Update: With this post, Deeper Meanings is installing a new recommendation feature. At the end of each post, I will post a small handful of other movies, artists, etc. that share qualities with the subject of the post. Consider it my way to get you interested in great stories, even if you don’t care for the subjects of my posts. Scroll down to check it out!
9/11: few combinations of numbers hold as much power as these three. This is a date which lives in infamy and remains an enduring symbol of loss and confusion, even over 10 years later.
While there is some controversy over whether or not Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is focused on 9/11, the reality is that a great deal of the movie’s depth can be attributed to the attention that it devotes to “the worst day,” in the words of lead character Oskar (played by Thomas Horn).
The movie, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, is one part analysis of the continued impact of 9/11, one part scavenger hunt adventure, and one part coming-of-age story. All of these aspects complement each other and are all addressed equally well.
Oskar is a unique narrator and protagonist because of his imperfection. Although his young age excuses him of many weaknesses, he ultimately is a troubled boy who makes many mistakes throughout the course of the story.
Despite his awkwardness and tendency to alienate others with the analytical lens through which he views the world (he even says that Asperger Syndrome tests were inconclusive), Oskar is a surprisingly relatable character. Anyone who has experienced loss (from 9/11 or otherwise) can obviously relate to Oskar’s dismay over his father’s death, but he is also relatable to any American because of his inability to wrap his brilliant mind around the insanity of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
In the midst of that tragedy, news organizations won awards for their coverage, yet none of them succeeded in answering the most important question: “why?”
Even now, the reasoning behind the attacks is unclear, and Oskar struggles with his inability to understand why 9/11 happened, just like the rest of us.
Because the movie captures this sense of confusion that defines the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, it addresses the tragedy with the utmost level of respect and never misuses the backdrop of 9/11 as a publicity stunt. Ten years later, this movie provides a mature, nuanced view back at the tragedy that has defined this generation.
The framework of Oskar’s quest for the answers to secrets his father left for him represents the need to grow beyond the sad outcomes that 9/11 left for so many. The tragedy of the movie is crippling, especially for a troubled young boy like Oskar, but he still does his best to stay active and not succumb to sadness.
Oskar’s adventure through New York is a great reminder to those victimized by 9/11 (or any other tragedy really) that life endures and it is always possible to achieve growth from even the worst situations.
This is an incredibly sad movie, but the coming-of-age story embedded within carries important messages about grief, guilt, and self-improvement that is exceedingly relevant, even ten years after “the worst day.”
If you like EL&IC, then try:
- The Kite Runner (an imperfect protagonist’s story of redemption).
- The Sixth Sense (also starring a young boy doing his best to understand the complicated world around him).
- Wall-E (for the same reason as The Sixth Sense, except with a childish robot).
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is written so that you don’t need to have seen the first chapter in order to understand most aspects of the story, so it is easy to forget that it is a sequel. Still, there are weaknesses typical of a second outing in a series.
The movie attempts to follow up on the success of the original by ramping up the action and centering the mystery on a secular (not supernatural as in the original) villain brilliant enough to rival Sherlock.
The plot picks up one year after the events of the original, as Holmes, played by Robert Downey Jr., struggles to recruit the newly married Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law, in pursuing “one last case.”
There is a heavier emphasis on action, misplaced as some may consider it in a detective story. Many of the effects are exciting, although they distract from the true focus of the Sherlock Holmes brand. For better or for worse, if you want to see what trees look like as bullets shred through them in slow motion, this is your movie.
However, Sherlock Holmes is all about baffling mysteries and brilliant detectives, and that critical element is, thankfully, still here (although the plot Holmes unravels in the original is more mystifying).
One of the most entertaining and innovative moments of the original is the opening fight scene, during which Holmes narrates in slow motion and painstaking detail his plan of attack before perfectly executing it in a matter of seconds. This clever effect is brought back with a few creative twists, however, that further develop the idea without coming across as stale.
Jared Harris’s portrayal of Holmes’s rival Professor Moriarty is another high point for the sequel. Moriarty’s quiet, chilling style is effective, although it does carry some weaknesses. His apparent apathy after revealing an important death serves as the first moment when his potential as a villain is displayed, yet the way that the death is swept under the rug is upsetting and disappointing.
All this death, mystery, and villainy is fine and good, but the most enjoyable moments of the movie are seen in the friendship (some might say bromance) that is so key to the franchise. Downey and Law do a great job of subtly revealing signs of admiration for each other (in character of course) while maintaining a borderline icy relationship the majority of the time.
Watching these two interact is the most fun you will have with the movie (especially when one of them cross-dresses…for the good of the case). Unless, of course, you prefer watching a lot of things go “boom.”
All in all, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is an entertaining depiction of a great intellectual rivalry that benefits from strong acting and action but fails to meet the high standards set by the dynamic plot of the original.
As for the mystery of my prolonged absence, the academic semester turned out to be rigorous to the point that I had to make the decision that academics were more important than my blog endeavors. Still, I hope to balance this upcoming semester with new posts periodically. Anyway, this post is about Sherlock Holmes, and I want to hear what you think, so comment away!
If you like Sherlock, then try:
- Se7en (an intellectual thriller and detective story, albeit with fewer geniuses).
- The Prestige (the mind-bending mystery to end all mysteries).
- Iron Man (also starring Robert Downey Jr. and also featuring plenty of action).
The X-Men are about as ingrained into American pop culture as Superman (or Wolverine, at least), but somehow I had managed to remain ignorant of pretty much everything X-Men-related until a few days ago.
It is an interesting way to go into First Class since, as a prequel, it should be about as unsurprising as the final outcomes of the Star Wars prequel story. Yet imagine how Star Wars would be if watched from Episode 1 to Episode 6; that is essentially how I got into the X-Men story with First Class, and it really was a thrill.
Sure, I had seen characters like Magneto and Beast before, but the solid portrayals of their origins were still incredibly surprising and well-done. Magneto especially tears at the heartstrings thanks to his character’s ability to instantly win sympathy thanks to his understandable personal struggles and roots in the Holocaust.
Yes, you heard me, the Holocaust; no punches are pulled in this one.
In fact, the entire idea of inserting the storyline into the midst of one of the more tense political situations in world history, the Cuban Missile Crisis, is ingenious. The movie creates as much of its own tension and suspense as can be expected from any action-oriented superhero romp, but it sure does not hurt to have a backdrop for the narrative as tense as the high-stakes game of chess that that crisis turned out to be.
Many elements of the film, including the historical backdrop, contribute to a very classy, polished whole. Certain camera angles and shots frame the action perfectly (in one fatal scene in particular), and even the behavior of many of the characters feels classy more often than not.
Whereas superhero movies usually feature super-macho lone wolves like Wolverine, First Class stands out (even from the team leader Captain America) in its ability to lend plenty of screen time to each X-Man. They form a great team, and they all know how important it is to maintain that team bond.
It is always refreshing to see superhero movies differ from each other in such profound ways (compare this to the solitary Hulk). It is unfortunate, however, that First Class does hit a few pitfalls typical to the genre.
While the lead characters (Xavier, Magneto) are fleshed out in extremely satisfying detail, other, still significant characters end up making monumental decisions that feel highly distanced from the characters we as viewers make them out to be throughout the narrative. I understand that these characters need to end up where the comics want them to be by the time the credits roll, but that is still no excuse.
That said, the conclusion of this story made me hungry to find out the rest of the story, however extensive it may be. The centerpiece of this film really was the characters and their relationships with each other, and this central element succeeded greatly. I want to know what happens to them next, something I am sure Marvel (and its investors) would be glad to hear.
Speaking of being glad to hear good news, I want to hear from you! What did you think of this Cold War twist on existing, beloved characters? Heck, feel free to let me hear some bad news too! If you have something in mind about this, and it is not flaming, post away!
If you like First Class, then try:
- Captain America (another Marvel superhero story focused on teamwork).
Disney seems to be in the middle of a bit of an upswing, but there is much more depth to the animated movie scene than Disney alone. The first animated competitor most people would think of is Pixar, but there is another animation powerhouse that deserves more credit than it gets: Dreamworks Animation.
I can’t say how many times I’ve heard someone say to me “wait, I thought Pixar made [insert Dreamworks movie X here]!” While Pixar does deserve more celebration than any other in the animated movie industry, Dreamworks has nonetheless done plenty of work worthy of recognition.
The studio’s flagship series and probably most successful creation, Shrek, is one of the best-known and best-rated animated movies of all time. If you truly do live under a rock and have yet to see it, do not hesitate to do so; it really is actually very good.
Although Shrek unfortunately succumbed to sequelitis, the original truly is a classic. It followed Disney’s formula for success by putting a unique, modern spin on extremely familiar stories (in this case a wide range of fairy tales).
There is a flip side to the Shrek coin in the sense that the studio has the capability to produce deeper, more sentimental films like Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, The Prince of Egypt, and even Antz. Dreamworks can pull off a decently diverse range of styles in their films, which can be quite refreshing.
Dreamworks also knows how to make good allies; both Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit were both produced by Dreamworks but with great contribution from Nick Park and his Aardman Animations team.
Both movies were fantastically clever, and, together, they offered a different brand of animation that stands tall alongside industry leader Pixar. And this is not just because of the claymation style, although that certainly helps Aardman define itself on the surface.
However, the highest rated movie in the catalogue turns out to be How to Train Your Dragon. This lofty position is entirely justified, but it is also very telling.
Dragon features an awkward lead character with difficulties finding acceptance in his society. It displays surprisingly dark scenes and intense action. It teaches kids all kinds of good lessons and serves as a great allegorical argument against racism.
Yeah, this movie feels like Pixar. A lot.
Dreamworks can and has churned out some truly high quality animated films. Yet it concerns me that its best films end up being the ones from which it takes the most inspiration from other studios (Pixar, Aardman).
I love many of the works Dreamworks has pumped out, but it still falls short of the lofty heights established by Pixar because it just does not have the same capability to find an identity that works really well and stick with it in all of its films.
What do you think? Is Dreamworks worth more credit than it is given? Any favorite movies by the studio? Comment away.
As my more avid readers hopefully noticed, I did go a week (last week) without posting, something which I regret. Sometimes things on campus get a bit out of my hands, and a week of band camp (more than 12 hours per day) is one sure-fire way to monopolize my time.
So my apologies about that, but Early Week 2011 is indeed over, and while marching band will still be busy for the rest of the season, I will do my best to maintain my posting schedule, or give notice if I will not be able to (in which case I will try to post more bite-size content like this post).
Speaking of content, I figured that it would be impolite to cry you all a river about my sleep-deprived week or band, band, and more band without giving you an idea of exactly what the final product of this labor looks like. So I have included in this post a couple of videos of my marching band, the Mighty Sound of Maryland.
First off, I should start off with OUR preferred way to start things off. Despite the nosebleed angle of the video, I am proud to present our famous Pregame show!
Next, I should probably mention that we won a national contest hosted by CBS, Hawaii Five-0! I mean, just as a minor aside…
Don’t get me wrong, $25,000 is amazing, but honestly, that no show (Hawaii 5-0 included) can begin to compare to our Michael Jackson show-complete with a Thriller feature in which the entire band dances to that classic song! Not to gush, but the crowd response to that dance was unbelievable; it was truly one of, if not the, greatest experience of my life.
And as a final tidbit, I thought it would fun to show what it’s like for us on the field! Here is the perspective of a tuba.
I should stop myself now before I go on too much about this band! I’ll leave that up to my friend and fellow marcher Lisa and her blog. Before I sign off until my next (real) post, which should be up tomorrow if all goes as planned, I am glad to announce that my work is being featured on all editions of the Village Connector throughout the nation! They have taken me on as a “Film Review” columnist, and I am excited to see what people connect themselves with Deeper Meanings through the VC. If you are coming here from the VC, shoot me a comment! And, as always, feel more than welcome to send me feedback about what you would like to see from this blog. I hope you can find a deeper meaning here.
The Avengers are almost assembled. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are already in place, and so is Marvel’s muscle man, The Hulk (a.k.a. Bruce Banner). You may have missed it, but, thanks to the upcoming assembly of the Avengers, you still owe it to yourself to check this 2008 blockbuster out.
The Hulk, as evidenced by his name alone, is a character that most would expect to smash first, think later, and certainly not feel. Yet this brute of a superhero turns out to be the centerpiece of one of the most emotionally poignant superhero films yet.
Contrast is the name of the game in this film; there is an incredible sense of power in every move the Hulk makes, which leads to some incredibly intense fights, but this power is balanced out by a strong sense of tenderness.
In other words, there is much more to the Hulk than a giant green powerhouse. Bruce is incredibly responsible and intelligent, which does stand in contrast to the Hulk. However, his calmness and sensitivity conflict even more with Hulk’s uncontrollable rage.
It is difficult to reconcile a beast that forcefully tears everything out of its path with a quiet, brilliant man who wants nothing more than to be left alone where he cannot hurt anyone.
The divisiveness of character instantly brings to mind the classic story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but there is further allusion to classic tales; King Kong instantly came to mind when watching Hulk calm down immediately upon seeing a caring young woman for whom Bruce held deep affection.
Bruce’s severe identity issues lead him to become a more tragic hero than others, even Spiderman, due to the extreme lack of control he commands over his own super abilities. He holds great power but is unable to use it for good and must instead focus all of his energies on making sure that his power is not inadvertently used to harm others.
Bruce Banner is forced to lead a solitary life and, in doing so, become a tragic hero. His powers, and the anger that activates them, may be near uncontrollable, but Bruce’s good character ensures that he is still able to fight to do the right thing, even if it means isolating himself in order to keep others safe.
This “lone wolf” reality that he faces is intriguing in its uniqueness among superheroes, especially Marvel’s newest hero to grace the big screen, Captain America. Cap is also unique among superheroes in that he is able to lead a team of entirely non-super individuals. Sure, other superheroes can work on teams, but usually only on teams of others superheroes. He represents the opposite end of the spectrum from Hulk.
And yet, against all logic, these two heroes will be united under the same banner (pun not intended) in The Avengers. Somehow two heroes are able to represent entirely opposite styles of how to serve for good, yet still operate together, in some form, towards the same goal.
As if that was not enough to encourage excitement for such an unprecedented assembly of heroes, the closing scene of Hulk instantly bridges the gap between two Avengers franchises. For anyone who has ever enjoyed a movie based on a superhero character, it is an exciting time. Make sure you catch yourself up and see what happens when you make Bruce angry.
However, I realize that Hulk probably is not the most popular of superheroes; where do you place him and his movie amongst others, such as Captain America? What do you think of Marvel’s “Avengers initiative”? Don’t be shy! Let me know in the comments.
If you like Hulk, then try:
- Frankenstein (also starring a tragic, arguably misunderstood beast with human qualities, yet is still forced to remain invisible to society).
“Music is a universal language and truly the greatest of the arts.” Music is a huge part of my life, and I have failed to include it in this blog for too long. It is for this reason that I am posting today the first music related feature, which, in this case, takes a closer look at hit single “The Cave” by the incredibly talented Mumford and Sons.
Of course, I would not be posting any of this on Deeper Meanings if there was not precisely that: deeper meaning. At first glance, much of the lyrics of this song appear to project good messages but fails to unite them under a single, coherent theme. However, I have found that there is a treasure trove of messages that take a bit more time to discover. I have annotated the song’s lyrics, so check out the pictures at the bottom of this post for much more in-depth analysis of the song’s themes and lyrics.
Ultimately, this song discusses “fears” and “faults” that both the narrator and subject have dealt with in the past and will continue to be dealt with in the present and future. It is about imperfections inherent to all of us; it is about the human condition.
The narrator speaks to an unnamed and impersonal “you” about his/her faults and attempts to improve, although improvement comes slowly (see the first stanza). However, the narrator has known “the shame in your defeat” and know what it is like to be dealing with personal struggles like these.
In the chorus, the narrator expresses belief in “you” and a desire to make sure that “you” do not ”choke.” Stanza four sends the message of making the most of situations and adapting accordingly.
Despite all this, the narrator is still imperfect and must focus on his/her personal issues as well (“I have other things to fill my time”). Because of this, it would be nice if “you” be open and honest so that your problems can be addressed and solved.
In fact, the meaning of the title of the song is closely related to this need for honesty and openness. The narrator is asking “you” to “come out of your cave” and stop trying to deny to yourself and others that you have issues that need addressing. Seeing the world upside-down is a bit confusing, but I believe it to mean that “you” need to look at the world from a different perspective and thus see reality.
The rest of the song reprises most of these ideas, but it does add a sense of urgency and firmness to the narrator’s need to stay the course and do what he/she needs to do for him/herself (“to live my life as it’s meant to be”).
Again, the single, overarching theme to “The Cave” is the idea of the issues that all people face due to the human condition. We all have our own issues, and the narrator will make sure that “you” do not destroy yourself in trying to solve these issues, but needs to solve these same issue fro him’herself too.
There you have it! The Cave was great before, but now it is a great song that actually makes sense! However, if anything is still unclear, or you have any other thoughts about my assessment, let me know in the comments. In addition, make sure to suggest songs that you would like to see given this same treatment!
The writer’s strike has finally come to an end! The blog is back online! Ok, so my vacation wasn’t exact a writer’s strike, but it kept me away from the site (and internet in general) all the same. I am returning to my Thursday post schedule though, so you can look forward to a new post (actually, a new kind of post) tomorrow morning.
However, the school year and marching season are both fast approaching and for this collective reason I will unfortunately be unable to continue my posting schedule of Mondays and Thursdays. So from this point until further notice (winter break, most likely), I will be posting on a weekly basis every Thursday. Thanks for reading so far, and I hope you stick around to see what else I have up my sleeve!
Unfortunately, I am heading out on vacation (woe is me), so I cannot promise being able to stick to my Monday/Thursday update schedule for the next week or two. Internet access is quite unreliable where I am going. In the meantime, make sure to check out any of my current posts if you missed them. See you in August.
Marvel is at a point now where it has already released movies starring their most popular superhero characters to mostly positive results, and is now reaching further, either restarting franchises or putting slightly more obscure heroes into the limelight.
Which isn’t to say that Cap is obscure, but he is when compared to Spidey or Wolverine. Fortunately, he turns out to be a refreshing addition to the list of big screen superhero A-listers.
I went into this movie not knowing exactly what to expect, but I nonetheless expected a decent amount of chest-beating American bravado (given the title). I was right, and I am glad that I was, because this spirit of American pride works very well within the framework of that good vs. evil struggle that was the Second World War.
However, what I was not expecting (given I knew nothing about Captain America himself) was an exceedingly modest “nice guy” who gains the opportunity to become a superhero because of his strong morals rather than muscles.
This modesty is very refreshing in the wake of other, much more arrogant superheroes such as Tony Stark, Thor, or even Bruce Wayne. I found it was often times easier to root for “the little guy” than the billionaire playboy.
Speaking of billionaire playboys, the fantastic Iron Man has found a definite equal in Captain America. Though they are very different characters, the quality of the two films meets the same high mark. Of course, neither reaches the absolute upper limit set by The Dark Knight, but it is easier to focus exclusively on Marvel’s own properties.
The thing is, Marvel’s library of properties on film is rapidly expanding to the point that movies like Captain America can begin to feel like just one of many; it becomes harder for it to stand out.
In fact, the buildup present in almost all of Marvel’s recent films towards The Avengers does excite me but also leads me to worry that it will be difficult to devote equal focus towards each Marvel hero. What does the “guy from Brooklyn” bring to the table that super-high-tech Iron Man or literal-god-on-Earth Thor does not have?
My hope, of course, is that Cap’s humility is the answer. His humble origin as the skinny Steve Rogers is unique among superheroes, and could serve as a bit of a wake-up call for more arrogant heroes.
Of course, just because Cap lacks the high tech or mythical powers of his comrades does not mean that he is not incredibly satisfying in action. In fact, the simplicity of his shield-based combat (hit, block or throw) is satisfying in the same way that his modesty satisfies in terms of personality.
It is a thrill to watch Cap do his thing in battle, and the “clang” that resonates from his shield upon every hit is incredibly satisfying in a very comic-book kind of way.
What was a bit less satisfying was the background and end of the villain Red Skull. I had a distinct “that’s it?” feeling after his final showdown with Cap, but I still must give Hugo Weaving his credit for selling the character when he was on-screen. I just wish he was not written to be such a cookie-cutter villain.
There are going to be a lot of heroes vying for screen time in the Avengers movie, but it is nice to know that at least one of them will be focused on just getting the job done. Definitely check this one out to get your superhero fix while waiting for The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers.
If you like Captain America, then try:
- X-Men: First Class (another Marvel superhero story focused on teamwork).