Category Archives: The Antiscribe Appraisals (Reviews)
By Jonathan Morris, Antiscribe.com
Well, you just knew this was coming, right?
So yes, thanks to our ever more crowded summer movie season, it’s already time again for another survey of a famous character in popular culture…and they rarely come more popular than the one and only Batman. Whether you think of him as the gritty, vengeful, and brooding Dark Knight, or the noble, altruistic, and exciting Caped Crusader, the Guardian of Gotham City is an indelibly ingrained part of our popular culture, an American icon (though not always in a positive way), and the definitive urban avenger. I also don’t think it’s unfair to say that Batman has long surpassed his contemporary Superman as the world’s most famous superhero, and he’s arguably the most consistently compelling and undeniably the most commercially successful superhero of all time. For me, though, and I think for any observer of popular culture, Batman should also be considered among the most fascinating.
As times go by, many famous characters are reinterpreted and recreated for each new generation, inevitably drawing upon the various tastes and subtexts of that given moment in time. Bob Kane’s Batman, though, perhaps more than any other character I have ever seen anywhere in media, has demonstrated an astonishing ability to be readily transformed and transfigured to any given era without ever subsequently becoming an anachronism. It’s not that Batman is timeless – though he is – it’s that he’s somehow always timely. It’s an amazing attribute, and one that makes the Dark Knight not only distinctive in the history of comics, but in world literature and media as well. Read the rest of this entry
While undeniably the least anticipated of this summer’s trio of big-time, tent-pole superhero movies, The Amazing Spider-Man, beyond any discussions about its quality or worth, has become the latest test case for an ongoing pop culture debate – how soon, exactly, is “too soon” to do a reboot? Is there even such a thing as “too soon,” anymore?
Last week, while composing my epic-length overview of Spider-Man in various media I presented my argument that Sony was right to kill off their still nascent Spider-Man franchise after the debacle that was Spider-Man 3, even if that left me with the prospect of a new Spider-Man movie I felt more obligated to see than excited to. Of course, I understand, from the corporate perspective, the reason for the shortened turn-around: if Sony hadn’t kept their license active, than the lucrative film rights to the character would have reverted to Marvel/Disney. But still, a completely new version after only ten years and two months – to the day – since the first film, let alone only five years since the last film, even in our much more accelerated culture, surely seems a little hasty. Read the rest of this entry
By Jonathan J. Morris, Antiscribe.com
With the coming July 4 holiday bringing the anticipated (though not by everybody) reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man, it seemed like an appropriate moment to once again trace the filmic and televisual history of another major figure in popular culture. Who? Why, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, of course!
The core backstory of Spider-Man is well and widely known – Peter Parker, a socially awkward but brilliant young man from Forest Hills, Queens is bitten by a radioactive spider (or a genetically enhanced one, depending on the era) while on a school field trip and soon finds himself blessed (and cursed) with spider-like powers. After a failure to use his “gifts” properly results in personal tragedy, he realizes the deeper meaning of the mantra “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Becoming the superhero Spider-Man, he protects the neighborhoods of his native New York City from both everyday criminals and monstrous super-villains; indeed, Spidey’s rogues’ gallery is second only to Batman’s in depth and popularity, boasting the Green Goblin, Venom, the Lizard, the Scorpion, the Kingpin, Carnage, the Sandman, Mysterio, Electro, and (my personal favorite) Doctor Octopus. Read the rest of this entry
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?”
-John Milton, Paradise Lost
By Jonathan Morris, Antiscribe.com
This past Sunday I attended, for the second time, a high definition screening of the Royal National Theatre’s production of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle, which gave me an excuse (not that I ever really need one) to revisit the cinematic legacy of two of my favorite figures of popular culture, the brilliant but misguided Dr. Frankenstein and his tragic and terrifying Creation (much as I did with Sherlock Holmes last year). Read the rest of this entry
By Jonathan Morris, Antiscribe.com
This past Saturday, thanks to a former classmate’s random act of kindness, I was granted the opportunity to see the much-anticipated Marvel’s The Avengers at its New York City première on the closing night of the Tribeca Film Festival.[i] Now, as it happened, traveling to the Tribeca Performing Arts Center from my home in New Jersey took me through the PATH station at the World Trade Center. Though I’ve wanted to go down there many, many times over the last few years, due to some deeply-held and overpowering emotions this was actually the first time I had visited the site since after September 11. As I stepped out of the station, located at the foot of One World Trade Center, I gazed up at the still under construction Freedom Tower. Though I expected to be slightly more overcome by emotion than I actually was, I nonetheless experienced a deep sense of poignancy that stayed with me as I headed over to the screening itself.
Of course, herein lies precisely what the Interwebs didn’t need: another write up of the Academy Award contenders for Best Picture of 2011. To which I say: fair point. This, however, was one of the first years in a while that I can actually say that I saw ALL of the Best Picture nominees (which I think is pretty impressive…since there’s now NINE of them), and I did so expressly for the purpose of being able to discuss them here on the site. Unfortunately, given the fact my schedule and personal commitments haven’t allowed me to do the full reviews I’m usually partial to doing, penning this overview is essentially my way of doing the next best thing.
Two caveats: First, this is not me handicapping the Oscars. I generally only watch them out of obligation, and after last year’s Hathaway/Franco debacle I have absolutely no desire to watch them this year (and those personal commitments will forbid it, anyway). I will comment on whether they deserved consideration, and I’ll make my pick of what I think should win and what I think will (since they’re not the same), but that’s pretty much it. Secondly, I myself won’t be doing any particular kind of ranking of this list (it’s presented in alphabetical order, as is standard) or otherwise doing my personal ranking of my favorite films of the year or anything like that. I’m personally not one for that kind of thing, and I generally feel such lists are defined almost as much by genre biases and false perceptions of import (the always ludicrous “movies” vs. “films” comparison) as anything else. In the end, this is basically my way of doing a bunch of my “Antiscribe Appraisals” in short form since I don’t really have the chance to do them in long (though the one for The Artist: pretty long). Of course, in some cases, I already did full reviews of those films, and will link to them where appropriate.
And with that, the nominees are… Read the rest of this entry
By Jonathan Morris, Antiscribe.com
As a scholar who is always interested in popular culture, and especially the ways in which it can be interpreted and reinterpreted across cultural boundaries, I found the idea of seeing The Adventures of Tintin to be an intriguing prospect. On the one hand, intellectually it was interesting to see how an internationally popular character would be interpreted for American audiences, and on the other, given the pedigree of its filmmakers, I assumed it would at least be a fun watch. First illustrated by the Belgian artist Hergé over seventy years ago, the world-travelling kid reporter Tintin has long been a popular icon to many European, and especially French-speaking, countries, but otherwise has never really crossed the Atlantic’s cultural divide, standing as largely an unknown quantity to American audiences. And to be fair, outside of my own reading on the history of comic books and comic art, the character represents something of an unknown quantity to me as well. However, now that I have seen director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson’s long in development film version, the appeal of the character remains unknown to me, and I’m assuming it will to others. Whether it’s truly a faithful version of the character and his universe, I’m not one to say, but what I can say, is that as a film, and perhaps more accurately, as a film going experience, The Adventures of Tintin just isn’t very good. Read the rest of this entry
By Jonathan Morris, Antiscribe.com
When I went to see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows at my local theater recently I found myself quite irritated as I gazed up at the theater marquis, which advertised the film as “Homes 2.” Come now, I thought, I know not everyone is a Sherlock Holmes fan like me, but certainly the character is mainstream enough that even the teenage part-timers working at this theater would know the correct spelling of his name. As I walked out of the theater about two hours later, I looked at the marquis again, and I found that now the spelling error bothered me much, much less. Whoever this “Homes” guy was, if he wanted this movie, he could have it.
Sadly, though, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is technically now and forever a Sherlock Holmes movie: the generically subtitled sequel to Warner Brothers’ initial, game attempt to make a viable mainstream film franchise out of one of popular culture’s most enduring creations. For the record, I enjoyed the first film two years ago despite some initial consternation, because besides being enjoyable, if not especially great, it remained tethered to most of what Sherlock Holmes was fundamentally about. It may have had chase scenes, fight scenes, explosions, and computer generated effects, but in the end it was still about the master detective, with all of his unique personality quirks and with his friend and ally Dr. Watson in tow, figuring out a complex and inexplicable mystery (if one that had significantly more at stake than the manor house murders that were the literary Holmes’s part and parcel). Granted, there was never any doubt whodunit (it was a villainous Mark Strong, in fine glower), but how he-done-it was nevertheless intriguing enough to string the action along. Now, on the other hand, with Game of Shadows, this burgeoning series has completely untethered itself from the identity of Sherlock Holmes, instead turning their version of the character into a kind of bizarre, steampunk James Bond. And rather literally, at that. Read the rest of this entry
The Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011: “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” – The Antiscribe Appraisal
By Jonathan Morris, Antiscribe.com
Well, now that we’ve put to bed another Christmas holiday, it’s important to look back on things that are most important: which, if you’re a fan of Doctor Who, means the yearly Doctor Who Christmas Special.
Since 2005, no December 25 has gone by without the BBC airing a new Who episode (though they’ve only aired on Christmas here in the States since 2008); typically, the Christmas specials have served as something of transition between seasons for the series, and sometimes as a thematic preview of the season that is to come. Under Russell Davies’s tenure as show runner, the Christmas specials were generally “event” episodes that were arguably the most high-profile of their year. The original 2005 episode, “The Christmas Invasion,” for instance, served as the beginning of David Tennant’s acclaimed run as the Tenth Doctor, while 2009’s “The End of Time, Part 1,” marked the beginning of the Tenth Doctor’s end (the second part aired on New Year’s a week later). 2006 saw “The Runaway Bride,” a rather comedic episode that guest-starred popular British comedienne Catherine Tate, offering a transition between the Doctor saying goodbye to his former companion and soul mate, Rose Tyler, and his next companion, Martha Jones. “The Voyage of the Damned” in 2007 represented the most publicized and highest rated episode of Doctor Who since its relaunch, as the producers scored the coup of getting pop star Kylie Minogue to play the Doctor’s companion for the episode, which was an incredibly fun outer space pastiche of Titanic and The Poseidon Adventure. Minogue, if you’re not aware, is something of the British Commonwealth’s equivalent of Madonna, if Madonna, like Minogue, had just come back from a very high-profile and successful battle with breast cancer. 2008 was a standalone special, the first of five straight holiday themed specials that built to Tennant’s farewell from the series in the next year’s special. Called “The Next Doctor,” it starred David Morrissey (a name who had been bantered about by Whovians as a potential future Doctor) as someone claiming to be “the Doctor,” whom the audience is intended to believe could be the Doctor’s next incarnation (spoiler – he wasn’t). Other than playing off of the audience knowing that Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor would be ending, this had actually been the weakest of all the specials to date. Basically just a Doctor fights the Cybermen episode with a nice little mystery wrapped around it, “The Next Doctor” also featured a somewhat controversial finale, by Who standards, with a raging, 100 foot Cyberking marching across Victorian London. Traditionally, you have to understand, that whenever a Who episode took place somewhere in Earth’s past, history would remain largely unchanged; with Davies’s creative tenure coming to an end, this episode broke that rule with gusto, leaving it to Stephen Moffat, as the next show runner, to essentially write it out of existence.
By Jonathan Morris, Antiscribe.com
With the sequel Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows being released on December 16, I thought I would take an always welcome trip down memory lane and look back at some the best and worst interpretations from cinema and television of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed creation, the world’s first and only consulting detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes If you’ve read my earlier post (written two years ago), you’d know that I’ve been a huge fan of the detective for my entire life; there are very few versions of the character that I haven’t seen, along with some I wish I hadn’t seen at all…
This list isn’t meant to be a complete overview of all things Sherlockian; the character is the most reprised in film history, and entire books have been written that have tried to provide an adequate survey of all the various popular incarnations of the character throughout its long history. This list is simply an overview of my favorite adaptations, interpretations, and variations, represented as individual films, film series, and television shows, combined with similar productions that should perhaps otherwise be forgotten… Read the rest of this entry
(Author’s note: This was written about two years ago as a sample blog that I never took past my Facebook page; I always thought it was pretty good, though, and with the sequel coming out next week, I thought I’d share it here now.)
Earlier this week, with some trepidation, I went out to see the new Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movie. Said trepidation generally sprung from all the usual sources, though mainly from the concern that I was going to see yet another of my favorite pop culture icons torn asunder because of studio greed (see Van Helsing and The Mummy films for examples of what I mean. Or on second thought, don’t. Don’t EVER.). For I am a lifelong Holmes fan; my father would read me the Conan Doyle stories, and he and I would often spend Saturday nights watching the Jeremy Brett (still the best Holmes ever) series on Mystery! together. I myself read most of the stories before I was ten, and I even chose to name my first dog Toby, after the tracking dog Holmes used in The Sign of Four. Read the rest of this entry
As I left the theater after viewing The Descendants, one thing became obvious while overhearing the other patrons’ after-show assessments: the movie they just watched clearly wasn’t the one they were expecting to see. They came to the film apparently anticipating some kind of broad comedy, and based on the advertising, I suppose I couldn’t blame them for feeling that way. But The Descendants isn’t that kind of film, and it was obvious that the other filmgoers, whether they enjoyed for the experience or not, weren’t quite prepared for it. The best classification I can think for a film such as this would be either “dramedy” or “seriocomedy” – emphasis placed on the “serio” – especially when you consider that the film’s chief running joke comes from characters continuously telling the lead character, Matt, how strong his wife is, and how “she’ll pull through” after her serious injury. Of course, that’s the type of encouragement other people give to make themselves feel better. In truth, Matt’s wife isn’t going to pull through, and he knows it, but never lets on. It can be called a joke because it involves someone making a fool of him-or-herself by stating something we know to be ludicrous. But not all jokes, even when told well, should inherently be funny. Sometimes, the best humor is the kind that reveals tensions more than relieves them. Read the rest of this entry
Near the beginning of the film Hugo, there progresses an elongated tracking shot that follows the title character, a young orphaned boy of eleven, as he rushes urgently through the tunnels and up the ladders and staircases that form the inner walls of a Parisian train station. While the marvelous sequence reminded me of director Martin Scorsese’s other films, it also reminded me of a famous and influential essay by scholar Tom Gunning called “The Cinema of Attractions.” In “The Cinema of Attractions,” Gunning postulated that the appeal of the earliest films was based not on narrative, but on the immersive experience that only the cinema could offer. This early, spellbinding shot in Hugo (all the more so with 3D), a film in which the narrative encourages us to remember some of the earliest achievements of the cinema, indeed had as much that same effect on me as the earliest cinema has on its audience, drawing me deeply into the film before its story could even begin. As I sat gazing up at the screen for much of the next two hours, allowing the visuals and narrative both sweep over me, I never felt anything less than fully immersed in what was happening before me, a rare occurrence these days, where even my most rewarding film-going experiences involve some form of conscious disconnection. As Martin Scorsese’s Hugo emphasizes throughout its story, films can sometimes be our dreams made real; this film itself is a testament to that, a true masterwork from one of cinema’s true living masters. Read the rest of this entry
Nearly six months ago, in one of the first pieces I posted on this site, I wrote an essay discussing the film Super 8 and my impression of its marketing. Specifically, I felt the film’s advertising campaign, built primarily around building intrigue for the film’s mysterious creature, and secondarily on nostalgia for old Steven Spielberg movies, seemed to me an ineffectual approach to marketing a poorly defined film, and that had dulled my already limited desire to see the movie. Six months later, I stand by my assessment of that approach, and if anything, I’m even more critical of it now, especially given how much I appreciated Super 8 once I finally got around to seeing it.
I cannot tell a lie; writing this appraisal of the new movie The Muppets means that I must compensate for a certain amount of bias. You see, I love the Muppets, and always have. They were a huge part of my childhood – not only as a source of entertainment, but as part of my cultural development. It was the Muppets who helped teach me to appreciate humor and parody, and their movies were likely some of the first musicals I ever saw. They showed me what irony was, and unlike most cartoons and other childhood entertainments, they taught me that being different and special, as all Muppets were, was far more important that trying to achieve some unattainable perfection. Therefore, when the extremely clever and funny parody trailers for the first Muppets film in years began popping up a few months ago, I was more than simply intrigued; I was genuinely excited. Read the rest of this entry
On Tuesday, October 18, 2011, the much-anticipated animated adaptation of Batman: Year One, the latest DC Comics film produced by Warner Bros. Animation, will be released. Beginning in 2007, Warner Bros. have put out eleven animated films, adapted from DC’s most popular characters and storylines, for the direct-to-DVD market. Supervised by the acclaimed producer Bruce Timm, the chief force behind the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, and other series from the DC Animated Universe continuity, the films are generally standalone works set within their own individual continuities and featuring both highly contrasting styles of two-dimensional animation and varying casts of voice actors. Besides being consistently solid and appealing to fans new and old, the films are mainly interesting for demonstrating the rather diversified and anti-canonical nature of today’s highly postmodern comic book media, where famous characters are consistently reinterpreted by different artists and writers while incorporating the zeitgeist of their times. In the process, they sometimes illustrate both the positives and negatives of that approach. Read the rest of this entry
What do you do when you have a still functional film genre based around a sport whose appeal and popularity have fallen off pretty dramatically over the last fifteen years? The sport, it should be noted, is boxing, that sweetest of sciences that has played to many moviegoers’ love of individualism, machismo, and violence for more than a century. As a popular sport, however, boxing may be at the lowest cultural ebb that it’s ever been, and it seems likely to continue downward into the niche. Quickly…who’s the World Heavyweight Champion? (To be honest, I’d have to Google it, too.) If nothing else, Real Steel devises a viably high concept, if not especially creative, idea for addressing its problem, and one that plays well into the modern lust for CGI action. The idea that can be summed in three words: big battling robots. And with that, everything old feels new again…or at least, newly repackaged. Read the rest of this entry
For the record, I was born a Yankees fan. I was raised a Yankees fan. I live life as a Yankees fan. And when I die, I’ll die a Yankees fan (I cheated on them a little bit with the Mets during the 1986 World Series, but in my defense, they were going against the despised Boston Red Sox. Also, I was seven). But being a Yankees fan sometimes makes it hard to be a baseball fan, because the system seems rigged for me to root for the bully. Simply put, the Yankees, sometimes by a substantial margin, consistently boast the largest annual payroll in baseball. The idea that it’s a fair game too often feels like an illusion, and being someone who frowns on the ruthlessness of unregulated capitalism, sometimes it’s hard to cheer the Yankees without feeling like I’m cheering for Wall Street. I mean, how fair can a game be when a few teams that control all the wealth play against teams that have to make do with what little they can afford? Once you get past the Americana and the athletic excellence and the legends and the legacy and the pride, it’s hard not to be more than a bit cynical about America’s pastime (and DO NOT get me started on BALCO…) Read the rest of this entry