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Monday, May 30, 2016

6 Performances That Deserve Emmy Recognition (But Won't Get It)

1) Kysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) Netflix

Award shows like the Emmys can be very snobby and stick their nose up at superhero shows. The ironic thing is that Jessica Jones isn’t a superhero show, not really anyways. Jessica Jones is a drama that smartly deals with tragedy, rape, power, and PTSD. While it’s true that the show is based upon a Marvel comic book and co-produced by Marvel Studios, any semblance of superhero-ness is just an excuse to tell the deeper and more heartfelt story. The lynchpin holding this story together is Ritter who plays the titular character. Ritter has always been great on television from her work from Breaking Bad to Don’t Trust The B in Apt 23, but she really brings it in this star making role. It’s a shame the show has even a whiff of Superhero on it, because chances are, that whiff will cause Emmy voters to take a pass.

2) Justin Theroux (The Leftovers) HBO

While many of you knew of Theroux before The Leftovers as Mr. Jennifer Aniston, I knew him as a writer with such projects as Tropic Thunder and Iron Man 2. But Theroux really won me over as an actor, bringing such gravitas to this heavy role. Critically, The Leftovers was a bigger hit in its second season versus its first, and probably a lot of that had to do by focusing less on Theroux’s Kevin Garvey and focusing more on The Murphys in Miracle, Texas, but Kevin was still integral to the show’s stellar second season, and one of the best television episodes of the year (probably of the past ten years) was solely regarding a journey of Kevin Garvey. I don’t know how an Emmy voter can watch International Assassin and not give Theroux All The Emmys. As great as Theroux was throughout the entire second season of The Leftovers, Emmy voters look at individual submission episodes versus entire seasons. That process will make Theroux's inevitable snub that much more baffling. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Definitive Ranking Of Every Superhero Villain Since Iron Man

Zack Stentz, one of the co-writers of the Marvel film Thor, recently teamed up with ScreenJunkies, the guys behind the great YouTube channel Honest Trailers, to watch and react to the Honest Trailers version of Thor. It’s worth a watch for any semi-interested comic book movie fan, as Stentz offers insight for what it’s like to work for the Marvel machine that heavily scrutinizes everything you do as they have 10 other films that they need to worry about and protect. Knowing full well that Loki, Thor’s brother and the antagonist of the film, was going to return as the villain for their epic Avengers film, it was important for Marvel that Thor was able to create an excellent bad guy. What I found most astonishing was that Stentz admitted that he was told that he needed to “give [them] a villain as good as Magneto” from the (original) X-Men movies.

It initially struck me as odd that Marvel chose to go with a character that’s seemingly bland like Magneto. There are so many incredible and transcendent comic book villains (hell, we were blessed to see Heath Ledger’s The Joker only a few years prior) that I felt like it was a dumb decision to settle on Magneto. However, I recently brought this up to a huge comic book friend of mine (she actually reads comic books and goes to comic book conventions) who scoffed at the idea of villains that need to be as good as The Joker. That off-handed comment got me thinking; it’s rare that movie adaptions of superhero villains are anywhere close to what Ledger gave us in 2008. In my humble opinion, Heath Ledger gave the greatest acting performance in the history of cinema. He won a posthumous Oscar for his performance. With that being the case, why should I have expectations that other superhero villains should be the same? It’s unrealistic. With that in mind, it is much more realistic (and better for the mass audience that Marvel caters to) that a villain be “only” be on par with the great Sir Ian McKellen’s performance of Magneto.

Magneto really was good villain and foil in the Marvel universe and its inspiration Loki really is one of the best superhero villains we’ve had. So where does Loki match up in the MCU? Where does he match up among the explosions of villains we’ve seen since the rise and popularity of these films? Let’s take a look:

30) The Rhino (Paul Giametti) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
29) Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell) Fantastic Four (2015)
28) The Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

27) Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) X-Men: Days of Future Past  (2014)
26) Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) Thor 2: The Dark World (2013)
25) Ajax (Ed Skrien) Deadpool (2016)
24) Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) Iron Man 3 (2013)
23) The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
22) Darren Cross / Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) Ant-Man (2015)

21) Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) Captain America: Civil War (2016)
20) Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) The Green Hornet (2011)
19) Emil Blonsky /The Abomination (Tim Roth) The Incredible Hulk (2008)

18) Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) Iron Man 2 (2010)
17) Electro (Jamie Foxx) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

16) The Winder Soldier (Sebastian Stan) Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014)

15) General Zod (Michael Shannon) Man of Steel (2013)

A look at Michael Shannon’s filmography including Take Shelter and Boardwalk Empire will reveal what an amazingly creepy actor Shannon can play and his role in the underrated Premium Rush shows you that Shannon can pop off of the screen as the film’s villain. So why in the hell Shannon’s performance as a major bad guy in a superhero film never reached Ledger-esque status is beyond me. God Zach Snyder really does ruin everything, huh?

14) Jacques (Kevin Bacon) Super (2010)

James Gunn, Kevin Bacon, and the stories of real life people trying to become superheroes will all show up on this list later, but needless to say, Kevin Bacon is just a National Treasure. He’s so great in everything he does.

13) The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

For all of the re-treads The Amazing Spider-Man gave us, the main point of originality the film had was its villain. We very easily could have had another Dr. Oc or Green Goblin (especially considering we got yet ANOTHER friggin’ origin story), but instead the film gave us a new villain that Sam Raimi’s trilogy never gave us before. I enjoyed how well Ifans Dr. Connors fit within the mythology of Peter Parker and how well Marc Webb was able to have some sort of grounded realism about a man who becomes a giant lizard.

12) Ronan (Lee Pace) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those rare comic book movies where the heroes are more interesting than the villain. That being said, Lee Pace did a good job as Ronan and the film accurately portrays him as being so powerful that five heroes and an army were necessary to defeat him.

11) Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

As great of a director as Christopher Nolan is, his one main blind spot is writing for females. Yet Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway does a damn fine job bringing humanity to this character. Selina Kyle is probably not a villain in the truest sense of the word or the story’s antagonist, but within the Batman mythology and the context of her role in TDKR, I feel confident putting Hathaway’s performance on this list and as high as it is.

10) Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) Kick Ass / Kick Ass 2 (2010/2013)

While the true villain of Kick Ass is probably Mark Strong’s Frank D’Amico, it’s his son Chris, played by Mintz-Plasse, that is the star bad guy of these features. Kick Ass is from big budget master Matthew Vaughn who gave us X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service. It's a film that helped restart the X-Men franchise and proof of how fun and violent and edgy these films can be. It's like a Marvel film, but better. Like all good superhero stories, it needs to have a memorable bad guy, and Vaughn gave us one thanks to Superbad's break out star. 

9) Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

I haven’t drunk the Winter Soldier Kool-Aid like the rest of America has, so I’m not terribly sold on Redford’s performance, but if you’re going to make a political thriller disguised as a Marvel movie, there’s no better actor you’d rather have your Big Bad be than King Redford himself.

8) Ultron (James Spader) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Marvel has had done some incredible casting over the years, but having Spader voice Ultron might be the best job it has done so far.

7) Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) X-Men: First Class (2011)

For some reason, history has largely forgotten X-Men: First Class and its villain played by Kevin Bacon. My guess is that it’s because it was directed by Matthew Vaughn as opposed to Bryan Singer, but that’s an odd reason because the reason that First Class is arguably the best film in the franchise is precisely BECAUSE it was directed by the great Matthew Vaughn and not Bryan Singer. Nevertheless, re-watch this film and you’ll notice in the midst of a litany of great performances like that by Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult is this now underrated performance by Kevin Bacon.

6) Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) Iron Man 2 (2010)

There is not a whole lot to like about the sequel to the smash hit Iron Man, but its lone bright spot is Rockwell’s performance of Justin Hammer as the evil version of Tony Stark. On paper, Hammer is solely a plot device and a way to bring Whiplash closer to Iron Man, but Sam Rockwell is such an amazing performer that he makes a bland character pop off of the screen. As an actor, Rockwell has the incredible ability to bring charisma and joy to what’s not written on the page. It’s what makes him a great actor and it is why Justin Hammer is this high on the list. 

5) The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) Iron Man 3 (2013)

Even without the great reveal at the end of the film regarding Kingsley’s character, the Oscar-winner would have forced his way into the Top 10 no matter what. How Kingsley plays The Mandarin should be the gold standard for these Marvel films.

4) Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) Iron Man (2008)

This has now become the minority opinion for some reason, but the greatest non-Batman superhero film ever made is Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. I remember being dragged to the movie theater by my college roommate to see Iron Man and leaving the theater in pure awe. After multiple re-viewings, the film still holds up. Part of the reason of the film’s creative success is the performance of one of the greatest living American actors- Jeff Bridges. His performance is really good throughout, and even better upon re-watching now that you know he’s the mastermind behind everything.

3) Loki (Tom Hiddleston) Thor / The Avengers (2011/2012)

If the goal was to create a villain as good as Ian McKellen’s Magneto, then mission accomplished. Partially for being the bad guy in the now influential Avengers film and partially because Hiddleston brings nuance, charisma, and humanity to this role, Loki has now become one of film’s most iconic villains.

2) Bane (Tom Hardy) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

There are a lot of flaws in Nolan’s third film of The Dark Knight trilogy, and a lot of them do revolve around the film’s antagonist, but it’s hard to deny just how iconic Hardy’s performance was and how it still resonates within the zeitgeist. Everyone dresses up as Bane for Halloween and comic conventions; far less people dress up as Loki. Between the look, the power, and of course the voice, Bane easily is one of the best villains in this MCU superhero age.


1) Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) Chronicle (2012)

Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer is sure to cause some schisms and outrage, but I’m sure that far more people are going to have a problem with Chronicle being #1. Andrew Detmer certainly is not the most iconic villain on this list, far from it, but Dane DeHaan’s performance is the only one that could be considered Ledger-esque.

Josh Trank’s Chronicle is told through Andrew Detmer’s point-of-view, and it tells the story of the rise of a super-villain that’s disguised as a found-footage movie. It is not your traditional glossy, summer blockbuster superhero film, but it still is one of the best superhero films made within the past 15 years. DeHaan’s Detmer, Michael B. Jordan’s Steve, and Alex Russell’s Matt are high schoolers who gain superpowers when they discover an asteroid that crash landed near them at a party one night. Unlike films like Kick Ass and Super that use the story point “what if normal people became superheroes?” as an excuse to tell a fairly normal superhero tale, Chronicle treats the trope seriously to delve deeply into the psyche of its three main characters. Chronicle is a character study first and a superhero film second, which in turns gives us an incredible performance by DeHaan. Similar to how Buffy the Vampire Slayer used monsters and the supernatural as an allegory for high school, Chronicle does something similar. It uses these character’s newfound superpowers as a way to shine a light on the caste system in high school.

Dane DeHaan’s Andrew Detmer may not be a flashy or an iconic choice, but it’s a choice I am going to stick with nonetheless. In an era where superhero movies blend together, which in turn causes their villains to blend together, Andrew Detmer stands up from a non-traditional superhero film that stands out.

NOTE: There are a few superhero films I have not seen yet, most notably Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse, but for the most part, this is a very comprehensive list.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Carmichael Show and The Ranch: Throwbacks to the Sitcoms of Yesteryear

Two of the best new sitcoms to be released within the past 12 months are The Ranch, which had its entire first season drop on Netflix on April 1, 2016, and The Carmichael Show, which premiered on NBC on August 26, 2015. Tonally and spiritually, these two shows have nothing in common; however, both shows represent The Ghost of Sitcom Past. The landscape for sitcoms is remarkably different from what is what when Friends and Seinfeld left the airwaves. Nowadays, sitcoms have to be fully formed right out of the gate like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or be able to be traditional with a different perspective like Black-ish or Fresh Off The Boat. There is seemingly no room to be good and “working on it” as seen with the recent cancellations of The Grinder and Grandfathered. Yet two sitcoms have recently emerged that have helped buck this trend, and they have been able to do so in large part by going back to the original drawing board.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Silver Age of Television and The Shows That Defined It

TV critic Alan Sepinwall wrote elegantly about The Golden Age of Television in his book The Revolution Was Televised. It’s a phenomenal read for any television junkie, and while it doesn’t explicitly detail The Golden Age (the book purposefully leaves out comedies), it’s a great overview of the era.

I would recommend reading the nuances and specifics about the era in Mr. Sepinwall’s book, but the basic tenants of the revolution were an increase in prestige programming (which in turn led to more serialized series) which also led to an increase in networks. At the very beginning you had the three basics, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Over time the number of networks grew. The Golden Age saw an expansion of networks and having those networks get into the original programming game. HBO started to produce great original television content which led other networks like FX, AMC, and Showtime to do the same. That in turn led to great dramas such as The Shield, Dexter, and the aforementioned Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

I know many people would argue that we are still in The Golden Era of Television. We still have amazing television programming and television has become more serialized over the procedural nature that it used to be for decades. The Golden Era has changed things in television and that change is moving at a rapid pace. Further, what we used to know as television has almost disappeared.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

All The Way Only Goes Half of the Way Towards Greatness

Lyndon Baines Johnson, our country's 36th president, is one of my personal favorite presidents. I studied him in depth in my A.P. U.S. History class junior year of high school and was lucky enough to be able to write about him on my A.P. Test. He was thrust into the presidency as a result of one of the most heinous acts ever committed on American soil and managed to pass some of our country's most important legislation, all while fondly whipping out his junk whenever he wanted to. Johnson was a larger than life character onto his own and that's what helped him become a successful president. That is why I found it odd that he seems to have been left behind in the zeitgeist. There are a litany of TV shows and movies all about JFK (and his assassination), but almost nothing about his successor. That is why I have been anxiously awaiting for HBO to release All The Way, a semi-biographical look at LBJ based upon the Tony-award winning play of the same name. Plus, we get to see Bryan Cranston's glorious return to television since Breaking Bad.

A Review of The Jungle Book (2016)

The best music covers tend to be songs that improve on a song with great lyrics but mediocre music behind it. Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” has amazing lyrics because it’s a Bob Dylan song, but so-so music behind it, well, because it’s a Bob Dylan song. Jimi Hendrix was able to take those lyrics and, using his incredible talent as a guitar player, give Dylan’s lyrics the appropriate music they deserved. The Byrds version of Dylan’s “Tambourine Man” is a similar situation. The same rule for remaking songs should also be the same rule for remaking movies. A movie should only be remade if the original is subpar, but has some good stuff in it.

Disney’s 1967 animated classic The Jungle Book is not a good movie, certainly not by today’s standards. I have fond memories of the movie from when I watched it as a kid, but kids are dumb and their tastes can’t be trusted. Re-watching the 1967 film, I realized what a jumbled mess it is. The film starts off on the right foot by having the panther Bagheera watch over a “mancub” Mowgli that he found when the boy was just a newborn that he then has to protect from the evil tiger Shere Khan. However, the film quickly devolves as Bagheera and Mowgli set off on their journey out of the jungle and away from Shere Khan. There’s an extended scene between Mowgli and a pack of elephants that makes absolutely no sense, Mowgli meets a group of vultures that weresupposed to be voiced by The Beatles, and Bagheera comes and goes as he pleases.

Disney’s live action version takes the same basic premise of their 1967 film, Bagheera and Mowgli journey to find humans to escape the wrath of Shere Khan, and makes a coherent story out of it. The 1967 animated movie is like a Bob Dylan song, a sub-par whole with excellent parts in it, and the 2016 version is like Jimi Hendrix who made an excellent whole that improved on the good parts of the original.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

New Girl Is Now One Giant Game of True American

Fox’s New Girl ended its fifth season recently where the fictional drinking game True American, played by the main characters of the show, reared its beautiful head. No one quite knows what the rules of the game are (although The Internet claims itknows how to play), but the rules are unimportant. The game is an excuse for the characters to shout random, funny things, and the few True American scenes we’ve seen throughout the series’ run have always been guaranteed laughs. The second half of New Girl’s series run has essentially become a version of its fictional game- random, unstructured, nonsensical, and really funny.

Back in 2014, my Cord Cutters Podcast host and I werediscussing the series finale of How I MetYour Mother, which led to a discussion of our favorite sitcoms of all time. I mentioned that New Girl had a chance to make my Top 5. While it was coming off of a horrendous first half to its third season, the show had an excellent second season to follow up a very good rookie year. I though at the time that if New Girl could right the ship and return to the level it was at for its sophomore season, then it had the potential to be transcendent.