‘The Batman Chronicles’ – How the Joker Saved Gotham.

Recently I wrote a blog post about why we should all leave Batman alone for a while, and while I stand by that for Hollywood, a recent web series entitled ‘The Batman Chronicles’ has brought it back up for discussion. Part 2 entitled ‘Night’ has just been released in the wake of Part 1 ‘Dusk’ (you see the theme developing). While I wasn’t a huge fan of part 1 itself, part 2 is really really interesting for me. This is all thanks to everyone’s favourite DC villain The Joker, who is in this case played by Anthony Misiano. Misiano is a New York based actor, screenwriter, filmmaker, composer, artist and cosplayer. All-round he’s a pretty talented guy, and made his name on the internet as Harley’s Joker, a cosplayer appearing at various conventions around the world and gaining a reputation as ‘The Handsome Joker’.

Harley's Joker Anthony Misiano

While the production itself is well edited, scripted and shot, Misiano himself is undoubtebly the star of the show. The reason I was so intrigued by his Joker is because I felt like he tapped in to a side of the Joker generally not explored in his most famous incarnations. I think the way it plays out in my head is that there’s some sort of psychological spectrum that all the various Jokers fall on to (also someone should make one of these spectrums for people like me who then have to paint a word picture and are likely to just confuse people; get on it).

In the 60s there was of course Cesar Romero, who started it all off. Romero brought to life the famous laugh that so many of us associate with the villain, as well as the strange formality vs insanity characteristics that we see so often in comic books and films nowadays. Though the original Batman series was completely silly, Romero nonetheless shot the character of the Joker in to the pop culture stratosphere and in to icon status. If we go back to my imaginary spectrum, Romero’s Joker would fall very far to the right as a ‘Clown’. After this, Jack Nicholson’s Joker really defined the role of the Joker as we know it today. His Joker is characterised by sadistic tendencies, a passion for violence and a larger-than-life pantomime portrayal of a man completely unhinged from reality. His lack of remorse and utter crazed kookiness was for many the epitome of the original comic book Joker they all knew and loved. Nicholson falls far more to the left of our spectrum, as the ‘Psychopathic Tortured Artist’.

Heath Ledger Jack Nicholson Jokers

However, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the maniacal man with a troubled past and a penchant for death and violence falls as far left as anyone has gotten on the spectrum. The key to Ledger’s Joker was perhaps the surprise element. In a Total Film article it’s pointed out that while Nicholson’s Joker perhaps played on his existing status as a bad-boy in the world of film, inviting people to make delicious comparisons between fact and fiction, Ledger’s performance completely blind-sided everyone and came out of nowhere seemingly. Much like the Dark Knight films themselves, Ledger’s Joker possessed far more seriousness than his predecessors; while Nicholson and Romero’s Jokers still lived up to their name with kooky and hilarious one-liners and a sense of humour which was often misplaced and completely manic, Ledger’s Joker was unhinged in a far more serious and haunting way.

Ledger’s Joker is certainly still one from the comic books, but his is a reincarnation of far more contemporary graphic novels such as Alan Moore’s Killing Joke and Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum. Pictured below and still worth a mention as perhaps the best voice of the Joker that ever was: Mark Hamill’s voice portrayal of the Clown Prince of Gotham. Hamill falls almost bang on center of our spectrum. His Joker is still very much a bi-polar maniac, but with a big splash of kid’s humour and silliness that is reminiscent of Romero’s Joker. Obviously with his character being made for kid’s TV there was only so much he could do on the homicidal and terrifying side of things, but he is definitive nonetheless at capturing the wicked glee of the Joker and I think anyone around my generation who watched the cartoons will agree it’s Hamill’s voice, and laugh, you hear when reading the comics.

Mark Hamill's Joker

So what is it that Misiano’s Joker does differently to their various adaptations of the character? I’m going to do something that I’m sure is very uncouth indeed and quote YouTube comments here, because a lot of the discussion on the second installment sums it up perfectly. One user stated that: “Yes, the traditional Joker is played in an extremely rambunctious manner which is always fun to watch. However, I find this Joker captivating in a sense that it is not over-the-top yet the psychotic energy is still present”, while another compared the smooth-talking Misiano to Hades from Hercules, and another user states that his more downplayed yet still socio-psychotic performance makes him more a ‘Joker of the real world’. These three comparisons very much sum up my feelings on this portrayal as well – Misiano has managed to achieve all the psychotic humour and sadism of Nicholson’s Joker, with that hint of a man truly unhinged as per Ledger’s Joker while maintaining the real comic book feel of the character himself. Performance aside, the scripting, costume and make-up for this Joker was pretty flawless and completely outshone the rest of the cast. Misiano has proven with this performance that sometimes understated can be far more impactful than ‘big and crazy’, falling I would say perfectly on the spectrum somewhere in between Nicholson and Hamill. If, like his character, Misiano’s goal was to be ‘a star, a king’ and to ‘generate some buzz’, then he has more than achieved that.

 

Injustice: Gods Among Us (Issues #1-6)

Injustice Gods Among Us Poster

So recently I made a pretty surprising discovery: my local Library has a surprisingly large and impressive collection of Graphic Novels. Naturally, my response to this was to check out everything! One of the titles I borrowed during this frenzy was Injustice: Gods Among Us, written by Tom Taylor. This Graphic Novel’s narrative serves as the back story to and elaboration of the popular game that came out last year for various consoles, depicting all-out warfare that has erupted between the superheroes of the DC universe. While the trailer for the game makes it seem, well, a bit naff it does not do any amount of justice to this adaptation.

A brief synopsis of this serialisation (issues 1-6) goes something like this: Following a tragic accident perpetrated by a certain famous make-up wearing DC villain, Superman is racked with grief-driven insanity and has the kind of nervous breakdown one would expect from the indestructible super-hero. He decides that the only logical plan of action is to forcefully enforce peace on earth by becoming an omnipresent and ever-so-slightly fascist leader of the world…duh. This decision and the actions that ensue in the wake of it leaves the Justice League and other superheroes of the DC universe torn and in opposition with eachother. This divide makes not only for some pretty kick-ass fights that I think we’ve all dreamed of seeing (i.e Aquaman unleashing the Kraken….no I’m not kidding), along with some surprising and hilarious partnerships (in particular between DC’s favourite archer and Harley Quinn), but also for some really interesting moral and ethical discussions.

Green Arrow and Harley Quinn

I personally think comics are always at their absolute best when they, their protagonists and – more often than not – antagonists force you to reflect on the real world while escaping from it. This particular comic is so interesting because it so easily could have been a drab counterpart to a game, almost like a handbook as many of these companion comics usually are; but instead became a beast in its own right.

Much as I loathe and resent the idea of the upcoming Batman vs Superman atrocity which is moving imminently Batman vs Superman Injusticecloser to infecting our cinema screens and minds like a Jesse Eisenberg shaped brain tumour, the idea actually really works in this piece. However, this is not because it acts as a show of their brute forces colliding together in a showy way, but because it exposes the ideals which both define these superheroes and ultimately break them. For Superman it’s his Christian compassion which makes him oh-so-dreamy and heroic and defines him as the people of earth’s hero –  but that ultimately drives him to destruction in the name of peace and chivalry, blurring his perception of violence and its role in peacekeeping completely. On the other side of the coin, Batman’s usual lone-wolf status and dark and brooding nature which defines him is tested when he rather surprisingly becomes the leader of the ‘good’ side.

What I particularly liked about this comic series is that it manages to be fast-paced and completely, mind-blowingly action packed while maintaining a steady and believable pacing. This is where I feel an awful lot of comics fall down and it may be that I’m actually really difficult to please, but there are very few comics that I had read that find the balance between meaningful and interesting story-telling and a narrative which is full of intrigue and action. The other thing I absolutely loved about these comics is that absolutely no-one is safe. Maybe my brain has been subliminally conditioned by too much Game of Thrones, but you’ve got to give it to any kind of story-telling medium that has the balls to unapologetically kill their main characters without warning.

Injustice: Gods Among Us AtlantiaA few reviewers have griped that the aesthetic of the comic and its scripting feel disjointed and wrong, but other than my issues with the characterisation of the Joker I would say that the clean, crisp yet dark and brooding style of this series is actually kind of genius. I didn’t find it jarring or juxtaposing at all; in fact I found it very natural. Though this series was originally created for digital distribution and thus were converted for us neanderthals who still indulge in these clunky printed things. I would, however, agree with the disenfranchised hoards that I was take out of the moment a bit by the flashy and at times ridiculous costumes in this version of the DC universe. I mean, while I’m sure we’re all accustomed to and are fans of the usual borderline-pornographic vision that is Wonder Woman, her – ahem – breastplate was beyond ridonculous in this imagining and gave me a good chuckle on her first appearance. However, overall the aesthetic feel of this series is artistically complex and pretty stunning.

That said, these are small gripes about an otherwise spectacular Graphic Novel. As an openly anti-Man of Steel Injustice: Gods Among Usindividual, it was really refreshing to see him portrayed as the villain with all his drawbacks and flaws exposed, magnified and torn to shreds. This interesting character development isn’t just limited to the main man himself either, with the series exploring facets of many of DC’s heroes and heroines and the thin line between vigilante’s and the criminals they fight. Though it feels a bit forced, the comic also manages to address some contemporary political discourse in a scene where Catwoman and Batman urge the President to “do better”, but you can’t really begrudge them this small effort at activism.

In short; the characters are well-thought-out; the story is well-written and excellently paced; the artwork is intriguing, evocative and beautiful to look at; the morality of the story is strong and regularly reinforced without being too intrusive on the fun of it all; and above all it completely exceeds expectations as far as a video game prequel comic goes.

The Rise of the Planet of the Unlikable Protagonist

While watching this year’s Oscars I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of unlikable protagonists, 248330_077particularly considering the winners of the Best Actor and Actress categories. Matthew McConaughey plays an extremely unlikable character who is despicably selfish, outwardly racist and homophobic and yet is our guiding point-of-view through one of the toughest periods in the AIDs battle in public health. Equally unlikable is Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine French in Blue Jasmine. Blanchett plays an extremely emotionally unstable, pathologically selfish and ungrateful woman who invokes no sympathy from those around her or from us as viewers throughout the film. However, Blanchett’s performance, like McConaughey’s, is so impactful and sincere that it was hard to remain unaffected by it. Both of these performances and the accolades earned by both actors for them got me thinking about the fascination of current society with an unlikable protagonist; and the thin line between a straight up unlikable character and the likable asshole trope.

I think that the most obvious attraction to an unlikable protagonist is that, whether we like it or not, they are samspadegenerally more complex and so more reflective of more qualities that define humanity as a whole. Isn’t it true that we are more likely to see our flaws in the mirror than our strengths? So shouldn’t that be true when trying to relate to a fictitious character? However, it’s no secret that we all prefer a prickly protagonists to a wholesome hero – genres such as Westerns, Detective Fiction, and Murder Mysteries generally rely on an complex and unlikable protagonist to carry the story. Contentious characters are somewhat of a literary tradition, with characters from Dorian Grey and Sherlock Holmes to Emma Woodhouse and Miss Havesham creating the mould for future undesirable character tropes and who most of these protagonists can be connected with and traced back to.

Recently though, there seems to have been somewhat of a revival of the unlikable protagonist particularly in recent popular television. Take for example Mad Men‘s Don Draper, or Breaking Bad‘s Walter White, House of Cards‘ Francis Underwood, or Sherlock‘s own Sherlock Holmes to name but a few. As Lionel Shriver surmised in an essay for the Financial Times, ‘liking’ has two pre-requisites: “moral approval and affection.” If we think about these characters, and many other of the most popular characters in TV today, you’ll notice that very few meet these standards, but what all these characters do have in common is that they are only strengthened and developed in their intricacy by their assholery.

However, Meredith Borders discusses the divide between the treatment of unsympathetic female characters walter-and-skyler-whiteversus their cold male counterparts and hypothesises that audiences are far more reciprocal of unlikable men. Borders states that: “One unavoidable certainty is that this dismay is more pointed at unsympathetic women than men. It’s true in life as in fiction – cold men are considered strong while cold women are considered bitches.” To back up this assertion Borders uses Walter and Skyler White as an example, stating that while Walter’s crimes include meth production, murder and “total life-ruiner”, Skyler merely punishes him for these crimes but we find ourselves on Walter’s side. Mind you, this might generally be because while Walt is a life-ruiner, Skyler is far worse as she’s a fun-ruiner – and afterall the main point of the show is entertainment.

hateeveryone1

However, some more commonplace unlikable women who are facing more normal issues actually thrive on their unpleasantness. The biggest example for me in current TV is Hannah Horvath, the protagonist of HBO’s Girls. Hannah seems to be endlessly flawed, from her selfish and self-righteouness, to her destructive nature when it comes to relationships, and even to her struggle with OCD. Though all these flaws would appear to stack the deck against her likability-wise, it actually makes her more real and more relatable (or maybe I’m just as troubled as her, who knows). This is a theme that runs through the show as a whole, and what makes it so successful and, for me, what makes it so enjoyable. While famous female-driven shows such as Sex and the City laced their situations pretty heavily with metaphor and inference to get across the moral of the story, with the indubitable Carrie Bradshaw giving us a neat summation section at the end of each episode in a kind of Sesame Street style “What I Learned Today” conclusion so there was no doubt as to how us girls should feel at the end of each life lesson, Girls is far more literal.

In Girls, I suppose like in Sex and the City, we are given four female protagonists who each have distinct girlspersonalities and distinct issues to go along with them. However, unlike the ladies of SATC they are not the perfect support system, counter-balancing eachother to make an impenetrable superfecta of female strength. No, these leading ladies far more resemble the flawed relationships most people have with friends, fuelled by self-gain and narcissism and the gritty truth that friendships are not the be-all-and-end-all of the female existence. Just as they are unique, Hannah and her friends are all uniquely unlikable in their own ways and I think when you really think about everyone you know, very few people know one truly and thoroughly likable person (and even if you do, you probably dislike them for that fact).

It’s refreshing for a show, or a film, to represent the way flaws and mistakes, particularly in women’s lives, are much more beneficial than going for a cocktails with the gals and concluding that ‘you’re beautiful and strong no matter what!’ and that actually, sometimes life will just suck. Because deep down everyone’s secretly a bit sucky themselves, and at the root of it all isn’t that what makes these ‘unlikable’ characters not only cathartic, but downright likeable?

Louis C.K: Stand-Up and Its Place in Hollywood

louis-ckFor someone whose acting credits have previously included ‘man wearing Richard Nixon Mask’, ‘Sneezing Man’ and ‘Apple Tree’, outrageous comedian Louis C.K’s most recent ventures in to movie acting have been pretty awesome. I first saw him in David O’Russell’s heist hit American Hustle as uptight Agent Thorsen; the counterpoint to Bradley Cooper’s energetic and reckless Richie DiMaso. However he had starred before that in Woody Allen’s strikingly emotional Blue Jasmine, granted this performance wasn’t as notable. What I noticed with both films, however, was that I found myself completely unsurprised that Louis C.K is a naturally great actor.

In American Hustle I would go as far as to say he stole a couple of scenes from Cooper himself, particularly with his ‘Ice Fishing’ story (which, by the way he has now finished on Jay Leno’s show). He pulls off his scenes with the same kind of seething indifference and frustration which makes his stand-up so popular. Beyond his performance, the exchanges between Thorsen and DiMaso are so well-written and well-crafted that the tension and comedy which defines their relationship throughout the film flows and builds so effortlessly that it fast becomes the most believable relationship in the film. As David C. Cutler notes in this article, though Thorsen is the most sensible and sane character in the film, he “plays it somewhat straight, but Louis gives Thorsen a goofy quality that a non-comedic actor wouldn’t have been able to nail naturally.”

AH4

His performance in this got me thinking about that little bit of surprising magic other stand-up comedians6a00d83451c29169e2012877886619970c-320wi have brought to movie roles. While many of these ex-comedians are obvious such as Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams but there are those more surprising ones. Though this falls under the category of obvious, I have already mentioned stand-up’s greatest contribution to Hollywood in this article because it is undoubtedly Woody Allen. Long before he became the auteur we all know, Allen was a successful and unsurprisingly hilarious stand-up comedian and comedy writer for such shows as The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s easy to see how this stand-up translated in to that recognisable Allen flair as it was this background in comedy that gave us that trademark neurotic facet that can be found in most – if not all – of his films. In particular, his stand-up experience is what gave us my favourite part of his films, which are his famously self-deprecating monologues in such films as Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Love & Death, Deconstructing Harry (you get the idea).

Kevin_Spacey_@_San_Diego_Comic-Con_2008_-_bIf you have ever read my blog before, you’ll know that I have a profound and undying love for this next, highly surprising ex-stand-up actor that is Frank Underwood himself – Kevin Spacey. Yes, the man known for his incredibly resonantly deadpan and eerily tortured performances in such films as Usual Suspects, American Beauty  and Se7en started his career in the world of stand-up performing impressions and skits in bowling alley comedy contests (yes that was a thing in the 80s). Of course, Spacey then transitioned in to theater, sparking his involvement with the Old Vic from 2003 onwards. It’s notable that even in his many dramatic roles, House of Cards included, that he brings such a sense of awareness of timing and how hard to play a scene, and when to back off. All traits of the comedy trade.

On this side of the pond, perhaps the biggest surprise start in stand-up was the charming, dry-witted and oh-so-British Emma Thompson. Long before she’d shown her acting metal in Sense and Sensibility, Howard’s End and Love Actually she tried her hand at stand-up until, in her words she “realised that if I carried on doing it I would be dead of a heart attack before I was thirty, because I’ve never…nothing is so frightening, nothing.” Yes, before the days of being a beacon of British-ness along side Helen Mirren and Dame Judi she kept company with Hugh and Laurie in her University’s comedy group.

The last of my surprising stand-up start-ups is none other than Hellboy, motorbike gang leader, Marv and Ron+Perlman+American+Hustle+Screening+LA+1f-IILNCmT5lall-round hardman Ron Perlman who tried his hand at stand-up in high school. Perlman shares an aptitude for natural comedy that – like Lous C.K, Spacey and Thompson – shines through all manner of performances in their career and culminates in the charisma that indisputably emanates from all these actors. Whether it’s shown in their comedic timing, their aptitude for improvisation or their ability to bring a different layer to a scene, their past in comedy ultimately seems to have given these the ability to deliver such a diverse range of roles – which I’m sure we’re all more than grateful for. Whether obvious or surprising, the success stories which came out of the stand-up world make me inclined to think there’s a profound compatibility between acting and comedy that has been and still is a vein of talent waiting to be tapped.

As a bonus, here’s Kevin Spacey doing lots of impressions:

House of Cards: TV Politics vs Reality

house-of-cards-season-2

“And the butchery begins”

More often than not political dramas on TV aim to distance themselves from addressing any contemporary real-world issues head on. However, upon finally getting round to finishing Season 2 of House of Cards I couldn’t help but notice the creators of this particular series very firmly set the otherwise ambiguous context for their characters in an interesting and subtle manner. So subtle, in fact, that it might have gone unnoticed. I’m talking about in the final episode of the series when [BY THE WAY THIS IS A HUGE SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T REALISED IT’S COMING. LIKE, REALLY HUGE] Garrett turns to Underwood and says: “Shall we go introduce the 46th President of the United States.”

This is interesting because it’s the producers not only parodying the contemporary issues of the real-world such as tense US relations with China over the Senkaku Islands and the Sexual Assault reform bill currently being pushed through senate as we speak, but this is them saying that this is the future America are heading towards. Of course, other Netflix aficionado Aaron Sorkin has long been setting this trend in political drama with shows like The West Wing and the more recent HBO hit The Newsroom. Sorkin’s Jed Bartlet dealt with a variety of real-world issues which mirrored the Bush Administration, albeit from a Democratic point-of-view.

For example, the Bartlet Administration tackled the issue of scandal within the Oval Office through the President-Bartlet-martin-sheen-2802780-323-399President’s concealed MS diagnosis, which has been likened to the Monica Lewinski scandal of Clinton’s administration. More directly, following the September 11 attacks, the writers of the show quickly put together a special episode which directly dealt with the War on Terrorism in the US. With contributors such as political analyst and former Press Secretary to the White House Dee Dee Myers and political analyst Lawrence O’Donell linked with the show, it’s easy to see why The West Wing was so gripping and realistic.

However, unlike the new series of House of Cards, both The West Wing and The Newsroom take real-life political stories and look back on them, commenting on those stories which have already broken. What I find so interesting about Fincher, Willimon et al’s approach to this their programme is that it instead takes current affairs and projects them out in to the future. Coupled with its dark and pessimistic representation of the inner-workings of the White House, this speculative approach to political drama is perhaps more forceful and more reformative with regards to the current state of political affairs than its predecessors.

house of cards colour 3As Evangeline Morphos states in this article on Speakeasy, more comedic shows such as Alpha House and Veep “hint at a Washington in which politicians, while not above the fray, can still work together—or, at least, appear in cameo together.”  However, Morphos concludes that whether it be a cut-throat political drama predicting the bleak future of US politics or a comedy set within the current administration, it is true that: “Right now, television’s fictional politicians—even those who commit blunders or murders– are either more relatable or masterful than their real counterparts.” This is somewhat depressingly punctuated by the president himself Barack Obama who said: “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient…It’s true. I was looking at Kevin Spacey thinking, ‘this guy’s getting a lot of stuff done.'”

I think perhaps it is this forward-facing approach to politics and its ability to scrutinize the current administration in a fairly unabashed manner that makes the Washington of House of Cards a corrupt, toxic and immoral place which is equal parts shocking, alien and yet totally, terrifyingly familiar. However, do not get me wrong –  I am certainly not implying that House of Cards is a true nor imagesaccurate representation of Washington and the political system. One needs only to read Barney Frank’s article in the Portland Press Herald to get a true idea of the political plot-holes which exist in the show. BUT, what I am saying is that House of Cards was not built for the purpose of being utterly true to political proceedings as they stand, but rather for the purpose of showing the absolute worst features of the current political system, in order to make a point about where the US and we as a world may be heading with regards to the current political climate. It’s called a political drama for a reason, but perhaps in the age of political turmoil and media power we are living through one must shout louder to be heard. As Frank himself said: “There’s no better way to over power a trickle of doubt then with a flood of naked truth.”

Why Batman Should Be Left Alone (For Now)

h25388394As it stands we are currently in a Renaissance of comic book movies with the Avengers, The Justice League, Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, Green Lantern, and hell, even Ant Man, set to continue gracing our screens in one flick or another. However, I think society as a whole have become a little bit obsessed with a certain pointy-eared vigilante. It was undoubtedly Chris Nolan’s trilogy which revived interest in the Caped Crusader after it was successfully murdered, hacked to pieces and scattered around in what appeared to be a kind of painful-to-watch Satanic ritual hate-fucking of the characters by Joel Schumacher in 1997’s Batman and Robin. Nolan’s trilogy explored the darker thematic elements and anti-hero paradigm which was ultimately brought back in to the comics by Grant Morrison climaxing in to the notoriously dark Batman R.I.P and the mind-bendingly complex Final Crisis in 2008.Finalcrisistpb I think certainly for me, Nolan’s trilogy marked firmly the rise of the anti-hero in superhero cinema.

The anti-hero is certainly not a new revelation in Hollywood character development; indeed the archetype was coined by such greats as Phillip Marlow, Sam Spade, Dirty Harry, and yes even Han Solo. The rise of the anti-hero in hard-boiled fiction and film as well as in Spaghetti Westerns in the late 1940s was undoubtedly a reaction to the moral atrocities befalling the world at the time; from World War II to the wars in Vietnam, Korea and the Cold War, coupled with socio-historical injustices such as the Watergate Scandal and Carter’s Oil Crisis. This period in time arguably saw some of the worst acts of violence, greed and corruption to date. Until now, that is. Yes, the current political and social climate we are facing mirrors perfectly the difficulties and social reform faced during the 1940s through to the late 70s and so it’s perfectly understandable and perhaps even necessary that the archetype of the anti-hero would rise again.

The cathartic world of the anti-hero in cinema, however, has completely transformed. Instead of the every-man anti-heroes found in Westerns and Detective dramas, we have the completely estranged world of Sci-fi providing our sanctification. I’m sure many psychologists, sociologists and cinephiles have looked in to this and seen that this is a direct reaction to the progression of social issues facing the world and that to stand up to the more modern issues we are facing, we need a modern anti-hero. In recent times, that anti-hero has been Batman. But the question I find I’m asking myself more and more is: Is he still the hero we deserve, or just the hero we need?

badass-batman-arkham-knight-game-announcement-trailerkeyfull 9237457203This question has become more nagging with today’s release of the trailer for the new Batman:Arkham Knight game. While I, like any Batman – and in particular Arkham series – fan found myself in awe of this cleverly scripted, amazingly edited, and jaw-droppingly rendered masterpiece, I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve seen it all before. Now obviously this is a trailer, not the actual gameplay, but I couldn’t help but feel like they were wheeling out the same villains, same story lines and same dangers as has been covered over and over again in recent films, comics and cartoons. While I am ecstatic that my personal favourite villain – Harley Quinn – is making a star appearance in this, it all just seems a bit predictable.

Equally so, I worry that the upcoming Superman vs. Batman film is heading in the same direction. Zack Snyder has been quoted as saying that he intends to “take the ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Batman’ universes and explode them” and that he’s “hoping that leads to enough originality, enough perspective on what we’re doing that you get something fresh and exciting.” Now, I can see what the guy is going for, which is presumably extreme damage control after some of the worst casting choices of recent times. However, what that statement roughly translates to in my somewhat cynical mind is “We’re not going to follow any of the perfectly awesome existing Superman/Batman storylines, make up our own and completely ruin both franchises simultaneously. Probably by making them lovers.” To be honest though, I can sympathise with old Zack – both characters have kind of been done to death so why not go crazy?

batman_vs_superman_by_jmattisson-d6i7hne-1This upcoming on-screen smorgasbord of superhero sacrilege, coupled with the recent casting of Ben McKenzie – best known for his role as the emotionally constipated Ryan Atwood on The O.C – as a young Commissioner Gordon in Fox’s TV adaptation Gotham really are the living definition of flogging a dead bat. When currently the most promising direction for the Caped Crusader’s on-screen career is getting rid of him completely and replacing him with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Nightwing, I think we should all take it as a sign it’s time to retire the cape for a while. I am certainly not saying that it’s time for the Bat Signal to be switched off completely, but I think Hollywood should take the lead from the Dark Knight monthly writer Gregg Hurwitz and give him a rest for a while.

Watch the trailer for Batman: Arkham Knight here (it is definitely worth it, despite my rant):

Filthy Gorgeous

As I write this in the darkened cabin of a very long flight at what must be around 7 in the morning, I am finding it increasingly difficult to fully understand the feelings that I’m feeling. I have just finished watching John S Baird’s ‘Filth’. Why do I feel compelled to write a blog post at such an unreasonable hour in such an unusual setting, you may ask. Well, it is just that – because I feel compelled to.

movies-filth-james-mcavoyTo any Scotsman the opening scene of this seemingly light hearted tale of a crooked cop in the heart of our Bonnie City seems like a perfect portrayal of the ludicrous, ‘if you don’t laugh then you’ll cry’ mantra that to the trained eye sums up most of the central belt. However, as the film’s narrative progresses it reveals a far more lurid and frankly disturbing side to the Scottish law enforcement and Scottish culture in general that would probably secure any bid for independence had it not been presented in such a grotesquely surreal way that only the Scots would believe it.

Directorial style aside, it’s easy to see the writing style of Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh shining through in this exceptional piece of narrative. This story boasts all the raw truth and bare-naked, unapologetic study of drugs culture shown in Irvine Welsh’s most famous work. However, I would argue that this piece showcases a much more sophisticated and in depth look at human character as a whole and an examination of why humans as a species are so susceptible to addiction.

This predisposition is personified through James McAvoy’s perfectly measured Malcolm Macdowell-esque performance as Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson. Shown initially as misogyny personified; a man without morals whose only motive seems to be sex, drugs and power, McAvoy plays off this character so well that I’m actually scared to go back and revisit him as Mr Tumlus, for fear of some serious Narnia-based issues developing. Soon we discover that our protagonist is not merely a brainless addict though, and that he has a quite a talent for manipulation.

Filth+1By this point (by the ‘lodge’ meeting maybe) the film still seems to be on track as a fairly light hearted comedy with some real grit and enough nudity to make it inappropriate for recommendation to the in-laws for danger of appearing perverted. However, this all changes when our protagonist pays a visit to Germany.

This is where, much like the infamous toilet scene in Trainspotting, the film’s tone and the protagonists psyche begins to unravel. I think by this point the sinister undertones of the film have become evident for most of us and maybe you’d started questioning who his wife really is. Without giving too much away – since I think this is a must see for anyone reading this – I know somewhere in my brain cogs had begun to turn and something akin to the film heebie jeebies had set in. Something is not quite right.

From this point on the film becomes a beast of a completely different kind, and keeps evolving and growing to even more monstrous proportions. Although you know as a viewer that you remain in Baird’s complete control, you can’t escape that feeling of reaching the top of that first roller coaster peak; knowing somebody somewhere is controlling it but that getting the adrenaline rush of the unknown nonetheless.filth-james-mcavoy

Throughout the finale of this film, Macavoy’s gripping performance, along with truly exceptional writing and exciting direction make it about as dull as shooting heroin in to your eyeballs; and if you genuinely guessed this ending and/or weren’t completely moved by it then I simply don’t want to know you as a human being.

Sudden but Inevitable Whedon Post

Whedon4It’s safe to say that Joss Whedon is somewhat of a Sci-fi cult kingpin; from his still incredibly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which has been on numerous Top 100 Best TV Show in such esteemed lists as Empire and Time Magazine, to the famously revered and tragically axed Firefly; the early termination of which sparked one of the biggest internet uprisings ever. This titan of cult TV has recently moved in to the arena of feature films with both his off-beat imaginative and surrealist 2012 horror flick Cabin in the Woods and the box-office smashing Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, which quickly became the third highest grossing film of all time. While many of us Firefly fans would wish to forget his first foray in to the world of films with Serenity due to some unjust character deaths, and Alien: Resurrection due to generally being disappointing, Whedon has proved his metal when it comes to the big screen recently.

It seems that Whedon has TV writing in his blood, and his writing lineage has earned him the title of the first third-generation TV writer. Whedon is the son of Golden Girls writer Tom Whedon, and Grandson of John Whedon, who was a writer for The Donna Reed Show in the 50s. With such a eclectic and enjoyable history in television, and with shows like Buffy and Angel holding a special place in this generation’s childhood memories, I would be inclined to say that Whedon’s work in television still somewhat overshadows his film work.

Though Whedon’s illustrious TV career overshadows his budding film career at the moment, what really binds all his work together and makes any Whedon production is his knack for onscreen chemistry between his ensembles. From the Scooby Gang of Buffy, to the crew of the Serenity, to the Avengers themselves, we as an audience can feel the chemistry and the buzz of any group of actors he directs.  This article for me pretty much nails Whedon’s way of tackling that tough ensemble performance, and how to make everyone in that ensemble matter in a lovely step-by-step guide. I particularly agree with the over-arching theme of every member of a team in the Whedonverse is simultaneously a part of their crew and their own individual character, and Whedon really takes the time to develop and nurture each character in any of his works.

At the danger of sounding like every other article written on Whedon, I honestly thing the other secret ingredient to his ensembles – and one of the huge reasons why his work is so popular and distinctive – are the strong female roles which he writes. It’s no secret that this is something close to Whedon’s heart, as can be seen in his ‘Equality Now‘ speech in 2006, and obviously through characters like Zoe, Inara Buffy, Willow Echo, and even Black Widow and Ripley (although these characters were already strong). However, Whedon’s brand of female is particularly distinctive for me because he doesn’t shy away from the vulnerable side of women either. For example, River and Kaylee are both undeniably strong in their own way, however they are most definitely under the protection of others. Equally, though she finds her inner strength, Willow’s bad-assery is found in far more unconventional places than Buffy’s. Also, Whedon isn’t afraid to lose the sexuality of women in the mix, without making them overtly so. A perfect example of this is of course Inara, whose very trade is sex but whose character somehow manages to be about more than this fact.

Whedon concluded in this speech that the reason why he continues to write such strong female characters is not because he feels they have answered the question, but because the question is still being asked. This issue was again addressed the other night at this year’s Oscars by, among others, Cate Blanchett. In her acceptance speech she spoke of how her recent appearance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is a testament to the fact that female-driven films not only exist but currently dominate the global box office. Take, for example, this year’s big Oscar winner Gravity. This film is most definitely female-driven, and is indeed carried by one woman’s performance and is unafraid to show a woman struggling to survive because her struggle is not due to her being a woman but rather due to the whole Space being a dangerous place thing.

“Why aren’t you asking the 100 other guys why they don’t write strong female characters?”

However there is always that dangerous line in cinema betweena film depicting a woman’s struggle with those life issues all human beings of all genders struggle with, and being labelled a female melodrama. I think in addressing this Whedon arrived on a very interesting point in his speech for equality, and indeed the irony of that speech itself. That is to say that while it’s still necessary for he and other filmmakers to comment on the amazing equality shown in their films, while the Bechdel test is still being applied to current films (and most of them failing) and while articles like this one and lists of the ‘Top 10 female-driven films’ are still being made, can we really say we’re in a Renaissance of gender equality in cinema?

Games of Thrones Goodies

HBO have been spoiling us GoT fans so much recently that I thought I’d compile a list of the various promotional stuff they’ve released in one easy-to-find post to get you pumped/use as procrastination material. Enjoy!

Trailer #1

Trailer #2: ‘Vengeance’

Trailer #3: ‘Secrets’

15 Minute Feature: ‘A Foreshadowing’

Teaser Trailer: ‘Direwolf’

Teaser Trailer: Tyrion

Teaser Trailer: Dany and Her Dragons

Making Game of Thrones: Part 1

Making Game of Thrones: Part 2

On-set Featurette

Teaser for the Game of Thrones Rap Mixtape (yes, really)

And the Mixtape Itself

Valar Morghulis Posters

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And Other Posters

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

sin-city-dame-to-kill-for-banner Yesterday saw the release of the first full-length trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s sequel to 2005’s Sin City. So what can we expect from this second installment? Well we’re joining the storylines of Marv, Nancy, Hartigan, Goldie and Miho among other familiar faces in plots which intersect, pre-empt and carry on the existing stories told in the first film. Miller, again co-writing and co-directing with Rodriguez, has put a great emphasis on the progression of the aesthetic style in this film, with it obviously more closely resembling his stark monochromatic style as seen in the comics. Rodriguez stated to Empire Magazine that: “I really held back the first time, because I didn’t know whether audiences would go for it. So it ended up looking like a real movie, but in black and white, with a few flourishes. This one is going to push way further towards the books. It’s going to shock and surprise people.”

Aesthetics aside, the fresh faces and interesting plot construction with regards to linearity with the first filmJGL-in-Sin-City-A-Dame-To-Kill-For makes this look like a promising sequel. I’m a firm believer in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ability to recognize a good script and generally pick strong roles (Yes I’m choosing to forget about G.I Joe) and so I take him being in anything as a positive sign. Additional newcomers include Casino Royale minx Eva Green, crime aficionado Ray Liotta and even a cameo by none other than Lady Gaga.  While skeptical about the film’s quality already, given the quality of work churned out by both Rodriguez and Miller – who Sandy Schaefer rightly noted in this article has “long descended into self-parody.” with such atrocities as Spirit - the trailer seems to show a fun, action-packed and star-fuelled sequel which, if a little over-indulgent, will be interesting to watch.