Tuesday, July 24, 2012
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
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
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
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.
28. Tom Powers ("The Public Enemy")
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
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.