Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bang, I Wish She Was My Lover


We're coming so close to the end of this Franklin & Bash retrospective, and we're down to our final three episodes of the first (and only tolerable) season.  The Bangover plays like a comedy, which is what Franklin & Bash was at the beginning.  By no means completely rational, The Bangover works within the oddball world of our not-so-favorite himbo lawyers.  It had some logic to it, and it was a bit of breezy fun.  In short, The Bangover, while not perfect by any stretch, at least could serve as a positive example of what Franklin & Bash started out as, before it descended quickly into a sad embarrassment for all concerned (including and especially the audience). 

For once, Infeld Daniels head Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell) is rational.  He insists his niece Lilly (Annabella Casanova, a name to be played with) return from her trip to the U.S. quickly with no outside indulgences in the form of Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), which whom she does have an instant attraction (a "Zack attack", perhaps). 

Now, where oh where are thou, Jared and Peter?  They find themselves under 72-hour house arrest for their latest stunt: bringing lightsabers to court.  The judge (Kathy Najimi) is not amused.  Neither is panophobe Pindar Singh (Kumail Nanjiani), whose lightsabers they were...in mint condition until they used them.  The boys see their house arrest as a 72-hour party, Sadly, Lilly has one indulgence that's discovered when she crashes the party: marijuana, which she attempted to import "for a friend" and of course, for 'medicinal' purposes.  Both I think are true but irrelevant.

Everyone, from Jared & Peter to Lilly's cousin Damien Karp (Reed Diamond) are desperate to keep things under wraps, but Carmen (Dana Davis) inadvertently complicates things by hooking up with her ex, ex-con Dante (Leonard Roberts), who is the only man who can make her irrational through wild sex.  He left $100,000 in a bag after another tryst.  While over Damien's objections Lilly stays with the boys, they find her case getting worse, and after the cash is discovered, Carmen herself is arrested in now two unrelated cases. 

Now, to sort all this out we need Pindar!  He is the only one available to take Carmen's case, and he has an added boost of confidence when he takes a "special brand" of muffins.  Karp, for his part, tries to help Lilly (who did schtupp Bash), but that tryst gets under the skin of Bash's ex Janie (Claire Coffee, another name to be played with).  Into this comes Infeld, who I think knew all along what was going on but opted not to interfere.  A deal is struck: three years probation and community service for Lilly's case, with the proviso she not return to the U.S. for 10 years afterwards.  That one was added by Janie. 

Finally, with Carmen's case, Pindar starts out well, but Jared, being Jared, tells him those muffins weren't marijuana-laced, and now Pindar starts collapsing.  Somehow, he muddles his way to resolving the case, or actually, Dante does by showing up, turning himself in, and with the money mysteriously appearing at the prosecutor's table.  Carmen, still erotically charged by the mere sight of Dante, throws herself on him as he's pulled away, but at least she's free.

Thinking back on The Bangover, I think if it weren't for some odd bits this would have been a pretty solid episode and among Franklin & Bash's best.  The first part was regarding Carmen.  Now, I know that passion will drive people crazy, but for most of the series Carmen was the sensible one, the rational voice of reason in a household filled with egoists and nutjobs.  Therefore, to find that she was in love with Dante wasn't the odd thing.  The fact that she did irrational things whenever Dante was involved wasn't the odd thing.  It was the idea that his scent, his presence, his name I think too, drove her into fits of unbridled ecstasy.   Really, she couldn't control herself at the end?

It just seemed out-of-character for her to behave this way.

Second, Jared and Peter's boneheaded decision to flat-out tell Pindar that the muffins weren't marijuana-laced.  Haven't these two idiots ever seen Dumbo?  The magic feather, guys, the magic feather.  Both of them clearly saw that Pindar, whom they described as "tall, dark, and neurotic" had confidence and was doing so well with Carmen's case.  It almost makes one believe in the power of medicinal marijuana.  Clearly these two lawyers didn't understand the concept of 'placebo effects', and the fact that Peter didn't stop Jared from stating the truth show that they really are idiots.

Tommy Chong Just Says No

However, apart from these moments The Bangover was actually on the whole quite entertaining.  There was a shocking amount of logic in all this (how the money disappeared and was found was actually pretty straightforward and made sense).   The cases were offbeat but normal (even if Carmen's defense that she was uncontrollable whenever Dante was around is a bit nutty). 

There is also something hilarious in the idea that Tommy Chong of all people would be tough on marijuana possession.  His casting as the judge in Lilly's case, where he took a firm stand against marijuana, was a brilliant decision. 

And yes, the words "brilliant" and "Franklin & Bash" rarely are used together, so let us treasure this moment.

It was ironic and funny without being obvious. 

We got the typical immaturity of Franklin and Bash, from the lightsaber bit to the idea of a 72-hour party when under house arrest, but we also saw something the show got away from: the idea that they are actually bright.  When Dante holds a gun to them about his money, they knew it was a good idea to have him go on a wild goose chase to get it, knowing their ankle-bracelets would set the police after them.  The fact they made it later on obvious they had them is questionable, but not completely idiotic.

The Bangover also had the odd relationship between Peter and Jared: the former as catnip to any woman who comes within eyesight, and the latter oddly possessive and unhappy his friend slept with someone.  Granted, Jared is right in suggesting that sleeping with Infeld's niece is not a good idea on many levels, so perhaps this time the little one is right. 

The Bangover is a sensible story, which Franklin & Bash started out having then tossed out the following seasons.  With some great guest turns, a logical (albeit far-fetched) plot and two cases that generally worked, it was nice to see that at least the first season, Franklin & Bash had a good mix of humor, heart, and brains.

Pity it lost all three when we started Season Two.   


Next Episode:  Bachelor Party

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice: A Review


Tobey Maguire is 40 years old, yet he stubbornly keeps looking like he's in his late 20s.  The fact that he's blessed with extraordinary genetics is not his fault.  It does, however, make the idea of the youthful-looking Maguire be a thoroughly convincing Bobby Fischer, genius chess player and all-around nut, a little hard to accept.  Pawn Sacrifice focuses on Fischer's tormented genius leading to his match against Boris Spassky, where Fischer's brilliance and insanity were on full display for the world to see.  Maguire in Pawn Sacrifice pushes himself as an actor, and it's an admirable, even strong performance.  It's a pity though, that the film itself didn't push itself as much as Maguire (despite Maguire being a producer).

Robert James Fischer, son of a Communist mother who enjoys the company of gentlemen callers, finds her son's chess fixation a bit of a bother.  Bobby's obsession, however, will not be denied.  Under the mentorship of Brooklyn chess master Carmine (Conrad Pla), Bobby (Maguire) grows in ability.  Bobby also grows in arrogance, convinced that he is the greatest, he sets his eyes on the Russians.  However, he is convinced that they form a great conspiracy to keep him rom winning, and he quits chess.

He still wants in though, and into this enters Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg), a lawyer who sees Bobby as a way to knock the Ruskies out of something and show American supremacy.  Paul asks Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard), a former chess prodigy who early in his chess playing managed to beat both Fischer and the Number One chess player Boris Spassky (Liev Schriber) to serve as Fischer's second.  Despite his misgivings about Fischer's mental state, Father Lombardy agrees.

Fischer if anything proves pretty much a strange mix of arrogance and fears.  He insists on many sometimes unreasonable demands regarding money and long black cars, but he also insists that despite now being in the same state as his mother that she not come to the tournament so as to not prove distracting.  He shows up to one match with literally only seconds to spare, but his opponent is never sure whether this was either to psych him out or because Fischer is positively bonkers.  Fischer even for the longest time turns down a chance for a prostitute at his hotel, Donna (Evelyne Brochu), to remove his virginity for free to concentrate on his playing.  He does eventually sleep with her, but even after he's deflowered he still keeps thinking about Spassky.

Spassky, who is a mix of admiration and suspicion with regards to Fischer, defeats him, and Fischer is enraged, determined to pursue Spassky to a rematch.  Fischer becomes more paranoid privately and publicly.  He wears a paper bag over his head when arriving at an airport, and he insists on having  his meals prepared in front of him to ensure poison isn't being slipped into his food.  He also thinks the Soviets can send messages through people's dentures and says so publicly.  Eventually, he has his rematch with Spassky, but Fischer's paranoia and excessive demands (playing in a rec room, insisting the cameras are too noisy) get him to lose Game One and forfeit Game Two.  Spassky, convinced Fischer wants him to lose by winning without actually playing, becomes determined to 'beat him at his own game' and agrees to all of Fischer's demands.  Soon, actual chess is being played, and while Fischer does beat the Number One Chess Champion, we learn that Fischer descends further into delusions and total disability.

Bobby Fischer, more convinced than ever about a conspiracy against him by the Communists and the Jews (despite Fischer himself being Jewish), dying in 2008 in Iceland.

I think this is Tobey Maguire's most accomplished performance, one where he gave it his all.  He has a haunted look, that of a man who is paranoid and arrogant in similar turns.  Sometimes one doesn't really know whether Fischer really was that delusional or whether in a certain way, he was playing at being one to get what he wanted.  Fischer's competitiveness and his fears about being bugged all blend to make him either insane or cagey, or even a mixture.  Maguire does as strong a job as possible to make this somewhat loathsome character someone more complex and interesting than perhaps he was.

It's a pity that nearly everything else doesn't keep up with Maguire.  My friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who is very much alive) detests Schriber, calling him 'wooden', playing all his parts in the same remote, stilted manner and worse, considering himself deep for his remote acting.  For the longest time I defended Schriber, but in Pawn Sacrifice I concede the match to Fidel.  Schriber is remote and almost a non-entity as Spassky.  In what should have been a powerful performance, when Spassky thinks he sees through Fischer's bizarre acts to get him to win by default rather than by actual competition, you'd think Spassky would be either enraged or congratulatory to himself for deciphering Fischer's 'subterfuge'.  However, Schriber plays it cold, emotionalless, not invested in outwitting his opponent. 

I'm going to walk back a bit of my previous statement.  Both Sarsgaard and Stuhlbarg do good if not spectacular jobs as the more moral but still remote Lombardy and anxious but manipulative Marshall. 

However, I think it is Edward Zwick's direction and Steven Knight's screenplay that keep Pawn Sacrifice from being a really great film that it could have been.  Why we aren't shown the match, this battle of wits between rivals, or why that rivalry is not emphasized or pushed further, is a wasted opportunity.  Playing White Rabbit to show Fischer's growing paranoia is also a bad decision (a more clichéd song could not have been picked).  We didn't need to get the intricacies of chess (not that many audience members would have followed them precisely), but knowing why the match was so great would have been good.  Zwick decided to tell, not show, which was a terrible mistake.

Another terrible mistake was in James Newton Howard's score.  I've never been a fan of his, and Pawn Sacrifice hasn't converted me.         

Ultimately, I think Pawn Sacrifice shows that Maguire really is determined to seek out better roles for himself.  However, his stab at an Oscar nomination by way of two Academy standards (the biopic and the mentally ill role) will inevitably get lost in the shuffle and jockeying of other biopics (Brits in drag!  Brits as country/western icons!  Biopics of tech geniuses!).  Still, I admire and respect Tobey Maguire for stretching as an actor.  He did much better than the material, and if the script and directing had been stronger, Maguire could have shown he is much more capable as an actor than he's given credit for.

I look forward to his next move.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Two Women: A Review


I think most of us, if we are honest, prefer to see Sophia Loren as that earthy Italian sex goddess, a simply luscious woman who inspires such passion within us.  We like seeing that fun, flirty side to her.  There is nothing wrong with seeing Loren for the Neapolitan beauty that she still remains.  However, one cannot deny that beneath that buxom exterior is a true actress after seeing her in Two Women, a film as far removed from her coquettish image as possible.   Bringing Italian neo-realism to one of its highest points, Two Women ends up breaking your heart, showing how even 'the enemy' suffers brutally through no fault of their own.

World War II-era Rome is where Cesira (Loren), a widow and shopkeeper, is enduring the Allied bombardments, one that frighten her sensitive, simple daughter Rosetta (Eleanora Brown).  Cesira has grown tired of the bombings and of Rome itself, finding nothing to keep her there.  With Rosetta's safety as her highest concern, she decides it is time to return to her native mountainous village of Santa Eufemia to wait the war out.  As the two women make their journey, they share laughter and horror: the humor of inept Italian railway systems mixed with the anonymity of indiscriminate gunfire.

Finally arriving home, she is greeted warmly, though the remote village has very little to offer.  Among those living in a world barely touched by the war is Michele (Jean-Paul Belmondo), an intellectual and almost-atheist who blames the community for the misery they're in (especially when the villagers sing Fascist songs to celebrate the party Cesira and Rosetta have inadvertently crashed).

Life in Santa Eufemia goes on despite the war.  The people are poor but generally safe and relatively happy given the circumstances; they still hold a naïve, almost innocent view of Il Duce: they save for Michele are sad to learn Mussolini has been taken prisoner.  Michele is drawn to Cesira, but her focus is only on Rosetta.  "Rosetta is a saint, and I'm not worthy of being her mother," she declares, and puts her daughter and protecting her above all else, even Michele, whom Cesira sees more as a son than as a potential lover.  Rosetta, for her part, holds Michele in a special place in her heart, not sexually but emotionally, the light of wisdom and kindness in a dark world.

Cesira, Michele, and the village entire find themselves still encountering the mad world the mountains can no longer protect them from.  First, a Russian deserter asks for refuge, which the village gives, Cesira even offering what wine they have as a celebration of sorts.  Then the Germans come and terrorize the civilians, ultimately taking Michele to be their guide across the mountains, to the heartbreak and horror of his parents, fearful of losing their only child. 

The community leaves the mountains to reach the advancing American armies in hopes of rescue.  Some go to Naples, but Cesira and Rosetta head back to Rome.  On their way, while resting at an abandoned church, a group of Moroccan soldiers come upon the unprotected women, and viciously rape them within sight of the statue of the Madonna. 

Rosetta is twelve-years-old.

Cesira is devastated beyond measure at the double brutality of a.) being raped herself and b.) being powerless to protect the child she holds so dear from the horror and violence of forced sexual intercourse.  Rosetta is traumatized into silence, Cesira into a hollow numbness.  Arriving at a hostel, Cesira is horrified to find Rosetta has left with a older boy to dance.  She is more devastated to learn Michele has been summarily shot by the Germans.  When Rosetta returns, silk stockings in hand as reward for her dancing, an enraged Cesira slaps her around.  Rosetta remains mute.  It isn't until Cesira tearfully tells her daughter about Michele's death that Rosetta emerges, bursting into tears and calling for her Mama. 

Their lives, shattered by this cruel war, now must attempt to put them together the best they can.

Two Women is the most solid proof possible that Sofia Loren is a legitimate actress.  This is one of the most moving, heartbreaking, emotionally shattering performances I've seen from any actress, let alone one known for her extraordinary beauty.   I still tear up thinking about Loren as Cesira, this flawed woman with a questionable past who tries desperately to save her daughter from the madness around them, and fails through no fault of her own.

After the brutal rape, as they walk down the road, shell-shocked by the horrors they've endured, they come across a group of soldiers in a jeep.  In a fury, Cesira grabs the rocks she can and throws them at the liberators after an official tells her in his weak Italian, "Peace, peace".  "Yes, yes, wonderful peace," she screams at them, then denounces them for what their 'peace' has brought on them.

The fury mixed with impotence within Cesira is devastating, just emotionally devastating, and Loren's performance is so emotionally wrought that one realizes that the war was as devastating to those on the opposite side, even more so when you consider that unlike them, we were never invaded.

I imagine, and this is speculation on my part, that Loren brought her own emotions and memories of her time during the war.  She herself endured bombing raids and starvation during the war, and I think informs her performance, one that is deep and raw and natural and really one of the best performances of any actress.  I think Two Women is Loren's finest hour as an actress. 

Speaking of actors known for their beauty, Two Women also has to be among Jean-Paul Belmondo's best performances as well.  Like Loren, he's playing against type: the dashing anti-hero of Breathless is remarkable as the meek, shy, intellectual Michele.  One wouldn't think that someone who looked like Jean-Paul Belmondo wouldn't find wooing Cesira difficult, but Belmondo does so well as the man-child passionate about ideas who finds it hard to express his deep passion for the earthy Cesira.

I grant you I found Brown a bit annoying as the almost witless Rosetta, but I figure this is how the character was, so I'm not going to trash her or her performance.  Still wasn't crazy over it, but the final third of the film, from the rape onwards, Brown is still powerful in her own way as Loren was in hers.

Director Vittorio De Sica brings wonderful touches in Two Women, not just in the performances he draws from Loren and Belmondo, but also in the subtle, symbolic moments (Michele's irritation as villagers constantly interrupt his telling of the story of Lazarus is amusing but also symbolic of how God calls the dead to life when Italy is about to die).  There are moments of such devastation, such as when Michele attempts to calm and comfort his mother when both know that he will probably never return.

Of particular note is the rape scene, a blasphemy and sacrilegious act performed by 'liberators' in a sacred place, one where these women sought refuge.  The rape is not graphic visually: we see the Moroccans encircling the defenseless women, then taking them by force, and then ending on Rosetta's shocked face as she screams for her mother, and then return to find them in total disarray.  The fact that De Sica didn't make the rape graphic makes it all the more horrifying and devastating, because we the audience know what happened, but can only picture the trauma, the pain, the shock, and the violence towards two people we've come to know and care about.

Two Women is by no means a pretty picture: neo-realistic to its core, the dirt and rawness of the world is there in the open, with no glamour to protect us or them.  We can relate to the story of a mother doing everything to protect her child, the only good thing she's done in her life, and are emotionally spent when despite all her efforts, that mother cannot protect her child.  Two Women is a tragedy, a heartbreaking one, and with an astonishing, brilliant performance from Sofia Loren.

I'm glad we have Sofia Loren to admire for her beauty and for her lightness on screen.  However, I'm also thankful that we have Two Women as proof that Sofia Loren is not just a great beauty, but a truly great actress of depth.

Grazie, Bella Sofia...


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Gotham: Damned If You Do...Review


I think a better title for the Gotham Season Two premiere episode would be The Seduction of Jim Gordon, because Damned If You Do... shows us that our upright, almost irritatingly moralistic future Gotham City Police Commissioner is not above dealing with the Devil (or The Penguin) to get where he needs to go.  Damned If You Do... is a strong beginning for a series that seemed a bit unsure of its direction the last time.  We got a shocking amount of violence for a network show (the mind boggles at what Gotham would look like if it was on HBO or Netflix), a great intro for at least the first half of the season, and something we didn't get in Gotham's first season.

Tiny bits of humor.

It's been one month since a violent coup got rid of Dons Falcone and Maroni, as well as pretender to Gotham's underworld throne Fish Mooney.  Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is mostly firmly in command, with his able assassin Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan) mercilessly killing anyone his boss orders him to.  For all their hard work, Jim Gordon (Benjamin McKenzie) is reduced to street cop, and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) has quit the force to become a bartender (apparently, the only fallback for Irish cops).  Even his turn as a beat cop doesn't go well for Gordon, as a run-in with crazed 'supervillain' Zaardon the Soul Reaper (David Fierro), a clearly disturbed individual made more disturbed by a concoction given to him, attempts to wreak havoc on the good citizens of Gotham.  For his troubles, Gordon is fired by Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari) over the objections of Captain Essen (Zabryna Guevara).  Only Gordon's relationship with Dr. Leslie "Lee" Thompkins (Monica Baccarin) gives Gordon the slightest glimmer of hope.

Gordon's ex, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) finds herself the most glamorous and upmarket inmate at Arkham Asylum, where she catches the eye of Richard Sionis aka The Mask (Todd Stashwick), last seen killing applicants Hunger Games/Fight Club-style in The Mask.  Also locked up is Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan), who killed his mother in The Blind Fortune Teller and who is a prime candidate as the future Joker.  At first disinterested, Barbara soon finds her upper-crust ways can help a girl out in these tough spots, so she forms an alliance with Sionis.  Good thing too, because when Zaardon is tossed in with Sionis, Jerome, Barbara, and three others, the poison that seeps out of Zaardon's body affects them, which is just what supervillains want.  This group is busted out by Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas), the adopted sister of pillar of Gotham society Theo Galavan (James Frain), who wants the group to form a team of super-criminals.  Sionis passes, and then is promptly executed. 

Meanwhile, young Master Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and his guardian/valet Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) are trying to get into the locked room hidden within a secret cave at Wayne Manor.  Bruce is determined to open it, even if it means blowing up the door.  Alfred at first thinks the whole thing madness, but uses his military expertise to help young Master Bruce.  Inside, there is a message from Bruce's father, telling his son that "you can't have both happiness and the truth".  Bruce must now make a choice: live his life for himself, or pursue a calling if he so thinks he has one.

Gordon wants to fulfill his promise to Bruce to find out who killed the Waynes, and he wants back onto the force.  For that, he needs help, and calls on Penguin to ask a favor.  Penguin has no problem making Loeb disappear and reinstating Gordon, but he wants something in return.  Someone is refusing to pay a debt owed to Don Falcone under the excuse that because it was to Falcone, he owes nothing to the new King of Gotham.  Gordon at first won't be an enforcer, but desperate times push his hand.  Ogden Barker (Otto Sanchez) has no intention of giving one red cent to that "fruitcake leprechaun" Penguin, not even to Gordon ('Penguin's Bitch', as Barker calls Jim).  Gordon, ruthless to the core, gets the money and kills Barker in the process in self-defense.  Penguin, true to his word, puts the squeeze on Loeb to put Jim back on, an idea which Loeb finds revolting.  Victor has already dispensed with Loeb's guards in a shocking way for prime-time television, and Penguin has no problem having Victor kill the Commissioner, but a deal is struck.

Commissioner Loeb announces his retirement, with Captain Essen now the new Police Commissioner and James Gordon back to Detective.  It's here that Gordon and Thompkins learn that six inmates have escaped Arkham, and one of them is a certifiable crazy WASP broad.

Damned If You Do... has a great deal going for it.  The episode balanced two stories: Gordon's return to the Force and Bruce's discovery of what was behind the door.  This does mean that other characters do get a bit short-changed (I think Cory Michael Smith's Edward Nygma makes one appearance, as does Camren Bicondova's Selina Kyle), but even in their smaller parts, both did quite well.  CMS was strong when he played essentially two characters: the more moral Edward and the more unhinged Edward (whom he sees in the mirror).  Right now, that's set-up for his story, but it's enough to leave the viewer interested.  Bicondova has presence even though she now appears to be nothing more than Penguin's pet ("It's like having a cat around," he says, and kudos to her for not breaking out in laughter at that).

Speaking of laughter, it is nice to see that Gotham has lightened up slightly.  When Bruce tells Alfred he's going to blow up the door, Alfred is aghast.  "I wanted to present it to you as a fait accompli", Master Bruce tells his valet.  A clearly shocked and agitated Alfred replies, "Don't you start speaking French to me!"  As I've always thought of Alfred as highly intelligent, I'm going to put this odd turn of phrase as reaction to shock.

More humor is created when Victor asks Penguin regarding Loeb, "Want me to kill him now?".  "No, make him a nice cheese toasty.  Yes, kill him now, please," is Penguin's glib reply, almost a frustrated tone as to the sheer idiocy of the question. 

It's interesting that Scolari's main claim to fame is in the comedies Bosom Buddies and Newhart, the former where he performed partially in drag and played second banana to future acting legend Tom Hanks.  I say it's interesting because Scolari gives a knockout performance: evil without being camp or over-the-top, bringing a smooth, cold menace to Commissioner Loeb until he's threatened by Penguin.  It's a really great performance, and it makes one think how terrible that Scolari didn't reach Hanks-like levels because he is just so good throughout his run on Gotham.  Almost a shame to see him go.

That high level of acting is what I find most appealing about Gotham.  Robin Lord Taylor still brings such cold-blooded menace to Penguin.  He's no longer the waddling buffoon of Burgess Meredith or the crazy Danny DeVito version (although both of those are excellent in and of themselves).  RLT is instead a criminal mastermind whose only passion is in maintaining his hold on power.  He seems almost sincere when dealing with Gordon, as if in a bizarre way Oswald does think of Jim as a friend.   Mazouz has a wonderful quality to him as Bruce Wayne, still struggling to find his place and purpose in a world filled with Penguins and moral ambiguity.

His best scene is also McKenzie's best, when Gordon comes to tell Bruce he's been fired from the GCPD.  When Gordon tells him he could get back on the force but that it wouldn't be the right way, Bruce has his own reasoning regarding Gordon's reluctance: he'd rather do wrong to others than violate his own narrow moral code, showing Gordon to be in his own way vain and self-centered.  "Sometimes the right way is the ugly way," Bruce tells the future Commissioner.

This scene is really very important in the Batman mythos.  We see the beginnings of the divide between the vigilante justice Batman uses and the firm upholding of the law that Commissioner Gordon uses.  The beginning of the schism between Bruce and Jim begins here, with Bruce starting to think that perhaps the ugly way is the right way, and Gordon not wanting to do that.

Damned If You Do... also has great turns from Richards and Monaghan as the future criminals in what promises to be a major story arc for the first half of the season.  Richards' Barbara has pretty much been reviled for her whiny WASPy manners, but now her craziness is her defining characteristic: her opportunism, her obsession to get back (with or at) Jim.  Richards' Babs now makes for a more interesting creature than the blank nutjob we saw for most of Season One.

Whether Jerome IS the future Joker or not remains to be seen (Gotham is teasing us endlessly about the prospect), but Monaghan is playing Jerome's evil to the hilt.  It is drawing heavily on Heath Ledger's version, but it will be interesting to see if Monaghan makes Jerome his own.  Frain, of the cancelled-too-soon The Cape and from The Tudors (where he played another master villain, Thomas Cromwell), gives us an interesting glimpse of the evil lurking within Theo.   Obviously, we're not going to get much information now, but we get just enough to keep us interesting.

Curiously, this episode is so far the only one within memory to have a touch of sunshine appear in our perpetually gloomy, cloudy, city.  It also features the dismembered head of one of Loeb's security detail, Victor holding up the head and even opening the mouth as if he were talking.  I was shocked at the graphic nature of this moment, and it reminded me of why I don't consider Gotham particularly family-friendly, the Batman connection notwithstanding.  I'm sure pay stations would have been more graphic, but the ISIS-like moment was a bit jarring given the already-general mayhem the show deals with.

I also wonder whether the term "fruitcake" could imply or was meant to imply not just that Barker considered Penguin crazy, but a jab by Barker about Penguin's potential sexual preferences.  Penguin has had no interest in women apart from his mother, certainly no sexual interest that has been shown on screen.  Granted, he's never shown sexual interest in anyone, so whether Penguin is gay is speculation (and irrelevant as well).  Gordon has shown sexual interest in women, so has Edward Nygma and Bruce Wayne (despite their virginities), and Bullock most certainly has.  Penguin, however, has never shown any sexual interest one way or another.  Last season, he even made a comment to his mother Gertrude that no 'painted lady' could lure him away because he doesn't even date.  I found the use of the term 'fruitcake' curious to say the least, saying perhaps more than what was meant to be said. The fact that RLT is openly gay makes the use of "fruitcake" more curious.       

I just wonder why the term 'fruitcake' was used when 'nutjob', 'cuckoo bird', or 'wackadoodle' among others would have conveyed the same meaning without suggesting something else.  That is, unless that something else (that Penguin is gay) was the intended suggestion.

Still, Damned If You Do... gives us what a good opening episode should give: a reintroduction to the characters, introductions to new ones, and the beginnings of what hopefully will be a solid story that will develop instead of the rush of villains we had last season.

Well, I'll be...


Next Episode: Knock, Knock

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Wind: A Review


By the time The Wind rolled around (no pun intended), silent films were on their final days.  The Jazz Singer, though technically speaking a part-talkie, so shook Hollywood that all the studios began rushing towards making all-talkies, all the time.  As a result, many silent films were either reconverted to sound, but more troubling, thought as waste, unworthy of preserving.  There are many reasons why we have very few silent films still around.  Part of it is due to the film stock of the time, which was extremely flammable.  Part of it was because few studios (MGM being the rare exception) cared to keep copies of what was no longer acceptable.  Therefore, silent films, now passe, were thought of as having no value.  Mores the pity, since silent films, at least the ones we have today, have extraordinary art and beauty to them.

Now we come to The Wind.  We now see that Hollywood was short-sighted regarding the power of silent films in their mad rush to throw everything without sound out the window.  The Wind may perhaps not be the last great silent film made, but it is no doubt one of the last great silent films made.

Letty (Lillian Gish) comes from Virginia to the dusty Texas west (by my guess, West Texas).  She is going to live with her cousin Beverly (Edward Earle) and his family, and on the way there she meets up with Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love).  He's oozing charm but the naïve, innocent Letty takes no notice.  On the wind-swept ranch, the pretty Letty incurs the jealousy of Cora (Dorothy Cumming), Beverly's wife.  Letty also attracts the attention of two suitors: the comical Sourdough (William Orlamond) and the rough but tender Lige (Lars Hanson).  She is pretty smitten with Roddy, but when Cora pushes her to go with him...or else, Letty discovers Roddy's married.  Heartbroken, Letty wonders where she'll stay with the bitter Cora insisting she leave their home.  She tells Letty she's got to accept the marriage proposal of either Sourdough or Lige.  She opts for Lige.

Lige is first thrilled to have Letty, but she makes it clear she doesn't love him.  Hurt and angry, Lige tells her he'll save enough money to send her away.  However, there's the issue with the Northern, a particularly strong windstorm that is wreaking havoc across the countryside.  Letty is left alone for some time while Lige and the other men of the area attempt to herd the horses, but to their home comes an ill man.  It turns out it's Roddy.  Roddy, still as oily as ever, takes advantage of the situation (it is implied, but never overtly stated, that Roddy rapes Letty).  This, and the fierceness of the dust storm, are driving Letty insane.  Her mind already weak, when Roddy urges and threatens to take her away she kills him.  This final act seem to completely push Letty over the edge.  She buries him in the dust, but soon sees his body being uncovered.

Or does she?  Is it in her mind?  There is no way to be sure, given how the circumstances have pushed Letty's mind to disintegrate.  At the end though, Lige comes back, coolly tells her that the sand covers a multitude of sins, and Letty embraces the wind she fears...and Lige, whom she realizes she does love.

I know that Gish always hated the forced happy ending.  In the original novel and screenplay, Letty, so driven by madness, wanders into the fierce windstorm, disappearing into the tormenting winds forever.  In fact, that was the original ending to The Wind, but the MGM executives objected to it, feeling the downbeat ending wouldn't go over with audiences.  Over the objections of both Gish and director Victor Seastrom, they reshot the ending to make the ending more upbeat and hopeful.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with the happy ending, apart from perhaps a sense that it was a bit overdone, as if no one believed in it.  Apart from that I don't think the ending we have to The Wind ruins the picture (although perhaps if The Wind had kept its original ending, it would have been more powerful than it already is).

Lillian Gish proves one thing: Sunset Boulevard was right--they didn't need voices; they had FACES.  The Wind is one of Gish's greatest performances (and I think, one of the greatest performances ever in silent film). Gish shows us in her performance what a truly great actress she was, for she communicates so much with just her face, particularly with her eyes, her beautiful, wide, expressive eyes.

Gish's performance in The Wind as Letty descends into madness is the equal to Vivien Leigh's Blanche Dubois' slow mental crumbling in A Streetcar Named Desire.   I have no problem putting the sinking of Letty's mind up there with Ophelia's mad scene from Hamlet.  Everything is told in her eyes and her body movement.  There isn't a moment when Gish is 'overacting' or giving the stereotypical broad and overblown performance attributed to silent film.

Even in her insanity, Gish is actually more subtle than most people playing crazy in today's films.  I think Gish's performance showing insanity in The Wind is better than that of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight or Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood.   I think that has to do with the fact that Gish expresses it with her eyes, not in a 'wild-eyed' style but in a 'I'm no longer sure of what I see before me' style.  It makes Letty's madness more frightening, and Gish's performance simply more astonishing and brilliant. 

Her performance is helped immeasurably by Seastrom's visual style.  When she is slipping into lunacy, we see both the world spinning and rocking, the out-of-control world Letty has entered.  The blending of her descent with the idea of the Northern storm as this ghost horse stamping into the world is simply astonishing. 

Gish so dominates The Wind that most everyone is blown away (pun most definitely intended).  Cumming was quite strong as the bitchy Cora, and Hanson too as the devoted but hurt Lige.  Orlamond was a bit of the comic relief, and Seastrom directed his moments so well without being overtly silly (such as when Sourdough slyly takes the bottle away from the injured Roddy without anyone else noticing). Love was appropriately sleazy as Roddy, forever dusting himself off as if to metaphorically remove the dirt from his soul (dirt that would eventually cover his corpse).

Finally, Carl Davis' original score to The Wind is equally brilliant, lending both the gentle and dramatic parts of the film greater power.

The Wind is a film that actors should study to see how to play insane without being so wild and out-of-control (with Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire being the sound equivalent).  Breathtaking visually, with an absolutely stunning performance from Lillian Gish, The Wind is a most fitting swan song to silent films.  It's a shame that silent films died out as they did when they did.  Judging by The Wind, it looked like people were really getting right, until audiences demanded films that had voices too.  Fortunately, Lillian Gish had a very good voice, but when you are blessed with a face such as hers...



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Oscar That Got Away

Grace Kelly:
Best Actress for
The Country Girl


For the 27th Academy Awards, we have a total shut-out to perhaps one of the greatest films on Hollywood ever made.  Following in the footsteps of Sunset Boulevard, the musical version of A Star is Born burned out at the Oscars, losing all six of its nominations.  The sad story of how the film was butchered by being reedited to where the eventual released version became incomprehensible, the mess Warner Brothers made of its own production, and the shameful way Judy Garland was treated on Oscar night (by both the NBC crew and the Academy) makes the whole ceremony all the more sadder to contemplate.

It looks like there were a lot of upsets at this year's Academy Awards, the people expected to win going down and seeing others who weren't expected to win going up to collect their Oscars.  It does keep things interesting, but it doesn't make them rational.

As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).



The High and the Mighty: The High and the Mighty
The Man That Got Away: A Star is Born
Hold My Hand: Susan Slept Here
Three Coins in the Fountain: Three Coins in the Fountain
Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep: White Christmas

Now, this isn't to say I think Three Coins in the Fountain is a BAD song.  Unlike either The High and the Mighty or Hold My Hand, Three Coins in the Fountain is still remembered, if not as well as other winners.  Having said that, when I compare the sweet, very 1950s-sounding Three Coins in the Fountain to its main rival, there really is no comparison.  In this case, while the song itself is not bad, it was the wrong song to win.  The losing song is still remembered, still powerful, still amazing.

Thus, my choice:

From A Star is Born, The Man That Got Away, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ira Gershwin.

Judy Garland was I think one of if not the best at selling a song, at making it as rich or powerful or tender or moving as humanly possible.  The Man That Got Away is a torch song deluxe, starting slowly then building to a fierce intensity.  Who HASN'T felt this way (and for the guys, there's The Gal That Got Away).   Despite me being a guy, I think the female version is better.  Still, I'll let you decide.

With apologies to Sinatra, I think Bobby Darin's version is better.

Still, despite my great love for The Man That Got Away, if it were up to me, I would not have chosen it when there was another song from a film that year that I think does surpass it.  My nominees with my winner...

A Whale of a Tale: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Magnificent Obsession: Magnificent Obsession
The Man That Got Away: A Star is Born
Three Coins in the Fountain: Three Coins in the Fountain
Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep: White Christmas

As much as I think The Man That Got Away is one of THE great songs of film, my heart and choice for the Best Song of 1954 is A Whale of a Tale from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  Music and lyrics by Norman Gible and Al Hoffman.  It's a cute, whimsical little number, a bit of levity in a rather serious action/adventure feature.

That, and the fact that I really, really like it.


Alfred Hitchcock: Rear Window
Elia Kazan: On the Waterfront
George Seaton: The Country Girl
William Wellman: The High and the Mighty
Billy Wilder: Sabrina

For the longest time I had my beloved Alfred Hitchcock as the winner.  Certainly Rear Window is a brilliant film, and he was a brilliant director, and Rear Window is one of his greatest films.  For me, it's still a fierce competition between Hitchcock and Elia Kazan, but after having seen it again recently, I can't help think that in terms of performances, Kazan did something extraordinary with an extraordinary cast (Brando, Saint, Malden, Cobb, Steiger...what a collection of brilliant actors).  After some struggle, I opted to go with the Academy's choice.  It wasn't an easy decision, but Kazan got my vote based on the performances he got out of his cast.

Richard Fleisher: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
George Cukor: A Star is Born
Alfred Hitchcock: Rear Window
Elia Kazan: On the Waterfront
Douglas Sirk: Magnificent Obsession

However, when I think about the scope of the filmmaking, and in terms of the individual performances, I don't understand why George Cukor, one of the best and most respected directors in Hollywood, was not even nominated for A Star is Born.  Perhaps it was because, like Sunset Boulevard, it hit too close to home.  Perhaps it was because Warner Brothers so butchered the film that what the public saw was nowhere near Cukor's masterfully crafted vision (there is still hope, however vague, for a full restoration).  However, look at the performances from Garland, from Mason, from Carson, from Bickford, from Noonan, and you think...Cukor was a damn fine director.


Nina Foch: Executive Suite
Katy Jurado: Broken Lance
Eva Marie Saint: On the Waterfront
Jan Sterling: The High and the Mighty
Claire Trevor: The High and the Mighty

If anyone can make the case for Nina Foch taking the Oscar, please do so.

Once again, we see two actresses from the same film cancelling each other out.  I think it's a pretty safe bet that if you find yourself competing with your costars, it's pretty much over.  Rare is the moment when an actor/actress from a film beats out his/her costar.  It's happened a few times, but the general rule of thumb is that more often than not, they both lose. 

Having said that, I think the Academy made the right choice with Saint's debut as the victim's sister determined to find the truth.  We forget that On the Waterfront 'introduced' Eva Marie Saint, but she gave a brilliant performance.  I find nothing wrong with the choice.

Rosemary Clooney: White Christmas
Katy Jurado: Broken Lance
Thelma Ritter: Rear Window
Eva Marie Saint: On the Waterfront
Vera-Ellen: White Christmas

So what if I put two costars in competition myself?  What's sauce for the goose...

As it stands, I can't understand why one of Thelma Ritter's many Oscar nominations (a total of six, with all six being losses) wasn't for Rear Window.  As the cynical physical therapist who finds herself wrapped up in a suspected murder investigation, she brought her trademark wit to the proceedings.  Anyone who can call Grace Kelly's character Miss Fremont, "Miss Freemoney", without letting on she is making a pun, deserves special recognition.


Lee J. Cobb: On the Waterfront
Karl Malden: On the Waterfront
Edmund O'Brien: The Barefoot Contessa
Rod Steiger: On the Waterfront
Tom Tully: The Caine Mutiny

With THREE nominees from the same film, is it any wonder the now-forgotten O'Brien won in the now-forgotten Barefoot Contessa?  When was the last time YOU reflected on how good either were?  With each of the three actors from On the Waterfront being just so good, really, how can one pick?  I flipped around a lot between the three of them, and ultimately went for Charlie, the older brother torn between his brother and his 'brothers'.  My reasoning was this: Malden's priest was all good, Cobb's Johnny Friendly was all bad, but Charlie was stuck in the middle.  It was the inner conflict that attracted me to pick Steiger.

Jack Carson: A Star is Born
Lee J. Cobb: On the Waterfront
Karl Malden: On the Waterfront
James Mason: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Rod Steiger: On the Waterfront

Mason had a banner year in 1954.  He was brilliant as the washed-up Norman Maine in A Star is Born, but even more amazing as Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  He was urbane, intelligent, raging, and insane...sometimes all at the same time.  You both empathized with Nemo and were horrified by him, yet understood his fury.  He was enigmatic and compelling, and I think one of Mason's best performances.  


Dorothy Dandridge: Carmen Jones
Judy Garland: A Star is Born
Grace Kelly: The Country Girl
Audrey Hepburn: Sabrina
Jane Wyman: Magnificent Obsession

First, the fact that Dorothy Dandridge became the first African-American woman to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination is something to note and respect.  Of course she wasn't going to win, and if she thought she was, then she was naïve at best.

I wrote earlier about the shabby treatment Judy Garland received on Oscar night, but it sadly extends beyond her surprising loss.  Garland had gone for broke as Vicki Lester in A Star is Born, showing she could handle both the big musical numbers and the intimate dramatic moments.  She was the odds-on favorite to win, but in comes the elegant Philadelphia beauty to sweep Oscar into her elegant handbag.

Grace Kelly's performance in The Country Girl perhaps is good, but I think that compared to Garland, it's not remembered in the slightest.  The Country Girl itself is pretty much forgotten, while A Star is Born is still held as one of the best films from Cukor and Garland.  Kelly did what a lot of actresses do to get Oscars: play against type.  The cool blonde, epitome of Alfred Hitchcock's erotic fixations on cool blondes, played the mousy, put-upon wife of a drunk.  I haven't been overwhelmed by the clips of her I've seen, but again, they're clips, not the whole film.

Garland was such an odds-on favorite to win that a camera crew was set up in her hospital room to record her reaction when she won, having recently given birth to her son Joseph Luft.  All wired and ready to go, when William Holden announced Kelly as the winner, the crew immediately began packing up the equipment, leaving a devastated Garland doubly humiliated.

Perhaps the miniseries Me and My Shadows: Life With Judy Garland was a bit harsh in declaring Kelly a nymphomaniac ("only when you can get her to slow down", Garland added) and in their summation that Kelly "can't act", but it seems accurate about how the NBC crew treated Garland when her spectacular bid for a comeback failed spectacularly.  It also might have put the finger on why she lost: as her confidant Roger Edens told her, she'd burned too many bridges.      

Dorothy Dandridge: Carmen Jones
Judy Garland: A Star is Born
Grace Kelly: Rear Window
Audrey Hepburn: Sabrina
Jane Wyman: Magnificent Obsession

Despite Edens and Garland's disparaging assertions that Kelly was a talentless slut who slept her way to the top and to an Oscar, I think she did an excellent job staying true-to-form in Rear Window.  That being said, Garland still gave the best performance of the year, and her loss will rank among the worst decisions the Academy has made (right up there with Crappie Redmayne's robotic Stephen Hawking.  What, you thought I WOULDN'T take at least one jab at him?)


Marlon Brando: On the Waterfront
Humphrey Bogart: The Caine Mutiny
Bing Crosby: The Country Girl
James Mason: A Star is Born
Dan O'Herlihy: Robinson Crusoe

You'd think this would be an easy call, wouldn't you?  Brando redefined screen acting, and On the Waterfront is one of his singularly greatest performances.  Yet, I confess that for the longest time, I had Mason take it for his decent but highly flawed and tragic Norman Maine, the matinee idol who cannot face the end of his career.  I also see Bogart giving Brando a run for his money, and even Crosby as the washed-up drunk singer having a go at it.

Good year for washed-up drunks, wasn't it? 

Nevertheless, I went with what I think is a brilliant performance, which leaves just one question:

Dan O'Herlihy?

Marlon Brando: On the Waterfront
Humphrey Bogart: The Caine Mutiny
Rock Hudson: Magnificent Obsession
James Mason: A Star is Born
James Stewart: Rear Window

That question has to be asked when you consider that James Stewart was left off the list.  I don't think Stewart was nominated for any of the films he did for Hitchcock, which makes one wonder what the Academy had against The Master of Suspense.  Stewart had to act within a very limited space.  He couldn't wander around, and it is through his eyes, his face, that he communicates his growing obsession with what goes on behind closed doors. 

Really, it is one of his landmark performances, and to think the Academy didn't recognize it while leaping praise on Crappie Redmayne?


On the Waterfront
The Caine Mutiny
The Country Girl
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Three Coins in the Fountain

For me, out of the nominees, there really is no contest.  On the Waterfront continues to be one of the Great Films, while the others are if not strictly forgotten not as well-remembered.  OK, so The Country Girl is pretty much forgotten, and people may not remember Three Coins in the Fountain was a film and not a song.  I can imagine the uproar if Seven Brides for Seven Brothers had ended up winning.  I for the life of me don't understand why it was nominated in the first place.  Maybe the Academy felt that there should be at least one musical nominated every year (sometimes with disastrous results...*cough*Oliver!*cough*).  I think the power of On the Waterfront cannot be denied, and the Academy actually chose correctly out of the films it nominated for Best Picture.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
On the Waterfront
Magnificent Obsession
Rear Window
A Star is Born

That of course, doesn't mean there's room for improvement.  The brilliance of On the Waterfront cannot be denied.  Note that out of the actual nominees, it is the only one I think still worthy of consideration (seriously, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers?).   That being said, I'd be happy with any on my list winning, but for me, out of all of them, one really pushes its way to the top.  My beloved Hitchcock was overlooked so many times, and frankly, so were his films. 

As such, I make Rear Window my Best Film of 1956.

Next Time, the 1955 Academy Awards.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Avengers: A Second Look

Thanks again to James the Movie Reviewer (my Number One Fan by default, given he's my only fan) for the suggestion.

Alas, poor Joss Whedon...

When I looked at the films of 2012, The Avengers was not in my Top Ten Films of the Year.

The Avengers was not in my Top Twenty Films of the Year.

The Avengers was in my Top Twenty-Five Films of the Year...at Number Twenty-Four.

In a year that gave us Argo, The Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Sessions, could I really put The Avengers above any of them, let alone ALL of them?

The curious thing about The Avengers is that I was quite enthusiastic about it.  I thought it was a very good movie, but I also thought it was rather long and perhaps too self-referential.  One thing I didn't think The Avengers was was the Citizen Kane of comic book adaptations, the greatest comic book film of all time.  I still think Superman: The Movie holds that distinction.

This isn't to say The Avengers was in any way terrible (though I still have a few hang-ups about it).  However, given just how beloved the film is, I was asked if perhaps I was underselling it a bit.  Perhaps it does deserve to be ranked with Superman or Batman or Spider-Man as among the best of all time, a true masterpiece.  I think the beef is not that I didn't like it (which I did).  It's that I didn't like it enough.  More than one person has told me how wrong I was to not rank it higher, to accept that in terms of comic-book films, The Avengers is among if not the greatest of all time.

I saw a bit of it while at the gym one day and was reminded how good The Avengers was.  However, that was just about a half-hour's worth of viewing and it was in the middle of the movie, not straight from the beginning.  Would reencountering it again after so many years remake my own thinking of the film?  Would I be able to sit through nearly two-and-a-half hours of explosions and characters whom I remembered with varying degrees of certainty?  Now, with me about to watch The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I figured it would be fine time to revisit The Avengers and see if my views have changed.

Let us begin...

As I rewatched The Avengers, I first dismissed what had been a criticism of mine: people would get lost.  I figure if you hadn't taken the time to watch any of the Marvel films, you weren't going to be leaping at the chance to watch The Avengers.  In short, The Avengers expects you to have some knowledge of what came before.  For good or bad, you should know some of the characters by the time you get to The Avengers.

However, that brings me to something that I didn't think of the first time I saw it.  Again, for better or worse, people have pretty much forgotten The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton as the Hulk (and let's not even get into the Eric Bana/Ang Lee Hulk).  As such, if you'd skipped it, would having Mark Ruffalo's version essentially making a second debut be an issue?   I found it curious that in The Avengers, we basically were introduced to Bruce Banner/The Hulk without it being a big problem.  In fact, perhaps we could really skip The Incredible Hulk and consider The Avengers the debut of our Big Mean Green (a little UNT reference there).

That doesn't take away from the fact that The Avengers essentially serves as a full introduction to Hawkeye.  Apart from a cameo in Thor (one that threw me so off I asked the person next to me, 'What's Jeremy Renner doing in this?'), has he played a major role in the Marvel Universe?  Same goes for Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow (and did we really have to see her for the first time being held hostage and slapped around?  I don't think Agent Carter would have stood for that!) 

Finally, let's get to the whole 'Loki taken prisoner' thing.  OK, by now this has become a cliché that it amazes me people still think its original.  When someone is being held prisoner in the middle of the film, we know they want to get captured to make a more spectacular exit. 

Skyfall, anyone?   

This doesn't take away from the brilliance of The Avengers.  A second viewing clearly shows that Joss Whedon did an incredible job balancing so much not just in terms of characters (giving everyone at least one moment) but also between action and even comedy.  The best scene in my view is when Loki is about to give another one of his grandiose monologues about his own greatness and the failure of the puny humans when the Hulk just grabs him by the legs and thrashes him around, leaving the Asgardian so stunned he can only whimper in total shock at the end. 

I also still feel the emotion when Agent Coulson (who has always been my favorite Marvel character) is stabbed.  I still hold Clark Gregg should have been a Best Supporting Actor nominee for the role.  Alas, people rarely get nods, let alone wins, for comic-book based films.  Curiously, the last time I can think of when a comic-book based film received major Oscar recognition was in 1931!  The film, Skippy, based on a comic strip, earned four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Jackie Cooper for Best Actor (making him, at age nine, the youngest Best Actor nominee in Academy history), and won Best Director.

When did the Academy turn so snobbish?

So, let's go over The Avengers.  Is a great film?  Yes.  Does it deserve great praise?  Yes.  HOWEVER, I still feel a little removed from it because I'm not as well-versed in Marvel lore as others.  Even after having watched all the Marvel movies (even The Incredible Hulk), I would have absolutely no idea who the villain popping up at the end would be.  Perhaps it doesn't matter that I know who he is or even if the Marvel fans know who he is.  It's just a teaser for something else.  Whether it is for something greater or not I cannot say.  I don't want to think of The Avengers or any other Marvel film as just a two-hour-plus trailer for something else. 

Ultimately, I can see myself giving The Avengers a more modified bump up, but not to the lofty heights of Superman or Spider-Man or Batman.  It actually is coming in fast & furious to join their ranks, and it really comes really close.  However, while the other ones were at least self-contained, The Avengers, being part of this grand epic, still is a bit separate for me.  At least, in retrospect, it IS better than Les Miserables.

So close, so close...