Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Buried Cinema review — They Live

By Tom Kapr

John Carpenter is one of my favorite writer/directors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror cinema. From 1978 to 1988, he made some of the best, most memorable, and most influential films of decadeHalloween was so influential that it popularized an obscure sub-genre of horror with which we are now are so regrettably familiar, the slasher film. Escape from New York was likewise instrumental in popularizing the dystopian anti-hero. Starman is one of the few films about a benevolent alien coming to earth that isn’t pure kiddie fare, and makes some of cinema’s most profound statements about humanity. Big Trouble in Little China had a firm hand in bringing kung fu into American movies. And then there is The Thing, arguably the greatest and scariest movie about a malevolent alien coming to Earth ever made.

There are two things you’ll see that are constants in John Carpenter’s classic thrillers. The first and more obvious of the two is his practical effects, which put to shame many of today’s films of the genre. The second is his pacing, which lets the tension build up slowly but steadily until all hell breaks loose. They Live is no exception.



The basic plot is that an alien race has taken over Earth through subliminal messages and live among us disguised as humans. On billboards, in magazines, on T.V., everywhere humans look, there are subliminal messages that say things like “obey,” “marry and procreate,” “watch T.V.,” and “stay asleep.” A drifter named Nada (played by Roddy Piper) gets ahold of an underground human resistance group’s special sunglasses, which allow him to see the aliens and their messages for what they truly are. In one of my favorite moments, he looks at the cash in a man’s hand and sees that what it really says is THIS IS YOUR GOD.



The alien effects are as basic but as effective as can be, and are trademark John Carpenter. And, in keeping with Carpenter’s patient pacing, we don’t actually see the aliens until about a half-hour into the film. It gives the audience time to become complacent with the world’s normalcy, much like the characters in the film. When Nada is assaulted by a couple of aliens disguised as police officers, he takes them out, then takes the fight to the alien leaders. The final half-hour is almost constant gunfire and very violent, but always moving the plot forward as Nada seeks to stop the signal that is keeping the city’s inhabitants blind to the truth.

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A Buried Cinema review — The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

By Tom Kapr

I sat down to watch The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension along with Buried Cinema podcaster and sometime Rant Pad writer Steve Moore, and neither one of us could figure out what was going on at any given moment in the film. But I need to write something about it, so here’s what I know:

So there’s this guy named Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) who performs brain surgery, fronts a very 80s “rock” band, and is such a brilliant physicist that he manages to discover a new dimension of time and space by travelling through a solid mountain — all in the same day. He’s got a bunch of friends who do all this rockin’ and physics-defyin’ stuff with him, plus another brain surgeon friend played by Jeff Goldblum, who is dressed as a cowboy for most of the movie. He sees a girl named Penny Priddy at his rock show (played by Ellen Barkin, and may I say, AROOOOOOOOOOOO!!!) who looks like his dead wife, and reverse-psychologically goads her into almost shooting her herself. (I would have wanted to shoot myself to if I had to listen to one more minute of that music.) Also, there’s a crazy scientist played by John Lithgow with an outrageous Italian-ish but maybe it’s German accent.


Peter Weller is Pee Wee Herman as Buckaroo Banzai in THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION!


Later that same day, I think, Banzai is giving a lecture about the admittedly cool concept that 99% of matter is empty space, the basis of his whole going-through-solid-rock-and-breaching-the-8th-dimension thing. (They never explain where dimensions 5, 6, and 7 are.) He gets zapped by a telephone which causes him to be able to see some eeeee-vil aliens, which steal something and then drive somewhere and cross paths with other good aliens. The evil aliens look like pasty white middle-aged bureaucrats and the good aliens look like very well-dressed Rastafarians. I have no idea why.


Eeee-vil aliens.


The bad aliens almost run Buckaroo Banzai over with a van, but he’s rescued at the last second by a kid flying a helicopter. He goes back to his base, where he receives a package from the good Rasta-aliens. Everybody puts on bubble-wrap masks so they can watch a glowing alien lady explain something about how they need to stop John Lithgow and the evil aliens from breaking the barrier of the 8th dimension before eleven or midnight or some arbitrary time or the good aliens will instigate a nuclear war between the US and Russia that will obliterate the globe. (Just want to point out again that these are the good aliens.)


Don't be afraid. It's just a good alien disguised as a black guy with dreads, as all good aliens are.


Banzai and his bandmates/other random assortment of friends infiltrate the aliens’ secret base by figuring out that they are the real culprits behind Orson Welles’ controversial 1938 Mercury Theatre presentation of The War of the Worlds, which of course means they’ve been hiding out in Grover’s Mill in New Jersey. A battle ensues, Banzai saves Penny from most certainly being turned into some evil form of Trill or something, even though she dies anyway, and… you know what, to make a long, convoluted, ridiculous story short, they save the world.

And then Banzai brings Penny back to life by, I kid you not, kissing her with his electric lips.

Honestly, I have no idea how I feel about this movie. It kept reminding me of one of my favorite cheesy 80s films, Big Trouble in Little China, and it turns out it was directed by that film’s writer, W.D. Richter. I didn’t dislike Buckaroo Banzai so much as I was completely befuddled by it. It’s certainly no great film like its defenders say it is, but it’s kind of a fun one. I mean it’s no Big Trouble, but still….

Incidentally, we will be reviewing this movie on our podcast next week, so check that out. I’ll link this article to it when I can.

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A Buried Cinema review — Bug Me Not!

By Tom Kapr

Wow. Bug Me Not!

What to say about this musical fantasy about teenagers with weird superpowers and bugs who can talk. My first instinct was to just brush it off by saying that I had no idea what was supposed to be going on in this movie, and that would have been the truth. But that’s no fun. So, here I go, I’m going to try and describe this movie’s plot:

Okay, so there’s this little girl named Moon who loves bugs, and all this little girl ever says is “Coochie coohie!” so naturally everyone thinks she’s a retard, and other adults seem to have no problem saying so to Moon’s mother. Moon’s mother tells her that her saying nothing but “Coochie coochie” all the time makes adults sad (although my theory is they were pretty sad adults to begin with), so Moon starts saying other things.


Moon meets Coochie.


Moon grows into a teenager. She frees a ladybug from some sticky stuff. This ladybug follows her home and starts talking to her, revealing his name is “Coochie” and that he was the same ladybug she befriended as a child. (That is one old ladybug.)  So Moon starts saying “Coochie” again and is very happy. There’s also this dog following her around that can’t speak but is, for some reason, voiced by a human anyway.

Moon meets a bunch of kids with “Ultra Power.” One boy has a reverse mohawk and can jump really high, but using his power causes acne to break out all over his face. Another boy can see through the stall door in the girls’ bathroom, but using his power causes his nose hair to grow to an abnormal (and frankly disturbing) size. Then there’s a kid who can see people’s futures and a pair of twin girls with some kind of telekinetic powers that they can harness by doing this weird Wonder Twins activation routine. They all hang out at the “Psychic Park” with this creepy girl who says she’s a 70-year-old riddle and likes for the children to call her “Auntie.” The dog that has been following Moon apparently can talk only to Auntie and reports to her about Moon’s ability to communicate with bugs.

Moon’s mother has a serious mahjong addiction (like, the kind that can get you into trouble with a Mob of some sort). Also, Moon has a crush on a guy named Hyland who works at the novelty shop that she can spy on from her house. Coochie brings some friends over and these badly animated bugs break into song — terrible, terrible song — and vow to help Moon win the affections of Hyland. Coochie can also summon bug armies by causing algebra problems to appear in the air.


Moon and Coochie spy on Hyland.


Hyland never let s anyone touch him, but Moon touches him accidentally one time, and instead of sending him into a rage as it usually would, it causes copious amounts of water to pour from his head and also causes him to have what appears to be a massively intense orgasm. Or maybe he just gets electrocuted and falls asleep.

All these Ultra Power kids enter something called the “International Pushover Contest,” in which contestants push each other to win the prize of “a close encounter with the Japanese nymph” (this is never explained). Hyland doesn’t want to enter the contest because he doesn’t want anyone touching him, so he and Auntie dance the tango in an alley (without touching), and Moon basically forces him to go by filling out hundreds of application forms in his name. (Also, Hyland can’t read or write, which is somehow connected to his intimacy problems.)

Hyland loses the lamest Mortal Bloodsport Beyond Thunderdome battle sequence ever because acne kid cheats, so Moon cheats by sending a bug army into the ring. All the bugs are taken hostage and put in a cardboard box by the Japanese nymph, but Moon grabs the box and runs away with it. Hyland stops her and tells her to apologize for cheating. They get in a fight, Moon throws a bunch of what look like jumbo-size tampons at him, and he accidentally puts his paint-covered hands on her chest to hold her off. This makes her so happy she runs off skipping and smiling and forgets the box of her bug friends, who are kidnapped by an eeee-vil bug collector, but the bugs are saved at the last minute by the Japanese nymph, but Coochie doesn’t make it out alive for reasons unexplained, and is brutally murdered by the bug collector and a hammer.


She was so happy about her accidental molestation, she forgot about Coochie. (I end up writing the weirdest sentences in this line of work.)


Moon’s betrayal and the general brutality of humankind causes the bugs to go into hiding, and all the plants go on strike and refuse to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and this causes the world’s climate to turn upside-down. (Oh yeah, there’s also a talking tree in this movie.) The Ultra Power squad goes looking for Coochie and the rest of the bugs, and they converge in the park with literally every other fringe teenage character in the film, and they all go into a musical number like they’re the Jets and the Sharks.

The kids finally find some bugs, but it’s an army of rhino beetles ready to declare war on humanity, but Moon and Hyland hold hands to show they have faith and call on Coochie one last time, and he comes to the rescue, because, surprise!, he’s not really dead. The rest of the bugs want to go to war anyway because of Moon leaving them behind, but Auntie shows up in the nick of time with a jar of honey she got from Hyland’s secretly Ultra-Powered dad, and everyone calms right down. But Coochie gets stuck in the honey because he’s a total spaz, and Moon has to save his life once again by crying on him. And everyone rejoices.

Finally, Hyland and Moon are in a field, and Moon tells Hyland she loves him, and Hyland makes a joke about how small her breasts are, and this makes her happy, and she chases him around as the bugs sing one last musical number.



Anyway… I think it’s all supposed to be about puberty.

As a final note, behind-the-scenes footage during the credits reveals that the terribly animated bugs were created by motion capture. A hilarious-looking guy in a bug suit performed all of Coochie’s scenes, and they turned that into the most awful motion-capture animation ever. I should also mention, for the sake of fairness, that Bo-lin Chen, who played Hyland, is an interesting actor whom I’d like to see in better films, and that Isabella Leong, who played Moon, has an undeniable charm about her. But this movie is pure unadulterated cinematic cheese.

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A Buried Cinema review — Cartoon Noir

By Tom Kapr

Cartoon Noir is an anthology of six animated short films. They are clearly from different filmmakers from different countries and seem to have no unifying theme, so it actually feels more like a compilation than a true anthology, but if there is one quality that ties them together, it is abstractness. I don’t know if I’ve ever sat through 83 minutes of almost pure abstractness before, but I have now.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. I am often drawn to abstractness in short animation. The medium suits the abstract well, like carefully scrutinizing an abstract painting. However, even in short films, I tend to remember the ones that still had something approximating a narrative line. Madame Tutli-Putli is a great example of this. It has a clear forward-moving narrative style that slowly becomes more and more abstract, but what this does so well is to create a sense of mystery, dread, and, ultimately, emotional release. In fact, Madame Tutli-Putli is one of my favorite films of any genre or format.

The longer a film gets, the more abstractness tends to wear on me. Cartoon Noir is one that would work better if I went into it with the expectancy of watching six separate short films rather than a unified anthology. As it is, there is a lot of depressing material in these six shorts, though thankfully the final short ends on a more upbeat note.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to look at each short on its own merits.

The first short is a pleasantly brief bit of black-and-white animation called Estória do Gato e da Lua (The Story of the Cat and the Moon), by Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Serrazina. It is not black-and-white as you would normally think of in film; think more like black paint and white paint moving against each other, separating each other and coming back together to form shapes. This film unfolds with a simple poetic narration that gives it the feel of a children’s picture book come to life, and it is the simple kind of tale that would please a child (a cat chases the moon) yet contains themes of longing and growing old that should resonate with adults. As someone who loves good children’s literature, where simple language can convey profound truths, this is probably my favorite of the six films.



Next is Klub odlozenych (The Club of the Discarded) from Czech filmmaker Jirí Barta. This is the one that stands out in terms of its medium because it features life-size mannequins coming to life. Stop-motion, life-size mannequins. This one starts off with a creepy feeling as the camera moves through a seemingly abandoned building full of mannequins. Then as the mannequins begin to come to life, it becomes more whimsical, with a touch of creepiness around the edges. These mannequins go through a daily routine that changes with slight variations, which is when the film becomes interesting. Unfortunately, things take a turn when new mannequins are introduced, and the film becomes burdened with too many themes and too much pointless weirdness, including what appears to be one mannequin raping another. I was happy when this one mercifully ended.



The third short is Ape by American filmmaker Julie Zammarchi, based on the poem by American poet Russell Edson. As soon as you see “Based on a poem by Russell Edson,” you know you’re in for some abstract weirdness. Some of Edson’s poetry connects with me, and some doesn’t. This is one that doesn’t. And the poor reading by the voice actors doesn’t help. A husband and wife argue about the ape they eat for dinner every night. For the man, it’s about being sick of eating the same old thing every night. For the woman, it’s about his suspicions of her infidelity… with the ape? I don’t even know what to say about that, so let’s just move on.



Polish animator Piotr Dumala gives us Lagodna (Gentle Spirit). As I was watching, I was thinking to myself, this feels like watching a Russian novel. I found out afterward it is in fact based on a story by Fyodor Dostoevsky. And when I say it feels like watching a Russian novel, I mean, it’s slow and drab and depressing. The only color is brown, and while it contains some interesting imagery, it’s terrible imagery that leaves one with a sense of hopelessness at the end. Not my cup of tea.



The next short is a fascinating one. Abductees, from English filmmaker Paul Vester, uses real-life video and audio recordings of people telling their stories of being abducted by aliens, and mixes them with a blend of different styles of animation depicting their fractured memories. And while it is one of the most interesting shorts I’ve ever seen, it also contains some horrifying imagery. However, it was a welcome respite from the incessant unpleasantness of the previous three shorts.



The final short is one of the longest, and also the most bizarre. American filmmaker Suzan Pitt‘s Joy Street shows a severely depressed woman drink herself into a stupor and, as we later find out, attempt to cut her wrists. As she lies unconscious on her bed, the cartoonish mouse from her ash tray comes to life and starts dancing around in the sort of free-form style that one might associate with the old Ub Iwerks animations. The mouse discovers the woman with blood dripping from the shallow cuts in her wrists. The colorful mouse grows into a giant grey-toned mouse and creates a river with its tears. Next is a sequence of the woman’s body floating in a river full of dead things. The giant mouse pulls her out of her bed and carries her to a park, where it somehow revives her into a very pyschedelic sequence of monkeys and various other creatures happily living in the trees. This short is an acid trip of animation, but at least it ends on a happy note.



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Captain America: The Last Piece to The Avengers

By Brian Slattery

Captain America is the most important piece of the Avengers puzzle. Why is that? Because Steve Rogers has everything needed in a super human. He has an unflappable spirit, tactical intelligence, and the willingness to put his own life on the line to save those around him. Oh yeah, and he had all those traits when he was the size of one of the Hulk‘s toothpicks.


Red Skull

As a bonus, he doesn't look like this.


Steve Rogers’ goal was to fight alongside his American brethren to defeat the Nazis during World War II. Rogers’ mission, after becoming the super-soldier Captain America, was to defeat a man who had harnessed the power of the gods and distributed that power amongst his loyal followers. Quite the task for one man to take upon himself, even with the help of a ragtag group of former POW’s. But still, Captain America has the strength of will to keep himself in any fight, no matter how the odds may be stacked against him.

Captain America’s greatest strength is his leadership. He commands respect from those around him. This is the main reason he was recruited by Nick Fury to be a member of the Avengers. Fury knew that his team was volatile, with a narcissist in Tony Stark/Iron Man, an arrogant demi-god in Thor, and an uncontrollable rage-beast in the Hulk. With Captain America, Fury had his rock. The man who could stand up to each of these men when the time came and say, “This is what you have to do.” Even if that command is simply, “Smash!” Nick Fury knew that above anyone else he could count on Captain America to take charge.



This is the beauty of the connected Marvel universe. One character such as Nick Fury, who may appear for no more than 30 seconds in any one of the movies, can be such an influential force. He is the talent evaluator, using his massive network of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to gather intelligence on potential candidates to join his Avengers Initiative. The future is an interesting one for Nick Fury. Who will he be contacting next to join the team? Will he be able to count on the founding members to return when called upon? And how will his board of directors deal with his actions on the heli-carrier? All I know is, I can’t wait to find out.

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By Odin’s beard, let Thor 2 be an improvement

By Kevin McCabe


By the time Thor hit the big screen in the spring of 2011, the build-up to an even bigger Avengers release was already in place.  We had been given tasty morsels of semi-sweet chocolate Marvel with The Incredible Hulk and both Iron Man films.  And quickly on the heels of a shirtless Chris Hemsworth, was an equally stripped Chris Evans as Captain America: The First Avenger, to round out the group. I’m sure we will be talking about this collection of films in decades to come as we do now with the original Star Wars trilogy. Let’s just hope they don’t go down the same path that Lucas did and stick some Jar Jar Binks character into a prequel that disappoints all of us.

For now my focus is on Thor, and in my opinion it’s the weakest link in this chain. The out of this world locations, while necessary and in keeping with Stan Lee’s original 1960’s comic book series, were over the top with CGI. I understand the landscape of Asgard is supposed to be fantastical, but it looked like they borrowed building and scenery ideas from every other-worldly movie done in the last 15 years. It was inconsistent, very distracting, and didn’t truly help the story.



The other major flaw in my opinion was the A-list cast they pulled into the film that did nothing more than add their names to the marquee. With stars like Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rene Russo as his mythical mother Frigga, and Natalie Portman as the love interest Jane Foster, they had a Yankees-type starting line-up. Sadly, they performed more like the Mets. I see that Hopkins and Portman are already signed up for Thor 2 coming out next year. I pray the new director and writers better use the talent at their disposal.



Despite these shortcomings though, Thor is still an impressive film. Kenneth Branagh skillfully introduces us to Thor’s half-brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston (also signed on for Thor 2). We get to see his character grow and mature into the typical jealous brother. Their relationship fuels the storyline here, and again in The Avengers. And I’m looking forward to watching it fester in the next installment. Hiddleston does a good job of making you loathe him one minute, and then feel sympathy for him the next. He and Hemsworth are a good matchup with nice chemistry, but I wish I could say the same for Portman and Hemsworth.



We are also briefly exposed to Jeremy Renner’s Avengers character, Hawkeye. As with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in Iron Man 2, Hawkeye shows us enough mystery and skill to let the viewer know there’s something bigger in store. However, I would have liked to see a bit more action or back-story here.  Having him perch above the hammer impact site for five minutes of footage just wasn’t enough. We get only a little more history in The Avengers from both these characters. Maybe it’s because they don’t possess actual superpowers or the money to create them, but I think their roles are critical in order to properly balance the team. I know I’m not alone when I say that a separate movie about Hawkeye and Black Widow would be as well received as Thor, if not more so.



It’s a difficult task to successfully weave together almost a dozen or so key roles into a single storyline. To give each of them enough face time and depth of character so any one of them could support a full story… well that would take hours and hours. We’ve already been fortunate enough to have these six full-length feature films devoted to Stan Lee’s Marvel creations. And there are already plans for at least another four installments. I can’t wait. (And actually, I’m going to see The Avengers again this afternoon.)

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Iron Man 2: Bad as it wants to be

By Alban Yee

I have been tasked with writing an article about Iron Man 2, the worst of all the recent Marvel movies.

If you’ve already seen it, you probably are already familiar with its problems: undefined plot, no climactic ending, and the devolution of our favorite characters from the original Iron Man.

If you’ve seen it and you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’ve done what I have been trying to do — gracefully forget how bad it was.

First, the plot. Do you remember the plot? Vaguely, there’s a Russian physicist with an electric whip who’s trying to kill Tony Stark. Also, there was a hot girl in the form of Scarlett Johansson. We’re not really sure what her role was, other than wearing tight clothing, but you might vaguely remember a fight scene where she beats up a bunch of guys at the end. Additionally, she’s a computer hacker.

You might also vaguely remember that Tony Stark was dying from palladium poisoning from the power source in his chest. He needed to get that fixed too, by inventing a new element. Which, apparently, was really easy:

Tony Stark [upon discovering and inventing a new element in his garage]: “That was easy.”

Secondly, the anti-climactic ending. Whereas the first Iron Man had a villain that rivaled Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit (and Stark was limping on a nearly depleted power source), the sequel had a bunch of flying drones that never established themselves as a threat. There was never a moment when I thought that Iron Man was in any real danger. He didn’t get beat up. He didn’t get kicked around. He just took care of business. When he finally squared off against electric whip guy, he beat him down fairly quickly and again, way too easily.

Thirdly, the characters we loved from the first Iron Man — Pepper Potts (lost in the CEO storyline), Tony Stark (self-destructing and despicable), and Rhodey (replaced by Don Cheadle) — were missing.  Gone is the fun, jazzy chemistry from the first movie, replaced by a stale script and wooden acting. If you were hoping to laugh at witty banter, one-liners and zingers, Iron Man 2 disappoints here too.

So what does this movie do? It introduces two new characters: War Machine (who regretfully doesn’t have a part in The Avengers) and Natasha Romanoff (who regretfully does). It’s not that I don’t like Agent Romanoff, who turns out to be a Russian spy/assassin/computer hacker. It’s that I don’t like the woman who played her. Johansson does nothing to bring this character to life. All we have on screen is a scowling seductress who unleashes a few kick-ass moves and then surprisingly hacks into the bad guy’s computer system. In fact, I didn’t even know she was Russian until she tells us she has a long Russian back story in The Avengers.

And War Machine? Where was he in The Avengers? You would think that he would show up to help save the earth.

I’m sure there were some good parts to this movie, because I didn’t hate it when I came out of the theater. I just knew that I didn’t like it.  Unfortunately, I just can’t remember any of those things right now.

If anyone has anything good to say about this movie, please speak up.  Until then, this movie will remain where it belongs, at the very bottom of the Marvel movie canon.

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Hulk mad at previous movies!

By Steven Moore

The Incredible Hulk has a long and sordid film history. From cheesy T.V. to summer blockbuster, no one can seem to get the Hulk to work on screen. Directors Ang Lee and Louis Leterrier have both tried to capture the Jekyll-and-Hyde story of a man at war with himself, but something is always missing.

Ang Lee’s Hulk explores the epistemological question of being the Hulk. How do social constraints placed upon Bruce Banner, a man of science and truth, make his devolution from the embodiment of logic and intellect into the embodiment of destructiveness and violence a necessity? By being boring, that’s how. Nobody cares that about the psychology behind something that can smash two tanks together. It’s like focusing on the psychology of a shark in a shark-versus-tiger fight. Who cares? It’s a shark versus a freaking tiger! Ang Lee, renowned for his deftness with action, delivered a nearly action-less Hulk film. It’s actually a brilliant look at the psychology of a man who is terrified by his desire and depravity, but who cares? It’s a freaking tiger versus a shark!


Hulk smash!


Marvel made a second big-screen attempt at the Hulk in 2008. However, in the Marvel film pantheon leading up the The Avengers, most people consider The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton to be the weakest film. The primary argument against The Incredible Hulk isn’t that it is a weak film, but that it lacks consequence. It isn’t a complete film, just a building block for a franchise and The Avengers. The film doesn’t explore an origin story (thank God) or a solution to the ultimate problem. Instead we just get Hulk vs. Something that can actually hurt the Hulk a little.

Leterrier learned a lesson from Lee, delivering action and destruction aplenty. There’s nothing really wrong with the movie (except one thing which I’ll talk about in a minute), but the film’s episodic nature limits it from being great Hulk film. The Incredible Hulk goes in the exact opposite direction of Ang Lee’s Hulk. It is an action flick that has no consequence, no sense of who Banner is as a man, that ends exactly where it started. It’s not, however, a bad film as many argue. Liv Tyler is a great Betsy Ross. William Hurt is a decent General Ross, despite the terrible make-up. The primary problem with the movie is that Edward Norton just doesn’t fit the role. He is a great actor who embodies his roles like few other actors can, but he just doesn’t seem like he’s barely in control, on the verge of rage at every moment. Norton is an actor who is always completely and totally in control, and he can’t help but convey that control on screen. Whoever made that casting choice should get a severe finger wagging.


Hulk smash!


The Incredible Hulk does seem to be a stepping stone to the Hulk in The Avengers, but it does it well. It shows who the Hulk is, not as a man, but as a monster. When Hulk and Betsy are in the cave after he has saved her from the fiery death her father had unleashed with his Nietzschean Moustache of Doom, the lightning cracks across the sky, and Hulk roars back, only capable of understanding danger and fear, not the rationality behind the danger. The scene reminded me that the Hulk has a sense of self and identity, which comes to fruition in The Avengers, but he is still an animal. He has nothing of the scientific understanding or logic of his “human” side. He’s pure emotion and instinct and rage.

Hulk should never be completely in control, even as Bruce Banner, and Mark Ruffalo conveys this better than anyone who has previously portrayed the Hulk. In The Avengers, his interactions with Thor and Loki, even after his transition to slight awareness during the final battle, reveal a toddler-like sense of the world and self. Ruffalo amazingly bridges that gap between the reluctant and terrified scientist with a sadistic edge, and the unstoppable raging id. Perhaps Ruffalo is personally angry because he cannot open his mouth very wide when he talks or because everybody slumped when he was announced as the new Hulk, but he is an actor who seems always to be seething in every role. I think back on his previous performances and realize he should have been the first, obvious choice. His natural awkwardness is transformed in The Avengers into a barely contained, trembling rage. He is able to bring a shaky control to the role that develops to fruition in the final scene of The Avengers.


HULK SMASH!!! (You never really need anything else as a caption for this guy.)


I can’t wait to see another Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo in the lead. I think he can make the Hulk movie we’ve all been waiting for. Norton provided a subtle depth to the Hulk, but I’m glad he has been replaced.

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Iron Man: A look back

By Nathanael Griffis

It was the summer of 2008, an eerily similar summer to this one. The behemoths of film were being released. Indiana Jones returned. It was last time Will Smith was in a blockbuster. We had two of the greatest animated films ever (WALL-E and Kung Fu Panda). There were comic book sequels: Hellboy II, The Incredible Hulk,  and of course, The Dark Knight. Even the Wachowskis were offering us a movie. Prince Caspian brought high hopes. Tropic Thunder looked like a match made in heaven. While some films left the bitter lingering taste of disappointment and have since become despised, several became some of my favorite films of all time. I’ve still never had a better time in the theater than the midnight showing for WALL-E. It’s strange to think this year again starts us off with a Marvel comic movie, that Will Smith is back for essentially the first time since Hancock. Twilight, which was also released that year, is ending (may God be praised). The Wachowskis are releasing their first film since 2008.  And, of course, we have The Dark Knight Rises on the horizon, as well as The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s shaping up to be an even better comic book movie year than 2008. Well, perhaps, the jury’s still out and, strangely enough, the tipping point may be Iron Man.


Now what did that mountain ever do to him?


I didn’t see Iron Man opening weekend, which is unusual for me. I could have even seen it for free, but I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t excited. I barely follow comics. I like Batman, Superman, X-Men, and Spider Man, and that’s it. Iron Man as a character was off my radar. I didn’t care for a man in an iron suit. Wasn’t that just a rip-off of Batman, minus the menace and terrifying villains? It took a friend dragging me on a Tuesday 12:20 p.m. showing, which I only agreed to because it was free and I had nothing better to do, to get me to go. I saw the film three more times that week, more than any other film that summer. For comparison, I never saw The Dark Knight or WALL-E, two of my Top 20 films of all time, more than once in the theater.


Yeah, it's gross in there.


It’s a nearly impossible thing to take a subject as fantastic as the superhero and turn it into a socially relevant topic. Iron Man, though, accomplishes this. During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we were presented with a charming, brash arms dealer. As a viewer, I was surprised how appealing this war profiteer was. Robert Downey Jr.’s acting and the script by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway deserve a lot of the credit here. Downey brings a tragic narcissism to the role that deftly reflects some of his own personal demons. The script plays off this and balances humor in such a way as to make you laugh and consider the implications of the joke at the same time. It takes a threat to Stark’s own life to awaken him to the horrors his company allows and profits from. He questions his own complacency and compliance in the deaths of thousands. This is brilliant writing, because it’s consistent with a  narcissistic character and yet allows Tony Stark to change in a believable, sympathetic way. It also not-so-vaguely challenges the exceptionalist spirit of Americans to consider our own responsibility for military action.


Have I mentioned explosions, yet? Because... cough cough... explosions.


What’s equally challenging, but nessecary to a comic book movie, is Stark’s solution. He builds a weapon. Stark builds a nuclear deterrent, a suit of armor so powerful it’s nearly indestructible.  Violence as a solution now becomes a primary argument, but we don’t go to comic book movies for philosphical musings (sorry, Ang Lee). I want to see things explode. Iron Man satisfies this amazingly well. I get enormous flamethrowers, tanks being destroyed by a single projectile, aerial combat, and a duel between two iron suits. Through all this blood and destruction, director  Jon Favreau asserts that it’s not the weapon but the wielder that is the issue. It’s an age old debate: is war spurred on by the gun makers or the gun slingers? Do we make laws about weapons to protect the people, or to allow for more freedom of firearms to provide the freedom to protect oneself? There is, wisely, never a judgment made about the current overseas conflicts. Instead the film asks us to weigh our choices as to how to wield our power. The film supports our military, skirts a political subject without being polarizing, and entertains through depth and humor.

Iron Man turns the superhero into a weapon himself. It starts to beg the question, are superheroes weapons to be controlled? This theme, which albeit is a fanciful one that depends on the existence of superheroes, is further explored in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Iron Man is human, and we see this as his greatest flaw. His narcissism is his arch enemy. He’s blinded by pride and can’t see that his own company, let alone his mentor, played by Jeff Bridges, doesn’t want peace. In those several viewings of Iron Man, the character became, for me, as fascinating as the haunting morality of Batman, the humanized strength of Spider-Man, and the heroic symbolism of Superman.


Dude just wanted his rug, man.


I love the depth of the film, and with each watching it holds up and grows all the more engrossing. There’s the now-trademark Marvel balance of humor, action, story, and theme. Coming out of The Avengers I was riding a high, but as I started to think, which is always dangerous, I began to pull back. Iron Man takes a tricky issue, a modern issue, and uses the superhero story to discuss a relevant topic. It’s the modern day myth. I didn’t see that in The Avengers. There’s something to be said for the genius of the film’s sheer fun and balance of complex story lines and character arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Avengers and reserve the right to change my mind on everything I say, but it lacks the socially relevant depth of films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man.

If you haven’t seen Iron Man in a while, watch it again and challenge yourself to consider the issues it’s addressing. While the world has changed in four years, it’s stunning to think how much these issues still matter.

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I’m glad you liked The Avengers, but it should have been better

By Alban Yee

I liked the Avengers movie.  I thought it was entertaining, and I would watch it again.

However, this movie had its problems. And here, I give you three.

1) Scarlett Johansson was the weakest link. She wasn’t weak in terms of power or contribution; her script created a character who contributed significantly (persuading the Hulk to join the team, bringing Hawkeye back to the team, and – spoiler alert! – closing the intergalactic portal with the magic stick); her director, Joss Whedon, is renown for creating and directing powerful female leads (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse). Scarlett, however, failed to fill her role. For a character who was supposed to steal the spotlight, her most significant contributions were a pretty face and looking good in a skin-tight suit.


And how.


I was severely disappointed by how little she brought to her role. While every other actor embodied and radiated his character, Scarlett had to constantly remind us who she was, sometimes literally. Her lines such as “I’m Russian, remember?” or “This isn’t that bad” (in reference to some terrible war scenes she’s seen in Russia) were painfully injected into the script to remind us that she has a back story as a Russian spy, and not an American one. While I am glad that a female lead had such a significant role to play in this film, I was disappointed by how little I was enraptured by the woman who played her. It should have been so much more.

2) The petty invasion. First of all, as Brian Slattery pointed out, this was the Transformers 3 take-over-the-world plan. They’re planning to take over the world from one city? With that army? How embarrassing! I was more intimidated by the alien invasion force from Independence Day. Those were aliens I actually believed could take over the earth. These aliens were far weaker and fewer than even the feeble threat posed by the Decepticons in last year’s catastrophe. Tell me again why we needed the Avengers to stop this? This could have been handled by Will Smith and an iPhone (Macbook reserved for more threatening aliens).


"Welcome to... wait a second, someone just texted me...."


3) The lack of internal consistency. I present to you two things. One, how did the Hulk change from a raging, uncontrollable monster to a raging, controllable monster who takes orders from Captain America? How? Can someone explain this one to me? One minute, he’s trying to kill Scarlett Johansson. The next minute, he’s one of the good guys. The pals.


"Because I choose to SMASH!"


Secondly, where was the military? We have already established that we are living in a post-9/11 world where America, and Stark industries, battle terrorists and scramble jets at the drop of a hat. If the military can send jets to fight a bogey the size of a flying man (see: Iron Man), you’d think they would send a couple of guys to check out what’s going on with Manhattan when its getting destroyed by an alien force. Right?

On the scale of recent Marvel movies, I put The Avengers below Iron Man and above Thor and Captain America.

If I expand it to include other comic book movies, I put it above all the Spider-Man and X-Men films and below the Batman trilogy for quality and consistency. In terms of rewatchability, The Avengers wins for pure entertainment.

All in all, a pretty high rating for this movie. It was great with a few flaws. I will remember it fondly, laugh at its jokes, and occasionally dream about what could have been.

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