TOP 5: Comic Book Movies

This summer has to hold some sort of record for most comic book movies released during the summer. Thor, Priest, Captain America, Green Lantern, X-Men; First Class, Cowboys and Aliens … This summer is jam-packed with comic book action. With the release of Thor this past Friday, we thought we’d list our top comic book movies of all time.

 

DANIEL’S FAVORITES

5. SIN CITY

At the time of its release, Robert Rodriguez’s approach to making a comic book movie (filming it entirely in front of a green screen) was a novelty. Sure, Lucas had created some of his planets on green screen and what-not, but an entire movie? Those of you who have seen the movie know that it recreates the style of Frank Miller’s comic frame by frame. The style is enchanting, the cast is superb, and it’s different fare from your typical “good guy fights bad guy” comic book movie.

4. IRON MAN

With his performance as Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. resurrected his career. Iron Man has great humor, exciting action sequences, and a bald Jeff Bridges, but makes this top five list because it values characterization over spectacle. Sadly, there was a shift in values in last year’s sequel, where pointless action sequences were given more time than focusing on Tony Stark’s character. Here’s hoping the third installment fixes that mistake.

3. X-MEN 2

Let’s face it. The only reason X-Men is so popular is because of Wolverine. By placing Wolverine center stage in ‘X2,” Bryan Singer couldn’t have done any better. Except if he had directed X-Men 3, of course.

2. SPIDER-MAN 2

Before The Dark Knight investigated the toll that being a superhero has on one’s own life, Spider-Man 2 showed us how hard it is to balance one’s own life and be a superhero at the same time. Doctor Otto Octavian is hands down the best Spider-Man villain, the film has awesome sequences, and the human drama that permeates this film make me return to this swingin’ good time again and again.

1. THE DARK KNIGHT

You knew this was gonna be number one. What can I say that everyone else hasn’t already said? Nolan flipped a freakin’ semitruck! One of the greatest performances of all time. An ending that still gives me chills. Hands down the greatest comic book movie of all time.

RUNNERS UP:

Superman: The Movie (Because even DC has the occasional awesome superhero)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright is going places)

The Watchmen (The opening credit sequence alone is enough to make this movie a classic)

 

JOSEPH’S FAVORITES

MY CRITERIA: I have to have seen all movies listed. Only one film per franchise can be included. There must be honorable mentions (because I’m a cheat).

5. MYSTERY MEN

Mystery Men is a “there are two kinds of people in the world” kind of movie, and one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Geoffrey Rush is insane as the villainous Casanova Frankenstein, there are fun performances from Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, and yes, Paul Reubens. It’s instantly quotable (“Looks like tonight the lone wolf rides…alone”) and has great re-watchability. Grab a favorite beverage and enjoy this skewed, slapstick take on the superhero genre.

4. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE

Superman: The Movie is right up there with apple pie. Christopher Reeve gives a fun dual-role performance as Clark Kent and his superhero alter-ego Superman, Gene Hackman steals the show as Lex Luthor, the special effects are awesome, and John William’s score is classic. Some parts don’t work as well for me, like the bumbling Ned Beatty (a tad overacted), and the Lois Lane voiceover. But Superman: The Movie remains a classic superhero film where the hero saves the day and has been a favorite of mine since first watching it many years ago.

3. SPIDER-MAN

Reservations about Spider-Man 3 aside, I really enjoyed Sam Raimi’s take on the Spider-Man tale. The stories complement each-other nicely, without relying too heavily on the previous films. The casting is great, especially J.K. Simmons’ as newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson, chomping through cigars and scenes with ease.

2. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

When I first heard about this film (Michael Cera fights ex-boyfriends?) I wasn’t sure how it would play out, having never heard of the graphic novels. But the preview sold me, and off I went. Having now read the graphic novels, I can say that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a loving adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series (he also helped in the writing process for the movie, which is pretty cool). Scott Pilgrim also has a talented cast, employing the likes of Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin; they are great in their roles, bringing the right dose of emotion and apathy to their characters.  Technically, the film is fantastic. The fluid editing (including a mini parody of the style) and special effects complement each other well, combining filmmaking and graphic novel styles; it’s this collaboration that results in the world of Scott Pilgrim that we see on screen.

1. THE DARK KNIGHT

Heath Ledger as Joker. Batman flipping a freaking semi. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. If anyone knows how to make a successful blockbuster, it’s Christopher Nolan. The talent, music, practical effects, and an impressive on-going story are pitch perfect, creating an epically gritty superhero series that will be hard to beat. I can’t wait to see how it all comes around with The Dark Knight Rises, the final act.

RUNNERS UP:

The Rocketeer (For being epically camp)

American Splendor (For being normal)

Hulk (…because I’m one of the few that love it)

 

Watchmen

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Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the much-loved graphic novel of the same name, was released theatrically on Friday. Having not read the graphic novel, all I knew about the film going in was what I saw in the previews.

The opening credits sequence in Watchmen sucked me into the film, and I was hooked for the first thirty minutes. Through the historical montage, complete with living photographs and revisionist events, I felt like I had a decent grasp of the universe that Watchmen took place in. It’s a rare feat to accomplish this with such a sweeping story. That said, there were times when the multiple narratives felt disjointed and episodic. And while the film is largely about The Watchmen themselves, I would have liked to see more in regards to the societal look on things.

There was also a lot of pop music that was included in the film, ranging from Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The integration of the music with the visuals worked well for a while, but soon became more of a distraction than a complementation of the film.

Watchmen is an ensemble piece at heart, housing a horde of different characters, but the two that interested me the most were Rorschach, played perfectly by Jackie Earle Haley, and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), who comes across as Clark Kent with Batman’s toys. In some ways I would consider him to be the main character of the film, although there wasn’t much of a resolution for him at the end of the film.

Billy Crudup also made an appearance in the film as Dr. Manhattan, the God-like character in the film. His personal dilemmas and choices were a much-needed intellectual boost in the film, resulting in a cool ending. And while the character of Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) wasn’t in the film nearly enough, what glimpses we saw of him were intriguing to say the least. I would love to read Watchmen if only to learn more about him.

Sadly, however, director Zack Snyder tends to put more emphasis on “graphic” than “novel”. Starting out as a serious, gritty epic, I was surprised at the change in tone partway through the film and Snyder’s self-referential winks and personal fetishes. (At least there weren’t any drugs in the film)

I’m certainly not opposed to violence in film if the story calls for it and is used well. But to quote Alfred Hitchcock, “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.” And on a similar note, Roger Ebert wrote in his review of The Winslow Boy that, “Sixty seconds of wondering if someone is about to kiss you is more entertaining than 60 minutes of kissing.” Whatever happened to suspense, subtlety, and the imagination? There are better ways to show violence in a film. And in the case of Rorschach’s back-story, some well-placed shadows would have been far more effective, stylistically and emotionally, and would have fit with his film noir presence.

As an extra tidbit, I noticed a similarity between 300 (Also directed by Snyder) and Watchmen. The former ends with Dilios telling the story of the 300 Spartans in the oral tradition of story telling, while Watchmen ends in a similar way, but with the written tradition. Perhaps Snyder’s next film will end with a typewriter…or maybe I’ve just been a communications major too long.

In any case, Watchmen, while having some interesting characters, cool visuals, and a promising story, fails to tell that story well. Instead of getting a developed character-driven epic about humanity, we’re left with an adolescent storyteller infatuated with gratuitous sex and violence. And we’re left wanting more.

The Men Behind the Monsters

As my first post after the horror fest (12 classic horror films in four days), I would like to write about some of the recurring actors that I encountered. Some were old friends, like Claude Rains, while others were new faces.



Actor: Bela Lugosi
Filmography: Dracula / The Wolf Man
Previous Films Viewed: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Fond Memory: Listening to his inspired Count Dracula voice.

His performance as Count Dracula lived up to my expectations. It was a little weird watching this version having already seen Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola), which I didn’t care for all that much. The difference in character is very different from film to film. The next Dracula film on my list to see if Werner Herzog’s adaptation. Kinski in the titular role sounds like a match made in heaven.

Personal Quote:

“Never has a role so influenced and dominated an actor’s role as has the role of Dracula. He [Dracula] has, at times, infused me with prosperity and, at other times, he has drained me of everything.”


Actor: Dwight Frye
Filmography: Dracula / Frankenstein / The Invisible Man / Bride of Frankenstein
Previous Films Viewed:
N/A
Fond Memory: Watching his performance as the crazed Renfield in Dracula.

I have quickly become a fan of Dwight Frye, who is aptly known as “The Man of a Thousand Deaths”. His roles included Renfield in Dracula, Fritz in Frankenstein, a news reporter in The Invisible Man, and Karl in Bride of Frankenstein; he’s quite the versatile actor, though he seems too type-cast as you can see in the following quote from Frye himself.

I’m wanting to see more films that he has been in, so any recommendations would be appreciated before I update my NetFlix queue.

Personal Quote:

“If God is good, I will be able to play comedy, in which I was featured on Broadway for eight seasons and in which no producer of motion pictures will give me a chance! And please God, may it be before I go screwy playing idiots, half-wits and lunatics on the talking screen!”


Actor: Edward Van Sloan
Filmography: Dracula / Frankenstein / The Mummy
Previous Films Viewed:
N/A
Fond Memory: Seeing his face popping in 1/4 of the films we watched.

Actor: Boris Karloff
Filmography: Frankenstein / The Mummy / Bride of Frankenstein
Previous Films Viewed: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Fond Memory: Fully understanding the references to Karloff in Arsenic & Old Lace.

Personal Quote:

“One always hears of actors complaining of being typed – if he’s young, he’s typed as a juvenile; if he’s handsome, he’s typed as a leading man. I was lucky. Whereas bootmakers have to spend millions to establish a trademark, I was handed a trademark free of charge. When an actor gets in a position to select his own roles, he’s in big trouble, for he never knows what he can do best. I’m sure I’d be damn good as little Lord Fauntleroy, but who would pay ten cents to see it?”


Actor: Claude Rains
Filmography: The Invisible Man / The Wolf Man
Previous Films Viewed: The Adventures of Robin Hood / Mr. Smith Goes to Washington / The Sea Hawk / Casablanca / Notorious / Lawrence of Arabia

Fond Memory: His incredible performance in Notorious.

I hadn’t realized until now how many Claude Rains films I’ve seen before. I loved his performance in The Invisible Man; the blend of madness and intelligence was brilliantly portrayed, I thought.

Personal Quote:

“Often we’d secretly like to do the very things we discipline ourselves against. Isn’t that true? Well, here in the movies I can be as mean, as wicked as I want to – and all without hurting anybody. Look at that lovely girl I’ve just shot!”


Actor: Vincent Price
Filmography: House on Haunted Hill / House of Wax / The Last Man on Earth
Previous Films Viewed: The Fly / The Three Musketeers / The Ten Commandments
/ Edward Scissorhands
Fond Memory: Playing Egghead in the 60’s Batman TV show.

Personal Quote:

“I sometimes feel that I’m impersonating the dark unconscious of the whole human race. I know this sounds sick, but I love it.”

The Reviews Are In

The Unseen DVD Blog-a-Thon will be over in half an hour. I would like to thank everyone that submitted their reviews; I’ve really enjoyed reading them and learning what to watch and what to avoid.  :)

The turnout was much better than I had initially anticipated. Great work all! And again, if I forgot about a review that you sent in, please let me know and I’ll add it in later.

In Chronological Order:

Name: Nick
Site: Demented Door Knob
Entry: Nobody Knows

Name: Adam
Site: Counting the Hours
Entry: Batman: The Movie

Name: Connor
Site: Celluloid Fire
Entry: Zodiac

Name: Leeny
Site: 353 Review
Entry: Surf Nazis Must Die / Psycho Beach Party

Name: Tommy
Site: Pluck You Too
Entry: Steel Magnolias

Name: Scott
Site: He Shot Cyrus
Entry: Fatal Attraction

Name: Leeny
Site: 353 Review
Entry: Ninja Mission / Earth vs. The Spider

Name: Connor
Site: Celluloid Fire
Entry: Straw Dogs

Name: MovieMan0283
Site: The Dancing Image
Entry: Real American Hero: Buford Pusser Story

Name: Joseph
Site: Cinexcellence
Entry: Cutthroat Island

Name: Shannon
Site: Movie Moxie
Entry: Legionnaire

Blog-a-Thon: First Batch

Here’s the first batch of reviews for the Unseen DVD Blog-a-Thon:

Name: Nick
Site: Demented Door Knob
Entry: Nobody Knows

Name: Adam
Site: Counting the Hours
Entry: Batman: The Movie

Name: Connor
Site: Celluloid Fire
Entry: Zodiac

Name: Leeny
Site: 353 Review
Entry: Surf Nazis Must Die / Psycho Beach Party

Name: Tommy
Site: Pluck You Too
Entry: Steel Magnolias

Name: Scott
Site: He Shot Cyrus
Entry: Fatal Attraction

The blog-a-thon officially ends on the 17th, so keep the reviews coming! If I’ve forgotten your entry, leave a comment here and I’ll put a link to it. Thanks to everyone who’s participated so far!

The Batman List

With The Dark Knight coming out in less than three weeks, and now that I’ve officially seen all of the live-action Batman films, I thought I’d put them in order of preference:

Films:

1. Batman Begins (2005)
2. Batman Forever (1995)
3. Batman (1989)
4. Batman Returns (1992)
5. Batman (1966)
6. Batman & Robin (1997)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRp45EmzCSk&hl=en]

The Batmen:

1. Christian Bale
2. Val Kilmer
3. Adam West
4. Michael Keaton
5. George Clooney

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNaDZIrxh-0&hl=en]