Friday, 26 December 2014

I Actually Hate Love Actually (But Watch It Anyway)

Christmas time is drawing to close. Now, the lead up to the annual booze fest where we really think that we can hold ourselves to drunken resolutions of extreme personal change and growth for the new year to come is beginning.

In this interim period between the day where we give each other presents and eat all the food, and the night where we drink all the alcohol and frantically look for someone to kiss at midnight or be destined for a year alone and unloved. it might be best to look back and reflect on some of the horrible Christmas movies that are unleashed upon untold innocents in this festive period.

Actually, instead of trying to discuss all the Christmas movies which may or may not be godawful, I'm just gonna focus on one. Because this is the one Christmas movie that since it came out I've ended up watching when it's on TV even though I think it is terrible and really don't like it. A movie that I know is objectively and subjectively bad, yet I am unable to not watch it to the end if I catch it on TV.

That movie is of course, Love Actually.


Well, duh.

From that guy who wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, unleashing Hugh Grant and his affable bumbling onto an unsuspecting world. The movie that started the trend of telling multiple story lines about different couples set on a holiday. The movie where Liam Neeson doesn't have something taken from him that he will kill all the bad guys to get back. The movie that since its release in 2003 has become a permanent fixture of the Christmas period. The movie I can't help not watching when it's on television.

There are 10 separate story lines going on in this movie. 10 separate story lines. Focusing on 9 couples and one Rowan Atkinson. And none of the stories mesh or flow into each other in any meaningful or effective way. They sort of float in and out, lightly touching each other and are sort of loosely connected, which I understand is the point but it means that film seems directionless.

Aside from Octopus Boy. I always knew what his story was about.

The only thing that links the stories is that they're about relationships formed in and around Christmas time or something. I mean, some of the characters are inter-related or know each other. Emma Thompson's jilted wife character is the sister of Hugh Grant's prime minister character, and Laura Linney's awkward lonely woman character works for Alan Rickman's sort of cheating husband character and other characters are similarly sort of aware of one or two of the other characters. And... that's really about it.

Like the characters just exist in the periphery of other characters, which is a neat idea actually. Since this could show how the people we come into contact with in a day to day basis have their own lives with their own stories going on that we don't know about.

We all tend to think of ourselves as the stars of the story of our own lives, and the narrative structure used in the film could have been used to explore what a fallacy that is by showing how we all do it and therefore we aren't unique in thinking our story is important since everyone's story is important to them.

By focusing on so many seemingly unconnected story lines of seemingly random people, the film really could have highlighted that everyone sees themselves as the protagonist of their own story. But also showing how our individual narratives are barely noticed by anyone else since they themselves are wrapped up in their own narrative. Each story given the same importance since no one person's story necessarily matters more than any other.

"Tell me again how your story matters as much as mine."

However, that's not really the goal of Love Actually since it isn't really smart enough, or more fairly, self aware enough to attempt such a bold philosophic stance. It's like its narrative structure promises more than the movie attempts.

But also because really, the issue is not really that the stories aren't thematically linked, because they are. More so than I gave credit for earlier. That thematic tie of all being about relationships around Christmas is actually a stronger one than previously implied. By me. Than previously implied by me. Past me was wrong to mislead you so and is very sorry about that.

Since Love Actually, despite all the corny syrup it piles on everything, has a tinge of creepiness and sadness to it that you can totally miss if you focus on Hugh Grant fumblingly accidentally flirting with his (not) fat secretary or Rowan Atkinson being the most Rowan Atkinson-y jewelry salesman ever. About half the stories are actually about break ups or the lack of romantic love.

Yeah... they don't get together.

In terms of creepiness, you have the two love triangles. The one everyone remembers is where Rick from Walking Dead is love with his best friend's girl but unlike the Cars' song I linked to, she didn't even used to be his. He's in love with her just because he saw her, thinks she's perfect because she's pretty, and that's it.

Kiera Knightly's character even says to him that they haven't even really spoken to each other and she thought that he didn't like her. So, he's not even in love with her since he doesn't really know her, but just likes the way she Kiera Knightly's I guess? Then there's the infamous "sign scene" where he declares his love to her with cue cards while he pretends to be a group of carol singers so his best friend (her husband) who is in the house doesn't come to see.

He declares his love to her, while his best friend (again, her husband) is within earshot... that's just assdickery of another level. Like seriously, that is horrible. What a terrible, terrible friend. Yes, I hear the hordes of people who think this scene is cute or romantic say, "But the whole point is that he is not gonna act on those feelings, he's just expressing them to let her know and that's what great about it".

Yep, don't see anything inappropriate here.
People declare their undying love to their best friend's wives all the time.

And yes, he does say "enough" when she pity-kisses him but the fact is, he shouldn't have done the cards or let her know in the first place since he harboured those feelings the whole time his best friend was dating her without saying anything. As soon as he realised, "Oh, hold on, I'm infatuated with my best friend's girl", he should have killed those feelings immediately, not silently hold on to them and secretly lusting over her.

But okay, if he had to get those feelings out in order to put a stop to them, fair enough, but it's disrespectful as hell to his friend to do it WHILE THE GUY IS IN THE OTHER ROOM. That's just cold.

It's frozen.
(I am so sorry)

And I never liked that story line because of the creep factor, especially when it depicts the creepy thing as somehow romantic.

However, the other love triangle story is interesting because it's about a middle aged man in a relatively stale marriage nearly but not quite having an affair with his secretary. What's interesting is the way it depicts the affair, or more correctly how it depicts how the affair could have happened if Alan Rickman had gone through with it or if Emma Thompson hadn't caught him out... buying expensive jewelry for his secretary.

For it shows how the seemingly mundane grind of his life results in him being really bemused and yet intrigued by the attention his sultry younger secretary gives him. And that's what drives the near-affair, that attention. That feeling of excitement at a point in his life where he felt somehow dissatisfied.

"An attractive younger woman is flirting with me and I don't know how to process that."

But possibly the most interesting story is that of Laura Linney's character since it's a story we don't often get to see where a lonely woman chooses between romantic love and looking after her mentally challenged brother. And she chooses her brother. Despite the heartache it puts her through to always have to be on call.

To always have to put her wants and desires on the backburner or cast them asunder so she can be there for her brother. A brother who because of his mental issues cannot ever truly appreciate what she sacrifices for him. She gives up making passionate love to that walking Adonis pictured above because she forgot to, or won't, turn her phone off and her brother calls. That is an Adonis who she has had a crush on for years and yet when she has him in her arms, she gives him up near instantly for her brother.

She is on the phone to her brother while that hunk of man-beef is semi-naked on her bed.

While that might strike some people as sad, I see it as incredibly admirable. She has made a conscious choice to always be there for her brother even if that means not being able to live her life independent of him. Now, that is probably not the best way for her to live her life, but her dedication to her brother and the hurt it causes, it a story not often told or shown in a big budget romantic comedy, limited usually to overly serious indie dramas.

Maybe that is why I always watch Love Actually despite not liking it. Yes, there are too many stories and because of that, the narrative seems disjointed and you can't really get into some of the stories or identify with some characters. However, that means if you dislike one story, just wait a bit and another more interesting one will come along.

And I guess I can't really fault it for that, even if I still dislike I'm gonna watch it next time it's on just like I always do.


References:

Love Actually Wikipedia page

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Fresh Prince of Egypt


Now, this is an epic all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
I'd like to read the papyrus
If you'd just sit
I'll tell you how I became a prince of the land called Egypt

West of the great river Nile born and raised
By the pyramids was where I spent most of my days
Swappin' out gods' heads, Anubis for Nu
And all riding some chariots outside of the school
But when I was born, a pharaoh who was up to no good
Started killing the babies in my neighborhood
Got put in one little basket because my mom was scared
She said 'You're movin' with the river Nile to get out of here'

I was washed towards the palace and when it came near
The basket bumped the pharaoh's wife in the rear
If anything I could say that my luck was rare
Since she thought 'Nah, forget it' - 'Yo, Pharaoh another heir'

I grew up to manhood and learnt very late
I was a Hebrew, you know my people were slaves
I looked at the kingdom
I was finally equipped
To abandon my throne as a prince of Egypt


With the recent release of Exodus: Gods and Kings, many across the vast desert plains of the internet have asked a vital question in these difficult times of famine and ceaseless plague of cat videos: why are they making another Moses story when the best Moses story ever has already been made?



Those are valid points I suppose but I don't like getting into the "why are they rebooting this [movie/franchise/whatever], the original was so much better" argument, especially when the first movie in this instance is itself a retelling of a story thousands of years old. But also because the whole argument does seem to rest on a denial of any new reboot as unnecessary out-of-hand, which I don't really agree with.

Culture is based on the repurposing and retelling of older narratives again and again, making those tales reflect the times in some way or another. So even if the retelling doesn't capture the intent of the original narrative (or is terrible), it can often say something about the time in which that retelling took place. Like how now is the era of the gritty reboot which reflects a societal need for dark realism which filmmakers achieve by shooting everything in blue scale and making all their characters moody, since that's how you achieve realism apparently.

Also, I really don't want to talk about Exodus since I haven't seen it  and don't plan to, but rather am using that as a means to talk about Prince of Egypt because it actually is a superb retelling of the story of Moses. As an animated musical!

"I can show you the plagues,
Water becoming blood and frog filled.
Tell me, Rameses, when will
You let my people go?"

Which itself reflects the 1990s revival of animated musicals spearheaded by Disney and copied by other studios, like Dreamworks and Don Bluth. But we're not here to talk about Dob Bluth's attempts to copy the winning Disney formula in films such as Thumbelina. No, we gonna talk about Dreamworks' attempt to copy the winning Disney formula with Prince of Egypt.

But actually aside from the prevalence of Disney elements in the form of musical scenes and a couple of goofy moments, Prince of Egypt is a surprising mature film. Like really mature actually, for what is ostentatiously supposed to be a children's animated feature.

The film opens with slaves being whipped and worked to exhaustion before cutting to mass infanticide. We of course then see the protagonist's mother weeping as she has to give up her baby with only the thinnest of hopes he'll survive, singing one of the saddest lullabies in cinematic history as a single tear falls down her cheek and her hair is blown across her face.

Drama!

Did I mention this goes on while babies are being slaughtered in the hundreds? Because that is literally happening in the background of this scene. It is the driving motivation for the reason she is putting her youngest child in a basket and putting him at the mercy of the current of one of the biggest rivers in the world because that is a safer bet than the horror behind them. Again, this is supposed to be a children's animated film.

Now, some people might read that and think I'm against violence or scenes of brutality in children's movies. I'm not, I'm just impressed at how far this movie goes for it. Like it really tries to go for the mature angle but doesn't just hint at some heavy stuff, it hits you right in the face and confronts you with it. Some of the scenes in this movie are legitimately terrifying, like the plagues.

Which is appropriate in an attempt to adapt one of the heaviest and most epic stories in history, one that forms that cornerstone of several belief systems. You know they took care in adapting it since they say so at the beginning of the film, although they admit some changes have been made to the source material.

And I have to say in all honesty, most of the changes they do make to the story are welcome additions to the Moses tale.

I for one quite enjoyed the introduction of a snowman as Moses' goofy sidekick.

Possibly the biggest change was making Moses and Rameses brothers. That is brilliant. In the original biblical text, Moses is just raised in the palace and is actually found by the pharaoh's daughter, not his wife like in the movie. Also, his biological mother manages to end up being his nanny for the first few years of his life.

That is fine and all, but making it the pharaoh's wife who finds Moses' basket and having the pharaoh adopt him as a second son adds a Shakespearean level of drama to the already heavy tale. Because this means that later when Moses is trying to get the pharaoh to let his people go, the pharaoh isn't just the stubborn ruler of Egypt, he is Moses' brother.

Like with Loki and Thor, this estranged brotherly dynamic creates more tension and drama than if the pharaoh had been some ruler that had no real connections to Moses. Especially since the film spends a lot of time building up the relationship between the two and you can see the affection each has for the other.

So, when the two brothers are pitted against each other in the second half of the film, there are levels of betrayal and anguish which wouldn't have been possible if Moses was just some dude that lived in the palace.

Pictured: Brotherly betrayal and anger.

Another thing that I noticed when I watched Prince of Egypt again for this post, is that there is no moment to breathe in the narrative. Each scene rushes into the next with no real moments of quiet to chill for a second and absorb the intensity of the scene before. There isn't a lull in the whole film.

It starts with slaves building gigantic statues, then pans to mass infanticide, before showing us the heartbreak of a mother giving up her child, then that child being swept across a raging river narrowly escaping being crushed or eaten by boats, crocodiles or hippopotamuses, then cut to slight drop in pace as Moses is discover by the pharaoh's wife... cut directly to a high speed chariot race between Moses and Rameses all grown up. And that's just within the first five minutes or so.

The film's pacing is relentless. One heavy scene leads directly into the next, the plot progressing at a breakneck speed with no reprise. Which really moves the film along and adds to the intensity and drama of the story.

But one of the real reasons I wanted to talk about Prince of Egypt is because it is gorgeous.

Gorgeous

Seriously, this is a beautiful film. The visuals and designs are just stunning, while the mix of traditional hand drawn animation with touches of CGI are at times breathtaking.

I was tempted to just put up a bunch of screenshots from the movie with captions saying, "Look at that, no really, look at that!" and "I'm telling you, look at that!" for this post and be done with it, the pictures saying more than I ever could.

Look at that!!!

The framing in that image is perfect. And using the statue behind the pharaoh to symbolise his authority and the weight of tradition and power he holds? Fantastic. And the side profiles make for a more sharp and compelling contrast to the wide expanse of the background. It's a gorgeous shot in a film fill of gorgeous shots.

And the visuals often strikingly enhance the drama unfolding onscreen in clever and majestic ways. Couple this with some effective and suitably epic music, you end up with a scene like The Plagues, which is just amazing from beginning to end.



Like I said, amazing from beginning to end. It just encapsulates the entire movie within one scene. The plagues themselves are depicted with awe-inspiring devastation and some of the imagery is unbelievably evocative and striking. And the animation snaps with such pace and sense of movement. The cuts between the two brothers and

All of this to mirror the song, which is extremely powerful. I love the way it builds with the choir near whispering as it begins before belting up to the heavens. Also, while the choir are singing about the plagues and the devastation God has wrought on the Egyptians, Moses and Rameses instead sing about their relationship. And this is where making them brothers really shines.

Moses sings about his extreme guilt and anguish at having being chosen by God to be his prophet, knowing the hurt it is causing Rameses but resolute in freeing his people. And Rameses sings about the bitter sense of betrayal and anger at the little brother whom he loved and can't understand why the joking happy-go-lucky kid he grew up with would be doing this to his kingdom and him.

Placing their brotherly rivalry over the backdrop of the terror of the plagues just pushes the drama into another playing field entirely, which perfectly matches the intensity of the music and the really powerful imagery in the scene.

Oh, and Ralph "I am Lord Voldemort" Fiennes voices Rameses and sings his part in the song. I have nothing more to say, I am content.


Friday, 12 December 2014

Post Not Found - Try Again Next Week (Listen to My Music in the Meantime)

I tried but I seriously can't write a blog post this week. The two topics I wanted to write about (both of which are fantastic by the way) I need to do more research on and I am just too tired from life stuff to even.

I don't like that since I have made it something of a personal goal or target for myself to write a blog post ever week and I've been quite good at keeping to that. I've only missed the occasional one here or there and I'm kinda proud of that consistency.

However, I am totally giving this week a miss because I'm just exhausted and not prepared and I got dumped last week so I think I get a pass.

Hey, he said in a completely natural segue way, do you guys know that I write music? Because I do. I even record it and put it online for people to listen. You can download it too... for free! Yes, for free! Just go here for free music: https://soundcloud.com/caleb-sherriff

Instead of writing a proper blog post, this is just a shameless plug for my music and if you think that I should feel shame for plugging my music with no qualms when you came here for a blog post, dammit - I'm sorry, I guess?

But yeah, I totally feel no shame about this. I like writing songs and I like people listening to them and realising that they have never known true emotion until I encapsulated it in song form.

Have a listen, share with your friends, download a song, remix it until it's completely unrecognisable, I don't care as long as you check it out here: https://soundcloud.com/caleb-sherriff.

Thanks, I be back next week with a proper blog post but here's a picture of kittens in mugs just cos.

Yes, they're little kittens in mugs and it's frickin' adorable. We get it, jeez.

Did I mention you can check out my music at this link: https://soundcloud.com/caleb-sherriff?

Friday, 5 December 2014

Forgetting Sarah Marshall Again and Again and Again

This is about to get personal. More personal than I have ever been on this blog. So if you have an issue with personal space since intimacy with another human being gives you a bad rash, maybe you should sit this one out. It might get uncomfortably intimate up in here. No lie, tears may be shed. I know I have shed more than a few.

My girlfriend broke up with me this past week. Don't worry, this isn't a pity post. I'm not looking for sympathy or for people to go "ah, poor baby". However, hugs, if offered, will be appreciated and reciprocated. Rather this is just a rambling post about break ups.

This is my third break up in two years. So you could say my heart has gotten so used to break up pains, it feels more weird when it's not breaking than when it is. Well, that's not entirely true but heartache has become a familiar friend to me over the past couple years, possibly because I've been too clumsy with my heart, dropping it all over the place.

I know clumsy hamster buddy, I know.

Now, here's the thing. I have no walls. Like metaphoric walls. Around my heart, To protect it against getting hurt by people because I let them in. Normal people have walls, I know this. And people who have intimacy issues or have been hurt in the past have many walls, often tall ones. I know this too because I've often had to scale them, which I did like wall-crawling Spider-Man going all arachnid over the place. But me? I'm an open person. Perhaps too open.

Although I have been hurt in the past, I haven't set guards around my heart protecting it against those who gain my trust only to cast it aside like an used paper coffee cup. My trust is a novelty mug from Disneyland Paris and should be treated as such. By which I mean treat that shit with care, it's from freaking France!

(Note: Neither myself nor my metaphoric novelty trust mug are in fact from France or are associated with Disneyland Paris. This was merely a metaphor for comedic hyperbolic purposes.)

Pictured: The place of magic and wonder that the metaphoric mug which symbolises my trust is not legally affiliated with.

And in all fairness, only in one of my past relationships did the person I let in betray my trust in any malicious or callous way. However, that person had a multitude of issues, like a whole host. Insecurity, trust, confidence, intimacy... No seriously, if her issues were elves, they could have stormed Mordor in an afternoon, those giant troll-pulling gates be damned.

And I tried to help her with some of those issues, I did. But I should have learnt from my previous relationship that you can't fix someone, especially if they don't really want to be fixed. You can only be there for them and hope they right themselves and that when they do, they still want or need you around, but I'm already getting my story mixed up.

Let's start at the end. Well, the end of my first relationship in the past couple of years. Relationship 1. This was with a girl I loved more than I thought it ever possible to love someone. My every waking thought was about her: what she might be doing, when I would be seeing her next, how much I liked the way she did certain things, or the things she said or how beautiful she was. I wasn't just in love, I was obsessed. To say I put her on a pedestal is an understatement of such gigantic proportions as to be laughable. I couldn't understand how someone so amazing had chosen to be with me.

I tried to find an image to convey an overwhelming sense of amazement but couldn't find anything appropriate.
Instead, enjoy this image from The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Pulling Rhino's Pants Down in Public.

The problem was that she didn't love me back. She cared for me but she didn't love me. However, even if she had loved me back, it wouldn't have really been a healthy relationship. I was far too infatuated and had wrapped my identity around her, losing myself in the process, sacrificing my needs for her time and time again. Don't get me wrong, she never used me. I did this all on my own accord. I just wanted her to be happy.

Did I mention that she suffered from depression since she was still in love with her ex and also had suicidal thoughts? No? So yeah, that was a thing. I often had to talk to her about why life, although it can be cruel and ugly, can be wonderful, beautiful, and is worth living. Also, I spoke to her about her ex, thinking that if we talked it out, she would get over him and possibly heal and start loving me. That obviously didn't quite work out the way I hoped.

Again, this is not to judge her or paint her in a negative light. She is a wonderful person that had some things she needed to sort out on her own and shouldn't have been in a relationship... which is why (long story short) she eventually broke up with me.

Which destroyed me. Absolutely ended me. I wept for weeks (months?) on end. I felt emotional pain so piercing I literally couldn't breathe at points, my chest feeling like it would burst, my mind unable to comprehend how a break up could hurt so much. That her rejection of me and my love would ruin me so, give me so much pain that I would break down in tears, gasping for breath. I had break ups in the past but nothing like that. Nothing could be like that. I was utterly broken.

I don't have an image that could possibly capture the pain I felt so here's a picture of two ducklings in a wine glass.
You're welcome.

It basically took me about a year to get over it. Problem was that I started another relationship with someone I shouldn't have. Not only because that person is the one with the host of issue elves but because I wasn't ready for a relationship and shouldn't have been anywhere near one. Especially not with someone who had issues of their own resulting from stuff that had gone down in their life which had scarred them and that they needed to deal with. This is Relationship 2.

I won't really go into much detail Relationship 2 since it just is something I realised wasn't a good thing. Essentially, I was trying to convince myself I loved her to prove I was over Relationship 1 - Fun fact: I wasn't. This meant I told her a lot of things in the first couple of months about how I still cared for my ex that I shouldn't have told her and helped fuel her insecurities for the remainder of our relationship.

When I was with her, I had to deal with the drama (and there was so much drama - like all of the drama) her issues created. And once I did get over my ex, I realised that the relationship I was in wasn't healthy and most of the stress in my life came from dealing with all the drama. It just wasn't good. But eventually Relationship 2 ended, which was good.

And I felt good. For the first time over a year or so, I felt whole again. I felt myself and not reliant on another person. Enter my latest relationship, the one which just ended. Relationship 3. It was great, my first healthy relationship in years.

We fitted together so well, it was ridiculous how natural it felt being together. It wasn't like I had another person come into my life, it was more like there was a hole in my life I didn't know about and she just fitted into it like she always should have been there but I hadn't found her yet.

I'm not sure if she is the glass slipper or I am in this scenario.
You wouldn't believe how many pictures of bra fittings you get when you put "perfect fit" as your search term in Google though.

And I wasn't obsessed or lost myself in her like I did in Relationship 1. I didn't put her on a pedestal but saw her as a person. Now, that doesn't mean I don't think she is amazing. I do. She is. So amazing. Like real pretty and smart. And such a nerd. Like a legit nerd, dorky and everything. Cute and adorable. Timid at times, and at other times stubbornly firm in her resolution and opinions. And she liked me. We were good together. We were happy together.

But it was starting to get real. As in a real relationship. Remember how I mention earlier how I don't have any walls? Well, that tends to mean that I fall in love quite easily since I don't really have any barriers. I've found this can be a problem since the people I fall in love with often don't fall in love with me at the same rate because they tend to have a lot of walls up. And that's what happened here, I was falling quite fast for her and she just couldn't keep up since she still had her walls up. I was scaling them like nobody's business because it's personal, don't pry.

Anyway, another long story short, she didn't feel ready for a long term relationship and therefore ended it before it went any further. I don't blame her. If someone isn't ready, they're not ready, and nothing you can say or do can really change that. I'm just sad it ended. It hurts but I don't think I've fully processed it yet since I haven't had a cathartic release of tears yet, although I have cried. But I'm sure that's on the way.

Oh, that's right. I'm supposed to be talking about Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Yeah, this pretty much sums up how I feel right now.

I have watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall with each of my past three girlfriends at their request. So it does seem to have some resonance, possibly because it is the greatest break up movie ever. Well, let me rephrase that, it is the greatest break up romantic comedy.

For although it is a romantic comedy and follows the formulaic narrative structure of a romcom with the cliches associated with the genre, it plays with that structure and those cliches in some clever ways. Where most romcoms are all about the couple meeting and forming a relationship, this is all about how the end of one relationship leads to another, so the forming of the relationship is still there but it is framed differently.

But where Forgetting Sarah Marshall really shines is in how honestly it depicts the hurt and grieving process one goes through after a break up. And most of that comes from the fearless performance from Jason Segel.

His character Peter starts the movie naked, literally baring himself to the audience at his most intimate and vulnerable. And it is at this point after we are introduced to his character that he is dumped by Sarah Marshall. She rejects him when he is barring all to her, she rejects him when he being his most open to her.

You can also totally find a frame grab of his penis online if you were so inclined.

Segel isn't afraid to portray Peter through all the stages of grief and insecurity that he goes through after his break up. Although played for comedy, his performance is honest and raw in the way it just shows Peter either scared, hurt, weeping, bitter, numb, depressed, and vulnerable with no real filter. The fact he wrote the film as well just elevates my respect for the man.

And it's this honesty that I think makes this movie resonate with a lot of people. Oh. it has a lot of funny moments and memorable lines, but it's the fact the film's depiction of the heartache following a break up and the difficulty of letting go to start a new relationship (with Mila Kunis' Rachel) seems real that really strikes a chord.

There's a moment when Peter is just hit by a series of memories of when he and Sarah were together and happy that just hit him one after the other via flashback and that is so true. Memories of a relationship can just strike out of nowhere and hit you in quick succession. A part of one memory makes you remember the next memory and something in that memory makes you think about another memory and it just goes from there.

Like the time when you played strip backgammon which made you think of how pretty her hair is, which made you think of that one time she tied her hair up and although it was different she still looked beautiful because her eyes are so striking, which made you think of that time you just spent ages gazing into each others eyes because you were being sappy and so on and so on.

Look. The cuteness before the impending agonising heartache.

The movie doesn't shy aware from the ugliness that happens after a break up when you just feel worthless and are so filled with hurt and anger and insecurity and loss of self. Again, this is within the context of a romantic comedy.

Also, a nice touch is that when Rachel finally accepts Peter at the end of the film, she accepts him when he is naked. Again, when he is at his most intimate and exposed, where Sarah Marshall rejected him, she accepts him. Which is a kinda touching and humorous moment.

Obviously, there have been dramas which have dealt with heartache in a more intense manner, but I doubt if it could be more true. It might go depict it with more seriousness or raw emotion, but the depiction in Forgetting Sarah Marshall is as true as can be. And I think it should be applauded for that just as much for anything Paul Rudd's character Kano says or the great gift to mankind that is Peter's Muppet Dracula musical.

Anyway, thanks for reading me ramble on about my failed romantic relationships before I declared Forgetting Sarah Marshall to be the greatest break up movie ever as matter of fact. I just wanted to share what's been going because, hey, I can. It's my blog.

Thanks for reading though.


References:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall Wikipedia page


Friday, 28 November 2014

There Are No Matrix Sequels

Did you know that The Matrix was my favourite movie for the longest time? Of course, you do. You must do. I mean I must have mentioned it before. I haven't? No way. Really? Weird. I thought I did. Well, it was. I love The Matrix. And when I first saw it as a kid, it totally took my mind for such a ride, I'm still bitter it didn't buy me dinner first.

"You could say that I jacked in, and then jacked off. YEEAAAHHH!"

Now the thing about The Matrix, the thing that really elevates to the realm of, not only important sci-fi films, but important pieces of culture, is not the kung fu or ground breaking special effects. While those are indeed amazing and have been imitated to death by dozens, perhaps hundreds of subsequent films, that followed in its wake.

Bullet time was so severely copied, mimicked, parodied, and reused in the next couple of years that it now heavily dates any movie that has a character dodge a bullet in slow motion as the camera tracks 180 degrees that I don't know if there is any other special effect that more screams the early 2000s. Maybe excessive use of wire work kung fu... oh wait, that was in The Matrix too?

There are strings attached.

And that's kinda the problem. Everyone was too busy copying the look and the special effects of The Matrix that they forgot to actually explore the underlining story the movie tells, as in the narrative which is really what makes it one of the most important pieces of culture of the past 20 years or whatever. Because those special effects, as cool as they are, are just the icing on the window, the cake dressing that gets people hooked and going oooh.

The thing that always made The Matrix one of my favourite movies was the feeling I got after watching it. That lingering sense that perhaps reality is false and nothing is real but merely simulated. That I was in fact in the Matrix and my whole life was nothing but a computer program, a series of ones and zeros sending stimuli to my brain tricking it into seeing a world that didn't really exist.

After watching it, I actually questioned the nature of the reality I saw before me, doubted its validity, and worried whether it was really real. This is because the movie so effectively executes that conceit making that idea seem almost palpable and undeniable.

Ever get the feeling your life is computer generated?

And that's a powerful thing for a film to make you severely questioned the reality of world you see before you, to suggest that, "Hey, perhaps this isn't real". And that's something the first Matrix movie managed to capture. Something which its sequels, which I've already mentioned don't exist, and the numerous imitators who followed in its wake failed to recapture or even realise, instead deciding to focus on the special effects because bullet time be bitchin'.

From here on end, I'm gonna to be building quite liberally on Cracked.com's David Wong's views on why The Matrix should be considered the most important story of recent times. Wong talks quite a bit about the hero's journey narrative, as in that narrative we see in the vast majority of our stories. The Arthurian narrative, it's seen in Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and a whole host of other films and stories.

It's the story we see time and time again: a young protagonist finds out that he (nearly always a guy) is essentially the most important person in the world/galaxy/universe and only he can save the world/galaxy/universe from the bad guys. Now the young protagonist is nearly always from humble or simple beginnings, typically a farm boy (Luke Skywalker) or rootsy folk (Frodo Baggins) and they have to defeat bad guys who are essentially the Machine, a large, highly uniform and technologically centred force.

Just space cogs in the machine.

And that's the standard hero's journey, protagonist goes out and kills enough bad guys until evil is vanquish and peace is restored to the world/galaxy/universe. Now on the surface that seems to be what Neo does in The Matrix (remember the sequels don't exist): Neo finds out he is the most important person in the world/galaxy/universe, the chosen one, and has to go out to defeat the big bad, Agent Smith. And he does, with some pretty awesome kung fu and one with the Force-ness.

But what The Matrix does is tell a different twist on that standard hero's journey. In so many of those narratives, a rag tag team of underdogs are up against this seemingly unstoppable army and save the day by killing a whole heap of them on the way to killing the emperor/king/leader, job done, gets the girl. There the big bad is out in the open and the the rebellion is known.

That's not the case in The Matrix. In this movie, not only has the battle already been fought, but we lost and we didn't even know there was a battle to lose. The only thing that makes us think that something happened is a nagging sense that this isn't exactly how life should be, that somehow there is something missing, that there should be more.

Like looking cool as hell in leather while carrying guns and wearing sunglasses inside just because.

We are already plugged into the Matrix from birth, so we don't even realise there could another option, another way to live, maybe a better way. We are so absorbed into the system we can't even recognise that there is a system since that's just the way it is.

And the real message of The Matrix is not that some chosen one will come to kill the bad guy. That's not what Neo does. I mean, he does kill Agent Smith (sorta kinda not really but the sequels don't exist) but that's not the pivot scene of the film. It's the phone call in the last scene of the movie where he says that he will show people a world where anything is possible. And then he flies.



He flies. And that is so important it cannot be understated. He's not gonna lead a resistance to destroy all the machines. He's just gonna show people what is possible and that the rules that govern our lives and what we think is real are all arbitrary and just a figment of the system. That we can and should be more. That we can break free of the blinders that the system has put on us and accomplish more than we dreamed possible.

Which might be one of the most important and powerful ideas possible. I dunno, I'm just saying.


References:

The Matrix Wikipedia page

The Wachowskis Wikipedia page

Dumb Movies That Will Be Studied By History


Friday, 21 November 2014

Daredevil - The Movie With No Fear

With all the excitement and hullabaloo about the upcoming Daredevil television series, I think it would be best to revisit the hero's last excursion into a live action adaption, that is, his first cinematic outing, Daredevil.

Yes, I am seriously going to revisit the reviled 2003 film starring Ben Affleck as the titular blind superhero and Jennifer Garner supposedly as Elektra, who got her own turdtastic spin off movie but the less said about that the better.

'Nuff said. No, literally. No more needs to be said.
(In unrelated news, Days of Future Past was amazing, right? Sitting there with 92% and shit.)

Just to clarify, I'm not actually reviewing the original theatrical release but the Extended Director's Cut for reasons that will be elaborated on below, most prominent being the fact that is the DVD I've got. Also, the Director's Cut is generally reckoned to be the superior film, again for reasons I'll elaborate on below (wow, I'm really setting up a lot of stuff to deliver on below, aren't I?).

Now, before we get into the nitty gritty of the Daredevil movie, and it is gritty, oh so very gritty, it might be a good idea to go into the comics since they're the source material and whatnot. Like all superheroes created in the 1960s, Daredevil's origin story revolves around radioactive material, because if there is one thing we all know, it is that radioactive exposure causes super powers always and cancer never.

While saving an old blind man's life (oh, the dramatic irony) from an oncoming truck, Matt Murdock has radioactive waste spilled in his eyes, which instead of killing him, renders him blind but heightens his other senses to superhuman abilities because radioactive. He can now 'see' by a sort of sonar due to his heighten hearing and has a superhuman sense of balance, because again, radioactive.

Daredevil actually started as a swashbuckling dashing superhero rather than the brooding anti-hero we know and love. Rather than being gritty realistic tales of urban life and criminal underworlds, the early Daredevil adventures were bright colourful affairs.

Colourful indeed.

Before deciding that red is the new black, Daredevil sported a mostly yellow costume that loudly announced his presence to ever criminal in a three block radius, which made stake out missions a bit trickier than they needed to be.

And don't say try to give the man a pass by saying he's blind because, like everyone knows, Daredevil may be blind but luckily the radioactive waste that caused his blindness also heightened his other senses, including heightening his sense of touch so much that he can 'feel' colour.

Yes, one of Daredevil's powers is to feel colour. By which I mean he can tell just by touching something what colour it is by the heat that colors give off, since colours are well known for giving off heat. Though to be fair, a black shirt does retain heat more than a plain white T, so I guess there might be some scientific basis for this power. Possibly. 


It doesn't quite explain his bitchin' master of disguise skills, though.

The darker and more badass Daredevil we now recognise as the definite Daredevil was ushered into being by Frank "I'm the Goddamn Batman" Miller. I've already spoken about how Hollywood loves milking Miller's version of Batman for all he is worth (and he is worth all the money) but before he started grittying up the Dark Knight, making him realistic and stuff, Miller got his first big break grittying up the Man With No Fear, essentially writing crime stories with a superhero in them.

And that is where Daredevil excels. His power set isn't really impressive enough to face up against the uber powered big bads that the Avengers regularly go up against but is perfectly suited to smaller, more direct, but no less impactful, crime narratives featuring mob syndicates and kingpins. As a blind superhero, his world is all darkness and a cacophony of sound, which makes him uniquely suited for stories about the dark seedy underbelly of urban life.


As evidenced here.

I don't want to dwell on Miller's run of the character since much has already been said about his run of the character elsewhere. However, I will mention how Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's partnership writing and drawing Daredevil, respectively, is one of the greatest partnerships on a superhero ever. Easy. Why that sounds like high praise, the fact is that they totally understand the character and what makes him unique among his super-powered peers.

Taking a natural, yet dark, noir tone, Bendis and Maleev craft a stunning narrative arc where Daredevil's secret identity is leaked to a newspaper and made public. However, the newspaper that ran the leak is a well-known tabloid with little credibility so initially the claims aren't entirely validated but they draw seriously unwanted media attention to Matt Murdoch.

And while all that is going on, the Kingpin is disposed from the head of the crime syndicate in Hell's Kitchen by a young upstart wiseguy and is presumed dead after he is stabbed about infinity times. And it was the young upstart wiseguy who spilt the beans on Daredevil's secret identity since he was a bit of a douche.

The newspapers scattered in the wind around Daredevil represent the scatter pieces of his life in the wake of the leak.
That, or Hell's Kitchen has a serious litter problem. 

Basically, the comic is split between two fronts, the courts where Matt Murdoch is suing the newspapers for libel for saying that he is Daredevil, and in the streets due to the power vacuum with the Kingpin's absence. Needless to say, but it all leads up to a thrilling conclusion that I won't spoil here. Read it, it's good.

Daredevil was subsequently written by Ed Brubaker and then Mark Waid which are also amazing because holy hell, Brubaker followed by Waid! If you don't know who those people are but like comics, drop whatever you're holding, whether it is a book, cup of coffee, or a baby, and go read some of their stuff (I mean, that baby isn't even yours).

Now, this is all buildup for talking about the Director's Cut of Daredevil and why it is a superior movie than the original theatrical release. Firstly, it is important to note the both the director, Mark Steven Johnson, and Ben Affleck are huge Daredevil fans and wanted to do right by the character. Numerous shots in the movie are taken direct from panels in the comics and the movie is definitely made with respect for the source material. The problem with the film is that execution often doesn't match the intent.

"Do tell."

For the Director's Cut is superior to the theatrical release in pretty much every way. There is a less focus on the romance between Matt Murdoch and Elektra, which felt rather forced in the theatric release. Daredevil doesn't actually get the girl, not even for the sex scene in the theatrical release, since to the director that underscores his unlucky in life/love character, where life never really goes his way but he perseveres regardless.

Matt Murdoch's relationship with his father is elaborated on and expanded so we can see the father-son bond that would shape his life as well as his conflict with his Catholic upbringing. On a similar note, Murdoch and Daredevil are giving equal time in the film, with a whole subplot featuring Coolio as a ganster Murdoch is defending in court is inserted into this version of the film. And this is great as it showcases his expert lawyer skills, which are a key component of who Matt Murdoch/Daredevil is. Thus, we see our hero straddle two very different views of justice, vigilantism and the legal judicial process, and this duality is at the core of the character.

The Director's Cut is rated R with harder violence and curse words, which fits the dark urban nature of Daredevil. Young Matt even says shit! That rapscallion. This is a vast improvement over the original version since there were a number of moments in that version where the tone of the movie and the way the scenes were shot suggested as though they were going to show the violence but then didn' due to the PG13 rating that kinda of neuters the original version. But the Director's Cut doesn't pull any punches and it shows.

With violence! And fire! Violent fire! Fiery violence!

However, despite these improvements, the film still has its flaws. The music is too mired in nu metal/post grunge songs of the early 2000s which were already kinda dated when the movie came out, and that does make elements of the film's aesthetic seem inauthentic with forced angst, in a similar way to how the industrial techno music in Blade 2 dated that movie terribly.

Furthermore, while the film comes together a bit better than the theatrical release, the script is a little haphazard and doesn't have a real consistent narrative arc but rather is punctuated by notable scenes that don't often flow intuitively into each other.

And the way the film depicts Daredevil's radar sense is rather clever and looks real cool. Like bullet-time made out of sound. It actually makes sense in the way different sounds emit a different 'pulse' depending on how loud they are or what type of sound they are, and how they interact so Daredevil can see.

In other news, while Colin Farrell is delightfully over-the-top and absolutely hamming it up as the psychotic assassin Bullseye, his performance doesn't quite fit the at times overly serious and dramatic mood of the film.

On that note, while he occasionally verges on being over-the-top, Michael Duncan Clarke is near perfect as Kingpin. He genuinely comes across as imposing and a real threat. You can see him working his way up the ranks, doing what was necessary, and killing whomever was in the way, to get to where he is.

This is a man who will do whatever necessary to get what he wants.

Now, I've already mentioned how I don't want to talk about Elekta, and Jennifer Garner isn't bad per se as Daredevil's sai wielding love interest but she isn't good either. In fact, there is one moment during their fight scene on the roof top where he is trying to explain that he didn't kill her father, and she says "Liar!" in the most ridiculous way. It's just a sharp reply but the inflection she puts on the word just makes me laugh everytime, which kinda kills the serious mood of the scene.

And now the Affleck. Contrary what some may believe, Affleck actually puts in a memorable performance as the Man With No Fear, presenting a believable depiction of a blind man, partly because the contacts he wore to give his eyes a milky hue actually blinded him a little.

Also, as Daredevil, he definitely has the chin acting chops for the scenes when he is in costume. No, really, have you seen that chin? It's a thing of beauty. No wonder he was cast as Batman. With a chin like that, criminals really would be a cowardly lot.

And all the geeks and fans will look up and shout "Aff-cleft!"... and I'll look down and whisper, "No".

So, I guess I'm trying to say that if you dismissed Daredevil when you first saw it the cinemas or are thinking of rewatching it, make sure you watch the Director's Cut. It won't be perfect and part will still sit awkwardly, but it is a much better adaptation of one of Marvel's greatest characters.


References:

Daredevil (Marvel Comics character) Wikipedia page

Daredevil (film) Wikipedia page

Daredevil Comics2Film - Comic Book Resourses

Ben Affleck Daredevil Interview MTV

Ben Affleck "Dares to Dream Daredevil" MTV Interview

Daredevil (TV series) Wikipedia page

Frank Miller Wikipedia page

The 5 Dumbest Powers Ever Given To Famous Superheroes

Giving the Devil His Due: Why Daredevil is Marvel's Most Underrated Character

Friday, 14 November 2014

Imagine If The Flash Was Called The Streak

The Flash has always been one of my favourite superheroes. I've mentioned before how I love Wally West's Flash more than any other. Which is why I'm gonna talk about Barry Allen. Obviously.

It might seem like I'm hating on Barry Allen, but I'm really not. Barry is a great. A real hero's hero. A man with a serious dedication to his principles and what is right, often at the expense of his own social life or well-being. A police officer's sense of justice with a scientist's mind. The man Batman wishes he could have been. And when Batman wishes he could be you, you're pretty much all the awesome possible.

I just always had a real soft spot in my heart for Wally West. That's as much because he was the Flash I grew up with (since Barry was too busy being dead during my informative to leave as much of an impact on me), as it is because I've always liked wise-crackling heroes like Spider-Man, and Wally cracks with the wise, especially in the animated Justice League series.

What can I say?

I like Barry just fine, although his policeman demeanor didn't leave as much of an impression on me. However, I did appreciate his dry sense of humour and the innovative ways he used his powers, which often turned 'man who can run fast' into such a simplistic description of his power set as to be laughable.

Now, you may or may not know (I don't want to make assumptions either way because if I assume you know, I'm being presumptuous, and if I assume you don't, I'm being elitist, so I'm gonna assume you may be vaguely aware it is a thing that exist but still tell you about it because being presumptuously elitist is the way to go) but there is a new Flash television show. With real people even. You know, those type of shows that aren't animated or a cartoon... um, like with real life actors- life action.

Life action!

Now, before we look at the new millennial Flash TV show, we need to discuss the early 1990s Flash TV show, and by we, I mean me. Now, the 1990s Flash was awesome despite itself. I say that because it shouldn't have worked. No, really. It just shouldn't have worked. Like at all.

The atmosphere of the show is definitely trying to ride the Bat-tails of the immensely popular Tim Burton Batman movies, with a sort-of gothic aesthetic for the Gotham-inspired grungy Central City. And that Bat-influence is all over the opening theme too, which is just Danny Elfman's Batman theme without the melancholy opening because the Flash hasn't got time for that. I suppose that Elfman just felt like copy-and-pasting since a pay cheque is a pay cheque.

Also, the show was quite camp at times, well a lot of the time. The villains often chewed scenery with ridiculous motivations and grandiose over-acted posturing deserving of prime-time soap opera. This campiness allowed for one of the most memorable villain performances in television history because did I mention that Mark Hamill played the Trickster? Because "Holy Joker-lite Batman!" he did.

"I was Luke Skywalker, you know."

Hamill is perfect as the crazed James Jesse, putting in a manic performance as the Trickster that you just know helped fuel his amazing voice-work as the Joker for the next couple of decades. His voice whirls and crackles, giggles and hackles, bellows and shackles from one extreme to another. It's a gloriously over-the-top performance that is just a wonder to behold.

On the other hand, although the show handled its source material with respect and gravitas, it at times felt like a soap opera, not least due to the interpersonal drama between Barry and Tina. And like a soap opera, the acting could occasionally be stiff, especially Amanda Pays as Tina. Yet, despite seemingly remembering her lines as she says them, Pays is incredibly likable as Tina and really grows as strong foil for Barry over the course of the season.

John Wesley Shipp actually was a soap opera actor before he donned the red suit but he is great as Barry Allen. Self-effacing yet warm, with a gentle charm but disciplined disposition. At times filled with doubt but with an unwavering conviction, he's a genuine hero but a man who feels the weight of the responsibility he has taken upon himself as Central City's protector. And Shipp manages to endue Barry with all these qualities despite his somewhat limited range due to the sheer warmth and personality he puts into the character. The fact he also makes the suit work despite the padded muscles should be taken into consideration too.

Pulling. It. Off.

And that's the thing, the individual elements that make up the show should have counted against it, culminating in a barely watchable endeavor best forgotten. But instead it is a incredibly agreeable show and a decent watch, not anything that breaks the mold, but a real enjoyable superhero show with more going for it than against it.

After having watched the first couple episodes of The Flash 2014 TV series, it seems that being more than the sum of its parts is par for the course for life action Flash TV shows. It's a CW show, so like Smallville, Arrow, and Beauty and the 'Beast' before it, it features a number of really specific type of beautiful people with sharp jawlines and thin frames doing beautiful people things. Yet despite that, the actors are all really dedicated with some compelling performances. Like, for example, John Wesley "I was the Flash motherchuckers" Shipp as Barry Allen's father, Henry.

I had the biggest nerdgasm ever when this happened.
I didn't even know that I felt so strongly about the 1990 Flash show but apparently I did.

It's a masterstroke of casting. A loving nod to fans of the 1990 series but it's not just a hand out to Shipp, capitulising on his past time in the titular role. If anything, over the intervening years Shipp seems to seriously have developed as an actor. He is quite emotive as Barry's compassionate yet constrained father, wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of wife (Spoilers, I guess). Compellingly conveying the regret of a man who has had his life and son taken away from him but the tenderness of his love for his son despite the harshness of his environment.

And Grant Gustin as Barry is a good fit, playing him a bit more dorky than Shipp but highlighting his keen scientific mind and passion for knowledge, while still showcasing his caring nature and sense of justice. He is also a little bit more of a wisecracker than Shipp's Bary with a deft gift for a quick quip but Gustin pulls off the darker aspects of the character quite well, countering his bright side with a real sense of tragedy due to his mother's death.

He also pulls off his costume despite not having padded muscles.

The special effects are decent, nothing spectacular but impressive for a CW network show and the designs are solid but what really makes this show work are the characters and tight writing. Which makes sense since one of the main writers for the show is Geoff Johns, aka. the best Flash comic book writer ever. Little nods to the future of the character are thrown in here and there, while the story definitely seems to be developing a natural arc, based on one of the best Flash stories in comics.

Johns intense familiarity with the character and mythos of the Flash means that the show has a sense of identity and confidence that the 1990 Flash did lack. With a purposely light tone, the show hits on the appeal of the character, he's not a brooding Dark Knight or benevolent protector Man of Steel, he's a speedster and speedsters need light to see where they're going.

Even though he's dubbed the Streak by the news channels in the fictional universe of the show, this feels very much like the Flash. Long may he run.


References:

The Flash (2014 TV series) Wikipedia page

The Flash (1990 TV series) Wikipedia page

The Flash (Barry Allen)

Friday, 31 October 2014

Hellboy: The Lovecraft Child of Horror and Folklore

As far as Halloween movies go, Hellboy is not often at the top of most people's list. In fact, I doubt many people even think of it as a Halloween movie. I bet that you don't think it is one either. But you're wrong. So very, very, erroneously wrong. You should probably feel ashamed for how wrong you are.

Because Hellboy is a Halloween movie the same way that Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie ever, where, while some might say that it's not a traditional holiday movie, it's set on the holiday and the holiday serves as the backdrop for the narrative of the film. And the message of the film is completely tied to the message of the holiday too.

In Die Hard, John McClane wants peace on Earth and machine gun goodwill to all German thieves pretending to be terrorists- traditional wholesome Christmas values. Similarly, Hellboy is all about monsters, costumes, supernatural stuff and Lovecraftian horrors. They even get John Hurt to say, "There are things that go bump in the night... And we are the ones who bump back." What could be more Halloween?

I mean, aside from the candy. That sweet, delicious, sugary candy. Oh, wait what is Hellboy's favourite snack?

Hint: It's Hawkman's favourite too.

A number of scenes feature people in costumes on the streets, doing Halloween things like being costumes, trick-or-treating, and drinking beer in public spaces. The prominence of costumed people out and about allows Agent Bland McIdentifyingCharacter to explain away the sight of Sammael and Hellboy running through a crowded fair by saying, "Crazy costumes, huh?". This despite the fact that one of them looks like a devil that just spawned from the depths of hell. And that's our hero.

And on a side note, that's one of the great things about Hellboy, the fact that he is a demon. That he does look like the embodiment of evil. He's a red devil with a forked tail, which within the pop cultural lexicon generally means he would be the bad guy. But he's not. He's the good guy. And the movies constantly play with this, hinting time and time again that Hellboy is destined to bring the world to ruin by bringing upon the Apocalypse. That in constantly trying to save the world, Hellboy is battling against his own destiny.

Hell (ha! see what I did there?), they use the dissociation between the way Hellboy looks and his actions in the promotion for the movies. Aware that most people wold see a big red demon and go, "devil looking guy=bad", they had to make a point of saying that Hellboy was actually, you know, the hero of the movie.

I don't believe it.

But back to the completely solid and hellfire-tight argument I was making, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Industriable MacGuffin are great Halloween movies. Because although they may not be a 'pure' horror movies, the tropes of horror movies and literature, especially horror monsters, are fused into every fibre of their being.

Like, there are creepy things doing creepy things. For example, following the opening credits in the first movie, a blood sacrifice is used to resurrect the actual bad guy (i.e. not Hellboy), Rasputin. As in, that guy who couldn't be killed after he was shot, hang, stabbed, castrated, and drowned. A necromancer who mixes science with black magic in order to do evil things like summon elder gods beyond our comprehension into our realm of reality.

Did I mention that he was working with Nazis at the beginning of the film? Because he totally is. And that opening scene looks like a rain-drenched fanfic crossover between Frankenstein's laboratory- all bulbs, levers, and electricity everywhere- and a black magic/satanic ritual. Which is a tricky look to pull off, but they wear it well.

The glowing blue inter-dimensional portal is a striking touch that is very in this year.

However, part of what makes the Hellboy movies great Halloween movies is that they about monsters. Now that sounds like a silly point, but think about traditional Halloween costumes. They are nearly always monsters. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. Throw in some witches and that poor kid who just doesn't understand why dressing in a Nazi outfit isn't really okay and offensive. But why this is important is because the Hellboy movies understand the allure of a well-designed monster and provide their spin on classic horror monsters.

And when I say 'they put their spin', I mean Guillermo del Toro puts his spin on classic horror monsters. That's the director of The Devil's Backbone, Blade II (aka. the best Blade movie) and Pan's Labyrinth. If the names of those movies mean anything to you, you know that this guy knows his horror. And he also did a little movie called Pacific Rim, one of the most fun kaiju monster movies ever, just if he needed even more monster credentials.

Like the comic it is based on, the first Hellboy movie is a love letter to Lovecraftian horror. A Lovecraftian letter. Most of the monsters are all tentacles and anatomy that doesn't makes sense, existing outside human comprehension.

His name might be Sammael but all I can think is "How the hell?"

There are references to Elder Gods and creatures from another dimension too terrible to behold. There are unanswered questions, Hellboy often doesn't understand the series of events he finds himself in, refusing to acknowledge, or even learn, about his supposed destiny. There is also slime.

Lovecraftian horror tends to focus on slime over blood and the final tentacle boss battle has that in spades. Just like an alien shot by Will Smith, the hentai girl nightmare that Hellboy fights at the end of the movie explodes with slime being splattered everywhere rather blood or a healthy helping of guts. How much is a healthy helping of guts, I hear you ask? Well, you really should consult with your doctor for your dietary requirements, but I would say all them. All the guts.

But aside from displaying a crafty love for Lovecraftian horror, the first movie also features evil Nazis! Nazis often make the best villains since they're one of the few villains based on real world people that pose little to no ideological or cultural issues when cast as the bad guys. Nazis are universally deemed evil due to a thing that happened which everyone knows about and if you don't, my heart is sad. Sad for you. Please read a book and follow this up, your ignorance is showing and it's impolite to flash that in public. 

However, this talk about Nazis leads to Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, aka that badass Nazi assassin with the blades.

"Why, yes, I am completely badass. And an assassin. A Nazi assassin."

Because Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (International Badass Law dictates that he must be referred to his full name at all times) can be seen as a reverse Frankenstein's monster. Where Frakenstein's monster was constructed of deceased body parts stitched and sown together as a means to reanimate flesh and create life, Karl Ruprecht Kroenen has surgically stitched his body to prolong his life and avoid death.

Here is Professor Broom's report on Karl Ruprecht Kroenen:

"Subject, Karl Ruprecht Kroenen. Born in Munich, 1897. Suffered from a masochistic compulsion commonly known as "surgical addiction". Both eyelids surgically removed, along with his upper and lower lip, making speech impossible. The blood in his veins dried up decades ago. Only dust remains.

Four broken vertebrae. A steel rod inserted into his pelvis kept him upright... what horrible will could keep such a creature as this alive?" 


What horrible will? A badass one, that's what horrible will.

Since only a badass such as Karl Rupretch Kroenen could make it okay for that poor kid who just doesn't understand why dressing in a Nazi outfit is offensive I mentioned earlier to make his costume not offensive. Just add goggles, a gimp mask, and some knifes to his forearms, all of a sudden, his costume is a sweet Karl Rupretch Kroenen cosplay.

Nailed it. No more offense shall be given on this day through my ignorance.

Now between the two Hellboy movies, del Toro made Pan's Labyrinth, which is a superb fantasy horror movie that deserves its own review since it's just that amazing. But the point is, the growth that del Toro made as a filmmaker between the two Hellboy movies is palpable and the influence of Pan's Labyrinth is keenly felt on Hellboy II. This comes across in the sturdier story-telling and rich interaction between the characters, who only feel more fleshed out on the sequel.

But it is particularly noticeable in the focus on fantasy folklore and the design of the monsters. Where the first Hellboy is all Nazi assassins and Lovecraftian horrors, the second film is about magical creatures like elves and trolls, legends from days of lore with kings and war between humanity and mythical creatures. Elements of the plot are taken from fairytales.

There is also a wide-eyed sense of wonder with the fantastical. The scene where they first enter the Troll Market invokes similar feelings of curiosity and excitement at the sight and sounds around that the first Harry Potter did when Harry first saw Diagon Alley. And this wonder reaches its peak with the Earth Element, which is wonderfully designed and whose death is one of the most beautiful deaths of a monster in cinematic history.

It looks like Christmas. A gorgeous, foresty Christmas.

Now, that doesn't quite tie into my persuasive and totally legit argument that the Hellboy movies are great Halloween movies all that much, but I couldn't write a post on Hellboy II without mentioning that scene. What does tie into the main point of this article is the design of the creatures in Hellboy II.

It's like every creature was designed to be the most perfect and unique version of that creature. The elves look like elves but not really like any other elves seen elsewhere, with the red eyeliner and odd wrinkle lines on their still smooth faces. In the Troll Market, there is a scroll master who has a castle for a head! A castle for a head and yet it looks like he could exist. That's the thing all these creatures are so well designed they look as though they could be real, not merely imaginative creations.

But the thing that sticks out for me as a direct influence or carry-over from Pan's Labyrinth is creatures with eyes where eyes don't usually go. Remember the Pale Man?

Everybody remembers the Pale Man.

Well, see how his eyes aren't where eyes generally go? How they are, in fact, in his hands? Eyes usually go in eye sockets in the face. His don't.

You know who else doesn't have their eyes on their face?

"Is it me?"

The Angel of Death from Hellboy II. Look at that, eyes all over the place, except where they should be.

Now, all of the wonderful creatures, monsters and fairy folk alike, in the Hellboy movies would make great costumes. I mean, I forgot to even mention Johann Kraus who is a steampunk wet dream in a gas powered Iron Man suit.

The point of all this is to say, the Hellboy movies are great and really should be considered essential Halloween viewing. They're steeped in horror (Lovecraftian and otherwise), have amazing monsters, beautiful creatures, and although I didn't talk about it since I was trying to sell you on the horror thing, they are really funny.

So, watch them this Halloween. At the very least, they'll give you some awesome costume ideas for next year.


References:

Hellboy Wikipedia page

Hellboy (character) - The Hellboy Wiki

Hellboy (comic book series) - The Hellboy Wiki

Hellboy (film) Wikipedia page

Hellboy II: The Golden Army Wikipedia page

Lovecraftian Horror Wikipedia

Hollywood is Right to Turn Down "Hellboy 3"

About Me

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This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

I am here to tell that your search is over. I am indeed the correct Caleb for any given situation. Parties, hunter-gatherings, long walks on the beach, shindigs, guest appearances, and so much more. I am an multi-purpose Caleb guaranteed to impress friends and influence your uncle.

I also write stuff online.