TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2018)


Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 5
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

There are a lot of reasons why people would want to avoid a cartoon about anthropomorphic animal satirizing Hollywood excess, but I’m increasingly coming to believe that they would be missing the best show on “television” today.  The fifth season of BoJack Horseman relies on the audiences accrued knowledge of the characters and their situations for a somewhat quieter and subtler form of storytelling.  At least by BoJack Horseman standards.

Every season of BoJack Horseman has at least one highly experimental episode. In season 3, the nearly dialogue-free “Fish Out of Water” showed BoJack trying to navigate an undersea world, while last season’s “The Old Sugarman Place” explored generational depression by having scenes from BoJack’s grandparents’ life play out simultaneously with BoJack’s story.  This season provides it’s most affecting episode with very little flash.  Instead “Free Churro” features Will Arnett voicing BoJack’s episode-long monologue as a delivers the eulogy at his mother’s funeral.  The very next episode, “INT. SUB” is narrated by a married couple, a therapist and a mediator wonderfully voiced by Issa Rae and Wanda Sykes, using ridiculous fake names and descriptions to protect their clients’ identities.  Thus BoJack becomes BoBo the Angsty Zebra and Princess Carolyn is more surrealistically visualized as Tangled Fog of Pulsating Yearning In The Shape Of A Woman.  The inherent silliness masks the darker plot unfolding which makes it hit all that much harder when the conclusion is shown with the “real” characters.

As typical of previous seasons, each of the main characters has a personal storyline woven into the series arc.  BoJack curiously feels like a supporting character early in the season, but the seeds of his story are subtly dropped into those stories that come to fruition in the back end of the season. Namely, after injuring himself doing a stunt, BoJack becomes addicted to painkillers and increasingly is unable to distinguish his real life and his character on the detective drama “Philbert.”

Diane searches for her own identity after divorcing Mr. Peanutbutter, particularly well explored in “The Dog Days Are Over” where she visits Vietnam and struggles with being fully American but looking Vietnamese (a meta commentary on the fact that Diane is voiced by the white actor Alison Brie).  Meanwhile, Mr. Peanutbutter has a much younger new girlfriend and begins to get insight on why his three wives outgrew him, particularly in “Mr. Peanbutter’s Boos” where scenes from four different Halloween parties (with four different dates) are intercut.

Princess Carolyn seeks to adopt a child while continuing to produce “Philbert” and put out everyone else’s fires.  For the first time we get her backstory, including flashbacks to her childhood in North Carolina.  Todd’s asexuality is explored in an odd sex comedy farce parody, and after realizing that a relationship with Yolanda isn’t working, seeks to rekindle a relationship with Emiliy.  Being Todd this involves a wacky scheme to build a sex robot which becomes a recurring gag that is the one big dud of this season.

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Podcasts of the Week Ending July 7


Fresh Air :: The Pediatrician Who Exposed the Flint Water Crisis

Interview with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who exposed the Flint water crisis.  She also discusses growing up as a child of Iraqi refugees.

99% Invisible :: Right to Roam

I’ve always been amazed by how Britain protects the rights of walker/hikers to cross land that’s privately owned.  Whereas in the US, one is liable to be shot for doing so.

Ben Franklin’s World :: Brian Regal, The Secret History of the New Jersey Devil

If you’ve ever heard the legend of the New Jersey Devil, you imagine it as a cryptozooligical creature inhabiting the Pine Barrens.   Turns out that the story originates instead with a 17th-century colonist named Daniel Leeds who published an almanac that ran afoul of the Quaker authorities!

Disney History Institute :: Winsor McCay and the Origins of American Animation

Early animation originated as part of a vaudeville act featuring a trained dinosaur.

99% Invisible :: Beyond Biohazard

A video podcasts explores the effort to let future generations know that something is dangerous without using language or symbols that won’t be understood.

Hit Parade :: The Deadbeat Club Edition

The first part of the story of how two very different New Wave acts emerged from Athens, GA in the 1980s.

Movie Review: The Incredibles (2004)


Title: The Incredibles
Release Date: November 5, 2004
Director: Brad Bird
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

On the flight home from our honeymoon in Italy, my bride and were separated by Alitalia and seated at opposite ends of the economy cabin.  My loss was assuaged a bit by being able to stretch my legs under the curtain into first class, dining on wine and cheese, and watching The Incredibles on tv.   With a sequel released this summer, I thought it worthwhile to watch again. Probably relaxation and wine were my chief accomplishments of that flight because I didn’t remember the movie all that well.

Set in a stylized 1960s, The Incredibles recreates the golden era of superhero comics, but asks the question of what it would be like if superheroes married, raised a family, and tried to live a normal life.  The drama of the movie is inaugurated by Mr. Incredible’s mid-life crisis which draws him back into the superhero game behind Elastigirls’ back.  When he gets in above his head, she has to come bail him out and their children Violet and Dash get to use their powers to fight crime for the first time.  It’s a great movie that works on many levels, and in typical Pixar fashion has a lot of humor and a lot of heart.

For all the retro design of The Incredibles, I find it interesting how much it presaged the boom of superhero comic movies of the past decade and a half. In the interim between The Incredibles and The Incredibles II there has been 3 Spider-Man films (one finishing a trilogy and two from a reboot), 3 Fantastic Four films (including a reboot), Superman Returns, Christoper Nolan’s Batman trilogy, 9 X-Men films, 5 DC Extended Universe films, the entire 19 film run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and others I’m forgetting.  The Incredibles‘ focus on interpersonal relationships within the family, a villain inadvertently created by the hero’s actions, and a society that seeks to reign in rather than celebrate people with powers are all facets that make it a forerunner of contemporary superhero movies.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Inside Out


TitleInside Out
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Director: Pete Docter
Production Company:

The premise of Inside Out is well-established from all the promotion for the movie.  Inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson are five personified emotions – Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust.  When Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco and she has to leave behind her home, friends, and hockey team, and deal with moving into a creaky, little house, a late moving van, and her parents’ distraction, Riley faces new stresses that throw the organized world of her emotions into disarray.

The story goes in places I didn’t expect.  Joy and Sadness are separated from the “control center” of the mind to the “memory banks” and have to find their way back in what is essentially a buddy film.  Joy – the self-appointed leader of the emotions – has never understood the purpose of Sadness and as Riley goes through what is essentially a depressive episode, Joy realizes that they can’t resolve the problem until she lets Sadness take control and allow Riley to express her feelings.

It’s a complicated concept, but it’s done well with a lot of humor and creative illustrations of the inner workings of the mind. It has the gags that will make the kids laugh, and the moments that will make the parents weep (as I did both when Riley’s imaginary friend fades away and at the climax when Riley finally tells her parents how she’s feeling, which lead to my son shouting “hey, you’re crying!).  My son also noted that the emotions display a lot of – well, emotions – leading him to conclude that there must by five smaller emotions within their minds, and so on.

Summary/Review: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Tower (2016) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “T” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “T” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Trekkies.

TitleTower
Release Date: March 13, 2016
Director: Keith Maitland
Production Company: Go-Valley
Summary/Review:

Tower pushes the limits of documentary film. It recreates the events of the 1966 University of Texas tower shootings using a hyper realistic form of animation with the words of survivors spoken by actors. It’s effective at putting the audience into the chaos of the massacre and showing the youth of most of the people involved. There are some neat effects such as animation of the KTBX radio mobile unit overlaid over archival film of the University of Texas campus. There are also cinematic asides such as depictions of visions a man may have seen as suffered from heat stroke or a women’s Day-Glo daydream about her romance with her now murdered boyfriend.

The woman, Claire Wilson, is one of the key figures in the movie. An 18-year-old student and 8 months pregnant, Wilson was the first person shot from the tower, killing her baby. Her boyfriend Thomas Frederick Eckman was killed instantly by the next shot. Wilson lay on the broiling pavement for nearly 90 minutes wondering if she would live. In one of the many acts of bravery that day, another student Rita Star Pattern ran into the line of fire and lay by Wilson, keeping her conscious and her spirits up. In one of the more stunning moments of the film as Wilson wonders if she would live the animation dissolves to reveal a very much alive Claire Wilson in her 60s.

Another key figure is John “Artly” Fox, a student who heard news of the shooting and not realizing the severity of what was happening, went to campus to check it out. Fox found himself in the midst of the terror, and with a friend would eventually run out to carry Wilson to safety. Other subjects include the police officers and curiously a bookstore employee who reach the tower and kill the shooter.

This was not the first mass shooting in US history, and not even the first school shooting, but in 1966 they was definitely not a public awareness of this kind of random violence in public places. This is evident in the ad hoc approach that first responders made in response to the shooting. The aftermath was also very different from what we’d expect today. There was no candlelight ceremony, no memorial service, no monument on the campus until 2006. In fact, the university was only closed for one day. The survivors did not speak of the event at all. Remarkably, Wilson and Fox did not meet again until the making of this movie, and they discuss how therapeutic it is for them to speak of the shooting.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This documentary vividly recreates the terror of a mass shooting and depicts the long lasting trauma of crimes that have become all too familiar to us in the present day.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Read: Guns by Stephen King is a concise case for the necessary regulation of firearms in the United States, a call that’s fallen on deaf ears since at least 1966.

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.
Rating: ****

Movie Review: Mulan (1998)


Title: Mulan
Release Date: June 19, 1998
Director: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Mulan is Disney’s interpretation of the classic Chinese ballad “Hua Mulan,” where a girl takes her aging father’s place when he’s conscripted to war against the Huns. Mulan is a misfit in her society’s traditional expectations of a woman, but with the help of the dragon Mushu – voiced by Eddie Murphy – she’s able to find her place in the military.The great part is that Mulan is able to use her smarts to figure out clever ways to defeat the Huns in battle and eventually save the Emperor.

The animation style that draws on Chinese watercolor rather than real world appearance is a nice touch.  It does feel that Disney didn’t bring in their Grade A composers for this movie, though, as the musical numbers are a resounding dud. While it’s a simple tale simply told, especially compared to the other Disney movies of the Renaissance era, but it is a decent movie about family, honor, friendship, and the capabilities of women in a patriarchal society.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Coraline (2009)


TitleCoraline
Release Date: 2009 February 6
Director: Henry Selick
Production Company: Laika
Summary/Review:

Coraline has been on my “too-watch” list for some time, so it was good to finally take in this visually stunning stop-motion animated fantasy based on a story by Neil Gaiman.  Coraline is a preteen girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning, with the expressions and mannerisms perfectly matching the voice) moved into a strange old apartment building with eccentric neighbors by her inattentive parents.  She discovers a small door with a passage to a mirror universe of the apartments where her Other Mother and Other Father live and spoil Coraline with her favorite things, and the sad neighbors are actually spectacular circus performers.  It seems a wonderful place even if everyone creepily has buttons for eyes.  All is not as good as it seems and Coraline will have to team up with a black cat (my favorite character) and neighbor Wybie, she uses her wits to avoid being trapped in the alternate universe.

I think Coraline is spectacular visually and great at creating mood and atmosphere.  The story feels a bit thin and Coraline’s game against Other Mother is rushed compared with the rest of the movie and the resolution feels too easy.  That being said Coraline is a remarkable piece of art.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Ratatouille (2007)


Title: Ratatouille
Release Date:  29 June 2007
Director: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Production Company:  Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Remy, a rat with a heightened sense of small learns to appreciate fine foods and cooking from television programs and cookbooks of the famed chef Auguste Gusteau.  When circumstance bring Remy to Paris, a vision of the late Gusteau guides him to Gusteau’s restaurant where Remy begins to pursue the dream of becoming a cook.  Remy is paired with the restaurant’s young garbage boy Linguini, and learns that he can control his body like a marionette by pulling his hair (that sounds creepier than it appears in the movie) and together they make successful new dishes.

Though the stakes are low it touches on issues such as balancing commitments to family with pursuing one’s dreams, and expanding one’s perspectives.  It’s also surprisingly educational about both the bridage de cuising and colonies of rats.  One disappointment of the film is that almost all of the characters – rats and kitchen staff alike – are male, although the sole female character Colette comments on the difficulty of women making it in the culinary field, a seeming meta-commentary on the movie itself.  Overall, it’s a cute movie and beautifully animated and I enjoyed it.

Rating: ****

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2017)


Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 4
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

The season 3 finale of BoJack Horseman put the series at a crossroads, where the lead’s characters selfish and self-destructive behavior was on the verge of making the show unbearable to watch, but on the other hand a show about a “reformed” BoJack wouldn’t be interesting to watch.  The series creators have done a good job of putting BoJack on a patch to recovery while not ignoring the lasting harm he has done to his relationships.  For this reason, the series feels more like several recurring stories focused on the lead characters rather than one narrative.  The show creators emphasize this decision by not even BoJack appear in the first episode of the season.

BoJack’s story involves the arrival of a young horse girl, Hollyhock, who believes BoJack is her biological father and wants his help finding her mother (since she already has 8 loving adoptive dads).  At the same time, BoJack must take in his deteriorating mother Beatrice despite his unhidden antipathy and resentment toward her.  Mr. Peanutbutter decides to run for governor and the depiction of the clueless celebrity stumbling into electoral success seems all too real to be funny nowadays, and leads into the series’ hamfisted attempts in political humor related to gun violence and fracking.  Luckily, the story takes a turn mid-season to exploring the effects of the election, and Mr. Peanutbutter’s way of life in general on Diane and their marriage.  Princess Carolyn attempts to find success in her business and settle down with Ralph, but runs into heartbreaking roadblocks.  Todd has less of his own storyline through the series, appearing as a supporting character to the other storylines, but does provide some great representation for asexual people as he tries to learn more about his identity.  Later, he becomes involved in one of his crazy Todd plans involving clown-dentists, a recurring joke that is far funnier than it has any right to be.

While there’s nothing as remarkable as Season 3’s “Fish Out of Water” with its mostly wordless underwater scenario, there are some standouts in this season for storytelling and animation artistry.   “The Old Sugarman Place” sees BoJack returning to his family’s summer home and befriending a crotchety dragonfly, while flashbacks of his mother’s childhood play superimposed with the current events on the show.  This develops a theme of generational depression that continues in “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” narrated by Bojack’s internal monologue constantly berating himself for his failures and slights.  “Time’s Arrow” is depicted through Beatrice’s decaying memories, filling in the story of her unhappy childhood and early marriage, and providing Hollyhock’s history as well.

Ok, so I’ve gotten this far and haven’t noted that this is a show where animals intermingle with humans in scathing satire of the Hollywood lifestyle filled with visual puns.  But really, I think BoJack Horseman may be the most affecting and honest show about the human condition on “television” today.

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Movie Review: Minions (2015)


TitleMinions
Release Date: June 10, 2015
Director: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda
Production Company: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
Summary/Review:

The Minions – the lovable, mischievous, and yellow sidekicks from the the Despicable Me franchise – get the full origin story in this film.  The movie begins with the Minions evolving as a species that longs to serve biggest, meanest creature around.  After a montage of numerous instances where the Minions enthusiasm inadvertently leads them to kill their masters, they end up in exile in an Arctic cave. After decades of a the community suffering collective depression over having no evil master to serve, three Minions -Kevin, Stuart, and Bob – set off on a journey to find a new leader.  Their travels take them to 1960s New York City, then to pre-themepark Orlando for a supervillains convention, and finally to swinging London where they try out for the supervillain Scarlet Overkill.  Hijinks ensue, and the Minions can be disarmingly funny, especially Bob. I feel like the movie is often trying too hard to be clever and lacks the heart of Despicable Me.  Are the Minions really able to carry a movie on their own? I say no, but my kids disagree, and I suspect it succeeds as some enjoyable fluff for the younger ones.
Rating: **

Related PostMovie Review: Despicable Me (2010)