Category Archives: Movies/TV

Character Studies: Sherlock vs. Sherlock

So, Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downy Jr. Which of the two is the better Sherlock Holmes?

 

Like many such questions, the answer need only boil down to individual taste. Both actors play the same fictional character in a similar way; sometimes quirky, sometimes downright eccentric, but always with a killer wit and a British accent. Both Holmes’ portrayals also have a playful, on-again-off-again relationship with his sidekick, Dr. Watson, and while both have their share of very thinly-veiled homoeroticism (one version is a bit more obvious about it than the other), Sherlock Holmes and his partner in crime-solving are always congruent with mainstream, unread ideas about the character.

What do I mean by that, you ask? Well, what does the average person who has never read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle know about Sherlock Holmes?

…If you answered something along the lines of, “he’s weird, but very smart,” that is probably correct. As long as a portrayal sticks to that basic description and comes across as fairly likeable, the average movie-goer is satisfied.

Let’s look at some of the basics of each role:

Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a bit more suave than his scruffy Downey counterpart, and while he too has many funny lines (usually revolving around his misunderstandings about social norms), his writers explicitly label him as a high-functioning sociopath. Because of the TV show format (every episode of the show is as long as a full-feature movie), we are allowed to see his flaws more highlighted and expanded upon, as he struggles to relate and care about others beyond the potential of challenges and amusement. The movie, on the other hand, mostly uses Sherlock’s faux pas strictly for humor, and virtually nothing he does has lasting consequences on the relationships in his life.

 

In both versions, Holmes is also heavily compared to Professor Moriarty, a criminal mastermind whose intellect is frequently described as being on par with that of Holmes himself. He was less prominent in the original book series, but has since become a major enemy and foil to Sherlock, contrasting what little humanity he can sometimes feel with wanton cruelty and depravity, emotionalism that is expressed and directed in socially-unacceptable ways.

It is heavily implied that, had these men chosen a different path in life, they could very well have switched places.

Interestingly enough, Movie Moriarty contrasts with Downey’s character by literally being everything that Downey isn’t; suave, debonair, perfectly blending in with the world around him. This man contributes to society by teaching and donating, rather than assisting the police force and insulting them the entire time.

TV Show Moriarty, on the other hand, is fairly underwhelming at first glance. He blends in too much until his villain persona is revealed, and that appears to be very immature and almost child-like, as he giggles, wastes time, and occasionally has to stop himself from full-on, screaming rage.

 

TV Show Moriarty was built up and kept a secret more effectively  than Movie Moriarty, whose voice gives off enough presence by itself. Listening to him speak to Irene at any given time, you know pretty much everything you need to know about him on an almost instinctual level, before his face and machinations are truly revealed.

TV Show Moriarty had a bit more ease with which to hide, as the show is set in modern day and deals with themes like abundant, fully-integrated technology. He almost seems to revel in his anonymity, and the ease with which he can disappear, spy on, and command other people, whereas the movie’s character sits calmly and quietly, pretty much right up until the very end, like he is playing a difficult but engaging game of chess.

 

Smooth, maybe, but a little too traditional.

This gent is more of a typical mustache-twirler villain – an upper class Snidely Whiplash, if you will – while his TV show counterpart is less polished, but new and interesting. And how he relates to Sherlock is a bit more compelling than just “we’re not so different, you and I.”

A point goes to the TV show!

 

Sorry, boys.

But hey, that’s a nice segue! Let’s now consider the Dr. John Watsons.

Depending on whom you are, you might get a kick out of the fact that Bilbo and Smaug are now awkwardly flirting and solving crimes together. They have good friend chemistry, as Watson seems to have his own Diet-Sherlock tendencies (like being bored with the peaceful, post-military life and longing to go back to the excitement and bloodshed). He’s interesting and compelling, definitely, but personally, I’m just not sure he can beat Movie Watson, who tends to be a little less lost and befuddled and more drily witty and irritable. His bickering with Downey, as well as the fact that his partner keeps dragging him back into crazy Sherlock world no matter how much he tells himself he wants to escape, is adorable and hilarious.

Here, at last, I award a point to the movie. Props to you, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

 

But what about the brother character? Another figure who is close to Holmes, bringing out his complex personality through their interactions with one another?

 

Mycroft Holmes is also similar to Sherlock in many ways, but in the movie he seems to have a good relationship with Sherlock, while in the TV show it is clearly strained, perpetuated more by a grudging need for favors than genuine care and respect. Here, we can definitively say that the brother serves a very real and defined purpose in one version while being mostly superfluous in the other.

Movie Mycroft doesn’t challenge or change “Sherly” in any meaningful way; he’s just there for the sake of the plot, the humor, and the very necessary scene where he talks to Watson’s new wife, unashamedly naked.

 

Ugh…the point goes to the TV show, once again.

Finally, I address Sherlock Holmes himself. While Downey’s character is amusing and does more than enough to fluidly carry the rough-and-tumble films to their full 130-ish minutes, Cumberbatch is better at delivering dialogue and coming across as more socially stunted than just a generally eccentric weirdo. His movements still have tons of energy, and his face reflects the same speed and excitement of his thoughts as well, but it never really comes across as too hammy or played-up for the camera. It seems more natural and plausible, which helps to ground the story when it goes off into downright otherworldly sinister schemes and towering crime organizations.

Also, Sherlock uses certain book plots as a basis and changes them up a bit, which, while not the most faithful way to adapt a story, may intrigue book lovers enough to draw them into the show.

 

Some episodes drag a little, though, so you win some and you lose some.

I’ll happily go see a new movie if one comes out, but face it: Downey’s version is almost as cartoonish as Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective.

If only they’d had Vincent Price…

 

*None of the images in this post belong to me. Thank you for reading.

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Beauty and the Beast (2017): Doesn’t Hold a Candelabra to the Original

Just…go see the stage musical and pretend that Hermione is in place of whoever is Belle. It’s more worth your time and money to do that than to go see this live-action remake.

This is the only one so far that I would not consider buying. And spoilers below, so be warned.

Normally, I would wait to post this until I have calmed down and reflected more, but nope! This sucker is so flawed and inexplicably disjointed that I have to talk about it now. It is that astoundingly incompetent.

Maybe that’s not the right word…perhaps I should say that it’s astoundingly pointless. This is a diet version of the animated feature and has no reason to exist. If I could somehow scream the word “whatever” without putting too much effort and emotion into it, that  is how I would describe my feelings towards this movie.

This remake tries so hard to not just live up to its animated namesake, but be it as well, and it can’t possibly do so.

The music is noticeably over-polished and poorly mixed. It’s the opposite problem of Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables; it’s not raw and emotional enough. It sounds like it was just made to sell the soundtrack as close to the “pop” section as it could get.

We (meaning my boyfriend and I) checked to see if it was just our cheap movie theatre that was behind the bad mixing, but no, there are plenty of problems still present in the music itself. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens sound great, but only the latter has any raw emotion in his voice, and both definitely sound like they’re singing in a studio, rather than in the actual movie. And the in-song dialogue is stripped of all emotion, as the producers were clearly more interested in making everyone sound “pretty” than giving them any semblance of character.

 

Notice how Belle gets really pissed off at the beginning, almost yelling? Imagine in this scene that she has a British accent, and then picture she’s in a chair at the salon casually complaining to her girl friends. That’s essentially how powerful and compelling it is; mild annoyance vs actual shocked outrage.

Also, Gaston doesn’t get humiliated with a wedding fiasco. Belle shuts a door in his face, and then the next time we see him, he’s mildly disappointed at the tavern. How does this fuel the fire of his depraved ego, making him into the true monster of the movie? What leads him to make the drastic jump of deciding to throw Belle’s father into a mental institution? I have no clue. It was in the original, so let’s put it in here too, I guess!

The actors (all good people clearly trying to do their best with crap direction) almost never seem like real people. Belle seems less terrified and more put-out most of the time, and otherwise, she’s smiling. I think Watson was trying to be more confident in an effort to seem stronger, willful, and more independent than the original Belle, but it just comes across like she’s not a real human being dealing with a terrifying and stressful situation. She’s not quite at Anakin Skywalker levels of bland, but still not very compelling, which is a damn shame.

 

The original Belle, voiced by Paige O’Hara, was a strong, likeable character who also managed to be human, if a bit more forgiving and kind than most of us would be in her situation.

Emma Watson, on the other hand,  has very little character. The film keeps telling me she’s odd and different and awesome, like the previous Belle, but she doesn’t show it unless she’s directly speaking, and even then, it’s pretty basic. There’s a lot of tell, don’t show that happens here, and it’s not just because it’s a musical. The original was a musical as well, practically virtually identical to this one, but even during moments where the characters were silent, a lot of personality comes through in their designs and the “cartoon-ish” animation. 

For example, when Gaston comes a-calling with a whole impromptu wedding party, Belle’s eye roll upon seeing him through her peephole is incredibly pronounced, even maybe overexaggerated. 

That said, Watson does look the part. She is gorgeous and I will always love her, even when her performance is sadly kind of bland and  lackluster.

The story is too much retreading of old material (word-for-word dialogue and essentially shot-for-shot scenes), to the point where you can’t help but compare it to the original animated feature. Some things are changed completely, while others are changed not nearly enough, and there is far more of the latter than the former, too much more for my liking.

This ain’t “recapturing the spirit of the original, with some new twists to make it fresh.” This is riding the original’s coat tails and throwing in a few scraps of difference to try to throw us off their scent.

 

The visuals are over-gilded and painful to my eyes; I had to look away for most of the Be Our Guest number, it was so hideous, overcrowded, and just overdone. The castle never feels lonely, ominous, or terrifying in any way, demonstrated best by the fact that Belle shows up at it during the day, in brilliant sunshine. Sooo dramatic! 

But don’t worry. God will still send that out-of-nowhere thunderstorm to the climax for dramatic effect. Some Disney tropes never die, after all.

The wardrobe is hideous and makes no sense. Most of the other objects I can tolerate, but she was too much, with her haphazardly flailing curtains and utter lack of a face.

The pacing is whack. I was checking my watch all through the first half, and then, to my surprise, numerous scenes in the second half went speeding by like the Road Runner. 

For example, the moment when Beast gets angry about Belle trying to touch his enchanted rose isn’t literally a minute, but it feels like it might as well have been. There’s virtually no drama behind it, and then Belle leaves, looking like the Beast just told her to go to the kitchen and make him a sandwich. I have no idea why she’s running or why she just up and decides to leave after this; the look on her face is minor frustration, and nothing more.

She doesn’t even look all that scared staring down a pack of angry wolves that are about to eat her face off.

That said….the added songs were nice. And some of the jokes were pretty damn funny. Some of the added scenes were interesting, if superfluous or largely irrelevant. Why did Belle’s mother getting the Plague matter? I could have sworn they were leading up to some Sweeney Todd-style rape ambush; you know, maybe something related to the fact that she was apparently a weirdo like Belle and her father, and people ganged up on her…?

 

As far as I can tell, nothing was added to Belle and the Beast’s relationship other than her telling him about her family a little bit…Cool? Belle didn’t even know her mother, and was a baby when she died, so I’m not sure why she remembers much or why this is so important to her.

Yeah, I was pretty much right in my pre-movie fears. But even before that, I should have started having misgivings once it was mentioned that they were going to be using the original songs and score. There is taking inspiration and changing context, and then there is copy-pasting in someone else’s work instead of doing your own.

But hey, that’s how the film basically pays for itself. Who needs creative marketing when you have simple brand name recognition?

I tried so very hard to go into this and be fair and objective, but the movie begs so much to be compared to its predecessor, and in that light, it fails miserably. I’d rank it below Maleficent, and it didn’t even have the gall to do the “here is the true version of this story, lost to time and retellings” bullcrap. At least Maleficent was working from an already fairly flawed movie, and tried to switch the sympathy to the villain.

It just feels so lazy. I was of half a mind to go back to the cashier and ask for my money back before we had even reached the halfway point, and not because I was all that angry.
I was bored. I’d seen this all before. It was like going to the stage musical without the novelty of it being live, and after a short time, I stopped wondering how they were going to handle the scenes from the original movie differently. The CG was just so fake and hideous…I almost stopped caring until the “Days in the Sun” scene.

The stage musical, at the very least, had some intrigue. What props will they use? How will they set up and work with the stage? The “movie magic” on the screen isn’t true movie magic anymore. It’s all done with computers. That’s the answer.

The Beast isn’t scary or even all that intimidating. The household objects are confirmed to be frozen in their forms once the last petal falls (left ambiguous in the original movie, but a major plot point in the Broadway musical), and it is needlessly sad, even for Disney. Someone told me to bring tissues, but I wasn’t even crying. And guys, I cry at everything! I cried when Ash got turned to stone in Pokemon: The First Movie, for Pete’s sake!

Honestly, that was the darkest thing about the entire movie, and doesn’t it make the Beast so much more likable that he screwed them over, just for a hot girl?

 

I’m sorry, petrification is one of the most universally scary things ever. Being frozen alive, but aware for the rest of your life sounds absolutely horrible and torturous. Waaaaay worse than being a Beast who can travel anywhere in the world on a whim (the Enchantress gave him a magic book for some reason), and yet this guy just lets Belle go knowing this is going to happen to his servants?!!!! 

If I were one of them, I’d probably beat him with the hardest, sharpest part of myself right up until the very end. Yeesh…and people call the original Beast a jerk.

 

Oh, also, Disney took a page from the original story, in that Belle’s father takes a rose from the garden and that’s what pisses the Beast off initially…lame. It’s not like Maurice went after the enchanted rose or anything. Hell, he took food from the Beast’s table, but no, Maurice. You picked a flower, you heartless thief! How dare you?!

If there anything that the original movie did right, it was picking and choosing what to adapt out of the source material. Maurice trespassing pisses off the Beast, and the Beast only cares about the rose (not a random rose from his garden) because its wilting is tied to his curse. His despair leads him to act more like the animal he had become, and guess what? Animals are territorial. It makes sense on a simple, but also brilliant, level, when you think about it.

What was the point of her father’s taking one leading him to be locked in a dungeon? Also, why is it randomly snowing in Beast land?

 

New Beast still seems too human, but ironically he also doesn’t emote very well, and his voice is princely but not remotely beastly. It’s a wonder that anyone can take him seriously.

There is so much to complain about in this movie that I can hardly keep focused. LeFou is officially gay now, which kind of strikes me as the new filmmakers poking mean-spirited fun at the old version of LeFou, but ultimately, I’m surprised more people are pleased by that portrayal. I mean, he knows Gaston is doing bad things the whole time, and he seems genuinely regretful,  but LeFou stands by and lets things happen just because he’s got a crush on Gaston.

 

In the end, Gaston snubs him pretty casually and pointlessly, and that’s all it takes to get him to be a full-on good guy. Not that it amounts to anything. LeFou talks to Mrs. Potts, and then a few scenes later, he appears again with dancing with a new guy….Cool? I guess it pays to be an obvious walking-stereotype that compromises his morals for a hot person and then gives up being a bad guy immediately

No sir, nothing questionable or poorly-thought-out there…

But hey, I can’t tell people what they should or shouldn’t find insulting. Visibility is still visibility, after all, and the “women scorned” trope can probably work just as well on a man…who didn’t seem all that committed in the first place. Last minute redemption, anyone?

I just think it’s weird to praise it simply because it’s Disney. There is a much better LGBT victory AND first from Disney that we should be talking more about, in my opinion…

 

Gaston is okay, but like LeFou, he’s not nearly as despicable as his animated counterpart. His scene at the tavern is probably the best thing in the whole movie, but again, I’d personally rather be watching it live, on a stage. The script tries to make him cartoonishly, unambiguously evil, but it’s more funny than damning.

I’d still rank his acting higher than just about anyone else in the film.

The Enchantress appears very obviously throughout, especially at the end, but we never get her thought process on the terms and conditions of this curse she’s evidentially so proud of. Never once does anyone think to question her about her actions, even when she’s standing right next to them. Mrs. Potts handwaves a short explanation that she and her fellow servants let the king brainwash his son, turning him into a fellow scumbag, but that’s the only indication we ever get of what the Beast’s father was like. 

Oh, and if we’re going for realism here, the servants were probably a step up from property, so what choice would they have really had, movie? You want to elaborate on that one a little bit more?

See, the animated movie had its unfortunate or questionable implications, but it didn’t draw attention to them nearly as much as this one does. The remake tries to explain a few things (such as why no one in the surrounding area remembers the cursed ruler of the land and his castle in the nearby woods), but utterly ignores several crucial others.

It DOES answer one very important question right at the end, however…that yes, Belle was very much into the bestiality of the situation.

 

No, seriously. Belle teasingly asks if the Prince-Beast can grow a beard, and he roars at her, making her laugh. 

Um….ewwwwww……Thanks for that, Disney. That is one part of the story that I never wanted to seriously ponder.

To cut this disjointed rant short, the new movie is not the worst thing ever. It’s okay. But it is pretty bad and pretty shamelessly just coasting off the love and prestige (duels deserved) of a much better movie. You can argue that all of the Disney remakes, retreads, and sequels do that to some extent, but this film is the live-action iteration that tries the  absolute least, and it’s arguably the one that should least be allowed to get away with that.

Despite their flaws, Cinderella, Maleficent, and The Jungle Book gave me enough that was new and likeable for me to acknowledge their existence. Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, truly feels like a hollow, whore-ish cash-grab, and given what it’s trying to be, that’s depressing.

But hey, Hermione’s in it, so that automatically makes it good, right?

Not for me, thanks. I think I’ll stick with the original, despite how much it traumatized me as a child. At  least it was well-paced and creatively put together by clearly passionate people. 

At least that beast had some bite to it.


 

*3/10

*Please note: none of the images, songs, or video clips in this article belong to me. They are owned by Disney (except the Medusa one). 

 

 

Top 5 Anime Clichés I Wish Would Die

…Well, “die” is a strong word. Maybe they should just…go away? Quit their day jobs? Take a vacation?

Don’t get me wrong; I love me some good Japanese animation. I’ve grew up with it, even if it was mostly terrible, kiddy-fied dubs of adult shows done by 4KidsEntertainment at first.

By middle school, I was frequently sneaking downstairs at 3am on a school night to catch Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, which broadened my horizons with shows like Inuyasha, Case Closed (a.k.a Detective Conan), .hack//SIGN, and Wolf’s Rain. That was when I really learned that, despite its silliness, anime had so much more dramatic, mature potential. I certainly preferred it to live-action teenage schlock like Degrassi and One Tree Hill.

This was the closest I ever came to being a hipster, by the way.

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All compliments aside, anime can be weird. I mean really, really weird. Like used underwear in a vending machine weird…even though those don’t really exist.

Here are some things that annoy me about anime:

 

5) The Tsundere Character

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While it may be true that there is a fine line between love and hate, most average people don’t behave this way. It’s extremely bipolar.

I suppose it’s only to be expected. There’s a prevalent stereotype that women date men who are no good for them so that they can “fix” them, so why shouldn’t the opposite be true for some men? It might make sense that they’d want to melt the beautiful, frigid harpy’s heart. In theory, the greater the challenge, the more satisfying the reward, so if you could just tweak her the teensiest bit, she’d be the perfect wife!

I’ve never personally felt the attraction to people who treat me like crap (unless you count a few odd two-faced friends), and while I can understand why it’s a popular fantasy, I’ll thank it to stay out of my escapism as much as possible.

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Wait no, just kidding! NOTICE ME, SENPAI!

 

The Tsundere character is, as you might have guessed, a belligerent female character. She either runs hot, cold, or jumps schizophrenically back and forth between the two, almost as though she’s in need of some serious therapy. Even more so in the cases where the woman seems unaware or in denial of this fact.

But I’d never suggest something like that. This behavior is obviously totally normal and healthy. Why, just look at how often it shows up:

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It’s not cute and charming. It needs to be treated immediately.

 

4) Too Many Harems

Ah, I remember being young and having 7+ super attractive male friends who all had a stupendous crush on me and constantly fought for my attention.

Oh wait…

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I can buy some people making lots of friends, even if it’s predominantly with one gender. What I can’t buy is an unremarkable dude (or girl, for that matter) being surrounded by hotties, all of whom seem intent on winning this Joe Schmoe’s heart.

There is nothing subtle about this setup; it’s a shallow fantasy for the viewer at home to mentally port themselves into. Even if the main character has something of a genuine personality, which is unlikely, there’s usually a very flimsy explanation given as to why they’ve suddenly become the clueless anime Bachelor.

Even if I could believe it more often, I’m getting sick of it. Save it for the dating simulator games. To make it work effectively in a un-interactive visual medium is to make the protagonist so bland that you could close your eyes and lose nothing whatsoever. It’s junk food sprinkled over many generic anime shows, particularly poorly-written ones like Sword Art Online. Probably the best use of it was in Ouran High School Host Club, which was an affectionate parody of the genre and ended over a decade ago.

 

3) “You Had Me Worried”/”I’ll Never Forgive You!”

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I see this attitude as an extension of Japan’s highly collectivist culture, and in truth, there is something to be said for it. It’s not wrong to keep others (especially your loved ones) in mind when deciding how to live your life, and in anime, protagonists frequently run off and risk their lives, and not always for the sanest reasons.

However, coming from a country where mental illness is skyrocketing, I find something distinctly off-putting to this as well, at least in the anime context. Particularly when it appears to be presented as the only reason that the protagonist should feel bad.

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You might have just as easily destroyed the world, rather than saving it, but who cares? Your bae was worried about you!

The two basic flavors here are sadness and anger. Either the character is trying to guilt our hero into an apology, or he or she is trying to scare them into one.

On some level, it comes across as battling selfishness with more selfishness, just from a different source. And then the other person (usually the protagonist) mumbles a “sorry” and either all is pretty much instantly forgiven or the worrier is mollified for the time being. It feels like a lip-service to the worrier, and trust me, there is a world of difference between someone who shows concern for others and someone who feels the need to play the martyr.

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This can often be the dutiful girlfriend/boyfriend character, which also pairs well the Tsundere. It’s more obnoxious when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, so to speak. Even when it seems genuine, it’s still an attitude that doesn’t sit well with me, but to be fair, I am an individualistic Westerner. Maybe its value is just lost in translation.

 

2) Blandly Unlikeable (Or Just Bland) Protagonists

This is very in-line with trope #4 above, but whether the character gets a bunch of interchangeable love interests or not, bad writing is still bad writing, regardless of how much bad writing there is.

People often debate about what makes someone a Mary Sue, and to what extent that title is warranted. Why would some complain about Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when she is no more inexplicably gifted and lucky than Anakin or Luke Skywalker before her? Is it just because she is female, and the largely male Star Wars fanbase can’t easily picture themselves in her shoes without having to sprout a uterus in the process?

I understand that the term “Mary Sue” gets thrown around to the point of near meaninglessness these days, but think about it’s classic definition. And think about this: the lead character, as you might expect, usually has to carry the story (unless you’re particularly clever and talented)

 

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and while you can fill the screen with quirky side-characters to balance things out, you’re better off putting some real time and effort into your main man (or woman) right off the bat. Who that person is can determine what your story is really about (for example, growing up vs saving the planet).

If all you can say is “she’s pretty and nice,” but then have her instantly become an all-powerful witch who can bend reality to her whims…that’s when it can become a problem.

Believe it or not, a character can be unlikeable, yet still easy to sympathize with. Characters can do bad things or think bad thoughts, but the point is to make them work with their flaws, not be ignorant or dismissive of them. Real people are admired for overcoming adversity, and so too are their fictional counterparts. We like to see that we’re not alone, and furthermore, we want to believe that, regardless of the obstacle life has thrown at us, we can beat it.

On the flip side, you can also find characters that are so ridiculously upbeat and happy-go-lucky that you pretty much never find them in the real world. Or if you did, they’d likely annoy the living hell out of you.

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It’s fine though. They’re just too good for this world, kind of like Jesus or Nausicaa.

Being too nice and generic is by no means the worst that can happen, though. In fact, I’d prefer that to a character who is despicable, yet inexplicably coddled.

Involving the every-man in a world-changing story can be a great way to build character, drama, and intrigue in a way that doesn’t feel too forced or contrived, but giving a boring, unremarkable, sometimes actively contemptible character mad skills or a remarkable destiny doesn’t endear us to them automatically.

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Nor should it.

Huh…maybe Sword Art Online is just the perfect barometer for everything I can’t stand about anime.

Speaking of which…

 

1) Gratuitous/Surprise Nudity and Perversion

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But seriously, guys. If the show is not labeled as an Ecchi, Hentai, or whatever sexual genre, I don’t want to see stuff like this popping up. It’s very off-putting.

If I know to expect it, that’s one thing. While I think the “don’t like, don’t read” sentiment is too often used as an excuse not to write better,  it does have some practical, necessary uses. I take the “Mature Audiences” label with as big of a grain of salt as I can muster, especially if I’m familiar with the studio, director, channel, or even time of day that I’m watching. But I don’t think I should just expect to see some “hilarious” (MASSIVE air quotes) sexual harassment just because I happen to be watching an anime. To me, it’s like a happy kids movie being suddenly interrupted by a vicious grizzly bear mauling. Where did that come from? Why?

Did it add something meaningful to the story or the tone that I’m just not getting?

If there is one thing that puts me off about Japan and Japanese culture as a whole, it’s the portrayal and representation of women. And I say this as someone who has become significantly less prudish since I left high school.  I realize that my country has a very different religious background, among other things, and that we have this weird double-standard where extreme violence being easily visible and accessible is a-okay, but sex isn’t.

That said, both the U.S.A. and Japan have their share of problematic elements, and we seem to be on a similar page when it comes to how we view ladies. Whether they are competent fighters or damsels in distress, 14 year olds who look 20 or 20 year olds that look 14, there is nothing quite like the unparalleled character development we get from naughty up-skirt shots.

And it seems my cup runeth over with them, no matter where I go.

Notice that I’m not calling  for a ban. If that is your thing, power to you. Just because I like chocolate doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily like chocolate covered ramen noodles, but you totally can, if you catch my drift. I’m just asking that we give it a point, or ease up on it a little bit, because plenty of people do find it creepy.

At least when it comes right out of nowhere and is particularly mean-spirited. You have the entirety of the internet for that, if you really want it.

 

*None of these images in the article above are owned by me.

The Lego Batman Movie, And Why It Outclasses Despicable Me

Pandering doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but neither does it have to be stupid.

After siting through a commercial for Despicable Me 3, and then immediately following it with The Lego Batman Movie, I got to thinking. What’s the difference between these two family movies? Why do I find one infinitely more tolerable?

I’d ask why I find the other one utterly obnoxious and loathsome as well, but I’ve already kind of answered that question before.

The Lego Batman Movie has many of the same kinds of jokes (butts, low-hanging fruit jokes, etc), but in addition to poking fun at the angsty dark knight, it also satirizes the film industry as a whole while having its own complete, engaging story. It also has many jokes that adults can appreciate on multiple levels, such as poking fun at the 60’s Batman show and other lovingly nerdy references.

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Based on the trailer, and my experience from watching the other movies, Despicable Me 3 appears to be mostly silly slapstick. While the dialogue might sound more mature than The Lego Batman Movie, the very presences of the minions makes me picture Illumination Entertainment dangling shiny keys over the audience and making silly noises.

Sadly, this seems to work for most people.

We have a supervillain who is pretty much Vector/Victor from the first movie. He wears silly clothes, dances in a ridiculously outdated way, and generally acts “too cool for school,” except now we should be making fun of him for that, rather than being charmed by it. Gru still sucks at being a bad guy, and now sucks at being a good guy too, and not even working off the genuine charm of Kristen Wiig can help him. I sort of laughed at him beginning to sing after accidentally mooning an office birthday party, but that was about it.

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The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie speak to my inner child far more than the bright colors, quirky shapes, and loud noises of Illumination Entertainment films, and not just because of my personal ire. I didn’t own legos as a child and didn’t play with them much when I did get my hands on them, but the dialogue and story progression of these movies harkens back to play sessions with any kind of toy. Barbies, action figures, horses, dollies, or what-have-you, most kids made up stories like this, sometimes even more elaborately. It’s a pleasant, nostalgic reminder of the unfettered creativity of childhood while still having adult structure and thought applied to it, and the slapstick jokes (as overdone today as the pie-in-the-face of yore) are mingled with actual intelligence, humor, and wit.

Hell, my boyfriend and I laughed at the opening credits. The only other movie that got us to do that (that we can remember) was Deadpool.

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You may be skeptical watching the trailers, and perhaps rightly so; I certainly wasn’t sure the first few times, even after hearing how well the first film was received by critics and general audiences. But I definitely believe that these movies deserve more praise and affection than those made by, if you’ll pardon my bluntness, marketing whores and rip-off artists with barely half of that remarkable talent. That’s just instant gratification, in my opinion, and until I see some vast improvement, I shall continue to scorn and ignore Illumination Entertainment and its kindred.

You’d think a movie about legos would seem like the more blatant marketing exercise, but not so, somehow. It’s very fun and genuinely funny. Even the jokes that weren’t my typical cup of tea didn’t get so much as an eye-roll from me.

The Lego Movies may look iffy, especially to older folks, but if you take the risk, you may just find yourself well-rewarded. If nothing else, it’s cute, and you, your kids, and your grandkids will enjoy it together.

 

8/10

*Any images used in this post do not belong to me, but are being used for the purposes of review and satire.

The Worst Romantic Movie I Have Ever Seen

Happy Early Valentines Day! And say what you want about Hollywood schlock, at least there is usually chemistry involved.

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For a movie that claims to be about true, real love, Old Fashioned has not an ounce of love to be found. A woman named Amber moves into town to get away from an abusive past relationship, only to take up residence above an old antique shop called Old Fashioned. The owner and landlord, Clay, is a former frat boy-turned born again Christian, and he insists that he can’t be in the same room with any woman who is not his wife. So whenever he comes up to fix things, he makes Amber wait outside. Sounds charming, right?

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Amber is for some reason charmed by his convictions, and proceeds to purposefully break things around her apartment just to get him to visit. Sounds healthy, right?

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At one point, she drills holes into her refrigerator. Any other landlord would throw her out on the street for this, but okay.

When they finally go on a “date,” Clay’s church gives them this wonderfully intrusive book questionnaire, and Clay insists on asking questions such as, “How many children do you want?” On the first date. 

And just so you know, other questions range from, “What are your pet peeves?” to, “What percentage of your annual income is appropriate to spend on a pet?” And, “Do you believe in the death penalty?” No, I am not kidding. Dates are apparently a bunch of malarkey that Clay is just too real for, because who wants to come to any of these questions naturally over the course of dating for months? That’s obvious crazy talk.

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But hey, at least it’s not that sinful Fifty Shades of Grey, right?

Clay has a friend who is a shock radio deejay, and this gent constantly says mean and horrible things about women. But later, Clay interrupts his other friend’s bachelor party – which he was invited to, for some reason – and self-righteously reprimands his friends and the stripper they hired for degrading women…

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You know, Clay, some people would argue that what you’re doing is just as bad; trying to be a knight in shining armor and treating women less like complex human beings and more like sacred mannequins that you can’t even bring yourself to touch, lest you sully them. You cost the stripper a paycheck and tips that night, which she might have really needed, and you didn’t even stop to consider that she might be perfectly happy and fulfilled in this line of work. You saw something you judged to be “wrong” and tried to correct it without any real compassion or critical thought.

But ignoring all of that, you didn’t think to stand up to your deejay friend and straighten him out at any point before this. How is this a step too far, assuming that the other guy’s fiancé is aware and is comfortable with it?

My point here is that high-and-mighty is a suit that looks poor on most people, but especially if you can argue that they are just as flawed as the folks they are criticizing. Just food for thought.

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Clay constantly asserts that dating is stupid and superficial, but he seems to be conflating dating with one-night stands. There is quite a difference between those two things, but I guess Clay knows better than me because he “used to be” a part of that culture. It’s kind of unclear whether or not that means that he’d prefer arranged marriages instead, but even if I believed that he was ever really that wild and crazy, Clay’s pendulum has now swung so far in the opposite direction that I’m not convinced that his new way is all that healthy either.

Meanwhile, Amber seems nice enough. She’s described as “quirky,” but it’s in a really forced and awkward way that comes across more like hardcore Christians trying to make a relatable 20-something with no prior knowledge. But of course, anyone looks better standing next to Clay, the future axe murderer.

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I have no idea what Amber sees in Clay physically, mentally, emotionally, or what-have-you; it’s like watching Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker all over again, but without the occasional welcomed reprieve of epic space battles and CG aliens. Even before the hilariously offensive dating guidebook is introduced, Clay already comes across as controlling and arrogant, but afterwards, not only does he have to control almost every aspect of the relationship, but he can’t even be bothered to kiss or compliment her. I’m not saying she should force him to, but at the same time, nothing else about this relationship makes sense to me.

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In my mind, “love” is wanting to be with someone; to be happy with them, and make them happy. Even if he didn’t want to do things for Amber’s benefit, does Clay feel nothing when he’s around her? Does he never feel compelled to say, “You’re so beautiful,” or even just something like, “I love you laugh/smile/jokes/etc.”?

Sex doesn’t even need to enter into it. One or both of them could be asexual, or just really, really wholesome, and still you could convince me of why they enjoy each other’s company!

Instead, they are together because the writers say so, plain and simple. They want these two to be together, and so they are. Huzzah…

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What is even funnier is that Amber makes some new friends in town, and all throughout the movie, they are mocking Clay and telling her she could do so much better than him. I can’t disagree, especially when one of his good friends is such a misogynistic buttmunch, and he won’t stand up to this guy except when he wants to. It’s like the movie is lambasting itself; like it knows exactly what the problem is, but refuses to fix it.

I can’t defend this thing on any level. It’s unintentionally funny at times, but it’s also kind of psychotic and disturbing too. When Hollywood gives you film after film of crazy, unhealthy romcoms, at least there are different flavors to them. At least there is usually some passion, or half-way decent writing. People can choose to wonder how much of that relationship is implied to be a) normal, and b) what you should strive for.

With Christian film companies like Pure Flix, you know exactly what they are telling you at all times. It basically translates out to, “Shame shame shame! Gawd gawd gawd!” “You should be ashamed, disgusted, and afraid of where society is going, and where you’re going. Here’s a hint: it rhymes with ‘knell.’”

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It’s so much more condescending and obnoxious. As someone who still identifies as religious, I even dare to call it ‘preachy.’ 

 

*1/10 

The images in this article do not belong to me, but are being used to critique.

 

 

 

The 2005 Producers: Mel Brooks Doesn’t “Get” His Own Movie

Don’t get me wrong; I love Mel Brooks. I grew up watching the man’s movies. But something I have found over years of watching and re-watching is that Brooks is best when he’s reined in.

Look at it this way: what are Mel Brook’s best known classics? The story for Blazing Saddles is credited to Andrew Bergman, and in addition to Mel Brooks, he, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Al Uger worked on the screenplay. Young Frankenstein was helped along by the late, great Gene Wilder. Multiple talented people worked on these films with Brooks, and you can see that in the prevalence of the jokes that everyone remembers.

While I can’t be the most definitive here, I argue that it’s pretty easy to pick up on Brook’s style of comedy when he’s alone or unhindered.

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Jewish people, genitalia, bodily functions, gay people being stereotypically campy.  He tends to swing for the obvious jokes, the “cheap seats,” if you will, and across the country, 12-year-old boys titter with delight.

Haha…I said “titter.”

Which is not to say that these jokes can’t be humorous. Sometimes the funniest jokes are the over-the-top, silly, crazy, and crude ones when they’re used well. Mel Brooks just tends to use more of them than necessary, and when the gags aren’t that funny to begin with, this puts any given film only a few steps above Seltzer and Friedberg fare.

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Which it shouldn’t, because clearly Brooks has more talent than that. One such example that is amazing – and more importantly Brooks’s own – is The Producers. 

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The 1968 film The Producers is a masterpiece of black comedy, in my opinion. It is the story of one has-been producer, played by Zero Mostel, who shamelessly uses everyone in his life to get ahead, whether they be old ladies looking for a fling with a younger man, or a naive, neurotic accountant, played by Gene Wilder, who simply doesn’t know any better. When the accountant stumbles upon the realization that a flop could produce more money than a hit, this man hatches a scheme to purposefully continue his recent bad Broadway luck and make off with his investors’ money, this time with a show that is guaranteed to fail.

Everything about Mostel’s character, Max Bialystock, is terrible, and the things he does are only really funny because they highlight what a selfish, manipulative louse he is…well, that and the fact that his unwitting partner in crime, Leo Bloom, is so tightly-wound that he overreacts to every little thing. Max is a scumbag, but he’s a very charismatic scumbag, and while he does get punished in the end, along with Leo, it’s amusing to see that he still hasn’t really learned his lesson. Likely, he’s going to keep on failing with “get rich quick” schemes, and dragging anyone else that he can down with him.

A lot of comedy – dark, mean-spirited, or otherwise – is based on one of two things: misery and a subversion of expectation. We, the audience, like to see people punished when they deserve it, but we also like to see general pain and frustration because it relieves some of ours. Why else do people watch shows where someone they’ve never even met does a stupid stunt and is clearly injured?

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Maybe we tell ourselves that this person is stupid, and therefore deserves to be punished for thinking this would work. Whatever the justification, it’s probably a bit screwed up, but people still find it funny and cathartic.

Just by virtue of being a woman, I probably should be offended by the scene where Max Bialystock hires Ulla, a woman who can barely speak English, to be his office “secretary.” He refers to her as “a toy,” and tells her that dance and gyrating to music is what “work” is, just so that he can watch.

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But when I find myself amused at that scene, I’m not laughing at the objectification of some poor, underprivileged woman; I’m laughing at the new depth of the main character’s depravity and douchebaggery that I just witnessed. I mean, what a creep!  This just makes me want him to fail even more!

Dark humor is hard to explain to people, especially if it’s not their cup of tea, but the basic gist is this: sometimes laughing at the horrible things in life is what gets you through them.

Now, what about the musical and the remake of The Producers?

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OH MY GOD, MEL BROOKS! IT’S LIKE YOU DIDN’T EVEN WATCH YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE!

Aside from the delightful addition of Will Ferrell as Franz, the playwright who allows Max and Leo access to his Springtime for Hitler, nearly everything about the choices in both of these adaptations goes against the spirit of the original! Max and Leo are real friends? Wrong! Leo always hated his job and dreamed of following in Max’s footsteps? Wrong! Ulla comes to them both willingly, knowingly, and starts singing about the virtues of sexing yourself up to get ahead? Wrong! (But dark and screwed up. I will give it that.) Ulla then comes between these two good friends like Yoko Ono supposedly did with the Beatles?

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This was not a brotherly road trip movie about two underdog guys working their way up to success, Mel Brooks! Where did you even get that from the original movie?

Nathan Lane is okay, but while he’s got some sliminess, he doesn’t pull off the same kind of character as Zero Mostel, and it’s clear now that he wasn’t meant to. Matthew Broderick is at his absolute worst “acting wise”; he clearly can’t transition naturally from being on a stage to being in front of a camera several feet away. Nothing he says or does makes any sense, even in the conversations he’s a part of. It’s less like he has some sort of condition (or is just bad under any kind of pressure) and more like he’s just a weirdo with delayed reaction time and a random blankie.

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Seriously, watch the scene from the original back-to-back with the remake. Gene Wilder sells it. Matthew Broderick does not.

The remake’s solution to everything appears to be: add more gay jokes. Gay jokes! Get your gay jokes, here! How about them gay jokes?! The original movie had a few, sure, and they were only so funny there too, but it wasn’t an onslaught. The 2005 movie takes out the classic audition of LSD, who becomes hippy Hitler, and just gives the gay director the role because he acted stereotypically gay. I can understand that most people have never seen a real hippy from way back in the day, but even as a whippersnapper, I still found it hilarious.

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As I said, Will Ferrell is good. He’s derivative of the original character while still making the role his own, and that’s cool. I personally think he was born to play people like this.

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The bigger budget of the remake also allows for more to be going on in the musical within a musical, so that’s pretty good too.

But the original movie had great, punchy timing. The newer movie has awkward, slow timing, only to be relieved by scenes with Franz or the opening night of Springtime for Hitler itself. A last-minute conflict is thrown in when Leo flees the successful musical with Ulla on his arm, leaving Max to rot in jail. But don’t worry…he comes back…

Whoop dee do…

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Then, pow! Happy ending! Friendship wins the day, and the two go on to produce hit after hit in the musical scene!

Give me a %$#&ing break.

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Mel Brooks is a nice guy, and he’s made several good, funny movies, but I have no idea what he was thinking with this one. He had a decent film but apparently wasn’t satisfied with it, so he turned around and sucked all of the point, charm, and humor out of it. Would his other fans be okay with it if he did the same thing to Young Frankenstein? Or Space Balls?

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Okay, I hope I didn’t give him any ideas with that one. I hope he’s telling a good joke and is in on it. But you know what I mean.

It’s annoying when someone makes a crappy remake of a movie you like, but it somehow feels even worse when the original maker, who should have plenty of creative control, makes choices that visibly, palpably detract from his initial vision. Maybe if he’d called it a “re-imagining”, I’d be more forgiving of its existence, but still. It doesn’t hold a candle to the 1968 version, and no, this is not nostalgia blindness. I didn’t even see the original until I was 20, and that was only after seeing the remake and not understanding why it was supposed to be so funny.

Bottom line: I think the remake is Scheme. Feel free to disagree, but that’s just how I feel.

 

*3/10

The pictures in this article do not belong to me. 

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Dreadfully Delightful

Be warned: These spoilers will wreck your evening, your home life, and your day. Every single spoiler is nothing but dismay, so look away!

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After my pre-show thoughts post, I spent the better part of my weekend binging this show, thinking about it, and enjoying the hell out of it. My favorite episode, by far, is The Reptile Room parts one and two, as they have hands-down the most likable guardian, the most joy that the Baudelaires experience so far, and the most clever and amusing hijinks and sleuthing of all of Season One.

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I was surprised by how much Count Olaf’s henchmen add to every scene. It is funny how stupid and incompetent they are while still managing to avoid police custody, and their genuine awe and frank admiration when the children (or anyone else) outsmart them is charming. Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf has grown on me immensely; while I still don’t find him the most intimidating, I have come to find him extremely charismatic. He has become likable and unlikable at the same time.

That is quite an accomplishment. I still believe that Jim Carrey brought a much more genuinely sinister presence to the role, but Harris does very well, and tends to be a bit more balanced. It’s very funny when he frequently forgets his own ruses, barely recovering before any nearby adults grow wise to his schemes.

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On a side note, something about Stephano reminds me of Dana Carvey’s turtle guy. Olaf is perhaps the best worst actor out there.

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As for the other actors, new Violet reminded me a lot of movie Violet, except for her accent and Hot Topic fashion sense. She also seems a bit smarter than movie Violet, because she has a few lines where she tries to lie or otherwise disguise her true feelings, and she does so pretty well. There is still plenty of “let’s tell the villain exactly what we plan to do to stop him” moments going on, but I get the sense that carries over from the book. It’s less obnoxious in the tv show, so I appreciate that.

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I think I like movie Klaus better than new Klaus, if only because Liam Aiken reminds me more of a real boy at Klaus’s age, regardless of voracious reading habits, but new Klaus is perfectly fine. New Sunny and movie Sunny both have as much personality as a baby with subtitles can, and I like both very much. I like to imagine Tara Strong coming into the studio just to record a few odd gurgles and coos for new Sunny and that makes me chuckle. I wonder how well she gets paid for that.

I’m not crazy about the obviously fake effects, but I admit that they lend to the overall tone of the series quite well. They are forced, much like some of the indifference, stupidity, and unwitting cruelty of many of the adult characters. It contains some realism, but is biased and over embellished, much like a child’s world view. Violet’s inventions, as well as the other effects that stand out like sore thumbs, show how the Baudelaires rise up and face their challenges, putting themselves on as equal footing as possible with the walking-caricature adults who try to determine their fate without them. It’s interesting, to say the least, so I can only complain so much.

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One thing that I can complain about, based on what little I know of the books, is the decision to include Jacquelyn, Mr. Poe’s secretary and recurring Volunteer Fire Department member. While I like her a lot, I think she detracts from both the tone of the series and the children’s accomplishments by her mere existence. The characters from the 2004 movie had no such possible bail-out (and apparently neither did the book Baudelaires), and even though she appeared more sparingly towards the end of Season One, Jacquelyn takes away from some of the tension.

The reveal of “the parents” not being the Baudelaire children’s parents was a nice touch, if a little extra cruel. For a non-book reader, it was not altogether unexpected, but still something of a kick in the guts moment. They have been mostly on their own up until now, and you know now that they definitely still are, if not more so, no matter how many shadowy V.F.D. people claim to be looking after them. It helps to counteract what Jacquelyn unwittingly takes away.

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Also, hi Robin Scherbatsky! If you don’t want me to see Barney Stinson playing Count Olaf, maybe don’t bring in buddies from How I Met Your Mother, huh, Neil?

The music is great. It’s manic and energetic, but also off-putting and depressing at times. Sometimes, it delves into both areas at once.

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Patrick Warburton has grown on me quite a bit, much like Harris, although I still can’t fully un-hear Kronk or Joe from Family Guy. The sets are nice and somewhat reminiscent of the movie, which is a plus for me.

There is more time for jokes and dialogue, but every once in a while, this can make a scene go on a little too long. For example, watch the scene where Klaus figures out Olaf’s plan involving The Marvelous Marriage. 

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Book fans will definitely find more loyalty here than they did with the 2004 film, but as usual with adaptation, there are still many liberties as well. Hopefully, the new elements will keep it from being stale or too predictable for them. For the rest of us, the show tells us to expect to be made miserable, and then proceeds to raise and lower our hopes on and off again throughout eight episodes. It’s very much like a rollercoaster, but despite the grim topics and disturbing bits here and there, it’s a family friendly romp that anyone can enjoy.

I’m definitely excited for a second season. I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far, and I’d like to see where this goes from here.

In the meantime, I suppose I should start reading the books. 🙂

 

*None of the images used in this post belong to me.