Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020) s01e05 – Make America Exotic Again

So, luckily, businessman Jeff Lowe beating tigers at the end of last episode was just a horrifying teaser not the actual content of this episode. In fact, Lowe doesn’t hit a single animal in this episode. They don’t even use the footage again. And the ominous “Jeff Lowe takeover” of the zoo… it wasn’t as immediate as last episode implied. I’d be very curious to see how Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode would have presented this story in a three hour piece; there’s so much information they withhold for effect; master manipulation.

For example, the reason we don’t see anything of Joe’s newest husband, Travis Maldonado? Because he’s dead. He killed himself. Possibly accidentally, possibly not, in front of Joe Exotic’s campaign manager, Joshua Dial. Campaign manager for what? President.

See, back when Lowe took over the park and did things like open the “watch the cats” pizza parlor (with the pizza made from spoiled Walmart ingredients), Joe Exotic also got the idea to run for President. His wacky campaign ads made it national on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and got Joe enough attention he was able to get a campaign manager, Dial. Also from Walmart. Dial ran the ammo counter.

Around the same time husband John Finlay knocks up the desk clerk at the zoo and they run off together because, turns out, Finlay wasn’t gay all those years—no one on the show seems familiar with the concept of bisexuality; anyway, the reason Finlay stuck with Joe Exotic was because of meth. Joe kept him high all those years. Once the presidential campaign goes bust, then the subsequent governor one, Joe Exotic starts getting really nasty with everyone. He can’t stand Jeff Lowe’s point-man in the zoo, Allen Glover, for instance. There’s also a sequence where Joe shoots at the tigers (because they’re annoying him). It’s very uncool and disturbingly presented.

So after Travis dies, Joe’s even more upset, leading to him marrying another nineteen year-old two months later—Dillon Passage. Dillon doesn’t get the same kind of interviews as everyone else because we’re getting close to the present and Chaiklin and Goode are sort of done manipulating the viewer with clips from different time periods. See, this episode is where everything catches up to Joe Exotic and he’s arrested. Why? We don’t know, just the Feds are after him, which Jeff Lowe finds out because the bank tells him.

It’s a really interesting episode, but it’s also a cheaply played one. There’s actual footage of Travis killing himself—or at least of Dial witnessing it—and they cut it for exploitative effect. It’s actually surprising they don’t put music over it.

The Irishman (2019, Martin Scorsese)

The disconcerting part of The Irishman’s actually never-ending CGI isn’t the aging and de-aging, it’s star Robert De Niro’s creepy blue eyes. For the first half hour of the (three and a half hour runtime), I was trying to get used to De Niro’s CGI… makeup, but kept having problems with it, which didn’t make sense because Joe Pesci’s didn’t cause any similar consternation. Then I realized it wasn’t the aging or de-aging, it’s the eyes. De Niro’s got these piercing blue eyes and they just don’t look right on him and you can’t look away from them, which is kind of the point.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul… well, with The Irishman, Scorsese and De Niro have figured out how to do a character study without ever letting anyone into the character. De Niro’s character, real-life teamster and confessed mob hitman Frank Sheeran, starts the film as an aimless, aging truck driver. He breaks down and happens to meet local mobster Joe Pesci, which pays off after De Niro’s gotten busted for stealing from his company—selling beef on the side to a fantastic Bobby Cannavale, apparently mid-level Philadelphia mob guy. De Niro keeps his mouth shut in court, impressing lawyer Ray Romano (also fantastic, clearly a lot of people wanted their chance to shine in the ultimate Scorsese mob picture), so Romano re-introduces him to Pesci and Pesci starts giving him work. Pesci’s playing older than De Niro (the real-life age difference was seventeen years), but the actors are the same age and so they’re in differing intensities of CGI de-aging. There is an onboarding period with The Irishman, when you’re wondering what it must have looked like on the set, with actors like Romano and Cannavale, seemingly just in some make-up, are acting opposite much older guys De Niro and Pesci, who don’t end up looking much older. Like, once it’s clear De Niro’s supposed to look like a tough Irish guy, explaining his stocky shoulders, it all just fits. All just works. It ceases being a concern and actually ends up being one of the film’s unintended pluses. The Irishman is all about aging. It’s all about the passage of time. Just not for the first act and then there’s this intentional avoiding of it for a lot of the second. It’s a long movie; Scorsese can take his time shifting the film’s tone.

But it’s also a multilevel narrative—De Niro, in a rest home, is telling his story, a very old man. Second level is De Niro telling the story of this time he and Pesci and their wives drove from Philadelphia to Detroit for a wedding. Along the way, sometimes because of visual cues, sometimes not, De Niro thinks about his story getting him to that point. We don’t find out the point of that point until much later in the film, after it’s transitioned from the middle-aged schlub (the main action starts when De Niro’s character is in his thirties but he looks much older) gets involved with the mob and tosses out wife Aleksa Palladino for cocktail waitress Stephanie Kurtzuba, which literally has no narrative impact because De Niro’s already estranged daughters immediately bond with the new wife. It ought not to work, but does because the film’s still establishing its narrative distance from De Niro. It’s not until about halfway through the movie you realize he’s not a protagonist. He’s an unreliable, willing but unenthusiastic narrator—it’s clear real quick these trips down memory lane aren’t pleasing to De Niro, at any level he’s narrating. Because once the film introduces Jimmy Hoffa everything changes. Al Pacino plays Hoffa; doing it like a comedy caricature, then making that real—the yelling finally pays off, thanks to Scorsese. The film’s already been this old mob men buddy picture between De Niro and Pesci moves on to be this De Niro and Pacino buddy flick. They hang out with their families, they have heart to heart talks, De Niro even sleeps in Pacino’s hotel suites so he’s not on the register because De Niro’s not just a teamster, he’s Pacino’s bodyguard.

The family thing is important because The Irishman’s only subplot is De Niro’s daughter, Lucy Gallina as a kid, Anna Paquin as an adult. Gallina figures out pretty quick once her dad goes from being a meat delivery truck driver to a mob hitman. It isn’t until he starts hanging out with Pacino does Gallina start liking anything about her dad’s life. She and Pacino are pals. He’s a dotting grandpa figure who buys her ice cream sundaes. Pacino and the ice cream sundaes becomes a nice detail fast.

The family thing gets important again in the third act, after the disappearance. Because at the end of all three levels of story are the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. The third level, the main narrative, tracks De Niro basically babysitting Pacino through historical events, through the Kennedy administration’s persecution—causing a rift between the mob and the unions (the film does need some kind of a historical accuracy section in the credits just so people know how much of the completely whacked out corruption details are true), which eventually leads to Pacino’s feud with dipshit mobster and rival teamster boss Stephen Graham. Graham’s going to be Pacino’s downfall, no matter what Pesci, De Niro, or anyone else do about it. And it’s a long, drawn out, unpleasant downfall.

Because the closest thing The Irishman has to a hero is Pacino’s Hoffa. He’s far from perfect, but he does help people. If the sixties union speeches about the soulless corporations are accurate, well, would you believe things haven’t really improved in sixty years? Oh, right, we already know that.

Of course, he’s not a hero because there aren’t such a thing. There can’t be. If heroes were such a thing, guys like Pesci and De Niro wouldn’t know how to function. It would mean their world views were abjectly broken and, even if Pesci and De Niro aren’t great fans of the world… broken’s a lot.

That thread plays out later on when The Irishman ends on a starkly atheistic note, which makes perfect sense but is a little surprising. At one point, once it’s clear where they’re going, I actually thought, “we’re a long way from Last Temptation, aren’t we.” The Irishman is a perfectly aged film; it’s cumulative for its creators in all the right ways. Having Pacino do a character actor part is just the crowning achievement. For two hours and forty five minutes of the film, it’s very clearly not De Niro’s, which is weird. It seems like it’s De Niro’s. It’s literally got a Little Big Man bookend; The Irishman has got to be this great culmination. Then isn’t.

And it’s not De Niro’s movie for a long time either. It’s Pesci’s or Pacino’s or even Romano’s; De Niro costars in every one of his scenes, even the ones with Gallina and Paquin, which is something since neither of them talk for most of their scenes. De Niro’s the right hand man, even in his own story.

The last thirty minutes changes it all around and is where Irishman sort of ascends the stairs it wasn’t clear anyone was building. Once it’s clear how The Irishman’s going to go… it’s an ultimate trip.

The film goes from being a success to an achievement, with Scorsese’s direction this perfect mix of confident and enthusiastic. He takes his time establishing the filmmaking ground situation—how he, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (and whoever CGIed locations back in time), editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and composer Robbie Robertson (doing some damn fine work, which turns out to be minimalist Morricone) are going to visualize this narrative—then starts branching out, using slow motion for sequences, using a direct exposition dump or two; it’s all very carefully executed and results in every shot being something of a surprise.

There’s a badass 2001 homage. The aforementioned “ultimate trip” is a reference to it but it deserves a callout. It’s really cool. The Irishman still manages to be really cool filmmaking, even after a 130 minutes. Scorsese’s got the juice.

Strong script from Steven Zaillian. He’s got a habit of dragging things out, which Scorsese and the actors are then able to cut lean and nimble, but it’s a questionable habit. Essential expository character development scenes are essential because of Pacino or Pesci or whatever. Not because of Zaillian.

Best performance is either Pesci or Pacino. It’s a toss-up. Pacino for turning a leading man biopic performance into a supporting part or Pesci for getting so much mileage out of a mundane bad guy. But it’s De Niro’s movie in the end. He gets that amazing finale and makes magic. With those creepy CGI blue eyes.

Supporting tier… Romano and Cannavale are the standouts; once Pacino comes in, they all become a lot less important. Sebastian Maniscalco has a great small part. Graham’s a perfect dipshit, which is good, I guess; don’t get typecast (or do). Domenick Lombardozzi’s got a significant supporting part and is unrecognizable to the point you wonder if there’s some CGI involved. He’s excellent in what’s basically the villain part. Harvey Keitel’s got an extended cameo, presumably just to bring a bunch of the gang back together.

Is The Irishman, which Scorsese would’ve preferred to title, I Heard You Paint Houses, but really should just be called Jimmy and Me (or Relating to a Sociopath), a culmination of all Scorsese, De Niro, and Pesci’s mob pictures? Yes and no. It doesn’t make an informal trilogy or quartet, because it’s a do-over. It’s Scorsese figuring out what he wants to say about that thing of theirs, made with properly aged thoughtfulness.

The most striking part of the film is the buddy flick aspect, when it’s just old men De Niro and Pacino pretending to younger old men finding an unexpected friendship. It’s really comfortable work from all involved, even though it seems like where they’d have the most problem. Cracking Pacino and De Niro’s relationship is the film’s (first) big success; basically the first and second act can get away with anything thanks to it. And the second big success, the aforementioned achievement, that one’s the third act.

The Irishman is supplanting work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on a book by Charles Brandt; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Robbie Robertson; production designer, Bob Shaw; costume designers, Christopher Peterson and Sandy Powell; produced by Gerald Chamales, Robert De Niro, Randall Emmett, Gabriele Israilovici, Gastón Pavlovich, Jane Rosenthal, Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and Irwin Winkler; released by Netflix.

Starring Robert De Niro (Frank Sheeran), Al Pacino (Jimmy Hoffa), Joe Pesci (Russell Bufalino), Ray Romano (Bill Bufalino), Bobby Cannavale (Skinny Razor), Stephen Graham (Anthony ‘Tony Pro’ Provenzano), Domenick Lombardozzi (Fat Tony Salerno), Jesse Plemons (Chuckie O’Brien), Gary Basaraba (Frank ‘Fitz’ Fitzsimmons), Marin Ireland (Older Dolores Sheeran), Anna Paquin (Older Peggy Sheeran), Lucy Gallina (Young Peggy Sheeran), Louis Cancelmi (Sally Bugs), Sebastian Maniscalco (Crazy Joe Gallo), Jake Hoffman (Allen Dorfman), Stephanie Kurtzuba (Irene Sheeran), Welker White (Josephine ‘Jo’ Hoffa), Kathrine Narducci (Carrie Bufalino), Aleksa Palladino (Mary Sheeran), and Harvey Keitel (Angelo Bruno).


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e11 – A Midwinter’s Tale

It’s a Christmas special—or a Winter Solstice special—set before winter break for the teens, which adds to the weirdness because even though Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) said farewell to beau Ross Lynch last episode… turns out they’re still going to the same school. Yes, even though she’s all in on the witch stuff now, Sabrina’s still going to the human high school.

Even though back at the beginning of the series it was assumed if she went all in on the witch stuff she’d just go to witch school. So when she went all in and said her farewells to the humans, you’d think that meant she was changing schools.

But no.

She’s still doing human school during the day and witch school at night. I guess being a witch means you don’t have to sleep? It’s about the only way anything in the show makes sense, twenty-four hours in a day.

The episode’s interesting because it does appear to have been filmed after the first season—so a real holiday special—because Tati Gabrielle’s all of a sudden got a new haircut, which you think Shipka’s going to mention then doesn’t, and the show seems to have realized it didn’t have any phones. There are two ostentatious phone calls this episode.

The initial main plot is Shipka deciding to hold a seance for her mom (a frankly eh Annette Reilly; they really should have stunt-casted the part). Even though everyone tells her not to do it and even though everything Sabrina’s done in the last, say, five episodes has resulted in emotional turmoil and worse for her, her friends, her family, she goes ahead and does it anyway.

And because of the seance, the house gets infected with “Yule lads,” basically invisible gremlins led by witch of some sort maybe Heather Doerksen. Doerksen’s real good.

But the Reilly stuff and Doerksen stuff is all just prologue to Lachlan Watson getting kidnapped by a child-killing demon. Sabrina’s got to save her, with the help of aunts Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto, which is pretty cool because seeing Otto kick ass is fun.

There’s some more with Lynch—Shipka uses their temporary holiday reprieve to… poison his father. For a good cause but still… poison his father.

The show really doesn’t seem to know how to do Shipka “out” as a witch to her human friends. All of a sudden Jaz Sinclair and Lynch are just at the house, even though they never went there earlier in the season and Watson didn’t even know Davis by sight. Even though the episode opens with a flashback to she and Shipka as kids going to see Santa.

Did they not have a show bible or did they not share it with all the writers….

There’s also a resolution to Otto’s adoption arc, which might be the biggest red herring of the show so far.

It’s an effective episode—Watson’s the most sympathetic character on the show—but… with some major qualifications.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020) s01e04 – Playing with Fire

This episode’s about how awful both Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin turn out to be when it comes to money. Baskin’s won a lawsuit against Joe Exotic and he owes her a cool million. Carole and Howard aren’t doing it to prove a point or to stop Joe from doing his cub petting roadshow, they’re doing it to bleed him dry.

The problem with bleeding Joe Exotic dry is he’s pretty smart about putting everything in other people’s names so it doesn’t seem like he owns anything. And when they do start trying to squeeze that stone… well, it’s just going to hurt Joe’s sweet old mom, who had the zoo in her name or something, which leads to Joe’s mom on the streaming channel talking about how Baskin’s been hounding her.

Again, really want to know how many people watched these streams.

Meanwhile, Rick Kirkham is making his reality show and trying to get Joe Exotic to amp it up. Kirkham doesn’t need to push hard because give Joe the chance, he’ll play mean private zoo boss all on his own.

But all suing Joe Exotic’s going to do is starve the animals and it never seems like Baskin—Howard speaks the most this episode—has any concern for the tigers. When we hear about the settlement Joe Exotic turns down, there’s nothing about what to do with the 200 tigers. You’d think it’d be a story thread to pick up on but the history intervenes. Joe’s new pal, “businessman” Jeff Lowe—you get the feeling people are going to investigate him after this series and he’s going to sue them all—is going to step in and save the zoo. So Joe puts it in Jeff Lowe’s name and Lowe steals it. The cliffhanger is Lowe beating the tigers. It’s swell.

Because the episode’s already upbeat after someone sets fire to Joe’s studio, which is the same building as the alligators and they all die. Kirkham’s footage gets destroyed too. Basically Joe Exotic and company think Kirkham did it, Kirkham thinks Joe Exotic did it.

Kirkham sort of has a better reason for not doing it—without his footage, the reality show is just… but, seriously, he didn’t make backups? In like, 2015 or something. He could have pretty easily made back-ups. It’s a weird screw-up.

But then Kirkham had screwed Joe out of his own Internet streaming show so motive for Joe. The show doesn’t look too hard into it before Lowe shows up to ruin the day.

Gelateria (2019, Christian Serritiello and Arthur Patching)

Once it’s clear directors Patching and Serritiello are going to be able to keep Gelateria going, the question becomes how can they possibly end it. The film opens with a lone figure on a rocky beach, yelling into the sea. The water has sound, the yells don’t have sound. Given how the film ends… it’s possible the whole thing’s circular to that first scene, possible it’s not. Doesn’t matter. Probably.

The first half of Gelateria is an absurdist walking tour of art venues, starting with Serritiello going to old friend Jade Willis’s concert. Serritiello’s so good it’s weird to think of him as the director too. He’s what gets Gelateria the initial buy in. He’s just staring at the unseeable woman across from him as he narrates from a journal; Serritiello’s really good at the regarding for the camera bit, he’s taking it seriously, the film’s taking him seriously.

So, I guess it does make sense he’s one of the directors too.

Anyway. Serritiello is going to that Jade Willis concert. The film still hasn’t established how absurd it’s going to get, not until after Willis yells at Serritiello for abandoning him and the dialogue’s not great. Then all of a sudden the film breaks the established narrative distance and mixes it up on the floor and looks up from Serritiello’s position (on the literal floor) and the world is totally different. Willis, who’s quite good, is taunting Willis, egged on by onlookers, and the film begins to establish its boundaries.

Serritiello is going to run along in a bit and look into a barber shop, where there’s a great bit with two customers on the phone. It’s nonsensical but excellent because of the acting, which seems to set Gelateria on steady ground only to immediately go shaky again. Turns out Serritellio’s passing the film off to a third customer, Daniel Brunet. His phone call is about hiring someone to speak Italian during his party on a yacht.

Serritiello, Willis, the other phone actors, they were acting. Brunet is mugging. It’s an immediate problem.

Brunet’s party turns out to be a five person affair in what appears to be a double bed cabin. It’s silly and if Brunet weren’t exaggeratedly odious it might even be funny. Things immediately improve when Simone Spinazze shows up. He’s the Italian hired to speak Italian for the amusement of Brunet and his guests. Once he’s done being made spectacle for terrible WASPs, Spinazze goes to work waitstaff at an art show. That sequence, which is where it becomes clear the film can keep up this momentum, ends in singer Joulia Strauss shooting someone.

She then runs out, gets into a waiting getaway car and speeds off with accomplice (and the other director) Arthur Patching. If it were a different kind of film, there’d be something to look at with Strauss actually having used the art show as a cover to perform a hit.

Anyway.

After Patching stashes Strauss in a safe house with the requisite birds (go with it), he then runs into Carrie Getman, who’s out bird-calling at night, passing the film off to Getman. When then get Getman’s sequence, which is basically her life set to a terrible self-help tape.

Take a breath, only halfway in.

Though actually the second half, which starts with a phenomenal animated sequence is all about how an artist ships her paintings off to a gallery on a remote island and then the gallery never gets in touch so she goes to investigate. There’s bingo involved, a hamburger joint, and avant-garde community theater. It’s all fairly awesome as far as the “plot” goes, with some excellent supporting performances in this section.

Unfortunately, the artist protagonist is played by Patching and Serritiello in drag as a grey-haired British lady. They alternate, which doesn’t matter much as they don’t get any significant dialogue, with Patching probably doing it more? Though the character gets introduced with Serritiello.

I mean, it’s fine for the absurdist comedy thing and all but it might have been funnier if they’d played it, well, straight. Especially given the acting possibilities for the outrageous odyssey through this sleepy little town.

Gelateria looks great, moves great, sounds great (Jack Patching’s score is excellent). Given the directors wrote, edited, photographed, and starred, it’s definitely all thanks to Patching and Serritiello—with major props to Tiago Araújo’s animation; the animated sequence is just what it needs to be to bridge the sections of the film. The film—running just over an hour—is one hell of a sprint. It never slows down, never tires, always kept moving smooth thanks to the directors’ masterful editing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written, directed, edited, photographed, and produced by Christian Serritiello and Arthur Patching.

Starring Carrie Getman (Eleanor), Tomas Spencer (PC George Hartree), Christian Serritiello (Zbigniew), Jade Willis (Tom Rigby), Simone Spinazze (Giovanni), Arthur Patching (Alfie Dunn), Daniel Brunet (Julius Row), Joulia Strauss (Joulia Strauss), Julie Trappett (Priscilla), and John Keogh (James Flannigan).


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e10 – The Witching Hour

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Ross Maxwell co-write, sending off of “Sabrina”’s first season, with a deus ex machine of an episode where Michelle Gomez decides she’s been waiting too long for Kiernan Shipka to embrace the Dark Lord and it’s time to get drastic about things. If Gomez can’t sabotage Shipka’s friendships with mortals—in addition to the big action, Shipka also reconciles (enough) with boyfriend Ross Lynch and other friends Jaz Sinclair and Lachlan Watson embrace her immediately upon the big “I’m a Witch” conversation in the high school bathroom.

Incidentally, I don’t think the show’s writers know how to deal with telephones in general. Sinclair and Watson tell Shipka they’ve been calling her all weekend and apparently Shipka just hasn’t been answering… but they’d have to answer the phone at the house because it’s a mortuary and a business. Sure, they eat the bodies in the closed caskets, but it’s still a business.

Anyway, it’s a telling oversight. Same goes for astral projection, which was a huge no no in the first or second episode but now is literally how the witches check in with one another because they don’t have cellphones. Astral projection is the texting of “Sabrina” world.

Gomez brings back thirteen witches to destroy the town; the sequence where she brings them back is the only good use of the digital Vaseline filter in iMovie the series has done (and, sadly, not in all the shots), but it works because Gomez is flipping amazing in the scene. Just awesome.

So the witches are going to protect themselves and let the ghost witches eat the townsfolk and Shipka, along with Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, and Chance Perdomo all decide they’re not going to let the mortals die, causing a rift between various parties. But the scene where Otto decides to play hero is pretty great. And Davis has some very nice stuff this episode, particularly with boss slash love interest Alessandro Juliani, who has been around for a while on the show but hasn’t made much impression apparently because I thought he was Taika Waititi.

Doesn’t matter. Nice stuff this episode.

Lynch and romantic rival Gavin Leatherwood team up to protect Lynch’s drunk-ass dad, while Sinclair and Watson protect Sinclair’s grandmother, L. Scott Caldwell, from the ghost witch attack. Throw in Shipka’s turn to the Dark Side of the Force—relatively speaking—Zelda kidnapping one of Richard Coyle’s newborns, Perdomo joining Coyle’s Jordan Peterson-esque like cult of male students, not to mention Gomez’s big reveal where she lays it all out to her captive audience.

Literally captive audience; she narratives the episode, from the beginning, like every episode is some tale she’s telling to her listener. As the episode progresses, we find out more and more about the listener, but we’re all in it together. Fantastic finish, fully delivering on all the promises of Gomez’s character throughout the season, including expectations from the comic. It’s very good.

In fact, everything’s so good it makes up for Shipka’s wanting arc. Once she gets the proverbial Force Lightning, she stops being the protagonist and becomes the subject of the show. Not a great place for the next season setup, though maybe it’d work better if they hadn’t wasted a couple minutes flashing back through the entire season when Shipka’s got to make her big choice. Instead of let her act the season, they let the clips do it for her. Not a good move.

But otherwise a successful end to a very successful season. Though I do hope they get Shipka back as show lead next season. They didn’t take it away from her—turning it into an ensemble—until the very end of the episode, but they’ve been moving in that direction for a while now. Fingers crossed for next season.

Flimsy’s Mewsings (2020)

Flimsy s Mewsings  2020Flimsy’s Mewsings is approximately thirty-seven single page comic strips—there’s one two-pager, a recipe—of adorable kitten Flimsy offering life advance. Gentle stuff like be kind to yourself, remember the lesson and forget the mistake, be genuinely interested in other people, email the friends you haven’t in a while, drink wine, try to remember “guys” is a gender-exclusive term (as in “hey guys”), drink some more wine, take twenty-five minute naps, and be happy for your friends when they succeed and you aren’t currently succeeding.

Artistically, the book is accessible for all—creator Rachael Smith doesn’t do a lot of detail in the strips, but when she’s doing splash pages she’s got some excellent detail. Where she’s really got it down is the coloring. Well, lettering too, but the way the colors give a page emotional weight is fantastic. Mewsings art is of the deceptively simple variety.

But content-wise—and not just because, for a kitten, Flimsy can get her wine on—it’s aimed at a somewhat older readership. At least out of high school. Flimsy’s problems aren’t the problems of someone in constant social situations; in fact, Flimsy’s Mewsings has some great unintentional tips for spring 2020 as it turns out. The kinds of things you forget and need to remember to tell yourself… well, Flimsy’s there to help.

Smith and Flimsy never come across as, well, flimsy. Even the simplest observations are sincerely expressed with a great sense of humor. Flimsy’s recounting of her father’s obvious inspiring one-liners and Flimsy’s obvious reactions come across perfectly thanks to Smith’s sense of timing, as the panel compositions and the color choices convey.

Mewsings gets a smile fast and keeps it going until the end.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020) s01e03 – The Secret

Has Michelle Pfeiffer ever played a femme fatale? I almost want to say no, which will make Tim Burton’s Tigers even better. Because Carole Baskin sure does seem like she killed her second husband, rich guy Don Lewis (it’s unclear how he got rich but they’re in Florida so it doesn’t seem like it was legit), chopped him up in a meat grinder, and fed him to her tigers. Joe Exotic, for one of his country music albums (because of course), made a music video with a Baskin look alike feeding tigers chopped up husband.

Frankly, it’s awesome.

Because nothing Baskin says in the episode ever makes her seem any less guilty. When she says something about achieving her “highest possible self,” you’re not wondering if she chopped him up, you’re wondering if she fed him to the tigers whole. Neat tiger trivia? Their stomach acid is so intense it’ll break down the bones. They don’t shit bone. They wouldn’t have shit any of Don Lewis out.

There’s a lot with Lewis’s first family and ex-assistant. See, Lewis was out cruising one night in the eighties, saw twenty year-old Baskin walking down the street, picked her up, married her immediately following. Because of course. They started getting into the animals, but apparently he didn’t like how much she was spending on the tigers and she was sick of his complaining. There’s some weird stuff with the will, like Baskin had something added to make it easier to declare him dead if he disappeared.

I mean, at least Baskin is using the money for something good… she’s not breeding the tigers, she is rescuing them… at least so far as “Tiger King” has told us so far.

There’s a bunch of stuff with Joe Exotic’s crusade to bring Baskin to justice for the husband’s murder, all from his website. It’s unclear if he was on YouTube or just self-hosted. The show really hasn’t engaged with how popular Exotic is online, though it’s established Baskin’s got clout.

It’s a good true crime episode. The cops look like they really want to say they think Baskin did it but know they shouldn’t.

Making already skeezy reality show producer Rick Kirkham even more skeezy is his enthusiasm recounting how dangerously obsessed Exotic was becoming with Baskin.

It’s a lot. “Tiger King” is a lot and in the most compelling ways.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020) s01e02 – Cult of Personality

Somehow this episode manages to bury the lede. Will I spoil that lede? Not yet, but probably. “Tiger King” is a masterwork of manipulation as far as narrative non-fiction. Directors Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode have a great sense of what to hold back and what to get out there.

For example, a disaster at Joe Exotic’s zoo feeling like low budget Jurassic Park for rednecks? It’s out there right away, along with Exotic’s indifference to employee Kelci Saffery’s newly missing limb. In fact, Saffery had the arm amputated so she could get back to work. Why does she want to rush back to work? So the animals don’t suffer, which then turns into the theme of the episode… Exotic, “Doc” Antle, and Carole Baskin all exploit their workers. In fact, Exotic’s the only one we know for sure is paying them. Between a hundred and a hundred and fifty a week, presumably in addition to room and board, but it’s unclear. Meanwhile, Baskin’s labor is all volunteer and Antle’s running a marriage cult. Antle and Baskin groom teenage girls through the Internet while Exotic tries to primarily hire people in dire life straits.

So Exotic and Antle seem to be running labor camps while Baskin relies on her volunteers’ sense of empathy for the animals. Given Baskin’s running a rescue… that reliance is… better? But Exotic is trying his damndest to keep the animals alive too… whereas Antle probably kills his tiger cubs once they’re too old to be petted. It’s mentioned and never contradicted.

We also find out this episode Exotic relies on reject or spoiled meat from Walmart to feed the tigers, which is better than the roadkill while not great. It’s almost like you shouldn’t have a 200 tiger zoo in the middle of Oklahoma without a dietary veterinarian on staff in addition to a sufficient, reliable endowment.

Or if you are going to have a private one… be like Mario Tabraue, who’s got a private zoo in Florida. Tabraue, the inspiration for the 1983 Tony Montana in Scarface—including the chainsaw—has the money to provide for his animals. Why? Presumably because he got rich enough selling cocaine and had enough of it stashed from laundering, he’s all good. He buys tigers from Joe Exotic, which—theoretically—means they have a better life than with Antle for sure and maybe even Baskin, who doesn’t have the deep post-cocaine pockets.

Tabraue, who’s aged better than Al Pacino, is way too likable. Like… way too likable. He’s like a cool grandfather. No one else in “Tiger King” is cool though, at all, so it might just be by comparison.

Also all the other guys—Exotic, Antle, major creep Tim Stark—are all violent misogynists. Like, it’s obvious some of the reason they have a problem with Baskin.

So Baskin having gotten rich from her mysteriously dead husband—that aforementioned buried lede—well… it doesn’t make their virulent misogyny okay (Antle’s dangerous), it does give them enough valid anti-Baskin fodder to hide some of it in. Or at least Chaiklin and Goode edit it so they can hide some of it.

But, yeah… Baskin’s rich because her (second) husband disappeared. She’s apparently on number three, Howard Baskin, who’s been on the show both episodes now without any mention of him having reformed a black widow. It’s a great cliffhanger and at just the right moment to make “Tiger King” “must see TV.”

Must see streaming. Whatever.

Familiar Strangers (2020, Murat Sayginer)

Once the technology gets better, something like Familiar Strangers is going to be disturbing as all hell. Director Sayginer has created a bunch of heads, using deep-fake technology to look like various famous celebrities (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Luke Evans are the most spot on), and the top row moves one way, the bottom row moves the other way and you’re just seeing these disembodied, familiar heads look out.

Some of them look at you and gently smile—everyone’s in a great mood and seeing approximately 250 idyllic looking people smile at you is a nice feeling. Do you forget they’re computer generated? No, because the level of realism isn’t quite there yet. It’s movie stars rendered as happy video game characters. It’s not real. Yet.

Even stranger than the sensation of the “people” looking at you is the sensation of them not. Some of the heads don’t look out at the viewer, they look out at something else. So you’re waiting for the computer-generated Keanu Reeves to look at you and he doesn’t (I actually can’t remember this one for sure; Strangers has a high rewatch value if you’re trying to find you’re favorites; I forgot the second time through to see all the Chrises together). But you feel bad if you don’t get the “eye contact” and the smile.

Perfect musical accompaniment from Bach. I hope Sayginer keeps going with this kind of exploration; heck, I hope he comes back to it once artificial face generation is further along. Not being able to exactly recognize the stars would be better.

Also, a lot of them look just like Mackenzie Astin, which is very odd and seems to say more about Astin (and me for recognizing him in all these CGI faces) than anything Sayginer’s done. Like, I don’t think Mackenzie Astin made the cut for model inclusion here. He’s just apparently got the face Sayginer’s computer wanted to render.

Open the pod bay doors and so on.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Murat Sayginer.


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