#312. Crossovers

Popular culture has created a lot of memorable characters over the years. Most of the time, these characters exist in their own, unique universes. However, every once in a while these universes are shown to be part of a larger, more complex universe. In combining these universes, the characters are allowed to cross over into the realms of other famous figures. Usually, these crossovers are possible because an overarching company owns the rights to the characters at large. From Marvel and DC’s respective cinematic universes to Disney’s Kingdom Hearts and Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. video game series, fans love to see their favorite characters interacting together. Even the Hannah-Barbara universe (which gave us The Flintstones meet The Jetsons (1987)) knew this back in the day. This week’s two films look at some character crossovers.

Van HelsingVan Helsing
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

During the first golden age of cinema in the 1930’s, Universal found success in bringing some of the world’s monsters to life. All the famous Halloween staples like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Wolfman (1941) are part of the Universal Studios repertoire. It’s no wonder that these characters spawned numerous sequels and crossovers back in their time. Even today, films like Hotel Transylvania (2012) capitalize on their shared universe. Of course, while this animated film is more comedic, Universal brought out their monsters almost a decade earlier in the action-packed Van Helsing (2004), tying them all together via the titular character, who himself was based off the vampire hunter found in the Bram Stroker novel, Dracula. Of course, with the current popularity of cinematic universes, look for these monsters to be rebooted in the near future.

After Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) neutralized the threat of Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) in the bell tower of Notre-Dame Cathedral (likely also a reference to another famous hunchback), he is sent by the Vatican to Transylvania to kill Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Intel they have received from Igor (Kevin J. O’Connor) informs them that Victor Frankenstein (Samuel West) is collaborating with Dracula to bring a horde of dead vampire children back to life. Upon finding Frankenstein’s monster (Shuler Hensley), Van Helsing learns that the reason Dracula’s experiment failed was due to the missing monster. The werewolf (Will Kemp), one of Dracula’s lackeys, also learns this information and runs off to tell his master where the reanimated monster has been hiding. Unbeknownst to Dracula, the Vatican has just learned how to defeat the immortal vampire and lets Van Helsing know before their final showdown.

The Brothers GrimmThe Brothers Grimm
Year: 2005
Rating: PG-13
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours

Much like Shakespeare in Love (1998) revealed the fictional inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, The Brothers Grimm (2005) delves into a potential origin story for the famed fairytale founders. Both the TV shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm have taken the numerous Grimm fairytales and combined them into their own shared universes, the former of which did so via their Disney interpretations. Stories like Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Rapunzel (via Tangled (2010)) all received their Disney treatment over the years. These films don’t even touch on Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rumpelstiltskin, all of which reside within the same Grimm fairytale universe. With these stories in mind, seeing their potential origins in The Brothers Grimm helps to give an idea of the brothers’ inspirations.

Con artists Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jakob (Heath Ledger) Grimm soon find themselves out of their depth when they discover that an actual supernatural threat has been causing the girls of a remote village to disappear. An immortal Queen (Monica Bellucci) has been stealing the girls’ youth via an enchanted mirror. While she cannot leave the tall tower where she lives, a werewolf huntsman (Tomáš Hanák) does her bidding. In helping to rid the huntsman of his werewolf curse, Will becomes entrapped by the Queen’s magic, leaving Jake to shatter the magic mirror and releasing the youthful energy trapped within it. Even with the Queen defeated, the girls of the village remain trapped in a state of slumber. It’s up to Jake to kiss the last of the twelve girls in order to wake them all up and break the last piece of the curse. With the adventure over, the brothers mull over the idea of writing down their adventures.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 conglomerations of characters

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#299. Ben Affleck

Have you ever tried to be something you’re not? Do you know someone who has succeeded at one talent, only to try and capitalize on the success by attempting a different talent? While Hollywood is filled with actors who want to be directors and directors who want to be actors, very few of them can succeed in both realms at the same time. Take Clint Eastwood, for instance. He was a great actor back in his heyday, and now he’s a great director, but there wasn’t much time where he was both. Somewhat similarly, Ben Affleck has shown he is an excellent director as of late, but his early acting efforts were not quite as exemplary. Perhaps Affleck has finally found his niche after being lauded for his writing skills early in his career. Of course, he still enjoys his time in front of the camera as well. This week’s two films look at the directing and acting of Ben Affleck.

ArgoArgo
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours

At age 25, Ben Affleck (along with his friend, Matt Damon) won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting (1997). While he had acted in a few films before, including two by director Kevin Smith (Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997)), none of his roles could ever be taken seriously. Instead of pursuing his writing, Affleck ended up appearing in numerous films, most of which were forgettable or terrible (most still say Gigli (2003) is the worst film ever made). And yet, when he started directing full-length films, his acting seemed to improve almost overnight. Within five years from his directorial debut, Affleck would win his second Oscar, this time for the Best Picture, Argo (2012). While he also appeared in the leading role of this film, his performance was much better than most of his previous attempts.

Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is astounded to learn that there are no viable plans to rescue the six escapees of the Iranian hostage crisis. While his exfiltration skills are top notch, he doesn’t have any better ideas. After a phone call with his son while Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) is playing in the background, he is struck with inspiration. Using the cover of a Canadian film crew performing site surveys for a sci-fi film, Tony heads to Iran to help coach the six individuals through his plan. Even though all the prep work in Hollywood has been done to make the film look like it is real, the hoax only works on the ground if the six diplomats can manage to convince the Iranian security forces that it’s truly what they’re there for. In the moment of truth, the group head to Tehran International Airport and attempt to leave the country the only way they can.

The TownThe Town
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

In 2007, Ben Affleck put on his writing cap and wrote the screenplay for Gone Baby Gone. Despite having directed a short film much earlier in his career, Gone Baby Gone was his first feature-length film as a director. While he did not appear in the film, leaving the leading role to his brother, Casey Affleck, when 2010 rolled around, he was back in front of the camera (as well as behind it) for The Town. Once again, audiences could see that Affleck does have talent for writing, as he wrote the screenplay for The Town as well. Despite the uproar of his casting as Bruce Wayne / Batman in the DC cinematic universe, this role, along with Nick Dunne in Gone Girl (2014), have shown that Affleck takes his acting much more seriously now, perhaps as a result of his directing. Time will tell if his most recent writing and directorial effort, Live by Night (2017) will be as well received as Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is just one of a group of friends who grew up together and are now partners in crime. Along with Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy MacGloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke), the four friends rob a bank and take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage. After they release her, they realize she lives in their neighborhood and could potentially identify them to the police. In order to find out what she knows, Doug starts following her, but eventually the two of them develop feelings for each other. Unfortunately, since the four friends are still deep in the world of crime, they continue to make robberies. Because these heists still occur, they eventually find that the FBI has figured out who they are. The Feds perform a sting at Fenway based on intelligence they received from a jilted ex, with few of the crew managing to escape.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 deftly directed pieces by Ben Affleck

Bacon #: 2 (Shakespeare in Love / Colin Firth -> Where the Truth Lies / Kevin Bacon)

#264. Geoffery Rush

One of the rarities in the film world is an actor who has their breakout role in middle age. Most actors start young, in their twenties, and work on their acting craft on the big screen until they eventually become the distinguished, middle-aged actor with plenty of critical accolades. Perhaps the reason we don’t see the breakout middle-aged stars is because it’s rare to have an actor refine and master his craft on the stage before making the jump to the big screen. Even actors who start on television have that ability to be seen by a wide audience before they transition to films. The limited audiences of the theatre limit the amount of exposure an actor will have, thus making his arrival in movies as fresh as if he’d never acted before at all. This week’s two films highlight the breakout and continued film success of Geoffery Rush.

ShineShine
Year: 1996
Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours

While Geoffery Rush spent his early career on the stage, he did make a few appearances in films and television in the 1980’s. However, it wasn’t until 1996 when Rush garnered the attention of everyone with his leading role in Shine. Almost a decade after his last film performance, Geoffery Rush was able to win the Oscar for Best Actor with his portrayal of piano genius, David Helfgott. This was only the beginning of his success. His classical training in the theatre was quite clear with future roles that also garnered him two more nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor, respectively. Shakespeare in Love (1998) managed to win Best Picture for that year, but Quills (2000) featured Rush more prominently as the Marquis de Sade. It is quite impressive to be this recognized in only four years, especially since he was in his mid-40’s when Shine was released.

Ducking into a restaurant to escape the downpour outside, the employees sense that something is wrong with this bespectacled man. One of the employees takes him back to his hotel room, where he tries to energetically convince her that he is a musical genius. The man is none other than David Helfgott (Geoffery Rush), a talented pianist who gained his skills through an overbearing father who didn’t approve of any failure from his son. After a falling out between himself and his father, David builds upon his natural talent, eventually entering a competition with a difficult piece: Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Concerto. During the performance, he has a mental breakdown and undergoes electric shock therapy in a psychiatric hospital as a result. While this leaves him in a muddled state, his piano skills remain intact, eventually convincing the restaurant owner to hire him as a nightly pianist.

The King’s SpeechThe King's Speech
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours

Upon arriving at the new millennium, Geoffery Rush’s roles began to change. With his Oscar nominations seemingly behind him, he took on the role of Captain Hector Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). This was the first time I recognized Rush as an actor, having never seen him in his earlier roles that garnered him so much critical attention. For the next few years, he would reprise this role, and continues to do so to this day, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) arriving in theaters this year. Still, this didn’t mean the Academy forgot about him completely. A decade after his last nomination, he received a nod for Best Supporting Actor for his work in The King’s Speech (2010), losing to Christian Bale and his performance in The Fighter (2010).

After a somewhat disastrous speech to the closing of the British Empire Exhibition, the stuttering Prince Albert (Colin Firth) is finally convinced by his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) to seek help. This help comes in the form of speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffery Rush), who uses some unique methods to help the Prince fight his stuttering. While Albert doesn’t feel the methods are working, Lionel wagers him that the Duke of York can recite a Shakespearean soliloquy perfectly, which he does. After the death of his father, and his older brother abdicating the throne, Albert soon finds himself as the King of England, George VI. One of the important aspects of the monarchy is an annual radio address to the people. With this incredibly important speech coming up, King George VI relents and uses Lionel to help him through the address, executing it almost flawlessly.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Geoffery Rush performances

Bacon #: 2 (Green Lantern / Tim Robbins -> Mystic River / Kevin Bacon)

#104. Cross Dressing

Sometimes dressing up can be fun and exciting, but it can also get out of hand. While costume parties give us a chance to be something or someone we are not, if we dress up outside of the confines of these socially acceptable instances, things can get a little weird. When it comes to employment, you should dress for the job that you want. However, this does not necessarily mean dressing as the opposite sex. Even though affirmative action is a reality in the workplace, how far would you go to take advantage of it? If a position requires that it be filled by a man and you are a woman (or vice versa), would you let that opportunity pass you by? This week’s two films look at some individuals who have resorted to cross dressing in order to obtain their dream jobs.

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

A long time before women were liberated from misogynist societies in power around the world, they were not allowed to do many things. In fact, most of the time the only purposes that men of those eras thought that women could fulfill were procreation and child rearing. There was a lot of backward thinking back then that restricted women to essentially the confines of the house. They were defined by their men and their men defined what they could do. With very few exceptions (the most prominent being the Queen of England), men were the primary workforce throughout the land. This even extended to the theater, where the roles of women were actually played by cross dressing men or boys who didn’t fit into “rugged” or “rough” categorizations.

Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the daughter of a famous merchant. Unfortunately, this means that her role in life is to sit around looking pretty until she is married off to further her father’s business. Her true desire is to act on the stage, but women are not allowed to act: that is a role reserved for men. And yet, when she hears that playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is casting for a new play he’s writing, she jumps at the chance. Auditioning for the part of Romeo, Viola disguises herself as a man named Thomas and impresses Will with her acting skill. Of course, when Shakespeare finds out that Viola has been deceiving the acting company, he’s not mad . . . he’s in love. With Viola as his inspiration, he completes the play and moves into production. Unfortunately, since Viola didn’t play by the rules, it’s only a matter of time before she is forced back into her life’s destiny.

TootsieTootsie
Year: 1982
Rating: R
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours

Men in drag is often a comedic trope. Monty Python did it. Saturday Night Live did it. Tim Curry did it. In fact, one of the most famous movies about a man in drag was Mrs. Doubtfire. The purpose for the cross dressing in that film was so that Robin Williams’ character could surreptitiously become close to his family especially after his divorce. And while Tootsie is somewhat similar in plot (as is Some Like it Hot), it has Dustin Hoffman trying to get an acting job in much the same way that Gwyneth Paltrow did in the above, Shakespeare in Love. After all, being unemployed can drive many of us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. Placed at #69 of AFI’s top 100, Tootsie is a good movie to show that sometimes the best way to respect women is to become one of them.

Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is an actor who can’t seem to get a job. That is until a role opens up on a soap opera. Unfortunately, the role calls for a woman. In order to pay the bills, Michael takes up the persona of Dorothy Michaels and gets the part. While working on the daytime drama, Michael develops feelings for his co-worker Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange), as the director, Ron Carlisle (Dabney Coleman), falls for Dorothy. Everyone falls in love with Dorothy Michaels’ personality which causes the soap opera to become a success. When Michael finds himself in a corner, he has to come clean about his cross-dressing in an impromptu speech during a live taping of the show, which shocks the cast, but is a twist all too familiar to fans of soap opera.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 job gender reversals

#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