#332. Revenge!

Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” This statement is most relevant when it comes to the idea of revenge. A concept almost as old as time itself, revenge puts justice in our own hands after someone wrongs us. Often, the people who have done the wrong will wish they had killed the person they slighted, thus preventing any revenge in the process. I want to make sure you understand that revenge is not vengeance since someone being avenged (like in Hamlet (1948)) is usually dead or incapable of producing their own revenge. If we don’t want to wait for the Lord to provide vengeance (Romans 12:19), we’ll make sure those who have wronged us are given their comeuppance. This week’s two films focus on the timeless act of revenge.

Revenge of the NerdsRevenge of the Nerds
Year: 1984
Rating: R
Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours

If there’s any culture who feels the need for revenge, it’s nerd culture. Sure, now nerds are “cool” since technology has made all our lives a little easier, but it wasn’t always this way. Even the genres most nerds appreciate have plenty of examples of revenge. From the science fiction offerings of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Robocop (1987), and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), to the comic book heroes like V for Vendetta (2005) and Deadpool (2016), many of these plotlines either show that evil never prospers (even when it wants to enact its revenge), or that the protagonists need to stand up for themselves if they don’t want to be taken advantage of. Revenge of the Nerds (1984) shows what tools these individuals have at their disposal to enact their revenge against the jocks who torment them.

Most of the nerds at Adams College feel they are constantly harassed by the football players from the Alpha Beta fraternity. After creating their own fraternity full of nerds, they find they are unable to stop the pranks of the Alpha Betas unless they are a nationally- recognized fraternity. While initially skeptical, the leader of the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity is convinced that these nerds belong in their predominantly black organization due to the similarities of the persecution they all face, as well as having the gumption to do something about it. The Tri-Lambs go about enacting their revenge on the Alpha Betas (and the Pi Delta Pi sorority) by eventually winning the Greek Games and taking over control of the Greek system on campus. When the Alpha Betas destroy the Tri-Lambs’ house, the nerds storm the football prep rally and elicit the support of everyone ever bullied by a jock.

The Count of Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

While we’d often want to take revenge on the person who took our parking spot or ate our lunch out of the fridge, some people have much more severe reasons why they want, nay need to take revenge on their enemies. One director who seems to understand this impetus toward revenge is Quentin Tarantino. From Kill Bill (2003/4) to Django Unchained (2012), and to a lesser extent, the vengeance-fueled Inglorious Basterds (2009), Tarantino shows that “violence is the answer.” This idiom can be seen in many other films like Memento (2000), John Wick (2014), The Revenant (2015), and Oldboy (2003). Of these films, the most serious revenge occurs when the protagonist is left for dead. While revenge can often involve killing the person (or people) who did you the most wrong, what The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) understands is that the punishment should directly reflect the crime.

Life is looking pretty great for Edmond Dantés (Jim Caviezel). Not only has he been promoted to Captain of the ship he was on, but he is ready to marry his girlfriend, Mercédès (Dagmara Dominczyk). Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, Edmond has obtained some enemies who wish to destroy him. After a false accusation sends him to the isolated prison, Château d’If, he swears he will escape and take revenge on those who put him there. With the help of aged prisoner, Abbé Faria (Richard Harris), Edmond is educated and given an opportunity to escape to a vast treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. Now that he has the smarts and resources to enact his revenge, he arrives back in Marseille as the Count of Monte Cristo, his enemies unaware that Edmond Dantés still lives under this pseudonym. One-by-one, each man receives Dantés’ revenge, eventually allowing him to pick up his life again.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 payback plots

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#322. Actors Being Usurped

Success can be a fickle mistress. We can be extremely proficient at something, but find there’s always someone else who’s just a little better than we are. Whether it’s a boss who won’t retire to allow you to be promoted to his position or a king standing in your way of being the ruler of the land, what does someone do when faced with these circumstances? Well, if they’re smart and sly, they can surreptitiously obtain what they want by usurping the position of those above them. There’s no profession more cutthroat than that of acting, and the drama around who gets a role is often based on subtle actions (or inactions) of the actors who want to succeed. If an understudy wants to shine, all they might need to do is have the lead actor “break a leg” . . . literally. This week’s two films look into what it takes to usurp an actor.

All About EveAll About Eve
Year: 1950
Rating: Approved
Length: 138 minutes / 2.3 hours

Acting is just as much about talent as it is physical attractiveness. This is particularly prevalent with actresses. The moment they start their career, time is against them as they age. Younger women usually get most of the best roles, so when they get to a certain age, suddenly it can be difficult to find the leading roles they once had. Consequently, the competition for these roles can be fierce. It’s the truly conniving actresses who understand that it’s not what you know, but who you know. In the guise of a mentoring relationship, a young actress can learn what made an aging star successful and apply that to her own acting style. Eventually, though, the student becomes the master, and the older actress is left without any work as her protégée goes on to her own success. Such is the cycle of those in the acting profession.

Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) has one goal in mind: to become a famous actress like Margo Channing (Bette Davis). To do this, she picks up her life and moves out to New York to become Margo’s assistant, even if Margo doesn’t know this until Eve shows up and heaps praise upon the aging actress. Eve proves to be quite the adept assistant, often overstepping her bounds, much to Margo’s consternation. Soon, Eve sets herself up as Margo’s understudy for the play Aged in Wood just as she arranges for Margo to miss a performance. Audiences realized they like Eve in the role and didn’t care for the mature actress in a younger woman’s role. Through her manipulation, Eve soon becomes a critically acclaimed actress of her own, only to find Phoebe (Barbara Bates) is a fan of her work and wants to be her assistant.

Being John MalkovichBeing John Malkovich
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 112 minutes / 1.86 hours

Sometimes, just having someone’s job isn’t enough. You want to be them. In Hamlet (1948), it’s not enough for Claudius to be given the kingdom, he must kill the current king and marry his wife. Claudius wanted to be the king in practically every way. The same can be said of certain actors, “Women want him, men want to be him.” The trouble with trying to be someone you’re not is that you’ll never quite live up to who they are as a person. Even impersonators can get close to mimicking an actor but rarely do they get it 100% correct. But what if there was a way to usurp a person’s being? What if you could literally get inside their head and become them? Who would you usurp? Would you become a famous actor? Would they let you? While this capability doesn’t exist, Being John Malkovich (1999) explores the possibilities if it did.

Behind a tiny door on Floor 7½ of the LesterCorp building, file clerk Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) finds a portal to the mind of actor John Malkovich (himself). While he is able to experience life through Malkovich’s body, it is limited to a fifteen-minute timespan. After telling his wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), she is enamored with the experience since it allows her to live the life of a man. Through Malkovich, Lotte starts having an affair with Maxine Lund (Catherine Keener), a coworker of Craig’s who also knows of the portal. Craig is upset with this development and manages to use his puppetry skills to not only stay in Malkovich for as long as he wants but to control Malkovich as well. Meanwhile, Lotte learns that Malkovich is the latest in a string of portals meant to extend the life of Dr. Lester (Orson Bean). With Lester’s help, Craig becomes trapped in the next portal as he watches Lotte and Maxine’s happy life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 ousted actors

#292. Animated Classic Literature

Anyone who grew up during the late 1990’s is probably familiar with the PBS show, Wishbone. As a child soon to be headed into junior high, I enjoyed the show at face value, but deep down in my subconscious I was learning about classic literature. For years, these episodes were my only exposure to famous pieces of literature, and thus my only knowledge of their plots until I read some of them many decades later. Disney has also done a pretty good job of adapting many classic tales to the big screen. Through their animation studio, many fairy tales were memorably created and still remain almost as the de-facto versions of their source material. That being said, some of the adaptations weren’t as obvious as others. This week’s two films look at some classic literature in an animated format.

Treasure PlanetTreasure Planet
Year: 2002
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

Up until the 21st Century, Disney had animated many well-known stories from various sources. From fairy tales to short stories to novels, much of their source material was in the public domain. Once the new millennium came around, they started to create some original stories like The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) and Lilo & Stitch (2002). While this trend has mostly continued, there were a few films animated during this timeframe that held to the formula of adapting classic literature. While being thinly veiled as something different, Treasure Planet (2002) was an almost-direct adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, Treasure Island, merely with sci-fi trappings available via new, 3-D animation techniques (with traditional, 2-D animation being interposed on top of it).

Just like any other teenager, Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has a longing for adventure. While Alponian solar cruising works for the time being, when he is given a map by the pilot of a crashed spaceship, he sets out to find where it leads. Despite the final words of the pilot warning Jim to “beware the cyborg”, one of the friends he makes while aboard the RLS Legacy is none other than half-robot cook, John Silver (Brian Murray). After taking control of the ship during a mutiny he planned, Silver lets Jim and some ousted leaders of the ship escape to Treasure Planet. Once on the planet, the original crew finds a robot by the name of B.E.N. (Martin Short) who has literally lost his memory. In searching for the robot’s missing piece, Jim discovers that the map is also able to open portals, including to the center of the planet where the treasure is stored. Unfortunately, this triggers the planet to explode, forcing them to abandon the treasure.

The Lion KingThe Lion King
Year: 1994
Rating: G
Length: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours

Most kids who go to see an animated film won’t necessarily pick up on the source material like their parents will. Even famous films like The Great Escape (1963) and Seven Samurai (1954) have received the animated treatment in Chicken Run (2000) and A Bug’s Life (1998), respectively. While I enjoyed these animated films as a child, it wasn’t until I was older that I realized I’d seen these plots somewhere else before. Unlike Treasure Planet (2002), it took me some time to realize The Lion King (1994) was William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in disguise. Even though it’s not a direct adaptation, many of the main characters are there. Simba is Hamlet, Scar is Claudius, and even Timon and Pumbaa are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Obviously, some of the more violent and dramatic moments from the play were toned down in the animation, but the main thrust of Hamlet still lies there in the African plains.

Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is the male cub born to Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the leader of a pride of African lions. Because Simba is now next in line to the throne, Scar (Jeremy Irons) sets about trying to kill both Mufasa and Simba so he can become king. While his plan to use a wildebeest stampede to kill them both only kills Mufasa, Scar convinces Simba it’s the cub’s fault and forces him into exile. Simba (Matthew Broderick), having now grown up in the jungle with his friends Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), returns to the Pride Lands to confront his uncle Scar. Along the way, he is visited by the ghost of Mufasa, who tells him he is the rightful king of the land. Once back home, with the help of the lionesses, Simba fights Scar and eventually wins, sending him into exile. Unfortunately, Scar’s hyena henchmen have different plans, as they overheard him betray them to everyone.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 different Disney adaptations

#121. Mel Gibson

Many actors have controversial personal lives for a variety of reasons. Off of the screen they may be the violent, alcoholic, drug-addicted, racist, and overall crazy people the tabloids love reporting on, but on-screen they have enough talent to make us forget (albeit sometimes temporarily) of who they are as actual people. Mel Gibson is no exception. Established as an “action hero” with such film series as Mad Max (1980) and Lethal Weapon (1987), Gibson also has talent for other genres including drama in Hamlet (1990), historical in The Patriot (2000), and sci-fi in Signs (2002). But this week’s two films are not about Gibson’s acting career, per sé. While it’s difficult to see someone’s personal life when they’re acting, sometimes when they direct their beliefs emerge. This week’s two films examine Mel Gibson’s directing career.

The Passion of the ChristThe Passion of the Christ
Year: 2004
Rating: R
Length: 127 minutes / 2.11 hours

If there’s one thing that American audiences can’t stand, it’s subtitles. As such, it’s curious that Gibson would choose to present the violence of Jesus’ death in a way that would require audiences to read. If they wanted to do that, they’d just go to the Bible. Still, the powerful imagery seems much more alive with period languages being used (even if they probably would have all been speaking Greek anyways). This film was inspired by Gibson’s deep-seated Catholicism and is not meant as a verbatim recreation of the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. It’s more of an artistic interpretation of what had happened, but with the Biblical story set as its foundation. Two years later, Gibson released Apocalypto, another violent film with period language being used in place of English. In fact, both films have given him the niche of filming in dead or ancient languages.

There have been many films about the life of Christ, but few of them focused on the last hours of his life. With some flashbacks to provide background to the story, the brunt of the plot is based on the Stations of the Cross, which covers Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of Judas Iscariot and the resulting trials (both legal and physical) that Jesus had to endure before finally being executed by crucifixion. The entire ordeal is portrayed as an overly violent series of events which has induced criticism of the film, despite the fact that the crucifixion itself is a brutal process. It is granted that the Romans reveled in violence (just think about the gladiators of the Coliseum), so the beatings Christ received might actually be pretty accurate, all things considered. At any rate, Passion ends not with the defeat of the Son of Man, but rather with his victory over death.

BraveheartBraveheart
Year: 1995
Rating: R
Length: 177 minutes / 2.95 hours

Gibson had been acting for just over fifteen years when he made his directorial debut with The Man Without a Face (1993). And yet, Mel Gibson’s fame as a director didn’t actually come until two years later. In fact, on top of starring in the leading role, Gibson Directed and Produced Braveheart, which ended up winning him two Oscars: Best Director and Best Picture. The remaining three Oscars it won were for more technical merits, but the fact remains that this film cemented Mel Gibson’s status as a director as well as an actor. There’s no denying the cultural significance this film has had on popular culture, with the famous speech by Gibson’s William Wallace being oft quoted for other situations involving freedom. And let’s not forget about that blue war paint! In fact, a rise in Scottish tourism resulted because of the success of this film.

In the late 13th century, the king of Scotland dies and leaves a vacuum of authority with no heir to rise to power in his stead. As a result, King Edward (Patrick McGoohan) conquers the defenseless Scotland and wins the land for England. Because of this coup, William Wallace is sent to Rome to be educated and to be kept safe from the English. While Wallace (Mel Gibson) is gone, things get worse in Scotland, so when he returns to his homeland, he has to marry his childhood sweetheart in secret. Fighting against the injustice the Scots are experiencing on behalf of the British, Wallace gathers up a group of rebels who fight against King Edward in the Battle of Falkirk. And even though they were not victorious, Wallace still holds on to his ideals of freedom, even until his gruesome death. However, just like The Passion of the Christ, the ending of Braveheart shows a greater victory by the Scots.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Gibson epics

Bacon #: 2 (Lethal Weapon / Tom Atkins -> Lemon Sky / Kevin Bacon)

#103. William Shakespeare

As I’ve mentioned before, every story has been done in Hollywood. Many of the original plots come from re-packaging classic stories in different cultural settings. Of course, it doesn’t help that a long time ago one guy wrote a lot of plays that essentially covered all the best stories.  This guy was William Shakespeare. In fact, even if a plot is original, it is often compared to the works of this prolific playwright. As such, why not just make a film about the plays directly? That way the movie is directly compared to the source material and how closely it has adapted the written word. And if that doesn’t work, why not make a story about the guy who was the best at making stories? This week’s two films just so happen to be Best Picture winners that either used William Shakespeare’s work as a foundation, or his life as an inspiration.

West Side StoryWest Side Story
Year: 1961
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

In order for some of the timeless themes of Shakespeare to be fully understood by modern audiences, they must be put in modern packaging. No one really cares about the King of Denmark, the Emperor of Rome, or some silly teenagers whose families are fighting. This is why there have been a few adaptations of some of Shakespeare’s well known plays into modern settings. Films like 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew) and She’s the Man (Twelfth Night) adapt the romantic comedies of Shakespeare into high school themed interpretations in order to connect with audiences that could care less about the Victorian era. This doesn’t mean that the classic interpretations of Shakespeare’s work aren’t successful, since Romeo and Juliet has been nominated several times for Best Picture and Hamelt has won. However, West Side Story modernized Romeo and Juliet, and actually won.

For this version of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is Tony Wyzek (Richard Beymer), a white teenager and former gang member of the Jets (= the Montagues) that mainly occupy Manhattan (= Verona). Juliet is Maria Nuñez (Natalie Wood), the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris) (= Tybalt), the leader of a rival gang of Puerto Ricans, the Sharks (= the Capulets). When Tony and Maria meet at a dance, they immediately fall in love, despite the fact that they are deep within the entanglements of gang warfare. As the two lovebirds plan a way that they can be together, harassment from both gangs lets them know they need to do so in secret. And while West Side Story does not have the exact same ending as Romeo and Juliet and some racial tensions have been thrown in the mix, it is still a good interpretation of the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

Shakespeare in LoveShakespeare in Love
Year: 1998
Rating: R
Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours

Even though modern versions of Shakespeare’s plays can make it easier for those who don’t want to watch something by The Bard to sit through some classic literature, sometimes you just need the classic approach. Certain actors like Lawrence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh started their acting careers on the Shakespearean stage and have taken that talent to the screen as well, since both have appeared in more than a few faithful film adaptations of his plays. And yet, there is one film that expertly combines many of Shakespeare’s plays together in one semi-fictional story, and that film is Shakespeare in Love. Oftentimes authors will draw from their experiences and the people around them, so this film merely imagines that William Shakespeare wrote in much the same way.

While West Side Story is the story of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare in Love is the story of the writing of that story. Will (Joseph Fiennes) has just found out that his benefactor has stolen his girlfriend. As such, Will burns the play he was writing for said patron, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. What was once going to be a comedy will now be rewritten as a tragedy. Unfortunately, since much of the script is unusable as a comedy, Shakespeare gets a serious case of writer’s block. That is, until he meets Thomas Kent. Thomas is an impressive actor, but with a slight twist: Thomas is actually Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Will and Viola immediately fall in love and now the words flow freely for Shakespeare. Unfortunately, it is a love that cannot be and must remain hidden. How long can the two lovers remain together before being found out?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Best Pictures with The Bard