Monday, August 31, 2009

Worst Superhero Movie Castings

Big budget movies based on popular comic book superheroes have become all the rage this past decade, with technology and special effects catching up somewhat to the imaginations of writers. But good special effects do not a perfect comic book translation make. There are scripts, there is directing. And there are the actors.

This list isn't going to take issue solely with poor performances by actors. Because the blame for bad movies must be shared. Also to blame for shitty onscreen comic book character portrayals are those who did the casting in the first place. Because let's face it - just picking out someone who's age appropriate or maybe looks a little like the character in question is not enough. Oddly (or sadly) enough, there have even been occasions where these factors didn't even seem to be considered. Sometimes it's appeared as if the casting decisions were made simply by throwing darts at a board. Or possibly by drinking a cocktail of absinthe, Sudafed, grain alcohol and turpentine, taking some codeine dipped in vanilla extract, eating a large pizza with everything on it, puking some of it up, passing out, waking up in said puke hours later, downing a bottle of mouthwash, doing some jumping jacks and then throwing darts at a board. And also the board is on fire and melting.

...but I digress. I've also only considered major roles so Juggernaut, Bane and their ilk are safe...for now. Some movies are also such messes in their casting (among other things - I'm looking at you, X-Men 3) I've decided to only have one character per movie included here.

5. Danny Devito as The Penguin (Batman Returns, 1992)
Well, I guess the cat's out of the bag - I really cannot stand this casting choice. And while I find them entertaining as a whole, I have a very hard time stomaching the Burton Batman films. I always tell myself to watch them as some sort of alternate universe version of Batman. But Devito as the Penguin really tears it for me. And I know I'm going to catch a lot of flak for admitting it but whatever.

About all I can understand about the casting of Devito is that he's short. That's it. His Penguin is no where close to classy and refined, from the voice to the mannerisms. I realize that's just not what they were going for - the idea was to present a more savage and animalistic Penguin, one whose attempt at refinement is only a thin facade. Which makes sense to a certain degree. Any version of the Penguin can pretend to be refined all he wants but the fact is he's a criminal quite used to dealing with extremely dangerous and unsavory types as well as earning his living through dishonesty and violence. But MY Penguin still pulls off the image of refinement quite well. He's dapper and cultivated. It's what creates an interesting paradox. Dressed to the nines and swinging his little cane about, the Penguin rarely actually gets his own hands dirty as he involves himself in all manner of criminal activity.

But Devito's Penguin is viscous and uncouth. He even eats raw fish for Bob Kane's sake. And that grating, snarling voice is about the furthest thing I can imagine from what I've always thought should be a smooth, charming voice that rarely betrays emotion. Burton's vision is of some sort of man with penguin-like qualities that includes the ability to actually communicate and control the actual birds themselves. To that I say waaaugh!

4. George Clooney as Batman (
Batman And Robin, 1997)
Can't blame Burton for this one. While this movie's casting of Arnold Schwatzenegger as villain Mr. Freeze is also woeful beyond description, I have to adhere to my rule of one character per movie and pronounce the decision to give the cape to Clooney to be the bigger blunder. After all, Batman is the main character here and if you get him wrong, it doesn't matter what else you may get right (of course, in the case of Batman And Robin this isn't an issue as every single aspect of the film combines to create a perfect storm of excrement).

But we all know how Batman is supposed to be: moody, withdrawn, troubled, brooding and DARK. But Clooney, who has shown that he can at least play the odd character with edge (see From Dusk Till Dawn) seems to have decided to take the billionaire playboy facade employed by Bruce Wayne to help guard his dark secret and use it to portray the character in every single scene. Batman smirks and showboats even as he's engaged in combat and his dialogue never even comes close to anything serious. (yours to consider - Batman: Hey, Freeze. The heat is on.)

In 1997 Clooney wasn't too old to be playing Batman but if you observe his movements in costume, you'd think he was. I'm sure there must have beeen stuntman standing in the odd time in the Batsuit but perhaps George's ego wouldn't allow for them to do anything cool while they were there. Because there isn't a single instance in the entire movie where Batman performs anything close to acrobatic or athletic (he can't even skate well! and the very fact we're talking about Batman skating should be setting off a cacophony of alarm bells). Instead he just sort of walks from bad guy to bad guy to deliver a clunky kick-punch combo, ala Adam West.

Of course the script is a total disaster and not all the blame can rest with Clooney for his Batman. But the fact remains he just went along with all the cheesy garbage in this mess of a film and never even tried to at least make the lead character rise above the many, many, many other flaws. Hell, I'll bet the whole credit card bit was his fucking idea. The bat-nipples too.

3. Cheesy Effect as Galactus (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007)
This takes the form of bad casting to a whole new level. A new stratosphere. Just because Galactus has often been described as "a force of nature" in the comics doesn't mean filmmakers should take it so literally; I mean, there are plenty of pictures of him - panels where he speaks even. Galactus is a cosmic being but also a rational being and not an animal. And certainly not a weather pattern.

Actually, he's ( "he" not "it") said to be the oldest living being in the Marvel 616 Universe, the only survivor of the universe that preceded it. Writers have done their best to portray him as something almost beyond human comprehension. An ageless cosmic entity that very much resembles concepts we have of a God.

His deal is that he roams the cosmos, forever looking to satisfy an everlasting hunger. It is a hunger that can only be sated by draining the lifeforce of planets populated with some form of life. To see such an amazing being brought to life on screen in a movie would have been something truly significant and cool. So what did the makers of Rise of the Silver Surfer do? They reduce Galactus to the equivalent of a mindless, cosmic vacuum cleaner. They might as well have just had a black hole suddenly appear next to the Earth and had the Surfer seal it up or something.

To present a major Marvel character in such a way is a huge slap in the face to comic book fans. Basically they took the absolute laziest route they could which, completely unsurprisingly, resulted in a movie just as terrible as its prequel. I'd foolishly believed they could perhaps have wiped the slate clean with Rise of the Silver Surfer and instead all they did was wipe their collective asses with the celluloid.

2. Ian McKellen as Magneto (
X-Men Series, 2000, 2003, 2006)
A talented actor whose many performances I admire completely miscast in a major role. With all the disrespect and disregard the makers of the X-Men movies showed for the vast majority of the characters and their respective histories and backstories, I am completely at a loss as to why they were so goddamn keen on making sure Magneto's Holocaust experience was kept intact. Well, maybe not completely. The fact is it's a good backstory and helps explain his righteous anger and pain. As a boy he'd suffered through genocide in the name of an accident of birth and now, decades later, he sees it all about to happen again. But still...

I just can't get past that they'd decided to portray the Master of Magnetism as a feeble old man. In real life, McKellan, born in 1939, is actually too young to have remembered the Nazi concentration camps if he'd been in one. And yet as Magneto he comes across as positively ancient. It's even possible that they could have cast an actor who was age-appropriate for Magneto's backstory and have him still seem powerful and commanding. But it sure as hell doesn't work with McKellen.

Everything about the man is just wrong for Magneto. His accent makes no sense. At 5'11 he's several inches too short. And he just looks weak. Magneto isn't supposed to be as muscular and hulking as many Marvel characters but he's still upright and fit. McKellen presents a stooped, shuffling shell of a man who only enjoys brief moments of vitality and that's when he's using his mutant power. I'm sorry but that's just not good enough.

Never before in my life have I criticized an actor for his sexuality as it has absolutely nothing to do with his ability to perform a role (unless we're talking about Nathan Lane) but I find myself dangerously close to doing just that here with McKellen. He's an openly gay man and in interviews it's not difficult to pick up on. But until Magneto I'd never see him play a character and have said character come off as homosexual. Gandalf was like Gandalf - a good-natured but powerful wizard whom you'd never even associate with having any sexual preference really, it just didn't enter into it. And yet McKellen's Magneto is positively catty. His facial expressions, mannerisms and dialogue are all delivered in such a way that for the first time in any medium, we see Erik Lehnsherr old queen. Every time he spoke to Xavier conversationally (not during one of his big speeches about mutants vs mankind) and addressed him as "Charles" it almost seemed as though he was about to try to steal a kiss for god's sake.

The only way I can make sense of this is to theorize that perhaps McKellen thought in playing the role this way he could help undo some stereotypes or something by having a powerful and intimidating character like Magneto not have to be necessarily positively macho. Whatever his intent, it contributed to one of the very worst things about the entire miserable series. I dream of a day where X-Men isn't absolutely impossible to properly translate to the big screen but that day seems incredibly far off.

1. Topher Grace as Venom (
Spider-Man 3, 2007)
If we haven't already reached the point of the ridiculously obvious, we're definitely there now. I suppose with the casting of Grace as Eddie Brock, the film makers were trying to present us with a character who was in many ways very similar to Peter Parker. Maybe the idea was to show just how close Spider-Man came to fully embracing the symbiote and becoming basically evil by giving us a character that is very much like him who winds up taking that route. But if that is the case then, still - why? The Eddie Brock of the comics is a good character and nothing about him would present a problem for a movie adaptation.

Instead of being similar to Parker, Brock is supposed to present an interesting contrast. While it is true that in the movie, Grace's Brock is at least shown to be something of a sleaze as well as dishonest, they still saw fit to give us someone of roughly the same age as well as height and build. They even made him a free-lance photographer trying to prove himself to the Bugle and earn a staff position. Again - why? Brock is supposed to be a reporter for rival paper. He doesn't even take photos.

I fail to see how an Eddie Brock who's several years older, much bigger and heavier and who works as a reporter for a separate paper, would really have posed such a problem for the makers of Spider-Man 3. Many of these aspects make his transition to Venom a whole lot smoother, really. Brock is supposed to blame his failures on Spider-Man, not Peter Parker. Who's actually in the suit is supposed to make little difference to him when he finds out. But in the movie, we have Brock going to the church to pray for the death of Parker, not Spidey. So for no reason at all, Venom's motivations become muddled.

Once Brock bonds with the symbiote and becomes Venom it just doesn't work. He resembles Carnage a lot more than Venom and with Carnage we knew it was a bonding of serial killer and symbiote so his slighter build didn't detract from anything. But Brock was supposed to be into bodybuilding and this was only enhanced by his transformation. He's an intimidating presence even when he's not Venom. Parker once descried Brock as a "pumped-up lunatic" but here "skinny little bitch" would be infinitely more appropriate. In the movie all we get is Eric from That Seventies Show covered in black stuff. Hardly scary. Instead of a dramatic battle we're almost expecting to see the two antagonists trade witty insults. Spider-Man is known for that but Venom is supposed to be about pure rage. Put all the black on him you want, Topher Grace is no Eddie Brock and he's certainly no Venom.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Childhood Games Most Likely to Cause Injury

Although this topic is quite straightforward, let me point out a few brief things. First, while some games like Monopoly make you want to punch a family member in the face, boardgames are excluded from this list. Instead I want to focus on ones that are often played at school, birthday parties, family picnics, and outdoor events. Also, while dodgeball seems like a perfect fit for this list, you play with rubber balls designed to be thrown at people, and I've yet to see anyone seriously hurt while playing.

5.Tug of War
A long time ago a bunch of people got bored, found a rope, and had the bright idea to see who was better at yanking friends off their feet into a mud pit. The concept is simple enough; a pure test of strength and endurance as two teams pull a rope in opposing directions. Not only are you likely to be knocked to the ground in a state of exhaustion, but think of all the arguments you can start with your friends afterward. Kids fighting over not having a good grip, someone pulling too soon, and who cheated by picking "the big kid".

Possible Injuries: Rope burn/ Dislocated Limbs/ Beaten by mother for getting mud on your school clothes.

4. Piñata
This game is unique because it's hazardous to everyone except the person playing it. Parents should always be wary of a child swinging a weapon at groin level. In fact, did you know that Piñata is the Spanish word for "Papa's shattered genitals"? Without the Piñata and people's pants frequently falling down, I doubt America's Funniest Home Videos would have ever existed. Who would have thought that child with club + blindfold + candy incentive = disaster?

Possible Injuries: Bludgeoning / Teeth Knocked the "F" out / Impact Castration

3. Musical Chairs
How can a game so seemingly innocent be so painful? It all starts well enough with cheerful music and children skipping around some chairs. But competition rears its ugly head; tensions mount, and suddenly you have multiple children hurling themselves backwards at the furniture. I can't think of a single time this game didn't end with someone crying or needing stitches. And let's not forget those asshole kids who steal the chairs away at the last minute. When the music stops in this game, it becomes a symphony of heads hitting hardwood floors.

Possible Injuries: Cracked Skulls / Contusions / Lifelong Distrust of Chairs

2. Red Rover
Two teams line up facing one another like armies meeting on the battlefield. Children hold hands and challenge a member of the opposing team to break the chain by running full speed at them. Jeez, they might as well call this game, "You Just Got Clotheslined!!!"? In fact, I don't even get the meaning of the name Red Rover. Maybe red refers to the blood you'll be coughing up after "winning". The whole game seems to be testing that hypothetical problem of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Anyway, it should come as no surprise that the resulting chaos and pain got the game banned from many schools.

Possible Injuries: Broken Arm / Crushed Windpipe / Human Car Accident

1. Play Fighting
This game is different each time since styles, objectives, and rules are all over the place. Whatever you happen to call this game - roughhousing, sparring, wrasslin' - it can only lead to one outcome. A sword fight with sticks means someone will get poked in the eyeball. Wresting on the sofa means someone will get the wind knocked out of them. Acting out a battle between vampires and werewolves means someone's younger sibling will be left in tears after getting shoved onto a gravel driveway.

In my own experience I've seen all sorts of injuries come about from play fighting. Broken toes, bloody noses, and even trips to the hospital. One minute myself and friends are whooping around the room with pretend lightsabers, and the next minute someone accidentally stabbed their hand on a pair of scissors. True story.

Possible injuries: Just about anything.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Movie Scenes Where a Character Outruns the Impossible

We've seen it time and time again. A grenade lands at someone's feet, a bomb's timer ticks down, a fireball rushes in ... and all our hero can do is run.

This list is not of the best of those instances, but instead of the most ridiculous. According to my invented rules the characters cannot have super powers or speed (so no Dash from The Incredibles), and the characters must get away on foot (so no James Bond driving away from a space laser in Die Another Day, and as much as I wanted to include Christian Slater getting away from a nuclear explosion in Broken Arrow, I guess he did it via underground river, so it was more like out-swimming than outrunning). So let's check out some feats of speed that make you groan.

5. Seagal vs. The Train (Under Siege 2: Dark Territory; 1995)
Now I've seen people outrun a train before in movies (Stand By Me), but it's another thing entirely to be inside a train that has collided with another train and is derailing off a bridge ... and still get away unscathed! But that's just another day at work for Mr. Seagal.

Maybe it'd be easier to swallow if Steven Seagal wasn't the action hero equivalent of a rusted ironing board. If you can't tell from the picture, I swear he is doing the stiffest, stupidest, and slowest run possible. His escape from certain doom is more like watching the Tin Man having his morning jog.

4. Dog vs. The Wall of Fire (Independence Day; 1996)
A dog!? Yes, a dog. Hopefully you can recall the scene where the alien ships are fucking everything up with their giant engulfing waves of fire. As the wall of flame rushes down a tunnel in Los Angeles, Vivica A. Fox and her son hide in a ... side room ... thing. She calls out to her lightning fast pooch and he quickly runs over the tops of cars and make a triumphant leap to safety while everything else gets obliterated.

It's amazing to see a dog (who may be related to Krypto) pull off a stunt usually reserved for Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it's even more amazing that all their oxygen wasn't consumed by the fire, and that they hid behind the only indestructible door in the city. Holy shit, Scoob.

3. Gyllenhaal vs. The Cold (The Day After Tomorrow; 2004)
In this mediocre disaster flick we have a scene where Jake Gyllenhaal (screw using character names) is searching for medicine in a flooded and frozen New York City. When the eye of a super storm moves over the city, an instantly freezing cold air descends and Jake must rush back to the safety of the public library. We literally see hallways freezing with ice and "chasing" him all the way. Luckily he ends up blocking the cold by ... closing the door!? Gotta love those impenetrable doors! If this list is teaching me anything, it's that if you're ever in a pickle, get yourself a fuckin' door.

2. Wahlberg vs. The Wind (The Happening; 2008)
Yes, I've talked about it before in my list of the worst films of 2008, but it's so crazy it is worth repeating. Due to an apparent deadliness in the air, Mark must outrun the wind in one scene by fleeing across a field. That doesn't make any goddamn sense! It's conceptually stupid and visually boring! It's wind!! On its own it doesn't have any defining edges and parts. It's not like a fireball where you can clearly identify which area is a fireball and which area is not. And c'mon, it's air for crying out loud. It's like trying to outrun sound or sunshine! *Sigh* ... which brings me to ...

1. Fraser vs. The Sunrise (The Mummy Returns; 2001)
Let me paint a picture for you. A man sees a golden pyramid in the distance about a kilometer away. He sees the sun rising behind him on the horizon. He knows he must reach the pyramid before it is touched by sunlight, or else lose a loved one. He runs like mad and ... makes it!

That's stupid, you say. And you are correct. He'd be outrunning the rotation of the earth and the ground speed of the "terminator" line of night and day, which moves at about 1000 miles per hour. As he's running we see him in shadow with a line of sunlight hot on his heels. I admit this is a dramatic way to show the peril, but it's still crazy. Some people have even tried explaining the line as being the shadow of a mountain and not the "terminator" line. Yet this would only make sense if the sun was rising ahead of him, rather than behind him, making this scene impossible in every regard. And yet the movie depicts this human man outrunning the sunrise. I daresay you'd be hard pressed to find a more preposterous achievement.

Oh, and did I mention he does it while carrying his eight year old son?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Best Video Games... That Drive You F*$#ing Crazy

We've all had it happen. Here we are playing a video game we very much enjoy. A game that is most definitely awesome and then - BAM! - something happens that is so beyond aggravating that you want to scream.

I was just playing a video game that caused me such annoyance I was to the point of shaking. No, scratch that... I damn well had a spasm. I shook my DS like it was a baby that just wouldn't stop crying. Here are some of the best video games and game series that pushed you over the edge.

5. Mario Kart Series (Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart Super Circuit, Mario Kart Double Dash, Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii)

Here you were loving life and having a leisurely game of Mario Kart. It's so simple! You have your favourite fun-loving Nintendo characters driving around in cute little go-karts! All you have to do is hold in the gas and take your time. You can get weapons! That's so great! Ooo, a red shell. It homes in on your enemies, friend! This game is so much fun. You have such a commanding lead now. There isn't a car near you. I think you're gonna win the race!


Just then Wario, that unforgiving prick, comes out of nowhere with star power sending you flying off the road, unable to keep control of your kart! The rest of the racers, that just moments ago seemed so far away, blaze passed you. When you finally gain control of your kart again you pass the finish line, dead last.

You have just been raped by comeback AI.

This is pretty much a staple of the Mario Kart franchise, but it rears its ugly head in all kinds of racing games. Hell, it's not even restricted to racing. It shows up in all kinds of great sports games. Let's just focus on Mario Kart though, shall we?

Basically the idea is this. If a person that is very good at a game is having an easy go at racing passed his competitors, reaching the first place position, and making his way to the finish line (and glory, I might add) then the game is designed to fuck that person... so hard. Why? Well, for a more intense and enjoyable experience. If all you had to do was have the skill and perseverance to out-race your competitors everytime, well that would just be boring. As a result, even if you're enjoying a commanding lead right from moment one and never falter in any way you still have to be on your toes because the game might decide to have one of the other racers show up with just the right weapon to kick your ass off the course.

If I could count how many times Wario or Bowser showed up and ran straight through me to victory, or (as of late) Diddy Kong (Mario Kart Wii). That little bastard has it coming, I friggin' swear. What's worse about the whole thing? There's nothing you can do about it. I mean, it's designed into the game to cause you annoyance if you're doing amazing. So what? You should play a mediocre game and just narrowly come in first?

Yeah, apparently that's the idea.

I think the second most irksome aspect of all this is that comeback AI isn't technically (or admittedly) built into any game. I don't think there are any dev teams out there that will say, "Yeah, we built comeback AI into our game, just to make you want to shit in your own skull." If you were to mention it to them, I'm sure you'd get some kind of answer like, "The game is developed so that all players can enjoy a healthy amount of competitiveness for maximum enjoyment." Fuck that, and fuck you Nintendo! It's no coincidence that the blue shell just came at me while I was about to cross the finish line for the third race in a row!

You're all a bunch of liars and baby eaters.

4. Metroid Series (Metroid, Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, Metroid: Zero Mission, Metroid Prime Trilogy)

Remember the first time you played Metroid? I remember when I first tried it out. I was shocked by how great the game controls were. I mean, the jumping could be sluggish, but that made sense! Gravity can be an issue in space. Your weapon, however, fired with perfect accuracy. The game had these great areas with all kinds of different alien species leaping at you from all directions. There were weapon upgrades and cool little platforming elements I'd never seen before. All I could think was, what a great game.

Then I tried to save and come back to the game some time later and I came to the realization that I had no rightly clue where in the name of sweet baby Jesus I was. Not only that, I had no idea what the hell I'd been doing. Was I trying to kill a boss? Attain a new armour upgrade? Get the spinny ball thing with the bombs?

Christ, I have no idea!

I know what you're thinking, "Well that's your own damned fault." There are so many games out there that build into them some option to find either an NPC or a computer screen (in game) and find out what you're up to. It's sort of a staple in really complicated games with arcing storylines and hard to navigate settings. But no, not Metroid!

What's worse is that you can forgive the first one. I mean, that's a given. Same thing in Super Metroid? Alright, you got me that time, Nintendo! But in Metroid Prime for the GameCube? This shit is just getting out of control.

I say this not as someone who has read about this issue, but as someone who has completely abandoned a game of Metroid Prime, a game I very much was enjoying, because I have no fucking idea what I'm supposed to be doing. There are these huge areas that have so many facets and angles. I mean you can climb walls in ball form, or just run through the open areas, guns a-blazin'. There are platform sections and spots to use special weapons to open certain doors. I have no frame of reference on where to start because I saved it for a time, tried another game, and when I returned there's nothing there to guide me.

What's worse is that these games are known for their backtracking in an open world, so just because I'm saved in one area doesn't mean that I can just continue down path A. I mean, I could have been popping back in here just to reach one little spot that I couldn't get to before without a certain item that I may or may not have obtained!

I've tried several times and failed miserably, and now I know that I basically have to start again to finish the game, and that makes me want to vomit, honestly.

Too many games, too little time, people!

3. Goldeneye 007

I think you all know where I'm going with this one. Goldeneye wasn't a revolutionary game but any means, but what it did exceedingly well was take a franchise license and make an incredibly fun first person shooter. Honestly, how often is it that a game based on a movie is worth a damn? Not often, but not only is Goldeneye a great licensed game, it's one of the best FPS out there, and a classic for the Nintendo 64.

It did so many things great. Fun weapons that worked quite accurately (sans the Klobb, but that's the point!). There were lots of cool missions. The stages gradually became harder and harder, but never overwhelmed, unless you'd become a veteran and were rocking the 007 difficulty. It had lots of unlockables and material to add to the gameplay value. Most importantly it had the sweetest multiplayer going. Four-player deathmatches with well-designed maps and tons of different features, which allowed the players to make their own games.

I can't even begin to calculate the amount of hours that I've put into this game. Everything about it screams classic, except for one thing. One excruciating, mind-numbing, fucking thing... and her name was Natalya.

Escort missions, my friends. I can feel the shiver that just ran down your spine.

In a game so well-made, with every detail taken into consideration, there could not have been a more broken and painful experience than trying to escort that hateful, blue-bloused bitch through any level. And woe, there were multiple escort missions with this heinous wench.

She has a complete mind of her own, running into combat with dozens of Russian soldiers at any moment. You could carefully, so very carefully, work your way through a stage, and just as you reached the end - WOOSH! - Natalya thinks it's a good idea to barrel into a room full of guards and then attempt to run through a wall to her right for several minutes.

Oh, the screams I released at her foolishness. What was worse was that going through the 007 difficulty was already hard enough without her constant blunderings. Then there were unlockables that required to you replay stages with her in them under time constraints!

I can't tell you how many times I buried a cap in her ugly, boxy head out of sheer aggravation, and I'm sure all of you did, too.

2. Mega Man Series (Mega Man, X, Zero, ZX)

Mega Man needs to explanation, whatsoever, so this will be brief. Combine great platforming with incredibly thought-out level design, a fun story involving cute robots and mad scientists and the outcome is Mega Man.

The coolest thing about these games was how they were played, which was damned well innovative. They are "choose your own path" games (or at least were pre-Zero and ZX). You could play through them however you pleased. However, the main theme here is Rock, Paper, Scissors, hence the Japanese title of Rockman, and characters like Gutsman (who throws rocks) and Cutsman (who literally had scissors on his head). A weapon acquired from one Robot Master could easily destroy another, but the trick was figuring out the pattern.

It was something completely different and it offered not only fun, colourful gameplay, but a decent amount of difficulty that kept any gamer coming back for more.

But there were times... oh, there were times where you just wanted nothing more than to crack the casing on that cartridge, tear out those metallic innards, and perform some long forgotten sacrifice on the game's black, thoughtless soul.

There were spikes, and they were oh-so cleverly placed. Sometimes navigating them literally required reflexes like a jungle cat. A slight tap of the A button would give you just the right amount of velocity to make your way through a particular bitch of an underwater level, spikes coating every wall and ceiling. And why were these stages always underwater!?

That wasn't all, though. No. How many times did you work your ass off to make it to the end of a particular boss' stage, narrowly making it with a single life and less than half an energy gauge, only to begin crying knowing you'd never survive the Master that awaited you at the end of that hallway?

I know your pain, friends.

Or, on those occasions where you completely mastered the stage, running through it like a perfect servo, only to reach the end, and come to the realization that you didn't have the weapon to beat this enemy, and could only attempt, so weakly, to take him on in short bursts of humiliation before being destroyed and having to start back at square one.

What's worse is with all this raining down on you, an onslaught like no other, they had the nerve, the complete and utter gall, to hit you with disappearing, fucking blocks.

The memories are too fresh, I need a moment.


Okay, time to soldier on.

I can remember the days of Heat Man's stage, and the beginnings with Ice Man. You're working your way through the level like the fighting robot that you are. Then you drop into a new section. What's this? A wall I can't jump over. The sound of the blocks appearing finds its way to your chest, deep in where your essence is housed, and it simply tickles it, sending your body into heaves of hate. You know what's coming. You'll have to work through screen after screen figuring out the pattern. If it were only that simple, though.

No, the game developers, sado-masochists all, have placed these warping blocks of pure depravity over massive chasms, just to make things interesting.

1. Ghosts n' Goblins Series (Ghouls n' Ghosts, Super Ghouls n' Ghosts)

Another Capcom title. Colour me shocked.

Ghosts n' Goblins was a great arcade title released by Capcom in 1985. It has been released for many consoles, including the Commodore 64, the Commodore Amiga, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 16, and the Sharp X68000. It was most notably ported, however, to the NES with future iterations (sequels and remakes) on the SNES, Game Boy Colour, GBA, PSX (PSone for all you system name retconners), Sega Saturn and PSP. And I'm not even getting into spin-offs here.

My point is that this game has seen so many different versions, and each one of them will make you want to go back in time, find the ape that first touched the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and bash his brains in before he ever discovers technology.

Why, do you ask? Then you must not have played. How blissfully ignorant you are. You see, in this game, you play as Arthur, an iron-clad knight that must save his beloved Princess Prin Prin, from the clutches of evil incarnate.

I mentioned Arthur is iron-clad, correct? Well that's just an illusion, folks. You see, in Ghosts n' Goblins all armour does is give you a false hope, because in one foul motion you're beloved suit of protection will be swept from your body, leaving you naked and vulnerable. That's right. In this game, you only get two fucking hits.

It's not just the fact that you can only get hit twice, but that these games are so chaotic. There are enemies everywhere, the screen is shaking, there are projectiles. Oh wait, that background of water you thought was just for show? Well now it's hurtling at you, attempting to wash you away in a furious ocean (which is a one-hit kill, I might add). There is no room for error when playing any version of Ghosts n' Goblins.

Just for measure, though, Capcom decided to add some further kicks to your balls (or "femmy areas" for our lady readers, of which are most certainly non-existant). During the game Arthur can get bitchin' armour upgrades. First there's bronze armour, instantly upgrading your weapons. This is followed by gold armour, which upgrades your weapons and gives you a charge feature. This can make for an even more powerful ability or attack from your desired armament.

Guess how many hits you get now? STILL FUCKING TWO. All that hard work you went through surviving that gauntlet of enemies and madness so that you didn't get hit, not even once, and finally got to receive an armour upgrade means nothing if you get struck, even by the smallest annoyance in screen. I mean, it would've been downright decent of the developers to allow you to at least go back to your regular suit of iron. That is not the case, however.

But wait, you can get your armour back! It's a droppable item. Yeah, when the second moon faces the setting sun of Jupiter. Okay, maybe it's not that impossible, but it's still damned well infrequent.

So after you go through everything that this game shells out at you; the manic screens full of enemies, the constantly destructive environment that can at any moment end your life, the massive boss battles, and the rare weapon upgrades. After you survived all of this, most often in nothing but your friggin' underwear, and done so with a timer of three minutes per stage, for around ten or so stages, and taken on the end boss of the game, which is a Herculean task in and of itself... the game lets you in on a secret.

You've finished nothing. All of that was merely half of the game. No, now you must start at the very beginning and make it through Hell once more, to truly save your princess and finish the game.

It's enough to make you want to somehow devour your own brain.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Marvel's Greatest Writers

Rest assured this is not a list I undertook lightly. While I have read hundreds upon hundreds of Marvel comics, there are still MANY, including MANY written by the writers I am about to list here, that I haven't read. However, my criteria isn't solely based on my opinions on what I have read, I've also taken into account historical evidence regarding each writer's impact on Marvel as a company and the Marvel Universe at large. Some might balk at my decision not to include legend, Jack Kirby, especially at the expense of more recent writers but I feel his contributions as a writer weren't actually that amazing; it's his art that really was significant. Hell, in a list of Marvel's greatest artists he might make number one. And I make no apologies in my lists. Not even for this one's exorbitant length.

5. Ed Brubaker (2004 - ?)
Having spent the majority of his career writing almost exclusively for chief rival, DC Comics, Brubaker came onto the Marvel scene somewhat recently in 2004. This may lead some to believe that his contributions surely cannot be considered significant enough to garner him consideration for this list but just trust me on this one and read on.

Having made his mark in comics through a gritty, noirish style first applied to various crime fiction titles on the Vertigo imprint, Brubaker eventually made his way to Batman which was a perfect marriage. He then created the Gotham Central series (focusing on Gotham City police officers and using Batman as a rarely seen secondary character). Irrelevant for the purposes of this list, I know. But I wanted to mention some of his background because when he began at Marvel, his first assignment was Captain America - something very far indeed from his usual realm. But he really managed to breathe new life into the character by bringing in a darker and grittier tone, mostly through the decision to return the long dead Bucky Barnes to life as the Winter Soldier.

One could argue a darker, grittier tone doesn't just magically make everything better no matter what a noir fan like myself will tell you. However, it's indisputable that by this decade Captain America was in desperate need of some sort of change in direction. And whether or not it was the absolute best way to go, Brubaker stepped in and fearlessly provided it.

But he was far from finished with revamping major facets of the Marvel Universe. He wrote a series that expanded on Dr. Doom's origin (Books of Doom), bringing new depth to an already deep character as well as working in a (in my opinion) crazy but absolutely cool retcon to the first mission of the second team of X-Men (X-Men: Deadly Genesis - which also saw the introduction of the third Summers brother, Vulcan).

A run on Daredevil was inevitable and it's easily the best since Frank Miller's seminal work on the character in the early eighties. Although colleague Brian Michael Bendis also deserves some credit for this (speaking only in terms of writing). Much like his work on Batman, Brubaker's style was tailor-made for a street-level hero like The Man Without Fear. A masterstroke was the decision to have Murdock's secret identity compromised thus landing him in Ryker's Island Prison for a period (The Devil Inside and Out). This decision was actually arrived at in tandem with Bendis but it was Brubaker who did the actual writing for these arcs.

More recently, Brubaker has helped launch the current Iron Fist series (which I am following) and returned to Captain America to kill him off (gasp!) and bring him back (sigh). Perhaps my naming a guy who has only been writing regularly for Marvel for about five years may seem premature but I won't back down.

4. Len Wein (1971 - 1979)

A talent eventually lost to DC, it's interesting to imagine what more he could have accomplished within Marvel had he stayed. Because even if his time there was relatively short, his contributions were major to say the least.

Of course he's inexorably tied to the creation of the character Wolverine (you may have heard of him) but there is more to Wein than that. In addition to writing, he also edited various titles and eventually became editor in chief at Marvel in 1974. He only held this post for a little over a year, stepping down to hand the reins to good friend Marv Wolfman. Free of these duties, Wein began to write even more titles, many of them major such as Spider-Man, Thor and Fantastic Four.

But most notable was his revival of X-Men, a series that had started with great promise but fizzled after several years. In 1975, he launched Giant Sized X-Men (Uncanny X-Men), introducing a brand new team that included his creation, Wolverine. The first issue remains one of the most significant and sought-after comics of all time. He didn't remain writing the title for long but it never would have started without him. Also the tone and direction he established were major reasons for the success and quality of the title as it went on.

He would leave Marvel for good at the end of the decade and go on to great success at DC. But in many ways, he laid the groundwork for the direction Marvel would take going into the eighties.

3. Stan Lee (1941 - ?)
Firstly, I left a question mark in the field for Lee's time as a writer with Marvel only because he has been known to contribute the odd stand-alone story from time to time although he hasn't been an actual writer for the company for decades now (sometimes even working himself into the story as a character). Since he would go on to take on a plethora of different duties and capacities from editor in chief to other various positions as a figurehead for the company, he obviously could not continue to fulfill the role of a regular writer. But he always remained active as a consultant at the very least, giving various ideas and proposals the final go-ahead if he was called upon to do so.

Obviously I couldn't make this list without including Stan The Man. If it wasn't focused completely on contributions from writing, then he would be the clear-cut number one, head and shoulders above the rest.

The inescapable fact is that he created and co-created an absolute slew of amazing characters who to this day are some of the most popular and celebrated in all comicdom. This lands him here along with being a pioneer in the realm of superhero characterization. It's a tired old story now but it still bears repeating that before Lee graced the scene, comic heroes were mostly one-dimensional and hardly ever flawed. They were just blank faces of good who always managed to save the day. Lee introduced more fully-formed characters who dealt with many of the same problems as his reading audience, Spider-Man of course easily being the most relatable character as Peter Parker was a shy and awkward teenager struggling to cope with his strange dual life. But Lee could also make things challenging for himself, such as when he created Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark. He took a billionaire industrialist who'd made his fortune through weapons manufacturing during a period of strong anti-war and anti-establishment sentiment in the US and still managed to make him likeable as a character and the book hugely popular.

You know, I hate lists that give too much credit to parties who simply started a genre or style - I can't stand when people name Black Sabbath as the best metal band of all time simply because "without them, there would BE no metal, man." Statements such as this are lazy and untrue. So I don't mind admitting that if Lee hadn't been there to make superheroes more flawed and real, someone else surely would have come along and done so. However, as I've already stated, Lee's creations are classic to say the least and while it's possible, even likely, that someone else could have given us characters with more depth, they would not have been THESE characters and that has to count for a lot.

Ideas such as making the superhero group the Fantastic Four a family or the X-Men social misfits and outcasts were completely new territory that further cemented Marvel characters as edgy and interesting. By comparison, DC's Justice League looked like a troop of smiling boy scouts who were always shaking hands with the president and rescuing kittens from trees.

The Silver Age of Comics of course was a huge movement that came about because of the contributions of dozens of artists, writers and editors. But if one had to point out the individuals most responsible, it would have to be Lee and Steve Ditko (take THAT, Kirby!), who took the medium to another level in such dynamic fashion that their styles are emulated to this day. Lee even invented a technique that would be known as the Marvel Method which became the dictum for superhero stories throughout the sixties. Inkers and letterers weren't even credited on the opening page before Lee started doing it. He also introduced the Bullpen Bulletins page which informed readers of upcoming events in the Marvel Universe. This, along with the letters pages, was closely moderated by Lee and everything was presented in a laid back, casual style, treating the readers like friends instead of customers.

Into the seventies, Lee still wasn't finished innovating the medium and he was at the forefront of those pushing the boundaries of what a comic could include. This led to more edgy and serious topics making their way into Marvel stories such as drug addiction, racism and domestic abuse. He even defied the mighty Comic Code Authority to publish stories with strong social and political commentary as well as the elements mentioned above. He also stressed using a wide and sophisticated vocabulary to tell his stories as well as encouraging other Marvel writers to do so. Lee understood that the comic reading audience was not to be condescended and pandered to and that the most important thing was telling great stories in the best way possible.

2. Brian Michael Bendis (2001 - ?)
I know old-school fans are probably shuddering at this but allow me to make my case. Right now, this guy is the writer holding the framework of the Marvel Universe together (and that's not counting the Ultimate Marvel U either). And I do not make this statement as some sort of jab at other other current scribes, far from it in fact. No, what I mean is that as Bendis has written SO FUCKING MUCH and continues to involve himself in tons of current titles that it's almost impossible to reach a corner of the Marvel U that doesn't have his fingerprints on it. But it's quality that should count here and not just quantity so let's get into it.

Let's start with the biggest stuff. In 2004, Bendis oversaw the final issues of one of Marvel's longest running flagship titles, The Avengers. This was the (in)famous Avengers Disassembled story arc that saw the dismantling of the team and the end of one of Marvel's longest running and most successful titles. A lot of people...were pissed. But it got me interested. This was followed up with the birth of New Avengers, which has just recently passed the fifty issue mark with Bendis writing every single one. While I haven't been in love with everything he's brought to the title - such as bringing along annoying creation, Jessica Jones (Alias, The Pulse) - the fact is I never had anything beyond a passing interest in the Avengers before New Avengers and I think it's fair to say this was the case for many other readers as well.

His first gig at Marvel was taking over the Marvel Knights issues of Daredevil and that run has been critically acclaimed and also set up the run I already mentioned by Brubaker. Bendis didn't really do anything groundbreaking with the title; mostly what he did was bring back the elements that made DD a cool character in the first place but someone had to do it. The nineties (a bad time for Marvel in general, really) had not been kind to Daredevil as a title and Bendis's work helped make the character popular again.

Bendis's tenacious work on Ultimate Spider-Man (another title where he's written every single issue) is really most responsible for making the Ultimate Marvel Universe more than simply a noble experiment. And while I'm sometimes critical of his dialogue in that at points the back and forth between characters comes across as just a little too clever (and he has too many characters swearing too often if you ask me) I can't deny the man mostly has a great sense of how people really talk. I'm mentioning it here because it's really best applied to Ultimate Spider-Man where many major characters are teenagers and Bendis displays a great understanding of how kids talk in these times. Ultimate Spider-Man regularly outsold the other Spider-Man titles and its success is what led directly to the addition of other titles to the Ultimate line. Simply put, it's highly likely the Ultimate Universe would have been a complete failure without his involvement as one of its major architects (Mark Millar probably being the other). He's also written two major events in the Ultimate Universe, Ultimate Six and Ultimate Origins (both six issues long).

Besides his flair for realistic and pleasing dialogue I would have to say Bendis's greatest strength as a writer is his ability to conceive elaborate storylines and lay the groundwork for them far in advance - for any major event he's written you can find clues leading up to it stretching remarkably far back beforehand. Still holding down his New Avengers position (oh, and he writes Mighty Avengers too - splitting the team in two after the events of Civil War) and with events House of M, Secret War, Secret Invasion and Dark Reign all on his resume, Bendis has to be considered the go-to writer at Marvel and there have been no indications of this changing any time soon.

1. Chris Claremont (1974 - 1991/ 1998 - ?)
What can I say about this guy? After writing some early issues of the first Iron Fist series in the early seventies Len Wein handed him the writing duties of Uncanny X-Men. And from then on comics would never be the same.

Claremont would be the title's main writer for the next seventeen years. Over this time, Uncanny X-Men would be consistently more popular than Marvel's other team books such as Avengers and Fantastic Four. Working mostly with artist John Byrne, the tandem would become legendary. Claremont is responsible for creating or co-creating some of Marvel's most enduring and engaging characters, including many females. It was his decision to set Storm up as the new leader of the X-Men after Cyclops. Wein had created Storm, the first prominent black super heroine in Marvel, but it was Claremont who truly shaped and developed her as writing females as dynamic and strong characters was a hallmark of his story telling style. Rogue, Psylocke, Mystique and Emma Frost are all his creations. (to say nothing of his male creations like Mr. Sinister and Gambit)

Another major decision pertaining to female characters was Claremont's revamping of Jean Grey as Phoenix. The space opera involving the Shi'ar Empire and the X-Men was all this doing as well as the Dark Phoenix Saga. He was also the architect of the celebrated Days of Future Past storyline, the Mutant Massacre and Fall Of The Mutants - all major events in Marvel Universe continuity. The graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, one of Marvel's earliest (1982), was penned by Claremont as well. This partially inspired the second X-Men film and I must say, they did a pretty shitty job of it, mostly by trying to make everything about Wolverine for some reason.

Speaking of Wolverine, Claremont helped launch the first Wolverine series as well as other X-Men spinoff books New Mutants, X-Factor Excaliber and eventually, the second X-Men title, X-Men. He wrote the first three issues of this series until a dispute with editor Bob Harras led to his departure from Marvel in 1991. It's fair to say that without Claremont's amazing contributions there would be no line of X Books to compliment Uncanny X-Men - his work with Byrne and others caused the X-Men to be just that popular. Also speaking of Wolverine, it is Claremont who is largely responsible for giving him the voice that writers use to this day. This includes coming up with Wolvie's famous line, "I'm the best there is at what I do". ("And what I do isn't very nice") which is as integral a part of the character as his claws.

These days I don't find myself following any current X Books as none have been able to really hold my interest. But I continue to buy up trade paperback after trade paperback of X-Men and X-related stories written by Claremont. While his style included the annoying unnecessary exposition used by most writers of his day, with characters overexplaining their actions either through giant thought bubbles or even saying things out loud no one ever would bother to, it was also a dynamic and dramatic style that worked perfectly for the X-Men. He's actually been criticized for an overly dramatic and "soapy" voice but if you ask me, it's really been overblown. The fact is that Cyclops having some monologues of self-loathing or Nightcrawler moaning that he'll never be accepted actually fit the tone of Marvel comics just fine. In fact, if anything, it added needed depth to characters whose problems were often extremely dramatic and far from "normal."

Throughout all this, Claremont simply told brilliantly entertaining stories, all the while weaving in various metaphors and social commentaries that never seemed oversimplified or out of place. I boldly declare him the greatest writer Marvel has had so far and the guy never even wrote Spider-Man for Christ's sake.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Most Annoyingly Inaccurate Historical Movies

This list needs some clarification before continuing. What I mean by “annoyingly inaccurate” is movies that are based of historical subject matter, deviate from the historical record and wind up with something terrible. While I am a big history fan and I love it when a period is accurately represented (i.e. the Name of the Rose), I don't think huge deviation is an unforgivable sin unless it is done for reasons that personally annoy me.

I think a great example of this is the movie The Thirteenth Warrior. I'm sure that, to a lot of people, this was a brain dead, generic medieval warrior movie. However, I think the premise (taken from Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead) was actually pretty cool. The goal was to create a very loose retelling of the Beowulf epic, combined with the theory of neanderthal survival into the Dark Ages and told from the prospective of real life Arab historian Ahmad ibn Fadlan. For me, the very idea stirs the imagination and even though there are loads of historical inaccuracies (the Vikings using weapons and armour from all sorts of inappropriate places and time periods, a total misrepresentation of Viking vs. Arab horses, etc.) I think these were probably intentional. The concept is a mashup of a whole bunch of mythical, historical and biological stuff so such inaccuracies only add to the charm. A great example is how the Norsemen are represented as filthy. While in truth they were just as, or more, clean than most peoples during the period, the story is told from the perspective of Ahmad. All we know is how he saw things, not things as they actually were.

Other movies however, do not far as well. They misrepresent history but for no good purpose. The movies on this list rob the viewer of a glimpse of another time period and offer a vision or message that is either completely uninteresting, or downright stupid. There are countless movies that could easily have made this list like Rob Roy or Pathfinder which I did not include for various reasons. Rob Roy is inaccurate but is faithful to the book and is also totally awesome. Pathfinder is inaccurate but it's so terrible in general that I don't find its inaccuracy to be all that annoying. I find its very existence annoying and therefore it would be a candidate for films that I generally despise. Kingdom of Heaven was a million times better but I find its inaccuracies to be extremely annoying. Hence, it's on the list.

Why isn't Alexander on the list? Well, although that movie is bad (and inaccurate) what annoys me most is that the movie was boring and horrible, not that it was inaccurate. Hence, it's not on the list. One dishonourable mention I have to give out is to King Arthur. In some ways, it should almost be number one because it tries to make mythical ideas seem plausible and that they might be based in fact. It then totally screws this up by creating something that's just as unbelievable as the myth but without any of the charm and personality of the legends. However, again, this film has way worse going on in it than mere historical inaccuracy. Three out of the five movies here take place in the medieval period because it's the time period I most care about. Also, movies that take place in the ancient world (Gladiator, Troy, Spartacus, etc.) usually do better for some reason.

5. Braveheart
I enjoyed Braveheart when I first saw it and I can still bring myself to watch it every so often. Unlike Oliver Stone's Alexander (whose movies have a real penchant for fucking up all manner of history be it classical, political or rock music), the inaccuracies drag down a film that's still entertaining. It's probably because the movie feels less like it's trying to be a bones to balls accurate representation of the past. The weapons and armour are pretty much dead wrong and it looks like it takes place in the Iron Age or something, rather than 100 years AFTER Kingdom of Heaven (I know it takes place in Scotland and all, but the English should look more impressive at least).

But what really annoys me is how they messed up the battles. The Battle of Stirling Bridge (depicted sans bridge and river in the movie) was way more than a bunch of screaming men charging at each other. It's stuff like this that propagates the myth that there was no such thing as military strategy between the Romans and Napolean. The movie also does a terrible job of portraying Wallace as a great tactician, as his bright idea is to “use spears... long spears...” to impale cavalry. A critical observer might rightly ask, “Why hadn't the Scots done this before? Did they not have axes? Is there something in their water making them stupid?” The technique of using schiltrons demanded a lot of training and preparation because they were expected to remain in a variety of formations and move around both offensively and defensively as the situation needed. It was hardly the “Quick, pick up these sharpened logs before they figure out what's going on!” approach depicted in the movie. Moreover, in reality, Wallace also used the schiltrons during the Battle of Falkirk where, in the movie, they are suspiciously absent. My guess is that they didn't want to show them at that point in the movie because it was Wallace's major defeat and they didn't want to make it seem like a bad idea or something.

But this brings me to another point. One of the main reasons he lost was because of the presence of Welsh longbowmen, something that was totally unprecedented and for which it is understandable Wallace had not prepared for. Wouldn't it have been cool to see Wallace, a man already established as a great leader and bringing something new to the battlefield, only to be beaten by another secret weapon that was the fruit of Edward's brutal conquest of the Celtic peoples? But no, it'd be better to see him simply betrayed by his friends (including Moray which I don't even have the time to go into) and see a bunch of idiots mob the field. This also robs us of a more accurate glimpse into Edward I who was also a brilliant military commander. His victories weren't entirely dependent on his huge bankroll that allowed him to pay people not to fight him.

But the worst is the relationship between Wallace and the Princess of Wales. The possibility of such a thing happening is beyond ridiculous. They never sent her unprotected into Scotland to talk to Wallace, she never went up to the tower of London to talk to him, she never met him in person. It's more likely she would have had an affair with Robert the Bruce. “But she didn't meet him either”, you might say. EXACTLY. To top it all off, the movie tries to give the viewer the impression that the whole Plantagenet line dies with Edward I as she's carrying Wallace's kid and she plans to depose Edward II. Well, it's true that Isabella did depose her husband but you'd be wrong to think her son was any friend to the Scots. Edward III spent the first few years of his rule removing power from his mom, executing her lover and then testing out the newly completed English longbowmen armies on his northern neighbours. The only reason he didn't finish the job and take over Scotland entirely is because he had bigger fish to fry: France. He just wanted to kill as many Scots as possible with minimal effort so they wouldn't bother him when he went away.

The cherry on top of this mess is the ending scene, which is not only unhistorical but also nonsensical. In it, Robert the Bruce stands before his army, preparing to go have his crown endorsed by the English. He then decides that he's not going to suffer this indignity and leads his men to charge the fields of Bannockburn, where, we are told, they win their freedom. First of all, if Robert the Bruce was successfully crowned king, and the English supported it, they would have, by definition, won their freedom. The Simpsons' equivalent of this would be the McBain scene, “I surrender!”, “Not so fast.” . The whole reason Bannockburn had to be fought was because they hadn't won their freedom. So basically most of the film was complete crap but it was still mildly entertaining. The fight scenes, while retarded, have a visceral impact that I don't find in many war films. Imagine how much better it could have been if it was made by people that actually respected the time period they were trying to film.

Oh, and they also fucked up the longbowmen.

4. Kingdom of Heaven

One of the problems with Kingdom of Heaven is how close it came to being one of the most accurate medieval period movies ever. If you want to see a pretty authentic representation of medieval weapons, armour and their use, you need look no farther than this film. The scene where Godfrey is teaching Balian fencing and the fight that immediately follows it is one of my favourites in any movie. I especially love the German character's invocation of Trial by Combat, an actual method of dispute settlement according to medieval English law (although I think the scene happened in France but you get the idea). Moreover, there was fertile ground here for a good movie as the downfall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Third Crusade is pretty cool subject matter. Unfortunately, the whole thing crumbles in the face of the complete misrepresentation of how politics and religion played into the events the film depicts.

Ridley Scott's message in this film seems to be something like, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” He makes a movie where most of the problems between the various foreign and domestic cultures in the middle east are caused by religious zealots, whose violent and fundamentalist interpretation of their own faith leads them to be intolerant of any other belief system. The movie ends with a black screen with the powerful lines “...nearly a thousand years later, peace in the Kingdom of Heaven remains elusive.” In other words, “Then as now, if only more people were as religiously ambivalent and politically liberal as Balian and the other protagonists, the middle east could be peaceful.” Well, it's pretty obvious that a lot of the problems that plague the middle east now are not the same ones as a thousand years ago, and to think so demonstrates ignorance of Muslim history more than it does knowledge of the Crusades. 

This bone-headed message is not only utter bullshit, it completely goes against one of the main reasons history is interesting. It is a huge mistake (and highly arrogant) to think that people have perceived the world the same as we do today. Trying to get a handle of the mentality of a few connected nations who left behind a wealth of written records is pretty much a full time job for classicists. History never repeats itself and to present the conflicts in this way is not only misleading, it's lazy. There was no such thing as the religious tolerance Balian spouts about all faiths having equal claim to the Holy Land and in trying to create a lead character we could all identify with, they created a hero who is both ingenuous and generic. 

They also missed out on some really cool political intrigue by making the aggressively religious people the primary antagonists. Guy of Lusignan was never a Templar, and is a prime example of a continental European and newcomer to the Holy Land creating political turmoil. Making the Templars the “bad guys” again misrepresents history and presents us with a story far too simple and bland to be satisfying.

Ridley Scott and the scriptwriter William Monahan have made statements that they are aware of their film's inaccuracies, but that they had to be done because without them, we wouldn't understand the truth about the period. Yeah, you need to misrepresent the past so that people won't misunderstand the past. Makes perfect sense. This is the biggest insult to the intelligence of the audience and merely shows that Ridely Scott, the supposed artist, is willing to cow tow to the lowest common denominator like everybody else. 

The reality is that Scott has an opinion about the state of the modern Middle East and he totally screws with the historical record so he can clumsily shoehorn his message into his tale about the past. By doing so, he robs us of learning information that is not only fascinating, but information that he implicitly promised by dressing his film up as authentic history. In short, the movie was incredibly annoying with some fantastic scenes and an impeccable design aesthetic.

3. The Passion of the Christ

One thing that might spare the Passion of the Christ from this list (and almost did) was the fact that the events in Christ's life have no truly definitive historical form. Mel Gibson's interpretation is really no more or less right (from a historical perspective) than The Last Temptation of Christ or Godspell. I don't want to embroil myself in a religious argument quagmire, but the telling of Jesus' life is not one that can be told in a way that would satisfy the historical record. All versions would involve some amount of fiction. Now, I'm not saying Christ didn't actually ever exist (there is enough evidence to satisfy most historians and we usually assume other figures (like Pericles or Pythagoras) have lived even though we only have third hand information about them as well). But because the life and deeds of Christ also conform to mythological accounts that predate his life, there cannot help but be some myth-making in the tale. This is not bad and is only a problem if you're some kind of biblical literalist (in which case you are beyond intellectual redemption anyway). The Catholics know about this and it is nothing to be threatened by. Moreover, Mel has never claimed that his film is an accurate portrayal of history so it's not Kingdom of Heaven style false advertising.

So, why is this film on the list? Basically, because of popular assumptions about it. As movies have developed, budgets have grown and special effects have improved, films become more realistic (or at least more visually powerful which, for some, translates into realism). Take Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Don't get me wrong I like this movie, but I know that when this first came out (and even to his day) audiences felt like they were getting a more authentic experience because it was “up to date.” That this Robin Hood was more true to life or the legend because it looked totally bitchin' when he shot that guy in the face. In reality, it's no more true, just more amped up and 90sesque (again, I think the movie is awesome). The same is true, only far more so, with the Passion of the Christ. For example, because everybody is running around speaking Latin and Aramaic, people assume that it's probably the most accurate film about the period. 

The irony here is that the Latin the Romans are speaking is the ecclesiastical Latin of the Medieval church, not the classical Latin of the period. Moreover, the film lacks the true universal language of the time, Greek, which would have been used by both Romans and Hebrews to communicate. Small and anal points, I know, but they are very telling ones. The movie has a lot of detail that would make one assume it was historically accurate, but in reality they are just details of the religious fantasy that only exists in the religious framework Mel believes in. 

The use of ecclesiastical Latin, nails in palms rather than wrists, styles of clothing and social terminology were deviations that conform to the Catholic tradition, not to the facts of the day. These were intentional on Gibson's part because the film is a religious message, not an account of history. However, because of the big budget, optical and computer effects, over-the-top violence, overacting and, most of all, all the trappings of apparent historical authenticity added by Gibson, everyone seems to think that THIS is the film that delivers the straight dope on JC. Like all other filmmakers didn't have the ability, budget or balls to make the REAL story. Look at that blood, man! It's real! Look, I didn't cut away like most movies when the cross-nailing happens! You know why? 'Cause it's more real, man! Genuine Roman cat-o-nine tails? You know it! Check out Monica Bellucci's boobs! All real, baby!

I even met someone who thought it was the duty of all humanity to watch this film so we could truly feel Christ's pain and sacrifice. Like it was goddamn Schindler's List or something. Let me tell you something: religious or not, if you think you're closer to understanding and feeling Christ's suffering because you watched a movie, you might need more help than modern medicine can provide. You need to go to Abu Ghraiband and receive a waterboarding or something. 

If watching a man get whipped and beaten to a pulp for hours on TV is a religious experience, then myself and the boys of my generation are about the most religious people you'll ever see. I was addicted to Mortal Kombat for a few years so I can only imagine how many epiphanies I must have had while I uppercutted three heads off Sub-Zero and threw him into a pit of spikes. People have denounced violent movies and games and say that they incite violence because children get confused between movies and reality. I don't know about kids, but that assessment is certainly true for the Jesus freak squad (and they are legion) who venerate this film and its authenticity.

2. The New World

Don't get me wrong, the Europeans were pretty cruel and immoral in their invasion of the Americas. It's a huge issue that takes way too long to deal with properly so I'll just say: yes, the Europeans weren't very nice to the natives. I know this, you know this, everyone knows this (even the racists who think it was justified know this). However, it is this message that predominates this spectacularly boring film at the expense of historical accuracy.

I'll give you an example: You know how the Europeans were a pretty greedy lot, right? How can we fit this factoid into a movie that's only a mere 150 hours long? Well, what do greedy people do? You guessed it: they dig for gold. From pirates to Scrooge McDuck, human (and uh... I guess, avian) greed is best summed up by gold lust. Also, the English settlers in Jamestown famously needed the help of the natives through that first winter right? How do we establish this? Like I said, we don't have all the time in the world here. I know! We'll kill two birds with one stone by establishing that the settlers couldn't support themselves because they were so busy digging for gold, they forgot to grow crops, go fishing or even DIG A WELL. That's right. Clear-thinking John Smith is able to help out his fellow countrymen because he is able to see through the gold mine bullshit and convince them to dig a well for drinking water instead. John comes up with this bold plan, fresh out of his stay with the natives. While living them, he saw their idyllic life where apparently they sing and dance all day and pick fresh food off the ground. 

Things aren't so easy for the English settlers because they spend so much time being evil and European that they turn their village into a small-scale version of the Warsaw ghetto. But when he goes back to Jamestown, he is made the leader (they killed the old one you know) and is forced to deal with the aforementioned drinking water problem, infighting, disease, starvation and, worst of all, snotty-nose English boys who can barely speak their own language and look they they came straight out of the world of A Clockwork Orange. All the while with a really bored look on his face. Most of his solutions involve him walking around looking really disappointed by everything and wishing he was somewhere else. Tell me something: if John Smith learned so much about the sanctity of human life from the natives, why does he look like he's just waiting around for all his fellows to die so he can go back to Pocahontas rather than actually doing something to improve the situation?

I could go on about this forever, but the point is that the movie is historically inaccurate because Terrence Malick wanted to say more about European colonisation than would fit into the events of the film. The full scope of European cruelty and greed couldn't be seen in the real events, so the solution is to make all the European problems a result of the fact that they were basically immoral and not, you know, embarking on a mission that was difficult and dangerous by its own nature. And forget about his portrayal of the natives as peaceful and with no concept of ownership. In real life, they attacked the town within a few weeks of its founding without provocation! I'm not saying they were wrong for not wanting the Europeans there but the film omits these facts for the sake of its unhistorical message. I've got way more to say but it would take too long. Suffice it to say, this film annoys me.

1. Timeline

As you may have gathered, a big thing that annoys me is the sacrifice of history because of some kind of message the filmmaker wants to spread. Kingdom of Heaven, the Passion of the Christ and the New World exploit historical people and events for the political and religious statements they are trying to make. What annoys me further is that they are not up front about this and allow their films to masquerade as fact when they know full well that it's complete bullshit. If you want to railroad the past to prove some ill-advised and uneducated opinions, at least have the balls to own up to it. 

However, this is not so with Timeline. Timeline is simply one of the stupidest movies about the past ever made and it does this for absolutely no reason I can perceive. “Wait!” I hear a hypothetical person in my head cry. “So was Pathfinder, and that didn't make your list!” But the very concept of Pathfinder (what would happen if Vikings fought the Native Americans) makes the end product unsurprising. What is infuriating about Timeline is that it's based on a book (another one by Michael Crichton) that was not only really good, but actively denounced the sort of historical prejudice, arrogance, laziness and stupidity that possessed the filmmakers who created this garbage. Whereas, the novel worked hard to dispel commonly held medieval clichés and falsehoods, the movie brings all of them back and more.

I tried re watching the film for the purposes of this list but I am at a loss of what to write. Even the action is terrible which, yet again, was masterful in the book. Apparently a lot of it was done by medieval reenactors which goes a long way to explaining things. Nothing gives combat in the middle ages a worse name than the likes of the SCA, and their “style” is all over this tripe. You'd be better off calling in the local D&D club for your fighting needs. But seriously, it's so thoroughly bad it's hard to pick out highlights of awfulness.

Simply put, the movie got everything from both history and the book completely wrong and just about any medieval movie would be better. And that's saying something because most of them suck. And could somebody please tell me why they keep casting Gerard Butler in various period films in which he is never Scottish? The hypothetical man now cries: “Sean Connery is Scottish and he's been in many period films where he's English and even Russian!” I know. It works because he's a good actor with stage presence. I don't buy Butler as a Geat, Dracula, a Spartan King or the Phantom of the Opera. Even the idea of him as a modern man who travels through time and would fit in the medieval period seems hard to swallow. The only film I could imagine liking him in is a biopic about Gerard Butler, and his daily activities of eating, sleeping, getting his mail and starring in movies as a time and space displaced Scotsmen. I don't have much to say about Timeline other than it is the epitome of historical crap films and there is absolutely no excuse. The only book they would have had to crack to make a decent film is the very one it was supposed to have been based on.