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Metropolis

As a general rule I don’t review classic literature. Better minds than I have pondered for decades what better writers than I have penned. There are also other readers and bloggers to consider– people who have spent their careers pondering the virtues of their favorite books– people who are ready to defend the classics, should a novice like myself raise a question without the requisite thousand hours of preliminary research. And of course there are period-relevant issues to consider; the publishing world at the time the masterpiece was printed, or the nuances lost in translation from the original text. The best I could hope for would be to embarrass myself.

However, I could talk about what my expectations, experiences, and preconceived notions were, going into Metropolis. Continue reading

Marcus Aurelius

The Obstacle is the Way

At this point in life it would be hard to convince anyone I’m not obsessed with pseudo intellectual self-help books. The subjects I’ve posted about on this blog alone have ranged from books to help you pick up women, to detect lies,  to manage your power base, and even to navigate the business world using ancient Chinese secrets. Continue reading

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A Short Break

Apologies, dear loons, but I will not be guest-posting a review this week. I’ve recently taken 2nd in the Kay Snow Willamette Writers contest, and am on my way to the WW conference banquet as I hastily punch this into my keyboard. Needless to say, I’ve been very busy lately.

Catch me next week when I review Ryan Holiday’s breakout novel The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.

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And if you’d like to read my 2,500 word dark-fiction excerpt (which won me a free steak dinner!) you can find it here on my personal blog.

See you next week! — Joe the Revelator

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Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary about a novice film director who almost realized his ultimate vision– to produce a movie based on a novel he never read, have it designed by a dream-team of artists he never met, with a cast of famous actors in their prime who’d never heard of him. Jodorowsky planned much of this out while he was high as balls, in a year (1974) before spaceships and science fiction would be popularized by Star Wars.

The result was a pre-production marvel that could have birthed a 14-hour epic mind bender, LSD-trip-made-reality, as foretold by the prophets,  Dune movie. Continue reading

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Frailty

Today was the first day I’d heard of this title or description, and it struck me in two ways. I’ll call the first one Exam/Cube which are thrillers that explore the psyche of individuals in unusual situations of high stress and intrigue. The second will be known as The Deliverance, a film I refer to in casual conversation about an outcome I would not like to happen and a feeling that makes me extremely nervous while driving through rural areas…especially in the South. I’ve never seen, nor do I wish to see, the latter, and I like the former regardless of its intensity. Readying my mind, tabula rasa style, I hit play. Continue reading

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I, Frankenstein

Next up: I, Frankenstein!

This was a movie I was more excited about from the get go. I, Frankenstein is brought to us by the same people who created the Underworld series. Though not everyone was a fan of those vampire vs werewolf films, I thought they were a blast. Underworld took two supernatural factions and made each of them appealing in their own way. What’s more, they cultivated a surprisingly interesting mythology featuring werewolf slaves, vampire overlords, the origins of both creatures, and a love story to boot. You may not have liked them, but you can’t deny that they were quite ambitious for what was, at the end of the day, a simplistically hilarious premise.

So I took my enjoyment of the Underworld franchise and set forth into the new territory of I, Frankenstein. Buuuuuut does it deliver?

Frankenstein's Monster

Frankenstein – Origins

As I did with Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, let’s first take a look at the source material. While it may be a stretch to classify Frankenstein as a “fairy tale,” for some reason I felt like it meshed well given its completely out-of-left-field reimagining of a fantastical creature. Now, I haven’t read the book in a very long time, so my memory might be hazy. With that said, the story of Frankenstein is that of a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, and his creation, Frankenstein’s monster. The monster is brought to life through the ambiguousness of SCIENCE (!), a creature that is essentially a number of corpses and various body parts sewn together into one whole being. It is a surprisingly sad story of a monster that comes into the world like a baby. It is naïve, optimistic, and friendly. These feelings are quickly shut down as the creature is pointed to as accursed and chased away by humans who are (understandably) terrified by what they see as one of the walking dead. The monster, hurt and angry beyond all recognition, eventually decides to swear off humanity entirely. That is until it decides that a companion would make it happier. So it approaches Victor Frankenstein, and that exchange lasts about as well as you would expect (i.e. – Not very well).

I Frankenstein War

How does the reboot measure up?

I, Frankenstein basically begins as a sequel to the events of Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s monster is quickly attacked by demons and then rescued by gargoyles (who name him Adam because the writers forgot to bring their subtlety hats to work that day). Adam is told that he is now embroiled in a vast and ancient war between the demon clans and the gargoyle order. The demons want him for some reason, and so the gargoyles want to keep Adam away from the demons until they can figure out why they want Adam so bad. Adam says, “Fuck that,” and goes into deep seclusion in the icy north for maybe five minutes of screen time. Then he decides he wants to come back and kick some demon ass (???)

As you have undoubtedly noticed, everything about this movie is a titanic WTF. That said, some aspects of Frankenstein do make it through. There is a lot of talk and controversy over whether Adam has a soul. Many characters think he is lonely. A female scientist, Terra, is trying to replicate what Victor Frankenstein did, but then becomes fascinated with Adam to the point of abandoning her employers and becoming romantically enamored with the guy (I think that is what happened; the wooden acting made it hard to tell). So the concept of finding a “companion” for Adam becomes a plot point, and Adam quickly finds himself in a position where he has to commit to a side or else potentially lose Terra in the chaos.

I Frankenstein Gargoyle

The Good

As you can tell, I wasn’t terribly pleased with how this movie played out. But, before I rip it to shreds, let’s talk about what it did right. Respecting the source material isn’t one, so we’ll talk about that later.

One thing I did like about I, Frankenstein was its fight scenes. The Underworld crew is no stranger to monsters fighting monsters, thus many fights are satisfyingly bone-crunching, visceral, and pretty to watch. When the demons die, they burst into coruscating arcs of fire, making every battle into an intricate ballet of stone gargoyles and spiraling flame. Aaron Eckhart (the actor who plays Adam) clearly trained for the part, as he hurls himself into the fray as if he was born to it. It’s great fun to watch and helps paper over some of the movie’s other flaws.

Another thing that interested me was the faction of the gargoyles. Here is a holy order that is clearly losing the war against the demons of Hell. One of the first fight scenes involve the demons storming the last standing cathedral of the gargoyles, with the warriors of heaven preparing to fight to the last man. It is a quick and effective way to get the audience on their side, hoping that the underdog makes it out as they fight valiantly against overwhelming numbers. As the movie progresses, we see that, while the gargoyles represent heaven, they are not necessarily “good” in the traditional sense. They are quick to consider Adam not as an individual, but as a tool. This becomes a source of conflict between the two, and one that is rather interesting to watch. For a while.

I Frankenstein Terra

The Bad

However, these positive aspects of I, Frankenstein are not enough to outweigh its failures. Oh, man… Where to start.

  1. First off, the acting in this movie is terrible with few exceptions. We are not inclined to care that much about Adam; Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal is so wooden and one-note (with a gravelly Batman voice, no less!) that I was not convinced that he is lonely, wants a companion, or that he particularly cares much about what is happening in the war. Consequently, all of what made the monster a sympathetic character in the original Frankenstein utterly falls flat here.
  2. Adam’s love interest, Terra, is bland and quite literally pointless. I understand that she is supposed to be the bridge through which Adam gets invested in the war. The problem is that there is another scientist that fills her plot-specific role (make more Frankenstein monsters!) and she is dead weight in every other scene. Just a hot girl to be rescued and rewarded with. Ugh. The only thing that prevents this movie from being completely sexist is the women in the gargoyle order, but don’t get me started on those.
  3. The gargoyles get so much more love compared to the demons, both physically and as a balanced and fleshed out faction. Let me explain. Physically, the gargoyles get all sorts of badassery, CGI effects, and story attention. We understand that, though they are good, their motivations are a bit murky in how they use those around them who are not of their order. By contrast, the demons are one-dimensional villains who literally look like they have Buffy the Vampire Slayer makeup on (this is not an okay thing anymore, folks). And they get to die cool. That just doesn’t cut it. Compared to the balanced and compelling viewpoints of the vampires and werewolves in Underworld, I, Frankenstein is a joke.

I Frankenstein Attack

Conclusion

I could go on, but this gives you a pretty solid foundation to understand how this movie just did not deliver. If I were to point to one thing, I, Frankenstein’s main failure was that we cannot connect with the characters. Why should we care about Adam’s isolation? He sure seems okay with it. Why is Terra romantically interested in Adam? What do they have in common? Why do the demons want to destroy everything? Why don’t the gargoyles get more help? And on and on and on and on…

Long story short, I, Frankenstein raises more frustrating questions than it answers, and that isn’t even talking about plot holes, which I just narrowly avoided. Don’t bother with this one unless you’re a big sucker for cool fantasy fight scenes.

TWO OUT OF FIVE LAUGHS!

Oldboy 2013

Oldboy (2013)

I wanted to enjoy Spike Lee’s Oldboy. I really did. I was a huge fan of the original back in 2003, when Park Chan-wook added it to his vengeance trilogy. It was a beautiful blend of cultural isolation, social taboos, and bloody violence. It was everything a revenge story should be, and it retains its artistic credibility to this day. Continue reading

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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

There have been a ton of fable-oriented fantasy movies recently. Red Riding Hood, all those Snow White and Sleeping Beauty “dark reimaginings”… Just a month or so ago, Maleficent came out of nowhere to be a movie that, while certainly not great, was a flawed gem worth seeing. Now I don’t know what possessed Hollywood to go crazy in this regard, but I love a good fantasy movie and I love critiquing the crap out of them even more. So it occurred to me that there is a vast jungle of unseen gritty fairy tale reboots and so many that I haven’t seen and, you know what? Even if they are all garbage, I think it will be a blast to check these funky movies out and see how they did. Maybe compare them to each other and to the fables they’re based on. And if they ARE all terrible, I can at least wax eloquent on what might have been. While ripping them to shreds with my critic hat on.

To kick off this little project of mine, I arbitrarily picked a name out of a hat. With much fanfare, I got… Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Remember that silly trailer that you saw years ago involving a brother and sister going on a witch-killing rampage with increasingly absurd medieval weaponry? So I end up watching it, FOR SCIENCE, and it… actually wasn’t all that bad. Hell, I even laughed aloud a few times (which we will now accept as our professional barometer for movie awesomeness). But how did it do in giving us a “mature” and “gritty” take on the original fairy tale? How mature really was it? Did it have any relevance to what we know of Hansel & Gretel prior to this movie?

Hansel and Gretel Fairy Tale

Hansel & Gretel – Origins

Before we get into critiquing this movie like it’s Schindler’s List, let’s look at the source material. Hansel & Gretel is a fairly simple German fairy tale involving a brother and a sister who find a mysterious house in the middle of the wilderness. The house is made of candy, and so the ravenous children immediately are drawn to it. Inside they find a witch who imprisons them and begins to fatten them up. Yep, this is an old school witch, folks; one who has a taste for diabetic toddlers. Hansel & Gretel sweat and wait until finally the moment comes where they are able to outwit the witch and shove her into her own stove where she is burnt alive. The kids then turn to looting the place, probably acquiring a lifetime need for insulin injections, and presumably live happily ever after until they die of obesity.

How does the reboot measure up?

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters Poster

So it turns out that the writers for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters took one look at that story and decided that, instead of turning into candy-addicted Jabbas, the children would grow up to be freaking witch slayers. If you squint just right, it makes logical sense. If we are assuming that a kid’s natural response to this experience is to become the fairy tale equivalent of Batman. But hey! Let’s just roll with it.

In order to cake this reboot in grittiness, the director evidently decided that out-of-place swearing and lots and lots of brutal fight scenes were the way to make it “adult”. The only thing to say about the swearing is that it comes off as utterly trite in a medieval Germanic village. As for the fight scenes, oh boy…

Hansel and Gretel Witch Fight

I got the feeling that whoever directed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters watched The Matrix before making this movie. When I say this, I’m not referring to any sort of cyberpunk aesthetic or idle philosophizing. Hell, I’m not even talking about the kung fu. Instead, I’m thinking about how hard it was for the main characters to kill an “Agent” in that film. The agents were almost akin to Terminators; implacable and unstoppable creations closer to superheroes than anything else. Remember seeing Morpheus try to take one of them on head-to-head? The result was one of the hardest to watch one-sided beatdowns I’ve ever seen.

The witches in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters come off the same way. In almost every fight scene I found myself wondering in astonishment, “How the hell did Hansel and Gretel live this long?” The witches seem incredibly powerful, and the titular characters get the ever-loving crap beaten out of them in every single battle. No matter their ornate shotguns and automatic crossbows, Hansel and Gretel are up against freaky supernatural beings who can control your body with their magic, backhand you through a house, and who just will NOT stay down. It’s a miracle that humanity even exists in this fictional universe. The witches are just that powerful. Consequently, though you do not feel as worried for the characters as you do in The Matrix, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters shows you that witches are not to be trifled with. Even the “professionals” can kill them only by the skin of their teeth.

Hansel and Gretel Witch Twin Fight

Seriousness vs Camp

However, this brings me to my one main criticism of this movie.Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is at war with itself when it comes to deciding what it wants to be. Half of the time it tries to portray a harsh medieval world where the humans are as likely to kill you as the witches. There is one scene in particular that makes one shudder at the realization that people can really be shitty to each other in the name of fear and intolerance. The movie spends some time establishing a theme that, even though Hansel and Gretel are at the village to save people, many of those same people hate them as outsiders. In the end, some of the friendliest characters turn out to be nonhuman, which makes this movie a stealthy criticism as to what the writers think of humanity’s natural state.

If this represented the entire movie, we would probably be far closer to the edge of our seat when it comes to seeing Hansel and Gretel clash with the witches. The problem is that the other half of the movie is a tongue-in-cheek campy action film where crossbows can somehow split into two, where the main characters inexplicably have access to holy water-soaked miniguns, and where people are super casual about the kidnapping of almost a dozen children by a coven of cannibals. Now I have to make one thing clear: it isn’t necessarily bad for the movie to be like this. I’m sure it would have been plenty hilarious if it had kept to this tone in an I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening-but-I-freaking-love-it kind of way.

The problem is that mixing the two tones comes off as inconsistent and jarring when viewed simultaneously. It is hard to ruminate on the cynical viewpoint of humanity when Gretel is dropping off a one-liner about how, “we do this shit for free!” It is confusing to see the isolation of Hansel and Gretel from other people when they are also followed by the witch hunter equivalent of a groupie. I got to the point where I wanted to slap the director and say, “Decide what you want to BE!” Because the movie sure wasn’t helping me understand what the point of it all was.

Hansel and Gretel Post Fight

Conclusion

Overall, though, I have to admit that I found Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters far more entertaining than I expected. It still remains a “B movie,” but it was interesting to see the nugget of something more. If only it had decided on a single tone to follow, it would have been a unique and lasting offering to the genre, and something I could wholeheartedly recommend. Instead, we get a confusing dark-but-lighthearted monster mash that is amusing while it lasts, but fairly forgettable once you’re done.

THREE OUT OF FIVE LAUGHS!

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Detect Deceit: How to Become a Human Lie Detector in Under 60 Minutes

I first read about micro-expressions in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which explained the budding behavioral science of reading emotional cues enough for Gladwell to piece together an argument, but never laid out how to utilize them.

The second time I heard about micro-expressions was after a friend recommended the show Lie To Me. Continue reading

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