Friday, December 21, 2012

My Top 10 Favorite Christmas Movies

We’re four days from Christmas—it’s practically here! And what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t share my top 10 Christmas movies? Granted, most of them usually wind up on everybody’s top 10 list, but I figure I’ll share my reasoning while I’m at it.

10.  It’s a Wonderful Life
It had to make the list as a matter of principle. Sickly sweet though it may be (darn you, Capra!), it’s still a holiday classic, and you can’t go wrong with Jimmy Stewart. “Mary! The kids! Zu-Zu’s petals!” Nevertheless, I’ll admit he wasn’t very believable as a teenager.

9. Jingle All the Way
Put the cookie down—NOW!”
Putting action star Arnold Schwarzenegger in a kid-friendly movie isn’t a new concept. However, unlike Junior and Kindergarten Cop, this one is actually funny. Of course, having Sinbad as his foil and Phil Hartman as his smarmy neighbor helps, and the absolutely ridiculous ending (“It’s Turbo Time!”) is actually rather epic. Besides, the film does a great job illustrating the madness of holiday shopping, and throwing Arnold Schwarzenegger into that chaos really isn’t much of a stretch for him. He even gets to punch a reindeer.

8. Just Friends
Chubby nerd-turned-smug playboy Ryan Reynolds unintentionally finds himself home for the holidays and decides to win the heart of the girl who friend-zoned him in high school. It’s pretty straightforward, but it has some of the funniest gags since Chevy Chase first greased a saucer (if you like watching Ryan Reynolds get hurt, this is the movie for you), and as a guy who’s all-too-familiar with the friend zone, I could relate pretty easily to Reynolds’ character. It’s surprisingly sweet and features some great performances from Reynolds, Anna Faris, Amy Smart and the devious Chris Klein. Plus, for added holiday fun, try taking shots every time you see the group of Christmas carolers.

7. A Christmas Story
No matter how old you are, or in what era you grew up, you can find something to relate to in A Christmas Story, whether it’s the childhood longing for the ultimate Christmas present, the humiliation of double dog dares or the realization that the secret message you’ve been waiting to hear on the radio was really just an advertisement. This film would rate higher on the list except for a few slow points, but it’s still one of the best Christmas movies I’ve ever seen. And the scene at the mall with “Santa” . . . oh, wow . . . “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid. Ho . . . ho . . . ho . . .”

6. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
If ever there were a movie that encapsulated everything that could possibly go wrong at Christmastime, by golly, this is it. Chevy Chase’s manic enthusiasm for the holiday swiftly turns to boiling rage, but still he obsesses over how to make his Christmas perfect, even when fate conspires against him and relatives become too much to handle. This film bombards the viewer with one gag after another, and right when you think it’s over, it wraps up one final loose end with a resounding BOOM. The film runs the risk of being too over-the-top, and although it does cross that threshold several times, you know what you’re getting into when you see the National Lampoon header. Besides, there’s no denying this film is fun to watch, if for no other reason than "SQUIRRRRRRRRREL!!!!"

5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
There’s that one moment—everybody remembers it—when the Grinch sneaks into the little Whos’ room and finds them all fast asleep and lookin’ all adorable-like. The blood-curdling grin that spreads across his face as he stands at the foot of the bed still haunts my dreams to this day, and that alone would be enough to put this one on my Top 10 list. But it’s not just the imagery (the Grinch slithering around the living room is pretty terrifying, too); the music is fantastic, and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is a delightful and memorable tune. Then there is Boris Karloff (yes, of Frankenstein and The Mummy fame) providing narration with just the right balance of seriousness and playfulness. This is hands-down the best adaptation of the story. Ron Howard should be ashamed of himself for messing with a good thing. And failing.

4. Die Hard
Now, this is a Christmas movie. You’ve got great performances by Willis, Rickman, VelJohnson, Bedelia and Atherton, PLUS Run-DMC providing some upbeat holiday music. If this movie doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, I don’t know what will. Also, I think there are some explosions in there somewhere. It’s pretty dang legit.

3. The Santa Clause
Tim Allen was riding high at this point thanks to Home Improvement, so Disney execs thought, “Hey, let’s put this guy in a Christmas movie! It doesn’t even have to be good—his name alone will sell big-time!” Well, surprise-surprise, not only was it a Christmas blockbuster, but it was actually a good movie, to boot. Judge Reinhold is great as the dorky, weasely, sweater-wearing stepfather and David Krumholtz (who apparently hasn’t aged since filming this movie) is spot-on as the curmudgeonly, longsuffering head elf, Bernard. Throw in Peter Boyle as Allen’s boss and Eric Lloyd as the plucky child protagonist . . . yep, you’ve got a stew goin’.

2. A Muppet Christmas Carol
Believe it or not, this is one of the most faithful adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol I have ever seen, and it’s by far the most loving. The attention to detail in the sets is mind-staggering, and you really feel like you’re in the middle of a Dickensian setting, Muppets notwithstanding. Indeed, the Muppets, too, fit right in, and it becomes difficult to imagine Bob Cratchit as being portrayed as anything other than a green sock puppet. The human characters also play their parts well, and let it be known that Michael Caine’s Scrooge is absolutely perfect. He is selfish and bitter, and prone to yelling at the slightest provocation, and he hate-hate-hates Christmas. He even includes the line about wanting to see everyone who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on their lips roasted with their own turkey with a stake of holly through their hearts—how’s that for a kid-friendly Muppet movie? But seriously, he chews the scenery like a pro and displays genuine terror when Jacob (and Robert) Marley arrives. He even manages to say, “Why, it’s Fozziwig’s Rubber Chicken Factory! I used to work there as a boy!” with a straight face. And seriously, is the ending not the most heartwarming thing ever?

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
It’s the best of the best—the one movie you’re obligated to watch every. Single. Christmas. Yes, the opening music is more dreary than festive. Yes, some of the voice acting is a bit rough. Yes, it’s predictable and ends abruptly. Yes, there’s no way that crappy little tree actually GAINED needles. But y’know what, it’s still a great movie, and it still makes me smile no matter how jaded I am with the whole holiday season. And even though I could go on an epic rant about how *technically* Christ really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Christmas (it’s a secular, commerce-driven holiday based on a pagan festival that was co-opted by the Catholic church to draw in converts, and in all likelihood, Jesus wasn’t even born in December, but actually—oh, crap, here I go . . .), Linus’ limelight monologue gets me every time. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Now, in compiling this list, I thought of a few films that were actually pretty good, but had some flaws that kept them from making the list. So here’s a few of them.

Movies that came close but missed the sleigh (in order of not-badness):

The Nightmare before Christmas
Settle down, kids. I’m the first to admit Tim Burton did an incredible job with this film, and the scene where the kid pulls a shrunken head out of his stocking is pure awesome sauce. But for some reason, I just don’t enjoy it as much as I did when I was a kid. I love the beginning. I love the ending. But somewhere in the middle I get just a little bit bored. It’s still a great Christmas movie (AND a great Halloween movie), but it just barely missed my top 10. 

I actually liked this movie quite a bit (Zooey Deschanel as a blonde had a lot to do with it, as did the ever-awesome Peter Dinklage as the “angry elf”), but it didn’t quite make my top 10, either. Deschanel, Dinklage, Will Ferrell and Bob Newhart are absolutely superb, but some of the jokes seem forced. James Caan comes off as a little too surly, and Buddy the elf’s human brother is kind of a tool, especially when he’s trying to be likably plucky.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Richard Attenborough isn’t the best Santa Claus out there (his crooked yellow teeth and violent tendencies make him a bit intimidating), but Mara Wilson’s plucky, pragmatic protagonist is equal parts charming and depressing, just the way the character should be. She’s given up on magic and happy endings, but by the end of the movie (of course) she learns to believe again.  It’s a pretty good holiday film, and worth watching, but it’s just not one of the best.

It was a clever idea to set A Christmas Carol in a Western setting, I’ll admit. Jack Palance was an excellent pick for a crotchety old cowboy Scrooge, and the film had some truly inspired moments (the final gunfight with Ricky Schroeder of all people is pretty great), but the only thing worse than hearing Palance attempt to sing is the pathetic CGI snowstorm at the end.

Then there are the Christmas movies that make you wonder why they even bothered. The sad thing is, especially nowadays, most Christmas movies fall into this category. There are plenty of others that I absolutely hated (I’d watch Santa’s Slay over Must Be Santa, I’ll Be Home for Christmas or Prancer any day), but these are a few of the standout lousy ones.

Movies to make you yell, “Bah, HUMBUG!”

Santa Claus: The Movie
Ugh. Dudley Moore can ruin ANYTHING. This movie is absolute reindeer doo. It tries to be whimsical but comes across as patronizing instead. And, again, Dudley Moore. *shudder*

Mr. St. Nick
Kelsey Grammer is heir to the Santa Claus title. And he’s a shrewd, womanizing businessman. And he totally has sex, even though it’s a Wonderful World of Disney Christmas movie for kids. So, basically, you could call it A Very Frasier Christmas and ignore it altogether. Indeed, I think you should.

Surviving Christmas
What’s that? You’ve never heard of Ben Affleck’s attempt to eradicate Christmas cheer? Lucky you, because this movie was awful. I would say the fun stopped at the scene where James Gandolfini’s wife shoots cheap Internet porn (which her son inevitably watches), but I stopped having fun well before then. Just trashy. And icky. Very icky.

The Santa Clause 2 and 3
Remember what made The Santa Clause great? It was the story of a normal guy adjusting to becoming Santa Claus and trying to balance his family and professional life with his new duties as a holiday icon. The Santa Clause 2 attempted to bring back some of that conflict by having Santa’s powers fade and forcing him to seek out a Mrs. Claus, but despite some great ideas, it was ruined by a mentally retarded reindeer and the addition of various other characters (Mother Nature? Father Time? REALLY?!!). The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, however, was just a mess. The magical elements completely drowned out the human conflicts that made the previous two enjoyable, and David Krumholtz’s head elf, Bernard, was sorely missed. Eh, maybe more Judge Reinhold would have helped. Actually, he improves any movie.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch
Every Who down in Whoville liked the original a lot. But everyone who saw Ron Howard’s atrocious remake did NOT. Jim Carrey is pretty convincing as a live-action Grinch, but this movie is messed up from start to finish. The animated version is charming and relatively innocent, save for some serious nightmare fuel in the form of the Grinch’s sinister leers. The new one . . . ehhhh. Gross-out gags (like the doggy butt-kissing scene, for instance) and ridiculous subplots (such as the Grinch’s troubled childhood) fail to draw out any real laughs. It’s the only movie I ever saw that I wanted to walk out of, and I saw it when I was a kid. I repeat, I WAS A CHILD AND I WASN’T AMUSED. That’s saying something. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Roll 'em! My Top 10 Horror Films

It's Halloween once again, but as usual, I haven't seen a single trick-or-treater. Because I have nothing better to do, here's a quick rundown of some of my all-time favorite horror movies. Watch them all . . . if you dare.


(Was that over the top? I can never tell . . .)

The Crazies (2010)
-This was the first film to ever make me jump out of my skin in the middle of a theater. I'm serious here. The scene with the deranged father--so full of red herrings--is disturbing and awesome at the same time, and the morgue scene is absolutely terrifying. The ending is a little cliche, but it's still an excellent film that I recommend to anybody in need of a good scare.

-Oh, baby. This M. Night Shyamalan-produced thriller does the impossible: it makes a compelling story out of a small group of people stuck in an elevator. There aren't any known actors or classic horror tropes, but what you get instead is a very unique film with a very unexpected ending (but from Shyamalan, could you expect any less? Good or bad, you're going to be surprised). What a twist!

Drag Me to Hell
-Wonderfully trashy, this is a Sam Raimi film through and through. Alison Lohman embraces her inner Bruce Campbell in this one, going from her normal, prim self to a leering, grave-digging madwoman as her demon tormentor keeps screwing with her life. The gore is ridiculous but also quite epic, and the film features the absolute most incredible parking lot brawl ever shown on camera. I hope (WWE chairman) Vince McMahon was taking notes. 

-This one flips the classic "haunted house" story completely upside down, primarily because the film's protagonists aren't idiots. When they realize there's something wrong with the house, they don't decide to suffer through it; they get the heck out of there! Unfortunately, the ghost comes with them, which leads to the startling revelation that it's not the house that's haunted, but . . . eh, go watch it yourself. It is, in the words of one Ned Flanders, spine-tingly-dingly.

Storm of the Century
-"Born in sin . . . come on in!" Stephen King films are kind of a mixed bag. More often than not, he'll have a great idea, run with it as hard as he can and then tucker the f*** out at the home stretch, leaving everyone in the audience wondering what the heck just happened. Seriously--that's what his movies are like; if he can't come up with a conclusion, he settles for confusion.
Storm of the Century gets it right, and it keeps the audience in a vise-like grip from start to finish. This is no easy task, considering it's four freaking hours long, but it's absolutely brilliant. Plus, mega props to Colm Feore's bone-chilling portrayal of antagonist Andre Linoge. Linoge is smug and perpetually cool as a cucumber, providing an excellent foil for Tim Daly's character, Michael Anderson, who is the brave, honest sheriff who stands against him. And as film climaxes go, this one is excellent. 

The Invisible Man
-I do love the classics, particularly Dracula and the rather goofy Phantom of the Opera starring Claude Rains. But it's Rains' performance in The Invisible Man that stands out as the most chilling of all '30s horror films. Why? Because he's not a monster. He's not a soulless bloodsucker, nor is he a stitched-together, id-obeying corpse. Jack Griffin is a human being, and he is seriously unhinged as a result of being invisible for too long. Rains plays the role for campy laughs at times, but he's stone cold when he needs to be. The scene in which Dr. Kemp is driving away and realizes he's not alone is absolutely superb, and it shows just how creepy an invisible adversary could be. This is my favorite old-school horror film, bar none. 

Sleepy Hollow
-My favorite Tim Burton film (yes, even above Batman), Sleepy Hollow perfectly mixes gruesome violence with gallows humor to create a stylistic masterpiece. Johnny Depp is perfectly cast as the quirky police inspector (as opposed to schoolteacher in the original tale) Ichabod Crane. He's methodical, arrogant and prone to fainting, but his sharpness as a detective makes him an engaging character to watch. Better still is Christopher Walken (plus the wonderful Ray Park in fight scenes) as the Headless Horseman. With teeth filed down to points and his trademark hair greased up and wild, he's a frightening sight even in the pre-decapitation flashback scenes. 

Cabin in the Woods
-Joss Whedon, you've done it again. This movie takes literally every horror movie trope we've ever loved (or hated) and crams them all into one truly original horror/comedy experience. Now, even though I said "comedy," don't watch this movie thinking it's all laughs. It is dark. It is brutal. It is unfair. It will make you jump. But it also has that trademark Joss Whedon charm about it--that snarky wit driving the plot along and keeping your eyes open when you'd ordinarily be scrunching them tightly shut. Easily the best horror film I've seen since . . .

Jeepers Creepers
-I loved this movie as soon as I saw the trailer. It's fun, it's thrilling and it's extremely gory. It also features very strong performances from its two main protagonists, played by Justin Long and Gina Philips. From the license plate game they play at the beginning to the self-sacrifice at the end, they come across as authentic siblings. Also of note is "The Creeper," a truly loathsome movie monster who is nonetheless enjoyable to watch, especially due to his awesome truck and even more awesome license plates ("BEATINGU").

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
-"I'll swallow your soul!" Or, better yet, I'll watch this movie again and again. I'm watching it right now, actually; it's that good. Evil Dead II is campy to the point of being epic, and sharp-chinned leading man Bruce Campbell chews the scenery and spits it back out like a pro. The first Evil Dead was so bad it was funny, but this one? This one is just plain funny. And gory. Very gory. "You bastards--give me back my hand!"

Honorable mentions: Psycho, Pet Sematary, Halloween (1978 AND 2007--don't judge me), 1408, Red Eye, 'Salem's Lot (1979), The Mist, It, Let Me In, Alien . . . these are all great movies, and it was hard cutting them out of my top 10. But, alas, it had to be done. I heartily recommend any of these films, fo'shizzle.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

And, while I'm at it . . .

I wish I could say my decision to start drinking was all about peer pressure. To tell the truth, I purposely chose to drink when I did just so I could use that excuse. But that's not entirely true. I started drinking for the same reason we as human beings make any big lifestyle decision: I wanted to be different.

Why did I want to be different? Well, frankly, it's because I was dissatisfied with who I was (am, and ever shall be). I never wanted to be a drinker, but I was sick and tired of being who I was, because who I was simply wasn't satisfying. I wanted to be good enough so badly . . . I wanted to be the type of person who could fit in instead of hanging around awkwardly. I wanted to be the type of person who could cut loose and have fun. I wanted to be somebody different because the person I was (am, and ever shall be) . . . was the type of person who was a great friend, dependable, loyal, predictable, and absolutely undesirable otherwise. I drank to be different, in hopes that maybe another side of me--the spontaneous party animal that surely was locked in there somewhere--might be enough. But a drunk me is still me, only more annoying. It didn't work out the way I had hoped.

The worst part is that even though I certainly don't drink often, I find myself craving alcohol from time to time. I never had these cravings before, and the fear of such a need is exactly why I avoided alcohol for so long. I actually want to drink when I go out now, whether I'm alone or with friends, and that bothers me. I'm not drinking to have fun; I'm drinking to numb my pain--to alleviate my stress--to forget about life for a while, if I might borrow from Mr. Joel.

I can't take it back, but I wish I could. I wish I could pour the vodka, the whiskey, the Smirnoff Ice and the Rumple Minze back into the bottles from which they came. I can't say "I don't drink" anymore with a clear conscience--not without adding the word "much." Y'know, what's crazy is that I thought drinking would make me different, but really, not drinking is what made me different. Now I'm just another college guy, and why in the world would anybody find that appealing?

Again, as I've said in previous posts, I'm okay with who I am now. I know I've got a lot of neat possibilities yet to be explored, and I have no doubt I'll find what I'm looking for at some point, but I'm still cheesed that I can't have what I want (or at least what I think I want) so badly. Nevertheless, if I don't have it, I wasn't meant to have it. I'll get over it.

Good night, all!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Another spot of introspective rubbish . . .

I guess I just wasn't good enough. I thought maybe--just maybe--there was a chance this would work . . . that maybe I'd be seen for what I am and what I have to offer, but it didn't happen. I am unworthy.

That's how I felt at first. But you know what? It's sunshine and lollipops now. Okay, maybe not exactly--I'm still wrapping my head around things for the time being, so I don't know what the heck it is that I'm feeling--but I feel better about this than I thought I would. I may still have a lot of uncertain emotions to deal with in the days to come, but here's what I do know:

     First, I still hate the fact that I'm still a chubby, awkward dork. It stings so much to think how different things could have been if I weren't . . . me. But even though I want to hate myself, I know that won't get me anywhere, because . . .

     It's not me. 

     Really, it's not. I've come to realize that I actually do have a lot of things going for me. I'm actually a pretty talented guy, and even though my skills aren't especially marketable or "radically kewl," I've found my niche. When I am in my element, I am able to steal the spotlight, and I'll admit that I do enjoy the attention. I can write. I can draw. I can sing. I'm gradually getting better at all of these things, and at long last, I've been able to apply those skills not just to professional endeavors but to personal interactions as well. People are starting to notice me, and not just in terms of pointing and laughing. For the first time in my life, my eccentric qualities are actually making me more popular instead of serving to further isolate me from "the normal people." And even though part of me is still tearing itself apart because the right people--the right person--still hasn't noticed, I'm still okay. The sun will still rise in the east tomorrow morning, and I will get through my day, simple as that. 



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The 10 Best (and 10 worst) Comic Book Movie Villains

I love super-heroes, therefore I tend to love super-hero movies. But if a hero is only as good as his or her villain, then I figure I should pay tribute to my personal favorite comic book movie villains. Feel free to comment, discuss or debate, but remember that these are just based on my personal opinions.


10- Whiplash (Iron Man 2)
     Wow. As soon as Mickey Rourke shows up on screen, you know he means business. Although he's taken out a bit too quickly in the end (by crossing the streams, no less!), there's no denying the scene at the racetrack gave a lot of audience members serious goosebumps.

9- Mr. Rooney (The Road to Perdition)
     Exuding fatherly endearment as well as calculating evil, I honestly don't understand why Paul Newman didn't get an Oscar for this performance. Even his death scene is carried out with perfectly poignant grace and power.

8- Ra's Al Ghul (Batman Begins)
     Maybe I'm biased . . . I do love me some Liam Neeson. But he threw everybody for a loop in Batman Begins, making us think he was merely mercenary Henri Ducard, Bruce Wayne's mentor and friend. Alas, he was Ra's Al Ghul the whole time, waiting in the wings until Gotham was ready to burn. My only complaint? His big reveal needed an Ed Norton slow clap.

7- The Kingpin (Daredevil)
     Nothing against Colin Farrell's excellently evil turn as Bullseye (after playing wimpy, confused-looking heroes in all his big movies up to that point), but the late, brilliant Michael Clarke Duncan stole the show as the Kingpin of Crime. The first time you see him standing in the window of Fisk Tower says it all: this man is large and in charge, and smokin' stogies like a pimp.    

6- Obadiah Stane (Iron Man)
     With a name like Obadiah Stane, he has to be evil, right? But for most of Iron Man, he's just harmless old Obie, zipping around on his Segway scooter and being generally supportive of the injured Tony Stark. Then, next thing you know, he's full-on mustache-twirling evil, and it's awesome. Jeff Bridges, ladies and gentlemen.

5- The Joker (Batman)
     Two words: Jack Nicholson. He absolutely nails the role of the Joker, mixing outrageous comical antics (dancing to Prince while defacing timeless artwork is strange but somehow works) with some truly terrifying violence. But it's the scenes between the action that show how chilling Jack Napier really is. Frying one of his mob goons is disturbing enough; what happens after takes the cake.

4- Two-Face (Batman Forever)
     This is a man who had simply too much fun playing a maniacal villain. And that, my friends, is what makes Two-Face #4 on this list (because TWO-Face is DOUBLY awesome, and 2 x 2 = 4, and . . . oh, forget it). True, Aaron Eckhart showed us the subtler side, and certainly gave us a standout performance as D.A. Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, and Billy Dee Williams (Batman) is who he is, but Jones' raw energy and charisma makes him the best live incarnation of the character to date.

3- Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)
     "What a lovely, lovely voice!"
     Bane was a pretty big gamble for the final installment of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. He is a lesser known villain, half of his face is covered for 96 percent of the movie, and he's a huge bruiser of a man who is being played by . . . a 5'9", 200-lb. Tom Hardy. Plus, he sounds like this.
     Despite all these factors, however, there is something special about this version of Bane (not this version--good GOD, not this version!). Because his face is covered, Hardy must convey so much more emotion using only his eyes and his body. Somehow it works. Every time Bane steps forward, tugging at his lapels Kurt Angle-style as though he's about to throw down, the collective heart rate of the audience shoots up. When he leers down at Daggett, his meaty hand resting on the slimy businessman's shoulder, neither Daggett nor anyone else in the audience feels in control. And when Bane speaks, we all listen . . . mainly because we can't understand him, but also because he is saying something worth listening to. And to think . . . he was just the muscle.

2- Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man 2)
     Machiavellian and smooth, Doctor Octopus is a super-villain with class. He's out of his mind, of course, but that doesn't stop him from wearing vintage shades and a dark-green overcoat that never goes out of style with the bad guy crowd. What I enjoyed most about Doc Ock was that he blamed his arms for everything, even though most of the rotten things he did were his idea ("Butterfingers!"). Also, if you have any doubts at all that Doc Ock belongs among the top echelon of movie super-villains, check this out. After watching that clip again, I feel badly about not giving him the top spot. But, alas, that honor absolutely must go to . . .

1- Loki (The Avengers)
     I already said in a previous post that The Avengers is my favorite comic book movie, and as you may recall, I felt kind of badly about saying that because it's been out for less than a year. Nevertheless, I honestly believe it will stand the test of time just as my other favorites have, and so will its primary villain, Loki. This guy is everything a villain should be: he's both physically threatening and a criminal mastermind, plus his arrogance makes his ultimate defeat all the more satisfying. Most important, though, is that we can still feel for him and understand why he's doing the awful and occasionally quite stupid things he's doing. Loki is a villain with depth, visual appeal and humor, and that is why he's top dog on this list. Even when he's briefly imprisoned, it's obvious he's a few steps ahead of the good guys.


Who could ever forget Gene Hackman's epic, over-the-top portrayal of Lex Luthor? Or Liev Schreiber's sinister turn as the burly Sabretooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine? And in Superman II, how could we not kneel before Zod? Mystique, Toad and Sabretooth all brought their A-game to the first X-Men. Thomas Haden Church brought a surprisingly poignant touch to the brutish Sandman. Bullseye was giddily, murderously delightful in Daredevil. Jim Carrey redefined the Riddler for a new generation in Batman Forever, just as Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito redefined Catwoman and the Penguin (Batman Returns), and of course, there is Heath Ledger's brilliant incarnation of the Joker (The Dark Knight). But as much as I love these memorable super-villains, they didn't quite make the cut.


10- Parallax (Green Lantern)
     Behold . . . space diarrhea! Voiced by Clancy Brown, no less! Ummmm . . . what? Where is the creepy, insectoid fear demon? Is this doofy-looking puff of intergalactic flatulence really supposed to scare anyone? At least secondary villain Hector Hammond had the whole creeper thing going for him.

9- Jigsaw (Punisher: War Zone)
     Dominic West as Jigsaw . . . he's big, intense and scary-looking, plus he's not a bad actor--what could go wrong? Oh, wait . . .
     Seriously, it looks like WWE Chairman Vince McMahon wearing the puffy shirt from Seinfeld.

8- Poison Ivy (Batman and Robin)
     "My vines have a crush on you!"
     Oh, if only that had been her worst line . . . Uma Thurman completely dropped the ball in this one, although I enjoyed her early scenes as the nerdy Dr. Isley. Watching Batman and Robin fall head-over-heels for her to the point of absolute incompetence? Just painful to watch.

7- The Dark Phoenix (X-Men: The Last Stand)
     The Phoenix is fire and power and life incarnate and all that happy crap. Even when she goes dark in the comics, she only seems to get hotter and happier (especially as she's snuffing out entire planets full of Asparagus People). So why did we get this veiny, frumpy thing in the movie? Ick.
I sure hope there's a Visine for that . . .

6- The Devil/Roark (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance)
     One, it's not Peter Fonda. Two, he's a pudgy, older gentleman who is scary, perhaps, in the "Old Mr. Potter's going to shut down the old Savings and Loan" kind of way but not the "I'll swallow your SOUL!" way. Three, he drives a very, very boring vehicle. The Devil I know, he of the sex and the drugs and the rock and roll and the Oprah Channel, drives a hot rod.

5- Venom (Spider-Man 3)
     VENOM was actually quite cool in Spider-Man 3. Eddie Brock, on the other hand, was Topher Grace. Not that there's anything wrong with Topher Grace, mind you. Frankly, he might have been a very good Spider-Man had Tobey Maguire not been cast. And the film was going for a "Peter Parker's dark reflection" look, but it just didn't work. Topher was tiny, and although the comic book version of Venom had a twisted sense of honor, Topher-Venom was, to put it bluntly, just a douchebag.

4-The Green Goblin (Spider-Man)
     -The exact opposite of Venom, Willem Dafoe was actually perfect as Norman Osborn. His freak-out in the board room was exactly what I wish he could have been like as the Goblin. UNFORTUNATELY, what we got was a Power Ranger villain on a flying sled. Just . . . no. No. His worst line? "Sleeeeeeeeeep, ha-haaaa."

3- Magneto (X-Men)
     Bear with me here. Ian McKellen is a great actor. He was perfect as Gandalf. But he was absolutely weaksauce as Magneto. It's not all his fault, mind you--he's old, frail and a bit light in the loafers, if you get my drift--and none of these things describe Magneto (except the "old" part, but he aged better in the comics). To his credit, he got steadily better with each film in the series, to the point that he's doing WICKED epic stuff (like this, for instance), but still . . . where's Alan Rickman when you need him?

2- Galactus (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer)
     Soooooo . . . instead of the giant, purple-clad, horned humanoid we all know and love, we get . . . a cloud. And a horned shadow, to the film's credit, but . . . a cloud? It's Parallax without a voice--and Parallax was dull as paint drying in the Green Lantern film. Obviously Fox didn't want to expend its budget when clearly the plan was to make a Silver Surfer film with Galactus as the main villain, but I would have settled for a lowly stuntman (or Mel Gibson, ideally) traipsing across the screen in the Galactus get-up--the cheesier, the better! Anything but . . . a cloud.

1- Doctor Doom (Fantastic Four)
      I honestly don't know what they were going for here. Julian McMahon had the right look for Doom, but he seemed confused by his awful, indecisive script. His Doom wasn't exactly the comic-bookish Latverian dictator we were hoping for, but he wasn't quite right as a diabolical businessman, either. The whole bit where he has actual super powers instead of a suit of armor seemed forced, as well, as were his ill-defined electro-metal powers. Fox fixed this with the sequel, but unfortunately, the damage was done; Doom will go down in infamy as the absolute worst film portrayal of a super-villain.


Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor in Superman III) and Mr. Freeze (Batman and Robin) were silly, but I enjoyed their hammy acting regardless (honestly, Ah-nuld was the only thing in Batman and Robin even worth remembering). And, as much as I love Hugo Weaving, it was obvious in his portrayal of the Red Skull that his heart just wasn't in it. Also, I loved X-Men: First Class, but all I cared about was the dynamic between Xavier and Magneto. I couldn't have cared less about Emma Frost or the overly-Bacony Sebastian Shaw. As for the Abomination (The Incredible Hulk), Tim Roth was fine; it was the Swamp Thing ripoff he turned into that failed to impress. Finally, I love Watchmen, and frankly, Matthew Goode's Ozymandias was a very good villain. The only problem (and it's a big one) is that it is obvious from the very start that he is the one behind everything. Subtle Goode isn't; he looked evil AT ALL TIMES.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Post "AvX," is Cyclops more of an Angel than ever?

For better or worse, the biggest comics event of the year was "Avengers vs. X-Men." It was, frankly, everything dedicated comic fans know they are supposed to hate and yet they buy it anyway, simply because they want to see what will happen.

The premise of "AvX" is pretty straightforward. The Phoenix Force is the "Big Bad" of the series, and it's COMING TO EARTH!!!! The Avengers, Earth's Mightiest Heroes, are panicked. They recognize the Phoenix as a potentially planet-destroying threat and are desperate to keep it away. The X-Men, on the other hand, specifically Cyclops' uber-powerful Extinction Team (the most misunderstood of the misunderstood, and also the most dangerous), see the Phoenix as a chance to reignite the mutant gene that was snuffed out by former Avenger (and Extinction Team member Magneto's daughter) the Scarlet Witch. Plus, Cyclops has it on good authority (Cable, his son from the future) that Extinction Team member Hope is destined to host the Phoenix, and Cable typically knows what he's talking about.

The problem starts when Captain America decides to consult Wolverine about how to approach the Phoenix situation. Wolverine has just recently reopened the Xavier Institute (renamed the Jean Grey Institute) after a violent disagreement with Cyclops. There is a lot of bad blood between the two, and Wolverine is all-too-eager to tell Cap how irrational and militant Cyclops is now. It makes sense for Captain America to ask Wolverine for advice, considering Wolverine is doing double-time as headmaster of the Institute and as an Avenger, but he should have known to take it with a grain of salt. Instead, he decides to storm the X-Men's island headquarters and home, Utopia, and take Hope by force. Because, y'know, all they have to do is hide Hope somewhere where an omniscient being of psychic energy can't find her . . . riiiiiiight. Cyclops tells Cap to get off his lawn and this happens:


Now, thanks to Cyke's slammin'-hot telepathic girlfriend Emma Frost, the X-Men knew going into it that Cap wasn't going to take "no" for an answer, so skipping straight to the fisticuffs actually makes sense. The Avengers, however, see the X-Men as the aggressors and begin a full-scale invasion. Meanwhile, a separate team is sent into space in an attempt to stop the Phoenix from reaching Earth in the first place. Thor even throws his hammer at the massive energy-raptor, which is pretty hilarious, actually (did he really think that was going to work?). It doesn't work, so Tony Stark, in his infinite wisdom, creates a device that will absolutely, positively destroy the Phoenix.

That doesn't work, either.

This happens:

Yeah, great job, Tony. You and Wolverine could have just gone out drinking instead and this whole thing could have been avoided. But no. Excellent work, sir; now instead of ONE Phoenix host, who was actually meant to have it, we have five. Four of them, by the way, are dealing with some very serious personal demons that make them very bad choices to possess nigh-unlimited power. And then there's Cyclops, who actually handles it pretty well.

The Phoenix Five, as they're called, actually do great things with their power. They feed the hungry, abolish war, help the helpless, punish the guilty--all kinds of good stuff. But to the Avengers (and President Obama, oddly enough), it just doesn't seem kosher. After all, Wolverine tells them at every possible opportunity that Cyclops is a nutjob, and even though Rachel Grey did a pretty darn good job keeping the Phoenix under control, for some reason everyone assumes it's an uncontrollable force. So the Avengers keep antagonizing the Phoenix Five . . . pushing them, treating them like they're any other super-villains, and one by one, each starts to crack. Namor attacks Wakanda, causing unimaginable damage before the Avengers take him out. Colossus breaks stuff. Magik traps various Avengers in a hell dimension. Emma Frost mindwipes anybody who strikes her as particularly deserving of it. And Cyclops does nothing crazy at all, but he's still the one the Avengers (and many of Wolverine's "X-Men" at this point) see as the root of the problem. Professor Charles Xavier himself, too, is particularly disconcerted by Scott Summers' newfound power, and seems convinced that it will lead to no good. So he joins with the coalition of "X-Men" and Avengers and decides to put his former prize student down like a rabid dog.

The story culminates in the "shocking death" of Professor X at the hands of his first X-Man, Cyclops, who then turns into the Dark Phoenix and causes the excrement to hit the fan. Everybody is shocked. Cyclops is now, irrevocably, the villain fore'ermore. Take a look:

Hardcore, Cyke.
From there, Hope and the Scarlet Witch proceed to beat the Phoenix out of Scott and then declare, "No more Phoenix," dispersing the energy to restart the mutant population. So . . . yay. And yes, this is pretty much exactly what Cyclops' plan had been from the get-go, sooooo . . . instead of admitting he was right, the Avengers lock him away for his many "crimes," even fitting him with a ruby-quartz shock-helmet so he can't use his powers. And he deserves it for killing a defenseless Xavier--after all, it's not like Xavier stood any chance against the Phoenix . . . it was like shooting an unarmed man!

But wait . . . wasn't Xavier trying to completely mindwipe Scott? Hadn't he been goading him, prodding him, deriding him up to that point? He even snarls, "Down, boy!" at one point. Plus, Cyclops is under the corrupting influence of a cosmic entity. How is he entirely responsible for his actions? That "Get Out of Jail Free" card worked like a charm for Hal Jordan, so why shouldn't Scott Summers be similarly absolved? Wolverine has killed and killed again with no remorse whatsoever, and yet he's a staple of just about every team in the Marvel universe (if he joins the Fantastic Four, I'm giving up comics . . . but not really). Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch) nearly rendered mutants extinct, and killed countless mutants whose lives depended on their powers working (mutants who could fly, mutants who could breathe underwater, etc.). And yet she's a starring member of the new Uncanny Avengers series, which merges the Avengers with Wolverine's team of merry mutants.

The sheer commercialism of this comic would make Linus himself kick a beagle. 

The difference between Cyclops and every other character who has ever been put in such a position is that nobody likes Cyclops. Seriously. Many fans don't like him at all due to his straight-laced, conservative, by-the-books persona and even his fellow comic book characters think he's kind of a dick. Adding to the problem is the fact that Cyclops admitted multiple times that although he regrets killing Xavier, he doesn't regret his actions with the Extinction Team or the Phoenix Five because ultimately, his goal was met: more mutants.

The kicker is that even though Cyclops has been vilified (at least for now), even non-Cyclops fans feel that he was in the right throughout "AvX." He was the only member of the Phoenix Five who never flipped his sh!t, and he retained his humanity even to the point of removing Emma Frost's Phoenix powers when she threatened to destroy the earth on a whim (thank you, Kieron Gillen, for writing that excellent issue of Uncanny X-Men). Plus, his reaction when Beast tells him there are indeed new mutants is priceless.
"Get your filthy paws off me, you darn, dirty Beast!"
This whole "estranged son killing his father" motif seems awfully familiar, though. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 ended on pretty much the same note when a possessed Angel (calling himself "Twilight" because . . . ehhhh, why bother) broke Rupert Giles' neck. Does this look familiar?

Actually, Angel's had daddy issues since the 1700s.

This really unnecessary death did have the fortunate side effect of leading to Angel and Faith, which is one of the most enjoyable comics I've read in a while, and certainly the best comic in the Buffy-verse right now.

Angel is almost always penitent about something. He's a character driven by guilt and the hope of redemption. He had issues with his own father and he had issues with Giles (the whole "taking Buffy's virginity, turning evil and killing Giles' girlfriend" thing really lost him some brownie points), but he took that guilt upon his shoulders and he carried it, when he could easily have blamed it all on the demon inside him. And Angel and Faith is all about him redeeming himself in the only way he knows how: trying to resurrect Giles by any means necessary. It's a fool's quest, but Angel's a passionate fool, and passion has a way of making things work.

Passion is also why Angel is in this situation in the first place. Like Cyclops, he embraced the opportunity to take on incredible power in an attempt to make the world a better place, knowing from the start he'd have to make some serious choices and do some questionable things. The power he possessed had to be sacrificed by Buffy just as Hope and the Scarlet Witch sacrificed the Phoenix Force, for better or worse. And while under the influence of that power, he killed a man who was very much a father to him.  

Again, Angel, unlike Cyclops, is a character beloved by most Whedonites and the characters in his universe. This cuts him more slack with fans, but it doesn't make what he did to Giles any less horrifying. In fact, it's worse than what Cyclops did because Giles was not a threat to him. Cyclops acted in self-defense--he overacted, certainly, but his mind was at stake. Nevertheless, although he's playing it cool in his prison setting for the time being, Cyclops is definitely going to take his actions to heart. It's unlikely that he'll be trying to resurrect Xavier anytime soon (the Red Skull having Xavier's brain might be a problem anyway), but Xavier's death will definitely weigh heavily in his mind. And, frankly, it will make him even more fascinating as a hero, just as Giles' death has pushed Angel to new heights and lows alike. Being Cyclops, his outward attitude will likely be, "I don't give a fig--I was right and it all worked out," but that's because he's a lot like Christopher Nolan's version of Batman; he's willing to be seen as the villain if it means accomplishing the greater good. And that's what makes him awesome. 

On the subject of resurrection, if one reads the "AvX" tie-in Uncanny X-Men #18, it is shown that Cyclops very well may have brutally killed and immediately resurrected Beast at one point in the final battle. Sooooo . . . there's a very real chance that, had the Avengers not gone in guns a'blazin' and whatnot, either Xavier would not even have been killed or, alternatively, Cyclops could have resurrected him on the spot. Shoot, Hope could easily have done the same thing, but she didn't. Comic characters are silly, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Anti-Playlist

There are some songs I just can't listen to. In some cases, they're songs I hated from the moment they first tarnished my inner ear. Others are songs I used to like until they got overplayed. And overplayed. And overplayed. Some songs I just feel silly listening to. And still others I can't listen to because of the thoughts they stir up. Here's a playlist of six you'll never catch me listening to, with some context as to why:

"Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's

I really liked this song the first time I heard it. Though it was a simple song, its simplicity and emotional honesty set it apart from a lot of pop music at the time. Here's the problem: I was in college going for my Associate's degree at the time. I was logging about 100 miles per day. My tape deck did not work. I listened to the radio constantly. This song was played--constantly--sometimes multiple times on the same station within a few hours. It lost its charm VERY quickly, within about two weeks. I don't "hate" it in the strictest sense, but I can't listen to it anymore. Plus, my neighbor at the time, with whom a share a long and legendary rivalry, used to sing it--badly--all the freaking time. Nooooo thank you.
Besides, Delilah is a pretty name, but it has all kinds'a negative Biblical connotations.

"Duuuude! He finally passed out! Hand me the clippers--
he's going to be sooo ticked when he wakes up!"

"Fool in the Rain" by Led Zeppelin

I really hate this one. Like, hate-hate. It's dull, it's repetitive, it gets stuck in your head, and then, just when it can't go any worse, it turns into a very strange, fast-paced samba number with an excruciating traffic whistle sound that just. Won't. Stop. When I bought my mom a Led Zeppelin compilation CD for Christmas, I specifically sought one out that didn't have "Fool in the Rain" but retained all their good songs. Oddly, I found exactly what I was looking for (although it didn't have the wonderful "Houses of the Holy").

Because clinging to a metal pole during a thunderstorm 
seemed like a great idea at the time.

"Jump" by Van Halen

I'm starting to detect a pattern here. I'm not overly fond of upbeat music with a positive vibe. "Jump" is a synth-heavy disaster to my ears, which is perhaps the closest Van Halen has ever come to "bubblegum" aside from their cover of "California Girls." I'm not a huge fan of Van Halen to begin with, but this is just bad. As soon as I hear those opening electronic notes, I'm reaching for the tuner.

Kriss Kross'll make you jump . . . even though they 
have their heads screwed on backward.

"Fred Bear" by Ted Nugent

Have you ever really given this song a listen? The first time you hear it, it sounds pretty effing epic. The music is topnotch power rock, with some great guitar work. In instrumental form, I could listen to it all day. The lyrics, unfortunately, are what kills it.

I initially thought it was literally about a bear, which really killed its credibility when I first heard it. Years later, upon further research, I see that apparently Fred Bear was an outdoorsman, outfitter and media personality, which is very cool. The song, alas, is not cool at all. It is also vaguely homoerotic.

"Was I alone or in a hunter's dream? 

'Cause the moment of truth was here and now 
I felt his touch, I felt his guiding hand 
The buck was mine, forevermore"

Ermm . . . I don't want to know about Fred's guiding hand or what it is touching. Funnier still is the spoken monologue at the end:

"I hear ya Fred, 
Talk to me, 
It's all right 
Lets go hunting baby 
Say Fred, you go up that ridge 
And I'll go down in the swamp 
We'll get that buck."

Truly, it's a song of undiluted masculinity for the ages. Truly. And Kristin Stewart will win the Academy Award for Best Actress this year. 

Not even picturing this can make the song bad@$$.

"Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5

Okay . . . here's where we get into the ones I really can't stand. First off, Adam Levine has always struck me as a specific kind of @$$hat. The kind of smarmy, fiery showbiz liberal who acts big, talks trash and has an ego the size of a small continent. Second, listen to his voice. No man should be able to make that sound, and even if he can, he should keep it to himself (this coming from a guy who likes the Bee Gees . . . but it was the '70s, after all). Third, watch this video.

Aguilera is simultaneously hotter and more masculine. 
Odd how that works.

Now, what makes this song particularly upsetting is the fact that it is extremely catchy. But listen to it. Watch Levine's body language. All shirtless and smirking, he thinks he's evolution's gift to women (see what I did there?) and he's going to let EVERYONE know it. And he's going to get what he wants by invoking the holy name of Mick Jagger.

You know who has moves like Jagger? Mick Jagger. He's 70 years old, but he's untouchable. And this video looks less like a tribute and more like a parody. This song makes me think of all the creepy guys the impressionable young girls all want to be with, the controlling jerks who drain them of all the happiness and fun and dreams and ambitions they might have had otherwise. Now that you've listened to this garbage, pop in "Forty Licks" and hear how a real rock legend does it.
(DISCLAIMER: I will admit to, at times, singing along to "This Love" and occasionally inquiring if anyone is out there, because it really is getting harder and harder to breathe. But that was before the disco-influenced monstrosity that is "Makes Me Wonder.")

"Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" by Beyonce

This one dates back to 2010, when I attended my very first actual dance. There was one person and only one that I wanted to dance with, someone I had grown very close to although circumstances had kept me from actually expressing my feelings. She was involved in an on again-off again relationship with a guy, and it seemed like every time I got up the nerve to ask her out she'd be back with him again. At this point they were "off again," and I somehow talked her into attending the dance. When I saw her that night . . . she looked incredible. But, like me, she wasn't really sure why she was there or what she was supposed to be doing. We just kind of stood awkwardly by the drink cooler, and although I jokingly suggested that I'd dance if she would, nothing happened. That song--that abominable song by Beyonce--came on, and all her friends got up to dance. I thought that would prompt her to join in. I thought it was my chance. I thought that moment of closeness would give me the courage I needed to tell her how I really felt. And then, as I turned toward her to ask her once more to dance, seriously this time, she said, "Well, Chris, why don't you get out there with all those single ladies and dance?"
I stopped abruptly, stunned, and immediately smiled and said, "Nahhh," or something to that effect. She left. I stayed, in a daze. The moment was gone. 
I eventually decided to just go ahead and dance by myself, since I was there already. I threw caution and dignity to the wind and just made a complete fool of myself. It was caught on camera and posted on Facebook, and I ultimately turned it into a pretty stupid YouTube video. I wouldn't say I had a blast . . . if anything, I was venting my awkward romantic frustration into some pretty terrible gyrations. But it got me through the night. 
The thing is, I didn't want to dance with "all the single ladies"; I wanted to dance with her, and sometimes I think she wanted to dance with me, too. But neither of us knew how to ask, so all I have is speculation. And she's not single anymore.

So, that's why I can't listen to "Single Ladies."

EDIT: As of May 2013, there is a new addition to my Anti-Playlist: "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake. It's actually a very nice song, but the emotional context surrounding it is still a bit raw. In a year or so, I'll probably come back and add a funny anecdote about it, but for the time being, suffice it to say that I'll be changing the radio station whenever I hear it. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

My favorite comic book films (so far)

Right now it's just a list, but one I fully intend to flesh out over the next week or so.

10: Superman 2
"Kneel before Zod!" Seriously, how much more epic can it get? Although Jack O'Halloran's monstrous portrayal of Non (whose beard was unparalleled up until the NBA days of one Vlade Divac) will always be my favorite, all three Kryptonian creep-os beating the stuffing out of Superman made for an awesome film, indeed. Although Superman finally gettin' it on with Margot Kidder was . . . unsettling.

9: Hellboy
Guillermo del Toro had already proved his comic book film directing chops with Blade II (which was ever so much better than the other installments of the series). Hellboy, however, really let him go nuts with the prosthetics and the visual gags and the strangely steampunk reality he builds around his foam-rubber protagonist. On that note, Ron Perlman is deserving of particular praise because he is able to build such a likable, relatable human connection between Hellboy and the audience. As goofy as he looks, it's so easy to get caught up in his story that his appearance makes no difference. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is also an excellent (and very, very strange) film, but the first one set the bar really high. Also of note is Jeffrey Tambor, who goes from the hatable heavy to the very, very cool ally.

8: Daredevil 
The Director's Cut is better by a long shot because it eliminates some of the goofier elements and adds more action, but I honestly liked this movie a lot to begin with. Affleck is surprisingly believable as Matt Murdock, but it's the villains that shine in this one. Colin Farrell trades in his usual distant, troubled persona for a manic, snarling turn as Bullseye (brilliant casting), and Michael Clarke Duncan absolutely nails the character of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime. The first time you see him, standing proudly and coolly in the window of Fisk Tower, you know this guy means business and revels in his magnificent evil. Also, this is the film that introduced a lot of us to the glorious sound of Evanescence.

7: Iron Man
I loved Captain America, Thor and even Hulk (the Ang Lee, Eric Bana one, darn it! Not the one where Ed Norton looked like he wanted to go take a nap in his trailer rather than be on set), but of the past few years of Marvel's non-mutant, non-Spidey films, this is the one that ushered in the Avengers Initiative, and it is a thrill ride. Not only is Iron Man the ultimate symbol of Robert Downey, Jr.'s redemption as an actor and as a man, it brought humor back to superhero films without resorting to cartoonish buffoonery. Plus, look at Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger. When you first see him cruising around innocently on his Segway scooter, your first thought is, "Oh, it's just Obie, the supportive dork." Because that's what Jeff Bridges was typecast--he was never the villain. But for those who mulled over the sound of his name (OBADIAH STANE!!), even those who hadn't read the comics, it became clear that when this guy showed his true colors it would be explosive. And it was. That was a villain--the one you didn't see coming until it was too late.

6: Mystery Men
"Und a diet Pepsi with a little bit of ice." Oh, Casanova Frankenstein, you devil! This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, thanks in no small part to the ensemble comedic cast consisting of Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, Kel Mitchell, Wes Studi, Pee-W--er--Paul Reubens, Eddie Izzard and, oh yes, Geoffrey Rush. And Michael Bay, oddly enough. Not the most accurate adaptation of a comic, to be sure (where the heck is the Flaming Carrot?), but it has heart, and that's what puts it on my list. That, and, "We've got a blind date with destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!"

5: Batman Forever
How? How could I put this squealing, brightly-colored monstrosity on my list and leave out the Dark Knight trilogy? Simple. This one was the most fun, and, frankly, the best portrayal of Batman. First off, this is probably the only movie in which Batman doesn't straight-up tell the girl he's Bruce Wayne. That takes a lot of self-control for the old horndog, who freaking sleeps with Talia al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises. Val Kilmer, while not the perfect Batman, is the best we've seen so far, in my opinion. He has the big, strong build that Keaton lacked, the naturally deep Batman voice that Bale lacked and the self-respect Clooney lacked. Plus, the camaraderie between Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face and Jim Carrey's Riddler is screen dynamite. Their jewel heist and "Battleship" match are absolutely delightful, and the film has a dark tone (Riddler's humor is offset by his very chilling obsession with Bruce Wayne) without taking itself too seriously. The only weak casting is Chris O'Donnell as Robin (dare I say Christian Bale would have been better?) and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, the love interest. The older, smirking, earring-sporting Robin was annoying at times, and Kidman tried too hard to be vampish. Other than that, though, Batman Forever will "forever" (haw-haw) be my favorite screen portrayal of the Dark Knight.

4: Spider-Man 2
"Oops! Butterfingers!" Only Alfred Molina could have pulled off Doc Ock so perfectly. The build, the hair, the attitude . . . perfect. Tobey Maguire stepped up his game as Spider-Man, too, shedding some of the blandness and inserting more humor into his performance ("You threw away my comic books?"). And of course, more J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson--the best casting decision ever. This is the film in which Peter Parker really examines the consequences of being Spider-Man, most notably the loss of Mary Jane from his life as she finds his emotional distance to be too much to deal with. And again . . . Doctor Octopus!!!!

3: X2: X-Men United
The opening scene wherein Nightcrawler attempts to assassinate the president is creepy as heck, which is what makes his ultimate characterization as a meek, sweet-natured hero all the more enjoyable. Plus, Brian Cox is very, very hatable as the conniving General Stryker, a villain so sinister the Brotherhood must team with the X-Men to take him out. Seeing a controlled Cyclops take on the burgeoning Phoenix also kicked mega butt, and we also got to see both the milder and wilder sides of Wolverine. This movie expanded on an excellent foundation in the first X-Men and proceeded to best it in every way. The only complaint I have is that we didn't get to see a fight between Nightcrawler and Toad, who was no doubt nursing his blistered tongue somewhere.

2: Watchmen (The Ultimate Cut, preferably)
Settle down, irate fanboys and moviegoers. I know what you're thinking, how could this cult film beat out Nolan's entire Dark Knight trilogy as well as all three Spider-Man films AND Iron Man. Well . . . I really liked it. Zack Snyder paid enormous respects to the source material (lack of "alien" squid notwithstanding), directed a spot-on cast (although Matthew Goode's Ozymandias is a bit too easy to peg as the villain early on) and had arguably the most eclectic and wonderful soundtrack of all time (Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole and K.C. and the Sunshine Band all have excellent moments to shine). The script, by the way, is extraordinary in its reverence to the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, and is carried out to perfection by its actors. Jackie Earle Haley is Rorschach in the film, and even though the audience doesn't see his face for most of it, he conveys such raw emotion in his performance, and succeeds where Christian Bale failed miserably with the gravelly voice. Patrick Wilson's portrayal of Nite-Owl II is simultaneously pathetic and awe-inspiring. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan perfectly captures the senselessness and sensitivity of the Comedian.

1: The Avengers 
Part of me wonders if this choice is premature, if this pristine rose of comic book swashbucklery will lose some of its luster as time and small-screen, non-HD televisions take their toll and the novelty effect will wear off. But I've seen this movie three times, in 2 and 3-D, and I love it more with each viewing. It may not have been deeply psychological like Nolan's Bat-films, but it hit all the right emotional chords nevertheless. And it was fun.
That's the main thing--it was an exhilarating film that took a good 15 minutes to really get rolling, but once it did there was never a dull moment. Joss Whedon is to be commended for maintaining such a delightful pace of action, thrills and humor, along with the ever-difficult human connection.
The Avengers is one of those films that, statistically speaking, should not have happened (at least not successfully), but it is everything a superhero film should be and more. Plus . . . shawarma.


The Road to Perdition is the one I really wanted to add to the list. It has some of the finest actors of all time (Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci and even the wonderful character actor Dylan Baker), and they give it everything they've got. Also Thor, Iron Man 2 and Captain America (but not The Incredible Hulk), because they set the stage for The Avengers. The first X-Men was also a winner, thanks in no small part to the script by Solid Snake himself, David Hayter. V for Vendetta, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are also winners. And of course, the truly grand Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. They're excellent films, and the final installation was one of the best films I've seen this year, but they're not my favorites of all time. But, for the absolute darkest take on Batman, look no further than Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns. Nicholson's Joker, while not as "chaotic" as Ledger's, was ultimately scarier in his giddiness, and Returns had the absolute creepiest versions of the Penguin and Catwoman ever conceived.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - The Review by Chris Roll

The Dark Knight Rises
Review by Chris Roll

As The Dark Knight Rises begins, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is starting to feel his age. He hasn’t ventured out as Batman in eight years, since the Harvey Dent debacle. And, thanks to Dent’s not-entirely-true legacy as a champion of the people, legislation has been passed to keep violent criminals off the streets of Gotham. Batman is no longer needed . . . and yet Batman is always needed. 

The Dark Knight Rises is the conclusion of an epic hero’s tale begun with Batman Begins. And what a beginning it was. The first film brought legitimacy back to Batman’s public image, redeeming it from the blaring, Day-Glo nightmare that was Batman and Robin, and utilized a realistic setting and highly capable actors to tell the tale. Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception), while a surprising choice to reboot Batman's messy film history, crafted an excellent storyline with a strong beginning and a very fitting ending. 

Well-cast and developed villains aided the trilogy immensely. Batman Begins had Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and the cool-as-a-cucumber Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). As a father figure, Ra’s hit close to home as a nemesis later in the film. The Dark Knight took things to a new level, introducing a nemesis who was very different from Batman, but also disturbingly similar. The Dark Knight also gave us District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who was the other side of Batman’s coin (haw-haw!). He was what Bruce could have been in every respect, both good and bad (Two-Face, yo). None of these villains, not even the perennially-recurring Scarecrow (who cameos in The Dark Knight Rises, too), ever truly brought Batman down, though. Only Bane (Tom Hardy) could break the Bat.

Yes, it really does happen. Brutally. “I wondered what would break first,” Bane chortles as he manhandles the creaky, 37-ish Batman. “Your spirit . . . or your body!” At which point he heaves Batman up and breaks him over his knee. Yowch. Anybody who’s read the comics saw it coming, but even so, yowch. And the torture is only beginning . . .

The overarching theme of the film is legacy. Who will carry on the dreams and aspirations of Gotham’s major players? Batman has taken a shine to the sly cat burglar in town, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and he attempts to take her under his wing (please, stop me now before I make any more puns). Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) seeks out rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) as his right-hand man, but Blake, who acts as a Robin of sorts, prefers Batman’s methods over the constraints of law despite never donning a costume. Wayne Enterprises, too, has languished in Wayne’s absence, so Bruce Wayne must choose a successor for his company’s legacy, in the form of the lovely but mysterious Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). And we meet the heir to Ra’s Al Ghul’s legacy, too. Hoo-boy. 

We also see what many have called, tongue-in-cheek, “Occupy Gotham.” Bane and his crew cut Gotham off from all outside aid and dumps the social order on its head. Basically, the inmates are running the asylum (well, technically the inmates are running the prison, because Arkham is never shown. Probably so the Joker wouldn’t have to be accounted for), there’s chaos in the streets and the rich and the police and the politicians are getting their “just rewards” at the hands of the 99%. By “just rewards,” of course, they are sentenced to either death or exile. And since exile means walking out over thin ice, exile means death. Anyway, despite the mob rule, life in Gotham really sucks with Bane in charge. So Batman leads the police in a final stand against the Occupiers. And they win. And it’s awesome. And a whooooole lot of angry young liberals watching the film got a whole lot angrier. Delicious! Frank Miller would love it.

Christian Bale’s acting in the trilogy has been a mixed bag. His Bruce Wayne is easily superior to any other live action portrayals thus far, showing us the vulnerabilities as well as the strengths of the man behind the cowl. In this film, his vulnerabilities are amplified by injury, and he is forced to use a cane throughout the first half-hour of the film because of his ravaged knees. Bale’s Batman, however, is painful to watch at times, but always fun to laugh at. The voice is as silly as it ever was (the overdone voice was acceptable in the first film, as Batman was just getting started, but he’s had plenty of time to refine it. And yet he hasn’t!), and Bats gets to splutter, “WHERE ARE THEY?” once more. It’s all in good fun, but Batman is impossible to take seriously. Fortunately, we only see Batman for about ten to fifteen minutes. The rest is pure Bruce, which is preferable. 

In terms of supporting cast, Gary Oldman continues to be a good if slightly goofy Commissioner Gordon. He’s simultaneously very capable and inept, which is, I suppose, the nature of the character. Michael Caine’s Alfred remains Bruce Wayne’s greatest ally, but he departs the film very quickly (due to reasons I will not spoil here), and his absence is felt. It is no wonder that Batman’s darkest hour comes when he does not have Alfred in his corner, because Alfred is so much more than just “the help.” Alfred keeps Bruce’s mind in the game, keeps him alive, allows him some sense of normalcy and keeps him from going crazy in his isolation in the Batcave. Without Alfred, Batman starts to fall apart. Morgan Freeman is back as Lucius Fox, and he is delightful as always. And, of course, Joseph Gordon Levitt is good as Officer (later Detective) Blake. He’s a bit of a “Mary Sue,” but he’s engaging and believable, and every bit as unrelenting as Batman. Christopher Judge (Stargate: SG1) has a nice cameo as one of Bane’s goons, and Matthew Modine plays a cowardly police officer who has a shot at redemption later.

Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman (although she is never referred to as such, nor, alas, is she shown to own a cat) is nine lives better than Halle Berry’s litter box-fodder portrayal. Hathaway is naturally catty, and moves with just the right kind of indignant grace. But she lacks the quirky charm that won Michelle Pfeiffer acclaim in Batman Returns. She goes through the motions well, and is certainly not a bad Catwoman, but she’s not particularly memorable, either. Nobody leaving the theater afterward was talking about Catwoman; they were talking about Bane. 

Tom Hardy’s Bane is surprisingly effective. Although he lacks the bizarre charisma of Heath Ledger’s Joker and the noble badassery of Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul, he brings his own brand of menace to the story. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his performance is that he is never unmasked, save for a pre-injury flashback. Conveying expression with one’s eyes and muscles alone is typically not Oscar material, but Hardy puts forth a good effort. Of note is the 5’9”, 200 pounds soaking wet Hardy actually appearing to tower over other characters in the film. His physical presence is quite imposing thanks to the combination of serious bodybuilding and movie magic, and his first encounter is like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV (the worst film in the franchise, in my opinion) mercilessly pummeling Apollo Creed to death. Perhaps Bane’s only flaw, however, is his voice. Yes, his voice would naturally be muffled through his cumbersome mask, but he sounds absolutely ridiculous. He sounds a bit too British genteel, as though he should be wearing a top hat and monocle instead of a trench coat and combat boots. Indeed, listening to his very odd voice is reminiscent of the scene in Batman Forever wherein Jim Carrey’s Riddler adopts the voice and mannerisms of a blustery Brit: “Batman? Batman, you say? Coming for you?! Ho-ho-ho, HARUMPH!! HARRRRUMPH!!” Perhaps Bane’s voice was specifically designed to distract viewers from Bale’s raspy muttering.


The single biggest “Oh, crap!” moment in the movie comes when Batman learns that despite Bane’s dangerous agenda and leadership skills, he is not the mastermind; he is the muscle.


Of course, comparisons will naturally be made to May’s The Avengers, which was the biggest comic book blockbuster of all time. Some may say the two films are impossible to compare, but it can be done objectively.
Both films were years in the making, with earlier installments building toward a specific outcome. But, while The Dark Knight Rises was the end of the tale, The Avengers marks the beginning of a much bigger story (and considering how big The Avengers was, the next few films should prove very interesting). 

Both films are absolutely excellent. Both were made with a clear love of characters and source material. Both are exhilarating, with well-placed humor, great plot twists and dynamic performances. Both prompted lively discussion afterward. But The Avengers has a certain magic about it that The Dark Knight Rises can’t match. The Avengers is a fun-filled, superheroic romp from start to finish that never stops to catch its breath. The Dark Knight Rises is slower, more introspective, and doesn’t hit on the same emotional chords. When Bruce escapes from the pit, it’s awesome, but it doesn’t have the same “HECK YEAH!!” appeal as Iron Man informing Loki, “His name is Phil” before blasting the crap out of him. Batman flying off with the bomb isn’t as heartrending a self-sacrifice moment as Iron Man flying off with the bomb because Batman has an obvious way out (he’s Batman!). Bane getting shot with a f***ing ROCKET is awesome, but not as awesome as Hulk swinging Loki’s carcass around like a ragdoll. 

In closing, I must compare the two movies with yet another Batman Forever reference (for those who don’t know, it’s still my favorite Batman film). During a jewel heist, the Riddler holds up a diamond for inspection. “Here’s a good one,” he says, and he’s quite right. The diamond is flawless, an A+, to be sure. Then Two-Face shoves a diamond the size of a baseball in his face and declares, “No, no, no! There is a good one.” The Dark Knight Rises is a perfect conclusion to its series, and very nearly a perfect film altogether. But The Avengers is on a higher plane altogether. It’s bigger, it’s bolder and it’s more accessible to general audiences. And, for die-hard fans, it has more Easter eggs than the Cadbury factory.

My score: * * * * *