#325. Ron Perlman

Some actors just have that “look.” When they’re cast as distinct characters or stereotypes, and they just fit the role so well, there’s no doubt they’re the right person for the part. Perhaps the easiest archetype to cast is none other than the “tough guy.” From large muscles to tattoos to gruff voices, these characteristics are dead giveaways for the tough guy persona. Because of this, Ron Perlman is often cast as the tough guy in a large variety of movies. Not only does he have the “look” for live-action films, but he has the voice for animated fare as well. The real trick with this character archetype is that they can appear in almost anything. From dramas to comedies and from sci-fi to fantasy, Ron Perlman has done them all. This week’s two films highlight some notable performances from “tough guy” Ron Perlman.

CronosCronos
Year: 1993
Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours

Despite being in many “direct-to-video” projects, Ron Perlman has managed to collaborate with a few different directors over the years. One of his most notable collaborations has been with Guillermo del Toro. From their first film together, Cronos (1993), they have gone on to make four other movies together: Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), and Pacific Rim (2013). Perhaps because Cronos was so early in Perlman’s career, his ability to play tough guy characters was proven here. At the very least, his work with del Toro has enforced this stereotype for him, mostly due to his portrayal of Hellboy (which we’ll get to in a minute). While being pigeonholed into a stereotypical role might seem a disservice to an actor’s career, I think Perlman manages to use these roles to his advantage, continuing to prove what a badass he is.

Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman) is searching for a device known as “Cronos.” The rumor states that whoever possesses the device is given eternal life, which is why Angel’s wealthy, dying uncle, Dieter (Claudio Brook), set him on task to find it. While many of the archangel statues that could contain the device prove to be empty, Angel just happens to run across an antique dealer at a party. This antique dealer was licking blood off a bathroom floor, giving Angel enough of a hint that he pressures the man to divulge where the device is located. When the man refuses to talk, Angel kills him, only to find that it is not that easy to kill an immortal man. Of course, by now Angel is tired of waiting for his inheritance and decides to take his fate into his own hands, despite Dieter coming quite close to obtaining the Cronos device.

HellboyHellboy
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

Sometimes, to play a tough guy, all you need is the voice. Ron Perlman has had many roles where either he’s covered in makeup, or only his voice is used to convey his character. While Hellboy has been his most recognizable role in this state, he has also played the titular Beast in the Beauty and the Beast TV series that ran in the late 1980’s. Regarding his voice work, he’s lent it to characters in such animated fare as Titan A.E. (2000), Battle for Terra (2007), and Tangled (2010). He has even voiced CGI characters in live-action films like Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013). Perhaps his voice is all he needs to convey that Ron Perlman swagger, but it is still fun to watch him work his acting magic when he’s covered in makeup. Case in point, I have trouble separating many of his other characters from his eponymous role in 2004’s Hellboy.

Summoned from a portal that led to hell, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has spent the last 60 years hidden away in a secret government facility. The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) uses Hellboy, along with a team of supernatural beings, to perform missions to keep the United States safe from the dangers of the paranormal world. In that time, he has developed a crush on a pyrokinetic human named Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). Unable to express his true feelings to her, he watches in jealousy as a new FBI agent, John Myers (Rupert Evans) starts a friendship with her. Meanwhile, Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), the man who brought Hellboy into this world, has been causing trouble for the BPRD as he continues to execute his plan to bring hell to earth and control the supernatural powers for his sinister benefit.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfect Perlman performances

Bacon #: 2 (Enemy at the Gates / Ed Harris -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)

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#324. Guillermo del Toro

If there’s a monster under your bed, chances are it’s probably been directed by Guillermo del Toro. While his work isn’t outright horror based on the “slasher” or “gorenography” interpretations of the genre, many of his films feature some scary monsters. Perhaps what makes these monsters somewhat more palatable is their inclusion in a (mostly) fantasy world. It’s through these fanciful settings where del Toro’s visual and artistic style come to full fruition. Even the real-world settings feel safe through the heroic protagonists that inhabit these alternate realities. If anything, the monsters in his films are supposed to be powerful beings that the protagonists need to overcome in order to develop as characters. This week’s two films highlight some early and recent works directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Pacific RimPacific Rim
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

The types of films del Toro has directed can be pretty easily divided into two categories: action and horror. While his earlier career focused on the horror genre, when the new millennium rolled around he started creating action-focused films. Often, darker source material would be the source for these films, keeping in line with his predisposition toward the macabre. From Blade II (2002) to Hellboy (2004) and its sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), Guillermo del Toro has had comics and graphic novels off of which he could directly base his films. With Pacific Rim (2013), no such source material existed, but plenty of genre pieces influenced this action film. From the huge monster movies of the Godzilla franchise to the sub-genre of mecha anime and manga, it’s easy to see where this movie’s origins lie.

For decades, humanity thought the alien invasion would come from above us. When enormous monsters known as Kaiju appeared from a cross-dimensional rift deep within the Pacific Ocean, humans soon found themselves fighting off this threat with giant robots called Jaegers. One of these Jaegers, the American Gipsy Danger, helped to defend the Pacific Rim, eventually losing to a Kaiju outside of Anchorage. Years later, after mothballing the Jaeger program and with the coastal wall proving to be insufficient to protect humanity, Gipsy Danger and the remaining functional Jaegers were called into service once again. With the size and frequency of the Kaijus increasing, the leader of the Jaeger program has but one final option left to stop the threat to humanity. Diving deep into the ocean, Gipsy Danger goes forth to detonate a nuclear device to close the portal between worlds for good.

CronosCronos
Year: 1993
Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours

As you can probably tell by his name, Guillermo del Toro has a Spanish background (Mexican, to be specific). Consequently, many of his early films have Spanish as their spoken language. While he directed a few short films in the late 1980’s, his first feature-length piece was Cronos (1993). Compared to the “action” films mentioned above, his earlier films are definitely darker in tone. Movies like Mimic (1997) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001) were straight-up horror, but by Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), del Toro started to make the horror more fantasy-based, thus lessening some of its scariness. Even if he still has some chops when it comes to horror, like in Crimson Peak (2015), I feel his fantasy films really show off his creative potential. This potential was recently present in The Shape of Water (2017), this year’s Best Picture and somewhat of a follow-up to Pan’s Labyrinth in settings and themes.

Antique dealer, Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), through the course of his work, finds an archangel statue with a hollow base. He finds a mechanical, bug-like device inside the base, which latches onto him and injects him with a centuries-old serum that grants eternal life. In the following days, Gris finds that his old body is returning to its youthful state. Unfortunately, Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook), a well-connected businessman is also looking for this device to extend his own life. As Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman) searches for the Cronos device, Gris finds that he craves blood and that the sun burns his skin. Even though Angel kills Gris, the vampiric antique dealer is able to attend his own funeral before confronting Dieter with the Cronos device. It is in this exchange when Gris learns the real power of what he has become.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Guillermo del Toro movies

Bacon #: 2 (Puss in Boots / Billy Bob Thornton -> Jayne Mansfield’s Car / Kevin Bacon)

#323. Puppetry

As a society, we seem to have a love/hate relationship with puppets. While we enjoy films featuring puppets as the main characters, like in Pinocchio (1940) and The Muppet Movie (1979), we also fear them in movies like Child’s Play (1988) and Goosebumps (2015). Aside from the aforementioned Muppets, very few films actually use puppetry exclusively for their characters. The one exception to this was the Thunderbirds in their movie, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966), and its modern parody, Team America: World Police (2004). Even if these films prominently feature puppets, they don’t necessarily get into the details of puppetry itself. The act of controlling a puppet can be quite the challenging talent to acquire, but pulling the strings of a marionette isn’t the only way to engage in puppetry. This week’s two films highlight some different puppetry scenarios.

Being John MalkovichBeing John Malkovich
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 112 minutes / 1.86 hours

There have been some films focused humans controlling humanoid robots. From the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) to its live-action remake in 2017, the idea of extending a person’s life through the human mind controlling a robotic body via mental puppetry isn’t new. Robocop (1987) and Chappie (2015) both emphasize the idea that humans can use machines to live their life when their bodies are no longer able to. The concept is rarely reversed, though. It is disquieting to think that a robot could control a human in the same way we control them. As humans, we already possess the skills needed to make puppets of our fellow humans. Through coercion, blackmail, and other forms of manipulation, we can control others to do our bidding. Only one film explores the ability for a human to control another human from the inside: Being John Malkovich (1999).

Famed actor, John Malkovich (himself), decided to make a rather drastic career change and become a world-renowned puppeteer. Unfortunately, this was not actually Malkovich’s decision, as Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) was controlling his body at the time. Craig was a down-on-his-luck puppeteer who happened to find a portal into the body of John Malkovich by chance. Initially, the portal only allowed for 15 minutes inside Malkovich to experience the life he lives. Using his skills as a puppeteer, Craig found that not only was he able to control Malkovich, but he was able to stay inside the portal for as long as he wanted. However, the portal is not meant for him and the organization that plans to use the portal to prolong their immortality proceed to enact a plan to get Craig to vanquish himself from the portal, allowing them to take his place permanently.

Pacific RimPacific Rim
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

It is interesting to note that puppetry, while usually relegated to humanoid objects smaller than their puppeteers, can be used to control objects much larger than the one controlling them. Even the one-for-one puppetry scale referenced in the previous section pales in comparison to the giant robots known as “mecha.” A staple of anime and manga, mecha are usually large humanoid robots piloted by a human. There have been some notable entries in this sub-genre, including Gurren Lagann, Star Driver, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The hallmark of these series has usually been either battles between mecha or (more commonly) battles against giant monsters. When Pacific Rim (2013) came out, I became excited about potentially seeing these mecha anime adapted into live-action films. For right now, I’ll just have to settle with its soon-to-be-released sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018).

Giant monsters called Kaiju began emerging from the depths of the Pacific Ocean and wreaking havoc on the nearby landmasses. To combat this threat, a multinational alliance started building gigantic robots called Jaegers. These Jaegers were too big to for a single human to pilot them, so the concept of “drifting” was created to share the mental load between two or more pilots. When the frequency of the Kaiju attacks left the Jaegers helpless to defend the world, the world leaders scrapped the project for building a coastal wall. When this wall also failed, the commander of the Jaegers hatches one final plan to close the portal between our world and the world of the Kaiju. Using the last few working Jaegers, the mission to detonate a nuclear device in the portal commences just as the largest Kaiju ever emerges from the rift.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 peculiar puppets

#297. Independent Women

Because movies are generally produced to make money for their respective studios, one of the biggest modern challenges for films is diversity. Not only have we seen Oscar ceremonies ridiculed for their whiteness, but we often find women under-represented in film as well. This makes sense, since most films are created with the appeal toward white males between the ages of 18 and 35. As one of the target demographic, I can say this is certainly true since there are many films created each year which I find myself interested in watching for some reason or other. While it can be challenging to create films with independent women as the main focus, especially if the film wants to make lots of money, there are plenty of great films out there featuring independent women. This week’s two films examine the lives of independent women.

AmélieAmélie
Year: 2001
Rating: R
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

Perhaps the baseline test for films about independent women is the Bechdel test. A piece of fiction which features two women who talk to each other about something other than a man would pass this test. More than half of all films can pass this test, but there are at least 10% of all films that fail all three criteria. While the Bechdel test might seem like a feminist stamp of approval on a piece of media, often it is a good indicator of an excellent protagonist. Take, for instance, the French-language film, Amélie (2001), which passes the Bechdel test: the eponymous main character is interesting, imaginative, and fun . . . all without necessarily focusing on her love life. Even films like Juno (2007), which clearly include story arcs about a woman’s romantic life, can pass the Bechdel test with realistic representations of independent women.

Surrounded by a number of eccentric people at the café where she works, Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) often finds herself in the world of her own imagination. Upon discovering a small box of mementos left over from the previous tenant of her apartment, she makes a decision to bring happiness to those she meets, starting with tracking down the owner of the box to return it to him. Through finding information about the box’s owner, she meets her neighbor, Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), who is moved by Amélie’s goal and decides to reconcile with his estranged daughter so he can meet his grandson for the first time. While Amélie works to help those around her achieve their happiness, Raymond notices that she’s neglecting her own happiness in the process. He suggests she pursue the man she met outside a photo booth and see where the relationship could take her.

PersepolisPersepolis
Year: 2007
Rating: PG-13
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

Another similar test to the Bechdel test is known as the “Mako Mori test.” Despite Pacific Rim (2013) clearly being a film meant to attract male viewers, one of the strong, independent women (if not the only one) in the film was none other than Mako Mori (portrayed by Rinko Kikuchi), who had a very distinct and strong character arc that didn’t support any of the character’s male counterparts’ stories. While the two aforementioned films of Amélie and Juno feature independent women, both are of the Caucasian persuasion. In countries like the United States and France, women are generally seen more as equals when compared to other parts of the world like Japan or Iran. What’s even more impressive is a story about an independent woman in a location where women are seen as second class citizens. This is why Marjane Satrapi’s memoir in Persepolis (2007) is so inspiring.

Set in 1980’s Iran, we follow Marjane (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) as she grows up through multiple revolutions. From a Czar to an Islamic state to war with Iraq, the instability of Iran causes Marjane’s parents to send her to Europe for safety. However, the fact that she is from Iran causes some tension at first, due to racial profiling and stereotypes. Eventually, her homesickness gets the better of her, and Marjane heads back to Iran. Thinking that time has changed the strict society of Iran, Marjane is disappointed to find that sentiments have largely remained the same. While her grandmother told her to be free, the only way for her to do so is to leave Iran once again, never to return.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic females