Category Archives: Deathmatch

Deathmatch: Animation Domination

The Boxtrolls vs. The Book of Life!

Posters for The Boxtrolls and The Book of Life

Images from IMDB

There is no real competition here. I loved BoL. I loved it the same way everyone else in the known universe who is not me reacted to Frozen.*

In contrast, I appreciated Boxtrolls more than I really liked it per se. I respect how it expressed a uniquely weird vision. And make no mistake, it is seriously weird. That isn’t precisely a complaint considering I bought my ticket hoping for something as weird-and-wonderful as Coraline and ParaNorman.** The good folks at the Laika stop-motion animation studio aren’t afraid to go scary and unpleasant, and that’s exactly what I like about their product. But this maybe crossed a threshold for me.

While I mostly enjoyed the look and the feel of Boxtrolls, I found some parts almost unendurably ugly and repellent. The icky look of the villains undermines the story’s message of tolerance. I do firmly believe our culture needs more stories about learning to love things that aren’t cute, but this one features trolls that are far cuter than the humans. I spent more than half the running time terribly afraid the movie would go full Jungle Book, but it course-corrected in time to make a nice point about choosing your own path in life. However, that doesn’t completely make up for the fact that the plot jags off on a bizarre, cross-dressing-related tangent, which I wouldn’t mind except that they treat the subject so negatively.

Other than thematic concerns, I just didn’t get swept up in the tale, and I didn’t fall in love with the characters. Frankly, the bratty ginger “heroine” has few redeeming qualities.­ And it felt overly long even at a slim 96 minutes. It would’ve been an amazing short film, though.

As for BoL, I find I don’t have a lot to dissect with it, so I can mostly sum up my feeling with an enthusiastic recommendation. BoL is definitely more conventional, but it still feels like a breath of fresh air. I loved the colorful visual style that felt textured and almost touchable. The soundtrack is a brilliant mix of original songs and pop music arranged in a traditional mariachi style. And it manages to effectively convey a layered narrative without confusing children. It’s not just a love story, but also manages to have something meaningful to say about family ties, the nature of heroism, and how to draw inspiration from folklore to live a better modern life. All strands weave together magically into a lovely tapestry. If I had one small quibble, I do wish we could’ve spent more time with Maria to get to know her better, but perhaps then the movie would’ve overstayed its welcome with the youngest audience members.

* Note: I actually quite enjoyed Frozen. Please don’t send me hate mail.

 ** ParaNorman was once itself the subject of an October animation deathmatch, wherein it cleaned the floor with Disney’s shallow re-imagining of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.

Deathmatch: Let’s Get Apocalyptic!

The World’s End vs. This is the End!

Posters for The World's End and This is the End

Images from

I’m going to have to give this one to the stoners. And no one could’ve predicted that. Least of all, me.

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Deathmatch: Horror Comedies

Warm Bodies vs. John Dies at the End!

Images from

Images from

This deathmatch comes to us from last February. I saw Warm Bodies at the theater, and I streamed John  through Amazon, as part of some sort of deal where slightly more obscure theatrical releases are available concurrently online. John is now already available for normal streaming through Amazon Instant Video and VUDU, but Warm Bodies won’t be released until early June.

Warm Bodies is officially the only zombie movie anyone will ever (accurately) label as “too saccharine.” But I liked it in spite of that. In the pantheon of zombie comedies, it takes a third to (obviously) Shaun of the Dead and even Zombieland, but it was the clear victor in this deathmatch. I was surprised how much I really enjoyed the competition this time, though.

Before I even cued up the opponents, John already had one point in its favor because it’s based on a book written by a gentleman who also wrote this article and this article, which are among my favorite things from the Internet. While I’m at it, I might as well recommend his entire Cracked article oeuvre.

As for the movie itself, John is really inventive and exciting, but also kind of rough. I’d almost say that I’d want to see a version of the same movie with the same actors only made through a big studio, just so that someone would’ve sanded down the edges a bit, but I’d be afraid the weird little bubble would burst and the whole thing would be ruined. As it is, I did belly laugh at least three times, but I’m not sure if it’s because what I was seeing was actually funny or because I was so startled. It feels more like a strange, strange little television pilot than a movie, but damn, I would watch that show.

Deathmatch: Ghost Stories

Does anyone else remember MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch? Admittedly I don’t remember it with a whole lot of special fondness. Frankly, it never really lived up to its full potential, and I always thought it peaked early with a pilot that was also its best episode ever (Charles Manson vs. Marilyn Manson). However, I do recall tuning into the show repeatedly — on purpose even — during the era when I lived in a college dorm. And I am grateful that it paved the way for shows like Robot Chicken.

Anyway, I bring it up to illustrate the concept that will be employed extensively on this blog. Basically, I watch two films that have at least some tenuous connection (e.g., same genre, same setting, same actor), and then I decide which one I liked better according to entirely arbitrary and subjective measures. That’s it. Typically this is how I entertain myself over a weekend when I have no social engagements of any kind and absolutely nothing productive to occupy my time. Unfortunately, I am frequently not entertained well, as Deathmatch often leads to me making poor viewing decisions, such as the one recapped below.

The Innkeepers vs. The Woman in Black!

Images from

Images from

Tie! And not the kind where they both walk away unscathed. Rather both died ignominiously in failure.

I’ll grant you that both movies hold your attention, but  they also both suffer from unsatisfying endings. And I mean they completely tank it on the last lap.

WIB had more plot and was more interested in telling a story (which I like) while Innkeepers kept itself busy mainly just observing the characters. WIB had more drama, excitement, and set pieces. Innkeepers is probably slightly more engaging and definitely more frightening, and its director had a better sense of how to effectively orchestrate a boo moment.

Ultimately I was a lot more frustrated with Innkeepers because I loved the first two acts so much. Imagine taking the characters from Clerks and lovingly transplanting them as-is into a serious horror movie. It struck me as inspired to contrast that deadpan irreverence with the scary stuff, but all the delightful cleverness gradually seeps out of the characters until you’re left with the standard group of horror idiots, waiting around to die and refusing to leave when no real person not tethered by the requirements of the screenplay would stay.

On the other hand, I was much more than disappointed by WIB. I was livid. As the credits rolled on WIB, I almost involuntarily spit out a profoundly crude expletive, which I will not repeat here (even though I’m not usually shy about dropping bombs). Keep in mind this was in a crowded theater on its opening weekend, and I had come with a friend, who was probably mortified. I still feel bad about that over a year later.

Suffice to say, I wouldn’t watch either film a second time. But I did enjoy revisiting this article about the release of WIB and the history of Hammer Film Productions.