Castlevania (2017) Review


If you review media long enough there will inevitably come a point where your opinion will drastically differ from the general critical consensus. Well, after watching Castlevania I found myself in this exact predicament. Upon finishing Castlevania’s measly four episodes I was livid at how poorly made it was, at how stunningly mediocre the whole “season” ended up being. To my surprise, or maybe dismay, a cursory look on the internet revealed I was in the minority. It wasn’t hailed as a masterpiece, but it was generally received with positivity.

For background, Castlevania is based off a video game series of the same name (many entries of which I’ve played) and more specifically Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The show, like the game, follows Trevor Belmont, a descendent of the heroic monster-hunting Belmont family who in recent years have been exiled from the church and society. He teams up with a mystic named Sypha and Dracula’s rogue vampire son Alucard to defeat Dracula and his demon hordes. Where the show deviates is in its explanation why: that the Christian Church burned Dracula’s doctor (and human) wife Lisa for “witchcraft.” With nothing left to make him happy, Dracula decides to burn it all to the ground, giving the people of Wallachia one year before he summons his armies from Hell and kills every last one of them. Not surprisingly, they waste their year and the country is slowly overrun by horrifying demons.

Now there are many ways to read this series: as an anime-influenced Western cartoon, as a gory horror fantasy show, as the latest Netflix original series, or (perhaps least interestingly, but most importantly) as a video game adaptation. In its favor as a horror fantasy show, it does have a somewhat interesting premise even if the story that follows is riddled with cliches. As a Netflix original series, it had really strong subdued performances by actors who do a good job with material that is only occasionally witty or engaging. As an anime-influenced Western cartoon, its character designs and background art are adequate and its fight scenes have really interesting stunts (mostly thanks to the whip combat, an underused weapon in media), but its animation is severely lacking. As a video game adaptation, it’s not a complete dumpster fire which immediately makes it one of the best adaptations of all time.

It’s easy to see why people enjoy Castlevania. Expectations were low going in, it does just enough things well that it’s not obviously bad, and it utilizes a few easy hooks, like gore and fight scenes, for people to latch on to. As a Castlevania fan, I’m well aware that it could have been way worse. As a film junkie and animation nerd, I can’t ignore that this does not mean that it’s very good. Looking back on my experience though, I can soundly point to one factor that absolutely ruined it for me and, if you read the rest of this review, may ruin it for you as well.

So let’s get this out of the way: don’t watch Castlevania… yet. It’s a very mediocre show all around, but it has a lot of promise. Unfortunately, at only four episodes it’s barely the first act in a larger story and doesn’t end in a remotely satisfying way. Once season two comes out in an ungodly amount of time, give the whole thing a watch. Until then? Don’t bother teasing yourself.

Alright now on to the no-fun part. So in the second episode of Castlevania, there’s a bar fight and it was during this scene that I noticed something. The rhythm of the fight was… off. The action would pause and then rush through a flurry of movement, an exchange of punches would be a tad too slow, the characters would react with just a half second more time than what felt natural. I tried to ignore it, assuming that this was because the characters were drunk, but even after that fight, this poor rhythm continued. It was noticeable in every sequence, be it the establishing shots, demons terrorizing the town, what should be standard dialogue, and, worst of all, every single fight scene. There would be a handful of times where I could ignore it, where I could buy back into the verisimilitude, but for the most part, this nagging thought consumed me: Castlevania is slowwwwww.

I mean “slow” in every single cinematic sense of the word. It’s infuriating. Every establishing or non-character centric shot is held a second too long, making it abundantly clear when those spaces are empty. The demons feel more like a few stragglers than an army, the citizens feel like a smattering of extras rather than a city, the scenery feels less like a world and more like a backdrop. These are all understandable limitations of the budget, but you’re supposed to cut fast enough that people don’t notice the details and Castlevania‘s uncomfortably long shots only highlighted them.

In dialogue scenes there’s an extra beat before characters react or in between lines, making those aforementioned subdued performances just boring to listen to. Which alone is a shame, but it also reveals how cyclical the dialogue can be, with the characters discussing the same things over and over again.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a big kung fu fan, but this pacing issue is the worst during fight scenes. The fights generally play out as clumsy exchanges of blows, with pauses for characters to react or retaliate that last for a beat or two longer than they should and even a few instances of the attacks themselves being slow. Now, I should emphasize that the whip combat is genuinely really cool, and the stunts that Belmont pulls are clever. Unfortunately, they often pass by so fast that you can barely enjoy them. It’s hard to tell if it actually is edited too quickly or if it’s edited at a normal pace and the rest is so slow that it causes a kind of whiplash (no pun intended).

Now as a disclaimer, this could all be on me. I could have a particular mindset or have watched some media recently that clashes in timing with how Castlevania was made. If I were to speculate though, I would say there are two possibilities as to how Castlevania ended up this way, the most probable being inexperience. It’s hard, especially in animation, to get a sense of how individual shots will tie together until you’re editing a near complete cut and by then it might be too late. The main animation studios responsible for Castlevania have been around since the early 2000s, so this doesn’t seem likely. I can’t really judge the crew individually because a lot of smaller indy projects don’t end up on imdb, so who knows how experienced most of them are.

The other time I’ve seen this is in really cheap older anime that are trying to make the most out of their limited budget and pad out their run time. I’d prefer to think that is not what is happening here. I’d really like to think that Netflix was fine with the run time being whatever it needed to be, as they are with most of their shows, but it’s possible they weren’t. It’s possible they whoever had the money in this instance wanted a standard 20-minute show and wanted at least four episodes. Who knows?

Regardless of why, this is an enjoyment-breaking factor for me. It distracts from the writing and the acting, plus it ruins the action and general pacing. It makes a mediocre show insufferable. Hopefully, season two improves. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t. As I said before, once more episodes come out then give it a chance, but skip Castlevania for now. It’s just not worth it.

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Superman (1978) Essay

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Cinema de Super Part 1b; Read the review here

Our journey through cinematic super-hero-dom begins appropriately with Superman (1978). Superman the character kicked off super-hero comics and the success of Superman the movie proved that comic book films could be a viable investment, although this wasn’t acted on until a decade after the fact. Being so far removed from our other entries means that it’s distinct, but still familiar. It’s a relic of a different era, one where red curtains unfolded both in front of the screen and in it. The tradition of Cecil B. Demille stepping out to set the stage is in this case replaced with a kid reading an issue of Action Comics. Superman had the unique task of elevating comic books to a serious and convincing cinematic level – for the first time. Batman (1989) and its followers didn’t have to do this. This task rests solely on the shoulders of Superman and, by extension, director Richard Donner. The film itself isn’t just a relic, but Donner makes it about them as well. The advertising campaign for Superman boasted that “You will believe a man can fly,” and indeed Donner tries his hardest to convince you of this. He contrasts the wholesome 1940s character against the far more chaotic 1970s. He doesn’t force these two worlds into a confrontation, but rather merely acknowledges the campiness of the hero in order to make you accept him as “reality.” Seeing Superman wave to an afro-touting disco dude and stop down-to-earth crime like tube-sock-wearing bank robbers and a high-rise-scaling cat burglar is entertaining, sure, but what really sells the film as something more than just “the funny pages” is the man in the bright red, blue, and yellow suit himself: Christopher Reeve.

I grew up with the Reeve Superman movies. I used to run around in a Superman cape at my Grandma’s house, with Superman IV: Quest for Peace playing in the background for the 700th time. When the Hollywood Video down the street from us closed, the sole thing I bought from their soon-to-be-discarded stock was an old VHS of Superman. While Tim Daly is iconic and Brandon Routh looks the part, Christopher Reeve is my Superman. His grin as he swoops through the air to the sounds of John Williams score is Superman to me. That’s the character in a nutshell.

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What Reeve brings to the role, and what makes it work, is ultimately the same aspects that make the film itself work. There’s this undeniable charm and instinctual genuinity that emanates from him at all times. Chuckles are elicited as he bumbles through the Daily Planet’s office, but we can see the layers of Kent’s facade. He may be over-playing the nice guy, but he genuinely wants to be one as well, which makes the constant pushback against him all the more heartbreaking. When he dons his cape a lot of the personality and humanity of Clark Kent is lost, but with a smile Reeve makes you understand that Superman isn’t supposed to be human, he’s an icon.

The film reflects these qualities as well, with Donner pouring charisma and honesty into each part of the film. Donner knows it’s campy material, but instead of playing up that camp like the 60s Batman series, he presents it to you straight, merely asking you to play along. The film deserves this investment, and Donner tries his hardest to reward you. The beginning section on Krypton could have been played off as cheesy sci-fi, thrown in for five minutes before moving on to “the good stuff.” However, Donner holds you in this world, subtly implying its politics, technology, and society. It’s taken seriously, and this validity is also given to the very situation that Jor-El and Lara are in: sending their son to another world to avoid his death. The two bounce points off each other: Jor-El insisting that at least he will survive, Lara lamenting his inevitable loneliness. This somber moment is powerful and gives their death, along with the planet’s destruction, the weight it deserves.

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It’s easy for writers to get carried away with how alien Superman is, but at the core of his origin is an anchor of humanity: his childhood in Smallville. The rather light-hearted and seemingly pointless scenes of Clark’s daily life weigh heavily on the rest of the film for they are our reminder that Clark Kent is Superman, not the other way around. The alien world of endless ice and snow is a far cry from Kansas, but the endless fields of crops serve the same purpose. It isolates Clark, protects him, and makes his relationships with his family and friends all the more important. These relationships are tested and ultimately shattered when Jonathan Kent dies, but not before passing on some wisdom that alludes to just how great a father he was. In grief we transition from the isolation of Smallville to the literal isolation of the Fortress of Solitude. Here Clark goes through that essential transition to adulthood, with both Jonathan and Jor-El as his guiding voices.

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This isolation is broken, and not quietly, as we finally swoop into Metropolis, bombarded by the crowds of people, the honking cars, and the fast pace of not just the city, but the people therein. We’re re-introduced to Clark as well as the rest of the iconic cast and for me this ten minutes is a rare treat to watch or, more precisely, listen to. Donner steps back and lets the actors and the script take over, as the clear and concise writing gets across to us who the characters are and what they’re like with all the ease of a comic, but without the cheesy over-explanatory dialogue. It’s the kind of character writing that deals in archetypes, not cliches or stereotypes. A rare thing indeed.

An hour in, the slow burn is rewarded, for the introduction of Superman is careful, intentional, and marvelous. For Superman, the things he does during this debut night aren’t particularly spectacular when you consider the source material. So Donner focuses on the everyday people instead, emphasizing their wonder and amazement. These scenes breach into corniness occasionally, but the disbelief and stunned attitude these characters have reflects how most of us would react, albeit nowadays with a phone in our hands.

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The film must have an actual conflict though, and thus Lex Luthor kicks his real estate scam into action. It’s in the interactions of him and his two goons that we feel the oppressions of campiness. Gene Hackman does a brilliant Luthor, yes, but he’s weighed down by the scripts emphasis on him berating the mistakes of the buffoon Otis. Going back to Donner’s compromises, this is the big one. These were not the days where people would just accept mutants fighting each other or a man in an iron suit fighting aliens, after all Star Wars had come out just a year earlier. So Donner makes Superman comedic, and more obviously so than the witty dialogue that persists through the rest of the film. This does succeed at making the film more accessible, especially for kids, but it leaves the last act lacking the weight the rest of the film has.

In fact the whole climax lacks punch until Lois Lane’s car gets trapped in an avalanche. Superman finds her dead and Reeve’s performance during this scene is interesting. This is an important lesson for Clark to learn- that he can’t save everyone, even those he loves. His rage at himself and at the world comes across clearly and legitimately, but his scream of anger does seem over the top.

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The ending is infamously the largest logical fallacy in the plot that Superman has. It’s, of course, impossible to turn back time by changing the earth’s rotation. Regardless of the visual representation, Superman has gone back through time in the comics and considering this film came out just 10 short years after his adventures with Streaky the Super-Cat, I’d say it could be a lot worse. In fact this ending is thematically interesting. Superman is in mid-flight when the voices of his fathers pop into his head, Jor-El repeating over and over that it is forbidden and Pa Kent affirming that Clark is here for a greater purpose. Clark pushes on, turns back time, and saves Lois. This is a selfish act, the only one. The one moment where Clark uses his powers for himself, not for others. This isn’t simply courting Lois Lane, this is actually changing the world. Because he can. And he wants to. Just this once. It’s one final confirmation that Superman may be from another planet, but he is human. He can be blinded by love. He can disobey his parents. Just like the rest of us.

ae9a1121a1a06381-dc_comics_superman_christopher_reeve_desktop_1024x768_wallpaper1073650For me, 45 years removed, Superman is still one of the best super-hero movies ever made. Perhaps it’s the fact that standards hadn’t been “set” for adapting this material, allowing for the kind of experimentation that proliferated the 1970s and created several great films like this one. Donner takes the source material seriously and presents it earnestly. He seeks not to overwhelm you with spectacle, but to convince you to believe in what small spectacle there is and, paramountly, believe in its hero. Any six year old can walk out of a super-hero film in love with said hero, but it takes a real special film to do the same for adults. Perhaps it’s because Donner and Reeve don’t emphasize that Superman is a hero, rather they let you fill in the blanks as he earns that title. Perhaps it’s because of the love of the audience that emits not just from Donner’s film, but from Reeve’s Superman. Whatever the reason, you can be sure that while Superman may say goodbye with a salute and a wink, he’ll be back whenever we need him most.

Superman (1978) Review

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Cinema de Super Part 1

In the wash of super-hero epics in theaters these days, it’s hard to look at Superman (1978) as anything but a relic. It’s slower and cheaper sure, but the very way it tackles the subject matter is old-fashioned as Superman had the unique task of elevating comic books to a serious (and profitable) cinematic level – for the first time. The advertising campaign for Superman boasted that “You will believe a man can fly,” and indeed director Richard Donner tries his hardest to convince you of this. He contrasts the wholesome 1940s character against the far more chaotic 1970s. He doesn’t force these two worlds into a confrontation, but rather merely acknowledges the camp of the hero in order to make you accept him as “reality.” Seeing Superman wave to an afro-touting disco dude and stop semi-normal criminals like tube-sock-wearing bank robbers is entertaining, sure, but what really sells the premise as something more than just “the funny pages” is the man in the bright red, blue and yellow suit himself: Christopher Reeve.

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What Christopher Reeve brings to the role, and what makes it work, is ultimately the same aspects that make the film itself work. There’s this undeniable charm and instinctual genuinity that emanates from him at all times. Chuckles are elicited as he bumbles through the Daily Planet’s office, but we can see the layers of Kent’s facade. He may be over-playing the nice guy, but he genuinely wants to be one as well, which makes the constant pushback against him all the more heartbreaking. When he dons his cape a lot of the personality and humanity of Clark Kent is lost, but with a smile Reeve makes you understand that Superman isn’t supposed to be human, he’s an icon.

The film reflects these qualities as well, with Donner pouring charisma and honesty into each part of the film. He knows it’s campy material, but instead of playing up that camp like the 60s Batman series, Donner presents it to you straight, merely asking you to play along. The film deserves this investment, and he tries his hardest to reward you. This is probably best exhibited during the Krypton scenes, which could have been played off as cheesy sci-fi, thrown in for five minutes before moving on to “the good stuff.” However, Donner holds you in this world, subtly implying its politics, technology, and society. It’s taken seriously and this validity is also given to the very situation that Jor-El and Lara are in: sending their son to another world to avoid his death. The two bounce points off each other – Jor-El insisting that at least he will survive, Lara lamenting his inevitable loneliness. This somber moment is powerful and gives their death, along with the planet’s destruction, the weight it deserves.

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A fundamental component of what makes Superman work is its wit, which fully develops once we get to Metropolis. We’re (re)introduced to Clark as well as the rest of the iconic cast and they promptly begin to bounce off of each other with speed and, more importantly, ease. It’s that kind of subtle comedy that’s often a byproduct of actually writing archetypes, not cliches and stereotypes. This clever dialogue extends to Superman’s debut night and the amusing interactions between him and the dumbstruck public are entertaining enough that they could have made up the rest of the film, no problem.

ae9a1121a1a06381-dc_comics_superman_christopher_reeve_desktop_1024x768_wallpaper1073650There must be actual conflict though, and thus Lex Luthor kicks his real estate scam into action. It’s in the interactions of him and his two goons that we feel the oppression of camp. Gene Hackman does a brilliant Luthor, yes, but he’s weighed down by the scripts emphasis on him berating the moronic Otis. This is an unfortunate compromise on Donner’s part. These were not the days where people would just accept mutants fighting each other or a man in an iron suit fighting aliens, after all Star Wars had come out just a year earlier. So Donner had to make Superman comedic and more obviously so then the aforementioned witty dialogue. While this does succeed at making the film more accessible, especially for kids, it leaves the last act lacking the weight the rest of the film has.

Relic or not, Superman is stands tall as one of the best super-hero movies ever made, even 45 years later. Perhaps it’s because Donner takes the source material seriously (in spite of its flaws) and presents it earnestly. He seeks not to overwhelm you with spectacle, but to convince you to believe in what small spectacle there is and, paramountly, believe in its hero. Any six year old can walk out of a super-hero film in love with said hero, but it takes a real special film to do the same for adults. Thanks to the well-crafted film backing him, Christopher Reeve’s Superman is forever embedded in generations of fans, both young and old, as their Superman.

Dangan Ronpa (2013) Three Episode Review (Redux)

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The original post is located here and was originally published September 6th, 2013.

Just for clarification this is a review of the first three episodes. After approximately an hour of material, the creators should have established story, characters, and style and thus certain, albeit limited, conclusions can be made about the show. Judge the following opinions on this basis, but to continue watching the show past this point is a waste of time.

Visual novels are a common form of entertainment amongst Otaku in Japan, but they rarely make their way over here. The best comparison that can be made is a choose-your-own-adventure book mixed with a video game. You choose paths to follow, but that’s the extent of the interactivity. By having multiple stories, visual novels are inherently tricky to adapt. Several shows have gotten around this, like Steins;Gate and Higurashi: When They Cry, but most shows just opt for one path or a blend of a few notable ones. Theoretically, Dangan Ronpa would be easier to adapt, playing more like an never-ending game of Clue and television is no stranger to murder mysteries.

Dangan Ronpa: The Animation is the story of freshman high school student, Makoto Naegi, who somehow managed to get into Hope Academy, one of the most respected schools in the country. Upon arrival he finds himself and the other students trapped in the mechanizations of a psychotic, reality defying teddy bear named Monokuma that acts as their principal. Instead of math or science, the only taught in this school is survival. In order to “graduate” and thus escape, the student must kill someone, and escape the judgement of their fellow students who are tasked to find the killer. Everyone is reluctant at fist, but things escalate quickly as bodies pile up.

In terms of adaptation, the character models and environment look spot on, in all of its bland and awkward glory. The animation only becomes interesting during the “punishment” scenes, where it into a hyperactive mix of 2D models and 3D environments. It seems this was intended to make the violence on screen seem more tame, but that implies that something horrific would be shown, which never happens.

The pacing of Dangan Ronpa is inconsistent, shifting from boring talking heads to “tense” confrontations between the students and Monokuma. The cinematography and editing can easily be compared in these moments to a bad 90s MTV music video. This falsely “exciting” filmmaking is applied to a basic Battle Royale premise, with one-note characters and dialogue that shifts from dull and pointless to nonsensically revelatory at a moment’s notice.

Watching Dangan Ronpa is very much like watching someone play the visual novel. From an adaptation standpoint they succeeded, but that doesn’t mean that said adaptation is interesting or worth watching. When playing a visual novel you are engaging in the story, but watching anime leaves you a passive observer. Dangan Ronpa doesn’t do anything to overcome this, leaving the core of each episode essentially characters standing around talking and not bothering to actual develop their protagonist, leaving him a bland audience stand-in. It’s only a small comfort to know that at some point a random event will interrupt the repetitive dialogue to move the plot along in a way that might make sense, if you weren’t so bored that you aren’t paying attention. If the premise of Dangan Ronpa seems interesting then just watch a let’s play, don’t bother with this one.

Cinema de Super: An Introduction

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I grew up with super-heroes. I had Batman pajamas, I played with my Spider-man action figure constantly, and I mourned the day I had to throw out my Superman shorts. It was inevitable that I’d end up reading comic books, but only my parents could have predicted that they’d be all I’d read for the next four years. My reading rate slowed in high school, but that’s only because my focus shifted to film. To take a cue from Tezuka, if cinema is my wife than comic books are my mistress. When the Marvel movies started to come out, I was the first amongst my friends (or possibly anyone) to tout that they’d be the biggest thing ever. I waited four long years for The Avengers to come out and after it did… well that’s a story for later. Regardless, in the past couple years I’ve found my enthusiasm for the big screen versions of my favorite characters waning.

My interest in these films has continued to an academic one (see my previous essay) and I’m not alone. In fact I’d say the attention paid and weight given to these films academically is… far greater than the evidence given. That being said, super-hero films are, in many ways, quite fascinating.


It’s been claimed that super-hero films are a genre and, while I wouldn’t go that far, they certainly qualify as at least a sub-genre. Yes, they have their own sets of tropes, character archetypes, and story arcs, but the stories themselves aren’t nearly as iconic and flexible like horror, mystery, or romance. Their origins are muddy and complex, much like another famous genre: the western. While the western is more reliant on location, it still has a set of themes, stories, and characters that it frequently deals with. That being said, you can still categorize most western stories in genres like adventure, drama, or romance. Similarly, most super-hero films obviously fit into sci-fi or fantasy, but also adventure, drama, comedy, or romance. Despite all this, to call super-hero films a “genre” feels a little off for me. Why is that?

Like a lot of other genres, super-hero films are adaptations more often than not. However, unlike the aforementioned Western, super-hero films are by definition adaptations. Super-hero films are specifically and intentionally based off the comics from which the genre itself arose. It’s been noted that genres go through cycles, and if you look at even something as small as horror, which constantly goes through cycles of adapting formulas and then rejecting them, you can see this. However, super-hero films constantly buck these rules, with films that would be considered post-modern takes on older stories coming out before more classical films. This is because in its original medium, comic books, “super-hero” is an actual genre, not sub-genre, that has already gone through its cycles. Batman’s gone from goofy (50s and 60s), to slightly darker (70s and 80s), to incredibly dark (Late 80s and 90s), to lighter but more complex (Late 90s and 00s), to darker and simpler (10s). If you looked at the movies you’d see that Batman started campy (‘66), swung far darker (‘89 & ‘Returns’), got progressively lighter (‘Forever’ & ‘and Robin’), then straight back to a far more realistic cynicism (Nolan trilogy). With far less creative entries, this progression makes proportionally less sense. The cycles are there somewhat, but they’re more financially than creatively driven.

It’s hard to call the super-hero genre evolving when the stories that are considered deconstructive caps on the genre, like Watchmen and Kick-Ass, come out before genre keystones like The Avengers. Without an ample material to derive examples from, a long enough time span (the actual beginning of the sub-genre in earnest is sometime between 25-15 years ago), or clearly present cycles, it’s hard for me to classify super-hero films as anything but a sub-genre. Perhaps if they survive the upcoming bubble burst, but if not they will remain a soon forgotten trend like 70s disaster movies. Without the typical story-based cycles present to steer the future of super-hero films, we really have no clue as to what its future is at all. Perhaps by looking through the history of this awkward and fledgling sub-genre we can find some patterns that will give us a vision of the future.

That being said, this is the very long introduction to one such retrospective. Over the course of god knows how long, I’ll be watching every notable theatrically released super-hero film, from 1978 to the present. In total I’ll be covering about 70 films, the names of won’t be revealed until the review itself comes out. We’ll see if I can make it. Each film will get an approximately 800 word review that’s formally written, but if the film strikes me a certain way it’ll will warrant an additional longer, and more personal, essay. I’ve seen most of these films before, but not for a long time, so this will be as much a trip through film as it is through my childhood. I hope you’ll join me on what will hopefully be an interesting journey.

Assembly Line Heroics: The Death of Morality in the Superhero Film

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This is an incomplete essay I wrote for class. The last paragraph was written for this posting, but the rest is intact. Also before we get into the article, check out my new facebook page where I’ll be posting all my reviews, sharing related articles, and asking questions that will be incorporated into new editorials!

The iconography of the superhero is important to our culture, modern myths that exist in the back of our subconscious as relics of childhood. They’re fundamental in the creation of morals in children as well as exposing them to reading and literature. Born on the cusp of World War II, superheroes and their stories has evolved from simple parables of good and evil to complex or convoluted universes and epics tying together every theme and gimmick within science fiction and fantasy. Due to each character being handled by dozens to hundreds of creators, their mythos isn’t clear cut, but within the ambiguity can remain a core, a “gist” that each child picks up instinctively. Superman is the warm protective boy scout, Batman is the dark avenger of crime (and occasionally protector of the weak), Captain America is the stranger in a strange land, here to remind us of our past, and Spider-man is the journey to and through adulthood twisted by tragedy. To take these heroes, ultimately the sums of the decades of parts, and accurately translate them to screen is truly no easy task. Comics demand participation, forcing you to fill in not only the gaps in continuity, but gaps in action due to the format of serialized pictorial storytelling (McCloud). Cinema fills in the gaps for you and asks a lot less of you in terms of participation, but asks more of you in terms of suspending disbelief since cinema is a far more “realistic” medium than comics.

This paradox of realism and faithfulness to the source material has plagued comic book films since the beginning. In the 20th century films took a variety of approaches, from the incredibly faithful 1978 Superman, to the intentionally distant 1989 Batman. In the early 2000s starting with X-Men there was an attempt to be fairly faithful to the comics, if not in content then in tone. Starting with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and brought to the forefront with Iron Man, superhero films started feeling less like their comic counterparts. Iron Man and The Dark Knight made 2008 the turning point in superhero films. Iron Man’s gross of over $300 million would set in motion the rest of the Marvel films to come, and The Dark Knight’s box office and critical success would bring superhero films to the forefront.

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Now the fact that these two specific films mark the turning point is an important fact. The Dark Knight is perhaps the least “comic booky” comic book film ever made, passing over the melodrama for a battle of ideologies, and avoiding super-weapons for regular acts of domestic terrorism. Iron Man is far more standard in its story, but thanks partially to its star, Robert Downey Jr., and its director, Jon Favreau, Iron Man feels drastically different from its comic book counterpart. The Iron Man comics were occasionally jokey, yes, but for the most part they were standard comic book fare and took itself seriously in the process. Iron Man is a light and fun film, with its Tony Stark being a wisecracking smartass who makes the film with his charismatic performance. The setting is updated so that Stark is captured in the Middle East and his enemy is a terrorist group. He spends most of the movie developing the suit and he finds himself clashing with the military on his first outing. The film remains fairly down to earth in this way, until the final act where Obadiah Stane puts on his super-suit and dukes it out with Iron Man. Just when it seems like the film will end on a standard note, Tony Stark reveals he’s Iron Man, breaking away from the longstanding secret identity he had in the comics. None of the Avengers have secret identities in fact, which is highly unusual considering how much of a cornerstone of the genre it is. Iron Man felt different from the previous comic book films, mostly because it was severely lacking in cheesiness, and more importantly it had a distinct style and tone to it that was different to its source material, much like Nolan’s Batman films did. It did all this without pissing off the fans and appealing to the mainstream audience.

With those origins established, let’s look back at the films that helped shape the current superhero film. First up is Thor, a daring venture brought to life by Shakespeare-enthusiast Kenneth Branagh. The film by all means shouldn’t exist, after all Thor has always been a character steeped in so much high fantasy and mythology that translation to the screen seems impossible, let alone in a majorly Christian country. Branagh and the slew of writers managed to take a few core themes: family, humility, love, and make the film about that over the hierarchy of Asgard or the religious details of how Yggdrasil works. The film grossed $181 million domestically and proved that concept has little bearing on success.

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Cut to The Avengers, the culmination of Marvel’s efforts to that point and the pay-off for the “gamble” that they and Disney made. It’s highly unlikely that audiences wouldn’t have went to an Avengers movie with the four years of anticipation they had, but it was still daring nonetheless. The skillful directing and writing of Joss Whedon, whose previous work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly made him a suitable choice to handle the team dynamic, made the film above par in character writing and dialogue even if the story was a little lacking. Avengers carried the same balance of humor and action that the Iron Man series had and took the different tones of all the previous films and amalgamated them into one. After The Avengers both the look and the tone of the subsequent films would be far more similar, especially in their marketing.

The following year saw success on DC’s part with the release of Man of Steel. Successful at the box office despite its dislike from critics, Man of Steel applied the aesthetic and tonal style of Nolan’s trilogy to the mythos of Superman. The result created a massive divide between fans, but it made money nonetheless, providing DC with the foothold in the market they needed to compete with Marvel to at least some degree. The darkening of Superman, a fairly light character in his other adaptations, gave a clear indication that superheroes on the screen wouldn’t even need to follow the spirit of the original. Between Man of Steel and The Avengers, the massively destructive climax battle has now become a staple of the subgenre, but that’ll be addressed later.

As Adorno cites, all pop culture is standardized product of the cultural industry, and superhero films are now the epitome of this. With the industrial pressures and audience enthusiasm, superhero movies are are hardly art, for they now resemble commodities far more. This process of standardization has been ongoing, but in retrospect it was inevitable.

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What made these characters interesting was how unique they are, and their teaming up is supposed to be a mash-up of distinctly different superheroes working together despite their differences. In the homogenized world of the Marvel cinematic universe and the upcoming DC cinematic universe, these characters own films are barely different from each other, let alone the characters themselves.

The cinematic superhero is no longer the superhero we grew up on. The cinematic superhero no longer emphasizes morals above all else, no matter what those morals may be. The cinematic superhero is far less hero and far more super. In the turning point in the latest superhero trend, superhero films changed from being that of tight comic adaptations with the themes therein intact and more about an action film with capes and masks. The super hero became less of an individual who looks over us and more the last man standing. Reflected in Iron Man, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, not only has this representation become more popular in use, but naturally box office as well. The ideological and moral ramifications of the hero have been stripped away from them in exchange for making them rock stars for us to worship and wish we were rather than the acknowledge the struggle of being.

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The turning point in the success/popularity of superhero films was 2008’s Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. Clear separation from character starts with RD’s charming and sarcastic portrayal of Tony Stark. His one-liners never end, even as his character “grows.” At the end of the film, he is still the playboy billionaire with a drinking problem, but now he wants to help people at the same time, presumably to stroke his own ego. The relatively honest and serious origins in the cave are quickly swept aside for the sequence of Tony tinkering with the suit and finally having a blast flying around. Followed around by a soundtrack by AC/DC as well as extras doting on him at every turn, Tony Stark is a celebrity and his decision at the end of the film makes Iron Man a celebrity. As half-hearted as his secret identity was in the comics, it still provided him some degree of protection, if not from villains, then from the press. This Tony Stark forgoes this and in Iron Man 2, we see the fruits of this with bikini clad Iron-girls and auditorium of cheering fans.

In The Dark Knight, Batman wannabes walk the streets, literally fanboys of acting out their own fantasies. Bruce Wayne acts similarly to Tony Stark, parading around the upper class. In the comics we rarely see Bruce Wayne, and if we do it’s for some charity event, while in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight he enjoys certain splendours of upper class life in between his caped escapades.

In The Amazing Spider-man 2, the villain Electro’s origin is changed so that he’s a crazed fanboy of Spider-man’s. In The Avengers, the film ends on a note of people’s reactions, most positive, but they’re debated like celebrities. Captain America: The First Avenger has Cap first acting as a stage performer, the same tool of propaganda he was in real life.

A fundamental part of being a hero is surviving what’s thrown at you, but that comes secondary. This is perhaps most notably explained by looking at Man of Steel. The film’s destruction has been well-studied by scholars, particularly as a response to 9/11, however in context to the large battles in The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Dark World, Green Lantern, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier it becomes clear that massive amounts of destruction are par for the course, Man of Steel’s is merely the most excessive. There’s something entrancing about the last (wo)man standing and standing relatively unscathed in the crater that remains of Metropolis, Superman certainly fits that description. This glorification of perseverance in the face of ultimate destruction can be tied to 9/11 the same way the perseverance in the face of ultimate destruction that is kaiju in Japanese films can be tied to Hiroshima.

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Another component that goes hand in hand with this is the emphasis of stopping the bad guy, and the lack of emphasis on saving people. Avengers precariously walks this line, but barely pulls it off mostly due to the large cast being able to multitask and the previous experience writer/director Joss Whedon has working with hero teams. Man of Steel ignores the people, as does Iron Man 2.

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Guardians of the Galaxy may be the most recent example of all these trends appearing in one film, a sign of things to come, especially since this film was immensely popular. The team engage in mostly comical and charming banter, pompously parading around the universe. The soundtrack, which is extraordinarily utilized, iconizes them the say way the soundtrack in a Scorsese film would. In the climactic battle, thousands of Nova Corps members, essentially policemen, die, but little more than a single tear is given to them. The city is claimed to be evacuated, but shots of screaming civilians say otherwise. The heroes are too busy having a dance off to care though.

One merely needs to look at the latest chart of superhero films to see that there is no art behind this commerce. Like Madden video games, one or two will come out each year with little changes to message, theme, or even story. Even if one or two films manage to step outside the norm, it doesn’t matter. It’ll be one in a sea of many. Perhaps what has been said above is obvious, and yet each Marvel movie comes out and gets all the attention in the world. When film critics dare to argue against a superhero film, they are sent death threats. We as a culture are obsessed, and unfortunately we are obsessed with the equivalent of an ikea couch.

Found Footage or How Youtube Helped Kill Horror

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Cultural Studies essay I did a while back and totally forgot about. It’s a topic I’d like to go back to.

It’s hard to ignore horror movies, particularly around October, but nowadays there aren’t classic franchises in theaters we’ve all heard of, like Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. There have been only two large horror franchises in the past decade: Saw and Paranormal Activity. Saw is very much a progression of the natural trends of the horror genre and isn’t that appealing to a mainstream audience, but Paranormal Activity is widely known by most and is completely different then most horror before it. It’s what’s called a “found footage” movie, or a movie that is compiled from “discovered footage” supposedly recorded by our protagonists. It’s a relatively new format and one completely different from most horror. Why is it that this format emerged and why is it so popular? Looking at the society we live in today, it’s clear that found footage emerged to compete with the “hyper-realism” of events like 9/11 and the amateur, but still authentic, internet videos we’ve become used to.

To understand why trends in horror occur, one must look at the society in which they were created to see what fears the people had. In the 1950s we were still reflecting on World War II and the use of the atomic bomb. We in America were terrified of the destructive power we had harnessed and feared the potential of science because of it. Thus the science fiction monster movies were born. Through miracles of science some creature would be created, unearthed, or mutated into some giant monster that would destroy a few cities before we could stop it. At the same time the McCarthy trials were going on and the country was in the midst of the Red Scare. While this fear of outsiders is epitomized in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it can also be seen in any alien invasion film like The Day the Earth Stood Still or War of the Worlds (Wilson).

The 1960s were a time of rapidly changing values due to sexual, social, and drug liberation. We began to fear ourselves, uncertain of where the future would lead us and the War in Vietnam only added to the pressure. We saw films like Psycho, which was shockingly violent for the time, that showed us that the kind Mama’s boy Norman Bates was actually an insane killer. Night of the Living Dead is a film thats had many interpretations but it’s radically new story in a way reflects many of the tensions at the time by cooping up a variety of people (including a black man) inside a house with a deadly alien force trying to get in (Wilson). Sound like quite the metaphor of America to me.

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If we flash forward to the 1990s we see that our culture’s fascination with serial killers reaching a climax through films like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. The ‘90s were unusual in that there was (relatively) little going on in the world for us to be afraid of. The economy was sound and we weren’t wrapped up in a big war since the fall of the Soviet Union. Of course social issues were still there, but they were extensions of previous issues so there was little new to make horror out of. Thus we saw a rise in high concept horror and meta-horror, which played on the horror genre itself to get a reaction out of us. While there were successful entries like scream, the increasing pandering toward the teenage audience left horror dull and lifeless.

In the 2000s horror got its punch back, coinciding with one incredibly horrific event. 9/11 made everyone in America essentially wake up and realize that any day the world could come to an end. Horror films since then have struggled to have the impact that a real life horror like that had. It’s tried to do this in several ways, one being found footage, which can recreate “realism” unlike any horror film and in a film like Cloverfield or Chronicle can even play on our society’s memories of that day. Playing off a more broad feeling of “the end of the world,” zombie films like 28 Days Later exploded in popularity(Wilson). Another way horror tried to be more effective is through increased violence. Filmmakers felt they needed greater violence to make an impact and they succeeded, sparking a debate that only recently has died down.

The other landmark event that occurred in the ‘00s was the popularization of the internet and more relevantly, Youtube. The debut of Youtube in 2005 has had an obvious effect on the current generation. Now you can find clips of anything and everything. From crazy stunts, to “hauntings,” to actual murder. Thanks to the internet our generation has seen it all. However, due to the spread of information, everyone has seen the same things and this has given us a weird fascination with finding rare things in the corners of the internet that nobody has heard about. Creepypastas and other internet urban legends are a manifestation of this, punishing digital explorers the same way classic legends abuse those who venture into the woods.

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Found footage as a genre has its origins in documentary filmmaking, as that is the format it’s trying to mimic. Some of the earliest found footage movies stirred up major controversy because they created situations that one couldn’t get with a normal documentary. The most notable early found footage movie was Cannibal Holocaust (1980), which had many people convinced it was real. An Italian film about documentary crew who go to the amazon to research cannibal tribes before getting eaten themselves, Cannibal Holocaust was banned in over 50 countries. After an article in a magazine accused the movie of being a “snuff film” where the actors actually died, Ruggero Deodato, the director, was forced to appear in Italian court with the actors to prove that they weren’t in fact dead and explain how he pulled off certain effects. Every found footage film since then has to varying extents tried to mimic the realism that Cannibal Holocaust pulled off a little too well (Jensen).

Found footage remained relatively unused until in 1999 when a small independent film called The Blair Witch Project was released by Artisan pictures to an unsuspecting public. One of the first movies to be marketed using the internet, the Blair Witch website featured fake interviews and police reports, playing off the aforementioned internet exploration to attract audiences. People were still convinced that it was real walking out of the theaters, despite actors being listed in the credits (Jensen). Found footage became widely used in independent film after this, but nothing ever hit the mainstream the same way that Blair Witch did, until 2007’s Paranormal Activity. Unlike Blair Witch there were no false claims that Paranormal Activity was a real movie outside of the typical confusion from misinformed people, however Paranormal Activity did bring massive success to found footage and was one of the first rental hits at a new service called Redbox. The ability for mass distribution through the internet and services like Netflix and Redbox has allowed for the flood of independent movies inspired by Paranormal Activity to get attention from audiences and keep the genre going.

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Found footage films are unique by definition, defying standard cinematic conventions for the sake of realism. How close they are to real life or to a “real” documentary actually varies, as most documentaries are usually more carefully shot and edited then the typical found footage movie (Frappier). There are more similarities to home videos and youtube vlogs then actual documentaries, by nature of us following the protagonists around be they running or not. We’re so used to seeing amateurly shot videos thanks to these formats that we now interpret that as “real” over essentially anything else, making the way most found footage films are shot actually more effective.

We have a growing obsession with movies being “real.” This can be seen through many trends in culture but mostly in our media, which strives for immersion in order to be effective. One of the most popular comedy franchises of the past decade was Jack-ass, which had not plot or story, but was rather just footage of guys doing stupid stunts. The audience can find it funnier than the average comedy because we “know” it’s real.

In action movies there’s been the rise of “Chaos Cinema” where the film tries to disorient and over-stimulate the audience to get them excited. In a film like Transformers the action scenes are characterized by an overactive soundtrack, quick cuts and angles that limit your point of view. While one might think that limiting point-of-view would be counter-intuitive to film, our tolerance to online videos where we can’t see everything allows us to accept that we can’t understand what’s going on. I’d also argue that we’re increasingly becoming literate in amateur video, allowing us to interpret what’s going on in more chaotically shot movies better.

There are almost no movies that come out these days without some form of CGI to them. This is partially because CGI and special effects in general are heavily emphasized in society. With superhero movies you’ll hear about how good the CGI was, or at least you’ll hear how bad it was if it was poor quality. Cinema has become more of a spectacle as of late and that’s partially because we like things to look good and realistic. There are nominees to the Best Picture category of The Academy Awards almost every year solely because a film’s effects were really good.

Reality TV, while its rise can be traced to several other influences, is as effective as it is because it feels “real.” The characters on the show are supposedly real people and since it’s shot poorly, we believe it. There are several shows like The Office and Modern Family that try to mimic this, creating a documentary-like feel to their show that’s never actually acknowledged by the characters, but makes us feel like the show is more real nonetheless.

Another extension of Reality TV is the “Ghost-hunting show” which has become extremely popular over the past couple years. It’s a safer, but even more realistic form of the found footage movie, where the viewer can genuinely believe in what they see because so little happens in the shows. The use of handheld cameras to capture the small little unexplainable events feels real and intrigues us. Our own struggle with mortality post-9/11 has lead to a fascination with the afterlife and by extension ghosts.

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By limiting our perspective as a viewer to just the camera/main character, instead of the omniscient third person camera, we become completely immersed in the events unfolding. Cinema has been trying to achieve this immersion since its inception and is now succeeding thanks to the proliferation of point-of-view shots, tracking shots that follow the character, and a closely related technique of what’s called “Shaky-cam” or using handheld cameras to film simple dialogue or action scenes so it feels (again) more like a documentary (Frappier).

Found footage horror is extremely appealing to both studios and independent filmmakers. The Blair Witch Project was made for about $500,000-$700,000 and grossed $248 million. Paranormal Activity was purchased by Paramount Pictures for $350,000 and made $193 million (Jensen). Studios have always used horror movies as big money makers, but found footage allows for even less cost with similar or greater returns. Since Paranormal Activity there have been releases of found footage movies every year, with varying degrees of success, but few bombs. Like most trends in movies, the studios will milk it until it dies.

Before the studio fixed up the film, Blair Witch only cost around $20,000 to $25,000 to make and Paranormal Activity only cost around $15,000 even with re-shoots. They were both small independent films that were then picked up by studios and made enormous amounts of money. The idea of using so little to get so much is incredibly appealing to independent filmmakers and so the flood of found footage films were born. With the advent of digital technologies, not only can anyone make a found footage movie, but the premise is more logical. In a world where everyone has a phone or camera for taking pictures and news shows use whatever footage people have shot, it makes sense now for found footage movies to exist over even two decades ago when this technology was a lot more expensive and uncommon (Frappier).

Computers and smartphones have put our entire world behind a screen. All of our interactions with friends, our jobs, our bank accounts, our calendar, and even the world around us are in the context of a screen. So for us to be frightened by something behind that screen, like an average horror movie, is challenging. It can be done, but it won’t have that punch because we all know it isn’t real. Jaws wouldn’t scare people into never going swimming if it came out today, and the story of a few kids in the woods being chased by a ghost would never either. That is until you make that screen one with the audience, so they’re not watching a bunch of characters like a god, they are one of the characters. That’s what found footage has to offer if done right and why people are so enamoured with it. It allows us an experience beyond the screen, despite being nothing more than the same shadows of reality any movie is.

Found footage is a format that has limits, butcan be done incredibly well. It’s become quite popular in recent years and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It’s cheap to produce and makes high profits for studios, it’s an immersive and realistic form of cinema, and it’s both an expression of our fears and a way to stimulate us properly in modern society. While audiences may get sick of it, there will occasionally come along a movie like Chronicle that will breath life into the genre. However, I believe that the real innovations will come in the very medium that helped create this sub-genre: online video. Video series like Marble Hornets are sure to terrify people in new and interesting ways, but engaging us more by being hidden in the depths of Youtube, which forces us to seek out the horror and, ultimately, reap what we sow.

Bibliography
Frappier, Rob. “Interview: Why Are Found Footage Movies So Popular?”Screen Rant. Screen Rant LLC, 2012. Web. 1 May 2014.
Jensen, Thor. “Found Footage Film History.” UGO.com. IGN Entertainment, 21 Oct. 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.
Tudor, Andrew. “WHY HORROR? THE PECULIAR PLEASURES OF A POPULAR GENRE.” (n.d.): n. pag. Kapti College Database. Routledge, 17 Aug. 2010. Web. 1 May 2014.
Wilson, Karina. “Horror Film History.” Horror Film History. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2014.

Snowpiercer and Ideology

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This was a “creative work” I had to create for a class. I did a review, but since it had to relate back to a topic in the class this ends up being more about ideology then if the film is quality or not. Hence it being here and not a review.

It’s rare that action films have sufficient plot and character development, let alone any substantial themes and ideology to be analyzed. In the slog of action, sci-fi, and superhero films coming out of Hollywood, Snowpiercer shines bright as a unique thrill ride.

In the future the world has frozen over, forcing mankind into near extinction with the exception of a small faction that resides on an ever-moving train. Segregated to the back of the train are the poor and needy who in response to their seperation from the rich at the front of the train, decide to revolt. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and under the guidance of Gilliam (John Hurt), the mob pushes it way through the train. Along the way they uncover the secrets of the train’s operations and it’s creator Mr. Wilfred with the help of junkie technician Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song).

Chris Evans not only leads the rebellion, but leads the film as well. His strong performance keeps the film going at crucial points where the action dies down. Speaking of which, the film’s action scenes can be shaky at times, but still engrossing to watch. The rest of the cast is strong as well, particularly the brought over actors from director Joon-Ho Bong’s other film The Host.

Looking at Snowpiercer there’s the obvious themes of class divide and structures of society, but within that there’s an examination of ideology itself. Within the society that is the train, the doctrine of the train is sent through several ideological institutions. The poor are educated through religion, the word of those of a higher authority that they have to take on faith. “The Eternal Engine is sacred, Mr. Wilford is divine. So it is.” is repeated to create their world view. “So it is,” reinforces the ideological aspect of this statement as ideology by nature appears natural or “as it is.” The children are indoctrinated through school, educated in the world view that Mr. Wilford wants them to have.

When looking at cultural views that defy the mainstream, one notices that after a period of time the become incorporated back into the system. For example, the demonization of homosexuals slowly over time becomes worked into the ideology of the majority of a culture as wrong, despite being to some degree acceptable. When Curtis finally confronts Mr. Wilford, Wilford reveals that the entire rebellion was manufactured with the help of Gilliam. The film’s motif of “Everyone has their place” has been reinforced by the authority by incorporating rebellion into the ideological system, thus rendering it mute.

As the film comes to it’s end, the institution, which has lost its humanity through its methods, self-destructs and the society/train goes off the tracks, killing most of its members. The films message ultimately ends up being a cynical worldview, where the ideological institutions are both cruel and necessary to survival. It’s only when they are interrupted that the whole society crumbles, but in the wake of that destruction there is a glimmer of hope. In the wasteland of ice and snow, the survivors spot a polar bear, a sign of life.

With all this talk of ideology, we’ve ignored the central question of “Should you see Snowpiercer?” With it’s well-staged action scenes, fascinating premise, strong performances, and most importantly its ideological criticism, Snowpiercer is one of the most interesting action films you could watch this holiday break, if not the best.

The Rocketeer (1991) Review

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It’s easy to imagine any sane filmgoer becoming tired of super-hero films, particularly film critics who have an obligation to watch at least some of them. Yet here you are reading a review of “The Rocketeer,” the 1991 adaptation of the Dave Stevens graphic novel. In an era of critically acclaimed super-hero epics, what does the quaint and dated “The Rocketeer” have to offer?

rocketeer-thumb-560xauto-28521After a shootout leaves their plane ruined and themselves broke, Cliff Sefford (Billy Cambpell) and his mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) stumble across a mysterious rocket engine left in their hanger by a dead mobster. Testing out the engine, they’re surprised to find it’s actually a jetpack and take advantage of their good fortune to make a little money. However, that won’t be easy with both the FBI and superstar actor Neville Sinclair’s (Timothy Dalton) henchmen after the device. Adopting the guise of The Rocketeer, Cliff sets off to protect his friends and his beloved Jenny (Jennifer Connely) from getting caught up in this chaotic war for the rocket.

It should be stated that “The Rocketeer” is little more than nostalgic action fun. That is all. It doesn’t try to be anything more, putting it’s energies into doing just that well. Besides the solid cinematography and special effects, it has an extremely tight script, with cliches being used at their finest and plot threads being interconnected fairly well. For example, Cliff’s character bit of gum chewing affects the plot at least three times over the course of the film. What really stands out, however, is the characters, being that there are some. While the main cast hits their rather flat marks well, the minor characters end up having the same amount of effort put behind them. The clever and charming dialogue leaves you with a sense of who each small character is, if not some attachment to them.

Disney-Considering-The-Rocketeer-RemakeWhile the comic played up a nostalgia for both film serials and golden age comics, the movie emphasizes the serial aspect a lot more (for obvious reasons). It’s actually one of the few times an adaptation makes a lot of sense, since it’s a return to a form the original material is based on. That being said, “The Rocketeer” only feels like an old serial, having all the maturity of storytelling that modern films have. Thankfully so, as those old “Commander Cody” shorts are hard to watch at times.

What “The Rocketeer” has to offer is simplicity. There’s no epic CGI climax, no political commentary, and no questionable content in any way. It’s not dumb or manufactured, it simply concentrates on doing the little things well. I look at “The Rocketeer” and I see so many tropes and story similarities present in super-hero films nowadays, but somehow they work better here. Perhaps it’s the acknowledgement that these things are cheesy and the humbleness of asking the audience to accept it, as compared to the assumption that the audience will accept it and presenting it flatly. “The Rocketeer” has no misconceptions of what it is and I think modern super-hero films have lost that. The makers have forgotten they’re filming silly little stories of men in tights, mistaking popularity for permission to relax. In a post-modern world you can’t present a simple good/evil story and expect a few jokes will make it clever. These stories aren’t new, we’ve been creating them for over 80 years or, according to “The Rocketeer,” at least 20 years.

Welcome to the Space Show (2010) Review

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An old review of mine, approximately four months old, so I figured I’d finally publish it.

My Neighbor Totoro meets A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” is how a friend of mine described Welcome to The Space Show and that’s really quite the perfect encapsulation. Welcome to The Space Show is a whimsical adventure through the wonders of space, the final frontier viewed through a child’s eyes. It’s an adorable little film that has more genuine innocence to it then most of the pandering cartoons seen on TV. I would recommend it to every parent for their kids, but with some hesitation due to certain flaws. Welcome to The Space Show is a film I really wish was better than it is, and not just because I would like all films to be good. It has effort, heart, and competence behind it far beyond most other films.

Welcome to The Space Show details the journey of five kids as they make their way through space, thanks to an alien dog named Pochi, whose life they save after finding him injured in a grain field. Traveling from planet to planet, the kids hear about the mysterious and spectacular Space Show, a traveling circus that broadcasts across the galaxies. Due to unforeseen circumstances they have to take a detour to get back to Earth, but this proves to be difficult with greedy poachers after a rare Earth plant that they carry with them.

In 20-30 minute chunks, Welcome to The Space Show works extremely well. It’s technically beautiful and well made, with actual subtlety and thought put into every shot. The characters are likeable, diverse, well-developed, and learn important lessons that you want your kids to learn. You may not remember their names by the end of the film, but you will have a definite feel for who they are, if only by default of having spent so much time with them. The setting of Welcome to The Space Show represents the most innocent view one could have of a sci-fi universe, with bright colors and harmless creatures all willing to help you. It’s a film that asks you to “leave your logic at the door, and just have a little fun” and for the most part, you will have fun.

Looking at the film as a whole, however, reveals a tragically different image, as Welcome to The Space Show clumsily moves from set piece to set piece, taking far too much time to reach its end goal. The plot’s pacing only starts to pick up an hour in, and an unfortunate amount of last minute plot devices and character motivations are used to wrap up the story. Even ignoring that, the film is just too long, clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes. Despite how much fun the movie is, once you hit the hour and a half mark the movie’s length starts to take its toll. The film is a touch slower than most children’s films, so this combined with the average child’s attention span is going to detract from a kid’s enjoyment of the film.

Welcome to the Space Show disappoints, but nowhere near as much as it leaves you feeling warm inside. Perhaps breaking the film into two parts would serve as a better way to view it, but as it stands Welcome to The Space Show is tragically too long and too clunky in order to be the perfect kids film it ought to be. That’s not to say there’s no enjoyment to be had. It consistently manages to immerse you in the universe it has created, and even the most skeptical cynic will find themselves smirking and feeling like a kid again.