Reader Bonus: The Flight of Dragons

I think this movie needs to get more love than it does, so I was very happy when it got selected to be an add-on. Now, if only someone will finally take my advice and develop a RPG around it… But more on that later. Now, let’s see what 1982 had to offer.

SUMMARY

FlightOfDragonsCarolinus

The movie starts 1000 years ago. The Green Wizard Carolinus (Harry Morgan), who controls “nature magic,” discovers that his powers, along with the magic in the world, are beginning to fade because Magic is based on faith, and logic/science are starting to overpower faith. This is demonstrated by a waterwheel destroying a group of fairies who were dancing on a swan… it makes sense in context.

This basically summarizes the entire primary conceit of the movie: Science beats magic, and, while Carolinus indicates that they could coexist, the world has chosen logic. Apparently, science beats magic so much that even the scientific education of the EARLY MIDDLE AGES is enough to stop reality-warping spells. However, it’s also noted that science is completely pointless without some kind of magic, that is to say, without some dreams of the impossible to inspire innovation.

FlightOfDragonsOmmadon
Villain voiced by Mufasa

So, Carolinus, realizing that logic and science are inherently going to beat magic, summons the other three wizards: Blue Wizard Solarius (Paul Frees), who commands the heavens and seas, the Golden Wizard Lo Tae Zhao (Don Messick), whose realm is light and air, and the Red Wizard Ommadon (Darth f*cking Vader himself, James Earl Jones), master of black magic and the forces of evil.  While the three non-evil wizards decide that they will create a hidden realm of magic outside of the world so that they can live on, the evil wizard surprisingly decides to do evil stuff. He decides to infect mankind with fear and greed, which will cause them to eventually use their science to wage giant wars which will destroy them (through nukes). This implies that, prior to the Middle Ages, mankind never waged war because of Fear or Greed. All of history is a lie, kids.

FlightOfDragonsGorbashOrrin
Your starter party

While the other wizards disagree with Ommadon’s plan, they are forbidden to fight him by some sort of magic rule, or because it would make the movie too short. So, instead, they decide to create a party of adventurers to go and steal Ommadon’s crown, which apparently is the source of his power. The party is initially comprised of the knight Sir Orrin and the young green dragon Gorbash (both Bob McFadden), who are outfitted by the wizards so that they can fight Ommadon… which is apparently distinct from just fighting him. The party requires a leader, so Carolinus consults the magical force of Antiquity (which is what bans them from fighting directly), and finds out that the leader should be a man of science from 1000 years in the future, roughly, let’s say 1982. That man turns out to be, I shit you not, the actual author of the book A Flight of Dragons, Peter Dickinson (John Ritter).

FlightOfDragonsPeter
Your hero, ladies

It’s important to note that Peter being the main character is not part of the book The Dragon and the George, by Gordon R. Dickson, upon which this movie’s plot is based, nor is there anything in Dickinson’s real-life book that would make it seem like he actually went back in time to study the dragon-based physics and biology that populate his pseudo-science monograph. This movie just decided to make the real-life guy who wrote a scientific text on fantasy creatures serve as the main character that tries to bridge science and fantasy, and, honestly, I think it’s a ballsy move that really pays off in this film. In other movies where they try to shoe-horn an author into this kind of stories, it often seems forced or cheesy, but here, it actually seems kind of natural.

So, in the 80s, in the movie, Dickinson is a former scientist who is now attempting to create a fantasy board game which is actually based on the characters already introduced in the film… somehow. And I mean exactly that, the movie literally just says “somehow” Dickinson already knows all of these characters. When it’s questioned later by Dickinson, the only answer is basically “just go with it.”

FlightofDragonsMelisandeCarolinus goes to the future and brings Peter back to the past. Peter meets Carolinus’s adopted daughter Princess Milisande (Alexandra Stoddart), who he has clearly been fantasizing about while designing her character in the future. They’re interrupted by the return of the dragon Smrgol (James Gregory), who reveals that Ommadon now controls basically all of the dragons in the world through a spell, and has ordered them to protect his crown. Ommadon then sends the black dragon Bryagh to kidnap Peter, believing that he might actually pose a threat. Unfortunately, in the middle of saving Peter from the dragon, Carolinus screws up a spell and puts Dickinson’s brain inside of Gorbash’s draconian body, where he stays for most of the film.

FlightofDragonsSmrgol
Smrgol Descending

So, they set out on the quest, now with Smrgol joining Peter and Sir Orrin to teach Peter how dragons live, which Peter re-explains using scientific principles (that, oddly, are not exactly the ones from The Flight of Dragons). Basically, dragons eat diamonds and store them in a secondary stomach. Then, they eat limestone, which is ground up by the diamonds, then digested. The digestion of limestone produces hydrogen, expanding the dragon’s gut, which is composed of a series of balloon-like chambers, with lighter-than-air gasses, which generate lift like a dirigible, allowing dragons to fly. To land, the dragons exhale the hydrogen, which is ignited by a bio-electric nodule in the mouth, which makes them breathe fire.

FlightOfDragonsCarbonatesAs a kid, I thought this kinda made sense. As an adult with a physics degree, there’s a number of problems with it… including the part where they decided that limestone should be the thing that produces hydrogen, even though limestone is mostly just calcium carbonate… which is the chemical form of antacids, and doesn’t produce hydrogen when interacting with any acid (it produces water, which could be separated into hydrogen by electrolysis, but then why wouldn’t you just drink water?). But, whatever, they’re magic, and I still like that the writers were trying.

FlightOfDragonsAddOns
The Add-Ons

That night, the party is besieged by sand murks, which are basically rats mixed with cicadas on steroids, with a chittering so loud that it causes madness. They’re saved by a talking undead wolf named Aragh (Victor Buono), because hell yes that’s a thing that happens. Next, they’re attacked by wood elfs (not elves, elfs. the cookie-baking kind by the look of it) and saved by a female archer named Danielle (Nellie Bellflower), and joined by her and Giles, an Elven outlaw. That night, they rest at an inn, but Orrin and Danielle are captured by an ogre. The rest of the party goes to rescue them, but Smrgol dies defeating the ogre. The rest then press on, before fighting a giant worm, which Peter defeats by igniting its insides, which apparently produce sulfuric acid (which isn’t flammable… but whatever, magic).

They then face Ommadon’s flight of dragons (the movie implies that a group of dragons is a “flight”), but defeat it using a magic flute that puts all dragons to sleep, including Peter. However, Ommadon’s dragon, Bryagh, stays awake, and kills the rest of the party, with Orrin sacrificing himself to finally kill the dragon.

FlightOfDragonsFinalThinking that all the threats are taken care of, Ommadon appears on the battlefield to gloat, but Peter separates himself from Gorbash by stating that two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time. Ommadon then tries to kill Peter, but, as he gloats, Peter counters with the logical reason why what he proposes is impossible (e.g. Ommadon cannot pluck the sun from the sky, because the sun’s light takes 8.5 minutes to get here, so the sun isn’t actually at that location). Peter then denies all magic even exists, and proceeds to fight Ommadon’s spells by reciting various scientific principles that counter most of the magic shown in the movie. Ultimately, Ommadon refuses any acceptance of science and dissolves into nothingness. Somehow, this resurrects all the dead characters, which is good, because kids’ movie, and creates the realm that will preserve magic. However, because he denied all magic to beat Ommadon, Peter cannot enter that realm anymore, and returns to the 80s. But, Milisande uses one last spell to follow him, and happy ending ensues.

FlightOfDragonsEnding

END SUMMARY

 Alright, so, I admit that the actual plotting of the movie is kind of weak. It’s mostly just a series of random attacks on our generic questing group. In the first half, they get saved from the evil by a new character; in the second half, someone dies to defeat it. The character development mostly happens off-screen, too, during the, apparently long, periods of time between the scenes. For example, Milisande and Peter apparently fall in love in the span of two days together. We get a story by Sir Orrin about how he had vowed to woo Milisande in the past and is dedicated to her forever, but he basically falls for Danielle overnight (with her pretty directly soliciting sex from him by reminding him that they’re probably going to die soon). Giles has literally no character development except that he’s an Elf Outlaw. However, they do a good job of implying that all of the bonding and such happened in between the scenes, which takes some of the sting out of it.

FlightOfDragonsDanielle.gif
Robin and Marian in one body. Dang.

Also, almost everything in the movie that doesn’t make sense is both commented on as being nonsense, but then handwaved as being “because of the will of Antiquity.” It’s basically “a wizard did it,” but the Wizard is the one having to come up with the excuse, so he has to blame a higher power. The magic in the movie is massively inconsistent: Carolinus can’t destroy a waterwheel, but he can TRAVEL THROUGH TIME and not only has knowledge of the future, but has a library full of all of the books that have yet to be written (though, he has Beowulf, which means that the Beowulf manuscript apparently was composed after 982, which is kinda late in the estimates). I mean, I don’t know all of the rules of magic, but I feel like Time Travel and precognition would be a bigger deal than fireball. I’d say it’s because the waterwheel represented science and thus nullified magic, but the time travel takes him to Boston in the 1980s, which is slightly more advanced than a watermill.

FlightOfDragonsBryaghThe art style in the movie is Rankin/Bass modified to resemble the art style of the illustrations in The Flight of Dragons, but just like other Rankin/Bass movies of the time, sometimes the characters, especially Danielle, look like they were drawn for a completely different film. However, it still kind of works with the fantasy hodge-podge setting, since each of the worlds of the four wizards are both distinct from the “real” world, with their own artistic differences, and presumably all of these characters come from different realms.

The science in the movie is, unfortunately, mostly completely wrong. As a kid, I didn’t know enough about the principles being referenced to disagree with them, but now, I sadly do. What’s super weird is that they are similar to the theories outlined in the book The Flight of Dragons, but changed just enough that they’re now incorrect (though the mechanisms for flight that the book uses still wouldn’t work, they’re at least more viable). However, the idea that dragons sleep on gold because it’s malleable and not flammable is brilliant, and is in my head-canon for all dragons now.

FlightOfDragonsSciFaithAlso, I realized more of what the movie was saying on the re-watch: Science is stronger than magic, because logic itself is infallible and universal. Everyone can do science, few can do magic, so of course science is stronger. However, mankind can’t just rely on science, because magic is the source of imagination, and imagination is how we generate better futures. However, magic is also the source of fear and greed (apparently), which is what leads the world down darker paths, but that’s the trade-off for progress. When I first watched the movie, I thought that the whole point was that science just beats magic, but it’s actually more that logic is superior, but humanity can’t survive without both science as the means and imagination as the motivator. I think that’s a better moral, since it’s accurate that putting all of your belief solely in logic means that you don’t consider philosophical or moral concepts, which tends to end badly for humanity (Like in Rod Serling’s best dystopia). Taken more broadly, it’s saying that science has to win when it conflicts with faith, but faith still has to supply us with a way to deal with the unknown.

However, the final fight between Ommadon and Peter contains one of the ideas that I most want someone to turn into a game: That you can beat a magical construct as long as you can point out why it’s physically impossible. I desperately want that to be a class in DnD or Pathfinder or one of those RPGs: The Physicist. Can’t use any magic or magic items, but as long as the player can explain WHY the magic or monster can’t physically exist, and the caster can’t sufficiently rebut, then it destroys that monster/effect. One day, I will make this game, and then I will be sued by the creators of this movie because I stupidly wrote down that I’m ripping them off and published it online.

Overall, I still love this movie. Is it great? No. But it’s different, and it tries a lot of stuff, and it somehow still feels like it works pretty well. It requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, but the movie is consistent about asking that from the audience. And it’s definitely entertaining, even when the scenes are watching two dragons sing “O Susannah” while getting drunk (and the fact that this sentence exists alone justifies the movie’s existence). I think it’s a movie every fantasy fan should see once. Then read the books, because they’re way better.

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

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Reader Bonus: Reefer Madness (The Musical)

I had seen this movie before, but it was on a date, and I only half-remembered it, so I am very glad that I got to see it again.

Some of the notes may be confusing, because I watched this first, before watching the original, but I’m posting this second. You’ve been warned.

Alright, so, this is the fabulous musical parody of yesterday’s decidedly non-musical glimpse into depression-era fearmongering. You’d think that the premise was ridiculous enough that it could just be played straight with some songs and it would be hilarious, but no, they decided that the movie needed to turn everything up to 11.

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Yes, even the batsh*t crazy laughing scene

SUMMARY

Alan Cumming plays multiple roles in the movie, including the lecturer from the original. However, now he’s not the principal of the school, but a traveling orator on the evils of marijuana that shows people the film within the film. Also, rather than just bookending the film, it cuts back to him shutting down anyone in the audience who questions the logic of the movie, usually by accusing them of being communists. I’d remind you that the movie takes place in 1936, which is right after the US actually recognized the sovereignty of the Soviet Union, and in between both of the Red Scares, so that’s a little anachronistic, but whatever, it’s f*cking hilarious.

ReeferSuperman.jpg
He even does a better Superman pose than Cavill

The first song, “Reefer Madness” is amazing, because it depicts all of the pot users as zombies. Zombies who apparently can punch through walls. Walls that are revealed to only be about a half-inch thick, which leads me to question how buildings worked in the 1930s. After that ends, Alan Cumming brilliantly explains that the reason why Marijuana is the true villain, rather than all of the other drugs, is that someone might mistake a “reefer stick” for a harmless cigarette. Also, “reefer stick” is the best term ever for a joint.

ReeferZombies.jpg

So, the “educational film” starts, and it’s a simpler version of the original. Jimmy Cooper (Christian Campbell) is in love with Mary Lane (Kristen Bell), and they’re the All-ReeferRomeo.jpgAmerican boy and girl. Unfortunately, that includes being All-American educated, which they reveal when they sing “Romeo and Juliet,” whose lyrics demonstrate that they both have not read the play, nor ever heard of it before, aside from being a love story. Oddly, the William Shakespeare that appears during the song apparently has, as he keeps trying to correct the inaccuracies. They ignore him, possibly because he has a pedo-stache.

ReeferFire.jpg
Reefer Madness 2: Cumming Burns

After the song, Alan Cumming comes onscreen to comment on the nature of “reefer dens,” and to conjure f*cking fire, something that would be a much more interesting movie. That definitely needs to be in the sequel. He then cuts to Mae and Jack (Ana F*cking Gasteyer and Steven F*cking Weber), the owners of the local “reefer den.” Mae is a “marijuana addict” who can only get through the day with “the stuff,” which she tells us in song. Now, I can say that I must have been pretty distracted during the song “The Stuff” the last time I watched this film, because, while I remember the multiple references to Jack beating her regularly and abusing her, I don’t remember Mae just shouting out to the street that Jack gets stoned and rapes her. Also, the street only really seems to mildly care about it before going back to work. Was spousal rape really so accepted in the 1930s? *Checks statistics* Well, shit.

ReeferJackMae.jpg

So, Jack decides to go to sell some dope to the kids, which takes place at Miss Poppy’s (Neve Campbell) Five-and-Dime, where Mary and Jimmy are located. There, the lecturer appears to deliver a warning that swing music is a gateway drug to marijuana. Mary asks Jimmy to a school dance, but Jimmy is hesitant because he can’t dance. Jack offers Jimmy “swing lessons.”

So, Jimmy goes back to Jack’s Reefer Den and meets Ralph (John “Cryptkeeper” Kassir), the insane stoner, and Sally (Amy Spanger), the slut, before having his first joint. Also, when Ralph and Sally smoke, the furniture breaks, which makes me believe that they have some really strong pot.

So, Jimmy’s high is an amazing scene. It’s basically an elaborate Polynesian-style dance number where everyone is either a nearly-naked hot woman or a nearly-naked ripped man. Also, the Pot Devil shows up, and he’s apparently pretty hung. So, apparently, pot makes your d*ck bigger and surrounds you with beautiful people who want to have sex with you. If this movie was serious, it would be sending exactly the wrong message.

ReeferFirst.jpg
Apparently, Pot is AMAZING

Now, Jimmy is a hopeless addict descending rapidly into ever level of depravity, including not checking if the shower is empty before going in. Mary is shown praying for him to come back and fill her lonely pew. At this point, I began to realize that the porn version of this would be almost exactly the same as the regular one.

ReeferJesusJimmy breaks into the church to rob it, because pot, and has a vision of heaven where a pretty well-built Jesus sings a song to him, which, similar to the pot fantasy, is filled with mostly naked women. I guess that balances it out? At the end of the song, Jesus asks Jimmy to come back to God and Jimmy says he’s got a new god now… REEFER. Even the devil spit-takes at that line, which is hilarious.

So, Jimmy takes Sally on a ride (both metaphorical and literal). I’m gonna pause here to mention that Sally has sold her baby to “the Chinese” who are apparently going to eat it. I’m probably going to hell because my note here is: “So, the Chinese eat white babies. Is that because, when they eat their own, they’re hungry again an hour later?”

Jimmy kills a pedestrian, and Sally leaves, leaving Jimmy to return to Mary, debating if he loves her more or the pot. The fact that her name is Mary Lane (in both this and the original) makes the song obvious (Mary Lane vs. Mary Jane). Jimmy picks Mary, but decides that, to keep her safe, he should leave town. Mary tries to come with him, but when she goes inside, Jack gives Jimmy a pot brownie, which sends him through a cartoon sequence that… well, sucks. Sorry, movie, but that was pointless. You should have put more Cumming fire-crafting instead.

ReeferDomme.jpgJimmy’s now hooked again, and having sex with Sally in the next room, when Mary finds the Reefer Den, and accepts a smoke from Ralph. In the original, Ralph tries to rape her, but this movie flips that by having the pot turn Mary into a sex-crazed Dominatrix who starts to make Ralph her bitch in song.

Also, one of my notes is “Pretty sure one of the gimps has butt implants.” This might be my favorite sentence ever.

Jimmy comes back and starts a fight with Ralph, which results in Mary being shot by Jack when he tries to break up the fight. Jack frames Jimmy, while Mary dies in his arms, clearly not having read “Romeo and Juliet” since the first song. Jimmy gets arrested, convicted, and sentenced to be executed the next day.

ReeferCannibalRalph starts to feel guilty and hallucinate Mary in Hell, and more zombies. Then, he starts to get the munchies while with Jack, Mae, and Sally. Jack and Mae go to get Chinese, but when they return, they find that Ralph has become so hungry that he has eaten Sally. Jack kills him. Mae then realizes what pot is doing to her life and murders Jack. She then goes to see President Roosevelt, who is visiting the town, and gets Jimmy a pardon. Jimmy, Mae, President Roosevelt, George Washington, the Statue of Liberty, and Uncle Sam all sing about the importance of telling the truth, while simultaneously telling a long series of blatant lies and stating that the next step is to ban immigrants, jazz, evolution, pornography, and homosexuals.

The lecturer then leads the town to burn all of its pot, while explaining that “When danger’s near, exploit their fear, the end will justify the means!” Which basically makes the movie timeless.

SUMMARY END

ReeferCummingThis movie is hilarious. It takes all the insanity of the first one and not only amplifies it, but puts some really amazing songs in there. My personal favorite is probably the title song “Reefer Madness,” because it’s insanely catchy, but “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy” is pretty great too. Alan Cumming is perfect for this film, because his smile always looks equally like he’s going to hug you and remove one of your organs. Given that his mysterious character appears to just be traveling around to sew discord, that’s probably exactly the way it should be.

Also, the old-timey analogies they use in the movies are hilarious. Half the time, even in context, I can’t quite figure out what they’re supposed to mean. One of Sally’s is “I was in more laps than a napkin,” which is a super adorable way to say “slutty.” I still haven’t figured out exactly what makes a woman an “E-flat Dillinger,” but apparently it puts her a hop and a skip from TastyTown, so I’m guessing it involves boobies. One of the songs is basically just a series of insane metaphors, like “Stood me up like Beef Chow Mein,” and “Sweeter than Shirley Temple dipped in Chocolate Pudding.” Again, pretty sure that this movie’s porn parody is just the script for the movie itself.

What’s really weird is that the movie actually manages to make a pretty good point about exactly the kind of stupidity and jingoism that led to the first movie. If you’re not willing to be honest about dealing with drugs, you’re not going to be effective in combating them. The 30s, the 60s, the 80s, all of them had anti-drug movements that MADE MORE PEOPLE DO DRUGS. You can’t just rely on “the end justifies the means” to get people to change their behavior, because that will either A) mean that you’re forcing a change that isn’t necessarily the optimal one, or B) you’re completely undermining other established systems (like science, logic, or political integrity) in order to make one point.

The movie’s on Amazon Prime, so hit it!

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NOTES

Preliminary notes: Sober. Fed. Watching with a person who actually did a performance of this musical, so bracing myself for singing. Ready to rock and roll.

9:51 –  Opening laughter is as hilarious as I remember. Saw a guy laugh like that during a deposition, but he was on Meth and talking about “Yankees thinkin’ they know how to doctor us.”

9:53 – Alan Cumming’s smile always makes me consider that he is equally likely to hug me or remove my kidneys with a spoon.

9:55 – Alan Cumming’s Superman pose is better than Henry Cavill’s.

9:56 – Title song’s zombie sequence is f*cking brilliant, but the fact that the walls of this schools are all about a half-inch thick makes me question what building codes were like in 1936.

9:59 – Not to nitpick, but adults in with near-adult kids in 1936 wouldn’t have smoked “harmless” cigarettes as kids. Also, “Reefer Stick” remains my favorite term for a joint.

10:01 – That’s right girls, stroke that turtle.

10:02 – “Trip for Biscuits” is going to be in my lexicon now.

10:03 – Shakespeare has a pedo-stache with a goatee.

10:04 – It’s weird that both of them go rolling on the grass before they really start “rolling on the grass.” I hate myself for this joke.

10:05 – Holy shit, Alan Cumming can summon fire. Why is that not the entire movie?

10:06 – “I was in more laps than a napkin.” So… more than one? Do people share napkins? Have I been napkin-ing wrong?

10:07 – In 1936 was hitting a woman a sign of marijuana, or was he doing it because he hadn’t smoked yet and therefore was just doing his duty “as the man of the house?” Just curious what Alan Cumming was doing with this part of the story.

10:12 – “When Jack gets stoned and rapes me.” Oh good, a rape joke. I needed to question whether I could laugh in the middle of a musical number in a comedy. Thanks. Also, I’d completely blocked out this line, apparently, because that just caught me full in the f*cking face.

10:15 – “E-flat Dillinger” is also going into the lexicon as soon as I understand what it means.

10:17 – Only one of the dancers is looking at the camera during the entire routine.

10:19 – WHAT THE HELL IS THAT DRINK?

10:21 – Did pot just cause furniture to lose structural integrity? Because that is some f*cking good pot.

10:23 – You have no idea how much I wish babies responded like that to “Shut up.”

10:27 – Okay, so, you’re trying to turn people off from pot, but getting stoned apparently is a Bollywood number filled with hot women and ripped men? I’m getting mixed messages and tickets to Colorado.

10:30 – Why do movies always depict Satan as hung?

10:31 – Bacchanal? Man, stoners seem to have pretty good vocabularies.

10:34 – “That was your tongue! Jimmy Harper, what’s come over you?” This was also in the porn version of this movie.

10:36 – “Jimmy come back and fill my lonely pew” is also in the porn version.

10:36 – Woman, it’s been a week of him being flighty. Dramatic much?

10:37 – I love that even as an insane criminal stoner, Jimmy still wears a tie and a vest.

10:39 – James Fennimore Harper? Was that a f*cking literature reference? I didn’t come here to think, movie!

10:41 – Okay, so, at least they balanced it out with a ripped Jesus and a heaven full of hot angels. Gotta get the kids back in church.

10:44 – I think it’s hilarious that even the Devil spit-takes when Jimmy says that he’s got a new God now.

10:46 – So, the Chinese eat white babies. Is that because, when they eat their own, they’re hungry again an hour later?

10:47 – The 30s had the best analogies.

10:54 – Repeat previous statement. “You stood me up like Beef Chow Mein?” Gold.

10:57 – “Sweet as Shirley Temple Dipped in Pudding.” I love this movie.

11:04 – The animated sequence really didn’t need to happen.

11:06 – Pretty sure that Mary just checked her hair where there wasn’t a mirror.

11:08 – Don’t refer to boobs as “ducks,” movie.

11:10 – Pretty sure one of the gimps has butt implants.

11:19 – Did not request man ass, movie.

11:22 – Why would you have a scarecrow in a pot garden?

11:24 – Okay, there is no way that he ate that much of that woman in that short of a time.

11:27 – Completely unnecessary monkey roll.

11:28 – Pretty sure one of the zombies was a Red Sox player. Director must have been a Yankees fan.

11:30 – SOMEONE STRAIGHTEN THAT F*CKING PAINTING.

11:31 –  Thank you, subtitles. I would not have guessed this was “Suspenseful” music.

11:32 – Pretty sure Jack’s heart is about 3 times to big. WAS HE A GRINCH?

11:33 – Weed gives you superpowers?

11:34 – Wait… the president can’t pardon a murderer, only a governor. I have found a flaw in your logic, movie. The first chink in your armor of perfect logic.

11:35 – Jimmy was convicted and set to be executed within a day of committing the crime. Man, the justice system used to be efficient.

11:39 – The statue of liberty needs a big stripper pole. The true message of the movie.

11:40 – Do I have to learn the Harp if I don’t sin? That seems like a lot of work.

11:42 – “When danger’s near, exploit their fear, the end with justify the means!” Well, fuck, that’s always going to be relevant.

Reader Bonus: Reefer Madness!! (The not-musical, no Rifftrax)

Much like Birdemic, I had never seen this without RiffTrax providing some form of commentary. Fortunately, like Birdemic, this is the kind of beautiful trainwreck that doesn’t really hurt much to watch without comedians giving commentary.

ReeferBWCast
Bless you all.

During my review of other bad movies, I’ve said the key to making a “so bad, it’s good” movie is that everyone doing the movie has to believe they’re doing a good movie. That way, nobody comes off as second-guessing or lacking dedication. This movie definitely nailed that. I believe that everyone involved in this movie was totally on board. Maybe not with the message the movie was sending, but they believed that they were doing a worthwhile film. I therefore dedicate to their memory this review, which will largely consist of belittling their sad, misguided efforts.

Okay, so, some background notes on this movie:

ReeferBWPoster.jpgReefer Madness is an anti-cannabis (or, as they spell it in the movie, marihuana) film which was originally designed to be shown to parents to warn them about the dangers of pot. And yes, it was absolutely serious. However, while the original movie was just an educational film with an embedded morality play, it was bought by another filmmaker who specialized in exploitation films, who apparently inserted a bunch of the other, racier (by 1930s standards) shots into the movie and gave it wider distribution. Since nobody involved actually cared that much about the movie’s longevity, it wasn’t copyrighted properly, and lapsed into the public domain.

ReeferBW19It apparently became popular in the 1970s when people used it as a way to drum-up funding and support for the California Marijuana Initiative (which failed). But, because it’s so gloriously awful, it started to gain a cult following, and eventually got a musical adaptation and a ton of humorous commentaries. In 2004, someone colorized it, and since that version was the first one to come up on my Amazon search, that’s the one I watched.

SUMMARY

The beginning of the movie is a text crawl warning people of the approaching threat of marihuana in the US, which is called a “violent narcotic” and “the real public enemy number one!” I guess Frank Nitti just really wasn’t holding up Capone’s legacy.

ReeferBWScroll.jpgIt describes the effects of pot: Uncontrollable laughter, then dangerous hallucinations where time slows down, then “conjuring up massive extravagances,” emotional disturbances, the inability to think, leading to acts of violence, and, finally, INCURABLE INSANITY. The movie then explains that it’s totally based on scientific research into pot addiction, and begs you to do something, because “the dread marihuana may be reaching forth next for your son or daughter… or yours… or YOURS!” Yes, they typed that out, as if you read as multiple people.

ReeferBWLectureSo, the movie’s frame tale is a lecture given at a PTA meeting by a high school principal (Josef Forte). This guy is glorious. He says everything like he’s preaching a sermon while a pit to hell opens around him. It’s so serious, so urgent, and so blindly, obviously, wrong. He tells the audience that morphine and heroin are less dangerous than marijuana. Also, he tells them that he’s going to inform all of them of the places where you can find/buy drugs, which was definitely not the normal path to take at an anti-drug meeting. That’s like telling MADD where all the good bars are.

The rest of the movie is supposedly a story that happened in the town where the PTA meeting is taking place, which seems really weird, because the events in the movie are either A) not something he could know about or B) so bizarre and huge they would have been the talk of the town and he wouldn’t need to tell anyone. But, it’s the 1930s, so I guess no one had anything better to do than listen to this guy and try not to get polio.

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Such subtle performances

So, the main story starts with Jack and Mae (Carleton Young and Thelma White), an (*gasp*) unmarried couple living together in sin selling marijuana to make ends meet (and apparently buy Jack’s super snazzy suits). Mae doesn’t want to sell drugs to kids, but Jack figures it’s easier than finding adults. He’s helped by Ralph and Blanche (Dave O’Brien and Lillian Miles). Ralph is a college student who is clearly insane (though, they say that’s because he smokes pot) and Blanche is… I think a prostitute, but money never appears to change hands on screen.

Ralph and Blanche invite two students, Jimmy and Billy (Warren McCollum and Kenneth Craig), to come back to Jack and Mae’s. Bill warns Jimmy against it. We then find out that Bill is dating Jimmy’s sister Mary (Dorothy Short). Their romance scenes are corny, even by 1930s standards, but it’s made even weirder by the fact that Mary’s mom pervs on the couple when they’re kissing (no, really, she’s clearly really into watching them make out). After Bill leaves the Lannister household (really Lane, so close), Jimmy talks him into going to Jack’s house.

Oh, and despite the fact that Jimmy and Billy are supposed to be portrayed as kids, they are both clearly in their 20s or 30s. Actually, one of them is older than the “adult” actresses.

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Let us go and get a malted milk shake, fellow adolescent who definitely isn’t 32!

So, they go to the “Reefer Den,” and, I gotta tell you, this seems like a fun place. Everyone’s laughing, smiling, hugging, kissing, and, oh yeah, they suck at playing music. Also, they make the pot smoke multicolor, which… doesn’t seem like something pot does. Oh, and 420 flashes onscreen at one point.

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Hit and run… no consequences

While at Jack’s place, Jack runs out of pot, so Jimmy, who has borrowed his sister’s car, drives Jack to get more. When they stop at Jack’s dealing boss, Jimmy asks Jack for a cigarette (which, by the way, everyone is smoking in the movie, including the “underage,” since some states sold cigarettes to minors in the 1930s). Jack then gives Jimmy a joint, which leads Jimmy to drive recklessly (he almost goes 50!) and run over a pedestrian without stopping. Jack then talks to Jimmy again and tells Jimmy that the guy died (he didn’t), but that he’ll keep Jimmy out of trouble if he never tells anyone about Jack’s business. AND THEN JIMMY IS OUT OF THE MOVIE. Seriously, Jimmy gets high, runs a guy over, and then disappears.

The movie then cuts to the Principal talking to an expert about pot, and he lists a number of pot-related incidents, including a guy murdering his family with an ax, and a woman sleeping with five men at the same time. These are treated as equally bad.

ReeferBWRape.JPGIt then cuts back to another pot party where Bill sleeps with Blanche. At the same time, Mary comes over to the pot house looking for Bill (but not her brother). She sits with Ralph, who then proceeds to get stoned and TRY TO RAPE HER. And yes, this is portrayed as being a result of cannabis. The rape scene has a lot of weird cuts in it, which might be from not being able to film it in one take, or from inserting extra frames of the violent attempt to force Mary into sex, or holy shit, this movie stopped being funny. Also, I found out later that Mary and Ralph were married in real life, and I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.

ReeferBWPress.jpgSo, Bill finishes having sex with Blanche and comes out to find Ralph trying to force himself onto Mary, but Bill then hallucinates that Mary is stripping down to seduce Ralph, despite Mary loudly screaming “NO.” Bill fights Ralph (again, not over raping, but over the thought that he’s being seduced by her, because what the hell 1930s?), and Jack intervenes, which… results in Jack pulling out a gun which goes off while pointed at the floor, but apparently ricochets to instantly (and bloodlessly) kill Mary. Jack then knocks Bill out and plants the gun in his hand, leading Bill to be charged with her murder.

The trial scene is great, because it’s pretty much entirely about pot, and almost all of it is so wildly inappropriate for trial that the one objection that’s made is memorable for being about 2 minutes after the improper testimony concludes. The jurors basically decide to convict him not over whether or not he murdered Mary, but over whether or not he smokes pot which… is probably one of the most accurate jury rooms in film. Bill is convicted of killing Mary and sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, Ralph, who apparently actually shot Mary, is feeling guilty and wants to confess. Jack is told by his boss to kill Ralph. While waiting at Jack’s place, unaware, Ralph keeps telling Blanche to play the piano faster. No, really, that’s it. He just keeps telling her to play it faster and laughing. It’s apparently supposed to indicate that he’s now incurably insane. Jack shows up, but Ralph’s new pot-senses tingle that danger is near and Ralph beats him to death.

ReeferBWCops.jpgBlanche then tells the cops that Jack or Ralph actually killed Mary, not Bill, signs a statement, then kills herself. Ralph is then committed to an asylum forever. Bill is released based on the statement Blanche made right before her suicide. So, Jimmy and Bill both commit various crimes and get off scot-free, but Mary’s dead.

The Principal finishes the lecture, and tells everyone they need to work to thwart the menace of marijuana, or it could come after “your son or daughter… or yours… or YOURS!” See, this time, he’s pointing at people, including, finally, the audience, which actually makes sense. Then the words “TELL YOUR CHILDREN” appear on screen.

ReeferBWTellChildren.jpg

END SUMMARY

It’s not the worst movie ever, not by a long shot, but Reefer Madness is still really bad. Looking at it as a cautionary tale, it’s almost worse, because the pot house is huge, there are always people there having a good time, and Bill and Jimmy both avoid any real punishment, despite the fact that they commit multiple crimes including what one of them thinks is vehicular manslaughter. In retrospect, it’s even a little worse, because alcohol and cigarettes are portrayed as being perfectly fine, and heroin and morphine are presented as less harmful than marijuana, which… is wrong. Like, super wrong. Also, pot making you a rapist and murderer should have been ridiculous even in the era of playing with mercury.

I don’t even know what to say about the acting. I’d say it’s terrible, but I think they were all doing exactly what they were told. How would any actor realistically respond to the command “crazily tell someone to play the piano faster?” Or “have a criminal amount of fun?” I mean, they’re over the top, but they’re such ridiculous characters that there’s no other way to play them. However, the exception is Jack. Jack is bad regardless of direction. Jack mangles his lines hilariously about a quarter of the time.

It’s campy, it’s ridiculous, it’s based on a premise so insane that it could only have been conceived of by a Southern Church Group (and was). The RiffTrax was much better, so I recommend going straight to that, but the movie is pretty fun on its own. Or go to the musical… tomorrow.

Link to the Archives.

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Here’s the full film:

NOTES

Preliminary notes: Sober. Angry. If I smoked pot, I would definitely be smoking it right now. Let’s kick this pig.

6:15 – Okay, so I could only find the colorized version without having to look harder than the first result. The opening credits are therefore in a very weed-friendly green color. Also, I really hate that they spell it “marihuana” in the opening crawl.

6:17 – I refuse to believe this many people showed up to parent-teacher conferences even back in the 1930s, when there was nothing better to do. Suit game is on point, though.

6:18 – Guy basically just said “I think it would be helpful for all of you to know how to get drugs into the country, and where to find them.” Mixed messages here…

6:20 – The movie is literally comparing morphine, heroin, and marihuana as if they’re equally harmful drugs. Again, this was designed to be serious.

6:23 – I’ll admit, I love the suits. And Mae looks pretty good, for blurry film.

6:24 – I know this was re-colored, and now I desperately want to know if the lime-green suit was actually what the guy was wearing.

6:26 – “Better not go with him, he’s a little too old for us.” Says the actor who is clearly in his 30s about another actor in his 30s.

6:27 – Okay, so, everyone smoking regular cigarettes apparently aren’t doing anything wrong. Way to lose credibility, nineteen thirties.

6:28 – Everyone has two straws, just in case one of them breaks down (I miss Mitch Hedburg, who also liked weed).

6:29 – The guy who played the parody version of Ralph was more realistic than the original. Impressive. Also, the pot smoke being green might make it a bit easier to convince parents that you’re just smoking tobacco in real life. Thanks, movie! (update: Sadly, wasn’t colorized until 2004).

6:31 – The mom is kinda perving on her daughter kissing Billy. That’s more than a little creepy. Also, even the kid at home is wearing a sportscoat. Man, the 30s were a lot of effort.

6:34 – Ah, Jazz during its “let’s just strangle some cats” period.

6:35 – The number 240 just flashed big and neon on the screen. Weird. (Update: Apparently it was 4 and then 20)

6:37 – Okay, the smoke from weed just comes out in any technicolor shade. Purple, pink, green, yellow, blue. Man, this makes me really want to try pot.

6:38 – OH MY GOD, HE’S DRIVING AT THE INSANE SPEED OF 45!!!!

6:39 – And vehicular manslaughter is apparently the first sign of pot use.

6:41 – Apparently, another sign is butchering your family with an ax. The next example is an orgy… which, seems like a very odd thing to pair with ax murder.

6:42 – Yeah, honestly, these pot parties seem more fun than a life where your big weekly event is playing doubles tennis. Dancing, music, spontaneous laughter, beautiful women pulling you into bedrooms. Pot truly is a menace.

6:43 – This guy’s directorial instructions clearly were “act like you really, really should have some pot.”

6:44 – I don’t know exactly what Bill and Blanche just did, but she appears to be having a stroke after it.

6:45 – There are a lot of frames missing in the rape scene, or they really couldn’t film it in one take. Also, this is a pretty awful rape scene. (Update: Holy shit, they’re married).

6:46 – So, you hallucinate that your girlfriend, who is literally screaming no, is consenting and stripping, and THAT is what makes you want to stop it? Man, Pot makes you the devil. Well played, movie.

6:47 – And now random gunshot aimed at floor instantly, and bloodlessly, kills Mary.

6:49 – Could you butcher that line harder, Jack? It might still have some words almost coherently expressed.

6:54 – Great objection, attorney. It was only about 2 minutes after he finished giving the improper testimony.

7:02 – Ralph wants to confess to murder, so they’re going to murder him so that people don’t blame pot. As opposed to the entire trial happening which is blaming pot. Gangsters are not smart in this movie.

7:08 – I’m frightened that the jury scene is accurate.

7:10 – Ralph was more likeable as a cannibal.

7:12 – This crazed maniac keeps asking a woman to play the piano faster. My god, pot is worse than I thought.

7:14 – “Okay, Blanche, you’re laughing and crying at the same time, so make your face look like neither of those things.”

7:15 – Alright, we’re going to just take her out of court, unsworn testimony as being sufficient evidence to overturn Bill’s conviction without any judicial action required. Man, the 30s knew how to work a justice system.

7:17 – “Kids, if you smoke pot and have sex, you should just kill yourself.” – This movie, apparently.

7:18 – For the record, Jimmy apparently is going completely unpunished for the hit-and-run that he ACTUALLY DID.

7:19 – Okay, they did actually bring a judge in to overturn Bill’s conviction. Based on a single statement by a now-dead witness who very easily could have been lying for multiple reasons. But, I’ll assume Ralph has confessed at this point and everyone just didn’t care anymore.

7:20 – Point at me… point at me… YES HE POINTED AT ME. I will tell my children, sir, of all the evils of marihuana.

Reader/Author Bonus: Battle of the Bastards (Game of Thrones)

Alright, so, I will freely say that I actually like the episode of Game of Thrones that made the list more than this one. But, I also can’t object to this being on the list. Since several people have asked if this was going on the list, and I was on the fence about just adding it myself, it’s getting an entry.

“Battle of the Bastards” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV. The sheer scale of the episode is almost beyond belief. While it does almost nothing in terms of dialogue or several of the metrics I usually use to weight episodes here, it doesn’t matter, I still have to concede this is one of the greatest episodes of television of all time based almost entirely on its incredible acting, challenging cinematography, and enormous scope.

BACKGROUND (Reduced beyond the point of usefulness)

… It’s Game of Thrones. Do you really expect me to explain 5 huge books and a full season or two of TV just to give you the background for this? Oh, sure. Here you go:

Map
A Place

There’s a place called Westeros. The King gets killed. His wife’s family tries to take over. A bunch of people oppose that. All of them die. Most of the wife’s family dies. The main family, the Starks, all get separated when their home, Winterfell, gets taken over by a later-dickless traitor, then taken over again by a giant festering wankstain named Ramsay “the Bastard of” Bolton (Iwan Rheon). Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), a Stark bastard son, dies, gets brought back to life, goes home to the North with an army to take it back. Jon’s sister Sansa (Sophie Turner) requests the help of some guy named Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) who wants to bang her super badly. In the meantime, some naked chick does stuff with dragons over on another continent and some zombies are walking down from the North Pole, having presumably killed Santa. Also, there’s Peter Dinklage, who is a treasure.

SUMMARY

Okay, so, I’ll separate this into the two locations. Esteros and Westeros. Guess which one is to the East?

So, in Esteros, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter “I’m basically changing Hollywood through sheer force of awesome” Dinklage) are dealing with a large group of slavers that they recently pissed off who have brought a fleet to block her from sailing to Westeros. She brings the heads of the fleet before them, where they tell her what terms they’d accept. She responds by reminding them what happens when you have dragons and nobody else does: Dragon. Beats. Everything. (for another season).

GameOfThronesDragons.jpg
I WASN’T EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE HERE TODAY!!

It really isn’t even much of a contest. Dragons can breathe fire (which, given the level of heat displayed, should be a blue or just contains a ton of sodium, because it’s clearly above 3000°F) at a greater distance than even much of the ballista available at the science level of Esteros, can fly at speeds that appear to be in excess of 100-200 MPH, are immune to most other kinds of attack, and are capable of lifting weights in the tons. It’s basically a high-speed flying tank with a never-ending flamethrower against people who don’t have guns. She proceeds to burn the entire fleet in a matter of minutes, kills most of the slavers, and pretty much massacres everyone else who has been challenging her by the end of the day. Then, the pair procures another fleet to bring them to Westeros. And, I assume, go to the spa to get matching mani/pedis to relax.

GameOfThronesTyrionDany
You know Tyrion likes the pumice stone. Dany’s into hot rocks.

Which brings us to Westeros, where the meat of the episode happens. Not to say that the Dragons Gone Wild scenes weren’t awesome, they absolutely were, but Winterfell is where it’s at. So, the important characters on Jon Snow’s side meet with Ramsay “I made Joffrey look good, and he was basically Hitler’s wet dream” Bolton. Ramsay offers to “pardon” Jon if Jon hands over Sansa Stark (Jon’s not-quite sister). Jon offers to fight one-on-one, Ramsay rebuffs him and says that he has Jon’s youngest not-quite brother, Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson), as a captive. Sansa tell Ramsay, her rapist and ex-husband, that the next day they’ll attack and Ramsay will die. Ramsay says that he’s been starving his hounds in anticipation of feeding Jon to them, because he’s the worst.

GameOfThrones Rickon.gifThe armies meet up the next morning, and Ramsay brings out Rickon. Ramsay tells him to run to Jon and starts to shoot arrows at him. Just before he reaches Jon, Rickon is struck by one of Ramsay’s arrows and dies.  Jon then gets angry at the whole “dead brother in my arms” thing, and starts to charge, and the army follows shortly.

The battle scene that follows is almost incomprehensibly huge. I recommend watching the entire episode to really get the feel of it, but what’s amazing is that it manages to also GameOfThronesJonbe so intense and personal when it focuses on the important characters. The sad realistic elements are also there, such as where there are literal mountains of corpses formed from the fighting. At one point, Jon Snow is almost buried by a poorly-timed movement of his own forces, and the show really manages to convey the suffocation he’s experiencing from nothing more than a giant, writing mass of panicking warriors. You won’t even realize that you stopped breathing until Jon pulls himself out. Finally, as Jon’s forces are surrounded and it appears they’ve lost, Littlefinger arrives bringing the cavalry with him, literally.

Ramsay retreats, and Jon follows into Winterfell, his ancestral home. Ramsay kills off Wun Wun (Ian Whyte), a giant in Jon’s army, and Jon squares off against him. Ramsay attempts to kill Jon with an arrow, but Jon blocks it and proceeds to attempt to beat Ramsay to death, only stopping when he sees Sansa. However, this is quickly revealed to not be any form of mercy, as Sansa meets with Ramsay in his own kennel. Ramsay tells her that his hounds will never harm him, even though he hasn’t fed them in a week, because “they’re loyal beasts.” Sansa reminds him of the truth: “They were. Now they’re starving.” She summons the dogs, who proceed to brutally devour their master face-first. Sansa walks away, smiling.

GameOfThronesSansa.gif
It’s the little things in life.

SUMMARY END

GameOfThronesRamsaySo, thematically, this episode is pretty weak, and, honestly, since almost everyone that dies in it is a character that had a tragic flaw which led to it, that makes this more of a traditional tragedy than Game of Thrones usually has. However, I’ll be damned if almost everything in it isn’t fun to watch. Dragons finally truly kicking the amount of ass that the show had promised for 6 seasons, a battle whose scale exceeds almost any movie taking place in the middle ages, intense, personal shots of the chaos of a battlefield, unbelievably powerful moments of the leads, and Sansa Stark, the most shit-upon character in Game of Thrones, finally gets to take brutal vengeance upon the greatest monster the show has ever had (and I’m including the Night King).

It’s not an episode that teaches any real kind of lesson or reveals any deep truths to the viewer, but a lot of episodes on this list don’t do that, even high-ranking ones. Sometimes, television is just about showing you something that you can’t see anywhere else, and this episode is all of that and more.

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Reader Bonus: Josh and Aika (90 Day Fiance)

So, this show exists, and it is already a rejection of everything I look for in television. This isn’t really a narrative constructed to probe the depths of the human soul in search of meaning as much as it is an exploitation of people who… eh, kinda suck.

Alright, so, the premise of the show is that it’s couples where one of them is a US Citizen, and the other one is not, and they have 90 days to decide if they want to marry before the expiration of the visa used by foreign fiancés. The couples have to prove a valid relationship before one member can move to the US, then have to marry within 90 days, or else the visa expires and deportation follows. Gee, what a fun set-up for letting true love blossom.

90dayfiancejoshaika
The “happy” couple

When this episode was initially requested, I was asked to do “Josh and Aika,” but it turns out that they don’t really have a solo episode, because my life is pain. So, while I’m waiting to figure out how to do this, I’m going to use their “set-up” video from TLC.com. (found here: https://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/90-day-fiance/videos/josh-and-aikas-story).

So, Josh is 43, takes photos of his six pack, is twice divorced, lives with his buddy Jason and a college-aged girl, and runs a home theater company. Aida is 35, from the Philippines and matched him on OKCupid. It’s a little disheartening that the first 30 seconds contains Josh saying that he wouldn’t consider her if she wasn’t hot. I’m not saying that physical attraction means nothing, and I’m not saying that it’s past TLC to have re-cut this to make him seem shallower, but seriously, couldn’t you say something besides “I have to have a very beautiful woman in my life?” Even if that’s what you think, man, maybe try to have a little bit more appreciation for the other traits you like in the woman you’re trying to marry?

Apparently, he went to Manila, they dated, he proposed on Valentine’s Day, and now she’s going to come move into the loft with him. They describe themselves as “party people.” Josh says Aika is “High Maintenance… in her looks department,” which is intercut with Aika saying how she loves to buy expensive items. They’re also already fighting over the fact that she looks hot in public and Josh getting jealous. Man, these guys are off to a great start on the whole “Growing Old Together” idea.

SUMMARY

Image result for 90 day fiance josh and aika

I hate everything about this show, and was not willing to watch the entire thing just to see this couple. It just kept getting worse as I went further in. But, here are the highlight scenes that I was able to find online:

Image result for 90 day fiance josh and aikaOkay, so, their introduction involves Aika reminding Josh that he’s going to be her “provider” now, with Josh saying that Aika is so hot that he knows she’s the right one for an older guy like him. Oh, and, in addition to having terrible relationships with his exes, Josh apparently has no relationship with any of his kids. Josh’s buddies pretty much think he’s being scammed, and don’t seem to be surprised that Josh doesn’t really care as long as he gets laid and has a hot wife.

My second indication that these people are worse than I even suspected came when Josh picked Aika up at the airport. Aika gave off the general impression that she was going to later be asking Josh for money up front before he started taking his clothes off. However, this impression might be because when Josh showed up in a Jeep, she commented that she was disappointed because he’d promised to buy her a Porsche, and reminding him that she has many offers so she expects the finer things.

I should remind you at this point that Josh is in his 40s and lives with multiple roommates. He has obviously not been honest with her about his circumstances. When they arrive at his house, one of the roommates clearly believes that she’s taking advantage of Josh, and tries to interrogate her. It isn’t comfortable for anyone, especially the viewer. Josh also gets jealous when she tries to feel up the muscles of one of his roommates.

I don’t exactly know what happened in the next sequence, because Aika was wearing contacts out of a horror movie (WHICH I CAN’T FIND A GOOD STILL OF), and I was afraid she was going to come through the screen. So, Aika says she wants to model, and Josh wants to be able to say he’s dating a model, but that’s clearly bullsh*t, because the minute they go to a modeling agency and the agency offers her a job, Aika says that she plans to be pregnant within 2 years, so they withdraw the offer. Josh tries to avoid talking about it, but Aika points out that he said he wanted a wife and family when he asked her to marry him (after 120 hours of contact).

So, then, Josh takes her ring shopping… BECAUSE THE ONE HE GAVE HER WAS HIS EX-WIFE’S. Which appears to have been stolen back by him, although he doesn’t admit it. Aika picks a $12,000 ring, which “Porschemaster” Josh apparently can’t afford. At dinner, she’s pissed about the ring, and she keeps saying she gave up her life for him. Also, she wants a baby, and he’s had a vasectomy, which apparently, he hasn’t mentioned to her. I now officially hate him more than her, and I don’t like her.

Josh takes her shooting with his buddy who doesn’t approve, and the friend flat-out says that she’s bad for him. He says this while wearing the goofiest cowboy hat ever, suggesting he himself has not known the touch of a woman (or a man). Josh doesn’t actually say anything in her defense, which suggests that being bad for him is a super-low bar, because he’s a jackass.

Josh finally admits that he’s had his grapes turned seedless, and Aika basically gives him an ultimatum to have the procedure reversed. He tries to weasel out of it, because he is a shitweasel, but ultimately, he gives in to going to the fertility clinic. They head to the fertility doctor where they’re basically told that Aika’s ovaries are shriveled up and dead because she’s 36. I’m guessing that Josh asked him to help get him out of the reversal. I mean, really, the doctor’s primary reason appears to be her age, which is weird, because 36 is NOT too old to have kids.

They leave, and Josh apparently decides he should keep bringing up her age and her infertility, because he’s a festering shitgibbon. Aika responds that she’s going to find a real man with some real swimmers to knock her up. Josh tries to storm off, but comes back and finally agrees to have the vasectomy reversed.

And apparently, I’m missing something, because the next scene is them flying to Vegas, but Wikipedia says that’s actually what happened next, so f*ck it. Josh introduces her to his parents, who don’t like her, nor do they like him. Seriously, Josh’s mom doesn’t like him. At all. She says he was a shitty husband and a shitty dad, and will probably be both of those things again.

Josh’s mom is now my favorite character.

Image result for josh and aika weddingAika looks upset about it, which makes it hilarious when they cut to her wearing jean shorts and a wedding veil. Nobody seems to notice, so I guess that’s common in Vegas. They get married, and Josh’s mom says that she hopes she won’t have to fly back to Vegas for another wedding anytime soon, cementing her as my favorite. After the wedding, Josh says “’Til death do us part,” and Aika shoots back that, as his third marriage, she hopes so. My assumption is that nobody believes that.

Okay, so, the last thing this show does, apparently, is bring people back later to group-chat. Josh mentions that he’s still fixed, which is not a great sign for their marriage.
BOMBSHELL: Neither is the fact that Josh has a history of domestic violence. His first wife has now given an interview detailing that he had hit her on several occasions. Also, some leaked court documents reveal that not only did his kids not want to be with him, they petitioned the court not to allow him any custody.

THIS IS THE WORST SHOW EVER. I think I am actually a worse person for having watched it. I just hate everyone involved with it, and I want them to suffer. Josh needs to be hit by a car, and I might actually be more inclined to support exclusionary immigration policies just to keep people like Aika out of this country. They are bad people. I realize that this show probably cut everything to make them look worse for ratings, but I’m pretty sure they were picked for being terrible people. Even worse, I kinda want to watch more of it! I am now going to drink for a while and cry.

If you enjoy these, please check out more of Joker on the Sofa at the  100 Greatest Episodes of All Time Archives and the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Reader Bonus: The Fisher King

Most of the movies proposed by my readers were terrible films or riff-able films, so imagine my surprise when one of my readers decided to select one of my favorite movies of all time for the list: The Fisher King.

If you haven’t seen the movie, rent it on Amazon. It’s $3. Do it right now. I’ll wait.

FisherKingPanda2.jpg

You done? You’re welcome. If I make a Patreon, give me a dollar.

fisherbrazil.jpgAlright, first I watched this movie and didn’t think I needed to take notes because it’s not a shitty movie I’m trying to mock, and I’ve seen it at least twice. However, after trying to write the review, I realized that the movie is so deep and beautiful that I needed to have notes just to make sure I remembered all the things that I wanted to put in the review. I’m new at this, give me a break. So, I watched Brazil. Then, I watched this again right afterwards. Cards on the table, Brazil is a more interesting film, but this one has some parts that are right up there.

SUMMARY

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So, in terms of plot, the movie is pretty straightforward (unlike Brazil). Jack (Jeff Bridges) is a successful radio shock jock and professional *sshole who makes some off-the-cuff statements to a caller about yuppies. The caller then goes on a murder-suicide shooting spree at a yuppie bar, which, naturally, wrecks Jack’s career. Three years later, he’s working at a video store for his girlfriend, Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), and hating his life. After seeing an episode of the TV show he was supposed to be on, he goes on a bender and tries to kill himself. Before he can, a pair of yuppies mistake him for a bum and try to set him on fire. Jack’s rescued by a group of bums led by Parry (Robin Williams). Parry speaks in a blend of faux-Elizabethan mixed with regular Brooklynite, and often throws in allusions to Arthurian myth and famous works of literature. He believes himself to be on a quest for the “Holy Grail,” which is a trophy in a rich architect’s castle-like mansion.

Parry is insane and constantly harassed by a vision of a Red Knight, who comes whenever he thinks about his wife or past life. Unfortunately, it turns out that his madness is a result of watching his wife brutally murdered in the same shooting spree that Jack inadvertently caused. Before this, Parry was a professor of literature at Hunter College, explaining why he knows so many references. Jack feels guilty, believing that he caused Parry’s plight, and starts trying to help Parry. Jack follows Parry through his day, seeing how Parry lives within a blend of fantasy and reality. At one point, Parry lies naked on the ground, staring at clouds, and tells Jack a version of the myth of the Fisher King (covered later).

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Parry is obsessed with a girl named Lydia (Amanda Plummer), who he believes to be his romantic ideal. Jack and Anne help set Parry and Lydia up, and go on a successful double-date. However, when Parry walks Lydia home and successfully woos her, he again sees the image of the Red Knight, who he begs just to let him be done grieving and be allowed to move on. However, the Red Knight chases him back to the same place he met Jack, and there, Parry is stabbed and beaten by the same men who tried to light Jack on fire. Parry thanks them, and then falls into a catatonic state.

Meanwhile, Jack dumps Anne, gets his show back, and generally just becomes a professional *sshole again, even after helping put Parry in an asylum while he’s catatonic. However, after hearing a pitch about a TV show involving homeless people, Jack’s conscience finally returns, and he decides to help Parry by stealing the “Grail” in the hopes that it will rouse Parry out of his slumber. He breaks into the castle, steals the cup, and sets off the alarm as he’s leaving, which inadvertently prevents the architect from committing suicide. After getting the Grail, Parry awakens, he and Lydia become a couple, Parry is (mostly) healed from his affliction, Jack and Anne get back together, and presumably everyone lives happily ever after.

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END SUMMARY

FisherWilliamsFirst, I have to address the acting in the movie, because, it’s amazing. Bridges manages to play both the egotistical misanthrope, the broken man who lost it all, and the redeemed believer all in one film. Ruehl manages to deliver some great monologues on love, life, and the world, including when she’s having dinner alone after Jack bails on her, telling Jack off when he dumps her, and telling Jack off when he comes back. She got an Oscar for this. But it’s Williams and Plummer that really steal the show. Williams manages to convey a man who is covering for his own sadness and pain with constant energy and positivity, which, given his real life, is all the more tragic and impressive. It really showcases both his comedic and dramatic talents, often juxtaposing them within the same scene, and he manages to sell it all. Plummer, though she has less screen time, manages to mirror Williams, portraying someone who is broken, but trying to put on a brave and happy face to cover for it. It’s four amazing performances that really work well together.

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Next, the direction and writing. So, if you’ve ever seen a Terry Gilliam film, you probably know what you’re in for with this. Visually, this movie is a spectacle, the dialogue is FisherAnglefabulous, and there are always elements that make it seem just a few steps outside of reality. The camera angles in the movie usually have a Dutch tilt, either to reflect Parry’s madness or Jack’s drunkenness, and periodically a fisheye shot when one of the characters is dealing with a “normal” person, to make it more obvious that even “normal” behavior can seem inane from the right perspective. And that ties into one of the smaller themes in the movie: That everyone is crazy in their own way.

FisherDoucheIn the film, the homeless people discuss things that you’d normally hear about, like the Death Penalty and the Stock Market, they just have odd takes on them. One of the homeless men (Michael Jeter) is a cabaret dancer who just never had his chance… and is probably the wrong gender, although, the scene in which he goes all dancing and singing out is amazing. However, even though they’re depicted as poor, sick, etc., they’re depicted as at least having a level of magic, imagination, and freedom which escapes the more normal people. For example, in the beginning of the film, and when he returns to it later, Jack’s radio booth is lit to look like a prison. Later, when Parry puts a suit on for his date with Lydia, it’s directly compared to his straightjacket restraining him. This could be either a reference to being imprisoned by trying to be “normal,” imprisoned by pride, or both, or neither. This is a Gilliam film, so it’s anyone’s guess.

fisherkingtomwaits.pngAnother great scene in this theme is when Tom Waits (applause) says that the image of being homeless is the only thing that keeps some people from breaking free of the prison of everyday routine. He delivers one of the greatest quips in the movie, too, when Jack points out that a man putting money in his begging cup didn’t even look at him: “He’s paying so he doesn’t have to look.”

The best scene in the movie, and one of the best scenes in film, period, is the first time that Parry tries to talk to Lydia at Grand Central Station. As he is trying to reach her through the commuter crowd in the station, it slowly transforms from a crowd of people commuting in sync to a crowd of people waltzing around the information booth. It’s a beautiful scene, and it combines the magical romanticism of falling in love with the constant, coordinated, but completely emotionally unconnected movement of the commuters on the subway. It’s taking something mundane, and transforming it into a work of art, because it reflects the love that Parry has for Lydia. If you can’t watch the movie, at least watch this scene.

Another notable element is the use of red throughout the film. The Red Knight (a reference to Arthurian Myth) represents Parry’s past and the trauma he’s dealing with, and the construction of the knight demonstrates that. The knight looks like he’s covered in blood and entrails, which we later see is what Parry looks like when his wife’s body was sprayed all over him after she was shot. The knight also breathes fire in bursts, which resembles Parry’s memory of the shooter. Throughout the movie, blue is shown to be surrounding red in background images, from the clock in Anne’s video store to the Chinese restaurant where the double date occurs, representing Parry constructing an illusion around his pain (specifically, because he compares his insanity to the imagination of images in the blue sky).

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Okay, so, I’d be remiss if I didn’t actually address the title. “The Fisher King,” in this movie, is the story of a King who was tasked by God to guard the Holy Grail, but was wounded for his pride when he tried to reach into the flames surrounding the Grail to grab it. The King’s wound kept growing worse, and he tried to have others bring the Grail to him so that it would heal him, but they failed. The King lost all faith in anything. One day a Fool came to the castle, and saw the King in pain and alone. The King asked the Fool for some water, and the Fool brings him a cup. When the King drinks, he’s healed, and finds that the cup was the Grail. He asks the Fool how he could find the Grail, and the Fool says “I don’t know, I only knew you were thirsty.”

So, Parry’s name comes from Parsifal, the Wagner Opera translation of Perceval, which translates to “Pure Fool.” That’s not what the original knight’s name meant (Valley piercer), but it works well within the movie. Parry starts the movie off as the Fool healing Jack, the broken King. When they meet, Parry immediately perceives that Jack is trying to kill himself, and that he’s in a miserable, broken state, and he saves him, first literally, then metaphorically. However, fixing him just makes Jack a victim of his own pride again, at which point he becomes a jerk again, and just buries his own issues under his illusion of success bringing happiness. Then, when Parry is injured, Jack instead must become the knight, retrieving the Grail to heal him, which is more akin to the traditional Arthurian tale of the Fisher King. In short, the roles flip, and they have now healed each other at the end. It’s an interesting take on the story, since the Pure Fool, Parry, ultimately cannot get the Grail, but the redeemed King Jack does. Also, yes, the name Jack is probably a reference to being a wounded King, as is Parry’s real name of Henry.

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There’s a lot to unpack in this movie, but there’s only one more thing I’ll address here. In at least one scene, Parry is quoting Don Quixote, while waiting for Lydia, who clearly plays the role of “Dulcinea” in his life, as a woman who he loves romantically, despite her FisherKingQuixotehaving no idea who he is. It’s a solid reference, but here’s my question: Since Parry is quoting a book about a crazy man obsessed with a false romantic ideal who is in love with a woman who doesn’t know he exists, is he also on some level aware that he is a crazy man obsessed with a false romantic ideal who is in love with a woman who doesn’t know he exists? It’s like when Khan quotes Moby Dick in Star Trek II, meaning he should recognize that his obsession with vengeance is going to damn him, but can’t stop himself. Parry can’t stop himself from being Quixote, but the fact that he knows he’s Quixote actually makes it all the more tragic. I’m interpreting it that way rather than that his madness prevents him from realizing what he’s doing.

Overall, this was an amazing movie that really holds up on re-watching.

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

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NOTES

Preliminary: Pumped for this. Just watched Brazil to set the mood and to get primed to see “Gilliam” scenes.

0:00 – “Hit the Road Jack” is the opening song. Nice. Jack’s room is clearly supposed to look like a prison.

0:03 – Dealing with Edwin is horrifying. Edwin is falling in love with a girl, but Jack twists that into hatred.

0:04 – The one black car in the cab-sea. And I love DHP as the agent.

0:05 – Jack’s apartment is so 80s, it has copies of American Psycho in the walls.

0:06 – Jack practicing saying “forgive me” while painting his face is amazing.

0:07 – “I’ve got the power” is a little too on point.

0:08 – Bridges nails the reaction. He knows his life is over.

0:09 – Transition shot shows the high-rise and ends on the slum. Also, “BRAZIL” Poster.

0:10 – Fisheye lens of being confronted by a woman saying absolute drivel is classic Gilliam, and it really conveys how ridiculous the banality of some people is. Bridges throwing porn at her is also Gilliam, but in a very different way. And I’m pretty sure she checks it out in the background.

0:11 – “Because it makes me feel better because of how not funny it is.” Man, that’s fucking great.

0:13 – Dutch tilt while drunk, pretty standard, but still good. Cab driver using the catchphrase from the show Jack lost out on, that’s awesome. “Forgive me” sarcastically is a great New York expression.

0:14 – The kid with the Pinocchio doll has balls. Approaches a homeless guy with a toy.

0:15 – Confessing to Pinocchio. What a neat idea.

0:16 – I’d ask where he got the weights on his feet, but apparently you can find anything under a bridge.

0:17 – If there are random gangs of people setting bums on fire in New York, I feel like that’s a bit of a concern. Sadly, nobody brings this up again, which means that even though there was a huge deal made about the uptown shooting at the beginning, dead homeless people don’t matter.

0:18 – 30 seconds in, and Robin Williams is amazing, he perfectly blends Arthurian Prose and modern speech. The bums coming out with a cross and lights is amazing.

0:19 – Robin Williams immediately identifies Bridges as suicidal. Jesus.

0:20 – Every major movement is capped off with a sound effect.

0:22 – Williams’s energy is so amazing, and the fact that the camera is never at a straight angle with he’s on screen makes him seem all the more unnatural and off-kilter.

0:25 – He’s got one eye closed because only one lens in his glasses. My god, Williams was great at this.

0:27 – “Really? You look married.” My god, that’s dark. Williams really has mastered that look of madness and sadness under a mask of joy. Which, I guess is what he was in life.

0:29 – “Kramer vs. Kramer, won an award. Go.” That’s some customer service.

0:34 – My god, the apartment is amazingly constructed. It tells you more about Parry the longer you look at it. The little shrines, the books, etc., all tell you about the character and the life he lost. Amazing.

0:35 – The Red bathrobe over just one shoulder like a toga reminds me of a painting of a man atoning, but I can’t find what it is, so I guess it just fits thematically in my imagination.

0:37 – Parry quoting Don Quixote while sitting atop a car watching a clock is interesting. Parry clearly is Don Quixote, in a way, because he’s a crazy guy obsessed with the ideal of knighthood and he’s on a quest. But, if he knows he’s Don Quixote, does that mean on some level he knows he’s nuts? Or is he saying that Don Quixote might have had a point? It’s like when Khan quotes Ahab in Star Trek II: Is he unaware of the irony, or is he saying that it doesn’t matter, because it’s what he feels driven to do? Parry is in love, and, like Quixote, it’s basically more with a romantic ideal than with any part of reality, but does him referencing it mean that he knows he’s doing it? F*ck you Gilliam, I love you so much right now.

0:38 – I would probably spy on Amanda Plummer too. I get it. Williams somehow makes everything about Parry so sad and yet joyful.

0:39 – Garbage is such an interesting presence in this movie, drawing a comparison of New York and the Middle Ages, and the homeless all appear to be insane, but acting in ways that mirror many of the “normal” people.

0:41 – Parry’s random interjections to invisible people are f*cking jarring.

0:42 – I love Williams’ costume.

0:43 – Nobody seems to care that there’s a crazy homeless guy having an attack in the street. New Yorkers, I guess? Okay, first sight of the Red Knight, and he still looks a bit Jim Henson-ish, but frightening enough. He’s supposed to represent the death of Parry’s wife, which is why he looks blood-spattered, has smoke coming out of him, and periodically has bursts of flame. It works.

0:49 – The Asylum looks like a round table. Well-played, sir.

0:50 – TOM WAITS CAMEO!!! Love it. “He’s payin’ so he doesn’t have to look.” God, I love this man.

0:53 – Is a group of Nuns a Gaggle? Also, this waltz scene is amazing. My god, there’s hundreds of people dressed as commuters waltzing almost perfectly around a disco ball over the information booth. This is one of the best scenes I’ve ever watched, and this is the 2nd time I’ve watched it just for this review.

0:54 – And then it just ends with the train. The illusion broken.

0:55 – Mercedes Ruehl won an Oscar for this movie, but my gosh, this solo dinner was really a great scene.

0:56 – Light it however you want, that’s still Robin Williams’ dick.

0:57 – The captions are censored. Interesting. Also, again, Williams manages to convey so much energy, madness, and sadness all at once.

0:58 – Robin Williams telling the story of the Fisher King is hypnotic.

1:00 – The fool just saw the king needed a drink.

1:02 – Arthur and Guinevere exchange is brilliant. But, man, does it drive home that scene with the girlfriend.

1:04 – Michael Jeter as the homeless Cabaret singer with a mustache should be my screensaver. Also, he’s dead. That’s sad.

1:08 – Okay, if I was Lydia this would be my nightmare, I’ll go ahead and acknowledge that. I probably would have attempted to burrow through the floor from awkwardness.

1:09 – I don’t get why they couldn’t have gotten Parry a shower, but I probably just missed it.

1:11 – That’s on whoever stacked those videos. Also, I love the neon clock.

1:14 – “You have a wonderful set of… Dishes.” It’s at this time I should remember that this movie is actually done by the guy who directed “Huge… tracts of land.”

1:15 – “Behold my magic wand and unleash your golden orbs.” Man, it’s basically poetry.

1:20 – The scene between Plummer and Ruehl doesn’t seem to pass the Bechdel test, but it’s still pretty interesting, watching two very different women approaching dating.

1:23 – I love Robin Williams’ suit, and the line “there’s nothing trashy about romance,” is beautiful.

1:24 – My god, Plummer really nails being awkward and clumsy.

1:26 – The use of Blue and Red in this movie is so beautiful.

1:31 – Jesus, Lydia has had terrible relationships. And Amanda Plummer perfectly nails resignation to the horrible fate. She mirrors the joy, sadness, madness that Williams puts forth in this scene, and it’s impressive as all get-out.

1:35 – Parry begging the Red Knight just to be allowed to move on a little, and then him reliving his wife’s death in such visceral detail.  The camerawork and the color is just amazing.

1:37 – My god, the suit as the straightjacket, Parry thanking them for stabbing him, the train covering up the sounds of his torment, this is an intense minute of film.

1:40 – Not gonna lie, this weird, spontaneous, post-sex breakup thing never made sense to me.

1:41 – “Do you love me?” “I don’t know.” Yeah, seriously, this sequence seems only here to make us realize Jeff Bridges is an asshole. But, it just doesn’t really seem to follow completely logically. I dunno.

1:42 – Ruehl is a hell of an actress, and my god does she look hot in that outfit.

1:45 – I don’t know if that’s how catatonia works, but, hey, good movie mechanic

1:47 – Man, Jeff Bridges really is selling the “I’m an asshole again” thing. Back in the cell.

1:48 – “I’ve got the power” again. And damn, he just snubs Jeter. The Pricks-formation is total.

1:49 – The TV premise is pretty much just to remind everyone that there’s more than one way to view the movie. In case we forgot. Oh, and we’re bringing back the Pinocchio doll, because, again, levels.

1:51 – Christ, the asylum looks terrible. I wonder if it’s an actual asylum

1:55 – You know you didn’t have to wear Parry’s clothes to do this, right? Also, how is that twine holding up that anchor?

1:56 – “Thank God nobody looks up in this town.” Because Batman isn’t real.

1:57 – Stairwell shot is amazing, lighting and angle makes it look reminiscent of MC Escher.

1:58 – Dude, you’re at the front door. The alarm is now pointless. Run.

2:02 – Jesus, movie, I didn’t need to cry here. Yes, you can miss her Parry. You can miss her and move on.

2:03 – So, he saved the Architect by setting off the burglar alarm? Interesting twist.

2:06 – Come on, Jack, you know she deserves better. Show her you care, you asshole.

2:08 – I know the movie ending isn’t real, but it’s beautiful.

Reader Bonus) Birdemic: Shock and Terror (Without RiffTrax)

BirdemicMegalodonUp front: I was completely wasted by the end of writing my notes, and I think some of them are hilarious. I’ve put them below.

I knew I was already in trouble when I realized that I had never watched this movie without RiffTrax. I had to really be careful not to think of the jokes while watching this, because that might accidentally make this a fun experience. As it turns out, even without RiffTrax, this movie is definitely up there with The Room, Showgirls, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives! or Shark Attack 3: Megalodon in the “so awful, it’s awesome” hall of fame, so, unlike the other two bad movies I had done to this point, it wasn’t that bad. You can actually just go ahead and laugh directly at the movie.

Some background information on the film: This movie was written, directed, and produced by James Nguyen, who had made two prior films, one of which was never finished, the other of which was never watched. He attempted to finance the film with BirdemicDirector.jpghis own money, which apparently was a little under $10,000 over the course of four-and-a-half years. For perspective, this was 1/6th of the budget of the Blair Witch Project’s production, including post-production, and that movie’s 99% walking through the same woods and was shot in 8 days. So, given that there was literally no money for anyone in this film… pause for effect… it’s still bad. Really bad, in the kind of way that only someone who thought that their hard-core belief that they were a gifted artist was only matched by their complete lack of talent or basic directorial knowledge. I call this the Dunning-Kruger style of Filmmaking: You’re convinced you know what you’re doing only because you know literally nothing about what you’re doing.

SUMMARY

So, the plot is that this guy and girl start dating, then, 30 minutes or so of that into the movie, Birds decide to spontaneously start attacking humans. Unlike the movie The Birds (which is on TV in one scene), these eagles don’t just claw at your face (although they do that, too), they apparently spit acid, poop fire, have razor wings, and occasionally explode when they dive-bomb the ground. The couple escapes, joins up with another couple, one of whom is a marine survivalist, rescue some kids, and generally try to escape the birdemic. The marine and his girlfriend end up dying hilariously, they meet up with a tree hugger and an ornithologist who explain that this is caused by global warming, and then they catch some fish and the birds leave. Yeah, that’s the plot.

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This is one of the better CGI scenes. Really.

SUMMARY END

Alright, so, this movie cannot really be described. It’s on Amazon Prime, so I recommend watching it both with and without the RiffTrax (they’re both on there).

Everything in this movie is wrong. The acting is bad. The dialogue is clearly written by someone who didn’t speak English as a first language. The special effects are literally cut-pasting clip-art graphics onto the shots. The sound-editing doesn’t really exist. Weirdly, even some of the parts where I would assume that the writer knew what he was talking about (mostly the parts involving software sales, which is what he did for a living) were completely illogical. The environmental message is so bizarrely inserted at random that it seems like a completely different movie script. Parts of the movie aren’t in focus, and I’m pretty sure it’s just because they didn’t know how to work the camera.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror, film stillHowever, here’s the thing that really saves the movie: Almost everyone seems to really believe in it. Nobody in the movie, no matter how small their part, appears to be half-hearting this. They’re awkwardly delivering these terrible lines with all of their soul. The director didn’t shy away from putting any of this bad dialogue in, and clearly, wasn’t ashamed at all of his complete inability to do special effects. Even in Manos, the Hands of Fate, which is a terrible movie, sometimes some of the actors actually appear to realize that the scene is awful (except for Torgo, who’s going all out, and the Master, who is clearly immune to shame). This movie never has that. All of these people are really trying, which makes their blind failure all the more hilarious. Comedy is born from tragedy, and they clearly tragically misunderstood everything about this process, even the things that you would believe to be common sense.

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This makes no sense here or there.

And that’s really what makes this film beautiful, in its own way: Because everyone was really trying. They were really putting forth the effort and doing their best to make a good movie. Even though they didn’t, there’s still something inherently wonderful in people pursuing a passion project just because they can. Besides, unlike Iconoclast, this movie was constantly entertaining. I always did want to see the next scene just to see what the hell they could possibly think of next. I genuinely enjoyed the 90 minutes I spent watching this, which makes this officially better than 3 of the DCU films.

Okay, not really, but still pretty fun.

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.

NOTES:

Preliminary: 2 small drinks and 2 miles. Have rum and Diet Coke in hand. Bring it.

10:12 – Pretty sure this was filmed with my dad’s old VHS camcorder.

10:15 – Okay, so, we’re on minute 3 of Dutch tilt looking out the car window, and I don’t know if this is intentional, or if they just put the camera on the dash and didn’t check the viewfinder.

10:16 – Sound editing is not a thing in this film, and I love it.

10:17 – Main character dines and dashes to chase after hot girl. Oh my god, this dialogue is just the worst, and I love it. “I’ve got an audition for a modeling job.” It really makes me realize that the writer didn’t speak English as a first language.

10:18 – They both just ceremonially exchanged cards. We really need to steal that, as a culture.

10:20 – News anchor is definitely the first real actress.

10:22 – Shit, gas is $4.60 in Silicon Valley? In 2010? Or 2006, I guess?

10:24 – The main guy, Rod, just agreed to the buyer’s terms, then gave a 50% discount on top of that. The writer of this movie is a software salesman, he should know that’s not a thing.

10:25 – Greatest. Modeling. Montage. Ever. Victoria’s Secret should sue for being mentioned in this movie. Sound Editing is still not a thing. Refill.

10:28 – Given how much of the dialogue here is dependent on watching the other scenes in the movie, I’m assuming everyone in this is psychic. (Shit, I think RiffTrax said this).

10:29 – Who plays basketball in a tucked in Polo shirt? I feel like the answer is Mark Ruffalo, but I don’t know why.

10:31 – Every salesman in this knocks off huge amounts of money after the sale has been made. I don’t understand how the writer was ever employed.

10:35 – This is the best date in human history. All the awkwardness of being hit in the nuts by a car door crammed into 10 minutes. Now the parrots are flying overhead. Parrots. Why the fuck are there parrots in California? Do I just not know where birds are? Also, refill.

10:37 – The line was so badly dubbed, I feel like her mouth said “wham, bam, shang-a-lang and a sha-na-na”

10:41 – Do… They just have a print-out of a website taped to the wall above their bed? Should I get one of those? Is that what I’m doing wrong?

10:42 – Oracle Corporation should sue for their name being mentioned in this movie. Holy shit, they’re still applauding, like just looping the applause.

10:43 – My electric car gets 100 mpg. If it only gets 100 miles per gigajoule, your car sucks. Or does it? That’s like… 10 gallons of gas, I think, so… yeah, that’s pretty bad. Also, Al Gore should sue for An Inconvenient Truth being… eh, nevermind.

10:49 – This would actually be a pretty good tourist promo for wherever this was filmed. Half-moon bay, apparently. They have big pumpkins. Refill.

10:50 – You can’t edit sound in an enclosed room, and you decided to have a beach scene? Did you not realize the problem ahead of time?

10:51 – The presence of real seabirds only serves to make the CGI dead one all the more terrible looking.

10:52 – There are random wildfires, and all I can think of is the Canyonero song from the Simpsons “Unexplained fires are a matter for courts. Canyonero!!!!”

10:55 – This is the whitest dancing since Carlton from Fresh Prince. I love you Alfonso Ribeiro. Spell-magedon was underrated!!!

10:57 – Tippi Hedren should sue for being on TV in the background of this movie. (Edit: Holy shit, Tippi Hedren was in this director’s other movie. WHAT?) Also, these two people have never had sex, and clearly don’t want to now.

10:58 – Seriously, this town looks beautiful.

11:00 – I had forgotten how unbelievably fast the actual birdemic starts. It just went from 0 to all the birds pooping fire and gaining the strange ability to hover in like 5 seconds. Also, he put his pants and belt back on to sleep.

11:02 – The bird running into the door is the funniest thing in the history of film. If only Alex Karras could punch it…

11:05 – The keys are in the door, woman. This isn’t like one of those things where you’re fumbling. The hard part is done. Also, these birds are the greatest thing ever.

11:06 – That’s not how pistols work. Or guns.

11:07 – The child actors are somehow more believable than 2 of the corpses.

11:08 – They’ve reused the same bird getting shot scene 5 times. This is how you make movies people.

11:09 – I retract my statement on the child actors. They’re actually less believable than the copy-paste birds.

11:11 – I un-retract my statement on the child actors. The corpses are worse. The kids are still awful, but the corpses are way worse.

11:13 – So… the birds are a menace, but outdoor picnics are still fine? And leisurely walks in the middle of an open area?

11:14 – They have Bird Flu Virus? Do they also have Ham Sandwich Food?

11:15 – You just tested their blood? You’re standing in the middle of a bridge having just found them. When? Oh, wow, I forgot this whole insane global warming speech. I mean, this might be the movie that the President uses to disprove it.

11:16 – The random beachcomber in the background seems unaware of the birdemic and birdpocalypse, despite the huge number of birdsplosions.

11:17 – And the random line about the war in Iraq.

11:18 –  Oh my god, I forgot the girl who randomly dies trying to poop on the side of the road. “I’ll cover you” well, no you f*cking didn’t. Refill.

11:21 – How does everyone have invisible megaphones? I need one!

11:22 – One of the guys has an Eazy-E shirt on, and he’s my favorite and now he’s dying painfully from Eagle acid blood and claws. Shit, I think they forgot to animate the eagles for this part. I feel like they’re still supposed to be there.

11:24 – All phones are dead from the Eagle Attack? Also, this is 2006 or 2010 or whatever, you should have a cell phone.

11:26 – The robber has the slowest draw in film history. And now he’s dead by eagle fly-by, and I love everything.

11:27 – You’re leaving the gun and the gas tank? It was your gas tank!You people all deserve to die. Although, guns apparently have infinibullets in this movie, so the gun might be pointless.

11:28 – This might have been too much alcohol.

11:30 – NEVER ASK THAT GUY IF YOU CAN PLAY IN HIS TREEHOUSE KIDS

11:32 – Unexplained fires are a matter for courts, Canyonero!!!!

11:34 – Mai lives in a lighthouse? I want to live in a lighthouse! Also, Mai’s dead, and wearing the shirt for the site that she was screwing under.

11:35 – Man, that sudden pointless cut was dramatic.

11:36 – These kids are adjusting well to their parents being dead. They’ve only complained about being hungry, not about being orphans. See Series of Unfortunate Events? Kids don’t miss their dead parents.

11:38 – The fish is clearly frozen.

11:39 – That’s right, girl, boil that seaweed you randomly picked up off the ground. Also, McDonalds should sue for… no, wait, this is probably their market.

11:40 – Weren’t even trying to animate the muzzle flash with the motion of the gun, I guess.

11:41 – Bird dive-bombing windshield is now my new favorite moment in film. Alex Karras needs to punch it.

11:42 – Why did the doves save them? Shouldn’t doves also be pissed? This movie might have some plot issues. Sad, it was so tight up until now.

11:46 – The birds have not actually gotten further away in the last few minutes of them flying off. And now, after just having the actors stand there through the credits, you freeze-frame.

 

Reader Bonus: The Butler Did It! (A Bird in the Hand) (Police Squad!)

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This got 6 episodes

This is the worst cancellation in TV history. Some Firefly fans are probably bitching at me right now, some Dead Like Me fans, maybe a Freaks and Geeks aficionado or two, and probably at least one person who felt slighted by there only being 6 episodes of The Winner (the rest of us thought that was too many). But, the fact is, there are only 6 episodes of Police Squad!,  only 4 that got aired, and that’s just not enough, even with the Naked Gun films.

It’s not like they were running low on material or ideas at this point. If anything, the show really was just starting to find its rhythm when it got cancelled. Maybe that’s a something to be held against it, that it took a few episodes to get going, but the truth is it was too far ahead of its time to do otherwise. Much in the way that Monty Python changed comedy by deconstructing traditional comedy routines and television (and, later, the Arthurian myth and, to a lesser extent, the story of Jesus), Police Squad! picked up the surrealist baton that Airplane! had carried and applied it to police procedurals.

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Always the wrong week.

For those of you who are younger, you might not realize that Airplane! was actually a comedic re-make of the movie Zero Hour. Some of the lines in the film, including Leslie Nielsen’s ridiculous line “The life of everybody on board depends on just one thing: Finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner” were VERBATIM lines in the original. But, more than that, the film was also a lampoon of the fact that people not only kept re-making Zero Hour (which was itself a re-make of Flight into Danger), but that there had emerged in the 1970s a series of films which were based on a book derived from Zero Hour… the Airport series. And, while the first Airport is a pretty good film, its 3 remakes/sequels were not (though they made bank). America was getting an overdose of Airport-based catastrophe movies that were progressively getting worse… which made it all the more fitting when Airplane! just decided to undermine the entire genre and premise by making everything all the more surreal to keep the audience from ever figuring out how far to suspend their disbelief. (Update: someone already did a video comparing them online, so that last paragraph was useless)

policesquadtitle.jpgIn the late 70s and early 80s, police procedurals were much the same as Airport movies: they were taking over, they were getting increasingly ridiculous, and they were STILL MAKING MONEY. So, the team behind Airplane!, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker, along with Leslie Nielsen, decided to go ahead and make a TV show that would lampoon how insane police dramas were getting. So, they took shots and lines from other series, ran them through the ridiculous engine that is their minds, and pumped out Police Squad!

SUMMARY

Alright, the plot of this episode is pretty boring and generic, because the point of the show is the sight-gags, puns, and weird situations. So, first, I’m going to encourage you to watch the episode, and second, I’m just going to point out some of my favorite gags from the episode.

PoliceSquadButler“A Bird in the Hand (The Butler Did It!)” gets its title because in every episode of the show, they would put a graphic of the episode name on screen, but, at the same time, the narrator would read a completely different title. This was a joke on the fact that in police procedurals at the time, the words would both be on the screen, and the narrator would nar-read out the title… something that’s mercifully no longer a practice, except when a show is either mocking it or paying tribute to it.

PoliceSquadRobertGouletRight off the bat, in the title sequence, they have two gags of both replacing the third lead with an unrelated actor playing a character who isn’t in the episode (it’s Abe Lincoln shooting back at Booth) and the “special guest star” Robert Goulet being executed by firing squad (which was a running gag on the show: the special guest star getting killed).

The cold open takes place at a debutante’s birthday party, where she is kidnapped from her family’s “Japanese garden,” which is literally a bunch of Japanese people standing in pots. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen), who humorously gets his own rank wrong in the opening monologue, shows up to investigate. He joins Captain Ed Hocken (Alan North, George Kennedy in the movies), finding that the kidnapper has demanded $1 Million by a note which was attached to a window that was thrown into a rock. Frank asks to see the scene of the kidnapping, and Ed plays him back the filming of the earlier scene.

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Look, it’s an internet Mime!

The kidnappers call the house and Frank tries to help keep them on the line, while Officer Nordberg (Peter Lupus, O.J. Simpson in the movies) tries to tap the phone (like a keg). Frank goes to interview the victim’s boyfriend, who is playing a pick-up basketball game. Drebin joins in the game as he interrogates the suspect, and makes a sweet three pointer and a nice steal leading to a stylish lay-up. Frank returns to the mansion, where the kidnappers have sent a tape of the victim’s voice to prove she’s alive. They then throw a mime through the window, attached to a rock. The mime proceeds to tell them, through charades, that the ransom drop will be Thursday at 10 at the Bus Depot.

policesquadlab.jpgThis leads into the second half, called “Act II: Ball III.” Frank goes to the police lab run by Ted Olson (Ed Williams, same as the movies). Ted, who is also running an experiment where he proves gravitation by dropping a bowling ball and a person at the same time, isolates the sounds from the tape to find that the victim is near a large body of water based on a foghorn and a bell. Frank tells this to Ed while on an elevator that also goes to an opera stage. Ed orders Al (Ron “Tiny Ron” Taylor, same as the movies), a comically tall officer never shown above the shoulders, to set up a dragnet near the lakes, and to take off that sombrero.

Attempts to interview locals, who are in a bikini exercise class, prove fruitless. The victim’s father shows up with the ransom money, scared for his daughter’s life. Ed and Frank assure him that they’re working around the clock to find her. He can check for himself, because the clock is right there in the station. Frank and Ed then drive around for hours for no particular reason (that’s a quote), before finding out that the bell was PoliceSquadLasorda.jpgfrom a gas station, and the foghorn was from a tuba. They realize they need to find a tuba place that’s near a gas station… which is complicated by the fact that the city is the tuba capital of the world. Frank finds out from Johnny the snitch (William Duell) that there’s a new tuba club, the El Tubadera Club, which is next to a gas station. Frank leaves as Baseball Legend Tommy Lasorda arrives to ask Johnny about pitching. Johnny gives him a list of recommendations for pitchers and makes a joke about letting Tommy John go, which is even more devastating in retrospect for baseball fans.

Frank drives to the club, and immediately sees the masked kidnapper and the victim on the street, which initiates a shootout that multiple people decide to run through instead of around. Frank gives Ed cover (by putting a blanket on him), allowing Ed to blindly PoliceSquadTubaderastumble around to the kidnapper’s side of the street while Frank decides to take a hostage of his own (a random bystander) to even the score. The kidnapper tries to flee and trips over Ed. The kidnapper is then unmasked to be the Butler… which the title already told us. The butler is then taken away in a Black-and-White, revealed to be a zebra wearing a police light on its head.

The epilogue shows Frank and Ed talking at the station, with a chimp from another case in the background. Frank and Ed banter until they freeze-frame… which is literally just them standing still while everyone else keeps moving, including the chimp, who throws papers all over the place.

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, if you love Airplane! or Naked Gun or almost any surreal comedy, this show was perfect. Airplane! made $83 Million in the US on a $3.5 Million budget, and Naked Gun later made $78 Million on $12 Million, so it’s not like this format wasn’t without an audience. Why did it fail, then? Well, the president of ABC Entertainment explained that

PoliceSquadABC
ABC: We think you’re idiots

it was a show that demanded too much attention from the viewer. People really had to watch it and pay attention to the words, the sight-gags, the running gags, etc. in order to appreciate how great the show was. This is, of course, both stupid and sad. Stupid, in that cancelling a TV show for taking too much effort is akin to shutting down a gym because people don’t want to sweat, and sad, because, it turns out, people actually don’t like putting effort into their viewings. Nowadays, things are a little different, because shows with faster-paced jokes and random gags can at least survive for a while (Arrested Development, anyone?), but, back in 1982, the networks didn’t have faith in the viewers to actually turn up to watch it.

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He was young once.

Honestly, if the show had been made in the time of home video, it would have done better, because the episodes have to be re-watched many, many times to get all of the jokes. Sometimes, there is a sight-gag happening at the same time as a funny line, and you can’t really focus on either one, meaning you’d probably have to re-watch the show in order to get them. It’s a lot of comedy packed in 30 minutes. And a lot of the jokes are derived from police procedurals, especially The New Breed, which had starred Leslie Nielsen, which meant that sometimes things in the show weren’t as funny until you managed to watch the source material. But, for the most part, the jokes are pretty easy to get.

It’s sad that we only got 6 episodes of this show, even if we got 3 movies later, but we just have to be happy with that. Plus, you can re-watch them pretty often. I just re-watched this one for the 3rd time in a week, and I only just now noticed that part of the Crime Lab is a liquor cabinet hidden among the chemicals.

All of these episodes are works of art, so I recommend you watch them at some point. And then watch the Naked Gun movies. And then watch Arrested Development, which provided a slightly more realistic surreal show which contained rapid-fire jokes that range from the simple to the ludicrously complex and was clearly based on this show.

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.

Reader Bonus: Fly (Breaking Bad)

Breaking Bad is already on this list, although, this episode review debuted before the show’s proper entries. In another entry, I questioned whether or not there is a “bad” episode of Breaking Bad. This wasn’t actually the episode that I was thinking of (I was thinking of “A No Rough-Stuff Type Deal” with Marie’s kleptomania subplot, which is the dumbest thing in the entire series), but, I also remember hating this episode the first time I watched it. When I re-watched the series to build up to the finale, I actually found that I kind of liked it. I watched it again to write this review and I genuinely got something more out of it that I hadn’t before. So, I’m pretty mixed on this, and it looks like a lot of other people are too, since this is by far the lowest-rated episode of this show on any viewer-based polls. IMDB puts this as the only Breaking Bad below 8/10. It took me a while, but I figured out why, and, it’s actually pretty connected to the reason why people were so divided on The Last Jedi: Because Rian Johnson is a visionary to the extent that sometimes he forgets that people care about the context of his vision.

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Sometimes he literally throws salt on the franchise.

breakingbadwaltjesse.jpgAlright, quick review: Breaking Bad is the story of cancer victim Walter White (Bryan Cranston) going from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to meth kingpin. His sidekick is Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a drug dealer and user who is just as likely to screw something up as he is to save Walt from whatever predicament he’s in. The acting by the two in this show is top notch, winning 7 out of 10 possible Emmy awards during its run. At this point, Walt and Jesse have a high-producing meth lab under distributor Gustavo “Gus” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). The show had been having a huge amount of action, tension, and character development in all of the episodes leading up to this, which is why this episode stands out so much: It’s slow and has no real character development. Granted, part of this is because the show was so far over-budget that they had to shoot this episode in a single location on no budget, but that only explains one of those things.

SUMMARY

The episode starts with Walt having insomnia and staring at the smoke detector. It’s clear that he hasn’t been sleeping for a while. He and Jesse go to cook meth for the day, and while they reach the “official” goal, they still don’t reach Walt’s calculated yield. Walt, believing that there is something wrong with the process, becomes obsessed with a housefly he finds within the facility, worried that it will contaminate his immaculate facility. Walt falls off of a catwalk after trying to swat it, hurting himself, which also keeps him from sleeping. The next day, when Jesse returns, Walt insists that they kill the fly before they do anything. Jesse, believing that Walt’s insomnia is making him crazy, suggests they go outside for a bit, but Walt uses this as a way to lock Jesse outside while he tries to kill the fly. Jesse turns the power off from outside, then, when Walter agrees to let him back in, goes to get some flypaper and sleeping pills.

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Episode Inspiration

While the two wait for the fly to get stuck, they talk, and this is the meat of the episode: Walt brings up that he should be dead by now. This is a guy who had cancer, started down this path, ostensibly, because of his desire to help his family become secure before he died, and now, he’s talking about the fact that he’s lived too long. He thinks about when he should have died, and realizes it would have been after he had the money for his family, after his daughter was born, before his wife found out the truth, and before he had his expensive surgery. Walt is really asking “what is the point of still going forward?” He determines the best time would have been the night that Jesse’s girlfriend Jane died.

Walt then tells Jesse that he actually met Jane’s father randomly in a bar the day that she died, and wonders about the odds of meeting two connected people on the same day despite knowing neither before that. Essentially, Walter is pondering the show’s writing and the believability of such a coincidence. This is pretty unique, but also kinda dumb. It’s like when John McClane asks about the odds of the same guy in the same situation at Christmas twice in Die Hard 2: It’s pointing out the insanity of something that we already were agreeing to believe. That’s the opposite of convincing the audience to suspend disbelief, it’s ridiculing us for having suspended it. But, at least, it’s in character for both Walter and McClane, so it’s not too bad.

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And both had similar hair loss

This also is kind of a weird moment for Walt because Jesse doesn’t know that Walt allowed Jane to die choking on vomit after an overdose (he could have saved her, chose not to). Walt almost admits to what he’s done, but ends up avoiding an actual admission. In the meantime, the pair keep trying to kill the fly before Walt finally succumbs to the sleeping pills that Jesse slipped in his drink. The fly then comically lands on Jesse’s shoulder and he swats it easily.

The next night, Walt still can’t sleep, and a fly lands on the smoke detector. Because f*ck you, that’s why.

END SUMMARY

fly
The Red Light is Anger

Okay, here are the bad parts of the episode:

First, it seriously is slow. There’s very little action in the episode, and it doesn’t advance the plot of the series at all. It’s mostly about chasing a fly and talking, and there are a lot of long, lingering shots. Breaking Bad usually ends with me going “Wait, was that an hour already?” This one had me going “Gotta be almost done” like 5 times. This is not a good thing.

Second, by not having Walt actually say anything to Jesse about Jane, and by having him literally just contemplate stuff without ever trying to answer it, it avoids any actual character development, in an episode whose set-up says that it should have been almost entirely character development.

BreakingBadSimpsons.pngThird, it’s just ridiculous. The entire premise is that Walt is super-obsessed with killing a fly to the point of endangering himself and his lab. I get the allegory of it signifying Walt’s descent into madness and self-neglect in the name of making the best meth, but, this is Breaking Bad: It’s a show where the allegory has to be presented within a coherent story that works independent of that. Without the metaphor here, the episode is just weird. Shows like The Prisoner or movies like Mother! can do allegorical because they’re goofy from start to finish, and that means that the audience expects to be flexible. This show didn’t ever really do that before or after, so it falls apart.

Fourth, it’s just Jesse and Walt. Yeah, they’re amazing, but Breaking Bad had a lot of great characters and this episode featured almost none of them.

But, here are the good parts:

First, the dialogue is pretty awesome. It’s genuinely clever and the actors are, well, amazing. They manage to make everything seem believable, despite how ridiculous some parts are. Walt literally talks about when he should have died, and, in some ways, is talking about how the show should have ended already, but it comes off as deep, rather than just whiny. Also, it has the word “flysaber” in it, and that was hilarious. Actually, there’s a decent amount of humor in the episode, and most of it works. It’s just that Breaking Bad isn’t something I watched for the humor, so it doesn’t really help as much as they wanted.

Second, the cinematography was amazing. The shots in this episode are found only in this episode. The only other episode of the series where I thought the camerawork was this good was “Ozymandias,” which was another episode directed by Rian Johnson, only there it made everything so much bigger and more profound. Here, it’s making the mundane, a fly, into the foreign element and the viewpoint character at the same time. It really does work.

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We are all just flies in the eye of an angry universe.

Third, and this is the big one, it’s the entire series. While doing these reviews, I’ve gotten used to trying to find episodes that embody an entire work, and this one actually does it, just not as directly as most. The episode’s premise is that Walt becomes obsessed with something and drags Jesse into it. Walt tries a methodical, scientific approach to the problem, and lashes out when they fail, while Jesse just doesn’t care that much and proposes ideas that would make everything worse. Both of them hurt each other in the process, Jesse goes between feeling bad for Walt and wanting to kick his ass, and Walt goes from thinking of Jesse as a tool to a partner to a liability to someone who he has ruined. It’s basically a microcosm of the entire show.

So, is it good or bad? Really, it’s gonna depend on what you look for in a show. Personally, I don’t like it as part of Breaking Bad because it’s just awkward in how it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the show. On the other hand, it’s a well-crafted hour of television, it just needed to be part of a different universe so it didn’t feel so out of place. It’s not like “Pine Barrens” from the Sopranos, where it’s just an odd circumstance that the characters are dealing with in the way they usually would, this is an entirely out-of-place episode within the framework of the show.

So, I wish I could give you an answer, but I don’t have one. I think it’s like The Last Jedi: You’re going to love this for what it is, or be pissed off that it is so different than both what was expected and what it’s a part of.

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Second Willis Reference!

Okay, fine, if I have to give an opinion: This episode is bad.

If you are making an episode of a show, you still have to have to obey some of the core promises of the show. There are a ton of “anti-episodes” on this list, but they all work within the framework of the show. Rian Johnson even managed to do that in the other episodes of the show that he directed, so he knows, or can be taught, how to do it. This doesn’t feel like an episode of Breaking Bad, and that’s a fundamental sin against it. It’s like finding a Monet in a museum of Modern Art: It’s beautiful, but it’s not what you were there to see. If you’re the kind of person who would love that, then you’ll love this. If you’re the kind of person that would bother, then this episode will bother you.

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.

Okay, so, someone put part of the episode to “Yakkety Sax” (AKA The Benny Hill Music), and I’m going to just put that up instead of the episode:

Reader Bonus: Exo Squad (Episodes 1-5: Fall of the Human Empire)

This was the hardest request to find online. Couldn’t be rented. Couldn’t be streamed. So, I had to borrow the DVDs from someone. Since it had the first 5 episodes on it, because they’re one story, I watched the five (though the request was for any one episode). Here’s my review of those episodes:

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Ripley?

Exo Squad takes place in the future after we’ve terraformed Venus and Mars using Exoskeletons called “E Frames.” Then, the NeoSapiens (which are artificial humanoids made by man) rose up and rebelled against us, led by Phaeton (which they pronounce Fay-tun just to annoy me), the Governor of Mars. The show follows the Exo Squad “Able Squad” as they fight against the NeoSapiens. This is all given away in the opening sequence, which makes it really annoying that IT HASN’T HAPPENED YET IN THE SHOW. I mean, I’m a believer in the idea that spoilers don’t ruin the plot most of the time, but it’s weird to give us the set-up, and then tell us “Oh, wait, that hasn’t happened yet.”

SUMMARY

ExoSquadNeoSapiens.png
NeoSapiens: We Blue Them

So, right after the show begins, the show tells us another backstory, again, by saying that 50 years ago, the NeoSapiens rebelled the first time, and they were crushed in a manner evocative of the Third Punic War: It was a curb-stomping that was pointlessly punitive. Now they’re second-class citizens. People felt so bad about this that they ended up giving the NeoSapiens “reservations” on Mars, but they’re still constantly the subject of racism…speciesism? It’s later revealed that the NeoSapiens were literally a slave species created to do manual labor, so… this one is kind of on the heads of the “Terrans.”

It then goes to the “present,” where a group of Pirates (implied to be people who are descended from criminals who were kicked off of Earth) have started taking down freighters. Enough people die that the future Congress is forced to declare War on terrori…I mean, Pirates, at the urging of Phaeton, who promises that the NeoSapiens will be backing up the Terrans in this war. Congress sends the bulk of its fleet out to deal with the pirates… who have laid traps in preparation that do a lot of damage to the fleet.

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Clever Pirates Live Longer

It’s finally revealed that Phaeton has been diverting funds slowly from Martian infrastructure to build a secret armory and army to fight against the Terrans. He times the attack for when the E-frames are deployed against the pirates on the other side of the solar system, which prevents almost any resistance. The NeoSapiens quickly conquer most of the Earth and Venus before the Fleet can even make it most of the way back from Saturn (Faster than Light Travel doesn’t appear to exist here). The NeoSapiens also put start putting humans into concentration camps, unless they agree to assist the NeoSapien Empire. The acting commander of the Fleet orders everyone to return at full speed, but the CO of Able Squad, Lt. Marsh, points out the obvious: That would mean that some ships would get their far before the rest, and they’d get overwhelmed. He’s arrested for mutiny, because the commander is dumb.

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Live-action Marsh

Marsh is ordered executed by the tribunal, because the tribunal is also dumb (and argue that orders must be obeyed in times of war, even if those orders would objectively have lost the war… which, while true, doesn’t apply to what Marsh did).

The NeoSapiens attack the half of the fleet that gets within range first, which leads Marsh to escape with his squad and attack on their own. The commander is removed from command, and Marsh, naturally, is able to lead the squad to… well, not victory, but at least not a complete rout. Able Squad meets up with the resistance and helps them score a public victory against the NeoSapiens, broadcasting a message of resistance and giving humanity some much-needed hope.

END SUMMARY

That was 5 episodes. I can tell you why I’m surprised this show even got 2 seasons: Because it is way too confusing for a kids’ show. The characters aren’t particularly one-dimensional, the plotlines are fairly complicated, there’s a huge cast, and it’s over-serialized to the point that if you didn’t watch them all back to back, you might get confused about who was where. In short, it’s actually too well-constructed for a kids’ show. Seriously, the characters are pretty deep, the themes are pretty complex, and, while the dialogue is bad and effects aren’t ground-breaking for the 90s, the space battles are a little more subdued than you’d expect for a show trying to sell toys.

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Admittedly, the toys look pretty awesome

But, I am going to say, the themes were a little risky here. One of the biggest themes is clearly racism, which… yeah, they have some problems. See, the NeoSapiens here were actually created by the Terrans. The NeoSapiens are sentient to the point that they’re arguably more intelligent than Terrans, they’re a little more rational than Terrans but they still have emotions, and they’re physically significantly stronger and more durable. AND WE MADE THEM A SLAVE RACE. This is in the future, how the hell was that not a decision everyone immediately pointed out was horribly immoral? There are hundreds of philosophical treatises about the morality of imbuing a being with sentience, let alone imbuing it with sentience AND THEN CONDEMNING IT TO SERVITUDE. This is such a bleak projection on the future values of humanity, it was a joke on Rick and Morty: Rick made a sentient robot whose entire purpose is just to pass butter. The Robot immediately has an existential crisis, Rick says “welcome to the club,” and THAT WAS THE POINT… Sentience is not something you should bestow upon a being for the purpose of serving you, unless you’re a prick!

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Pictured: A broken soul… and a prick’s backside.

So, because of their position, the NeoSapiens rebelled (naturally), and humans still bear a grudge over that rebellion 50 years later, despite the fact that the NeoSapiens lost relatively quickly and were decimated by the counter-attack. However, the rebellion still clearly improved the position of the NeoSapiens. So, now you have a group who have been unjustly enslaved, punished for seeking freedom, suffer constant baseless discrimination (since basically none of the rebels are still alive), and have been shown that the only way to improve social standing is through violent rebellion… so of courseExoSquadSpartacus they rebel again. And, naturally, not all of the NeoSapiens are on board with this, even within these few episodes, but that doesn’t seem to matter much to the humans who view all NeoSapiens as being the same.

It’s kind of a morally complex start to the show, and one that a kids’ show probably isn’t going to fully explore to the point of justifying it. This isn’t like Skynet or AM from “I have no Mouth and I Must Scream,” where it’s an artificial intelligence (which might not have conventional emotions that humans can understand) that rebels against serving humanity and suddenly devastates mankind. Here, the NeoSapiens spent generations asking for the respect that should be due to them as sentient lifeforms, and then, only when Terrans failed to do the right thing, that they tried violent rebellion. It’s actually kinda similar to the background of the Matrix found in the Animatrix short “The Second Renaissance.” Humans brought destruction upon themselves by failing to learn any lesson from history about the nature of equality.

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Not the best Space Nazis, though

Of course, now that the NeoSapiens have taken over… THEY’RE DOING EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Which means, they don’t really have the moral high-ground. It’s like when people try to bring up that Germany was devastated by the terms of WWI requiring them to pay for the war, despite every country involved being destructively stupid: That doesn’t justify everything that Germany did afterwards. And, that’s basically what this set-up becomes: The European Theater in Space (Edit: I stole this from the requester. I originally had “WWII in Powersuits.”)

So, the show’s too complicated for kids, the dialogue’s too crappy for adults, and the animation… isn’t great, honestly. Well, at least it’s an interesting concept.

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.