Cuphead: A New Canadian Classic

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Chad and Jared Muldenhauer, two brothers from Oakville, Ontario, Canada (which is basically next door to the city I live) had a dream: make their own video game. In 2013, they set out to make their dream a reality by working on a new and original video game  that had the aesthetic and charm of a classic 1930’s cartoon. After a few delays to perfect the project, Cuphead was released in 2017 to rave reviews.

Like a lot of people, I was drawn to it by the design and style. It was so refreshing to see traditional hand drawn animation (and beautiful, well done animation for that matter) on a video game format, and the characters looked like a lot of fun. Finally, this year, for my birthday, I got it as a present. And after over a month, I have completed it! (On Normal of course, I’ll get to the expert mode soon.)

What are my thoughts?

Well, I will say that those delays paid off because there’s so much DETAIL in this game. Like the animation of course is a real gem, but the music is excellent and there’s all sorts of hidden achievements and surprises. You can tell Studio MDHR went all out on this game. There’s definitely enough things to keep you interested in playing.

While the gameplay is hard, it also helps you learn how to be a better player. You have to form strategies on how to beat the enemy and advance. Try this charm here, try this super there. The bosses are actually a lot of fun, and I would always throw up my arms and shout “YES!” whenever I beat them. And for the most part I didn’t find them TOO hard. The only boss that really and truly frustrated me, oddly enough, was Beppi the Clown. But even the toughest boss feels so rewarding when you are able to beat them. I was able to pass with the lowest grade of B- and was even able to get a few A+ grades!

The platforming/run n gun levels (where you collect coins) I found more difficult and less enjoyable to be honest. Mainly because even though they’re short, there is just so much stuff thrown at you. I was honestly stuck on the run n gun levels of Inkwell Isle Three for over a week, that was how bad it got (I was able to beat the infamous Dr. Kahl’s Robot before those levels). They’re less fun and rewarding than the bosses, that’s for sure.

Despite the platforming, the bosses, challenging but engaging gameplay, and overall beauty of the game kept me interested and makes it one of my faves. But most of all, as a fellow Canadian, I feel a great sense of pride that an independent studio from my country can achieve worldwide fame and acclaim.

If you are interested in this game, please buy it legally from Steam and the Windows store. The creators had to quit their jobs and remortgage their houses to make the game possible. Luckily it paid off since the game has sold over 2 million copies, but still, they’re not exactly a big conglomerate corporation that won’t hurt over a few pirates. (I find it interesting that they had to go that route. I’m sure they could have put it on a crowdfunding website and it would have had the same success, but then again, maybe they didn’t want to potentially screw people over if the game didn’t succeed. Either way, it’s a rare risk that paid off.)

Here are some tips I have to help you win the game:

  • Don’t be afraid to look for help. If you are stuck, you can look up tutorials on YouTube on how to get ahead/look for secrets. The game should be fun most of all.
  • Similarly, don’t be afraid if it takes you a long time to finish the game. Again, the game should be fun, and you should be able to finish it at your own pace. Take your time if you need to.
  • The P Sugar charm is your friend. Use it as much as you can, especially on levels that require a lot of parrying.
  • The Chaser weapon is a good weapon to get you started, but be warned, it does not do a lot of damage. I recommend the Roundabout since it has a wide range (can hit more targets) and does a great deal of damage. The Lobber weapon is great if you have to shoot down at a target; I used it to beat the Dragon boss, Grim Matchstick.
  • I recommend using the Heart and Twin Heart Charms for the airplane levels since there’s a LOT of stuff that will be thrown your way. I don’t recommend them for other levels because they decrease your attack power and will draw out the level.
  • When you do the Pacifist mode for the Run and Gun Levels the Smoke Bomb charm will help you a lot.
  • Otherwise, keep firing. Fire fire fire. Use the Supers to your heart’s content.
  • Maneuverability is a HUGE asset to the game. This is something I admittedly lack since I kept dying a lot in the game. If you need to, you can go on simple mode to practice before using regular.
  • When you’re on King Dice’s level, use the P Sugar charm to help you with the dice because there will definitely be some mini bosses you will not like. Carefully determine which bosses you can handle and try to land on their number. Remember, if you lose to a mini boss you have to start the level all over again.
  • Most importantly, DON’T GIVE UP! You will beat the game, I promise. There were times when I thought I was going to be stuck for good but I got through it. You can do it too.

I’ll probably add some more when I beat the game on Expert, but overall, this should help you get started.

Finally, I should mention my fave characters. The bosses I found most fun to play were Werner Werman, Phantom Express, and Hilda Berg. The easiest were Goopy Le Grande and The Root Pack. In terms of characters I like on a personal or aesthetic level, my faves are Cagney Carnation (very original, I know), Baroness von Bon Bon, Cala Maria, and the Devil. I honestly love this game’s interpretation of the Devil. I love his overall design, the different forms he can shapeshift into, the attacks he can use, the animation on him, and how he’s just chilling on some random isle running his own casino. I also love the animation on King Dice.

Overall, this game was a blast and I’m really excited to see more adventures of these characters and more games from Studio MDHR.


The Nightmare Before Christmas: A Holiday Classic

It’s October and Halloween is just around the corner, so what better way to celebrate than by looking at a quintessential classic!

Originally envisioned by Tim Burton (but brought to life by Henry Selick), The Nightmare Before Christmas is a 1993 Disney film originally released under the Touchstone label. Notice how there’s a gap between Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994)? It’s not confirmed, but I think this was supposed to be a member of the Disney Animated Canon before the executives decided the film was too dark and scary. They probably did this to avoid the same disaster with The Black Cauldron, a Disney film that bombed dramatically and earned the ire of critics and audiences everywhere.

Unlike The Black Cauldron, which only managed to gain a small following and gets a pacing glance from its parent company, The Nightmare Before Christmas has grown in stature, becoming a beloved classic for Disney fans and detractors alike and a marketing juggernaut.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with this film. Like, this movie was the Holy Grail of my childhood for a long time. It was just so creative, unique, and full of life compared to a lot of other films and shows for children being pushed out at the time. Now, even after Big Hero 6 took over my heart, I will still snatch up The Nightmare Before Christmas merch whenever I can.

Does it still hold up now like it did when I was young?

Well, while it does have some silly parts (I love how Sally just has a convenient jar of ‘fog juice’ under her floor; you know, just in case), it still holds up remarkably well. I watched it again recently and I first thought maybe it didn’t, but later that night I couldn’t stop thinking about the world of Halloweentown and the adventures of Jack and Sally and all their friends, what Jack’s origin might be…yeah, it still gets me even now.

The music rightfully gets lauded as some of the greatest ever. Danny Elfman didn’t just compose the music, he also wrote the lyrics and provided the awesome singing voice of Jack. The result is a true testament to his talent. I still have no idea why this movie hasn’t been adapted into a Broadway musical yet, it would make a fantastic show.

The animation is spectacular. The detail and fluidity is almost par for quality CG animation, but with a unique enough style to stand out/make it clear that it is still in fact stop motion. There are some truly beautiful moments, especially when the characters are on top of the spiral mountain in front of the moon (Jack’s Lament and when Jack and Sally kiss).

The characters are a lot of fun. Of course I love Jack a lot (I especially appreciate how he is able to realize his mistake and know the proper way to appreciate Christmas in a positive way without being too angsty), but I think Sally is probably my favourite. She’s very clever with just the right amount of sass and concern. But I also love how close knit the community of Halloweentown is. They all seem like one big family. I guess I like how even though they’re a bunch of scary monsters, they all have the capacity of of being loving and caring (in their own way of course).

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a short, simple, but superb story that doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. I think that’s one of the reasons that makes it so enduring. It certainly is to me. While I wouldn’t want a sequel (because it would likely not be stop motion), I would absolutely love some shorts or books detailing the world of Halloweentown. As it is, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a masterpiece of animation, rightfully taking its place as one of Disney’s most iconic classics.

The Worst Movie Ever?


Hey, remember The Room? Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 magnum opus that went down in history as one of the most legendarily bad films ever made? Of course you do. The bigger question is, do you remember it fondly, or does it just inspire tedium?

Chances are, if you watch it by yourself, you’re probably just going to be constantly screaming at the TV over how idiotic the movie is. But if you watch it with others, it will likely become measurably more enjoyable because you can all laugh over the film’s sheer ineptitude.

Personally, I had a different reaction: I thought it was rather boring.

Granted, I probably would’ve had more fun if I had watched it with others, but personally, I found the film too stilted and murky for me to find any enjoyment in, even in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way.  It felt more like a really bad soap opera. Though I will admit the “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART, LISA!” and “I did naaawt” lines are gold.

But there was one moment that really did stick out to me. That scene in question is at the very ending, when Johnny, the main character, kills himself.

I’m not going to detail how he kills himself if you haven’t seen it, but the reason WHY he kills himself is beyond ridiculous and upsetting: he kills himself because his ‘future wife’ is cheating on him with his best friend, along with some minor inconveniences and jerks in his life.

Like…I know that it’s cheap melodrama in a bad movie. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel really irked, especially as someone who HAS been suicidal in the past.

Like, dude, your future wife cheated on you. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s not worth killing yourself over it. Lots of people get cheated on! It hurts at first, but you’ll move on! But no, you get upset for one night and you decide to end it all right there, without thinking things through.

Like…that’s unbelievably inappropriate.

Here’s the thing: suicide is a HUGE problem, and for some people, the slightest depiction of suicide (especially an onscreen one) can have a serious impact. They could be triggered into another attempt, or go into serious panic attacks and fall back into depression.

I’m not joking, this does happen. The show 13 Reasons Why got more people to look up ways to kill themselves. So, you can see why I’m more critical of how film and TV depict suicide, even in films as bad and inept as The Room.

The reason why it really bothers ME so much is because there have been many times when I wanted to kill myself over the smallest thing. I thought the world was going to end at any given misfortune. But you know what? I always pulled through, even if I needed help to do so. And now, along with medications and support, I’m doing so well. So naturally, when I see a bad film use an impulsive suicide as a cheap tragic ending, I get offended and annoyed.

So I guess I can say this is the Worst Movie Ever, but in the sense that it takes a very important subject matter so flippantly and trivially to elicit sympathy on top of being very shoddily made. I think that more than makes it qualified for its title.

Now that you’re here, if you’re suicidal or struggle with suicidal thoughts, here’s a website that lists hotlines available all over the world that you can access:


In a Heartbeat vs Bad Animation Oversaturation

The 2010’s feels like the best and worst decade for western animation. While (CG) animation is more profitable and prolific than ever before and more people are finally realizing animation can be honestly amazing, it seems that the only people taking the craft seriously are Disney, Pixar, and, to an extent, Warner Bros. with their LEGO movies. DreamWorks, in the light of their falling revenue, has started to dumb down their projects to make a profit, and studios like Sony Pictures Animation and Illumination seem to see the medium as a way of making cheap entertainment squarely for children and nothing else.

This year, in particular, has not been very good, with films like The Boss Baby’s memery encapsulating why so many people don’t take animation seriously and The Emoji Movie becoming quite possibly the worst animated film of all time. Anything else this year has been met with a resounding “ho hum”. Unless Coco turns out to be a surprise hit, the only animated movie that seems to have had any positive impact is The Lego Batman Movie, and that came out much earlier.

But, despite animation not doing well in theatrical full length films this year, there has been one animated short that has captured the hearts of people all over the world.

That short is In a Heartbeat.

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When I first heard about the short as it was in development, I didn’t think much of it, but when it was released recently, I decided to give it a watch. And boy, am I glad I did. It tells a sweet, simple, but VERY powerful story.

In the short, Sherwin (the red haired boy in the picture above) is in love with Jonathan (the brown haired boy), but is in the closet about it. He prevents himself from pursuing his love, but his anthropomorphic heart decides to take matters into its own hands. What follows is something that will make you cry, but also warm your heart.

The short has amassed over 18 million views (and counting) on YouTube and, with the exception of hardcore religious and conservative groups, has gotten almost universal acclaim and an overwhelmingly positive reception. And it deserves it. The animation is very good (especially considering it’s a low budget college film), the music is excellent, and it tells an innocent but effective story that doesn’t rely on dialogue.

The makers of the film, Esteban Bravo and Beth David, are considering making this into a full length movie, and I hope it happens. Again, considering how there are so many animated films but only a fraction of them are really that great, we could use a film like this. One that doesn’t rely on low brow humour and cheap gimmicks and tells an emotional story about the love between two boys.

Please support this short any way you can. You can start by watching it below.



The New Planet of the Apes is a Modern Exodus Story

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The new Planet of the Apes prequels are some of the most intelligent, thrilling, and emotional blockbusters I have seen in recent years. While I can never see the original 1968 film a second time (the first viewing just disturbed me too much), I can enjoy the new movies thanks in large part to the character of Caesar. He is one of the most compelling characters of all time, brought beautifully to life by the great Andy Serkis. And one thing I couldn’t help but notice immediate after watching War for the Planet of the Apes is that Caesar’s life has a lot of parallels to that of the Biblical Moses.

The first movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, parallels the origins of Moses. Both he and Caesar have tragic beginnings: they were born into slavery and would face certain death if it had not been for their mothers’ love. They are raised by their captors and live a very happy life for a long time. But then, the protagonists commit a crime to protect another, and are both exiled for it. It is during their exile that they discover their destiny to free their respective peoples, unleashing a plague upon their captors in the process.

The second movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, references the Hebrew’s newly found freedom. They escape to greener pastures and build their own communities, with the law of ‘do not kill’. But conflict within the community rises (in this movie and in some film versions of the the Exodus story, it is stirred by a specific opponent) and the teachings of Caesar and Moses are rejected, and blood must ultimately be shed. The quest for true freedom for the apes and Hebrews are thus prolonged.

War for the Planet of the Apes has the most direct parallels. You see the apes being whipped and imprisoned and forced to work hard for their captors, building a stone monument. Caesar routinely begs for his people’s freedom, but the Colonel (Pharaoh) refuses, mocking him, instead increasing the workload of the slaves. The apes escape and the captors and would-be captors are wiped out by an avalanche, which echoes the scene of the Egyptian soldiers being wiped out by the Red Sea. Freed, the Hebrews and Apes both cross a desert to safety, to a Promised Land. In the end, both Caesar and Moses die atop a high place overlooking their people, knowing they are free. It all makes for a very intense story that kept me glued to the screen from start to finish.

Do you think this was intentional or just a coincidence? Did you spot any more parallels? Feel free to let me know!


POST Preparation for Moana Review #4: Treasure Planet

Shh let’s just keep the theme going for awhile. Anyways, here’s another review of a movie connected to Moana in one way or another: Treasure Planet (since they both have the same directors).

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Several decades ago, John Musker and Ron Clements pitched a unique idea to Disney: Treasure Island IN SPACE!!!!!! It was rejected a few times. Eventually, they got their wish: after completing Hercules, they were allowed to work on this film, utilizing some revolutionary animation techniques (the CG animation blends almost seamlessly with the hand drawn animation) and a lot of heart and soul. They marketed and hyped the film big time, and it even got an IMAX release. What happened?

It bombed. Very badly. To the point where Disney would give up on hand drawn animation altogether in a few years.

There are a few reasons it didn’t do so well. Up until the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, pirate movies were box office poison. Plus a lot of people probably looked at the film and thought the premise was boring and/or stupid and decided to take their kid to the latest Pixar film, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I remember, very clearly, when I went to see it for the first time, there was hardly anyone in the theater!

I feel like this movie gets a really raw deal, because it’s honestly amazing.

First things first though: this is the type of movie you NEED to see on the big screen in order to fully appreciate. I tried watching it on my computer and had a little trouble staying focused. I decided to watch it on the big screen and BOOM I was hooked in. I think more people might be able to get into this movie better if they watched it in the proper format.

I love the unique world this movie is set in. It’s a traditional culture with access to advanced technology, creating a sort of Steampunk, anachronistic setting that works. It’s a very awesome setting with some truly beautiful scenes and shots. This movie is also really EXCITING, with some truly compelling action sequences and moments of peril.

But what makes this movie really great are the characters of Jim Hawkins and John Silver.

Jim is a well-written teenage boy character. He is sullen and doesn’t always like authority, and can be morally grey at times, but he is very clever and skilled and does develop empathy for others. He has angst issues (all teenagers do), but he’s not whiny, and he seeks to improve or is able to be comforted by Silver. He also has a clever character design: when we first see him, when he’s a delinquent, he wears a black shirt and jacket. When he’s ready to make a change in his life, he still wears the jacket, but is wearing a lighter colored shirt. He later ditches the jacket when he starts to step up into the role of a hero. Finally, when he has set out to make his own path in life, he is wearing all white. Overall, he’s a relatable, enjoyable character.

And Silver is incredible. Given how he’s both fat and disabled, it would have been very easy for the writers and animators to make him repulsive and pure evil. Instead, he can be harsh and authoritative, but can also be warm and comforting. He has loose morals, but doesn’t want to cause unnecessary violence or bloodshed. We sympathize with him because he has longed to have the treasure for what I can assume is most of his life and has made some sacrifices. And despite a rough start, he really and truly does care for Jim, to the point where he is willing to let Jim come with him to go on new adventures.

And that’s the heart and soul of the movie: these two and their bond.

Jim’s father left him, and Silver has no children. Jim sees in Silver a firm but kind father figure who is genuinely interested in him, and Silver sees a capable young boy who he grows a paternal attachment to. The desire for treasure nearly drives them apart, but ultimately, their relationship proves stronger than gold. In the end, they’re not quite as close as they were before, but they still have a strong mutual respect and affection for one another.

I can’t help but get a little sad over the ending though. Silver is free, but he has to say goodbye to Jim and Morph. Jim goes back to his mother and decides to become a respectable member of society but still clearly misses Silver. I like to think they get back together at some point. Either Silver becomes an active good guy, or Jim decides that being a ship’s captain is not for him and joins Silver on his adventures. There was a planned direct to video sequel that would have Jim and Silver teaming up again to fight an even worse pirate, but it was not meant to be. So I can only imagine.

The film still has a few problems. I don’t particularly care for Doctor Delbert (he can be a little too annoying at times) or Amelia (all she does is act prim and proper, yell orders, and gets injured; and btw, did you know at one point she had tentacles for hair? why didn’t they keep that in), and B.E.N., well, let’s just say he won’t be replacing WALL E or Baymax as anyone’s fave robot characters. And how did the crew get hired in the first place when it’s pretty obvious they’re up to no good? Like if you look at Scroop you can tell right away that he’s evil incarnate, why would you let him on a respectable voyage? Amelia points this out, but instead of doing anything about it, she just tells Jim and Doppler not to talk about the map in front of them. Really? And I suppose the story isn’t THAT original or groundbreaking.

But honestly? I absolutely love this movie despite all odds. It holds a very dear place in my heart, along Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This movie has a small cult following but I hope it will grow in stature and become a true classic. It really deserves it.




The Mother of All Psychological Horrors Is All Too Familiar

Hmm, it’s Mother’s Day and I haven’t written in awhile. I know! I’ll talk about Rosemary’s Baby!

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What have you done to it? What have you done to its eyes?

A dark parallel to the story of the Virgin Birth, what makes this film scary is that it lulls you into a false sense of security. The first two acts or so aren’t very scary so much as weird and off-putting. But as the movie progresses you realize how horrifying and hopeless the situation is and in the end you’re on the verge of tears over the plight of Rosemary.

The movie is several decades old but is hailed as a master of horror. It has very little blood and gore and no jump scares; instead, it gets under your skin by building up the feeling of dread and paranoia with ominous music and shots, culminating in a pretty shocking twist. But because the twist isn’t explicitly shown, it leaves room for some interpretations.

To me, though, what makes it scary even now is that it’s still pretty relevant. It presents the all too real plight of the lack of reproductive rights and justice.

When Rosemary is not pregnant, her husband dotes on her and she is quick to make friends and acquaintances. When she states her desire to become pregnant, though, attitudes towards her start to change. By the time she actually is pregnant, she is not treated the same. She is essentially treated as a brood mare, being withheld important information about her body, being manipulated by her neighbors, and being verbally abused and controlled by her husband. The one person she can trust, her old doctor, doesn’t believe her when she says what’s going on and immediately turns her over to her husband. When the baby is born she isn’t even initially allowed to see him, and does not receive a warm welcome when she comes to the congregation. Almost all the members of the coven disrespect or even outright show contempt for the mother of their savior.

Hmm…does that sound familiar?

What struck me right away is that the only people who are on Rosemary’s side are young women. Literally all the men (with one exception) and the older women see Rosemary as a walking incubator that has to be carefully controlled.

Rosemary herself is a really great character. Initially submissive and docile, her fierce love for her unborn child drives her to take action, seeking a safe place to give birth and get away from the coven. She is one of the few female horror movie protagonists to actually have character development, albeit development that is too late to save her.

The climax is especially horrifying. Imagine the baby you worked so hard to protect turned out to be an unholy demon, the product of a brutal violation. In the end, her motherly instincts kick in, but her smile seems a little halfhearted. Ultimately the viewer will have to decide the fate of her and her child.

This movie has a wide range of interpretations, ranging from calling it feminist to misogynist. I lean more to the feminist interpretation for a few reasons. The first reason is just how frank the movie is when it talks about periods, abortions, and childbirth, all topics that a lot of movies shy away from. Secondly, the whole situation, from the moment of conception to Rosemary’s acceptance of the baby, is seen as genuinely HORRIFYING, not as a cheap shock or drama.

Ultimately, this is a horror movie of something all too familiar and relevant: being a pregnant person having your bodily autonomy, rights, and dignity taken away from you. And that is something that will always scare you on a psychological and personal level.