Movies

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The Gang’s All Here: My Favorite Fictional Mobsters

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“Aw, shoot. I got my hat and forgot my gat…” (image via Buy Costumes)

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Being fanatic about real-life gangsters is a touchy subject. Following the lives of say, Al Capone, Griselda Blanco or Carlo Gambino is an interesting read, for sure. Until your stomach starts to twist a bit. Luckily, there’s been a whole host of fictional mobsters to captivate our imaginations and deep-seated need to be bad to the bone. These are personal favorites and there’s a noticeable lack of anyone named Corleone or Soprano listed on here (though, to be fair, I considered Tom Hagan and Sylvio Dante)…

The Kingpin

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(Image via Wikipedia)

Mega-sized supervillain Wilson Fisk, otherwise known as the Kingpin, is a badass among badasses within the Marvel universe. Stan Lee’s creation came to life in 1967 and has since gone up against Spiderman, Daredevil and the Punisher, among others. The Kingpin doesn’t possess superhuman powers. It’s simply his brute strength and tactical mind that contribute to his masterful Machiavellian scheming. Even as an enemy to the reigning Maggia and terrorist group HYDRA, the crushing fists of the Kingpin are nothing to scoff at. His ‘look’ has been reappropriated by Hollywood at large: we now expect all gangsters to be fat, bald and toting a cigar.

Johnny Boy

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(Image via MovieCrazed)

Martin Scorsese clearly loves gangster culture more than I ever will. He’s crafted a life out of shining light on the decadent underworld of every era. In Mean Streets, a fresh-faced Robert Deniro plays Johnny Boy, a reckless, goofy hothead with a rather visceral swagger for a small-time thug. He practically charms his way off the screen as the strutting, obnoxious sidekick to Harvey Keitel’s straight man. At the risk of sounding superficial, my favorite thing about the character is the way he looks. Between the jaunty hats, plaid suit coats, scruffy locks and one of the biggest guilty grins to grace the silver screen, I’d be in love…if I didn’t want to punch him in the face.

Keyser Soze

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(Image via EmpireOnline)

Motor-mouthed, limping Kevin Spacey wins for simply being renowned as a semi-fictional gangster, inside a work of fiction. In 1997’s The Usual Suspects, tales swirl about international heavy, Keyser Soze, throughout the course of the unfolding plot. It’s hard for me to think back to fifteen years ago, when I didn’t know the ending to this movie, but I’m pretty sure it caught me off guard. Surprise plot twists aside, Keyser Soze is the kind of omnipotent, grudge-holding villain that makes for cinema gold. He shows true gangsters are all about the long game. Though, if he weren’t simply a small-time crook, this paragraph would definitely be about Benicio del Toro’s character instead.

Jabba the Hutt

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(Image via Wikipedia)

Jabba the Hutt is totally gangster. Star Wars’ space-slug hoodlum is ‘our kind of scum’. Plus, his hard-partying palace is my kind of joint. I read somewhere that it took six separate operators to portray the worm-like warlord at any given time. Rumored to have been based on Orson Welles in his obese later years, this intergalactic thug is surrounded by packs of interesting groupies, followers and slaves. Salacious Crumb is no Paulie Walnuts, but hey, you take ‘em where you can.

Gus Fring

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(Image via HowsYourRobot)

The soft-spoken Los Pollos Hermanos kingpin put a new spin on gangster gravitas. Gustavo Fring ran a tight ship. Very few actors can walk the line between polite and threatening – Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito drew that line and silently tap-danced on it. His calm demeanor was enchanting and his cool, aloof manner most unnerving. Though he dies at the hands of protagonist Walter White, his character was the true professional of the whole bunch, displaying zero ego and maintaining perfect posture.

 

 

Lydia Mondy is a freelance writer with absolutely zero ‘gangster’ qualities. Unless you count her penchant for pinstripes and bourbon. You can find her blogging about everything from her Jem obsession to the big business behind all things ‘geeky

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Man of Steel: DVD Review

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Have you picked up your copy of Man of Steel yet? As we mentioned in a press release back in August, Man of Steel was released on DVD (Bluray, DVD, and Ultra Violet) by WB this past week. We had a chance to check it out, and were not disappointed.

I feel I should mention – I am not a Superman fan. I have never been all that into the boy wonder – his whole deus ex machina schtick has always annoyed me. There’s even a site dedicated to his egotistical and often misogynistic nature in older comics called SuperDickery.  However, I figured if any line-up could make me like the character and his story, it might be a director like Zack Snyder, and writers such as Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. Well, I’m glad I kept an open mind going into the film, because it did turn out to be pretty interesting.

10582337455_d4229218e6_kThe main reasons I’ve always been bothered by Superman as a character were his invulnerability and my inability to find any way to connect with his struggles. In Man of Steel, they make this latter connection a little easier to find. Clark is portrayed as a very lonely boy with very little to connect to, himself. He has wonderful adoptive parents in Martha and Jonathan Kent, but knows they aren’t his family, and that his abilities aren’t something he can share with other people. He struggles to adjust to his new-found powers, and feels lonelier because of it. Even as an adult, Clark is jumping from job to job, never really finding a friend, and constantly having to hide his traits from coworkers and acquaintances. On an emotional level, there’s something about this incarnation of Clark Kent that I feel almost anyone can relate to in one way or another.

Before we even met Clark, though, I was already entranced by the positively gorgeous depiction of the planet Krypton.  While previous Superman stories have always touched on the Planet under the Red Sun, I’ve never seen Krypton be visually displayed in such detail before. Not only were the graphics just absolutely stunning, the amount of work that went into building Krypton is staggering. The technology, architecture, government, history, and culture of Krypton just in the opening sequence really paints a portrait of a very rich civilization. Later on, when Clark finds an abandoned Kryptonian ship, and speaks to an AI projection of his father, we hear more about Krypton’s history, and get to see more of the “geo-liquid” technology that seems to have been used quite a bit in Krypton, as well as learn more about the rich culture that the writers obviously put a lot of heart into building. From WB’s special features, here’s a little bit about that geo-liquid technology:

 

The only thing that did annoy me about that is.. why is it that any time there’s some kind of alien/extraterrestrial race involved, there are always sharp, metallic tentacles coming from somewhere (see also: Pacific Rim, Alien, Predator)?  Surely we can get a little more creative with alien weapons these days. That’s a very small complaint, though, considering the intense detail put into the Kryptonian race in this movie.

10582642553_949b4627f7_kMoving forward, we meet Lois Lane. Now, I’m sure the first thing people tend to complain about with this character is that she’s a redhead, when Lois Lane, traditionally, has always had a signature look of stark black hair. However, while this is very different for the character, I think taking risks with a long-standing character can be a virtue. Lois’ interest and determination when it came to finding out about Clark Kent was on point, butf I had my way, she would have had a lot more of her trademark sass and wit. This portrayal of Lois, while determined, was also a little timid, and not nearly as interesting as she could have been.

Then comes Zod. Technically, Zod was in the opening Krypton sequence, but when he comes into the story line with full force, things get interesting. We were given Zod’s backstory in a very satisfying way, and got to see him face off with Superman, culminating in some killer action scenes. Zod becomes a very strong lead villain with a fiery intensity. All villains believe they’re the heroes in their own stories, and that’s definitely something you can see in abundance with Zod. Even if he does need to do something about that hair.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Man of Steel, and was impressed by the acting, writing, and special effects. The packaging options aren’t half bad, either.

 

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There are portions of the story and characters that can definitely be improved upon, but hopefully that’s something we’ll get to see more of in the upcoming sequel, for which we are already seeing a ton of hype for. In fact, recently, Zack Snyder commissioned paintings of Batman versus Superman from three modern, stylistic artists. You can see more about the story here from io9. My favorite is definitely Alex Pardee’s contribution:

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The commissions and the cause they’re being auctioned for definitely make the upcoming sequel a little more exciting – to me, at least.

 

If they won’t say it, though, I will…

 

BOW BEFORE ZOD.

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Star Wars Celebration Europe II – Essen, Germany … in a country far, far away.

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July 26-28, 2013 marked an awesome time for many Star Wars fans in Europe. It happened right in the center of Europe, in Germany’s Ruhr valley, in Essen, the European Cultural Capital of 2010. Fans from around the globe gathered to celebrate a unifying cultural and intergalactic phenomenon: Star Wars.

Three days after the con and I am still on adrenaline. Surely many convention attendees know this feeling, the mix of exhilaration and exhaustion that follows you around for days after an amazing con. I was lucky to be there as a fan, a stormtrooper and a crew volunteer. My ‘work’ started on Thursday: before any visitors had the chance to even see the exhibition halls, I was able to take a first look, and I was speechless, blown away, stunned. This was going to be awesome. Apart from loads of merchandise, the Celebration Stage, the Autograph hall, and other show and exhibition locations, there were many fan-built props and sets, like Jabba’s Palace, Vader’s TIE fighter, a part of the Millennium Falcon, a huge AT-AT, the Endor Bunker with a Speeder Biker to climb on, and the part of the Cantina where Han shot first (yes, I know). I spent my first day just walking around, gazing in awe at all the amazing things I was going to see.

971214_10201923354432135_77485731_nAnd then it started.

I guess a lot of people, celebrities and exhibitors included, hadn’t had the slightest idea how much the people of Europe, and Germany in particular, love Star Wars. I helped with line management for the main stage and it was amazing to see the vastly different people who attended. We were an international team, and we had international, and probably intergalactic, visitors to deal with. I was glad to be able to communicate in various languages and happy that my still-not-fluent Klingon wasn’t needed.

Most Main Stage events were hosted by Warwick Davis, and I had the chance to see him preparing for the shows. A perfectionist, he is smart, witty and nice. His ‘assistant’ was an R4 unit built by Dan Sczudlik, one of the R2 Builders.

All the panels had a lot of spectators but there were of course some highlights. The first one was Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, who announced that legendary composer John Williams will return to score the highly-anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII.

Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine/The Emperor) was surprisingly funny on stage. During the panel, which was more of a talk show, Warwick Davis – aka Wicket – and McDiarmid re-enacted the fight between Yoda and Sidious. Guess who played Yoda! It was hilarious, and could have been entitled “Sidious vs. Yoda and the vicious swivel chair”. McDiarmid even mentioned that Seth Green wasn’t exaggerating when he staged the swivel chair scene in Robot Chicken. The panel ended with a lot of, perhaps evil, laughter.

Anthony Daniels was great too, as was Carrie Fisher. Dave Filoni, the Executive Producer of Star Wars Rebels, talked about the genesis of the upcoming animated series and a lot of young German fans loved to see him, though there was no interpreter helping those who got lost in translation. Overall, I don’t think there was any panel that wasn’t worth visiting.

My personal favorite panel was Mark Hamill’s, who took the stage on Sunday. He was very relaxed and talkative and his imitation of Harrison Ford was really funny. He told a lot of stories from behind the scenes and enjoyed the cheering crowd in the almost packed hall of nearly 7,700 superfans.

In the end though, the Celebration Stage was just one part of the whole Celebration experience and I must admit that even though it was great to see and meet the celebrity Star Wars heroes, my true heroes were to be found among the fans, fan groups, staff and crew – all the people who made this happen and put a lot of energy and time into this event. It was great to see the 501st Legion in attendance, with garrisons from various countries, and so many ‘bad guys doing good’. It was also fun to see all the cosplayers and the kids admiring them. It was awesome to be a part of such a great event and meeting many wonderful and awesome people from all over the world.

If you want to have a look at more of what CEII offered, go to the official webpage (http://www.starwarscelebration.eu/Home/) or check out #starwarscelebration on Twitter.

 

Hope to see you at Star Wars Celebration VII in Anaheim, CA in 2015.

 

May the Force be with you, always!

 

Petra B. Schubert

Twitter: @TrixyTonks

 

The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition On Blu-Ray September 24th

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 Burbank, Calif. July 1, 2013 – Christopher Nolan’s reimagining of the Batman franchise beginning with 2005’s Batman Begins enjoyed phenomenal critical and box-office success.

Now on September 24, Nolan’s three Batman films  Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises – will be released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition. The six-disc set will feature all three films with their existing extra content, two new featurettes and exclusive new collectible memorabilia. This must-own collection for fans of DC Comics’ Caped Crusader is available in premium packaging and will sell for $99.97 SRP.

 

About the Ultimate Collector’s Edition (UCE):

*Disc 1 – Batman Begins Feature and Special Features

*Disc 2 – The Dark Knight Feature

*Disc 3 – The Dark Knight Special Features

*Disc 4 – The Dark Knight Rises Feature

*Disc 5 – The Dark Knight Rises Special Features

*Disc 6 – Bonus Disc of New Special Features (details follow)

 

NEW Special Features:

  • The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of The Dark Knight Trilogy - The inside perspective on the fascinating story behind the creation of one of the most celebrated franchises and how it changed the scope of movie making….forever.  Full of never-before-seen footage, rare moments, and exclusive interviews with  Guillermo Del Toro, Damon Lindelof, Michael Mann, Richard Roeper, Zack Snyder and others.
  • ·         Christopher Nolan & Richard Donner: A Conversation - For the first time, Directors Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) and Richard Donner (Superman) sit down to discuss the trials and triumphs involved in bringing the two most iconic superheroes of all time to the big screen, and how Superman influenced Nolan when developing Batman Begins.
  • ·         IMAX® Sequences: The Dark Knight; The Dark Knight Rises - See your favorite scenes as they were intended in the original IMAX© aspect ratio

 

Exclusive NEW Memorabilia:

  • ·         Premium Mattel Hot Wheels Vehicles: Batmobile, Batpod and Tumbler
  • ·         Newly commissioned collectible art cards by Mondo featuring Scarecrow, Joker, Bane, Harvey Dent, and Ra’s al Ghul
  • ·         48-page hardcover book featuring production stills and behind the scenes images from all three movies

 

 

About The Films

Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins explores the origins of the Batman legend and the Dark Knight’s emergence as a force for good in Gotham. In the wake of his parents’ murder, disillusioned industrial heir Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. He returns to Gotham and unveils his alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his strength, intellect and an array of high tech deceptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city.

 

The Dark Knight (2008)

The follow-up to Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne in his continuing war on crime. With the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves effective, but soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker (Heath Ledger), who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces Batman closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante. Maggie Gyllenhaal joins the cast as Rachel Dawes. Returning from Batman Begins are Oldman, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox.

 

Dark Knight Rises (2012)

It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act.

 

But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane. Christian Bale stars, along with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Morgan Freeman.

 

Note: All enhanced content listed above is subject to change.

Blu-ray Disc™ and Blu-ray™ and the logos are the trademarks of Blu-ray Disc Association.

® & © 2009 IMAX Corporation. All rights reserved.

 

Warner Home Video Blu-ray Discs™ offer resolution six times higher than standard definition DVDs, as well as extraordinarily vibrant contrast and color and beautifully crisp sound. The format also provides a higher level of interactivity, with instant access to extra features via a seamless menu bar where viewers can enjoy features without leaving or interrupting the film.

 

About Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) brings together Warner Bros. Entertainment’s home video, digital distribution and interactive entertainment businesses in order to maximize current and next-generation distribution scenarios. An industry leader since its inception, WBHE oversees the global distribution of content through packaged goods (Blu-ray Disc™ and DVD) and digital media in the form of electronic sell-through and video-on-demand via cable, satellite, online and mobile channels, and is a significant developer and publisher for console and online video game titles worldwide. WBHE distributes its product through third party retail partners and licensees, as well as directly to consumers through WBShop.com and WB Ultra.

About Warner Home Video
With operations in 90 international territories, Warner Home Video, a division of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc., commands the largest home entertainment distribution infrastructure in the global video marketplace. Warner Home Video’s film library is the largest of any studio, offering top quality new and vintage titles from the repertoires of Warner Bros. Pictures, Turner Entertainment, Castle Rock Entertainment, HBO Video and New Line Cinema.

 

About DC Entertainment

DC Entertainment, home to iconic brands DC Comics (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash), Vertigo (Sandman, Fables) and MAD, is the creative division charged with strategically integrating its content across Warner Bros. Entertainment and Time Warner. DC Entertainment works in concert with many key Warner Bros. divisions to unleash its stories and characters across all media, including but not limited to film, television, consumer products, home entertainment and interactive games. Publishing thousands of comic books, graphic novels and magazines each year, DC Entertainment is the largest English-language publisher of comics in the world. In January 2012, DC Entertainment, in collaboration with Warner Bros. and Time Warner divisions, launched We Can Be Heroes—a giving campaign featuring the iconic Justice League super heroes—to raise awareness and funds to fight the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa.

 

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Mad Max Trilogy: Press Release

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madmaxThe three films – Mad Max (1979), Mad Max Road Warrior (1982) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – are all set in the near-future in Australia. From the very first film, Oscar® winner George Miller (Happy Feet, 2006) proved a master at creating the gritty, bleak dystopian world and staging the incredible car stunts and crashes in the era when stuntmen, not computers, achieved the effects. All three movies starred Mel Gibson, virtually unknown until after the second film, as Max Rockatansky, a highway cop traveling through the Outback in a society descending into chaos. The films started Gibson on his road to international superstardom, led to his signature Lethal Weapon series, and later two Academy Awards® for his roles as producer and director of Braveheart (1995).

The Mad Max Trilogy is well known for its incredible action sequences, despite the obviously low budgets. The plot line of the series is very reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns, but spawned the iconic idea of the Thunderdome. I think we all have to hand it to stunt director, Grant Page (who performed stunts, himself, in both the first and third installments). After all, the “Saw” scene from the first movie was widely considered one of the more nail-bitingly tense scenes of decade when it was released. Check out the scene leading up to the gore (no gore directly included here, I promise):

 

If you’ve never seen the trilogy, and enjoy action, you’re severely missing out. If you have seen it, and want to again, now’s your chance. You can now own it on Blu-Ray (and it happens to be on sale at this very moment – just sayin’). It even comes in a really nifty metal case. Definitely a great item for a collector.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dyin’ time’s here.

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DVD Review: Cloud Atlas

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Everything is connected. 

Or so they would have you believe. Cloud Atlas is the newest installation brought to us by the Wachowski siblings. Now, we all know the Wachowskis from the Matrix series, and chances are most of us loved at least, or only, the first one. Here in the comic fan world, we also know them from producing the V for Vendetta movie which, to most lovers of the brilliant Alan Moore comic, left much to be desired. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this movie. I had asked a few friends what they thought of it, without revealing any details, and got very mixed reviews from them.  However, it seemed to have a great cast behind it, and has had many compliments on the graphics and stylistic choices, so I tried to keep an open mind. If you haven’t seen this film yet, don’t worry, I won’t give anything away for you.  We’ll try to keep this as spoiler-friendly as possible.

I’d like to tell you this movie is phenomenal. That it’s mind-blowing, life-changing.. all that gooey stuff. It’s simply not. It’s true that the cast was fantastic – well, most of them. To be honest, the two main leads – Tom Hanks and Halle Berry – really weren’t anything to write home about. A lot of their characters’ personalities seemed a bit forced and unimagined. To be fair, though, they each played several characters throughout the movie (six, to be precise). Mostly main characters, at that, which can’t be easy to do. However, the supporting cast was quite wonderful. By the ending credits, I was astonished to find that there were a few characters portrayed by Hugh Grant that I truly would not have guessed to be him. Another notable appearance was made by Hugo Weaving.  Of course, I’m pretty sure we all have just come to expect wonderful things from Weaving, his portrayal of Old Georgie in this was disturbing in all the right ways. Not only that, he also shows up as a comically rough-handed female nurse in a mental institution. All things considered, the casting for Cloud Atlas did lend a lot to the movie as a whole, that would have been greatly soured by a lesser cast.

What I had previously heard about the aesthetics of the film did not seem to be exaggerated either. Taking place in six different time lines, Cloud Atlas had to adapt to very different settings very quickly. The futuristic, dystopian feel of Neo Seoul was particularly interesting. In fact, let’s take a look at a scene from that time line:

 

CA_Infographic_J1Pretty cool, right?  The actions scenes were often spot-on, too. And the periods this story takes place in were very well represented.

However, casting and looks can only take you so far. There needs to be a great story line behind a movie like this, and that’s where it really fell short. The tagline of Everything is Connected is pushed very hard from the second you even look at a movie poster for Cloud Atlas. In fact, it’s pushed so hard that it’s quite a let down when you come to see that things.. really aren’t that connected. You’d expect the six stories to be very intertwined; you’d expect the core characters in each respective timeline to suffer the same general pitfalls, and learn the same overall lessons as they may relate to them, personally. I’m just going to rip that band-aid off right now – they don’t. There are certain aspects that are passed down through timelines, but they just aren’t enough to connect the characters together as much as you want them to. If you take a look at the infographic here (click to enlarge), it explains individual items that are passed between characters, but these items, with the notable exception of Sonmi-451 and 2346 Hawaii, really don’t mean very much in the grand scheme of the story. The way you’re built up to believe that everything will connect on a profound level ends up being a huge let down. This entire story seemed like it spent two and a half hours driving and driving to a point, and it just never got there.  Frankly, it was disappointing.

Cloud Atlas has a fair amount of well-delivered humor, and a good portion of fun action sequences. The cast obviously had a lot of fun with this one, and their efforts definitely show. Six different timelines are very beautifully portrayed, often with unique and interesting styles.  However, the soundtrack was unremarkable, and the story was infuriating. This is the kind of movie that would be fun to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon when you have nothing better to do, but it’s absolutely not something I’ll be revisiting anytime soon.

 

 

1000281102BRDFLTOI would, however, like to mention something I found particularly wonderful.  This isn’t even about the movie, though, it’s about the packaging.  One of the ways you can get this DVD is in a combo-pack. This comes with a DVD, Blu-Ray Disc, and an optional digital download. I really have to hand it to WB and the movie industry on this one. Giving consumers options for how they want to view a product they own is a long-awaited idea that we’ve all been hoping for.

 

That said, Cloud Atlas available NOW on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and Digital Download.  I’d love to hear what you guys thought of it.

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Book Review: Dark Shadows, a Visual Companion

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This book is a comprehensive, giant, super-glossy coffee table book all about Tim Burton’s film adaptation of old cult TV series Dark Shadows. It’s got thorough character sketches, a behind the scenes story as to how and why the movie got made, and numerous concept sketches, all interspersed with testimonials from the actors and others attesting to how cool it was to be a part of this Burton project.

Pluses: This book is gorgeous. If you are a Burton fan or a Depp fan or even a fan of anyone else in this movie, you’ll love to have this in your nerd-collection. If you like to see behind the scenes and look at all the art, stunt work, makeup and hair, and conceptual design of an auteur director who is intensely visual, you’ll want this book out on your coffee table, at least during the Halloween season.

Minuses: Sorry to say this, but I don’t think anyone but a very die hard fan of Burton, Depp or Bonham-Carter knows this movie even exists. It seems to me a giant effort and no doubt huge expense for quite an obscure movie, that no doubt DVD extras could provide just as well. Having said that, I know very well the following that Burton has and we nerds’ love of collectibles, so I have no doubt that this book will find many happy homes.

Bottom line: It’s a gorgeous book, but it’s not really for anyone but hardcore fans and collectors.

~Prof. Jenn

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Book Review: The Great Showdowns

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(above: one of my favorites)

The Great Showdowns is a lovely little art book that is at once a fun geeky guessing game and high quality pop art watercolors.

When I received my review copy, I promptly brought it to rehearsal so I could peruse it while I was backstage, not in a scene. It proceeded to enchant the entire cast, who would, on tenterhooks, look over my shoulder as I flipped the pages, exclaiming the depiction as soon as they could decipher it. They didn’t stay as quiet as actors need to backstage, and I am not sure that a late entrance or two may not have been because of this book.

Scott C. does these showdowns a lot– his work is not just relegated to little comic-y art books, but his work appears in galleries and collections regularly. It shows. The Showdowns are simple in the most complex way–sometimes the showdown will be obvious (Han Solo and Greedo), other times you have to look at it for a bit before you “get it” (the one about Trainspotting made us all laugh way too loud). And there’s an introduction by Neil Patrick Harris, so there’s the awesomeness factor ramped up right there.

Bottom line: The Great Showdowns is a wonderful little magical tome to include in your art library, pop culture collection, or keep out on your coffee table.

~Prof. Jenn

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The Dark Knight Rises… into theaters: A Review

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It’s pretty safe to say that the release of The Dark Knight Rises was one of, if not the most, anticipated film this summer. Since 2005, Christopher Nolan has kept us on the edge of our seats with his wonderfully macabre telling of the Batman tale. On a personal level, I have always had a very strong fondness for the entire Batman world. The dark knight has always ranked at the very top of my list of superheroes, particularly because he’s the antihero.  When you think about recent films, shows, and projects, antiheroes have really stepped into the spotlight lately (consider works such as Dr. Horrible or Breaking Bad). I’m sure we could spend all day considering the psychology of this, but today we’re more focused on Batman, and suffice it to say, the recent Nolan Batman films fit right into this antihero craze. Add the long-standing fandom of the Batman world to the antihero love, and cap it off with the brilliant success of the highly acclaimed last installment, The Dark Knight, and you have a recipe for some high levels of excitement. I do believe, in a lot of ways, the ending to this trilogy lived up to the hype. However, some aspects left me looking for more. Let’s get to that now.

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From here on out, all you’ll see is SPOILERS. If you have not seen the movie, and don’t want it SPOILED, skip to the next article instead.

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One thing I greatly admire about Nolan’s take on the Batman story is his ability to reinvent characters. Nolan faced the challenge of demystifying the characters in the Batman realm, bringing them more to life by making them more human, while still remaining true to the comics. In some ways, this leaves us with a lot of questions about specific characters and their origins, while lending a new sense of intrigue to them. Take, for instance, Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight: we never got a solid origin story out of that, but the way he spoke about his potential origins, he gave us a deep look into the psychosis of this character. This relates to the newly introduced characters, too. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, put simply, was brilliant. Throughout the film, Selina Kyle hints several times at a past filled with bad mistakes and regrets. We never get the details on what happened with her past, but we’re told why she wants it erased to badly, and certainly feel her sense of urgency to the point that we can feel her justification for all of her devious plots. Meanwhile, we get a glimpse at the remnants of Bruce Wayne’s internal torment. We see old, exalted photos of a half-forgotten life hindering his ability or desire to move on.  We also get to watch him come back to life and force himself to be the hero he is, not because he wants to, but because he has to.  This need to return to Batman is also hastened by Gotham City PD’s Officer Blake, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Blake was an orphan, himself, who depended on Wayne’s contributions to local charities growing up, and who was inspired by Batman’s moral influence and strong will to help the people of Gotham. So with that in mind, we enter into this film being immediately greeted by three strong characters in desperate situations.

Next, we have Bane. In many stories, Bane has pretty much been the equivalent of a pumped up hired gun. However, the original Dixon story that influenced Bane’s presence in The Dark Knight Rises, “Knightfall,” gives him a much stronger presence. Because of that story arc in the comics, Bane became known as “The Man Who Broke the Bat,” for having broken Batman’s back during a fight. This is also true of TDKR. The very first fight between Bane, played by Tom Hardy, and Batman is an extremely powerful scene. After teaming up with Catwoman, Batman is brought down to the sewers to find Bane and confront him head-on. Before they get all the way there, Batman is pulled away from Catwoman, and thrown onto a metal walkway, going across the sewers below, with Bane, and locked there. Instantly, the music drops, so all you hear are select sounds from the confrontation and fight. The entire time, we see Catwoman clinging on to the bars of the walkway, obviously distraught about double-crossing the dark knight, and very concerned for his life. The blows go back and forth rather evenly for a while before Bane takes a very commanding lead, tossing Batman around like a rag doll. Eventually, true to the story it was adapted from, the scene turns more serious when Bane lifts Batman over his head, then drops the Bat onto his knee, breaking his back. To add insult to injury, Bane peels half of the broken mask from the fallen hero’s face while he’s writhing in pain on the ground, and tosses it aside. Leaving the scene with the symbolic gesture of discarding something that was meant as a beacon of hope for the people of Gotham.

Above all, though, I’d have to say my own personal favorite character here was Miranda, played by a fantastic actress, Marion Cotillard. Miranda is Bruce’s business-associate-turned-love interest throughout the story, growing more and more prominent in his life. While Batman is recovering, Bane is taking over Gotham, with the promise of destroying it with a nuclear bomb, and the entire city is left to fight and scavenge. During this time, Miranda appears to be working with Bruce’s business associates, but of course we come to find out this is a ruse. After Batman seemingly defeats Bane, we get Miranda’s reveal. Throughout the entire film, we’ve been teased with what is presented to be Bane’s backstory. A small child in a prison made out of a giant hole in the ground, nicknamed “Hell.” The child is the only person to ever escape this prison by climbing the walls. This is the same prison Batman is exiled to while recovering from his broken spine. To get out of the prison, he has to climb the same wall the small child did. After several tries, he manages this feat while the rest of the prisoners are shouting “Rise! Rise!” in their own language. We hear the story of the child – the spawn of a mercenary and a noblewoman – in pieces, but we hear the ending from Miranda. This child turns out to be Miranda, who reveals that she is actually Talia al Ghul, there to fulfill the legacy of her father, Ra’s al Ghul. In the Batman universe, Talia is a character with a long history of being Batman’s love interest, Catwoman’s rival, and Bane’s accomplice. However, showing Talia as the little girl escaping “Hell,” supported by her childhood friend and protector, Bane, gives a whole new level of emotional depth to both of these characters. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Marion Cotillard presents this reveal scene with a certain stoicism that makes the entire twist seem that much more significant.

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Gremlins 1 & 2: Review and GIVEAWAY!

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Most of us grew up with these movies, and I’ll bet you probably feel like you have a good idea of what happened in these movies, and that you’re an expert on Gremlins. I can promise you.. you’re not. Unless these are your traditional Christmas movies (aside from Die Hard), I can pretty much guarantee that you should double, if not triple the level of entertainment you remembered getting from these films. Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen them in a while, we’re going to give you the chance to win them on Blu-Ray.

While the original Gremlins starts out as a cute story about an evil real estate lady talking smack about some kid’s dog, it evolves into so much more. Sure, you remember how adorable Gizmo was, and how cute it was to see him whistle along with a keyboard. Let me remind you what goes on in this film. A self-proclaimed inventor goes to Chinatown in NYC to sell some of his home-made wares, and comes across a cheeky little kid inviting him to his grandfather’s shop. The man goes to the shop to try to sell something to the old Chinese fellow, and ends up trying to bribe the old Chinese fellow into giving him a small creature from his store. Of course, the Chinese fellow refuses, and asks the man to leave. A couple minutes later, the cheeky little kid comes running out with a box, explaining the creature is a Mogwai, and asking the stranger to abide by three simple rules: 1 – Keep him away from bright lights. Sunlight could kill him, 2 – Don’t get him wet, and 3 – Don’t feed him after midnight. The stranger thanks the kid, and brings the creature home to his son, Billy, as a Christmas present. Billy adores the cute little creature, nicknamed Gizmo, and introduces him to a neighborhood kid. As is the case with most 80s films, this neighborhood kid is played by Cory Feldman, and does exactly the wrong thing which gets the story in motion: he spills a big cup of water on Gizmo. The water causes him to multiply, and several other little Mogwai spawn from him. Gizmo doesn’t seem to like this. In fact, he seems very worried about all his new little friends. Probably because they’re jerks. They make a mess, they’re loud, they’re obnoxious, and they trick their master into feeding them after midnight. This changes the cute, furry, playful beings into big, creepy, green, reptilian imps that just love going around causing mischief. This is what everyone remembers from this 1984 classic: a fun, slightly scary time with incredibly imaginative creatures.

Now let’s talk about what I recently had the pleasure of rediscovering while watching these gems. First of all, this is a horror movie. Sure, it has cute little creatures, a campy tone, and some morality in there, but for all intents and purposes, this is absolutely a horror story. When the obnoxious Mogwais hatch into Gremlins, they instantly start terrorizing a town. They start by killing a high school Science teacher, while another batch goes to mess with Billy’s mother. I should mention she just made some fabulous-looking gingerbread men. The mother goes to investigate a noise caused by the Gremlins upstairs, and comes back to her kitchen to see these little jerks just causing all kinds of problems with her cooking utensils and – this takes the cake – eating her fresh cookies. I’d be all in a huff over this too, but this woman goes for the biggest kitchen knife she can find. She then proceeds to fling one Gremlin into a microwave, making it explode, shove another in a blender, and then plunges that big ol’ knife right into a third. She meant business. Beyond the antics of a mother defending her fresh-baked cookies, we also get to see these little green imps crowd into a bar (where the main character’s love interest is hard at work), and start drinking, smoking, fighting, and pulling guns on one another. This was after the last lone Gremlin decided he wanted more company, and jumped in a pool of water to reproduce and take over the town. So now this sleepy little town has to fight off all these little monsters.  They do, in case you were wondering, and live to make a sequel.

 

The second one is even better. The best way to describe Gremlins 2 is pretty much to say it’s the Airplane of horror movies. This sequel takes place in New York City where Billy, our protagonist from the first movie, has moved with his girlfriend, Kate. Billy and Kate both work for an eccentric developer whose entire empire circles around being technologically advanced. To the point that tours are given for the building this company is based in, the Clamp Building, so that people can see such novelties as the voice-activated elevator. The Clamp Corporation, has many ambitious projects going, such as destroying a few buildings in Chinatown to make way for a revolutionary new structure, filming several television shows within the building, and even a genetic research lab. Going into this sequel, the campy humor just oozes from every single possible angle. After an introduction into Billy’s new job, we meet a workplace friend of his named Fred, a man dressed as a vampire that hosts a daytime horror review show. Fred alerts his buddy to the new genetics research lab in the building, and one thing leads to another until Billy goes snooping.  There he finds Gizmo, who he previously had to give back to the creature’s elderly Chinese owner. Gizmo had barely escaped building demolition after his master dies, and the Clamp Corporation destroys his old shop building. Some of the boys from the lab find Gizmo on the street, and bring him back to get a closer look at him.  Billy makes his way into the lab, cleverly named A Splice of Life, and rescues Gizmo, hiding him in his desk at work.  After being called to an immediate dinner meeting with his boss, Billy asks his girlfriend and coworker, Kate, to bring Gizmo home.  Kate is less than enthusiastic about this request, being that her only previous experience with the Mogwai was the hellish adventure of ridding her home town of Gremlins. While she procrastinates getting up to Billy’s desk to retrieve Gizmo, a clumsy janitor inadvertently manages to squirt water on Gizmo forcing him to reproduce. Antics ensue, and instead of taking home Gizmo, Kate takes home a very dim-witted, hyper Mogwai by accident.

At this point, there are various Mogwais running about the building, eating things, getting near water, and just generally making a mess. Once Billy comes home to see the wrong Mogwai, he quickly puts together the pieces, and goes down to the Clamp building. From here, things get ridiculous. We quickly get Gremlins running all over the place, affording many opportunities for added hilarity. In one of the taping rooms, we see a fellow reviewing the original Gremlins movie, mentioning how horrible he thinks it is, and how he can’t believe we’re now being subjected to a second one. He’s interrupted by two Gremlins popping up behind him, strangling him with a film strip. We also see another stab at the series when the movie seems to stop, and we’re cut to a theater full of people complaining that “they won’t let us watch the movie.” One lady states “the first one was bad enough!” to a theater manager who goes in to find none other than Hulk Hogan. The theater managers asks the Hulk to please get the Gremlins to let them resume the movie, mentioning that all they want to do is watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (a reference to their behavior in the first movie). Hulk Hogan verbally intimidates the Gremlins, and the movie magically keeps going. This kind of absolutely random, and wonderful humor is prevalent throughout the entire film.

One of the more fun parts of this follow-up is when the Gremlins get into the genetic research lab, and start drinking random formulas. One Gremlin gets his hands on a flask that just has a bat silhouette, and drinks the whole thing, turning himself into a Bat-Gremlin. This sets him up for several Batman jokes while the Bat-Gremlin bursts through a wall and into the skies of New York City. He manages to attack a man in the street who drags him down into a pit of wet concrete. The Bat-Gremlin is just barely able to fly away, covered in wet cement, and lands on an iconic church in downtown New York, hardening into a gargoyle.  Another Gremlin drinks from a flask with a brain on it, becoming the only intelligent Gremlin, able to speak articulately. Yet another Gremlin grabs a flask with male and female signs on it, becoming the only female Gremlin. During all of this, an entire army of Gremlins has descended on the Clamp building taking down various areas of the structure. Each little antic of theirs helps Billy convince the security crew in the building that there is, in fact, a very big problem, and they need to evacuate the area. Eventually the only people we assume are left in the building are Billy, Kate, an old man from their hometown, the eccentric developer, Mr. Clamp, and Billy’s immediate boss. We soon come to find that there are two more people there: Vampire Fred and an Asian tourist with a video camera, who are broadcasting the madness to the outside world the entire time. Through a few tricks, the crew gets the entire Gremlin population in the lobby of the building which can only end one way. A musical number. Here we get to see thousands of Gremlins break into “New York, New York” with the only articulate Gremlin singing like Frank Sinatra.

All in all, Gremlins 2 absolutely personifies the level of quality we’ve come to miss from movies of its time. The writing is hilarious and unexpected. The cast is wonderful, and the effects were top-notch for their day. And as of May 8th, you can even own both movies on Blu-Ray. Gotta love the future.

In fact.. let’s get back to that chance to win a Blu-Ray copy of these movies. We’ll be giving away one of each movies, Gremlins and Gremlins 2. So you have a chance to win one or the other here. All you have to do is tell me who your favorite Gremlin is.  I’ll get you started – mine was the one playing with the hand puppets in the first movie.

 

Leave a comment with your pick, and we will randomly draw two winners on Monday, May 21st!

 

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