Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The 25 Best Comic Book Covers of the 1960s

Comic book art is the result of a long evolution that has taken decades to get to where it is now. While today’s coloring advancements and new art styles make art from decades give artists new opportunities to tell stories in the medium, nothing beats a master crafting something truly amazing, no matter what tools are available.

The 1960s were a time when comic book artists were first truly able to spread their wings and embrace bold new ideas on how to present comic book stories. Artists like Jack Kirby were creating new ways of expressing motion and power on the page, putting heroes into iconic poses that felt both kinetic and statuesque at the same time. The ideas explored here changed the way that comics were drawn and their influence can still be seen today, decades later.

You’ll also notice the extreme differences between Marvel Comics and DC Comics during this decade. This was the time period when Marvel really exploded onto the scene, with then-new characters like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and The Avengers making a huge splash in the comic world. Meanwhile, longtime heroes like Superman and Batman were devolving into serious camp with outlandish stories, even for a comic book.

These 25 comic book covers are the best of the best when it comes to the comic book renaissance of the 1960s. For more comic book covers across the century, read more entries in The Greatest Comic Book Covers by Decade.

25. The Mighty Avengers #63 by Gene Colan

This may be the dubious debut of Hawkeye’s weird new costume and identity as Goliath, by Colan helps make the reveal into a bold and powerful depiction of the character. The enormous character dwarfs the entire roster of the Avengers while still showing this to be a fun and bold type of story. Having the characters fight on top of the forced perspective subtitles rendered in stone adds to the size and weight of the action scene greatly.

24. Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #53 by Curt Swan

On the other end of the spectrum concerning giant characters on the comic page, this issue of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, which stands as one of the strangest and most iconic examples of DC Comics in the ‘60s. Like many Jimmy Olsen comics of the time, Superman’s friend has been turned into a monster and The Man of Steel is forced to take drastic action. Of course, Superman’s enormous dialogue bubble explains everything about the story that you need, but it’s still a fun and well done piece of camp.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My 5 Favorite Movies as a Teenager

Watching movies as a teenager is a strange process. Not only do the teenage years cover a large swath of time where both personalities and tastes change, but they change so constantly that the idea of “taste” is almost impossible to pin down. All those hormones can result in far more destructive actions than watching stupid movies, but the films teens like is certainly indicative of larger ideas.

This means that what someone likes at age 13 may be drastically different than what he or she enjoys as a 16 year old. Then again, tastes may change so drastically that ages 13 and 19 may be almost have the same movie preferences after going through a drastic cycle. Then again, those shifting changes mean that teenagers have the ability to grow their taste and understanding of arts and entertainment at a level that is not quite possible during the childhood years. However, most teens don’t fully understand why they like the things they like, as overwhelming emotions often dictate enjoyment over an understanding of art and personal preferences.

That’s why so many teenagers are drawn to really dumb horror movies and romances. It’s the cheap thrills and emotional heights which translate easily that make them so popular with the younger crowd. However, these movies will most likely not be long-lasting favorites, as their ideas and reasons for enjoyment will most likely not translate to an older audience. Additionally, the films that a person enjoys during their early years will most likely fall out of favor during the teens, but may return as personal favorites once this tumultuous time is over.

With all these factors in mind, choosing what were my five favorite movies as a teenager was difficult due to the large span of time and fluctuating tastes. But the five selected here give a snapshot of what I enjoyed at different points during the time.

Also, it reveals that I did indeed like terrible movies for a period in my life.

For a look at a happier time with better taste, read My Five Favorite Childhood Movies.

5. The Boondock Saints

Why Did I Like It Then? Seeing as this is all about two brothers shooting up criminals and using a lot of foul language, it was right up my alley as a teen boy. I discovered The Boondock Saints near the end of high school, at a time where I was particularly standoffish and rough around the edges. So what seemed edgy and tough in this film was particularly appealing during that stage of my life. It also had enough style and flash to make me like the film on an artistic level. I had started to really enjoy crime films at this point, as well, which this played a part in. However, my continued exploration of the genre meant that The Boondock Saints was not long for my list of favorites in comparison to well crafted, legitimate crime movies.

How Is It Now? While it’s still enjoyable on some base level, there is no reason why anyone should consider The Boondock Saints as one of their favorite movies. It is shot poorly, has fairly bad writing, is quite cliché, and lacks any real depth. Which means it works wonderfully as a cult classic, but not as an all-time great. Even back when I loved it, part of me knew it was crap. Willem Dafoe’s overacting is embarrassing, the emotional beats are forced, and the message is muddled. But it’s still better than the sequel. Clearly, this did not make my list of The 30 Greatest Crime Films of All Time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The 30 Greatest Crime Films of All Time (Part 2)

Few genres are able to cover as many diverse movies as the crime genre. By only needing a central crime or criminals or law enforcement as the main characters, these films can include a wide variety of tones, themes, plots, and goals.  With so many movies that can fit into the crime genre, choosing the greatest of all time can be a difficult process. Everyone has their own preferences concerning what they want to see in a crime movie or in any film in general. But whatever the preferences may be, the best crime movies take the thrills, relatability, and human nature at the center of crime and tackle them from exciting angles with incredible precision.

In the first half of the countdown, I went through crime films dating back to the heyday of film noir all the way to modern takes on cops and robbers. These movies each have their own reasons for being classics in their own rights, but the Top 15 ranked here are the best of the best. These are true classics that define what the greatest films of all time, not just crime movies, can truly be. From bank heists to serial killers to twisted mysteries, these films are truly the best of the best.

Have your own favorite crime movies? Let me know in the comments below. For #30 to #16, visit Part 1 of The 30 Greatest Crime Films of All Time!

15. Pulp Fiction

Is writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction anything more than a stylish homage to the nasty novels and comics of the ‘50s and ‘60s? Maybe not, but it’s still an incredibly well-done crime anthology.  The film weaves multiple narratives, each tracking a different story with unexpected results. Thanks to the nonlinear storytelling used, characters die in one sequence and  then return in the next and the many revelations are not completely revealed until the end. It’s also filled with the writer/director’s signature pop-culture centered dialogue and homages to countless other films. Add in a great soundtrack and many memorable performances and Pulp Fiction is simultaneously shocking and fun.

Best Moment: Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) confront several double crossing criminals, leading to Jules’ frightening Ezekiel 25:17 speech and bullets flying everywhere.

14. Silence of the Lambs

Equal parts horror film and crime thriller, Silence of the Lambs is most well-known for actor Anthony Hopkins’ spine-tingling take on the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter. But the film succeeds on so many levels, including Jodie Foster’s in-over-her-head Clarice Starling and the twisting (and twisted) story. The idea of using an imprisoned serial killer to catch another may be a commonly used concept now, but it was Silence of the Lambs (and the novel it was based on) that originally gave life to this thrilling concept. As the tension cranks higher and higher as Starling pursues Buffalo Bill and Lecter manipulates from behind the scenes, the scares reach higher and higher heights. It's thrilling and chilling from start to finish.

Best Moment: Starling travels into Lecter’s underground cell where she encounters the strange and scary killer for the first time. Even behind a glass barrier, Lecter is chilling and incredibly frightening.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The 30 Greatest Crime Films of All Time (Part 1 of 2)

Crime happens every day of our lives, affecting how billions of people live and go about their day-to-day lives. Some live in fear, some fight against it, and others perpetuate it. Whatever the case may be, crime films speak to each viewer in a unique manner because of their relatability. Whether they focus on the supposed glory of crime, the obsessions of law enforcement, or the devastations of those who are affected by it, there is something innately human about these stories and their places in the real world.

The world of cops and robbers has been fodder for a nearly infinite number of movies since the dawn of film. Early pictures sold the allure and violence of gangsters and their gritty worlds, but the genre quickly moved into far more complex and deep looks at what lives of crime mean for the larger world. The boundless creativity of writer and directors combine with stellar performances of actors and actresses to create stunning tales that range from sweeping epics to gritty character pieces.

A great crime story can be a devastating morality tale, a big budget shoot-‘em-up, or a comedy that plays laughs over thrills. The 30 movies selected here represent the best of this powerful genre, telling tales of crimes that come crashing into all manner of lives around the world. But most importantly, the films must have crime at the center of their narratives.

For #15 to #1, read Part 2 of The 30 Greatest Crime Films of All Time!

30. American Gangster

Based on the true story of Frank Lucas, director Ridley Scott’s American Gangster tracks the rise of a Harlem gangster and drug kingpin in the 1970s and the detective who is tasked with bringing him down. Led by dual leads – Denzel Washington as Lucas and Russell Crowe as Detective Richie Roberts – American Gangster weaves a double narrative around the rise of heroin in the 1970’s, with ties to The Vietnam War and ghettos in New Jersey and New York. Most interestingly, Washington and Crowe never come in contact for almost the entire length of the movie as Lucas is tracked by the detective without knowing it. It’s their two performances and the style infused throughout that add power to a somewhat typical crime story.

Best Moment: Roberts and his crew storm the apartment where Lucas has been running the majority of his heroin business, leading to a major shootout with some brutal deaths. But the fallout leading to the two leads characters finally meeting outside a church is the ultimate payoff.

29. The Usual Suspects

Who is Keyser Soze? That’s the mystery at the center of The Usual Suspects, which tracks the story of five career criminals as told by Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) in the midst of a police interrogation. In the wake of a massacre with few survivors, Kint tells his interrogator about the convoluted events that led a group of criminals to band together for mysterious boss Soze. Spacey is typically amazing, but every actor and character is unique and thoroughly memorable throughout. As the mysteries grow deeper and the plot becomes increasingly complex, it all unfolds in one major plot twist that works magic in the narrative.

Best Moment: SPOILERS! What makes The Usual Suspects so great as a whole is the way it all ends, with Verbal Kint being revealed as Keyser Soze himself, having cobbled together pieces of the story through phrases he found in the police station. But by the time it’s realized, he’s gone.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Relatability & Challenges of Mentally Ill Heroes

Heroes throughout fiction are meant to exemplify the greatest aspects of readers. They show what a person can or could truly be, even when put through the worst of circumstances. While there are plenty of heroes who are bright and shining symbols of goodness and hope, they are often far less interesting than their dark and flawed counterparts. But what’s better than a dark hero? A crazy hero – a person who is certifiably insane, or at least should be to do the feats they do on a daily basis.

Whether a hero is defined as mentally ill within his or her story or really should be interpreted that way based on his or her actions, these mentally ill protagonists are just plain interesting. There are far too many insane villains to ever count, but the insane hero is a smaller and much more interesting breed. Rather than descend into some archetypal form of evil, they fight for good, or at least their own interpretation of the concept. These strange collision of morality and lunacy create something unique and unforgettable in films, television shows, and novels.

Of course, there are so many forms of mental illness and so many different types of narratives that the best creators can put their own exciting spin on these strange and unpredictable protagonists. Then again, maybe every protagonist has some degree of mental illness to make them do the things they do.

Insanity Versus Motivation
Every protagonist has to have a reason to be involved in a story. Whether they are causing the story to move forward or reacting to the story’s self-perpetuating progression, there is something that focuses the main character and puts him or her into action. Their reasons can be simple or complex. Either way, they relate to the core of a character. But the crazy ones are different because they don’t quite conform to relatable ideals that audiences would want for their own life stories.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Timeless Casting: The Cast of The Avengers

Bringing a famous and well-loved character to life on the big screen is a challenge for any actor. With superhero movies dominating the box office more than ever, the choices being made by studios are being more scrutinized by audiences than ever before. With many A-list actors coming to embody comic book superheroes, issues of recasting and altering characters are on the minds of the people who support the latest big screen adventures of Marvel, DC, and more. These studios often have the pick of the litter when it comes to chosen the next incarnation of a hero on the silver screen, but they are still limited by who fits the look and age at the moment.

But what if you could choose a dream team of actors from across the decades to bring these iconic characters to life? Who would be the ideal choice for a hero that has been loved for decades? Given access to any actor or actress at any age, would there be an even better choice for a character than who suits the role right now?

In this entry, and future entries to follow, I choose new people to play a famous cast of characters based on their acting skills, career, looks, and attitude. Some may be long gone, others may be too old now, but at a point in time, they would have made stellar choices. Here, I choose a new cast for The Avengers!

One rule for this casting, any actor who has already played the character cannot be chosen. However, actors who have played a related character can be picked for a different character on the list. So Robert Downey, Jr. is out for Iron Man, but he’s available for anyone else.

Let the casting begin!

Clark Gable as Iron Man

Iron Man is a lovable rogue that you can’t help but love, despite his many shortcomings and his frequent flawed actions. It’s a balance that few actors could ever pull off on the big screen. Of course, Robert Downey, Jr. is perfect for the role, but Clark Gable in his prime could have pulled it off just as wonderfully. Gable was charming and gruff in equal measure, being incredibly adept at being a strong leading man who was also a gifted comedian, which was especially remarkable in the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s a blend that fits the whip-smart Iron Man while keeping audiences hooked even through his major mistakes. Also, he’s a dead ringer for many comic book interpretations of the character.