The Heart of a Nation — An Anthropoid Review

In 1942, a group of Czechoslovak soldiers carried out Operation Anthropoid, an attempt to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, upon the orders of the Czechoslovak government in exile. Heydrich, being one of the most powerful men within the Nazi ranks, was also known as the Butcher of Prague—a moniker earned for his merciless reign of discipline in the city of the occupied country. The operation succeeded, after Heydrich was wounded and died in the hospital a few days afterwards. The retaliation from the German forces were severe; entire villages and groups of people massacred for the life of the man behind the Final Solution.

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Anthropoid tells the story of the assassination through the eyes of the two key figures behind the operation, Jozef Gabčík (played by Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (played by Jamie Dornan). Sean Ellis (Metro Manila) wrote and directed, having been wrestling with the subject for twelve years before he’d finally finished the script. The film remained, however, a means for art and entertainment, not intended to portray the events in utmost accuracy. Though the general plot leading up to the assassination prevailed, certain characters and events have been modified to better fit the medium.

Anthropoid is certainly an emotional work. From ts very first scenethat of Jozef and Jan parachuting in the middle of the night amidst a snowy forest outside of Prague—to the very last, the film is unmistakably pregnant with emotion.

I’ll be honest here. As a big history buff myself, I suppose I expected some sort of “accurate” timeline, a real formulated events surrounding the operation. Sean Ellis defied my expectations. He did what many other historical films aimed for but often missed: He focused on the characters’ emotional journey—how they deal with the immense pressure of the order and how they somehow had to find a way to succeed in this near-impossible mission—and he did it in such a way that it didn’t feel overly romanticized.

The conflicts felt all too real; Jozef and Jan facing doubts and divisions in the Czechoslovak resistance movements, maneuvering in a city jammed to the teeth with Nazi officers, and their own personal struggle of having such a weight on their shoulders. All this is wrapped in sepia tones—all browns and faded greys—that push you deeper into the headspace of 1940’s Prague. I can’t tell you enough how accomplished Sean Ellis is in replicating the Prague of old. Ellis, already writing and directing the project, is also his own director of photography; during the twelve years of his process, he’d assembled many pictures of Prague at the time and gave it to his CG team to recreate.

 

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Sean Ellis recreated 1940’s Prague through extensive research and CG help.

The results? A beautiful, almost picturesque reincarnation of the city under occupation. Consistent to its initial vision, Anthropoid’s visual spectacle is that of simplicity and grounded landscapes. It was the story of the people setting the events in motion, closer to the ground as they were and not the grander sort of scheme often depicted in various historical adaptations. It was the story of the people indeed, and the cinematography certainly is an important element of the storytelling.

With an angle like that, the cast could make or break the project. Luckily, they found an enormous talent and leader in Cillian Murphy, whose acting chops needn’t be questioned anymore. He’s certainly the star of the show for me. Murphy, whose Jozef juxtaposes quiet determination and pain and conflict throughout the film, hits home every point that his character is meant to portray in the bigger scale of the story—and more.

Jamie Dornan starred alongside as Jan, the other side of the coin. More optimistic and uncertain, more idealistic and desperate than Jozef, Dornan delivered an exceptional performance and drove my sympathy level right up for both his character and Murphy’s.

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Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan star as Josef and Jan, the Czechoslovak soldiers tasked with Operation Anthropoid.

The relationship between these two men, these two soldiers tasked with what may well be a suicide mission, really is the center of the piece. I found myself being drifted away from my initial thoughts of historical trivia (What year was this mission conceived in? Who gave the order? What’s the impact to the immediate developments of the European theatre?) and into the vast emotional landscape painted beautifully by the actors. Anthropoid is certainly a bleak film, yes, but it wasn’t without its depths and diversity. The humor and levity provided by Dornan’s character and his love interest, Marie (played by Charlotte Le Bon), when contrasted by the more hopeless romance of Murphy’s Jan and Lenka (played by Czech native Anna Geislerová) and the professional burdens of their mission, proved a powerful combination to bring out the full gravity of the events.

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Josef (Murphy) and Lenka (Geislerová) on the streets of Prague.

Regarding the music, Guy Farley and Robin Foster’s collaborative feat is relatively unobtrusive. The melodies, quiet and unassuming more often than not, sweep the moments up in the right places without being too distracting from the center of the picture—that is, the actors’ performance. There is probably one particular moment in the film, overshadowed by an earlier one also close to the end, that captured me emotionally and musically poignant. A simple, ethereal, melancholy piano theme that begins in a very simplistic manner and gently gives way to an orchestra of strings accompanied the emotional peak of the whole movie. Now, to give it away here would be a massive spoiler if and when you decide to give the film a watch, but if you want to hear it, a quick search on YouTube with the keywords “The Crypt – Robin Foster” would suffice. Watch the movie before or after listening; the effect of the music and the scene it’s used in made me a sobbing mess until even the credits started rolling.

All in all, Anthropoid is a simplistic yet emotional take on one of the pivotal moments in the history of the Second World War. I recommend you, history buff or not, to find it and watch it at home, preferably at night and during cold weather, buried under blankets with tissues at the ready, and prepare for the emotional deluge you’re about to find yourself immersed in.

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Madhouse-Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 ‘Delusion’ Review

Once again, AvED shows why it’s one of the best shows currently airing on television, period. The growth of the series from pure guts n’ gags to a show with a well-developed cast, amazing character dynamics, and riveting storylines while keeping the franchise’s signature feel intact is really something to behold. This latest episode is one of its most ambitious yet.

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This might come as a shock for some of you

After the predicament Ash found himself in last week, he wakes up as a patient in a mental hospital. A doctor who looks suspiciously like Baal explains that he’d been commited there after the cabin incident thirty years ago and that the whole of Evil Dead was something his imagination cooked up to deal with the murders.

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Finger counting taken to its extreme

The episode that ensued is quite possibly the darkest Evil Dead has gone in its whole lifetime, eschewing most of its tried-and-true formula of slapstick, gore, and one-liners for a more psychological horror, following Ash’s journey in this weird insane asylum that Baal’s put him in. Or did he?

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He’s like Ash. Only with a hand up his ass

This outing seems to give quite the spotlight to Bruce Campbell and Dana DeLorenzo, giving Ash and ‘Kelly’ more room to flex their dramatic chops to amazing results. Newcomers to Campbell’s body of work may be surprised at the range he displays here, with Ash going from full-on ‘Ash’ all the way down to resigned, broken down Ash, which came as quite a surprise to me. Puppet Ash also came out as the breakout character of the episode, being annoying enough to make you want to kick him across the room but charmingly funny enough to make you want to keep him.

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Apparently they finally set him strait

While insane asylum episodes are hardly new territory, AvED’s take does it well and throws in just enough twists to keep you guessing about things in the insane asylum, if not necessarily the nature of Ash’s supposed delusions itself. That said, AvED travels outside its comfort zone in this episode and finds its mark well.

Home Invasion-Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 ‘Trapped Inside’ Review

We’re past the halfway point of AvED’s sophomore season and things don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Following right up from last week’s brouhaha in the police station, our heroes hole up back at Casa Williams to deal with Pablo’s new…development. Elsewhere, desperate after the quick divorce last week, Sheriff Emery starts getting devil whispers from Baal himself, urging him to take action against Ash and his crew.

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Shouldn’t have had that Necronomicon for dinner

For a thirty-minute episode, this episode manages to juggle three plotlines like a circus clown without it ever feeling like they were shoved in without care. At the front of the house, Linda and Kelly are holding the fort against the angry mob roused by Emery, plus a little help from our friendly demon Baal.

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Upstairs, Ruby and Pablo are doing their best to find the spell that can banish Baal back from where he came from…on Pablo’s body. And they have to do this before Pablo gets turned into a walking Necronomicon. No pressure, right?

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She’s baaaaack!

A little further down the hall, Ash faces a blast from the past. Cheryl, his dearly departed sister is brought back as a Deadite and the requisite action set piece of the episode is as much emotional as it is intense.

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Heartwrenching. Literally AND figuratively

This episode, in one word, is a rollercoaster. An intense ride from top to bottom, with lots of laughs, scares, pure d’aww moments, and maybe a few tears along the way. Of particular highlights were Kelly psyching Pablo up with the laugh-out-loud callback to the vagina line several episodes back and of course, Ash’s whole ordeal with Cheryl. Emotionally, this might be one of the strongest sequences throughout the series and Cheryl convinces us once again why she’s one of the most dangerous Deadites in the franchise.

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This season’s Primitive Screwheads moment?

All this combined, plus the references to the classic movies is more than enough to convince me that this is the strongest episode of the season so far, and a powerful proof that Evil Dead isn’t just blood, guts, and slapstick. While it’s true that those are its major selling points, it’s only through character development sneakily put in throughout the show’s run that makes us care for the cast this much in times of trouble. If this is the direction Evil Dead is taking going forward, then I’m in for the ride.

A Strange Trip-Doctor Strange Review

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In an increasingly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange chooses to explore an uncharted territory in the mystic side of Marvel’s titanic franchise.

The result from this is an entertaining trip (in more ways than one) into worlds and wonders without end, that might just open an equally infinite amount of doors to potential properties for future exploration.

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He couldn’t HANDle this

The clear winning feature of Scott Derrickson’s foray into the MCU is its visuals. From Inception-on-steroids style folding buildings to just pure psychedelic imagery that’d make Steve Ditko himself proud, Strange’s visuals are nothing we’ve ever seen before. This lends itself into its action scenes, giving us fights that are literally off the wall–No, these fights don’t even /need/ walls. If I saw this in IMAX, my head would probably still be spinning as I write this.


With a star-studded cast, almost everyone shines in their own way. Benedict Cumberbatch, no stranger to arrogant and insufferable characters, plays the admittedly clichéd character arc well with a dry wit and a fair bit of magical ineptitude. Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One is a more affable, more ‘human’ take of the traditional old master stereotype, and one more easy to be emotionally invested into. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo is one of the movie’s standouts, turning the traditionally villainous character into the ‘straight man’ in the Strange-Mordo double act and a worthy foil to Strange, while building on his eventual rise of darkness well. Mads Mikkelsen is, to be blunt, sadly an origin story victim in his role as Kaecillius, in another example of Marvel squandering great actors in forgettable villain roles. With a little more development, Kaecillius would’ve been the perfect Anti-Strange but alas, it was not to be. Benedict Wong’s…Wong differs from the tea-serving manservant of Strange in the comics into more of Strange’s take no shit peer im a way, and provides a healthy helping of humor in most of his scenes. Rachel McAdams’ Christine ‘Not-Night Nurse’ Palmer, does well as the muggle caught up in magic and provides a good enough anchor for Strange, but sadly she wasn’t quite memorable enough.

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Just a typical tea ceremony in Kamar-Taj

As with most origin stories, Doctor Strange suffers from a case of Originitis, with its almost wholly predictable plot that hits all the beats of your usual Superhero Origin. That’s not to say the script isn’t anything to write home about, though. The movie still manages to distill and simplify the concept of Marvel magic into an almost-science, leaving not many questions as to how it works. The film seems to also take a few cues from Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s excellent Doctor Strange: The Oath, with several notable scenes and characters echoing the book. Michael Giacchino’s scoring also works really well for the movie, sounding very much different from past Marvel movies with its use of strings that’s slightly reminiscent to JRPGs or just RPGs in general.


Easter egg hunters will have a field day with this. Just about almost every entity Strange has ever invoked in the comics, with a few notable exceptions, were namedropped in the film, even other cosmic entities. And with some of the secondary characters’ relations to major players in the Marvel universe, one can’t help but wonder how these more famous relatives will figure into the MCU next.

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Aperture’s branching out

While the plot is nothing special, by merit of its eye-popping visuals and amazing scoring, Doctor Strange is another very solid addition to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or could we be expanding beyond universes?

It’s Clobberin’ Time — A Case for Suicide Squad

Okay, let’s start with a list of questions. Why are you reading this article? Those other reviews online don’t satisfy you? Looking for an honest point of view from the eyes of a DC fan? Or are you still weighing whether or not that $4 ticket is going to be worth your time this weekend?

Fret not. It is.

The worldwide premiere of Suicide Squad on August 2, 2016 was met with overwhelming enthusiasm from fans—at least, from where I’m standing. My Twitter feed was overflowing with tweets from the premiere event, and everyone seemed pretty happy about it. Until the critics’ reviews started hitting the Net—then it turned kind of ugly. I personally didn’t want to read any of those, but I couldn’t help but to feel indignant about how a lot of those articles compare Suicide Squad with films that belong with Marvel. Let me say this once and only once: DC is not Marvel. And vice versa. If you’re going to have fun with either without ruining your time with pointless bickering, that’s important to note.

With that aside, if you want to—or even did—pop over to one of those review sites and see the critical reviews, they’re not mistaken. Suicide Squad suffers from “the lack of sufficient plot”, “too many characters all at once”, “talented cast wasted for a hot mess of a story”, and all that. But it’s all from a critic’s point of view.

I can’t stress enough about how these movies weren’t made to please critics. If I’m being completely honest with you all, movie critiquing system these days aren’t totally reliable anyway. I’m not pointing fingers, but I’ve seen a couple titles I personally don’t like—along with many other fans—receive high praises from critics, even though some, if not most, of their problems are along the critical side. I mean, come on, guys. Time to grow the hell up and be your own judge for the things you like.

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#SKWAD

If you’ve stopped reading this article and bought a ticket to see Suicide Squad already, good. If you’re still reading this, let me tell you why this movie is such a triumph even for a critical, opinionated, hard-to-please DC fan like me.

First off, the visuals. Movies are a visual media and to me, if the visual elements punch you in the face with its eye-catchiness, it’s worth something. And boy oh boy; how many movies can you name that shamelessly employ comical visual effects with glowing, neon information text mid-scene? (Y’all nerds can probably name five in ten seconds, so don’t answer that.)

It doesn’t stop right there. Compared to the grimdark, almost slate-grayscale palette of Batman v. Superman, the color palette in Suicide Squad is iridescent and daring in contrast. The colors pop beautifully and are a delight to see, especially since I walked out thinking, “Holy shit, that looks right out of a comic book.” Honestly, go pick up an issue of the recent Suicide Squad comics run; you’ll get a sense of what you’re about to see in the movie.

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Drain the colooorsss.

The main appeal of a team-up movie is, of course, the characters—their dynamics and how they would interact during such a sticky situation. I mean, who wouldn’t love to see Harley Quinn gracing the screen with her craziness, or Deadshot taking on a horde of creatures with only a couple guns while the rest of ‘em watch? All that is good in itself, but the Suicide Squad doesn’t just consist of bad guys—someone’s gotta be there to control the loose cannons. Colonel Rick Flag is there as Amanda Waller’s reluctant right hand man.

I’m sure it’s been going ‘round the Internet, but Harley Quinn really did steal the show. And it ain’t just because she’s the unofficial poster girl of Suicide Squad—Margot Robbie delivers a stellar performance as the Cupid of Crime and Dr. Harleen Quinzel in the flashbacks. If you have the guts to say that no comic book film can deliver actors with great, if not phenomenal, acting skills—throw them out the window. Viola Davis, Will Smith and Jared Leto gave their absolute all as Amanda Waller, Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot, and the Joker, respectively.

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You mean we get to have all these talented people in one movie? Seriously?!

Individual performances aside, the chemistry the cast have as a team really does show on screen. All that crazy regime David Ayer put them through was not in vain.

Academy Award-winning composer Steven Price helms the original score, and though I could tell you that he did a good job on it, the true star of the music department is the soundtrack. As in, the songs you can sing along because they’re such iconic, well-known tunes. I held back my squeals multiple times when the songs start playing because if there’s a definition to a fun soundtrack, this is definitely one of them. Director David Ayer talked about how the soundtrack plays a crucial role to setting the mood of the movie, and he is not mistaken—the music is as fun as the movie itself.

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Getcha jammin’ to it.

As all movies, Suicide Squad isn’t without its flaws. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I’m a sucker for great plot and I can’t lie—there’s a part of me that longs for a better plotting of the story. Cheeky jokes aside, the glaring thing that makes the movie good is Harley Quinn and Deadshot, and for me, a little more spotlight on the other characters couldn’t hurt. While Diablo and Flag each got a nice emotional segway into their characters, I found myself wanting more. Am I selfish? Yes. Am I just thirsty for more of these characters? Probably.

There is also something that doesn’t quite get me all fired up—maybe it’s the execution, the editing, I don’t know. It’s missing a spark that turns me into a complete rabid fangirl, a 120 in the scale of 100. Right now it’s on 110, but I love it when a movie skyrockets my capability to hype up.

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Get crazy hyped. Geddit?

But you know what? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. The point of Suicide Squad, from the music to the effects to the promos to the cast’s camaraderie, is to have fun. And fun is what you’re gonna get from watching this movie. Close your ears from all the reviews you’ve read or heard—and yes, including this one—and go buy a ticket. See it for yourself with an open mind. You are your own judge, and if you end up loving it, then you can bet all your expensive Hot Topic merchandises that you are far from being the only one.

Never Gets Old – Batman: The Killing Joke Review

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After a lot of hype and controversy, the animated of Alan Moore–sorry, The Original Writer and Brian Bolland’s legendary Batman story, The Killing Joke, was finally released. Featuring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in their iconic roles as Batman and The Joker, the voice cast is rounded up by the ever-versatile Tara Strong reprising her role as Batgirl and onetime Swamp Thing, Ray Wise, as Jim Gordon.
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As far as first impressions go, the animated version of The Killing Joke doesn’t leave an especially strong one. Roughly the first thirty minutes is (to my knowledge) an original subplot about the capture of Paris Franz, a mobster, and the building of a romance between *cue collective fan sigh* Bruce and Barbara. While I understand this is used to give Barbara Gordon a little bit more screentime and pad out the already short approximately 78 minute runtime, this whole sequence feels like it could be cut out entirely and the story wouldn’t suffer much because of it. I honestly wouldn’t mind watching a 40ish minute The Killing Joke adaptation.
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After the rocky half hour, we get into the Killing Joke adaptation proper. And here is where the whole thing shines. As far as I can remember, this is almost a beat-for-beat adaptation of Moore and Bolland’s story. The overall sense of unease and creepiness is present almost the whole way, and the funhouse sequence is almost as disturbing as it was in the comics, though it could stand to be made a LOT more disturbing. Some of the comic’s most iconic shots were also recreated to amazing effect in the movie.
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For such a disturbing story, the art style is horrifyingly beautiful. It feels like the best of Timmverse and the best of Bolland’s art had a drunken night together and had a lovely child. The contrast between the man who would be Joker and Joker as he is now is especially jarring and made all the better because of it. Bonus points for using the Batmobile from the animated series.
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The voice performances are all very strong, but Conroy and Hamill managed to give out their best performances in this. After all these years, Batman laughing is still creepy as hell. And Hamill’s Joker musical number? A thing of beauty.
Despite the rough start that I suspect will have a lot of us complaining dragging down the early half hour, the rest of The Killing Joke is an amazing adaptation in both style and spirit, bringing one of comics’ most disturbing and legendary arcs to life.

The Night Is Darkest Before Dawn – Dark Night: A True Batman Story Review

 

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I know I speak for a lot of people when I say Batman: The Animated Series was one of the best animated series of our time. For me, it was one of my first forays into DC, way before I started reading their comics. For the comics world and pop culture as a whole, its influence still lasts even now. Take Harley Quinn, for instance. One of the characters headlining August’s Suicide Squad had her roots not in the comics, but in the animated series. It was there that she became so popular she was imported into the comics.
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Alongside Bruce Timm’s distinctive art styles, it was writer Paul Dini, among others, who brought the colorful characters of Gotham to life. And now DC, through its Vertigo imprint, published Dark Night: A True Batman Story, written by Dini and illustrated by Eduardo Risso.
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While the title might lead you to believe the graphic novel is a Batman story, it isn’t. Or at least not in its traditional sense. Dark Night is as much a Paul Dini story as it is a Batman story. The book follows snippets of Dini’s life, from his early childhood to his days as writer on Batman: TAS. But most prominently, the book deals with Dini’s personal dissatisfaction and loneliness despite his success, the 1993 mugging in which he nearly died, and how Batman (along with his supporting cast) helped him cope and take him to a brighter place afterwards.
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On its own, the story is a heart-wrenching one that Dini himself said took a long time to finally tell, but what really sold it for me was its presentation. Risso’s art nails every single beat. The depiction of every ‘chapter’ has its own ‘feel’, with different coloring and slightly varying styles as well. Every single page is a treat for the eyes.
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The blurring of the lines between autobiographical work and superhero comic in Dark Night is what truly makes this book one of a kind. Dini and Risso manages to show us how fiction can either plunge us into the darkest depths, or help inspire and lift us up into the light. As a bonus, the book has a pitch for a Batman: TAS episode featuring Neil Gaiman’s Endless that sadly didn’t come to be. But the thought of it alone makes me giddy.
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Dark Knight: A True Batman Story isn’t just a memoir or a Batman comic, it’s much more than the sum of its parts. It’s Paul Dini baring his soul for all of us to see in a grim, sometimes darkly humorous, but ultimately uplifting tale of healing and redemption. It’s also a damn good comic.