Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Yeah, it's been a while.

When I logged into the Junction - for the first time since April - to write this post, I scanned through the last few things I wrote. Unrealized promises of Moebius tributes, Chronicle reviews, all sorts of things I was never going to follow through with. Looks like somebody isn't very motivated! So it's nice when something riles me up enough to actually commit to writing about it. Like the Lizard.

You see, the Lizard - monstrous alter-ego of Dr. Curt Connors - is my favorite Spidey villain, probably because growing up Jurassic Park was my favorite movie. That scene where the two kids are locked in the kitchen, being stalked by those fucking velociraptors... that's the stuff night-lights were made for. And what's the Lizard but a goddamn super-raptor in a lab coat? The appeal is undeniable.

But you wouldn't know that if, like most people, your only exposure to the character was The Amazing Spider-Man. In regards to the movie itself, there's not a whole lot to write about: it's inferior to the Raimi version, but I still enjoyed it. Most folks seem to feel the same way. Poor Doc Connors (does anything ever go right for him?) was hit worst by the film's script, reducing one of the most complex figures in the mythos to a goofy mad scientist. And as for its version of the Lizard himself... well odds are you're already familiar with the discourse. The less said about the design, the bet--FOR GOD'S SAKE IT BELONGS IN THE MUSICA--

Sorry, these things just slip out. Ahem.

Normally I reserve these posts for Spidey villains struggling for greater resonance - guys like Mysterio, Electro, Sandman, Carnage, the Green Goblin. I didn't see any reason to tackle the Doc Ocks and Venoms and Lizards, the baddies who routinely reach their full potential. There's no reason to delve any deeper, I thought; they can't possibly be done wrong unless that's the intention from the start.

Oh, how I was wrong. So, so wrong. Now let's set the record straight for one of Spider-Man's greatest foes.

Exhibit A: velociraptor in a lab coat
Perhaps the most glaring change to Connors' story in The Amazing Spider-Man is that he's not a family man. In the comics he's been a kind, loving husband and father since his debut in '63... or was until Martha and young Billy were both killed off in recent years. They'll be back sooner or later - these are comic books we're talking about, after all. But it's baffling to me that The Amazing Spider-Man, with all its emphasis on "The Untold Story" of Peter's absent parents, would opt not to include the thematic mirror of Connors' happy, healthy nuclear family. The mere presence of a doting wife and son adds so much depth to Connors; in the same way that Peter chooses to hurt the ones he loves by being Spider-Man - and that it pains him to make that choice - so too does Connors consider both his own and his family's well-being as he stares into that loaded syringe. At least Peter has the satisfaction of being a superhero, which in itself somewhat mitigates the tragedies it causes his personal life. Connors risks it all on that formula and loses, leaving his entire world devastated.

Then, of course, there's his personal connection to Peter Parker, which is what really cinches it for me. Curt is not just a close friend of Peter's but a mentor to him as well. Not an idol by any stretch - that kind of thing always complicates relationships - but certainly someone Peter respects and looks up to, just as Curt is proud of and often amazed by Peter. In many ways Curt is the perfect father figure for Peter, the one Peter's been yearning for ever since Uncle Ben died; at the very least he's a better option than the creepy guy with the bowl cut and tentacle arms or that weirdo with horizontal cornrows.

So compared to most of the wall-crawler's enemies, the emotional investment is much higher in fights between Spider-Man and the Lizard: the stakes are always acutely personal. For Peter to see all that warmth and intelligence, the Curt Connors he jokes with, he admires, to witness that all erode away into animalistic madness must hit home in a painful way. It's Alzheimer's - the loss of mental capacity and everything else that makes you you - as the Dragon, complete with scales and fangs and snout and tail. Curt's body goes the way of his mind in these horrible transformations, warping and contorting into this evil hissing serpent, this primal thing... this motherfucking raptor in a lab coat trying to chomp your head off. I can't imagine what it would be like to experience that happening to someone I cared about; Peter has to every time he fights the Lizard (just as Harry does, to an extent, every time his pop goes bonkers). I've been told there was a scene cut from The Amazing Spider-Man where Peter confronts the Lizard, desperately pleading to the rampaging monster as tears stream down his face: "STOP, DR. CONNORS! THIS ISN'T YOU! THIS ISN'T YOU!" As essential as that moment is in any Lizard story, I'm glad they scrapped it. The movie doesn't do enough justice to their relationship for that to have rung true.

There's such a fantastic thing going on between our web-slinger and the Lizard, a conflict that gets at a big part of what Spider-Man is all about. Barring all that icky Oedipal stuff, one of the foundational questions in Spidey's mythology is: "How do you confront those you're supposed to look up to? How do you resolve the influences - and absences - of your elders? How do you reconcile the circumstances of your upbringing so you can finally be you? And how do you do all that without hurting the people you love?" It's Growing Up, 101: Now with Great Responsibility!

Exhibit B: velociraptor in a lab coat
 But let's take a couple steps back now and refocus on Connors the person. His relationship with his family and with Peter articulates a fundamental personality trait: he is just the nicest guy. Perhaps he's even a better man than Peter (it's funny how the new movie got his snark down but largely missed his heart, while the Raimi movies were the other way around. That perfect cocktail of Peter Parker still eludes the big screen). Beyond being the most likeable guy on campus, remember that Connors lost his arm while he was an army medic on the front lines; people don't get much more selfless than that. In the original 60s comics, that conflict happened in World War II, the only "good war" (see America, Captain). And as far as things to dedicate your life to go, regenerative biology is a pretty upstanding cause.

Which makes the misfortune that befalls him - damning him and his loved ones to a life of ruin - all the more tragic. You can't fault the poor bastard for wanting his arm back, that's not exactly selfish of him. I can see Connors waking up screaming night after night, drenched in sweat, having relived every traumatic experience from the war. The shrapnel-disfigured bodies writhing all around him. The moans of the men and women he couldn't save. The blast that ripped his arm away by the grisly tendons. "If I can get it back, maybe the nightmares will stop," he thinks.

Yeah, if you think Peter lives an unlucky life - and believe me, he does, he really does - look no further than Curt Connors. What's happened to him, it's just... it's just not fair, y'know? It's not fucking fair!

This stuff shouldn't happen to someone as good as Curt Connors. I mean Christ, how come Peter gets a six pack and pecs from being bitten by radioactive spider while Curt's accident, no more absurd or out-there, turns him into a velociraptor in a lab coat? Or worse, a goddamn goomba?

And that's the whole point, isn't it? The unfairness of an indifferent world, and how people respond to it, is a cornerstone of Spider-Man's mythology. It doesn't matter if you can't make rent or if your aunt is in the hospital (again) or if your girlfriend snapped her fucking neck falling off a bridge, life will just keep heaping on the shit. Spider-Man is ultimately inspiring because somehow he deals with it all, he chooses to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. But of all the characters in the mythos, it's Connors who draws the shortest stick. The Lizard is an uncaring world's cruel ace in the hole - how can Curt possibly endure when half the time he's not even in control? He can't choose to persevere like Spidey does because he doesn't have choice anymore. He forfeited that privilege.

Exhibit C: velociraptor in a lab coat
Which brings us to the big difference between Curt and Peter: one of them made a choice, one of them didn't. One learned to live with the hand chance dealt him while the other tried to cheat out of it. Connors must have known he was playing with fire when he brewed that first batch of formula. Which is not to say he deserved what happened - he didn't - but simply that he weighed his options and, in a moment of weakness, made a conscious decision to take the risk. He should have known better; one of the most prevalent morals in science fiction, and one that deeply informs the Spider-Man mythology, is that you can't play God. Or else.

It's one thing to build a career on the controversial end of the biology - stem cell research, molecular cloning, all that stuff. But for a person to experiment on himself, to defy the laws of nature in such a reckless, arrogantly disrespectful way, that requires a mentality that forgoes scientific ethics. All it takes is one single, fleeting moment where rational thought gives way to overwhelming emotion... clearly we were never meant to have the power Connors sought. The tragedy is that, unlike most of the power-mongers littering web-head's rogues gallery, Connors was and still is a man of great responsibility. He just slipped, just once.

That's all it takes.

Okay! So we've got Curt Connors down, now what about that velociraptor in a lab coat? The... well, lizard part of the Lizard. First thing that comes to my mind is the enormous aesthetic appeal of his (its?) design: he's a goddamn super-raptor in a lab coat, that's cool as shit no matter how you play it. Unless you're on the design team of The Amazing Spider-Man.

So what's this thing all about? Historically, the Lizard's goal has been to overthrow human civilization and replace it with a society of reptiles, with himself as their leader. Or something. I understand where the idea is coming from, and it's a good one - the natural world striking back against its scientifically-minded, technologically-dependent exploiters - but let's be real here, lizard planet is fucking hokey. The movie's take, along the same lines, wasn't particularly compelling either. But there's something much more satisfying at work here, just underneath the surface. There's oil in them hills!

Exhibit D: something no one will ever dress up as ever
A couple years ago there was an over-arching series in the Spidey comics called "The Gauntlet," which sought to reinvent some of the classic rogues in ways that speak to what they're all about. The Lizard story, "Shed," featured a new spin on one of his trademark powers - telepathic control over reptiles - that set the villain firmly in the right direction. The ability was reworked so that it affects the primitive, instinct-driven structures in the brain, inciting creatures to act on their most primal urges. The Lizard can completely hijack the minds of lesser organisms like reptiles; in us complex human folk, the Lizard's power brings out our wild side, forcing us to succumb to our ids just like Connors does. (The comic says it affects the amygdala, which controls emotional reactions, unconscious responses to fear such as flight-or-fight, sexual arousal and hormone secretion; it should really be the basal ganglia, responsible for instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays. It's even called the "reptilian complex." But, like, whatever.)

That's the Lizard I want to see, the one beyond all that dumb world of reptilessss stuff. To me, he's always been a glaring symbol of destructive, uncontrolled irrationality - the very image of a raptor in a lab coat defies reason in a way few other character visuals match. The Lizard is a primal totem of pure id; like the Vulture, he represents the degeneration of reason as mind and body give way to the grotesque whims of nature. Except now he can do that to you, too! If you think the Lizard is a handful in a brawl, imagine confronting him inside your head: his tongue lashing against your brain, beckoning you to give in to your basest instincts, hissing ancient chants as the last shreds of human intellect fade away. The Lizard isn't mindless - in fact he's extremely cunning - but he might as well be. You can't negotiate with rabies... especially if you're just another animal.

In my mind, he's one of the only comic book villains to give the Joker a run for his money as avatar of chaos. Mankind has always associated chaos with nature (how many stories have weird things happening in forests?) and serpents in particular; it's no different with the Lizard. The fact that he's routinely pitted against a technological wunderkind makes that dynamic all the more delicious. There's so much archetypal power behind the Lizard and his visual design - like those raptors menacing Lex and Tim in Jurassic Park, it speaks to something primordial. Something chthonic.

The stuff night-lights were made for.

Did I mention he's a fucking velociraptor in a lab coat?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

King of Komics, Part II: A Whole New (Fourth) World

Hey guys, remember back in, like, the beginning of December when I said I was gonna do a series of posts about how Jack Kirby pretty much single-handedly shaped how we view the DC and Marvel Universes? Remember how I wrote the Marvel portion of that series, and then another Marvel portion of that series, and then said I would write the DC portion soon afterward? Remember how it's now April and I still haven't gotten around to that? Well all that changes now!

So as I've theorized previously, the thematic purpose supervillains serve in comics is to contextualize the superhero -- by mirroring, opposing or inverting what qualities or ideas the hero personifies, villains shed light on what exactly their rival is supposed to represent. So when a single villain becomes a collective threat every individual superhero unites against - one that crosses-over each individual hero's mythology within the larger continuity - this "final boss" contextualizes the mythology of that entire comic book universe. At Marvel, that villain is Lee/Kirby's planet-eater Galactus; his brand of antagonism makes apparent the greater thematic symbolism of the MU. In the DCU, that role is occupied by another Kirby creation, a very different beast.

(Click for a larger image)


Darkseid (as in "Dark Side", subtle I know) first appeared in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134, cover-dated November 1970 -- four years after Galactus' debut. The evil overlord was one of Kirby's first creations for DC after he left Marvel under less-than-amiable terms, and served as the main antagonist of Kirby's Fourth World saga, a colossal and groundbreaking meta-series which has since become a cornerstones of the collective DC mythos. Time and time again Darkseid has attempted to enslave the universe, only to be defeated by a last-minute Hail Mary from a union of the world's greatest heroes. Of course there have been plenty of other villains that sentence could apply to, but there's always been something special, something greater about the Lord of Apokolips (yes, he rules a planet named Apokolips), largely do to the intrinsic characteristics Kirby imbued him with. Whether menacing the New Gods, the Legion of Super-Heroes or the Justice League, Darkseid has long been the DCU's number one baddie. He is perhaps the greatest archetypal character in all comics (except Superman - why else do they always find themselves fighting one another?), and is certainly the greatest archetypal villain. Don't get me wrong, Doctor Doom is beyond awesome, but even his megalomaniac posturing can't match the grandiosity Darkseid brings to the table. It's a matter of scale. And metonymy.

Darkseid is not just unambiguously, unrelentingly evil on a grand scale, he is evil itself - not in the trite way of the Saturday morning cartoon vice figure but, as described in Final Crisis, the Platonic ideal of evil given flesh and blood and brought into the physical world. It helps that Darkseid brilliantly avoids the trap vice figures often fall into: the "evil" they represent being undefined, an empty buzzword blindly hinting at some general violation of Judeo-Christian morality or opposition against Platonic good. In Kirby's original Fourth World saga, Darkseid is specifically characterized as the personification of fascism - the absence of choice, the elimination of free will by way of domination, control, enslavement...whatever noun resonates best for you. God I am the worst at this writing thing. Anyway he, as Tim O'Neil states, "isn't a tragically flawed Doctor Doom or an abstract force of nature like Galactus: rather, he is a living embodiment of a very human tendency towards obedience and power." What makes Darkseid so affecting is how this apotheosis is characterized; not only do we see in him a primal, unrelenting authoritarian drive, but also an undeniable clarity of mind in his quest to achieve that total power. Marc Singer writes of the villain:

"...Darkseid is a more mature, more psychologically stable, and therefore far more threatening figure:  imagine a Hitler who's both physically intimidating and not the slightest bit insane. Darkseid is what Hitler wanted to be, the visions he sold to himself in his sleep made real... It's an old chestnut that the greatest villains--Magneto, Doom, Luthor... don't think they're villains, even see themselves as the heroes of their own stories. Darkseid is all the more chilling for knowing exactly what he is and what he's doing, and not feeling the slightest remorse."

Following in Kirby's footsteps, Paul Levitz was the first to associate the cosmic dictator with the qualities of darkness, paving the way for his (however blatantly) implied status as the God of Evil to become an official title. Darkness, after all, is the absence of light - humanity's preeminent metaphor for enlightenment and all things spiritual, sacred and divine. Grant Morrison, one of the few true Kirby disciples, placed this trait within the cosmic-oriented framework characteristic of Jack Kirby's work: Darkseid as the void, the empty black singularity from which not even light can escape. The darkness that pervades the entire universe, exists deep within us all (again, 'cept Superman) and will inevitably control us. The dreaded finality of existence - symbolized by Darkseid's Omega-themed armaments - which utterly transcends interpretation or definition. The single best description of Darkseid comes from his own mouth in JLA: Rock of Ages --

Kirby wasn't the first to understand that superheroes and villains function best as symbols, but he was the first to fully take advantage of it. Under his pen their monthly brawls became titanic philosophical debates between opposing ideas, with magic rings and repulsor rays in place of rhetoric. As the God of Evil, Darkseid benefits from this metonymy being literal, the embodiment being explicit in the text itself. Where Galactus is the cosmic indifference of the universe - humanity's predilection toward complacency and social apathy - in Darkseid we have a grandly iconic rendering of totalitarian wickedness, one of truly mythic proportions. The conflict against him is the ol' battle of "good" versus "evil" on a Biblical scale --who would want it any other way?

And that's the big difference between DC and Marvel, isn't it? It's often said that Marvel heroes have historically been the more fully-realized in terms of character. They're people with distinct, relatable personalities, everymen burdened with "real-life" problems and baggage. They live in New York, not in fictional cities like Gotham or Metropolis. No matter how cosmic, mystic or esoterically cross-dimensional the stories get, they always seem - or at least strive - to take place in "the real world" because we can so closely identify with the characters. The idea was revolutionary when Marvel first introduced it in the 60s, and much of the company's success to this day should be attributed to this innovation.

DC Comics has grown to take another approach in its publications, one that understanding Darkseid and his role within them enables us to define. Whereas Marvel brings their superheroes down-to-earth, DC raises them up. Their comics approach heroes and villains primarily as archetypes, representations of something greater, more heightened than the everyman. They are symbols, and their own symbols take on great iconographic importance within the stories themselves. Of course we're supposed to identify with the characters, but beyond that we're supposed to be inspired by them and aspire to be like them. As always, writers will often subvert the standard - a la the post-Killing Joke Batman of the 90s - but these interpretations are effective precisely because the standard is so ingrained in fundamental mythos of the DCU.

DC's editorial seems acutely aware that their characters are icons in a way that most Marvel characters aren't, and their comics much more consciously attempt to replicate the structure and qualities of myths. So it makes sense that the thematic fabric holding the DCU together is the archetypal conflict between good and evil, which finds its origins in classical mythology and, later, the foundational Judeo-Christian literature. In other words, where Marvel is all about morality against amorality, DC stories deal with morality against immorality. It's Beowulf vs. the Dragon with these guys. Advancement against destruction. Compassion against malice. Democracy against fascism. Freedom against slavery.

What's so funny about truth, justice and the American way?

Especially if it saves you from this guy?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Moebius has passed.

One of my biggest faults as a writer is my predilection for hyperbole. This is especially true when I write about the comics medium: the inherent BAM! POW! conventions of its most prominent genre all but beckon me to exaggerate.

That being said, I am in no way in overstating things when I write that today one of the most influential visionaries in the history of sequential art, and perhaps the greatest cartoonist of all time, has left us.

Jean Giraud is dead at 73. The foremost among a number of legends to pass away in the span of a scant few months, Moebius' passing will undoubtedly turn the comics world on its head - not since Eisner's death in 2005 has such a titanic figure died. Prooker, who is far more knowledgeable than I in all thing Moebius, will soon begin working on a larger retrospective - truly an enormous undertaking. I wish I could articulate my ideas of the artist and his brilliant body of work, but for now my efforts are fruitless. Moebius' illustrations leave me in a sublime awe, and now I find his passing has left me in the same state. Rest in peace, Jean Giraud.


Sunday, February 5, 2012


Alright errbody, with the SAG Awards behind us and the Oscars looming, it's time for me to unveil my picks for the 10 best movies of 2011. They've changed a lot from the top 10 list I made a couple weeks ago, which can be attributed to the maelstrom of films I saw between then and now. God bless student discounts.

1. Drive

I don't want to fawn over Drive more than I already have - I practically wrote a goddamn research paper on it here last October - so I'll just say of course the Academy overlooked this film. It was far too innovative, too visionary, too ambitious and gory and polarizing and dynamic a movie for such a bureaucratic, squeamishly pandering organization to acknowledge. The Eberts and Travers' and yous and I's, of course, we know better. And if we're anything like the Driver, we should be content: simply knowing the truth and keeping on will be enough to cement Drive's standing among the greatest films.
 ...and a reeeaaaaaal heeero, reeeaaaaal huuuman being...

2. The Artist

What can I say about The Artist that hasn't been said - or seen - already? Every aspect of its production, from its direction to its cinematography to the impeccable acting of its players (even Uggie the dog!) fully utilizes and embraces the tenets of silent cinema, taking what could have been a flimsy gimmick and turning into something truly spellbinding. The heartwarming, inconspicuously profound wonder is a near perfect love letter to the black-and-white and silent films of yesteryear. Hell, it's a near perfect black-and-white and silent film. Double hell, it's a near perfect film, period. There's a reason it's widely predicted to sweep the Oscars. So what the triple hell are you waiting for, go see this movie now!

3. Take Shelter

Perhaps the most upsetting thing about 2011's film season is that Take Shelter, the Critics' Week Grand Prix winner at Cannes last May, failed to get the attention it so deserved. Despite receiving near-universal - and enthusiastic! - critical acclaim, a limited release killed its chances of gaining wider recognition. It's a damn shame, too, because Take Shelter is a heart-wrenching triumph of cinematic suspense. Much of its success lies in the brilliant vision of writer-director Jeff Nichols, and the technical precision with which he realizes it. What really drives the film, however, are the two powerhouse performances from Jessica Chastain and especially Michael Shannon (more deserving of the Oscar than any of the nominees), who together create an unforgettable, utterly flooring drama.

4. Midnight in Paris

Would it be blasphemy to call Midnight in Paris the best Woody Allen film since Manhattan, or even Annie Hall? Wearing it's fantastical, unabashedly sentimental heart on its sleeve, the movie revels in an enthusiastic abundance of charm, sweetness, wit and intelligence. More than a wet dream for American lit majors, a romance with Francophilia or a love letter to the Roaring Twenties, Midnight in Paris is a thoroughly satisfying meditation on the nature of art itself. It's a manifesto for here, for in the moment, and it thinks forward with a genuine optimism refreshingly uncharacteristic of Allen's work. Owen Wilson channels the neurotic film legend perfectly as Gil Pender, and the rest of the cast - among them figures as diverse as Hemingway (an amazing Corey Stoll) and Dalí - never disappoint.

5. Hugo

I wonder what the executives at Paramount were thinking when Martin Scorsese pitched directing a 3D family film. Did they expect him to make as delightful and exotic - and meta, of all things - a movie as Hugo turned out to be? Like its chief rival at this year's Oscars, Hugo is at once an affecting, heartwarming story, a tribute to the silent era and a testament to the importance of cinema in general. Scorsese imbues his unique genius into both the form and content of the film, creating a self-aware viewing experience we rarely see at the movies; "magical" is the best way I've heard it described. Boasting a remarkable cast and featuring exceptional use of today's film technology (CGI and 3D that actually serve a purpose!), Hugo is a treat that merits multiple viewings.

6. Moneyball

Simply put, Moneyball is a masterful piece of film-making: well-written, made with superb technical craftsmanship, and loaded with heartfelt acting (perhaps Brad Pitt's greatest showing ever). It's a pretty uninspiring inspirational story in the grand scheme of things - the A's lose the first game of postseason and the Red Sox win it all two years later, even without our protagonist as their GM - but it's not a movie about the big picture. Quite the contrary, it's a film where two freethinking visionaries refuse to surrender to - and indeed, defeat - an archaic system, one dominated by outdated, all-or-nothing dogmas such as that of the "big picture." Moneyball is all about the small victories: how they're often the most important ones, how they're often the biggest game-changers of all.

7. Shame

Like the emotion itself, Shame is a melancholy, chilling, bleak, brutal - at times even unbearable - film, with an awe-inspiring Michael Fassbender at its core. It is a truly beautiful movie about a world of unrelenting ugliness. Fassbender's performance is nothing short of brilliant: raw, riveting, wholly immersed. It's the most fully-realized character I've seen onscreen since that mad oilman declared he would drink our milkshakes back in '07. Fassbender's career has just started to rise (hurr durr), and for my money he's the single most talented film actor to come along in years. And of course there's the phenomenal Carey Mulligan, herself a rising star, who's tragic, haunting rendition of New York, New York will send shivers down your spine. It - and the entire film - will affect you to your very marrow.

8. The Adventures of Tintin

What makes Tintin such a resounding success - even more so than how it faithfully captures the essence of Hergé's timeless, beloved comics series - is that in it, for the first time ever, we find Stephen Spielberg truly and completely unconfined by the restraints of reality. Putting on those 3-D glasses as the movie starts takes you down the rabbit hole in a way Avatar could only scratch the surface of. The Adventures of Tintin is a syringe filled with the pure, distilled imagination of the most creative minds in blockbuster film-making (Spielberg! Jackson! Moffat! Wright! Cornish!) and it's begging you to shoot up. Either you can resist it or dive in head first and enjoy one hell of a ride - one that would even make the Vulture relive his inner child.
Also Andy Serkis is Captain Haddock. So yeah.

9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Boasting easily the best ensemble cast of 2011 (The Help, eat your heart out), TTSS is an astounding adaptation of John le Carré's sweeping spy thriller. Each actor brings a powerhouse performance to his role; no one part overshadows the others. Oldman's subdued George Smiley is mesmerizing, conveying a world of thoughts, of plans and counter-plans and suspicions and suppressed emotions in the glint of a weary eye. It sets the tone for the muted world of Tinker Tailor: an engine of suspense ready to blow, a twisting spiral of paranoia that drives anything it can latch onto - audience included - into the abyss. Director Tomas Alfredson has stripped away all romanticism from the world of intrigue and espionage, leaving a bleak reality where the answers are hidden from us in plain sight.

10. The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick's experimental magnum opus should rightly be polarizing. To say The Tree of Life is difficult to grasp is like saying a 747 is fast. Perhaps it resorts to the occasional existential platitude or empty l'art pour l'art trapping. Perhaps it feels too damn long. But these faults are unavoidable in a film that addresses the puzzle of human nature head-on, that attempts to portray the entirety of all existence through the lens of a single family. This truly one-of-a-kind film never stops striving; the sheer ambition of Malick's creative vision, presented with the utmost technical and artistic mastery, secures The Tree of Life's place among cinema's finest. Even when this film fails, it succeeds. Like with 2001: A Space Odyssey, I think time will treat The Tree of Life favorably. Appropriate, isn't it?

Four outstanding films that made my first top 10 list sadly had to get the boot: Martha Marcy May Marlene, Melancholia, Super 8, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Other noteworthy movies from this year include 50/50, Attack the Block, Bridesmaids, Coriolanus, The Descendants (wildly overrated though it may be), Margin Call, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Muppets, and Win Win.

Monday, January 16, 2012


For the next 2-3 weeks I'm going to be super super busy, so updates will be sparse. But when I come back it'll be with a bang! Got a lot of stuff planned - part two (three? two-and-a-half?) of my Kirby retrospective, analyses of the Lizard and Bane, a review of Chronicle by my good friend Dom, and a secret project we're both working on. Stay tuned guys!

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Just got back from The Artist with prooker; inevitably it got us thinking about our top 10 films of 2011. Before I dive in I should probably mention that I haven't seen most of the Oscar bait movies this season (yet), including Moneyball, War Horse, The Descendants, The Ides of March, Midnight in Paris, My Week with Marilyn, Shame, The Skin I Live In, Certified Copy, Beginners, A Separation, Margin Call, A Dangerous Method, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or The Help. I'm working on the latter three - I'll probably see A Dangerous Method and TTSS with prooker, and even though I have no interest in seeing The Help whatsoever I got a free DVD of it.

Also I really wanna see Attack the Block. Just sayin...

And without further ado, here are my picks:

1. Drive
2. The Artist
3. Take Shelter
4. Hugo
5. The Adventures of Tintin
6. The Tree of Life
7. Martha Marcy May Marlene
8. Melancholia
9. Super 8
10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I bet this list will be very different once I've seen the films I mentioned in the beginning; at the very least I'm sure the bottom five will have changed significantly. Nothing's dethroning Drive, though. Nothing.

UPDATE 1/23: In the past two weeks I've seen The Help (dreadful), The Descendants (actually decent), Moneyball (great), Attack the Block (swag as hell) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (spectacular). I'm seeing Shame this weekend and will likely get around to Midnight in Paris too via iTunes; after that I'm probably going to have to call it quits. I'll write up my completed top 10 list then, with brief explanations for each pick. Since I was underwhelmed by The Descendants, the likeliest best picture winner after The Artist and maybe Hugo - is it really Oscar-worthy or has this just been a mediocre year, a la 2008? - I'm assuming the less-favored of the big contenders (Ides, War Horse, Beginners et. al) will inspire the same reaction. Still upset that I didn't get around to Marilyn, The Skin I Live In and A Dangerous Method, though. :(