Yes, this blog is dedicated to “an ongoing exploration of the dark and gritty reboot.” But, as written about in the previous post on this blog, The World Needs Bad Men, it’s time to admit that the dark-n-gritty reboot has run its course. The anti-heroes have ascended to the White House. It’s time for a new superhero narrative.
The last week has given us two new incarnations of the superhero show: Legion, a television show on FX, and The Lego Batman Movie, a family-friendly animated feature.
The Lego Batman Movie is as meta as any superhero film has been, and that includes 2016’s Deadpool and 2015’s Ant-Man. The jokes are more family-friendly than those of Deadpool, but TLBM is arguably the more mature of the two films. TLBM, coming on the heels of The Lego Movie and followed soon by The Ninjago Movie, is the sign of much more to come.
Legion, meanwhile, is a serious and frightening television series about a man in a mental hospital who is either mentally ill, a mutant with superpowers, or both. It’s from Noah Hawley, the creator of the Fargo television series, and unravels in a non-linear manner.
But I’ve come here not to review these two works. Enough people are already reviewing these two works. The reviews are both positive and, in my opinion, accurate. What I’m here to say is that these works are two complementing examples of what we should start demanding from our screen adaptations of superhero tales.
Toward the finale of the 2016 election, Mike Huckabee took to Fox News to give a defense of Donald Trump that I’ve been mulling over in my head ever since.
I see Trump as Capt Quint (Robert Shaw) on the boat, Orca, in the movie “Jaws.” He’s salty, drunk and says incorrect things. He spits in your face. BUT… He’s gonna save your rear. You may not like what he says but, in the end, you and your family survive.
“Vote for the fishing boat captain,” Huckabee said. “Not the shark.”
While ineloquent and muddled, Huckabee’s defense gave a great insight into why people were lining up behind Donald Trump. They saw him as a vulgar presence, but he was their vulgar presence against the greater dangers.
If Huckabee were more versed in film, literature, or television, he would have realized that there are a thousand better metaphors for who Donald Trump is: he is, in the eyes of his followers, the anti-hero of the True America.
A different defense of Trump comes to mind, one that his followers would surely cite, had they seen the first season of True Detective:
Marty: Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?
Rust: No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.
The world needs bad men. It seems like a missed opportunity that Trump’s campaign didn’t snap that up as their slogan. One can imagine Rust and Marty’s conversation rolling over footage of Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, or Rust’s defense of bad men and musings on man’s inability to love intercut with I moved on her like a bitch and you can do anything.
At this point, I have to point out that there is nothing unique in saying that Trump is an anti-hero and our obsession with anti-heroes in our media and film is what got Trump elected. As evidenced by the articles I just listed, this has been exhaustively explored.
What I do have is another layer to add to this: the rise of the anti-hero in our media came from the America that emerged during the presidency of George W. Bush.
During the Bush era, America found itself in the role of the anti-hero. This is what propelled the flawed and gritty protagonist into our film and television. This is what prompted the wave of dark and gritty reboots that are still grinding today.
Art imitates life imitates art. Politics causes pop culture causes politics. Bush was our cowboy hero who became tainted, tattered, and gritty as our wars became unwinnable and our morals murky. Obama was our shining hero, our knight in shining armor, our warrior who could not be everything he wanted to be.
And now there is Trump: the gritty anti-hero, the protagonist who rapes, the populist king. He is the danger.
It is with these words that the power shifts from one man to another in the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, as the terrorist and demagogue Bane rests a hand on the shoulder of corrupt, scheming businessman John Daggett. This is Daggett’s last moment alive, realizing that he staked everything on empowering a brutal man he never controlled. It’s a relevant moment, echoed in the recent power struggle happening within the Republican party.
“Tomorrow you claim what is rightfully yours.” – Bane, to the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises
The majority of Batman characters were created in either 1939 or the 1940s, heroes and villains alike. We have compared Donald Trump to four Batman villains so far, each of which first appeared in the early ’40.s Bane is unlike the rest of these, making his first appearance in 1993.
Bane has two pinnacle stories: the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises and the comic book storyline Knightfall, both of which feature a Gotham plunged into chaos and a broken Batman.
It is these two stories which will serve as the majority of our comparison between the candidate Donald Trump and the character Bane.
Trump and Bane are both demagogues who inspire a hateful hope in their followers.
This isn’t a review of The Hateful Eight. I’ll sum up my opinion of it in one sentence: It’s not his worst movie or his best movie, and I only recommend it to people who are determined to see every Tarantino film.
This is a review of the crowd at The Hateful Eight 70 mm Roadshow. It’s specifically about the crowd at the 11 am screening of The Hateful Eight on 70 mm in Edina, Minnesota on the Sunday after Christmas. Generally, this is a review of the kind of people who see Tarantino films during their opening weekends.
I’ve had bad experiences seeing the following movies in theaters:
And while I don’t believe in lists-for-the-sake-of-lists, I’ve been meaning to put together a list of the films that I think more people deserve to a) see and b) see with an open mind. I am not calling them “underrated,” as I find that underrated usually denotes something is loved by audiences and hated by critics.
I tried to follow some rules with these films, avoiding ones that a) received Academy Awards b) were major box office hits c) were critically acclaimed and d) regularly show up on “underrated films” lists. The last category is why I did not include The Mist, which avoids the first three categories but has become a meme online, showing up every time someone asks “what’s a good underrated film?”
Here they are. The “under-appreciated” movies that I think you should see and that, chances are, you haven’t seen:
I don’t know anyone who has seen this, aside from the people in the theater with me when I saw it. I’m not saying this is a perfect movie, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to watch an innovative horror film that keeps the stress levels rising the entire time. The innovation is that the entire story is told on one laptop screen, moving between group chats and Facebook posts and YouTube videos as the horror unfolds.
Or, “Stop Calling Them Gunmen and Start Calling Them Terrorists”
One of the most notable elements of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is that, despite being made by a British writer and director and set in the fictional Gotham City, the films capture the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 America in a frightening, realistic way.
But there’s one lesson in these films that we don’t seem to have retained: terrorism can take many forms.
Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, the first and third films in the trilogy, show evil as an extensive international network motivated by belief in a higher cause: the League of Shadows, led first by Liam Neeson and later by Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s an evil organization which resembles Al-Qaeda or IS/Daesh in its reach and tactics.
Unlike the other two films, in The Dark Knight our villain is Heath Ledger’s Joker: a criminal who seemingly materializes out of nowhere. His background is unknown, with no criminal record or history of violence. He operates as a loner, with a few followers but no peers. He believes not in fundamentalism but in anarchy and chaos. He prefers easily-obtained weapons: in his words, “a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.” He kills with abandon, targeting mob bosses, murdering his own followers, burning corrupt businessmen alive, turning civilians against one another. Throughout it all, he operates without loyalty and welcomes death.
He gives a speech, in one of the more famous moments from the film, explaining why people are so frightened of him. Because he disrupts expectations. He disrupts “the plan.” Because anyone can be his victim, not just “a gangbanger” or “a truckload of soldiers.”
The mass waves of shooters (most of whom are white and “Christian”) overtaking America resemble the Joker in every way: they kill innocents, make spectacles of their crimes, and fear nothing, including death. The American mass shooter is almost always suicidal. There are few mass shooters who begin their killing sprees expecting any outcome aside from death or life imprisonment.
Like the Joker, they cannot be “bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.”
This is another guest post, the second in the new guest author series. This post is authored by Russ Ball, a haiku writer and film fan.
Okay, film fans. There’s something we need to talk about: the universe owes us a debt.
There are things that are simply supposed to happen. When you place bread in a toaster, you expect toast. When Natalie Portman establishes herself as an A-list celebrity and Hollywood finally starts making movies with strong female protagonists, we are supposed to get a sequel to Leon: the Professional.
I know you’ve seen The Professional (as it was released in the United States). But allow me to refresh your memory anyway:
Natalie Portman made her feature film debut in 1994 as “Mathilda” a 12 year old girl who befriends a lonely hitman (Jean Reno, aka the really cool French guy from Mission Impossible and Ronin) after the death of her family at the hands of a corrupt DEA agent (Gary Oldman, aka Commissioner Sirius Gordon-Black). The movie saw a few different releases, as some of the vibes between Portman and Reno were deemed too ‘Lolita-ish’ for middle America. The film is fantastic. Go watch it (again). Right now. I’ll wait. Here’s the trailer:
The rest of this depends on you knowing the movie, so seriously go watch it.
Back? Yeah, it’s great, right? So here’s what needs to happen.
Natalie Portman returns in Mathilda: The Professional II.
Hear me out.
Mathilda, having been orphaned first by her sleazy parents and again by her adopted killer father figure grows up to be an assassin too. Because obviously. Consider that part montage-d, probably during the opening credits.
Now, she’s blown through Leon’s cash, having traveled the world as a mercenary of sorts. Her traumatic childhood made it difficult to settle down. She’s beholden (as a #1 badass hitwoman) to the same mob that controlled Leon – a mob now headed by Mafioso Tony’s son – let’s call him James. He’s gonna inevitably be played by Gioavanni Ribsi, so actually let’s just call him Ribsi.
At a mob gathering where she’s been hired to provide security, she meets Tommy, the 8 year old autistic nephew of Bad Guy Ribsi. Tommy has an uncanny ability to recite any conversation he’s ever heard.
Do you see where this is going yet?
Mafia party gets raided by DEA (including head DEA Agent Willem Defeo)
Firefight breaks out – Tommy’s father & mother get killed.
Mathilda saves little Tommy,
Turns out he’s heard some interesting conversations about Uncle Giovanni Ribsi, regarding some backroom deals with a corrupt DEA agent.
Ribsi, in an effort to get into politics, has staged the raid to cut ties with anyone who could smudge his reputation (like Matilda). He’s made a deal with the DEA to lock down the drug trade, giving Agent McCorruption (Willem Defoe, really) some of the action.
Tommy doesn’t understand what he has heard, but can recite it all.
Also, he’s a hacker.
Mathilda and Tommy find themselves on the run from the bad guys.
Mathilda, remembering all too well her times with Leon, decides to help Tommy avenge his parents.
HOW HAS THIS NOT BEEN A MOVIE YET??!?
Things to consider:
Since Jurassic Park, everyone has enjoyed hacker kids saving the day. Maybe an Edward Snowden cameo?
Many gun battles
Visiting Leon’s grave. Sad part.
Also, if you don’t recall, she planted a tree at the end of the original film. They go visit that tree too. Second sad part. (Edit: it’s actually a houseplant. Okay, so maybe the houseplant is still in the ground and they visit it?)
Also, Tommy’s eight – and eight year olds are funny.
Lots of ‘lets uncover the awesome stash of guns’ bits, where the eight year old pulls out a heavy one and almost drops it. You’ll laugh.
Could be an on-the-run exotic travel movie. Let’s say Capri because I want to go there.
Maybe when they go to visit the tree (or houseplant) from the first movie, that’s where one of the shoot-outs is.
So many feels – revenge, loss, bonding, Natalie Portman.
This simply must happen. Natalie, this part was the part you were born for.
It ends with Natalie dying, and in a few decades we can get the third installment in the trilogy.
The following is written by guest blogger McLong, as part of a new guest writer series in which we will be featuring various writers:
As children, we overloaded on candy. Now we overload on horror movies. All of them: the good, the bad, the gory.
I’m a poster child of desensitized America, unscathed by what an average movie goer would deem horrific. It takes a lot to freak me out, afraid to have the lights off and go to the bathroom by myself. In the moment of viewing, the demonic possessions take my breath away, but, five minutes later, I’ve forgotten it and moved onto the next plot point.
But some horror resonates. These are the movies that haunt me during the day, whether sitting in a cubicle or on a walk or at the grocery store. The ones where, watching the credits ascend, you’re unsure how you’ll ever live a normal life again.
These five films are each horrific in a different way, but these are for those of you with a high tolerance, looking for a soul-rattling watch,
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Sure, getting pregnant with the devil’s baby is scary. But what’s really terrifying in this film is the complete lack of control that Mia Farrow’s Rosemary has over her life. She’s drugged by her neighbors and raped by her husband, who justifies it with “but you’re ovulating, baby.” As if that doesn’t happen ever month? He then dictates every step of the pregnancy, including insisting on the devil-worshiping doctor of his choice. It’s the misogyny in Polanski’s masterpiece that haunts you longer than the idea of mothering the spawn of Satan.
The Ring (2002)
A contemporary horror movie that confines itself to a PG-13 rating is a rare and intriguing film, as they can’t rely on heavy violence or gore to rattle their audience. But the really great ones work within the limits of PG-13 and still burn images into your head, like The Ring‘s infamous murder tape and its random clips: a finger going through a nail, a horse’s eye, centipedes, maggots, an upside down chair, and that chill-inducing static (that irritates anyone who has ever had a television) at the end.
The story might be erratic, but the images within the film are positively frightful. Ambiguity can hurt a story but, in this case, the viewers are haunted by the questions they have, mulling over a sick family who killed each other, their pets, and ultimately themselves.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
This movie tells the story of aliens waging a quiet biological warfare, unlike the aggressive invasions we’ve become accustomed to. What begins as a woman picking a pretty flower for her boyfriend results in an intense shift of human life. The main characters find themselves in a strange world where those closest to them seem slightly off. The horror comes from the intense paranoia of not being able to trust your loved ones and the sadness of losing them forever to a new creepy alien society. It becomes a chase reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, making the viewer ask: is it worth it to stay awake? or should I let go and fall asleep to join everyone else?
And then there is the ending. The final scene is ingrained in my mind and just won’t go away. That face, that shock, that scream…
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
I know: I praised The Ring for its subtlety and ability to work within a PG-13 movie, and then I put an R-rated gore fest remake on this list?
But does it get more brutal than this re-imagining of the horror classic? What is it about hillbillies acting like they have nothing to lose? Is anything scarier than a murderer with no fear of consequence? Unlike the original, this version opens with a disturbing suicide that sets the tone for the rest of the movie. We’ve seen suicides on screen many times before, but this one and its level of violence and intensity is unparalleled. And as this film goes on, it becomes hard to have any optimism for the traumatized potential survivors, our hope dwindling as each character is picked off in a seriously gruesome fashion.
Mention this movie to anyone who has seen it and watch the blood drain from their faces. And I’m not even sure if it’s technically a horror film.
Eraserhead is declared a ‘surrealist body horror’ film, whatever that means. Basically it’s trippy and messed up and you have no idea what is going on but you want it to stop. The actual plot is the story of Henry Spencer, the women he is involved with, and the bizarre child that results from their relationship. The film has the ability to be disturbing on a level which has never been explored in film before. I only recommend this movie to people seeking a sadistic challenge and a new scream to infect their nightmares.
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