Game of Thrones – Ygritte

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Arguably my personal favorite (it must be the Scottish brogue), Ygritte is a galvanizing character that, to some degree, helped awaken the passions and leadership skills of Jon Snow. While their love affair was short-lived, her character is the essential plot device that motivates Jon Snow to develop sympathy for the Wildlings, a group that has heretofore been reviled by the Night’s Watch and the rest of Westeros south of The Wall. When Jon unifies with Ygritte – even if he didn’t intend to ultimately join the ranks of the Wildlings – he managed to ultimately forge an alliance with the warrior tribes from north of the wall.

My guess is that their assistance will prove helpful beyond just “The Battle of the Bastards.” They will unify with the standing armies of Westeros and take up arms against the Night King in the concluding chapter of the series.

Ygritte is, in many ways, a force of nature, a fierce warrior woman referred to by her cohort as a “spearwife.” Additionally, she is known for her shock of red hair, a powerful sign of luck among the Wildlings. Because of this, she’s also known to have been “kissed by fire.”

Her character arc runs full-circle, and it seems somewhat clear in later episodes that Jon Snow holds onto her memory and his unique love for her; his experience with her has steeled his resolve to persevere in the conflicts to come.

Let me know who your favorite character is in the comment section, and don’t forget to tell me why. Who would you like me to paint a portrait next? There are certainly many more to come.

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Game of Thrones – Cersei Lannister

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Volumes could be written in the analysis of Cersei Lannister, one of the most interesting and complex characters in Game of Thrones. From a haunting childhood prophecy to the conclusion of season six, we have seen her character travel into ever-colder and devious territory. With her three children deceased, the prophecy has proven itself to be accurate; as the series moves toward its conclusion, we will have to remind ourselves that the final part of the prophecy includes her being killed – strangled, in fact – by her younger brother.

The real question is whether Tyrion will be the one to end her life, or if it will be Jaime?

Cersei has won the throne after the destruction of the Sept of Baelor and the suicide of her last living son, King Tommen, but she has few allies in King’s Landing, and fewer still in the rest of Westeros. Not even The Mountain can protect her from the forces that will be descending upon King’s Landing as the narrative moves forward.

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Game of Thrones – Brienne of Tarth

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“Brienne’s ugly, and pig-head stubborn. But she lacks the wits to be a liar, and she is loyal past the point of sense.”
~Jaime Lannister

The distinctly un-feminine Brienne of Tarth makes her first appearance in the second season of Game of Thrones, besting Loris Tyrell in a tourney and winning a seat in the kingsguard in the service of Renly Baratheon. Because of her stature (standing at six-foot three-inches), Brienne is considered extremely unattractive by Westerosi standards, and she is often mockingly referred to as “Brienne the Beauty.” But the tall, muscular woman with straw-colored hair is one of the most honorific characters in the entire series.

Like Eddard Stark, her sense of honor and duty often works against her interests.

Her character, much like Samwell Tarly’s, is a sympathetic one. As a child, she was met with mockery when attempting to dress and act like a proper lady. Once she turned to a career more suited to her talents as a warrior, she likewise received contempt and resentment because of her gender, despite her obvious and considerable skill. Having spent most of her life as an object of scorn and rejection, Brienne yearns for respect and acceptance, and she easily gives her love and loyalty to those few who treat her with courtesy.

Renly Baratheon, Catelyn Stark, and Jaime Lannister are the primary objects of Brienne’s friendship, love, and service.

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Game of Thrones – Samwell Tarly

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In a television series where no character is safe, the innocent and noble characters naturally become more valuable to us. When the threat of death is ubiquitous, the audience is more likely to become more emotionally invested. In years past, principle characters suffered from a certain invulnerability in television; no amount of danger they confront is insurmountable. When the audience knows, almost to a certainty, that no lasting harm with visit them, the drama isn’t as pronounced or effective as it could be. When we expect a happy ending, and when that expectation isn’t ever violated, storytelling becomes predictable – it becomes boring.

A number of television shows have begun to address this, but none with such success as Game of Thrones. Certainly, Dexter Morgan’s girlfriend was slain by the Trinity Killer in season four of that woefully mismanaged series. And years before that, Curtis “Lemonhead” Lemansky was killed off near the end of FX’s flagship program The Shield. So, from The Sopranos to The Shield and Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead, the killing of important or beloved characters isn’t entirely a brand new phenomenon. It began in earnest about fifteen years ago with cable television; network dramas and serialized storytelling doesn’t allow for the kind of jolt killing a main character provides. And I’m confident that there is a whole legal and contractual end to this discussion that I know absolutely nothing about (other than, of course, when a character is killed, the actor no long has a role to play and is, in one way or another, removed from payroll). Game of Thrones, unlike its predecessors, has managed to take things to the next level, obliterating audience expectations with a spectacle of violence and the elimination of beloved characters unlike anything else in television.

Unlike Dexter or The Shield – or any other of the modern television dramas with the story-telling courage to kill main characters – Game of Thrones has developed a reputation for mass slayings. The Red Wedding, The Battle of Blackwater, the wildfire incident at the Sept of Baelor, and the Battle of the Bastards – these didn’t see a single linchpin character die abruptly and needlessly. No, no – Instead we witnessed entire factions, whole families, entire congregations meeting their violent end.

With the possibility for such narrative mayhem, audiences gravitate toward the honorable characters and worry about their fates. Jon Snow is certainly a fan favorite, but he still wields the sword, struggles with his conscience, and is conflicted about his upbringing and lineage. In later episodes, we even find sympathy for previously reviled characters like the incestuous Jaime Lannister, and even more sympathy for his dwarf brother Tyrion. Out of the entire ensemble, in my humblest of opinions, the most innocent character – perhaps aside from Hodor, whose mental incapacities automatically make him more sympathetic – is Samwell. A coward, he finds bravery when defending the innocent. He is not headstrong and he speaks true, never using his words or his sword to harm his brothers.

As I launch a new series of illustrated portraits – all of the characters in Game of Thrones – I decided to begin with the most likable and honorable of characters. So today, available at my online storefront, are prints of this illustration of Samwell Tarly of the Nights Watch, the most likable of the crows and the lover of books. I hope you enjoy these portraits as they become available.

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The Matrix, The Wachowskis, And Transgender Issues


Most of us remember the 1999 groundbreaking film “The Matrix,” and most of us enjoyed it enough to forgive Warner Brothers for the cash-grab follow-ups, which will not be discussed here. It introduced a revolutionary new visual style and participated in the invention and popularization of bullet-time photography, which has been adapted, modified, and used in movies and television ever since.

We might also remember that the film was directed by The Wachowski Brothers.

As it turns out, Larry Wachowski (now Lana) is transgender. Rumors began to circulate in the early 2000s that Lana was transgender, but the siblings kept this information private until after Lana’s transition in 2008. The earliest publication to mention Lana by her new moniker, and to refer to the siblings simply as ‘The Wachowskis,’ occurred in 2010. She has been very active in the transgender community ever since, eventually receiving The Human Rights Campaign’s ‘Visibility’ Award.

In March of 2016, Andy Wachowski also came out as transgender and has adopted the name Lilly.

Lana has expressed in several speeches and interviews that she had considered committing suicide in her youth because of her feelings of confusion about her gender identity. In retrospect, it’s interesting to note that themes of identity are ubiquitous in films made by the Wichowskis. One of the earliest examples is “The Matrix.” The main character struggles with accepting the possibility that he may be a messiah figure. But there’s also an interesting tertiary character, Switch, who is a clear expression of the Wachowskis’ struggle with their gender identity. One of Morpheus’s cohort, the character was intentionally designed to be androgynous, and the script even reveals that Switch was supposed to be female in the ‘real’ world and male while in ‘the matrix.’ This was narratively designed to illustrate the concept of “residual self image” explained by Morpheus as a projection, while in the matrix, of one’s most concise and accurate image of Self. While biologically female, Switch views himself as being male.

Casting the character proved to be challenging; finding a male actor and female actor that could be made to resemble each other closely proved nearly impossible. Time and budget constraints eventually motivated the Wachowskis to abandon this concept, and the androgynous character of Switch that we see in the film was developed, with a pretty ‘on-the-nose’ name. The fact that the character of Switch was written in the manner it was, however, clearly points to the very real possibility that The Wachowskis were working – whether consciously or unconsciously – through their own gender identity circumstances, and reflects how meticulously the first Matrix film was assembled (and why that first film continues to be a contemporary classic).

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Batman V Superman – Spoiler Free


When watching a spectacle film like “Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” it can be difficult to distinguish between the experience of watching the film and the actual quality of the film. Even more interesting, I find it both important and interesting that I have to mention that this is a spoiler-free review. Judging from the content-dense film trailers, it didn’t appear that there would be any surprises to spoil, a woeful trend in modern movie marketing (see video below). The trailers already reveal the action sets, the super-villains (Doomsday and Lex Luthor), both the fight and reconciliation between the film’s two protagonists, and even what would have been a spectacular surprise introduction of Wonder Woman. Regardless, there are three plot-critical events that are likely to catch most moviegoers completely off-guard, and it was satisfying to see that this latest entry into the burgeoning DC Cinematic Universe actually managed to surprise me.

Those three events will not be mentioned here. Neither will a synopsis, for that matter, because in that regard the trailers really are enough.

Critic reviews have been mixed at best, but many filmmakers are more finely tuned to the desires of their audience than the sometimes over-stuffed attitudes of their critics. The modern era of superhero movies makes reviewing them a different kind of activity; the fan-base is already built in and the source materials for most of these properties have been around for decades. Many film reviewers aren’t able to lose themselves in these narratives as easily as ‘true believers,’ which is why I think a lot of reviews are murky. With regards to criticism of “Batman V Superman,” there are some salient observations out there, pointing to obvious flaws and questionable decisions made by director Zack Snyder. Despite some of the movie’s shortcomings, no one thing leeches too much joy from the overall experience. This movie is well-worth the price of admission.

The biggest complaint out there is that the movie is bloated with needless or distracting content, taking longer than it needs trying to achieve, what some might argue, is far too much in the first place. In many regards, three separate (and good) movies could be made from what this one feature aspires to do all by itself. The main attempt, as most of us are already aware, is to hit the reset button on the DC properties and setting up an expanded cinematic universe. Disney has had a seat at the table for years, beginning with the first “Iron Man” film, and Warner Brothers has been struggling for years to crack the code. This year, we have two major titles in the DC Universe, “Batman V Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” Beyond that, there are nine separate films currently in the works, all to be released within the next five years. All nine of thee will share a point of origin with this year’s two films. This is arguably the biggest problem with the production: it takes too much time trying to set up other movies and not focusing enough on resolving its own central story.

Are we going to see Cyborg, Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman in future titles? It looks like a certainty, but that all may hinge on the success of “Batman V Superman.” Sadly, the movie is too distracted setting up these other projects, shoe-horning most of them in pretty clumsily, disrupting the pace of the film. The only other issue I have may be a personal one, but I swear if I have to watch yet another depiction of Bruce Wayne’s parents being gunning down, in slow motion, in front of a movie theater, with pearls scattering and falling to the gutter, I may pledge to never see a Batman movie ever again. Scenes like this are part of the bloat, and do little to serve to actual story of the film.

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The conflicting ideologies of the two main characters in “Batman V Superman” – the brooding, gritty street-justice approach of Batman paired with the idealistic, heartland-of-America spirit of Superman – gives the film an interesting texture. This is a story of day and night, good versus evil, but it points to how even good can get muddled, that justice is not a black and white issue. Watching the two characters explore their moral philosophies and confront inconvenient realities about their morality is one of the more satisfying elements of the film.

Ben Affleck turns in a stupendous performance as an aging and increasingly cruel and bitter vigilante, inspired by “The Dark Night Returns” comic series and the decidedly darker tone established by comic artist & writer Frank Miller. Some fans may not like this new Batman and his obvious descent into moral ambiguity. He still fights crime, but his ethics are looser in this depiction than at any other time. This is a Batman that kills, which is something we’ve never seen on the silver screen before, and the jury is still out on how audiences feel about that. Nevertheless, this makes the comparison with Superman and his squeaky-clean demeanor all-the-more fascinating, adding layers of complexity to their conflict.

By far my favorite part of the film was the introduction of Wonder Woman (played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot), a character I have never really liked, never found interesting, and never thought could be made to be as fun, relatable, and believably hard-hitting; this Wonder Woman is a force of nature, and her springing into action in the third act is, by far, my favorite moment in the film. The art direction and casting for the entire feature is admirable, the action set-pieces exciting and fun to watch, and the characters are all truly three-dimensional – they are all uniquely conflicted, navigating their lives and predicaments with agency.

Box office numbers will be high. My prediction is that this will easily be a billion-dollar movie. This might finally be the shot of adrenaline to the heart of Warner Brothers and DC. They may never catch up with Marvel, but I think the competition just got a little stiffer.

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WTF Trailers

Dumb And Dumber – Don’t Fall Off The Jetway Again

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It’s unfortunate when we have to forgive a franchise it’s latter-day sins, but it happens. Sometimes we stand on the shoulders of giants, and sometimes we fall off those shoulders. “Dumb & Dumber” was one of the unique films that was tremendously effective in its comedy specifically because it didn’t know it would be so great. It was earnest in its approach but knew how to take risks. It respected its audience and it never pretended to be anything other than what it was: a story of two dimwits on a road-trip. It’s a “buddy comedy” through-and-through. Even though the sequel appears to have been a nostalgic cash-grab, that alone cannot unseat the genuine brilliance of the 1994 classic.

The real train-wreck is a film that aspires to dramatic greatness when, at best, it’s a soap opera. We’ve all watched a comedy that over-clocked the same joke, much to our boredom and disappointment. We’ve seen humor recycled ad infinitum and we’ve seen movies that desperately hope a successful punchline from one feature will lead to success in another, a laziness and hubris of film-making that plagues the Hollywood circuit to this day. One of the reasons the new “Ghostbusters” trailer has caught so much negative criticism is because of this. The “that’s gonna leave a mark” gag stretches back as far as Jack Benny and Peter Sellers; it has been uttered by John Candy in “Spaceballs,” Chris Farley in “Tommy Boy,” and Michael Richards (Kramer) in multiple episodes of “Seinfeld,” and this is naming only a very select few.

In the end, audiences recognize when a film is out of its depth, trying too hard for an Oscar, or taking its audience for granted. “Dumb and Dumber” never did this. The characters were honest and three-dimensional, with their own histories and aspirations and shortcomings. A quick glance might reveal a flimsy animated cartoon cell, but an honest viewing of the whole movie shows us characters of agency, two outsiders fumbling about in a world they don’t (and because of their intellectual limitations, can’t) understand.

The Harry and Lloyd characters of “Dumb and Dumber” fulfill the “fish out of water” trope on two important levels. On the first level, they’re too dumb to function in society in any meaningful capacity. They struggle to hold down simple jobs, can’t pay their bills on time, are gullible enough to be swindled by a disabled elderly woman on a motorized cart. On the second level is where we, the audience, can actually meet them halfway and begin to relate to them rather than just laughing at them. On the second level, after finding a suitcase full of money, the duo winds up attempting to blend-in with high-society, a subterfuge that clearly doesn’t work but motivates us to think about how wealth is expressed in our society. It’s never the nugget ring or the gaudy fringed cowboy boots, no matter how expensive, that ever expresses refinement. It’s always something more subtle – the brand of watch, the fold of the pocket square, the part of the hair.

The premise of “Dumb and Dumber” is absurd, yes, but the characters are deployed with such gleeful honesty that it’s difficult not to want to see them succeed. That the film is goofy and recognizes that it’s goofy is what makes it successful. So strap into the Shaggin’ Wagon, stock up on your Binaka, and please, be sure not to fall off the jet-way again.

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Ghostbusters Reboot – What Are They Thinking?


One week ago, the new trailer for “Ghostbusters (2016)” was released. In the internet age, the release of a trailer is a significant event, an event in which the online community is able to instantaneously react to the the material. Message boards and comment sections immediately begin to swell with the opinions of amateur and professional media prognosticators alike; the fate of many films seem to be decided much earlier than the actual release date. If we remind ourselves of the considerable excitement generated by the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailers, as well as underdog films like “Deadpool” (the trailers of which managed to secure the attention of comic book lovers and total Deadpool neophytes alike) and realize that these trailers translated into record box office numbers.

Since the “Ghostbusters (2016)” trailer debuted, there isn’t even a fifty-fifty split; the people have spoken, and this feature is dead on arrival. With over twenty-two million views (as of this writing), the two minute video has garnered twice as many ‘dislike’ votes than ‘like’ votes. Reaction videos immediately begin to spring up over the past week, and the general consensus is that this film is going to be atrocious.

So what happened?

Many commentators have cast the new film aside as a contrived, politically correct rehash, tailored to the “social justice warrior” contingent and hordes of vapid ‘millennials.’ This is an absurd knee-jerk reaction. Director Paul Feig has already proved his mettle with comedies featuring strong female leads in smash-hit films like “Bridesmaids” and “Spy,” as well as sitting in the director’s chair for several episodes of the hit television series “Nurse Jackie.” The cast itself has a long list of successful projects under its belt, especially Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, two actresses whose off-beat brand of comedy have attracted a great deal of attention.

A more honest analysis would require a quick discussion of the first “Ghostbusters (1984).” The original film was completely new, with a variety of inventive and novel concepts. It presented a coherent story, blending interesting characters, horror tropes, and comedy in a seamless tapestry. It was an interesting and fun film, unencumbered by audience preconceptions, laden with fast-tongued protagonists and filled to the brim with undeniable creativity.

This is what we would call a “tough act to follow.”

Remaking a genre film is risky business. Consider, as an example, if “The Force Awakens” wasn’t a continuation of our favorite story told in a galaxy far, far away, but actually sought to re-cast and remake the original “Star Wars: A New Hope.” It would not go over well. Fans of the franchise would revolt. While the cult status of “Ghostbusters (1984)” is arguably less pronounced than “Star Wars,” it is a cult classic nonetheless. Nobody wants to see a remake of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for a reason. Cult films do not translate well into updates, remakes, or reboots. They too easily threaten to alter the very elements of the original film that audiences have come to know and love.

Another problem with the new “Ghostbusters (2016)” is that the trailer isn’t clear about the universe in which the story takes place. The trailer begins with the line “thirty year ago, four scientists saved New York.” This would indicate that the new feature is a continuation of the narrative from the first and second iterations of the franchise. This is hugely problematic because the new feature is a “hard reboot” of the 1984 film; it’s a stand-alone re-telling of the original story set in contemporary New York with an all-female cast. The four beloved hucksters from the cult-classic do not exist in this new film’s canon. There are rumors of a Bill Murray cameo, but there’s no indication that he’ll be reprising his role. Chances are, he’ll be little more than an easter-egg for fans of the original films.

For almost fifteen years there have been rumors that a third Ghostbusters movie was in the works, a film in which the original cast would reprise their roles. Unfortunately the project never got on its feet and, with the death of Harold Ramis in 2014, the project was abandoned altogether. In the interim, however, it was clearly recognized that there was interest in rebooting the franchise. Once it was known that the original four (Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, BIll Murray, and Harold Ramis) would not be on board, a whole world of possibilities opened up.

I don’t believe the decision to make the new film all-female was an attempt at political correctness. Rather, it was an opportunity to expand the demographic reach of a beloved property; it’s an attempt at expanding the audience. There would be nothing wrong with this decision so long as the characters are portrayed as whole women, as characters with agency, avoiding stereotypes of female insecurity and competition – this is where the film appears to have failed. Licking gun barrels and insecurely seeking approval (“The hat is too much, isn’t it? Is it the wig or the hat?”), just doesn’t work. It’s difficult to glean adequate character development from a two minute trailer, but it certainly doesn’t seem like these new characters are as three-dimensional as audiences would prefer.

The “social justice” contingent appears to be cannibalizing an earnest effort at updating this property, but this is only because it has been done so ham-fistedly, incorporating the same-song stereotypes of feminine insecurity and uneducated ethnic minorities, and then wrapping it all up in an unpalatable burrito of updated visual effects, gross-out humor, and Joel-Schumacher-eque neon colored light. Licking gun-barrels and competing for one-liners just doesn’t work.

Where the original film was an adventurous blend of comedy and seriousness, this updated film appears to go full-tilt in the direction of physical comedy. Some of the ghosts in the original film were genuinely scary, counter-balanced by goofy ghosts like the ever-so-enjoyable “ugly spud,” Slimer. It disrespects the source material by disregarding the narrative complexity of the original film. The best comedy comes from a place of thoughtfulness, and this film doesn’t appear to take its license seriously.

Part of the reason why “Ghostbusters (1984)” worked is because the characters were unique and relatable. They were brilliant, marginalized outcasts railing against supernatural forces and governmental bureaucracy at the same time. The new “Ghostbusters (2016) is a focus-grouped cash-grab, and audiences can already tell that they’re being taken for granted by Columbia Pictures.

This, my friends, is what happens when you cross the streams.

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Movie Review – Deadpool

DeadShoot post


Marvel and DC have mapped-out a half-decade of comic book movies. The market is saturated. Superhero movies are way overdue for self-satire and tonal variation. And that is precisely what we get with “Deadpool,” an incredible breath of fresh air in a crowded arena.

Mainstream reviews of Marvel’s recent release have been mixed, but this isn’t a shocking revelation. The titular character in “Deadpool” isn’t the most accessible – at least not to a broad audience. With self-referential humor, endless threads of inside jokes and constant forth-wall breaks, it takes a genuine fan to fully appreciate this cinematic gem. But a gem indeed it is. Regardless of what the naysayers have published, first-time director Tim Miller has cracked the code of the R-rated comic book movie in stunning fashion. The numbers speak for themselves.

While we have other R-rated movies like “Watchmen,” “300,” and “Sin City,” those are all dark horse examples, and their success remains somewhat questionable. “Deadpool,” on the other hand, is the first R-rated release in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this is significant; the success of “Deadpool” will determine whether or not Marvel Studios will roll the dice again. The production is already famously stalwart for facing-down pressure from Twentieth Century Fox to make a PG-13 cut. Larger audiences and a boost to box offices sales is the primary pressure of adventure properties like this (can you imagine what an R-rated “Star Wars” movie could accomplish?), but an R-rating gives directors much more latitide. Tim Miller & Co stood their ground and the gambit is paying off handsomely.

As of this writing, “Deadpool” has already outperformed the previous Thursday box office record for an R-rated feature. In fact, “Deadpool” blew the top spot out of the water. The previous record holder was “Fifty Shades Of Gray,” banking $8.6 million on its Thursday release. One year later, “Deadpool” managed to rake in $12.7 million. This is a coup that nobody predicted. The weekend total is expected to top $123 million, a tall margin ahead of Fox’s $60 million projection.
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“Deadpool” is, at its heart, the smart-ass teenager too clever for his own good, filled with fits of irreverence that hinge on nihilism. He’s been described by some as that kid “who pretends to be too cool to care, but wants you to like him so badly it hurts.” This isn’t an entirely unfair description, and it identifies where the film character is separated from the print character. The comic book anti-hero is a sharp-tongued mercenary anti-hero. The film character is, more or less, a sarcastic hero-hero. He tickles our reptilian brain with slaughter, but he only slaughtering bad guys, and he’s made sympathetic and accessible by the love story that drives the plot forward. These are perfectly acceptable concessions – unavoidable, even – in the superhero movie marketing system. If we elect not to split hairs, “Deadpool” is an incredibly fun movie that brings a larger-than-life personality to the screen with a deep sense of respect for the source material.

The film establishes its irreverent tone straight at the open, with title cards that intentionally mock Hollywood (“Directed By: An Overpaid Tool,” “Produced By: Some Asshats,” “Starring: A Gratuitous Cameo,” “Starring: A CGI Character,” and on and on, to wonderful comic affect), as well as thumbing its nose at The Director’s Guild of America, which has famously sued directors like George Lucas for not crediting the director of “Star Wars” (himself) and “The Empire Strikes Back” (Irvin Kershner).*

After an action sequence opening, most of “Deadpool” plays out in flashback. We learn that Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) used to be a mercenary named Wade Wilson. We’re introduced to his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and his best friend Weasel (TJ Miller). Wade and Vanessa are veritable quip-machines, whose quirky and fast-paced humor seem to be the linchpin of future marital bliss. They’re both crazy, and both crazy in love with each other. Then, an unexpected late-stage cancer diagnosis burns the Happily-Every-After to the ground.

A mysterious recruiter gives Wilson an offer he can’t refuse: enlist in the Weapon X program (the same program that created Wolverine), and cure your cancer. Distraught by how his illness is affecting Vanessa, Wilson reluctantly agrees. He is experimented on, and tortured ruthlessly, by a man who calls himself Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his masochistic partner Angel Dust (Gina Carano). He becomes a mutant, with strength and regenerative powers, but is left horribly disfigured. When Ajax leaves him in a burning building, Deadpool begins preparing for his revenge.

Debut director Tim Miller is the head of Blur Studios and is well-equipped to tackle a project like “Deadpool.” His background in animation led to the dazzling title sequence to “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and an astonishingly effective TV spot for the video game “Batman: Arkham Origins.” With a pedigree like that, he has created an energetic movie that vacillates between serious romance/tragedy and humorous (albeit violent) superhero antics. Some may find this manic pacing off-putting, but it effectively balances the action with the slower (and necessary) narrative beats.

Die hard fans may criticize how the film handles the forth-wall breaks, and a sense of humor that could have been more intelligently satirical of the comic book genre. Instead, the humor opts for the faster-paced machine-gunning of smaller meta-jokes. This is a stylistic choice that I think serves the film adequately. More sophisticated satire is better left on the printed page. Some jokes miss their mark, but they’re thrown around so rapidly that it barely matters. Ajax isn’t the most memorable villain, but this, too, is no surprise in a Marvel property; superhero movies seem constitutionally incapable (or unwilling) to spend the necessary time to flesh-out a compelling bad guy.

Weasel is a wonderful pace-shifting character that gives breathing room to the narrative. TJ Miller seems to strike the perfect balance of calm in his scenes, which serve as punctuation marks throughout the story. That being said, Reynolds flat-out owns this film, from beginning to end, leaving little room for the other characters to shine. This isn’t a bad thing; it plants the seeds for future iterations of the “Deadpool” story.
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If you knew who Deadpool was ahead of this weekend’s release, you’re going to love the film. It constantly makes fun of the X-Men franchise that gave birth to the Deadpool character, so it’s fair to say that fans of the franchise are going to “get” the humor. The famously bad Deadpool origin story that was shoe-horned into “Wolverine: Origins” is directly addressed during the film’s opening moments. When dragged away by Colossus (a beautiful motion-capture performance by Stefan Kapicic) to visit Professor X, Deadpool shoots a quick look to the camera and says “McAvoy or Stewart?” referencing the two actors – James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart – who have played the Charles Xavier character in previous X-Men movies. These nods are continuous, warranting multiple viewings, and the post-credit scene at the end of the film (which I will not spoil here) is worth the price of admission all by itself. Anybody outside of the bubble may not understand why the auditorium is erupting with laughter so frequently, and may walk out of the theater scratching their heads.

If you’re a comic book freak, step away from the computer and head straight to the multiplex. It’s worth it.

*George Lucas was fined $250,000 for his transgression, which ultimately led him to resign from the Directors Guild of America. Something tells me Lucas got the last laugh.


YouTube Dragon

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

YouTube Gotham

Batman: Arkham Origins



Movie Review – Jane Got A Gun


It isn’t possible to have a frank discussion about “Jane Got A Gun” without mentioning it’s labored creation. Originally announced in 2012, an avalanche of problems tossed this movie into production purgatory. It’s important to note these troubles because, without mincing words, it absolutely shows in the final cut. I can scarcely recall a film with such a short run time that felt so relentlessly long.

Billed as a western co-starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, and Michael Fassbender – to be directed by Lynne Ramsey – this esteemed property hit a wall at breakneck speed. In 2013, Fassbender abandoned the project in pursuit of a more ambitious “X-Men” feature. Edgerton was shifted into the vacated role and Jude Law was hired to replace Edgerton. Director Lynne Ramsey then abandoned the project, thrusting the whole production into legal proceedings before Gavin O’Connor stepped in to direct. Director of photography Darius Khondji then left. Then Jude Law left, expressing that he’d only stepped in to work with Lynne Ramsey.

I could go on, but it’s the same game of “musical chairs” that isn’t worthy of further discussion. Slated for an August 2014 release, the date was postponed – twice. It finally landed in the post-holiday wasteland of mid-January 2016. With virtually no marketing, no press screenings, and no hopes of finding a staid audience, it’s a near-miracle it’s even in theaters. No resemblance to an Aerosmith song title could help. This one was dead on arrival.

If we consider these woes, however, we aren’t surprised to learn that “Jane Got A Gun” missed its mark. To its credit, the film isn’t half as bad as one might expect, delivering a couple of well-staged scenes and solid performances  (especially by Natalie Portman). The film plays like a classic Western, and this is where it simply doesn’t work. Rather than attempt to reinvent or deconstruct the genre – as contemporary moviegoers might mildly expect – the narrative is weighed down by poorly developed characters and a staggering snail’s pace, with a series of ham-fisted flashbacks used, poorly, to elucidate the emotional complexity of the characters.

The film is clunky, and where modern audiences might expect dynamism in the characters, we see tired archetypes, caricatures that hop about the stage like marionettes. We can barely bring ourselves to care about their fates. That’s a problem.

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Set in 1870s New Mexico Territory, the film opens as retired outlaw Hammond (Noah Emmerich) returns to his remote home where his wife (Portman) is waiting. Riddled with bullets, he collapses from his horse and informs her that “The Bishop Boys are coming.” So-called “mystery box” setups like this are a wonderful device – “who are the Bishop boys?” – that can engage the audience, but in this instance it carries no gravity. We don’t know who he’s speaking of. All we see is that Jane knows who they are, and that they’re definitely bad news.

She dresses his wounds and leaves him to convalesce, delivering their daughter to a neighboring ranch for safety. She then seeks help from from Dan Frost (Edgerton) to help defend herself from the inexorable onslaught.

Through a series of clumsy flashbacks, we learn that Frost was once Jane’s fiance. He left to fight in the Civil War, unaware that she was pregnant. He is eventually declared dead and she she decides to leave their Missouri home, heading west in search of a new life. Believing John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) will help secure safe passage, she is instead sold into sexual slavery and her daughter is murdered by one of Bishop’s underlings. She is rescued by another of Bishop’s cohort, Ham, who steals her away to start a quiet life together.

Enter Dan Frost, who we learn is alive and well, and has tracked Jane across the country only to learn of her new life and her new daughter with another man. Needless to say, he isn’t excited about the prospect of defending Jane and her wounded husband. Naturally, he shows up at the last minute to lend a hand. What the film establishes is that at least four or five years have passed since Ham betrayed his dapper and ruthless employer (his daughter with Jane is our clue), and the film never adequately explains why Bishop is so hell-bent on exacting his revenge. Sure, one of his men quit. Perhaps Bishop took a loss when Jane escaped the brothel – but we don’t even know if the brothel belonged to Bishop or if he simply sold her, in which case he wouldn’t have lost anything. Is it his pride that was wounded? Is there an “honor among theives” theme that’s playing out? We are never satisfied with an answer.

There is a final showdown, but I will spare the details. It plays out largely as we might expect, with a shoe-horned twist at the very end that the cast does its absolute best to play seriously. The bad guys lose, of course, but I won’t tell you what happens with Ham and Frost and their uncomfortable love triangle with Jane.

The stand-alone performances are admittedly good. Edgerton plays a terse and heartbroken rancher as stiff and stoic, nihilistic and whiskey-sipping as we might expect from a heartbroken lonely man. Throughout most of the film he staggers around like a haggard ghost who’s lost its way. Portman does an excellent job breathing life into her character. Half the appeal of the film is seeing her in boots and dress, smudges of dirt on her face, confidently wielding a rifle. I never would have imagined her in a role such as this, but hers is a compelling performance of feminine strength, spitting words through clenched teeth with a convincing mid-western Oklahoma drawl. McGregor is good, too, playing the snake-like villain so expertly I expect some viewers will fail to recognize it’s even him.

The problem isn’t in the performances. It’s mostly the pacing and the flashback structure, which attempts to fill in the background story before the guns-blazing finale. This serves to distract more than inform the film, not necessarily for their content but for how inelegantly these rocks are thrown through the windowpane of the story. The Bishop character is poorly written. He is the most archetypal “Snidely Whiplash” villain one could possibly expect. Perpetually clad in black, swarthy, mustachioed, a cigar clenched between his teeth in every single scene. All that this cartoon character lacked was a moment to twist his mustache and laugh exaggeratedly at just about nothing for just about too darn long.

This film must be filed under “potential for greatness but didn’t get there.” The skeletal structure is there. Not every story needs to be complex in order to be eloquent and compelling. The problem is that the emotional undercurrent isn’t properly expressed; the connective tissue of the plot just isn’t good. Gavin O’Connor brings this story to the screen, but it doesn’t have any personal touch to it, nothing to elevate it to greatness.

I can’t remember rolling my eyes so much at a feature film. It’s a forgettable movie that could have been special but just doesn’t make it. It isn’t worth the price of admission, although it could make for a fun home viewing. At the very least, I’m happy to see films like this and “The Hateful Eight” coming out – the western genre is in need of a revival. We are almost at full saturation with comic book films, and the comic book bubble will eventually burst – mark my words. It looks like the western might just be making a comeback.