Posts Tagged ‘A’

Agares Be Damned – A Hellboy Story

April 1, 2020

Agent Meredith Harper had been first on the scene, there had been reports of screaming and gunshots. Headquarters had gotten wind of the situation through FBI channels and had locked things down. Local authorities were advised that everything was fine and that it had all been a false alarm. The location was an art museum after hours so there was not much worry that the public would get in the way or figure things out. Merry had been ready to scout things out herself through the power of her third eye but there was a problem. One of the amulets tied to her wrist had started to glow and float. The various amulets acted as warning signals for different kinds of supernatural threats. The red one, the one that was currently going off, was for demons.

She was trying to look casual as she waited outside of the museum for backup. She leaned against a wall and started to review demon protocols on her phone. She was pretending to be bored but she was still a newbie and she felt like she was vibrating. She hoped backup would come soon. Due to her psychic powers, there was a chance that she would have been given a job at headquarters or a field office like other seers. Such talents were often used to guide agents where they were needed most to save the most lives. However, she lacked the gift of foresight and had begged to go into the field anyway. Now she had to prove herself.

A large truck turned onto the street and pulled to the stop right in front of the museum, parking next to a fire hydrant. Merry walked over to the truck from the passenger side. She heard the driver’s side door open and heavy boots hit the payment. A seven-foot-tall, red-skinned demon with broken horns and a long coat came around the front of the truck smoking a cigar. It was the legendary Hellboy and Merry found herself blushing and blinking in surprise before she regained her composure.

“Director!” she said, a bit too loud. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Director Hellboy grinned as he stomped out his cigar on the pavement. “Well, I was in the area so I thought I’d kick some ass,” he said. “What’s your name again newbie?”

Merry was momentarily thrown off by the use of the word again. “Agent Meredith Harper, sir,” she said and saluted.

Hellboy waved his hand as if trying to waft away smoke. “Don’t call me sir and don’t salute,” he said. “People call you Merry, right?”

Merry’s eyes went wide. “Uh yes,” she said, nearly saying ‘sir’ again. “How did you… we haven’t met, right?”

“Not until now,” Hellboy said. “Liz put together a dossier of every agent on staff with pictures. I need to know who’s putting their asses on the line out there while I’m stuck with paperwork. Well, while I stick Abe with the paperwork.”

“Agents Sherman and Sapien,” Merry said. “Wow.”

Hellboy let that go. He was kind of amused by the hero-worship and at least Merry was not staring at his horns like a lot of the other newbies through the years. “Well,” he said. “Let’s do this thing.”

“Without backup?” Merry asked, surprised.

“They’ll be here soon,” Hellboy said. “They’ll seal things off. In the meantime, let me show you how it’s done.”

“Sure,” Merry said, throwing away all of the protocol that had been drilled into her during training. She followed Hellboy as he started toward the museum entrance.

“By the way,” Hellboy said. “I love your amulets. Very old school. The tech always jams up.”

“Thank you!” Merry said. “I keep saying the same thing but nobody listens.” This drew a chuckle out of Hellboy.

They made their way into the museum. Merry drew her service weapon and Hellboy drew the legendary Good Samaritan heavy pistol. Merry pried her eyes away from it and focused in. They made their way through the museum until they reached the main hall. The double doors were closed but Merry could smell the iron smell of blood coming from the room.

“I smell it too,” Hellboy growled. “This is it. You ready?”

Merry nodded although she was not entirely sure she meant it. However, she was side by side with a legend and how was she supposed to say no? Everything would be fine. While all of that was going through her head, Hellboy slammed his rocky right fist into the double doors, knocking them both off of their hinges. They moved into the room and Merry saw dead bodies everywhere and the blood she could practically taste as the smell filled her senses had painted the room. An empty frame for a painting sat on an easel in the middle of the room. In front of that was a gray-skinned male demon who growled as they approached.

“Of course,” the demon said. “My traitor cousin shows his face.”

Hellboy looked annoyed. “Cousin?” Hellboy asked. “If you were on my family tree then you fell off and rotted.”

“There are many of us, traitor,” the demon said. “My name is Agares, Duke of Hell also known as The Want of Man.”

“All I want from you,” Hellboy said. “is to go back where you came from.”

“My too-trusting followers released me from that painting where I was trapped by Merlin,” Agares said. “I won’t be going back there.”

“Then to Hell it is,” Hellboy said and leveled the Good Samaritan at the demon’s head. Merry followed suit and aimed her weapon.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Agares asked and waved his hands.

Hellboy seemed to be reacting to something that Merry could not sense. She reached out and touched the Director’s arm and opened her third eye. She watched as out of the shadows, an old man and a gaunt man in a suit stepped out of the shadows. Merry recognized them from their portraits hanging back at headquarters.

“I know how tired you are, my son,” Trevor Broom said. “It’s time to finally rest.”

“We can take over from here,” Thomas Manning said. “We know you just want to go back to the field. We can take charge again.”

A single tear slid down Hellboy’s cheek. Merry could see that he was buying the illusion. Hellboy started to lower his weapon. She had to act. She activated her third eye again and shoved her own vision into Hellboy. She wanted to show him that he was being tricked.

“There’s nobody there, sir!” she shouted.

In an instant, Hellboy’s vision cleared and he brought Good Samaritan up again. Merry joined him in shooting at Agares whose eyes went wide. He vanished. They waited for several tense moments and Agares did not reappear.

“I told you not to call me ‘sir’,” Hellboy said after a bit.

The Aristocats (1970)

April 1, 2019

Except for a single dog when I was little, our family was always a cat family. We got our first cats while we were on a family trip to visit a Great Aunt who we were not particularly close with. I only really remember two trips. During one trip we got a Nintendo Game Boy and on another trip, my two brothers and I each got a kitten. Pretty strange now that I think back on it. I wonder if my parents were even notified ahead of time. Anyway, we were pretty young and we each got a kitten. We were not the most imaginative little kids so we named them Andrew (mine), Blondie, and Baby. Baby stayed with us the longest and was the only cat who left us due to natural causes. We had plenty more cats over the years. Hans, Everest, Velvet, and many more. Sadly, many of them ran away and more than one was hit by a car. We were city kids but we did not have the heart to keep them inside and they lived full lives before they met their untimely demises. Still, we really liked our cats and they loved us in the way cats do.

Anybody who reads this blog or browses my archives should know by now that I love Disney. Pretty much anything they do is up my alley. Even the less good stuff is more enjoyable than the output of other companies. This movie was one that I had missed during my childhood probably because of the way the Disney vault works. For those not aware, the Disney vault was a policy where Disney would only sell copies of their animated movies for a limited time before hiding them away again in order to drive up demand. Thanks to streaming, that policy has now ended. Anyway, I always loved the older animated films because of their use of accessible, commercial jazz and show tunes. Movies like The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, and Oliver and Company were a bit jazzier than the run of the mill Disney Princess film (not that those weren’t great too). When I saw that the Aristocats has more of a swinging jazz soundtrack, I wanted to check it out. It makes sense, this was the last movie with music written by the Sherman Brothers. (More on them tomorrow).

So the first thing I noticed was that they brought Maurice Chevalier out of retirement to sing the opening song during the opening credits. This is something akin to what Disney would do later by having Dr. John sing the opening song to The Princess and the Frog. The movie is full of great, memorable characters. The star of the movie is no doubt Eva Gabor. She and her sister Zsa Zsa had distinct accents that just immediately screams class and sophistication. Her kindness just shines through her voice. Phil Harris plays the alley cat who comes to the rescue. He has such a fun and laid back voice that I could have heard him talk much longer than he did. He is a Disney veteran as he was both Baloo and Little John. The three child actors did well. Their voices and animation made them really come to life as both kittens and children. The other big standout voice is Scatman Crothers who is doing a Louis Armstrong impression. Apparently,. Louis Armstrong was supposed to do the part but was too sick and Crothers filled in. Still, having Phil Harris, Maurice Chevalier, and Scatman Crothers in the same movie is a great musical achievement in itself.

The animation is really beautiful, not only for the time. While the technology back then was leagues behind where we are now, drawing talent never really changes. I had always thought that this movie was just standard fare, similar to the art style of movies like The Rescuers. However, a lot of the art direction looks like Toulouse Lautrec artwork I saw in the Louvre. I definitely saw some nods to earlier animation, though. For example, the cats look similar to Figaro of Pinnochio and Dinah of Alice in Wonderland. However, they do not look like Lucifer from Cinderella so maybe cats can be matched by alignment. An interesting theory. The art is paired up with some great music. As I suspected, there is some great jazz and some great show tunes each showing a different world. The jazz was inspired by greats like Louis Armstrong and Herbie Hancock and it is definitely very playful. The show tunes are more in the style of musicals like the Sound of Music, prim and proper but pleasant.

Overall, I loved this movie. It was a sweet little movie in the classic Disney style. There is just so much positive energy in the movie that it is hard not to smile. However, it is not too saccharine sweet like the Sound of Music. It just felt like a good movie with a pleasant story filled with pleasant characters. The villains are even more comical than cruel. It has so many cute moments and some genuine laughs that it earns. It shows that Disney always had a way about it, a tradition they continue to follow. All of it is tied together with great artwork, good music, and interesting voice actors. Well, except for the racist Chinese caricature.

(Written 3/29/19)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

April 1, 2018

So, I think that admitting that I have not seen this yet might disturb some of my friends. Particularly some of the guys in my gaming group. I have heard them quote and reference the movie several times and I have been intrigued by it the whole time. I love a lot of cult classic movies whether they are good or bad. I got on The Room bandwagon early, I have seen Rocky Horror several times, I have watched Plan 9 while shaking my head, and my favorite Halloween is the third one. The point is: I do not mind watching something that is not entirely good or accepted into the mainstream if I can get some entertainment value from it. The fact that Jeff Goldblum is in this one is telling because he is that kind of actor to me. Nothing he has made is a masterpiece but he keeps churning out enjoyable movies. Independence Day, The Fly, and Jurassic Park were all chances for him to show that he may not be the greatest actor but he is charismatic. It’s the equivalent of eating at a diner, something I used to all the time. It doesn’t give you everything it should but it makes you happy just the same.

I have read that this movie was also written as a love letter to pulp comics. I was a little young for pulp comics. Superhero comics were really hitting their stride and had long since taken over the market. However, I was young enough to really enjoy some of the stuff inspired by pulp comics. The biggest example I can think of is the Indiana Jones series. Pulp embraced so-called genre fiction which is my favorite. “Genre” includes science fiction, fantasy, superhero, horror, and other less regarded subgenres. For a long time, genre films were seen as lesser mostly because this is where a lot of filmmakers started before moving onto “more serious” films. But sometimes you do not want to watch a really serious film. Sometimes you fire up a movie simply to have fun and learn nothing. Of course, I am of the belief that you can take a lesson away from even the dumbest movie but maybe that is just me.

This movie is definitely kind of punk rock. Not only are a lot of the main characters in a rock band, they all look like they could have frequented CBGB. Of course, this was the eighties when Punk’s powers were at their height. The movie is also extremely offbeat and, like the characters does whatever it wants when it wants to. A lot of the visual style and set decoration is definitely reminiscent of old science fiction. All of the sciency things have plenty of doodads and extra bits hanging off of them. It is far from the slick, shiny science fiction of more recent movies. All of the alien stuff looks appropriately weird and foreign. The aliens themselves utilize fun rubber masks which thankfully allow them to be expressive. The effects are cheap but there is a lot of charm in that. There is also an interesting Japanese influence with the main characters using kanji and there are katanas and other little touches all over. The whole ascetic reminds me of early Doctor Who and other crazy eighties movies like Invaders from Mars and Ghostbusters.

The movie is chock full of names familiar to fans of genre movies. Buckaroo Banzai himself is played by Peter Weller who is, of course, famous for playing Robocop. In this, he plays a highly intelligent neurosurgeon/rockstar/particle physicist/adventurer. He is almost too cool and he exudes both confidence and ability. John Lithgow plays the villain as only Lithgow could. Lithgow is at his best when he is allowed to freak out and chew the scenery in every way possible. He is joined by Christopher Lloyd who is also adept at acting over the top and does it well here. Ellen Barkin plays the token female character and reminds me a lot of roles Lori Petty would later play. Jeff Goldblum plays an everyman scientist character similar to Ian Malcolm or David Levinson. The rest of the movie is full of great character actors like Clancy Brown, Jonathan Banks, Robert Ito, and Lewis Smith. These characters all get to say really cool but really goofy lines which make for a lot of fun.

Overall, I really liked this movie. I had no idea what to expect and even after reading this review, you probably will not either. This is a movie that dares to make a lot of sense while making no sense at all. I am sure that whole essays could be written on why certain decisions were made but I would sooner chalk it up to heavy drugs or just old-fashioned goofiness. As a side note, the movie takes place in New Jersey and one of the early important scenes takes place in the town I went to college in (New Brunswick). The movie has a charm as long as you sit back and let it happen instead of working your brain too hard. I definitely recommend it.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

April 1, 2016

My family has a personal connection to Abraham Lincoln. My brother owes his middle name to the sixteenth President of the United States. It makes a lot of sense. He was a very presidential president and accomplished a lot before he was laid low by an assassin’s bullet. Also, he was a lawyer and both of my parents are lawyers. Most of Abraham Lincoln’s life is hardly a secret. He grew up very poor but he was self-educated and frontier life made him pretty hardy. He became a lawyer and then joined the Illinois legislature before finally becoming President of the United States. He commanded the US during the Civil War, saw its conclusion and abolished slavery near the end. Finally, his life was taken by John Wilkes Boothe in Ford’s Theater in DC.

All of this forms the framework for the book that Seth Grahame-Smith wrote called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He took the real history and added in a secret vampire hunting quest that Honest Abe was engaged in. While he was making history in his day job, he was also declaring a private war against the vampires of our great nation. I expected the book to be silly and kind of lame but it wasn’t. The characters were well written and the author takes great pains to match actual events to fictional events. The plot was compelling and it was a hard book to put down. I rarely watch a movie after reading a book and vice versa but I thought I’d make an exception.

While I said that the book wasn’t silly, it was pretty hammy and heavy-handed. Vampire movies and books are often light and dark, good and evil as it makes things way easier. The movie skips a bit of the book and Lincoln’s history and zooms through his childhood. That’s fine, I didn’t come to see the story of a frontier child. I came to see one of the father’s of our country whoop some ass. We are given a fair background of the general time period and it already feels like we’re not getting the detail from the book. This movie feels like it’s going to be more about Abe’s story and not about matching fictional dates with historical dates. This is immensely acceptable because I’ve studied history. I want a good story.

We dive right into the supernatural and it’s not only the vampires who are magical, it’s the honest one himself as well. Also, the movie is built like a lot of epic/vaguely artsy blockbusters that came before it. While I could make a few 300 and Gangs of New York comparisons, the film felt more like a revenge movie (Kill Bill) mixed with a war film (Gettysburg). The movie knows that it is silly and also knows not to take itself seriously while appearing to take itself deadly seriously. The vampire effect is actually really fun, like Buffy and Angel, it instantly turns human-looking creatures into absolute scary monsters. Vampires are feral beasts when cornered but gentlemanly when going about their normal business.

The movie is full of some great performances although obviously not a single one of them is Oscar quality. I really like a good weaselly performance from Jimmi Simpson, a television actor who does not often get his due. I was surprised to see Alan Tudyk who is one of my all-time favorite television actors and he plays Stephen Douglas, Abe’s historic political rival. Also, there’s a solid pre-Falcon Anthony Mackie which is awesome. Abraham Lincoln himself is played really well by Benjamin Walker even if he looks more like a young Liam Neeson than I imagine Lincoln looked. There are two main villains and both of them are pretty charismatic and sufficiently evil. In the end, the movie was a really fun sit that didn’t take too long and was interesting enough to keep my attention.

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