Netflix Review – Girls with Balls: Amazing Idea, Mediocre Execution

There’s a French-Belgian horror-comedy about a team of volleyball players chased by murderous rednecks that’s narrated by a singing cowboy. 

SUMMARY

The Falcons are a girls volleyball team that is making their way home after winning the regional championships. Along the way, the team coach (Victor Artus Solaro) gets the bus lost and they pull into a bar where they meet a group of mostly non-verbal rednecks. They leave, having been creeped out thoroughly but not noticing that the bus has been sabotaged and marked with strange symbols. The next day, the rednecks ambush the girls and the hunt is on!

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They’ve been wearing those outfits since they played a tournament in them. Ew.

END SUMMARY

If this movie lived up to the promise of the first 15 minutes, it would go down in history as a masterpiece. The opening to this film is a cowboy (Orelsan) singing about the generic plot of a group of hot girls who play volleyball being murdered. Yes, this movie has a Greek chorus, similar to Cat Ballou, There’s Something About Mary, or even Disney’s Hercules, where it’s much more literal. Except that it’s a French Singing Cowboy, because that’s exactly who should sing the Ballad of the Falcons… and honestly should sing every plot to every movie, because that part is pretty awesome. Sadly, it goes downhill from there.

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Best description of volleyball, too.

When we’re introduced to the Falcons, they’re all, for the most part, generic stereotypes. You’ve got the tough girl, the lesbian couple, the nerdy girl, the slutty girl, the leader, etc. Since this is ostensibly a horror comedy, this kind of set-up is ripe for subversions and humorous twists… which just never really happen. We have a number of potential plot points set-up early, like one girl’s boyfriend clearly cheating with all the other girls and one girl being jealous that another girl is being called up to the national level, but they don’t really play out as humorously as they should. Even the one that’s given a pretty decent twist ending just isn’t as funny as it should be. 

GWB - 3Bar
You can probably make a guess about who is who within this photo.

A lot of it is that the movie just doesn’t have great comic timing or execution. You can have the greatest joke ever, but without a decent delivery it’s just going to fall flat. That’s how much of this film feels: Flat. Is there a scene of girls using volleyballs against redneck cultists? Yes. Should that be hilarious? Absolutely. Is it? Meh. It doesn’t help that the movie doesn’t really do a great job on the “horror” front, aside from having absolutely great gore effects (the director did the make-up on Raw). The redneck cultist designs are almost satirically generic, something that, again, could have been made funny, but they never go anywhere with it. Part of the horror-comedy is that the comedy is supposed to lighten up the horror and the horror is supposed to be more shocking because of the juxtaposition. This movie didn’t do either element well enough.

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Seriously, some of the effects are pretty great.

The two notable bright spots, aside from the effects, are the ridiculous coach’s even more ridiculous character “arc,” which I admit made me laugh just because it’s so intentionally awkward, and Denis Lavant’s wordless leader of the redneck group. Lavant conveys so much natural menace through his performance that he always manages to add some level of tension to the scene. I also admit that a few of the deaths are fun, but… not as funny as they should be. The death of Hazuki (Anne-Solenne Hatte), in particular, should have had me rolling on the floor laughing, but instead it just made me chuckle a bit. 

Overall, I want someone to watch this movie, be inspired by some of the ideas in it, then make a better film. Also, I want more singing cowboys narrating non-Western movies.

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

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Netflix Review – I AM MOTHER: The Apocalypse is Mostly Lectures and Hilary Swank (SPOILER-FREE/ENDING EXPLAINED)

Netflix gives us an interesting look at one oft-overlooked method of surviving the apocalypse: Robo-mom.

SUMMARY

The Apocalypse happened and everybody died, pretty much. A robot named Mother (Rose Byrne’s voice and Luke Hawker’s body) activates in a secure bunker and is set to start repopulating the surface, growing a human embryo into a baby girl. Years later, Mother is raising a young Daughter (Clara Rugaard), who she teaches complex moral and philosophical lessons with a number of different viewpoints. Daughter is the only child raised by Mother, because Mother wanted to practice before trying to raise everyone else. Daughter keeps wondering about the outside world, and eventually hears a Woman (Hilary Swank) crying for help outside of the bunker’s airlock. Daughter lets Woman inside, only for Woman to reveal that the world may not quite be as Mother described it.

IAMMOTHER - 1Baby.png
It’s basically a Norman Rockwell painting.

END SUMMARY

So, this movie surprised me. It’s tough to make a film that works with only three characters and yet this one does. It does it mostly by having all of the characters take different roles throughout the film as their relationships change, saving us from needing more characters. Despite them being fairly archetypal characters, their interactions and the performances given manage to add an unexpected level of depth to the film. It’s honestly very impressive. Well, onward to the actual breakdown.

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This image caused a bunch of debates just by existing, I just know it.

Here are the positives of the film:

First, the designer of the Mother robot suit needs to win some form of award. It’s genuinely an impressive practical effect, showing a great amount of detailed wear-and-tear as well as love and affection. The movements done by Luke Hawker alternate between very human and affectionate and extremely alien and threatening, which really add to Rose Byrne’s great vocal performance. She sounds so naturally non-threatening that it adds a level of disbelief and discomfort when the character is now supposed to be menacing. 

IAMMOTHER - 3Mother.png
Set design is also amazing.

Clara Rugaard, who often has to carry a scene on her own or against a robot, manages to be completely believable and yet charismatic enough to maintain our attention. Since there’s only one more person in the movie, I should say that Hilary Swank is great, but she’s Hilary Swank and she’s definitely not bringing her Oscar-level effort. I mean, it’s still a solid performance, better than most, but it’s not her A-Game. 

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I mean, she’s just amazing.

The pacing of the film is great, because it unpacks the mystery of the world in a way that never feels rushed or slow. I do admit that the beats of the scenes are pretty standard, but they’re standard because they tend to work. The dialogue is solid, although it’s also pretty standard and sometimes a little expository. That said, a robot would likely have mostly expository ways of communicating, so… win? The third act is well done, managing to wrap everything up in a satisfying manner that adds to the rewatch.

IAMMOTHER - 5Swanky
Page 35, introduce new character/major plot point. Right on cue.

Here are the negatives:

None of the scenes really grab you on a visceral level. It’s not that the movie isn’t good or engrossing, it is, but there’s still a level of distance between the audience and the characters that’s more than you want. I think a lot of it is the sound and the cinematography. They’re both very standard, nothing to pull you in through unfamiliarity or experimentation. This is pretty much the difference between a “good” movie and a “great” movie. The fact that it’s so damned close to great only makes this more frustrating.

IAMMOTHER - 6Robots.jpg
Yeah, sadly, the build-up to stuff just isn’t as good as you’d expect.

Overall, I do recommend the film to anyone interested in the sci-fi genre. It’s definitely a good movie and deserves an audience. 

ENDING EXPLAINED *SPOILER ALERT*

The “twist” at the end isn’t really a twist, though the movie does try to hide it by saying that 13,000+ days have passed instead of just saying 38 years. If they’d just said 38 years, then you’d immediately realize that Daughter isn’t the baby we see at the beginning. In fact, the baby we see at the beginning is almost certainly Woman, who Mother released to the survivors after first raising her, then likely raised another child who became the charred remains that Daughter finds. Since this discovery is also part of Mother’s final plan, much as everything in the movie is, it is entirely possible that the second child was intentionally only designed to be used as a guinea pig and then killed. The survivors who raised Woman were almost certainly intentionally spared from the destruction of mankind for that purpose, and have now presumably been killed. The biggest reveal is not that Mother caused the apocalypse, but that Mother did it for humanity’s own good, then teaches Daughter philosophies that both support and oppose that justification. Rather than just try to brainwash Daughter through only exposing her to one way of thinking, Mother shows her all of the various schools of thought, giving her a choice of what to follow. She then lets her experience the result of having a society based around selfishness and greed, i.e. the devastation of Earth to the point that humanity would apparently have gone extinct had Mother not done what she did. It’s a much more powerful way of convincing someone: To have them come to the conclusion by teaching them everything and letting them work it out themselves. Sadly, the world doesn’t tend to support this method so much as claim to support it then directly contradict it and convince us to directly contradict it. 

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

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Netflix Review: Always Be My Maybe – Cute Movie, Amazing Cameo

Netflix makes a fairly generic, but fun, romantic comedy featuring a mostly Asian cast with refreshingly few stereotypes. 

SUMMARY

Vietnamese-American Sasha Tran (Miya Cech) and Korean-American Marcus Kim (Emerson Min) are neighbors in San Francisco. Due to Sasha’s parents being gone frequently for work, she often spends her dinners with Marcus’s family, even learning how to cook from Marcus’s mother, Judy (Susan Park). Years later, Sasha (Ashley Liao) and Marcus (Jackson Geach) are still close friends, but Judy dies in an accident. Sasha tries to comfort Marcus, which leads the two of them to have sex in a car. The ensuing awkwardness leads the two to fight and not speak to each other.

ABMM - 1Young
No one would suspect these two just banged… except everyone with eyes.

Sixteen years later, Sasha (Ali f*cking Wong) is a celebrity chef while Marcus (Randall Park) is living with his dad (James “The Shredder” Saito) and playing with his band. Sasha moves to San Francisco to open a new restaurant and runs into Randall when he and his father come to fix her apartment’s A/C. They reconnect as friends, with Sasha meeting Marcus’s flaky girlfriend Jenny (Vivian Bang). Sasha breaks up with her boyfriend Brandon (Daniel Dae Kim) and Marcus decides to tell her that he still has feelings for her, but she meets someone new the night before. She invites Jenny and Marcus to dinner with her new man, who is revealed to be none other than KEANU F*CKING REEVES. The evening quickly devolves as Reeves reveals himself to be strange and aggressive. He repeatedly demeans Marcus, until finally Marcus and Keanu start fighting. Jenny ends up staying the night with Keanu, and Sasha and Marcus start dating.

ABMM - 2Keanu.jpg
Whoa.

Marcus starts taking Sasha to all of the old, local restaurants that they went to as kids, trying to reconnect her to the city and her roots. She starts to fall in love with both Marcus and the local scene, realizing that her dislike of San Francisco was just a byproduct of her anger towards her absent parents. She reveals, however, that she’s still going back to New York to move on with her career and asks Marcus to come with her. He refuses and she leaves alone. Marcus realizes that, much as Sasha’s parents made her hate the idea of staying in San Francisco, Marcus’s mom’s death made him hate the idea of leaving. He moves out of his dad’s house, starts making his band successful, and tries to reconnect with Sasha, but gets no replies. Eventually, he discovers she’s been buying his band’s merchandise, leading him to ambush her on a red carpet and deliver a passionate speech promising to follow her wherever she goes. She forgives him and shows him her new restaurant, which is dedicated to Marcus’s mom.

ABMM - 3Car.png
No one but Ali Wong should wear that hat.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, this movie’s super generic in a lot of ways, but most rom-coms are basically just playing Mad Libs with names and jobs on the same script and we still love them. However, I do appreciate that this movie doesn’t have to portray any of its characters as idiots to try and up the comedy part of romantic comedy. I mean, yes, some of the scenes are weird and almost surreal, because it’s still a rom-com, but for the most part they’re not insane or played up for cheap laughs. 

ABMM - 4Shredder.jpg
The dad clearly supportive but also sad that his son does this.

The movie has three really big positives:

First, the performances by Ali Wong and Randall Park are just so entertaining. Ali Wong is someone who would entertain me by reading a phone book humorously, but that’s what makes it better that she is cast as the more successful and slightly more “normal” of the two. Meanwhile, Randall Park is constantly showing just the right amount of insecurity and self-loathing underneath his nice-guy persona to allow the audience to gain some sort of pleasure in his misery, mostly because it’s self-inflicted and therefore earned in a traditional comic sense. When they interact, they both give off the exact vibes that the movie leads us to expect: That they were each their first loves. It makes everything that happens between them, from the resentment to the disappointment to the forgiveness all feel justified. It might be because Wong and Park have been friends for so long that it works between them, or maybe they’re both so lovable it’s easier to make it feel natural. Either way, the performances are above-average for this kind of schlock.

ABMM - 5Leads.png
Fine, yes, I love them and root for them because awwww….

Second, this movie does get a slight benefit from casting two Asian comics for the lead in a rom-com. I know it shouldn’t matter, but on the other hand I can count on one hand the number of movies meant for general American audiences that are rom-coms with Asian leads. Because the movie plays up their different cultures as part of their backgrounds without going too heavy and requiring us to actually know anything about Korean-American or Vietnamese-American culture, it comes off as giving the characters something inherently more original than “guy who likes sports meets woman who doesn’t and hi-jinks ensue.” The movie also manages to avoid falling into any major stereotypes, likely because the two leads were also the ones who came up with the idea and worked on the script. 

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I got so hungry during this film.

Third, Keanu Reeves. Look, this movie’s good, but if you want to know the thing that I most remember about it, it’s the scenes with Keanu. He plays a douchey version of himself so well that Neil Patrick Harris probably needs to take notes. What’s amazing is that apparently he added a decent amount to it, including the amazing character element that he wears glasses without lenses just to make himself look smart. He’s so hateable, but also so naturally likeable at the same time, that his interactions with the main characters could go either way and feel justified. You want to root against him because he’s keeping Sasha and Marcus apart, but also… he’s Keanu Reeves. It’s just such a great element in the film that really does distinguish it.

ABMM - 7Keanu
WHOA.

As for the bad parts:

It’s still a generic rom-com. When they get together, we know they’re going to break up then get back together again with some big gesture because every rom-com since When Harry Met Sally has told us that’s what happens. Hell, Ali Wong and Randall Park even said this was their version of that film. So, yeah, all the notes are the same and, aside from Keanu Reeves, most of the movie is just following the same generic script as all of the others. Also, them never speaking again after some post-coital awkwardness is maybe the most tired narrative device ever.

Overall, if you like romantic comedies, this is a prime example that does merit watching. If you don’t like the genre, you won’t like this.

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

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

Netflix Review – Aggretsuko (Season 2): Life Is Bleak and Horrible, But Also Unique and Adorable

Aggretsuko returns for a second season, addressing dating, co-workers, and the generation gap in the new millennium.

SUMMARY (SPOILERS)

Retsuko (Kaolip (Japanese); Erica Mendez (English)) is still working in accounting after breaking up with her boyfriend Resasuke (Shingo Kato; Max Mittelman) at the end of last season. However, her Mother has decided that Retsuko is not moving forward with her dating life enough and starts signing her up for matchmaking services, much to Retsuko’s annoyance. Soon after, a new hire, Anai, starts in Retsuko’s department and is revealed to be a slacker who responds to any implication that he’s doing something wrong by recording conversations and making them formal complaints, terrifying everyone. When Retsuko takes driving lessons so that she and her friends Gori (Maki Tsuruta; G.K. Bowes) and Washimi (Komegumi Koiwasaki; Tara Platt) can take a trip, she meets slacker white donkey Tadano (Griffin Burns), who she likes but thinks is a failure. Tadano drops out of driving school, disappointing her further. She does eventually run into him again and he asks her out, which she accepts due to her underlying feelings for him. However, it’s revealed that Tadano is actually a Tech CEO Billionaire, which delights Retsuko, but she realizes that they might not quite see eye-to-eye on some things.

Aggretsuko2 - 1Mom.jpg
Her mom is so freaking adorable but also I don’t want to be on her bad side.

END SUMMARY

Holy hell, this show doesn’t shy away from hitting at the problems of people in their late 20s and early 30s. I mean, if you have never worked with a crazy a-hole co-worker who tries to get you in trouble for doing things that you would never have imagined would be a problem, then you should consider yourself extremely fortunate. If you’ve never had a great relationship with someone that just didn’t work out because you were after different things in the long run, then consider yourself fortunate. If your parents have never called to ask how you are going to find Mister/Miss Right and you don’t really want to explain to them that dating has changed since they were single 40 years ago and not everyone is looking to have a family and buy a house and fill it with 2.5 kids, consider yourself fortunate unless it’s because your parents have passed in which case I am sorry for your loss. In this season, we see Retsuko deal with all of this at the same time, and it’s sometimes almost hard to watch due to the accuracy, even though it’s cartoon animals.

Aggretsuko2 - 2Anai.png
Anai is so very, very awkward even when he isn’t being a douche.

Most horrifying of all is that none of these people are actually “Bad” people. Retsuko’s mom just wants her to be happy but doesn’t understand that happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to Retsuko as it does for her. Anai seems annoying and mean, but it’s really just that he’s scared and hasn’t had experience dealing with people. That doesn’t mean he’s not an asshole, but it does at least give you an idea that maybe assholes don’t have to stay assholes. Tadano loves Retsuko, but he believes that marriage and children are bastions of the past that no longer need to be the default, something that Retsuko just disagrees with. Their breakup is sad, but he’s completely understanding about it, just like she is. They just don’t have the same future in mind.

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That feeling when the guy you like turns out to also be rich. I can’t relate.

No matter what happens, Retsuko keeps going, because she does know that it’s good to at least find out what you want. A lot of the current people in Retsuko’s generation, like her, feel like they’re drifting, because unless you are lucky you are likely looking for a job to help pay off the debt you had to accrue to get the degree you had to have to get the job. Even then, the job probably doesn’t pay enough for you to dig yourself out of your hole in any reasonable amount of time, but you also see all of the people out there on the internet doing so well and, even though you know it’s a curated image that they aren’t really living, it still makes you feel inferior and like you’re not making use of life, but you also don’t want to be irresponsible and the world’s possibly actually going to end in our lifetime and ohgodimsadnow. Somehow this show has more accurately pointed out much of the modern existential crises that this generation faces than almost anything else, and it’s a f*cking Red Panda that sings Death Metal.

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Tadano mostly deals with the Death Metal revelation well. 

What’s particularly interesting is the gap between Retsuko, Puko, and Tadano. Tadano represents the people who are hopeful for the future, who want to bring about the grand social change that allows humanity to achieve self-actualization. He has a self-driving car, but hires a driver just so the driver can have a job. He is a developer of automation, but is doing so with the hope that it will bring about the end of late stage capitalism. He’s even developing the neural-net software that is intended to replace Retsuko, but wants to pay her to quit her job and do what she wants with her life. The problem is, his vision fails unless most of the other rich people also think it’s noble to pay people do do what they want. Even Retsuko ultimately turns him down because she prefers the independence that she gets from her miserable job from a life of freedom that’s dependent upon Tadano if he’s never going to be her husband. She’s not afraid of living within her current structure. Meanwhile, we’re shown that Retsuko’s flaky pink panther pal Puko (Allegra Clark) has opened the store she wanted to set-up during the last season and that it is slow and difficult due to her not being able to pay people for help and her employees ducking out on her. Despite this, she’s still happy because she’s doing what she wants, even if it’s hard.

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She learns what it’s like to deal with her.

Despite all of this bleakness towards life and corporate wage slavery, the show does manage to present some hopeful moments, mostly coming from Retsuko’s small improvements that remind us that some kinds of change are within our grasp if we want them. Yes, the world sucks and you’re likely to spend most of your time on the Earth doing something that’s unfulfilling and horrible, but hey, at least you can sing with your friends or maybe write a movie review blog. Also, Red Pandas still exist, so we should fight for a better future.

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

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

Netflix Review – Murder Mystery: No, Seriously, It’s Not That Bad (Spoiler-Free)

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston reunite to play a married couple caught up in a… well, you read the title.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) is a police sergeant who has aspirations of being a detective but performs poorly under test conditions. His wife, Audrey (Jennifer Aniston), is a hairdresser who loves murder mystery novels. He forgets to do anything really romantic for their 15th wedding anniversary, so he quickly books the trip to Europe that he promised for their honeymoon. On the flight over, Audrey meets Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), a billionaire who invites the couple onto the yacht of his uncle Malcolm Quince (Terence “Kneel Before” Stamp) for a party. The boat is filled with a menagerie of archetypal murder mystery characters from Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and, of course, someone gets murdered. Nick and Audrey quickly become the prime suspects and have to figure out who is killing off the cast before they become the next victims.

MurderMystery - 1Boat
Aniston just remembered that Friends royalties mean that she had to CHOOSE this film.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, most critics have pretty much been using Adam Sandler’s recent Netflix films as punching bags and, I’m gonna be honest, they’re pretty damned bad. The Ridiculous Six has like one joke in it and the rest of the film killed my soul. The Do-Over was an awkward buddy comedy that made me miss Chris Farley. Sandy Wexler at least had the feeling that Sandler was kind of invested in it, which apparently is because the main character was based on Sandler’s manager and friend Sandy Wernick, but it was boring as f*ck. The Week Of at least had some fun performances, but was so lazily written that I honestly felt like they stabled 3 old movie scripts together to make it. So, aside from Adam Sandler 100% Fresh, which is one of the funniest stand-up specials on Netflix and you should watch it, pretty much all of these films were either epically bad or just forgettable. This one almost actually works.

MurderMystery - 2Ridiculous6
You made me pissed at Terry Crews, you f*cking monsters.

Yes, it’s a cliche film set-up, but it’s intentionally cliched. The characters are all such exaggerated archetypes that it actually becomes kind of fun to watch how the two main characters, who are fairly normal, comment on the absurdity of their interactions. The murders are ridiculous, bordering on parodic, which, again, kind of works. The old-school Clue-esque trope of using different methods for each killing always adds a level of amusement to me. Sandler and Aniston do have some nice chemistry when they’re portraying a bickering couple that still care for each other and most of what they do in this film is bicker. There are some decent homages to other, better, films, and honestly some of the scenes are pretty clever, particularly when they just flat-out avert the expected movie tropes.

MurderMystery - 3JAccuse
The J’Accuse scene contains much J’Accusing, but some of it’s really fun.

But, then there are the problems. First, the subplot of Nick and Audrey being suspects in the murders drove me insane. The film tries to have the incompetent detective following the murders justify why he suspects them, but it really just never makes sense for him to pick them over a room full of extremely motivated people who ACTUALLY COULD HAVE DONE IT. They do it to isolate the characters and add more stakes, but it’s a comedy so that’s not necessary. Second, there are a lot of wasted moments on scenes that don’t add to the plot and also just aren’t that funny and a few subplots that are just for the sake of following some sort of screenwriting rules (the couple breaks up briefly and then gets back together in the next scene, making it moot). Third, it follows Adam Sandler’s tendency lately to play characters that are somehow supercompetent and also failures, like in Pixels, where he plays a TV repairman who manages to talk down to the Joint Chiefs because he’s good at video games. Did I actually see Pixels? No, but people talked about that scene and it’s an appropriate example. I think this stems from him playing Happy Gilmore and Bobby “the Waterboy” Boucher and deciding those were the only way to play heroic characters.

MurderMystery - 4QBert
I also know that Josh Gad has sex with QBert in it.

Overall, I will say this movie isn’t terrible, but I would watch a lot of things before touching it if I didn’t write this blog. Still, it has some fun moments. I will say, if you want a much better version of this same idea, watch The Private Eyes with Tim Conway and Don Knotts or Murder By Death starring Peter Sellers and Maggie Smith and Truman Capote and Peter Falk and Alec Guiness and holy hell that movie had a lot of great actors in it. Yeah, watch those instead.

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

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

Netflix Review – Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile: That Guy You Like Might Be A Monster

Legendary Documentary Filmmaker Joe Berlinger makes his second attempt at narrative filmmaking with this biopic about Ted Bundy.

SUMMARY (Spoilers if you don’t know who Ted Bundy is)

Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) meets Elizabeth “Liz” Kendall (Lily Collins), a single mom, in 1969. The two quickly start dating. In 1974, a number of abductions of women lead a survivor to identify a man with a resemblance to Ted who drives a similar car. Ted is arrested in 1975 and, after attempting to defend himself along with his attorney John O’Connell (Jeffrey Donovan), is convicted and sentenced to Prison. A few weeks later, Ted is charged with a murder in Colorado. During the trial in Aspen, Ted escapes by jumping out of the courthouse window, but is soon recaptured. Liz breaks up with him. He then escapes again and travels to Florida where he allegedly (Spoiler alert: HE F*CKING DID IT) murders two women.

EWSEAV - 1Party
Pictured: A happy family next to Ted Bundy with a knife.

Ted is arrested. He tries to contact Liz, but she refuses to talk to him. He ends up discovering that many other women are now fans of his, believing he is fascinating and innocent. One, an old friend of Ted’s named Carole Ann (Kaya Scodelario), moves to Florida to be with him during his trial. They get closer during the trial and eventually Ted impregnates her during a conjugal visit and marries her in the courtroom during the trial.

EWSEAV - 2Carole
Rebounding while in jail usually isn’t feasible. 

Ted chooses to represent himself at his Florida murder trial. He refuses to take a plea bargain that would avoid the death penalty and instead tries to prove that the prosecution was biased against him and that the evidence, including the then-recent forensic science of dental casting, is insufficient to connect him. He proclaims his innocence repeatedly, but is ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death. Years later, Liz goes to visit Ted and informs him that she’s the one who originally gave his name to the police during the first investigation. She also questions him about a headless corpse, asking him where the head is. Ted, unwilling to be recorded admitting to the offense, writes “HACKSAW” on the glass, confirming to her that he is, indeed, guilty.

END SUMMARY

Joe Berlinger is a solid documentary film director. His true-crime documentaries basically set the style of modern documentary shows like Making a Murderer, except that Berlinger’s aren’t completely full of crap. His Paradise Lost films followed the trials of the West Memphis Three, three teenagers who were accused of sacrificing other children to Satan. Ultimately, after 18 years in prison, the three won an appeal regarding newly produced DNA evidence and were allowed to enter into a new Alford Plea (basically saying “I accept that the State could potentially convict me and therefore I can’t sue them, but I maintain my innocence”) in exchange for a release. The main reason this case kept getting evaluated was Berlinger’s documentaries. If you aren’t a fan of true crime, he also made Some Kind of Monster, an amazing film about Metallica during the stressful period after “St. Anger” when Jason Newsted quit the band and James Hetfield went into rehab.

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He made Lars Ulrich almost look sympathetic. An accomplishment, to be sure.

However, Joe Berlinger has also tried to be a narrative director once in the past, almost 20 years ago. The movie? Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Now, if you’ve ever heard anything about this movie, you probably know that it’s not just bad, it’s a movie so bad that nudity couldn’t save it. Berlinger has pretty openly said that the movie was largely re-shot after he left and that his original idea was supposed to be a film about the concept of mass hysteria arising around the fact that people somehow thought that Blair Witch Project was real. Whether that’s true or not, the only version we got is so bad that it can’t even be enjoyed ironically and failed so hard that Berlinger kept out of narrative filmmaking for 20 years.

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Jeffrey Donovan will pay you to forget this movie exists.

This one is much better than that, but… it’s still not good.

Now, it’s not that this movie is terrible. In fact, it’s pretty close to being a good movie, but there are a few key things which it does wrong, and I think they actually arise out of Berlinger being a documentarian.

First, the viewpoint of the movie shifts at several points and it kind of kills some of the narrative. This movie is supposed to be from Liz’s perspective. She’s supposed to be the one dealing with the fact that her boyfriend is actually a monster or, worse, that he’s innocent and that she is the reason the entire world hates him because she gave the police his name. That’s actually a pretty great narrative idea and a lot of the movie supports it. However, so much of the movie is just focused on what is happening and what Ted is doing, rather than how Liz is reacting to it or feeling about it, that when the viewpoint DOES switch back to her, it doesn’t have the emotional weight that it deserves. I think this actually happens because Berlinger is used to trying to get emotional weight out of displaying circumstances through an objective lens or through directly addressing the subjects, rather than through narrative devices. Either way, it kills parts of the movie to go back and forth from an emotional to emotionless viewpoint.

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She did write the book this is based on.

Second, there are some parts of the movie that contradict the narrative and the contradiction is not handled well. See, throughout the movie, there are some hints that perhaps law enforcement or the prosecution are not acting in good faith. Police show an eyewitness a photo of Ted as a suspect, THEN have her pick him out of a line-up, something that has been the cause of a lot of misidentifications in the past. Now, given the veracity of the rest of the movie as well as what I’ve read about the Bundy trials, I do believe this happened, and it does feed into the narrative idea above that might make Liz think Ted’s being set up. Later, we see a defense attorney played by Jeffrey Donovan fairly well destroy the identification as being forced by the police, in a completely legit manner that is possibly verbatim to the actual case. We later see Ted point out that the prosecutor at his murder trial, Larry Simpson (Jim Parsons), is making sure Ted’s trial is a public spectacle (although less than Ted is). As someone whose father prosecuted a serial killer, who has been a prosecutor, and who has known lawyers in all sorts of fields, I can say that it really wasn’t anything more than would normally happen in a case that had this kind of national attention, but the movie does give it as a possible motivation for prosecutors to bring charges aggressively.

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Yeah, he loved the attention, if he was capable of that kind of emotion.

Now, again, much of the stuff that happened in this movie that makes law enforcement look bad was standard practice in the 70s (which is part of a bigger conversation), but it definitely does give the film a little bit of a feel of a story of a wrongly convicted man. The problem is that this film is about TED F*CKING BUNDY. He is guilty as hell. The movie even ends with him admitting he’s guilty. So several parts of the movie are completely contradictory to the actual circumstances. Berlinger said that part of the point of the movie was that Bundy only got away with it for so long because he was an attractive white guy, but that doesn’t really bear out in the narrative, which makes it feel more like he got away with it just because, to quote Spaceballs, “good is dumb.” Again, this isn’t particularly inaccurate to reality, but it still does give a lot of hints that Bundy didn’t do it, which is undercut by the ending pointing out that he did.

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Including showing us how.

Also, not-so-fun aside, if Bundy hadn’t escaped a second time from his first murder trial, he probably would have been acquitted. His attorney won so many of the pre-trial motions due to the new nature of much of the DNA and hair follicle evidence that the judge might even have acquitted before giving it to the jury. If he’d been acquitted like that, bringing the next murder charges from Montana and Wyoming would have been harder. Instead, he escaped and killed more people anyway, because the world is horrible.

There are a few things I think the movie does well, to be sure. The actual coverage of Bundy’s trials and life feel real because, for the most part, they’re just dramatizations of the actual events, often verbatim. The film also does a good job of conveying what was most horrifying about Bundy: He didn’t look like a monster. He didn’t just seem normal, he seemed charming and gregarious. He was good looking, he was well-spoken, and he knew how to carry himself. People saw him on television and thought he couldn’t be guilty based only on the fact that he was too attractive. He’s truly one of the worst kind of predators, because he looks nothing like what we think predators look like. I enjoyed Zac Efron’s performance as well as the fact that the movie didn’t indulge in the temptation to show all of the gore it could have.

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Overall, I can’t say this is a must-see movie. While it is interesting if you are a big fan of true-crime, it just doesn’t quite have the thematic or narrative coherence that it needs.

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

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Netflix Review – Tuca and Bertie: Energetic, Stylistic, and Fun

Lisa Hanawalt, the production designer from BoJack Horseman, gives us a show about two women dealing with their lives in a strange, strange world.

SUMMARY

Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) is an irresponsible and formerly alcoholic toucan. Bertie (Ali Wong), a robin, is her neurotic best friend. At the start of the show, Tuca has just moved out so that Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun) can move in with Bertie, but she still lives in the building. Tuca is unemployed while Bertie works for Conde Nest magazine publishing. The general theme of any episode is “something happens, hilarity ensues or doesn’t.”

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Sometimes they distribute flyers for a spontaneous workplace seminar.

END SUMMARY

So, everyone who reads this is aware that I think BoJack Horseman is one of, if not the, best shows currently on television. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s subversive, and it’s stylistically unique. This show is also all of those things, just in very different ways. Do I think it’s as good? No, but I can see some people thinking it’s much better. It really just comes down to taste. Part of it is that I think women will relate to this show more than men.

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Though it is not solely made by women, the majority of the crew is female.

The art style of the show is very frenetic and extremely variable. The coloring, movement, and even character designs can alter from scene to scene depending on what’s happening. The movements can be extremely quick, as can the cuts, even compared to other animated shows. This is largely used because the two main characters are often energetic, bordering on manic, although in very different ways. For the most part, though, you never lose track of the plotlines even when the quick cuts and style changes are happening.

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They also sometimes insert random things like the hand of the grocery store.

The gags in the show run basically the full gamut of humor. There are sight gags, often based on the anthropomorphic characters, as well as brick jokes, puns, gross-out humor, dirty jokes, and slice-of-life observations. Part of what makes this work is that the world that the show takes place in is so off-kilter and wacky that literally anything feels like it could happen. While BoJack (yes, the comparisons are going to happen, just deal with it) has anthropomorphic animals, this show has anthropomorphic everything. There are plant people, potato people, bird people, lizard people, car people, building people, body part people, and honestly I think at one point I saw an anthropomorphic representation of the concept of loneliness but that might just have been my cold medicine. Anything can be alive if it can be used for a gag.

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For example here’s a topless plant lady who uses turtles for decoration. Because why not.

A few other things set the show apart. For example, things that would normally just be one-off gags that animation uses that would be undone in the next shot, like a character’s boob talking or a mirror image commenting on their appearance, are not only not undone but are sometimes plot elements. It’s like watching Family Guy using the cutaway gags to actually accomplish something aside from filler. It’s not quite the same as BoJack Horseman’s “canon ensues,” where things that would be reset in a sitcom are instead incorporated into later episodes (most famously “Hollywoo”), but it’s similar. The show also is more than willing to feature nudity and sexuality, exemplified by the building with bare breasts that is part of the opening sequence.

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And sometimes they’re just dancing around corn chips.

The other thing that the show does well are the dramatic moments. While, like I said, most of the series is fast-paced and off-kilter, when there are actual serious things to address, such as sexual harassment, the show does treat them with the gravitas that they deserve, even if they quickly follow it up with a joke. The show’s focus is often on issues facing women as well as people in their thirties and people with anxiety issues, many of which are not really “resolved” within the episode, which is somewhat more realistic than other ways of handling it.

The voice talent is all superb, particularly the leads and recurring guests Richard E. Grant and Reggie Watts.

Overall, I liked the show. I recommend giving it a try. It takes a bit to really give you an idea of how it works, and it’s not going to work for everyone, but I look forward to more 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 TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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