Netflix Review – Bleach (Film)

Up front, I was never the biggest fan of Bleach. I do like some anime and manga (One Piece is still amazing) and I did enjoy the first two or three arcs of the series (I don’t know how it’s organized), but it started to fall prey to Dragon Ball-esque Serial Escalation and the characters didn’t interest me enough to put up with it. If you’re not familiar with Serial Escalation, it’s where a series is forced to constantly increase the power of the opponents in order to maintain some semblance of threat to the hero. Basically, if you beat a demon, you then have to beat a super-demon, then the devil, then the super-devil, then the anti-God (this example is pulled from the show Supernatural). Bleach does this so badly, the final opponent in the series EATS GOD. Still, the art style and universe were always pretty creative and this adaptation manages to keep that as much as a live-action movie can.

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At least DBZ gives us new hairstyles with every level-up.

SUMMARY

Ichigo Kurosaki (Sota Fukushi) is a high-schooler who has three unusual traits: First, he has naturally strawberry blonde hair (and his name means strawberry, so his parents picked well). Second, he’s extremely strong and fast with solid instincts for fighting. Third, he can see ghosts. Guess which one this series is about?

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Trick Question: It’s his winning roguish smile.

Ichigo spends much of his time trying to bring peace to the spirits he finds around Karakura Town in West Tokyo, Japan. One day, however, he spots a girl wielding a sword and wearing a black kimono who seems surprised to see him. She reveals herself to be Rukia Kuchiki (Hana Sugisaki) a Shinigami (God of Death) or “Soul Reaper.” Basically, they guide souls to the afterlife. However, when a soul dies while filled with rage, despair, or teenage angst (I assume), then their ghost wanders around with a hole in it that eventually expands, turning them into a “Hollow,” a demonic ghost that has to be purified by being slain by a Soul Reaper. One of these Hollows attacks Ichigo’s family and Rukia is injured in the process. Deciding that there’s only one way to stop the monster, she gives Ichigo her powers, despite it being forbidden.

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I think she has issues with her job performance.

Rukia discovers that she can’t just take her powers back until she recharges her spiritual energy and Ichigo builds up his own, so she has to pretend to be a normal human for some time while training Ichigo to do her duties as a Soul Reaper. At the same time, her brother Byakuya (Miyavi) sends her friend Renji Abarai (Taichi Saotome) to bring her back, but he ends up misunderstanding the situation and threatens Ichigo until they’re interrupted by a third person shooting magic arrows. The shooter is revealed to be Ichigo’s classmate Uryu Ishida (Ryo Yoshizawa), a member of the Quincy race, a group of superpowered humans who fight hollows but were massacred by the Soul Reapers in the past. Renji flees.

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Also, his sword would give Cloud Strife a complex.

Uryu challenges Ichigo to a contest of banishing Hollows, which he does by summoning a number of them to the city. Renji returns with Byakuya, who issues an ultimatum to Rukia: Kill Ichigo by taking back her energy or face capital punishment. Ichigo points out that, if he slays a strong enough Hollow, he should be able to survive the transfer. So, he trains to build himself up to be able to kill the monster, known as the Grand Fisher. It’s also revealed that Grand Fisher actually killed Ichigo’s mother using its power, with which it conjures a luring image of a small girl to throw its prey off guard. He succeeds in killing the monster, but Renji returns to fight him. Ichigo manages to defeat him, however Byakuya finally intercedes and proves that he is on a completely different level. Rukia agrees to extract Ichigo’s energy to save his life and bids him farewell. As the movie ends, it appears that everyone has forgotten Rukia except, maybe, Ichigo.

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Stab the big monster in the face. It works.

END SUMMARY

So, this movie tries to cram like three storylines into one film, something that usually produces a movie like The Last Airbender or Ghost Rider: Poorly paced and with mostly underdeveloped characters. This movie manages to avert that by avoiding exposition, letting the performances of the actors really handle the characterization and emotional aspects of the film, and making the film as streamlined as possible so you don’t really question how little of the universe is actually explained to you. This movie isn’t going to win any Oscars, but it’s not supposed to, it’s just supposed to be entertaining and that’s exactly what it delivers.

There are a few standout elements, though. For one, the characters manage to really look like a cross between their anime character models and physically possible Japanese people. If you look at them next to their designs, you wouldn’t say they’re identical or even that similar in some cases, but you also would immediately know who is supposed to be who. While some of the character aspects are made more realistic or grounded, they did also keep some of the more outlandish anime elements. This serves to emphasize those elements through contrast, which, since they’re some of the most memorable aspects of the series, is actually a good thing here.

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Yeah, you can tell he’s a main character.

Another big positive is how the characters play off of each other. When the manga first started, that was one of the most amusing and compelling parts of the series, before eventually becoming “get a higher power level.” Ichigo’s relationships to everyone, while fairly simple and direct, are obvious by how he relates to each of them, including how he becomes more familiar and open with Rukia over the course of the movie. Sota Fukushi plays everything over-the-top which, since this is supposed to be a cartoon, works perfectly.

The pacing is pretty solid, which was important. The movie never feels rushed. They cover a lot of ground, but at the end of the film you feel like it was just the right amount of ground to cover in 108 minutes. The ending is basically a teaser for the next movie, but I think years of Marvel films have led me to accept that this is something that just happens now.

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Admittedly, it is a touching ending.

There aren’t a ton of things I’ll take shots at within the movie, but here are a few:

Compared to the manga and anime, they do have fewer Hollows and overtly supernatural images, probably due to budget. However, they properly emphasize the ones they do have, which is the best thing you can hope for. This also serves to sort of streamline the mythos and the rules of the universe, something that, honestly, the anime itself should have done more often. This is like a survey course in Bleach: You get all of the key stuff, but if you want to get into why Hollows have Spanish names or how the Soul Society works, you’re going to have to break open a book.

Also, they seriously didn’t develop Rukia enough. She’s such a great character and she owns almost every scene she’s in. I think that Hana Sugisaki is probably the best actor in the film, managing to run the gamut of emotions when dealing with either normal people (who she doesn’t understand), Ichigo (who she feels both indebted to and anger towards), Renji (who she clearly has feelings for), and Byakuya (with whom she has an incredibly complicated relationship). She always sells a lot more with her delivery than the lines would normally merit, which makes it kind of sad that she doesn’t have more of them. Hell, I’d watch a remake of this movie’s arc that’s just more focused on her than Ichigo, but Bleach is Ichigo’s story, so that’s not going to happen.

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And her Harry and the Hendersons speech is pretty solid.

Overall, this isn’t going to go down as a movie that people who don’t like anime can still enjoy, like Oldboy, but if you’re a fan of the genre, this’ll work for you.
And hey, at least it isn’t Dragonball Evolution.

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 – Castlevania Seasons 1 & 2 (Spoiler-Free on Season 2)

Yesterday, The Adventure Zone podcast did a Halloween special which had a reference to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that I just couldn’t stop laughing at, even though it was so straightforward. But, either way, I decided to do a bonus review of Castlevania in their honor.

Netflix decided to take a shot at every other studio out there by adapting a video game and, despite all of the past history of adapting video games to a narrative (Phoenix Wright notwithstanding), did it really well. Admittedly, the history of adapting video games to television (particularly cartoon series) is much stronger than to the big screen, but those were mostly aimed towards children. This is very much aimed towards people who played the original Castlevania games on the NES, all of whom are now adults.

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Or, if you’re like me, on the SNES.

SUMMARY

Vlad Tepes Dracula (Graham McTavish) is… You f*cking know who Dracula is. Well, he’s out there Dracking it up when he is visited by a young woman named Lisa (Emily Swallow) who wishes to be a doctor and believes that Dracula would be the person who would know the most about human medicine, as he has collected books for centuries on every subject and read them all. Not only is she correct, surprisingly, but her resolve towards science and medicine takes Dracula off-guard and he ends up falling in love with her and marrying her. She tries to teach him of the positive traits of humanity and he begins to soften.

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A surprisingly solid relationship for a vampire and a snack.

Unfortunately, twenty-ish years later, Lisa is accused of being a witch (because she’s a doctor and a woman) and is burned at the stake. This leads Dracula to declare that he will spend one year creating an army of the damned, after which he will kill everyone in Wallachia, the kingdom that murdered her. The phrase “Y’all done f*cked up now” comes to mind. Sure enough, one year later, he kills everyone in the town in a gruesome fashion and declares war on humanity. All the noble houses get blamed, including a house known as Belmont.

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When this is how the guy tells you you’re screwed, YOU ARE SCREWED.

A few months later, Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), the last of a line of monster hunters, is broke and drunk in a city that is besieged by the forces of darkness every night. The clergy (who started this whole mess) have used this as an opportunity to take power in the area, claiming to be the only force capable of repelling the evil, and blame a group of traveling magic users called the Speakers for Dracula’s assault. Trevor saves some of the Speakers and is told by the Elder (Tony Amendola) that there is a “sleeping soldier” beneath the city who may help save them. The Elder’s granddaughter already sought the soldier but has not returned. Trevor goes below the city and finds a cyclops guarding a crypt. Trevor slays the monster, which releases one of his petrified victims, the Elder’s granddaughter Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso). The pair continue and eventually discover the sleeping soldier is none other than Dracula’s half-human son, Adrian Tepes or “Alucard” (James Callis), who was wounded fighting his father a year prior. The three join forces to stop Dracula’s army from wiping out humanity.

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Cosplayers are getting aroused at this photo.

END SUMMARY

If I just watched Season 1 of this show, I’d say it was only kind of good. The first season has some great character designs, good action sequences, decent dialogue at some points, and the Bishop (Matt Frewer) is one of the most deeply despicable characters on film, overshadowing Dracula as an antagonist. However, the show doesn’t really hit its stride until Season 2, when you start to have Dracula’s War Council interacting and Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard bantering. All of the dialogue suddenly gets sharper and better, mostly because of all of the conflicting philosophies and backstories.

The show is, so far, an adaptation of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, something that was a great decision. It’s the first game chronologically, except for Castlevania: Lament of Innocence which doesn’t have Dracula in it, and was the first one to have multiple characters, giving the writers more to work with. I was surprised that they cut out the character of Grant Danasty, the pirate from the game, but maybe he’ll come back later. Still, even without him, we’re not short on great characters on either the hero or villain sides. As with most good series, most of the characters aren’t morally black and white, they’re all fairly flawed and driven by their own wants and histories. For example, two of Dracula’s Generals, Hector and Isaac (Theo James and Adetokumboh M’Cormack), are humans who have decided to side against humanity because of their personal histories, and Isaac’s backstory in particular will just hit you right in the heart.

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Man, this game cover was awesome in the 80s.

The animation style is a tribute to one of the most popular games in the series, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which gives it a strong anime influence, but still with a lot of gothic European character designs. The fight scenes look like elaborate video game cut-scenes, which is exactly what they should look like. The combat involving Alucard is particularly impressive, because his fighting style is literally impossible to do in reality.

Overall, I hope that they keep this series going. There are so many more interesting stories that can be told in the Castlevania universe. They’ve set up several more at the end of Season 2, and Dracula literally always comes back in the games, so they can reuse him as much as they need.

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 – Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

As many of you who read this blog regularly will already know, or anyone who sits near me for even a brief period will find out, I hate the show Riverdale. It strikes me as a generic CW show that only distinguishes itself by being based on Archie Comics, which also pisses me off because the comic book Riverdale was supposed to be like Mayberry: It’s a place where people are who they should be. They’re not perfect, but the good try to be better and the bad are taught to be good. Instead, this Riverdale is full of darkness and teen angst. This is the only kind of reboot or reimagining that I usually will protest: It’s profaning that which its source held sacred, but not doing anything imaginative with that profanity.  And yes, I watched the entire first season to give it a fair shot.  So, when they said they were going to do a spin-off of the show featuring Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, most people thought I would oppose it.

THOSE PEOPLE WERE WRONG.

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While Riverdale stands against everything that Archie Comics originally stood for, Sabrina the Teenage Witch has always been a little creepy and macabre. Even the 90s series with Melissa Joan Hart had a lot of stuff that, in retrospect, was dark as hell. I mean, she regularly manipulates memories, changes people’s personalities, causes giant weather phenomenon, and punishes people with curses for arbitrary reasons. Those are all things that, in a less comic setting, would be objectively horrifying. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is just taking that to its logical conclusion.

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Soulless monsters, the lot of them. Funny, entertaining, soulless monsters.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is about to turn 16 years old on Halloween under a Blood Moon… at which point she shall have to undergo her “Dark Baptism” and sign her soul into the Book of the Beast and pledge herself to the Dark Lord Satan. However, Sabrina is a rare existence, a half-witch half-human, which gives her a choice: She can embrace her magic side and gain longevity and power, or she can stay in her human life with her human friends, including her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). Her aunts, Hilda and Zelda (Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto) and her cousin, Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), are all practitioners of the Dark Arts who give her guidance… and sometimes commands that she disobeys.

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She also has a cat… that is actually a goblin in the form of a cat. 

Ultimately, this choice and how she tries to avoid it, negotiate it, or pick a third option is most of her character arc for this season. At the same time, her magical presence is revealed to be impacting Harvey and her friends Susie (Lachlan Watson) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair). Additionally, she has to deal with the dark path offered by Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), the head warlock of her coven, the temptations of Ms. Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), a demon inhabiting the body of her teacher, and the semi-racist ire of the Weird Sisters, three witches that act like the Plastics from Mean Girls (Adeline Rudolph, Tati Gabrielle, Abigail Cowen).

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Oh, and this guy… I think they call him Tim? Wait, no, Satan. That’s Satan.

END SUMMARY

Like most of Netflix’s shows, this is a serial that builds towards the season finale… which itself mostly just sets everything up for the next season. Since Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has already been given an order for a second season, this isn’t much of an issue. I think the pace of it is pretty solid, moreso than most of the Netflix Marvel series. There are a lot of subplots that start off fairly slow and do a great job building over the course of the season, while the main plot involving Sabrina keeps shifting enough that it doesn’t feel overly repetitive. Some of the episode gimmicks seem a little cliche or lame but, honestly, the show’s acting and atmosphere consistently overwhelm any of those issues.

The performances are pretty great. My favorite character has to be Chance Perdomo’s Ambrose, who is under house arrest throughout the series. In one of his first appearances, if not his first appearance, he’s shown having a laptop outside of the Spellman home, signalling that he is much more modern than any of the other witches and warlocks depicted. He is pansexual, and also genre-savvy and sassy as hell, which would normally make him the only sane man in the show, but his constant love of mischief, rebellion, and boning instead make him appear as a roguish mage, which… well, works.

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Ambrose only gives a f*ck about, well, f*cking. And also Sabrina, I guess.

Hilda and Zelda are both great characters as well, each one encouraging Sabrina in different ways and directions. Susie, Roz, and Harvey are all really great at selling the idea that they’re close to Sabrina and would be worth forsaking magic for. Then there’s Sabrina.

I think what surprises me most about Kiernan Shipka’s portrayal is that it both seems similar to Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina and yet is completely distinct. She’s very loyal, supportive, and upbeat, but has an enormous dark side (the kind where she accepts that she’s going to be bathed in human blood and pledged to wed Satan). The best thing is that she represents a lot of kids out there, just in a twisted way: She’s in a family that is firmly rooted in tradition and devotion to god (just… not the Christian God), but she wants to be independent and question why things are still done this way. It’s an old trope, but it’s one that’s been beautifully turned on its head by the show.

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She could either be saying “I cast you into the pit” or “what-ever.”

Another thing that I love in the show is the atmosphere. The town it’s set in, Greendale, is described as being a place where every day feels like Halloween, and the show really took that to heart. The trees, the stores, the characters, everything feels like it’s got a layer of cobwebs over it. But it’s still got the feeling of a small town underneath, where people still walk to school and work in coal mines and watch black-and-white horror films. It’s Real American Nostalgia, but with pumpkins.

And I can’t go without mentioning the Satanism. I think the way they handle Satanism in the show is literally the best part. Look, the show doesn’t beat around the bush: Everything that the witches do is suuuuuuper messed up. They eat people on holidays. They steal organs and blood from corpses. They alter memories and commune with demons. However, aside from when they’re actively doing those things… they’re Southern Baptists (or any equivalent small-town religion). I grew up in a Southern Baptist community, and all of the times that the show has a witch saying “hail Satan” is the exact moment when a Baptist woman would say “praise Jesus.” Sabrina is constantly told that things are just done a certain way and not to question it, she’s told to not fool around with her boyfriend (and she doesn’t), and everyone views the church as the social, political, and moral center of the community. Every time she tries to be “progressive,” her family loves her but they wish she’d just quit ruining their perception in the church, even if she’s right. That’s why it’s so easy to buy the way that the witches worship in the show; they’re literally just a dark reflection of an existing culture.

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Also, they’re really focused on baptisms.

Overall, I loved this series. It’s dark, but in a good way. It’s got actual morals and themes to discuss, even if it’s disguised them beneath a layer of blood and goblins. It’s progressive, but it’s not exactly preachy about it. The sets, music, and acting are all wonderful, and the end of the season shows that things are really just heating up. WATCH IT NOW!

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 – The Good Cop: Season 1

Tony Danza is a very endearing guy when he’s performing. From Taxi to Who’s the Boss? to The Tony Danza Show, he’s always at least somewhat charming.

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Josh Groban has the voice of an angel and the appearance of a cast member from Revenge of the Nerds.

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But with far fewer felonies in his film

Netflix decided they should be on a father-son Odd-Couple-esque buddy-cop cop-and-convict whodunit-mystery show. Coincidentally, the price of cocaine has been increasing due to over-consumption.

SUMMARY

Tony Caruso, Sr. (Tony Danza) was formerly a hero cop who, it turns out, was massively corrupt and engaged in a series of widely-publicized scandals that sent him to prison. His son, Tony, Jr. or “TJ” (Josh Groban) is now a police officer renowned for his dedication to the rules, even going to comically enormous lengths to avoid small infractions. As a condition of Tony, Sr.’s recent parole, he is required to live with his son. Naturally, in the pilot, they fight constantly until Big Tony goes back to prison to try to cover for TJ, proving that he really does love him, so they can stay together, yadda yadda yadda.

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One’s in a suit, one lost his pants in a bet. How funny!

As the season goes by Tony Sr. keeps doing crazy semi-legal schemes and TJ gets caught up in them while they solve mysteries together. The supporting cast is: Cora Vasquez (Monica Barbaro), who was Tony Sr.’s parole officer who later becomes a detective under TJ, as well as his love interest; Burl Loomis (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), an older detective who was a friend of Tony Sr. who is renowned for his policy of “never running”; and Ryan (Bill Rottkamp), an ultra-nerd Tech Crime Analyst for the NYPD whose character was written when we thought Hackers was accurate.

TheGoodCopS1 - 5Cast

END SUMMARY

So, the show was created by the guy who made Monk, Andy Breckman, and it shows. The characters are all quirky as hell, there’s a loose story arc involving Tony Sr.’s dead wife that might get resolved in 9 years, and the mysteries are usually pretty creative. Honestly, the crime-centric episodes were the best, because they were actually decent puzzles and distracted me from how uninteresting the characters are despite the set-up giving so many potentially interesting conflicts. Breckman said, “Many cop shows feature dark and provocative material: psycho-sexual killers, twisted, grim, flawed detectives. Many address the most controversial issues of the day. I watch a lot of them. God bless ’em all. But the show I want to produce is playful, family-friendly, and a celebration of old-fashioned puzzle-solving.” So… mission accomplished?

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Though some of the Hi-Jinks are pretty funny.

It almost bothers me that I actually like this show, because it is bland as hell. Tony Danza and Josh Groban are both likeable and inoffensive (despite the fact that Danza’s character is supposed to be a convicted corrupt cop). Isiah Whitlock and Monica Barbaro are always entertaining when they’re on screen. Nothing about the show ever really gets me upset and it mostly keeps my attention. But it’s just… mediocre. It’s just like many of the seasons of Monk, but without Tony Shalhoub to give an amazing performance. I like it, but I don’t love it. It’s just that everyone involved in it is so loveable I can’t really dislike it either. It’s fun and not challenging to watch, which means that a lot of people will probably love it and I can’t blame them. It’s like a graham cracker – it’s not the most sophisticated snack, but I will eat the entire box and then cry about how I shouldn’t have done that.

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I will say that some of the episodes had some neat gimmicks, like having a talk-show host who toys with the officers or having the suspect be TJ’s crush, but ultimately it’s pretty middle-of-the-road. I really hope they give the characters some more depth in the future, because I can’t look Josh Groban in the eye and say “I don’t want to watch your show.” It would break his little heart and it’s not his fault.

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I can’t break that heart. It would hurt me “Evermore.”

I do have to add that at the end of the episode, the title card for the next episode plays and it’s spaced so that you can read it before Netflix automatically starts the next episode, which is a great idea and should be duplicated by other series. Good job, whoever did that.

Seriously, though, please add either more comedy or more darkness, because right now it’s just TVpH 7.

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 – Let’s Be Evil: Kids are Creepy (version 1129)

Children can be creepy. I think we all know that by now. There’s something unnerving about the human brain when it’s still rapidly developing, particularly when they first hit the age at which they’re capable of deception and intelligence, but adults don’t suspect them of it. You can see it played out in The Bad Seed, The Brood, These are the Damned, The Children of the Corn, The Good Son, etc. Movies love to mine this trope over and over again and this movie is just another load coming up from that pit, with enough decoration to make you think it’s original (although they proudly state this movie was based on an “original idea” like 3 times in the credits).

SUMMARY

It’s the near-future again and massive debt is still a thing. Jenny (Elizabeth Morris), a woman saddled with a ton of medical debt from her mom, finds a job as a chaperone at a school for gifted youngsters, but sadly not the one run by Charles Xavier. She meets her co-workers Tiggs (Kara Tointon) and Darby (Elliot James Langridge), whose total character descriptions are “feisty” and “douchenozzle.” The school is run by an AI named “ARIAL” but constantly spelled as Ariel (Jamie Bernadette), even though it’s an acronym for a word that begins with f*cking A. The school is actually in a series of underground rooms which are mostly not lit. In order to see, you have to wear a set of augmented reality glasses.

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Google Glass did better in this universe.

The children don’t speak, for the most part, instead choosing to communicate through ARIAL translating their typed messages. The “school” itself is actually just a series of augmented reality classes that the children experience which, while not original (hell, the Batman: Arkham games had it), is still always a pretty cool idea. However, as time goes by, strange things begin happening, with Jenny seeing or hearing things which appear to be illusions that are dismissed as her “breaking down.” This is despite the fact that ARIAL records stuff that Jenny sees and therefore could play it back and prove it to the others. This is overlooked in favor of being arbitrarily stupid.

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But the facility looks so harmless…

Eventually, it’s revealed that the children, except for one child named Cassandra (Isabelle Allen), have decided to kill the adults and take over the facility. Being that they’re all super-geniuses, they’ve taken over ARIAL and have gained the ability to hack the chaperones’ VR glasses, which, admittedly, makes for a great set-up for a horror movie. Sadly, it just doesn’t take full advantage of it from there. Kids chase adults, adults get chased, someone wins, roll curtain.

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This should have been so much creepier.

END SUMMARY

There are a lot of elements that should work for this movie. For one, the kids aren’t driven by any particular motive except that they don’t seem to have any kind of emotional empathy (something enhanced by their “school”). The idea that the kids really are just doing this because they can makes everything so much worse and almost gives a moral to the story about raising children in a digital environment in which they are trained to view other people as information or resources rather than sources for emotional connection.

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They even have talking heads debate it.

The AR glasses, too, could give you a lot to work with. The kids control what the adults (and the viewers) see and hear, something that has been used to terrifying effect in other films. The fact that the adults are given the options of either A) wear the glasses or B) not be able to see at all means they’re pretty much stuck dealing with it. There are a number of decent visuals involving AR within the movie. Perhaps the best one is the way that ARIAL is represented as a shimmering, ephemeral figure (much like her namesake from The Tempest).

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The real problem isn’t the AR or the kids. It’s that even with those things, the movie just isn’t that scary. The kids aren’t messing with them enough for it to be a true psychological horror (and the ending that almost implies it doesn’t really give any satisfaction), they aren’t killing them in violent enough ways for it to be super gory or intense, and the film’s big twist is… well, stupid. It’s predictable and stupid. It’s so stupidly predictable that the only reason Jenny doesn’t predict it is that apparently she’s never seen any movie or read any book.

Overall, there’s a lot of great stuff that this movie could have done, and I’m just really sad that it didn’t do any of it.

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 – 31 Halloween Films

Originally, I planned on reviewing 31 horror films for the month of October. I then realized that I didn’t start early enough. Also, I’m moving. So, instead, here are 31 films on Netflix. Not all of them are horror movies, but since I think horror movies are inherently in the spirit of Halloween (with exceptions), most of them are. I tried to make them at least somewhat different, so hopefully you get a decent tour of all the types of scares. I’m sure there are some I missed, so leave your favorites in the comments. Also, apologies if some get pulled. I dunno how Netflix decides.

Update: OKAY, SO APPARENTLY NETFLIX IS PULLING A BUNCH OF THESE ON OCTOBER 1. F*CK THEM. WATCH THE LOST BOYS THIS WEEKEND.

  1. Terrifier

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It’s a clown. It’s a serial killing clown. It’s a serial killing clown who is smart enough to carry a gun as a backup weapon. It’s literally everything I fear.

*Warning* This movie is pure gore fest and it is genuinely disturbing. It’s not clever, it’s not even particularly scary, but it does have a creepy clown who kills people in horrible ways. This is the most skippable of the movies on the list.

  1. Se7en

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On the other end of the spectrum from Terrifier is a movie that should unnerve you deeply but has a notably low body count. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are hunting down a serial killer who is obsessed with the Seven Deadly Sins. If you have never seen it, now is the time.

  1. The Babadook

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The best monster movies use the monster as an allegory for something. This one uses it as a representation for grief and loss. Denying it just makes it stronger and it can drive you crazy. It’s one of the better horror films of the last decade.

  1. Scream 2/Scream 4

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I dislike the fact that the only Scream movies on Netflix are 2 and 4, which are neither the best nor the worst entries in the franchise. Still, they’re solid slashers that have an added commentary, with the former mocking sequels and the latter mocking revived series.

  1. Before I Wake

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Kids with superpowers can be creepy. Kids with superpowers they can’t control are even creepier. This movie features a child who can’t stop bringing his dreams, and nightmares, to life, including the “Canker Man,” a recurring nightmarish figure bent on consuming everything.

  1. Children of the Corn

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Based on the Stephen King story, this film depicts a town in which the children, motivated by religious zealotry, got rid of all of the adults. It’s corny (f*ck you, I stand by the pun), but it’s also got a great performance by John Franklin as Isaac.

  1. Cargo

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In one of the better recent interpretations of a zombie movie, this depicts a family trying to survive in the remains of the world, focusing on them trying to get their baby to a safe place after they’re infected but before they’re turned. It’s powerful and emotional, something you don’t usually get from zombies.

  1. Clown

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In a great subversion of the killer clown genre, this movie doesn’t make the clown the bad guy, instead it makes the clown outfit itself evil. It’s not the greatest horror movie in many respects, but the concept is played so well that it still should be seen.

  1. Train to Busan

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I’m obligated to put this on any list of horror films. This is a Korean zombie film and it is one of the best in the genre. It has as much social commentary as old-school Romero, the action sequences of 28 Days Later, and the character-building of Shaun of the Dead. Truly a great addition to horror.

  1. Curse of Chucky/ Cult of Chucky

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Child’s Play was a franchise featuring a killer doll that gradually went from kind of clever to terrible to self-parody-level bad. Then, these two movies were released which actually moved the franchise back to fairly clever and somewhat scary. They’re both on, and you should watch them together.

  1. The Babysitter

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One of the better horror-comedies of the last few years, and a Netflix original, this film features a group of teenagers who would usually be the victims in a horror film instead being the villains. They’re opposed by a 12-year-old who finds out their secret and a wonderful comedy of errors ensues.

  1. The Descent

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Darkness is scary. Being enclosed is scary. So, taking both of those elements and making a movie about women crawling through small caves in darkness while being hunted by creatures was always going to be pretty damn scary.

  1. Hush (2016)

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In a great take on the slasher genre, this film depicts a killer stalking his victim. The catch is that his victim is actually deaf. To balance out this disadvantage, the film allows her a rare advantage in horror protagonists: She isn’t a complete idiot. This element ends up making it a pretty solid movie.

  1. Let Me In

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This movie has a lot to unpack. It’s a movie about the friendship and budding romance between two kids, one of whom is actually a vampire, but unlike many films that try something like this, this movie doesn’t shy away from the reality that vampires mercilessly murder people as a matter of survival. It’s touching, messed up, and has some amazing performances.

  1. Holidays

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An anthology of horror shorts, each one based on a different holiday. Admittedly, I think “Halloween” is not the best one, but it was directed by Kevin Smith and features an interesting take on horror clichés, particularly how women are viewed.

  1. The Endless

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A sequel to the movie Resolution, which, sadly, is not on Netflix, this film can still stand on its own. It features two brothers who survived a suicide cult returning to the location of the cult, only to find that an entity there is trying to manipulate time to cause the apocalypse. It’s a thinker, but it pays off.

  1. Oculus

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A movie that manages to screw with the audience almost as well as it screws with its characters, this story about two siblings and an evil mirror is all about perception. Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites give two great performances and the film is creepy and twisted from start to finish.

  1. Hellraiser/Hellraiser 2

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These movies brought Clive Barker’s demonic Cenobites, particularly the lead Cenobite nicknamed “Pinhead,” into the mainstream. They’re basically creatures so removed from human concepts that they view pain and pleasure as the same thing and want everyone to feel both with them.

  1. The Void

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It’s a 1980s horror film combined with H.P. Lovecraft. It’s got cultists, mad scientists, tentacle monsters, evil babies, and, of course, the couple that has recently broken up that might get back together if they are confronted with the apocalypse.

  1. The Witch

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There are a lot of good elements to this film, but the main one is the atmosphere. This film takes place during the 1600s and features a puritan family as they struggle to get by after being exiled. It’s got religious commentary, great aesthetics, and the entire film just reeks of supernatural threats looming just past the edge of the woods.

  1. (Alternate) The Real Ghostbusters – “When Halloween was Forever (Season 1)” “Halloween II ½ (Season 2)” “The Halloween Door (Season 4)

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Fine, this was originally the movie Ghostbusters, but apparently that’s not on Netflix right now. So, instead, here are the three Halloween episodes of the cartoon. Much like the Halloween movies (which they reference), the first two feature the Halloween villain Samhain (who is the best recurring villain in the series), while the third is completely independent. I’d recommend at least watching the first two.

  1. Extraordinary Tales

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This is a collection of five Edgar Allan Poe stories, each narrated by a different person (Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Guillermo Del Toro, and Roger Corman) and animated in a different style. They’re not all winners, but overall, they still capture the Gothic eeriness of Poe.

  1. Haunters: The Art of the Scare

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This is actually a documentary about the modern Halloween haunted houses, haunted mazes, and full-contact terror simulations. It shows you how much effort some of these companies put into these attractions and how crazy some of the people asking to be scared can be.

  1. Raw

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This is the best kind of gratuitous. When a vegetarian is forced to eat raw meat, she develops a craving for flesh that starts to grow out of control. As I said in The Babadook, the best monster films make the monster an allegory, but this film goes ahead and makes the monster the urges that the main characters are dealing with. See if you can figure out what it’s a metaphor for (it’s not subtle).

  1. Coco

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Not at all a horror film, this still should become a Halloween film if only because a movie this wonderful needs to become a recurring thing. Taking place on Dia De Los Muertos and in the land of the dead, this film reminds us that death isn’t to be feared as long as we have people who love us, something most children’s films would never even consider addressing. It also makes me cry every single time I watch it.

  1. Murder Party

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I already did a full review of this one, but it’s a great Halloween film. It depicts a lonely man who happens to attend the wrong costume party and ends up being the target of five inept murderers. It’s hilarious.

  1. It Follows

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I don’t actually like this movie that much, because I constantly point out how easy it would be to confound the monster in the film, but as an allegory, the monster is pretty solid. Death is always following you. You won’t outrun it forever. But you can delay the realization of that fact through connections with others (mostly their genitals, according to the movie).

  1. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

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This movie has Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk. Everyone should love it for that alone. However, it also is the funniest inversion of the “killer redneck” genre, with the main characters being lovable hicks and the college kids automatically assuming they’re monsters. It also has some of the best horror slapstick I’ve ever seen.

  1. Tales of Halloween

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An anthology film that isn’t quite as good as Trick ‘r Treat, this movie still features almost every aspect of Halloween, from the costumes to the decorations to the pranks to the candy to the pumpkins, as the focus of at least one vignette. The best one is probably “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” because it has Barry Bostwick being hilarious as the Devil, but they’re all pretty enjoyable.

  1. Boys in the Trees

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This movie was mostly overlooked, but it still is a solid Halloween flick, depicting all kinds of horror monsters. It basically starts off as a group of juvenile delinquents telling stories and pulling pranks, then having to live through their stories in an anthology. It’s basically a combination of The Halloween Tree and another great movie which is right below this.

  1. The Lost Boys

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One of the better horror-comedies of the 1980s, this vampire film stars both Corey Feldman and Corey Haim (R.I.P.) and features some of the best kid-on-monster fights until it was completely decimated by the glory of The Monster Squad. It also features one of the best ending sequences in film. Just look at that poster, it’s so damned 80s.

I hope you guys watch a few of these. Let me know what you think!

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 – Stephanie: Amazing Set-up, Follow-Through Needed Budget

Everyone knows kids can be really creepy. If a small child looks me in the eye and says “The specter of death looms large over your future,” then I say “How did you get in my apartment and why are you floating and oh god the burning has already begun.” Pretty sure everyone has had that happen before. Anyway, the point is: Kids can be f*cking creepy.

This is a movie about a creepy, creepy child. It’s not original in that aspect, but I’ll say that the way they handle it actually is.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Stephanie (Shree Crooks) is a child who has been abandoned in her home by her parents. She plays around with a toy turtle, watches TV (which occasionally mentions something about an apocalypse happening before she flips it to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic), makes her own food, tries to befriend a bunny, and starts swearing because her parents aren’t there. Remember Home Alone’s montage when Kevin realized his family was gone? It’s that, but with a young girl.

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This is her learning she can say “shit” out loud.

Then, we start to find out that things are wrong. Stephanie is stalked by a shadowy figure that never seems to catch her. The body of a young boy, revealed to be her brother, Paul (Jonah Beres), is in a bed in the house and is decaying. Stephanie at first appears to be talking to it sadly, but then starts to blame it for her parents leaving and hits the body repeatedly.

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Who hasn’t smacked a corpse with a bat?

Eventually, her parents return, but that only starts adding to the mystery of what happened with this world.

SUMMARY OF THE END (Spoilers)

Eventually, her parents (Frank Grillo and Anna Torv) return and apologize for leaving. They bury Paul, but Paul’s body is thrown back into the house that night. Stephanie’s dad asks her what she thinks happened when Paul died. It’s revealed that Stephanie killed Paul using telekinetic tentacles that appear to be made from her shadow. The apocalypse is actually a dark force possessing children around the globe. The monster that’s been stalking her is a manifestation of her own powers. Her parents knock her out and try to perform a procedure to disable her powers, but she awakes and destroys the makeshift lab.

Her parents try to poison her, but her tentacles save her. Her father then shoots her multiple times, killing her. He returns home to his wife, but Stephanie reappears, revived. She brutally murders both of her parents, destroys the house, throws away her stuffed turtle, and walks away psychically destroying her entire neighborhood. A shot of the Earth reveals this to be happening everywhere.

END SUMMARY (End Spoilers)

This is a Blumhouse picture, which means that the budget was probably so small it hurt parts of the film. However, as Get Out proved, this can encourage some really inventive filmmaking with a focus on good story and concept to compensate for the lack of effects. This movie comes so close to that, but it just can’t quite keep it going. Admittedly, the lack of quality of the effects at the end is a little bit of an issue, but it’s mostly the way the film tries to handle the third act.

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When the parents return, the movie starts to drift.

At the beginning of the film, the mystery of what is happening to Stephanie is delivered slowly, with some odd hints surrounding the fact that we’re seeing a small child living on her own. She makes a lot of bad decisions and does goofy things, because she’s an unsupervised child, but we also see some slowly building evidence that the situation is much direr than it seemed. This part of the film is great. Since the director is A Beautiful Mind’s Akiva Goldsman, there should not have been any doubt that we’d really be able to grasp that we’re watching a kind of madness progress.

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Admittedly, it’s a different kind of madness.

As far as the performance goes, Shree Crooks does a phenomenal job. She conveys all of the nervousness blended with excitement that you’d expect from a child who finds themselves allowed to do what they want. The scene where she first realizes that she can swear is perfect, with every line and action and look building to something that’s both hilarious and adorable, which gives us a break in the tension while still reminding us of the situation. It’s a great scene, and there are several like that at the beginning of the film.

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She also conveys the fear well.

The progression of Stephanie’s disturbing behaviors is solid, going from mostly innocent behavior that shows she might be haunted by something to showing that she herself is frightening and unhinged.

The movie really just starts going downhill when her parents return, with much of the mystery being revealed with too much exposition and too little demonstration. Then, the ending was intense, but it still felt hollow. It feels like all the weight of the film has been removed by that point, instead replaced by some generic horror mixed with some, admittedly clever, deaths.

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She’s going to eat your soul… or a taco.

I liked the movie for most of it, I just wish that the ending had felt more profound or more like a continuation of the first act rather than a completely different movie that had been stapled on. I don’t know what exactly caused this, but the fact that the beginning of it, and some parts of the end, are so well-done says that this team could definitely make a hell of a film if they had a little bit more consistency towards the end. Since Goldsman’s next film is an adaptation of Firestarter by Stephen King, given the parts of this movie that worked, I think that movie should be amazing.

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 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.

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

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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.

NextGen-1Noodles.png
… 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.

NextGen-2Mai.png
“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.

NextGen-8Platypus
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.