Dark Souls: The Ethics of Linking the Fire

In case I haven’t made it obvious yet, I love the Dark Souls franchise. I adore the challenging, clever and strategic gameplay, but just as important to me is the series’ lore. FromSoftware have crafted an incredible mythology for these games which, in my opinion, is the main reason why this franchise has had the longevity it enjoys, as it encourages players to dwell on their own theories and piece them together even when they’re not actively playing the game. FromSoftware have also baked in an intentional amount of ambiguity, meaning that every player is going to have their own interpretation of the world and events that occur within it. On that point, several months ago Jim Sterling put out a video about his interpretation of the politics in Dark Souls and, while I agree with his interpretation of the lore for the most part, I found it interesting that our ultimate conclusions on how to complete the story differ. I had kind of taken it for granted that my interpretation of how to proceed in Dark Souls and its sequels was “correct”, so it was intriguing to see other peoples’ takes on how one should proceed in the game. Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that the Dark Souls franchise provides a fantastic case study to explore the philosophy of ethics.

Before we go on, it’s worth establishing the basic lore of Dark Souls somewhat in case you’re not familiar. In the world of Dark Souls, there was first the Age of Ancients, where immortal dragons ruled the world and nothing really ever changed. Then, one day, fire and souls appeared and the greatest of these souls were claimed by those who would become the four lords – Gwyn the Lord of Sunlight, Nito the Lord of the Dead, the Witch of Izalith and the Furtive Pygmy, possessor of the titular Dark Soul. Gwyn, the most powerful of the lords, kindled the “first flame” and used its power to wage a war against the dragons. The downfall of the dragons ushered in the Age of Fire, with Gwyn as its ruler. However, during all this the Furtive Pygmy split the Dark Soul into fragments, a small piece of which was possessed by every human. The Pygmy knew that one day fire would fade and that this would usher in an Age of Dark, which humanity would now possess. Indeed, while Lord Gwyn’s reign was prosperous and saw the establishment of many powerful kingdoms, the first flame did begin to slowly fade, threatening to end his rule over the world. In desperation to prevent this end from occurring, the Witch of Izalith accidentally destroyed herself and her entire kingdom, turning them into demons, while Gwyn ultimately sacrificed his own life to the first flame to restore and prolong the Age of Fire.

The original Dark Souls picks up some time after Gwyn’s sacrifice, with the first flame fading once again. As the fire fades, humans have begun being afflicted with the “curse of the undead”, which causes humans to be unable to die, but they lose bits and pieces of their humanity and personality until they enter a zombie-like existence as a “hollow”. The player takes the role of one of these undead who is tasked with gathering souls to become powerful enough to acquire the four Lord Souls. The driving force behind the player’s actions is never quite clear – first, it’s a vague prophecy about an undead who will collect souls and end the curse of the undead. Then they are confronted by Gwyn’s daughter in Anor Londo, the city of light, and a serpent named Frampt who tell the player to collect the Lord Souls and use them to “link the fire”. Ultimately, the player then has to confront Gwyn in the Kiln of the First Flame, where they then are presented with the choice of linking the fire, an act which the player probably still doesn’t fully comprehend – which is what brings me to the point of this post. What should the player do at the end of Dark Souls?

There’s one more thing that we need to establish before we can answer that question. It’s worth mentioning that there is deception at foot in Dark Souls which many players will likely never even realize on a first playthrough (if ever). Anor Londo, the city of the gods, has been abandoned and darkened all this time and Gwynevere, who directs us on our quest, is an illusion. Furthermore, Frampt is not the only serpent out there, for there is another one named Kaathe who tells the player the “truth”, that Gwyn usurped the Age of Dark from humanity in order to extend the Age of Fire, a process which he says goes against the natural order of the world. Frampt has been coercing undead to relink the fire through deceptive means and if the undead he was shepherding understood what this meant, they might not be so keen to see it through. In contrast, Kaathe reveals that he’s looking for a “Dark Lord” who will rule humanity in this Age of Dark and is hoping that the player character will fulfill this role by slaying Gwyn and rejecting the fire.

Okay, now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, we can finally start looking at whether the player should link the fire or not. In his video, Jim Sterling talks about how he chooses to not link the fire because he likens it to real-world politics, where the gods are akin to the rich and humanity are akin to the oppressed working class who are exploited to give more power to the rich. In this reading, linking the fire is akin to holding up unequal power structures which are to your detriment. In that scenario, Jim chooses to not link the fire and to tear down the power of the gods in favour of humanity, which is a perfectly valid reading of this scenario. However, even being aware of this deception, I still choose to link the fire in Dark Souls because I believe that this is the most ethical ending.

There are several ethical philosophies that can be applied to try to determine what course of action is the most ethical to pursue. Paul Martin Lester lists and briefly explains six of them on his website: the golden rule, hedonism, the golden mean, the categorical imperative, utilitarianism and the veil of ignorance. For our purposes we will focus on utilitarianism for now, as it is the closest to conventional views of morality. According to the University of Texas’ “Ethics Unwrapped”, utilitarianism is a moral philosophy where “the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number [of people]”. You may look at this and wonder how linking the fire produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people, especially since we have already revealed that the prolonging of the Age of Fire benefits the gods, while humanity is meant to inherit the Age of Dark. However, there is a key factor worth considering here – when he established the Age of Fire, Gwyn linked humanity’s souls to the first flame, thus bringing about the curse of the undead and hollowed states. The undead may actually be intended to be humanity’s natural state in an Age of Dark, but the Age of Fire has made it into an awful state of being which collapses societies and tears away the self. We see this many times over the course of the games, as colourful characters such as Solaire of Astora, Siegward of Catarina, Lucatiel of Mirrah and the crestfallen knight slowly lose themselves to hollowing, a condition that becomes more and more prevalent in society as the fire fades. As a result, the longer that the fire is allowed to fade, the more disruptive the curse of the undead is going to be for the lives of humans everywhere and the more people who are going to lose their humanity. When viewed this way, linking the fire is clearly going to cause the least disruption to the lives of the people, especially if it is done sooner rather than later.

The whole Frampt vs Kaathe debate is also worth a second look when deciding whether to link the fire. At first glance, most players who encounter Kaathe are going to assume that he’s he one telling the truth about the world and the player’s situation and therefore has your best interests in mind when he tells you not to link the fire. However, it’s worth noting that Kaathe is a foil to Frampt and that both of the primordial serpents are kingseekers – Frampt wants to find a successor to Gwyn to link the fire, whereas Kaathe wants to crown a “dark lord” to usurp Gwyn’s throne. As the player, that works fantastically for you, since you spend the whole game collecting souls and becoming (likely) the most powerful being in this world. However, is having one powerful overlord really the best option for humanity in the end, or is it better for humanity if one powerful individual is sacrificed instead to keep their way of life intact? Are we better off with another Gwyn-like figure ruling this Age of Dark, only more powerful since he or she has absorbed all of the lord souls? We, of course, don’t really have an answer to this question, but it’s worth keeping in mind when appraising the situation – we can’t assume that Kaathe has the best interests of humanity in mind and, while it’s great for us as the player that we could be the most powerful being in the world, it may not be the best situation for everyone else. As a result, Frampt’s deception is likely warranted, as a being strong enough to link the fire is extremely unlikely to do so willingly. We actually see this play out several times in Dark Souls III, where the truth of the linking of the fire has become common knowledge and the man tasked to link the fire rejects his calling. Not only that, but three of the four resurrected Lords of Cinder who have already linked the fire once before reject the call and refuse to go through with linking a second time (not to mention that Aldrich was forced to link the fire the first time and Ludleth of Courland vividly recounts the pain involved in the experience, so there’s little wonder why they don’t volunteer to go through with it again). One can easily see how this deception would be necessary to convince the most powerful being in the realm to unwittingly volunteer to give up their power (and life) to link the fire.

Since the Age of Dark is supposed to be the time of humanity, wouldn’t that inevitably be the best for humans though? This is, unfortunately, an answer that we simply don’t know based on the lore that From Software have given us. This is, as “Ethics Unwrapped” puts it, a drawback of utilitarianism: “because we cannot predict the future, it’s difficult to know with certainty whether the consequences of our actions will be good or bad.” In the Dark Souls franchise, we simply do not know what an Age of Dark is actually like. The closest we get is the Untended Graves in Dark Souls III, which seem to portray a dim future in which an Age of Dark has fallen (although this is definitely debatable). Since we can’t even conclusively look to the Untended Graves for an Age of Dark, we only really have the Abyss to go off of. The Abyss is a place in Dark Souls which seems to have some connection to the true nature of the Dark Soul and humanity. The Abyss spreads across lands and swallows them up. The Abyss is so corrupting and dangerous that we know of three entire kingdoms (Oolacile, New Londo and Carthus) who have succumbed to it have to be destroyed and contained to stop its spread. It’s worth noting that Kaathe is heavily implied to have been behind the spreading of The Abyss in Oolacile and New Londo, further suggesting that it plays some sort of role in his quest for a dark lord. The results aren’t pretty though – the people who come into contact with The Abyss all go mad and/or have their bodies twisted into monstrous forms. As one goes deeper into The Abyss, they find numerous mysterious, incorporeal phantoms which are clearly meant to symbolize humanity. Whether these are the souls of the people who have been swallowed up by The Abyss or a more base form of humanity is up for interpretation, but all that is certain is that they drain the player’s life force on contact. It’s also worth noting that, in the original Dark Souls‘ DLC, The Abyss seems to stem from the unrestrained desires of Manus, thought by some to be the Furtive Pygmy himself and perhaps Kaathe’s original candidate for dark lord. This lends further credence to the idea that the dark lord is just the most powerful being of their age, one who can shape people and the world around them with their overwhelming dominance. There is so much ambiguity about The Abyss and the Age of Dark though that it’s hard to make a concrete judgment call on them. Is everyone living a terrible existence, but humans are living the least-terrible existence of them all? Is life as a humanity phantom or a maddened, misshapen monster really all that bad? I can’t say that The Abyss is bad with absolute certainty, but it is clear that to bring about an Age of Dark would change our fundamental understanding of human life. In my opinion, the risks are not worth it, especially since we know that life in the Age of Fire is perfectly fine for humans.

That’s the situation in the original Dark Souls, but what about Dark Souls II? Should the player ascend the Throne of Want, or turn their back on it? There are a couple new elements introduced in this game which are worth taking into consideration. First, the concept of cycles is introduced. Dark Souls II reveals that there is a constant back-and-forth of ages of fire and dark. As a result, we discover that even if you did embrace an Age of Dark in the original game’s ending, the fire returns eventually and all of this will have played out again. Considering that the curse of the undead still persists, this would suggest that humanity is still linked to the fire and that these cycles of the Age of Dark aren’t even beneficial for humans, further giving fuel to the idea that linking the fire is the safest choice. In Dark Souls II, Aldia calls the linking of humanity to the first flame “the first sin” and says it has corrupted the natural order of the world – however, until humanity can be unlinked from the fire, it is unavoidable. However, just because something is natural, that doesn’t mean it is therefore the right or best option and Aldia knows it, as he rages in search of a solution to this problem.

The other variable worth taking into consideration in Dark Souls II is the theme of kings and their queens of Dark. Dark Souls II reveals that the defeat of Manus split his soul into fragments which became four granddaughters. These granddaughters would seek out kings, the most powerful people in the land, and seek to corrupt them and eventually take the first flame for themselves. Unfortunately for them, their corrupting influence would eventually be the downfall of each kingdom before their efforts could come to fruition, leaving only ruins or kingdoms in decline. Interestingly enough, by taking the crowns of each of the lords, you can actually stave off the effects of hollowing – it doesn’t cure or end the curse, but it is a way to freeze it in place and effectively become a god of the Light and the Dark. In Dark Souls II, your ultimate goal is to take the kingdom of Drangleic for yourself and Queen Nashandra is your final opponent. In this game, it is explicitly the Dark which is manipulating you, as Nashandra is waiting for you to be powerful enough to take the throne before swooping in to take it for herself.

So, with Nashandra defeated, do you then sit on the throne and therefore link the fire? The answer feels simpler, yet more ambiguous than it did in the first game. The Throne of Want is analogous to the First Flame, but the exact effects of sitting on it are uncertain – unlike Dark Souls where you become human kindling, in Dark Souls II the ending implies that you’ll establish your own kingdom. Or, if you choose to forgo the Throne of Want, you’ll allow an Age of Dark to take hold once again. Considering the journey of this game, the ending where you take the throne is far more satisfying. I’d also argue that, since humanity is still linked to the fire, taking the throne is the best option in order to stave off the curse of the undead once more.

Finally, we have Dark Souls III, where things have taken an interesting turn. In this game, the fire has been linked so many times that each successive linking has produced a shorter and shorter Age of Fire, and now the fire itself is nearly spent. It’s gotten to the point where the heir meant to link the fire refuses, figures who have previously linked the fire are resurrected and also refuse to link it again, and so people who failed to link the fire before are resurrected to try to get them to link it. The situation is so bad that space and time itself has become reshaped and distorted, desperately trying to bring about the linking of the fire that has become so fundamental to existence. Dark Souls III has several possible endings, but once again the “right” ending seems much clearer than in the first game. However, the variety of endings allow us to explore some of the other ethical philosophies in more detail.

There’s only one ending which allows the player to link the fire, but the flame has become so feeble that it merely dances along their arms, instead of becoming a surging conflagration like in the first game. It’s clear that the fire’s power has faded almost entirely and that this act of linking at this point it is functionally pointless. However, this ending could be viewed as the “categorical imperative” ending. In the ethical philosophy of the categorical imperative, once something has been established as “right”, it should always be done and there are no excuses not to not perform this action. Since the linking the fire has long been established as the “right” thing to do, it should be linked regardless of the long-term benefits (after all, have we not been looking down on Prince Lothric all this time for not linking the fire to begin with?). However, I personally find this ethical philosophy far too restrictive and inadequate. From a utilitarian perspective, since the fire is spent the curse is already wracking humanity, and the world itself has twisted to try to relight the flame – it’s clear that the time to link the fire has past and that embracing the Age of Dark is the only option left to us (in fact, considering that the Age of Fire was becoming shorter and the curse of the undead more frequent, the most ethical thing to do would probably have been to embrace it sooner than this). So, what options does the game give us to bring this about?

In the normal ending, the player summons the fire keeper to snuff out the first flame. She reveals that although an Age of Dark is now settling, eventually fire will come again anew. Perhaps this will be a new flame, no longer linked to humanity. This seems to me like it is the most ethical of the endings from a utilitarian perspective, since it severs humanity’s ties to the first flame and allows the Age of Dark to finally settle in on its own merits. It also gets around the problem we had in the original Dark Souls of one extremely powerful being dictating the flow of this age – a new Gwyn, using their power to extend the Age of Dark in the same manner that the Age of Fire has been unnaturally extended. This ending could also be seen as the “golden mean” ending. The golden mean ethical philosophy posits that the most ethical approach is to find a middle ground between two extremes (in this case, linking the fire and becoming the Dark Lord). Since you have chosen to not link the fire, but have not become the new lord of the Age of Dark, this ending strikes about as close to a middle ground as possible. The fact that this ending satisfies two different ethical philosophies is just further evidence that it’s probably the best outcome for this world.

There’s also a secret ending where, just before the fire keeper snuffs out the fire, the player betrays her and steals the last of the flame in the final seconds. It’s the kind of ending you take if you’re roleplaying a complete bastard who is collecting souls, any soul, to empower themselves at the expense of everyone else. One could view this as a particularly nasty “hedonism” ending. In ethical philosophy, hedonism posits that the most moral thing to do is to maximize pleasure while you can, because you don’t know what tomorrow may bring. In the dark and brutish world of Dark Souls, your character has been slaying people and collecting their souls to empower themselves all game and with your journey at its end, there really isn’t any reason not to just collect one more soul from this viewpoint. That said, obviously, viewed from any other ethical philosophy (not to mention conventional morality), this is by far the most unethical ending in the game.

Perhaps the most interesting ending involves completing a quest for the Sable Church of Londor, a coven of undead. During the course of gameplay, you can discover that the Sable Church are dedicated to fulfilling the legacy of Kaathe and want you to become the Dark Lord. Knowing this, it is perhaps unsurprising that if you choose this ending then you absorb the remaining power of the first flame into yourself and bring about an Age of Dark with yourself as its appointed Dark Lord. However, the ethics of this ending are dubious – not only do you have to marry and then kill Anri of Astora to bring it about, but the ultimate implications of this ending are left up to the player to interpret. As a result, this ending could be categorized as hedonistic or utilitarian, depending on how you imagine your rule as Dark Lord will play out. Interestingly enough, the eclipsed sun which has been in the sky throughout the late game turns into a pale, dark eclipse upon your ascension to Dark Lord, perhaps signifying that you have indeed become the Dark foil to Gwyn and your legacy may mirror his. Knowing this, allowing the fire keeper to snuff out the flame is probably the most conventionally-ethical option since it keeps the most people on an even footing, but the Dark Lord ending is the most interesting in my opinion.

Considering how much interpretation is involved in Dark Souls, a clear “ideal” solution is almost impossible to declare definitively. A Dark Lord ending may indeed be the best possible ending if you decide that your character will rule benevolently and not make the same mistakes as Gwyn. Similarly, not linking the fire may be best if you believe that it will end the cure of the undead – again, we just don’t know and it’s up to your interpretation of that ending to decide. This interpretation and debating over the lore and its implications is a major factor in Dark Souls‘ enduring popularity – as I said in my Love/Hate article on the series, the original game has been eclipsed in terms of performance, gameplay and challenge, but the world it has created is damn-near unparalleled and makes this game still stand out to this day.

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15 Best Movie Posters of 2019

Welcome back to the annual, year-end countdown of the best movie posters of the year! And just like that, this is now officially an annual thing! I’ve been browsing impawards throughout the year, keeping an eye out for eye-catching, interesting posters and saving them for later. Suffice to say, I had a bunch of posters to sift through and narrowing this down to a top 15 was difficult (not least of all because new posters are released all the time so I couldn’t even begin to narrow the list down until the start of September). Also, starting this year I’m going to be giving extra consideration towards posters which are actually intended for mass distribution rather than posters which are intended to be artistic but very limited in their reach. I mean, this Dark Phoenix poster is really cool, but it’s also clearly a poster you’re never going to see if you go to a theatre. I’m still going to consider these kinds of posters if they’re really good, but I find it more impressive when a poster which is meant to sell general audiences on the film does something particularly artistic or interesting.

Anyway, with those considerations out of the way, let’s get onto the list! As usual, you can see the full-sized poster in all its glory if you click on the images.

Honourable Mentions

While Disney absolutely destroyed the competition at the box office this year, their posters were, by and large, very mediocre and lifeless. This poster for Frozen II was one of the few exceptions, with its interesting use of colour and reflections hinting at the plot and feel of the film. It ultimately just missed the list, but it was definitely worth mentioning.

This is another entry which could have easily made the list if the competition wasn’t quite so fierce. It’s got such a creepy design already and then as your eye gets drawn upwards you realize that the trees have been arranged in such a way that they spell “FEED”. I like this poster a lot, it looks way better than a gritty, Grimms fairy tale adaptation should.

Having seen Us, I like this poster quite a bit with its minimalist design resembling a Rorschach blot, but with the right side missing bits which hint at the film’s psycho doppelganger premise. It gets across the idea of the film very well, but I feel like it’s just a bit too subtle to really be appreciated unless you’ve actually seen the film first.

15) The Death of Dick Long

This is one of those posters where I have no idea what the film is actually supposed to be about, but it kind of makes me want to see the movie regardless. As I’ve said in previous best posters of the year countdowns, that’s ultimately the goal of a movie poster, so it’s worth some points in my book. On top of that, this poster is just eye-catching with its use of harsh, contrasting lighting and muted colours… and then you notice that the fireworks are coming from the guy’s freaking crotch. And then you notice the title is called The Death of Dick Long, and that it’s from one of the directors of Swiss Army Man. Yeah, it’s going to be weird as all hell, but intriguingly so. That said, I could have very easily skipped over this one if the poster wasn’t so eye-catching so I’d say that this is well-deserving of a spot in the Top 15.

14) Low Tide

Every best movie posters countdown needs a poster which is just a beautiful, “artistic” shot and Low Tide takes that spot for me this year. It really isn’t much more than an extremely well-composed photo and a cleverly integrated title using a reversed gradient, but that’s all it really needs to be. Low Tide‘s poster is so beautiful it makes your eyes water, suggesting that you’re in for a gorgeous treat if you watch it. In addition, its use of colour and gradients also implies a dangerous tone for the movie without really having to overtly spell it out. A great poster all-round, and that fact that it is only in at #14 just shows how impressive posters have been in 2019.

13) Hail Satan?

This poster is just so clever. It’s appropriately interesting, informative and inflammatory in equal measure. Most Americans (especially evangelicals) are uninformed about the Satanic temple and have a knee-jerk opposition to them, but that is exactly how they get awareness to their admittedly worthy causes. Usually, if you hear about Satanists in the news, it’s because they’re fighting for religious equality – after all, if an evangelical is okay to do something, a Satanist should be able to do an equivalent action, right? That idea gets across perfectly in this poster, with the image of the Statue of Liberty as Baphomet as a striking visual that is guaranteed to trigger evangelicals. Oh and it also has one of the best taglines of the year, which just manages to put this over Low Tide as far as I’m concerned. I love it.

12) Bliss

This is definitely the poster I’ve mulled over the most on this list. At first glance, the colour choices make it very ugly to look at and unappealing. However, the longer you look at it, the more intriguing it is. For one thing, the ugliness is clearly intentional and is meant to be at odds with the title, Bliss, which is usually associated with bright, cheerful colours. If you look closer you can pick out all sorts of unsettling details – screaming, disembodied mouths, blood dripping off the woman’s face, and piles of reaching, naked bodies scrambling over each other. The longer you look at it, the more unsettling things you begin to notice and the more intriguing Bliss becomes to me. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the hand-painted art help make this stand out a bit more compared to all the photoshopped posters of its contemporaries. All-in-all, when I was narrowing down this list to just a top 15, I had considered dropping Bliss on a number of occasions because of its surface-level ugliness, but I’m now confident that it really deserves a spot here due to its bold and evocative design.

11) The Ghost Who Walks

Again we have another poster which is, by itself, super intriguing. We’ve got what appears to be a very zoomed out, birds-eye shot of Santa Claus in an alleyway being escorted or robbed by a pair of men – whatever the scenario is, they don’t seem to be doing him a favour anyway. The story the poster tells is enough to make you go “WTF?”, but what really puts it over the top is the very clever composition and framing of the image and the way that the title has been integrated into the shot. It doesn’t really give you any information about the film’s story beyond a tone, but it’s fascinating enough that I can see it selling someone on the film by itself.

10) Pet Sematary

There’s no movie in 2019 that I wanted to love more than Pet Samatary, but good God the film was so mediocre that I can’t even be charitable to it. Oh well, at least we have this awesome poster that’s forever going to get my imagination going for a movie better than what we got. I love the way colour has been mostly drained from the poster. The use of black and white tones makes for great contrast and allow the bits of gold in Church’s eyes and the red in the title to stand out all the more. It’s all put together in such a creepy manner, from the great, shadowy shots of the main cast (especially the look of dread on Amy Seimetz’s face and the nearly skeletal-looking Jason Clarke), to the scary, masked children, to Church’s glower hanging over everyone. It uses the Drew Struzan style in an interesting way, is just striking and original in its own right, and ultimately does a better job of selling the film’s premise than the actual movie did. Sigh, sometimes print is better.

9) Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Tarantino’s latest kind of had to make this list. Sure, it’s not exactly the flashiest poster of the year, but it captures the aesthetic of 1960s film posters perfectly. The hand-drawn style, the vignettes of moments from the film, the way that the cast is shown off, even down to the way that the credits are listed – it’s perfect. Considering that that’s clearly the intent here, it would feel wrong for me not to recognize it on this list.

8) Child’s Play

Speaking of posters that, on their own, aren’t all that flashy… holy crap, Childs Play just goes bonkers. If you’re not aware, the Child’s Play remake/reboot went head-to-head with freaking Toy Story 4, and the marketing department were eager to make the most of this with this bonkers poster that takes the aesthetic from Toy Story 4‘s own marketing and uses it to make a freaking statement. There were a few posters in this Chucky murders Toy Story series, but the one with Woody’s arm and hat was the most striking, in my opinion. It reminds me of those posters for You’re Next a few years ago which had a killer hiding in the “reflection”. I just love how cheeky, bold and clever this poster design is and can only imagine how hard Bob Iger must have shit himself when he saw it for the first time.

7) Joker

Hoo boy, if there’s one movie we didn’t need in 2019, it’s probably a sympathetic, mass killer origin story for Joker for all the incels to admire… That said, this poster does a great job of conveying the idea without making him into someone we’re meant to feel sorry for. There’s such a creepy vibe here with the idea of a psychotic person who can’t smile without physically forcing himself. The awfulness of this is further reinforced by the paint-drop tear, the sickly colour palette and the disturbing extreme close-up which shows off all the strained emotion on Joker’s face. It’s a very well-composed image that gets across the idea of the film perfectly… arguably better than the actual film does, in some ways.

6) The Unborn

What. The. FUCK. IS THAT!?!?!! Okay, I’m sold on this movie already – I don’t know what the hell it’s about, but this poster is straight-up disturbing shit. It has such a disgustingly creepy vibe to it with little more than a shadowy mutant baby in a jar backlit by what looks like a hundred year old light bulb. It’s horrifying and, while I’m certain the movie can’t hope to live up to the sick shit running through my head when I look at this poster, it makes me want to find out what the hell this movie is all about. Sign me the hell up.

5) Detective Pikachu

Okay, obviously I’m a Pokemaniac, so I’m kind of biased on this one. That said, this is a dense poster packed with all sorts of subtle Easter eggs and plot hints that are enough to make a Pokemaniac like me jizz their pants. Seriously, whoever designed this poster clearly loves Pokemon and packed nearly every inch of it with obscure references to the games’ universe. Even if you don’t get the nerdy references, the Easter eggs still do the job of making the world of Ryme City appear lived-in and bustling, inviting you to pour over all the details that have been hidden in it. As a result, I’ve probably sunk more time into this one poster than I have on all the other posters on this list, combined. That by itself is an accomplishment worthy of some appreciation, which is why Detective Pikachu ranks so high on this list.

4) Aladdin

Perhaps mirroring their creative bankruptcy for most of the year, Disney’s poster output in 2019 has been unfortunately mediocre. Even Endgame didn’t have any particularly interesting posters, so imagine my surprise when I finally found a visually arresting poster for a Disney movie: the live-action AladdinAladdin was a mostly-mediocre and over-stuffed film, but it did have its charms thanks largely to the performances from the three main leads, especially Will Smith. Thankfully, they’re all on display in this gorgeous poster which uses the white background and expert use of a red and blue to draw your eye and tell a particular story. Your eye is naturally going to be drawn to Will Smith’s genie first, then down to Jafar and Jasmine, then down to Aladdin, then down to Abu jumping into the lamp before you reach the title. It’s such a cool and clearly-intentional trick, using the space of the poster itself to great effect to direct the viewer in an unnatural upper-right to lower-left line. That’s impressive on its own, but the fact that the poster itself is just gorgeous-looking easily cemented this as one of my absolute favourite posters of 2019.

3) Glass

Glass was, in a lot of ways, a colossal disappointment which threw the nascent Shyamalan resurgence back into disarray. There are a number of reasons for this, but probably the most pertinent is that Glass represents so much wasted potential. We can see some of that potential here in this poster, which captures the essence of a climactic superhero story in such a beautiful way. Each broken piece of glass shows off characters painted in a comic-book art style, interspersed with actual comic art created for the films itself. It’s enthralling to look at, packed with strong emotions for each of the characters and can’t help but feel evocative to for anyone who appreciates comic book storytelling.

Also worth mentioning is this other poster which creates a portrait of Mr. Glass out of literal shards of broken glass. It’s not nearly as striking as the above poster of course, but it is quite interesting in its own right, especially for a “character poster”, which usually just comes across as a boring, requisite marketing piece.

2) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

There were ultimately only two films on this list which were duking it out for the top spot, and I have to say that John Wick: Chapter 3 only just barely lost out on it. I mean, just look at this poster, it is exquisite! I would hang this on my wall in a heartbeat. The neon-soaked colour palette is simultaneously arresting to look at and a perfect representation of the aesthetic of John Wick, while the harsh metals and skull imagery convey the feel of the series. There really isn’t much more to it than that – it’s just a poster so cool that it just plows its way to the runner-up position of this year’s posters.

Oh, also worth mentioning is the poster on the right, featuring John Wick versus hundreds of assassins. This gets across the tone and sort of odds that ol’ John is in for in the film in such a striking and frankly funny fashion. It isn’t quite as visually-arresting as the above poster, but it is definitely worth mentioning in its own right.

Which brings us to our #1 spot for 2019…

1) Godzilla: King of the Monsters

 If there’s one film whose marketing department absolutely killed it this year, it’s definitely Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘. To put it simply, every single poster for this film is simultaneously visually beautiful and totally kick-ass (as if this were an action movie starring Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron). Unlike a lot of blockbusters, even the regular theatrical posters have a level of creative artistic merit to them which is usually reserved for more specialized posters (presumably for fear of alienating the mass audience with a poster that’s not aimed at the lowest common demoninator). When you consider that the beautiful shots in these posters are also just being indicative of the cinematography of the film itself, it just makes the marketing for this film even more impressive. Godzilla: King of the Monsters may have been a bit bloated and underwhelming on its own merits, but holy crap if the film’s marketing department didn’t go all-out this year. Here’s hoping that next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong continues this trend, because if it does then we are in for an absolute treat.

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10 Worst Movies of the 2010s

As you can probably tell if you’ve frequented this blog, you’ll know that I have a thing for bad movies. There’s a special sort of film-going experience that you can only get from a crap-tacular film, be that stunned disbelief or pure rage. Then there’s the true bottom of the barrel. Most of the films on this list are so bad that I would never want to subject myself to them again, and even several years removed from watching them they still leave an awful taste in my mouth. So let’s go down memory lane and exhume some of the worst movies of the entire decade and show off their rotting putridity for all to see?

Honourable Mentions

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (February 27, 2010)
You would be remiss to mention bad movies of the 2010s and leave out Birdemic, a rip-off of The Birds that’s so legendarily incompetent that it became a meme. Director James Nguyen really wanted to make a positive film about environmentalism and pacifism, all wrapped up in an epic love story, but good God he failed spectacularly. For the most part, the film is just boring, but then suddenly the clip art GIF-quality birds attack and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I swear to God I laughed for at least a minute straight when they started dive bombing and literally exploding. Even with everything else wrong with this film, that alone made it at least hilarious and so-bad-it’s-good enough that it’s more enjoyable than any of the movies that made this list. Still, for the sheer ineptitude on display, this film deserves at least a mention on this list.

Dogman (November 6, 2012)
I’ve always been highly intrigued by the legend of the Michigan Dogman, so when I found out that someone made a movie about this creature I was excited to see what they would come up with. I even saw a Blu-ray copy of the film on sale and even though it was going for freaking $35 I was tempted. However, I ultimately decided that I’d better find out if it was good or not before dropping that much on it… and thank God I did, because I dodged a freaking bullet. Dogman is clearly a no-budget film and what we do get on screen is just boring. I can’t really remember much more about it than being extremely disappointed that nothing happens, so I can’t really justify putting it on the list proper (and like hell I’m rewatching it).

The Predator (Septemer 14, 2018)
The Predator isn’t *quite* bad enough to actually make this list, but it is easily one of my most hated films of the decade. I don’t often advocate for films to be written out of continuity, but the Predator franchise is absolutely dead in the water if this film is allowed to dictate the franchise’s future. And why did they feel the need to reboot the franchise anyway? Predators was awesome and went over most of the ideas this film tries to pass off as new anyway.

So with those dishonourable mentions out of the way, let’s get on to the list…

10) Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt? (September 14, 2014)
If you read my Atlas Shrugged retrospective series, you might have expected to see this film on here. Atlas Shrugged Part III fails on so many levels that it’s frankly impressive. Even setting aside the shitty philosophy and morality at this film’s rotten core, the filmmaking is distractingly bad. Like, almost every scene has something distracting – from terrible editing, to bad lighting, to bargain-basement props, to time wasting stock footage, one can’t help but feel like the filmmakers just didn’t give a shit anymore after losing more than $45 million on this franchise. Oh and the acting is the worst in the franchise, which is even funnier when you realize everyone was recast in all three parts. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this movie is on a level of filmmaking incompetence that rivals The Room. I saw a copy of this movie on DVD at a store once and I was sorely tempted to buy it, I had that much fun at its expense (the only reason I didn’t buy it is because like hell I’m going to financially support the bastards in the Randian community). Literally the only reason I didn’t rank this movie lower was because it was such a hoot to watch, but it is unquestionably one of the worst movies of the decade.

9) Pompeii (February 21, 2014)
I could say that this movie was a bigger disaster than the real-life eruption of Vesuvius which the film is based on, but that would just be insensitive, stupid and uninspired… coincidentally, all of those words could be used to describe Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii adequately though. Pompeii is a disaster-romance in the same sort of vein as Pearl Harbour, where far too much time is dedicated to a dull romance and the disaster is just dumb spectacle. Kit Harrington is here at his absolute blandest and poor Emily Browning is saddled with a lifeless damsel in distress role. About the only notable thing about this movie is Kiefer Sutherland who seems to be having an absolute blast hamming it up as a cartoonishly evil Roman senator. I personally thought that he was the one entertaining bit in this film, but I can see others thinking that his acting is just plain bad so who knows – you might think that this film’s even worse than I did. Really though, there’s so much potential for a great film about the eruption of Vesuvius, even from the dramatic accounts that still survive to this day. Unfortunately, Pompeii struggles to even survive in the DVD bargain bin in 2019.

8) I, Frankenstein (January 24, 2014)
Some movies are so bad that you wonder how they even managed to get greenlit, let alone released. I, Frankenstein is just that kind of film. Who in their right mind thought that a 65 million dollar film about a monster-hunting Frankenstein’s monster would be a success? Turns out that that would be the production company and co-creator of the Underworld franchise, which should be incredibly obvious to anyone who has actually seen this film because it feels like a cheap knock-off of Underworld (which is, in itself, a cheap knockoff of White Wolf’s RPGs), only years after people stopped giving a shit about the franchise. Okay, fine, the idea is shit, but how did they then manage to rope Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto and even Jai Courtney into this!?! Even then, there could be some campy enjoyment if the film was at least in on the joke, but the film is embarrassingly self-serious, full of mythologizing about angels and demons and the status of Frankenstein’s soul… it’s just bad, everyone who’s even heard of the film knows it, I’m not sure what else there is to say.

7) Osombie (May 5, 2012)
Okay, I remember being moderately excited for this movie back when it came out due to the bonkers premise alone, but my memory is a bit hazy at this point (and like hell I’ll watch it again). I do remember being incredibly disappointed by the film though, which just plays out like all of the other  lazy zombie movies which were infesting video shelves at the time. The zombie Osama bin Laden gimmick isn’t even that well utilized either – instead of having him as this Dead Snow-like monster, I distinctly remember that he kind of just shows up every once in a while and is ultimately pretty inconsequential, not to mention that the film isn’t really all that interested in having a campy or over-the-top laugh. The film’s characters are also incredibly stupid, with its “special forces” cast being clearly modelled from someone’s Call of Duty expertise. Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious, it’s also pretty goddamn insensitive to make a movie like this when Afghanistan was (and still is) a warzone at the time. Osombie is one of those films whose premise should have just been a dumb laugh between a group of friends and then been allowed to fade into the night instead of something that everyone involved is going to have to explain to their grandchildren one day.

6) The Cloverfield Paradox (February 4, 2018)
The Cloverfield Paradox has to be one of the most deflating films of all time. After 10 Cloverfield Lane there was legitimate hype for Cloverfield as a franchise and then The Cloverfield Paradox gets surprise announced and released in the middle of the Super Bowl? Holy shit! But good God were we ever duped because this film sucks ass. Seriously, there are few films which I have hated with such vitriol more than The Cloverfield Paradox. To put it simply, in The Cloverfield Paradox, shit just happens for no reason. Early on it seems like they’re setting up a mystery with all the weird things happening, but no, it’s just happening because that’s what the writers want to happen. There are absolutely no rules to ground everything and it just makes the film frustrating to watch. Oh and don’t even get me started on that damn ending, which just makes for a cocktease since it reveals that we’re missing everything that we actually wanted to see. Ugh, fuck this film.

5) God’s Not Dead 2 (April 1, 2016)
Oh hey, another terrible film we covered in a retrospectives series! God’s Not Dead 2 is truly one of the most deluded and cloying films I’ve ever seen. Any attempt at nuance from the previous film is discarded entirely as atheists are outright portrayed as body snatcher-like monsters, all working to destroy Christianity in America, while the Christians are all portrayed as poor, innocent nobodies who never did anything to deserve such scorn. It’s just plain offensive and gets to the point of being conspiratorial. Even the evangelicals this film is directed at should feel dirty for getting their dicks sucked so hard by this film. That’s really the issue – you cannot separate this film’s politics from its story. It bashes you over the head with the message so much and demonizes everyone outside of its target audience that you either hate it or feel validated by it. There’s really no middle-ground and no other purpose to the film (other than, y’know, to sell bullshit Christian merch).

4) Project X (March 2, 2012)
I wrote a review about this film 6 years ago (!!!), and to this day I can still remember how much I hated it. A found footage teen sex comedy doesn’t sound like that bad of a premise (like… it sounds like shit, but not unbearably so, right?), but the main problem is that the characters in this film are all loathsome. I struggle to think of a character I hate more than Costa, a selfish jackass whose only concern is literally getting laid, everyone else be damned (even his “friends”). The unbearable characters are enough to tank this movie by themselves, but it also doesn’t help that this film is just plain offensive. Every female character exists only to be oogled by the camera, we get all sorts of mean-spirited gay and fat jokes, and there’s even a little person who only exists to get thrown into an oven while the teens just laugh about it. Wow. Did I mention that everyone in this movie sucks and I wish they all overdosed on the stolen ecstasy in the film? That would have probably earned a single laugh out of me in this deeply unfunny “comedy”.

3) Game Over, Man! (March 23, 2018)
Is anyone surprised that Neflix originals nabbed 2 of the 10 worst films of the decade? Game Over, Man! is easily the worst one that I’ve seen, which is especially criminal considering the fantastic premise – basically, it’s a comedic Die Hard knock-off where the “heroes” are a bunch of slacker hotel housekeepers. How can you screw that up? Well, by making a comedy which attempts to be so outrageously over-the-top that it’s just deeply unfunny. Like, let me paint the picture for you – the bad guys are closing in on our heroes. They need to do something to slip past them and Adam Devine announces he has a plan. Cue the bad guys finding him with his dick out in the closet, pretending he died of auto-erotic asphyxiation. I thought that he was going to use this surprising moment to get the drop on them, but no, they just think that auto-erotic asphyxiation is funny on its own merits, plus they get to have Adam Devine run around on screen for about 5 minutes straight with his dick flopping about everywhere. Oh, and then the bad guys start trying to make out, because oh my God guys, did you know that there are gay men who like other men! Yeah, there’s a shitload of gay jokes in this film and they’re all incredibly lazy. About the only funny part is when the bad guy tries to punish a dickhead celebrity by forcing him to eat out another hostage’s ass, but is then surprised and flustered when it turns out that they’re both into it. There, I’ve told you the one good part in this film, you don’t have to see it now, you can leave a thankful comment to me down below.

2) Noobz (January 25, 2013)
Noobz is kind of lucky that it came out in 2013, because in a post-GamerGate world, this already-painfully unfunny movie has aged worse than Bubsy 3D. Imagine a movie that takes the worst stereotypes about gamers – they’re all basement-dwelling nerds, they’re racist, they’re homophobic, they hate women and can’t believe that they play video games, etc. Now imagine that the movie plays this all straight and expects us to find it endearing. Bad news, Noobz, you suck and everyone in this movie sucks (except for poor Zelda Williams who finds herself in a hapless role as the personalityless, token object of affection for the douchebag “hero”). Like Game Over, Man!, Noobz thinks that there’s nothing funnier than a closeted gay character and the movie mines this one “joke” over and over to the point of insanity. Somehow, it even manages to one-up Game Over, Man! by also including a kid with severe asthma who almost dies several times when his breathing apparatus gets damaged (which is somehow less-offensive than how every aspect of his personality revolves around his disability). Everything in this film is just lazy, from the tired road-trip structure to the awful jokes. It doesn’t even have the decency to end in a satisfying manner, instead having the heroes all get a sponsorship from Mountain Dew… and then reveal 2 seconds later that the guy who signed them gets arrested for impersonating a Mountain Dew executive. It’s like an extra big middle finger to you, as if you didn’t already waste almost two hours of your life watching this movie to begin with.

1) Scary Movie 5 (April 12, 2013)
As you have probably noticed by now, there’s not much worse than a terrible comedy, hence why they’ve captured the top 4 spots on this countdown. Scary Movie 5 might just be the worst comedy I’ve ever seen, let alone one of the most unenjoyable films I’ve ever subjected myself to. Don’t get me wrong, all of the other Scary Movie films were already REALLY shitty, but they at least had the occasional laugh and the comedic talents of Anna Faris, Regina Hall and Leslie Nielson to at least keep things somewhat respectable. Scary Movie 5 has none of that, and the results are just pathetic to watch. The jokes are tired, stupid, predictable and just plain unfunny. There was no good reason for this franchise to come back to life after a 7 year hiatus and we are well and truly fucked if David Zucker decides to trot out the franchise again in 2020. Literally the only good thing that I can say about this movie is that, for once in this franchise, at least it doesn’t lean into mean-spirited homophobia, transphobia and making fun of people with disabilities… but, like, that’s not something I should have to congratulate the film for.

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My 10 Favourite Movies of the 2010s

It’s the end of the decade, so you know what that means – big retrospectives of the years that were the 2010s! We’ve already done a list of my favourite albums of the 2010s and today we’re moving onto my favourite movies of the decade. It was so hard narrowing this down to only 10 films (plus a couple honourable mentions) – at the outset, I had over 70 films listed that I had to whittle down until only 10 remained. As before, this is purely my opinion, although I’m much more confident that these picks should be less niche than my favourite albums are. So with that in mind, let’s get on to the list.

Honourable Mentions

The Witch (February 19, 2015)
While it wasn’t quite good enough to make my top 10, The Witch is one of those films which sticks with you and just gets better every time you see it. The film is rich with themes of family and religious devotion which give you many different ways to interpret it. There’s also a slavish attention to detail as director Robert Eggers tries to make the film as authentic as possible to the time period. For that matter, the film is basically a straight adaptation of the sorts of stories Puritans would have been telling each other in the 1600s, to the point where I consider this movie equal parts a Christian movie and a Satanist movie, depending on how you read it. This can make the movie a bit dense, particularly if you’re not into Puritan history or constant discussion about religion, and the scares are few and far between, but if you aren’t turned off by these then The Witch is a truly engrossing, unforgettable experience.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc (February 4, 2012 – February 1, 2013)
Okay, this one might be slightly cheating since it’s a trilogy of animated films, but it’s my list so here it is. Berserk is one of those stories which has been indirectly influencing me for years, through all of its many imitators. The Golden Age Arc is what got me into the franchise and makes for a great introduction to the story (and, in some ways, streamlines the manga for the better). Part 1, The Egg of the King, isn’t great, with rough CGI, some strange choices in direction and a plot which is clearly just set-up for the next 2 films. However, Part 2 (The Battle for Doldrey) and Part 3 (The Advent) are both top-notch. The Battle for Doldrey is one of those rare battle sequences which manages to be both cinematic and clever, since the heroes actually win the day through fairly sound tactics, while giving us some fantastic character growth in the process. The Advent is the crown jewel of this trilogy though – if you’re like me and went into this trilogy essentially blind about what was going to happen, it’s a shocking, truly horrific turn of events that have been set up since the very first film in the trilogy. All-in-all, The Golden Age Arc is just a solid adaptation of an already-fantastic manga and I heartily recommend it to anyone for the compelling characters, as long as you think you can stomach a very dark fantasy story.

10) A Quiet Place (April 6, 2018)
A Quiet Place tickles so many of my fancies that it feels like it was practically made for me. You’ve a horror movie about cool monsters hunting people, you’ve got Emily Blunt in top-form and you’ve got some extremely tense direction from John Krasinski making the most of the monsters’ gimmick. While I certainly would have love this movie at any time, its release also happened to coincide with me preparing to become a father myself, so the film’s themes about family and protecting your children really hit hard for me. You can certainly argue that A Quiet Place is just a very standard monster movie, but it’s made with such high quality that it manages to stand on its own.

9) The Raid 2: Berandal (March 28, 2014)
As good as the John Wick franchise is, the premier action franchise of the 2010s is undoubtedly The Raid. While the first film was basically just a bunch of incredible fight scenes strung together around a very basic plot, The Raid 2 ups the ante by having not only incredible fight scenes, but is also anchored by an engrossing mob story which is every bit as compelling as the fights. We not only get the return of the martial arts expert protagonist Rama, but also are introduced to a colourful cast of new characters, most notably Uco (or, as I like to call him, the Indonesian Bruce Campbell) and a pair of assassins who kill people with a hammer and a baseball bat. The previous film’s “Mad Dog”, Yayan Ruhian, even returns in an extended cameo role where he gets to take on an entire building full of people. All-in-all, these characters and this story make The Raid 2 so much more than just a bunch of amazing action sequences (but, fret not, they certainly did not skimp on the jaw-dropping action choreography either). If you haven’t seen it yet, do it – it is without a doubt one of the most insane action spectacles of all time.

8) Kubo and the Two Strings (August 19, 2016)
Kubo is, put simply, a gorgeous film. Laika Studio (of Coraline fame) has crafted some of the most ambitious and phenomenal stop-motion animation ever put to film, which makes the simple act of just watching and appreciating the sheer talent on screen enjoyable. Still, the animation wouldn’t matter if the story wasn’t up to snuff, but luckily Kubo is stellar in this regard as well. The film explores themes of family, identity and the power of storytelling, while very self-consciously playing with the traditional hero’s journey. There are moments of elation and moments of terror and it’s just such an emotional and well-crafted story that you can’t help but fall in love.

7) The Founder (December 16, 2016)
The idea of a biopic about the guy who turned McDonald’s into a corporate empire sounds incredibly boring, but The Founder surprised me with just how engaging it is from start to finish. Led by an incredibly dedicated performance from Michael Keaton, this film manages to avoid many of the usual pitfalls of a biopic – instead of just going through a checklist of highlights of Ray Kroc’s life, the film weaves these together to tell a story about a down-and-out entrepreneur who stumbles across the opportunity of a lifetime. The film plays the difficult balancing act of having you root for Ray and then having you actively despise him by the ending, while questioning the merit of what he did and whether he always planned on usurping control. It feels so contemporary and indicative of how we got to modern day America – the film also came out before Trump’s presidency, but you probably wouldn’t realize it considering how many parallels you can draw. Even exposition scenes are done in a fun way, such as when the McDonald brothers explain their fast food method and it’s demonstrated to us visually at the same time. It just makes for a fascinating and extremely compelling film, which is all the more delightful considering how dubious I was going in.

6) War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14, 2017)
The Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy is arguably the best trilogy of the 2010s and War is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch (which is no mean feat considering how incredible Dawn is as well). War takes the trilogy into a much darker and more introspective direction, putting Caesar into a violent and dangerous headspace which puts the lives of himself and the apes in peril. Andy Serkis once again absolutely kills it as Caesar and this time we actually get a strong human villain with Woody Harrelson’s ruthless Colonel. Being a Planet of the Apes film though, the evils at the heart of humanity are the ultimate villain and there are some truly bleak moments in this entry. Some may feel shortchanged that the “war” promised by the title doesn’t really materialize in the way you would expect, but given the overarching premise of the series, it’s pretty fitting how it all plays out and Caesar’s story arc comes to a satisfying conclusion. It does my heart good to see one of my favourite franchises get such a resurgence and I can only hope that the inevitable continuation can continue to be anywhere near as good as this film.

5) Silence (December 23, 2016)
Oh hey, look, a Martin Scorsese movie made this list and (spoiler alert) no Marvel movies did! DUN DUN DUUUUUN!!! In all seriousness though, Avengers: Infinity War just missed the Top 10, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Scorsese’s religious epic, Silence. With incredible lead performances from Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson, Silence can be a rough watch at times, considering that it depicts persecution, torture and execution of Christians in Japan during the 17th century. The film also probably won’t resonate too much if you don’t have interest in religion or theology yourself, but luckily the questions this film asks are right in my wheelhouse. The film asks several questions, but ultimately leaves it up to the audience to decide the answer: do outward expressions of faith ultimately matter? Can you snuff out the church by doing this? Is Kichijirō is wrong for denying his faith, or is what is held in his heart what matters? Should Rodrigues deny his faith to save the lives of others? Even the ultimate conclusion of the film is somewhat up for interpretation, although Scorsese has certainly pushed you towards an answer here, unlike the much more open-ended book the film is based on. It’s certainly not the easiest film to watch, nor is it the most efficiently paced, but Silence is a fascinating film which tests your very assumptions about faith and God in a complex and mature manner.

4) Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15, 2015)
Fury Road is one of those films that reveals that you can take a B-movie premise and turn it into something incredible if you know what you’re doing and put in the effort. In fact, Fury Road was so good that it effectively won the 2015 Oscars (even if it didn’t take home the Best Picture or Best Director awards, although looking back it probably should have). That’s right, a movie about weaponized cars, kamikaze psychos in fetish gear and a guy in a skin mask playing a flaming electric guitar was so incredible that even the Oscar crowd had to bow down to it. Seriously though, Mad Max: Fury Road deserves all the praise it gets. It’s expertly directed, with some of the coolest, most creative and most death-defying action sequences this side of The Raid. Much has been made about how the action actually enhances and moves the story forward, which is where much of the film’s accolades have come from. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron’s performances, which are crucial to the film’s success. Fury Road is just… it’s basically perfect, what more is there to say? The Road Warrior was already a template on how to make a sequel better than the original film, but Fury Road went and blew it up by being even better and I don’t think anyone could have seen that coming.

3) Sicario (September 18, 2015)
You had to know that Denis Villeneuve was going to be making an appearance on this list. While literally any of his movies from this decade could have made this list, Sicario is ultimately my favourite of the bunch. Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro all in top form, this film is a brutal, harrowing and eye-opening look at the War on Drugs, its toll on Mexico and America’s unethical response to it. It’s a truly thrilling film with some of the best constructed and tense suspenseful sequences I’ve ever seen. In particular, the sequence where a convoy of US forces cross the border to pick up a target and then bring him back is perhaps the most intense sequence I’ve ever seen, as the tense just keeps ratcheting up and up until it finally spills over. Everything about this film is just firing on all cylinders, from the direction, to the story, to the cinematography, to the acting – it’s basically perfect and never, ever dull.

2) Nightcrawler (October 31, 2014)
Nightcrawler is like a modern-day Taxi Driver, a character study about a morally-bankrupt protagonist which shines a light on the seediest elements of modern society. Jake Gyllenhaal is spell-binding as Lou Bloom, a young entrepreneur and burgeoning psychopath who will do anything to get ahead in society. Watching this unfold is absolutely enthralling from start to finish and it rings so true about how modern society has been established and the levels one has to go to in order to be a speedy, self-made success. I don’t want to spoil the film too much because it really is that good, but trust me when I say that absolutely everything in this film is on-point, it’s basically perfect.

And, with that we come to our #1 pick…

1) Star Wars Episode XI: The Last Jedi (December 15, 2019)
…okay, I’m just kidding, I couldn’t pass up such a golden opportunity to be a troll though. Legitimately, I do really like The Last Jedi and believe that it was exactly the sort of breath of fresh air that the franchise needed to move forward into the future, but it’s certainly not without its rough points. Hell, it’s not even my favourite Star Wars movie of the decade (that would be Rogue One) so it wasn’t really even in consideration for the Top 10. With that said, my real #1 pick is…

1) Whiplash (October 10, 2014)
A movie that you could describe as “intense” doesn’t come along very often, usually relegated to brutal war dramas like Saving Private Ryan or gory horror films like Evil Dead. However, Whiplash manages the hitherto unthinkable feat of being an intense film about freaking drumming. I’m serious, this film just keeps escalating and going to crazier heights until literally the last second. This largely comes down to stellar direction and fantastic performances from J.K. Simmons and Mile Teller. The film shows you what it takes to be “the best” without glamorizing it – in fact it’s pretty much actively discouraged from the start when it eschews all our expectations by having protagonist Andrew Neiman dump his perfect girlfriend because she’s going to distract him from his dream – a dream which he acknowledges is going to destroy his life. He’s ultimately a psychopath in his own right, but J.K. Simmons’ Trence Fletcher is an emotionally abusive monster who believes he can be the push to drive his students to the next level. Whether that’s worth it is for the audience to decide, but there’s no doubt that it is amazing to watch these two men play off of each other. I had a hard time picking between Nightcrawler and Whiplash for this spot, but Whiplash was such a unique film for me and I can’t say that I’ve seen anything else quite like it since.

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My 10 Favourite Albums of the 2010s

Man, I really left myself a lot of work for the end of this year. Not only did I do my “Best of 2019” albums ranking, but it’s also the end of a decade, which means that it’s also the time for “Best of the 2010s” lists. We’re going to start out today with my favourite albums of the 2010s. Standard caveats apply here – music is not only incredibly subjective, but there is so much of it and my tastes are somewhat niche, so I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to declare that these are “the best” albums of the decade. That said, they’re all great and have affected me in one way or another, so I would certainly recommend checking them out if you have not!

Honourable Mentions:

Asylum, Disturbed (August 31, 2010)
I waffle between Asylum or Ten Thousand Fists being Disturbed’s best album, but it’s pretty much unquestioned that this was the last time they were such a self-assured band. Whatever your thoughts about their last couple albums are, the post-Asylum hiatus changed the band significantly and I don’t predict that we’re going to get another album from Disturbed that I’m going to like nearly as much as Asylum.

Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, Volbeat (April 5, 2013)
They say there’s nothing quite like your first… Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies was the album where I decided to give Volbeat a chance and I fell in love with their style. Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie would also have a pretty good shot at being one of my favourite albums of the decade, but they both fell just short of the top 10. Still, I love the band so much that I had to at least give them an honourable mention.

10) We’re Just Really Excited to Be Here, Countless Thousands (June 4, 2011)
Countless Thousands’ debut album is such a joy to listen to. Their brand of enthusiastic nerd rock is infectious and energetic from the outset and there is so much variety and experimentation that it never gets boring. Want a pirate rock song? Try “A Pirate’s Shanty”. Want something political? You’ll love “The Patriot”. How about a version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, but rewritten to be about bassist Davey Munch battling Satan? Try “The Devil and Davey Munch”, it’s amazing. There’s even stuff like “No Contest”, where there is no instrumentation, only vocal layering which gives the song an interesting and haunting feel. On top of all of this, the songwriting is all top-notch, with one exception – personally, I just can’t stand “The Asskickers’ Union”, a sickly-sweet love song which is just too goddamn happy for my tastes. It’s not like that’s a major blemish though on a 16 track album and there are plenty of other styles and standout tracks that it’s easily washed away.

9) of Beauty and Rage, Red (February 24, 2015)
Red were a band that I got into with their first two albums, but gave up on after their next two albums were very disappointing. Imagine my joy then when they managed to not only course correct and return to form on their fifth album, but they actually managed to put out their best album yet. of Beauty and Rage sees Red firing on all cylinders, putting out an album which is equal parts heavy, haunting, epic and beautiful in various measures. It certainly feels like a Red album, but there’s a maturity to it and everything has clearly been crafted painstakingly. At this point, I’d consider of Beauty and Rage to be Red’s magnum opus. They have set the bar very high for themselves going forward, but they’ve shown that they know what it takes to come back. If Red ever manage to put out something that can match this album I would be delightfully surprised.

8) Dark Before Dawn, Breaking Benjamin (June 23, 2015)
In my opinion, Dark Before Dawn is Breaking Benjamin’s best album. Perhaps this is because I got into the band pretty late into their career, but as far as I’m concerned it is by far their best overall. You’d be justified in saying that Breaking Benjamin just cover the same ground over and over again, but Dark Before Dawn is the best execution of this by far. All of their previous albums were uneven at best, even ones I genuinely like such as Dear Agony or Phobia. However, Dark Before Dawn is great from start to finish, with no track being weak or feeling like filler (other than the mood-setting, instrumental opening and closing tracks, but they’re harmless in my opinion). On the contrary, there are so many standout tracks here, from “Failure”, to “Angel’s Fall”, to “Close to Heaven” and “Ashes of Eden”, all of which show off Benjamin Burnley’s fantastic voice and make you want to sing along.

7) Carolus Rex, Sabaton (May 22, 2012)
While Heroes might be the point when Sabaton hit the peak of their popularity, its predecessor Carolus Rex is still the height of the band’s talents. It’s perhaps their most focused and personal work ever, detailing the rise and fall of the Swedish empire. In fact, it’s so interesting and compelling that it has taught me more about this period of time in Europe than any history class I’ve ever taken. THe songs straight into history. A particular highlight in this regard is “A Lifetime of War”, which make you feel how awful a decade-long war is, and then pulls the rug out and reveals that this war would go on for another two decades. Songs like “The Carolean’s Prayer”, “Carolus Rex” and “Ruina Imperii” all demonstrate the religious fanaticism of the time, how it was used to control men and dehumanize others. “The Carolean’s Prayer” in particular is easily one of the best songs of Sabaton’s career. Oh and I would be remiss to forget that Carolus Rex also has some amazing B-sides, most notably a cover of Amon Amarth’s “Twilight of the Thunder God”. When I was in university and this song came out, I would play it on repeat over and over again and try to death growl along. It’s so good and the fact that it’s a B-side better than what most bands can manage to put onto full albums is insane.

6) Marrow of the Spirit, Agalloch (November 23, 2010)
Most of the albums on this list are my favourite by their respective bands. With that said, I feel it’s worth emphasizing that Marrow of the Spirit is actually only my third favourite Agalloch album – seriously, if you haven’t listened to them before, do it. Agalloch tend to dabble in atmospheric doom metal with clear nature- and pagan-inspirations to each of their songs. Marrow of the Spirit is perhaps their rawest album in that regard. Having come off of two fairly polished albums, Agalloch were looking for a grittier sound and so opted to record Marrow of the Spirit on vintage analog equipment. The difference in production quality is immediately obvious when you compare Marrow of the Spirit to The Mantle or Ashes Against the Grain, but it works very well within Agalloch’s sound. The album immediately sets the tone with “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness”, a sombre mood-setter which is almost entirely composed of a cello and a recording of water running. From there, each of the remaining 5 tracks is just incredibly well-composed doom metal, equal parts sombre and epic, ranging in lengths from 9:40 to a staggering 17:34 on “Black Lake Niðstång”. “Black Lake Niðstång” is a particular highlight for me – it certainly feels like a 17 minute song, but it goes through so many changes throughout that it never stagnates. Marrow of the Spirit might not be Agalloc’s most accessible album, but it’s certainly one that gets better the more you listen to it.

5) Through Glass Eyes, At Dawn’s Edge (September 30, 2017)
Oh hey, the first pick from one of my annual album rankings! As I said back then, Through Glass Eyes is ambitious, diverse, mature and has impeccable production values, all of which are even more impressive when you consider that this is not only a debut album but also an independent release! They also don’t fit into cliches – many female-fronted, symphonic/melodic metal bands can get dismissed for sounding like Evanescence-wannabes, but At Dawn’s Edge have more maturity to their songwriting and singing which gives them their own unique flavour. It’s a fantastic debut album and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its follow-up ever since. Owing to the independent nature of this band, I would implore you to check them out if you have not yet, they’re seriously this good.

4) Blood, In This Moment (August 14, 2012)
In This Moment are unquestionably one of my favourite bands right now. Every album they put out has its own unique flavour, but in my opinion Blood is clearly their best overall. It maintains the band’s metalcore edge while dipping into more experimentation to make the album feel a bit more unique than its more standard-metal predecessor, A Star-Crossed Wasteland. Of course, experimentation doesn’t mean much if the music isn’t great, but luckily Blood has so many good songs that it’s practically a greatest hits album. “Blood”, “Adrenalize” and “Whore” are all top-notch and kick the album into high gear right out of the gate. They’re not the only highlights though, there’s also the fantastic “Burn” which shows off Maria Brink’s ability to go from melodic vocals to blistering screams. Tracks like “Beast Within”, “The Blood Legion” and the haunting “11:11” also bear mentioning and, like Carolus Rex, the B-side cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” is also an absolute treat. My fiance loves it… and I’ll let you fill in the blanks from there. Blood is also notable for “sexing up” In This Moment (to the point where they would feel the need to address it on their next album in the song “Sex Metal Barbie”). The album deals with themes of abuse and manipulation, but it always reclaims sex and turns it into something empowering. It gives this album a bit of a sultry, even kinky, edge that I really enjoy and gives it a much different vibe than any other metal band I listen to.

3) Wait for the Siren, Project 86 (August 21, 2012)
Wait for the Siren came out at a time when it looked like Project 86 were about to implode – after 7 very solid albums, their guitarist, drummer and bassist all quit the band, only leaving frontman Andrew Schwab to continue on. Luckily for us, Andrew Schwab was always the primary, most dominant creative force in the band, so the loss of the other band members didn’t completely sink Project 86 (that said, Schwab’s overbearing control might actually have been why the other band members quit, they wanted to experiment more and he wouldn’t let them, or so the rumours say). Having also quit Tooth and Nail Records in favour of crowdfunding, Schwab was free to rebuild the band in whatever way he saw fit, and Wait for the Siren is a fantastic mixture of old and new. Right off the bat, the band shows off some of this new creative expression with “Fall, Goliath, Fall”, which features such distinctive instruments as uillean pipes, mandolin and hammer dulcimer. That said, these additions to Project 86’s sound are just that – additions. The band is still as heavy as they ever were, as shown off in tracks such as “The Crossfire Gambit”. Songwriting has always been Project 86’s greatest strength and Wait for the Siren is no exception, with every track being diverse and interesting in their own regard. My personal favourite track on the album is the rousing “Take the Hill”, easily one of the best tracks in Project 86’s history. While Drawing Black Lines will probably always be my favourite Project 86 album, Wait for the Siren is easily my second favourite, which is pretty incredible considering that they haven’t had a bad album in their lengthy career.

2) Eat the Elephant, A Perfect Circle (April 20, 2018)
Oh hey, another pick from my annual album rankings! Eat the Elephant really impressed me last year. Nearly every track is expertly crafted and has something to say, from the hopeful title track, to political and social commentary in tracks such as “The Contrarian”, “The Doomed” and “TalkTalk”. The particular highlight though is “So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish” a song which is apocalyptic and beautiful at the same time (to the point where it’s probably going to end up getting played at my wedding… seriously). While the second half of the album is weaker than the first half, the fact that this album still managed to take the spot of my 2nd favourite album of the decade should go to show that that doesn’t lower it in my estimation too much. The stuff that’s here is just too damn good to pass up.

1) Devotion, Anberlin (October 15, 2013)
I love Anberlin. When they released their 6th album, Vital, I thought that it was almost as good as the band’s fan favourite, Cities. However, just over a year later, the band reissued the album as Devotion, adding 3 new tracks and 4 B-sides to the original album and retooling the tracklist somewhat. This was, in my opinion, enough to put Devotion over the top to be the clear best album in the band’s history. Vital already boasted some great music, such as the aptly-titled opener “Self-Starter”, “Other Side”, “Orpheum” and the absolutely fantastic “God, Drugs & Sex”. You’d think that throwing a bunch of new songs and B-sides into an already-completed album might mess with the flow of the music, but the new additions are all solid and more than good enough to stand side-by-side with the existing tracks, although the best is definitely “IJSW”. Devotion was by far my favourite album of the 2010s, I knew for sure going into this list that it was going to be my #1.

And that’s it for my favourite albums of the 2010s. Tune in soon when I go through the best movies of the 2010s!

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