The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Misogyny Rises

I understand and sympathize with most of the complaints being directed at "The Dark Knight Rises." But I loved the movie anyway, is it perfect? No. But it was still a great movie, and I thought all the character motivations and dynamics made perfect sense.

But now I need to talk about a complaint I've been seeing that, frankly, I think comes from some pretty dark places. A lot of people don't like how Bane's character arc in the movie came to an end. They're hating that it turned out he was taking orders from Talia al Ghul. They hate that he teared up a little at the end when Talia revealed her story to Batman, and they hate that he died from a cannon shot from Catwoman. Where this is all comes from is a darker aspect of comic book fandom that often leaves me ashamed of being involved with the hobby.

I've talked about misogyny in comic book fandom before. For the most part, superhero comics are the nadir of male power fantasies, both superhero and supervillain alike. Us male fans read these comics and sometimes wish we could be these characters? I've wanted to be Batman, Spider-Man, Magneto, Ra's al Ghul, Norman Osborn, and others at various times in my life. Bane, on the surface, represents this beautifully. He's incredibly big, he's incredibly strong, he has a commanding presence. He is always the toughest man in the room, and he's tearing down the pillars of society around him. For many an outcast nerd, this is the ultimate power fantasy.

When Miranda Tate reveals herself as Talia, our perception of Bane changes. We find out that everything he did, he did out of loyalty and devotion to this girl he's been protecting and loving since the day she was born. Like her, he was born in the Pit. Born in Hell. He protected her so she could escape and was scarred for it, and her father, Ra's al Ghul later rescued him from the Pit only to excommunicate this monster for embodying too many painful memories and loving Talia. His whole life centered on and around this woman. He tears up and cries as she tells this story. And when that happened, the male power fantasy crashed for many audience members, because many of them have probably cried too when being beaten up by bullies or picked on and are ashamed of it.

Bane wasn't robbed of a damn thing. He broke the Bat, while Talia broke Bruce Wayne. Nothing changed except we learned about what motivated him. I've seen more than several people say the crying robbed him of the inhumane coldness that the Joker had. Well, here's the thing, Bane is not the Joker. He is his own character. Every villain in this series had their own distinct personalities, and traits. This is a good thing. The revelation of Bane made him a much more three dimensional character. Yes, he was driven by hate of society, but he was also driven by love for this girl. In a sense, he was both her Alfred and her Batman rolled into one. It fit the themes of the movie perfectly. Alfred watches over Bruce Wayne. Gordon watches over John Blake who watches over the orphans. Batman, no matter who wears the cowl, watches over Gotham. And while I'm at it, Talia loses both of her parents violently and decides to finish her father's work to purify the world by destroying Gotham just as Bruce tries to finish his father's work to save Gotham and both are watched over by their own protectors.

Then he got killed by Catwoman, on one of the Bat-cycles who fired a cannon at him killing, when he tried to finally murder Batman. And the same people who were angry about him working for Talia got angry at this also. I've actually seen a few people talk about how ridiculous they thought it was that Bane fell at the hands of a woman, and that it robbed him of his power. I of course call poppycock on this, the way I saw it, it took heavy artillery to stop him because he was such a physically powerful foe. Selina's gender had nothing to do with this.

This is the 21st century guys. Catwoman is an awesome character. Talia al Ghul is an awesome character. Black Widow is an awesome character (yes, I've seen similar complaints there). Get out of your parents' basement, open your eyes and see that women can be and are just as strong as men, and even the strongest woman can be stronger than the strongest of men. Yes, Talia was Bane's superior, but that didn't cheapen or diminish Bane at all, he still did everything he did even if Talia "was the League of Shadows" and not him. Comic books can be and should be female power fantasies too.

The art above is the property of Szikee.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Spoiler Filled Review

Well, it's been a fun seven years, but at last Christopher Nolan's widely loved take on the Batman comes to an end. It's fair to say that there was a vocal minority who didn't care for his dark and gritty take, but I enjoyed it. As far as I'm concerned these three flicks are the definitive cinematic Batman. Nolan is an auteur with a clear passion and understanding for the rules of film, and like all great directors, he knows when to break those rules. I have said time and again that he is the next Martin Scorsese, and my feelings are cemented here.

Okay, here come the spoilers. You have been warned.

Once again, Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne is a man who is willing to sacrifice everything for Gotham City, the city is father died wanting to make a better place. Once again we see that the mantle of the Batman is a symbol of hope in the most corrupt city in the world, and that while it may save a city it is also destroying the man who wears that mantle.

However, sometimes you can take a third option. No, Bruce Wayne does not die, even if he is dead to the world. Throughout the movie, we see Bruce Wayne slowly lose everything. His company, his fortune, his mobility, and even Alfred in one of the most moving scenes in the entire movie. I did not think they would kill him off, and when it looks like they did, I was waiting for the twist, and we got it... but in a way that was moving instead of cheap and hackneyed. Bruce Wayne left the city and the mantle to another to live the life Alfred always wanted him to live.

Anne Hathaway's Catwoman was getting a lot of hate out there in internet land. But, just like everybody screamed about "that gay cowboy playing the Joker," all of the complaining and gnashing of teeth was for nothing. Hathaway owned the role. She wasn't a crazy psycho who got thrown out of a building, she wasn't a thieving environmentalist. She was a cat burglar, and an anarchist with a conscience. Yes, she represents the 99% movement in a lot of ways, but as the movie shows and I think she learns, there is a dark side to that populist uprising.

Everybody is going to be talking about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. I know I said this would be a spoiler filled review, but I'll keep this one to myself. But yes, Blake is definitely the next generation.

Now let's talk about our villains. Tom Hardy was a great Bane, and I loved this re-imagining. Bane is a character who, like Venom, I never liked in the comics. So this re-invention as a mercenary and terrorist leader (or is he?) was a welcome one as far as I'm concerned. He was imposing, powerful, smart, and he did break the bat. You put Bane into a movie, that's what you're going to get as that is the one thing the character is famous in the comics for. And I love movie magic for making vertically challenged Tom Hardy be the biggest person on the room.

But the real villain of the movie is Marion Cotilard's character, Miranda Tate. But, if you're a comic book fan, you've figured out she was actually Talia al Ghul over a year ago. I remember being disappointed that Talia wasn't in "Batman Begins" so I was really excited when I heard she was going to be in this.... and being played by Marion Cotilard, whom I've loved forever. Bane was her henchman and lover, this was her revenge scheme. She had the real motive to imprison Bruce and destroy Gotham. She had her hand on a detonator that would destroy Gotham, she maneuvered her way into Bruce Wayne's trust and bed (well, floor blanket is more like it), and she was downright vicious and evil once she revealed herself in a scene I wish I didn't see coming. But that's more on me, and not on the movie. It was all very well done.

Was it a perfect movie? No. I thought it had structural problems. I think I liked the previous two Batman films more. BUT this movie does not suffer from third movie syndrome like the awful "Return of the Jedi," "Spider-Man 3" and "X-Men 3" do. This is one of those rare third films that is a gem, and can be placed alongside "The Return of the King" to cap off a fantastic trilogy.

Shane Black, the next third movie is yours. I look forward to seeing it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why Optimus Prime Needed to Die

No, this isn't about exactly what you think it is. While I do have my opinions on the death of Optimus Prime in "Transformers: The Movie" I am talking about something else entirely.

In the 1980's, action cartoons often had their designated hero leader among the good guys. The Autobots had Optimus Prime, GI Joe had Duke, Flint, and General Hawk (depending on the episode), the Ninja Turtles had Leonardo, and the 80's and early 90's were full of many other examples. They were always right, they always knew what to do, it showed the audience why they were the leader. Whenever they were disobeyed, things would go wrong and the designated hero leader would rush in to save the day. But, there was a dark side to this.

Back then, Moral Guardians tried to instill two primary lessons in to the young audience: the group is always right, the complainer is always wrong; and obey your authority figures. Be it a parent, a teacher, an administrator, a police officer, the local pastor, or the President of the United States. Conform to the system, don't think for yourself or have an opinion of your own, or else bad things will happen. The designated hero leader was that stern father figure that social conservatives love to look up to. Who were the villains? The other, of course. In Megatron and the Decepticons, you had easy to identify villain with badges and red eyes; in Cobra you had foreigners; were they villains? Of course. I don't plan to be a villain revisionist or apologist. But what they represented, and what the designated hero leader like Optimus Prime represented was something far more sinister.

"Freedom is the right of all sentient beings" but if you think differently than I do, or defy me you are wrong and the universe will punish you for it.

The mid-90's and beyond brought us better heroes. Goliath from "Gargoyles" is a great example. He was the leader, he had three young warriors to lead and protect. But sometimes, often even, he was wrong. He did not have all the answers. He was not infallible. Goliath was making the best of a bad situation and doing his best given what he knew. It also helped that this time, Goliath and his kind were the other. One of their own was a treacherous villain, and they had to struggle to survive, learn and adapt. There were far better lessons to be learned here than there were in the action cartoons of the 80's and their insidious social agendas.

Bringing it back to Optimus Prime, in "Beast Wars" we got Optimus Primal, named after Optimus Prime but without that infallibility that his predecessor always had. Likewise, he too was thrust into a situation he was not prepared for, he had to deal with a squabbling crew, and he did the best he could even when he made grave mistakes that allowed the Predacons to gain an advantage. The same could be said for Optimus Prime in "Transformers Animated" who had to deal with, not only the Decepticons, but corruption and incompetence among his own superiors in the Autobots. It helps that neither of these Optimuses were the supreme, benevolent dictators of the Autobots. Because, as much as we might want to look up to him, the President, no matter his party affiliation is a human being.

Optimus Prime needed to die, because while, for an entire generation, he seemed to be a father figure and a larger than life hero, what he really represented was a lesson to children to do what they were told. Isn't it better that children learn that there are no easy answers in life, and we should all try to do the best we can?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Top Thirty Film Villains

You've seen my Top Twenty Animated Villains, Twenty Favorite Comic Book Villains, and Top Twenty "Gargoyles Universe" Villains. Well, and I'm surprised I didn't do this long ago here are my TOP THIRTY film villains. Why top thirty? It was going to be top twenty, and I tossed a lot of names onto a list, about thirty six and I ended up with ten I really did not want to lose. So, enjoy.

30. Angela Baker ("Sleepaway Camp")

I hate slasher movies. Really, I do. I only even know about this character because of the Robot Chicken Sketch, the Cinema Snob's review, and Creepy Kitch's podcast. Something about this felt... real. Okay, the movie and the killings are as outlandish as anything, that's not what I'm saying. But, I guess I don't want to spoil the twist. Considering the circumstances behind this character's background, how she was raised, and what twisted her into a killer... this sort of thing exists. Don't get me wrong, the movie is shit... but she just stuck with me after the Cinema Snob's review and even though the movie was not my thing, I checked it out anyway. You could easily take this character and transplant her into a more dramatic film and still make it work. She has that intangible element. The makers of the first "Sleepaway Camp" caught lightning in a bottle when they dreamed Angela up. For sheer power of the concept and creation, Angela makes this list.

29. Lord Voldemort ("Harry Potter")

Evil wizards are a dime a dozen so to penetrate the pop culture lexicon they need to make an impression. Lord Voldemort is nearly as much of a household name as the boy wizard himself. For a character who's name is hardly ever spoken on screen, people all over the world use his name as an insult to talk about that boss or neighbor or family member or politician they can't stand. The character who inspired that is great. Well written and well performed by Ralph Fiennes who plays him as over the top, but shockingly not hokey... which is an easy trap to fall into when you play a character like this. On top of all that, he is just really creepy, and not for the snake face, and dark magic, but because if you strip all of the fantastic elements away, you have an old man trying to murder a teenager.

28. Tom Powers ("The Public Enemy")

The central message of this movie is that crime doesn't pay. This is a movie that has been remade and duplicated a thousand times over. It was made in 1931, so it might be old hat, but it's legacy is very important. James Cagney plays our villain protagonist who belittles his law abiding brother, is spoiled by his elderly, doting mother (think Aunt May on steroids) and learns the hard way that crime doesn't pay, and ends with one of cinema's most legendary closing shots. Plus, who doesn't love the scene where Tom Powers shoves a grapefruit in his girlfriend's face? According to Cagney, Mae Clarke's ex-husband had the grapefruit scene timed, and would buy a ticket just before that scene went onscreen, go enjoy the scene, leave, then come back during the next show just in time to see only that scene again.

27. Bill ("Kill Bill")

The titular character of "Kill Bill," was the deadliest assassin in the world. Brilliantly written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, with a quiet understated performance by the late David Carradine. While he speaks more often than he takes action, it's this character's mind that makes him dangerous. Very few people can bring so much subtle menace to making their four year old daughter a sandwich, but Bill did. Suave and charming, he really was a snake charmer.

26. Eve Harrington ("All About Eve")

Ah, Eve Harrington. Understudy, con-artist, and bitch. A true classic on this list. She approaches her hero, Broadway actress Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis) and after a sob story of a hard life, she becomes Margo's assistant. Eve then proceeds to slowly supplant the forty-year-old actress by becoming her understudy, manipulating Margo and her friends so that Margo would miss a show and inviting every critic in Manhattan to see the play during her big night. Everything Eve said was a lie, and while she won and got what she wanted, and while she gets her comeuppance after a fashion, Margo fades away in the aftermath, with grace. Of course, I'm only scratching the surface.

25. Professor Ratigan ("The Great Mouse Detective")

Professor Ratigan is definitely one of Disney's most underrated villains in one of Disney's most underrated movies. But, honestly, fuck those people who underrate him, he's my second favorite in the entire Disney canon. He is, arguably, the greatest depiction of Professor James Moriarty ever put to film... and he's voiced by the legendary Vincent Price. How do you get better than that? His character design is awesome, the airs he puts on are awesome. A savage low-life thug who puts on a false front of upper class sophistication. There is a part of me that wonders if Ratigan is also an allegory for the self-loathing Jew. Over the centuries, the Jewish people were often equated with rats... Hans Landa talks about this in "Inglourious Basterds" in one scene. Ratigan hates it when people call him a rat, he even has one of his henchmen killed for it. I'm not going to accuse Disney of antisemiticism there, and it doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the character, but it's just something I took away from the movie.

24. Norman Bates ("Psycho")

No one can deny that Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense and the master of cinema, and through Norman Bates, he set the stage for every legendary movie psycho. Be it Hannibal Lecter or John Doe, without Bates, we wouldn't have gotten any of this. And how does Bates stack up all these decades later? He holds up as well as anybody does. He is the classic movie psychopath, and his twist is still shocking even all these decades later.

23. The Shark ("Jaws")

What is "Jaws" about? If you dig down to find the core truth of the film, it is about a man getting over his fear of the water. Well, what personifies aquaphobia better than a monstrous killer shark? Plus, for most of the movie you did not see the shark... it may as well have been the water killing these people. This was not the original plan, Spielberg wanted the shark visible more earlier on, but the mechanical shark apparently didn't agree with the ice cold sea water, and worked maybe 15% of the time. Well, let's count ourselves lucky for this, less is more.

22. Magda Goebbels ("Downfall")

"Der Untergang" was a film about Hitler's final days in his bunker, and is probably better known for inspiring an internet meme. While I was tempted to put Hitler himself on this list, I decided not to for two reasons. First off, it's Hitler. The moment you allow depictions of HITLER on best villains lists, he'll never leave. Now the performance may well be worthy of the listing independent of Hitler's reputation, but it's a slippery slope. Playing Hitler would be to best villains list as playing a retard is to Best Actor nominations. Second of all, because Magda Goebbels was even creepier than Hitler. A woman who was such a fanatical Nazi that she poisoned her own children rather than allow them to grow up in a world where Hitler was dead, and National Socialism was overthrown. That's really all there is to say about her, but it's so chilling, she's more than earned her spot on this list.

21. Loki ("Thor" & "The Avengers")

I know Loki is the hot new thing as far as movies go, never mind that the character has existed in Marvel Comics since 1962, and actual Nordic mythology since at least the 13th century, but when Tom Hiddleston stepped into the role he seemed to take a lot of nerd culture by storm. He is great, and the character is so well written. A friend of mine described him as Scar from "The Lion King" if Scar didn't suck. What I liked most is that he didn't just trick the other characters, he tricked the audience. He was even better in "The Avengers" which is currently the most popular film on the planet. Right now, it's all being said. On another note, I never thought I would see the day that Loki became a sex symbol. I've seen teenage girls in book stores looking for Thor graphic novels who have binders covered in pictures of Loki. Unlike Edward Cullen, at least it's a cool character performed by a pretty damn good actor.

20. Hans Landa ("Inglourious Basterds")

Nazis are easy to include on a list like this, but Christoph Waltz's performance as Hans Landa won him a much deserved Oscar. The French called him the Jew Hunter, and he was very good at his job. Whether he is subtly intimidating a farmer to betray the Jews he is hiding. And the most ironic part of this, he never considered himself a Nazi, or even hated Jews. From his point of view, he just understood how the world worked. When the time came to betray Nazi Germany, he did it in a heartbeat, and not out of any humanity, but because he always acted in his own self interest.

19. Magneto ("X-Men")

Whether he is being portrayed by Sir Ian McKellan or Michael Fassbender, Magneto is one of the best comic book movie villains there is, which is fitting as he is also one of the best comic book villains, period. Magneto really brought respectability to villains in comic book movies, since he was the first one to be portrayed as an actual person with a point you can relate to as opposed to an over the top caricature. With the success of "X-Men: First Class" I think it's safe to say we'll be seeing a lot more of Magneto on the silver screen for years to come.

18. Gordon Gekko ("Wall Street")

I'm not going to get into the politics of Oliver Stone. I don't agree with a lot of Stone's politics, and I definitely don't agree with most of his filmography. I admit, I'm a capitalist... but any system can be corrupted and Gordon Gekko represents the perversion of the American dream. Gordon Gekko cared about only one thing, lining his own pockets as he famously said, greed is good. And, in moderation, it is. But he was destroying lives and making a profit, a profit he was not hurting for. Combine that with a memorable performance by Michael Douglas (who often buys liquor from my brother, may I add) and you have a character so memorable and so powerful that I can believe he drove Charlie Sheen to drugs.

17. The Joker ("The Dark Knight")

Everything that can be said has been said. Arguably the scariest movie villain since Hannibal Lecter. He was cunning, intelligent, and chaos personified. And of course, Ledger's personal flourishes must be mentioned as well... he added a lot of character to the Joker with the smallest of gestures.

16. Saruman ("The Lord of the Rings")

I love this guy. He may be your standard evil wizard, but he is in many ways the original evil wizard. Or at least early enough to help define the archetype before it became a cliche. This is the guy who was great once but fell into darkness and evil under the influence of the Dark Lord Sauron. In many ways, you can look to him to get a sense of what happened to Sauron himself thousands of years prior. Saruman was powerful, he was cunning, but his greatest power was his voice... and as such, Christopher Lee was cast perfectly, and you can tell he loved every moment. Looking forward to seeing him again in "The Hobbit" this winter.

15. Antonio Salieri ("Amadeus")

This guy is just the personification of jealousy, and F. Murray Abraham played that to a tee. Now, I know that historically there is a rumor that says he confessed to the murder of Mozart on his death bed. Is it true? We'll never know. But it made for a delicious rumor and a delicious story. A story about mediocrity, jealousy, and the quest for an undeserved immortality. The thing that has come out of this is that Salieri's operas and music are being played in the 21st century. People would likely never have heard of Salieri had F. Murray Abraham not done such a brilliant job in portraying him. One might wonder, however, if it is better to be remembered as a villain for all time, or be forgotten to everyone but the historians.

14. Jack Torrance ("The Shining")

This one is another legendary performance from Jack Nicholson. You all know it, even if you haven't seen the movie, you know it. We spend an entire movie watching Jack slowly go insane. While the "Here's Johnny" scene has been parodied over and over again, my favorite scene has to be when his wife, Shelley Duvall discovers what he's been writing for the past several months, and that confrontation where he does nothing but yell at her makes my body hairs stand up to this day.

13. Hans Gruber ("Die Hard")

Hans has got to be the greatest action villain of all time. He's the perfect counterpart to our hero, John McClane. Whereas McClane is your typical foul mouthed, rugged blue-collar every man, Hans is a classically educated, sophisticated, suave, polite European dressed in a suit that must cost thousands. He's smart, manipulative, and always in control of everything... except that Irish-American running around in the building's vents. Often imitated but never duplicated.

12. Keyser Soze ("The Usual Suspects")

Just go watch the damn movie.

11. Khan Noonien Singh ("Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan")

Another classic villain, one that could have been really cheesy but wasn't. We're lucky that Gene Roddenberry stayed far away from this one, kids. "The Wrath of Khan" is one of those rare perfect movies, and the villain is a huge part of the reason why. When Khan says that he ruled a portion of the world once, thanks to Ricardo Montalban's performance, you believe him. And all the anger he feels towards Kirk, all the hate, it all just oozes off of him. Plus who doesn't love a villain who quotes "Paradise Lost" and "Moby Dick?" Personally, I think this is a character who should be left alone as I shudder to think about what the reboot is going to do with him. His story has already been told perfectly, don't go near Khan. You have a whole universe to play with, don't pick something that is going to draw uncomfortable comparisons.

10. The Alien ("Alien")

The Alien (or the xenomorph, if you prefer) is my favorite movie monster of all time. Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger really hit upon many of our most primal fears when they dreamed this thing up. The Alien is, for all intents and purposes the personification of rape. Just look at the thing. It's phallic and feminine at the same time, and it's very smart. Just watching this thing stalk and murder the crew members of the Nostromo, it was clearly alien. It's made even scarier if you watch the Director's Cut, and you find out what it was really doing to its victims. Ash was right when he called it the perfect life form.

9. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker ("Bonnie & Clyde")

Ah, the original dynamic duo. Sometimes we, as Americans, revere our criminals. I'm not saying we should, but we do. Bonnie and Clyde are a testament to this. Bank robbers, murderers and yest they're practically folk heroes now. Arthur Penn's 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway might sympathy events, but it perpetuates their legend. They might be thieves and murderers, but they were also the subject of one of cinema's greatest love stories of all time.

8. Norman Stansfield ("Leon: The Professional")

This character has got to be my all time favorite character portrayed by Gary Oldman. I don't even know where I should start. Stansfield is a corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who employs a holder (Michael Badalucco) to store cocaine in his residence. When Stansfield learns that the holder has been stealing some of the drugs for himself, he and his henchmen gun down the man's entire family, with the exception of 12-year old Mathilda, and he does so in the most over the top, hammiest scene ever. While this might make one groan in most other movies, here it's downright terrifying. He gets even more terrifying when Mathilda, meaning to kill him, is found by her in the men's room of the DEA building and in one of the most terrifying scenes, with a gun pointed at her, he asks if she likes life, and after an entire movie of being creepy monotone, she tears up and says yes. He replies that this is good because he takes no pleasure taking a life from someone who doesn't care about it. Yeah.

7. Hannibal Lecter ("The Silence of the Lambs")

This guy is so iconic that he's become a cliche. Everyone tries to copy Hannibal Lecter. Even Mark Millar's run on "Marvel Knights Spider-Man" paid homage to him when Norman Osborn was in his prison cell and Spidey came around for information trying to locate his missing Aunt May. But he became iconic for a reason, he was like nothing cinema had ever seen before. He was a highly intelligent, witty, charming cannibal who just had a way of staring into your soul like a laser beam. Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for this role, and it was well earned. Is the character realistic? Not at all, despite being the most iconic villain in the movie, Buffalo Bill feels a lot more real. Does that detract from Lecter? Hardly. A cinematic villain for the cinematic medium.

6. Maleficent ("Sleeping Beauty")

Out of all the films in Disney's canon, Maleficent is the best. Sometimes less is more, and I don't want or need Maleficent to be anything but the Mistress of All Evil. I am not looking forward to this new movie starring Angelina Jolie. I think it is a mistake. But, Jolie aside, Maleficent knows what she is and is the epitome of spiteful evil. Now, I'm not saying it's bad to reveal the details of a villain's backstory. Sometimes it works for the character and sometimes it doesn't. Recently I got into an argument about this with somebody and they cited the "Gargoyles" multi-parter "City of Stone" for going into Demona's past and revealing her story, and used that as the reason why doing the same for Maleficent is a swell idea. I argued that Demona is the on-going main villain of a serialized television series and that her past and what made her what she is are questions introduced early on, and we got those questions answered after less than a year. There was no such thing for Maleficent, and nobody asked these questions the movie itself did not present in the entire fifty-three years since the movie made it's debut in 1959!

5. Jimmy Conway ("Goodfellas")

First off, a bit of trivia. Jimmy Conway was based on real life gangster, Jimmy "The Gent" Burke, and my grandfather says he knew him. Based on a true story, "Goodfellas" is one of the greatest films ever made, and Robert De Niro may as well have been playing himself, he slipped into this guy's skin so well. De Niro reportedly visited the real Burke to get pointers on how to play him, and it shows. Everything about this guy feels authentic, and the acting is so powerful you can tell what he's thinking without him saying a thing... my favorite instance being when he makes the decision to kill off most of his gang while smoking a cigarette at the bar.

4. Tamora ("Titus")

I love this character. I first encountered her in the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival's production of "Titus Andronicus" back in 1999 where she was played by Nance Williamson. The play captivated me, so naturally Julie Taymor's production had a lot to live up to in my eyes... and again I was captivated by this Shakespearan Queen of Evil as portrayed by Jessica Lange. Tamora is a vengeful mother and the former queen of the goths, who was defeated by Roman general Titus Andronicus and dragged back to Rome in chains alongside her three sons. On the way, Titus sacrificed one of her sons to Jupiter... and his own family would soon pay for it. Once in Rome, Tamora proceeds to marry Emperor Saturninus; encourages her two surviving sons to assault, rape and mutilate Titus' daughter, Lavinia, during a hunt where her tongue is cut out and her hands are severed and replaced with tree branches; has two of Titus' sons framed for murder and has them arrested and promises to release them if Titus will cut off his own hand and send it to the emperor only to return his two sons' severed heads. And that's just for starters! Tamora did everything she could to give me a Midsummer Night's Nightmare and god bless her for it.

3. William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting ("Gangs of New York")

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of my all time favorite actors. I've been told I have a man-crush on him. I'm willing to admit to that, and he brought us a great antagonist in Bill the Butcher, a gangster and political leader... talk about a dangerous combination. A racist and a xenophobe who wraps himself in the flag representing an evil undercurrent of this country which has never gone away. The dark side of patriotism personified. But, at the same time, he did have a sense of honor, if twisted. The man he respected the most was his enemy, Priest Vallon. Yes, once a year he celebrated his victory over him, but he mourned at the same time... paid tribute to him... hung his portrait on his mantle. That's what was so tragic about it, were it not for their prejudices, they wouldn't have been enemies and ultimately, everything they did was insignificant. I think in a way, he knew his way of doing things was coming to an end and he even accepted it, but he was still determined to go down fighting.

2. Amon Göeth ("Schindler's List")

There's a lot of Nazis on this list, aren't there? This might just be Ralph Fiennes' greatest performance of all time. He was so scary that when one of the surviving Jews saved by Oskar Schindler visited the set, she nearly fainted in fear when she saw him. Aside from that, let me leave you with this quote: "I would like so much to reach out to you and touch you in your loneliness. What would it be like, I wonder? What would be wrong with that? I realize that you are not a person in the strictest sense of the word, but, um, maybe you're right about that too. Maybe what's wrong, it's not us, it's this... I mean, when they compare you to vermin, to rodents and to lice. I just, uh, you make a good point. You make a very good point. Is this the face of a rat? Are these the eyes of a rat? "Hath not a Jew eyes?" I feel for you Helen." [leaning forward to kiss her] "No, I don't think so. You Jewish bitch, you nearly talked me into it, didn't you?"

And finally, drum roll please! He made his debut in a popular blockbuster that was an instant classic! He soon returned in a sequel that many would say is superior to the original! And he later re-appeared in a third movie that is either loved or hated, I give you my favorite, and the greatest villain in all of film....

1. Michael Corleone ("The Godfather")

What? Who did you think I was talking about?

Wow. Where do I start? We all go through a phase where we're embarrassed or ashamed or just flat out hate our families. While Michael never hated his family, it was clear early on that he wanted to pursue a life apart from the family business. But fate and circumstances interfered and Michael not only was forced into the family business, but he soon became the head of the family... and it soon destroyed any semblance of the life he could have otherwise had. From war hero to brutal criminal to losing his family all culminating in the murder of his brother. Michael Corleone became exactly what he tried hard not to become.

"It's not personal, it's just business." While that was true most of the time, a lot of the time he was just kidding himself. It was the greatest performance of Al Pacino's career, and the greatest film Francis Ford Coppola has ever directed. To this day, everything stands the test of time and it will continue to do so for generations beyond.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Well, that was okay. It wasn't great. It wasn't amazing. It wasn't spectacular. But I enjoyed it. I've seen worse comic book movies. Hell, I've seen three worse Spider-Man movies. So there, I'll say it, I liked it better than the Sam Raimi flicks. I think just about everything the Raimi movies got wrong this one got right.

I remember seeing the first Raimi film, and I remember talking myself into thinking I liked it more than I did. But I knew Raimi had no interest in making a good adaptation or even a good movie the moment the Green Goblin said the words "we'll meet again, Spider-Man!" yes, that was the moment the Raimi films passed the point of no return. The moment it all went wrong. Gods, not even cartoons use dialogue that lame anymore, and haven't in a very long time before that thing came out. It just felt so scitzo, like Raimi was making a PG-13 movie for really little kids. Some would say "Spider-Man 2" was better, but I'm not one of them... it followed the same emotional beats and story beats as the first movie and I don't know who that villain was, but it was not the Dr. Octopus I know. And the less said about "Spider-Man 3" the better.

Let me get this out of the way, Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy had a lot of chemistry, much more chemistry than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Garfield and Stone looked like they enjoyed being there, while Maguire and Dunst had that same look that George W. Bush had throughout his entire second term... that look that said "I can't want to get out of this job." And while I don't hate Tobey Maguire as an actor, I did hate him as Peter Parker. I thought he was horribly miscast. He wasn't the slightest bit funny or charismatic, and that face he made when he cries was the most unintentionally hilarious thing. We're supposed to feel bad when Uncle Ben dies, then Tobey cries and it's hilarious... this helped make "Spider-Man 3" an unintentional comedy.

I really don't like going here, this is not me trying to hit you over the head with why the Raimi films were bad, I'm trying to tell you all why this movie wasn't. I'm trying to highlight what this movie did right.

Andrew Garfield felt a lot more like the Peter Parker I knew growing up. He was a nerd, he was goofy, he was dweeby, but he was also funny, heroic, and had a real growing arc. Honestly, and I hate to be that guy, but give the guy a haircut and take away the damn skateboard and he'd have been perfect.

Emma Stone felt like Gwen Stacy, and not like Mary Jane Watson who happened to be blond and named Gwen Stacy. Gwen Stacy came to life and was on screen. She was the character who was nailed perfectly. Nothing was wrong or off about her. Unlike Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane who felt like both MJ and Gwen were tossed into a blender when Raimi made his films. Now, as a character, I love Mary Jane Watson and I hope she turns up in a sequel.

This felt like one of the better love stories in a comic film. Specifically, I like how both characters did not behave like complete idiots. That moment at the end where Peter breaks up with Gwen and Gwen doesn't blame him but knows her dad well enough to figure that he made Peter promise to stay away was so refreshing. If this were the Raimi films, Dunst would have run away crying, miserably ignorant and showing no clear understanding of who any of the people in her life are.

I loved Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors. He really breathed a lot of humanity into him. I've heard some people say he was Dr. Octopus all over again. Well, boys and girls... Raimi's Doc Ock had a lot more in common with the Lizard than he did with the Dr. Octopus of the comics. So, they got Connors right. That being said, the CGI on the Lizard needed work. It wasn't amazing. And, once again, I hate to be that guy. But I didn't care for the design of the Lizard. He should have had a snout. Aw well, I can't complain too much, they did put him in a lab coat in a couple of scenes. But aside from that, that was the comic character

Captain George Stacy was the biggest departure. While I would have greatly preferred seeing the cop who was able to figure out who Spidey was through sheer detective work, and who became Spidey's ally on the force (this did happen, but only at the end) I won't complain because Denis Leary was just that fun to watch.

And I absolutely LOVED Flash Thompson in this movie. Sure he wasn't in it much, but when he was, that was the guy from the comics too as opposed to the complete non-entity of the Raimi flicks. He even had a little character arc throughout the film. They didn't need to do that, but I'm glad they did.

That is not say this movie didn't have it's problems. I get why they re-told the origin story. They wanted to tie it in with his parents, with Oscorp and with Dr. Connors becoming the Lizard. But I still didn't want to watch it again. And the changes made were... well... a blessing in disguise I guess. The changes made to the burglar story drove me nuts, but... well... at least it was shot in a way that they can't come along and say Sandman really did it. But still... well, damned if they did, damned if they didn't. I understand why the change with they changed the story, but it still drives me nuts. Spidey's origin is kind of sacred. I think this one got the spirit right if not the details, while Raimi got most of the details but not the spirit.

And I flat out loved that Oscorp was evil. We don't see Norman Osborn but we hear enough about him to know that this is a very bad guy, and thank god. Norman Osborn is not a good man gone bad, he is a bad man gone nuts. And based on what we've heard, we can see the seeds laid for why he will eventually become the Green Goblin. Cool. They didn't blow their wad with the main villain in the first movie.

Good, but not great. And the crane scene was horrible... and the voice mail left by Uncle Ben was so contrived as a final speech, like he knew he was going to die. So hokey.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


And so begins the eighth season of "Weeds" which began as the previous season ended. With a bang. I liked the premiere. A lot. There were a lot of laughs, and while I enjoyed the previous season, this episode was more laugh out loud funny than the previous season tended to be. Which takes talent since the episode was basically about Nancy Botwin getting shot at the head during a family dinner rushed to the hospital, and put into a coma. How do you make that funny? Jenji Kohan and her cohorts made it funny. Of course, as the above image demonstrates, you have to like dark comedy to really appreciate this show. Not everyone will find someone's niece taking a picture of her aunt on the ground after being shot and throwing it up on facebook (I'm not hot-linking it, you all know where it is) for all the world to see to be funny... but I'm not only evil, I'm also sick. So I laughed my ass off. Actually, I often use humor like this as a test to determine whether or not I can be friends with somebody. If you don't laugh at my "Schindler's List: The Video Game" joke, chances are we won't be friends... and no, I am not typing that joke here. You need to speak to me on skype or in person for that one.

Seeing how Nancy's shooting affected everyone, or how nonchalant a lot of them took it were the highlights. From Silas and Shane naming off everyone who Nancy pissed off since the show began (long list) to Doug copping a feel of coma Nancy and seeing what was under her hospital gown to Andy fucking Nancy's sister, Jill in the hospital room after playing with Jill's vagina weight (she gave birth to twins you see) to everybody stealing food and snacks from the gift basket of the man in the coma in the next hospital bed.

The episode didn't end with Nancy coming out of her coma, but since this is the final season this seems like a season of reflection and second chances. Andy was reflecting on his Jewish faith, and there was a fun discussion about how they're not kosher and how they can't bury Nancy next to her dead husband, Judah because he's in a Jewish cemetery and she never converted.

As for the identity of the shooter. For the last year, my family and I debated it. I was right. I'm not going to spoil it here for those of you inclined to check it out. But next week, all bets are off. I will be discussing this.

Great premiere. And the new intro rocked.