A perfectly imperfect organism: The beautiful metamorphosis of the ‘Alien’ quadrilogy

“Strange fascination, fascinating me / Changes are taking the pace I’m going through” – David Bowie, Changes

“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn

“The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You’re a f**king tourist.” – Guillermo del Toro

“Do what you haven’t done is the key, I think.” – Ridley Scott

Over the past few days there has been quite the influx of retrospectives regarding the Alien franchise. Such is the cycle of a franchise, particularly one that’s been around as long as this one.

Surely there will be much to be said of the first two film’s influence. There will be in-depth histories into the making of each, focusing once again (most likely) on the first two films and rightly so. Both Alien and Aliens are absolute masterclasses, representing the pinnacle of what can be achieved in their respective genres and their influence is obvious in just about subsequent, similar film that came afterwards. Released in 1979, Alien remains the standard of the wonders of horror and science fiction. Its sequel, Aliens, bares one of the distinct honors of being a rare sequel that meets the level of success its iconic predecessor if not wholly surpassing it. Much can also be said about the franchise’s refreshing and outright progressive steps in showcasing a genuinely badass female protagonist in the form of one Ellen Ripley, who actually showcases characterization outside of “badass female protagonist.” -COUGHJYNERSOCOUGH-

Reviewers will be quick to praise the success of these two films, all while quickly dismissing the two films that followed them (Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection respectively). Now while these films are far, far, FAR from perfect, I argue they are also very far from terrible and in some respects even almost secretly phenomenal. Now you are well within your right to argue to the contrary but I posit that each and every one of these movies have merit and that’s what I’m here to convince you of here and now.

I’m here to put forth that this franchise deserves commendation for a reason I don’t see cited all that often by critics or fans and if I can somehow convince you to see this series out, then I call that a win for both of us.

The first four Alien films stand singularly as a franchise benefited by multiple cooks in the kitchen, not least of which is the fact that each sports a different director at the helm with Ridley Scott tasked with the first film, James Cameron the second, David Fincher the troubled-third and Jean-Pierre Jeunet bringing in the rear with the utterly insane (once thought to be) final chapter. The utterly unique thing about them combined is that none remotely resemble each other in regards to their tone. Each perfectly represents what their respective director brings the table and I absolutely love that. I’d argue it may just be the most director-driven franchise we’ve yet to see.

Much like the xenomorph itself, each entry adapts to the vision of its host or in this case, the director. Over the years, this monster has evolved and warped to whoever oversaw it. Like the Mad Max films, there isn’t too much of an emphasis on continuity but there is, at the very least, a through-line through the first four; that being Ripley (Signourney Weaver), the Weyland-Yutani Corporation and the xenomorph itself. So there is a cannon and I’m all for that, but there’s also wiggle room to take the story in directions free from the constraints of your typical, more episodic narrative. I’d almost argue the DVD/Blu-ray collection should be called the Alien Anthology rather than the Quadrilogy.

Now it’d be ridiculous to fully credit each of these movies to the efforts of a single person. As someone whose never fully subscribed to the auteur theory, I think the individuality of each entry can be attributed to small armies worth of folks both in-front of and behind the camera. Watch the bonus features on the Alien Quadrilogy box set (perhaps the greatest DVD/Blu-ray release of the past decade given the absolute wealth of material) and you’ll lose track of just how many people played in important part in each, a fact we often lose sight of with every movie. The BTS material on this set covers every single aspect of the production of each film, beginning with their origins and spanning all the way to the final product’s release and reception. Every individual interviewed is refreshingly candid, unafraid to share their personal thoughts regardless of whether it paints them in a pretty picture. The making of each entry is as interesting (if not more so) as the films themselves.

Also important to note that I’m really only going to get into the first four films as well as a little on Prometheus later on so that means no Alien vs. Predator or its equally terrible sequel.  I don’t really consider either of those movies to be honest-to-Ripley sequels because outside of featuring xenomorphs, they largely stand apart. The sooner I, and the world, can forget about scenes like the one below, the sooner we can heal.

Also those movie are lack any sort of merit beyond just being bad and I’m trying to bring us up rather than down…at least in relation to the first four films. There will be plenty of Prometheus-bashing soon.

I’m not divulging that in-depth in relation to the plot of these movies but there will be some frank discussion about plot points in each film in the series meaning of course the ending or major twists will come up at one point or another.

So yeah there are some spoilers, Nick.

Alien

The gist:

“After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as distress call, its landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious life-form, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.” – IMDb.com

So here’s our template, the movie that sets the tone for all that comes afterward. Almost all the major beats that take place a viewer from today may pass off as cliché neglecting the fact this is the film that not only created the cliché but perfected it. Typically, when EVERYTHING about a movie is iconic, it’s because more than one person was doing their job.

But another thing it deserves all the credit in the world for is just how dadgum relatable everything is. Yeah, I know. It takes place in space. Yeah, I know. There’s a face-hugging, chest-bursting monster at the center of it all. But as with the rest of these films, it’s really smart in its execution.

Our crew isn’t a group of scientists like in Prometheus. Nor are they an elite group of marines as in Aliens (with the term “elite” being used very, VERY liberally in this instance). They’re space truckers, and only one of them makes it out alive by the end. Even then, it’s by the absolute skin of her teeth. I think a lot of this reflects on the time this came out in the 1970s, where there was this larger push for the realistic; where films began to mirror documentaries in their presentation. Like A New Hope, Alien does not exist in a pristine future. It’s a world that’s been lived-in, where dated technology still exists and the grime carries over. This goes hand-in-hand with the way our character’s talk to one another. A lot has been said of the subtle yet noticeable way the crew talks over one another, similar to the way large groups of people do in real life. This is due to Scott trusting his actors in this case, allowing them to play off one another rather than fully adhering to the script.

It’s also incredibly important to point out how simple the whole affair is. The original theatrical cut clocks in at 117 minutes, chump change compared to today’s standard tent-pole but by no means a breezy movie either. But I can count only one hand how many major plot points there are, and I stress that the movie isn’t filler. It all comes down to the power of good pacing, matched with clever dialogue and stunning presentation.

In more cases than not, simple is the best option. Scott was setting out to make Dune (an adaptation he was originally supposed to direct funny enough before opting to do Blade Runner instead). There’s a much larger world in Alien, yes, but it’s at the service of the characters first. Go back and watch Alien and make a point to notice how all (or most) of the world-building is subjected largely to the background. That’s because Scott, at his best, is a MASTER CLASS world builder. When matched with a great screenplay, I argue he works best. It doesn’t hurt that he had the insight to bring in Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger to form his monster but everything involving the alien, ensuring a visual consistency on LV-426 and the crashed Space Jockey ship. I could go on but YouTuber kaptainkristian spoke in-depth on the matter and I’ll pass the baton off to him.

Another reason just about everyone loves (snobs and paupers alike) is that it appeases everyone’s sensibilities without ever once being condescending. It’s moody and dark, building tension to white-knuckle levels (Dallas in the vents), and it provides the ever-important gore (the chest-burster). Science fiction fans love the hardware, but those who don’t are never bored with techno-babble. It’s progressive in how it doesn’t fit any of its character into a box. No one is a damsel or tasteless stereotype. 

It checks off every box, making for as perfect of a film as there ever has been. I’d be lying if I thought it even needed a sequel let alone a franchise. But seeing as it made an estimated ALL OF THE MONEY in 1979, a sequel was all but assured. The question was however would said sequel be more of the same, but on a bigger scale or a different experience altogether set within the same world. The answer was a resounding….yes/no.

Aliens

“Fifty seven years after Ellen Ripley survived her disastrous ordeal, her escape vessel is recovered after drifting across the galaxy as she slept in cryogenic stasis. Back on Earth, nobody believed her story about the “Aliens” on the moon LV-426. After the “Company” orders the colony on LV-426 to investigate, however, all communication with the colony is lost. The Company enlists Ripley to aid a team of tough, rugged space marines on a rescue mission to the now partially terraformed moon to find out if there are aliens or survivors. As the mission unfolds, Ripley will be forced to come to grips with her worst nightmare, but even as she does, she finds that the worst is yet to come.” – IMDb.com

Hard to ever really accurately gauge but if I were to make an informed guess, I’d say Aliens is the fan favorite. I’d certainly argue this as I’d say it is hands-down my favorite two films as well.

Something that’s been noted in recent years is that Aliens, for all its bells and whistles, is practically the exact same movie as Alien in that it hits a lot of the same narrative beats. The key difference is where Scott took us inward, favoring claustrophobia and paranoia; director James Cameron went much bigger, favoring action beats and encompassing scope. The connecting tissue (at least thematically) is that bigger themes weren’t lost in the shuffle.

Cameron took the mantle from Scott effortlessly, taking the world he had established without going too large. This is a tight-rope too many sequels fall short of, simply taking a “bigger is better” approach. Aliens growth all flows naturally. Informed by the insect-like design of the monster, Cameron built on that and made his monsters hive-based going so far as to have a queen. Informed by the treachery of Ash in the last film, Cameron plays with our expectations with Bishop and allows for ready-made tension. 

For all intents and purposes Aliens is an action blockbuster but as with a majority of Cameron’s films, it is an exceedingly intelligent one. Too often I see folks criticize the space marines for being one-dimensional, but Cameron and the cast do an incredibly skillful job at characterizing them all. Who is to say we really need to hear the life-story of all of these guys and gals? There’s a great deal many more of them than there were Nostromo crew members, so efficiency is key. Largely, we get all the info we really need within a few seconds of meeting each new squad member.

I love, love, love that most action-oriented of the series is the most about female empowerment as well. The image of Ripley we so often see is the one she becomes in this movie, and the great thing is that it doesn’t just happen. Ripley just barely survived the film and it had a great deal to do with luck. This is Weaver’s best outing with the character by a large margin reflected by the fact she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her efforts; something typically unheard of for science fiction and horror.

She plays Ripley as a woman looking to find her footing in an unfamiliar world. In the Director’s Cut, we learn that her daughter died while she was floating around in space. The only thing left to her is her cat (who really needed an epilogue now that I think about it). Deciding to return to LV-426, she finds a new purpose in Newt and in doing so reclaims that lost motherhood.

This plays larger into her conflict with the Alien Queen during the film’s climax (given Ripley saw fit to torch all of her babies), which boils down the movie to a knock-out, drag-down war for motherhood told through the prism of an old-fashioned war story.

It’s easily the most accessible of the four as well. Where Alien and Alien 3 may (wrongly) be accused of being “boring” and Resurrection too weird, Aliens is just the right mix of action/horror/comedy that reaches a wide audience. It’s no coincidence that, in many cases, some saw this movie before Alien.

And that accessibility without sacrificing genuine storytelling is something I don’t think Cameron gets nearly enough kudos for.  He’s been credited for raising the bar of where effects can take us time and time again, but he always does so in a way that compliments the story too. Sure, he can be written off as unoriginal but more often than not he’s falling back on the grand tradition of acquiring a previous work and running with it.

Aliens represents a sequel done not just well, but perfectly. Anything that followed would have considerable shoes to fill. Unfortunately, the series really never recaptures the glory of its first two films. But as I said before, that doesn’t mean the two final films were failures. In fact, I argue they’re secret successes.

Alien 3

“After escaping from the alien moon, the ship carrying Ellen Ripley crashes onto a remote and inhabited ore refinery. While living in the ore refinery until she is rescued by her employers, Ripley discovers the horrifying reason for her crash: An alien stowaway. As the alien matures and begins to kill off the inhabitants, Ripley is unaware that her true enemy is more than just the killer alien.” – IMDb.com

When I talk about Alien 3, I get kind of defensive due in no small part to the involvement of director David Fincher, a man for whom I give a great deal of admiration to.

I’ll concede that the theatrical cut is a bit of a mess, a clear victim of retooling and cuts. The effects are also a series low point when it comes to seeing a dog-like xenomorph (or a cow as is the case in the Director’s cut) fully in motion. This is something I think speaks more to the limitations of technology at the time and its an admittedly a cool idea to give us a new type of creature, enhanced by a canine rather than a human. It branches out the mythos in a subtle way rather than immediately throwing elephant xenos or tiger xenos. That said the effect looks pretty bad even by early 90’s standards and probably could have used some re-tooling.

I’m mainly drawing from the 2003 Assembly Cut, a version of the film that is exactly what it sounds like. Adding in about 37 minutes of new or unused footage, this version fits in line more with Fincher’s original vision. Now it too isn’t a perfect movie, but I’d wager it’s a much more complete, comprehensible of the narrative. Not that I fault the studio all that much for making the cuts they did.

If one watches the BTS features on the Quadrilogy set (something I once again whole heartedly recommend), you’ll pick up on the fact that making each one of these movies was an absolute nightmare. Based on the production stories from Alien 3‘s surprisingly frank making-of documentaries, it’s a minor miracle that the either cut of the film is watchable at all.

Where Aliens was a big, loud, bombastic statement, Alien 3 brings everything inward; it cleans the slate, bringing everything back to a simplistic core. What it lacks in scope however it more than makes up with lofty ideas and imagery. It’s the closest the series has to an art film, something I attribute to Fincher and the early involvement of Vincent Ward, who brought forth a lot of religious context and themes to his original vision before Fincher took over. Fincher, to his credit, scaled things back considerably in favor of taking the series back to its roots. 

The last film sought to build Ripley up, elevating her to the badass we see often in the iconography.  Too often we neglect Alien 3 however, the movie that brought her right back down to lowest point we had yet to see her.

I think a lot of the hate this movie receives deals largely with the fact it is almost nothing like its largely revered predecessor. It’s in no way a fun movie and it isn’t a summer blockbuster. Hell, our movie opens with the death of Newt and Hicks. In the Assembly Cut, Newt’s autopsy is a critical scene for Ripley. There are very, very few scenes of levity to balance everything out so it is a really long, dour affair at the end of the day. I argue Fincher’s best stuff is pretty bleak though. He’s dabbled in darker comedy (Fight Club) and even prestige, feel-good whimsy (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), but his greatest movies (Seven, Zodiac, Gone Girl) match his (presumably) dark soul.

In Fincher’s hands, Alien 3 is an excursion into nihilism on a dilapidated, claustrophobic prison planet populated by celibate fundamentalist prisoners so it at least removes the immediate threat of sexual violence where they’re concerned which is refreshing. The xenomorph, in all its forms, is kind of one big sexual allegory any way so to add that unpleasant layer would have in no doubt been a major detractor given this series is sort of built upon “subtle” sexual imagery due in no small part to the involvement of Giger.

However I must concede that Alien 3 never fully recovers from just how bleak it is. Still there is a lot to be said about its stylistic bravado and the courage it has in taking the series’ darkest turns. Killing of Ripley was a bold, fitting move and one almost wishes this had been the final chapter. She and the xenomorph go down together, their fates forever entwined and closed.

But alas, nothing ends in Hollywood as long as there is money to be made.

Alien: Resurrection

“200 years after the conclusion of Alien 3, the Company is able to resurrect Ripley through the process of cloning and the scientists successfully take the Queen Alien out of her. But, Ripley’s DNA gets mixed up with the Queen’s and she begins to develop certain alien characteristics. The scientists begin breeding the aliens, but they later escape. Soon the Xeno-morphs are running amok on the ship, which is on course to Earth. The Queen then gives birth to a deadly new breed of alien, which could spell disaster for the entire human race. It’s up to Ripley and a band of space pirates to stop the ship before it reaches Earth.” – IMDb.com

At last, we arrive at the black sheep of the family.

Alien: Resurrection is hands down one of the most insane wide-releases I think a major studio has put out in the past 3 or 4 decades. It’s just so utterly bizarre it deserves a litany of think-pieces examining just how this storm came together.

Weirdly enough, it’s also the one that seems to have gotten the least amount of studio notes.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet had only done two movies at this point and had yet to complete the film for which he will forever be associated: Amélie.

Suffice to say, he doesn’t automatically scream franchise material. Let alone the million dollar behemoth that the Alien franchise represented at the time and unlike Fincher, I don’t think the studio hired him to be some puppet to blindly accept notes. I think this movie really only represents Jeunet’s single stab at making a Hollywood movie, and it’s really fun to see what exactly he brought to the table having since seen him find his groove outside of the system.

Oh and did I mention the screenplay comes from nerd messiah Joss Whedon? Now this may seem like an odd fit, but if you actually watch the movie you see Whedon’s finger prints all over the damn thing with all of its quippy dialogue (at inopportune times) and playful jabs at genre conventions. There’s even a pre-Firefly wacky family dynamic with the crew of the Beatty; not to mention Whedon inherits one of the most empowered female leads in cinematic history, something he made a staple throughout his work. (That said, it makes no logical sense to have Ripley be in this outside of just finding an excuse to include Weaver and the reason provided for Ripley’s “resurrection” is quite the stretch. Then again, a stupid cloning aspect fits in perfectly with all of the other stupid shit celebrated therein.)

To be fair to Whedon, he’s gone on record more than once that he’s not a fan of the final product. He’s quoted as saying:

“It wasn’t a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines…mostly…but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do. There’s actually a fascinating lesson in filmmaking, because everything that they did reflects back to the script or looks like something from the script, and people assume that, if I hated it, then they’d changed the script…but it wasn’t so much that they’d changed the script; it’s that they just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”

All credit to Whedon and he is fully entitled to his own opinion (it is a screenplay he wrote after all), but I humbly disagree. I think this a movie exudes a confidence that a lot of others of its scale at the time lacked and in that we find the spectacle.

You can almost get the sense Jeunet wanted to go crazier but was limited by plausibility and budget…probably the studio to a degree as well. This is the rare entry that probably could have used a bit more supervision to be sure. Frustratingly enough however, its utter insanity is what most elevates the movie from a forgettable chapter to arguably the most memorable if only for what your mind is assaulted with. It carries an odd integrity, consisting more of half-formed ideas combined with the ambitions of a French madman.

The one (of many) stupid things that probably could have used a touch up was….this stupid thing.

Look at its stupid face.

And my problem is more of nitpick because this…thing is supposed to be a half xenomorph/half human hybrid….even though the xenomorph is already supposed to be a half human hybrid. That said, I give it a pass because we get to see it die in a fashion that remains unmatched in the annals of cinema.

An element worth commendation that the movie never really executes is how it finally somewhat explores  the series-long thread of weaponizing the xenomorph. There’s a truly unsettling scene early on where the military is “farming” the aliens with live, human hosts they’ve essentially kidnapped. Unfortunately really never goes too in-depth with this aspect. It’d be interesting if a future movie examined this further.

While Resurrection is probably the weakest movie of all four, it features enough strong scenes like the one I just mentioned to keep it from devolving into simple schlock. It’s a roundtable movie, demanding discussion that all fall prey to it.

So while far from perfect, the Alien franchise had submitted its place as perhaps the most diverse cinematic franchise up to that point in that each entry represented something new, something different, something exciting. No two entries were ever the same. They didn’t always land, but they were distinct. In a world where studios are more concerned with consistency and inter-connecting episodic threads rather than something so risky, these movies would be downright revolutionary. 

Then Ridley Scott came back and fucked everything up…

Perhaps it’s unfair to join the masses in beating a long dead horse, airing my complains about a movie I’ve made sure to harp on in the past so I’m going to be as concise as I can before I send you out on your way. I could dedicate more than a few thousand words regarding plot holes, but that would be screaming into the abyss at this point. Add in the fact redlettermedia took on that task much more eloquently and concisely than I ever could.

Unlike AliensPrometheus doesn’t take risks with tone. It plays things safe, something no other entry had done up to that point. I can’t really stand on a chair above it, pretending I know what would have made a better movie or even that it’s a lazy movie. The production design and effects, for what they’re worth, clearly had a lot of effort put into them. It’s nice to say basic effort at least carried over where the visuals were concerned.

It would be unfair to say the movie is without merit and had it nothing to do with the world Scott helped begin all those decades ago, I’m sure my displeasure with it would have been tempered. In fact, I may have even enjoyed it a little bit more…not by much, but at least a little. The notion of Scott returning to a genre he helped define was enough to make one giddy. However it instead came off as Scott painting-by-numbers rather than be the innovator we all know him to be.

It was Alien but with a shittier coat of paint. Sure, it looks nice and new but the old layer hadn’t remotely begun to chip yet. There’s nothing distinctly praise-worthy about Prometheus outside of its visuals, a couple of half-baked unanswered questions and Michael Fassender’s turn as the android David, a character so developed and nuanced he’s a disservice to everyone else who comes off as flat and one-dimensional.

The comparisons to its forebear would have been there with Scott’s involvement alone but instead its hitched its trailer to a franchise it initially appears to share very little connective tissue with outside of its hard R-rating. I think this can possibly be faulted to pre-release build up that really wasn’t clear whether the film was indeed a prequel rather than a science fiction in the same vein as Alien. Given we now know it is a prequel, I believe comparisons are completely fair.

I hate accusations that a lot of hardcore Alien fans dismiss this movie because it “breaks from the formula.” This is something Scott has said in promoting the newest film, adding this is what led to said film’s creation and implying he’s “giving us what we want to see.”

I’ll get into it more in a bit, but this is probably the thing that enrages me most about Prometheus as a whole. It suggests we want to be spoon-fed rather than surprised. I could be wrong given how much money movies like the Beauty and the Beast remake make every year. It suggests audiences typically only want the same thing time after time. Sure, we love familiarity but there’s room for new stuff too…he said kind of simplistically.

Well if you want the same thing, look no further than Prometheus; a movie that could best be described as if Alien thought its audience consisted of nothing but morons. Where Alien had characters that felt like actual people, Prometheus “elevates” itself with dialogue no human being (not even a scientist) would utter.

Maybe it just falls back to personal preference. Where the characters in Alien were largely concerned about things like overtime and pay checks, the Prometheus crew are concerned with intangible concepts. “Is there a God?’ “Who made us?” “Why did he/she/it make us?” “Did I leave the stove light on?” These are not inherently boring ideas. They could be pretty interesting if framed properly. But Prometheus doesn’t really go for that. It largely hinges on the mystery. But in asking so many questions, it never really feels the need to answer any of them, leading to frustration. In a way, it undermines what made the original so great in the first place, complicating things that shouldn’t be all that complicated.

And it extends to matters beyond just dialogue as well. Whenever a new threat presents itself, the crew of the Nostromo make a point to map out to a degree their next course of action and in turn this allows us a chance to know them specifically as characters. The Prometheus crew, which I must remind you we are led to believe is a group of trained scientists that represent the highest potential in their respective fields (otherwise why else would they be recruited for potentially THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERY OF ALL TIME), lumber around like idiots, never really taking any time to discuss any intimidate action. We’re granted plenty of questions, but literally no payoff.

Hence my lack of excitement for the impending release of Alien: Covenant, yet another entry by Scott. From the grapevine I hear word that it is a soft reboot, meaning it is a reboot in everything but name so therefore could also be considered a prequel and/or sequel. There’s connective threads to what came before, but everything else is entirely new. Think of the Force Awakens, Jurassic World or the movie I just got done bitching about Prometheus as recent examples.

I have yet to see it, but I predict my reaction may be akin to how I gradually felt about Jurassic World, another soft reboot. I’m excited at first, seeing a franchise return to its roots but cools every single time I watch afterword.

Given it’s attached to Prometheus (thereby….sigh….attaching the two franchises), I also assume it’s a prequel. If there’s anything I didn’t need it was where the xenomorph came from. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but this is a monster that was much more interesting when my mind was allowed to fill in the gaps. Given they’re creatures that we’re not really ever asked to feel sympathy for (well, most of the time), in what instance is an origin needed.

One of the great joys in Alien is our characters land on LV-426, find a downed space ship they know nothing about. All we know is some insane parasitic creature has killed everyone on said ship, thereby making the jump to humans. Who is to say what they originally looked like? That’s never been a question lingering in my mind. I always viewed as this brilliant/terrifying coincidence that humans ran into this species at all. And as kaptainkristian pointed out so truthfully in his video essay, this is a creature we understand without any explanation. Thanks to the design, we fundamentally understand all three life stages of the xenomorph without all our characters gathered around a table to exposit each stage’s purpose.

And that’s why it sucks (to me) why Scott has saw fit to apparently take this series back under his wing, favoring a unified vision rather than experimentation. I fear we’re only going to get the same variation of the same movie year after year, joining the rank-and-file series it once set itself apart from. This isn’t to say I’m not in favor of a director overseeing an entire series. Without going down the entire list we have Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, James Gunn with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy for some prime examples. I’m simply arguing we could use more room for franchises that mix things up by letting new directors with different visions mess around and not in the same way as the James Bond series does, a franchise so beholden to its own formula it’s a point of humor in later installments.

Imagine how much more interesting if the Pirates of Caribbean series would have been if it ditched an over-arching narrative in favor of new directions with each entry? Much like the Back to the Future films, it dedicated its second and third to go hand-in-hand, leading to two movies that just sort of bleed into another without each really making a substantial impression. Whereas I argue the latter BtF films are marginally better, Pirates kept going after its original trilogy and appears to be going for something I’d initially consider a step in the right direction. Unfortunately it kind of comes too late. On Stranger Tides was so forgettable I struggle to remember a single thing that happened in or if I saw it all, and Dead Men Tell No Tales looks to be in the same vein. What that series could have benefited from is a new director each time, maybe focusing on someone other than Jack Sparrow and ditching a traditional arc; opting instead to bring us to new locales and adventures each outing.

This all wraps into why I’m here today, making a case for a series many dismiss as formulaic when in fact it’s a franchise (that once) was something special, something that changed from movie in the way a musical artist plays around with different genres; artists like Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Gorillaz and Bob Dylan.

I think we’ve largely grown complacent with sequels that barely register as mildly entertaining, and for what’s worth that’s not exactly the worst thing, but it also doesn’t really get the blood-pumping in a serious way either.

When you look back at the original four Alien films, you see a new vision each time. You see risk rather than safe, lazy imitation. For all its faults, Fox inadvertently created a highly, unique franchise (something that’s clear given they kept trying to bring back Scott and Cameron throughout the years), set apart from just about anything else of its scale in the Western studio system.

Does everything work? No. Not by a long shot but in a cinescape dominated by the “safe” and “episodic” there should still be room for a series that doesn’t adhere to a code, and mixes things up even if there are mistakes. So what if every beat doesn’t always land when the jump was completely watchable?

I argue these movies are anything but formulaic. There may be beats you expect, but tonally they could not be any more different. They match the tastes of four incredibly masterful and diverse directors, each sporting an entirely different feel than the last.

I can’t sit here and tell you what I want out of an Alien movie because my “dream Alien film” is one that I wouldn’t expect or at the very least one that is set apart from its predecessors. It would be one that does what this series and its monster (used) to do best: evolve.

Cinematic Soapbox #3 – Two there must be: The beauty and flexibility of’Lone Wolf and Cub’ as a narrative device and influence

Welcome to “Cinematic Soapbox!” Much like the AV Club’s Scenic Routes, I will discuss a movie, scene, series of movies, series of scenes, genre or some other cinematic element, why I think it works and what it means to me. I am obviously not the level of writer that Mike D’Angelo is so don’t expect the same quality and thoughtfulness he brings to his column.

Last night I caught a screening of Logan, what is expected to be Hugh Jackman’s final turn as the character he helped define for well over a decade. In today’s world of constant reboots and re-castings, that’s a borderline ludicrous notion.

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Wolverine, as a character, is a very Eastern concept presented in a traditional Western fashion. He is often likened to a rōnin, or a samurai without a lord or master would travel the country-side as a sell-sword. This connection only strengthened by the fact that his swords are built into his hands. 

If this is indeed Jackman’s final hurrah so to speak, it’s makes complete and utter sense that this is the sort of story he would want to leave Wolverine behind with as it fits a the type of arc writers have been utilizing the character over the past three or four decades.

Now before I get ahead of myself, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, that being the reason I’m writing all of this.

While I was watching Logan, it became clear to me that it wore a number of its influences proudly on its sleeve. Shane, Unforgiven, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan arc, etc.

But it was the relationship between Logan and Laura that stood out the most to me, as was the intent of the movie once could surmise. That isn’t to say anything in the movie was specifically targeted at me but…you get what I’m saying.

This got me to thinking: where else have I seen this arc used so well before?

The answer?

Tons of places, particular over the past couple of decades or so.

For whatever reason however this particular format doesn’t seem to get mentioned a lot, or at the very least I don’t feel that many people I know seem all that aware that it’s a recurring story at all. And it isn’t a strictly cinematic story either. It’s origins rest in the page after all, and have transcended well beyond into television shows and video games.

For those unfamiliar with Lone Wolf and Cub, a 28-volume manga from the 1970s that has been adopted into everything from movies to stage plays, the gist is as follows:

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Written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by artist Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub begins when Shogunate executioner, Ogami Itto, is framed as a traitor by the agents of a rival clan. With his wife murdered and with an infant son to protect, Ogami opts for the path of a rōnin, with the pair adopting the moniker, “The Lone Wolf and Cub.” The two wander feudal Japan with Ogami’s sword now for hire, but all roads will lead them to a single destination: vengeance.

Now it may or may not be important that I preface with the fact that I have not seen EVERY SINGLE ITERATION of this story. I’ve read a handful of the manga and seen maybe two or three of the films. I am not a scholar. I am but a humble internet voice with a blog that sports 3, possibly 4, recurring readers.

You’re welcome to chalk it up to personal preference, but let’s walk through some of the most recognizable instances of this formula and just how successful they’ve been.

It’s a model that traditionally sports two arcs for our main characters:

  1. Wolf, or the old master, is typically in search for some form of redemption or peace. Their lives have been defined by blood shed, with their only goal now to not only keep themselves alive but also the lives of their respective wards. They are often emotionally closed off when we meet them, having been through hell. As the story progresses, we peel back the layers as their young ward reminds him or her of the good person at their core. This character is typically male. Maybe as we attend to automatically assign a masculine connotation to qualities such as “gruffness” and “world-weariness.” It’s by no means a rule. It’s just something that happens to recur a lot in these stories.
  2. Cub, or the young accomplice, represents the new generation or a break from all the violence his or her master attempted to flee from. By the end of the story, this character must make a choice: continue down the path of violence or break the chain altogether. There’s often the recurring narrative choice to have this character be female. Once again, it’s not universal. Just a commonality.

These two characters also typically find themselves in a similar predicament: the younger individual is stuck in a hostile and unfamiliar world in which they are (often) highly unprepared to tackle solo and a world the older individual is all too familiar with. This can mean a path ravaged by the effects of some form of apocalypse or one simply laden with real-world dangers.

The appeal of such an arc is that it really allows for close examination to its two main characters. One (typically) carries the emotional baggage of a violent past whereas the other may provide for levity and in doing so open up the former for development.

Now I’m not going to touch on every example I think of that fits this narrative. To do so would lead to an overly long post that would touch on the same things over and over and over and over and over again. Think of this is as the Lone Wolf and Cub breakfast sampler, where I try to hit on how wide-ranging and re-occurring this story as well as how it continues to remain fresh and narratively engaging in spite of how many times creators dust off the cobwebs on it. I mean, just look at all the quality examples I don’t get to on this thing such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

And I don’t do this to point out something to the effect of “No new stories,” or “Originality dead?” I feel as if I come off as some sort of pretentious grouch that repeats those sentiments over and over again so fear not. I’m not

I do it to highlight a tried and true formula that works and works well when viewed through different prisms. Least you forget, this is story that came to us from Japan but has transcended beyond borders. Not only that but it’s a story steeped in centuries worth of Eastern mythology and pop culture.  If anything, it speaks to the power of story-telling which if you know a single thing about me it’s how lame and uncynical I get about just how goddamn essential story-telling is to the human condition.

Also SPOILERS for all discussed, Nick.

Road to Perdition

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Let’s start off with a cheat just to get it out-of-the-way, shall we? Road to Perdition is also based on a comic. You know what that comic is based on? You guessed it. Lone Wolf and Cub. I guess “homage” would be a more appropriate term, but you get the point.

In this instance, the story is transplanted from feudal Japan to 1930s American Midwest. Simply switch out samurai with gangsters and you’re there. Moving on….

All kidding aside, Road to Perdition may sport a similar structure to its predecessor but its themes couldn’t be more different for the most part. Tonally, this movie is much more subdued and goes out of its way to not canonize its violence, with most of the violent and bloody acts occurring off-screen and those that do appear as quickly as they would in the real-world. Whereas Lone Wolf, in adaptations such as Shogun Assassin, is so cartoonishly violent that you can’t help but laugh and cheer.

Perdition is a statement on violence and its consequences; a journey to hell and back again.

 Michael Sullivan, Sr.chose a path of violence in his youth and now considers himself to be irredeemable. He fears the same path for his son, Michael Jr., who seems enamored by his father’s exploits. However, as he attempts to shield his son from his past, the more harm he does. It’s why he  It’s only when the two are forced on the run does a bridge of communication open between them. Their shared tragedy bringing them closer together.

Adventure Time 

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Speaking of shared tragedy it’s not as if this show needed any more adult themes, amiright?

Now there are a lot of episodes of Adventure Show, and multiple that feature these two characters so let’s limit our scope to just two: “I Remember You” and “Simon and Marcie.”

At the core of this arc (which is also on-going) we have Simon Petrikov, or the man who would be Ice King, and Marcy, who will one day become the Marceline we all know and love. Before that though, we had a simple man losing his mind and a little girl with no home or family just trying to make it through a world torn asunder by “The Great Mushroom War.”

As we know, the roles eventually reverse with Marceline becoming Simon’s caretaker. (She’s not all that hands-on, but Ice King really isn’t all that much of a threat is he?) It’s a relationship unique to the others on here as we essentially learn about it in reverse. When we first meet Ice King and Marceline, they are already in the form they’ll carry for a majority of the series. There’ll be room for growth, (something not particularly easy to do with two characters that are for all intents and purposes are immortal), but they stay relatively the same in regards basic traits, strengths and vices.

With her vampirism serving as an oh so subtle allusion to clinical depression and his crown being a flat-out stand-in for a neurotic disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia,  the two have their fair share of vices between them. So the reveal that the two have a shared past, while somewhat a shock at first, made sense.

The beauty of it all however is how this arc (as modeled on Lone Wolf) adds complexity to pre-established characters, information we didn’t even know we needed.

The tragedy at its core being two-fold: the tool giving Simon more time is slowly but surely driving him crazy, providing a very gut-punchy view of the lunacy that comes to define him later. That, in turn, leads him to all but forget just about all the memory of his former life, including his time with Marceline.

But in that there is hope.

Marceline may miss the way Simon used to be, but she’s still going to love the person that he is. She knows more than his name; she knows his true soul, and she’ll never forget that, even if he does.

And that hope grows brighter with each episode. The two even reunited (briefly) in a later season.

It’s an ongoing story and I’m interested to see where it goes, and hope for a satisfactory conclusion to their shared arc. Speaking of…

The Last of Us

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Here’s another obvious example.

The beauty and uniqueness of this relationship is how quickly Ellie becomes a necessary part of Joel’s journey. Unlike many of her colleagues on this list, she is far from helpless having had her own bought with fighting to survive well before having met Joel. This is the only world she knows after all, having been born before the Cordyceps epidemic that nearly wiped out all of humanity.

And she’s by no means a master at her craft either. That’s what separates her from characters like Hit-Girl for example. She’s sloppy in more ways than one, and she hasn’t been completely indoctrinated into the uncaring world around her due in part to her having nothing else to compare it to. The Apocalypse is her normal.

The same can’t be said for Joel, a man clearly still in mourning over the loss of his daughter twenty years before the game’s plot kicks in. He’s been operating at half-capacity ever since, simply survive as it is all he really has left.

The two become surrogates for one another. For Ellie, Joel represents a family she hasn’t experienced yet or at the very least some form of normalcy. For Joel, Ellie represents a second chance and could quite literally (and cynically) be considered a replacement kid.

It’s also an interesting relationship because, as with the original Lone Wolf and Adventure Time, it’s one we will get to see evolve. A sequel was announced a few months back, and it was initially news that filled me with a mix of both excitement and hesitancy.

I feel as if we left Joel and Ellie at such a narratively fulfilling place; a place so satisfying I wasn’t all that interested in seeing where it went beyond, “The End.” Sure, in retrospect, the door was left wide open for future stories, but lighting only strikes ever so often and rarely does it strike twice.

But I’ll admit, there is an overwhelming interest in seeing how these two advance particularly the Joel fibbing JUST A TAD about the fate of the Fireflies at the end of the first game.

Leon: The Professional

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The detriment in this one is that there is a hinted romance between our two characters, something I can’t really get around in terms of its ickiness. To be fair, those romantic feels come from the younger side and there are not (to my interpretation) reciprocated by the older.

This is also the only example I’ve included that doesn’t take place in an automatically hostile environment. I mean it is fair to say that Matilda didn’t really have a choice in the matter in terms of the shitty family she was saddled with. That’s the thing with families. A lot of time, people just have deal with the cards they’re dealt.

The lesson to be learned here is finding roots, not letting yourself be dictated by the wind…or in this case crazy, violent mobsters. Leon takes charge at the end, seeing the path laid before Matilda should she keep falling further and further into his world and sends her away, providing a chance for a (somewhat) normal adolescence.

Game of Thrones

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Now for a young girl that probably has NO CHANCE for an even somewhat normalized adulthood…

For my money, this is the best character pairing this series has glued together to date, both in the books and on the television show.

Ser Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, is hardly the first character to get saddled with “baby-sitting” Arya Stark, but he is buy-and-large the character to produce the best story-telling results from her narrative thus far, which is no small statement.

She doesn’t become a better fighter with the Hound. We aren’t treated to any hokey training montage in which

She doesn’t particularly learn how to play the game either.

So what does Arya gain from a season’s worth of travels exactly with such a brute?

By the end, she is armed with something arguably a lot more useful tool than a new technique or insight into warfare and that is the utter unjust and uncaring nature of the universe.

Your oh-so-great sword teacher, the purported “First Sword of Braavos?”

He was (allegedly) killed by a shit fighter who happened to have armor and a better sword.

This kindly farmer who gave us food and shelter, and offered us honest work?

His farm is in the middle of an active war zone, and will probably be killed before the end of the week so might as well steal his money as it’s as good as stolen anyway.

No, I would say this is a particularly GOOD lesson per se but it is a necessary one; particularly for Arya, a girl from a house that put honor above all else. And where did that get them? Two dead parents, two dead siblings and a house in ruin.

Now the Starks are well on their way to a comeback, but in Season 4 (the season this interaction took place) they were all but kicked out of the game, on the run or held hostage.

So who better to give Arya a much-needed reality check on the way things work. She’d definitely seen some shit in the previous three season, no doubt about it, but she still held on to the antiquated “good and honor prevails” mumbo jumbo instilled in her from birth.

It’s also worth noting where these two leave each other, their roles essentially revered. Arya is now cold, looking to escape and leaves the Hound to suffer and die from his wounds in a fight he fought specifically for her. It’d be a stretch to say the Hound is all that different from where he started but he is more hopeful. Having survived, we later learn, he is more open to the kindness of others.

Logan

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I guess it’s kind of important I touch base on the inspiration on this article, huh?

I mentioned before Wolverine, as a character, is very East-meets-West kind of package, and no where has that been more evident than in Logan, an iteration of the character that could have easily been played by Clint Eastwood if the film came out 20 years ago. There are multiple gunslinger references peppered throughout, with Shane actually viewed by the characters and then quoted later. The plot also mirrors Unforgiven  in more ways than one.

He’s the most desperate we’ve ever seen him with his healing ability on its last legs and the adamantium grafted to his skin slowly killing him. He’s also paired with a dementia-ridden Charles Xavier, who tags a long for a good portion of this film. The film is at its most engaging however when it gets down to its central relationship between a man and his clone.

Laura (also known as X-23 in the comics and animated series) is somewhat comparable to Ellie in that she comes with her own baggage, with the difference being that she mirrors Logan’s powers. She even has two extra claws located in her feet. It may be derivative, but she is in essence Logan’s Mini-Me.

The interesting aspect in this instance is that Laura is a clean slate. She has baggage but its like a purse compared to the unending luggage of her clone daddy. She represents Wolverine’s literal second chance. It is in her that the Lone Wolf comparisons become evident.

Near the end of the film, Logan tells Lauren, “Don’t be what they made you.” It’s simple statement, but speaks volumes.

Both are weapons; designed to kill, kill more, sleep and then kill again. Whereas Logan nears the end of his life, Laura is right at the beginning of hers, and in her lie a crossroads. Does she follow the path of the bitter warrior defined by violence, hallow and full of regret, or something closer to a path of peace? Can there truly be “peace” for someone who’s committed such violent deeds.

This is where the R-rating really aided the story-telling, something I don’t want to come off as shallow for endorsing. It’s really, really, REALLY satisfying to see a Wolverine film in which the character is allowed to fulfill every inch of his violent potential. But it’s even more satisfying that it was allowed to happen in a story that actually called for it.

Just like Perdition, that violence wears on the soul; something I don’t think would have been nearly as effecting in a neutered-for-mass-appeal PG-13 cut.

We need to see the path of a VIOLENT man, the consequences made evident in severed limbs and heads, and the potential for what could happen to Laura should she allow it to define her life as well. The world of Wolverine, Xavier and the X-Men is fading away. The choice is up to Laura and her generation to decide what becomes of mutants, and by extension, humanity.

As Whitney Huston once sang…

For better or worse, ‘Swiss Army Man’ the first wholly singular cinematic experience of 2016

-cracks knuckles-

So…where were we?

I wouldn’t consider this a return from my self-imposed hiatus from reviewing films. I’m still in a state of weird flux as to how to continue with….with….let’s call it “my hobby.” I think tentatively, from here on out, I’ll keep it to movies that I actually have something “different” or “personal”  to yammer on about.

A movie so singular and sincere has emerged from the ether that is practically taunting me to write something about it in an attempt to define it. Like many, I had read the stories earlier this year about a film called Swiss Army Man back when it debuted at Sundance. Overblown headlines casually dismissed the film as “the movie with Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse” and focused instead on audience walk-outs.  The premise alone was enough to pull me in. The fact that A24, a distributer that has already put out two winners and personal favorites of mine this very year (The Witch and Green Room, respectively),  opted to give it a wide release was the final straw in ensuring my ass would be in the seat should it reach Oklahoma.

Luckily it did hit one theater in my area, and while I don’t think it will necessarily set the world aflame given what it is competing against at the local multiplex this summer, it has perhaps the most cult potential of any film I’ve seen this year.

It’s so unique that I dare not really compare it to anything else. I’d quickly classify it as a “buddy travel film” but that would be a disservice to everything it holds. Yes, there are fart and boner jokes. Yes, it gets thematically heavy and almost frustratingly complex. It however meshes those two worlds (the juvenile and pretentious) in such a way that it succeeds entirely in spite of itself. It is at once both a celebration of the absurd and mundane, and I can’t wait to talk to you about it.

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The plot:

“Hank, stranded on a deserted island and about to kill himself, notices a corpse washed up on the beach. He befriends it, naming it Manny, only to discover that his new friend can talk and has a myriad of supernatural abilities…which may help him get home.” – IMDb.com

The review:

I feel as if there is going to be a large portion of people that see this movie and ask, “What the fuck was that?” This is a general reaction that I fully believe was co-writers/co-directors Daniel Scheiner and Daniel Kwan implicit intention of invoking. I can only assume they wear those reported walk-outs as badges of honor given just how intentionally strange their film gets.

The beauty of Swiss Army Man is that, like the multipurpose corpse for which it is named, it is a film that will mean almost anything to anyone. You could watch Swiss Army Man and find a movie about raising a child. You could find a movie about the ways broken people help other broken people. It could be about overwhelming loneliness and the power of love and hope. You could even simply view it as just a movie about a lost guy hanging out with a farting corpse and getting into wacky adventures. To me, it was a deeply personal yet completely universal film revolving around themes of growing up and accepting yourself for every little weird fault.

It takes about 5 solid minutes for the film to establish its universe. The next thing you know Hank (Paul Dano) is riding on the titular corpse Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) as if he were a jet ski, propelled by the later’s farts. As far as meet-cutes go, it is hands down the year’s most memorable.

From the get go, this movie rides on whether the chemistry between in its two respective leads. Luckily both Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe turn in absolutely stellar performances, which also no doubt come in as their most intimate given just how much poking and prodding the pair do to one another over the film’s runtime. I’d be hard pressed to name a film out of this year that rode so high on the complete commitment of its stars.

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I don’t want to accuse Dano of being typecast, but the man excels at playing lovable weirdoes. That isn’t to say the guy has anything left to prove. After going toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, I’m all in for whatever Dano is selling. When we meet Hank, he is literally at the end of his rope as he prepares to hang himself to escape the boring monotony of stranded desert island life. Enter: Manny, who may or may not actually be a magical, talking corpse. Don’t worry. The movie will give you a definitive answer before all is said and done.

As the movie continues, we learn more and more about how Hank got to where he is, both physically and psychologically. There is a girl back home, played by the lovely and underrated Mary Elisabeth Winstead, he has a thing for and the movie even plays into the creepier aspects of this, layering Hank’s plight even more past the cliche of the tradition “journey home” arc so common in films. Conversely, Manny comes from a very different play. Where Hank is stuck sorting through his own issues, Radcliffe’s Manny is a completely clean slate. He’s a toddler, ready to know what everything is and how the world works. Soon enough, he blasts through adolescence and becomes corrupted in ways we all do by shame and self-doubt.

Those who’ve dismissed Radcliffe as a “flash-in-the-pan” can officially step aside. Of all the Harry Potter alumni, he’s taken what’d I consider to be the more interesting, multi-faced role choices; this latest, to be blunt, being the best of his entire career thus far (Potter included).

I’m not positive I can even overstate just how good Radcliffe is. When he experiences happiness at the simplest of things, it is utterly infectious. And when the sadness of his coming age and eventual belief that he is disgusting is crushing. It’s the most likable performance from an actor this year so far and as unlikely as it will ultimately be, I’d love to see Radcliffe get some attention next year once awards’ season starts collectively bothering all of us.

While both Dano and Radcliffe give phenomenal performances, they wouldn’t have a prayer without the direction and script of the Daniels. The pair are known primarily for their music video work, including a little bit of magic you may remember from a couple years back…

Swiss Army Man is their feature debut, and I’d be hard pressed to point to an example of a director or directors not knowing any better paying off so incredibly. The Witch, another cinematic highlight for me this year, also came from a first time writer and director – Robert Eggers. Whereas that film felt like it came from an industry veteran in just how precise and nuanced it was in its execution, the Daniels go in the exact opposite direction that will no doubt polarize more than just a few people.  I, however, see their success with Swiss Army Man as a testament to cinema’s fluidity. There is no one “right” way to craft a movie after all. The Daniels saw no limitations when assembling their first feature, and bypassed good taste and convention as the brought it all in; a gamble that could have easily led to a clusterfuck of ideas, visuals and tones. Luckily for us however, they crafted a film is philosophical and juvenile in equal measures, and it plumbs deep emotional and spiritual ideas without ever being pretentious. In other words, it’s a movie with something to teach you but also laugh along side you as it casually tosses around fart and boner jokes left and right. 

Given their most known for outlandish visuals, it should come as no surprise that the film looks as evocative as it is ludicrous. Cinematographer Larkin Seiple takes a $4 million dollar movie and made it look like it cost $40 million. When the modest budget becomes somewhat obvious the Daniels take it up a notch by implementing a handmade style reminiscent of Michel Gondry. 

The music is another aspect that elevates the film past its price range, enlisting Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra to handle score duties. At times, it feels as if the two are mocking/parodying the care-free jungle jams of Karen O’s classic Where the Wild Things Are score. A minor nitpick, but for the most part the film’s score works best when it brazens its own singular, weird path with the exception of two instances when John Williams’ theme to Jurassic Park is used to better effect than the fucking Jurassic Park sequel that came out last year!  

This isn’t going to be a movie for everyone, and for that its biggest strength (its uniqueness) could also be viewed as its biggest flaw. I’d be lying if EVERYTHING in this film made sense to me. Just because I watch a few movies doesn’t make me an expert and things do (constantly) go over my head. As I said before, there is a lot of interpretation when tackling this movie, and that isn’t for everyone. Hell, I’ve dedicated one day a week where I blatantly try to avoid thinking too hard about a movie. So I can’t particularly fault anyone for not liking this movie as it is REALLY weird and more than a little hefty in its themes. Personally, I like a movie that challenges, enlightens and entertains me. A true triple threat; a cinematic Jennifer Lopez if you will, but recognize that people don’t need really need more than just one of those elements.

Regardless of whether you think you may or may not like Swiss Army Man, I fully recommend you give it a shot while it’s still in theaters at the very least. I can at least promise that you’ll have a wholly memorable experience with it.

It’s a film that’s going to buzz around in your brain a lot longer than the latest Independence Day or Kevin Hart/Dwayne Johnson vehicle, whether you ultimately liked the movie or not. It’s a movie with real vision and different; something we don’t see much of in a landscape that is largely uniform with sequels, prequels, reboots and all-female re-imaginings.

All men must cry: A ‘Game of Thrones’ spoiler blog

DO WE REALLY NEED TO GO THROUGH WITH THIS AGAIN?

YOU’RE GOING TO GET SPOILED IF YOU KEEP GOING.

LIKE…

YOU’RE NOT ALLOW TO BE MAD IF YOU KEEP SCROLLING DOWN.

LEGALLY.

I’VE SAID IT BEFORE.

WILL PROBABLY SAY IT AGAIN.

MAYBE.

MAYBE I’LL START TROLLING.

MAYBE I’LL START INCLUDING SPOILERS IN THESE RAMBLES…

>:)

LIKE…

WOULDN’T THAT SUCK?

FOR YOU, I MEAN.

NO, NOT YOU.

YEAH…WAIT…NO

YEAH, YOU!

hehehehe

SO…

HOW ABOUT THAT THUNDER?

SURE HOPE THEY BEAT GOLD STATE….

HMMM..

…..

…..

….HODOR…

(sobs)

….

…..

OKAY?

THINK THEY’RE GONE?

OKAY THEN.

HERE WE GO!

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Oh Hodor, we hardly knew ye.

Not to be THAT guy, but Game of Thrones hasn’t really had it’s own tragic moment. Sure, it’s had its fair sure of shocks and tragedy but a grand majority of those came straight from the Song of Ice and Fire books. Maybe I’m just greedy, but I have longed to feel moments that non-book readers (you scum, you) have felt during episodes like “Baelor” or “Rains of Castamere.” It’s something I assumed would happen. I mean it would have to right? Particularly since we are off-book (something I keep repeating like a moronic parrot so I’m just going to shut up). And the show has been slowly creating situations in which expectations (for book readers) would need to change, starting with Shireen’s death last season. We even saw an honest-to-god feel-good example of this last week with Jon and Sansa reunited last week.

The only shocking element of that moment however was the fact that the show actually let us have as it normally goes above and beyond to insure the opposite.

Well…I got one of those harsher moments last night….

Like…I can’t even. I don’t have an particular meaningful insight or perspective about it either. Just want to get his out there because….man….that sucked…and for those that claim to have “turned off their emotions” in watching this show as “everyone just dies,” is either A) a liar or B)a liar and someone turned themselves off from actually enjoying the show fully. Sure, it actually sucks from time to time but when it gets it right? There just aren’t many other shows that pull off whatever Game of Thrones brings to the table narratively and emotionally on the air right now.

I….goddamn….that was just brutal….even for this show, and if David Benioff and B.D. Weiss are to believed, it came straight from George R.R. Martin himself. How it plays out in the books has yet to be determined, but I have a hard time imagining it surpassing how it was executed here. Given the books are POV, I’m interested to see how Martin connects the dots given I assume we will be seeing it through Bran’s eyes at the time, who I also assume will be in a vision and not have access to what’s going outside his head in the real world. I’m a hack though, and have faith that Martin is going to deliver an effective gut-punch none-the-less, superior or not.

All I do know is this: when these (show) writers know what they’re doing (which doesn’t appear to be the case all the time -cough-SANDSNAKES-cough), THEY FUCKING KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING.

In one instant, we both say goodbye and hello to Hodor.

It’s a timey wimey twist worthy of Doctor Who or Lost. How appropriate then that this particular GoT entry is directed by Lost alum Jack Bender?

Now…given the recent influx of major players being offed this season, Hodor’s death isn’t shocking in and of itself, nor is it really remarkable by itself. It was definitely handled better than Osha’s last week given she’s been gone for too long, but Hodor has never been a “important” character in the grand scheme of the show.

Hodor’s speech condition/catchphrase hindered his ability to become a narrative in his own right. However, the internet (myself included) and its love for the character expanded his journey in a way I do not remember ever being present in the books. Sacrifices a.ka. the show’s death quota needs to be met, and Hodor dying holding the wights back so that Bran and Meera could escape is the type of heroic/tragic ending you would expect and hope for from a character whose loyalty never wavered, even when his courage couldn’t live up to it. No, the power in this scene lies within its utterly beautiful execution.

Watching the scene again in its entirety, you see just how eloquently put together it is. It hit me fairly quick once Meera shouted, “Hold the door.”

Me: Boy that sure sounds like…no…..no…..stop it……no….

Going to go out on a limb and say that was a journey a lot of other viewers found themselves on last night as denial was slowly beaten down by cold, harsh realaity….well, as “real” as murder by ice zombies can be.

Hodor’s final moment is ultimately heroic, but it is also undoubtedly framed by tragedy, and utterly complicated by the fact that Hodor didn’t seem to actually want to participate at all. I do honestly believe Hodor would have wanted to protect Bran (to the best of his ability at least), but I also know that he was a coward, plan and simple, who would never fight on his own accord. We’ve seen evidence of this time and time again. And we also know that he lived a life of ridicule because of his sacrifice, and because of a situation that Bran HIMSELF explicitly created when he brought the White Walkers to the location in which they were hiding. He not only gets Hodor killed, but his Direwolf (ANOTHER ONE?!?!), the last remnants of the Children of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Crow. (I have a theory now that he’s marked by the Night King, Bran is going to cause a headache for more than one person in the very near future as well…remember that joke in which Jon cautioned Edd not to let Castle Black burn down?)

It’s messy, no doubt, but it ultimately reinforces what’s unfolding throughout this series – actions and their subsequent consequences, both short and long-term. Whatever these characters decide is going to ripple through the storytelling, and we are past the point where things could possibly even course correct down the line. We now know Bran can directly affect the past, to what extent however has yet to be determined. It isn’t even clear what all happened exactly just yet. Apparently Bran has the ability to now split his consciousness in and out of the past. That is, he can pilot Hodor’s body while staying fully aware of himself in his vision of the past, and can affect present and past. He isn’t just a silent witness. Maybe a young Ned did hear his son calling outside the Tower Of Joy. What else might Bran be able to go back in time and “fix?”

The only thing (it seems) that we know for sure is this: Hodor’s purpose in life was determined by a young man’s impatience and his fascination with the past. Bran’s curiosity ultimately blinded him from the present, ultimately sacrificing Hodor against his will. Bran’s existence predetermined the death of Hodor.

For now though, let us mourn a character that, while not important, brought us joy as well as a time in which we could still laugh at this without bursting into tears.

 

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Olly, Olly oxen free: In defense of Olly and the Night’s Watch traitors (as characters) and the Snow of it all (There is only one god and his name is SPOILERS)

HEY, YOU!

YEAH, YOU!

DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU.

YES, YOU.

NO, NOT HIM.

YOU.

THE ONE WHO IS BEHIND ON GAME OF THRONES.

YEAH, I’M TALKING DIRECTLY TO YOU.

THERE ARE ABOUT TO BE SOME MAJOR SPOILERS.

LIKE FOR THE LATEST EPISODE.

SO…IT SHOULD REALLY GO WITHOUT SAYING BUT YOU SHOULD MAYBE STOP READING IF YOU…YOU KNOW…WANT TO REMAIN UNSULLIED…ER…UNSPOILED

LIKE RIGHT NOW.

….

OKAY ARE THEY GONE?

I’LL WAIT A LITTLE BIT LONGER.

….

….

….

….

….

….

….

 OKAY, I THINK THEY ALL LEFT.

….

….

….

FUCK THEM, RIGHT?

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Three episodes in and I finally have something to ramble on about. That’s due in large part to the fact that season is primarily in completely uncharted territory. For those that are familiar, I don’t particularly like to presume to know what is going to happen on this show; mainly because I suck at it. Just check out my defense of Stannis from last season for further proof. (I still stand by my love of the character, but I was super wrong about where I thought his story-line might have been heading.)

Sure, I’ve read the books but we’re way past the point where they left off at this point. Put simply: I’m firmly at the point of a fan enjoying the series as it goes along until the next book comes out…whenever that may be. Sure, we’ve still got the Greyjoy stuff (KINGSMOOT ’16) but by and large, there’s no high ground we can take anymore.

Given the showrunners are pretty operating offbook now, the plot has kicked into 12th gear with all the goings on within the past three episodes alone. Several key players have been off’d, one’s been brought back and we still have dragons to wrangle in.

That all said, there isn’t really going to be a proper to this particular Game of Thrones ramble. Typically I like to have some sort of focal point, but there really isn’t one here other than most of what I want to write about takes place at in the North (basically where all of the most interesting stuff appears to be occurring this season).

On Sunday, multiple members of the Night’s Watch ended their respective….um…..watches. Some a bit more permanently than others…

A lot of people were eagerly awaiting this scene, myself included. (Some were excited to the point of it being a little off-putting if I can be frank.) How often on this show do we get actual vengeance (with the exception of Arya)?

The way people talk about them you’d think they were the Sand Snakes. Y’know, legitimately TERRIBLE characters.

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To put utter these two fractions in the same breath in terms of quality would be a mistake. However they do have quite a few aspects in common, the difference being one is a testament to the show’s strength at both developing character and trumping narrative expectations and the other is quickly working to undue all of that through choppy story-telling and catch phrases.

In fact, since we’re there, let’s get this out of the way by doing a quick compare on contrast as both groups are pretty damn similar, with one being compelling and the other eye-rolling:

Motives

The Nights Watch traitors: Furious with their new Lord Commander for letting Wildlings pass through their gates, a force they have sworn an oath to keep out of Westeros. Least that all have lost brothers (and even family members) to the Wildlings by recent attempt at a siege.

The Sand Snakes: Mad that Prince Doran is attempting to maintain peace with the Lannisters rather than seek swift justice for the death of Oberyn Martell, who was not murdered but lost in a trial by combat. (The rape/murder of Elia Martell also plays apart but we are speaking of more recent occurrences.)

Unfortunately, their plot makes little to no sense. Avenge lover/father by killing his brother.

Act of betrayal

The Nights Watch traitors: Stab Jon Snow to death under quiet of night. No one takes pleasure in it, but feel it is either this or the destruction of the only force they believe standing between Westeros and chaos. 

The Sand Snakes: Recklessly kills Myrcella Lannister and then proceed to kill Doran and his crew which Dorne, a.k.a the single court yard we’ve seen thus far, seems to largely be okay with because…reasons.

Level of sympathy

The Nights Watch traitors: While largely a group of utter cunts, they have a valid argument. I don’t know about you, but if a group of hobos murdered and ate my parents AND they just got through killing a fuck ton of the friends that let me in after I was orphaned, I don’t know if I’d be all in for Jon Snow’s cooky plan of letting those assholes through either. Unfortunately they don’t see the big picture. Ice zombies are on the way. 

The Sand Snakes: Also unable to see the big picture, the Sand Snakes believe they are what’s best for Dorne. Instead of being well-written, layered or even remotely empathetic characters however they go about seeking vengeance by being poorly acted, poorly executed, quip machines that have no real direction beyond “Fuck the Lannisters” and seem to be unbeatable in any task they decide to accomplish. Take this fucking scene for example. It’s not badass nor is it shocking. 

It’s serves only to show just how “badass” they are without really furthering their plight or providing any insight as to why they’re doing this all in the first place. Why should I be empathizing with these women with whom I really know very little about?

Hell, I’ll take it one step further and put their leaders side-by-side:

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Ser Alliser Thorne. How fucking fast did you hate that guy? He’s just a miserable son of bitch that fucking hates Jon Snow (the guy we’re sort of predisposed to like) and even picks on poor Sam. He’s old fashioned, unpleasant and a prick more often than not. (Do we see him smile on this show…like ever? I’m sure he does…mainly if Jon is in trouble or Sam’s getting beaten up but I didn’t have time to look it up.) I’m never going to argue that he was a decent man. Put simply: he’s an opportunistic asshole.

However, there were cracks in that tough, ugly shell. Signs that there was something else. Something writers call, “dimension.”

Ser Alliser is the man put in charge of training new recruits, perhaps the most important (and thankless) job at the most important (and for sure most thankless) area of Westeros. He’s seen some shit, and he’s seen what happens to improperly prepared greenhorns and veterans alike. 

While rough, in many ways his utter cuntiness (?) is necessary for a man in his position. This isn’t to say he’s perfect (far from it), but you can at least emphasize with the guy and see where he’s coming from. When he lays into Sam for being “weak,” he’s not doing so just because he’s an asshole. He believes the boy is soft, and the Wall is no place for soft men.

Hell, you can even pin point they exact second you start to like the guy…

He’s still an asshole in this scene, through and through; but he’s willing to put differences aside if it means holding the Wall. Like cakes (or ogres), he has layers. Putting honor (as warped as it may be) into a character that we should be inclined to dislike is just one of the countless ways this show has built some much good will in the way it presents us with classic archetypes and subverting our expectations about them. In more ways than one, he is like Jon (not that he’d care to admit it). He acts on what he believes is right.

When he opts to betray Jon, there is some degree of his hatred of the guy for sure but it also comes from a place of duty. Like he says to Jon, being in charge comes with a shit ton of responsibility and being dislike for your decisions.

When Jon (a new guy relatively) lets the Wildlings pass through those gates, Ser Alliser is obviously going to have one or two issues with that.

So in killing Jon,Ser Alliser sees one of two options: A) accept change and in doing so, risk the safety of the land he has dedicated his life to protecting, or B) kill the bastard and save the realm (as far as he knows). He is no more short-sighted than the Sand Snakes. However, we KNOW his goal and we UNDERSTAND his motivations. We may not agree with the means, but we EMPATHIZE with or at the very least have an understanding of the sentiments behind them.

Like I said, he’s a horrible piece of shit…but he isn’t wrong and in that lies a great character. You can hate him as much as you like, but you can’t say that he isn’t interesting. 

Ellaria Sand….um….she….uh…she liked to have sex a ton…..she is….she is very strong….willed, maybe? She recruited the Sand Snakes…to take back Dorne, I think? 

Point is, she isn’t well-developed. She doesn’t even have the decency of being interesting for goodness sakes! They’ve thrust an under-developed character into a leadership position. Whether we are supposed to relate to her, emphasize with her, root for her, boo her or all of the above is truly anyones guess at this point. For those that genuinely like them, I encourage you to write in. Defend them. Give me just one example of nuance and subtly we get from ANY of the Sand Snakes, let alone Ellaria. To me however, they represent the show at its most shallow and in turn, for people that really dig them as characters, bring in people that watch this show for the most shallow reasons: to be shocked and have catch phrases. I’ll let them speak for themselves!

 

You did nothing to avenge Dorne…other than use diplomacy to dictate my decisions rather than brash action and anger because that always gets the job fucking done, right? You saw how well it worked first-hand, remember?

And before this becomes a gender thing, Game of Thrones is home to some of the best female characters on television to the point where they transcend  sex. They’re simply great characters. These just happen to be characters that are FUCKING garbage that happen to be female. To even try to put them in the same league as a character like Cersi, Ygritte or Brienne is utterly ludicrous.

Now to be fair, the Sand Snakes are much more realized in the books. They do a lot more conniving and scheming, with some even working Doran (who is still very alive in the books) in order for a smarter, long-term plan at getting what’s there’s. They come off as impatient, overly-sexualized cry babies on the show, which isn’t assisted by the fact that they are now the center piece of Dorne, a location that still doesn’t seem like an actual place given how little time we’ve spent there as viewers. They’re seriously one or two scenes away from becoming this…

There’s an argument to be made that they may improve and I saw more power to the writers, actresses and whomever else may have a hand in their execution because they have a ton of ground to cover in order to get in the good graces of what seems like a majority of the fan base of the show.

I am not placing a moratorium on my hatred and complaining about these…”characters” because frankly to do so would to further beat a horse that died weeks ago.

Now, I’ve done a lot of talking about character which brings me to Olly.

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I was never on the “Fuck, Olly” train that many on the internet seemed all aboard for.

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As with Joffrey, many were longing for the day when Olly would meet his demise. And like Joffrey, we got it and many people celebrated.

I however felt…dissatisfied, and I think that’s the point.

At the end of the day, what were we celebrating? The death of a kid who had everything snatched away from him early on and too damaged to every move past it, and can you honestly blame him for his actions? Sure, you may say quickly but really, REALLY put yourselves in his shoes.

When Jon reaches Olly in the line-up, there isn’t a line of dialogue between the two. As he dies, he scowls, unable to let go of his hatred, a victim of his own inability to let go and move on, for which I can’t blame him.

I don’t like that he projected his hate on Jon, but I can’t really blame him for it either. This guy was supposed to be his surrogate father (because, remember, the fucking Thenns ate his actual one) and he comes to learn that not only did he lay with a Wildling woman (the exact one that shot his father with an arrow in fact)  but wants to let them, as a whole, pass through the gates and live on the lands that his family used to call home.

So, I argue Olly was never some totem deserving of the internet’s scorn in the same way Ramsey Bolton or the late King Joffrey did and do. He is instead a tragic figure; a lesson in letting your emotions dictate your actions rather than reason. At the end of the day, there really isn’t anything to cheer for…other than Jon being back of course.

Some people have good, completely valid reasons for doing stupid or even horrible things; some people have lived terrible lives that breaks them, and would likely break most others if put in that situation. Regardless, they still need to be held accountable for their stupid or horrible actions. Even if we can see why they did them, it doesn’t make their actions any better, just understandable. Life kind of sucks like that.

Speaking about how much life sucks, I want to wrap things up with a quick aside concerning Jon Snow.

Everyone and their mom knew Lord Snow would be back. Fan theories aside, he is simply waaaaaaaaaaay too important to off. Too much has been set up story-wise to just drop for another shocking death this series has staked its claim on perfecting. It was simply at matter of when he’d be back, how he’d be revived, and why did he have to die?

What sort of effect will having had died have on the misbegotten former Lord Commander?

Davos: "Holy shit, she's fucking relentless..."

Davos: “Holy shit, she’s fucking relentless…”

Well, that would require speculation on my part. I will say that nothing EVER happens by accident in fiction. This show likes to subvert our expectations week-after-week, but there is definitely an end game in sight. We, as audience members, just don’t have the whole path before us just yet.

So instead of speculation about where he’s going specifically, I want to examine what death meant to Jon as a character up to this point.

I LOVED the scene between Davos and Jon this week. The two are so similar that it would be shame not to have a quiet scene between them before things ramp up.

Jon, like Davos, has been a character that has largely been in service of other characters, all in the hopes of doing the right thing. Even during his short tenure as the boss, he was doing what he felt was for the greater good….

Now that’s he’s died trying to do the right thing and been given a second chance at things, he justifiably says, “Fuck this.” Now, he’s off to his own devices. Given certain set pictures that have been leaked, it’s not hard to guess where his path leads exactly and that he will probably find himself at odds with another bastard laying claim to the North that has done his family a good deal of harm. (We also have the whole “R+L=J” affair to get to this season, but we will cross that bridge once the show runners decide to either confirm or deny it.)

Now that he’s died, I expect Jon will start to go after what he wants rather than doing what’s expected of him. He’s seen where playing by the rules in a world that doesn’t gets you; a lesson his father and brother learned at the pointy ends of swords and knives.

The utter brilliance in this in that dying and seeing nothing, harkening back to Ygritte’s oft-quoted remark. Everything he thought he knew about honor, service, and the like are thrown out the window…or better yet, stabbed out of the window (Haha, nailed it). His world became just a lot more grey.

Jon Snow now LITERALLY knows nothing.

There is no rule book, and in that, Jon has the chance to change and evolve as a character and like all the best characters on this show (and unlike OTHERS that will remain namelissssss), it makes him dynamic while also signaling the emotional climax for the character should he survive (at this point he has to, right?….RIGHT?!) to the end of this long and bloody game.

Jon died failing to unite the Night’s Watch and convince his brothers that the threat beyond the wall was more important than their conflict with the Wildlings, and spends much of  this last episode reckoning with that failure. He goes through the motions by dawning his furs, delivering justice, but he slowly realizes, as he’s been given a rare second chance, he cannot keep repeating the same mistakes. 

His choice to walk away from the Night’s Watch (either becoming an oathbreaker,the title of the episode, or  going on the technicality that his watch ended when he died) paves the way for the identity crisis that will make the eventual “R+L=J” reveal (should it actually happen) that much more significant.

So that’s about if for me pretending to wax smart about Game of Thrones for this week. Agree with what I had to say? Hate everything I said? Want to lead a coup, stab me to death and then leave my corpse out in the snow for the crows to pick at my rotting flesh? Well, Mr. or Ms. Eerily Specific, leave a comment below! 

The Fateful 15: My 15 Favorite Films of 2015

Boy, 2015 was quite a year; both personally and movie-wise.

I found myself gravitating more and more to smaller, simpler films this year. Not out of some misplaced cry against “the system” or big-budget spectacles (I saw and enjoyed my fair share of those this year); nor is it because I have some higher palette when it comes to the movies I favor. This was simply a great year for movies that gave us simple stories as opposed to complex, universe-building mega-franchises.

I don’t really want to go over plots here so I’ll leave that to the trailers I’ve also included. I’m not even planning on going into great detail either (I’m currently suffering from an undisclosed sickness -coughDepressioncough- and trying to get this done quickly) so my apologies for the broadness of my praise…just now I loved all of the movies on this list and recommend you see them all now…like right now…stop reading this….GET OUT OF HERE.

As I am writing this, I have yet to see the following critically acclaimed films:

Carol, The Revenant, Son of Saul, Brooklyn, The Tribe, Victoria, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Anomalisa, Spotlight and many, many, MANY more.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Not often do I see a movie that I am almost immediately willing to call an instant classic.

Fury Road stands shoulder to shoulder with the best action movie ever made, including AliensDie Hard and The Raid: Redemption and it is without a doubt my favorite film of 2015.

George Miller has spearheaded a film that, by all rights, shouldn’t even exist given the size of its budget and its lengthy (and tumultuous) production. After all this is a movie that has had almost as many false starts as Stephen King’s Dark Tower adaptation and The Hobbit. Hell, I remember first hearing about it as far back as 2003, right around when I first started perusing the internet for movie news. Well given THIS is the movie we got, the wait was well worth it.

No other film spoke the visual language of cinema better this year than Fury Road. Each and every aspect is completely perfect; pacing, tone, score, acting, editing, the list goes on and on. You can get into thematic aspects about how this movie is feminist, but

As Miller intended, you could watch this film with no dialogue at all, and still get a completely insane and glorious experience.  I hate to hype a film up so much but this was one for the ages and I don’t care who knows it. Like Ron Burgundy, I want to declare my love from on top of a mountain…flutes playing and trombones and flowers and garlands of fresh herbs…AND YOU WON’T BE INVITED.

This is the cream of the crop for 2015, people. Witness it. 

Click here for my full review.

Ex Machina 

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The best Twilight Zone episode never written.

I’m a fan of almost any movie that could also function as a play and this is one that borders on theatric more than almost any other this year, with the exception being a certain film by a certain Quentin Tarantino that I will get to shortly. Ex Machina primarily consists of three major players (all three leads, Domhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Issac, have all had a PHENOMENAL year) with two minor recurring roles. If this were a just world, all three would be up for Oscars for their work here. Oscar Issac for the sheer power of his dance moves alone.

Ex Machina isn’t about whether Ava is good or evil. Writer/director Alex Garland is more concerned with whether she/it can even grasp what those concepts are. More importantly, he wants you to fall to her/its spell and in doing so what we consider human, both literally and as an idea.

It’s a movie that gives you new treats, thoughts and revelations with each viewing. Every time I see it, I leave with different feelings which speaks well for its longevity.

What We Do in the Shadows

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Hands down the best comedy of 2015 in a year with a surprisingly weak turnout for comedies, What We Do in the Shadows is part parody, part homage. Like Shaun of the Dead did for zombie films over 10 years ago, Shadows manages to take all of the troupes, cliches, imagery and what-have-you from decades worth of vampire movies, subverts them to hilarious effect but the genuine love for the genre can be felt in every home run of a joke this film makes in its all too short (but ultimately perfect) 90-minute runtime.

This is probably the movie I saw most this year. There’s just so many jokes, both upfront and in the background, that it demands multiple viewings. Being a comedy, I can’t really say why its as funny as it is. Just take my word for it…or don’t, I guess. My opinion matters very little, but this is still a funny movie so go see it…please?

Inside Out

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This is a movie that could actually help people. Now I want to stress that this movie shouldn’t be used as a substitute for actual therapy or medication. What I mean is, that this movie could serve as a gateway for both children and adults to opening up about our emotions and actually trying to understand them in a society that seems to favor masking and fearing them.

For example, there was a scene so cathartic in this movie (when the importance, neigh necessity, of Sadness is finally realized) that I didn’t exactly cry but was hallowed out for what felt like months. I had never thought to look at it at the way it is presented here and it was so therapeutic that I wished this movie had been made a decade earlier for a younger version of me to experience. 

All of the emotions are voiced perfectly…like almost eerily so. If there was an Oscar for casting, this movie would be the top contender. (Seriously for Lewis Black as Anger alone this movie deserves all of the awards.) 

Director Pete Doctor and the masterminds over at Pixar have crafted a movie that will stand among the best in the company’s history. It’s filled to the brim with such lofty ideas, clever gags, background brilliance that is destined to be a movie that we are going to be talking about for years and years to come.

The Hateful 8 

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On the surface, this is a movie about bad people doing bad things to one another. Like its sister film, Reservoir Dogs, however, this is a movie with a TON happening between the lines. It’s Tarantino at his most theatric and his most political. We aren’t supposed to like this people. We are supposed to despise them, yet ultimately recognize ourselves in them. When put under the right (or wrong conditions), any one of us can fall to our baser natures including jealousy, distrust, racism and the like.

Speaking of Dogs, its remarkable to see how far Tarantino has come as a director in regards to his use of tension, subtly and dialogue. This is a movie that is carried by all three and like a play, once that intermission hits, you’ll have a shit ton to discuss and think about even before Act II begins.

Looking at talkbacks, this movie has received a…let’s say “mixed” reaction…in other words, what I can only assume is Tarantino’s intent. This is a movie that’s making people talk, and its certainly doing that.

Sicario 

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This may be the movie I revisit the least on this list. Not because it is a chore to sit through or anything of that nature. Quite the contrary actually. No, the reason is that this movie pulls no punches. In other words, you don’t leave feeling particularly good by its end.

A cynical look at the drug war being raged both in the States and across the border, Sicario is a movie that is much more than the sum of its parts. It works both as a searing drama, a tension-filled action vehicle and a political statement all in one. Director Denis Villeneuve is three-for-three with his cinematic output at this point. Combined with the visuals of Roger Deakins, there was no way this wouldn’t make my “Best of…” list by the end of the year.

Both Emily Blunt and Benecio del Toro deliver career-best performances. del Toro in particular deserves a certain amount of praise for the quiet yet devastating performance on display.

Click here for my full review.

Room

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Room was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I went in completely blind and left completely blown away. I’m glad I didn’t see the trailer before going in, but seeing it doesn’t ruin the movie by any means. It only alleviates some of the tension regarding Joy and her young son Jack escaping the titular room.

The movie isn’t really about the room however. This is a movie about how different people deal with trauma. Like Sicario, this movie pulls very little punches in regards to the horrible things Joy has been put through but this movie has a different intent and actually provides glimpses of hope at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Brie Larson no longer has nothing to prove and now stands side-by-side with the greatest actors/actresses working today. In turn, her young co-star Jacob Tremblay is equally mesmerizing and does just as much emotional heavy-lifting as his older counterpart.

Creed

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Creed gets back to the bare-bones of what makes the Rocky franchise so great.

Like The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, the film borrows/lifts narrative points from its predecessors with new faces filling the parts. Unlike The Force Awakens or Jurassic World however, Creed isn’t burdened with an overriding need to pay homage to what came before. Sure, it moves the Rocky franchise forward  but Creed is definitively concerned with telling its own story.

Director Ryan Coogler approaches the franchise film with such confidence and gusto that you would think this was directed by a much more seasoned director. (This is Coogler’s second full-length film to date.) I’m excited to see where he goes in the future of the strength of his first two films alone. Fingers crossed he headed towards directing a little movie about a certain Marvel character called Black Panther.

Michael B. Jordan recovers with earlier franchise blunder Fantastic Four, and delivers one of the strongest performances of his young career. He imbues the titular Creed with all the rage and hunger of an embodies that just breaks your heart. Similarly Slyvester Stallone returns as Rocky Balboa and gives his best performance since he first put on the boxing gloves. As improbable as it sounds, I sense some serious Oscar potential.

Bridge of Spies

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Can we just have Steven Spielberg direct all of our period piece procedurals from here on out? The guy is two-for-two between this and Lincoln. In a year full of spy movies, Bridge of Spies offered a old fashioned somber, even-keeled alternative. It harkens back to the Cold War thrillers of yesteryear, were battles were thought with words, not guns.

This film revels in dialogue and actual suspense, which is a common thread of a lot of movies I love most share. I think this is in large part thanks to the script by Matt Charman and JOEL AND ETHAN COEN. A Spielberg/Coen Brothers collaboration is enough to make any moderate film fan salivate. The result is as absurd, lovable and utterly watchable as one would expect.

Tom Hanks does his best Jimmy Stewart as James B. Donovan, one of those true life heroes  that find themselves at the right place at the right time in history that Spielberg is so fond of. It’d almost be unbelievable if the character were played by anyone other than Tom Hanks. Renowned Mark Rylance (who will reteam with Spielberg next year for The B.F.G.) steals scenes as the Russian spy that finds himself at the center of a trade between the US and the Soviet Union. His scenes with Hanks are some of the film’s best thanks in no small part to the duo’s natural chemistry.

Click here for my full review. 

Phoenix

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 Speaking of old fashioned, Phoenix is a classic noir thriller that takes an unbelievable premise and overwhelmingly succeeds by underplaying it.

We see a country and a woman in the middle of a crossroads in terms of their identity. Jewish nightclub singer Nelly (Nina Hoss) has returned to post-war Berlin after receiving extensive facial reconstruction surgery due to being disfigured in a concentration camp while Germany is looking to find its feet after a crushing defeat to the Allies as well as the Holocaust. Nelly is on a quest to find her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), who may or may not have turned her over to the Nazis to save his own skin. Once she finds him however he doesn’t recognize her, but due to her passing resemblance to his wife (who presumes to have long since died), he cuts her into a scheme to acquire her own inheritance.

Director Christian Petzold favors subtly and nuance over theatrics, which ultimately lead to the film’s success. It also sports perhaps the greatest ending of any movie this year. I won’t spoil it but like the movie as a whole it is a testament to economic editing and phenomenal acting.

It’s currently available on Netflix, and I highly recommend you give it a watch if you have not already.

The Martian 

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Or “How Ridley Scott Got His Groove Back.”

The Martian was a welcome return to form for the iconic director, thanks in no small part to a phenomenal ensemble cast led by the ever-talented, ever-punching Mat Damon and screenplay brimming with likability from Drew S. Goddard.

Unlike last year’s rather dour Interstellar, The Martian never really gives into despair regardless of the utterly hopeless situation our hero finds himself. We know Mark Watney is fucked, but that isn’t going to stop his chipper attitude and never-say-die attitude.

Also it gets a massive plus is that this is very much a “team movie.” There aren’t any real villains. It’s simply about smart people trying to save one person and one smart person trying to stay alive long enough for smart people to save him.

Click here for my full review.

Steve Jobs 

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It’s rather annoying the levels of people casually dismissing this movie without having seen it on the snarky basis of it being a movie about Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs.

I get it. The canonization of Jobs after his death is bit much, but to deny the man led an interesting and complicated existence is to be glib. If this movie were to have any major sin it would be that it falls a bit under Jobs’ spell at the very, VERY end but for the most part it paints the best, most compelling portrait of a man that was anything but perfect.

We get Jobs’ life in three acts, each of which takes place on the eve of a major product launch, a unique approach to the somewhat stale biopic subgenre.

Every aspect of this movie screams: OSCAR BAIT, however it never concerns itself with prestige and instead gives us Jobs the man, not Jobs the god nor does it exist to service Jobs exclusively. Michael Fassbender is great at the titular character but its the supporting cast that left the biggest impression on me, particularly and most surprisingly Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin writes veritable action scenes with his dialogue here. The sequence involving Jobs confrontation mentor/friend/boss John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and the former’s expulsion from Apple may go down as the most thrilling of the year.  Sorkin’s writing, Danny Boyle’s direction, Elliot Graham’s editing and Fassbender and Daniels’ performances are all on fire and had me on the edge of seat with not so much as a single explosion.

Cop Car

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It’s kind of shame this movie didn’t reach a wider audience but given that John Wells is about to become a much bigger name due to his next job as director of certain Marvel film revolving around your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, I’m sure it will be seen by more and more people as the latter movie’s release date looms closer.

It’s Duel meets Stand By Me with a little bit of a Coen Brothers movie thrown in for good measure.

From the first scene, I was hooked just by how natural the kid actors spoke back and forth. By the time we get to the mystery of how the titular cop car came to be abandoned and the cat-and-mouse game being played by figures we really don’t get a grasp on until the third act, I couldn’t look away.

No spoilers, but I recommend going into this knowing very little.

It Follows

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Honest to goodness dread is a pretty damn hard thing to convey in a movie. It Follows does it so well that it makes you wonder if anyone else making horror movies these days is even trying.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell imbues his teenage cast of characters with the right amount of accuracy and maturity that feel downright refreshing in the modern horror landscape, but importantly never lets us forget that these are still teenagers.

Another thing I fucking loved was how we learn “the rules” organically over the course of the film, instead of all the exposition being dropped on us in one solid brick of a scene. Take note, other horror movies: Knowing more about a scary thing makes said scary thing less scary. It’s a delicate balance giving us just the right amount of information in a movie. Too little and you get Prometheus. Too much and you get any number of the horror prequels we’ve seen over the past 5 years. It Follows gives a monster we can interpret but never fully understand. Like Cop Car, it succeeds by implementing the “less is more” approach to story-telling.

My only real minor nit-pick is that movie seemingly breaks these rules, as established, near the climax.

Click here for my full review.

Turbo Kid

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I saw a ton of fun movies in 2015, and by fun I mean they certainly aren’t going to win a ton of awards but they are going to win a ton of smiles from me.

Turbo Kid was probably the most fun I had watching in movie over the past year, and this is a year that includes Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I’ve watched a lot of bad movies over the past year. Turbo Kid lovingly pays homage to the endless stream of cheesy science fiction flicks of the 1980s without ever coming off as a pandering pieces of shit (much like the Sharknado films that I absolutely despise).

It gets dark at times and it is incredibly violent (perhaps the goriest film I saw this year), but it never loses that sheen of innocence and enthusiasm that makes the film such an utter joy to watch.

The cast is uniformly great and full of unknowns (with the exception of character actor legend and utter badass Michael Ironside), with the real find being Laurence Leboeuf as Apple. The film’s likability is at all time highs when she is onscreen. I was worried about her character falling to the “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl” troupe but given what we learn about her character later on, those worries melted away pretty quickly.

 Turbo Kid is a lot of things, but most of all, it is a blast. Much like Fury Road, it’s A-class world building but unlike the other film, it operates on a meager budget; making it utterly impressive for similar yet different reasons. Give it a look see, and get ready to fall in love with the futuristic world of 1997.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Spotlight, The End of the Tour, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Electric Boogaloo, Trainwreck, Call Me Lucky, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation, Amy and Ant-Man.

That time I wrote an unfinished pitch (fan fic) for a potential Spider-Man 4…

So it’s been a cool minute since I posted anything on here (I’m currently working on the next Cinematic Soapbox but keep getting distracted because I suck.) and I thought I’d mix things up. Typically I write about other people’s creative outputs but tonight I want to offer you something I wrote several years ago.

I’ve made it now secret that I am a very, VERY passionate (some would say insane) fan of Spider-Man. Hard to believe but when I was younger this passion was almost incendiary. So let’s flash back to late 2007/early 2008.

Now I saw Spider-Man 3 and I was somewhat disappointed. I still like elements of that movie but I felt like it could have been better. Why I thought I could help the series get back on its feet is any one’s guess. I was a teenager and  “true fan” so I thought I’d put my genius ideas down just to show the world (i.e. exclusively myself) how much smarter I was than these big wig Hollywood writers.

It’s also important to note what was going on in the comics at the time. One More Day….One. More. Fucking. Day.

I don’t want to go into specifics but to put it kindly this event nearly destroyed my love of comic books as a medium. It took away the status quo of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker, my one true pairing as Tumblr would call it. Needless to say, I was in a somewhat “dark” place as a fanatic Spider-Man fan and needed a way to cope. This pitch heavily reflects my attitude about the character at the time. Aunt May dies. Mary Jane has a miscarriage brought about by the fucking Shocker. Spider-Man broods more than ever. I did the exact thing that I hate about the new rebooted Spider-Man movies.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Below you will find the largely unaltered, unfinished pitch for Tyler Talley’s Spider-Man 4, warts and all, and remember: this was before the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe. This was before the reboot. I fully intended this to be a pitch for the fourth entry in Sam Rami films. Let me stress however I never EVER was naive enough to think this would be made. Like realistically at least. I wrote it for fun and I am posting it for fun. This was a movie meant just for me.

Having re-read it, I do have some notes:

This is really sloppy, but with a little more fine tuning it could have been…acceptable fan fiction. Alas not a cohesive movie however. First off, there is no structure. It reads more like a series of comics, not a single movie. There are really no connecting themes either. Also it is waaaaaaay too dark for a Spider-Man movie and I for one have no interested in a dark Spider-Man flick. This much more in line with fan fiction that a fan film.

Mysterio is similar to  Heath Ledger’s Joker (albeit poorly written), right down to the unbeatable plan. (This is because I ripped off the character as interpreted by Brian Michael Bendis in Ultimate Comics: Spider Man and the first act of the movie is his plan to a fucking tee. If anything it is the one element I am most embarrassed by given the level of plagiarism). As the years have gone on, I’ve grown a massive distaste for these kind of villains even though I think this would be the best route for Mysterio if he were to be the main villain for a Spider-Man film. However he could just as easily be a comedic side-villain.

I like my Lizard more than the one we ultimately got in The Amazing Spider-Man. Mine isn’t subtle, but I didn’t include a fucking plan about turning all of NYC into Lizard people.

So the following material is rough. Like really rough and I welcome/encourage thoughts and opinions. In other words…

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“The film opens with the typical Spidey narration with Peter explaining how he and MJ have reconciled and have finally moved in with each other. Aunt May still urges the two to get married but Pete wants to take it slow. The public opinion is now somewhat of doubt as it was in the first movie due to the incident in the 3rd film. JJJ is having a field day with this at the Bugle. A sudden splurge of costumed characters have been popping up in New York. We are given hints of Dare-Devil, Moon Knight, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, with JJJ and his staff coming up with the names. Spidey is swinging through the city when suddenly zap! bolts of electricity are flaring around the city bank. Spidey investigates to find Shocker (BRUCE CAMPBELL CAMEO!!!) is attempting to rob the bank. Spidy basically humiliates Shocker in the resulting fight. As Shocker is being led to jail he is shot by a hit man who we secretly was hired by mob boss, Silvio Manfredi aka Silvermane. Spidey saves Shocker, who holds on to his hate of the Web Head. Spidey has been trying to bust Silvermane for months. We are then introduced to sympathetic villain Curt Conners, who we learn has been working are a regenerating serum that uses the DNA of lizards in an attempt to regrow his missing arm. Conners offers to pay Peter as a lab assistant if he helps him with his experiments. We learn some of Conners family situation. Divorced and barley knows son, that old chestnut. We are then cut to Silvermane who is staring out his window from atop a skyscraper. He is ranting about how crime is changing. He gets so mad that he tells his henchman to leave the room. We hear the door open and Silvermane starts to yell again but when he turns it is not a henchman but the new villain Mysterio! (think of the ultimate design of Mysterio: sort of Ghost Ridler-esque with blue flames and face in the flames)
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Mysterio starts reciting the nursery rhyme humptydumpty and zapsSilvermane through the window, killing him. He stares out the window chuckling,”That’ll look good on the resume.” The next day the city is shocked to learn of Silvermane’s death. Shocker is still alive in the hospital laughing. Peter doesn’t  know whether to be pissed or happy. (The Bugle runs the headline, A Mysterio slays Silvermane.) Mysterio releases a viral video where he gives the following speech (Editor’s note: this is almost beat-for-beat ripped from Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man run which you can find here.):”Did you read the news today? Oh boy. They say the old man fell and broke his….well everything. That’s my gift to you, people of New York. You’ve been through quite a lot in the past few years. You can now scratch that old fart off your list of problems. You don’t have to thank me. You could thank me, but you don’t have to. Also, you have no idea who I am or where I am so sending me a gift basket would probably be more difficult than it’s probably worth. See, I used to be like him. Not even that long ago. I wanted a little piece of the pie. My piece. I wanted to boss around a couple of people dumb enough to let a guy like me boss them around. But after all I’ve seen: from your Gay Goblins and Doctor Octo-pussies, and hell, even a human liter box, I realized: I don’t want a piece anymore….I want all of it. And I’m going to take it. And the best part? You’ll never know who I am or how I did it. But you can keep calling me Mysterio. I like that. I would have never come up with that. Let me tell you how the world is–there is no good or bad. No authority or law. All cops are corrupt. All politicians compromised. Religion is a con and conspiracy is the truth. There is no heaven or hell. You won’t be punished in the next life. And just because we are born in this madhouse doesn’t mean we have to accept it. I’m not. I’m taking what I want. You should do the same. Go ahead. I dare you. And if you think the contrary-and yes I’m talking to you Spidey–come and get me. That I’ll respect. I’m telling you this so you can hear it from me directly. I’m taking what’s mine, you lazy cowards. You deserve what happens next.” Peter has little time to worry as Conners that he is going to skip all basic projectors and test his serum on himself. Peter watches as Conner injects himself with the serum. A couple of seconds pass and the two think it has failed, but then Conner’s arm slowly begins to regenerate. Just as the two are about to celebrate the project’s success, Conners falls down in pain. He then begins a very disturbing and graphic transformation. (think American Werewolf in London) Peter tries to help but is thrown aside by the now much stronger Conners. At last Conners is now the Lizard who begins to destroy the lab and then escapes into the sewers. Peter wakes up to see the wreckage and puts on his Spidey costume and attempt to stop Conners. As he is leaving the camera stays on the rumble and we see the tiny bit of the symbiotic suit that Conner’s received in the 3rd movie slither out. Spidey follows Lizard into the sewer and attempts to reason with Conners, unfortunately Conners is now more animal than man and only sees Spidey as food. What proceeds is the most brutal fights in the series with Spidey getting beaten to a near pulp. Just when Lizard is about to make a killing move Spidey is able to break a pipe with web and hot steam shoots Lizard’s face, sending the creature running. We then cut to Peter and MJ’s apartment. MJ walks in shocked to find Peter on the ground, bloody and beaten. We then cut to a little later as MJ is taking care Peter when they hear screams coming from the city. MJ opens the window to see giant spiders attacking the city with people running. She turns to see that Peter is already in a spare Spidey costume. “City that never sleeps,” says Spidey. MJ sighs and says,”Go get ’em tiger.” Spidey swings into action attempting to stop the spiders, but surprisingly he goes right through them. Confused Spidey discovers that the spiders are actually just holograms being transmited from stations across the city. We then cut to the Bank of New York, to find all the guards in a panic and on the ground. None other than Mysterio is the one behind this and is loading bags of money into a getaway truck all with a remote. All of a sudden Spidy drops kicks Mysterio and webs him to the wall and gives a tiny monologue:”Yeah I figured it out. You hid some hologram doo hickies all around the city. Makes everybody see those eight legged freaks. Kind of weird that they weren’t actually destroying anything or eating anyone. But I’m sitting there wondering: who would do this and why. And then a lightbulb went off and I said. New York Federal Reserve. I saw Die Hard 3 too you know. I bet some dumbs is trying to rob the place. And lookey what we got here…some dumbs trying to rob the place!” Spidey finishes to see that Mysterio has melted the web with some sort of spray and punches Spidey square in the face, knocking him to the floor. He picks up the limp Spidey and says,”You really need to learn how to shut up. I’m not stupid you know. I know you have a life outside of this game. A mom, a dad, a girlfriend, or probably by the way you dress, a life partner. And for this little stunt you pulled today..I’m gonna take it all away. I’m gonna find out who you are and I’m gonna take your whole life away. And after I take everything from you…we’re gonna meet again, and I’m gonna show this city that you’re no better than the bug you dress up like. Maybe do a little door-to-door. You know maybe I’ll start with little miss Mary Jane Watson. You and her seem to cross paths here and now, hm?” This causes Spidey to get extremely pissed and webs Mysterio in the face and punches him into the street. Spidey the gets on top of Mysterio and ruthlessly starts to punch him. He is broken out of his blood lust by a child screaming. Spidey turns to see a mother hiding her child with the child screaming to keep the monster away. Spidey thinks he is talking about the holograms but the child is staring right at him. Spidey turns back to see Mysterio has disappeared in a flash of smoke. Suddenly the police surrounds Spidey attempting to arrest him for robbing the bank. Spidey tries to explain but the cops open fire and he is barely able to escape. Aunt May discovers a passed out Peter still in Spidey costume on his bed after fight with Mysterio.

End of Act I

 Act II

(Editor’s note: things get a bit more choppy from here on out. I’m not sure why. I must have lost interest or something to that effect.)

Mysterio springs Shocker from jail (where he is recovering from his gunshot wound) and says he’s got a proposition for him.

Aunt May confronts Peter and tells him that she’s mad but understands he must continue to help people. They have a tender scene together.

Peter begins to work tirelessly for an antidote to Conner’s serum.

Peter and Mary Jane go on a date and Peter reveals that her love is the only reason he can function as a hero and man in a touching speech. They make love that night.

Mysterio captures Lizard and says he has plans for him. “I’m going to use a monster to make a monster.”

Peter spends the next few weeks in the lab and finds the antidote.

Mary Jane tells Peter she is pregnant. The two visit Aunt May and she is thrilled by the news.

The next day Aunt May is shown complaining that tenant in the apartment next to her’s is too loud and a strange smell in her apartment.

Mary Jane is out shopping and Shocker appears,”Hey Watson! Nothin personal!” and zaps her knocking her out.

Mysterio calls Peter and tells him that he knows he is Spider-Man.

How Mysterio finds out who Spider-Man is. Finds out that a fighter called the Human Spider whose name was Peter Parker the same night Parker’s uncle was murdered by a robber. One of the robbers was murdered by a mysterious man in red according to the police report. Peter Parker also takes pictures of Spider-Man for the Daily Bugle. He begins to survail Parker and discovers he is in a relationship with Mary Jane Watson, the woman Spider-Man’s villains seem to target. He tells Parker it’s too late and that step one of your fall has already begun and that the pheromones have already been realized. And ends on,”Oh and I’ve been listening in on your phone. Congrats, I’m sure you two would have a lovely child.”

Lizard is let out of a cage that has been placed next to May’s apartment and he busts through her wall due to the pheromones. It is not shown but Lizard brutally kills Aunt May.

Mysterio calls the police acting like a concerned citizen saying there is a horrible noise coming from May’s apartment.

Lizard escapes into the subway.

Spidey is too late to save Aunt May but the police enter at exactly the wrong time and think of course that Spidey and the Lizard killed May in their fight. Spidey is shot in the arm as he tries to explain but escapes.

A wounded and distract Peter joins Mary Jane is in the hospital. She learns that she is fine but she has had a miscarriage leaving her heart broken while Peter rushes out in a rage.

Peter gets the antidote and tracks down Lizard below the city and the two have another brutal fight only this time Spidey’s animalistic side overwhelms Lizard’s. But just when it looks like Lizard might get a lucky killing blow in Spidey stabs him with the antidote turning him back into a confused and frightened Conners.

Spidey takes off his mask slams Conners against a wall and begins to scream at him,”You killed her!!!!!” and such. Conners doesn’t understand but his voice just makes Peter angrier. Peter is about to kill Conners when he suddenly stops and realizes what he is about to become and falls to his knees and weeps.

End of Act II

“Sadly” I can not find a copy of the last act and I only have vague recollections of what it consisted of. Some highlights I remember:

Myterio, believing he has broken Spider-Man, turns his attention elsewhere. His ultimate plan I believe was similar to Bane’s in the Dark Knight Rises in giving the city back to the people. (My apologies for not remembering specifics.)

Conners is able to somewhat control his Lizard persona and assist Spider-Man in taking down Mysterio, I think he dies but I can’t remember for certain.

Spider-Man wins buy unmasking himself (like in Civil War) to Mysterio (taking away any hold over him) in their final confrontation which is being broadcast and gives a speech to the people about standing up to the darkness. I had the speech written down and it was really corny. He proceeds to beat the shit out of Mysterio with classic wise cracks in a scene that was probably tonally wrong given everything that proceeded it.

Peter is able to find proof that Mysterio planted Lizard and it killed Aunt May through some convoluted paper trail Mysterio left, absolving Peter of the crime. The public opinion of Spider Man is now more favorable.

Peter is fired from the Bugle for good to teach science at Midtown High.

Mary Jane and Peter pledge to keep fighting the good fight (now with massive targets on their head) as the bury Aunt May next to Uncle Ben.

There was also a post credit scene that played out like this (and I was so proud it at the time because I was such a “bad ass” writer):

An unseen man is reading the Daily Bugle. The headline reads of Spider-Man being Peter Parker. The unseen man sighs and in Russian.. “No”

The man rushes down an expansive hallway. (We don’t see his face through the tag)

He enters a massive room, filed with the stuffed heads of every kind of animal you could think of and a long table.

At the end lies a fire place is a chair placed in front of a fireplace with an unseen man sitting in it, his back to the audience.

The man behind the chair is already reading his own copy of the paper. 

He crumbles it up and throws it to the fire.

Our unseen man is clearly nervous and takes a seat, and in Russian says, “You’ve seen the news…”

The hunter stands and approaches, “Enough…”

Unseen man, “You can’t…you’ve seen what he is capable of time and time again now…”

Hunter, “Enough…”

Sergei, please you are not a young man any more!”

A knife slams down on to the long table. Our unseen hunter is revealed (I imagined Mickey Rourke or Viggo Mortensen in the role at the time), in a THICK Russian accent, replies…

“I SAID ENOUGH, Dmitri! He is wounded and more deadly than ever. The time is perfect. The fates have decided and the die cast. My last hunt may begin!”

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