realization that, even though he did what he had to do, he’s still hurting from having to do it.

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This. This is how you have an emotional moment in a movie. It’s not big, but it’s relatable.

Also, as a side-note, I love Jason Sudeikis, but you will never convince me that they didn’t intend for the character to be voiced by Jon Hamm. He looks like Hamm, he talks like Hamm’s characters usually talk, and he is a glorified pitchman with a dark side, something Hamm is most famous for playing. It’s like how the snowman in Jack Frost looks like George Clooney rather than Michael Keaton or how the vultures in the Jungle Book were supposed to be the Beatles: It just seems to indicate that the casting changed after the production started. Or maybe I’m wrong.

Overall, it’s a movie that I think kids might enjoy, but adults wouldn’t. Unfortunately, given the number of terrible things that the protagonists do in the movie, I wouldn’t recommend showing it to kids.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time 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 Good Place: Season 2

Already reviewed one episode of this season, but since they finally put it on Netflix, I’m going to go ahead and do the whole thing. Spoilers, I’m trying to do this so you can watch Season 3 when it comes up, even if you don’t want to catch up on the last two.

SUMMARY

Michael (Ted Danson) commences the reboot from the end of the last season, trying a new version of the original strategy to get Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) to torture each other for thousands of years. However, Eleanor placed a note in the mouth of Janet (D’Arcy Carden) at the end of last season, telling her to find Chidi, which quickly leads her to realize that she’s already been in this situation before. This leads to her figuring out that they’re in the Bad Place in a few days, rather than the months in the original run. Michael decides to just reboot them yet again, without the note, but has to conceal this from his boss, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), who told him he only had two chances. Unfortunately for Michael, it turns out that his plan is inherently flawed. Every time he reboots them, Eleanor still realizes that they’re in the Bad Place somehow (although, once, Jason realizes it, something that Michael admits “hurts”).

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Granted, Michael was stupid for trying to put a 3 hour Jazz Opera in. 

Over 800 attempts later, the other demons in the fake Good Place finally go on strike, led by Vicky, the “real Eleanor” from the first attempt (Tiya Sircar). She blackmails Michael to take over, but Chidi and Eleanor see a demon out of his human suit and realize they’re in the bad place. They flee to the Medium Place, where Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe) reveals that they’ve been over a dozen times before, but each time they return to the fake Good Place and get rebooted. She also reveals that Chidi and Eleanor almost always are together and once even said they loved each other, something neither of them has ever really done. However, in this timeline, they barely know each other.

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And Mindy has the illegal voyeur porn to prove it!

Michael talks with Jason, who accidentally convinces him to join the human team. As a condition of working with him, Eleanor insists that Michael also take ethics classes, something that doesn’t come naturally to a demon. Eventually, he starts to understand the concept and bond with them. Janet begins to malfunction, and it’s revealed that she’s still in love with Jason from the first reboot, when they got married. She attempts to get over him by creating a rebound guy named Derek (Jason “How did this get made” Mantzoukas), but eventually is forced to realize that she has to deal with her feelings, something no previous Janet has ever really had (Janets become smarter every time they’re rebooted, and she’s been rebooted the most by a lot).

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Derek doesn’t quite have a “working” brain.

Shawn returns and ends the fake Good Place, believing that it was a massive success and promises Michael a promotion. Michael betrays Shawn, however, and sides with the humans and helps them avoid going to the real Bad Place. Instead, they sneak through the Bad Place and head to meet the inter-dimensional judge who rules over all the matters of good and evil, Judge “Gen” Hydrogen (Maya F*CKING Rudolph). The Judge gives each of the four a test of their growth, but only Eleanor passes. She tells the others that she failed because they’d agreed to all go to the Bad Place if anyone failed.

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She’s so wonderful.

At the last minute, Michael arrives and intervenes, convincing Gen that, since people can become better by working at it, they should give each of the four another shot on Earth and see if they get better. Eleanor goes back to the moment of her death, is saved by Michael, and resolves to become a better person. However, after it proves difficult, she starts to backslide. Michael pretends to be a bartender (because he’s Ted Danson) and asks her a question: “What do we owe each other?” She Googles this question and finds a lecture series by Chidi, leading her to fly to Australia to meet with him, ending the season.

END SUMMARY

Okay, do you see how long that summary was? That’s me condensing the hell out of this season. So much happens that I had to double check that each episode, aside from the first one, is only 22 minutes long. Granted, there are less actual discussions about philosophy in this season, because most of it is just so packed, but they still have several episodes dedicated to it, including an episode called “The Trolley Problem” which is about… well, the Trolley Problem. If you want to find out about that, my Grouchy counterpart wrote some crap on it. The season addresses the concept of moral absolutes and moral relativism, existential crises, whether utilitarianism or deontology is better for deciding a course of action, and whether or not throwing a Molotov cocktail is actually a solution to anything. If you didn’t understand any of those things, this show will explain them to you better than I can, and will do them in hilariously entertaining ways that don’t even feel like you’re learning (that way it doesn’t hurt).

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The Trolley Problem: Now with squishy balloons of organs and blood and bone! 

The structure of good and evil within the show is also elaborated upon and it is so interesting and yet relatable. Is it wrong for a person to innocuously start a really annoying trend, like a waiter seeing an empty plate and saying “I see you hated it?” Is it okay to murder someone if your intent is solely to make someone else’s life better? Are burritos better when coated with a dash of envy? I didn’t even know I needed the answer to some of these.

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Respect. The. Burrito.

The main thing about this season is that it feels like a very different show, while still being almost the same at its emotional core. The characters still relate to each other much the same ways they did during the last season, even if the background behind their connections has changed. They’re going through different challenges, however, and those struggles don’t feel at all like the things they were dealing with in the last season. Then, several episodes even change the setting and the stakes, making a lot of the actions feel more urgent than they were before. It’s a great ramp-up to the finale, which, itself, changes the show’s framework. This isn’t a show where the characters stay the same, they grow and change and the show changes so that it continues to make sense. Brilliant storytelling.

The acting and writing in this season is just as good, if not better, than the last one, so see yesterday’s review if you want to know my opinions on that (hint: GREAT!). Some notable additions are Jason Mantzoukas as Derek, the fake rebound guy that Janet builds, Dax Shepard as Chet, the demon who tortures people with toxic masculinity, and Maya Rudolph as Judge Gen. Mantzoukas plays a character who literally doesn’t follow any laws of human development, since he was spontaneously created, which he somehow pulls off, never seeming even close to a regular person in the funniest way possible. Shepard doesn’t get a huge role, but, like Adam Scott in season 1, he portrays a hilariously douchey take on the traditional demon idea, being not an old-school evil figure, but a more modern version of dickish evil. And Maya Rudolph is Maya f*cking Rudolph, if you need more than that, I advise you to go watch anything Maya Rudolph is in, particularly Idiocracy. She’s amazing and you should pay respect to her.

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Also, Carden as “Bad Janet” and “Bad Good Janet” are amazing.

Overall, when this season ended I was just pissed off that I was going to have to wait a year to watch the next one. If that’s not a sign of quality television, I don’t know what is. The next season starts this month on NBC, so get caught up and watch, people.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time 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 – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: Old Story, Updated A Little

I’m not a huge fan of “chick flicks,” but this one at least looked interesting based on the trailer Netflix showed me.

SYNOPSIS

Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) has a crush on her sister Margot’s (Janel Parrish) boyfriend, Josh (Israel Broussard), who is also one of her oldest friends. To vent her feelings over boys in the past, she’s always written love notes and not sent them, instead keeping them in a hatbox, so she does the same for Josh. However, Margot breaks up with Josh when she leaves for college abroad. To deal with her feelings, Lara Jean writes out another note for Josh (like a P.S.), deciding that she can’t date her sister’s ex, and puts the letter in her hatbox.

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Why she puts the addresses on them is not exactly explained. Nor is why they’re still accurate after years of sitting in the box. 

A few days later, another boy she had a crush on in the past, Peter (Noah Centineo), approaches her and says that he’s flattered, but doesn’t have feelings for her. She’s confused until she sees that he has the letter she wrote and put in her hatbox. Realizing that all of her letters have been mailed by someone, she sees Josh approach, but kisses Peter to dissuade Josh. Peter discovers that this has made his recently ex-girlfriend jealous, and the two agree to be fake boyfriend and girlfriend. They end up falling for each other because of course they do. Then, a misunderstanding drives them apart, because of course it does, then they get back together because of course they do.

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Yay, true… high school relationship that’s doomed unless there’s a sequel.

END SYNOPSIS

Okay, so, as you might have guessed from the end of my synopsis, this movie becomes so predictable after the first act that you could basically play Mad Libs with the same script that has happened in the past where a fake relationship leads to a real one. Think about Green Card, Shadowlands, The Americans, The Hunger Games, or Can’t Buy Me Love and its remake Love Don’t Cost a Thing. Those are just the ones where both participants know the relationship is fake, if I go to the ones where only one person knows, then this list goes on forever. The movie even points out how cliché the plot is at times, even if indirectly. The main character is a huge fan of John Hughes films, particularly Sixteen Candles (a hint at how Lara Jean is “saving herself”), so several of the tropes in the movie are actually discussed by the characters while talking about other films.

ToAllTheBoys-3SixteenCandles
AND PETER IS NO JAKE RYAN.

But, a lot of movies do this, obviously. Several of the movies I mentioned above follow almost identical plots or sub-plots in the abstract, but are still very different films. That’s because there’s a lot of stuff that can be done within the structure. When the movie starts, with all of the love letters to all of her crushes, and them getting sent out, I was hopeful that they were going to spend more time talking about how she’s gotten over some of the others or deals with them while dealing with Josh, but they really don’t. In fact, Josh mostly gets forgotten while they focus on Peter and Lara Jean going through all of the usual steps involved in this kind of movie.

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Also, can we please address that she keeps “her most secret possession” in the most obvious spot?

Then, they have to put in a “Third Act Conflict,” which here takes the form of a misleading photo of Peter and Lara Jean combined with Peter talking to his ex, that drives them apart until, unsurprisingly, they talk about it, realize that they’re being stupid, and end up happily. I would have been so happy if after Peter says “you just don’t understand the situation,” that Lara Jean paused and went “okay, I’ll listen, because this is a relationship and we should be able to give each other the benefit of the doubt long enough to hear your reasons.” Instead, as he is about to explain it, she instead says “I understand completely. This is over, in every possible way.” I wrote it down as a particularly bad line. He even offers to explain the whole thing right then, but she says she doesn’t want to listen. Now, yes, this is right after they first agree to “really” date, but it’s super weird that a character that knows films where this has happened doesn’t consider that might be what’s happening right now. That’s sort of the point of media: To show us things that we can learn from without having to go through them.

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Also, her big scandal is a photo of her kissing her boyfriend, while clothed, in a hot tub. I feel like that’s not exactly going to be huge news among people in a public high school.

Now, aside from that, I will say, this movie does have some pretty funny and sweet moments. Lara Jean’s likable and sweet, particularly as Condor portrays her. Peter isn’t super sweet, but he’s still a nice guy. Peter’s ex Genevieve (Emilija Baranac) is dislikable, so we don’t feel empathy towards her which might make us feel that Peter’s scheme to make her jealous is mean. In fact, Genevieve says the stupidest line in the film, complaining that Peter and Lara Jean kissed years ago, to which Lara Jean responds “That was spin-the-bottle!” Aside from that, a lot of the movie does come off as sincere in its emotions and the humor breaks were funny enough to keep me interested. If I was more into this kind of film, I probably would overlook the fact that it’s a massive batch of cliches. It just wasn’t made for me.

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The sister scenes were cute, except that the little sister suffers nothing for sending all of the letters in the first place. The movie even tells you her reasons were dumb.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie, it’s just not that original. If you haven’t seen the other films it’s referencing, you’ll probably like it more. The one upside is that this movie doesn’t really have any notable characters that will later become regrettable signs of the times, like (as the movie points out) Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, so it’s a little less likely to later have uncomfortable moments. However, it doesn’t push any boundaries either, so I don’t know that it’ll be really remembered down the line. I’m told the book is better, which is probably true, so maybe read that, watch Pretty in Pink, and save this movie for when you’re not really paying attention too much.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Netflix Review: 13 Demons

Update: This is now on Netflix, and I have to warn the people.

Compared to Iconoclast, this was a masterpiece, but I’m not 100% sure exactly what this movie was by any other measure. On its IMDB page, it appears I’m not alone, since a ton of the reviews are super low, and others are fairly high.

SUMMARY

The plot starts in medias res with 2 guys being accused of murder in a police station. They’re being held and interviewed separately, but delivering similar answers, claiming that they’re both demon-slaying paladins with fanciful names “Torkul of Darkhaven” (Stephen Grey) and “Abelsworth of the High Wind.” (Michael Cunningham) I braced myself at this point. It then flashes back to their origin.

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If you’re being interrogated while covered in blood, you may as well claim insanity.

It’s the 90s, the 2 guys are stoned gaming roommates, and a third guy (Daniel Falicki) brings home a board game called “13 Daemons” (no idea why they changed the spelling for the title) which had previously been banned because it caused people to go on murder sprees. The game immediately does the Jumanji “must be magnets or something” gimmick with the pieces, which one of the characters literally calls “Jumanji shit.” There’s then a 10-minute-long montage of these guys playing a roleplaying game… and it is boring. It’s just pot smoking, reading from the lore book, complaining about the smell of the game, and rolling the dice once. It’s like watching people play DnD but without the banter or coherence. Finally, one of the players gets to challenge a demon, and the movie then moves into this weird rotoscoping-style sequence that looks like either Tron or the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings. I admit, despite looking cheap and goofy, I kind of liked the sequence. It just has the player, Torkul, see an animated demon and then stab it to death.

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The characters wake up in different positions with a murder reporting on the TV, bloody upside-down crosses painted in the room, and everyone in completely different positions. But, they keep playing anyway, and now, they start to descend into madness where their characters overtake them. This is represented by them reading the manual in slightly more serious tones and different voices. The acting is… well, they’re playing the “stoned” and “paladin” personas as very over the top and different, but I guess they’re supposed to be playing it that way. I’m not going to pretend this is a triumph of acting, but the director and writer (who is actor number 3) obviously knew they weren’t great, so he kept them at least somewhat in the right range for their skills.

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“Did you paint that in blood?” “No, did you?” “No… let’s get stoned and keep playing.”

The second player does another one of the animated sequences fighting his demon, and then comes what is undoubtedly the best sequence in the movie. The third guy is supposed to fight his demon, but instead of the animated hallucination, we see what is actually happening: He’s putting on pots and pans for armor and carrying a rubber mallet. It is done in a hilariously serious manner in the film. He then tries to slay a demon that is actually a mechanic with a tire iron, and, as would probably happen, the mechanic just beats him over the head with the tire iron. It’s genuinely an entertaining sequence.

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Now is the time of the Hammer.

The movie then loses steam in a very sad way. The rest is a montage of the two remaining players descending into madness while arguing over which one of them is the “purest” paladin. They basically challenge each other to a death match, then sit back down to roll the dice. It starts to flash between these scenes and the police station, where it’s revealed that they’ve been murdering random people who they thought were demons, including small children. And now, both of them believe that the last demon is the other one. The movie then ends with both of them in police custody, being charged with murder, insisting that it’s not “just a game.” It ends with literally no resolution or explanation of what’s happened.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, I’m torn on this film. On the one hand, the concept is… well, not new, it’s kind of a combination of “Mazes and Monsters” and “Jumanji” if you watched both on pot. But, it was at least kind of interesting. The acting is over-the-top and ridiculous, but, since the characters are always either stoned or possessed by a board game, that doesn’t really make it unbearable. The special effects are cheap and cheesy, but they know they’re cheap and cheesy, so, again, it doesn’t really make upset me. The sequence of the guy in pots and pans armor is nothing short of hilarious, but the rest of the movie doesn’t really come off as humorous, so it kind of gives you tonal whiplash.

Which brings me to the thing that most pisses me off in the movie: It completely lacks any climax, either emotional or narrative. If it were a comedy, or some form of alternative film where that made sense, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s literally a quest film. It needs an ending of some sort, but instead, it just ends with the question over whether or not the game was causing the problem or if these guys are just crazy… which makes no sense because WE KNOW THE GAME IS THE PROBLEM. Even the cops should know the game is the problem. Hell, if I was their attorney, I’d point out that the game has a history of causing murder sprees, and it’s a decent defense to raise, which makes the ending argument really, really dumb.

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Is the book made of human skin evil? We’ll tell you at 11.

Honestly, this is almost a decent movie, it just doesn’t go anywhere. They just stretched a joke premise into 80 minutes, like Boss Baby, but it wasn’t funny… like Boss Baby. I really wish it had been either better or worse, because it really comes out as quality-pH 7. It also is never explained how they actually managed to kill this many people, since it’s revealed that one of them was using a stick. Not a large stick, just a stick. I mean, one guy got killed for trying to use a rubber mallet in his assault, and that’s significantly more lethal than the stick. Also, at the end, the police mention that the game was, indeed, banned because it caused people to go on killing sprees, which makes it more confusing that these guys tried the game in the first place, because that’s not a rumor, that’s a Federal law. Also, is it magic? Or is it chemical? I mean, they complain that the game smells, so, it’s possible that it’s just a hallucinogen. Also, the game clearly took like 12 hours of playing to start possessing them, so… how many people really could have had the dedication to play this game to the point of murderous rage?

This movie had some entertaining sequences, but the ending just felt like they ran out of budget, and the fact that about 30 minutes of it is just people reading a book and rolling dice really didn’t help. The movie wasn’t self-aware enough to be Chucky-sequel entertaining, wasn’t bad enough to be The Room level entertaining, and wasn’t good enough to be… good. But, I’ll be damned if the pots and pans armor wasn’t funny.

Skip this movie, unless you’ve really got a lot of alcohol and have run out of other bad movies.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Trailer:

Notes:

Preliminary: Sober, slightly ill, and bracing myself. I’ve been told this is better than Iconoclast, but that bar is basically saying “less crazy than Manson.” Hopefully, this one will at least keep my interest.

7:45 – Movie starts with a quote by William Howard Taft that I’m 90% sure is not actually by William Howard Taft. A cursory Google during the credits indicates that it’s unsourced and just being repeated on the internet. Auspicious start.

7:46 – Film quality is significantly better than Iconoclast, but not much above Birdemic. Starts off in police interrogation in medias res.

7:47 – Main character introduces himself as Torkul of Darkhaven, and I’m already slightly worried about the writing. The acting of the other characters in the scene is… I’m gonna have to go with The Room level, but without the dedication.

7:53 – Flashback begins. Oh my God, it’s Jumanji meets DnD. The TV is a tube tv and they’re playing the Dragon’s Lair NES Port, so I’m guessing it’s either the 90s, or they’re poor.

7:55 – And the main characters just said that it’s “Jumanji shit.” At least they know what they’re ripping off. If this ends up just being like that Tom Hanks movie “Mazes and Monsters,” and it’s just in their heads, I might applaud.

8:07 – After a 10-minute montage of 3 stoned guys trying to play this RPG (amounting to 1/8 of the total runtime) and complaining about how bad the game smells, we finally get to the magic shit. The magic effects look like the rotoscoping from Tron and the Bakshi Lord of the Rings. This movie came out in 2016, so that’s dated, but… eh, fuck, I love Tron and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, so it’s working for me.

8:12 – Okay, so they woke up in completely different positions around the room to hear about a murder, the game has changed, and they decide to just keep playing. Yeah, I get nuts about finishing games too.

8:19 – I think the writers greatly overestimated how much audiences would enjoy having rulebooks and lore read to them onscreen for large amounts of time by guys who either are stoned, or play it very well.

8:21 – I get that they’re supposed to be descending into Madness and stuff, but they’re either overselling it or underselling it by just repeating the same lines 5 times.

8:22 – Okay, more rotoscoping-style stuff. Again they wake up in different positions to hear about a murder, and they go back to playing. It’s now been at least 2 full days of playing. This cursed game really takes its time. Jumanji started stuff on roll 1.

8:26 – These guys are not good actors. It was not a great decision to focus most of the movie on them just talking and reading a book aloud.

8:29 – “Roll a 3, take the Right Path. Roll a 4, take the Left.” Okay, but… it’s a 6-sided die. What do they do with the other numbers? I NEED ANSWERS!!!!

8:31 – Alright, rather than the magic this time, they’re just putting on Pots and pans as armor. I might love this movie.

8:36 – “Go back to oblivion to suck on your mother’s teat” might be my new favorite way to call someone out. But now the crazy gamer has a rubber mallet, and the other guy is a mechanic with a tire iron. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t win.

8:37 – To the movie’s credit, he didn’t win.

8:40 – Okay, so they killed a ton of people, including a child. I’m very intrigued as to how this works out. I want it to turn out that all of these people actually were possessed, but I think we’re going the straight route.

8:50 – And now they’re challenging each other to a fight, but then they still have to play the rest of the game by dice rolling. I… Don’t know what the rules are here.

8:57 – “It’s a game.” “It’s not a game.” X 20 is apparently the dialogue now.

8:58 – WHAT? THAT’S THE END? THAT’S NOT AN ENDING!!!

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like the feedback.