Bojack Horseman Season 6 Part 1: Series Review

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The first half of Bojack Horseman’s conclusive 6th season was released this morning on Netflix. Today’s 8 episodes are half of the final season of the celebrated Netflix animated series. The show centres around Bojack Horseman: ageing TV star whose self-destructive tendencies lead him on a life criss-crossed with bad decisions and despicable behaviour. Season 6 picks up right off the back of season 5, with Bojack checking into rehab for addiction to alcohol and painkillers. Princess Carolyne has adopted her baby, and Mr. Peanut Butter is struggling with the guilt he faces after cheating on Pickles with Diane. For anyone not familiar with the show, the previous sentence probably sounded pretty ridiculous.

I only got into Bojack close to this time last year, and I have since been of the fierce opinion that it is one of the best things on television right now. My excitement and hype before this morning was pretty high as a result, matched only by my expectations. Bojack’s set the bar incredibly high for itself, and I won’t pretend I was thrilled by this whole half-season trick that every mature animated show seems to be pulling this year (except Rick and Morty sees it, and drops the other half). Perhaps it’s because of my lofty expectations that what I got felt a little inadequate.

I want to clarify, I’m not saying the first half of the season isn’t good. By any normal standard of quality it’s a perfectly good half-season (this is going to be annoying) of television. That said, tonally you can see that the writers have strayed from their normal routine. Bojack’s always been a show that enjoys an indulgence into deeper psychological explorations of its characters, but it’s always been accompanied by a tone that’s comedic at its heart. For the first 2/3 episodes of this season, the comedic element takes a little bit of a backseat, which is a real shame because the comedy on the show has never been anything other than genius. The episode that focuses on Princess Carolyne is the best example of a generally more artistic take on the tone of the show. I didn’t mind exactly, but I could feel the difference and I wasn’t head-over-heels for it. That more or less fixes itself the later you get into the half-season, but it takes some waiting through the first episode or two.

I enjoyed what they do with the characters. Princess Carolyne’s Ruthie dilemma never goes away and it’s pretty entertaining. Mr. Peanut Butter and Pickles’ whole relationship is handled better in this season (I wasn’t the biggest of fans in the last season) and it produces probably the best episode from the 8. I wasn’t on board with Diane’s little Chicago adventure at first, but Guy grows on me a little and I liked that whole situation, even if its focus episode was another example of a more intellectual focus as compared to previous seasons. Todd is Todd, and there’s no one like Todd. Bojack’s life in this half-season is in an interesting place. It’s worth mentioning that I’d strongly recommend a thorough recap of the previous seasons before getting started on season 6. The show creeps by, episode to episode, with the ghosts of Bojack’s pervious bad decisions and mishaps looming over him, particularly Sarah Lynn (there’s even a new opening which takes us back through the truly screwed up happenings over 5 seasons of this show). It hasn’t really happened yet, that’s the essence of the cliff hanger that they leave us on at the end of the 8th episode. Aside from those threads, which we can see moving but we don’t know where yet, Bojack’s arc over the course of the whole show is really coming good in a way that it didn’t have a chance to before.  We see a Bojack that, for the first time, sees improving himself as a viable possible course of action. We see him at his most sane, taking his time to understand himself a little bit better, and even providing some pretty genuine guidance to some other characters. Of course, I fully expect this to be the calm before the storm, as inferable from the end of the 8th episode. I’m not sure that it would track for them to give us a happy ending with Bojack. It’ll actually be a pretty defining decision, what with the controversy surrounding the idea that Bojack is a show that comforts self-destructive self-pity-ers (much like the way Bojack saw Philbert in season 5). This season does see Bojack make some strides in terms of an awareness of his ability to make himself better, and the steps it would take to get there. Again, the foreshadowing points to it all going south from here, but I’m on the edge of my seat to see where the writers choose to end Bojack’s arc in January.

And in a lot of ways, that’s all this half-season was: a preamble. 16 episodes in total will make this the longest season, splitting it in two might simply serve the purpose of a prelude to the main event of the last 8 episodes. For sure, these 8 episodes add up to not a heck of a lot more than context and exposition for the final chapter. At the beginning, it even lacks a little bit of the rhythm of what we’re used to. Even when it does get the rhythm back, there is a little bit of forced-ness in attempts to replicate Bojack-esque bits. The secretary strike, for example, is funny but altogether not up to par. We haven’t seen Erica. Character Actress Margot Martindale gets one scene (and it’s goddamned brilliant). All in all these 8 episodes served a function, and the entertainment part was a bonus. I actually think I’d recommend maybe waiting until January for this one, let the whole thing flow for you. These episodes were good, not great, and ultimately they exist so the second half lands the way they want it to. I respect that, I think I’d rather have this than have a 12 episode season which doesn’t do justice, but I do wish they could’ve just dropped it all now. I want to reiterate, these were good episodes, they were entertaining and perfectly watchable. It is Bojack Horseman we’re talking about here, it can only fall so far with the foundation they’ve built. That said, this certainly felt like the appetiser to a main course which I can’t wait to drop in January.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 78/100                                                               Aryamaan’s Score –

Fleabag: Series Review

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One of the most well received feature shows of this recently passed awards season, Fleabag is the story of an unnamed protagonist, referred to as ‘Fleabag’, a woman living in London. The show deals with her life as she deals with loss, family, and coming to terms with her own personality. It will come as a surprise, perhaps, based on that description, that Fleabag is a comedy, first and foremost. Written and starred in by the hilarious Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also wrote and starred in the original play the show is based off of, alongside Oivia Coleman, Sian Clifford, and Bill Paterson, as well as Andrew Scott in season two, Fleabag has concluded its run after two celebrated seasons.

The show’s reputation precedes itself. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has got to be the most decorated woman in Hollywood right about now, after she picked up three Emmy’s for her work on the show, which is, by the way, exceptional. I’ll say this right off the bat, season one qualifies itself as ‘fine’ in my head. It starts off somewhat tiresome for me; the characters take their time imprinting themselves to the point where you’re watching out of a desire as opposed to a curiosity. I say that, but it’s only true in the context of the show, a season of which is 6 half-hour episodes. It’s not easy to drag with that kind of length, and it’s probably because of that that the drag disappears reasonably quickly. Once it does, Fleabag is a hilarious (I mean seriously hilarious) and sophisticated series, one of the most well rounded things on television, right up there with This is Us and BoJack Horeseman. The balance it finds between comedy and very real human struggle is something quite unique, managing to communicate a lot of genuine emotion without the comedy ever coming across forced or out of place. The credit for that goes to some spectacular writing and some stellar performances. It’s not an easy thing to do to combine a communicative performance with as comedic one, but the entire cast has done an exceptional job packaging both at equal levels for a script that demanded it.

As I mentioned, season one is very good but not incredible. That changes, very much for the better, with the start of season two. Fleabag’s recognition has come largely after season two, and for good reason. Andrew Scott is fantastic as the Hot Priest, I mean really exceptional, and the addition of his character in the context of the show works on all cylinders. From the way they discuss to religion to the role (not exactly figuratively) that God plays in the show, season two combines al the themes of the first season with a little more spice and a little more excitement that left me as an audience member completely fulfilled at the end of every episode. I’m really glad to see more creators jumping to the 22-minute episode format, it just makes the audience’s life so much simpler. The difficulty with that format tends to be the task of starting and finishing an arc in 22 minutes, which is enough to deter some but which Fleabag does exceptionally well.

Characters in the show are just rounded too well. Fleabag and Claire’s relationship is done fantastically, striking just the right tone to keep it from being cheesy while making it heartfelt. The whole dynamic with the father is strong, with an unsung Bill Paterson coming good. I don’t know that Olivia Coleman’s character sizes up to the rest, but any shortcomings in the character’s fabric are made up for, and then some, by a characteristically superlative performance from the Academy Award winning actress. I’ve already mentioned it, but the way they combine comedy with dramatic sophistication is really unique and incredible and deserves every bit of recognition it’s been getting. Stylistically speaking, I loved the kind of self-aware, almost super-natural trope Fleabag’s character had. In more ways than one, the show is actually quite stylistic. People who’ve seen the show will know what I mean, and those who haven’t will soon, when I refer to the really intriguing relationship the Priest had with us as an audience. It’s a testament to the layers and levels the show chose to operate on, which are held together, again, by a script that allowed for those levels.

Fleabag deserves every bit of recognition it’s getting right now. Season one is fine, quite good even, but is absolutely crucial in the role of putting a far superior season two into context. The whole way through, I found myself unsure of how I felt about Fleabag as a character. She presents herself as very Bojack-esque: broken and unwilling to be fixed. I actually think Fleabag might have a slightly more wholesome take on the character by the end of it. I do genuinely believe that the last five minutes of this show are the best of the entire series, and for the symbolism of how it all ends, I could not be more appreciative. Phoebe Waller-Bridge cemented her reputation as one of the strongest comedy-drama writers in the field at the moment for a show that absolutely lives up to the hype. Fleabag is one of the strongest shows on TV right now, and I’d encourage anyone to give it a watch.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 86/100                                                                          Aryamaan’s Score –

 

Joker: Film Review

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I was extremely conflicted going into this film. I was hesitant when it was announced, how dare someone stand where Heath Ledger stood, but my irritation was eased slightly when I heard it was to be Joaquin Phoenix taking on the role. The trailer released, and I was neither disappointed nor over the moon. I read an interview from the director Todd Phillips, best known for his work on The Hangover franchise, who described this new interpretation of the character in comparison to Ledger’s. My hype levels decreased slightly. Phillips described the fundamental difference between the two, essentially separate, characters. Ledger’s Joker, the single greatest performance of all time, in my opinion, had a sanity about his insanity, a clarity and intent to the way he preached a certain chaotic gospel that he very deeply believed in. Arthur Fleck, Phoenix’s interpretation, is a very genuinely mentally-ill man, who’s desperation to be funny and noticed drives him to violent ends. I had a suspicion that this idea of the Joker’s character has less scope for intrigue, and so my general emotion going into this was measured scepticism.

It’s a hard thing to explain. My fears about Fleck’s, and it certainly was Flack before it was Joker, were both confirmed and subverted at the same time. Phoenix’s performance, it has to be said, is spectacular, and an Oscar nod most certainly awaits him in a just world. That being said, I had certain issues with the direction the film as a whole took on this iconic character. I should say, and this has probably been made clear to you already, that I’m very attached to Heath Ledger’s performance. It’s far and away the best performance I’ve ever seen, and I had a hard time not drawing comparisons. This was something of an origins story, so we couldn’t have hoped to see the clown prince of crime in scene one. Instead, we focus on Fleck’s life, a sad, depressing, bleak one, riddled with a mixture of lies and mental instability. The film emphasizes primarily on the Anomie of a mistreated, laid aside man with a mental condition whose violence is a means of getting back at the society that has done him wrong. This wasn’t an interpretation I’m a fan of. Obviously I’m coloured by a predisposition in favour of another interpretation, and I’m not necessarily saying one is objectively better than the other, I just felt that this was a less multi-dimensional, thought provoking idea. It’s compelling, and propelled by Phoenix’s performance it’s incredibly compelling, but it deviates a little much from the character I was looking for. In the end, his arc comes good, and we do see our clown prince in some way, but lacking the intent we’re necessarily used to. We see the same outcome, without the same lesson, the same mission to show how ugly we all are, not that deep down. This film did a gleeful jig on the line between a character film and a story about the mistreatment of the mentally ill, and ended up combining both into a version of this character that is compelling and does capture its essence, but feeling somewhat out of place. Again, this is coming from someone who just can’t let Heath go.

The out-of-place-ness is something that is magnified, for me, by an inconsistency of sorts. The filmmakers seem to have been caught in two minds, unsure of whether they were telling a more traditional, narrative-driven story, or a more abstract, psychedelically trippy concept piece. That’s where parts of the conventional character are lost for me, in an attempt to make a statement about the mentally ill. I don’t want to describe specific scenes, if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t you should see it for yourself, but some of the Fight Club meets Eternal Sunshine moments didn’t land for me. It felt like the Joker’s story was being used as a medium through which to have a conversation. The controversy that’s been the centrepiece of the build-up to this film has been essentially a question as to whether or not we should be having that conversation in a film like this. I’m absolutely a believer in the idea that film can and needs to be a place where we can have conversations about the things that need talking about in our society, and Anomie, mental illness, violence, and exploitation are all things that absolutely need talking about. However,  just as important as having these conversations has to be the way in which we have them. People have been quick to jump on the violent content of the film, which is misguided criticism in my book. The violence in the last 20 minutes of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is almost directly parallel to the violence in this film, it might be worse, so why is this film so much more incendiary? The answer, and in some ways I can’t believe this is even a discussion, is the context. Tarantino’s violence is mindless and gratuitous, but, ultimately, what is its function? The extreme violence in those films is cathartic; one could argue that that’s a problem in of itself, but put that aside for the moment and compare it with the violence in a film like Joker. Arthur uses violence as a means of making societal waves, as a way of getting back at those who have wronged him. In the end, violence gets him exactly what he wants, and that’s problematic as far as I’m concerned. We do need to have these conversations, it’s a discourse that’s long overdue, but I don’t see how we can justify having them in the context of an anti-hero. An anti-hero begs for some kind of relatability, some amount of humanity in the depiction of a struggle that leads to sympathy in spite of a character’s actions. In. a world where mass shootings are basically allowed to happen, committed by real people going through Anomie and depression and mental illness, I’m not sure this was a responsible way to bring about a conversation. It’s a slippery slope, because while we do need to be responsible it is equally important that over-PC culture is stopped from finding glorification in any and all depictions and stopping any discussion form happening at all. That said, in the context of an anti-hero, which might not be a great idea in the first place, this was the wrong way to have the discussion and was certainly at least a little ill-conceived.

From a technical standpoint, however, the film is brilliant. Save for a script that was altogether average, the objective quality of this film is undeniable. Phoenix, as I’ve mentioned, is firing on all cylinders. He’s helped by a combination of some outstanding directorial decisions from Todd Phillips in the musical and visual departments. The scene on the train, the very first time we see Arthur Fleck acting as the Joker, is a standout moment in a series of excellently put together scenes and sequences. From a plot standpoint, I felt the Batman connections were pushed a little too hard. I was kind of hoping not to see any mention of the Wayne’s in this film, but it seemed to be important that a proper archnemesis backstory be created, deviating quite a bit from other versions of a young Bruce Wayne’s story. Phillips has been pretty vocal about the fact that he doesn’t expect this iteration of the Joker to meet Robert Pattinson in the forthcoming Batman films, so I’m not all that sure as to why they felt the need to push the connection so hard, but they did and it took something away from Fleck’s story for me. The film is technically brilliant, but the simultaneous clinging and deviating from the Batman storyline created some confusion.

And that’s what Joker is. It’s a film that’s both confusing and confused at the same time. All in all, it resembles a spectacular film without actually inhabiting that title. The controversy and discourse aside, it’s a technically excellent but content confused film that didn’t really know what it wanted. The constant back and forth between a narrative storyline and a psychedelic experience is just too inconsistent. I didn’t love the “was any of it real?” trope they pulled at the end, for example. As an audience member, I found myself conflicted as to the nature of the story I was being told, and that’s something that separates great films from films that could’ve been great. And that’s why I say it resembled a spectacular film without actually managing it for me. I can’t not acknowledge my own biases when it comes to this character. Heath Ledger’s Joker is too ingrained into my mind for Phoenix’s performance, while absolutely incredible, isn’t quite the same for me. I don’t think the difference is necessarily product of the quality of acting so much as it is the two different characters they played; two characters who shared a name. Ledger’s Joker had an intelligence about him, a sense of enlightened clarity. He was serving a higher purpose that he believed in, and he’d given himself completely to that idea. He had nothing tied to him. Arthur Fleck was a more unstable, more ultimately plausible person, who, while maybe more emotionally compelling, was less interesting for me in this particular role. I do believe that the controversy is, in this case, justified. I just don’t think that this was the film that needed to be made right now. I’m not normally one to jump to the word glorification, it’s a term used too often and often wrongly. That said, its overuse doesn’t invalidate it, and this was not what we needed right now. If only it was less good a film.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 82/100                                                              Aryamaan’s Score –

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels Film Review

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Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a, gritty, quirky, and hilarious comedy-of-errors crime film, focusing on the criminal underbelly of London. The film follows the action of a number of character sets in the same time period; a group of four cockney boys, a mercenary, a mafia kingpin, another mafia kingpin, a couple more faceless mafia kingpins, and a couple idiots. The film is written and directed by legendary British filmmaker, Guy Ritchie, who, without question, adds his own signature to one of the most stylised comedies around. The film jumps around between characters, as a rigged card game and the subsequent debt sparks a series of intertwining connections between a web of characters that basically ends in a tangle like you’ve never seen before.

Guy Ritchie’s style of filmmaking can best be described as pretty messed up. He’s some kind of mix between Tarrantino and Wes Anderson. Part of what makes the film so gritty and raw is Ritchie’s bleak lighting state, just a shade away from black and white, which is mechanically supposed to give a sense of the time but it manages to aid equally in the loose authenticity of the film overall. That’s another thing about it, it feels authentic and “real”, but I use the word loose for lack of a better one. It’s almost like, the way the film is shot and the way the actors, who’s performances are excellent, hold themselves kind of gives it an air of not taking itself seriously enough to be authentic, and there are moments when it even feels over the top. This tug of war between reality and sketch comedy makes it disturbingly compelling at times.

The film is written wonderfully. Very well drawn characters, but there’s a small problem there. The film’s an hour and forty-five minutes long, and there have to be at least ten characters at the forefront of the film. What I’m getting at here is that the time given for development of characters can sometimes be eaten into by the time taken to establish them (which it does remarkably well in the first ten-fifteen minutes of the film). Because of that, I can hear criticism that it’s difficult for an audience to commit to it much, there isn’t enough substance to the motivations, or the consequences, for that matter. This is a consistent weakness of Ritchie’s but he makes up for it more often than not with a phenomenally funny and stylised screenplay.

There’s no beating around the bush here. If you don’t much like British humour, you probably shouldn’t see this film. That said, if you like, love, or even are indifferent to British humour, I absolutely insist that you give this film a chance. The script positively shines with good old fashioned English wit. Layers of sarcasm, full British street slang, and accents so thick, no amount of rewinding and slow-motioning is going to help you understand. Some things are funnier left not understood.

I have to acknowledge the occasional drag on the film, it’s not the most fast paced of films you’ve ever seen and it might take a little patience for some to sit through it. That said, I think the last fifteen minutes of the film, where the real comedy of errors aspect is brought into it, adequately makes up for it, and I’d encourage anyone who does not have a strongly negative emotion conjured by the idea of British humour to watch the film.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score –  79/100                                                                     Aryamaan’s Score –