Friday, February 19, 2016

Stardust, Thin White Dukes and Labyrinths

“What I’m doing is theater and only theater, what you see on stage isn’t sinister, it’s pure clown. I’m using myself as a canvas and trying to paint our time on it.” - David Bowie

Like the rest of the world and like anybody who cares about music and rock and roll in general, I still mourn David Bowie’s death. He wasn’t just any regular Joe, he was special kind of human being, he was different and he reveled in the fact that he was like no other. He certainly shook the notions of a few conservatives, thankfully he also shook the pillars of heaven for all those rock and rollers out there, myself included. Bowie was a consummate artist and performer, always creating; be it through his music or through his many performances as an actor. Not only that, he was like Freddy Mercury, lead singer of Queen. With just the right lyrics and the according, perfectly chosen four cords, both of these singers could “get to you”; they could slither their way into your soul. For years, David Bowie portrayed himself as ‘Ziggy Stardust’, an being from another world who played with a band called ‘The Spiders from Mars’. Together they toured earth, collecting data on our behavior. The information Ziggy gathered would filter into his songs, songs that in turn spoke of who we are. Bowie was an observer of humanity, looking at us, like an alien “floating in a tin can” in space. He distanced himself from chaotic humanity, troubling themselves with rules and regulations. Bowie created his own unique persona so he could live by his own rules, Ziggy Stardust was a symbol of the unique, the different, it was also a response to the Glam Rock phase rock and roll through went through the 70’s with bands like KISS, The New York Dolls, The Sweet and T. Rex amongst many others.

Despite the fact that he played an alien on stage, Bowie was a very human entity. Sure he turned into a rock and roll god, but he wasn’t a perfect one. After Ziggy, Bowie would go on to live through some very dark passages in his life story. In 1976, after he’d squeezed the life out of his Ziggy Stardust persona, he transformed once again, becoming this time ‘The Thin White Duke’, a far more sinister version of Bowie. According to Bowie himself, he’s was a chameleon, acquiring, like some sort of mimicker, a hodgepodge of personalities. You see, Bowie, like most of us, was on a continuous journey of exploration, he wasn’t exempt from trying to find himself and in doing so, many a persona emerged. The Thin White Duke had pale skin, orange hair and always dressed in black and white, partially based on Thomas Jerome Newton, the alien he played on Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). At this point, some accused Bowie of being “pro-fascist”. These accusations came from some comments he made about Hitler, and a picture they took of him that looked like he was giving a “Hail Hitler!” salute. He stated that America needed fascism to “sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up” he also stated that he believed “very strongly in fascism” and that he thought that Hitler was “one of the first rock stars”. He later refuted all that, chalking it all up to theatrics, a reflection of humanity, He went on to clearly state he was not a fascist.  

At first glance, The Thin White Duke seemed, at least from an aesthetic point of view, like a “normal” persona when contrasted with the flamboyant, glam of Ziggy Stardust. But in reality, The Thin White Duke was the persona that almost killed Bowie. Bowie would call these years “the darkest years of my life.” During those years, Bowie was dangerously close to the edge, He’d turned into a coke fiend that spoke and acted in nonsensical ways, this is probably why Bowie described the Thin White Duke as an “amoral zombie”, so those fascist comments were probably a byproduct of his monstrous cocaine addiction. He admitted that during that time, he was out of his mind, totally crazed. For proof of this, just type ‘Bowie on Cocaine’ on YouTube, you’ll be treated to an interview in which Bowie is coked up out of his mind and a video where you can clearly see him partaking backstage. Thankfully he evolved yet again and left this dangerous creation of his behind, The Thin White Duke nearly killed Bowie, but before that happened, Bowie killed the Duke at a rehab clinic, accompanied by the one and only Iggy Pop. Thankfully, Bowie realized the folly of his ways and emerged a far more “normal” individual; I guess we could call it ‘the real Bowie’. He wasn’t playing any character, he was just himself. Funny part is that during all these transformations and self explorations, he never stopped acting or making records, art was imitating life and to Bowie, life was one big theater.

I came to know of Bowie when I was about eleven years old, that first time I saw Labyrinth (1986). Back then I knew he was some sort of rock persona, but I had no idea. In fact, if I remember correctly, my Christian family had problems with me watching Labyrinth because to them Bowie was the lead singer of a satanic rock band! I always ignored these comments and watched Labyrinth more times than I can remember because it was just too cool of a movie not to see it and I found Bowies songs so addictive. I still say that if I ever get married, I’m dancing ‘As the World Falls Down’ with my wife. I place Labyrinth on my top five favorite Fantasy films from the 80’s.

Life is a labyrinth, we just gotta figure it out

Labyrinth is a coming age story about a young girl that learns that in life things aren’t always the way we’d like them to be. Labyrinth taught me many things, among them that the unexpected can happen and that when it does, there’s no time to complain, you just have to deal with it. It taught me that the world is full of lies and distractions and that we have to sift through them, searching for the truth. It taught me that we should focus on our goals and never give up on them, not even when we reach a terrible black oubliette. Labyrinth was the movie that taught me that “nothing is what it seems in this place” and that I “shouldn’t take anything for granted”. It taught me that we can go up against impossible odds and that we can win if we only stay true to ourselves and surround ourselves with true friends. It taught me that we should become masters of our own destiny, that we should take responsibility for our actions. It’s a film about evil wanting to corrupt purity, innocence and goodness, only that in the world of Labyrinth, goodness has the courage and the will to fight back! “You have no power over me!” says Sarah to Jareth, in this way teaching us that should we choose to do so, we could lead our lives in the direction we choose. Throughout the film, Sarah becomes an adult, leaving the things of childhood behind, but does this mean she’ll forget entirely about her beloved childhood? One thing I always liked about this film is that it doesn’t tell us to completely eradicate childlike innocence from our lives. Instead, it taught us that that innocence, that sense of wonder should always be there for us should we ever need it. 

Labyrinth is an amazing accomplishment on many levels, it’s an impressive production, but then again, no one should expect anything less than awesome with the talent involved in the making of this film. First off, Jim Henson himself directed this magical tale. Yes, THAT Jim Henson, quite literally, the master of puppets! Staying true to his title, Jim Henson and crew made sure this film was populated by a plethora of puppets. Literally every nook and cranny of this world is filled with a puppet of some kind. The way they made this film, entire sets were built above ground so that the puppeteers could stand below, maneuvering the creatures. No one makes films like this anymore, it takes special individuals to propel this type of production, and it seems no one is picking up Jim Henson’s reins, which makes movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal (1982) all the more special. If they remade Labyrinth now, I’m sure it would be populated with lots of CGI creatures. What Hollywood doesn’t understand or chooses to ignore is that what made these movies so magical were the puppets and the sets and the artistic talent involved. Labyrinth might be a fantastic tale about goblins and fairies, but behind it all was that human touch. We know there’s puppeteers pulling the strings and that makes the film a million times more special, it adds that human touch to it that is so sorely missing from today’s films. 

To top things off, Bowie’s songs are so freaking memorable. Sometimes when artists do songs for a film, they’ll do throwaways that they won’t even sing in their own concerts, but not with Labyrinth. On this show Bowie produced and performed tunes that were just as good as his regular records.’ Dance Magic Dance’, ‘As the World Falls Down’ and ‘Underground’ are all amazing. For a while there Bowie’s Labyrinth soundtrack was all I knew of the artist. Even then as a child, knowing nothing else about Bowie, I connected with those Labyrinth songs. I guess, even as a child I recognized greatness. When I reached my late twenties I decided to reconnect and explore the rest of his work. A whole new world opened up for me. I was immediately blown away by the coolness, the purely rock and roll aspect of Bowie. I loved the fact that Bowie reveled in his exoticness; he was a wild one as are most of us during our younger years, when we think we’re going to live forever, when we think we are indestructible. But time passes, and death and decease will eventually catch up with all of us, as it did with Bowie who died of cancer on Juanuary 10th 2016. Bowie was an artist to the very end and beyond, as he was working on a final album before he died, that album was ‘Blackstar’. He was such an artist, that he wrote a whole song, and filmed an amazing video, precisely to be released after he died. The chilling song is called ‘Lazarus’, a song in which he reviews his entire life as a rock and roll superstar, musing about it all with longing in his voice. It's a song performed by an artist who lived a truly rich life. Leave it to Bowie to send shivers down our spines even from beyond the grave. Speaking of which, as I sit hear in front of my computer, musing on how to finish this article, Life on Mars? started playing on my phone randomly...I can't help getting an eerie feeling and remembering those lyrics from Lazarus "Look up here...I'm in heaven..." Perhaps there is Life on Mars after all! 


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool (2016)

Director: Tim Miller

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand

I started collecting comics at the exact time when Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee and Erick Larsen were at the peak of their artistic powers drawing for Marvel Comics. It was a special time to be collecting comics because during the 90’s, comics suddenly became scalding hot! Thanks to artists such as these, comics were selling more than a million comics per issue, something unheard of at the time. Suddenly, these comic book artists were rock stars! It didn’t take long for them to realize their pulling power, so they banded together and branched out on their own, creating Image Comics, a comic book company that went on to become the third biggest comic publisher in the United States, giving Marvel and DC a run for their money. Image Comics success obligated the big two to adjust to the Image Comics style. But before Image Comics came along, these artists created a lot of characters for Marvel Comics, one of these characters was Rob Liefeld’s and Fabian Nicieza’s own brainchild, Deadpool, a character that made it’s big debut on The New Mutants #98, went on to appear in X-Force and later became so popular he got his own publication. Deadpool has come a long way baby! Now his got his own feature film, and it’s an astounding success! Who would’ve thunk it right? Specially coming from a property that the studio had absolutely zero faith in? To use a tired phrase, show’s how much they know right?

Deadpool's first appearance in The New Mutants issue #98

Deadpool tells the tale of Wade Winston Wilson, ex-mercenary who suddenly finds himself with the happy prospect of dying from cancer. But wait, there’s hope for him yet! A mysterious organization offers him the chance of curing his cancer and possibly turning him into a superhero! How can you say no to that? But wait; is it all peaches and cream? Is this deal too good to be true? Of course it is and so, the organization turns out to be an evil organization dealing with genetic experimentation. You see, they take volunteers and inject them with mutant genes, just to see what the hell happens. In Deadpools case, well, he turns into an immortal. No matter what happens to him, he doesn’t die! He regenerates at a lightning fast pace! The problem? Well, Wade ends up looking like Freddy Krueger on Monday morning! Will he get revenge upon those who turned his face into hamburger meat?

The way a Deadpool comic book goes is, he breaks the fourth wall all the time, saying jokes to the audience as he kicks ass. He makes a zillion pop cultural references per second and as he fights the bad guys, he usually gets beaten up pretty badly, and by badly I mean dismembered, torn apart, decapitated, you name it. Cool thing is he quickly regenerates and keeps on ticking. Brilliant thing about the new film is that it didn’t change that one bit, they went with it and simply translated that modus operandi to the big screen, and it works like magic. Deadpool is always talking to us, explaining things, making jokes at the film itself and so forth. That’s right my friends, don’t expect a “normal” movie by any standards. This is the kind of film that purposely breaks as many cinematic rules as it can. In fact, on this film, nothing is sacred, not even the credits sequence! Or the post credits sequence for that matter. If you want to know what to expect for Deadpool 2, stay after the credits!

Since this is Deadpool's first solo film, it is an origin story, so we do see how he came to be, which is cool because this character is not as well known as Superman or Batman, we don’t know how he came to be by heart, and trust me, Deadpool’s origin is very dark for a Marvel movie; which brings me to this films ‘R’ rating. This movie is a very hard ‘R’, there’s nudity, there’s profanity, there’s blood and guts, gore, decapitations, violence galore, sex and dildos. Trust me, you don’t want to be taking your little kids to this movie, because it’s not for little kids! This movie is for adults, or at the very least teenagers who can take a joke dealing with a strap on. Problem is, parents see the Marvel logo and they immediately think it’s okay to take the kids! So please, if you’re a parent be forewarned, this is not a squeaky clean character. He cusses; he lives with a blind lady who loves cocaine, he has no problems shooting villains in the head. By the way, Ryan Reynolds was born to play this role. Often times, Ryan Reynolds non stop jokes can be annoying in other roles, but as Deadpool, his thousand jokes per minute technique fits in perfectly. His character has a good story arch, even tragic. It brought to mind other comic book movies like Spawn (1997) and Darkman (1990), both of which go through similar situations of falling deeply in love, then having trouble reconnecting with their loved one after they've been permanently scarred.  

By the way, it’s refreshing to see an ‘R’ rated film; they’ve become so rare these days. Watching them is like seeing an animal about to become extinct, which is why I’m beyond happy that this movie is doing so well at the box office! I mean, it’s opening weekend was better than all those X-Men movies, all those guys got left in the dust by Deadpool’s success! Okay, here’s some numbers to put things into perspective: the film cost 58 million dollars, a small budget for a Hollywood film. Yet Deadpool went on to make 260 million worldwide on its first weekend! That’s five times its budget! That’s an immediate success story! Obviously we’ll be seeing a Deadpool 2, which by the way was  greenlit even before the first films release so yeah, we’ll see a whole lot more Deadpool. I just hope that Deadpool’s success will propel some studio out there to finally make that Lobo movie! You see, Lobo is DC comics version of Deadpool, only he’s a whole lot meaner, and a whole lot more sci-fi as in he rides a motorcycle through space. Here’s hoping Deadpool opens the door to more ‘R’rated films, I hear Wolverine III is aiming to be an ‘R’ rated film as well. I got my adamantium blades crossed.

Rating: 4 out of 5  


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Directors: The Wachowskis

Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant

Another film to add to the “films that shouldn’t have flopped” file. I’m actually kind of sad that I never got around to watching this one until now, but I am glad I finally got to watch it because I was missing out on an excellent, profound film. Cloud Atlas comes to us from three directors, Andy and Lana Wachowski (the two siblings behind The Matrix trilogy) and Tom Tykwer, the director behind the gruesome and beautiful Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006). Tykwer also directed the ultra stylized Run Lola Run (1998). Why three directors you might ask? Well, this film is extremely complex; it involves various stories occurring in different timelines. It’s a story that spans throughout many decades, past, present and future. The Wachowski’s directing this one makes sense because they are used to directing complex films with a lot of special effects and having Tom Tykwer involved makes sense as well, his Run Lola Run was all about how our smallest actions can profoundly affect other people’s lives, which is essentially what Cloud Atlas is all about.

I’ m not going to attempt to explain or mention the premise for each of the story lines here because that would make for a convoluted review, instead, I’ll present you guys with the films themes in a nutshell. This is a story about people fighting for injustices throughout history. In each of the story lines, an atrocity is being committed against humanity, be it through racism, bigotry or plain and simple evil. In each of the story lines, characters are fighting against said injustices. The most interesting aspect of the whole film is how all the characters are connected, as if each one of them had come back through reincarnation to continue fighting evil in their new life or to evolve. There’s this prevailing idea that we evolve through time; in one life a character might be a scoundrel, but in the next he has learned his lesson and has evolved into a kind hearted individual. At the center of it all is the idea that truth, love and goodness must prevail and that we cannot let evil slip through the cracks.  

I remember when this film was first released; it got a lot of “worst of the year” reviews. I cannot understand why; It’s a beautiful film with something important to say. Fight the injustice, human rights need to be respected, we all need our dignity and our freedom to be who we want to be in this world. But I guess movies with a good message aren’t as popular as nonsensical action movies and yet, here’s the thing, Cloud Atlas proves to be an entertaining film as well. It’s not preachy, or boring, in fact, it has some kick ass action in it! In this way, it reminded me of a recent favorite of mine, Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland (2015), which while giving a valid, positive message to the masses still managed to be wildly entertaining and include incredible visual effects. Same thing with Cloud Atlas, a poignant film that got lost in the shuffle.  Some will undoubtedly find it a “messy” story, but in all honesty, if you have a brain in your head and stick with the story all the way to the end, you will “get it”, you will see that there is a cohesiveness to the tale, you will see that it will all make sense in the end. You will see the inter-connectivity between the stories and you will see that they all relate to the message of fighting the injustices in our society. You will see that it’s all about us, fighting for our rights to be free, to live our lives in spite of the fact that there are forces out there that would have it otherwise. 

Production wise, it must have been a daunting task to make this movie. Actors recount how one day they’d be dressed as a pirate, the next day as a doctor, the next day as someone from the future, I have to say it all worked out in the end, which is what matters. The Wachowski’s have been making unsuccessful movies for some time now, Speed Racer (2008), Cloud Atlas (2012) and most recently Jupiter Ascending (2015), which makes me wonder if we’ll see a film from them again. If I know how Hollywood works, we probably won’t. Still, if you haven’t given Cloud Atlas a chance, then maybe you should. It’s got a formidable cast composed of Tom Hanks, Halley Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Keith David, I mean it just goes on and on and each actor plays various characters throughout time, it’s interesting to see them portraying all these different characters. Bottom line is, you probably missed out on this one when it originally released (like me), but you should give it a shot, the Wachowski’s made a good one and most of the world missed it.  

Rating: 4 out of 5    


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