In the Mouth of Madness (1994): The Power of the Storyteller

We begin Halloween Horror Week with “In the Mouth of Madness” one of the films in John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors with the “Escape” series, “Halloween” and “The Thing” being some of my favorite films. This film joins those as a favorite though it does not reach “Halloween” or “The Thing” level quality. This is really smart film and it was well written, what really only brings it down are how some of the characters are written and some of the cast performances.

The film was directed by John Carpenter, written by Michael De Luca and produced by Sandy King.

The story involves John Trent (Sam Neill) recounting how he ended up in an insane asylum, as his story begins he is an insurance investigator who is investigating the disappearance of a famous horror author named Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) who has gone missing and whose editors need in order to get his latest book, “In the Mouth of Madness,” released on time.

Spoilers ahead

Pros: The Lovecraft Themes – The main themes that are Lovecraftian that are done really well in this film are people being driven mad from beings from beyond (Sutter Cane’s books are warping reality because of being from beyond) body twisting (the people in Hobb’s End and those who come to Hobb’s end, a character in an insane asylum, people cut off from the world (Hobb’s End) and the pointlessness of man’s fight against the greater universe (John discovers that he is a character in one of Cane’s books so he never had Free Will. These are some of the many Lovecraftian themes in the film and easily what it does best.

What the Storyteller Does to the Characters – As someone who writes fiction as a hobby, authors are cruel to our characters. We create drama for them and have them suffer so that they go through arcs. The sad thing is they are entertainment to us to some degree as stories are entertainment and we may care about our characters but not in the same way we care about real life people. John Trent feels that in full as well as the horror of realizing he is just a character in a story.

The Power of Meta-Narrative – One of the things that works really well in this film is the meta-narrative. You have the narrative of Cane’s past books woven into Hobb’s End as well as “In the Mouth of Madness” weaved through the story as John comes to realize that this film is his story and he is trapped inside of it. These levels of narrative and meta-narrative lend the story power as the different levels of story inform one another and strengthen the themes.

What is Reality? – A major question the film asks is if we are just in a story that someone else is writing. That is John Trent’s arc and from there the question is asked whether his reality really was really warped by Cane or if it’d been warped all along. Is the only reality Sutter Cane’s and John Trent is trapped in a book? Or was reality really warped by being beyond and the world of the film was our world that was transformed? I believe the movie leaves this question open, which strengthens the narrative.

Okay: The Cast – The only great members of the cast is Sam Neill. I believed his terror and he felt fully realized, even though we didn’t necessarily get to know his character as well as we could have. The others are okay but I wouldn’t really consider their performances great. They felt like set pieces that fit within the narrative but not fully realized characters.

The Characters -This was a film with huge ambitions but the writing doesn’t fully realize the characters within. Even John Trent could have been better realized in regards to his motivations and what he was going through. All the characters are guilty of this. They aren’t bad but Cane doesn’t feel threatening, I never felt I was given the chance to care about Linda Styles, Cane’s editor and besides John Trent the rest of the characters feel like parts of a puzzle that work but not unique in and of themselves. Which is a pattern I’ve noticed in the Lovecraftian adaptations I’ve seen thus far.

If you are a fan of Lovecraft, John Carpenter or horror films you should really check this film out. This is a brilliant film and I love how it explores the nature of reality, the power of the storyteller in regards to the characters they create and the use of meta-narrative. It would have been perfect if the characters had been better written and the film had a better cast but for what it is, it is a really good film and one I’d highly recommend. This is a favorite, and I plan to watch it again in the future.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

“The Librarians” Season 2 – Characters Grow and the Art of Ego and Story

the-librarians-season-2

    “The Librarians” Season 2 works in so many ways, especially as it relates to the main overarching narrative as the face off against Propsero. Where it falls apart sometimes, is when we get our single character driven episodes, but even with that there are exceptions as it is within those episodes that there was one of my favorite guest stars and one of my favorite episodes on this entire show, so there are exceptions of which I’ll get into deeper in the review.

  This is the only show I’ll watch on TNT and John Rodgers really did a fantastic job creating a show that takes the best of “Doctor Who” and “Indiana Jones” and does something completely new, this season continues that.

     The main arc of this season is the Librarians taking on the threat of Prospero who reintroduces magic into the world and wants to bring the world back to a time before humans. It is up the Librarians to discover how to stop him and his agents he brings from other stories, such as Professor Moriarty.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “The Librarians” has always been a lot of fun and in this season we get more mythic beasts, more with magic and also science and tech. mixed together like what we got in one of the alternate without Flynn futures. Suffice to say I can’t wait to return to this world in Season 3.

The Premise – The idea of a fantasy character coming to life because of belief in it is super neat and this show takes that premise and runs with it as we meet other characters like Prospero and he summons other people to help him bring about a world where magic reigns supreme.

The Characters – The characters have always been the strongest part of the show and this season is no exception as each of our heroes are given the chance to get explored and we get some pretty fantastic minor characters too.

Mephistopheles – John De Lancie guest stars as “The Devil” Mephistopheles and he is amazing! It is very much a Q type role, which a role De Lancie excels in and it is fun to see him win for most of the episode until his entire premise of granting wishes is turned on him.

Prospero – Prospero is a good baddie. We learn that he arose from Shakespeare afraid of having nothing to live for anymore and he is Shakespeare embracing ego and fear to become Prospero. In this way it is fun to see him come back as they use to words and symbols of Shakespeare in order to defeat him and turn him back into a man.

Moriarty – Moriarty is wonderful and complex. He is the betrayer and clever, but at the end of the day stands with the Librarians. He also has a crush on Eve which is all kinds of adorable as he cares about our heroes even though he cares more about himself and fears Prospero more for most of the show. David S. Lee does a fantastic job and I enjoy how Flynn became his Sherlock. He’s the most sympathetic Moriarty outside of “Elementary.”

Jenkins – Jenkins is in a much smaller role this season when he isn’t figuring out how to stop Prospero. He’s still great and important but the part that stood out the most to me was his conflict with Cassandra when the Ladies of the Lake come to her. He rightfully has a lot of fear wrapped up in anything involving magic.

Stone – Stone has to deal with his father who is an Oil Baron and come to terms with the fact that he won’t ever really have peace with him. It is cool when he admits all the great things he’s done though and at least come to neutral with his Dad. His Dad’s ire is part of what inspires him to be great as he is a reaction to him, which feeds to “Monster of the Week.”

Ezekiel – Ezekiel’s good comes out this season as we see him risk his life countless times in the videogame episode and show that he does care even though he pretends not too. This season he really comes through and shows just why he is a “Librarian.”

Cassandra – Cassandra is tied to the magic and risks everything to stop Hell on Earth at one point. For this she meets the Ladies of the Lake and we see that she tied to magic and can join them if she so wishes. This leads to her clashing with Jenkins and I suspect conflict down the line as magic is shown to be corruption or at least disconnecting from humanity.

Flynn – Flynn like Jenkins is more on the side this season when he isn’t dealing with Prospero and the main plot. We see how clever he is though and how fun he is as well as tricks Prospero, making Prospero believe he destroyed the Tree of Knowledge and his conflict with Moriarty is great too as they both care about Eve.

Eve – Eve has some good stuff this season, when she is leading she is at her strongest and she does get an episode where she has to save a friend who made a deal with the devil. In that she shows how clever she is as she wishes for the devil to be mortal. She really is an amazing character and is the heart of the show as she is always helping those around her grow and growing herself.

 “And the Point of Salvation” – This was the best episode this season as it involves the team being trapped in a Quantam Computer that is a videogame and it is only though Ezekiel’s sacrifice and actions that they are freed from the game. Has the most heart felt moment in the show when he tells them about how often he has watched them die.

The Power of Story – The power of story is a theme of the season as the Librarians fight fictional characters and said characters try to create their own stories and narrative. Within the bounds of their characters and story so much is done and the power that comes with that comes full circle when Shakespeare is saved.

Letting Go – Stone has to let go of his dad’s thoughts about him, Shakespeare has to let go of fame, Cassandra and Ezekiel make the ultimate sacrifice and all of them have to let go of their dreams to come back to reality and escape Prospero’s trap. This is the overall theme of this season and it is done beautifully.

Okay: Tone – The tone facing the “Doctor Who” problem where sometimes it is a bit cartoony and slap stick and this is happening at the same time as serious events of mortality and morality. I didn’t mind it but I did notice it this season.

The Cons: “And the Image of Image” – This was a bad episode, I enjoy the book, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” but here Gray is forgettable and his relationship with Jenkins never felt real. This episode also had our characters getting drunk which usually always involves hack writing in any show.

    This was a great season, how it compares to last season, I’m not quite sure…but I enjoyed it all the way through and it made me look forward to how relationships will further develop in Season 3. I loved the theme of letting go and story this season as they are themes I enjoy in my own writing and the Ezekiel episode is one of my favorite television episodes of any show at this point. If you got past Season 1 and loved it, chances are you will love Season 2.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): A Masterpiece of Animation With an Unforgettable Story

Kubo and the Two Strings

  “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my favorite movie of the year. Whether it was hold that place remains to be seen but thus far, it is the most perfect film I have watched this year. Not only is the stop-motion animation and soundtrack amazing but the story and characters kept me involved through the entire story, and the story starts out slow to let know become familiar with the world. You should see this film, I want more films like this to be made and it needs all the support it can get, given it is only Laika studios that is keeping this form of art alive.

   The film was directed by Travis Knight, who was also one of the producers, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler with the other producer being Marc Haimes.

    The story involves Kubo (Art Parkinson), whose eye was stolen by his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and must not go out at night unless his grandfather finds him and takes his other eye. During the village’s festival he stays out too late and finds himself hunted by his two Aunts (Rooney Mara) who have come to take his other eye at his Grandfather’s behest. He must collect his father’s armor, sword and helmet in order to stop the Moon King and is helped by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a former samurai turned into Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) along the way.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and full of amazing monsters! From a Garden of Eyes, Witches and Gods to a Ten Foot Skeleton…this is a world that is lived in and all the powerful for it as it embraces Japanese mythology while creating a mythology all it’s own.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful, Dario Marianelli manages to create a soundtrack infused with magic that is full of power in depth, where you feel each loss and the power behind each action or fight.

The Writing – Marc Haimes and Chris Butler did a fantastic job on the writing! There is powerful drama and humor that gives it a balance that doesn’t really exist in “Deadpool”(which is a favorite film). It is their mixture of humor and drama mixed with a powerful message and characters are what made it my favorite film this year thus far.

 The Animation – “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my first Laika film. Suffice to say after this I plan on watching the rest of the films they’ve made. Stop-motion animation is a lost art that they keep alive and continue to improve upon.

The Characters – The characters are extremely memorable! Each of them is an archetype to some degree, but also manage to get beyond those archetypes in how they are written. They have humanity and flaws and it makes them worth rooting for or makes them feel threatening.

Hosato – George Takei plays one of the people in the village who takes care of his daughter who is Kubo’s biggest fan. He’s a nice solid presence in the film and in a way reminds Kubo of the fact that he believes his father to be dead at the beginning of the story and his mom is only lucidly present of him…

Kameyo – Kameyo is the older woman who is a beggar in town and the soul of the town. She is a mother figure to Kubo a bit as she is one who looks out for him and helps him with his storytelling. Brenda Vaccaro is fantastic.

The Sisters – The Sisters, who are Kubo’s Aunts are amazing! Rooney Mara gives a haunting performance as these two mask wearing witches who are so powerful that they kill both Kubo’s mother and father. They are one of the best animated threats I’ve ever seen.

Beetle/Hanzo – McConaughey is wonderful in the role of Beetle, who we learn was turned into a Beetle by the Sisters and the Moon King to punish him for leading their sister out of immortality. He has a lot of humor to him and isn’t very bright but his heart is in the right spot and he has great humor. His death is powerful too as he risks his life to protect Monkey/his wife Sariatu.

Monkey/Sariatu – Theron plays my favorite character in the film. Monkey and her Sisters are the best parts of the film. In Monkey we get the strength of her personality and her love for her son and husband while as Sariatu she is a traumatized shell destroyed by her family being cared for by her son. The dichotomy is powerful and gives her humanity and depth. She was a God and gave it up to protect Hanzo from her family…She is the best part of this film.

Kubo – Kubo is a great protagonist who feels very much like Link a Zelda game but has so much more depth and layers to him as we see him finally allowed to be a kid after he leaves the village and is collecting his father’s sword and armor. Before that he is forced to be an adult caring for his mother and making money for food. He had no childhood until his life was at risk and seeing how they explore it is something you have to see for yourself.

Facing Loss – He loses both his mother and father twice, both times as they protect him and in the story we see him face that loss and remember the memories as well as honoring them with the lantern ceremony the village does as who they both are live on in him. The missing of another never goes away, but those we lose become a part of us like the strings on Kubo’s instrument.

The Power of Story – Story is a major theme as the Grandfather is trying to force his story upon his Grandson and make him like him, the village story of his Father’s past is never finished until he becomes a literal part of it when myth (his grandfather the Moon and his Aunts) hunt him and the stories of the dead are interwoven through the film. The self and it’s connection to story is powerful…how a story can change or be erased is captured in the story of his family as at different points they lose their story.

The Hero’s Journey – Kubo’s Hero’s journey is powerful as he discovers connections only to lose them and has to adapt to change all around him. From his mother becoming Monkey, his father being a live and Beetle…to losing them both and in the end having to care for his Grandfather who loses his memory as well. Even as he discovers joy and childhood circumstances force him to lose it and from it find himself.

Okay/Pro: Raiden the Moon King – Raiden has great minions in his daughters and I liked the fact that he is like a sympathetic old man until he turns into a monster…in the story it is left open too if he ascended to Godhood and was once human or was forced into humanity by Kubo…there is so much possibility in this character that I can’t just put him as okay as he is interesting in what they do with him.

    Minus the fact that Raiden is a bit underdeveloped (though still interesting)…this is  a film that I can’t really find any faults with. Kubo doesn’t really get his happy ending, his parents are dead and he has to face it. This is a film that is well worth your time and you should really see it if you have the chance. Give strength to these stories that don’t exist as franchises and are timeless and powerful. This is the best film of the year I have seen thus far and is well worth your time, it is in the timeless stories that we are reminded of our own and this story does it with unforgettable power and beauty.

Final Score: 10 / 10. First perfect film of the year.