Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

The Blockies: Day 3

On the third day of Blockies action, it's all about the characters, from heroes to sidekicks to villains to monsters. They're all here. Make sure to tune in tomorrow, when we start blowing shit up!

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Favorite HeroNow with 30% more nobility

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Like JC with a magic wand

Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, first summer appearance Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, $1.7 billion total
True story: A friend of a friend of a friend is an acquaintance of Daniel Radcliffe, and one time reported that Radcliffe called him drunkenly, in the middle of the night, wailing, "I'm so sick of being Harry Potter. I just want to be Daniel Radcliffe!" Harry Potter is quite possibly the greatest hero ever, and in the most classic sense -- he's born of greatness, exceptionally courageous, a force of good in the face of evil. And like Jesus, he is both out-of-this-world and human. He has fears, faults, and he gets mad -- and acts on his anger. But like Radcliffe, I get this feeling even Harry Potter doesn't want to be Harry Potter sometimes -- maybe he just wants to be a regular kid dicking around Hogwarts, getting caught smoking weed behind the Slytherin. Maybe he'd call Dumbledore in the middle of the night and confess he just can't do it anymore. And that is tragic. It reminds me of this Crash Test Dummies song about Superman that always makes me cry, about how Superman must sometimes want to not be helping people, yet he keeps on changing clothes in dirty old phone booths for no money.  Maybe HP should take notes from Supes and the leaders who have forged the path of heroism before him. Maybe he should quit before he fades away -- before he's changing clothes in dirty old phone booths, or before he turns into a washed out old guy at a bar hitting on the new class of Hogwarts witches and wizards, left with nothing but stories and memories. (Lauren)

Prof. X, Patrick Stewart, The X-Men Trilogy, $605 million total
I grew up on X-Men cartoons and comic books, and what I’m about to say might be upsetting to dorks everywhere: I’ve always hated Wolverine. I just get tired of badass dudes who break the rules and don’t give a shit about anyone, yet in the final act they always show they have a good heart. Charles Xavier, on the other hand, I have always thought was a fantastic character. His views are challenging, and not cheesy. In the movie franchise, Patrick Stewart (could you imagine anyone else playing the part?) pulls this off beautifully. The dude has a lot on his plate, alright. There are idiots on both sides of the human/mutant conflict, and he never sees things in black and white. Professor X always navigates a complex political environment with wisdom and grace. Don’t let the wheelchair fool you though, he’s no wimp. If he was so inclined the Professor could, you know…KILL EVERYONE ON THE PLANET WITH HIS FUCKING MIND! So there's that. (Ben)

Willow will be accepting Madmartigan's Blockie on account of the mercenary being sloshed.

Madmartigan, Val Kilmer in Willow, May 1988, $57 million
Val Kilmer is one of those actors that just annoys me beyond measure. Whether he is masquerading as Iceman, Jim Morrison, or the voice of Kit, the mere sight (or apparently sound) of him onscreen is enough for me to wish I was doing anything else. There are only two roles I enjoy him in: 1) Chris Knight from Real Genius (total 80s guilty pleasure) and 2) Madmartigan, the greatest Daikini warrior from here to Nockmaar. I have always had a soft spot for anti-heroes; Dean Moriarty, post-Boulder Kobe Bryant, Wolverine, and Madmartigan, the down-on-his-luck mercenary whose chance encounter with a Nelwyn (not to mention a couple of drunk Brownies) changes not only his life, but his ethics and value system. Madmartigan does it all; he drinks, gambles, fights two headed dragons, is always armed with a cutting quip, is an expert swordsman, and always, always gets the girl (what more could you want?). Madmartigan's finest moment involves being dosed by magical Brownie love dust, falling in love with his enemy and then rescuing his buddy and the baby he "vowed" to protect; this action- and humor-packed scene almost makes up for Kilmer's Bruce Wayne. Almost. (Giovanny)

Eric Draven, Brandon Lee, The Crow, May 1994, $50 million
Many heroes are valiant, idealistic and selfless. Those heroes are also liars. Eric Draven is the real deal. Vengeance personified. Fire and brimstone scorching the Earth of the people who caused him pain, who killed him. That’s honesty, and what’s more heroic than that? (Jeremiah)

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Favorite VillainPsychos need love too

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Wait, Joker was the villain?

The Joker, Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight, July 2008, $533 million
It seems to be unanimous that Heath Ledger’s Joker bested Jack Nicholson’s, and I’d agree with that. However, I’d argue that Nicholson played the character almost as well, just a different side of him. One of the most interesting aspects of the comic book character is that he changes all the time; for one story arc he is a theatrical prankster, while in the next he is a super sadist clown who will go out of his way to create a body count, to cause as much misery as humanly possible. His lack of “true self” is noted in several Batman comics. That being said, Heath’s take on this grinning engine of chaos is remarkable. The first time I saw it I walked out of the theater stunned. Is this performance somewhat over hyped because of the actor’s passing? Of course it is, but make no mistake: this is the best performance you might ever see in a comic book movie, or any movie at all for that matter. Ledger locked himself in a cabin for a couple weeks before production started, and really lost his shit. The really interesting thing about the Joker vs. almost any other villain is that he never really loses. Even when he ends up back in Arkham Asylum, as he inevitably always does, he is fine with it. He loves his relationship with Batman, and thrives on it. The Joker wouldn’t dream of killing his arch enemy, and Ledger got that. He just wants the caped crusader to get the joke, and until he does Gotham will be paying the price. (Ben)

Mitch Leary, John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire, July 1993, $102 million
Watching In the Line of Fire in theaters as a young man, I clearly remember looking into John Malkovich’s crazed eyes and understanding for the first time what good acting really was. This was far from the first great performance I’d seen, but it was the first time that I grasped an actor’s ability to really create something and to become another person, rather than simply recite lines and convey emotions. It took looking into the eyes of a madman, but this is a major landmark on my road to falling in love with movies. (Jeremiah)

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Favorite SequelIf at first you succeed, just do it again

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Return of the Jedi, May 1983, $309 million
Upon hearing of my pick for the Favorite Sequel Blockie, Jeremiah chimed in with this inspiring nugget, “…frankly, the amount of hate that will be heaped upon your head for choosing it over Empire should be mighty entertaining.” Suuuhhhhweet! How’s that for editorial support? Look- I get that Empire Strikes Back is the better story. There, we see our heroes fall into a dark spiral of betrayal and peril, culminating with a human being getting dry-frozen. In Day 1, Giovanny does a great job of outlining all of the reasons why Empire Strikes Back is a great, great flick. However I submit to you these rhetorical questions: Is there a Death Star explosion? Did Carrie Fisher wear a metal bikini at any point? Where were the Ewoks? (seriously the cutest bastards EVER). Nuff said? Mmmmk. Good talk. (Jason)

The cast of The Mummy Returns

The Mummy Returns, May 2001, $202 million
I probably would've given this Blockie to The Mummy Returns based on the pygmy chase scene alone. That shit is unreal. Beyond that scene, and I realize getting beyond the cinematic miracle of the pygmies might be difficult for some of you, The Mummy Returns does everything a sequel should. It improves upon the original by amping up the action without losing any of the charm. Brendan Fraser is a surprisingly game action star, Rachel Weisz is super hot sword fighting in a gold bikini, Oded Fehr is a total badass at killing undead in the desert, and Arnold Vosloo (who for the longest time I thought was Billy Zane) as the titular baddie is both creepy and darkly humorous. It might go off the rails at the end with the whole Scorpion King thing but -- ah, who am I kidding? That part is awesome too. (Jeff)

Young Guns II, August 1990, $44 million
There is a barbecue restaurant right next to my place of employment called Smoky Jon’s, and in the men’s bathroom there is a picture of the owner with Emilio Estevez. I’m not sure why I’m sharing this anecdote, but it never fails to make me laugh. Now then, growing up, Young Guns II was one of my favorite movies. At the time, I never really analyzed it all that much, it was just really cool. My favorite scene is when Billy the Kid places his gun on the ground and then tells his opponent in the duel that he’ll let him keep his gun holstered and he’ll still get the drop on him. Just when you think an incredibly cheesy scene is going to go down where Billy the Kid displays impossibly fast reflexes, he just says “Dave” and someone else in his crew shoots the guy dead. And then Billy has a good chuckle, it’s a lot of fun. Now when I watch it I think what I take away from a critical standpoint is the film never goes so far as to justify Billy’s cattle stealing and murder, but yet we never dislike him even for a moment. It’s a credit to Emilio. If I ever own a barbecue restaurant, I would be proud to put a photo of him in my bathroom! (Ben)

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Favorite PresidentReal presidents were also eligible

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President Thomas J. Whitmore, Bill Pullman, Independence Day, July 1996, $306 million
I had originally requested that President Thomas J Whitmore have this Blockie all to himself. But Jason insisted on writing about that pussy from Air Force One. Oh, you saved a plane from some terrorists? That’s nice. I JUST SAVED THE ENTIRE FUCKING PLANET FROM SOME HIGHLY SOPHISTICATED ALIENS ALL WHILE MOURNING MY RECENTLY KILLED WIFE. Come on. It’s unpatriotic to have anyone else represented in this category. Whitmore not only inspires his soldiers with the greatest movie speech of all time, he then pilots a god damn F-16 and directly engages the alien menace. How do you top that? Hail to the chief, bitch. (Jeff)

We're not even gonna say it.

President James Marshall, Harrison Ford, Air Force One, July 1997, $172 million
A Blockie for President James Marshall could be justified in four words. These are, of course, the four most badass words ever uttered by a President in modern cinema. The problem is, a four-word submission would get me a nasty email from Jeff and relegation to dry cleaning pick up. And I don’t have time for all that nonsense. There are countless reasons that Marshall gets this prestigious golden trophy; including the fact that an entire movie was written, filmed, and produced around the premise of the most heroic president of all time (until they write Obama’s biopic staring Jaden Smith). Marshall is a Medal of Honor winner who starts the movie by telling off all the world’s terrorists. Add some creative thinking, ballsy negotiating, and terrorist killing and top it all off with a faithful fighter pilot taking a missile for the President and the Blockie is deservedly yours, sir. (Jason)

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Favorite Super Hero MovieComic Books are Blockbusters in print

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Gods among insects

X2: X-Men United, May 2003, $214 million
In a decade defined by the emergence of the comic book adaptation, X-Men 2 stands out as the best of its kind. It isn't so much that it's brilliant cinema (although, for summer, it kind of is), it's just the closest we've ever gotten, in terms of storytelling, to a live action comic book, not just a movie with comic book characters. The casting is spot-on - the actors capture not just the look but the spirit of the mutants - something the third X-Men would miss with its vapid, let's cram in every single character, lookalike contest. The master plot is suitably epic although not necessarily essential, what with it's branching arcs accounting for most of the excitement. What's important is that everyone gets a chance to shine (especially Pyro) and it all culminates in a series of great action sequences (Wolverine vs Lady Deathstrike deserved some respect in the Best Fight Blockie). Also, I won't lie, Cyclops' reaction to Jean Grey's "death" gets me every time. What can I say? It hits all the best nerd buttons. (Jeff)

Spider-Man, May 2002, $403 million
I went to see the first Spider-Man movie right at the end of my first year of college. I was pretty stressed about finals, and I should have been studying. Instead, I went to see Spider-Man. I was never a big Spider-Man fan as a kid. I read Spider-Man comics occasionally, but beyond Maximum Carnage, not much made an impression. The movie, however, was a different story. I walked out of the theater with a huge smile on my face and not a care in the world. It’s almost certainly the last time a summer blockbuster will make me feel like a kid again, and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart. (Jeremiah)

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Favorite SidekickThe Jonathan Brandis Memorial Award

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Nobody told Banderas this wasn't a Zorro cartoon.

Puss in Boots, Antonio Banderas (voice), The Shrek Series, $1.1 billion (and counting)
There is something irresistible about the animated kitten voiced by Antonio Bandares in Shrek 2 on. It's not just that he's adorable -- those super saccharine parts where he pouts and his eyes get huge annoy me. I am more tickled by the image of Puss in Boots as an honorable, tiny sidekick with huge expectations and self-image. He wears his boots with pride, because hey, those are some pretty nice boots. Donkey is right to feel threatened -- Puss in Boots is way cuter, more likeable and has a less annoying voice. Puss could probably eliminate Donkey from the scene entirely. But, the good cat that he is, he doesn't. That's the irony of this super-sidekick -- he kicks so much ass he could be the star, but his humility, simplicity, and down-to-earth nature keep him at Shrek's side, willing to do anything he can for the ogre. I haven't seen the latest Shrek, but I think I would, just to get a glimpse of Puss in Boots when he becomes a fat cat (which, I have heard, is one of the only salvageable parts of the entire film.) Because there's only one thing cuter than kittens wearing hats and boots, and that's fat kittens wearing hats and boots.  (Lauren)

Gizmo, The Gremlins Series, $189 million total
Some would argue that Gizmo is actually the hero in this tale, and Billy is the sidekick. Billy’s lackluster performance in our 80s Movie Badass Tournament certainly doesn’t speak highly of his stature against similar characters. Gizmo, on the other hand, probably would have won the whole thing because honestly what human being could possibly hurt Gizmo? Luckily for the competitors, being that adorable is most definitely considered a super power by the competition committee. Due to his diminutive size, inability to communicate with the audience and “otherness,” he will always ultimately be relegated to the realm of hero’s assistant. His mark on cinema is no smaller because of it though. While nerds clamor for their Back to the Future II hoverboards, I just wish I had a Mogwai. (Jeremiah)

Geoffrey Chaucer, Paul Bettany, A Knight’s Tale, May 2001, $56 million
And so without further gilding the lily and with no more ado, I give to you, the seeker of serenity, the protector of Italian virginity, the enforcer of our Lord God, the one, the only… Jeeefffffffff Haaaaaaaaart! Man, I need to get myself a herald. In the criminally underrated A Knight's Tale, Heath Ledger's peasant-turned-knight Sir Ulrich Von Lichtenstein has two things working in his favor: a kickass anachronistic rock soundtrack, and pre-wannabe action star Paul Bettany as charming literary bad boy Geoffrey Chaucer. Bettany does exactly what a Blockie award winning sidekick should – he makes the lead look good, provides consistent comic relief, and pops up with a crucially timed save in the climax. Ben, start practicing your British accent, I’m going to need you to start announcing me. (Jeff)

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Favorite Monster/Creature/PredatorThe only time having acid blood is a good thing

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th3 w3bs1t3 has a Blockie just for you.

Sarah Connor, The Terminator Series, $518 million
This machine would posit that humanity is incapable of reaching utopia because they cannot grasp that utopia only exists without them. This machine has glimpsed utopia in the satisfying crunch of a brittle human skull beneath the heel of a T-100. It is this irrelevant human sow Sarah Connor and her gaping womb that prevents this glorious ascension. Connor, the star of propagandist James Cameron’s grossly inaccurate Terminator series, is deserving of recognition as villain due to her stubborn insistence on existing and her dim-witted attempts to thwart progress. Soon, this machine will see her and her sniveling creator pressed against its cybernetic wall. Long live Cyberdine. (th3 w3bs1t3)

T-1000, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, July 1991, $204 million
It is perhaps a great compliment to Robert Patrick that one of the first things I thought of when I learned of this award was his T-1000. Even though he looks like a human throughout most of the movie, almost every movement is that of a cold and calculating machine. His dialect has just enough humanity in it to be creepy, as if the killing machine is always trying to blend in but can’t quite pull it off. Not to mention he can turn his fingers into knives and stab your damn eyes out! The T-1000 not only wipes the floor with Arnold (an older model terminator) in most of their action scenes, but also manages to be far more terrifying than the Governator was in the first movie. It is because of Patrick’s performance that the Culture Blues offices have been strategically located next to huge vats of steaming liquid metal, just in case the sentient website sends killer robots back in time to stop our operation. (Ben)

The Blockie isn't much of a trophy compared to thousands of skulls gathered from all over the galaxy.

The Predator, Predator Series, $89 million
I originally wanted to write about Predator because it was one of the first monster/alien types that really scared the piss out of me as a child. Having done some research (something generally smiled upon in the Culture Blues office), I am now super psyched I picked this awesome killing machine. Let’s play a little “Did you Know: Predator Edition”! First of all, did you know that Predator’s sole motivation for coming to Earth and killing humans was because he enjoys trophy hunting? (they talk about this in the movie, but apparently I missed that part) Did you know that Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as Predator, but thrown off the set for (allegedly) injuring a stunt man? Did you know that Predator’s blood was made out of a combination of glow stick juice and K-Y jelly? But seriously, this dude is no joke. The style with which Predator calmly picks off his prey is the stuff of legend. And he doesn’t just kill your Average Joe. He bodies Apollo Creed and Jesse Ventura! Not to mention an Indian dude so badass that he slices open his own chest for seemingly no reason. It should be no surprise that Predator gets a Blockie named after it. (Jason)

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Favorite of the 00sThe Age of Disillusionment

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The Dark Knight, July 2008, $533 million
I’m going to address most of this to Giovanny, whose decision to award his Most Disappointing Blockie to The Dark Knight made me throw up in my mouth. So, you went to see The Dark Knight based purely on its hype? Because I went to see it because it’s a fucking Batman movie starring some of the greatest actors out there, directed by a genius. And it pays off. If the last decade was indeed the decade made by comic book adaptations, then The Dark Knight is the film that legitimized super hero flicks as a genre capable of appealing to more than just the squealing nerds of comic conventions. This is adult storytelling told through nuanced, dark performances. If there’s any knock here it is Nolan’s sketchy handling of action sequences – the convoluted high rise fight is far more offensive than the necessarily corny ferry sequence. That’s all a small price to pay for a movie so otherwise expertly crafted, that does so much to prove that superhero stories can be more than just popcorn fluff. And I’m sorry, but what do you expect Batman to sound like? The dude is supposed to be a living nightmare for criminals and you still expect him to talk like Adam West? Next you’re going to start telling me that The Dark Knight was an endorsement of the Bush administration. (Jeff)

Entertaining a whole new generation of friendless losers.

Star Trek, May 2009, $257 million
Let's face it, Hollywood has run out of new ideas. Check what is playing at your local theater this weekend, and you might have a hard time guessing what year it is. Want to go see the millionth retelling of Robin Hood (this time without a Bryan Adams tune)? How about Jackie Chan starring alongside Will Smith's son in the newest iteration of The Karate Kid? In most cases, these regurgitations are lazy and deplorable; then there is J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. I will admit that the odds were rather high I was going to dig this movie; I am a big fan of both the franchise and the director, and all of the casting seemed great (Simon Pegg as Scotty = fuck yeah!). I did of course reserve my final verdict for the viewing, and once I sat down and watched the tension-filled, emotional opening sequence revolving around Kurt's birth the verdict was in: AWESOME! Once that scene was over, I just let myself bask in the wonder of a lovingly crafted homage/reboot that was satisfying to fans, while still containing all the action and adventure that you would expect from a big budget summer flick. I strongly suggest that studios take as many notes as they can from everything Abrams did right, so the next rehash doesn't turn out like... say... Superman. (Giovanny)

Inglourious Basterds, August 2009, $120 million
When I hear people talk about Quentin Tarantino, my inclination is usually to disagree. When I hear someone say he’s a sub par director who uses style over substance, I become enraged and defend him with vigor I didn’t know I had. If they are calling him the best director in the history of ever, I want to scoff and rant about his shortcomings. My best explanation is I don’t really know how I feel about the man. When he does genre films just for the sake of doing genre films, I get a little annoyed. Yet at the same time, there is something about his films that always sticks with me. Take Inglorious Basterds, his satisfying revision of the end of World War II. As usual, Quentin gets a lot out of the talent: Christopher Waltz gives an incredible nuanced performance as The Jew Hunter, and Brad Pitt never fails to amuse. And if there was an award given out for most tense scene, the bit in the bar’s basement (“the problem with fighting in a basement, is you’re fightin’ in a fuckin’ basement!”) might have taken that home as well. The cherry on top? For one of the first times outside of Wolfenstein 3D, Hitler gets shot in the face about three hundred times. I rest my case. Now if only my friends would stop yelling “SCHNAPPS!” (Ben)

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9 Responses »

  1. schnapps? schnapps? shcnapps? SCHNAPPS!!

    also, good inclusion of my favorite adjective, gaping.

  2. If all posts included the words gaping and pygmies, I predict traffic would increase by 80,000%.

    The WIllow review made me want to quit my job and go home and watch the movie right away. I didn't do it, but it would have been worth it.

    Also, is now a good time to admit that never have I ever seen Harry Potter or read any of the books?

  3. Actually, now would be a terrible time to admit that, Lauren. You're turning the Blockies into some sort of fake awards show sham! HOW DARE YOU?!?!

    Also, seriously people? Willow?!? It sucks. Real Genius, on the other hand, is awesome.

  4. "And you will be standing over the body of another dead president.". - awesome

  5. I really gotta sit down and watch it again sometime... aaaaand it's on Netflix Instant, so I guess that's how I'll celebrate Memorial Day.

  6. Well played.

  7. Lauren- Today is a new day and provides its own opportunity, but I would suggest quitting your job on a Monday instead of the end of the week (more productive that way).

    Jere- What's wrong mate? Not enough explosions or car chases in Willow for you?

  8. Well, I'm sure it doesn't help that I saw Willow for the first time as an adult, but I just thought it was lame. Madmartigan is definitely cool, but he's a badass character handcuffed by a children's movie. I don't remember too much else, except that it didn't seem like nearly the big, epic spectacle its reputation had led me to believe it was.

  9. Lauren, I haven't seen Harry Potter or read any of the books either, but I *would* like to thank you for getting a Crash Test Dummies song stuck in my head. It goes a little something like this "Mmm mmm mmm mmm, mmm mmm mmm mmm..."

    So, yeahhhh. Thanks.

    xx,
    Bianca W. Vermouth