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.

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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.

Grouch’s Netflix Review – The Silence: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love A Quiet Place

Netflix released this movie and, appropriately, seemed to mostly keep quiet about it, because it is like getting stung by tiny, irritating things.

SUMMARY

Some scientists find a bunch of small winged creatures, referred to as “vesps” (Latin for Wasps) because the writers quit thinking after the first Google result for “Small flying things.” The creatures are attracted to sound, ravenous, and proportionally pretty strong.

TheSilence - 1Vesp
Editors note: In Florida, the mosquitoes remain a bigger threat. 

Ally (Kiernan Shipka) is a late-in-life deaf girl (having lost her hearing in a car accident) who never acts like she’s deaf. At all. Because of that, it will be brought up repeatedly to remind the audience that, yes, this character cannot hear. She lives with her parents, Hugh and Kelly (Stanley “Yes, I agreed to this” Tucci and Miranda “Whoa, I agreed to this?” Otto), her grandmother (Kate Trotter), her brother Jude (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), and a dog who, because story demands it, barks at everything.

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Patient Zero and then this, eh Stanley? YOU HAVE 3 EMMYS.

They are all in the city as the Vesps start to go through the US, killing anything that makes noise. The government tells everyone to stay indoors and quiet, but Ally says they should head for the countryside, which is quieter. Glenn (John Corbett), Hugh’s best friend who is randomly there, joins them. However, shortly after finding a massive traffic jam composed of all the other people who got the same idea, Glenn goes off-roading and crashes, attracting vesps. Glenn sacrifices himself to save the family who is being attacked because the dog won’t stop barking. They sacrifice the dog and make it to a house in the countryside. The owner conveniently dies because they didn’t hear the news. The family sneaks in through a storm drain, but Kelly gets bitten by vesps. Hugh kills them by turning on a woodchipper and leading them to fly into it, proving conclusively how dumb this movie is.

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41. This kills 41 of them as far as I can tell. WHY AREN’T YOU JUST RUNNING IT ALL THE TIME?

Ally contacts her new boyfriend, Rob (Dempsey Bryk), a guy who knows ASL, who reveals that his parents are dead. He also reveals that cults have started to spring up that involve cutting their own tongues out. I remind you that this is only a few days into the attacks. Kelly’s leg gets infected, so they have to rip-off The Day After Tomorrow and go on an antibiotic run. It’s revealed that Vesps lay eggs in corpses, something that sure seems inconvenient for a species that apparently didn’t have contact with anything else for at least hundreds of years. It’s also revealed that they’re weak to cold.

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Thank God you told me. I was thinking “Jubilant.”

A reverend (Billy MacLellan) and his cult who Ally had refused to join earlier show up at the house, interested in impregnating Ally, because bad guy is bad. Hugh shows them a gun, something that, when fired, would probably result in everyone’s death by Vesps, which leads the cult to leave. Rob reveals there’s a “refuge” to the North. The cult sends over a little girl strapped with phones in what is one of the only legitimately clever moments in the film, activating them to summon the Vesps. The cultists run in and abduct Ally, but Lynn kills several of them by tackling them and shouting to attract the Vesps, sacrificing herself, after which the family manages to kill almost all of the other cultists. They make their way north to the refuge where Ally finds Rob and they go Vesp hunting with bows and arrows, where Ally wonders if humans will get used to silence before the Vesps get used to cold.

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This reproduction makes no sense. At all. 

END SUMMARY

A Quiet Place is a great movie. It’s one of the few films where sound really does have a massive effect both on the story and the audience. The sense of terror that occurs throughout the movie is basically its own tinnitus ringing. At the same time, we are watching a family go through an internal upheaval from the loss of a child that they are dealing with just as much as the external upheaval. It gives us a way to connect emotionally with the characters that makes everything they’re going through feel just real enough to make us want to suspend disbelief to the rest of the story, and some disbelief definitely has to be suspended. The monsters in A Quiet Place are terrifying not only because they’re fast, but because they are unstoppable. Despite that, at the end of the film, in order to give the characters an arc and some hope, they are revealed to have a weakness. Realistically, this opens up a lot of holes in the idea that they destroyed humanity’s resistance so easily, because that means that no one thought to use sound against the monsters who can only use sound to navigate. I mean, we have ultrasonic weapons already, so apparently every military and police force on the Earth is pretty dumb in that world. But, the movie is so good that you don’t think about stuff like that until you’ve left the theater and ruminated. A lot of movies have similar issues in retrospect, but if you aren’t noticing the flaws until you’re at home, the film’s experience was still effective, so that’s still a quality film.

This film drives home its flaws at almost every chance.

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The Narration is one of the biggest flaws, especially over this scene.

First, Kiernan Shipka. I know that the Joker loves her in the new Sabrina series (MJH forever!) and I loved her in Mad Men, but dear God do I never, ever, ever, at any f*cking point believe she’s a deaf person. At several points she seems to react to things that are happening behind her. I understand she’s not totally deaf, but even when stuff doesn’t seem loud enough to get to her, she still jumps and turns, unless the plot demands she doesn’t. Also, if she’s reacting to people reacting to the other thing, then she should be a half-second behind everyone else. Second, the monsters in this movie are crap. They’re tiny flying dinosaurs, something that SHOULD be cool, but there are so many massive flaws with them that the movie points out. Yes, there are a lot of them and they breed somewhat quickly, but they’re vulnerable to basically everything and they can’t get through most structures. You can kill them with a bow and arrow or block them with a suit of armor, let alone a tank, and you can force them to blindly fly into anything loud. If you just threw a ton of firecrackers onto a bonfire, they’d burn themselves to death trying to eat the fireworks. I can understand why it might take a few days to get things under control, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s really an “apocalypse” level threat.

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Forty. One. In like 15 seconds. 

Third, the cult subplot is just so damned nonsensical. We find out that these cults are popping up everywhere only a few days, maybe a few weeks, after the vesps appear. To give you an idea of where society is at that point, we still have the internet. It gets even worse when you consider that these people just cut their tongues out, but they still make noise. I mean, cool, you stopped yourself from being articulate, but the monsters still want to eat you. Hell, the Reverend growls at people.

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It’s SO HARD to find him threatening. Or even interesting.

This movie might have been in production before A Quiet Place came out, so maybe they didn’t start out with the goal of making a mediocre knock-off, but that’s damn well what happened. It’s not compelling enough to distract me from the logical flaws, and it’s not visually or aurally interesting. I mean, Stanley Tucci couldn’t make me like this film. What else is there to say?

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Also, who SPRAY PAINTS their message of nihilism about a sound-based plague?

JOKER’S REBUTTAL

I didn’t really care for the movie either, but a few points. One, Stanley Tucci is always amazing. Two, Kiernan Shipka actually learned ASL to do the movie and that’s dedication. Three, adding an element of societal collapse driving people crazy does at least flesh out the world a little bit.

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: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Season 2 (Spoiler-Free)

Sabrina returns in a new season with a few changes to the formula that worked well.

SUMMARY

Following the events of the Midwinter Special, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) takes a break from her mortal side and enrolls more seriously in the Academy of the Unseen Arts, mostly to avoid her awkward break-up with Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). However, it quickly becomes obvious that a lot of the policies of the Academy will be completely against her relatively progressive moral code, bringing her into conflict with the more archaic policies of the Dean, Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle). A lot of stuff happens after that, but spoilers and such.

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He’s a prick. Shocking, right?

END SUMMARY

While the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina clearly demonstrated that Sabrina and her mortal friends were very presenting a progressive agenda, it was usually secondary to the plot of the episodes. In this season, it usually isn’t. Several of the episodes are Sabrina finding out about some absurd rule that the Academy has and fighting to change it, while Roz (Jaz Sinclair), Harvey (Ross Lynch), and Susie/Theo (Lachlan Watson) do the same thing to a rule or policy in the Greendale School in the B-Plot.

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Fools, these mortals ain’t.

While most of the time the show did a solid job of trying to make some points about the nature of feminism and equality, I admit that the show did sometimes feel like they were presenting straw-men to represent their regressive opponents. I mean, it isn’t exactly subtle when your main regressive figure is Father Blackwood, whose daughter was literally kept from him on the basis that everyone believed he’d kill her to make sure his first legitimate child was a boy. Any time he’s the adversary, he’s taking a position that is openly “women are lesser.” While it does make for some interesting plotlines, it kind of hurts the narrative that it’s hard to believe that he’s supported in saying this in Witch society, where we’ve seen many witches who flat-out dwarf warlocks in power. Or maybe that’s the point and I would get that if I were a woman.

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Much like Harvey, I should check my privilege.

Similarly, in a plotline involving Susie/Theo (he identifies as a boy as of this season, although the show originally said he was non-binary) trying out for the basketball team, the coach is an exceptional dick, as are most of the other players, to the point of being unbelievable. It even kind of undercuts the message when the coach himself points out that Theo wouldn’t be able to get on the team if he just gave him a regular tryout, due to Theo not being tall, athletic, coordinated, or particularly good at basketball, eventually getting on only due to Sabrina magically enhancing him. I will say, however, that there is a scene in the locker room where Theo is being ogled by the other players that came off as simultaneously horrifying and also realistic in how it portrayed the mistreatment of transgender people.

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Jesus, guys, what the f*ck is wrong with you?

In the first season review I said that the version of Satanism presented in the show is more akin to a perverted version of Southern Baptism than actual Satanism, and that has carried through to this season, only with the added element of being set more in a church school. They even address some of the issues with revisionist doctrines contained in religious education systems by having Father Blackwood propose his own “revised” version of Satanism… something he hilariously doesn’t get approved by Satan. It turns out that even the Great Adversary of God doesn’t want to support some misogynist prick.

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The goat man looks down on you. That’s a bad sign, man.

The acting and writing in the show has always been pretty good in my opinion, but I think there were three major improvements over the last season. First, the chemistry and interplay between Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) got much better. I thought they really started to seem like sisters. Second, they added Adam (Alexis Denisof) as the fiance of the woman who is now possessed by Lilith (Michelle Gomez), and that opens the character up a bit, rather than making her just an antagonist. Third, the humor got a lot sharper, particularly coming up with good lines. Heck, Satan has a line to Sabrina that made me laugh for like a solid five minutes.

Overall, I thought this was a marked improvement over the last season.

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 – Love, Death, and Robots: A Heavy Metal Reboot without the Rights

Netflix decided to give Tim Miller (Deadpool) and David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Game, Gone Girl) a shot at the reboot of Heavy Metal that they’d been pitching for years, only without the name or the soundtrack.

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Yep, this aged perfectly.

SUMMARY

It’s an anthology. It’s 18 different stories done by different teams that have basically no common theme. Sure, the title makes it seem like everything is Sci-Fi, but they’re not. Most are, to be sure, but not all.

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Art styles vary immensely and awesomely.

Here’s a sentence about each of them, in the order that they originally posted them, though Netflix is playing with the order:

Sonnie’s Edge: A woman psychically commands a bio-engineered monster in future gladiatorial matches.

Three Robots: Three different AIs explore the remains of Earth in a parody of most people taking a trip to a foreign country.

The Witness: A woman witnesses a murder and is pursued by the killer all through the city.

Suits: Farmers in Mech-Suits defend their crops against futuristic coyote-like aliens.

Sucker of Souls: Vampires vs. Cats does not favor the Vampire.

When the Yogurt Took Over: Yogurt is smarter than people, but you probably knew that already.

Beyond the Aquila Rift: Lost space crew ends up finding what they hope are familiar faces.

Good Hunting: Probably the one with the biggest metaphor in the entire series… and also a steampunk transformer.

The Dump: A guy who runs a dump finds out there are more than just rats living there.

Shape-Shifters: The US has werewolves fight the Taliban and it’s pretty awesome.

Helping Hand: Someone crossbred Gravity and 127 Hours.

Fish Night: Two stranded salesmen find a mystical doorway to a time before people.

Lucky 13: A pilot tells stories about her connection with an “unlucky” ship.

Zima Blue: A journalist finds out the truth behind the last great work of the universe’s greatest artist.

Blindspot: Cyperpunks try to rob a convoy.

Ice Age: The Simpsons episode “The Genesis Tub” (itself a ripoff of The Twilight Zone’s “The Little People”) gets ripped-off in a fun short with a solid ending.

Alternate Histories: We watch Hitler get killed a lot in fun ways, including being beaten to death by angry Jewish people.

Secret War: The Red Army fights a demon invasion.

END SUMMARY

Since this was originally supposed to be a new version of Heavy Metal, I think it should go without saying that this is very Not Safe For Work. Now, sometimes it is actually done quite well, with nudity that is artistic or swearing that feels natural or in-character. Sometimes, it’s just boobs for the sake of boobs… but not in the way that Heavy Metal did them. See, Heavy Metal was always about hyperbolic exaggeration and exploitation, going so over-the-top that it bordered on self-parody. It’s that full-on almost comedy feel that allowed you to avoid any form of introspection about exactly why you thought a movie featuring mostly half-naked and incredibly busty women committing acts of ultra-violence was more fun than, say, . However, some of these shorts are actually very thought-provoking, which, unfortunately, means that sometimes you actually do notice when the nudity is just there for titillation.

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… This is like 2 minutes of nothing plot-essential.

I’d say that, and this is a rarity for an anthology, I don’t think there’s actually a “bad” short in here. Some are better than others, to be sure, but there’s not one where I point to it and say “nothing in this was good.” The animation styles range quite a bit, going from basically photorealistic CGI to moving pulp comics, but all of them are very impressive. Given that all of them are shorts, it’s difficult to really get involved with the characters as much as you would in a traditional movie, but very few of these are actually character-driven. Most of them are just about the action or the scenario playing out, often with a solid twist at the end. Some are deep and require an exploration of the use of symbolism or allusion, while some of them are just people blowing stuff up or robots making funny jokes.

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Seriously, all of the animation is amazing. 

I’m going to go ahead and address the elephant in the review that I keep seeing on people’s social media comments about the series: Yeah, several of these are very exploitative towards women and, as I said earlier, not in the original “oh, this is so ridiculous it’s basically harmless” way. Good Hunting, for example, includes scenes of things being done to a woman which are deeply disturbing on many, many levels. Now, yes, they’re supposed to be deeply disturbing because the person doing them is a monster (part of the theme of the short), but the fact is that it’s still graphically evoking the theme of violence against women. It’s definitely something that was bound to cause controversy, particularly when you consider it was an almost all-male production crew. If you’re not into exploitation, the following shorts are probably still fine for you: Zima Blue, Three Robots, Alternate Histories (there’s sex, but it kills Hitler and is super abstract, so…), Suits, Sucker of Souls, When the Yogurt Took Over, Helping Hand, Fish Night, Lucky 13, Ice Age, Blindspot.

The best short in the show, in my opinion, is Zima Blue. I was shocked to see that TV Guide’s review called it “a big old bucket of bolts.” The art in it is magnificent, but it’s actually what you can understand about the story on a second watching, having learned the ending, that really sets it apart. It’s about the nature of being an artist, about creating, and about trying to make others see that which you hold within you that is so basic and primal that you can’t even bring into words. What the artist, Zima, figures out, is something so complicated that it’s moved all the way back to simple and it’s that particular moment of clarity that the ending captures beautifully.

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So beautiful.

Overall, I will say that I like that Netflix is trying new things, particularly taking advantage of its lack of a rating system.

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 2): A Little Slow, But Picking Up (Spoiler-Free)

Some of the team from Avatar: The Last Airbender continue to remind us that they are capable of amazing amounts of complexity and emotion from animated characters.

SUMMARY

Azymondias or “Zym” the young dragon prince has been born at the end of the last season… and he is freakin’ adorable. Seriously, look at this little guy.

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Between this and Toothless, animated dragons are getting adorable.

But, back to the plot.

Rayla, Callum, and Ezran (Paula Burrows, Jack DeSena, Sasha Rojen) are resting at the home of Lujanne, the illusionist elf of the moon (Ellie King). Callum, having sacrificed his primal stone to save Zym’s life, is depressed that he can no longer do magic, as humans cannot connect to any of the elements. While they rest, Claudia and Soren (Racquel Belmonte and Jesse Inocalla) catch up to them. Claudia shares some romantic moments with Callum and tries to convince him of the merits of her form of magic, Dark Magic, but he refuses to learn it. Ultimately, Claudia and Soren reveal that they’re still trying to take the three back under the orders of their father, Viren (Jason Simpson). The trio manage to elude the pair and continue on their quest towards the land of the Dragon Queen.

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Amaya continues to be amazing.

END SUMMARY

This season was pretty solid. With all of the basic introductions out of the way, you’d expect the show to pick up a little, but instead the first few episodes are about expanding all of our characters’ connections. While we’ve gotten some emotional moments between all three of our leads, we get to see how much they’ve grown over the last season and how that’s affecting how they feel about each other. This grows further when we see Claudia and Soren, who haven’t really interacted with the characters since the beginning, try to deal with the fact that their targets are also people they care about, which brings me to one of the best points in the show.

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Perhaps more than just care about.

So far, this show has managed to avoid falling into any cliches about good and evil. Claudia is a witch who literally sucks the life out of small things in order to do magic, but she doesn’t view it as being inherently evil, merely as a tool no different than a sword, which can be used for right or wrong. Soren is an extremely friendly soldier, who also is under orders from his father to kill his friends if he needs to. Viren, who is clearly the biggest villain in the series so far, is trying to do what he believes is right to save the kingdom, because in the past the only way for the humans to survive was to use forbidden magics. He just also is completely blind to how well he can actually administrate a kingdom or how succession works or how much people just don’t like him. Still, it’s impressive that all of the villains are portrayed less as blatantly evil, and more as people with different visions of how to do the right thing.

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Viren literally uses the heart of a rare, probably sentient monster… to save thousands.

I think that Callum’s journey over this season is a particularly well-crafted narrative. Over the last season he was trying to learn how to be a magic user, something that is rare within the world of the series, but now that he’s lost it he’s having to question what his role is now. It’s not that he misses the power as much as missing having a thing that he really felt was his chosen path. He’s spent his entire life failing at almost everything, only to find one thing where working on improving at it felt right. It’s such a relatable thing that I really love how they cover it.

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Also, there’s a blind pirate. I love him.

Overall, I thought that this was an interesting season, because it’s less of an advancement of the plot but more an exploration of the characters and the world. I think it was a step-up from the previous season and I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

Netflix Review/Reader Request – Await Further Instructions: An Anti-Vaxxer Horror Film?, Or The Monsters are Dumb at Maple Street (Spoiler-Free and Ending Explained)

I get my first reader request to try and interpret a movie, the British film Await Further Instructions. I regret accepting this request.

SUMMARY

It’s Christmas time. A time for family. Even the family that you don’t really get along with. The last one is the circumstances that our protagonist Nick (Sam Gittins) finds himself in, when he returns home after a long time away, bringing his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) to meet the Milgram Family. They immediately find themselves in conflict with Nick’s racist grandfather (David Bradley), his pregnant and proudly-ignorant sister Kate (Holly Weston), her meathead husband Scott (Kris Sadler), and his authoritarian father Tony (Grant Masters). His mother Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) is just sort of weak and obliging, but everyone seems to manage to get along, though it’s strained. The next morning, Nick and Annji decide to leave early to avoid more conflict, but find that the house is now surrounded by a mysterious black substance.

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I liked the Black substance being somewhat bio-mechanical looking, like the Xenomorph.

All cell phones are down, the internet is down, and the only contact with the outside world is coming through the television, which is displaying emergency messages, telling the family to “Await Further Instructions.” At first they attempt to just continue life as normal as possible, but soon the messages tell them to get rid of their food, to rub their bodies with bleach, then to inject themselves with “vaccines” that come through the chimney and are contained within dirty needles. At every step, the cycle basically goes “Nick and Annji point out that this is a terrible idea, then Tony overrules them.”

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This looks professional, right?

Throughout the movie, the people are compelled to do more and more extreme acts by the television, until the truth of the situation is revealed.

END SUMMARY

This movie is an example of “good idea, bad execution.” The premise of people under stress turning on each other is fairly old, including the classic The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” but tying it in with technology and featuring a family representative of the current societal cultural divides does distinguish it. There are, however, three big problems with this movie. First, the characters are too over the top. Tony, Kate, and Scott are all just too irrational, too quickly. Tony is not just immediately ready to believe whatever the TV says, but to use violence to enforce it. When it’s time to pick someone to be isolated, they don’t even consider that Scott, the guy who literally just shoved his hand into a mystery hole, might be the one who is infected. Meanwhile, Nick and Annji, the supposed voices of reason, just keep going along with stuff after they get shouted down. Nobody does much to figure out what’s going on for the first hour of the film, despite that being most people’s first reaction. It just doesn’t work well. Second, the dialogue is clunky as hell. Almost every line is awkward and uninspiring and could basically be called “cliche roulette.” Last, *Minor Spoiler* the last twenty minutes of the movie is such a violent change that it kind of feels like it was intended to be a different movie. *End Spoiler*

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Scott’s too dumb to recognize that the gash is clearly alive. Nobody’s that dumb.

So, the actual request I got was asking if this was an “anti-vaxxer” horror film. It’s pretty obvious why the question comes up, since the people in the movie all inject themselves with vaccines which *Minor Spoiler* doesn’t end well *End Spoiler.* I don’t deny that you can interpret that scene as being against trusting vaccines given to you by authority figures, but I think I can explain it as just being an incidental part of a bigger message.

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Tony, manning up by injecting himself with a dirty needle.

The film’s about blindly obeying authority, and that’s really any kind of authority. The family that is featured, the Milgrams, are even named after the famous Milgram Experiment, an experiment which confirmed that, if people are told by an authority figure to hurt or even kill someone, about 30% of people (or potentially up to 60%) will eventually do so. Admittedly, the experiment was aimed at being about authority, but subsequent experiments suggest it’s less about obeying and more about disclaiming responsibility. Still, the movie is a clear cautionary tale about the perils of not questioning orders.

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Law and Order: SVU actually did it better. 

“But Joker,” I hear my reader say, “isn’t the basis for rejecting vaccines essentially rejecting the authorities telling you that they’re helpful in favor of asserting your own belief (comment below if you actually said it, because that’d be awesome)?” Well, yes, but the difference is that vaccines are supported by scientific authority, whereas policy or command decisions are derived from, eventually, martial authority. The beauty of scientific authority is that any human being could, through study and time, go through the entire history of scientific discovery and eventually understand why and how vaccines work. Science is not an opinion, it’s a system by which we remove opinions until the truth remains. Yes, sometimes prevailing theories wrong, particularly in soft sciences, but the beauty is that if you prove a theory wrong, then your correct theory becomes the new main theory. Science never encourages you to blindly follow it, because the less blind you are, the more it helps science. Scientific authority is best summarized as “what is proved right becomes right, what is proved wrong becomes wrong.” Citation: Every scientist ever (myself included).

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I picked Lorenz’s because he worked on animal aggression.

Command decisions on the other hand, such as Tony’s orders to the family or the TV’s orders to Tony, are backed by martial authority. That means that, eventually, you fall in line because if you don’t, someone bigger than you commits violence upon you. That’s pretty much the way that all of civilization works: If you break the agreed-upon commands, someone kicks your ass. Sure, we’ve got courts and lawyers between us and most of the actual violence, but if you keep breaking the rules, eventually, violence will be inflicted upon you. We actually see that exemplified in the movie multiple times, particularly with Tony’s drafting of Scott as a foot soldier who carries out violence when Nick disagrees. However, the issue with unchecked martial authority is that eventually more and more violence is used in response to smaller and smaller violations of decrees.  The movie weakly tries to bring in religious or divine authority, but it’s mostly tied in with martial authority. Martial authority is best summarized as “what is right is what I say is right or else I smash your face in.” It encourages blindly following authority, because every time you question it, it has to smash your face in and sometimes that encourages you to smash back. Citation: Pretty much all of history.

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Best example ever.

The scene in the movie where the characters take vaccines even has a character point out that the risk isn’t just in the vaccine, it’s that the vaccines are improperly packaged, contain dirty needles, were delivered by chimney, and are in response to a health crisis that there is no evidence is even real. That’s not the same as saying don’t trust doctors and scientists. Hell, the two most educated characters, including one nurse, are the ones who are actually shown to be in the right about everything. So, no, I don’t think the movie is actually anti-vaxxer, it just was a little messy in this scene.

Overall, parts of the film, mostly the eerie way the television communicates and the body-horror, are well done. Other parts, particularly the characters and the dialogue, are just uninteresting and terrible. Horror doesn’t always need great dialogue (so many conversations from 80s slashers about sex come to mind), but it has to at least be INTERESTING dialogue, if you’re not having super strong visuals, and there aren’t many visuals until the end. I actually think they would have done better to have the television be communicating seemingly through regular media broadcasts, which might have given them a more cohesive message at the end, which brings me to…

***ENDING EXPLAINED***

At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the black mass surrounding the house is actually a tentacle monster which is basically made up of coaxial cables and has been infiltrating their television and controlling them. At the end, it even moves to motivating Tony to worship it, allowing it to completely control him. After everyone in the house is dead, the monster dissolves Kate’s body and says hello to her baby. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood is similarly falling apart and being consumed by the black creatures. So what’s happening here?

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Yeah, this is a weird way to end things.

Well, I admit that the last 20 minutes of this film is a little bit off-the-walls and gets a little confusing in themes. Most of the movie up until this point has been a fairly straight-forward message about the danger of not questioning authority or about succumbing to martial authority, but while the monster had been using the television to control everyone, it doesn’t do anything through traditional media. In fact, any time anyone tries to guess the source of the broadcast, it’s either Tony asserting that it’s the government or Nick asserting it’s coming from a sinister other source. The only statements about traditional media are a few lines about stories that the characters use as a basis to discriminate, but nothing about them really places any message about the media there. Despite that, the ending seems to be a pretty straightforward metaphor… I mean, it’s a child that is going to be raised by a television telling the baby to “worship [it].”

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Like I said, the ending gets a little confusing, and I think the key to it is that Annji sees the heart of the television is actually controlled by the monster. This indicates that the monster hasn’t just been there since Christmas, but possibly for a while, meaning that the monster knew how humans can divide themselves over issues and how prone certain people are to taking commands, allowing it to craft a perfect series of commands to the family to get them to kill themselves. Hell, it even knew Christmas was the time when people are the easiest targets, because they’re all together. When Nick and Annji resist, it just has Tony do the job. Finally, when it’s left alone, it seems to gently greet Ruby, the baby. That’s because this has probably been its goal all along, to raise a generation of children under its control to provide it with unquestioned worship. That’s the only way to explain why it chose to spare the baby, but not Tony, who is already its worshipper. Do I have very much to go on there? No, because the last 20 minutes of this movie are insane and hard to nail down. Is it about all authority or media? Is it about killing people or controlling people? I have no idea, but that’s my best guess. If the movie had chosen the television to communicate through, say, hijacked news broadcasts, that would have made a better metaphor, in my opinion, but I didn’t make the film.

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.