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The Heat

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 It was a terrible resume. He mentioned prison, and in Special Skills he said, “Keeping it real”.

I love Melissa McCarthy—the best part of the second best movie of 2011.
I hate Sandra Bullock—the worst part of literally everything.

Melissa McCarthy, Thomas F. Wilson, & Sandra Bullock, © 2013 20th Century Fox

Melissa McCarthy, Thomas F. Wilson, & Sandra Bullock, © 2013 20th Century Fox

Paul Feig–Bridesmaids–directed this from a woman’s screenplay. That means three out of the four most important people in the movie are women. In 2013! That is statistically improbable. At least there is Marlon Wayans to represent for men, but even then he’s not a white guy. Hell, Bullock plays an FBI agent whose boss is Latino. This is not a positive portrayal of white men, but it’s also not some over the top shot at them either. While Bullock and McCarthy star as Ashburn and Mullins, they are neither likable, nor relatable heroes. The only other woman in the movie is Mullins’ mom—original Saturday Night Live alumna Jane Curtin—who first appears by flipping her daughter the bird from her car. But the characters are funny. Especially McCarthy as the rough, local street detective Mullins.

I felt that Feig was aiming for an American version of Hot Fuzz, but instead of having two unlikely allies of varying skill levels, Feig had two equals. It was an unoriginal story and derivative of Hot Fuzz, but without the grand scheme. This would be like a better Cop Out—one comedic genius and one jackass—but without an interfering love story, and with more laughs. When an exceptional movie about women comes along, the media wonders if it signals the beginning of more female centric movies, but it never does. This was not an exceptional movie, yet it still succeeded financially. Hopefully this will signal greater sexual equality in everyday, average movies.

***

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The Ten Best Scenes From Not-So-Great Movies

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There will always been room for debate on which movies are bad and which ones are misunderstood. Everyone agrees that Arnold Schwarzenegger has done some bad movies—Eraser, Jingle All the Way, The 6th Day—but sometimes it gets a little more complicated, like with Total Recall. Paul Verhoeven fans, or to call them by their true name “apologists,” find merit in all of his crappy movies, lauding crap like Starship Troopers, RoboCop, and Showgirls—to be fair I thought his Black Book was one of the best of 2006. And I like some less-than-beloved movies: Club Dread, Daredevil, and the Jackass Trilogy. But what people can agree on is that a good scene is a good scene, regardless of where it shows up. In fact, sometimes being in a bad movie makes a good scene even better—like the excruciatingly boring Thomas Crown Affair remake that ends with all of the dopplegangers in suits with hats. So do not judge me if you disagree with my assessment of the movies at large, but do consider the following scenes:

Loc Dog (Marlon Wayan) brave in the face of a gun. © WB 1996.

Loc Dog (Marlon Wayan) brave in the face of a gun. © WB 1996.

10. Don’t Be a Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood – The “Do. We. Have. A. Prob-lem? scene. I provided a link to the scene in my review of the movie. I love the details in this scene, like the stencil of U.S.S.R. on the nuclear warhead. True, it should have said C.C.C.P., but I will take a threatened nuclear holocaust outside of a convenience store where I can get it.

Emmy Rossum in the foreground, © WB 2004.

Emmy Rossum in the foreground, © WB 2004.

9. The Phantom of the Opera. I hate Joel Schumacher as much, if not more, than the next moviegoer, and this was not a very good movie, but the sets were excellent and some of the songs were well sung. None more so the titular Phantom of the Opera. Way to go Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler, and organs!

8. Step Brothers—The Catalina Wine Mixer. Or should I say, it’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer! There are an absurd number of t-shirt designs based on this scene. I cannot think of even one other Step Brothers based t-shirt that does not focus on this scene. It has everyone in it, a happy ending, absurd character interactions, and lots of prestige.

7. Contact—Pre-credits sequence. Regardless of how you feel about the film as a whole, going back through time by zipping further and further away from Earth, while seeing it shrink and shrink, was awesome. The usage of silence was excellent. Watch and listen here.

Blade and some fools who are about to die. © Fox 1998.

Blade and some fools who are about to die. © Fox 1998.

6. Blade—Rave Scene. Can you hear that music? I loved that song, well I loved it for the duration of the scene, the full version is 12 minutes long. It is actually a remix of a New Order song, Confusion. In some ways it was the first comic book scene in a comic book movie. It also was the peak of Wesley Snipes’ career. I could not find 1 full clip, so here are 2: part 1 & part 2. There is some overlap, but it has that awesome song, so it is even more awesome than just one awesome scene.

5. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier–Dr. McCoy’s speech. Usually considered a waste of a great title, there was one breathtaking and thought provoking scene therein. It talks about only being able to make decisions in the present, and not torturing yourself by using what happens after to blame yourself. McCoy mentions this because he took his father off life support three days before a medical breakthrough that would have brought his father out of his vegetative state. Deforrest Kelley was at his very best.

Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kenobi take on Darth Maul. © Lucasfilm 1998.

Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kenobi take on Darth Maul. © Lucasfilm 1998.

4. Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace–the end fight scene with Darth Maul. Between this scene and John Williams’ score, America was fooled into thinking that this was a very good film. That song, Dual of Fates, still gets my heart pumping when it shows up on my Pandora channel based on film scores. Almost everything that was wrong with this film was gone from this scene—except the CGI environments, but they were actually pretty cool here. Even better is if you were to skip past the cuts to the Queen Amidala’s–Natalie Portman’s–story, and of course, to Jar Jar Binks—name withheld to protect Ahmed Best, oops.

3. Anchorman–Afternoon Delight. Sky rockets in flight. BOOM. Afternoon Delight. I cannot think of a better spontaneous song in the history of cinema. Who knew they could sing?

2. Star Trek: Generations–Kirk meets Picard. Horses and Star Trek? Somehow it works. Here is the 10 minute scene. It was everything that we had wanted from De Niro and Pacino in Heat, but didnot really get. Perhaps William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are no De Niro and Pacino, but they are two giants of their field. Shatner’s charm facing off against Stewart’s indomitable fortitude makes for a rewatchable treat.

Two of the three in the classic "Stake Scene," © Castle Rock 1995.

Two of the three in the classic “Stake Scene,” © Castle Rock 1995.

1. Dracula: Dead and Loving It–The Stake Scene. And this is my favorite scene from a bad movie. I have been brought to tears from this scene. Normally in a Leslie Nielson movie that is usually his job, but in this one it is just Steven Weber as Jonathon Harker and Mel Brooks as Dr. Van Helsing. So funny, this scene belongs in the original Naked Gun.

Something The Lord Made

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Vivien Thomas (Mos Def) and Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), Something the Lord Made, © HBO Films, 2004.

Vivien Thomas (Mos Def) and Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), Something the Lord Made, © HBO Films, 2004.

****

They say you haven’t lived unless you have a lot to regret. I regret… I have some regrets. But I think we should remember not what we lost, but what we’ve done.

This movie, directed by Joseph Sargent–The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, tries to showcase the men who pioneered heart surgery. One is played by Alan Rickman and the other by Mos Def. The movie starts in 1930, in Tennessee. Predictably one plays a Johns Hopkins trained surgeon and the other plays a high school educated carpenter, guess who played whom. This is more a story of the growth of race relations than of gender, but the women—none of whom meet each other—are strong, but supportive, and one is a doctor who overcomes her obstacles: her hearing loss and her sex.

I am thankful that HBO decided to fund wonderful historic movies that feature fantastic African-American actors. The supporting case in this included: Gabrielle Union–Bad Boys II–played Clara Thomas, Mos Def’s wife; Charles S. Dutton–”Roc”–played William Thomas, Mos Def’s father; and Clayton LeBouef—Col. Barnfather from “Homicide”—played Harold Thomas, Mos Def’s brother. The story stretches from 1930 until 1976. It is not a sugar coated tale of the improvement of black life in America, but more a showcase for how on black man had a unique relationship with a white man who teamed up to pioneer a surgery that has saved millions of lives. It is an important story that I am glad I got to learn about.

Update: The Best Directors: A Series—Paul Greengrass

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If you want to read my original post, it is here.

I had not considered the need to update these “Best Director” posts until I came across this one again. Captain Phillips demands a place for itself in any article on Paul Greengrass. The glowing tone I used Greengrass’s career still had to reconcile the of mediocrity of Green Zone as his most recent work; I left with the thought that he would hopefully be “more than a 2000s Francis Ford Coppola.” Well now Greengrass has his four classics, and has stretched into the new decade.  The future looks bright for Greengrass who has finally combined his two worlds, properly, with Captain Phillips:

World 1—documentary style realism for real stories with anonymous actors, Sunday Bloody Sunday and United 93.

World 2—star driven political thrillers, Bournes Supremacy and Ultimatum.

There was no Tom Hanks in Sunday Bloody Sunday or United 93. There were no actual lives lost in the Bourne movies. Here Greengrass and Hanks managed to convincingly tell a recent historical story without relying on anonymity to make the actors seem more realistic. Clearly Greengrass still did this with the Somali pirates, but Hanks as Phillips himself was an amazing jump from a director for whom I did not see much room for growth.

N.B. I also wished that The Dark Knight Rises would be as good as The Bourne Ultimatum, and it pretty much was.

Accuracy in…A History of Violence

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A History of Violence, Vince Locke, © Vertigo.

A History of Violence, Vince Locke, © Vertigo.

A History of Violence was a groundbreaking movie that took the glamorization of violence in cinema and held up a mirror to the audience. The comic book was something else. It was more of a throwback to crime noir novels. It was also next level disturbing. There are images thence which haunt me to this day. Images that I dare not show you, and that I even hesitate to reference. Let’s lay out how disturbing the movie was first.

Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, 2005 © New Line Cinema.

Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, 2005 © New Line Cinema.

Movie:

  • the diner scene with the coffee pot and people getting shot;
  • Jack Stall, a high school student, standing up to his bully and repeatedly punching him in the face, long after the bully has stopped fighting back;
  • rough sex on a staircase;
  • a child shooting an adult;
  • and adult killing lots of adults;
  • and the strong implication of incestuous sexual abuse by Tom Stall’s older brother Richie Cusack.

Comic book:

  • two jerks rob a motel and kill some people;
  • those jerks wind up in that diner where Tom McKenna (renamed Stall in the movie) takes care of them;
  • Tom is missing a finger and the mobster who showed up in town, John Torrino here, Tom Fogarty in the movie, claims to have it in a vile around his neck;
  • Torrino only has one eye, because someone named Joey took it while on the run from the mob after a mob massacre in NYC from a heist;
  • a woman shooting an adult;
  • and an adult killing lots of adults;
  • and Joey’s accomplice from twenty years ago, Richie, turning out to be “alive;”
  • Richie having suffered the loss of his appendages and manhood, most of his face, but still living to be tortured by the mobster son of the mobster what got whacked in that heist;
  • said mobster son falling onto his own chainsaw;
  • and Richie begging Joey/Tom to put a bullet in his head to end his suffering.

So on balance the first half of the film follows the comic book, at least for the main plot, but then it diverges into a slightly more mainstream pit of despair. Following the spirit, if not the plot of the second half of the comic book. In spite of how horrible the above acts are, I thought both were amazingly well done and would recommend them to people who can handle the nightmares they cause. Also, the movie was in color, unlike the comic book! Talk about selling out!

Accuracy in…The Dark Knight Trilogy

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I got the issue number from memory.

David Mazzuchelli’s Batman 405. Dialogue by Frank Miller.

I was not saving my film reviews when I watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Fortunately I have my review of The Dark Knight Rises. It would be a poorer world if I could not look back and see that I wrote, ” I would love to watch a director’s cut, but since neither Batman Begins nor Dark Knight had one, my wish is likely to go unfulfilled.” I would not know that I was right to have my doubts. On the other hand, if I want more Batman there have been thousands of comic books featuring him. Because of that, it would be a fool’s errand to compare these films to the comic books as there have been so many different versions of his origin story, so many variations on Joker, and so many bat gadgets. Instead I will try to point out the five most glaring choices that are ill-suited to reconciling the DC universe(s)’s Batman with Christopher Nolan’s, and I five surprising “facts” about the characters from these films.

Rachel Dawes, as portrayed by Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Dark Knight. © DC & WB.

Rachel Dawes, as portrayed by Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Dark Knight. © DC & WB.

Flaw 1. Rachel Dawes as Batman’s love interest and childhood friend. The only friend that Bruce has as a kid was named Tommy Elliot. Tommy had a similar family upbringing as Bruce did, but unfortunately he grew up to become a bad guy named Hush. On the other hand, he was never portrayed by Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal, so there’s that.

Fact 1. Ra’s al Ghul and Batman were never friends. Ra’s never trained Batman, he just thought that Batman might succeed him as the leader of the League of Assassins*. Ra’s hoped that Batman, whom he called “The Detective,” might have a child with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, Talia. In Ra’s’ defense, he is insane because he has been alive for hundreds of years thanks to his Lazerus Pit. Lazerus Pits can be very useful, unfortunately they also cause temporary insanity with each use, which can become permanent over repeated submersions.
*Note how Ra’s called it the League of Assassins, which has a far more negative tone than the “League of Shadows” from Batman Begins. Thanks a lot 1970’s DC writers!

Young Damian with his mother Talia, © DC 2006, from Batman, probably "Batman and Son."

Young Damian with his mother Talia, © DC 2006, from Batman, probably “Batman and Son.”

Fact 2. Talia al Ghul had a child with Batman. His name is Damian Wayne and eventually he becomes the fifth Robin. Yes, fifth. Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown were one through four. But he is the first Robin to call Batman “father.” He was also a dick. Who wouldn’t be one if one were raised in a containment tube, and then taught to kill as the future leader of the League of Assassins. Apparently he wound up being killed by a clone of himself. So there’s that.

Flaw 2. “Robin” in Dark Knight Rises. As you can see above, no Robin was actually named Robin. I do not know if any police officer ever learned that Batman was Bruce Wayne. If you want to see some sort of connection, the original Robin became a police officer in Blüdhaven (Newark to Gotham’s NYC) as his day job.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Blake) in the Batcave, Dark Knight Rises, © WB 2012.

John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the Batcave, Dark Knight Rises, © WB 2012.

Flaw 3. Batman dives out of a broken window to catch Rachel and they do not die. Some of Batman’s suits have a cape with which he can glide. Some superheroes have legs that can absorb huge impacts. Some taxi drivers are in magical cabs that can take thousands of pounds of force in the middle and not fold like something that folds very easily.

Fact 3. Alfred Pennyworth quit as Bruce Wayne’s butler. In The Dark Knight Rises Alfred does everything he can to protect Bruce from Bane, eventually resigning to bring some sense to the older, slower Wayne. You see only one end to your journey. Leaving is all I have to make you understand, you’re not Batman anymore. You have to find another way. You used to talk about finishing a life beyond that awful cape.  This really bothered some people out there, considering that Alfred has been like a father to “Master Bruce” dozens of times over a span of over 70 years! That does not change the fact that in the comic books Bane ravaged Batman in the “Knightfall” storyline. Following that story came “Knightsquest” where Alfred accompanies the healing Bruce Wayne to England, but Bruce keeps up the vigilante stuff over Alfred’s objections. So Alfred quit. Eventually he came back, but in this context his quitting made as much sense as it possibly could.

Kelley Jones' cover of Batman #497, © DC.

Kelley Jones’ cover of Batman #497, © DC.

Fact 4. Bane is Latino. He was a test subject at a South American prison. He was also a criminal mastermind with no connection to Ra’s al Ghul, nor his League of Assassins/Shadows. And his mask was just a luchador* mask, unlike in The Dark Knight Rises.
*Luchador is a wrestler from lucha libre. 

Anne Hathaway, © 2012 WB.

Anne Hathaway, © 2012 WB.

Flaw 4. Selina Kyle is never called Catwoman. If you google Catwoman’s name, it’s Selina Kyle. No matter her back story, she is named Selina Kyle.* Christopher Nolan seemed to dislike the comic book aspects of Batman. That is still better than Tim Burton’s absolute disinterest in the comic books and to Batman in general. And still better than Joel Schumacher’s terrible sense of humor and his love for 1966’s “Batman.” But come on. A close second is not explaining why Batman kept having faith in Selina throughout the film.
*Except in the abomination Catwoman, then Halle Berry’s character is Patience Phillips, but what is that worth?

Flaw 5. Gotham lacked a consistent design. Draw a map of Gotham. I certainly could not have done that because I am no cartographer, but after three movies this Gotham makes far less sense than four movies and two directors did back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I understand that shooting in different cities happened, but at least have something close to an idea of the world your films inhabit, Christopher!

Scarecrow. Looks like Jim Lee, © DC.

Scarecrow. Looks like Jim Lee, © DC.

Fact 5. The Scarecrow is the only villain to appear in all three of the Dark Knight Trilogy films. He is one of Batman’s oldest foes, first appearing in 1940. He was a psychology professor with a fascination with fear. I do not remember him working as a drug dealer or ever being connected to the mob though.

Thor: The Dark World

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After the success of The Avengers, I, and much of the rest of the world, eagerly awaited more Thor. Iron Man 3 managed to deliver, despite changing directors. Yet that had Mr. Shane Black himself working with Robert Downey, Jr. This has Alan Taylor working with Chris Hemsworth. Taylor, who is apparently more famous for his television work, has some mighty big shoes to fill considering that he replaces Kenneth Branagh—famous for directing and starring in Much Ado About Nothing—and he was assisted by Joss Whedon—famous for The Avengers and a different version of Much Ado About Nothing. So mark your calendars for March 2023 when Alan Taylor will inevitably release his take on “Much Ado About Nothing.”

I thought he was an excellent Fandral.

Josh Dallas as Fandral in 2011’s Thor, © Marvel.

***½

Some believe that before the universe, there was nothing. They’re wrong. There was darkness… 

As for this wonderfully entertaining and visually appealing story, I thought that it succeeded in what it set out to do. It took the formula from the first Thor and changed things up, took things a half-step higher. It also focused more on Thor, which was something that the original did not. The supporting cast of that film is back, with only one bizarre casting choice of replacing whoever played Fandral with an unrecognizable Zachary Levi—Chuck from “Chuck.” They get to grow, or show off more of their characters, but this is mostly Thor’s, and Jane’s, story.

"Marvel's Thor: The Dark World"..Fandral (Zachary Levi)..© 2013 Marvel.

“Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World”..Fandral (Zachary Levi)..© 2013 Marvel.

Yet this is not a great movie. Some of my complaints about this film are: that it is powerfully coincidental that something big happens to Jane –Natalie Portman–related to the millenia old plot to destroy the universe; that at the very end of the climax Dr. Erik Selvig–Stellan Skarsgård–does something, or maybe does not do something, that averts a tragedy and leads to an easy laugh; and, just as what diminished the end fight scene in Dark ShadowsI did not know the mortality/weakness of the villain—Malekith played by Unfinished Song’s Christopher Eccleston, and thus the scene loses a little weight as he could have died, or not died, at any moment, including after that easy laugh I just mentioned.

The Kursed among the dark elves, © 2013 Marvel.

The Kursed among the dark elves, © 2013 Marvel.

Still, that list of complaints is shorter than one I could make for Thor, and that was a film worth watching, as is this. This film had more fighting, more developments in relationships, better comic relief—Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids—more worlds, more Heimdall–Idris Elba, and better locations than New Mexico. The villains, the Dark Elves, seem to have come from Guillermo del Toro and Hellboy 2, and, assuming that you have not seen that movie, their were some awesome creatures in that movie! My only criticism* of the look of this film is that the women were not scantily clad, as they should have been to make up for all of the man meat shots of Chris Hemsworth as Thor.

*To be clear, this is not a criticism, but an applauding of this film, and the last one, for rising above eras of comic books and guy-baiting action movies that showcase gratuitous female bodies, e.g. Demolition Man and Star Trek Into Darkness.

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