The Super Inframan (1975, Hua Shan)

Until the third act, Super Inframan at least keeps a brisk pace. The movie’s got almost nothing going for it—other than Chen Yung—yu frankly courageous very seventies score and even it’s a small blip of goodness, not a positive feature—but at least it moves. It doesn’t drag through the entire third act, there are a couple good (out of nowhere the fight choreography gets interesting) fight scenes, then some terrible fighting and some silliness, but once the good fight scenes are over, it starts to crawl. Though I assume the general annoyance at the pace slowing instead of the movie ending contributes.

Super Inframan is a low budget Chinese giant monster movie, only with the superhero, Inframan, able to grow big to fight the monsters. There’s a name for the genre; I’m not Googling. The miniatures—outside the opening scene city fire—are bad. But even bad, when it’s giant Inframan fighting a giant monster, Inframan is at its best. That fight is actually successful, whereas the good ones at the end both go bad for various plot-related reasons. They’re a bummer; the Inframan versus kanji is cool.

Danny Lee plays Inframan, which requires he wear a crafting-enhanced motorcycle helmet with antenna so he looks a little like a bug. He’s kind of a cyborg. It’s unclear what scientist Wang Hsieh’s doing to Lee during the transformation scene. Apparently he’s turning him very straightforwardly into a cyborg because there are these illustrated cards flashing over Lee’s body showing mechanical stuff… but they never talk about it. There are monsters to fight. Super Inframan doesn’t have childlike wonder it has childlike stupidity. Screenwriter Ni Kuang is targeting two year-olds and managing to talk down to them.

The effects are mostly silly illustrated lasers. There’s no ingenuity to how director Hua does any of it; he doesn’t even care what blonde-haired, thigh-high booted, supervillain dragon lady Terry Liu whips when she whips. She just likes to whip. She’s got a scantily clad sidekick (Dana) to keep dad awake and Lee’s a very square-jawed handsome leading man type for mom. Though Lee never does anything in the movie after the opening scene. He saves a baby in a fire. Later on, when he’s Inframan, he does all sorts of stuff but it’s probably not Lee and even if it were, Inframan doesn’t talk much (if ever) and so there’s no character development. It’s a fail on some really basic levels.

Still, besides Yuan Man-tzu, none of the acting is too terrible, all things considered, so maybe if it just knew when to stop being bad and roll the credits, Inframan would be all right. But not with the third act slowdown. Not after the fight gets too cartoony. It goes from being a fairly solid albeit boringly directed fight scene between Inframan and his fellow motorcycle-helmeted stunt men, only they’re supposed to be skeleton men to some bad exposition to Inframan doing this almost silent fight against these two robots with slinky missiles and stuff. It’s dumb, but it’s just about to be accidentally really nice and then it stops and the next fight scene is terrible. And the end of the movie’s too dumb too.

Inframan’s a big fail.

Oh, and Bruce Le—not Bruce Lee—is pretty good as Lee’s teammate who fights a monster. See, they’re not all giant, they’re usually just man-sized rubber-suit monsters. And they all talk smack. And Le fights one all by himself and you’re sympathetic to him because he’s being heroic, while Lee’s got the Inframan gig and is bad at it. Scientist Wang, charged with protecting the whole planet from these monsters, he doesn’t make a good choice with Lee. Le’s better. Just not square-jawed.

There’s nowhere near that much angst in the film; no one except monsters get hurt. Okay, one guy but he doesn’t count.

Inframan would be better if it were worse. Though maybe if they just got rid of the backflips it might be a little better too. The backflips are obnoxious.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Hua Shan; written by Ni Kuang; director of photography, Nishimoto Tadashi; edited by Chiang Hsing-Lung; music by Chen Yung-Yu; produced by Runme Shaw; released by Shaw Brothers Studio.

Starring Danny Lee (Rayma / Inframan), Wang Hsieh (Professor Liu Ying-Te), Terry Liu (Demon Princess Elizebub), Yuan Man-Tzu (Liu Mei-Mei), Dana (Demon Witch-Eye), Bruce Le (Sergeant Lu Hsiao-Lung), Chiang Yang (Liutenant Chu Chi-Kuang), and Lin Wen-Wei (Chu Ming).


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“Go to the hills”

I got my MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, which both does and doesn’t seem on brand for me. I wasn’t an art school kind of person but I’ve always been a believer in making an education from what’s available in a place, which sucks because I’ve gone on to give that advice only to have it not go anywhere near as well for the recipients of said advice. I’ve never said anything similar about the second Master’s, mind you. The functional one. My undergrad in history and my MFA are far from functional.

I may be confusing pragmatic and functional. I’m real tired. But with that exhaustion has come some clarity as far as my latest boondoggle with the Stop Button move. I forgot to change over this eighteen square pixel transparent PNG file I use on the movie ratings to intent them a little and used a WordPress plugin to do a bulk change. On what I thought was 3,000 posts. Turned out it did something to every post on the site… it eighty-sixed the paragraph tags. Not the ones with additional code, just the standard <p> and </p> tags. It erased them, which is something WordPress started doing a long time ago now (long time ago in Internet time).

It felt really familiar too. Not just screwing something up with a bulk change and not having a backup—make a backup y’all, even if you can—like I could, undo it with yet another bulk import of all the Stop Button, Comics Fondle, Visual Reflux, and Summing Up posts. I’m even more exhausted after typing that sentence. I think I did this same thing before changing something else and I think I went through however many posts and added in the paragraph tags again. But you know what… no one is going to notice. No one reading is going to experience any difference. You know why, because WordPress adds in the paragraph tags when rendering the posts. So it’s a fuck up and I should’ve made a backup and that find and replace plugin is far more destructive than convenient, but it’s also not a particularly… actually, no, it’s not even a visible fuck up. It’s something dumb I did and I should’ve known better, but the resulting material is no different.

The experience for the reader isn’t different at all, which brings it all back to the art school and this instructor—an eighties artist of solid renown and a smart guy—talking about how he got into it with another artist about artifice and when it matters. Kind of like the Val Kilmer Tombstone thing about the original director wanting them all to wear period accurate costumes and not modern fabrics. The camera couldn’t tell the difference. The first director got fired, they got to wear modern fabrics and be more comfortable and Tombstone stank to high heaven. So maybe a bad example. But it’s not worth sweating paragraph tags, not when the whole point of the blog is the blogging. The -ing of it. The generative exercise.

I mean, back up your work. Even if you can recreate it without backing up, back it up. But don’t forget what you’re making.

Sadly, no accompanying cat pictures because I need to go to bed. I also need to decide if I’m going to re-add those paragraph tags as I gradually clean up the old posts.

I always said when I turned forty I was going to dump the novels online. Since turning forty and now one and forty, I haven’t given it any serious thought. I can’t even imagine how much I’d fret over that shit though. The funny thing about the paragraph tags going and the threat of the paragraphs going? I never wrote my fiction in paragraphs. I mean, I initially did but then I got away from it in MFA school; I added all the paragraph breaks later, in one of the edits. I did something similar with blogging at the beginning…

It seems kind of disingenuous to be so worried about paragraph tags when I was so willing to make a lack of paragraphs a style hill. Of course, I don’t think about style hills anymore, which is kind of too bad. But it’s 2019 and there are multiple reasons not to worry about style hills anymore, but damn if they didn’t used to be a thing.

The aughts had a lot of pointless things, things so pointless in hindsight it’s very hard to imagine ever assigning them importance. Previous decades obviously had the same problem, often with greater intensity, but by the aughts we should’ve known better and instead we kept investing in shitty ideas because the idea of them not working out was scary.

And guess what… they didn’t work out.

Wow. There’s an upper. I could use a cat picture right now.

The Flash (2014) s06e08 – The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 2

So unlike previous seasons, the CW “Arrowverse” showrunners—at least on “Flash,” “Supergirl,” and to some extent “Batwoman”—are doing a pre-Crisis arc and a post-Crisis arc, which might end up making a lot of sense depending on how Crisis goes… so this episode is the big finale to the comically godawful Sendhil Ramamurthy arc. He gets to turn into a big skull-faced Venom CG monster at the end, but the monster still has his voice so even if the CG is bad, Ramamurthy is able to make it even worse with his performance.

Also with the end of the arc thing there are big action set pieces, except they’re not big. They’re fake big. There’s a zombie apocalypse as Ramamurthy infects people in Central City with brainwashed “Dark Flash”’s help. We don’t get to see the apocalypse because budget; instead it’s Candice Patton and Carlos Valdes arguing about what to do next. As Grant Gustin left Valdes in charge (for after Gustin dies in Crisis), Valdes thinks he’s got the best plan. Meanwhile Patton has a different plan, one where Gustin’s not acceptable collateral damage.

Both plans are stupid because the script’s stupid but Valdes’s performance is so lousy, it’s impossible to side with him. He and Danielle Panabaker desperately need to get off this show, both for the show and for themselves. Panabaker at least has some okay moments as (don’t call me Killer anymore) Frost, but when she reverts back to regular Caitlin she’s bad. Not sure why. It’s obvious why she doesn’t use her powers against the zombies when she and Jesse L. Martin go out to the street to fight them. Because budget. But why’s Panabaker so thin playing her regular role? Maybe because she’s so bored with it they had to make her a different character to keep her on the show?

As for Gustin, who last episode went over to the dark side, possibly willingly, he doesn’t get anything to do until the end of the episode when they’re all sitting around moping about Crisis. It’s a terrible scene, though possibly better than the previous episode where he frets about his mortality. I foolishly thought the show might have some good “Road to Crisis” stuff but it’s all crap. It’s not exactly disappointing but it’s surprisingly poorly executed.

The one technically good thing in the episode is when Cecile (Danielle Nicolet, who’s all the show’s got going on anymore) and Victoria Park have to escape from a building overrun with zombies. Nicolet uses her psychic abilities to sneak them out in a long “continuous” shot sequence, which is technically proficient but still bad.

Because budget.

It’s probably not a good idea the show set its whole season up as a jumping off point for after the crossover, but unless they clean house on the cast and get some better writing, “The Flash” has run out of steam.

Tom Cavanagh sucking the season certainly doesn’t help things.

The Flash (2014) s06e07 – The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1

“The Flash” seems to be in a race—no pun intended—to see how bad it can get before the Crisis crossover. This episode gives Grant Gustin his first showcase all season and instead of giving him scenes opposite the regular cast, like his wife, dad, friends, sticks him in a battle of the wills. On one side is Sendhil Ramamurthy, who—against all odds—is actually worse than usual. He’s Ultimate Venom. On the other side is Michelle Harrison, who sometimes plays Gustin’s dead mom, sometimes the Speed Force. Harrison’s always been a weak casting choice. She did a little better in the stunt as Earth-Three not-Barry’s mom earlier this season and it’s hard to fault her with anything this episode. The personified Speed Force is a really stupid idea. Not Harrison’s fault.

So while Ramamurthy tries to convince Gustin to embrace the Venom so Gustin doesn’t have to die in Crisis, Harrison tries to convince Gustin he needs to sacrifice himself because he’s Jesus.

Only he’s not Jesus. When “The Flash” introduced the idea of Gustin disappearing in the Crisis first season, it was an Easter egg. The way they’ve turned it into a plot point this season has been godawful but not surprisingly so. The “Arrowverse” Crisis for Gustin doesn’t have the traditional gravitas from the actual comic. It’s got the “Flash” gravitas, which is pretty slim stuff.

The episode opens with a lousy cliffhanger resolve—Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) versus Ramamurthy, but really just an excuse to get Sawyer out of the episode to… film crossover scenes? Because dramatically it’s crap. Though everything related to Ultimate Venom is crap.

Meanwhile, Candice Patton gets a big reporter arc. But not really. She’s just avoiding writing her obit of The Flash, which is that season one Crisis Easter egg, which makes sense because she has no idea how he’s going to die. Dumb.

Though Kayla Compton is working out all right, despite being somewhat pointless except to prod Patton into various actions.

It’d be nice if it were at least a good performance from Gustin, but Gustin’s either in dream sequences or possessed by Venom. It’s all so pointless, protracted, cheap, melodramatic, silly, and dumb, it really doesn’t work out.

Kind of like the show at this point. I keep catching myself thinking Crisis might fix the show’s problems but unless they’re replacing the writers are the crossover, I can’t see how it could.

The Flash (2014) s06e06 – License to Elongate

So Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) gets his own episode and it’s, for some reason, a James Bond send-up. He and Grant Gustin are in tuxedos trying to stop Bond villain wannabe (literally, the guy wants to be a Bond villain, it’s part of the narrative) Carlo Rota from selling a doomsday laser to some one percenters. It’s really dumb, but slightly charming just because Sawyer’s charming. Gustin can be charming too but not here. He just wants to Flash-up and take out the villains but after six seasons of fighting superpowered adversaries, he can’t take on a bunch of Eurotrash. It’s kind of humiliating, actually.

Meanwhile, Tom Cavanagh has a subplot about convincing Kayla Compton to use her superpowers to prevent the upcoming Crisis and maybe give the regular cast time to film their Crisis crossover appearances. It’s a lousy subplot mostly because it meanders and seems pointless. No one was missing Compton since her last appearance and Cavanagh’s “Nash Wells” adventurer character somehow manages to be even slighter than his Quebecois trash Sherlock Holmes riff last season.

Then Danielle Nicolet gets a subplot with Brandon McKnight about him waking up from a black hole-induced coma and trying to ask out the barista he likes. It’s not well-written—nothing in the episode is well-written—but Nicolet’s good and McKnight’s fine. Nicolet’s psychic powers are off because she feels lost in her career or something—doesn’t matter—but it works out thanks to the actors.

In fact, the episode ends on solid enough ground if it weren’t for big bad and terrible actor Sendhil Ramamurthy showing up to set up the cliffhanger, it might even be a success. Or as close as season six “Flash” is going to get to a successful episode. It’s really too bad for Sawyer, who props up the show quite a bit these days. Maybe he’s a big James Bond fan?

McKnight’s a whole lot less annoying than regular cast member Carlos Valdes these days… maybe the show’s prepping for Valdes and Danielle Panabaker (who directed the episode and does a fine job) to depart.

Fingers crossed anyway.

“Think about the future”

You may have noticed some changes at the Stop Button in the last few days. A totally different theme, TV posts, no header images, inconsistently getting the new site versus the old. It’s not just you, it’s everyone. Well, somewhere out there is an ISP with updated DNS not doing the inconsistency, where it looks like the old site because it is the old site, hosted on WordPress with a .net domain, which will be the case for the foreseeable future. The Stop Button gets hits through WordPress. None of the other blogs do. Except Summing Up… I think. More on that one in a bit.

The reason for all the changes is a good old fashioned—old time blogging—hosting switch. For the first time in almost a decade, The Stop Button is going back to self-hosted. Well, not self-hosted as much as Linode-hosted but you get the idea. 2016-2017 was supposed to be about getting into long-form colloquial blogging (i.e. Medium-esque “essays”) and I did all right for a while but then the inauguration killed my soul and my writing. But even zombified, there were writing lessons learned from it (basically just getting better at infusing writing banter with content) and 2018 and 2019 became the years where I really tried hard to write longer form stuff on Stop Button. And they got some hits. The John Carpenter retrospects and the Eleanor Parker retrospects both did great. They don’t anymore, which sucks since I put months into both, but lesson learned. Worse, the subsequent longer form posts—the Godzilla one I hated, the Luise Rainer retrospect, which was great writing practice but not much fun, an ill-advised “King Kong and me” post, the Josh Hartnett O piece I’m most proud of but no one reads because I’m right about it and you’re wrong and you just can’t acknowledge it, and the also ill-advised but for different reasons Star Trek II soundtrack post—got very few readers. Very few. I don’t talk about the actual numbers of Stop Button posts because one shouldn’t brag or self-shame about blog readership… but very little readership on those posts, which took a lot of time and more served to validate my opinions on blogging versus writing and why the latter shouldn’t be rigorously applied to the former.

2019 was also supposed to be the year where the long-running and actually listened to Comics Fondle Podcast transformed into the Visual Reflux Podcast. To date, we’ve had one episode. And I had even started doing comics posts on the Visual Reflux site, which was going to be an all-in-one with comics, TV, streaming, and (after I came up with the project) Maltin-sized movie capsule posts. Only I never got around to doing the TV stuff I had planned; I wanted to start with “Fawlty Towers” but writing about sitcoms isn’t easy. I had wanted to do a deep dive into “Penny Dreadful” but the time commitment was always too much. It wasn’t until this fall I got Visual Reflux going with actual TV and streaming posts and it’s worked out. It’s helped my blogging; what I learned from blogging about ”Love and Rockets” on Comics Fondle last year, which was a huge project also without any significant readership but still worth it for my brain, has helped with VR. And I’ve been steady with my ”Punisher MAX” read-through, though I’m behind; again, not lighting the world on fire, but the target audience is literally two people. Anyone else is gravy.

But with Visual Reflux working out, I got thinking about a newsletter again—something to consolidate all my blogging content—only the idea of doing a newsletter… eh. No. I’d rather not. The last one didn’t go well and I did at least a month of work on it. Some of the newsletter thing has always been about getting a Patreon going up, which also has never been successful. And it makes sense… I don’t give to White male cishet media bloggers either. If there is a network of White male cishet media bloggers who support each other on Patreon, it’s probably a bunch of fucking ‘Murican Nazis so no anyway.

(Patreon will be live on this new site before the end of the year, obviously).

I had wanted to do Visual Reflux self-hosted because old time blogging, but it was such a pain in the ass. I couldn’t get Linode to work, because despite dropping some bucks on blogging, I’m not really interested in getting SSL to work or Apache or whatever else. VR went from EasyWP, which is great just somehow not geeky enough to scratch the self-hosting itch but also not straightforward enough to just be WordPress.com, to WordPress.com over the summer. Headaches, even mild ones, gone.

But since I last tried setting up Linode—only eight months ago—things have gotten easier. Their one-click WordPress install… works. There’s some additional setup without the best documentation but it’s adequate documentation. It’s possible. So you’re now reading this on a Linode-hosted WordPress install, unless you’re reading it on summing-up.com, which hasn’t made the move yet. It’s next. Then Comics Fondle. Comics Fondle is going to be a lot of work. A lot of work.

Except once the work’s done, it’s done. All of the blogging will be in one place, like old time blogging. And it’ll be on the blog with the most consistent readership.

There have been some hiccups, which I could blog about at length but won’t here and probably won’t at all because they’re very specific to my posts. Just… don’t do a related posts plugin. It’s a bad idea. Also, if you’re doing bulk changes with BBEdit and Applescript, make sure you save your files in both. Also make sure you remember to apply the rename all in Script Editor instead of just changing the number of the xml file. Anyway, it’s a whole lot. Not even getting into SSL….

There are still some big little things to figure out, like whether or not Summing Up posts get header images; Comics Fondle will not, just the cover images. There are also two other writers on Comics Fondle, who I haven’t talked about the hosting move with because… there’s no way not to be long-winded about it and also getting into the failures of the last few years to grow the sites on their own.

Matt (Hurwitz), one of the aforementioned Comics Fondle writers and former Alan Smithee cohost, has this great observation about people using Batman when they’re doing something new because Batman is always good for some hits—when I started doing serials on Stop Button I did the first Batman serial—but, outside the top of this post, I’ve got no Batman at launch here. Nothing in the queue either. Because I’m sick of Batman. I’ve been trying to gin up interest in the brand since the late nineties and I just can’t anymore.

So instead… how about some fake watercolor cat pictures.

Zombie (1979, Lucio Fulci)

They filmed a lot of Zombie on location—New York City, the Dominican Republic, the ocean floor. For over half the movie, the location filming is the most important thing—if we’re going by what director Fulci showcases the most. Not even the gore gets a bigger showcase until the third act, though there are some rather gruesome exceptions. But the static (or just panning) long shots of palm trees once the action gets to the Caribbean island where Richard Johnson is playing Dr. Moreau only with zombies are the rule. It’s very pretty, even if it’s desolate as something has happened—an unseen voodoo witch doctor has decided the dead must rise so everyone’s a flesh-eating zombie. The film can’t decide on what happened. Johnson says things went bad three months ago, non-acting action hero and world traveller Al Cliver says the island’s been cursed at least a year. It’s also unclear how long Johnson’s been on the island. And why. Despite the almost endless exposition in Zombie, usually from actors poorly delivering it, the exposition just doesn’t matter. Because Zombie is going to be all about the gross stuff Fulci and his crew get his fake shemps to endure.

For instance, I don’t think there are any shemps covered in maggots—their faces, the zombie makeup is entirely on their faces—but lots of them have live worms wriggling around the makeup. I think one zombie has a mouthful of live worms, no doubt worms not protected by the American Humane Association. The zombie makeup itself isn’t great. There are a lot of attempts at showing bone in the makeup, incorporating masks, which just makes the zombie look bulky like their skulls are retaining water or something. So the live worms and such do a good job distracting from such deficiencies. Zombie has a lot of gore in the second half, a little in the third, with Fulci saving the grossest zombies for the finale. They’re coming out of their graves too at one point, so he’s able to get a lot of mileage out of his long (timing wise) practical effects shots. Sergio Salvati’s photography and especially Giorgio Cascio and Fabio Frizzi’s music help for those shots too. They’re really good tests of one’s stomach; the last big gross-out scene the gore is so extreme it’s actually unbelievable at least one of the characters doesn’t puke. Though then we’d have to see one of the leads trying to essay puking, which they probably couldn’t do.

See, Zombie’s an Italian production shot without a synchronous audio track, which is called motor only sync (MOS). I didn’t know the jargon until today, even though pretty much every Italian production from the twentieth century seems to use this method. Thanks Wikipedia. But what the lack of synchronous sound means is the actors, who might be speaking different languages, never get any actual rapport. Fulci tries to compensate with reaction shots. It doesn’t work.

The worst case is when ostensible lead Ian McCulloch is watching Auretta Gay undress for scuba diving. She does it topless and in a string bikini bottom. McCulloch just stares, occasionally making sure top-billed Tisa Farrow’s still watching him watching. You’re worried the male gaze compounding on itself is going to cause a cosmic singularity before the sequence ends. Though McCulloch’s exceptionally unconvincing comb-over is enough to cause a singularity on its own. Farrow doesn’t mind the comb-over by the way, in fact she’s very hot to trot for McCulloch. At one point during the long opening of the third act, “escape the zombies on foot” sequence, Farrow even gives McCulloch the “I don’t want to die without sex” speech, so they get it on in a graveyard. Too bad the now zombified corpses are waking up below.

But not really because even though Farrow’s not good, she’s not a shit heel like McCulloch. It’s hard to be a such a big shit heel when you’re dubbed but McCulloch abides.

The best performances appear to be Johnson and his assistants—Stefania D'Amario and Dakar—worst are Johnson’s wife, Olga Karlatos, Gay, Cliver, McCulloch. Farrow gets a pass from that list because she’s so irrelevant once they get to the island. She mustn’t have been willing to take her clothes off. Karlatos, who the film manages to portray negatively for not wanting to be on the zombie island of undying death, also gets a gratuitous nude scene. Unlike Gay, however, it’s not prelude to something awesome. Gay’s scuba diving sequence leads into the zombie versus shark scene, Zombie’s claim to fame. It’s an impressive underwater stunt sequence. But much like the rest of the film’s impressive moments, it’s nowhere near enough to justify it. With a better budget, Fulci and his crew probably could’ve done something revolting and realistic, instead of revolting and effective. Zombie’s set pieces are gross instead of scary, but its default—with Fulci’s often good composition, Salvati’s photography, Vincenzo Tomassi’s editing, and that score from Cascio and Frizzi—is disquieting. Maybe it’d help if the third act of the script didn’t sink it.

It also doesn’t help the best sequence—an empty sailboat showing in New York Harbor, Dracula-style—is the first one in the picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lucio Fulci; written by Elisa Briganti; director of photography, Sergio Salvati; edited by Vincenzo Tomassi; music by Giorgio Cascio and Fabio Frizzi; production and costume designer, Walter Patriarca; produced by Fabrizio De Angelis and Ugo Tucci; released by Variety Films.

Starring Tisa Farrow (Anne Bowles), Ian McCulloch (Peter West), Richard Johnson (Dr. Menard), Olga Karlatos (Mrs. Menard), Al Cliver (Brian Hull), Auretta Gay (Susan Barrett), Stefania D’Amario (Nurse Clara), Ugo Bologna (Dr. Bowles), and Dakar (Lucas).


The Happytime Murders (2018, Brian Henson)

The Happytime Murders is exceptionally foul and exceptionally funny. It’s set in a world where animate puppets and humans co-exist, with the human bigotry eradicated because they’ve all decided to hate on the puppets instead. There’s no explanation of how the puppets came to be or when they came to be or whatnot; they just exist. In the past, before the humans started hating on them, the puppets were entertainers who loved to dance. Now they’re all hooked on sucrose, which gets them high. It’s such intense sucrose it’d kill a human to ingest it, which both is and isn’t important to the story.

The first act sort of sets up the world—the lead, a disgraced ex-cop puppet private investigator (performed by a fantastic Bill Barretta), narrates. He’s in the City of Angels, he works out of a crappy office, he’s got a loyal human girl Friday for a secretary (Maya Rudolph, who’s also really good), and he’s trying to make things right for the downtrodden puppets. The movie opens with him getting a case from a fetching nymphomaniac puppet (Dorien Davies); it initially seems like a somewhat crude riff on a film noir, down to Barretta’s office looking like Sam Spade’s.

However, once Barretta gets to the puppet porn store, it’s clear Happytime is going a very, very, very different route. In fact, Barretta’s going to end up forgetting about client Davies because he gets wrapped up in a spree killing case where someone is targeting the puppets who used to be on a popular primetime sitcom, “The Happytime Gang.” Barretta’s involvement starts wrong place, wrong time, but then his old boss (a likable but dreadfully miscast Leslie David Baker) forces Barretta to work the case—as a consultant—with his old partner, human Melissa McCarthy.

Barretta and McCarthy used to be the best of partners, then there was a shooting gone wrong and McCarthy had Barretta not just drummed off the force but also got a law passed puppets can’t be cops. It’s unclear if the no puppet cops thing is nationwide or just L.A. The movie gives up on relevant exposition once McCarthy shows up, which is kind of fine. Todd Berger’s script has constantly hilarious moments but it’s not a good script, it just knows expertly executed puppets (by the post-Muppet Henson company no less) being inordinately obscene is going to be funny. Any deeper and Berger wouldn’t be able to handle it.

So it’s up to Barretta and McCarthy to get over their past history and solve the case. Or just survive the case, as they don’t just have to the bad guy to ferret out, they’ve also got to contend with jackass human FBI agent Joel McHale sticking his nose in. Oh, and Barretta’s ex-girlfriend, human Elizabeth Banks; he didn’t leave things quite right with her.

Mostly the movie is McCarthy mugging through scenes with puppets, aptly delivering filthy dialogue, with some nods at legitimate character development for Barretta as he reclaims his previous potential. While also delivering filthy dialogue.

It’s hilarious. McCarthy’s really good with the puppets. So good it doesn’t even matter she’s a barely shaded caricature who gets less personality in the script than Rudolph. More than Banks though, who initially seems like stunt casting, then not, then stunt casting again. Meanwhile McHale is… in a miscasting boat similar to Baker’s, but with less likability.

As far as Henson’s direction goes… well, the puppet work is outstanding. He does a great job directing the puppets. Otherwise, it’s a fairly bland effort on his part. Every shot seems constructed to be as simple as possible, which might be requisite given the puppets—the end credits show just how much work went into the production—but it’s nowhere near as enthusiastic as the movie needs. Maybe if Henson hadn’t shot it wide Panavision aspect ratio without any idea how to fill the frame; though Mitchell Amundsen’s similarly bland photography doesn’t help things. The puppetry is no doubt inventive, imaginative; the direction is neither.

The Happytime Murders isn’t a very good movie, but it’s still a somewhat awesome one. Barretta, McCarthy, and—to a smaller, but significant degree—Rudolph, make it happen.

It’s so exceptionally foul-minded, it has to be seen to be believed.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Brian Henson; screenplay by Todd Berger, based on a story by Berger and Dee Austin Robertson; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Brian Scott Olds; music by Christopher Lennertz; production designer, Chris L. Spellman; costume designer, Arjun Bhasin; produced by Ben Falcone, Jeffrey Hayes, Henson, and Melissa McCarthy; released by STX Entertainment.

Starring Bill Barretta (Phil Philips), Melissa McCarthy (Detective Connie Edwards), Maya Rudolph (Bubbles), Leslie David Baker (Lt. Banning), Dorien Davies (Sandra), Joel McHale (Agent Campbell), Victor Yerrid (Larry), Kevin Clash (Lyle), Drew Massey (Goofer), and Elizabeth Banks (Jenny).


Batwoman (2019) s01e08 – A Mad Tea-Party

This episode has Sam Littlefield’s character—just the character, not Littlefield himself, which is great because Littlefield’s awful—but Littlefield’s character is impersonating Dougray Scott, who’s also terrible. Only when Scott’s pretending to be Littlefield pretending to be Scott, Scott’s almost all right. Scott has some regular scenes too. Big weepy scenes where a better actor would be able to get a lot of mileage out of the emotion but Scott’s just terrible. Some of it’s the writing of course; Scott’s a brutal mercenary the show wants us to “like.” Similarly his wife Elizabeth Anweis is an arms manufacturer—one of the subplots involves Anweis making chemical weapons—so it’s difficult to find the characters sympathetic. Without realizing it (because the show, a true CW show, is all about gaping at ostentatious displays of wealth), the only humanizing thing in the show is Nicole Kang.

Kang’s great this episode, even though there’s plenty of nonsense for her to act through. While she’s got drama with “dad” Scott and mom Anweis, Ruby Rose is busying trying to contain psychotic villain and her twin sister Alice (Rachel Skarsten, who’s still good but not as good as usual). The way things shake out Rose doesn’t just play second or third fiddle, she ends up fifth—behind Kang, Skarsten, Meagan Tandy (who doesn’t do much this episode but is in it a lot because she and husband Greyston Holt need to fight about Tandy’s relationship with Rose), and then Rose’s fight double. There’s a great Batwoman action sequence where it’s very obviously not Rose. But great Batwoman action. Pretty much makes the episode.

Then there’s some tragedy and protracted final dramatics, along with a bad scene between Scott and Rose. Some of the writing—from Nancy Kiu—is really strong, but then most of it’s not. And the plotting is silly and manipulative, especially the cliffhanger. Of course, then there’s the added cliffhanger setting up Crisis, which takes over the show next episode at the worst time. This episode irrevocably changes the ground situation, next week’s a crossover, then it’s basically on hiatus for a month.

Also weird is how last episode established a new normal for Rose and the supporting players and this episode flips that switch in a third direction.

But, hey, the Batwoman action sequence was awesome.

Superstore (2015) s01e01 – Pilot

I’ve been wanting to watch “Superstore” on a recommendation and, starting it, I realized it’s very much my bag. It takes place in a very confined setting—a big box store, which is also very much my bag as I’ve always been intrigued at the idea of the department store and its descendants. I blame Mannequin. Also, highly recommend Robert Hendrickson’s The Grand Emporiums.

Anyway, “Superstore.” What a great cast. I’ve never seen anything with America Ferrera, except her guest spots on “Good Wife,” which I don’t remember but she’s fantastic. She’s a floor manager, ten years in at the store, serious but good-hearted. She’s got a goofus store manager (Mark McKinney, broad but likable in that Mark McKinney way) and a way too gung ho supervisor (Lauren Ash, who appears to be the “Dwight” of the show and is the only thing I’m not onboard with after this episode), but she does her job and cares about her coworkers.

The episode—and, as its the pilot, the show—is framed around Ben Feldman joining the team. He’s good looking and smart and conceited about the latter; he doesn’t seem aware of the former, which helps with his likability. He almost immediately starts crushing on Ferrera and most of his screwups in the episode are to impress her. Burgeoning subplot. But also Ash is mad crushing on him and seems primed to make a fool of herself in her pursuit, hence not being onboard with the character yet.

Also in the main cast are Colton Dunn, the only Black guy, who’s appropriately aware of it, and Nichole Bloom, as the good-hearted, pregnant, and too ditzy for the pregnancy to be a great idea pretty girl. The show gives Dunn all the great observation lines and Bloom gives it the uncomplicated heart. Ferrera is the layered heart.

Also Nico Santos starts at the same day as Feldman and sees it as a competition to be the better new person.

The cast is incredibly likable, the situations the sitcom gins up are funny, Ferrera’s great (she’s also a producer)… it’s one of those sitcoms you could easily marathon without paying attention to the clock.

I only stopped after the first episode because it was after midnight.

Last thing—Ruben Fleischer directs (and executive produces). Fleischer’s a lot better at sitcom directing than Venom directing. A lot better.

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