Archive for November, 2011

Ah, the ranking of our antiheroes. So how did things end up?

Averaging out their votes (1 as least heroic, 5 as most heroic):

  • Nancy (Weeds): 2.14
  • Walter (Breaking Bad): 3.5
  • Dexter: 4

Placed in context with the other heroes we’ve ranked so far, here’s our the total census:

  • Sleeping Beauty: 1.63
  • Snow White: 2
  • Nancy: 2.14
  • Ariel: 3
  • Cinderella: 3.13
  • Walter: 3.5
  • Belle: 3.56
  • Jasmine: 4/ Dexter: 4

Ha. Yesterday, I wrote about the bandits slain by Theseus. Bandits, it seems, come in many villainous forms and obstruct many strange paths.

Cracked.com had the following story up yesterday as well. Their #1 dick move in the history of online gaming was attributed to World of Warcraft’s Angwe—an in-game PvP bandit who “camped a bottlenecked route into Menethil Harbor, the only path to a couple of mid-level Alliance destinations, and murdered every single person who passed every single time they tried.”

I’d never heard of Angwe, myself. But I’m sure Theseus would have taken good care of him.

Theseus, Then and Now

Posted: November 28, 2011 in Heroes
Tags: , ,

 

Eat more chicken.

Quick, what monster did Theseus kill in the original myth?

If you answered the minotaur, you’re right of course.

There are however other acceptable answers. I’d forgotten the story about the bandit who would “fit” his victims onto a bed—if they were too short, he would stretch them; if they were too tall, he would chop off their feet. Being the villain that he was, he had two beds handy to make sure his victims couldn’t fit either one.

It was Theseus who defeated this bandit (Procrustes: worst name since Gladiator’s Commodus). He also defeated more such bandits and fiends, each located at six entrances to the underworld (including Pityokamptes, who would tie his victims between two bent pine trees and then snap them apart; and Periphetes “the clubber,” who literally beat his victims into the ground).

Theseus defeated all bandits he met—and still more adversaries besides. He took on the Crommyonian Sow, the Marathonian Bull, and the Minotaur. Like Hercules, Theseus had a string of victories to his name, befitting such a legendary figure. He was a superhero.

Yet several of those victories would instantly remove Theseus from our modern-day concept of hero.

In The Immortals, Theseus is a fairly chaste figure. He cares for his mother until she’s killed (which drives his quest for vengeance). Later on, he sleeps with the equally chaste oracle (Frieda Pinto, of Slumdog Millionaire fame), displaying the sly embarrassment afterward of a high school kid laid for the first time. But together, Theseus and the oracle are partners. The oracle bears him a child, who will carry on Theseus’ legacy after the hero has found mortal death and achieved a kind of apotheosis.

In the original myth, however, Theseus unfortunately adds to his resume by abducting several women—treating them more as trophies and adversaries then anything else. A few are even recurring characters from myth: Medea (from Jason and the Argonauts) tries to poison him. He abducts Helen (yes, that Helen). He also abducts Hippolyta, the Amazonian queen, who Hercules would later abduct as well, and then hastily kill.

In fact, it was Hercules who would rescue Theseus from no less than Hades itself. He could not, however, rescue Theseus from his ultimate fate—being thrown off a cliff while in exile.

The rise and inglorious fall (no pun intended) of a hero… much different than the clean “arc” of The Immortals.

Melancholia

Posted: November 28, 2011 in Stories
Tags: ,

Last week, I reviewed The Immortals. This weekend, I caught Melancholia (which does sound like a disease, doesn’t it?). Here’s my two second review:

Don’t watch it. They should have dropped that planet on Kirsten Dunst’s head 5 minutes into the film, and saved me the remaining 131 minutes.

And now, hopefully, I’ve saved you from this dreary misery as well.

Despite the poster, not that necessary to experience in 3D.

This past weekend I caught The Immortals. Here’s my 2 minute review. 

The Good

I was drawn to the movie because I’ve loved the director—also of The Fall, and for his visuals in The Cell. The visuals here are no less impressive. Theseus’ Greek village on the side of a cliff was like some ancient version of Santorini. 

Plus, Mickey Rourke played the hell out of a fairly one-dimensional villain. He made that role, chewing fruits and nuts instead of the scenery, but to much the same effect. A villain who castrates a new recruit with a giant crocket mallet, and locks his prisoners inside a brazen bull makes for a memorably awful opponent to root against. 

The Bad

The story was tepid. Mickey Rourke’s King Hyperion wants a magic bow to release the titans, because they have the power to kill the gods, or something. He doesn’t like the gods because they didn’t save his family, or something. (Just as petulantly, another character doesn’t care much for the gods after he prayed for a horse and didn’t get one. Curse you, gods!) Straightforward enough, I suppose, but in execution there just wasn’t much energy behind this story to invest me into it emotionally. 

And for a movie about Greek mythology, it would’ve been great to have had some, you know, mythological elements to it (aside from some tweeny-looking gods). Not that they had to recreate Clash of the Titans, but for a movie with such gorgeous visuals, not more fully exploring the mythos felt like a serious lacking. I liked their version of Theseus defeating the minotaur, but what else might they have done? Likewise, not that they had to create a mythological version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (though that would be awesome), but why not use other heroes to populate Theseus’s party instead of nameless characters made up for the movie? 

Same with the gods and the titans. Just because they can fight faster than normal mortals does not make them more compelling. These are the gods! Show off what else they can do besides simply fight in “bullet time”. 

The Ugly

These are ticky-tack complaints, but they pulled me out of the movie. 

First, in the scene with Theseus rallying the troops (which I’ll get to a moment), the troops are shown clashing their swords against shields. One troop, quite visible in the front, has clashed the metallic facing right off his plastic shield. It looked ridiculous. 

Second, in a scene with Theseus recovering from a fight, he lies on the ground and peels off his armor. Except the armor doesn’t fall away like the metal breastplate it’s supposed to be, it literally peels off like the rubberized costume it actually is. 

Again, minor stuff, but silly. 

And Finally

One of my pet peeves in movies are those scenes where the hero rallies the troops. I don’t find them motivating. I find them gratuitous to the point of embarrassing; and in many cases, the troops have never met the hero in the first place. Why would they ever listen to this guy? 

Braveheart had this pivotal scene, with Mel Gibson rallying the troops to fight for their freedom. Of course, that was a key point to the entire movie. Since then, however, far, far too many movies have tried their own version of this scene, whether just aping Braveheart and/or playing up the fight for “freedom” in a post 9/11 world. (Star Wars Episode III even mirrored the “you’re either with us or against us” language of the time, albeit said by a rapidly emerging Darth Vader). 

I find it a cheap grab for audience loyalty, and I’ve never cared for it. One point I will make about The Immortals, though. While they did include this scene, instead of fighting for freedom, Theseus implored the troops to fight for honor. That at least made better sense to me in a historical context.

Saturday night, I made it to the Paramount Theater here in Seattle and caught a charity event for the MONA foundation. At the start of the show, Phoenix Jones—Seattle’s local superhero—appeared in costume. He took his mask off in dramatic fashion to reveal his true identity—Rainn Wilson (Dwight, from The Office).

Rainn Wilson was the MC, hosting a night of music (Visqueen, the Decemberists, Andy Grammer) and comedy (Chris Platt from Parks & Recreation, Mindy Kalling from The Office). During the show, Rainn even waxed nostalgic about his days playing weekend marathon sessions of D&D in his friend’s basements.

Even cooler was when the real Phoenix Jones appeared on stage to talk about the life of a true-life superhero versus a comic book superhero. Case in point: gadgets.

Batman has great gadgets. (As the Joker himself wonders, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”) Now, thanks to the internet, Phoenix Jones can order his own gadgets. Such as a net-gun. Which sounds awesome… in theory.

In practice, not so awesome.

Running down a bike theft on Capitol Hill, Phoenix deployed his net-gun to capture the escaping thief. Only, running at top speed means you’re actually moving faster than the net can deploy. Phoenix ran right into his own net.

Lying on the ground, Phoenix first asked a drunken bystander to free him from his net. The bystander refused. That left Phoenix to try and roll himself down the street and into an alley before the police arrived.

Unfortunately, they still found him. The pictures they took, they said, were for evidence.

I love this story, and I love Phoenix Jones even more for telling it. When it comes to comic book superheroes, I think we mostly read about exploits where they’re either outright victorious or suffer temporary defeats. Very rarely do we get stories where the superhero simply fucks up. I think that would be refreshing, actually—it would give them a greater sense of humanity. It’s why I liked Kick-Ass so much.

We like our superheroes because they are super—they are often the living embodiments of our wish fulfillment. (Wish you were stronger? Braver? Could fly?) But they are also heroes and not our demigods. They are still meant to be human (metaphorically at times, Kal-El), or else we would not relate to them.

Heroes should also make mistakes.

So here are the results of our highly scientific, unimpeachable measurement of heroes: averaging out his votes, Dexter scored a 3.5—above Cinderella (3.16) and just below Belle from Beauty and the Beast (3.56). Apologies if those are slightly emasculating comparisons, Dexter, but those are our only data points so far. 

There are also two other characters similar to Dexter that come to mind. They are both antiheroes. 

Having said that, I’d first like to revise my definition of what an antihero is—my wife suggested that it’s a person who does the right thing for the wrong reason. However, I would now also suggest that it’s a person who does the wrong thing for the right reason. 

Case in point: Walter White from Breaking Bad, and Nancy Botwin from Weeds

Both have decided to become drug manufacturers/dealers in order to help out their families. For Walter, dying of terminal cancer, he parlays his job as a high school chemistry teacher into making meth; at the start of the show he has a pregnant wife and a child with cerebral palsy to plan for. For Nancy, after her husband dies and leaves them in financial jeopardy, she turns to dealing pot in order to provide for her own children. 

Both Walter and Nancy are the protagonists of the show. They are also presented as its heroes, of a sort—they overcome obstacles, displaying certain heroic virtues (resourcefulness, bravery, etc.) and defeating opponents who display villainous traits (ruthlessness, dishonesty, etc.). But clearly they are more antiheroes than true heroes. Like Dexter, they must also stay ahead of the law (similar to Robin Hood). And while Dexter only kills those who deserve it (to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger justifying himself in True Lies, “Yeah, but they were all bad.”), Walter and Nancy are distributing drugs into their communities. We can certainly assume that at least some of it is not just going to “bad people.” 

They make for interesting characters. They are out for the good of their family—if they were out purely for their self interests alone, we would harbor no sympathy for them or their actions (it’s a fine line that Tony Soprano walks). But they are doing the wrong thing for the rights reasons. 

So let me ask the same question of them. How heroic are they? 1 being the least and 5 being the most heroic.

And Then There Was Dexter

Posted: November 18, 2011 in Heroes
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“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

And Dexter. The time has come to talk about him.

For a blog aimed at heroes and monsters, it was inevitable that we’d finally come around to Dexter.

I thought he was an undertaker.

I am not a strong follower of the show—I’ve seen the first season, and felt that I’d seen enough, at least enough to get the gist: Dexter’s a serial killer who confines himself to murdering only other killers. Plus, he’s a cop, which gives him an inside angle on who to kill. Each episode (at least that first season), he’d catch a one-off killer while the season-long killer’s story would slowly unfold. I’m guessing this is more or less a similar pattern for the later seasons.

I thought it was a decent enough show. I do think that much of the allure comes from the premise more than the character—after all, Dexter is virtually emotionless, so we’re really following him more for his rationalizing of his actions (and, in detached way, asking us what we would do in each given situation) rather than to his emotional responses (as we might a more “normal” character). It’s certainly a kind of wish fulfillment: the bad guys do not escape justice; they are instead killed, gruesomely, in the end.

My question for the blog, of course, is if Dexter qualifies as a hero (or anti-hero). As with the Disney princesses (whoever thought Dexter would ever share a category with them?), on a scale of 1-5, how much of a hero is Dexter?

A Super-Proposition

Posted: November 17, 2011 in Heroes
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It's an offer you can't refuse.

The other week, we were sitting around talking about heroes at work. (It’s the kind of conversation that takes place at Wizards; I still remember the discussion about what would be the best super power to have if you needed to move.) The question came up if there were any unlikable superheroes, and someone mentioned that these would largely be the anti-heroes.

What’s an anti-hero. Arguably, a darker version of a hero—an unlikely or unwilling hero, almost. A hero on the outskirts. That can mean someone like Kick-Ass. Or, as my wife said, it can also mean someone who does the right thing but for the wrong reasons.

Superman is clearly a hero. He does the right thing for the right reasons (truth, justice, and the American way). He is handsome, courageous, and forthright. In fact, his weaknesses (Kryptonite aside) includes his honesty—Superman literally cannot lie, perhaps embodying George Washington’s supposed trait, another of our American heroes.

Batman, on the other hand, is an anti-hero. He is dark, furtive. True, he is also handsome and courageous. (There may be unlikable superheroes, but are there any truly ugly superheroes? The Thing, I suppose). But Batman hunts after criminals more for a personal sense of justice than for the betterment of society. He cleans up the streets because it’s satisfying to him to do so. His weakness (Robin aside) includes the unwillingness to use a gun—more of a concession to the Comic Book Code than to any realistic conceit behind the character. (If there was a realistic version, he would probably be closer to The Punisher, a Death Wish-type of hero). Without a gun, Batman is left to simply beat criminals to a pulp with his bare fists. And he loves it.

There’s one “hero” I haven’t gotten to yet, but plan on discussing tomorrow. He’s definitely a strange but undeniable member of the anti-hero category.

Until then, I’d also like to go back to my Dream of Superman. This was a dream I wrote about a few weeks ago, where Superman visited me and asked if I would take over his role—for ten years, I would gain all of his powers, but at the end of that time, I would die.

A tempting offer.

What about you. Would you take it?

Yesterday, I wrote about the new Snow White movie—Snow White and the Huntsman. Looks good. Good enough for me to buy a ticket, exactly what a trailer needs to do, I suppose.

As well as the movie’s update to Snow White, there’s also the update to the evil queen. Compared to the original, I suppose it answers the question of how a vile queen could continue to lay claim to the title of “fairest in the land” for so long. Now we know—she does it by sucking the life out of innocent young girls. It’s a cool, dark premise, and seems to draw from historical serial killer Elizabeth Bathory said toy have bathed in the blood of young girls. 650 young girls, according to legend. (I appreciate the fact that she was imprisoned by being bricked up inside a set of rooms.) Instead of blood, however, Snow White’s evil queen appears to bath in milk of magnesium. Probably very good for her skin.

Apparently, it’s not even the only Snow White movie in the works, either. There’s also Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts in the role of the evil queen. Even more of interest to me is that it’s directed by Tarsem Singh, who also directed one of favorite movies in recent years, The Fall.

I haven’t heard much of this, except that it too is a darker version of the fairy tale (of course, the originals were plenty dark), and looking at the IMDB cast, the seven dwarfs have been given new, non-Disney names: Butcher, Grimm, Half-Pint, Grubb, Wolf, Chuckles, and Napoleon. (Updated: Darker? Judging from the trailer, this is as campy a version as it gets. Not looking too promising after all.)

Back in October, I wrote about vampires, werewolves, and zombies—asking what monster might become the next trope. Well, we seem to have our answer. It’s not a monster at all. It’s fairy tales. Once Upon a Time, Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror… not only is it fairy tales in general, but Snow White in particular. What is it about Hollywood latching on to very specific themes? (Even when I was a kid, I remember a spate of body-switching movies, ala Freaky Friday). Is it the equivalent of opening two competing chain stores across from one another?

Of course, there’s an absolute wealth of fairy tales to choose from. So, I suppose the real prediction is not what monster become the next trope, but what fairy tale.