Critical Hit!!

pop culture (and everything else) explored

Summer Anime Recommendations

Well, it summer — time to stay indoors and watch anime! But not just any anime: here are a couple recommendations that capture in some way the spirit of summer. All of these series, you can watch on Crunchyroll.

Recommendation 1: Tsuritama 

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Tsuritama is a lovely series about friendship with a plot involving fishing and aliens. Taking place in a beach town, it perfectly captures many of the joys of summer. Also, there is dancing!

Recommendation 2: Harukana Receive

harukana receive.jpgHarukana Recieve is a new show for the summer season about girls playing beach volleyball. I liked the first episode and want to see more – its seems worth while!

Recommendation 3: Free! Iwatomi Swim Club

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Swimming is love, swimming is life. Free! Iwatomi Swim Club understands this. Any of Free! is good for some good swimming summer vibes, and there is even a new season starting this summer!

Recommendation 4: Non Non Biyori

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Non non Biyori is about the quiet life in the Japanese countryside, and captures the best kind of chill vibes you can get in the summer. If you need something even more relaxing for this season, this anime is a great experience for that.
All of these series get at some essential aspect of summer and are all definitely worth checking out!

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Duckman Review

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I finished the series Duckman a few months ago, and it was certainly worth the watch. Based on a short lived Dark Horse comic by Everett Peck, the animated series ran for three season from 1994-1997 on the USA Network. The premise of the show is that Duckman (voiced by Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander) is a private detective with his partner pig Cornfed (Gregg Berger) whose has a colourful home life with his sister-in-law Bernice (Nancy Travis), and son Ajax (Dweezil Zappa) and conjoined genius twins Charles (voiced by Dana Hill and later Pat Musick) and Mambo (voiced by E. G. Daily).

While the premise is Duckman as terrible P.I., the series becomes less and less about private detective work, and more about “let’s throw these characters into a wacky situation.” The show changes the dynamic enough to keep thing interesting, supplementing and then outright replacing Bernice’s harsh candour with the long lost sister Beverly and caring and concerned demeanour.

And the show is funny. Like other mile-a-minute writing like Daria (1997-2002), I can’t quite envision a show like this today, save perhaps Rick and Morty. Duckman’s references can range form the esoteric, to the mainstream (well, the mainstream of 20 years ago.) Catching references can be a delight, and may require specialized knowledge. The show itself makes clever homages, from the Marx Bros., to Star Trek, Bridges of Madison County, and everywhere in between. It’s a good show for the pop culture connoisseur. I only understood references to Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield, for instance, because i watched Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). The series also peppers in jokes of high culture, and tips its hat when it does. (“Their called books, kids,” Cornfed utters in the last episode).

Duckman’s selfish nature can sometimes be irritatingly predictable, and the series could dip more into why he has such craven lust as a response to his crippling loneliness and inadequacies. But when the series does get into those complicated issues, it can be compelling material. His cravenness meshes well with the texture of the series, an almost gritty animation style from 90s animation powerhouse producer Klasky Csupo.

Nothing looks like the series anymore, and the series’ brazen exploration of any kind of episode premise (from a musical episode, to a pitch-perfect film noir send up) makes the series a delight to watch. The entire series is on Youtube, so there is literally nothing to lose. Watch it!

The Redemption of Sufjan

When Call Me By Your Name (2017) came out, I reconnected with a figure I had discarded: indie music icon Sufjan Stevens. This might come as a shock, namely, why I would have discarded Sufjan in the first place. He has multiple masterpiece albums to his name. He’s practically a saint in the music world! But for me, Sufjan was an icon for a side of my life I have long grappled with: my connection to Christianity. I soon realized that my relationship to Sufjan significantly mirrored my relationship to the Christian faith and its culture.

It started out well enough. While I wasn’t really devout growing up, I ended up where many of my high school friends ended up: a private, liberal arts, Christian college. In attending Calvin College, the cousin institution of Sufjan’s alma mater, Hope College, I became quite familiar with West Michigan Christian culture that Sufjan grew up with. Overwhelmingly Dutch heritage entangled with a staunch protestant work ethic, Calvin, and the people who surrounded it, supported a niche culture that tends to suck in everyone who enters. Such a culture also included an inviting worldview around art and culture.

When I first attended, I was relieved. This is how it can be done!, I thought. This is how we can reconcile pop culture and Christianity, by putting pop culture in subservience to God. And Sufjan was held up as the peak example (well, him and U2) as an artist beautifully fusing faith and music together. Sufjan singing about John Wayne Gacy Jr.? He’s reflecting on the brokenness of the world, and how it needs God’s redemption! Sufjan singing about homoerotic encounters? Well, surely he’s just talking about God!

This is how my life continued for a while, until junior year. I began to get radicalized, from watching avant-garde film, studying 60s counterculture, and pushing the envelope with screenings of films like A Clockwork Orange on campus.

And while I listened to The Age of Adz on repeat most of my senior year, what Sufjan used to stand for slowly drifted away. Is all art truly supposed to connect back to God in some way? The idea never truly sat quite right with me, and I realized I didn’t actually need to accept it any longer.

After I graduated, I started attending a church with a pastor who probably didn’t even believe in God. Soon, I stopped attending church all together. Sufjan drifted out from my music library. When Carrie and Lowell came out, my partner wrote a negative review, having arrived at a similar place as I had. Why doesn’t he get better? Why must he always be sad? Why, in all of this, is he still Christian? I felt possessive, angry, because I saw so much of myself in him. Sufjan had become an emblem for everything wrong at Calvin: the suppressing, tasteful respectability of the place the smothers those who don’t conform.

And so as a queer woman, I rejected him.

***

Soon it was 2017, and Sufjan’s name was uttered again. He was contributing songs to a gay film, and speculations of Sufjan’s sexuality arose again. Sufjan has never been public about his sexuality, which is fine, but it’s significant to note how his music reflects male homoeroticism. “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” stands as one of the most prominent examples of Sufjan’s gay lyrics.

“Touching his back with my hand I kiss him…
I can’t explain the state that I’m in
The state of my heart, he was my best friend…”

He’s Gay! I scream inside. He’s gay and yet he still tethers himself to Christianity!

But by 2017, something changed. The time away from Calvin, from Sufjan, from Christianity, had given me time to heal. I want to listen to him again, despite this tension. Sufjan’s just too smart an artist to leave behind. And watching his performance at the Oscars, I could only think of how excited I was, and how I wanted him to succeed.

All the frustrations I had found with Sufjan, in hindsight, were not fair judgements to make. The sadness, the melancholy, I know now that these are not easy things to be rid of.

I did see Sufjan on his Carrie and Lowell tour in 2015. It was probably one of the best concerts in my life. Later in the same tour, he covered Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” which, of course he did, he is an expert in melancholic hook ups. Shine on you crazy diamond.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Three Themes

Some musings on three themes in Rian Johnson’s latest entry into the Star Wars franchise; themes with clarity and execution that illustrates him as the superior filmmaker to J.J. Abrams, who, pardon the cliche, is all flash and no substance.

1: Who runs the world? Girls. The film adds more female characters in significant roles, and demonstrate how women work behind the scenes to keep the Resistance going, often to little or no fanfare.

This is a film that undermines the mythos of the cock-sure male fighter, the man who bets it all to be rewarded in the end. Yes, Poe’s gamble at the beginning of the film succeeds, but at the cost of many lives.

In contrast, there’s General Leia Organa and Admiral Holdo, whose steady leadership holds quiet wisdom that doesn’t call attention to itself. When first meeting Holdo, Poe almost can’t believe it. This is the great leader of many a battle? But of course, The Last Jedi demonstrates throughout the film that a war is not won through a few choice battles, but constant upkeep, steady leadership, and finally, a spark of hope. The film introduces us early on to Rose, who works down bellow by the escape pods, preventing people form abandoning ship. Such tasks are often overlooked in such grand space operas, but Johnson brings them to the fore to demonstrate how women of all levels of leadership are at the forefront of the battle, even if they are physically located in the back.

And speaking of Rose…

2: Myths are both a source of hope, and something that needs to be destroyed. Both Kylo Ren and Rey grapple with the old mythical figures (the Jedi, Luke Skywalker, Snoake, etc), to both uncover the past and in some ways, leave it behind to build something anew. Like Luke says, the old Jedi order needs to be destroyed. However, this does not mean there will be no more Jedi, but that the flaws of the Jedi (elitism, the fact that they can’t have sex…) need to be left behind to forge a new future. Likewise, Kylo Ren discards old forms of power to try and build a new order for himself.

Rose is another character where myths are critiqued. Rose first meets Finn, knowing of his heroic turn against the Last Order. Finn brushes off such comments of course. But in the final instance, when Finn tries to commit a heroic suicidal mission, Rose stops him, risking her own life.  Rose, the person working in the depths of the ship, barely known, ends up being more heroic.

The need for a story, a hero, a villain, a struggle. It animates us all, just like it inspires the child stable helpers at the casino. But we are not beholden to them; we can change them. and we should abandon them when they are ultimately destructive. And this is what The Last Jedi does. In moments of confrontation, Kylo Ren asks Rey who her parents really are, and the answer is: no one. At least, no one important. She does not come from a space lineage family. She is not beholden to a myth. And in grappling with that, and overcoming it, she becomes the Jedi the Resistance needs.

3: In the midst of war, the environment will adapt and survive. There are a number of new creatures established in this film: beautiful Vultpex (crystal foxes), strange seals, the horselike fathier, and, last but not least, Porgs.

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#PorgNation

Porgs are more than just a cute new creature to the franchise. Much like how the Vultpex find a path through the ancient catacombs to escape a battle scene, Porgs demonstrate animals adapting an living to new environments of chaos cerated in war. One of the best shots in the film is a Porg nesting with its small child in the Millennium Falcon, and it illustrates so much about the film as a whole. The Falcon is a place of refuge for most everyone in the Star Wars franchise, serving as the last shuttle away from battle in this film. But it also serves as a new nesting place for these creatures, and become a new mascot of sorts for the Resistance.

In fact, the animals of this film are very much symbols of the new Resistance. Vultpex lead the way for the last of the Resistance to escape. The Fathier disrupt and destroy parts of the Casino city, one city built from the wealth of weapons dealers, escaping their captors back to the wilderness. And porgs? Well, porgs are perhaps more symbolic of the will to live, the ability to adapt and move on with the battle.

 

 

Clickbait culture conspiracy videos and you!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the proliferation of channels on YouTube devoted to unpacking pop culture through obsessively detailed textual analysis, usually in unproductive ways. Shows like Cartoon Conspiracy and the entirety of MatPat’s output go into almost ridiculous detail in pop culture to uncover “hidden meanings” within the text.

In regards to these videos, we should ask the question: what does these readings produce? Or rather, are these productive readings of these texts? Sometimes there can be the occasional productive reading, such as MatPat’s analysis of Youtube shift towards amount of time streamed instead of amount of clicks. But usually they are insular that aren’t actually productive in understanding a text in a new or innovative way.

 These readings ignore various modes of production, typically with an overemphasis on specific modes of consumption, namely obsessively detailed theorizing that often fails to achieve much of anything. A great example occurred quote recently on Cartoon Conspiracy theorizing that instead of flying away with a flock of pigeons, Pigeon Man, a character on Hey Arnold!, committed suicide in front of Arnold. Reasons supporting this theory include:

  • a flock of pigeons can’t actually lift a man (this claim ignores the possibilities of the fiction world as distinct from the real)
  • Pigeon Man’s last words to Arnold sound finite (that’s a stretch of interpretation)
  • Pigeon Man appears to fly into the sun, which forms a similar pattern to Kamikaze sun pattern from WWII Japanese military flags (?!?!)

To be clear, there is no textual support for these claims. In this example, as in many others, the divide between the real world and the fictional world in the text is erased, leading to that often throws logic in support of the claim. What’s great about this cartoon conspiracy is the creator of Hey Arnold! (i.e. the author of the text) comes in at the end a directly refutes the claim, noting that such theorizations ignore the actual modes of production in the creation of such texts. People want to find dark, hidden secrets of pop culture, usually eschewing the modes of production, or asserting faulty claims, that the author’s vision was hampered by the studio/the censors/etc. However, these claims are usually largely unfounded, and have no basis in reality, like mush of these kinds of videos.

I can appreciate such theorizing when engaging with media that is specifically designed as a puzzle, a riddle, a mystery. Mat Pat’s theorizations are pretty good with Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared and Five Nights at Freddy’s (except this trifle video that speculates how much force the bite of ’83 would require – again, a lack of boundaries between the real world and the fictional one). But most pop culture is not designed this way, making these kinds of conspiratorial readings rather unproductive productive, as they end up with faculty understandings of texts.

(As a side note, clearer definitions of what it means to read a text vis-a-vis our relationship to media objects can help with these issues of interpretation, but this is outside the scope of this post.)

In identifying this new wave of YouTube interpretive communities, I stumbled back upon PBS Idea Channel once again, and realized that some of their output also fell into this vein. I rewatched their video on Jurassic Park as a Commentary on Capitalism, and realized that it fell into some of the same problems. excavating why helps illustrate the needs of sustainable criticism.

While I already wrote a blog post about some of the limitations of the video, what’s more apparent to me now is that the video attempts the same kind of “hidden meaning” approach that is ultimately unproductive. While the video asserts that the film is a cirque of capitalism, there is no clear positionally in the text.

While the video names Jurassic Park (specifically the film, because books are boring amirite?) as a ‘commentary on capitalism’, we cannot call such a reading even that, as there is no positionally. How can we truly claim capitalism is critiqued in the film? Looking at the text form various angles, there are no productive routes towards such a conclusion. From a standpoint of political economy, that is, one that engages in the modes of allocation, production, distribution, and consumption of texts, the making of the film lies within traditional capitalist filmmaking. After all, many films that attempt to critique capitalism are made by alternative film collectives that avoid the Hollywood division of labour. And while there are plenty of anti-capitalist films made in Hollywood, Jurassic Park is, frankly, not one of them. So from a political economic approach, there are no clear paths towards a critique of capitalism.

What about textual pathways towards such a critique? Well, this would have us ask the question: just what is Jurassic Park about anyway? It’s about the vulnerability of large scale systems, in which capitalism is a sub-category. Hence the books illustrations fo fractal systems and engagement with chaos theory. Dr. Ian Malcolm’s trick with the water droplets is not only a scene of him hitting on the paleobotanist Ellie Sattler. It is this of course, but also illustrates the nature of chaos (his specialty), while also adding another aspect of the film’s water imagery (water is connected throughout the film as a symbol of uncontrollable nature).

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Fractals serve as a visual illustration throughout the book.

There are other forms of criticism one could use to approach the text, but none lead to the bold conclusions of PBS Ideal Channel. In lieu of this, a more productive reading would be an ecological approach, where Jurassic Park functions as a critique of humans trying to extract value from nature. This is a much more productive vein, partially because it falls in line with the series’ underlying fascination with system theory, as well as resonating with conceptions of nature and humanity’s relationship with it.

In short, culture conspiracy videos are attempts at textual criticism that usually fall short and are not only unproductive, but potentially have negative effects on the standards of textual criticism. After all, if people really want to get at the darkness hidden within pop culture, it’s not hard. One merely needs to engage with literature that recognizes the multitudes of problems in pop culture, from capitalist exploitation, to racist appropriation, and more.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? or, A Defence of Formalism

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) is an audacious film even by today’s standards. Frank Tashlin’s comedic skewering of the advertisement industry, the manufacturers of hype that undergird the entertainment business, comments on the hallow-ness of advertising (an obvious point, but one never quite explored like this), the shifting tides of film and television culture, and the true essence of happiness, should such a concept be attainable.

The film is the tale of the advertising man Rock Hunter (Tony Randall) mired in a false love affair with starlet Rita Marlow (Jayne Mansfield) to acquire her endorsement to save his ad agency’s key client, Stay-Put Lipstick. Rita positions Rock as her new love interest, in revenge against her former lover, actor Bobo Branigansky (Mickey Hargitay), himself a humorous parody of jungle adventure heroes. As Kevin Smith says, “In Hollywood, you fail upwards”, and Rock soon finds himself as front page news, a star, and the new president of the ad company. But this fame and fortune means nothing without the love of his life, Jenny (Betsy Drake). Rock quits his job, much like the president before him, to pursue his dream (in this case, raising chickens), and find the “very living end.”

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Roses and pipes – yes, one could indeed have a fruitful psychoanalytic reading of this film.

While on paper the story’s theme (fame and fortune means nothing without real love) seems mundane, the film’s commitment to the wondrous excesses of formalism punctures the film with shocks of meta-commentary. Rock dances like a fool in his empty office, as coloured  lights fill the space, a reflection of his brimming stardom. The film breaks the fourth wall, as Tony Randall addresses the audience on topics of actor’s contracts, the story at hand, and of course, sly digs at the limitations of television. The film shocks the audience with is (post)modern theatricality, a spin on Bertolt Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt effect, or the alienation effect, by which the audience is made to actively think about a work’s themes by distancing the audience from identifying with the story’s characters. The film’s alienating effects, such as the intermission mimicking the visual and aural tropes of television and radio dramas, certainly call upon the audience to actively think about their consumption of television, and its domesticating affects on the viewer. Such fourth wall breaking highlights the film’s own construction as well. What better way to embody the fakery that is advertising in the visual age by delving and delighting in the very fakery that propels the entertainment industry itself?

It makes sense that the film was directed by Tashlin, a former animation director. Animation, with the ability to depict anything, suits formalism’s excess of form, such as an outpouring of style and the ability to disrupt the image. Such disruptions to the plot, and such meta-commentary, disturbs the viewer and consistently shakes them from a position of passive complacency with the image. Randall addresses the viewer in the beginning, middle, and end of the film, consistently reminding them of their positionally as a viewer of a film. And yes, this includes Tashlin (as producer, co-writer, and director), making (not so) subtle jabs at television.

And could you blame him? Television’s insurgency into the world of visual culture stole the film industry’s audience, only to present a lacklustre image compared to the beauties of film. Television also functions as a symbol of the image’s domestication, and also connected to the domestication of the viewer and the audience. We see this dialectical relationship in other masterpieces of 50s formalism, such as Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955). In it, affluent widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) falls in love with the down-to-earth, yet intellectual Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), whose simple life as her gardener makes their relationship the target of scrutiny, as Cary’s bourgeois friends and family reject her. As her family try to replace Ron with a brand new television set, we see Cary’s abject face reflected in the very symbol of domestication. Not only does a television tether her to domestic life of the home (in contrast to Ron’s life in the countryside), but the television does not merely frame her image, but confines it.

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Incidentally, I wonder to what extent the geeky nature of Rock Hunter is a playful subversion of Rock Hudson’s masculine charm as a popular 50s star figure.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? certainly shares some of All The Heaven Allows’s coded ire towards television. But the film’s perception of television also holds a different nuance, and can be seen in the arrival of Groucho Marx as George Schmidlap, Rita’s long lost love interest. Groucho emerged from vaudeville to become a film star, only to end his career in television hosting You Bet Your Life (which the film coyly references as Rita and George reunite.) Rita’s and George’s reuniting on live television is not mere coincidence. Perhaps the film is signally the inevitability of stardom to expand across media, and television is merely another domain for stardom – and advertising.

Film’s tense relationship with television in the 50s provides an alternative view towards a conception of a shifting image culture, and these films in particular offer a specific window into this relationship. It is precisely the disruptive formalism – this window into the world- of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? that enables its sophisticated critique of the various nodes of the entertainment industry.

When the fanfic becomes canon – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven

The logo to JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven (PS4) is a game that’s made for the fans. Not only is it the ultimate crossover event for the series, it creates situations that speaks the characters of the series in ways only fans can understand. Now, the title of this post isn’t perfectly accurate, as the video game JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven is not technically canon. Still, creator Hirohiko Araki wrote the story himself, and he envisions the alternate reality we all want – one where the lives of fan favourite characters are restored through the ultimate crossover event. Old Joseph Joestar remembers how Caesar died, sees the process happening before him, and stops the hot-headed Caesar to save his life. Part 3 Polnareff meets the Part 5 crew before he began researching the arrows. And the ending to the game is, well…

A gif of Doctor who saying everybody lives!

It just goes to show how perhaps no one loves JJBA characters more that Araki himself, as just might serve as an example of a creator making fan-fiction for his own creation.

Defining Anime

Geoff from Mother’s Basement made a new video recently critiquing how we current define anime, and what definition(s) we should take moving forward. I find the idea of anime as a series of movements interesting. I also like his point of how we can get more people talking about animation in its various forms. I do think, however, that his conceptualization of anime itself as a movement has some problems. A lot of what I disagree with I’ve articulated in my two-part series What is Anime, but I’ll take some time to expand upon a few points I disagree with.

One problem is that the idea that anime is a collectively agreed upon movement is not true in Japan. Creators like Hayao Miyazaki, Kuri Yoji, Furukawa Taku, and Aihara Nobuhiro express their disdain for anime, which for them means television animation in Japan. You can read more about that in the open access article  “To Be or Not to Be – Anime: The Controversy in Japan over the “Anime” Label” by Sheuo Hui Gan.

There are also contexts that can get lost if anime is conceptualized as one giant movement. The big eyed aesthetic is something that has historical and political contexts emerging from the beginnings of television animation in Japan. The “big eyes” come from Tezuka, who got them from Disney comics during the occupation. The fact that the fattened, big eyes aesthetic is then taken back to America is a fascinating cultural flow that I think gets lost when the discourse of anime is changed to a movement rather than a locus of production centred in Japan. Another important piece of knowledge lost is how stylistic cost cutting is something that emerged from a political and economic context of Japan, particularly emerging during Japan’s Americanization in the 50s. Keeping a definition of anime that focuses on Japan’s production, distribution, and consumption helps keep these histories of imperialism and aesthetic within the public discourse.

Comparisons to the French New Wave, and how he conceptualizes it are a bit murky. French New Wave films are recognizable as French New Wave because they are films produced in France during the 50-60s with certain aesthetic and stylistic flair. The movement is located in a distinct, defined political, historical, and economic context. When we say Tarentino and others are influenced by the movement, we recognize they were not directors working in France in the 1960s, but rather the French New Wave as a movement in filming had dramatic effects across the globe in envisioning new methods of filmmaking. The same is for anime. Many western animators (Genndy Tartakovsky, for example), are influenced by anime, but we also recognize he is not an animator working in Japan, but rather globalization developments, technological changes, and global cultural flows all have a hand in spreading anime’s influence around the world.

Hence my hesitation to call it a movement, at least in the very general sense that Geoff uses. There are certainly many movements within Japanese animation (such as genre shifts, aesthetic changes, etc.). But I do think for concrete discourse and study of anime, Japan as a locus of history, politics, economics, imperialism, and more is essential for understanding anime both as a product (shows, OVAs, films, etc) and a process (the anime industry that shapes these products).

Faeries

Part of a series on the films of Jeremy Irons 

Faeries (1999) is about two young siblings falling into the arbitrary laws of faeryworld and how they ultimately help save the kingdom from evil. Well, really, its the older sister Nellie that saves the day. Her young brother George mostly just gets in the way.

It’s an animated film, and it’s terrible. It smashes traditional 2d cel animation with CG and even miniature sets… I think? The only way to access this film is watching a low quality rip on Youtube, as this film has been justifiably forgotten. It does have a few interesting things, namely 1/2 of a good voice cast (Kate Winslet, Jeremy Irons, Dougray Scott), a wedding scene that happens in the middle of a film as opposed to the end, Dougray Scott is actually sweet as the faery Prince, and… ok maybe that’s about it too. Otherwise the film is filled with fantasy tropes (orb of power) and frustrating arbitrary dining rules (like the myth of Persepone, except … even cheaper.) The character designs likely belong to the Bad Character designs tumblr as well.

Unfortunately, Irons is barely in the film, as he plays the Shapeshifter, the evil brother of the Faery Prince. As a result, much of his character’s screen time is spent imitating other characters, so we the audience rarely get the luxury of Irons’ voice. When Irons does speak, he adds a nasality quality to his voice to sound reedy and raspy rather than the richness his voice can deliver. You can tell how he’s only a half-step away from his Profion voice in Dungeons & Dragons (2000).

Ultimately, Faeries is only interesting for how much of a forgotten movie it is. Its iMDB page is hilarious sparse, and little information about the film is available online. Watch it if you like to find forgotten media on the internet.

The Man in the Iron Mask

Part of a series on the films of Jeremy Irons

The poster for The Man in the Iron Mask

Bros bein’ bros.

For the next entry in this series, we’ll skip the near-impossible to find tv movie Mirad (1997) and jump to Jeremy Irons’ next item in his filmography: The Man in the Iron Mask (1998). What to say about this film, when it some of the most middle of the road filmmaking I’ve even seen? This isn’t to completely discredit the movie, but it is a kind of film Hollywood doesn’t make too often anymore: the medium-budgeted film. No franchise expectations as an adaptation, but merely a historical period piece.

It’s similar to Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers adaptation, in that it doesn’t have enough so-bad-its-good moments to keep the film alive. Instead, while this film is certainly more competent than Anderson’s disappointment (save for Orlando Bloom’s gloriously campy performance), The Man in the Iron Mask is just that: competent. It’s mostly notable for all the big names attached, and the small but notable qualities they add to the film. John Malkovich has some hilarious scenes that emerge from his particular acting style, which often amounts to over enunciating his lines. Coupled with his musketeer role as Athos, aka “the angry one”, Malkovich provides a few (unintentional) laughs, particularly within his first scene in the film.

Gerard Depardieu plays Porthos, aka “the comedic relief.” He doesn’t get much to do unfortunately, so the movie shoves some conflict that he’s suicidal because his lust for life no longer satiates him. This results in Jeremy Irons as Aramis, aka “the priestly one,” conniving a way to save him in a skit that is rather humorous. Irons here plays another priest character (a Jesuit even!), who is also basically “the smart one,” as opposed to his tendency to play characters tainted with sin. Gabriel Byrne is D’Artagnan, aka “the loyal one”, and if it wasn’t clear by now, this film distills characters to their bare essence and works from there. And of course, we can’t forget Leonardo DiCaprio (the main reason this film made money in a post-Titanic world) as both the corrupt King Louis XIV and his twin brother Philippe, playing whiny aristocracy and Perfect Cinnamon Role, respectively.

All the performers do a good job, but the film is passable. Part of the 90s charm of this movie is because it’s full of 90s men acting in a thoroughly 90s period piece. Of course this doesn’t save the film from its more tedious moments, as the script has some clunky set up and payoff. Furthermore, the film just isn’t that notable, as there isn’t much to comment on aside from the more nitpick criticisms I could give.

Irons plays another Jesuit priest, which makes it clear he is typecast as more that just lecherous people, but also saintly figures as well. Either way, his characters are also usually smart or cunning in some way, people coming from an upper class background or cultural clout. And in the end, The Man in the Iron Mask is another literary adaptation to add to his high brow portfolio, a competent and ultimately welcome addition to his career.

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