The Life & Times of an Auteur.

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

Sunday, January 25, 2015

All This And Gargantua-2

If you were to ask me what I think the three objectively greatest animated series are, I would say "Gargoyles", "Batman: The Animated Series", and "The Venture Bros.". If you were to ask me what I think the greatest animated series to be in production over the last decade are, I would say "Avatar: The Last Airbender", "The Spectacular Spider-Man", and "The Venture Bros." And if I had to list my three personal favorite animated shows of all time, it would be "Gargoyles", "The Spectacular Spider-Man", and "The Venture Bros." Yes, I am serious. "The Venture Bros." is one of the greats, and is criminally underrated.

Like "South Park" before it, "The Venture Bros." was created by two guys, Jackson Publik and Doc Hammer who work out of a hole in the wall, doing most of the work themselves. They write it themselves, produce it themselves, do most of the directing, and voice acting, and work with a skeleton crew. Their commitment to not only maintaining but enhancing the quality with every new season results in a very long gap between seasons, sometimes two years or more. But I'm used to it at this point, and I am more than happy to wait longer for a quality production than to see something released that's not up to snuff.

It's been a wild ride aboard the X-1 with "Dr." Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture, Brock Samson, Hank and Dean Venture, and Sgt. Hatred.The show premiered in 2003 and has "recently" concluded its fifth season with a sixth on the way. To tide us over, JackHammer have given us this hour long special that was meant to be the two-part fifth season finale before their episode order was cut short. Did it succeed? Hell and yes!

Many long running plot elements were brought to a head, a lot of the fat was trimmed, and it was glorious. "The Venture Bros." is one of those rare shows that has no bad episodes, but this special was something else. "All This And Gargantua-2" could have been sold to us as a movie and I would not have called bullshit. The scope was epic, the way JackHammer manages to balance such a gigantic cast is sheer are in and of itself... and these characters, my god... nothing and no one is wasted.

The basic premise centers around the completion of Gargantua-2 by Jonas Venture Jr. An element that's been running since early in the fourth season, after Gargantua-1 was introduced in the first season and destroyed in the second. Meanwhile, the members of the Guild of Calamitous Intent's Council of Thirteen are being murdered under mysterious circumstances, while their leader, the Sovereign (who may or may not actually be David Bowie... don't worry, this gets resolved) is preparing for war. There are other story lines running through here. Rusty's inferiority complex and jealousy of Jonas Jr., Phantom Limb's desire to advance himself and his Revenge Society, and so much more.

The writing is as sharp as a diamond saw, the animation beautiful, and so much is being juggled without it feeling forced or like too much. I wanted more. I wished the special was ninety minutes so I could spend more time with each element, but that's not a complaint so much as it's me being greedy.

While closing many doors, it opens new ones with a sixth season that will air... eventually. It's always getting better, and I can't wait to see what will happen next even though I'll have to.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Top Twenty-Five Favorite Fictional Characters

So, inspired by Pterobat's "Peculiar Olympians", and Doug Walker's Top Ten Favorite Characters, I decided to write up mine. I also decided to give myself the rule of one character per franchise... otherwise I'd end up with six characters from "Gargoyles". Also, I decided to post them in alphabetical order instead of attempting a ranking, because we all know who #1 would be, and what's the point of doing a countdown anymore, because on any list she qualifies to be on, she'll be #1.

Anyway, here we go, consider this post my way of celebrating five years of this blog.

Nancy Botwin - While "Weeds" petered out with a whimper, I never lost my love for this character. Nancy Botwin's middle name may as well be trouble because that's where she always finds herself. She seeks it out. She gets a high off of it. She may even get herself off to it. An upper-middle-class suburbanite soccer mom whose husband drops dead, she becomes a marijuana dealer to support her family's lifestyle because any retail job she qualifies for wouldn't maintain it... but really, she'd be bored with a retail job. A series of wrong decisions leads her deeper and deeper into the underworld where she marries a crooked DEA agent, and after he gets killed, she marries the head of a powerful Mexican cartel... he dies to. Even the nice rabbi she later marries dies. Everyone she marries dies although not at her hands; a truly passive black widow if there ever was one. And you know what, in a way, I can relate to this. I don't want to live a boring, "normal" lifestyle. Part of the reason I went to film school in Hollywood, aside from my passion for film and television, was the more exciting, fast paced lifestyle. I don't want a career in an office building, or to manage some retail outlet. None of that. Nancy didn't want to be a normal person, and neither do I.

Al Bundy - I've been laughing at Al since I was eight years old, at least. Let me get this out of the way, I find his misogynistic outlook to be deplorable. But I don't have to agree with a character for them to be a favorite, as this list goes on, you'll find many more characters I disagree with. Al Bundy is a pig, plain and simple. When things briefly start going well for him, he does treat his family better. But, he is such a scumbag, it's fun to watch him lose. However, despite it all, I still feel some sympathy for him and Ed O'Neil brings so much humanity and comic timing to the character that he endears himself to me despite the fact that I disagree with him. He isn't someone I would ever want to be friends with, but the thing that does endear him and his family to me the most is for as often as they will be horrible to each other, they'll unite when threatened by an outsider, and there's something to be said for that.

Captain America - Cap's presence on my list surprises me as I'm sure it does some of you. I'm not usually a fan of the Big Good archetypal character. I don't care about Superman or Optimus Prime. I'm not even jingoistic in the slightest. So why Captain America? Why Steve Rogers? Because, at his best, he represents the best of us, our ideals. He will do the right thing no matter the consequences, even if that makes him a traitor... because he represents the idea, not the reality. I don't usually like to get political here but the United States has committed really atrocious actions not only in the last thirteen years, but for many years before that. Our country has never been close to being as great as we want it to be. Slavery, the Alien and Sedition Act, Jim Crow, McCarthyism, overthrowing democratically elected governments and installing our own puppet dictators, the invasion of Iraq, torture, I could go on. But, in comic book land, Captain America would be the first to say that this is wrong, this is not what we were founded upon, and we're acting little better than our enemies. I think that's what made the events of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" resonate with so many people, definitely me, HYDRA's take over of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a very powerful allegory. Besides all that, Steve Rogers is an interesting character in and of himself, especially as a man out of time which is played for drama as opposed to the fish out of water laughs.

Eric Cartman - Oh, how do I love this little bastard. Let me count the ways. If Captain America represents our ideals, Cartman is an indictment of our worst traits. Selfish, lazy, egotistical, glutinous, xenophobic, and wrathful. Matt Stone and Trey Parker wanted to create the next Archie Bunker and succeeded all too well; they held a mirror up in front of America and forced us to take a good long look at ourselves, and what did we get? One of television's most entertaining characters of all time. It's fifteen kinds of fun to watch him scheme, and even more fun to watch him get his ass kicked. I never get tired of watching him.

The Reverend Sir Doctor Sen. Stephen T. MOS DEF Colbert, D.F.A., Heavyweight Champion of the World** La Premiere Dame de France - For nine years, he made me laugh. Comedian Improv performer, Stephen Colbert, created one of the truly great TV characters when he crafted his "well meaning, poorly informed, high status idiot" of a character who has done more to educate and inform the country than most of our so-called journalists and reporters have in a very long time. From his failed bid to run for President, to showing America just what a SuperPAC is and why they're a bad idea, to sitting down with the likes of Paul McCartney, President Barack Obama, and Smaug the Dragon... and asking harder questions than Meet the Press, or getting them to admit that smoking coke and enjoying prostitutes is a fun thing to do. I was legitimately depressed a month ago when he said good-bye to America one last time and flew away into immortality. You'll be forever in our hearts, Stephen. Who will be there to put us On Notice?

Michael Corleone - 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.

Artemis Crock - When I first started watching "Young Justice", I knew I was going to like Artemis. What I did not realize at the time was just how much this character would endear herself to me. Strong and tough, yet vulnerable. Artemis came from an awful background. A mother who was in prison, a father who was the chief enforcer for a secret society of the world's greatest villains, and an older sister who served Ra's al Ghul. How's that for a family? But that's not all, she ends up sort of being adopted into the Arrow family and all but marrying into the Flash family... the girl is connected without any of it feeling forced of contrived. Her arc just spoke to me, unlike the previous entry on this list, she didn't let any of her families define her. A shame the series got cut short, I would have loved to see what was next for her.

Crowley - Crowley was once a human tailor who sold his soul for a bigger dick, before becoming the demonic King of the Crossroads, making deals with humans for their very souls, and being so good at it that he was Lilith's right-hand. A pragmatist at heart, caring only for his own self-interest, he helped the Winchesters defeat and re-imprison Lucifer before becoming the King of Hell, himself. Smart and cunning, he runs Hell like a business, always seeking to expand his power and reach. He is also the only one who doesn't underestimate the Winchesters, and when their usefulness to him ended, he made every move to eliminate them. Right now, for as weak as the show has gotten, I want to see where his current plotline with his returned mother, Rowena, will take him.

Demona - I've talked about her ad nauseum, so I'll be brief. At the most minimal of glances, she seems very typical. We’ve seen genocidal human haters before. But scratch the surface, even a little, and we get the deepest creation of not only the series, but one of the deepest creations in the realm of fiction. She has a guilt complex that makes Peter Parker’s look tame by comparison, but she spreads it around to everyone else rather than internalize it. And considering how much she has to feel guilty over, this makes her arguably the most dangerous character in the series. Demona created her own pain, and she intends to wipe out every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth just to justify every damned stupid choice she ever made. Despite all of that, she is an eternally conflicted character. She is not a one-dimensional cut-out. Deep inside, she knows she’s wrong, she knows what she did. But she cannot and will not acknowledge that. Demona is an endlessly fascinating character. We’ve never seen anything like her in the realm of western animation before her debut, and I don’t think she’s been replicated since. Why? I don’t know. But lightning has been caught in a bottle, and I am rather happy that no one has attempted to imitate this unique and perfectly conceived character but tragically flawed person.

Doctor Doom - The archetypal supervillain and definitely the biggest gun in Marvel's pantheon of villainy. Doom is arrogant beyond all measure, and as smart as anyone you'll ever meet. He is so prideful he always keeps his word... as he interprets it. Ruler of the tiny nation of Latveria, and recognized by the world abroad... his enemies can't just send him to prison. But more than that is his fascinating backstory, and his desire to save his mother's soul from Mephisto and bring peace to the world... under his iron rule. Doom might be the leader the world needs. If we were willing to part with our freedom. But he'll always set that aside because he cannot live with the fact that just for one moment, Reed Richards was smarter than him.

Galvatron - With great power comes great insanity, Galvatron has always been my favorite transformer, always. From his debut in "Transformers: The Movie" where he was forged in the fires of a dark god, to when he was pulled out of a lava pit emerging as a mad man in "Five Faces of Darkness", to his appearances as a psychotic engine of destruction in Simon Furman's comic books. Galvatron works for me, always has. His design is spectacular, and there's always been a lot more to him than just being some insane loose cannon (figuratively and literally). His relationship with his second-in-command (and favorite punching bag), Cyclonus, was always interesting and pretty deep for an 80's cartoon. I've always preferred him to Megatron. Megatron was a perpetual loser; Galvatron was a perpetual loser with unlimited entertainment value. Feared by Autobot and Decepticon alike, along with the testicular fortitude to stand up to an eldrich abomination, I'm more than happy to show respect and shout "Hail Galvatron!"

Gandalf - Gandalf is, without a doubt, the archetypal wizard. He has long been my favorite character in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, from the moment I saw the Rankin Bass animated production of "The Hobbit" then read all of the books and got to watch Sir Ian McKellan's masterful performance of the grey wizard. Inspired by iconic characters such as Odin and Merlin, Gandalf has always been more than he appeared, showing up to advise the people on how to defeat evil without ever doing the job for us. But once you read "The Silmarillion", you learn that Gandalf is a Maiar spirit, a lower level angelic, named Olorin wrapped in a meat suit and sent into the world, tasked to help us defeat Sauron... but I love the most about this reveal is that the reason he was chosen was because he was afraid of Sauron. So his journey wasn't just to help us grow into who we needed to be to defeat Sauron, but a journey of growth for himself. We all learned a lot from Gandalf just as he learned from us.

Rupert Giles - I must have a thing for characters who are mentors, I just listed Gandalf (and while he's not on this list, I always loved Obi Wan in the OT), and now here's Giles. Giles was quite the revelation, when he first shows up, he appears to be your standard, stuffed shirt English librarian who ends up being the butt of jokes. But he is anything but as he ends up becoming the father figure to not only Buffy Summers, but just about every single one of her friends. While at times he seems a bit out of touch, he can give as well as he gets in the snarky sass department. But Giles has a past, as he was once more of a chaotic teenager than any of them. I felt the show lost something when Anthony Stewart Head left the main cast, while he continued to make appearances, his loss was one of several elements that helped the show diminish. I thought he was integral, and despite all appearances, he can kick your ass. Rupert Giles, don't judge a book by its cover.

G'Kar - When we first meet G'Kar, we think he's going to be the villain of the series. A bitter, vengeful ambassador from Narn. For a hundred years they were occupied by the Centauri, enslaved, tortured, killed, before the Centauri withdrew due to their declining empire. Now the Narn are expanding and they want vengeance. When the show opens, this is the status quo, and G'Kar, while likable, is a bitter extremist to be foiled. Then the second season happens and the galaxy is turned upside-down when the Shadows come and start knocking over all the ant-hills. The Narn are enslaved by the Centauri once more, and G'Kar is thrust back into being a resistance fighter. But things go differently this time, he has a spiritual awakening and as he learns to work with others, he comes to better understand others, and while he can't ever forgive the Centauri for what they did, he can learn to stop hating them. It is a journey of spiritual growth seldom seen on television, and it was moving to watch.

Griffith - Where the hell do I begin? I despise Griffith. Griffith is, very possibly, the most evil character I have encountered in the realm of fiction... aside from Morgoth and Sauron. Griffith is what happens when ambition festers and grows like a disease. Not that ambition is a bad thing, but Griffith took it to a whole new level. He grew up poor, formed his own mercenary hand, and became the champion of Midland with his eyes on marrying the princess and becoming King. What went wrong? He allowed himself to get personally attached to his favorite toy, a soldier named Guts. He lost it all, got tortured for a year, crippled, his tongue got cut out and then he sacrificed the troops and friends who loved him so he could be reborn as Femto, the fifth and final member of the God Hand before raping Caska (his most fanatically loyal and devoted follower, and Guts' love) in front of Guts while she was pregnant, infecting her fetus to eventually create a vessel for him to return to Earth in. Now he's in the process of conquering humanity as a seemingly ordained messianic figure... the Hawk of Light. His story is not over yet, but Griffith is the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. Especially since we go through what Guts goes through as all of this is revealed. Griffith is proof that you can hate a person but love a character.

Tyrion Lannister - This one was love at first sight. One of the most intelligent power players in the kingdom, Tyrion knows how to live life. Whether it's food, drink, or the company of women; Tyrion revels in his hedonism. He's also clever, and a real power player. But sadly his greatest weakness is that he has a big mouth. He will speak his mind, and while watching him tell off awful people like Cersei and Joffrey makes us smile, it ultimately bites him in the ass. I can relate to that, as I have a history of speaking my mind when it is better to just hold my tongue. On top of it all, he is another victim of an awful father, something else I can and do relate to. His final scenes of the fourth season were very cathartic. I think what I love most about Tyrion is his lack of shame. He knows who he is and he's comfortable being that. But with the end of last season, his status quo has truly changed and it will be interesting to see where he goes now that he is out of his comfort zone.

Lucifer Morningstar - He's the Devil. 'Nuff said. ... okay, I'll say more. Lucifer is everything Mephisto should be. Clever, cunning, scheming, and the ultimate rebel. He gave up the throne of Hell and handed the key to Dream of the Endless just to screw with him. He created his own existence so Yahweh would no longer have the monopoly on creation with only one rule, worship nothing. Ultimately, he's a conceited prick rebelling against his conceited father. As David Easterman, a character who sees himself as a victim of Lucifer, puts it: "when the devil wants you to do something, he doesn't lie at all. He tells you the exact, literal truth. And he lets you find your own way to hell."

Magneto - Thank Kirby for Claremont, or the Master of Magnetism might never have made this list. Magneto is the villain you can't help but agree with. A survivor of the Holocaust, and a victim of bigotry, Max Eisenhardt will stop at nothing to prevent a second Holocaust from taking place. In the process he has lost friends, alienated his children, and has become the boogieman that humans use to justify their fear of mutants. If that irony wasn't enough, Magneto walks a fine line between being a mutant Malcolm X, and becoming that which he hates most... a mutant Adolf Hitler. Remember how I said that Doom was at the top of Marvel's supervillain pantheon? Well, Magneto would easily challenge him for that spot, and some might say he's long ago won it. And for good reason. Magneto has a great, compelling story that you can understand and relate to. He has creative and innovative powers. And there are so many stories you can tell about him, from the big grand epics, to the intimate character studies.

Maleficent - 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 did not look forward to the movie starring Angelina Jolie. I thought 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! The classic Maleficent remains one of my favorites no matter how hard Disney has tried to tarnish her.

The Monarch - This will sound silly, but were it a real thing, supervillain would be my career choice. The Monarch is every single supervillain cliche there is completely dissected and subverted to show us all just how sad and pathetic these people really are. I just love him. He can be quite the badass though, in fact he's pretty much hurt or emotionally destroyed anyone he's ever menaced who wasn't connected to Rusty Venture. But what I enjoy most about him is that he's not very good at being a supervillain, but he loves it and endlessly pursues it, no matter how much bad luck (self-inflicted or otherwise) stands in his way. Pursue your dreams, people. The Monarch is my spirit animal.

Antonio Salieri - He makes the list because he is as true to history as Shakespeare's Macbeth. 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.

Spike Spiegel - What I love most about Spike is how little is spelled out for us. You need to pay attention to more than what he says, but the situation as a whole, his body language and all sorts of subtle mannerisms to know what's really on his mind because Spike plays it close to his chest. He's not exactly straight forward. You look at him and he's the coolest person in the room without really trying to be, mostly because he doesn't care what others think. A man with a past, even a dark past who is a better person than he gives himself credit for. He is laid back, easy going, but can and does get serious when the need arrives, or when the phantasms of his past appear. His attitude in life (whenever Julia and Vicious aren't involved) is "whatever happens, happens" and I often have that same attitude. Why worry about things you can't change? And as much as he pretends he is cold and unfeeling, and only after his bottom line, he is full of mercy and compassion for others. I can relate to these things.

Tamora - 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.

Mary Jane Watson - I was surprised, also. I sat down and thought about it, and Spidey himself was a hair away from beating Mary Jane out for this slot. But the more thought I gave it, I discovered that MJ, herself, was my favorite character in the franchise. I think what I love most about Mary Jane is how she took not just Peter, but everyone involved both on and off the page by surprise. She wasn't created to be the Great Love of Peter Parker's life, she just grew into it. When "Spider-Man" first started, it was all about the triangle with Betty and Liz, then Betty and Peter split and Liz faded away after graduation. Stan Lee then developed Gwen Stacy with the express purpose of being Peter's love interest, and eventually marrying him just as Lois Lane was created for the express purpose of being this for Superman. Things did not work out. He and John Romita also developed Mary Jane and she, like a force of nature quickly ended up deciding her own destiny. It wasn't supposed to happen, but time and character development, particularly at the hands of Gerry Conway, Tom DeFalco, and even Stan himself developed Mary Jane in a manner that didn't feel forced. She and Peter both had to grow up and grow into the type of people who would be right for each other. They were friends, first. I think this is why most of the adaptations of Mary Jane, be they the 90's cartoon, Ultimate Spider-Man, or the Raimi movies never worked for me because she is the franchise's Lois Lane in those. I understand that recreating what happened in the comics would require a lot of long term patience and seeding, but that's exactly why it worked. That's what makes MJ unique, she wasn't tailor-made for Peter nor he for her. It was organic, it was real.

Walter White - A High School chemistry teacher, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has a pregnant wife and a son with cerebral palsy, is diagnoses with terminal lung cancer... not wanting to leave his family with medical bills, and to make sure they're taken care of, he teams up with a former student of his to cook methamphetamine... and that's how it starts, as a "victimless crime". But there's no room in this business for nice people, and slowly Walt becomes more ruthless, and more monstrous. Known to the DEA and the criminal community by the alias "Heisenberg", he transforms from unassuming High School teacher into the most ruthless and evil person in the series. Or maybe it wasn't a transformation, maybe that was all already there, and it came out. Walt has many chances to get out, other options come along that could solve his problems, but he rejects them all out of pride, and continues to build his business, leaving many bodies in his wake. Whatever his intentions, it doesn't matter and the show never sugarcoats him; Walter White is a terrible person; a bastard who destroys the very thing he sets out to save, all because he is a prideful narcissist who blames everyone else for his own failings. You weren't meant to root for him. I felt sympathy for him at first, I grew to hate him as well as pity him. But I never wanted to be him, he was a complete subversion of the badass outlaw alpha male fantasy in ways others on this list aren't, and all while never feeling preached to, and keeping him a fascinating, three-dimensional character. Yes, he loves his family... but just because he's not a one-dimensional cartoon character doesn't mean he's not one of the most evil people ever to exist in the realm of fiction. I raise a glass to Walter White, I would say that I hope you are some day topped, but the thought is frightening. Oh yeah, and he was played by Bryan Cranston... the dad from "Malcolm In the Middle".

Saturday, January 17, 2015

I amar prestar aen. Han mathon ne nen. Han mathon ne chae. A han noston ned gwilith…
The power of the Enemy is growing. Michael Bay will use his puppet, Zack Snyder, to destroy DC Superheroes. “Dawn of Justice” has been unleashed…

I've been referring to Zack Snyder as "Michael Bay Jr." for a few years. Lord knows I hate to insult Sauron and Saruman by comparing them to these two dunces, but this idea struck me and it had to be done. So, I asked my dear friend, Will, he of the mad 'shop skills, and he whipped this up.

In Tolkien's world, evil cannot comprehend or create true beauty. Only pervert that which already exists... Melkor's song was discord, after all. I think Bay and Snyder fall into this idea nicely. So does Jeph Loeb.

Friday, January 16, 2015


When I started this blog, I had written up an entry titled "Top Twenty Favorite Films". Because arbitrary lists like that are fun. Considering that it's been five years since I had started this blog, I thought it might be fun to revise it since times change, so do opinions, movies stand or fall to the test of time. Yadda yadda yadda.

After hours of thinking, considering, and weighing my options and the movies I have seen since, old or new, I abandoned the idea of revising the list because only one movie fell out of my Top Twenty. Only one.

And the film that I rejected was.... *drumroll*

The Dark Knight - I will admit it, I bought into the Nolan hype hook, line and sinker. Don't get me wrong, I still believe this is a pretty good movie. Heath Ledger and Aaron Ekhart turn in fantastic performances. But the more I look back on this movie, the more it begins to fall apart. Very few of the characters have actual conversations with each other that aren't exposition, or these gigantic philosophical diatribes. It's a film that looks and sounds a lot deeper than it actually is. Not to say I don't like it, because I do. But it's not standing the test of time.  It's a good comic book movie, but we have since gotten better comic book movies. It's a good crime drama, but it is by no means one of the best crime dramas.

And no, it's not #21. It's probably in the lower half of my Top Fifty at this point. Sorry, Batman...

As for what's replacing it...


Amadeus - Yes, I had seen "Amadeus" before 2010, and I liked it, but it had been so long I didn't quite appreciate it at the time. I bought the Blu-ray a few years back and have watched it a few times since then and this movie is just spellbinding. This is a movie that, without fail, captivates me every single time I watch it. My eyes never leave the screen, it is sublime. I think the character of Salieri is one of the most fascinating in the history of film. For me, his struggle with dealing with his utter contempt of Mozart the man, juxtaposed with his adoration of Mozart the artist, was simply brilliant. Salieri shows us what can happen if we become obsessed with trying to be better than people with true genius, instead of just trying to be better than ourselves - improving what we do, without focusing on others. He is "us" and also a cautionary tale.

A Brief History of the Best Picture

Or, where I think Oscar got it right, and Oscar got it wrong.

The film at the top of each category was the winner.

It Happened One Night
The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Flirtation Walk
The Gay Divorcee
Here Comes the Navy
The House of Rothschild
Imitation of Life
One Night of Love
The Thin Man
Viva Villa!
The White Parade

This year, Oscar got it right. "It Happened One Night" is a great film. A real classic. One of Clark Gable's all time best.

Gone with the Wind
Dark Victory
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Love Affair
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Of Mice and Men
The Wizard of Oz
Wuthering Heights

Ooh, this is a tough one. I'm going to have to say that Oscar got this one right too. "Gone With the Wind" is a great, American classic. But so is "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and a little movie called "The Wizard of Oz." All of these movies had an impact and are still a part of pop culture today.

How Green Was My Valley
Blossoms in the Dust
Citizen Kane
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Hold Back the Dawn
The Little Foxes
The Maltese Falcon
One Foot in Heaven
Sergeant York

You all know this one. But this was definitely one of Oscar's first great blunders. Does anyone still talk about "How Green Was My Valley?" No. But we all know "Citizen Kane." Even if you don't love it, you know it. Orson Welles' masterpiece is remembered, referenced, and parodied even to this day. But, we all know the politics. William Randolph Hearst tried hard to destroy this film and bury Welles.

I would also like to add that "The Maltese Falcon" was a great film as well. I love Humphrey Boggart, and it was much better than "How Green Was My Valley." That being said, I think it's a good thing that it didn't go down in history as the movie that took Orson Welles' Oscar.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Heaven Can Wait
The Human Comedy
In Which We Serve
Madame Curie
The More the Merrier
The Ox-Bow Incident
The Song of Bernadette
Watch on the Rhine

This is such a no-brainer. "Casablanca" has had just as much of a cultural impact as "Citizen Kane." It also had a lot to say on the themes of love and sacrifice against the backdrop of the most terrible war ever fought. I'm not just saying this because it's my all time favorite film, but it deserved this.

All About Eve
Born Yesterday
Father of the Bride
King Solomon's Mines
Sunset Boulevard

Depending on what day you ask me, I'll have a different answer for this one. "All About Eve" was terrific. So was "Sunset Boulevard." You couldn't find two films more diverse that both deserve this award just as much as the other. I guess, either way, Oscar would have made the right decision.

On the Waterfront
The Caine Mutiny
The Country Girl
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Three Coins in the Fountain

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. "The Caine Mutiny" is terrific too, but if you have never seen "On the Waterfront" then shame on you.

Around the World in 80 Days
Friendly Persuasion
The King and I
The Ten Commandments

Sorry, Oscar. You got this one wrong. It should have been "The Ten Commandments." You don't need to be religious to enjoy this movie. Well made, well crafted, and Charleton Heston's all time best.

Lawrence of Arabia
The Longest Day
The Music Man
Mutiny on the Bounty
To Kill a Mockingbird

This was a tough year, but Oscar got it right. "Lawrence of Arabia" is one of the most epic movies I have ever watched. I'll take this further and say that you don't just watch it, you experience it. You feel like you're in the desert, the movie really immerses you.

Tom Jones
America, America
How the West Was Won
Lilies of the Field

And we did so well the previous year. "Tom Jones" sucked, should have been "Cleopatra."

In the Heat of the Night
Bonnie and Clyde
Doctor Dolittle
The Graduate
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Ouch... this was a tough one. A very tough one. I cannot fault the pick here, "In the Heat of the Night" is a great, and relevant movie. Sydney Poitier was amazing. However, "The Graduate" is another classic, as is "Bonnie and Clyde." Now, my personal favorite out of these would have to be "Bonnie and Clyde." But, if I were an Academy voter this year, well... I don't know. I really don't.

Five Easy Pieces
Love Story

As fun as "MASH" was, this was really a no-brainer. "Patton" is a favorite of mine. It earned this award.

The Godfather
The Emigrants

1972 was a year of great movies, but again, this was a no-brainer. Like "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," and "Gone With the Wind" before it, "The Godfather" is a masterpiece. It's opera. If you don't think so, go watch Michael Bay's latest turd, you mouth-breathing troglodyte.

The Godfather Part II
The Conversation
The Towering Inferno

Another tough one. I love "The Godfather Part II" and I love "Chinatown." This was before Roman Polanski raped a child, so he wasn't the creep he is now yet. While both are amazing films on every level, well, I think Oscar did the right thing this year. "The Godfather Part II" was the final chapter on an epic duology, and another one was never, ever made. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Barry Lyndon
Dog Day Afternoon

Oh... Oscar, don't do this to me. This is another year where I would have a tough time voting. God, I love the 70's. Is there any doubt yet, that this was Hollywood's greatest decade? As much as I personally love "Jaws," I think Oscar got it right again.

All the President's Men
Bound for Glory
Taxi Driver

Oscar got it wrong. It should have been Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver." I have no problem with "Rocky" but even "All the President's Men" would have been a better choice.

Annie Hall
The Goodbye Girl
Star Wars
The Turning Point

Now comes the part where I lose friends and alienate people. Oscar got it right. "Annie Hall" is an amazing film. Amazing. It's smart, well acted, well written, expertly directed. Yes, I like the original "Star Wars" movie as well, but I don't think it was Best Picture material at all. It was a popcorn flick, and I like popcorn flicks, but I also loved "Die Hard" and I don't even think that was Best Picture of the year.

Kramer vs. Kramer
All That Jazz
Apocalypse Now
Breaking Away
Norma Rae

Good lord, this was just embarrassing. "Apocalypse Now" all the way. I'm not saying anymore for fear of dignifying this atrocity.

Ordinary People
Coal Miner's Daughter
The Elephant Man
Raging Bull

Two in a row, you're not doing too well now, Oscar. It should have been Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull." "Ordinary People" just sucks.

The Killing Fields
A Passage to India
Places In the Heart
A Soldier's Story

This is such a no-brainer. If you don't like "Amadeus", chances are you're an imbecile.

Dances with Wolves
The Godfather Part III

Sigh... Martin Scorsese again is snubbed when "Goodfellas" is shut out. Detecting a theme yet, people? I hated "Dances With Wolves" and I hate that it put Kevin Costner on the map.

The Silence of the Lambs
Beauty and the Beast
The Prince of Tides

The very first time an animated movie got nominated for Best Picture. That being said, as great as "Beauty and the Beast" is, you have to give it to "The Silence of the Lambs" which really re-defined thrillers. Not to mention the landmark performances turned in by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.

Schindler's List
The Fugitive
In the Name of the Father
The Piano
The Remains of the Day

Oscar got it right. If you disagree, you're either anti-semitic, an imbecile, or both. 'Nuff said.

Forrest Gump
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption

Oy... just... oy. This one actually physically angers me. They got it so horribly wrong. If I were an Academy member, I'd have cast my vote for Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." But take that away and you have "The Shawshank Redemption" which is also infinitely better than "Forrest Gump." I don't get "Forrest Gump" I mean, if people want to root for a movie about idiots, we've still got "Pulp Fiction."

The English Patient
Jerry Maguire
Secrets & Lies

A lot of great movies are being snubbed this decade, aren't they? Should have been "Fargo." Oscar got it wrong. And as for "The English Patient," I agree with Elaine Benes on this one:

As Good as It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential

No... good god, no. I will never understand the popularity of "Titanic" and I'll never forget how badly I wanted James Cameron to get booed off stage when he declared himself "the king of the world." It should have been "L.A. Confidential"

Shakespeare in Love
Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line

This was a good year, but I'm going to shock some of you and say that Oscar got this one right. I adore "Shakespeare In Love." It was a film that really moved me. I know that "Saving Private Ryan" is the favorite among most, but it peaked in its first twenty minutes and I didn't really care for what happened after that powerful introduction on D-Day.

A Beautiful Mind
Gosford Park
In the Bedroom
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge!

Good lord, no. Oscar messed up again. I'd have given it to "Lord of the Rings." I also give LOTR a lot of credit for bringing intelligence to the blockbuster films. Before this, they were mostly pretty stupid and just used as exercises in SHINY!

Gangs of New York
The Hours
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Pianist

Damn, this was a good year. I saw "Chicago" a while back, and I was impressed. I liked it a lot. That being said, if I could vote, I would have given it to "Gangs of New York." Once again, it seemed like Martin Scorsese's year, and once again he gets snubbed. "The Two Towers" was great, but the weakest of the trilogy. And as for "The Pianist" well, by itself, it's an amazing film... but I cannot vote for it in good conscience because of who directed it.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Mystic River

A tough year, but Oscar got this one right. Peter Jackson's achievement was amazing. I also really enjoyed "Lost in Translation" and "Mystic River."

Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck

Oh, fuck you, Oscar. Fuck you. It should have been "Brokeback Mountain" but they had to take the "safe" pick. Actually, I thought "Crash" was the weakest of the nominees.

The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

Oscar: Hi Marty, um, remember all those times I snubbed ya? Well, um, if I give you a statue for this movie that is no where near as good as the rest of your movies, will all be forgiven?

No Country for Old Men
Michael Clayton
There Will Be Blood

As much as I enjoyed "No Country for Old Men," Oscar really made the wrong choice here. "There Will Be Blood" was perfect. It was THE film of 2007. This was a terrible choice.

Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader

Again, Oscar failed. Out of these choices, I think "Frost/Nixon" and "Milk" would have been better choices.

The Hurt Locker
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

This year I was rooting for "Inglourious Basterds" but at the end of the day, I was in the "anything but Avatar" camp. Good lord, how I hated "Avatar." However, while Oscar didn't make the right choice... and there was more than one right choice, "District 9" and "Up" were great also, I am thankful it didn't make the wrong choice.

And I was also so happy to see James Cameron get his ass handed to him by the ex-wife he cheated on and was horrible to. So, while I don't think "The Hurt Locker" was the right choice, I do enjoy some old fashioned schadenfreude.

The King's Speech
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

I had no horse in this race, but it probably should have been "The Social Network"

The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Okay, this was a pretty weak year. But I think "The Artist" was the right call.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Now this is more like it! "Argo" was great, "Django Unchained" was great, "Lincoln" was great, "Zero Dark Thirty" was great! I would have given it to "Zero Dark Thirty", but I can't be too upset, "Argo" was amazing. Between "Argo", "The Town", and "Gone Girl", Ben Affleck is receiving such a resurgence. Too bad that resurgence will die when "Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice" is released and it won't be his fault.

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

Yes, 12 Years a Slave was a powerful cinematic experience and deserved it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

And the Oscar Nominations Are In

I will bold my choices for winner. The only surprise for me was that I did not expect "Gone Girl" to get snubbed to this extent.

Best Picture
“American Sniper”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”

Actor in a Leading Role
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Actress in a Leading Role
Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Actress in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”Laura Dern, “Wild”
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”

Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman”
Robert D. Yeoman, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lynzewski, “Ida”
Dick Pope, “Mr. Turner”
Roger Deakins, “Unbroken”

Costume Design
Milena Canonero, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”Mark Bridges, “Inherent Vice”
Colleen Atwood, “Into the Woods”
Anna B. Sheppard, “Maleficent”
Jacqueline Durran, “Mr. Turner”

Film Editing
Joel Cox and Gary Roach, “American Sniper”Sandra Adair, “Boyhood”
Barney Pilling, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
William Goldenberg, “The Imitation Game”
Tom Cross, “Whiplash”

Makeup and Hairstyling
Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard, “Foxcatcher”
Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
Music – Original Score
Alexandre Desplat, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”Alexandre Desplat, “The Imitation Game”
Hans Zimmer, “Interstellar”
Gary Yershon, “Mr Turner”
Jóhann Jóhannsson, “The Theory of Everything”

Production Design
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Production design: Adam Stockhausen, Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock“The Imitation Game,” Production design: Maria Djurkovic, Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
“Interstellar,” Production design: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
“Into the Woods,” Production design: Dennis Gassner, Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“Mr. Turner,” Production design: Suzie Davies, Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

Sound Editing
“American Sniper,” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
“Birdman,” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas“Interstellar,” Richard King
“Unbroken,” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Sound Mixing
“American Sniper,” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin“Birdman,” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
“Interstellar,” Garry A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
“Unbroken,” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
”Whiplash,” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Visual Effects
“Captain America: Winter Soldier,” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” Stephanie Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould“Interstellar,” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Writing – Adapted Screenplay
Jason Hall, “American Sniper”Graham Moore, “The Imitation Game”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”
Anthony McCarten, “The Theory of Everything”
Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”

Writing – Original Screenplay
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Razzies!

Here are this year's Razzie nominees. My choices are bolded.

Worst Picture
Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Left Behind
The Legend of Hercules
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age of Consent
Worst Actor
Kirk Cameron - Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Nicolas Cage - Left Behind
Kellan Lutz - The Legend of Hercules
Seth MacFarlane - A Million Ways to Die in the West Adam Sandler - Blended

Worst Supporting Actor
Mel Gibson - The Expendables 3 Kelsey Grammer - The Expendables 3, Legends of Oz, Think Like a Man Too, Transformers: Age of Consent
Shaquille O'Neal - Blended
Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Expendables 3
Kiefer Sutherland - Pompeii

Worst Actress
Drew Barrymore - Blended
Cameron Diaz - The Other Woman and Sex Tape
Melissa McCarthy - Tammy
Charlize Theron - A Million Ways to Die in the West Gaia Weiss - The Legend of Hercules

Worst Supporting Actress
Cameron Diaz - Annie
Megan Fox - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Nicola Peltz - Transformers: Age of Consent
Susan Sarandon - Tammy
Brigitte Ridenour (nee Cameron) - Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas

Worst Director
Michael Bay - Transformers: Age of Consent Darren Doane - Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Renny Harlin - The Legend of Hercules
Jonathan Liebesman - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Seth MacFarlane - A Million Ways to Die in the West

Worst Remake, Rip-off or Sequel
Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?
The Legend of Hercules
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age of Consent
Worst Screen Combo
Any Two Robots, Actors (Robotic Actors) - Transformers: Age of Consent Kirk Cameron and His Ego - Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel - Sex Tape
Kellan Lutz and Either His Abs, His Pecs or His Glutes - The Legend of Hercules
Seth MacFarlane and Charlize Theron - A Million Ways to Die in the West

Worst Screenplay
Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Left Behind
Sex Tape
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age of Consent
Redeemer Award
Ben Affleck - from Gigli to Argo and Gone Girl Jennifer Aniston - from four-time Razzie nominee to Cake
Mike Myers - from The Love Guru to directing Supermensch
Keanu Reeves - from six-time Razzie nominee to John Wick
Kristen Stewart - from six-time Razzie winner for Twilight to Camp X-Ray

Monday, January 12, 2015

Agent Carter

I think I will start out by admitting that I went into this with a major chip on my shoulder. I expected to hate it, but instead I received a gigantic apology for "Special Snowflake and The S.H.I.T. Squad". Now, I will say this, nothing is forgiven. When you create the worst television series I have ever seen, there will never be forgiveness. That being said, I really enjoyed the two-hour premiere of "Agent Carter".

Hayley Atwell is great, the character is great. The focus is tight, and I like how she’s a person first and an action hero second (although she can kick your ass). This is NOT a repeat of Special Snowflake where a beloved character was rendered impotent and the surrounded by a squad of idiots. At least thus far.

The ball could be dropped as the season progresses, but I like Peggy Carter. I like Howard Stark. I like Jarvis. Even her sexist, chauvinistic co-workers at the SSR (who reflect the very real times of post-war America) work better as you are intended to dislike them, as opposed to hating them because they are poorly written and acted.

There is no nepotism on the part of the production team this time and it shows. The showrunners have a track record, they have earned their positions. It's also nice to see the Russo brothers involved after the terrific work they did on "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". We have a team who knows what they're doing, who've proven their chops, and what a difference it makes.

Long story short, "Special Snowflake and The S.H.I.T. Squad" is still awful and if you enjoy it than chances are you're a cretin and I hate you; but "Agent Carter" has quickly won me over. I'm also now cautiously optimistic for the Netflix's Marvel shows.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Nothing to really discuss on my end today, but for those of you who have not heard him, when it comes to Michael Bay, Mark Kermode is my spirit animal.