Tag: film

Batman Ninja: A Solid, if Wavering, Attempt at Batmanime

Oftentimes, when stories are told in different forms or transferred between different cultures, there can be an exchange in ideas that can add and enhance each other. For instance, as anime and manga have grown more popular in the Western world, concepts and tropes from those stories have been borrowed and used in Western media, along with vice versa. The trope of the magical girl warrior has become an inspiration behind Western cartoons like Star vs. the Forces of Evil and comics like Zodiac Starforce, while traditional superheroes are a major topic in anime series like My Hero Academia and One Punch Man. Of course, this is not necessarily a new thing. Back in the late 1960s, manga writer Jiro Kuwata went to work on creating a manga series centered around Batman (known to fans these days as the Bat-Manga). Now, Batman has received a second treatment from Japan, this time with the anime film Batman Ninja. Hosting a diverse amount of impressive talent from the anime genre, the film is visually striking with some crazy and absurd ideas. Unfortunately, the actual plotting leaves a bit desired among the movie’s kooky spectacle.

One dark night, Batman and his allies face down Gorilla Grodd and a host of classic Batman foes as he debuts his newest invention: the Quake Engine, a machine capable of bending space and time. In the ensuing battle, the machine is activated and transports the myriad characters back in time to Feudal Japan. Batman is the last to be transported across time by only a few moments, but it is enough for him to arrive two years after everyone else. The result is that Batman’s foes (including the Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and Deathstroke) now rule over the warring states of Japan, with the Joker and Harley Quinn possessing the most power under his title as the Demon King. Batman is not alone against this major threat, however. Along with his time-displaced allies (including Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, Robin, Catwoman, and Alfred), he finds that there is a ninja clan known as the Order of the Bat, who believe a warrior from the future wearing the face of a bat will bring peace to Japan. With their forces united and training in the ways of ninjutsu, Batman might just have the edge he needs before any of these wicked foes can conquer Japan and change the course of history.

Batman Ninja is an alright film. When it comes to the more positive elements of the film, one of the biggest things that it has going for it is the sense of visual flair. For instance, a lot of the character design offers some memorable reinterpretations of classic Batman characters with a Feudal Japanese style.  A good example of this is with the Joker, whose purple royal robes, green hair done up with a topknot, and a boutonniere inspired by the real-life Oda clan symbol all add up to a vision of the Clown Prince of Crime that comes by way of a classical shogun. This also goes hand in hand with the core spirit of the film, which throws out plenty of memorable and crazy sights. From a samurai sword duel between Batman and the Joker to a castle that transforms into a giant mecha, the movie gleefully throws out its eyecatching sights that mash up these two different styles. It is as if someone were to take a Silver Age Batman comic and mix it in with a heavy dose of Japanese history and anime tropes. As exciting and fun as that combination can be, however, it is tempered by a weak story that is patchwork in its pacing.

The plot of the film, of Batman thrown back in time and having to learn how to adapt his techniques to Feudal Japan, is a solid story idea. However, the film does not do a lot in actually showing Batman facing his own weakness and learning the classical ways of ninjutsu. Likewise, while this idea would seem to be a solid hook, the plot ends up shifting gears into a giant mecha anime with a whole host of giant robots about halfway through the movie. In essence, the plot feels uneven in the execution. It could have been more engaging, for instance, if they had spent more time taking advantage of the Feudal Japan setting. Imagine following Batman and his allies as they learn and adapt to the ninjutsu techniques of the Feudal era, take on these various villains and their armies using a mix of classic and modern methods over the course of the film, and then have the surprise of Joker having a giant mecha castle in the film’s third act. That would create a better narrative flow for the film, along with taking more advantage of the setting and cultural potential. As it is, the film ends up being more a scattershot that sometimes lands its hits instead of a clear bullseye.

As anime and manga grow more popular in the Western world, more and more media between the two have been sharing ideas and tropes. Batman Ninja is an example of this mixture of ideas, though the result tends to focus more on the spectacle instead of a solid narrative.

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Avengers – Infinity War: With Just a Snap…

It is truly astounding how the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has turned out. Over the course of a decade, Marvel Studios has managed to release a series of films (nineteen of them, as of this post) that manage to coalesce together into a single shared universe of movies. More than that, they have managed to do so without any severe missteps along the way. At worst, they have released a few films that were just okay. On the whole, they have managed to churn out quality films that deliver thrilling superhero action along with memorable characters, all the while guiding this together as one universe. Now, all these disparate pieces are coming together for what is to be the big send-off to what Marvel has built over this decade of hard work. These pieces come together for Avengers: Infinity War, bringing together threads from as early as the first Avengers film to as far out and cosmic as the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Over all, these pieces come together for a movie that not only offers a thrilling story, but also sets the stage for some real stakes thanks to its daring moves and powerful villain.

Long ago, when the universe was born, six stones of immeasurable power were formed: the Infinity Stones. Each of the stones reflected some facet of existence. Space. Time. Power. Reality. Mind. Soul. Across the universe were these stones spread, kept far apart from each other. Now, however, there is a force that seeks the Infinity Stones. That force is Thanos, a mighty figure from the planet of Titan. He seeks the Stones in order to achieve a monstrous goal: to kill half the universe. To achieve this goal, he possesses a powerful tool known as the Infinity Gauntlet. It allows the user to handle the abilities of the Infinity Stones, once they are attached to the Gauntlet. He has found a few of the Stones, and has found the location of two more. Their place is on Earth, with the Mind Stone powering the heroic android Vision and the Time Stone guarded by the skilled mystic Dr. Strange. Having found their location, Thanos now bares down on Earth with his devoted forces, ready to do whatever he must. It might just take the combined forces of the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the tribes of Wakanda to stand up against such overwhelming force, or else see great darkness brought down upon the universe.

Avengers: Infinity War is a great new installment in the MCU. The story moves along at a brisk pace, but manages to communicate its narrative pretty smoothly. The battles are often fun to watch unfold, taking creative advantage of the sheer variety of heroes and villains coming together in combat. It is not only the fights that take advantage of the variety of characters on display, however. The film often works out interesting group set-ups over the course of its plot to bounce off of each other, such as Dr. Strange and Tony Stark’s shared snarkiness towards each other. It even manages to make room for smaller character moments as well, such as Thor facing just how much he has lost in his life or Scarlet Witch and Vision’s attempt at a quiet domestic life. Now, the core plot itself may be a bit basic to some, especially considering some of the rich stories that the more standalone MCU films have managed to craft. That said, the film serves up this story rather well, particularly with one key aspect. Namely, it is Thanos who is the movie’s true star.

Over the course of the MCU, they have been hinting at the presence of Thanos behind the scenes. At last, he finally arrives and this version of the classic Marvel Comics villain is an impressive one. In the original comics, Thanos’s motivation was driven by a literal love of death, seeking to win her hand by achieving the seemingly impossible task of killing half the universe. While this is an interesting idea, this film offers a very different take on Thanos. Here, he is an extremist who believes that he is saving the universe. He believes that if life is left to flourish unchecked, then life will destroy the universe’s finite resources and in turn destroy itself. Killing half the universe is the path that Thanos believes will help to save countless lives, and he sees himself as having the will to carry this out. Though the plan is monstrous, his motivations are entirely understandable and give the character a solid root to his actions. Even more than that is how Thanos recognizes how steep this task is, and the weight of things that he must do weigh upon him. He knows the price that must be paid and feels the weight of that price, but is willing to pay it to achieve this goal. In short, he is a villain who firmly believes that what he is doing is right and must be done. This gripping motivation and characterization, along with the power on display when he fights the heroes, help make for one of the MCU’s best villains. The wait for Thanos has been long, but it has been worth it.

Over the course of a decade, Marvel Studios has been weaving together a tapestry of great films into a singular cinematic universe. Now, these threads come together with Avengers: Infinity War, delivering an excellent crossover film that also benefits from a great villain.

Sailor Moon: Fighting Evil By Moonlight, Changing Archetypes by Daylight

A fascinating element in the evolution of stories is how archetypes can alter and change over time. Take for instance that of the “magical girl”, a character type that is more prominent in anime and manga. The magical girl is a character type that first appeared in the late 1960s with series like Sally the Witch and Himitsu no Akkochan. In these shows, the main character was the magical girl, a girl gifted with magical abilities who would use her abilities to deal with the problems that crop up in her everyday life. However, that is not necessarily what most think of when it comes to the term “magical girl”. Ask someone, and they would be more likely to describe a teenage girl who uses her magical powers to battle evil and save the day. What would bring such a shift in this archetype? Well, it is all thanks to the work of mangaka (manga artist) Naoko Takeuchi, who created Codename: Sailor V and its far more popular sequel, Sailor Moon. The manga for Sailor Moon hit shelves back in 1991, while its first anime series premiered in 1992. In no time at all, the series would come to lay a new foundation for the magical girl archetype thanks to its memorable characters and superhero-like action.

Usagi Tsukino is a schoolgirl living in Tokyo. Though she is well-meaning and kind, Usagi is not exactly a role model student. She’s immature, an underachiever, and prone to bouts of clumsy antics. However, her life makes a major change after one chance encounter. After saving a cat from being harassed by some boys, the cat tracks her down and reveals that it can talk. The cat’s name is Luna, and it has chosen Usagi Tsukino to serve as Sailor Moon, the soldier of love and justice. Giving her a brooch that can allow her to transform into this super-powered alter ego, Luna explains that it is her duty to bring together the other Sailor Scouts along with finding a legendary princess. With this new duty handed to her, Usagi reluctantly takes on the mission. Along the way, she finds new friends that join up as the Sailor Scouts, such as the shy but brilliant Ami Mizuno and the hot-headed shrine maiden Rei Hino. Usagi even finds love sparking in her life, thanks to the presence of the mysterious and handsome Tuxedo Mask. Unfortunately, her new mission has also drawn her into the crosshairs of foes like the Dark Kingdom, an alliance of enemies that threaten humanity in their search for the legendary Silver Crystal.

It is no wonder that Sailor Moon would become a hit so quickly. For one, the series offers fun characters who stand out from the previous waves of “magical girl” stories. Take, for instance, Usagi Tsukino. Though she is immature and a bit of a fool, her experiences as Sailor Moon lead to her growing and becoming a more responsible young adult by the end of the series. Along with that, there is also her fierce devotion and loyalty to her friends, which help build and develop her connections to the girls that become fellow Sailor Scouts. In essence, these are well-executed versions of tropes from shojo (young girl) anime and manga. However, what helped make such a strong impact was what Naoko Takeuchi added to this particular “magical girl” story. The trope of a person who could transform into a super-powered alter ego thanks to a device is one that has plenty of presence in tokusatsu (special effects) series like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai (the original Japanese basis of Power Rangers, for those who do not know). However, that particular trope had not been thought to be used in manga and anime aimed towards girls. By taking that trope and mixing it in with a “magical girl” story, the result was a series that brought together the thrilling action of those tokusatsu shows with the heart and spirit of shojo manga and anime. It is no wonder that this series would come to redefine the idea of the magical girl.

In the initial wake of the success of Sailor Moon, plenty of folks would try to sell their own variation on this new idea of the magical girl. However, as time would go on, this new magical girl archetype would be diffused and examined in plenty of forms. Some would take the core ideas and focus on that classic approach with modern sensibilities, such as Cardcaptor Sakura. Others would focus on the action and offering hot-blooded battles, like in Pretty Cure. Others would even attempt to deconstruct the magical girl and explore the dark shadow of this archetype, most famously with Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Of course, I would say that it is worth visiting the series that would shape all of them. Now, which iteration of Sailor Moon should you check out? A while back, I had posted some anime recommendations for beginners and mentioned Sailor Moon Crystal as a suggestion. I will say that, while this new series does trim down on a lot of the filler, its brisk pace moves almost a bit too quickly through the plot and characters don’t always have as much of a chance to stand out. That is why I might suggest keeping the original 1992 anime in mind. While there is more filler and padding in this show’s version of the story, I feel this series does offer plenty of charm and character that helped it to stick out and become the major influence that it is today. Thus, I might suggest being open to going to the original series and seeing what started it all.

As stories change over time, so too do the kinds of characters that can populate a story. For instance, Sailor Moon would come to redefine the magical girl archetype by mixing its stories of heart and friendship with superhero-like thrills and action.

Death Wish: Shooting for Peace, Not War

When the film Death Wish was first released back in 1974, it was met with fury and outrage. Centered around an architect (played by Charles Bronson) who becomes a gun-toting vigilante in the wake of his wife’s murder during a vicious home invasion, the film drew major criticism because of its support for the idea of the brutal punishment of criminals while rejecting due process. That said, its story is one that captured the minds of the public and sparked plenty of debate over how to handle the rampant crime that had plagued cities in that time like New York City. It is no wonder, then, how it would become so frequently discussed. However, there is one thing that some might forget these days about that movie: it was based on a book of the same name. The book was written back in 1972 by Brian Garfield, inspired by an incident in which he was scared by his own flash of anger after finding his car vandalized. As for his response to the film adaptation of his novel, Garfield hated it. He hated it for a very specific reason: unlike the movie’s pro-vigilante stance, his novel takes the side of anti-vigilantism.

Paul Benjamin was a New York accountant, a life-long liberal, and an old man. One day, which had seemed so ordinary at the start, would change his life. A call from his son-in-law Jack brought him out to a hospital. He received the news that his wife and daughter had been attacked in a random home invasion within his very apartment, one that had left his wife dead and his daughter in an increasingly catatonic state. In the aftermath, Paul now finds himself haunted. He has trouble sleeping, finds himself afraid of any dark shadows in the streets and alleyways. The police are investigating, but they have no leads and no major progress. He feels like the world is not making sense. That all changes one night, when a mugger pulls a knife on him. He is overcome with rage, swinging at the mugger and scaring him off. The feeling is intoxicating to him, a salve to the fears that had filled his mind. Soon, he comes to believe something: that people have to take back control of their lives. That someone has to stand up against the killers walking the streets. Of course, he knows he can’t just rely on his own rage. He needs a weapon to use against the thugs he wants to seek vengeance upon. He wants a gun.

Brian Garfield’s novel makes for a fascinating read. The story flows at a steady pace, painting an evocative picture of the world and Paul’s increasingly dark mental state. For those who might expect to read about a spree of killings much like the 1974 film, they might be disappointed. Instead, the bulk of the book is devoted to Paul’s change, showcasing him as he finds himself grappling with grief and seeing his left-leaning views gradually shift to a right-wing hardened edge. Along with that, Garfield also brings up and explores various aspects of crime stats and crime prevention techniques. Occasionally, there is the odd fact or statistic that feels a bit exaggerated, such as a character claiming that a crime is committed every twelve seconds in New York City. Aside from those odd moments, they fill the story with a sense of realism and a feeling that Garfield has really tried to make this a story that one could believe. Of course, that leads me into the biggest standpoint of the book, and what might in fact be its double-edged sword: the evolution of Paul Benjamin into a vigilante.

Experiencing the tragedy of a murdered spouse and traumatized daughter is a moment that would shake anyone to their core. It is understandable that Paul would become enwrapped in grief, that he would want to do anything to take back some control of his life. However, the story does not hide just how dangerous this new path would be for someone to follow. For instance, it is made clear that Paul has some trouble in how to exhibit and experience his grief. When he finds himself bursting into tears suddenly, he can’t understand it and believes that his sadness was weakness. Later, as his thoughts become consumed with the idea of bringing violence against criminals, his own view of the world around him changes. The faces that would have once brought him pity and concerns on how to help, he now presumes as those belonging to criminals and killers. Fear fills his mind, along with an anger that seeks to vent itself by lashing out at crime itself. The tragedy in Paul’s life is certainly understandable and the path that Garfield presents gives a clear understanding how someone could give in like this, but the image of him as a vigilante who intentionally draws out criminals to target him is still one presented as dangerous and one to avoid. In a way, however, one can see how a film adaptation might lean into a pro-vigilante stance. The book does a great job in presenting Paul’s change over time, and the tragedy is one which others could relate and sympathize. It does a good enough job that some might glaze over what the reality means to intentionally hurt and even kill others, throwing away our legal system just for the visceral feeling of a personal and perceived vengeance. It is a shame, then, that such a fascinating character study should be eclipsed by a more lurid film (and eventual franchise) that goes against the very point the book makes.

The name Death Wish is one that conjures up the image of a gun-toting Charles Bronson shooting muggers and a movie that supports such actions. The book it is based upon, on the other hand, goes against that stance with a character study that captures how one might change into such a person.

A Slice of ’80s Cinema: My Personal Picks

Back in 2011, author Ernest Cline hit the literary world hard with the debut of his premiere novel Ready Player One. Telling the story of teenager Wade Watts and his hunt for a legendary treasure in a virtual reality world known as the Oasis, the book grabbed attention not only with its fascinating vision of a VR world that impacts everyday life, but also with the deluge of pop culture references that permeate its pages. In particular, pop culture from the 1980s is a major subject within this sci-fi adventure. In honor of the upcoming release of the film adaptation, which is being done by famed director Steven Spielberg, I have decided to assemble my personal selection of movies from the 1980s. These are an assortment of films I feel could serve as a solid introduction to ’80s pop culture for someone new to the time period. Some are movies I feel capture some aspect of the time, others are a spotlight on filmmakers who impacted the era or began their careers here, and some are simply movies that are generally regarded as classics and worth checking out. Now, these thirteen films are not ranked in any particular order, and they are my personal opinion. With that said, let’s delve into the era, shall we?

1. Back to the Future

Though I have tried not to do any particular ranking to this list, I confess that I chose to start it with a movie from the ’80s that is also my personal favorite film: Back to the Future. Centered around teenager Marty McFly as he goes back in time to the ’50s, the film follows Marty as he inadvertently interferes with his parents’ first meeting and must bring them together before he fades from existence. It is no wonder how the film has become a classic since its release, thanks to memorable characters, a sharp story, and one of fiction’s most remembered time machines in the form of the DeLorean.

2. The Breakfast Club

Teen films were ever present throughout the ’80s, from standard fare like Fast Times at Ridgemont High to more subversive and different works like Heathers. Chief among the filmmakers for such films was John Hughes, regarded as having an ear for writing natural dialogue for his teenage characters. No work better captures that like The Breakfast Club, which brings five high school stereotypes together for detention and break down the social barriers between them.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark

After cementing the modern blockbuster with the one-two punch of Jaws and Star Wars back in the ’70s, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would come to be two defining figures in ’80s cinema. The pair would separately direct and produce plenty of ’80s films, but one project where the two worked together was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Serving as a fun and thrilling throwback to the two-fisted tales of the 1930s, the film followed archaeologist Indiana Jones as he battled Nazis and sought to find the legendary Ark of the Covenant.

4. Ghostbusters

Among the many hit movies of the ’80s, few quite struck a nerve as did the comedy Ghostbusters. Following a group of scientists who start a business hunting ghosts, the movie’s sharp wit, memorable characters, and even creepy supernatural threats helped to ensure that the film became one of 1984’s highest-grossing releases. It also doesn’t hurt having one of the most memorable theme songs in movie history, one that was even nominated for an Academy Award.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street

The horror trend in the ’80s was all about the Slasher movie, a subgenre that concerns teens and young adults being hunted down by some powerful killer. Though plenty of slasher movies like Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine were made in those years, I feel a strong example of the subgenre comes with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Following a group of teens haunted by a supernatural killer that can slaughter them in their sleep, the movie offers a good story paired with memorable scares and a brilliant bogeyman in the form of Freddy Krueger.

6. Flashdance

The ’80s gave the world MTV, and with that came the true birth of the music video. In this new avenue of music and visuals working together, one film to capitalize on this moment was Flashdance. Centered around a steel mill worker who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the movie’s intimate story of pursuing one’s dreams is paired up with several dance sequences that would fit well among the music videos the newfound channel would broadcast.

7. Big Trouble in Little China

John Carpenter is a director who certainly made his mark in the ’80s, with such films as the sci-fi horror classic The Thing and the subversive action movie They Live. However, a work from that time I feel is worth checking out is Big Trouble in Little China. Centered around trucker Jack Burton and his pal Wang Chi, the two face off against monsters and martial artists to rescue a girl captured by an ancient Chinese ghost sorcerer. Filled with plenty of action and some good fun, it’s capped by the film’s cleverest touch: that Jack Burton thinks he’s the movie’s hero, when he’s really the comic relief in over his head in a world of Chinese combat and mythology.

8. The Terminator

James Cameron is a filmmaker who has made two of the highest grossing films of all time, but it’s almost hard to believe how quickly he hit the ground running with his first feature, known as The Terminator. This sci-fi thriller follows soldier Kyle Reese as he goes back in time to save Sarah Connor from a Terminator, an unstoppable android sent to kill her. Its vision of a future ravaged by a robotic uprising and cybernetic killing machines left an indelible mark in the realm of science fiction, along with launching the acting career of Arnold Schwarzenegger and turning him into one of the decade’s biggest action stars.

9. Die Hard

For ’80s action movies, most of them tended to be centered around muscular men who proved to be unstoppable killing machines, such as in films like Commando or The Delta Force. The genre received a solid shakeup from this archetype with the release of Die Hard, centered around officer John McClane as he gets caught in a hostage situation orchestrated by Hans Gruber. John McClane stood out among the action heroes of the time thanks to relying more on cunning and sheer determination to battle these criminals instead of brute strength, along with a charming performance delivered by then newcomer Bruce Willis.

10. Akira

Japan was on the pop culture mind back in the 1980s, and anime was beginning to creep into the West with series like Voltron and Robotech. However, the gates would really open with the release of the cyberpunk anime film Akira. Telling the tale of two friends torn apart when one gains incredible psychic power, its brutal action and surreal visuals caught the imagination of many and carved anime’s first solid foothold into the West, paving the way for its boom in the ’90s.

11. First Blood

Though John Rambo is a movie character whose films would become associated with the excessive action fare most associated in the ’80s, his first film is actually a more serious affair. First Blood is a psychological thriller, one that unfolds when police brutality dealt to Vietnam veteran John Rambo triggers wartime flashbacks and leads to a small-scale war as he fights back. This gripping film explores the issue of mistreatment of Vietnam veterans with a powerful hand, aided by Sylvester Stallone’s haunting performance as Rambo.

12. Beetlejuice

Long before Tim Burton would become one of the crowning pop culture figures in the Goth community, he was a budding filmmaker whose career began after a short film he made called Vincent gained notice. His first feature would be Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but the film that really would establish him was his follow-up, a comedy known as Beetlejuice. Centered around a ghost couple who mistakenly hire the “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse to scare a new family out of their home, the film showcases the kind of wondrous visuals and playfully morbid nature that would define Burton’s style.

13. The Princess Bride

The fantasy genre had a major boom in the 1980s, with plenty of variety from sweeping epics like Conan the Barbarian and Legend to more playful fare like Labyrinth and Willow. One work that has grown into becoming a fond classic among this boom is The Princess Bride. Framed within the set-up of a grandfather reading his grandson a story, the film’s tale of adventure and romance as farmhand Wesley seeks to reunite with the lovely Princess Buttercup pulls off a wonderful balance of poking fun at fairy tale conventions while sincerely capturing the joy of them.

So, those are my recommendations when it comes to introducing oneself to movies from the ’80s. I hope that this sample platter of films helps to offer a gateway to ’80s pop culture for someone new. There are plenty of other films I could have added to this list, but I didn’t want to go on too long. Perhaps you might discover these other works yourself, after dipping your toes into the pop culture pool.

The Old and the New: The Blob (1958 and 1988)

In the world of film, there have been plenty of arguments about original movies versus remakes. Some may argue that the first version is superior, thanks to a purer execution in its idea or perhaps the methods of the time better working. Others may argue that a remake can be the better work, perhaps in better realizing the original work’s ideas or using better effects to pull off what the earlier work could not properly show. The debates rage back and forth, and some may lay down a blanket statement for its side. Personally, I feel that the case can vary based upon the films. Sometimes the original can work well, other times the remake can achieve better goals. In this case, I thought it might be worth examining an example of this split. After all, noting the elements in both can help to better understand the processes between an original and remake. In this case, I shall examine two films of the same subject, separated by 30 years from one another. The subject is The Blob, first made back in 1958 and earning a spot among classic ’50s sci-fi movies. Later, it would be remade in 1988, with the remake gaining a cult following over the years. Now, how do these two versions of the same work compare?

Both films work from the same basic plot. One night, a meteorite falls from space just outside of a small town. From within this meteorite, a strange amoeba-like creature emerges and begins crawling out in search of food. It wraps itself around its prey, dissolving them down into its body. A group of teenagers discover the creature and try to warn the authorities, only to be met by resistance from disbelieving adults. It is only once the creature grows in mass and its hunt more prominent, do the townspeople finally come together to fight for their survival and just maybe stop this alien creature. From this common point, along with a shared theme of distrust, come two diverging approaches. Firstly, the original 1958 film has its focus on the generational divide. In an age when sci-fi movies had their focus on adults and scientists, the movie stood out with its focus on teenagers trying to stop this seemingly unstoppable creature. It also offers a promise of hope in its narrative, as adults come to see past their prejudices and help out these desperate teenagers. The 1988 film, meanwhile, takes a more pointed angle in its distrust. Though there are issues between teens and adults, a more focused distrust comes from the government. They arrive claiming they they seek to simply quarantine and save the town, yet their attitudes suggest they know more about the creature than they let on. The result is that, in a way, the remake gives more of an enemy and explanation beyond just the blob itself.

As for the creature itself, the titular blob, both films offer great visions of this alien threat. In the original, the creature oozes and crawls with a creeping manner, even if the effects do not quite capture the full potential. That said, the idea of this monster, of a creeping blob that simply seeks to feed and eat, is a powerful one and it is no surprise that the creature should become such a classic movie monster. In fact, there is a particular detail that I find striking in the original. Namely, it begins as a clear-colored blob, but grow redder over the film as it consumes its victims. Meanwhile, the remake takes advantage of more modern effects to truly capture the terror of this blob. Often, there are clear views of victims enwrapped within the blob’s amorphous form, dissolving and breaking down in its acid-like body. The visual is a horrific one, and delivers a strong punch. That said, the remake’s conceit of the blob being able to form tentacles feels like an excessive touch. Despite the original’s weaker effects, there is something to be said for the simple effectiveness of a single, moving mass seeking out its prey. There are times that the remake certainly delivers that core terror, but occasionally it offers ideas that stray from the simple effectiveness of this monster. Now, is there a particular version of the film which I recommend?

Personally, I find that the 1988 version makes for a better watch. While the 1958 film certainly has its place in movie history, I find that the film has not aged well in certain regards. For instance, a fair amount of the film finds itself dragged down in dialogue that is delivered in a more amateur style. Along with that, budget limitations of the day mean that the blob itself is often relegated to an offscreen threat, until near the end of the film once it becomes a massive threat. Not that hiding a monster is necessarily bad, as it could build suspense. However, the result is frequent description of what it does, instead of a real showcase of its destruction. Most of all, the pacing of the movie feels bogged down, as the combination of weak performances and budget restrictions result in the movie dragging its feet and not fully delivering on its monster movie punch until near its end. Meanwhile, the pacing of the 1988 film moves along at a brisker flow, developing its story with solid twists and turns. Along with that, improved special effects allow the movie to deliver some visceral scenes of the blob’s attacks, at enough of a pace that it does not feel like the movie forgets to deliver on the horror of this creature. Ultimately, while the original film has a great idea along with a memorable movie monster, it feels like the remake is able to deliver more on the promise of that idea.

Oftentimes, arguments can rage back and forth on whether an original film or its remake is better. In the case of The Blob, I find that the 1988 remake is an enjoyable watch that has a better pace and the perk of more modern special effects to better realize the promise of the 1958 original.

The Man Who Invented Christmas: A Writer’s Lament

The biopic is a type of movie that offers a glimpse into the life of a figure from history. They may attempt to cover a broad history of their central figure, or they may choose to instead focus their lens upon a singular event in their life. In any case, they offer a chance to examine the fascinating history behind real people, from ordinary people to grand figures in the scope of history. However, there is one particular kind of person that can pose a challenge with the biopic. Namely, a writer. Writers of course can make their impact on history with their writing, but how does one communicate their work to an audience? After all, simply showing the writer writing and then having others say their work is great can come across as dull and blunt. Thankfully, a new film about Charles Dickens has found an interesting approach over this hurdle. In the film The Man Who Invented Christmas, it takes the chance to look at Charles Dickens and his creation of A Christmas Carol. Within this delightful look at the the creation of a literary classic, it presents the writing process by having Dickens interact with his own characters as he builds the story.

Suffering from a string of three flops and finding mounting debt facing him, Charles Dickens must write a new hit. Finding inspiration all around him, in particular a little-attended funeral for a rich man, he hits upon the idea of a ghost story set during Christmastime. However, his publishers are hesitant to go ahead with the idea, not only due to Dickens’s string of flops but also due to Christmas being a then-little-celebrated holiday. As a result, Dickens takes it upon himself to self-publish his book, intending to release it in time for Christmas. Thus, he is left with six weeks to write this new story and get it published in time. Complicating matters is the arrival of his father John, a man Charles resents for his spendthrift and immature ways. In fact, it is those attitudes that had caused a split between the two of them, resulting in a past that still haunts Dickens. That haunting gnaws at him, particularly as he tries to find the ending to his story. He finds himself plagued by a simple question: can a man, trapped in his ways and past for so long, truly change after all this time?

The Man Who Invented Christmas is a breezy, delightful look at the making of such a classic piece of Christmas literature. Dan Stevens works well as the famous author Charles Dickens, lending him both an eccentric air as he captures that great creative spark and that unease when facing the chains of his own past. Likewise, Christopher Plummer is a natural fit as Ebenezer Scrooge, giving the miser a cold gaze and hardened air. There is a charming, theatrical pulse to the film as a whole, which charges ahead with a firm energy in its tale. Using the dynamic of Dickens meeting and interacting with his characters as he fleshes them out into form adds a spirited touch to the proceedings, mixing his memories and the world around him with the fantastical tale of spirits on Christmas Eve. In fact, with its element of doubling actors as both figures in Dickens’s life and characters from his story, one could almost imagine this work playing out on a stage in the West End. More than that, this idea goes into one of the best strengths of the film. Namely, it offers a visual format for presenting the writing process.

The challenge in presenting a writer at work is the fact that writing is, essentially, an internal task. It is a person bringing their ideas and thoughts to the page. Thus, a way to work around that hurdle when telling the story of a writer is to externalize that process. The Man Who Invented Christmas finds a variety of ways to communicate the writing process and Dickens’s path to creating A Christmas Carol. For instance, people and things all around Dickens plant their inspiration for elements of his story. One such example is how the name of an aging waiter and the image of chains scattered over a lawyer’s safe eventually come together to create the ghost of Jacob Marley. Most often, the film plays with Dickens talking to and interacting with his characters, finding how they develop and in turn develop the story. An early meeting upon first creating Scrooge, as an example, leads to a word association game that fleshes out the tight-fisted miser and better crystallizes the character in Dickens’s mind. More than that, it also uses these character to better explore Dickens himself. Over the course of the film, Scrooge serves as not just the bitter man who would be so central to A Christmas Carol. He also serves to represent Dickens’s fears and doubts, gnawing away at him with the concerns of his past and his present. It is a way that also communicates the personal impact of the writer, how their own life can come to affect and influence their work. All in all, it does a lot more than other works that just show a writer doing their job and showing others react to their work. It shows all the pieces that come into play, from the bits of inspiration in the world around them to those personal interior sparks.

Biopics can be made of all sorts of figures through history, but writers are more difficult to convey due to the nature of their profession. The Man Who Invented Christmas deftly handles that issue as Dickens meets the characters of his own story, offering a spirited touch to the history behind a literary classic.