The Announcement Of ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ At SDCC Is More Important Than You Think

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“Look at this photograaaaaph…” (Hehe, don’t worry, just fuckin’ with ya.)

But seriously, have a good look at it because as the adage goes, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, or a hundred given my limited skill.

Yes. Natalie Portman looks every ounce stunning in this widely-publicized image, as she often does, but here is the true reason why I personally adore this photograph from the San Diego Comic Convention of 2019.

Ms. Portman, as we know, was shut out of Marvel Studios, kiboshed, excommunicated.

She chose to sign a new contract despite the way her character was treated (though there is that) when it was announced that Thor: The Dark World was slated to be the first Marvel movie directed by a woman, that very woman being her friend (and eventual Wonder Woman director) Patty Jenkins.

Initially, Portman, a staunch feminist, hadn’t planned on featuring in The Dark World, but leapt at the chance to be a part of feminist-forward film history and to be directed in what would have been Jenkins’s first film since her 2003 Oscar-winning Monster. Portman signed a new contract with Marvel. They fired Jenkins soon after with no valid reason.

Portman was crushed because she essentially had been duped into a contract for a film that would keep her away from her young son and force her back into a one-dimensional role under yet another male director.

We all remember how much of a masterpiece that movie was.

When it came time for the third Thor movie, they tried to get Portman under contract again. And she said no. Marvel decided to spin the story to make it seem like it was all their idea. At first, they went for the lame and nonsensical:

When Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was asked about why she wouldn’t be in the third film, and said there were “many reasons, many of which are in the film, so you will see that” continuing with “There are only a couple of scenes on Earth in this movie. The majority, 95 percent of the movie, takes place in the cosmos.” Source

Class act.

Seeing as The Dark World also took place in space, this answer didn’t have a lot of credibility. When Portman said she was “done” with the Marvel Universe, Feige got vicious in interviews, telling reporters that Valkyrie was in Ragnarok to be better than Jane Foster and a better match for Thor.

“We wanted Thor to encounter somebody that was near his equal and that his relationship with Jane may have evolved in unexpected ways in between The Dark World and Ragnarok, and we wanted to pit him against a character who was much more his equal and in many ways his superior.” Source

Feige’s insidious implication is that-

A) Valkyrie was in Ragnarok to be a romantic interest for Thor.

B) Valkyrie is better and more powerful than Jane Foster, and;

C) Jane Foster was always Thor’s inferior.

What’s ridiculous is that Ragnarok had a “Aw man, sorry Jane dumped you” throwaway line to explain Portman’s absence. And instead of saying that Jane and Thor broke up in interviews, a line that does not spoil literally anything about the film, Feige chose to attack Jane’s strength and capability, which would have been a very special dig at Portman.

Do you want to know what none of this sounds like?

Taika Waititi’s opinion.

Waititi is a master storyteller who does not sacrifice his feminist views for laughs. You can bet that Feige’s ridiculous slams on Portman and her character Jane– disguised as “promotion” for WAITITI’S FILM– would have troubled him immensely.

This is a man with a Māori father, who had to use his mother’s maiden name– Cohen– for earlier work because an indigenous last name kept him away from opportunity.

This man does NOT fuck around with entertainment that gets its power off of sexism and inequality.

He knows from experience just how infuriating it is when it comes to directors missing out on opportunities because they aren’t a miserly white man.

So, how does he fix this? How does he fix the idea that Jane Foster can’t go to space, or that she’s not powerful enough for Thor, the God of Thunder?

He makes HER Thor.

Waititi saw Portman / Jane Foster’s name dragged through the mud by Kevin Feige in order to promote his movie, and when he got hired to direct again, he decided to right those wrongs. This picture means everything. He is on his knee, handing her Thor’s hammer, essentially saying: “You will never have to go through that shit with me. With me, you’re a god and we stand as one”.

The expression on her face, after Marvel attempted to break her, doesn’t need words.

What a picture. What a moment.

How does that taste, Feige?

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Oh, The Villainy: Jerry Dandridge (Fright Night, 1986)

Tom Holland’s (no, not Spiderman, the director) Fright Night is one of the defining films of 1980’s horror which maintains the blood-sucker film tropes while also subverting them in ingenious ways. With a compact, efficient story, delicious self-awareness and a colourful, if ecclectic cast, it is one of those genre films which is affectionate to the past it knew while simultaneously looking into a future it did not. In essence, the film is a re-telling of the fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf, only this time the boy is a nosy, Peeping Tom teenager and the wolf is a bat who just wants to be left alone, dammit!

In addition to being an overall gem of a film, most fans will also tell you that arguably the best character in the film is the genial, affable and dangerous vampire antagonist Jerry Dandridge played with ease and, let’s face it, downright sexiness, by Chris Sarandon. Exquisitely dressed in 80s fashion with an easy gait and a confident, genial air, Jerry presents himself as a very different predator, but one the audience can easily find themselves relating to. So, why is this, exactly? Well, let’s bury our fangs a little deeper into the jugular, shall we?

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Making of the Monster

About a year or so ago, I was fortunate enough to have a short yet pleasantly informative Twitter exchange with Mr. Holland (he probably doesn’t remember me) where I praised his work and stated Fright Night is one of my favourite horror films of all time. After he replied with his gracious thanks, I followed it up with a question pertaining to Sarandon’s performance and how much he and the actor collaborated in order to bring the character to life. According to Holland, as it is with so many healthy actor-director relationships on the professional level, Holland provided Sarandon the essentials for the character using the script as foundation, while he also permitted the actor to put several of his own ideas on the table, one of them being the fact Jerry had descended (in a sense) from fruit bats, hence his taste for apples we see through the film. It’s a minor detail, but nevertheless adds up to the character as a whole because ironically enough, this aspect of Jerry’s personality gave the undead, blood-sucking demon in man’s clothing life. A lot of what the audience enjoys about Jerry is that he shares quite a few personal traits with us, namely, the fact he is different.

Yes, Jerry is a vampire, but this status of being different is considerably deeper than it appears, and in no other scene is this readily prevalent is when Jerry stalks and corners Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) in a smoky alleyway after an argument with Charley (William Ragsdale) and Amy (Amanda Bearse). When vampire and human come face-to-face, Ed is clearly terrified before Jerry does something very fascinating; rather than go straight for the bite, he appeals to Ed’s deep-seeded insecurities about being the outcast of society. For all of Ed’s off-putting behaviour, it is made clear that it is a front he puts up in response to being ostracized by everybody, including his friends. Unlike Ed’s living peers, Jerry completely understands what the teen has endured because he too knows what it is like to live as an outsider who had no choice but to live in a close-minded, intolerant society. Jerry offers Ed a choice, a place by his side where he will be accepted and quite possibly loved.

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Ah, yes. About that.

It hasn’t been a secret that the film has a strong, sexual undertone which not just features Jerry’s straight desires for Amy (don’t get me STARTED on the nightclub scene), but also the notion that our fellow bats (sorry) for both teams. In the sequence outlined above, when Ed accepts Jerry’s gentle proposal of alliance, the very words Jerry uses while speaking to Ed indicates the difference is not just that of personality, but PREFERENCE. Ed is not seen with any romantic partner during the film, but if one were to investigate deeper into his relationship with Charley, it could be discussed that Ed has unrequited feelings for the other boy but does not act on them due to a sense of shame and denial, as is common in most adolescents. As a result, he acts crudely, sometimes making crass, morbid jokes of a sexual nature as a means of hiding his confused affections by using Amy as a surrogate for himself.

Additionally, when Jerry takes Ed into the folds of his amazing silver vinyl coat in a gesture highly reminescent of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and bites him, it’s not hard to take note of the romance of the action. It truly is a splendid subversion of a paragon of the trope.

A secondary source of the topic of Jerry’s sexuality presents in the form of his relationship with his day watcher, Billy Cole. While the relationship displayed on screen does not explicitly confirm anything, the interpersonal relationship they share indicates there is a massive bond between them. Billy will literally give his life for his vampire master, not merely born by mere duty, but because he wants to. Whenever Jerry is threatened, Billy engages, ready to defend Jerry, no matter what measure the cost, even if it means his own life… to use a broad term.

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Psychology

For all of his lethal power, confidence and experience, Jerry is actually a very lonesome yet surprisingly reasonable and social being when the time calls for it.

Several times throughout the film, when not being a dastardly killer, we witness Dandridge being surprisingly warm and one might even hazard to say KIND. The guy is so sincerely smooth, he manages to gain access to Charley’s home under the guise of the new guy on the block who wishes to ingratiate and endear himself to his neighborhood which works absolutely gangbusters on Charley’s single mother. Of course, we as the audience are well aware of his motivation, that is to warn Charley to back off and mind his business, but he is extremely clever in his approach. He even has the gall to state his intentions in front of Charley’s mum before jovially passing it all off as a light-hearted jape.

“What’s the matter, Charley? Afraid I’d never come over without being invited first? You’re quite right. Of course, now that I’ve been made welcome… I’ll probably drop by quite a bit. In fact, anytime I feel like it…with your mother’s kind permission, of course.”

Later that night, Jerry pays a visit to Charley’s bedroom to lay down the law; forget about me, and I’ll forget about you. Despite the fact Jerry holds Charley in a choke-hold and makes absolutely no bones about the fact he can easily snap the kid’s neck, he nevertheless employs verbal intimidation first by offering the nosy teen his ultimatum for privacy. This perfectly rational proposal is abruptly shattered when Charley resists followed by the vampires’ exasperated utterance of “Fool.”. Jerry make to ice the hapless teen before Charley stabs him with a pencil, which is enough to ward the vampire off. As the vampire makes to retaliate, hideous monsterface ready to roll, Charley’s mother calls, causing Jerry to stand down. Think about it; he still could have easily murdered the boy and left, but chose not to. Instead, he decides to royally trash Charley’s car as a means of saying “You’re next, boyo. I gave you a choice.”

After the assault, Charley brings a cop  to investigate Jerry’s home before once again, Dandridge wields his reliable weapon of charm to his advantage, resulting in the utter humiliation of Charley in front of the unimpressed police officer.

Although he is appreciative of the company and services of Billy, he truly wants to be social on his own terms, be it in the form of a minion to do his bidding or lovers (who basically are minions, albeit glorified ones). When Jerry cordially opens his doors to Ed, Amy and Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) under the nervous, watchful eyes of Charley, he is a perfectly charming gentleman to all without losing a shred of his humor. When he greets Mr. Vincent, he cordially shakes the old man’s hand all the while delivering one of the finest backhanded compliments I have ever heard in a film. Upon saying hello to Ed, while his acknowledgement is brief, it is nonetheless respectful of the boy without a shred of recoil or insult. Finally, with Amy, well, he may technically be undead, but his sex drive isn’t due to the fact as we find out, he had a romantic partner who looked exactly like her a long time ago.

(Note, I’d never fully understood how a vampire can have sex to this day. Is it more of a glamour than a physical act? Educate me.)

Jerry manages to seduce and abduct Amy, his magnetism is utterly undeniable when he single-handedly hypnotizes (the way Sarandon uses his eyes is just incredible) the girl and puts the bite on her. Yet, prior to this moment, he displays some legitimate if not wholly human capacity for craving companionship. While Jerry does indeed value his privacy, he still has the desire for connection beyond a simple and master and slave category, even if his initial attempt is questionable in execution.

 

Conclusion

To me, Jerry Dandridge is one of the most effortlessly relatable supernatural villains in cinematic vampire history. To the best of my knowledge I am no longer not a vampire but thanks in no small part to the harmonious collaboration between Holland and Sarandon they crafted a thoroughly enjoyable and effective character. Although Fright Night functions beautifully as a fun throwback, it retains a contemporary edge because the world can never get enough charismatic and engaging antagonists who are the heroes of their own story. Had the film been told from Jerry’s personal point of view, we would have seen a lonely misfit introvert with extrovert qualities who wants to live a quiet, simple life (with the occasional bit of excitement) with his best pal. However, he is endlessly hounded and harassed by some know-nothing kid who positively refuses to mind his own beeswax culminating in a devastating, tragic conclusion.

Yeah, that got you thinking, didn’t it?

What a character, what a performance.

 

Hail, Harry! Goodness Bea’s Top Ten Harryhausen Creations

So here’s the deal, friends.

I’m an unapologetic Ray Harryhausen fan.

From an early age I was that kid watching Jason and the Argonauts, the Sinbad films and Clash of the Titans (but to name a few) who delighted in seeing all of the wild and wonderful creatures who were given life by Ray and on more than several occasions felt an emotional connection to them more than I did the human characters. As Harryhausen himself stated on many occasions, he did not just want to make visual effects, he also wanted to give the beings he creatively fathered a life of their own, their own agency, their own story. It is because of this drive and conviction that I felt more emotionally attached to most of his cinematic children than any of the human characters they shared the screen with!

So in the interest of wasting your time for my personal entertainment I’m going to list off my Top Ten most beloved Children of Harryhausen. As a disclaimer, I will be focusing on the individual subjects themselves, not the movies of which they appeared.

 

Honorable Mention

Troglodyte (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger)

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Despite his less than savory appearance, the Trog is actually as sweet as a cinnamon roll who helps Sinbad and his men in their quest. When the characters come to understand him, it’s difficult not to want to get up and give our over-sized ancestor a hug.

 

10) Hippogriff/Gryphon (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad)

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The flesh and blood paragon of Good who goes up against Korah’s (Tom Baker) Evil Centaur looks so gorgeous and although I didn’t want either creature to die since they were being used as man’s tool to reach an objective, I felt very sad when Griffy was eventually choked by the Centaur (with a cheating helping hand by Korah). Still put up a hell of a fight though, so props for that!

9) Bubo (Clash of the Titans)

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While there were a fair few good looking creatures in this movie, my vote goes to Bubo, Athena’s mechanical owl sent by Zeus to assist in Perseus’s quest to save Princess Andromeda. I dig owls in general, but Bubo is just so helpful and gosh-darn adorable with his saucer-size blinking eyes and curious hooting.

8) Kali-Ma (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad)

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Wouldn’t you know it, this is where I first became familiar with the Hindu goddess (and my Pan-Pagan Patron), Kali-Ma.

Let’s face it, its a one-sided interpretation of a rich and complex character, yet this was still where my fascination with the Dark Lady started. While her appearance was generally brief, it was incredibly memorable from when she comes to life and dances with grace and beauty to when Korah makes her battle Sinbad and his men (brandishing multiple sabers!!!) before her untimely decommissioning. I especially love how she was shown in full frame while interacting with the characters, it made those sequences feel extremely organic, not to mention how she always seems to be serenely smiling which makes her all the more intimidating.

7) Eohippus (The Valley of Gwangi)

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Look at the tiny!

Although this little fellow’s appearance is brief and the catalyst for disaster, one with such a tender heart as mine can’t help but go “AWWWWWW!” when he coyly first appears from his miniature stable with his endearing little whinny.

6) Rhedosaurus (Beast from 20,000 Fathoms)

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Poor big bloke.

In all honesty, despite being huge, destructive and terrifying, I never perceived him to be the bad guy. In my opinion, the true villains were the careless humans who tested atomic bombs which subsequently woke him from his sleep, ejected him from his home and forced him into a world he had no clue how to respond to other than with his primal instincts.

5) Taro the Dragon (The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad)

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Yet another magnificent creature used and discarded as an instrument by some jag-off sorcerer.

Taro tirelessly guarded the cave lair of the bald hex-caster Sokura and severely lacked exercise room due to being chained up to a pulley mechanism in an enclosed cavern. While he was unquestioningly loyal to his cruel master much akin to a hound, most likely due to a spell, Taro nonetheless showed glimpses of emotional intelligence or at least recognition when he didn’t cook Sinbad and his lady love alive as they carefully made their way past him toward the end of the movie in their escape from the island.

4) Medusa (Clash of the Titans)

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THIS is Medusa.

Not the pretty blonde CGI-enhanced supermodel from the 2010 remake.

THIS.

As well as looking the very horror she should be, I also love how this writhing dread was made to move, having to ambulate around using her arms as she slithers through her cursed sanctum. It’s a short appearance but nonetheless an absolute highlight and further testament to the mastery of Harryhausen’s vision. And how about that damn score that plays when she makes her entrance? Brrrr.

3) Living Skeletons (Various)

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I’m cheating somewhat since our bony buddies have showed up in several of Harryhausen’s movies but they are practically a staple for our intrepid, vaguely handsome hero to fight before they reach their goal.

By the way, I never understood how the osteo warriors could scream in Jason and the Argonauts, but it sure was creepy and hilarious.

2) The Hydra of Colchis (Jason and the Argonauts)

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While the seven-headed Hydra had limited screen time and didn’t get to grow multiple heads (Jason was actually smart in slaying the creature by stabbing it in the heart all heads shared off the bat) I always appreciated how much time and effort went into the dynamic movement of each head.

When you watch the scene for that aspect in particular, each head is moves differently and performs an action independent of its’ neighbor. The only thing I wasn’t too sure about was how disproportionately large Acastus was as it was suffocating him, but I only put that down to scale as opposed to lack of skill on the part of Harry and his fellow technicians.

A small conceptual detail I am quite fond of is each head’s mouth looks more along the lines of a predatory bird than that of a traditional serpent. Very cool!

1) Talos (Jason and the Argonauts)

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This guy was practically an overgrown Terminator.

When the guardian of the Isle of Bronze first moved, the grating, shearing sound of his head turning to fix Hercules and Hylas with his cold, unfeeling stare, my blood froze. Apart from his gargantuan size and expressionless face, his ruthless and cunning persistence helped solidify him as one of the most imposing foes Harryhausen created. When Jason finally manages to outwit Talos by pulling the plug in the juggernauts’ ankle to drain him of his ichor (the liquid which keeps Talos ‘alive’), despite his stone expression, Harryhausen ingeniously managed to convey the bronze colossus’s distress through the dropping of his sword, his titanic guttural moan and clutching his throat. Amazing.

 

 

Oh, The Villainy: Colonel William Tavington (The Patriot)

According to a vast swathe of movie fans, the malignant piece of human cancer known as Colonel William Tavington is one of the greatest villains to have ever hit the screen and even nineteen years after the release of The Patriot, the character still remains one of the most (if not only) endearing factors of an otherwise bloated, nonsensical mess of a blockbuster directed by Herr Roland Emmerich.

The film shamelessly glosses over the existence of slavery and makes a juvenile judgement based on the dynamics of war (incredibly appalling and in bad taste) and makes no qualms in making it utterly certain Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin Martin has no truly discerning ambiguity because HE’S THE HERO. I will give credit to  Tom Wilkinson, Joely Richardson, Tcheky Karyo, Chris Cooper and of course the late Heath Ledger, all of which who manage to rise above and do a respectable job with the material they are given, however horrendous it is.

But enough of that snobbery; let’s talk about the toothsome fellow who is the subject of the post.

 

Makings of the Monster

Despite having been in Paul W.S. Anderson’s mean-spirited shocker Event Horizon (a personal favourite flick of mine) several years earlier, Jason Isaacs made a full-fledged international debut as one of the cruelest, morally reprehensible creatures to have ever existed on the big screen in a role that almost wasn’t his. Originally, Kevin Spacey was contracted to play the role but due to a lot of the budget heading up in Gibson’s favor, they could not afford another big name and Spacey had to drop out.

(In the harsh glare of retrospect, this near-casting would have been incredibly fitting but for all of the most disturbing and wrong reasons.)

Afterward, the casting agent made a frenzied rush to fill the role and Isaacs auditioned for the role at the Eleventh Hour and as they say, the rest was history. Given Isaacs wasn’t as well known outside of his native UK, he was a lot easier to afford and while there was a certain risk that his name wouldn’t have drawn in double the crowds, Gibson’s presence alone was enough to at least get the butts in seats. It wasn’t until after the profit returns came in before everybody realised that the true star of the movie was Isaacs.

Psychology

Tavington is a cold-blooded and terminally vindictive snake who is all too ready to throw down with anybody who dares crosses him. According to Herr Roland and co., Tavington was inspired by real life Redcoat Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton who was rumored to have been one of the most dangerous and blood-thirsty members of the British Army during the Revolution. While the actual amount of historical precedent has not been substantiated due to a combination of the nebulousness of time and historical bias, for the sake of this particular discussion, let’s credit the actions of a real-life monster for those of a fictional one.

Although the character admits that his primarily motivation for joining the British Green Dragoons was to regain the fortune and reputation that his late father had squandered, it rapidly becomes prevalent that he is an abomination wearing a man’s flesh who is nourished by the brutality and unfairness of war. Even his superior General Cornwallis decries his brutal tactics, saying that the Colonies are still their kin and when the war is over, communication between cousins will re-open, Tavington doesn’t give a hoot. War isn’t a means to an end, it is absolutely everything he lives for.

Tavington has no inclination of being civilized or merciful- to him, war is war and war is a means of obtaining a forbidden fruit type of power which is otherwise inaccessible in conventional circumstances. He thrives on conflict and nothing makes his blood hotter than to kill another man while looking into his eyes to see their final moments of fear, confusion and pain.

While The Patriot can hardly be accused of possessing sensitivity towards nuance and historical fidelity, it is very accurate to say that in times of conflict and voids of power, humans have the alarming capacity to dehumanize each other in in the grip of bloodlust. War acts almost as a carte-blanche of enabling the worst aspects of humanity to pour forth, especially when it comes to war crimes. When permission to kill is granted by a nation for any given reason, let’s call it The Cause, that declaration can be easily rationalised as justification for any and all violence they may commit against others in the name of The Cause.

Tavington is the epitome of this dreadful reality, in a sense, he is Ares, the; a man who lives for nothing but the horrors of war for the sake of it.

Let’s have a look at all of the crimes Tavington is responsible for, directly and indirectly because of this single-minded hunger;

* A bad attitude that smells worse than a skunk’s underpants.

* Countless war crimes if the verbal condemnations of his peers are to be believed.

* Blackmail.

* Systematic torture interrogations of Colonial peoples, enlisted and civilian (deleted scene).

* Mass murder of enemy soldiers and innocents, first, second and third degree- a key example of course being the infamous church scene of which he gives the order and the torch to Adam Baldwin’s turncoat Wilkins to do the deed. The expression Wilkins has on his face when he sets pyre to pitch says it all- he has committed an unforgivable sin and Tavington has taken his very soul.

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* Property damage and destruction (duh).

* Disobedience and sedition of commanding peers and military orders on and off the battlefield. The man argues with CORNWALLIS on several occasions even though he really should know better.

* Child killing. Okay, that still goes under the previous point of mass murder but it was his unhesitating and sudden execution of Benjamin Martin’s second-eldest child that truly kicked the movie’s story into motion. The fact he feels no remorse or guilt over the action compounds his lack of a moral compass which can all be summed up in his line following the incident; “Stupid boy.”.

The point may be scoffed at now, but it was undoubtedly one of the moments of proper malice the film had up it’s sleeve and it is a powerful moment which cements Tavington’s wretchedness.

Later in the film when Martin (who has become quite notorious to the British Army by this point) arrives to Cornwallis’s base in North Carolina to treat with the General in exchange for the freedom of his captured Colonial guerilla army, Tavington uses the memory of the son’s murder to goad Martin into acting out right then and there just so he may have the excuse and satisfaction of killing the man under otherwise parlay conditions. This man LIVES to cause suffering to those he deems below him and makes no attempt at hiding it.

* Being disgustingly handsome while doing it.

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To 17-year-old Bea, this scene was hardcore pornography.  Still is.

 

Oh yes, about that last point.

Jason Isaacs’ performance single-handedly seduced me to the dark side of loving the villains in the fictional medium. I had always favored villains before that point, finding them to be the best parts of many a story, but Tavington elevated that appreciation to a high degree. Oh sure, there have been LOTS of wonderful villains since, but Tavington still remains the crucial milestone for me, with his elegant tones coupled with his reptilian and subtly predacious looks. Call me shallow, but hey, honesty is the best policy.

 

Final Words

I will tell you this much though- back when this film came out, every straight girl in my class were expressing their crushes on Ledger save for me- Tavington was the one I daydreamed about, Tavington was the one I crushed on and I made no attempt at hiding it. It was this character that ravished me and encouraged me to full on embrace the forces of malevolence and I haven’t looked back since. Although I was for the most part alone in feeling this way, it wasn’t until I met some like-minded Sick Sisters who harbored the same desires that I realised that Tavington is a very fondly remembered character despite (and because of) his horrendous ways. It takes a huge amount of charisma to earn that type of appreciation and it goes to show how fantastic an actor Jason Isaacs truly is. The character is completely basic textbook evil on paper and he could have been yet another run-of-the-mill baddie, but Isaacs imbues the character with his own spark that he all but truly owns the role. I’m so glad this film catapulted him into international stardom and his star continues to shine brightly.

No, The Patriot is absolutely not the great movie it was originally hyped up to be nor is it historically or culturally sensitive, but damn if it does not have one of the most darkest, most devious Hellspawns to ever grab our attention. Nineteen years on and William Tavington is still one of the best of the worst.

My Favourite Characters: Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jordan

It is a deeply risky venture to include a child as one of the primary cast of characters in a film and television show for various reasons, it’s riskier still when that character is suffering monumental PTSD, malnourishment, and abandonment issues all the while caught in the middle of a high-stress survival situation involving seriously scary extraterrestrials with double mouths and phallic skulls.

In James Cameron’s 1986 science fiction action classic Aliens, little Rebecca Jordan, better known to her peers as ‘Newt’ on account of her small stature and rapid speed has not only witnessed the coldest of Hells, but has been caught up within it after seeing her family, friends and her entire terraforming community in Hadley’s Hope (how ironic) being either completely annihilated or be taken by the rampant Xenomorph population. Sticking to the shadows of the dilipidated settlement and utilizing the ventilation system, Newt managed to survive the onslaught without any combat or formal training but at the cost of her health and her innocence. Every day is a struggle for her as she avoids the personification of existential menace in order to gather supplies and attempt to retain the safety of her hiding places.

 

The Young Old Soul

While clearly intelligent, resourceful, observant and self-sufficient, she is painfully aware of the reality that one of those monsters could snatch her at any time if she isn’t careful because she knows no amount of technology or arsenal makes a difference.

Upon the arrival of Ripley and the Colonial Marines, she knows none of them are long for the world because she has seen how no amount of firepower can possibly make a difference, a point she verbally states when Ripley tries to assure her they will escape their collective predicament. Some may decry this as nihilistic to which I say that is precisely the point. Upon first meeting these self-described saviors, all she sees are a bunch of dead bodies who don’t know it yet and she needs to get away from them as soon as she possibly can. It is not until these adults have proved themselves in some way that they trustworthy does she open up to them, Ripley in particular.

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Some detractors of the character say she is far too whiny and does nothing to which I absolutely disagree; while it is true she never picks up a gun, possesses a high-pitched shriek and is not bestowed the same breed of Badass Moment (TM) as her adult counterparts, she is not passive. She, like Ripley, has had the unenviable opportunity to observe and pay attention to the Xenomorph’s behavior, noting when they tend to be active (mostly at night, mostly) and what they are drawn to (activity) while also possessing firsthand knowledge of the best routes around the facility based on experience and practice. This young lady has been through a lot and rather than curl up and die, she had put all of her energy into staying alive and ends up being a very valuable resource for information for Ripley and company while also maintaining her own agency as a character.

 

Despondency and Responsibility

In the Director’s Cut, it transpires that it was Newt’s own family who made primary contact with the aliens in the form of a pesky Facehugger latching on to her own father’s face. It’s a short sequence, but it effortlessly sets up WHY Newt cannot stand the alien menace because it was her own family who wrought it on the colony, however unwitting. Ask yourself this; if you saw this as an adult, if this happened to your family, do you believe you’d keep a cool head? Do you believe you wouldn’t have openly expressed your horror, peed your pants or became paralyzed in fear and confusion? Her response to any alien presence is completely understandable because the Xenomorph is the embodiment of her absolute nightmare made absolute reality; loss and all of the pain which comes with it. Something we can all relate to.

However, the more she is around the Marines, she recognises the fact her motherly surrogate Ripley shares her traumatic experience and with that revelation comes that beautiful, enduring connection which gives her a sliver of hope. Maybe there is a chance, maybe she can become a little girl again. In an endearing twist of a scene where Ripley tucks Newt in for a few much needed hours of rest the way a mother would a child, they confide about the reality of monsters outside of dreams. Ripley goes the extra mile to put the little girl’s mind at temporary ease (in a condescending yet well-intentioned way) by displaying Casey, Newt’s toy doll’s head, has no bad dreams inside of it before Newt replies that it is impossible for Casey to dream because she’s just a piece of plastic which in turn causes Ripley to chuckle. Although Newt is fully aware her grown up friend is just trying to help her relax and loves her all the more for it, she proves she is still pragmatic, an attitude which reinforces to Ripley not to underestimate Newt’s emotional intelligence and logic.

Newt

In addition to building up such bonds, Newt shows her prowess in times of crisis, for example, the extremely tense Facehugger scene when she and Ripley are trapped in the observation chamber courtesy of that corporate shark, Carter Burke. Although it is Ripley who ultimately manages to attract the Marine’s attention by setting off the fire alarms to kick off their rescue in earnest, young Newt does not merely stand helplessly by and allow her caretaker to do all of the work. When she notices a sneaky Facehugger attempt to get the drop on the pair of them, Newt flies into action by shoving the edge of a desk into the penetrative beast’s tail in order to buy she and Ellen those precious seconds before Hicks charges in along with Hudson and Vasquez who finish in disposing of the creatures. In another scene of high stress, Newt proves her competence in the last stand sequence where a small squad of Xenomorphs almost box her, Ripley and the remaining Marines in a room by showing them an escape route through a ventilation shaft. While the final result ends in a heavy cost for Private Vasquez and Lieutenant Gorman, without her help, everybody in that room would have either died or have been taken down to the hive to serve as unwilling incubators for arachnid rape monsters.

 

Big Surprises, Small Packages

Truth be told, while by James Cameron’s own admission, Newt’s response and promising genesis of recuperation from her overload of trauma is strongly idealised, I don’t feel this character’s journey is any less powerful, thanks in no small part to not only the writing but also the acting. Carrie Henn was not a professional talent, but you would not think that given how instinctively she interpreted Cameron’s direction and her innate chemistry with Signourney Weaver, what resulted was a deeply refreshing performance. So potent was her presence that when her character was callously killed off in Alien 3, I felt authentic emotional pain which still resonates to this day. Thanks to Henn’s work, we saw a fully realised child who had lived through literal Hell on (to a degree) Earth which has been replicated countless times (Sherry Birkin from Resident Evil 2 is a strong and direct example of this influence), but never equally matched.

What a little badass.

 

Sja0

 

My Favourite Characters: Snake Plissken

John Carpenter is undoubtedly one of the most influential directors of all time who is not afraid to speak out for or against something he feels extremely passionate about. Be it the dark, parasitic side of human nature (The Thing), racial stereotype and extreme Americanism (Big Trouble In Little China) intimate suburban nightmares (Halloween) and the danger of unchecked capitalism (They Live), the director has always found a fantastic way to not only make his voice heard but in an accessible way. Not only does Carpenter build these worlds, he populates them with relatable if not likable characters as the audience’s human anchor because at heart, Carpenter is a humanist and understands that in order to tell any human-centric story, one must have humans within.

In the case of Escape From New York (and by extension, Escape From L.A despite it’s satirical leanings), S.D. Bob ‘Snake’ Plissken is an individual who is not by design supposed to be immediately liked as a person, but nevertheless is presented as the character who the audience is to invest in, thanks in no small part to Kurt Russell’s monumental performance. It may be easy to scoff at now, but prior to working with maverick Carpenter, most of Russell’s career had mainly been family-orientated fare, so when the man was cast as one of the finest anti-heroes committed to film, it must have come as a shock to some people to see the bright-eyed, handsome actor take on a dark and antithetical role with ease.

So, what exactly do I love about Snake? Well, I firmly believe it is due to the reasons you may have, but since I still have your attention this far, I will  indulge.

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When in pursuit of the President McGuffin (Donald Pleasence) of the United States in order to ensure a peace summit goes ahead between the US, China and the Soviet Union, Snake witnesses a nameless woman being assaulted in a squalid apartment building by two men. Although the act is not shown as particularly explicit, Snake’s reaction, or rather, lack thereof to the situation cements to the audience that he is not a hero. Rather than leap into action and take the thugs head on to defend the unknown damsel’s honor, he simply watches for a few moments before continuing on his way because nothing of what he is seeing is remarkable or worthwhile to intervene in.

This sort of behavior isn’t exactly what you would regard as particularly heroic, is it?

However it was never supposed to be as Carpenter had already set up the character’s reputation prior to this incident. Snake is a criminal, somebody who obviously doesn’t have much regard for law, having been responsible for countless robberies, civil disruption and loss of life. Notorious and notable, his capture was an accident rather than any intention Snake had in order to attain an advantage.  The catch, of course, as it is revealed, that Snake at one point was a soldier who fought for the interest of the US, a decorated war veteran who made the oath to lay down his life in the interest of his country and millions of men, women and children he had not and would never meet. At some point, he was a tool to be used by a faceless machine for that machine to be feared on an international basis. As time went on, Snake managed to wake up from this conditioning he had become a part of and broke from it in a justly violent, almost eye-for-an-eye (no pun intended) fashion.

Snake The Anarchist

Snake Plissken, if I had to apply one socially-based label to him, is an individualistic anarchist. Now, I implore you not to believe I advocate for anarchy; despite how attractive it may be on the surface, I do not think it is a beneficial practice. As with any ideas about how to form, govern and live within a proposed social system, as soon as you introduce the human element, things become a great deal more complicated, one of these issues being fundamentalism, hence the notion as ‘too much of a good thing’. According to American anarchist historian Eunice Minette Schuster, American individualist anarchism “stresses the isolation of the individual – his right to his own tools, his mind, his body, and to the products of his labor.” Snake embodies this variety of anarchy one hundred percent. Everything he does, he does in his own interests because he recognises his own agency above anybody else’s. He is a loner, somebody who by personal virtue does not approach any situation without first thinking about his primary interests, a mercenary who places his priorities before everybody else’s. It is because of this hardened, take no moral prisoner attitude which makes him perfect for the task he is forced into by Bob Hauk, and by extension, the US government. Effectively, they send an individualistic anarchist into an insurrectional anarchistic society, epitomized by the Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes) because they deem him not only a tool to be exploited once again, but also he is comparatively the less of two evils, one of which they control by placing direct jeopardy on his life in the form of the explosive microchip they insert into his body. Because of this, Snake is being forced to play by the rules of the authority he actively despises.

Kurt Russell in Escape from New York

(Just as a note, insurrectional anarchism is broadly classed as the anarchist movement which emphasizes the theme of insurrection within anarchist practice as well as typical anarchist activity, opposing formal organizations such as labor unions and federations. By rule of thumb, insurrectionary anarchism supports informal organization and small affinity group based organisation. Insurrectionary anarchists place value in attack, permanent class conflict and a refusal to negotiate or compromise with class enemies, generally if you have the might, you are exclusively entitled to the right. Although there are several other classes of anarchy one can easily apply to the Duke of New York and his empire, I chose one just to keep things brief.)

After his dispatch in New York, Snake is briefly left aimless after finding the President’s escape pod from Air Force One empty without hide or hair of his whereabouts. As he sits down on a not particularly stable deck chair, he contemplates what moves to make because he knows he needs to come up with something because he’s on a time limit. It is only the appearance of the affable taxi driver, Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine, coming off as a total cinnamon roll) that presents Snake with a second opportunity and from there, he meets an old ‘friend’, Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), who had previous betrayed Plissken, and Brain’s squeeze Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau). From that point on, Snake is once again not offered too much of an option other than to work alongside other people despite his notions they are all liabilities. However, over the course of the story, he begins to warm up a little to his allies which brings us to…

 The Reluctant Humanitarian

While Snake has no emotional breakdown throughout the narrative, toward the conclusion, Cabbie, Brain and Maggie sacrifice themselves in favor of Snake and by extension, the President during the scene on the Queensboro Bridge involving lots of gunfire, angry New Yorkers and landmines. After having built up a modicum of trust with each of his travel companions, their selfless actions make a surprising impression on him. Upon completing his mission and escaping the prison after a tense pursuit from the Duke, and thus escaping death by microchip explosion by a hair, Snake approaches the President personally and requests a simple favor. Snake asks the President to give thanks to his deceased rescuers due to the fact they willingly gave their lives to ensure his survival. The President appears to agree to terms only to go back on his word and doesn’t even offer a shred of recompense.

In response to the President’s boorish arrogance, Snake sabotages the President’s address in a defiant yet also surprisingly affectionate way; after having pocketed a cassette (ask your parents) recording by the President to be used during the summit, the ersatz replacement Snake gives to the unknowing President features a track of one of Cabbie’s most beloved music pieces. As ruthless as Snake can be, that does not mean he possesses no emotion or gratitude towards those who endear themselves to him through action rather than mere words, in fact, he is willing to find it in himself to champion them. After all, given he once fought in war, he understands the value of skill, trust and living up to expectation in dire straits, even if it is coerced.

While relations at best remain tenuous between three global superpowers, at least justice for the little person is served, however minimal in contrast.

 

Snake The Snake

While Snake is willing to use treachery in the interest of self-preservation as per the figurative use of the term ‘snake’ , I do think the serpentine moniker applies itself to the man more than a moral descriptor. Although various cultures and religions from aspects of life in Ancient Egypt to comparatively modern Christianity, the characterization of the serpent as a harbinger if not a direct perpetrator of evil has also been applied to positive aspects, namely that of protection, adaptability and healing.

In ancient Mesopotamia, Nirah, the messenger god of Ištaran, was represented as a serpent who appeared prominently on stones which behaved as markers of boundaries throughout the Mesopotamian world which undoubtedly owed to the fact such lands were sanctified under the watchful eyes of the gods.

Meanwhile, the horned viper was favored in Kassite and Neo-Assyrian culture and explicitly mentioned in Assyrian texts as a magical protective entity one may conjure if done correctly. A dragon-like creature with horns, the body and neck of a snake, the forelegs of a lion, and the hind-legs of a bird appears in Mesopotamian art from the Akkadian Period until the Hellenistic Period. Known in Akkadian as the mušḫuššu, meaning ‘furious serpent, was utilized as a symbol for particular deities and also as a general emblem of protection and security against harm.

Modern India to this day is often regarded as the land of snakes and is steeped in tradition regarding them, especially when it comes to religion. The cobra is highly favored in India and is typically seen around the neck of the prime deities of Shiva and Vishnu, both of which have also been depicted sleeping quite contentedly on a seven-headed snake or within the coils of a gigantic serpent. There are also several temples in India solely preserved for the breeding and dwelling of cobras as they represent fertility for men and women. 

In medicine, the image of the serpent is prevalent in Wiccan and neo-Pagan circles crediting the image of the snake with wisdom and knowledge. In Ancient Greece. the champion and god of medicine Asclepius bears two snakes twined around his staff (you may have seen the symbol on ambulances). Meanwhile in Judaism, Nehushtan, also known as the Snake of Brass functions as a symbol of healing, namely being saved from imminent death including snake bites! In the expanding realm of modern health, various types of snake venoms are being used for research as potential treatments, hemostatics and preventatives for pain, cancers, arthritis, stroke, heart disease, hemophilia, and hypertension to name but a few maladies.

Despite his incredibly dangerous, mercurial nature and short span tolerance for bullshit, there is no denying Snake Plissken is a formidable protector who is not afraid to bear his fangs when threatened, be precise in his strikes and unafraid to adapt to any situation he may find himself in (a shedding of skin, you could say). Hell, even his bicep-baring leather singlet is made from smooth, shimmering leather as well as Russell’s raspy tones inspired by Clint Eastwood down to the pronunciation of his own name subconsciously reminds the viewer of the character’s namesake no small degree.

 

Snake Is Us

We all like to believe that we can stand up for ourselves deep down, despite our milder natures. Being perceived as capable, intelligent and desirable are all traits humans find desirable in each other and in themselves. Depending on how you were raised, where you live and what values you keep close to your chest, there is the hopeful fantasy that if pushed by an opposing force, we can push back in such a way that opposing force will never vex us again. This is not always the case due to countless reasons, not the least of which being the perpetuation of social norms, but because of these norms, I feel we all have the capacity to be like Snake by modifying our behaviours in order to deal with our issues within these constraints. While Snake is prepared to be improvisational and violent, it’s only because the situation offers no other alternative, but ordinarily when faced with adversity, it speaks to the strength of Snake’s character that he is willing to plan first before jumping. Although most of his schemes have a tendency to go pear-shaped at the best of times, Snake practices prudence because he knows if he does not, he will die.

In our case, while are is incalculable stacks of evidence which point to the human willingness to use violence if tooth comes to nail, more often than not, we try to find other avenues of overcoming the obstacles which stand in our path. Additionally, and this does come from a combination of exposure and experience, the wiser we become, the easier we find it to defend ourselves in the face of adversity by forming our own opinions and sticking firmly to our convictions, although whether or not they are actually correct is a different story. Nevertheless, Snake also personifies resilience in the face of impossible and ridiculous odds and for every mishap he is met with, he manages to bounce back, stronger in his resolve by expressing intellect rather than solely primal survival measures.

 

So, there ya have it. This is why Snake Plissken is one of those characters I simply adore.

What do you love about him? Leave your reasons below!

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Game of Sodom and Gomorrah

*SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EPISODE FIVE, SEASON EIGHT OF ‘GAME OF THRONES’ INCOMING. TURN BACK NOW IF YOU HAVE NOT YET WATCHED THE EPISODE AND INTEND ON DOING SO.*

 

 

 

 

They gone?

 

Nice.

 

Okay, so!

 

Monday the twelfth of May 2019 A.D. saw one of the most overwhelming displays of destruction ever in ‘Game of Thrones’ with Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt, The First of Her Name, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and so on and so forth brought the capital of King’s Landing absolute armageddon by giving in to her rage and burning the entire popsicle stand to the ground leaving behind unprecedented destruction nobody had any hope of surviving. Such imagery was reminiscent of the trauma of 9/11, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Pompeii and Krakatoa (though on a comparatively smaller scale) and displayed the horror of war in ignoble stark detail, especially on the common folk who have no stake in the dangerous power games leaders play with each other and have no bet on the gambles these figureheads make in the name of their own glory.

Whilst watching the hideous act unfold, in addition to those disasters, the scale of it also reminded me of the ruination of another city (or technically, two), but this time, one from fable; Sodom and Gomorrah.

Sodom and Gomorrah were prevalent cities of fine capital and fertile with life. Despite these advantages however they were guilty of the pervasive sin of homosexuality thus God brought it upon himself to smite both cities in an apocalypse of fire and brimstone so that no such sin would be mete upon the world again. Of all of the families God allowed to live, it was that of Lot, his wife and two daughters who he permitted to flee before he brought his wrath on the cities while warning them not to look back. As the family fled, the wife looked back at the destruction only to turn into a pillar of salt because she defied God’s instruction. In the most extreme sense, she negated whatever innocence originally saved her because she disobeyed His wishes and ultimately became yet another example of going against God’s wishes.  Of course, let’s ignore the fact that in the aftermath, Lot was plied with drink and consistently raped by his daughters in order to repopulate the world. 

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Looking back on the episode, there is so much in common with this Bibical tale and what we saw on our screens that it could not have been a mere coincidence.

King’s Landing was displayed on countless occasions to be the epitome of class divide, manipulation, violence and violation which was perpetrated by everybody, despite the hypocritical split in social strata the nobility preached. Most if not all of the districts outside of the palace was squalid, unsanitary and riddled with sickness and discontent. While most of the commoners worked to support themselves, they were kept down by the ruling class and that suppression manifested itself in the shape of civil violence.

in Season One, Episode Nine, when Lord Eddard Stark was beheaded under order of the wretched boy king Joffrey Baratheon, the crowd jeered at the man who the audience came to see as the sympathetic hero because it was a cause of entertainment.

In Season Two, King’s Landing erupted into a full-blown riot due to enduring a famine orchestrated by the War of the Five Kings which saw acts of wanton brutality all because a nameless peasant threw cow dung at Joffrey. When the psychopathic teenage monarch ordered his soldiers to find the perpetrator, the throng erupted into violence resulting in the people literally tearing the High Septon apart, lives being extinguished, women being raped and children being trampled underfoot.

King’s Landing is a depraved hive of brutal opportunism where law only really applied if you were caught and/or had nothing of value to barter in exchange for silence; it was a place which fucked you in the arse, literally and figuratively. It was a place of sodomy.

When Daenerys came calling to lay waste to Queen Cersei Lannister’s forces, the bells rung to signify the city’s unconditional surrender complete with the Lannister military forces laying down their blades in the streets at the feet Jon Snow and his company. As Dany sat on the back of Drogon who had perched himself on the crumbled walls of the city like a scaled sentinel of fire and fury, she looked down upon the city before the focused on the Red Keep where Cersei herself was perched like a bird of prey in a gilded cage.

In a moment beautifully acted by Emilia Clarke (who has been knocking it out of the park throughout the season), Dany’s frustration, confusion, loss and rage came to a head; she had lost everything and had tried to cater to the wishes of the others in the interest of peace amidst the maddening sound of bells tolling. Every one of those attempts had been thwarted due to horrible planning, resistance and incompetence. She had lost more than half of her army, three of her closest advisers (one by her own hand for treason), her best friend, two of her beloved dragon children, both loves of her life and the respect of the people she had come to assist. She had spiraled into a depression she was only able to rouse herself from due to Lord Varys’s attempt at staging a coup against her in favor of Jon Snow. Prior to the attack, whilst speaking to Tyrion Lannister in the throne room at Dragonstone, she had tersely stated that she wished to rid the world of tyranny and tyranny, true tyranny does not begin and end with a person, but an entire society. That was the moment she gave her reason, the decision for her genocide did not merely happen on the spot; she had planned it.

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While on the back of her living, infernal instrument of punishment and power, teary-eyed, she surveyed this damned city, this damned palace with this damned Iron Throne she coveted, populated with all of these damned souls, it was then Daenerys Targaryen decided to burn them all. It was then the Dragon Queen became the wrathful, faceless God enacting divine retribution upon Westeros’s Sodom and Gomorrah.

When God laid waste to both cities, nobody was spared because they were all complicit in their own sins, whether they knew it or not, even the children because they had already been tainted by the sins of their forebears. To have allowed them to live would mean that the sins of their mothers and fathers would continue, tyranny would not have been slain and the world He had created would continue to be subjected to further trespass.

Daenerys felt inclined to enact the very same expression of NO MORE.

 

Goodness me. Here I was thinking doing academic time at Ryan Catholic College was a total waste of my epoch on Earth!