Birdman review: The movie of Hollywood's discontent  

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’a Birdman may strive to facetiously showcase the underbelly of the theatrical world, but winds up pretentiously insulting the mocking community to which he belongs.

Birdman follows Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed up former action star trying to revive his career and simultaneously recapture the hearts of Americans by putting on a Broadway production of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Within the first ten minutes of the film, after a falling prop strikes one of Riggan’s leading actors, it’s immediately apparent the play is doomed for tragedy.

Riggan’s problems only increase when a contentious but beloved Broadway actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) joins the production.

On stage explosions, backstage brawls, and secret romances gradually chip away at the last remaining bits of sanity Riggan’s been able to keep a hold of despite the chaotic cataclysmic events in his life.

On top of all the professional drama overtaking Riggan’s life, he’s also trying to be a father to his recovering drug addicted daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and process the Freudian id of his beloved aforementioned action franchise star, Birdman. A Christian Bale Batman sounding figment of his imagination that antagonizes him, daring him to do wrong like Dexter’s dark passenger in the Jeff Lindsay series.

It’s not difficult to see infamous characters Irarritu drew inspiration from, including Shakespeare’s notorious mad King Lear, but the forced insanity of the production and the overstated distaste for the less artsy aspects of Hollywood manages to erase any kind of Shakespearian brevity.

Riggan’s path through life, like Ethan Hawley’s in Steinbeck’s last novel The Winter of Our Discontent, is sullen, anarchic, and resentful.

Inarritu’s own contempt for Hollywood’s action, or more specifically superhero blitz, hangs over the entire film, never once letting the audience forget just how foolish they are for subscribing to tinsel town’s latest multi billion dollar fad.

Blatant in rough conversations between Riggan and Shiner are the two vastly different opinions the audience is made to believe exist between those within the industry.

On one hand there’s Riggan, so desperate for the attention of strangers, for the two-second emotional orgasm he receives when someone recognizes him on the street. If a plane he was one were to crash, he’d want his picture on the front page, not George Clooney’s, as he points out to his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) in his depressingly monochromatic dressing room.

On the other side there’s Shiner, a dedicated student to the art of acting, a true maniac artist. A man who claims he could care less about the fame associated with his work, but who just wants to feel the adrenaline pump through his veins during a performance. A man who’s so in love with the idea of creating a great work of art he can only produce an erection when he’s on stage in front of hundreds of strangers.

It’s an admirable if not ambitious goal to strike the entire dramatic world down to two characters, and unfortunately, Inarritu doesn’t quite pull of the authenticity he’s striving for.

Even Sam as the disgruntled daughter of a celebrity father, attempting to garner attention from those around her with a clichéd drug addiction and neurotic behavior feels played to death.

Instead, Birdman ends up with a cast of venomous caricatures, fantastical beings that only manage to make a farce of the film itself rather than the industry they set out to unmask.

A fantasy the choreography only heightens. Implied long shots with a manual camera, often times directly following a character from over their shoulder on long walks around the massive theater complex or on a forty five degree angle, tilted up from the ground to capture their facial expressions as they dart from one destination to another.

Even the camerawork feels inauthentic though as rough cuts quickly dissolve any intended belief that an entire scene was captured in one shot.

All of the combined failed efforts, on top of the cynically preposterous script create an over the top and pretentious film that despite its best efforts falls flat.

With that being said, there are moments that are enjoyable and quick one-liners that are mournfully funny.

That should all be credited to the outstanding cast of actors who brilliantly worked with the material they were served.

Keaton and Norton steal the show anytime they’re on screen, while Stone produces one of the best minor monologues the actress has ever given in a performance.

The failures of Birdman certainly do not fall on the shoulders of the main and supporting cast, all who flew beautifully the entire two hours, but instead on the bitter overtones Inarritu brings in from the very first shot.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the film where Keaton angrily turns off a news segment on Robert Downey Jr.’s titanic success with the Iron Man and Avengers series, followed by a scene at the end of the movie where a miniature costumed Iron Man is fighting a Transformer robot, a gangly Spider-Man dancing awkwardly in the background.

Inarritu’s contempt transcends from the director’s personal life through the lens and directly into the film.

Except instead of making a valid and interesting point, he comes off as condescending and insulting.

Birdman is a look at high-browed art and culture losing a waging war to America’s unhampering need for low-browed, mindless superhero blockbusters.

Inarritu may think he’s closer to Carver than Whedon, but Birdman proves he’s just as wanton for recognition as the next starving artist, choosing to gain his attention in the same manner a commenter would on a YouTube video. 

Mudbloods review: Quidditch gets personal but has trouble taking off

In an attempt to document the golden snitch of intercollege sports, Mudbloods falls a little flat on storytelling but soars when showcasing the lives of whacky seekers, chasers, and beaters off the pitch.

The directorial debut from Farzad Nikbakht, Mudbloods follows three separate groups of Harry Potter aficionados as they prepare for the fifth annual Quidditch World Cup in New York City.

The main story follows a group of adorably passionate quidditch players from UCLA as they attempt to raise $8,000 to secure their place at the World Cup among 139 other teams from four different countries.

Like many a sports documentary (or Disney film) before them, their proverbial dedication to the sport and their excitement for the community they belong to manage to build a nest in the audience’s heart. Like Rudy, Coach Carter, The Mighty Ducks, and so many others, it’s practically impossible to not root for the Hufflepuff clan of quirky underdog athletes.

The documentary may focus on them as a team, but its when they’re not on the pitch that the film finds its footing.

Instead of being muddled down by shaky camera footage of a fictional game, Nikbakht takes time to explore their roles as couples, friends, wannabe rap producers, coaches, and above all else, an unusual type of family that can only be built through a shared college experience.

What Mudbloods gets right is the exploration of maneuvering through an entirely new eco-system and finding a group of like-minded individuals who embrace the same passions that were previously frowned upon in a smaller high school setting. These kids take a large part of their childhood, and using a desire to embrace their nostalgic feel good memories from that period, manage to overcome social fears while making history at their school.

It’s these moments of shared intimacy and unhindered glimpses into their lives outside of the sport that bonds them where the documentary is most interesting.

Considering the documentary is about the explosion of the intercollege sport, ironically, the actual quidditch components feel redundant and restricted. Like a novelty rollercoaster or haunted theme park, once the ride is over and all of the terrifying clowns with chainsaws have jumped out, the interest wanes.

Nikbakht is fortunate enough to have a medley of interesting characters to play with, including the official commissioner of the International Quidditch Association (and the Master of Ceremonies at the World Cup) Alex Benepe. He just forgets to use them as often as he can, instead choosing to return to lackluster in-game shots

Again, like the team from UCLA, Benepe shines when the camera is focused on his personal endeavor to see the sport pick up global attention.

From organizing the World Cup that brings in 30,000 spectators and over $100,000 to boasting about setting up a mock game in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Benepe’s passion juxtaposed his personal and financial struggles to ensure the league stays afloat is fascinating.

Even with Benepe at his disposal, Nikbakht doesn’t spend enough time with him, instead using his brief history of the sport to support the team from UCLA’s yearlong mission to reach the World Cup.

Nikbakht makes quite a few mistakes with Mudbloods, but overall it’s an interesting and lighthearted documentary rich in fandom and appropriated in nerd culture. For a first time feature, it manages to capture the essence of a sport still unknown to so many people and capture a passion so beloved by millions of children, teenagers, and adults around the world.

Brooms up and game on.

Gone Girl: A tale of obsession, deceit, and marriage

Gone Girl is a piece of satirical genius matted in the perverse tale of deceit, derangement, and death.

The death of American livelihood following a catastrophic economic recession. Or perhaps the death of objective journalism in the wake of a deeply personal tragedy, exploited for millions of families gathered around their television sets.

The deceptive promise of a fruitful career in whatever field a hardworking, Ivy League college graduate desires or just the idea of a marriage that doesn’t suffer from an array of qualms and atrocious discoveries.

The derangement of a national obsession with tragedy, with painstakingly blaming a solitary figure for a crime and mourning the loss of a national treasure they only discovered twenty four hours prior.

All of this is encompassed in David Fincher’s latest film Gone Girl. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl explores the tumultuous relationship between Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), an aristocratic couple who thrived on their high browed interests and typical New York attitudes in life.

When Nick and Amy are forced to move back to Nick’s Missouri hometown to aid his terminally ill mother, their relationship begins to buckle under the stress of financial collapse, disparaging each other at any available opportunity.

Until the day their fifth anniversary rolls around and Amy disappears without a trace.

Without delving too much into the plot so as to avoid spoilers, what follows is a quite comedic take on various kidnaping cases audiences have become so immune too, the most famous being the Scott Peterson debacle.

It’s not the actual case that’s necessarily the most intriguing element to the story, although it manages to claw its way into your mind thanks to superb acting from Affleck and Pike. Instead, the most interesting facet of it is the way Nick handles suddenly being transported into the national spotlight.

From the very first press conference Nick gives after reporting Amy’s disappearance, he becomes slightly less invested in finding his cataclysmic wife and instead focuses on how he’ll appear.

Should he smile during the press conference, should he shake the hands of the countless volunteers who appear to help track Amy down?

In a judicial system that preaches innocence until proven guilty, he’s constantly battling the most important and unofficial part of the judicial system; the nightly talk shows that air on networks like HLN, FOX, and MSNBC.

In America’s eyes, he’s guilty until proven innocent, and from the very moment the cameras are turned on him, he’s trying to prove he’s not a murderer. He barely has time to accept the fact that his wife is missing when the cameras are constantly pointed on him and the fingers won’t stop wagging in his direction.

In retaliation Nick weaves his web of deceit, carefully cultivating a plan to keep the darkest secrets of his life, both with and without Amy, out of the tabloid press.

Press conference after press conference, Nick works on his image, quickly adding a “Find Amy” button to his jacket’s lapel before appearing in front a large crowd or working on how to effectively say he loves his wife on national television in a manner that will garner him the most sympathy from viewers.

“They like me, they don’t like me. The hate me, they love me,” he announces one night, frustrated.

It’s a familiar painting, the image of a town banding together with pitchforks raised and man made torches built of straw flickering, ready to burn the monster down to the ground before they’ve met the man behind the mountains of television foundation.

Just like how Nick becomes obsessed with solving the puzzle behind his wife’s disappearance and obsessed with carving a believably mourning husband for the daily papers, America has become ubiquitous in their obsession with the case.

It’s a bottle of Masterpiece Theatre served with a small dose of reality television to sweeten the toxic drink.

Fincher manages to perfectly emulate the obsessive, fervorous nature audiences take real crime stories with, staring like zombies as six p.m. newscasters break down the most recent turn of events in a case or marathoning episode after episode of some faux documentary unsolved crime series on Investigation Discovery.

Although Fincher may blatantly mirror this obsession back to the audience, he manages to sound compassionate instead of scornful.

This is a man who understands being obsessed with the twisted and bizarre world of all kinds of crime; he’s built his career around it.

There’s a sympathetic feeling Affleck earns directly because of Fincher’s directing that makes it feel completely normal to obsess over a simple missing person’s case that has become the talk of the nation.

Nick Dunne is flawed, as is the rest of the world. In turn, the audience despises him and admires him for the same attributes they may see in themselves.

Like Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club, there’s an obsession to mindlessly drift into the oblivion of the unreal, to focus on something other than the reality of their own lives for as long as they can, to avoid the problems reality holds.

In Gone Girl, that unanimous flaw seems to be marriage, or relationships in general.

“Everyone told us the same thing. Relationships are hard work,” Amy writes in her journal one day.

Clearly, Nick and Amy’s is far more dysfunctional than most, but the statement rings true.

While in New York City, Nick and Amy are obsessed with being the perfect couple, making each other out to be something they are not while deceiving each other into thinking they are something they never were.

In New York City, their charade can continue to act itself out, through exotic dinner reservations and yuppie talk of nineteenth century literature over nostalgic talk of prestigious school days past.

When they move to Missouri, however, the bubble bursts and the crutches are swept out from under the feet. The masks they’ve been able to wear for so long begin to erode and eventually their true selves begin to show.

After five years of marriage, it’s clear they weren’t what the other was hoping for while lost in the sea of Hollywood possibilities made available only through Manhattan bars and social engagements.

Once the charade has completely dropped, the obsessive insanity starts to churn, and they begin their game of cat and mouse in an attempt to rebuild the deception they couldn’t see passed before.

By the end of the movie, it’s their obsession with one another, the games they simply can’t tear away from, that binds them together once more.

Clasped hands, cashmere sweaters, and faux smiles are the image they project unto the obsessed that clamor and cheer for a happy ending.  

After all, once you’ve fallen down the well, it’s nearly impossible to climb back out of it.

The darkness and gloom you’ve tried to escape settles in and eventually even the brightest of spots disappears completely until all that’s familiar is the well you call home.

The Knick review: Oh yes, there will be blood

The Knick is a visually stunning foray into the birth of surgery during the turn of the century that focuses heavily on pristine directing above anything else.

The story of Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) and his surgical staff at New York City’s destitute Knickerbocker Hospital, is grim and hanging on by a thread, much like the hospital they all congregate at. The characters while hardly original, are well executed by the talented cast who manage to elegantly twist an ordinary story into something much more exciting.

Like surgery itself, one could argue.

Owen’s Thackery is an amalgamation of past literary characters like Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, but television audiences may best acquaint him with Hugh Laurie’s popular misanthropic, drug addicted doctor Gregory House.

A whacky, yet stoic surgeon, Thackery is practically worshipped by his surrounding surgical residents, but harnesses a dangerous addiction to liquid cocaine and other narcotics, choosing to spend the majority of his nights at an opium den on the wrong side of town, surrounded by prostitutes and the city’s finest under dwellers. 

From the very first shot, an effortlessly cool pose of Thackery with his feet resting upon a stool, his white dress shoes clashing vibrantly amongst the gloomy shadowed room of the opium den while Cliff Martinez’s anachronistic score plays, director Steven Soderbergh ostentatious confirms he, Owens, and Martinez are the true stars of the series.

The nearly dull storyline takes a backseat to the incredible camera work, capturing the demented genius of groundbreaking surgery.

While not particularly gory by Cinemax and HBO standards, the image of sterile white sheets and doctor’s uniforms violently contrast the vibrant red blood being ripped out of the patient’s bodies.

Unlike other medical shows, Soderbergh doesn’t need to show off the chaos of a surgical theater; he lets the terrifying image of ruby red blood remind the audience what surgeons do is absolutely horrific.

It’s the images of surgery that stick out the most, set against Martinez’s almost calming overture. In a way, the entire production is borderline steampunk.

Eerie electronic music, extremely modern in its production, set against the backdrop of an operating theatre and rusty archaic tools used for cauterizing bleeds, creates an ambience television has never seen before in a turn of the century drama.

In a medium dominated by storytelling and invigorating characters, it’s interesting to see those very important storytelling facets become lacklustre.

After meeting the charming yet obnoxious Thackery, audiences are introduced to the rest of the staff at the Knick, as they so lovingly call it, none of whom make very much of an impression in the first episode.

The only other character that shows any type of promise for the future of the series is Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), an African-American surgeon transferring from Paris who’s to become Thackery’s new Deputy Surgeon.

Thackery (and the rest of his staff) are outright opposed to bringing Edwards on, and while malicious and undoubtedly racist, it’s more of a statement on the times and not the men of it.

Thackery admits Edwards is probably a fine surgeon, but argues he has no desire to turn the Knick into the first inter-racial hospital New York City has seen.

The arc in the episode between the two men, similar to each other in ambition and determination but detrimentally polar opposites personality wise, is one of the few story lines piquing any kind of interest not based solely on Owen’s Thackery.

The Knick isn’t a phenomenal show, but it is an outstanding piece of cinematic art with one of the best original soundtracks ever used in a drama.

Its storyline may not hook, line, and sinker you in, but Owens realm of cataclysmic possibilities, in combination with Soderbergh’s stellar directing certainly will.

Oh yes, there will be blood.


'Thor: The Dark World' borrows heavily from Shakespeare

Superhero movies by nature are meant to be fantastical, visually stimulating rides as opposed to a standard movie viewing experiencing. ‘Thor: The Dark World’ takes it a step further and adding a facetious element, ramps up what Marvel has worked tediously at creating over the past couple of years.

Quick (spoiler free) synopsis

The Dark World is the sequel to the first Thor movie, a late bloomer considering it directly follows the third 'Iron Man' installment. Incorporating various facets of the 'Avengers' plot line, the movie starts with the captured Loki (Tom Hiddleston) being presented to his father, the almighty king of Asgard, and thus the surrounding nine realms, Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

From the time these two characters begin their wry bickering to the very end of the movie, Thor manages to capture your attention and maintain it the entire two and a half hours. A considerable feat when the targeted demographic for superhero films in general can barely sit behind a desk for longer than twenty minutes.

After Loki is imprisoned in an Asgardian cell, the focal point of the movie cuts sharply to Thor and his role as overseer and protective guardian. It’s perhaps one of the only themes kept from the first Thor installment, thankfully. This time around, Hemsworth’s portrayal of the demigod in combination with the change in the script’s tone seemed to encapsulate the true comic book character fans have read for years.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Thor returns to Earth to find his Jane, helplessly devoted to his human love interest he can’t possibly have a relationship with. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Jane (Natalie Portman) must return to Asgard with Thor, making her the first human being to set foot on the godly planet.

After all hell breaks loose on Asgard thanks to a species called the Dark Elves and their unquenchable desire to turn the entire universe black, voiding it of any light, Portman becomes intrinsically involved in the plan to vanquish the species and the tool they have spent centuries searching for, Aether.

Thor, hesitantly and begrudgingly, teams up with Loki and Jane to capture the Aether element stolen from Asgard by the Dark Elves and destroy it before it can be used for the evilest of ploys. The fight to regain Asgardian power, and therefore the power of good, sees Thor and his band of merry misfits travel to various planets throughout the nine realms, including the homely Earth.

And by god, the elaborate, enormous, enigmatic fight scenes simultaneously send a jolt of adrenaline through your body as the hair on the back of your arms begins to rise in anticipation.

Yet what ‘Thor: The Dark World’ accomplishes so well is not the visually impressive battles, but the Shakespearean themes it delves into.

Loki: The Dark World’

Quite frankly the movie should have been called ‘Loki: The Dark World’ since Hiddleston and his mischievous namesake stole the show. The charming, provocative younger brother, Loki and his sarcastic dialogue brought just the right amount of comic relief to the often times tense atmosphere, creating a safeguard for audience members.

The moments you truly yearned for, however, were the brief scenes that Thor and Loki shared together. Often times they were separated, a constant theme throughout the movie and throughout the comic book series, and while both actors could carry the movie just as well by themselves, there was a sad beauty to seeing them on screen.

At the very basis of human emotion, there is fear, hurt, love, and happiness. Somewhere, these complexly simple emotions get blurred and one of the by-products is betrayal. In most of Shakespeare’s tragedies there is a betrayal of some sort. Often times, the betrayal is driven by the ambitious human nature most people harbor, not unlike Loki’s reasons for betraying his brother and his people. In ‘King Lear’ Goneril and Reagan betray Lear to climb the political ladder. In ‘Macbeth’ Macbeth’s betrayal occurs with his own friend Banquo to stop him from taking the position Macbeth felt he rightfully deserved, again, much like Loki.

Loki, still harboring the hatred for his adoptive father for making Thor the next king of Asgard, retaliates against the both of them, deceiving and betraying them at any given moment.

The Shakespearean elements to Loki’s character can be seen from most angles, but one played throughout the entire film is Loki’s jester like appearance.

Shakespeare used to incorporate the court jester character into his plays for two specific reasons: the addition of comic relief to his, often times, dreary plays and to show audiences that the character they thought to be the most foolish was in fact the most intelligent and the most aware.

Loki refers to himself as the ‘God of Mischief’ and sports a sly grin in practically every scene, but he’s also quick to boast about his intelligence, especially when insulting his brother’s lack of. Master of magic and “foolery,” Loki uses his quirks and his tricks to fool those who aren’t paying attention.

There is a masterful scene where chaos has descended upon the Asgardian prison cells. While other prisoners begin to partake in the events surrounding the chaos, Loki slowly glides to his window, surreptitiously taking in everything around him, carefully watching.

There’s a reason Shakespeare plays, and the tools he crafted over the duration of his playwriting career, continue to be used in today’s modern storytelling. They are basic human quirks and features exploited for the entertainment of others. No one quite radiates the traditional theater court jester on screen as well as Hiddleston does with his ‘God of Mischief.’

Thor wasn’t nearly as Tarzan

One of the biggest issues with the first Thor was that the writing team didn’t quite know how to adapt the Viking-like demigod for movie going audiences. It’s a difficult transition to make with a character who looks like a Viking, sounds like a God, and is actually an alien.

The attempted result of their first efforts was a burly, handsome Tarzan. Hell, his love interest’s name was even Jane and she was a scientist.

There are multiple scenes in the first movie, which although quite funny, make him look like a blundering baboon as opposed to the advance race the Asgardians were. One infamous coffee scene where he tries coffee for the first time, decides instantaneously he quite likes the bitter surge, and smashes the cup on the floor demanding another, comes to most minds. His chagrins are chastised pretty quickly by the, seemingly, more advanced and more nurtured humans.

In the latest installment, while the chagrins still appear at times, they feel much more lighthearted and original. It could be that the writing crew saw what they did with Thor in the `Avengers and decided to continue down that route or it could be that they had more time to study their main protagonist.

I tend to believe it’s Joss Whedon’s unaccredited helping hands that made it seem much more satirical and jovial.

Whedon was brought on to help pen parts of the screenplay after Disney executives expressed fears that they didn’t think the second Thor film would hold up to expectations following the ``Avengers.` If you’re a self declared Whedonite, there are definite moments that occur throughout the film you’ll be able to pinpoint instantly as Whedon scenes.

Thor also gets a little more strategic kudos in Dark World, instead of belligerently swinging his hammer around, a pawn of “brighter” men and women. Although it was fair to see Thor hang back in the `Avengers` film, as he does in the comics, letting Captain America and Iron Man take the lead, it was a sigh of relief to see Thor regain control in his home territory.

Thor has never been given much credit for his smarts, always seen as the fighter, especially in the shadow of his brother who was played up for his above average intelligence. As a veteran of many wars, however, Thor possesses strategic capabilities and insights many other heroes within the Marvel universe lack. There is a specific scene where Thor hosts a secret meeting with his most trusted allies and childhood friends, concocting a specific plan to help Loki escape the planet he is currently bound too, where his strategic mind shines.

It gives hope to a movie where Thor may actually be taken seriously as a character and not the butt of most jokes between other main and secondary characters.

Light and Dark

One of the biggest themes carried on in the movie is the idea of light versus dark, both metaphorically and physically.

Broken down to its utter simplicity, the decision to portray Loki as a pale, black haired, darker colour character while Thor sports vivacious blonde hair, brighter clothes, and a tanner complexion already separates the brothers and compartmentalizes them.

Then there’s the actual effigy within the film of the battle for light under the blanket of possible complete darkness.  Thor, the Asgardian army, and even a couple of Earthlings begin to work and fight tirelessly to prevent the eclipse the Dark Elf army is hell bent on achieving.

Lastly, there’s the allegorical characterization of light and dark. Those fighting for light, their entire mindset consumed by a vision of hope that they can win, is light within itself. On the opposite side, the Dark Elves and the anguish they’ve had to suffer under yearn for the total darkness, to be left by themselves, with no one to interact with.

Hope and depression, complete opposites and viewed as the lightness and darkness that consume society in real life, whisked away and rewritten for an audience under false pretenses. It is perhaps the most vital theme in `Thor: The Dark World`s plot and a sublime example of incorporating Shakespearean metaphorical storytelling into the breadth of the entire script.

Final Thoughts

`Thor:  The Dark World` is a definite improvement from the first installment, but there are aspects that can still be improved upon. The increase in Loki`s presence on screen added to the overall enjoyment of the film and it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone when Marvel announces the first Loki-centric movie.

A fun, blusterous time, `Thor: The Dark World` many of the different facets it takes to create a superb superhero film, and at the end of the day, these blockbusters are truly about having a fun time at the theater.


The Butler serves a lesson in history

The Butler is a movie that will undoubtedly be nominated for an Oscar, and it should. It’s a movie that will be talked about months, if not years, after it’s initial release, and it should. It’s also one of those movies where, as a white woman, I sat uncomfortably the entire time, and it should.

I saw the movie last night with my mother, the woman who instilled the love I have more film and television in me. We sat silently in the theatre, an oddity for the both of us who confess to be the annoying cackling pair, commenting on this scene or that scene. We sat there, however, silent, basking in the flickering images projected through our eyes into our minds.

It was the most uncomfortable movie we ever sat through.

The movie, based on the true story of Cecil Gaines, a Black butler who served seven presidencies, from Eisenhower to Regan, captured the horror and fighting spirit of America during its various revolutions.

It focuses on the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King and the African American community from the late ‘50s till present day where the community continues to fight.

I didn’t grow up ignorant. I knew about slavery, about the Ku Klux Klan, about white supremacy. I had watched American History X, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Malcolm X. Even though logically I knew all of the facts stated in the movie, I couldn’t squash the feeling of sick coating my stomach as I watched white men and women burn a bus full of students.

Cecil, played excellently by Forrest Whitaker, grew up on a cotton farm before being “blessed” enough to be chosen to work in the house. It was during this time, he learned the valuable skills he would need to eventually work his way through various jobs, raising in prestige with each new location, until he was able to serve in the greatest house in America, the White House.

While working at one of his jobs, Cecil meets a young woman named Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey, who he eventually marries. Together the two begin a picturesque life with their two bright sons, Lewis and Charlie, and their home in D.C. They just weren’t equal to the white man, and that’s what got me.

Lee Daniel’s does an absolutely brilliant job with depicting the horrors the Black community went through during the time of the civil rights movement. Many times, films attempt to capture the essence of a violent political era, but instead of providing a realistic look at the time period, glorifies as opposed to horrifying.

Daniels doesn’t glorify the movement, but merely reports on it, close to fifty years later. He does more than that with The Butler, though. Daniels not only succeeded in making a movie that film audiences around the world will enjoy watching, but reopened a discussion that never should have gone away in the first place.

Recently, I went to a workshop on racism in video games and how different races and indigenous people are depicted. The cries of frustration I heard from the speakers that night opened my eyes to scenes I once thought harmless, or even worse, didn’t give a second thought too.

It’s what movies have become in the past few years, an escape that doesn’t leave room for an open discussion on the idea surveyed through the medium. Art gallery shows provide the floor for discussion, and song lyrics are dissected until they are mere letters, but with film, still a relatively new art form even in 2013, we choose to not discuss the message in the film.

With The Butler, Daniels ensures the message is seen, not the movie. The movie, the moving pictures that play across the screen for just over two hours, play as a backdrop to the horrors of the civil movement and the issues that still occur today.

I was taught about racism and the civil rights movement, I had even seen documentaries in school about the time period. I read books on the issue, but I never discussed the issue.

I answered questions, studied for tests and knew all the facts for the short period I needed to, until I could forget it and move on.

The Butler doesn’t let you erase the images of innocent Black men and women being burned and beaten for the simple crime of wanting their right to freedom. The Butler doesn’t allow you to leave the discussion closed, but instead forces you to discuss the uncomfortable feeling you’ve been struck with.

For this reason, The Butler was a complete success. It wasn’t just a movie, it was a piece of history that I got to witness fifty years after the making. It was a report on real events that wasn’t glorified, and for that, I am truly horrified about the subject for the first time in my life. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 5.24.31 PM.png

Merc with a mouth is all talk.

“I’m the ghost of Christmas kick your ass!”

“I’m killing indiscriminately, and that’s okay.”

“I’m not just the Merc with a Mouth, I’m the sensation with a registration.”

Whatever catchphrase it was that originally drew you into the fourth wall dimension Wade “Deadpool” Wilson inhabited, you were probably instantly taken aback by the self proclaimed Merc with a mouth.

In the Deadpool video game, developed by High Moon Studios and published through Activision, the tone and arrogance that is now so lovingly associated with the rogue hero returns. Written by Daniel Way, one of the original writers on the Deadpool series, the game is full of bathroom humor, cunning insults, and sexually deviant laughter.


Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 5.26.00 PM.png

While the game’s narrative stays loyal to the stylistic prose the comic book developed over time, it lacks an aspect important to its success; the gameplay.

If the game was being graded on the merit of the writing, it would receive the highest score and fans of the character could be promised a laugh less than five minutes in.

Instead, this is an interactive experience where the player wants to go out, guns blazing, switching back and forth strategically and impulsively between the wide array of arsenal players are provided with, including the infamous katana.

A bit of a button masher, the plot line was lacking in certain areas of the game, and because of the noticeable decline in fast-paced action and downed lull periods, the lack of gameplay became increasingly noticeable.

The game relies pretty heavily on the player creating custom combo attacks after mastering the ones presented earlier in the game. The combos are supposed to require the quick switching of weapons, but that particular design idea fails as you can play almost the entire game without switching between weapons.

There are weapon upgrades available to players throughout the game and downloadable patches, but if you’re looking to complete the game, you won’t necessarily need them. They do, however, provide a bit more of an interesting, exciting, take on the boring-at-times game.

Fans of culturally defined button mashers who are looking for another medium to connect with their favorite Marvel antagonist may enjoy the game just fine. The combos are simple to master after playing for an hour or so, and the rest of the game seems to present challenges that can easily be overcome even after a few deaths.



Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 5.27.11 PM.png

Perhaps it’s the need within the gaming community right now to provide players with an incredibly difficult game they can master and brag about, but this game fails to meet any of the modern day standards and falls into this half conscious form of game playing.

But there is hope for the game. The narrative and plot line was above exceptional, and scoured with laughter and surprises. Perhaps the best part of the game is the inclusion of other Marvel characters being able to coexist in a mature-rated community. Disney, Sony, and FOX don’t have licensing terms in this video game realm.

Throughout the game, certain Marvel cretins who once crossed paths with Deadpool previously are back, like Wolverine and Cable. If you’re a Deadpool comic book fan, the interactions between Cable and Deadpool, and the interactivity of the narrative surrounding the two is quite frankly one of the best aspects to the game.

The fourth wall Deadpool consistently exists within, is also deserving of a nod of the head to High Moon Studios. At various points within the game, Deadpool interacts with the player, either yelling at them for a simple mistake or egging them on in the heat of battle.


Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 5.28.21 PM.png

Even the beginning of the plot the Deadpool game embarks on is true to the classic styling of the comic. In the game, Deadpool has commissioned a studio to make a video game about himself, and in his efforts, decides to cast Nolan North as the voice of himself. The slight nods that appear sporadically are the key ingredients to keeping fans transfixed with the world, even when the gameplay cannot.

Overall, this title is a great attempt at making a fun game, but seems to have just come up short. As a fan of the series, I enjoyed the narrative and the conversations Deadpool carried on, as well as the surprise encounters with other Marvel family characters.

But this can only take a player so far. A game, after all, is just that. If the gameplay is lacking and boring, it’s much easier to turn the console off and pick up a comic, leaving one tainted world to enter the blissfulness of another.

The concept was great, and as a game I know many people were looking forward to, including myself, it’s a shame it didn’t meet the expectations we had.

Here’s to hoping the Merc with a mouth makes a return in a slightly better game.

Deadpool was released on June 25th and is available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.