The Rise of the Superhero in Mainstream American Culture


Superheroes, since Superman debuted in the 40’s, have always held a special place in pop culture. Though they’ve always had their place, they’ve never had the mainstream popularity that they do now, largely due to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve almost always been popular in movies, with pre-MCU movies like ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘Spider-Man’, and ‘The X-Men’ were largely successful. The MCU’s model has certainly contributed to the mainstream popularity, but that’s in part because they’re great movies that really stuck to the source material. That leads me to believe that it isn’t necessarily the movies that people love, the movies simply made great characters accessible to people in a medium that without it, they wouldn’t have come across. We don’t just love the movies, we love the heroes.

Superheroes are the new mythological heroes. Ancient civilizations had characters like Hercules and Theseus. The Medieval Europeans had King Arthur and Thor. Today, we have characters like Superman, Spider-Man, and coincidentally, Thor (Thank you, Marvel). We’ve always had that fascination with larger than life heroes. They move and inspire us. Superheroes serve to inspire us to find our greatness within. A character like Spider-Man, a meek and quiet teenager as Peter Parker, but secretly a powerful hero once he puts on his costume, resonates with us because Peter can be seen as an everyman, but is secretly truly special. We all want to feel like we have that in us.

We may not be from an alien planet, like Superman, or been bitten by an irradiated spider like Peter Parker, but we want to know that we are capable of greatness. We also want to feel like there may be someone out there looking after us. They’re symbols of hope. Superman was created by two Jewish men during the rise of Nazi Germany. It was also not lost that superheroes regained popularity in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Superheroes can be that reminder that maybe all hope isn’t lost because after all, in the comics and the movies, no matter how bad things get, you know that Superman will show up right when you need him.

The Draw of the Horror Movie


Horror movies have always had a prominent place in American pop culture. Some of the biggest movies of all-time have been horror movies. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t know Dracula or the Frankenstein monster. They may not be viewed as being necessarily scary anymore, but at the time, they were considered to be absolutely terrifying. Even prior to that, the silent movie ‘Nosferatu’, an unlicensed Dracula story, became incredibly popular. Even the part of the vampire mythos that a vampire will die in sunlight came specifically from that movie (to avoid being sued, they added the Count disappearing as the sun rose as opposed to the traditional Dracula ending). What makes these movies so popular though? Or the more modern ones like ‘The Conjuring’?

As people, we’re always enthralled with what scares us. Physiologically, fear can cause a big dopamine response, which naturally makes you feel good, but psychologically, what is it about fear that captivates us so much? On the surface, fear is seen as a negative emotion, but in a safe and controlled environment, we love it. The nature of fear though is a good thing. Fear keeps us honest, and fear keeps us from making foolish mistakes. Fear can protect us from ourselves, and let you know when there’s danger. Fear is natural, and it can be captivating in the right environment.

I personally think part of the appeal of the horror movies that stay with us, iconic movies like Dracula and Frankenstein, is our fascination with the supernatural. We’ve always been curious about the unknown, and in a world that gets smaller and smaller every day, and there seems to be less and less that we don’t ‘know’, the unknown can become even more fascinating. Who really knows though? Whether the appeal of horror is in the physiological or the psychological, our draw to horror shows no signs of slowing down.

The Marvel, DC, and Universal Cinematic Universe Revolution

Justice League

It began with ‘Iron Man’, the blockbuster about narcissistic billionaire alcoholic-turned superhero Tony Stark. It was a gamble on Marvel’s part. Though Iron Man is a popular character now, at the time, he couldn’t hold a candle to Spider-Man or the X-Men in terms of popularity. Unfortunately for Marvel, both of those franchises were owned by different studios with Spider-Man being at Sony and the X-Men being with Fox. So they rolled the dice on what was at least to the mainstream audience, a relatively unknown character. The gamble paid off in a big way. In what will probably go down as one of the most compelling moments in movie history, after the credits, Tony Stark returned home to find Nick Fury, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. waiting for him to tell Tony that he was far from the only ‘special’ person in the world, and with that, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.

Each movie coming after ‘Iron Man’ was a hit, including the Iron Man sequels, which were both considered to be two of the weaker installments. The huge success of the MCU has caused other studios to follow-suit. Marvel’s main competitor, DC Comics, is now in the process of their own unified cinematic universe. They launched it with ‘Man of Steel’, a reboot of the Superman franchise. They have such confidence in the potential of the universe model that they’re going all-in on it in spite of ‘Man of Steel’ not being as big of a box office or critical hit as many of the MCU’s titles. They’ll be looking to continue with a Man of Steel sequel titled ‘Superman vs. Batman: The Dawn of Justice’, bringing in not only DC’s other big hero, Batman, but also characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg. They seem to be doing the opposite of what Marvel did. Marvel went with lesser-known actors in their star roles and focused on building each individual franchise leading to the ‘Avengers’. DC is trying to load their movies with big stars like Ben Affleck as Batman and jumping right to the introduction of the Justice League, so we’ll see if it plays out as successfully as Marvel’s.

The idea of a cinematic universe isn’t specifically designated to comic book superheroes. Universal Studios is doing one with their classic monster line, beginning with last year’s ‘Dracula: Untold’, and Sony is now planning one for the ‘Ghostbusters’ franchise, starting with an all-female reboot of the classic movie. The idea of building an intertwining universe paid off big for Marvel, now we just have to wait and see if other studios can mimic that success.

Making the Case for Daredevil


Nowadays, nearly every blockbuster is based on a comic book. It’s easy to forget that that wasn’t always the case. If not for Marvel and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we may have never even had that superhero movie revolution. There were some solid ones before Iron Man came out, which had been the official launch pad of the MCU, and Daredevil was one of them. Don’t get me wrong, while I was a fan, and am certainly biased due to Daredevil being my favorite superhero, the movie had big flaws.

One of the biggest issues is simply that it didn’t hold up well. At the time, there hadn’t been a dark and gritty superhero movie since Batman Returns in the early 90’s, and when Daredevil came out, fans on numerous message boards were calling for DC to take notice because that was how you made a Batman movie. That statement has validity too. Daredevil is arguably a poor man’s Batman and the movie included many elements of Batman’s mythos like the gritty street-level vigilantism, using fear as a weapon, and creating an urban myth around himself. The issue with this thought though, is that Batman Begins came out a few years later, and that was better on every conceivable level than Daredevil.

Another flaw was that it was too short. Fox called for the movie to be stripped down to simply being an hour and a half cookie-cutter action movie. If you watch the director’s cut of the film though, there is about thirty minutes of plot that’s added that makes the movie feel far more complete than the theatrical release did.

The third major issue was the casting. I liked Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, but Jennifer Garner’s Elektra and Colin Farrell’s Bullseye were both horrendously miscast. Garner simply doesn’t look Greek in the slightest and doesn’t seem to possess the viciousness that the character requires. Farrell on the other hand, chose to play Bullseye as if he were a cast-off from Batman and Robin. The character was portrayed as so horrendously campy it was cringe-worthy.

I credit many of the mistakes made with the movie to the executives behind the scenes and director Mark Steven Johnson, who also did the terrible Ghost Rider movie. That said, in spite of its flaws, the movie, especially the director’s cut, captures the true essence of the character, and has genuinely good action scenes as well as good elements of romantic comedy. Sure, it’s choppy and cheesy at times, and it looks like the new Daredevil Netflix series will rectify these mistakes and be truly awesome, but the Daredevil film was solid, especially for its time, and may be worth watching again.

What Draws You Into a Movie?

Watching a Movie

Ever since the inception of motion pictures, people have been enthralled with movies. It’s understandable. A movie provides a couple of hours where the viewer can just sit back and escape into it. That said, a lot of people have different tastes when it comes to what makes a good and engaging movie.

For some people, realism is one of the best traits to be found in a movie. Movies like ‘American Sniper’, the true story of war hero Chris Kyle evidences this. Then there are people on the other end of the spectrum, and they want pure fantasy, and the huge success of movies like ‘The Avengers’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchise is proof of this. Some people prefer there to be a meaningful message in the movie like in ‘Waiting for Superman’.

Then there are those that just want mindless entertainment and humor in their movies, like ‘Ted’. Each style of film making can make a particular movie unique and good in their own way. As a people, we’ve always been enthralled with storytelling, regardless of the medium, and movies provide a great platform to showcase different stories in a compelling way.

Everyone has different tastes. I myself prefer fantasy and a lack of realism. I’ve always had the mindset that if I wanted true crime or war, I’d watch the news. For me, it’s more compelling to watch Thor try and fight the Hulk in Avengers than anything I can find in real life. I like to find escapism in mine movies, and I can’t when they’re showing the horrors of the real world. Of course not everyone thinks that way, but that’s not important. What is important, is that life can be hard, stressful, and enough to drive some people crazy. In those moments of craziness, it’s important to find parts of life where you can find that escapism.

Regardless of your personal tastes, a great movie can be a great way to leave the turmoil of the real world behind you.

The Best Clown and Prince of Crime

Joker vs. Joker

Nowadays with The Dark Knight having established itself in the eyes of many as being the best Batman film, Heath Ledger is in turn considered to be the best Joker. I’ve always thought that was more up for debate than many though. To me, Jack Nicholson was just as good, but the issue was that they played entirely different characters. Part of the issue with adapting a classic character like the Joker who has been around for 75 years now, is that there have just been so many versions of the clown prince of crime.

Heath Ledger’s Joker was crazy to the point that you could argue that he wasn’t even necessarily evil. As he said to Harvey Dent, he’s just like a dog chasing cars, simply doing things without terribly dwelling on them. He’s probably about 80% crazy, and 20% evil. He’s simply a force of chaos, and views the universe as being equally chaotic and thusly tries to impose that worldview on everyone else. This Joker is simply a homicidal sociopath with self-destructive tendencies, deep down wanting to die, as could be seen when he was urging Batman to take him out during their game of chicken in the street. I think that Ledger’s Joker, probably stemming from trauma in his character’s past, is deeply self-loathing and wants to die. This would fit with the Joker as seen in Alan Moore’s classic ‘The Killing Joke’ where he seeks to prove that all it takes is one bad day to break a man, with the implication being that he himself was broken. Though he tried to break Commissioner Gordon in the comic, Harvey Dent filled that role in the movie.

Jack Nicholson’s Joker was quite different. His character is probably 80% evil and 20% crazy. Seen as a well-educated career criminal with specialties in chemistry, he became the joker not through face paint and self-mutilation, but through falling into a vat of chemicals that disfigured him and made him crazy. This Joker is a vain narcissist with a fondness for art and power, as well as an overwhelming urge to show the denizens of Gotham that he is the best freak in town. This version of the character is more reflective of the classic Joker from the 40’s all the way until the 80’s when the movie was made.

The Joker was always smart and crazy, and he certainly killed people, but he also typically had clear goals just like Nicholson’s did, whereas Ledger’s didn’t. He just wanted the world to burn.

Denzel Dominates New Poster for ‘Safe House’

A new movie poster for the upcoming Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds film Safe House has hit the web. The trailer is also available, and it’s embedded below.

While it’s nice to Denzel back in an ass-kicking action role (let’s just forget about those silly train movies), I rather wish they would have been a bit more creative with the poster design.

This is a terrible poster. Sure, Denzel’s face is enough to entice some fans into theaters, but Ryan Reynolds is sharing the top billing. It’s an action-espionage movie, and the best the designers could come up with is this?!

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New Year’s Eve Movie Poster – Sucks

Total disclosure: I love ensemble-cast movies. Seven Samurai, Ocean’s 11, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects….even He’s Just Not That Into You. I love all of these films.

I even like Garry Marshall, the man directing the upcoming movie New Year’s Eve. I thought his last ensemble movie, Valentine’s Day, was fun and entertaining.

New Year’s Eve features another giant ensemble cast, and with this many big names on the marquee, I’m sure it was hard to come up with a fair poster design.

But this? This just…sucks.

There’s no need to have both the names at the top, plus all the head shots taking up the bulk of the poster. What’s worse, they had to balance out the bottom row with two images NOT of the actors.

It feels clumsy and crowded and doesn’t make me want to rush into theaters to see the movie.

The movie trailers look cute enough, and the jokes seem solid. The setting of New Year’s Eve is something we’re all familiar with: excitement, nervousness, planning, frustration – even depression.

So why not play on those emotions to drag people into the theater? Why in the hell did they think 18 headshots squeezed onto a movie poster was a good idea?

Here’s the ensemble cast, just for the record: Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Seth Meyers, Lea Michele, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Til Schweiger, Hilary Swank and Sofia Vergara.

The movie hits theaters on December 9th in the US and UK.

Let’s hope the movie turns out better than the poster!

‘Night of the Living Dead’ Custom Silkscreen Print

Today I came across this incredible silkscreen design for Night of the Living Dead. This print was created by the exceptionally talented Grzegorz Domaradzki, and it’s available for sale here. It’s a limited edition print run, and each 24×36″ print is hand-numbered.

Here’s what Domaradzki has to say about his art:

“My work often tends to veer towards darker themes, so when I was presented with the chance to pay tribute to Romero’s classic, I jumped at the opportunity. Conceptually, I wanted to do something different, something that wouldn’t be obviously apparent upon first glance. I arranged the composition in a way that the characters worked together to create the shape of a skull, the symbol of death. It took time to get just right, but in the end the result is just as I had visualized.”

Puss in Boots Final Movie Poster

We’re now less a month away from the long-awaited Puss in Boots movie – the Shrek spinoff that maybe should have been about Donkey instead (personal opinion).

Nevertheless, the Antonio Banderas-voiced Puss was very entertaining in the original movies, and I have high hopes that this film will be the same.

Today the final poster for Puss in Boots arrived, via MSN. The movie arrives in 2D and 3D theaters on October 28th in the US, and December 9 in the UK.