#ThrowbackThursday – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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Original US release date: May 23, 1984
Production budget: $28,000,000
Worldwide gross: $333,107,271

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to his massively successful Raiders of the Lost Ark (for which I previously did a #ThrowbackThursday column, which you can find here).  It was a follow-up at a time when follow-ups were, though not quite unheard of, rare.  (Notice I didn’t say it was a sequel.  Because it isn’t.  It’s a prequel.)  It was an easy proposition; the original film made more than 21 times its budget, and this one followed up by making almost twelve times its own (making 2.5 times the budget typically guarantees profit).  Indiana Jones had become a pop culture phenomenon and Harrison Ford successfully made the leap from Star Wars star to genuine movie star.

Despite its financial success, this particular installment in the Indiana Jones franchise wasn’t as critically well-received as its predecessor, and it’s easy to see why, as it’s quite a mixed bag.  Ford, himself, is as commanding as ever as the titular Dr. Jones, but his supporting cast doesn’t fare quite so well.  Accompanying Indy on this adventure are two notable and memorable accomplices.  Since we last saw him, Indy has found a young Chinese boy who goes by the name Short Round.  Short Round works as a driver and a sidekick for Indy, tagging along wherever he goes and doing what he can to carry his own weight.  Opinions vary on Short Round, but put me down as a fan.  Not only is he unique, but Jonathan Ke Quan (then billed as Ke Huy Quan) turns in a solid performance.  Under other circumstances, he would come across as a little over the top.  But he’s a kid!  And kids are over the top!  So, it works, especially since he never overdoes it.

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The final third of our protagonist trio doesn’t fare as well.  Playing vivacious nightclub singer Willie Scott is relative newcomer Kate Capshaw.  Watching Capshaw try to act makes me think about what would happen if I took a mediocre Algebra student and put them in charge of teaching my Statistics class.  Occasionally, they’d get something right just by sheer luck, but they’d spend most of their time trying to fake it until they would hopefully make it.  There are moments when Capshaw is fine (her reaction to the Snake Surprise is pretty much exactly what mine would have been), but she’s never good – much less great – and she’s frequently bad.  I’ll even go so far as to say that her delivery of the infamous, “We’re not sinking – – WE’RE CRASHING, AHHHHH!” line is among the worst I’ve ever seen in all of film, TV, stage, local theater, and even high school plays.  She’s over-the-top, unnatural, and just can’t seem to relax.  Her casting worked out for director Steven Spielberg, because he and Capshaw eventually married in 1991, but he’s the only one that benefitted.  She was way out of her depth in a movie that didn’t even require that much depth to begin with.

Aside from Quan and Capshaw, the villains are also silly and exaggerated.  Part of it is in the writing (the film even ends with a clichéd everybody-laughs-at-something-that-isn’t-especially-funny moment), but much of it is in the performances.  This starts right at the beginning in Club Obi Wan (an early example of an Easter egg) where Indy meets Willie during an encounter with nefarious Chinese diplomats.  The characterizations are by far the weakest aspect of the film, affecting virtually everyone except for Indy and, arguably, Short Round.  Nobody else is even remotely believable, whether it comes to the writing or the performances.

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And the writing makes other questionable choices, as well, often pushing forward with an idea just for the sake of doing it.  One moment, Indy and Willie can’t stand each other and she’s being portrayed as an annoying nag, and the next, they’re flirty and lovey with no transition or explanation.  And they aren’t just hoping for a hookup; supposedly true feelings and attraction simply materializes out of nowhere.  This is just one example, but the film seems determined to check off as many tropes as possible.  On top of that, the film is oddly a prequel, though there’s no story points that necessitate such a choice.  Living through this adventure even contradicts Indy’s declaration in Raiders that he doesn’t believe in magic.  So, yes, the writing here is weak.

On the flip side, the setting and action scenes are a lot of fun.  For me, in particular, I still consider the mine cart chase to be my favorite scene in the entire franchise.  And it was an influential one, too.  Its impact can still be felt in everything from other movies (the Harry Potter series) to video games (“Donkey Kong Country”, “Final Fantasy”).  The entire final third of the film, once they enter the temple, is a pretty raucous ride, with plenty of engaging, innovative excitement that is quite frankly so good that it tips the scales and makes the film enjoyable in spite of its many other flaws.

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not as highly regarded as other films in the series, but it has its moments.  Unfortunately, many of them are bad.  But what’s good is very good and no film geek is worth their street cred without having seen this one at least once.  The extended, pulse-pounding finale makes all of the tedious build worth it, in the end.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

#ThrowbackThursday – Les Misérables (2012)

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Original US release date: December 25, 2012
Production budget: $61,000,000
Worldwide gross: $441,809,770

I was just talking about this movie, a few weeks ago, when I did a #ThrowbackThursday post for 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera by Joel Schumacher.  Like that one, Les Misérables is a beloved musical (though probably more highly-regarded than Phantom in literary circles) that has seen many different interpretations over the years.  This particular incarnation came from Tom Hooper who was riding a wave of momentum following the massive box office and critical reception of his previous film, The King’s Speech.  That one won Best Picture at the Academy Awards (and elsewhere) and while Les Misérables couldn’t quite make it two in a row for Hooper in that regard, it still earned a nomination in that category, wins in other categories, and a massive total at the worldwide box office, solidifying the film as an unqualified success.

Set in nineteenth-century France, Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man who was imprisoned for nineteen years after stealing bread to feed his nephew.  Upon his release, he fails to report in, thereby breaking parole and putting himself on the run from policeman Javert (Russell Crowe).  In the meantime, Valjean sets up a new life for himself, and agrees to care for the daughter of the impoverished Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

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There’s a lot going on in this story and there are a couple of time jumps involved, as well, to push the narrative along to its relevant plot points.  I’m of two minds about the film, feeling that the execution could be stronger but also unable to deny the inherent power in the performances and many of the musical numbers.

Jackman is in his wheelhouse (or at least one of his wheelhouses) as the lead star.  His background is in musical theater, so he makes it all look easy as he sings, acts, and emotes all over the place.  Valjean is a good man with a good heart who has been on the bad end of circumstances and spent a lifetime paying for it.  He hopes to lift up others around him so they won’t have the same experiences but Javert makes it difficult with his relentless pursuance.

Russell Crowe’s casting as Javert was the strongest point of contention upon the film’s release at the end of 2012.  Most will agree that Crowe is a fine actor and he does nothing to bring that into question, here.  It’s his singing that raised some eyebrows among both audiences and critics.  He was the reason I brought this film up during my look back at Phantom of the Opera as Gerard Butler’s vocal ability was also questionable in that film.  Crowe isn’t the best singer, but, after hearing them so close together, I can state with confidence that he’s better than Butler.  Truth be told, Crowe isn’t a bad singer, but he is an average one.  And average stands out when surrounded by the likes of Jackman, Hathaway, and others who can really go.  I imagine he felt insecure and nervous about his abilities, so my hat’s off to him for sticking it out and doing his best.  He’s actually okay, but he was hired for his presence and acting ability and he still excels in those areas.

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Speaking of excelling, Anne Hathaway manages to essentially steal the entire picture with one scene and one song.  Her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” may be the single greatest musical performance ever committed to film.  Les Misérables got much praise for recording the cast’s singing live on set as they were being filmed, rather than in post-production ADR (automated dialogue replacement – i.e. dubbing).  The entire movie was certainly helped by that decision and none more so than Hathaway.  For the scene, Hooper places the camera in her face and just sits back while she kills it in one, unbroken take.  And, though the take was unbroken, hearts were not, as she grabbed the entire world and forced them to feel her pain and sorrow.  It’s raw and it’s real and it’s everything that every performance in every movie should be.  I thought to myself immediately, when seeing the film in the theater, that she needed to win an Academy Award for the part.  And she did, securing Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role at the Oscars, just a couple of months later (she didn’t have enough screen time for the Leading Role category).  She honestly just didn’t have any competition; Hathaway is just that good, here.

That scene happens relatively early in the film and while I’m not going to say that it’s “all downhill” from there, her big moment is certainly the high point of the film.  Still, there’s plenty of good to follow, even if none of it is iconic, as Hathaway’s scene is.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter lighten the mood with a delightfully fun performance of “Master of the House” (for which I will forever incorrectly sing the lyrics, thanks to George Costanza on “Seinfeld”).  And in any other film that didn’t feature that Hathaway performance, Samantha Barks would have been the talk of the industry for her version of “On My Own”, which, to her credit, is almost as powerful as Hathaway (it’s actually my favorite song in the film).  Eddie Redmayne really delivers with his performance of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, as well, and the conclusion to the film actually made me teary-eyed during this re-watch, which I don’t remember happening, before.

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So, yeah, there is much good to be had in Les Misérables.  But I have one big issue, as well.  I mentioned in my Phantom review that I’m not crazy about dialogue being sung outside of dedicated songs, and that’s almost all we get, here.  There are very few spoken lines.  I understand that’s a personal preference and mileage will vary, but sometimes the singing is harder to make out than speaking would be – especially in large choral arrangements.  As a result, it can be very easy to miss something important – not because the viewer isn’t paying attention, but because the line was sung so quickly or so quietly, in preparation for the next one that’s about to be projected, that it was nigh unintelligible.  For example, suddenly, a character may be dying and you might have no idea why.  And that might happen three or four times.  Don’t write me; I know why the characters die, but it’s not because it was made clear by the filmmakers.  If you have no problems understanding sung dialogue, then you’ll have no issues, here.  If you do, however, come with a backup plan to make sure you’re following all of the events of the film.

Despite not being a perfect viewing experience, there’s little arguing with the power of the film and the high level of performance from the cast.  The movie is a bit of a marathon and there’s some downtime between the truly notable songs, scenes, and moments, but, overall, it’s a rewarding experience that will leave a lasting impression if the viewer gives themselves over to it.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Les Misérables (2012)

Review – It Comes at Night

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From fledgling director Trey Edward Shults and burgeoning studio A24 comes the horror film that seemingly everyone has been talking about, It Comes at Night.  A24 has quietly become one of the three most consistent and reliable studios out there, churning out quality films like they have an assembly line, while covering all genres and all types of film – from comedy to horror to drama.  Earlier this year, they won Best Picture with Moonlight and they had many other films on the tongues of fans and critics alike all throughout 2016.  They’ve come at us with such gems as The Witch, Swiss Army Man, 20th Century Women , The Monster, and others.  And now they’re back with It Comes at Night.

As is typical for A24, It Comes at Night is an adult, sophisticated film that falls within whichever genres in which it finds itself.  In this case, we’re talking horror-drama.  The title might be misleading, however, as there is no physical supernatural force at hand in this film.  Rather, It Comes at Night deals with a post-apocalyptic world that has been ravaged by a supervirus.  Clearly, this isn’t the first outlet for kind of story, but It Comes at Night approaches the idea from a smaller-scale, more personal perspective.  The title, itself, has a meaning that is best left to be discovered and even analyzed.

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The film begins with the family of protagonist Paul (Joel Edgerton) suffering a painful loss.  Immediately, the entire family is conveyed as relatable and sympathetic, forming an quick and easy connection with the audience.  When an unexpected visitor comes calling, the family must decide how best to handle their arrival in the face of the omnipresent viral threat as well as their own safety and survival.

It Comes at Night is not the feel-good movie of the year.  If you want that, head back out to Wonder Woman.  Rather, in this film, one will get a reminder of the importance of their loved ones, as well as the fragility of life.  Less obtusely, the film also serves as a commentary on the ever-present struggle between trust and paranoia in modern society.  It’s a difficult topic that is making itself known on a daily basis through our news broadcasts, at our airports, and on our sidewalks.  Few take a pragmatic approach to the topic, instead aiming to force it into a simple binary scenario with no shades of gray, but It Comes at Night does a fantastic job of contradicting that idea with some masterful storytelling.

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No matter who the audience sees as heroes and who they see as villains in this tale, it’s difficult to argue with the actions of any of the characters.  No one in the narrative wants anything bad to happen to anyone else, but each also understands that their survival and the survival of those closest to them should be most important.  And that’s tough to argue with.  As a result, the story is a challenging one to watch at times as impossible decisions are made by people who have no desire to make them.  And it starts right at the beginning.

This sort of tale can only be properly presented if the filmmakers come armed with a capable cast, and Shults has certainly done so.  The cast is small, but finessed.  Their performances can shift from endearing to heartbreaking in the blink of an eye without losing even an ounce of credibility – whether it be for the story or for their respective characters.  And that goes for all of them; no exceptions.  Riley Keough gives such a soulful, gut-wrenching turn that she nearly made me emotional at one point in the film.   Technically, it’s a horror-thriller, but there is a great weight to the proceedings and it’s difficult to remain detached from it all when the cast is so accomplished at forcing the viewer to care.

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There has been some controversy around the film as some people have complained(whined) that it isn’t what they expected.  I have two suggestions for those people.  1) Do some actual research.  If you’re so desperate to know everything you’re going to see before you see it, then do a search.  It’s easy.  And it’s all out there.  Or, preferably, 2) Don’t have expectations.  Let the filmmakers tell you their story instead of mindlessly, absurdly demanding that they tell yours.  If you do that, and you’re up for something aimed at a more refined, discerning audience, then there will be much to revel in with regards to It Comes at Night.

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Review – It Comes at Night

Review – The Mummy (2017)

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As you may be aware, The Mummy is not only a revival of the classic Universal monster who first hit the big screen way back in 1932 (as portrayed by Boris Karloff) but is also an effort by Universal to launch their own connected universe, ala Marvel’s MCU, built around their movie monster library.  To hopefully get things off on the right foot, they have enlisted the services of megastar Tom Cruise as lead protagonist Nick Morton as he takes the battle to the mummy of the new age, played by Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond).  Backing the pair up is Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, a very public casting that is undoubtedly setting up a future installment in what Universal has dubbed their Dark Universe.

Seemingly everybody is trying to get in on the shared universe idea after seeing Marvel’s unparalleled success with The Avengers and the rest of their Cinematic Universe.  Warner Brothers has their DC Extended Universe, which is a natural fit, but beyond that, it remains to be seen if this is a good idea, in general.  Ironically, WB’s latest DCEU entry hit big, last weekend, and has taken hold of the public zeitgeist in a way that would make it difficult for virtually any film to follow – at least at the box office, if not creatively.  So, the timing of the release of The Mummy may come back to bite it, but we’ll deal with that should it come to pass (for the record, I’m predicting a weekend box office repeat at number one for Wonder Woman).

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The important topic at hand is simply whether or not The Mummy works on its own.  Forget about Dark Universes; if this film fails to stand on its own two feet, audiences might lose interest in any potential follow-ups.  Right off the bat, Universal goes out of its way to ensure that the audience understands that this is a Dark Universe film, as they’ve added a Dark Universe logo to accompany their Universal logo.  This might seem a little ham-fisted upon initial consideration, but that’s branding for you.  If Universal is going all in on this thing, they need to make sure that audiences comprehend it and begin to look for it.  They have a lot invested in the idea as well as all of these monster properties that they’ve had in their possession for nearly 100 years, so I can’t blame them for going the extra mile.  In a similar situation, any of us would be wise to do the same.

Continuing on the topic, Universal and director Alex Kurtzman let their inexperience with this sort of thing show through a scene designed entirely with the purpose of pushing this Dark Universe.  It’s forced and it feels out of place, but much worse than that, it’s entirely underwhelming.  If they want to do a connected universe like Marvel, that’s their prerogative and there’s nothing wrong with that, in theory.  It could actually be kind of cool.  But they have to understand that their properties aren’t the same as Marvel properties, so they need to take their own world-building approach and not so blatantly rip off the folks at Marvel who did it first and continue to do it best.  They stopped short of a post-credits tag with Samuel L. Jackson, but it was still a jarring and deflating diversion in the middle of a film that needs all the positive word-of-mouth it can get.

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Outside of that, I’m honestly still deciding how I feel about the movie.  I know I didn’t actively dislike it, though I disliked elements of it.  But other components were rather enjoyable.  The dialogue is on the weaker side.  It’s not uninteresting, but attempts at humor generally fall flat, despite the cast’s best efforts (especially Jake Johnson, who has excellent delivery.  But even Amazon delivers crap if that’s what’s in the box.)  The characters are mildly compelling, at best, and not particularly relatable.  I suppose that’s not a crime, but relatability helps if an invested audience is desired.  And there are clichéd action/suspense moments that don’t follow any sort of internal logic (including the infamous Stormtrooper aim).  So, bleh.

On the flip side, the cast is watchable in spite of the lackluster material they’re given.  Sofia Boutella looks to be having a good time as the villainous Ahmanet.  The action is mostly fun and surprisingly varied in style for a movie centered around a supernatural force of evil, returned from the dead.  Some of the beats and visuals are borrowed from the pair of Stephen Sommers Mummy films (both underrated and superior to this installment, as a whole.  I really miss Arnold Vosloo shouting, “ANCK SU NAMUN!!!”), but maybe we’ll just call that an homage and keep moving.  I was both pleased and surprised by the horror elements of the film.  Yes, it’s horror-action, but those Sommers films practically jettisoned horror, altogether.  So, it’s nice to get a healthy dose of it in this reboot, for a change.  The action is relatively small scale, but it’s also a hard-hitting combination of traditional action set pieces infused with ancient Egyptian horror.  It all feels at once unique and familiar, which is enough to essentially make it fresh, even in the face of so many Mummy films from decades past.

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I’ve already seen some critics wield the tired expression “joyless” as a sword against the film, and I call foul.  Firstly, the film aims  for light moments.  It doesn’t necessarily succeed, but it tries.  But, even if it didn’t, so what?  It’s bad enough that all of the studios seem to believe that if their big-budget films don’t play like a Marvel film, they’ll fail, but now some critics are basically telling them that they’re right.  Blockbusters don’t have to have comedy and lightness to be “joyful”.  Joy can come from other places, varying based on the individual viewer.  In general, I personally get joy from exquisitely crafted action scenes.  And horror.  And a masterful acting performance.  And lots of other things.  I’m sure a lot of people will get joy from this film just by looking at Tom Cruise for two hours.  “Joyless” is not a legitimate criticism; it’s a personal preference being projected as a fact.  You know what’s joyless?  Reading those short-sighted, uninsightful “reviews”.

That’s not to say that The Mummy is perfect or will be enjoyed by everyone.  Neither is the case.  I mostly enjoyed it (I liked it more than Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), but not with any sort of overwhelming enthusiasm like I felt for Wonder Woman.  If nothing else, at its best, the film is a fairly unique take on the Mummy mythos that stays true enough to still feel familiar and faithful.  At its worst, it tries too hard to sell an audience on the Dark Universe before they’ve even been completely sold on The Mummy.  So take all of this and do what you will with it.  The movie is probably worth a look if this sort of film is your thing, but there are definitely better – and more important – films out there, right now.

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Review – The Mummy (2017)

#Throwback Thursday – Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

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Original US release date: September 30, 2011
Production budget: $5,000,000
Worldwide gross: $4,749,516

There have been many horror-comedies throughout the years, but none (that I’ve seen) like director and co-writer Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.  Playing as part sendup of, and part homage to, the classic backwoods horror films of the seventies and eighties (ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre), the film tells the story of a group of college students who head to the woods for a debauchery-filled excursion only to run into a pair of menacing hillbillies who seem up to no good.  Well . . . that’s kind of the story.  That’s the story from the perspective of the college students.  But, unlike every other film of this kind, this narrative is told from the perspective of the hillbillies, Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, respectively), as they have innocently made their way to Tucker’s cabin in the woods for some fishing and old-fashioned outdoor work.

I used the word “sendup” because, though the film is unquestionably a comedy, it stops short of being a parody.  Craig has no intention of making fun of the classic horror films that so many grew up on and hold dear in their hearts.  This is just a comedic take with a twist.  So, no worries about this being another version of a Scary Movie film.  It’s not even close.  While those movies are rife with easy, brainless, lowest-common-denominator “humor” (I liked the first one.  The rest were awful.), Tucker & Dale relies on situational comedy, a fresh angle, clever twists, and a perfect cast.

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A while back, I did a column entitled Interlude – Top Five Favorite Comedies.  Now, I feel bad about it.  Because I had forgotten about this film and there is no doubt it is one of the five funniest films I’ve ever seen.  As much as the movie has in common with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from a thematic and narrative perspective, from the filmmaking point of view, it has much more in common with Clue.  The film isn’t about jokes.  It’s about humor coming from absurd situations and then the characters’ reactions to them.  The events that play out in the film, one after the other, are even almost plausible if you take them one at a time.  I suppose in order for them to be believable in the slightest, one also has to accept the general stupidity of certain people in the world.  But, hey, you and I both live on the same planet and it’s not that tough to believe in general stupidity, is it?  Think about it; how often do you see someone texting and driving?  If you take a moment to look for it, many times a day.  The stupidity that the characters in this film put on display is just a slightly – slightly – exaggerated version of that.

None of it would work without Tudyk and Labine.  They make the film what it is.  Both of them give all-time great comedic performances.  They are immensely restrained as the bewildered country men who can’t comprehend the events that are unfolding around them.  Both inject an earnest sincerity into their performances and that choice is what elevates the film from a good and entertaining to one of the best of its kind.  Tudyk is a living legend in the geek world but I haven’t seen Labine in any sort of significant role outside of this one, and that’s regretful.  He’s clearly an intelligent guy who understands what’s funny and – more importantly – why.  His timing and delivery are impeccable and the world of comedy could use more Tyler Labine.

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As silly as the movie is, there is actually some well-meaning subtext underneath it all.  It’s hard to ignore how the characters judge each other, deciding in their heads who the others are without having any sort of meaningful interactions with them, and then refusing to believe anything else.  With each passing year, the world becomes more and more judgmental.  It’s okay to judge people for things they’ve actually said and done, but too many judge without knowing for sure those they are judging have, in fact, said and/or done those things.  In this story, that leads to vast and immediate calamities, while real world consequences are typically much more subtle and poisonous in the long-term.  But the comparison is still there and worth noting.

In other odds and ends, the film is brutally violent in an over-the-top way that precludes it from being truly gory.  It’s all played for irony and comedy.  Katrina Bowden (“30 Rock”) sizzles as the requisite Hot Girl, Allison, who is caught in the middle of it all as both a friend of the college students and also the object of Dale’s affections.  Like Tucker and Dale, Allison breaks stereotypes by being more than just eye candy.  She’s smart, wise, and caring and Bowden does a great job bridging the gap between the students and the locals.

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There have been many films where the hot young cast believe they’re in a comedy (usually a sex comedy) only to discover that they’re actually in a horror movie.  Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is the only movie to flip the script on that as the college students think they’re in a horror movie when they’re actually in a comedy.  Either way, whenever a character in any film isn’t actually in the film they think they’re in, bad things happen.  And bad things definitely happen in this film.  But you’ll be laughing the whole time.  See this movie.  It’s a modern classic and genius at its finest.

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#Throwback Thursday – Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

The Ten Best Comic Book Movie Castings

There was a time, long ago, when a movie based on a comic book couldn’t even get a greenlight.  Then, slight progress was made so that they could get the go-ahead, but nobody with any name value wanted anywhere near them.  Now, comic books are recognized as the complex pieces of art that they are, with wide-ranging, four-quadrant appeal that has long passed having mere potential and has instead taken over big-budget filmmaking.  As a result, very few talents don’t want to be involved as they can now earn a gigantic paycheck without feeling like they need to compromise themselves and their art to do so.

As a result, there have been many amazing casting choices for comic book films over the decades – and especially in recent years.  I’m delegating to myself the near-impossible task of choosing the ten best.  If your favorite didn’t make this list, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like them.  Save your breath.  Many of my own favorites aren’t making this list.  In fact, I could do a Top Twenty without breaking a sweat, but I’m going to restrain myself, here.

Also, these are not ranked.  That would be painstakingly difficult.  I could probably choose a number one, but after that – no way.  Also, I’m not counting TV.  Only film.  Had I counted TV, only Krysten Ritter, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Melissa Benoist would have likely made the list, anyway.  So, in no particular order, here are . . .

The Ten Best Comic Book Movie Casting Choices in Film History

 

Heath Ledger – The Joker

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Let’s get this one out of the way.  Not that I mean to be dismissive, but I know this is the one that everyone was waiting to see.  So, yes, here he is.  And with good reason.  Ledger’s casting met huge backlash from the omniscient, all-knowing Internet geek world, who claimed he was a pretty boy cheesecake who could never pull off the role.  It wasn’t the first, last, or even millionth time that these people have exposed their ignorance as Ledger threw himself into the part with reckless abandon, perfectly encapsulating the Joker’s more contemporary traits of menace and lunacy, winning an Academy Award (sadly, posthumously) for his efforts.  I personally liked Jack Nicholson’s Joker about as much, as different as it was, but Ledger gets the nod due to his impact and achievement.

Chris Pratt – Peter Quill/Star-Lord

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Chris Pratt’s casting also met with some backlash, though not with the same vehemence as that of Ledger.  Most who had an issue with him pigeonholed him as the chubby guy from “Parks and Rec”, seemingly not understanding that 1) exercise is a thing and 2) the performance is what matters the most.  And Pratt nailed the performance.  Simultaneously smarmy and endearing, Pratt gives us a Star-Lord that wants to get close to people, but has no idea how.  Funny, confident, and relatable, Pratt’s demeanor and delivery are unmatched.  Groot gets all the press, but Pratt is the true on-screen force behind the success of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Hugh Jackman – Logan/James Howlett/Wolverine

Wolverine

You know what?  Let’s just go through all the complaints the “fans” had regarding each of these casting choices.  “He’s a stage actor who does musicals!  How can he be Wolverine?!”  “Nobody’s ever heard of him!  Wolverine should be a star!”  “He’s too tall!”  Yes, folks.  “He’s too tall” was actually a complaint.  Well, we all know how this turned out.  Jackman took the character of Wolverine to a whole new level, making him a true household name and pop culture icon.  Jackman could flip a switch and immediately shift from protective and caring father figure to rampaging, uncontrollable animal.  Complex and layered, Jackman crafted a Wolverine that was far more interesting than his comic book counterpart and will live forever in the annals of pop culture.

Christopher Reeve – Clark Kent/Superman

Superman

Sorry, I can’t do the complaints, here.  There are two reasons: 1) there was no Internet when this film was released and 2) though I was alive at that time, I wasn’t actually old enough to even be aware of my own existence, yet, much less this movie.  But, looking back on Christopher Reeve’s Superman, there is no questioning his performance or his impact.  Reeve was an unknown, which is exactly who Superman needed to be.  He injected the part with heart, sincerity, and depth and his performance had such resonance that fans still see him as the benchmark to this day – almost forty years later.  Reeve helped put comic books on the map as something that wasn’t just child’s play and we might not be where we are today without him.

Robert Downey, Jr. – Tony Stark/Iron Man

Iron Man

Here’s a twist: the majority of the complaints upon Robert Downey, Jr.’s, casting as Iron Man came not from the geek world but from the general audience.  “Robert Downey, Jr. doesn’t look like a superhero!  He doesn’t have muscles and he’s not exactly young, anymore!”  Well, comic book fans knew better in this case and were pretty united (for a change) in their support for this casting decision.  Tony Stark has never been a muscle-bound physical specimen.  He’s a fast-talking, wise-cracking, a-hole businessman with addiction problems.  Downey barely even had to act, at all, perfectly capturing the essence of Tony Stark and charming audiences for over nine years, now.  Thanks to Downey, Iron Man was a massive hit, Marvel Studios was properly launched, Marvel permanently dug themselves out of bankruptcy, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.  For Marvel, Robert Downey, Jr. was a real-life hero.

Anne Hathaway – Selina Kyle/Catwoman

Catwoman

Sadly often overlooked, Anne Hathaway was everything that the comic book Catwoman had ever been and more.  Most complaints were not about her look or her ability but simply because some people out there believe that they’re supposed to hate Anne Hathaway on principle, so they do.  But that’s absurd.  With Hathaway playing Selina Kyle as confident, powerful, selfish without getting to the point of being completely uncaring, enticing, intelligent, and downright seductive, Christopher Nolan struck pure gold for the second time in his Batman career when he selected her as Catwoman.  I even got chills as she fought on a rooftop, back-to-back with Christian Bale’s Batman, bringing to life the Catwoman that I had always envisioned.  There’s a small but vocal pocket of people directing a lot of irrational hate towards The Dark Knight Rises, but none of it is towards Hathaway.

Margot Robbie – Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn

There were really no complaints upon the announcement that Margot Robbie would be playing Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad.  Honestly, most people didn’t even know who she was, so that made it hard to complain.  Film lovers knew her from her scene-stealing turn in The Wolf of Wall Street and she quickly became famous for her good looks above all else.  Luckily for the extremely talented Ms. Robbie, that all turned around when Suicide Squad hit theaters all over the world.  Harley Quinn is the only reason that movie happened, so there was a lot of weight on Robbie’s shoulders, but she carried it with ease, once again stealing scene after scene as the cult favorite Harley and solidifying herself as almost the only aspect of the film worth watching.  We’ll see where Harley pops up next (Warner Brothers has said they’re producing a Gotham City Sirens film with Harley, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy.  I’ll believe it when it starts filming.) but both Harley and Robbie are too valuable to the DC Extended Universe to remain on the sidelines for too long.

Henry Cavill – Clark Kent/Superman

Superman Cavill

Yep!  Two Superman choices!  People are actually still complaining about this one.  “This Superman is whiny.”  “He doesn’t save people.”  “He’s hopeless.”  In spite of the facts that the DCEU Superman has never whined, saved the world twice (at great personal expense), and did so because he still believed in the people who turned against him, those complaining about these non-existent issues clearly don’t understand the difference between writing and acting.  Even assuming these things are true, blaming Cavill is laughable, especially when, from his first on-screen appearance as the character, he has exuded the poise, power, chiseled good looks, and demeanor of Superman.  Reeve was perfect as the traditional, classic version of the character.  But Cavill is indispensable as a modern-day hero surrounded by a world of ungrateful cynics – both on- and off-screen.

Ryan Reynolds – Wade Wilson/Deadpool

Deadpool

Reynolds is another rare case where the fans were all onboard from the outset.  Since his days on “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place”, Reynolds has been a master of the cheeky humor that Deadpool has become known for.  The writing wasn’t an exact duplicate of the Deadpool that comic fans have come to love, but it was close enough that most didn’t notice.  Reynolds went to bat for the character after an extremely ill-conceived approach went wrong in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and convinced Fox to give him and Deadpool another chance.  It took a while (a long while), but it worked out exorbitantly well for all.  Deadpool has become yet another household name from the world of comics and his profile is only going to continue to rise, and it’s all thanks to Reynolds.

Gal Gadot – Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman 2

Remember at the beginning of this column when I said that I could probably choose a number one pick?  This would be it.  Gal Gadot brings Wonder Woman to life in a way that makes one almost forget that she’s fictional.  Gadot reeks of honor, wisdom, love, charm, beauty, strength and everything else that makes Diana the hero that she is.  I was so moved by the character and Gadot’s presentation of her that I wrote an emotional analysis addressing why the character is so important in modern society.  With anybody else in the role, that impact would likely be significantly diminished, if not outright lost altogether.  Gadot will possibly now find herself as the face of the DC Extended Universe and one of the most recognizable stars on the planet.  To many people for many generations to come, she will be the definitive Wonder Woman.  And to think, people whined that she “wasn’t big enough”.  (As though Diana’s strength comes from her physique.)

There you have my choices for the ten best casting choices in comic book film history.  There are many more that could have (and almost) made the list, but I chose those with the greatest impact, resonance, and pop-culture footprint.  Much goes into casting choices, and some have not translated well, but for the most part, the professionals should be trusted to do what they do, while we lay back and wait with anticipation to see the results.  I personally can hardly wait to see what’s next!

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The Ten Best Comic Book Movie Castings

Why WONDER WOMAN Matters

Wonder Woman

I just got home from a second viewing of Warner Brothers’s Wonder Woman and I felt compelled to write, again.  I tried to talk myself out of it.  “No, come on, you can take today off.  You’ve already done your next four #ThrowbackThursdays ahead of time.  You stayed up an hour later than you should have, earlier this week, to write a column on America’s increasing lack of box office influence.  And you already wrote about Wonder Woman, just two night ago.  You gave it a great review.  You’ve done your part.  You’ve done enough for the week.”

But I wouldn’t listen to . . . uh . . . me.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t listen because I was more relaxed when watching the movie the second time around.  I wasn’t worried that something horrible was going to happen to ruin my enjoyment of the film.  I knew it was all good.  So, I got to take it in and simply enjoy.  And it was a different experience.  Yes, I already wrote about the film.  But that was with my head.  And this movie deserves more.  Diana deserves more.  Gal Gadot, Warner Brothers, and DC all deserve more.  I had to write about it with my heart.  No film criticism, no self-imposed deadline, and no aiming for a certain word count.  I had to write to get it out and then stop whenever I was done.

Wonder Woman, after seeing it for the second time, has become my third-favorite comic book movie of all-time.  It’s behind only The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you’re keeping track, that makes Wonder Woman my favorite solo comic book movie ever.  And that’s because it plays as more than just an entertaining movie, though it is very much that, as well.  But this film is different because it’s important and because we all needed it, right at this very moment.  And Diana, director Patty Jenkins, and writers Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs knew it.  And they had something they wanted to tell us.

Diana is the greatest single hero in film.  Not just the greatest female hero.  That discussion has been had.  It’s valid, but it’s not what I’m here to discuss.  Not just the greatest comic book hero.  And certainly not just the greatest female comic book hero.  She’s the greatest hero.  Period.

“But Batman!”  No.  I love Batman.  But Diana is a better hero.  Batman doesn’t care what he does to the villains.  He cares for the innocent, but that’s where his caring ends.  Diana genuinely, truly cares for all life.  If she has to hurt – or even kill – someone, she will.  If she absolutely has to.  But it hurts her.  She feels it.  She doesn’t have even the slightest desire to do it.  She cares enough about everyone to want to help them, but she also cares enough about herself to refuse to become them.  She sees the good in herself and in everyone else, too.  Everyone.  Like all of us should.

“But Superman!”  No.  I also love Superman.  I love Superman more than I love Batman.  Superman’s ideology is far more in line with that of a true hero.  But Superman loses faith.  He loses faith in himself.  He loses faith in his beliefs.  He even occasionally loses faith in humanity.  He always comes back around, and he always will, because he’s Superman.  But Diana doesn’t “come around”.  She doesn’t need to, because she never loses faith.  She knows her convictions are true and right.  She knows others can rise to meet them, too.  She knows right from wrong and she never allows anyone to convince her otherwise.  Diana never permits herself to be corrupted and remains steadfast, even against those with the best of intentions.  Like all of us should.

“But Spider-Man!”  No.  I truly, truly love Spider-Man.  I grew up on Spider-Man.  He, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four will always be closer to my heart on a personal level than any other fictional characters, anywhere.  They helped me form my moral center and I will always be grateful to them and the writers and artists who told those stories to me during my formative years.  But Spider-Man gets distracted.  He lets his own personal battles and issues inform his decision-making.  He sometimes becomes reactive, rather than proactive.  As a character, that makes him interesting.  It makes him human and relatable.  But it makes Diana a greater hero.  She has personal relationships.  They mean a lot to her.  But they play second-fiddle to her real mission: to stop suffering and spread peace and love to all corners of existence.  Technically, she makes what we mere mortals would consider personal sacrifices in her ongoing efforts to meet this seemingly impossible goal.  But she’s such a hero that prioritizing her personal issues over the larger, global issues at hand would actually be the personal sacrifice from her perspective.  Diana remains focused on the greater good above all else, at all times.  Like all of us should.

“But Captain America!”  This is the closest one.  In his heart, yes, Captain America is as great and true a hero as Diana.  But he doesn’t have the ability to single-handedly effect change the way that Diana does.  He’s more physically and mentally vulnerable to attack and, despite his best efforts and great abilities, he can’t do what Diana do.  And he will sometimes place those he cares for above the mission at hand.  All other things being even, Diana is the greater hero.

“But the Punisher!”  You shut your filthy face, right now.

We – each and every one of us – are living in a frightening world, where we are completely uncertain of what the next day – or even the next hour – may bring.  More and more often, in more and more places, tyrants are somehow rising to power.  They make decisions for the good people of their respective countries.  Many corrupted citizens support them and thereby grant them even more power.  It often feels insurmountable, as if the world is slipping down into an unknown pit of blackness too quickly for us to grab it by the hand the pull it back to its feet.  And it often seems to many of us as though we are alone.

But we are not alone.  Now we have Diana.  Not in the physical sense, of course.  As amazing as it would be for her (or someone like her) to exist and be able to help us get ourselves and our multinational societies to a place of love and coexistence – to help us depose the despots who are seemingly destroying us from the inside out, a little more each day – we don’t.  We don’t have that.  And we won’t have that.  Diana doesn’t exist in the physical world.  But she exists in another way.  She exists in our minds and our hearts.  She exists in the mind and heart of Patty Jenkins.  And she exists in the mind and heart of Zack Snyder.  And Allan Heinberg.  And Jason Fuchs.  And that means that we are not alone.  They are with us.  And now she also exists in my mind and my heart.  And in the minds and hearts of people around the world who have already paid over $80 million to meet her and to see her story and to be inspired by her worldview.

I know I was.  For all the talk of Diana being an excellent role model for young girls (and she unquestionably is), she inspired the living hell out of the 39-year-old dude typing this column.  She serves as a reminder that there is more good in this world than there is bad.  The bad have a lot of power, right now.  But in order to overcome it, we need to see the good in everyone and cling tightly to the good in ourselves.  It will drain the bad of their power.  We need to remain steadfast in our convictions.  There is strength in numbers.  And we need to remain focused on helping everyone around us.  In helping others, we receive help ourselves.  And in completing that cycle, we put good back out into the world.

Warner Brothers released a series of three official teaser posters prior to the film that each featured a single word that is epitomized by Diana.  Here’s one of them.

Wonder

Here’s another.

Courage

And here’s the third.  (My favorite.  I’ve actually ordered one to frame and hang in my living area/TV room.)

Power

These are all very apt and appropriate, but there’s an important one missing.  There’s one more word that Diana truly embodies.  She embodies this word for all of us at a time when we’ve never needed an avatar for it more.  It’s what she reminds us of.  It’s what she brings us.  It’s why this movie and this character are so important.  It’s why Wonder Woman is the movie and Diana is the hero that we all so desperately need.  In experiencing this film, we are all reminded that there will forever be . . .

. . . hope.

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Why WONDER WOMAN Matters