Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Netlix Picks: Feminism in Action, Existential Crisis and the Smartest Comedy- Ever

Have you ever forced yourself to watch a movie that looked terrible only to be shocked by its depth of brilliance? Don't you love it when too-often derivative Hollywood surprises you? I take my movies and storytelling seriously because good writing can (1) reveal once hidden-to-you personal flaws and inspire improvement (2) make you laugh your woes away or (3) help you reflect on current societal problems. The following three recommendations help you do those things, in that order. These are unassuming recommendations that go much deeper than they look on the outside.

Bojack Horseman Season 2 

I've watched and read on the world's best animation from a young age and it's made me an obnoxious cartoon snob. That said, Bojack Horseman is one of best shows I have ever seen. I was sucked in from the first minutes and nearly binge-watched season 2 in one day!

Style: The sleek look mirrors our current trendy visual aesthetic. The quirky and clever animal designs allow for creative visual gags. The line and color work is beautiful and reminds me of underground comic art. Season 2 even takes the animation to another level with a moodier atmosphere and objectively beautiful night sky illustrations.

Themes: There's no other comedy (more like, dramedy) featuring adorable anthropomorphic animals with heart-crushing themes such as: the impossibility of happiness, burdens of privilege, the dark side of humanity, sexism in Hollywood, humanity's innate resistance to change, coping with depression, the results of emotional parental abuse, cognitive dissonance and global issues in modern America, reaching the age of stagnation: and much more!

Acting: Everyone nails the emotion and the humor. It's clear that all of the actors worked hard to fully develop these characters, it's rare to see this in western animation. Bojack should be an irredeemable ass-face, but he's written and acted so well that he's heartbreakingly tragic.

Writing: I appreciate season 2 for avoiding expectations. Bojack's love interests from season 1 return as full-fledged characters with arcs of their own, they're not reduced to one-dimensional pawns in the maddening sitcom game that drags romantic drama in an endless back-and-forth game. In that way, this show with anthropomorphic animal actors has more realistic human interaction than I've seen in any live-action sitcom!

The writing is so multi-layered and well-constructed that I notice new things with each viewing. Bojack Horseman mercilessly deconstructs typical sitcoms. (Which I loathe, loathe them so! All. Of. Them.)

Bojack as portrayed on his television show from the 90s

Bojack in reality. The Sads, all The Sads.

The protagonist, Bojack Horseman, was the star of a Full House-style 90s sitcom, "Horsing Around." Every show of its ilk had a single conflict/lesson that was neatly wrapped up in a bow at the end, there was always an answer. Bojack Horseman makes a point not to do this. The show fakes you out over and over again, leading you to your stereotypical aw sentimental-sitcom moments, them BAM- the writers stick their giant expensive Pentel fountain pens into your ears and fuck your mind! The conflicts don't wrap up conclusively because that is not how life works and Bojack himself is the prime example of that. He's a millionaire with a beautiful LA mansion but he's a depressed functional alcoholic. He continues to get second chances and new successes and none of that ever lifts the haze of his mental disorder. He only makes tiny steps towards improvement over time, just like we all do.

Conclusion: Bojack Horseman will help you see your flaws, because we all have the same ones. It's hard for all of us to confront and change the worst things about ourselves, and this show will inspire you to improve through showing the faults of our lead. You'll laugh, you'll cry. It's damn good entertainment.

* * *

Hot Fuzz

Another trope-buster on the list, Hot Fuzz is the most clever comedy I've ever seen. It's a satire of the American cop buddy movie / explosion-filled summer blockbuster (my childhood favorites- hell, Robocop is my favorite movie) with hilarious writing and stand-out acting.

Plot Crunch: London constable Nicholas Angel is the best cop in the city, so good that he's sent away to Sanford, a peaceful English village because he's making all the other officers look bad! When murders (and laughs) start racking up, it's up to Angel and his inept new partner Danny to solve the crimes and save the day! With BOOM and YAY!

Visual Style: I love the pristine, sleepy English village juxtaposed with an American shoot-em-up action film. Brilliant! The peaceful hamlet setting with the rapid fire fast editing punctuated with blaring bass and random over-the-top gore are hilariously incongruent. The style alone has you laughing before the brilliant writing gets you.


Loosening up and Having Fun: As a fellow painful perfectionist, I enjoy the theme of the importance of loosening up, having fun, and finding fulfillment and balance outside of work.

Friendship can fulfill the needs of a romance: The main objective is to lampoon the action genre for laughs, but we get an unexpectedly touching message in the midst of the satire. One that's not stated in movies enough.  In a hilarious play on your typical action-cop-movie script, Angel's partner, Danny, acts out the tropes of both "the buddy-cop partner" and the "love interest". There are exchanges of stuffed animals, flowers, a (chaste) sleepover and even a play on the infamous "third-act break-up" seen below:


There was originally a girlfriend character in the movie, but all of the girlfriend's lines are given to Danny. This isn't played up for laughs about homosexuality, it's played up for laughs because it's a trope-breaker. Angel suffers a break-up at the start of the film because he can't "turn off" his work persona, he's in perpetual cop-mode, to hilariously hyperbolic extremes. His ex says, "Until you find someone you care about more than your job, you won't switch-off." In the words of script writer Simon Pegg, Danny ends up being that person because that's where "the real romance was."

You don't need a romantic relationship to change your life. Partnerships at work and/or the relationships that blossom from them can fulfill the same emotion needs.

Writing: I notice new gags and clever details with every viewing. I love how this movie is a slow burn, the insanity creeps its way in, building and teasing, working you up to fireworks and explosions, like a slow-building humor-gasm! You start with chuckles put end with guffaws the sillier the scenarios get.

Acting: There are no joke misfires due to bad acting. Every single joke and performance is flawless. One of the unique things about this comedy is how much you believe in the two leads, Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman. There's an emotional connection there, and Angel's straight-faced indignation to the insanity going on around him is a huge part of the comedy.

Conclusion: I thoroughly enjoyed my recent re-watch and will enjoy more to come. Check this out out if you need a clever comedy to lighten your day. Bonus laugh: This is likely the only film that police officers appreciated for showing the realistic side of being a cop; loads of paperwork!

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The "original" Dredd, Judge Dredd is a campy 90s favorite of mine, despite the cheese.  I still like Judge Dredd as a snapshot of the action movie cliques form my childhood, but it was a horrible adaptation of the dark comic book source material. At first glance the new adaptation of the Judge Dredd comic books, Dredd, looked generic, but this lean mean indie action film is best of its genre to come out since the 1980s Robocop. If you like good movies, you will love Dredd!

Plot Crunch: Judge Dredd a law enforcement agent for the police state Mega-City One (a dystopian, futuristic metropolis where 17,000 crimes happen daily) is tasked with training Anderson, a mutant with physic abilities. Training day ends up being a fight for survival when sadistic crime boss, Ma-ma, traps them inside of a gang-filled, futuristic housing complex.

Visual Style: One word I would use to describe the whole of Dredd is tight. You can tell the limited budget forced innovation because the script is so well-edited in a clipped make-every-world count way. The action takes place at a lightning pace in a claustrophobic environment. The entire film shows our leads fighting their way up the floors of a gang and crime ridden high-rise like Dante clambered his way through the levels of hell and it. is. tense. That lack of space and options is painfully tangible, you are on the edge of your seat and anxious. World building feels rushed, but this movie has artful visual flairs that give it a unique edge, with brilliant flashes of saturated color that contrast the dark, urban environment.


Fascism and America's Flawed Justice System: Americans often misconstrued Judge Dredd as your typical comic book hero, fighting for justice in the face of evil. But Judge Dredd is meant to be a cautionary tail, a personification of problematic elements of American media and politics, particularly in how crime's dealt with. Between the shoot-em-ups, Dredd is mainly a film about a failed system of justice that focuses on crime after it happens rather than the prevention that could happen by improving socioeconomic inequalities. Dredd's character arc is learning his blind loyalty to MegaCity One's bankrupt system is flawed.

For perspective: In October 2013 the incarceration rate of the United State of America was the highest in the world at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. The US represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population. and it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners. (Source.) That's 1 in 110 adults that were in prison. (Source.)

Gender in Action Movies: So much feminism in this one!  Dredd's superior, partner and nemesis in this film are all women. No reference is made to their genders in-film. Dredd respects his partner/trainee with zero reference to her being a petite young woman. The villain of the movie, Ma-Ma, is feared, respected, and equally gender neutral save for her name. In a lesser movie, Dredd's partner would become his love interest. Not a whiff of it here, refreshingly. Anderson wears boxy, realistic, practical riot gear, not a skin-tight, sexy jumpsuit. Both Dredd and Anderson encounter trouble and rescue each other, Anderson is never a damsel in distress. There's are some interesting scenes that have to be deliberately constructed to punish audience members that want needless T&A and/or sexual violence with their violent action films. The former being denied even with obvious opportunities arise and the latter being shown in a condemning way that removes the fetish- and makes you feel ashamed if you have it! You'll know what I mean when you see it, it's a brilliant scene.

The differences are vast and he still never calls attention to gender even once in the film.

Writing: Excellent for the reasons stated above. I appreciate the somber characters and relative lack of humor in this movie. I appreciate the Anderson and Dredd's dynamic, Anderson's the hero who stands up to fascism in the end, and she permanently changes Dredd's perspective. The infallible veteran street judge realizes he was wrong, that he still had something to learn. The Rookie's idealistic innocence about justice is permanently shattered.

Acting: Karl Urban only has the lower half of his face and voice to work with, and he sells it. Dredd never smiles, jokes, or laughs: he's as serious as cancer. His voice is stern and humorless, but he doesn't sound like an action clique the way Stalone's Dredd does. There's a bit of a robotic read the recalls Robocop; highly appropriate considering the similarities in the films/characters, but he still sounds fallible and human. Just a cop trying to do his job, ignorant that he's complicit in fascist regime.

Writer Alex Garland compares Dredd's development to the slow movement of a glacier. "You look a year later and something actually shifted!" It's a credit to Urban that you sense these minuscule, nearly imperceptible changes in Dredd as the film progresses:

Olivia Thirlby is a bit distractingly (hypnotically, even) pretty in the part of Dredd's partner:

On second thought, the bright lips and hair fit the saturated color motif of the film. But still...

I know the make-up's required for filming but the amount distracts me and doesn't seem to fit the character, action chicks usually have a natural you-can't-tell-they're-wearing make-up look a-la Michelle Rodriguez. But maybe that was intentional, her youthful, fresh-faced look belies her skill as an officer. She's a small, attractive young woman, she looks like she should be protected, but she kicks ass and takes name all on her first day of the job. Thirlby gives Anderson competence and empathy. Lena Heady's Ma-Ma avoids stereotypes as well, she's not an over-the-top scenery-chewing villain. She's vicious, yet understated.

Conclusion: Watching Dredd is almost surreal, you keep expecting the cliques of a shoot-em-up violent action film and they don't happen! You can sense the budget issues, but Dredd is a smart, intense movie from a talented writer and director.

 * * * 
I had to get those movie thoughts off my chest, I've been pecking away at this article (and pushing this one back on the editorial calendar) since July! That said, I may need to save my hobbiest movie thoughts for film blogs that will have me before they take over here! Anyway, I'd still LOVE to hear any recommendations you have for me or movie chat with my fellow nerds, so e-mail me or hit me up on Twitter or Instagram with any thoughts. 

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