Reader Request / Amazon Prime Review – Upload: Welcome To Paradise, That’ll Be $9.95

Amazon gives us a look at the future of death. It’s mostly ads. 

SUMMARY (SPOILER-FREE)

Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is a computer programmer who is dating the wealthy Ingrid Kannerman (Allegra Edwards). However, Nathan gets into an auto-driving car accident and is sent to the hospital. He is given the option to be sent to Lake View, an expensive digital afterlife into which people’s consciousnesses can be digitally transferred, but only because Ingrid agrees to pay for the monthly fees. He agrees, and is sent to the very ritzy resort-like afterlife where he is supervised and supported by Nora Antony (Andy Allo) and her coworker Aleesha (Zainab Johnson). He quickly is befriended by Luke (Kevin Bigley), another Lake View resident. Soon, however, Nathan starts to develop a closeness with Nora, despite the fact that Ingrid is the only one keeping him “alive.”

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Right before the Upload.

END SUMMARY

This show is a blend of a number of episodes of Black Mirror, but as a comedy. The future is filled with ads and in-app purchases that populate the digital afterlife. People hook up almost exclusively using Tinder-like applications that require video consent, but also allow for public ratings and reviews of the encounters afterwards. Funerals have the deceased present, which has mostly reduced any of the impact of death and thus any need to mourn. You can wear a special suit that allows you to have sex with anyone over the internet or even in the afterlife. In short, we’re in a strange dystopia because death no longer has its sting. 

Upload - 1Stars
Although not rating it 5 stars stings a bit.

The biggest theme in the series, aside from the fact that humanity has largely been altered forever by the fact that death is no longer the great unknown, is how much corporations and capitalism in general have started to subvert all of humanity and direct existence towards their will. As I said, one of the first things that’s revealed is that you have to pay thousands of dollars a month to CONTINUE LIVING in a digital environment. During that existence, ads are constantly pitched to you, you aren’t allowed to work (because it would destroy the economy for the working man), and any “luxuries” cost a large surcharge, despite the fact that this is all just code. In short, you’re having to pay constantly for stuff that costs next to nothing to replicate. The justification given is that it costs money to maintain the system, but… it’s literally people’s lives. If you can’t think of something for which this might be a metaphor… well, try harder.

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The beer costs extra. Again, it is not real. Also, apparently it doesn’t taste like real beer.

The humor in the show isn’t quite as on-point as, say, The Good Place, but it still keeps you interested. Mostly, the series keeps you interested by having some very elaborate world-building and solid chemistry between Nathan and Nora. The supporting characters are also compelling, usually having some fun sub-plots or interesting twists. Still, I recommend giving it a try. 

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

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Netflix Review – Code 8: Almost the Movie It Should Be

Robbie and Stephen Amell bring us (yet another) movie about superpowered people being oppressed.

SUMMARY

Back in the early 1900s, people started to develop superpowers, ranging from super strength to pyrokinesis to telepathy. Naturally, the government required them all to register their abilities. They quickly start advancing humanity rapidly, including building Lincoln City, a high-tech metropolis monitored and policed by robots and drones. Despite that, they’ve been progressively more and more attacked and restricted by the government. It’s now the 1990s and a drug called Psyke, made from the spinal fluid of powered people, is being distributed through the city by a gang called The Trust.

Code8 - 1Robots
Remember, it’s the ’90s and we have robots.

Connor Reed (Robbie Amell) is an extremely powerful electrokinetic whose mother (Kari Matchett) is dying of cancer. Due to the discrimination against Powers, he can’t get regular work and usually does day labor as an electrician (since he can touch wires without gloves). He later gets an offer from local criminal Garrett (Stephen Amell) to help him with a job. Connor accepts, leading to him getting caught up in a city-wide drug conflict. 

END SUMMARY

Earlier this year, I lauded the movie Freaks for showing some new and creative uses of superpowers and expanding a little bit on the concept of discrimination against different people that has been popular since the X-Men comics. I’m going to decline to laud this film for similar reasons. It doesn’t expand on the concept of people having superpowers being the target of prejudice, nor does it show any particularly creative or original uses of such abilities. Moreover, it doesn’t tell a compelling enough narrative to justify the lack of expansion. 

Code8 - 2DayLabor
I loved that scene in X2 where mutants are just sitting around waiting for work.

That’s not to say this is a bad movie. It isn’t. The performances are good, particularly the Amells, and the fight choreography and special effects are all above average. The interaction between Robbie Amell and Kari Matchett is appropriately touching, with Amell showing that Connor knows that what he’s doing to save her would break her heart. When he and Stephen Amell start to work together, they quickly feel like family (which makes sense, as they’re cousins) and you can see that this is something that Connor has never had before. If the movie were more about the struggles of a discriminated and hunted group surviving together, this would be amazing. Unfortunately, it’s still a movie about a criminal gang and plays up all of the tropes associated with it, which drains a lot of the drama.

Code8 - 3Cast
Nothing says family like an off-brand Denny’s.

What’s interesting is that the film actually started off with a lot of promise. The concept of powered people being valuable in the construction field is something that I think is not explored enough in most media. However, the film doesn’t follow that to the logical conclusion that people with powers would be unbelievably valuable… to the point that other countries would probably be offering massive benefits to them to get them to expatriate. Do you think that there’s not a good opening in some remote areas for a person who can generate massive amounts of electricity? How about someone who can cut metal with their bare hands or survive at zero degrees? Or a soldier with bulletproof skin? The movie tries to indicate that these people can’t afford the license to use their powers, but… yeah, that makes no sense in any kind of capitalist system. 

Code8 - 4Shocking
No way there can be a useful skill derived from this. No way at all. 

Overall, it wasn’t a bad movie, but since it didn’t do anything particularly original or interesting, I wouldn’t suggest moving it to the top of your list. If you want a movie to put on in the background, though, you could do worse. It’s fun, but I expect more from this genre after the last 20 years. 

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

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

Netflix Review – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix spent three seasons adapting one of the most dark and interesting children’s series ever written.

SUMMARY

A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the lives of the three Baudelaire Orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith/Tara Strong). Violet is a brilliant inventor and engineer, Klaus is a polymath with a love of reading, and Sunny… is a baby that bites things hard. After their parents are killed in a fire, the three are sent to live with their distant relative, the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a terrible actor who would never have been allowed to play Doogie Howser. Throughout the series, the Baudelaires try to find a place to hide safely from Count Olaf and his troupe of evil actors while making their way through the macabre world in which the series is set. All of the events are narrated from the future by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton).

asoue - 1cast
Real talk: Why is it so hard to get cast photos lately?

END SUMMARY

The series is basically divided into two types of adventures: Either the children are taken in by an eccentric/flat-out insane caretaker and attacked by a disguised Olaf or they’re on the run from Olaf and forced to hide in some insane location. The key is that nothing in this world quite operates on real logic, instead operating on the principle that basically everyone is off-kilter and, in most cases, anachronistic. The main characters are often the only sane people within any situation, pointing out that what most of the supporting characters are doing is either stupid or crazy, but, being children, they’re constantly ignored.

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Running gag is that these disguises actually fool people.

The setting for the series is intensely gothic, much in the style of Tim Burton or Barry Sonnenfeld… but more the latter because he’s the one that produces the show. Colors are largely muted, buildings tend to be in the gothic style, and the music often is best described as “eerie as hell.” The time-period for the series is completely nonsensical, with black-and-white movies and telegraph lines being commonplace, while also having jokes about streaming internet services.

asoue - 3gothic
Every building in the show was designed by Edgar Allen Poe.

The tone is one of the darkest forms of comedy that you can put in a show ostensibly for children. People die frequently in this show, often in horrifying ways, and yet the spin on their deaths is usually very comical, because most of the characters refuse to react to death rationally. It also helps that Lemony Snicket is constantly adding levity and sarcasm into the series by addressing the audience directly with some off-the-cuff and off-the-wall observation. Since Snicket’s observations were one of the signature elements of the book series, it’s nice that they managed to work it into the show fairly organically.

asoue - 4lemonysnicket
He’s basically riffing on his own show.

The acting in the show is phenomenal, although the way that the dialogue is presented will turn some people off. Neil Patrick Harris is a standout, matching Jim Carrey’s fabulous performance from the film adaptation, while still managing not to duplicate it too much. Harris sings the great theme song to the series “Look Away” which he sings in a different voice whenever he portrays a character in the episode, with the lyrics changing from book to book. They also find some excuses for Harris to let out his broadway side, something that, while it does make it harder to believe Olaf is a terrible actor, is too entertaining to pass up.

asoue - 5broadway
Out-of-Character? A little. Out-Freaking-Standing? Definitely.

The downsides, if they are downsides, of the show are that, because of the nature of the medium, there are fewer of the wonderful ambiguities and hidden messages that permeated the books. Things that in the book series were left up to the reader to deduce are almost all made explicit. Additionally, some of the added scenes and characters are actually more positive than the rest of the tone of the show, possibly because it’s just so depressing to watch something that’s absurdist and, largely, hopeless. Frankly, it didn’t bother me, but I have heard a few fans of the books complaining.

However, there are two things this show does differently than most series that I really hope lead to its success. First, the villains are the ones shunning knowledge, while the heroes are the ones who seek it. A problem with the recurring trope of a criminal mastermind is that you have to make the villain the smart one, which often results in them making the hero a brawny dumbass. Think Lex Luthor versus Superman or Loki versus Thor (though neither Superman nor Thor are stupid, they’re not as smart as their opponents). This show 100% goes the other way, saying that the act of reading, learning, and exploring inherently makes someone more empathetic and therefore more ethical. Btw, studies suggest that this is generally true, reading makes you more empathetic (though not always as everyone thinks).

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Scientist bad. Big Muscled Guy good. 

Second, the show ends up pointing out one of the most difficult truths in the world: People aren’t all good or all bad. People are almost all morally ambiguous, falling somewhere on the scale between “hero” and “villain” or, within the series, between “volunteer” and “villain.” Everyone tends to think they’re a hero of their own story, but that’s likely the product of their own moral relativism: we define good as what we do, rather than defining good as good and then doing it. The show does a great job of exploring this concept.

Overall, I loved this series and I’m sad that it’s over. It’s only 25 episodes, total, so you should take a weekend or a week to watch it.

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

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