Sunday, 31 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

It’s with the release of “Captain America: The First Avenger” that the superhero genre takes a well-deserved break until 2012. Earlier this year, the genre has offered us “The Green Hornet,” “Thor,” “Super,” “X-Men: First Class” and “Green Lantern,” which amounts to a bit of a mixed bag for 2011 superhero flicks. And if anything, the very decent “Captain America” thankfully pushes this generally mixed bag further into positive light.

“Captain America” is directed by Joe Johnston, the man who previously gave us the somewhat similar “The Rocketeer” in 1991. It is of course based on the notably patriotic Marvel Comics superhero who first appeared in 1941 in his very own comic book worth 10 cents, the cover of which depicted him swinging his knuckles into the face of Adolf Hitler; go America, I guess.


In case you don’t know, the true identity of Cap USA is Steve Rogers, and the character is here played charmingly by befittingly American actor Chris Evans (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”). For the first 40-or-so minutes of the film, when Steve is still to be turned all superhuman, Evans’ markedly beefy body is altered through special effects to appear small and scrawny, an effect which is rather seamless.

We are introduced to Steve in 1942 when his application for military service and to fight the Nazis is rejected due to his unsatisfactory health. Not one to back down from a fight, Steve does not let this rejection phase him and continues to try and earn the right to serve his country in the war. While conversing about his determination with his soldier buddy Bucky (Sebastian Stan, “Hot Tub Time Machine”), scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, “Easy A”) overhears, and accepts him for a specific army project.


Soon enough, Steve is training along with much fitter, much more physically capable men, though this does nothing to discourage his ambitions. Recognising Steve’s unflinching bravery and earnest integrity, Erskine chooses him to go first for the top-secret Super Soldier program, in which Steve shall be placed inside a coffin-like machine and transformed into a superhuman superhero if all goes according to plan; I don’t think this was standard procedure.

And before you can say, “America, fuck yeah,” Steve’s skinny body is stripped of its frail scrawniness and replaced with muscular buffness and Herculean strength. And thus we get Captain America, the wartime symbol of the USA’s power and vigor, with Steve fitted inside a star-spangled outfit and wielding a metallic shield to fight some non-American scoundrels (fret not, non-Americans; the film isn’t as flag-waving as you may presume).


Steve Rogers is pretty much the perfect superhero protagonist. Within our first few glimpses of the man, we get the sense that he is the kind of human being we all should be looking up to. He is shown to be heroic, noble, determined and moral, fitted with willpower, decency and personal strength, absolutely set on courageously serving the country he loves. He doesn’t want to kill anyone, but he doesn’t like bullies such as the evil Nazis. He’s capable of self-sacrifice and will never run away from a fight. It’s not necessarily the power-granting serum that makes him a hero; he already is one.

And then there’s Johann Schmidt, the film’s main antagonist, played outstandingly by go-to badguy Hugo Weaving (“V for Vendetta”). Schmidt is the leader of HYDRA, the Nazis’ research and technology organisation, and he is infatuated with finding magical artefacts, much to the disapproval of his superiors. In the opening scene, we witness him stealing a glowing, cube-shaped energy source, which he plans to use in his scheme to take over the world. Also aiding him is his previous injection with an early version of the super-soldier serum Cap has been given, which has unfortunately had some physical side-effects on Schmidt (under his skin-mask is the face of someone who forgot to put on some suntan lotion when visiting the sun).


Captain America and Schmidt are very much arch-nemeses; their powers come from the same source, yet they are of entirely opposite mindsets. Steve claims to be “just a kid from Brooklyn,” while Schmidt believes himself to be a supreme being. Steve stands for all the values and ideals that are right and ethical in this world, while Schmidt wants to have the world all to himself, regardless of how many of those on his side and the other side die for it. Steve is the perfect man; Schmidt is a horrific monster.

In the vein of Johnston’s very own aforementioned “The Rocketeer,” the film is a stylised period piece, fitted with all the early ‘40s details mixed in with technology that’s advanced even for our time. There are ray guns that zap grown men into nothing but thin air in a fraction of a second, serums that grant superpowers, a flying car, and an indestructible, impenetrable shield made from an incredibly rare metal. Even the HYDRA drones remind one of the Stormtroopers from “Star Wars.”


The action scenes are also stylised, someone on the production team evidently having taken some tips from Zack Snyder’s “300,” with the action slowed down and sped back up to normal speed in single takes. Captain America hurls his shield in the air, knocks HYDRA soldiers off their feet and leaps from the roofs of moving cars onto the roofs of other moving cars. It’s all very nifty, very cool and a little bit thrilling. I’d also like to add that I saw the film in 2-D and thus cannot comment on the 3-D, though I’ve heard from many others that it’s a lousy post-conversion (the film looks lovely in plain 2-D anyway).

Is the premise of “Captain America” preposterous? Yes, of course it is, even more so with the World War II setting (70 years later, we‘ve still to make our first Superman). But we must remember it’s a superhero movie, and preposterousness is to be expected, our belief to be suspended for a couple of hours as we watch the virtuous powers of good fight the abominable powers of evil. Do this, and you’re sure to have fun with this charming, perfectly enjoyable superhero flick.

8/10

Monday, 25 July 2011

Horrible Bosses

“Horrible Bosses” caters to the morbid fantasies of abused employees: the thought that your employer can simply disappear with the pulling of a trigger or the slicing and dicing of a kitchen knife. Bosses can make your life a living Hell, and one can easily dream of a life in which your boss ceases to exist; I’m sure many have often fantasised about “offing” their all-ruling superiors of the workplace, much as the main characters attempt in Seth Gordon’s new movie.

There are three different bosses we meet in this very fine black comedy. All three of them, as the title suggests, are rather horrible individuals, and one would certainly not wish to be under the employment of any of these three insidious employers as the film’s protagonists unfortunately are; one can also imagine taking the decisions these characters bravely (or stupidly) take, given the notably vile actions of their despicable bosses.


The first boss we meet is Dave Harken, a financial firm tyrant played by Kevin Spacey (“Beyond the Sea"). Spacey was previously a horrible boss in George Huang's darkly comic "Swimming with Sharks," so he knows what he's doing. Harken spends his workdays bullying and being passive aggressive towards executive Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman, "The Switch"). He makes him drink alcohol at work, cruelly taunts him when he's late by a measly two minutes, and teases him with a promotion he'll never receive. And Spacey plays this all with a straight face and a suitably piercing set of eyes.

The second is Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston, "Just Go With It"), a not-so-professional dentist who loves to overstep social boundaries. As she fixes the teeth of her usually unconscious patients, she's sexually harassing her timid assistant Dale Arbus (Charlie Day, “Going the Distance“). She strolls about naked in front of him at work, sprays water on his crotch to see the outline of his penis and frequently orders him to have sex with her (or "fuck" her, as she vulgarly puts it). Dale, who is soon to be married, is not particularly inclined to do so.


And then there's Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell, "In Bruges"), a chemical company manager who gains control of his father's business when his father dies in a car accident. His accountant Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis, "Hall Pass"), who previously loved his job, now hates his job as he is forced by Pellitt to fire employees due to their weight or disabilities, all the while Pellitt has stripper parties in the office and snorts coke in the bathroom. Pellitt also ignores environmental policies in order to save money.

Nick, Dale and Kurt have simply had enough, and, after discussing their problems over some drinks in the local bar, make the slightly questionable decision to kill their bosses. With the help of the humorously-named Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx, “Ray”), who gives himself the title of their “murder consultant,” these three friends attempt to murder their heinous, inconsiderate employers and make their deaths look like everyday accidents; just another day in the office, eh?


You may notice that “Horrible Bosses” has a distinctively macabre premise, one that almost sounds like it’s not even from a comedy, but it is. Cold-blooded murder and mainstream comedy don’t often go hand in hand, but here they serve only to compliment each other.

The laughs in the movie, and there are most definitely plenty of them, come mostly from three things: the shocking behaviour of the trio of bosses, our protagonists’ reactions to their behaviour, and their attempts at killing these bosses in retaliation to this behaviour. Of course, all does not go well for our protagonists as they begin to plan out how they will carry out their vicious deeds without getting caught (watching “Law & Order“ helps, apparently).


Naturally, Nick, Dale and Kurt are pretty much incompetent in their first stab at killing anyone, their clear inexperience the source of much hilarity (I’m sure singing and dancing to The Ting Tings‘ “That’s Not My Name” while looking out for your target’s arrival home is not considered very professional for an assassin). And in a way, you do find yourself questioning your support for these characters, what with them casually deciding to become murderers and whatnot. Still, their constant stumbling and ineptitude only makes them more lovable.

What really makes “Horrible Bosses” tick on such a regular basis is the sheer horribleness of the film’s antagonistic bosses. Spacey, Aniston and Farrell are inspired casting, each a perfect fit for their character types, Spacey in particular. They’re such outrageously contemptible characters that you almost immediately root in favour of their demise, momentarily shoving your better-knowing morals to the side, while still wanting more screen-time from them. And I’m confident that writers Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein have had their own horrible bosses in the past and have incorporated their personal experiences into the rib-tickling script; well, aside from the killing aspect, presumably.


Ultimately, “Horrible Bosses” is a hilarious hit of a black comedy, though the comedy could have possibly been slightly blacker (not to give anything away, but there is a grand total of two deaths in the film). Director Seth Gordon has crafted a film that is incredibly entertaining, very funny, very sharp in its comedy, is a fantastic piece of comedic acting and very much earns its R rating (there’s a supporting character called Motherfucker, for the love of God).

8/10

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Top Ten Superhero Movie Trailers

With the official release of the teaser trailers for Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" and Marc Webb's "The Amazing Spider-Man" having just hit the web this week (and the teaser for "The Avengers" is said to appear after the end credits of Joe Johnston's "Captain America: The First Avenger"), I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the best trailers ever compiled for superhero flicks. There have been a boatload of superhero movies over the years, and all the crime-busting awesomeness of the ass-kicking vigilantes at the centre of their stories must be condensed into under three minutes of footage at some point or another for marketing purposes. Intended to wow the comic book nerds as well as entice general moviegoers, some of these trailers turn out to be rather awe-inspiring, and are known to make the nerds a teensy bit aroused on occasion. So, here is my list of the top ten superhero movie trailers ever to make the geeks jizz in their pants with sweaty excitement; grab a box of tissues if necessary.

10. "Blade 2" (2002)


First up is the trailer that attracted audiences to go see Guillermo del Toro's superior sequel to Stephen Norrington's vampire-slaying superhero feature "Blade." The trailer crams in a plethora of cheesy action, slow-motion thrills, electrifying music, gravelly voiced narration, and a smidgen of tongue-in-cheek humour, succeeding in making "Blade 2" look just a little bit cool; as if that was a hard task. And I love how they changed the line, "You do not know who you are fucking with!" to, "You do not know who you are messing with!" Gotta get the kiddies to see this too, I guess.

9. "Daredevil" (2003)


Say what you will about the movie itself (boo, Ben Affleck, hiss, etc.), but this promotional video is friggin' badass, ain't it? While Mark Steven Johnson's "Daredevil" may not 100% live up to the trailer's promises, these 150 seconds of video are undoubtedly awesome in their showing off of the film's action and the introductions of its intriguing characters. And doesn't the use of Evanescence towards the end make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? No? Just me then. I like Evanescence...

8. "Superman" (1978)


A bit of an oldie now, and it's for the superhero film that partly started it all: Richard Donner's "Superman," which apparently stars Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman more than it does Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, if the trailer is to be believed. Anyway, it's an enthralling two-and-a-half minutes that appropriately muster up a sense of awe and wonder for what would of course turn out to be a wonderful film and an instant classic. Still, why does Brando get top billing? He's in the film for, what, like, five minutes at the beginning? Eugh.*

7. "Superman Returns" (2006)


Staying with the man of steel, here's the much-anticipated fourth sequel to Donner's original. Yes, it’s "Superman Returns," the film that made everyone hate director Bryan Singer (cut him some slack, he made "X-Men 2!"). You can tell just from these 90 seconds of footage that it's a film made with much love for the original, with the original theme tune humming in the background and Brando's voice intellectually narrating away. Whatever your feelings are on the film, this is definitely a fabulous little teaser which intrigues without giving much away in terms of plot (though I think Superman returns in it).

6. "X-Men 2" (2003)


The trailer for the second (and some would say best) outing of the X-Men team promised big action, cool thrills, more mutants and Hugh Jackman knifing strangers in a vest, and that thankfully is exactly what we got. There are two things I love about this trailer: 1) The introduction of each of the protagonists with title cards, each of them given their own 5-second tribute, and 2) The sound-effect at 2:09 when Mystique kicks a dude in the face. Seriously, did she shape-shift her foot into a fist?

5. "Iron Man" (2008)


And the marketing for "The Avengers" begins, with the first big-screen adaptation of one of the team's heroic members. When the trailer was first released, "Iron Man" was not what many would consider a household name, but after they caught a glimpse of this explosive arrangement of footage, the man in the metal suit was quickly dead-set on becoming one. The trailer showed the movie off as a true summer blockbuster, all jam-packed with explosions, colourful visuals, light-hearted comedy, Robert Downey Jr. with very fashionable facial hair, and a Black Sabbath soundtrack. Hellz yeah. And Ozzy Osbourne saying, "I am Iron Man" at the end is pure brilliance; his voice should be at the end of every trailer, shouldn't it?

4. "Kick-Ass" (2010)


"Kick-Ass" was very unconventional for the superhero genre, what with its blood-splattering violence, morbid sense of humour, overuse of profanity (OMG, a 12-year-old girl says the C word!) and its scenes of people exploding in giant microwaves. And every one of its trailers showed off all this family-unfriendly content very nicely, giving a full sense of the zany craziness that is Matthew Vaughn's crowd-pleasing vigilante comedy. They can't see through walls and they can't fly, but they can sure make an impressive trailer.

3. "Spider-Man 2" (2004)


If there's one trailer that's ever made a movie look ridiculously entertaining, it's this one for Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 2," the magnificent sequel to the 2002 box office smash (and this one unsurprisingly was an ever bigger smasher of box offices). This trailer packs in drama, comedy, emotion, romance, and, of course, web-slinging action, culminating in the goosebump-inspiring last 40 seconds, set to a heart-racing orchestral song by Immediate Music. I want to make love to that music. How may this be arranged?

2. "Watchmen" (2009)


It was long-said that Alan Moore's ground-breaking graphic novel "Watchmen" was unfilmable (Terry Gilliam tried and failed to do so). And when it was announced that Warner Bros. were doing a big-screen adaptation of the cult superhero book, hopes were not exactly high for it. And then this trailer landed online, and all the naysayers quickly shut the hell up. This is a trailer with which the word "epic" is very, very appropriate, with the visual magnificence of it all just absolutely stunning. The choice of music ("The Beginning is the End is the Beginning" by The Smashing Pumpkins) is breath-taking, and the abundance of slow-motion is very eye-pleasing indeed. Sure, the movie wasn't too great itself, but this trailer is unmistakeably a spectacular work of art, naked blue men and all.

1. "The Dark Knight" (2008)


How could you watch this and not want to see the movie as soon as humanly possible? I guess it seems many felt the same, judging by the enormity of the money Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" proudly raked in. This is the kind of trailer that truly does make a great film look great, it doing absolute justice to what is a deftly crafted piece of superhero entertainment. The way it teases at Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance as The Joker, the way it sums up the scale of the film, the little snippets of action, the use of Hans Zimmer's tremendous score; it's all very spine-tingling, and we are very lucky that it met expectations after this, let alone exceeded them.

*Yes, I'm aware that Brando and Hackman were given top billing due to them having more recognisable names than Reeve at the time. But still, come on, Reeve is Superman, for Christ's sake!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" tells the greatest story of all: life. It may not contain much in terms of plot or narrative, but there is a story there, and it is of life. It celebrates life, its upsides and its downsides, its staggering beauty and its mysterious wonders. It displays the beginning of life, explores the many adventures it can present, and shows its bitter end. But whose life does the film actually celebrate? You could say it is the lives of the O'Brien family, the characters who take up much of the film's runtime and are classed as its protagonists. I personally disagree; I see "The Tree of Life" as a celebration of all life on our planet, of the life of all the beings on this earth, and the O'Brien family are simply a gateway that Malick uses to achieve this.

The O'Brien family could be any family, human or otherwise. We are presented with nothing that renders them special or spectacular, nothing that stands out about them that is peculiar or out of the ordinary. They are what some would refer to as normal and thus easy for audiences to relate to. They live in a suburban area of Texas, much of the film set in the '50s. The mother and father are given no Christian names; they are simply Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt, "Inglourious Basterds") and Mrs. O'Brien (Jessica Chastain, "Take Shelter").


They have three sons together: Jack (whose younger self is played by Hunter McCracken, and older self played by Sean Penn), R.L. (Laramie Eppler) and Steve (Tye Sheridan). All three are well-loved by their father and their mother, though this love is portrayed in different ways. Mrs. O'Brien is much more typically caring and affectionate towards her sons, while her husband is strict and disciplinary with them, ordering them to call him "sir," and almost appearing abusive towards them on occasion.

Their lives are shown to us in a distinctively intimate fashion; throughout the course of the movie, we watch as they grow up into young boys, as they learn of the ways of the big bad world, as they lose their innocence and begin to rebel, though it is presented to us in an order that is most definitely not chronological (indeed, one could say it is presented in the form of the memories of the older Jack, who is an architect reminiscing in and around his building of work).


Around the 20-minute mark, we are taken somewhere that is most unexpected: the beginnings of the universe, the big bang (or the prod of God, if you're into that sort of thing). We gaze upon planets as they take shape. We are witness to the formation of microbes on the growing planet earth, to molten lava spewing up from rocky grounds, to jellyfish swimming around in the early years of the ocean. We watch a dinosaur prepare to attack another dino that is wounded, and then retreats. We watch an asteroid collide with our planet and in turn destroy everything on its surface. At this stage, look in the row behind you in the cinema to see faces of puzzlement.

And then we're back with the family, and Mrs. O‘Brien is about to give birth to baby Jack. "Why were we just watching CGI dinosaurs roaming about in the Jurassic period?" you may ponder to yourself. And honestly, the only person who could truly answer that is Malick, and I'm sure he would tell you that it is up to your own interpretation (it's always more fun that way, isn't it?).


"The Tree of Life" is very much a visual experience; there is a noticeable shortage of dialogue spoken within the film. You watch the origins of the universe, the first steps of a young child, the playing of youngsters, and the world itself; it takes everything that is our universe, our lives, and captures its very natural, very simple beauty. Every image is a dazzling portrait, a picture to gaze upon in awe, your jaw slowly slackening, your eyes maybe a little watery but most definitely fixated on the screen in front of you. As many have pointed out, the film would make for a lovely calendar or screensaver.

And the wondrous use of classical music, consisting of flutes and violins and an assortment of orchestral instruments, enhances this sensation of sublime fascination. Like Emmanuel Lubezki's striking cinematography, the music (featuring an original score by Alexandre Desplat) entrances one into a sense of wonder, at times whimsical and innocent and at others dark and unsettling, crafting an ambience of awe and elegance that encapsulates the film.


In spite of having no clear narrative to speak of, "The Tree of Life" is a mesmerising experience, indeed one of the most mesmerising experiences I have ever had in a movie theatre. I stared at the images projected onto the screen in absorbed fascination, with my mouth slightly ajar, and a smile creeping across my face on a regular basis. Ambition and passion run through this film's veins, Malick having made a film that is perplexing and overwhelming, powerful and emotional, unmistakably beautiful and thematically enchanting. But, not to sound pretentious or condescending, it's not for everyone, though there is most definitely an audience for a film such as this; I trust and hope they shall find it and love it as much as I personally did.

10/10

Monday, 18 July 2011

Zookeeper

You don't go into a movie like "Zookeeper" with high expectations; to do this could raise an eyebrow or two from your personal psychiatrist. When you go into a movie like this, your expectations are that you are about to watch something that's most likely lacking in the brains department, that's going to be silly, goofy, contain a plethora of slapstick comedy, cater to the lowest common denominator and have the ever-so-tiny risk of being fun. And "Zookeeper" will meet almost all of these very attainable expectations, all except for the last one; the "fun factor" is here sadly replaced with the "snooze factor."

"Zookeeper" is another comedic offering from Happy Madison, the production company owned by comedy actor Adam Sandler. It's directed by Frank Coraci, a man whose past credits include "The Wedding Singer" and "Click," both of which star Sandler. And “Zookeeper” also stars Sandler, though the man himself makes an appearance only as a Capuchin Monkey (I should point out he provides the voice and not the body).


In the leading role is Kevin James (also serving as a writer and producer), an actor who is certainly familiar with Happy Madison's name, having starred in some of their previous efforts such as "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" and last year's "Grown Ups." Here, he's playing (drum roll please) a zookeeper in Coraci's family-friendly comedy, turning on his typically natural on-screen charm to make the experience that is "Zookeeper" a bearable one, if only slightly.

His character is Griffin Keyes, a socially uncomfortable goof who has been working at the Franklin Park Zoo for eight years now. In the opening scene, set five years ago, it is shown that he is a full-blown romantic, riding a horse on the beach with his beautiful girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb, "Law Abiding Citizen") and proposing to her using a message in a bottle. Unfortunately, she says no due to her dislike of his job, though the love-shaped fireworks he previously planned crackle away in the sky, and the mariachi band he organised still serenades them as they awkwardly ride off together.


Five years later, and a single Griffin sets eyes on Stephanie during his brother’s engagement party (which is held at the zoo), though it turns out she's still troubled with his job choice (she's an ignorant bitch, to sum her character up). Griffin then talks to himself as she walks away, telling himself that he must leave his job if she is to accept him. However, the surrounding animals overhear him, and hatch up a plan.

Much to his surprise, the animals of the zoo start talking to Griffin (all with different accents, of course), and decide to help him win Stephanie over. Soon enough, Griffin is pissing on trees and growling like a bear, as the animals train him in the art of courtship; fellow zookeeper Kate (Rosario Dawson, "Unstoppable") also aids him in his desperate attempts, though she is unaware of the animals' advanced communication skills.


I found it very difficult to loathe "Zookeeper" against my better judgement, though I try my hardest not to hate the films I watch. The reason I found this difficult to loathe was because there is annoyingly a sweetness to the film that's not necessarily innocent, but simply sweet. I'm not sure whether it comes from the relationship between Griffin and Kate, or the warmth of James' leading performance (his character is shown to be a genuinely nice person without the film ramming this down our throats), but "Zookeeper" is a sweet movie.

The film will prove successful with children, I would assume, in spite of its apparent attempts at pleasing adults as well (there's some crude humour in there). Kiddies will surely be amused by the talking animals (which include a lion voiced by Sylvester Stallone and an elephant voiced by Judd Apatow), as well as James' near-constant prat-falls, two aspects which take up the vast majority of the runtime.


And its with these two aspects that the film's downfall rears its head. You see, the comedy of "Zookeeper" is too easy and cheap, it consisting quite a bit too much of James screaming and shouting and falling on his arse. There’s an extreme shortage of laughs to be had, the film managing to garner only a single chuckle out of me (and I should add that I can’t even remember at which point this was). As for the talking animals, they're as unconvincing as they always have been in live-action features, looking less like they're talking and more like they're munching away on some delicious treats (and the CGI used for some of their lip-moving does little to help).

"Zookeeper" also falters from the fact that its plot revolves around something that most viewers will care next to nothing about: the romance between Griffin and Stephanie. It's made very clear in the opening scene that Stephanie is a character not to like or root for, so why the film spends such an extended period of time showing Griffin's attempts to be with her has left me baffled. And we all know the identity of the real person Griffin is destined to be with as soon as they light up the screen with their charming personality and glamorous looks (hint: it's not the lowland gorilla voiced by Nick Nolte).


Personally, I would have liked for the film to have delved more into the connection between humans and animals, revealing how we are not so different after all. But alas, "Zookeeper" takes no risks, instead going for second-rate visual gags, an uninteresting central love story and very in-your-face product placement (the TGI Friday‘s advertising is out of control). The only real risk the film takes is breaking the age-old rule of not working with animals.

4/10

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Seeing Double: Top Ten Movie Clones Released Cheek-to-Cheek

Originality can be a rarity within the sparkly streets of Tinseltown, its cinematic offerings tending to consist of remakes, reboots, copycats and sequels which consistently dominate the worldwide box office. Just this week, Hollywood is presenting the US with Will Gluck's "Friends with Benefits," a rom-com about two long-time pals who decide to have casual sex with each other, no strings attached. Sound familiar? Well, just six months ago came Ivan Reitman's "No Strings Attached," the storyline of which is exactly the same as "Friends with Benefits," the only difference being that that one starred Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and this new one stars Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. Their similarities can be seen in the video below.


To mark this baffling coincidence (or is it?!?!), I've compiled a list of the top ten times this happened before in Hollywood, i.e. two movies that were released close together and carry striking resemblances to each other. Happenstance or a result of studio eavesdropping? Rip-off or pure coincidence? Let's compare these movie clones.

Note: The films are presented in chronological order, and the worldwide box office takings provided include figures from the US.

(1993-1994) "Tombstone" and "Wyatt Earp"


What's the Resemblance?
Aside from the fact that they are both very much gunslinging westerns, "Wyatt Earp" and "Tombstone" are on this list because they share the same well-known, real-life protagonist: Wyatt Earp, historical lawman of the wild West.

Which Came First?
"Tombstone" rode into town on Christmas Day, 1993, with "Wyatt Earp" hot on its trail, released 24 June, 1994.

Which Made the Most Cash?
"Tombstone" lassoed in $56 million domestically, while "Wyatt Earp" was less successful, earning only $25 million domestically on its $63 million budget.

What Sets Them Apart?
"Wyatt Earp" is a serious biopic of the eponymous lawman (played by Kevin Costner), taking us from his adolescence to his later years, showing us the good times and the bad times of the historical figure's life in the West. "Tombstone," on the other hand, (with Kurt Russell in the lead role) is slightly less stern and focuses only on the events leading up to the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral.

What's the Better Movie?
Audiences seemed to take much more of a shine to "Tombstone," what with its action-packed plot and spaghetti western stylisation, as opposed to the realism of the biographical "Wyatt Earp;" I'm sure the latter's three hour runtime did little to resolve this.

(1995) "Gordy" and "Babe"


What's the Resemblance? 
Live-action family films of the "animals can talk" fare, "Babe" and "Gordy" both star a lively piglet who can converse with the other animals of his homely farm, though us humans of course only hear nonsensical oinking.

Which Came First?
"Gordy" trotted about on 12 May, while "Babe" played in the mud on 4 August.

Which Made the Most Cash?
"Gordy" was a bit of a flop, making only $4 million domestically, while "Babe" squealed all the way to the bank with over $66 million in the US alone and $240 million worldwide.

What Sets Them Apart?
While "Babe" stuck to its humble setting of a farm in the country, "Gordy" saw its curly-tailed protagonist travelling across America to find his family, resulting in all sorts of silly, stupid and insufferable shenanigans.

What's the Better Movie?
"Babe" by a long shot; it was met with critical acclaim, proved much more popular with audiences than "Gordy," was nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards and is something of a Disney classic. Meanwhile, the obnoxious "Gordy" thankfully faded into long-forgotten obscurity.

(1997) "Dante's Peak" and "Volcano"


What's the Resemblance?
"Dante's Peak" and "Volcano" are both mindless '90s disaster movies revolving around volcanoes that have violently erupted without much warning, putting their protagonists in quite a bit of peril.

Which Came First?
"Dante's Peak" erupted first, released on 7 February, and "Volcano" spilled its lava on 25 April.

Which Made the Most Cash?
Both movies made very middling amounts of cash given their sizable budgets, with "Dante's Peak" earning over $67 million domestically and $178 million worldwide, and "Volcano" grossing $49 million domestically and $122 million worldwide.

What Sets Them Apart?
"Dante's Peak" takes place in a fictional town by the countryside, as compared to "Volcano," which showcases a (surprise, surprise) volcano that unexpectedly rises up from the streets of Los Angeles.

What's the Better Movie?
Neither are particularly good, but I'd say "Volcano" is superior, if only for the stupefying corniness of it all (a volcano in Los Angeles? Really?). "Dante's Peak," on the other hand, isn't very exciting and doesn't contain Tommy Lee Jones outrunning a collapsing skyscraper.

(1998) "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon"


What's the Resemblance?
A gigantic asteroid is hurtling through the vastness of space in the direction of our lovely planet, and is set to destroy every living thing on Earth; it's up to us to stop it before the population of the globe is reduced to zero.

Which Came First?
"Deep Impact" crashed into cinemas on 8 May, while "Armageddon" made its impact on 1 July.

Which Made the Most Cash?
Both surprisingly managed to make a boatload at the box office, with "Armageddon" receiving over $200 million domestically and $550 million worldwide, and "Deep Impact" raking in $140 million domestically and $350 million worldwide.

What Sets Them Apart?
One stars Bruce Willis and the other stars Morgan Freeman. One is more of an actioner and the other is more of a drama. While "Armageddon" goes down the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer big-explosion route, "Deep Impact" takes a more dramatic approach, looking at how us human beings would react given the news that a big space rock's about to kill us all.

What's the Better Movie?
As thrilling as the last 90 minutes of "Armageddon" are, I'd have to say "Deep Impact" is the better film. The former suffers from director Michael Bay's complete and utter incompetence with scenes that aren't action-oriented, while the latter is a much more solid and noble watch, albeit lacking in adrenaline-fuelled thrills.

(1998) "Antz" and "A Bug's Life"


What's the Resemblance?
In a highly populated ant colony, one misfit ant attempts to free his fellow insects from an unflinching higher power, discovering throughout the course of the film that he is much braver than he ever thought before.

Which Came First?
"Antz" crawled onto the big screen on 2 October, and "A Bug's Life" followed on 25 November.

Which Made the Most Cash?
"Antz" did fairly well, receiving $90 million domestically and $171 million worldwide, while "A Bug's Life" was just a little bit gigantic, earning $162 million in the US and $363 million globally.

What Sets Them Apart?
"Antz" is notably grittier than "A Bug's Life," it even including a scene where a newly decapitated head talks to our neurotic main character. "A Bug's Life," on the other hand, is a more family-friendly animation, most of the insect characters animated to appear cute and cuddly.

What's the Better Movie?
One is Pixar and the other is DreamWorks, two movie studios seemingly always in battle with each other. Pixar's "A Bug's Life" is a bit of a childhood favourite of mine, so I of course personally prefer it to Dreamworks' "Antz," though I know many prefer the boldness of the latter (I do love the casting of Woody Allen).

(2000) "Mission to Mars" and "Red Planet"


What's the Resemblance?
A couple of sci-fi tales which see a group of astronauts venturing out of our atmosphere in a big rocket and landing on the fourth planet from our sun, Mars, where things unfortunately take a turn for the worst.

Which Came First?
First to land was "Mission to Mars" on 10 March, while "Red Planet" blasted off on 10 November.

Which Made the Most Cash?
While "Mission to Mars" earned a fair amount at the box office with $60 million in the US and $110 million worldwide, "Red Planet" couldn't even make back half of its production budget of $80 million, taking in only $33 million from international audiences.

What Sets Them Apart?
Where the differences lie are in the intentions of the space-travelling characters. In "Mission to Mars," they're a rescue team sent to the red planet to find out what happened to the previous team who ventured there, and in "Red Planet," they've come to Mars to find resources to bring back to a dying Earth.

What's the Better Movie?
That's a bit like asking someone to tell you which serving of excrement tastes less shitty. Neither are what you'd call the next "2001: A Space Odyssey," both as bland as a pod person, though I'd say "Mission to Mars" stinks slightly less, what with Brian De Palma in the director's chair.

(2003-2004) "Finding Nemo" and "Shark Tale"


What's the Resemblance?
Two movies set in the watery depths of the seven seas, "Finding Nemo" and "Shark Tale" saw Pixar and DreamWorks in fierce competition yet again, both making computer-animated family flicks starring a plethora of fishy characters.

Which Came First?
"Finding Nemo" was a 2003 release, floating to the surface on 30 May, while "Shark Tale" surfaced on 1 October, 2004.

Which Made the Most Cash?
Both movies were kings of the box office ocean, with "Shark Tale" making a splash with $160 million domestically and $367 million worldwide, and "Finding Nemo" swimming in a pile of dough, making $339 million domestically and $867 million worldwide.

What Sets Them Apart?
The biggest difference would be the storylines, one of which is more emotional, the other having entertainment solely in mind. "Finding Nemo" tells the story of a clown fish who swims all the way across the ocean to find his missing son, while "Shark Tale" is about a bluestreak cleaner wrasse who receives local fame when he pretends to be a professional killer of sharks.

Which is the Better Movie?
There is no competition here; "Finding Nemo" received mass acclaim from both critics and audiences alike, left filmgoers everywhere teary eyed in the cinema and is still heralded as one of Pixar's very best. And "Shark Tale," while maybe not too bad, was much less ambitious, feeling more like a quick paycheck for the cluster of A-list actors providing their vocal talents.

(2005) "Red Eye" and "Flightplan"


What's the Resemblance?
Both "Red Eye" and "Flightplan" are very tense thrillers with female heroes and male villains, involve terrorism and kidnapping, and take place primarily within the aisles of flying aeroplanes.

Which Came First?
Landing first was "Red Eye" on 19 August, while “Flightplan" landed on 23 September.

Which Made the Most Cash?
"Red Eye" was a modest success, receiving $57 million domestically and $95 million worldwide, while "Flightplan" was quite the hit, taking in $89 million domestically and $223 million worldwide.

What Sets Them Apart?
"Red Eye" has a woman being seated beside a charming man on a plane who turns out to be a rather nasty individual, ordering her to phone the hotel she works for and change the room in which the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security resides so that he may be assassinated. "Flightplan" has a woman boarding a plane with her daughter, falling asleep and waking up to find her daughter gone, with no record of her ever having boarded the plane.

What's the Better Movie?
In my opinion, these are both great slices of entertainment, but my personal preference lies with "Red Eye," mainly due to Cillian Murphy's incredibly intimidating performance as the menacing villain. "Flightplan," while definitely a fun and mysterious ride, is a little too far-fetched for its own good.

(2005-2006) "Capote" and "Infamous"


What's the Resemblance?
"Capote" and "Infamous" together tell the exact same story. What is this story? It is of Truman Capote, the famed author of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," both fact-based films revolving around the man as he researches his new book, "In Cold Blood," and becomes obsessively involved with the the imprisoned murderer who is the subject of his upcoming novel.

Which Came First?
Initially hitting the silver screen in 2005 was "Capote," given a limited release in the US on 30 September, then a wider release on 3 February, 2006. "Infamous" followed with a limited release on 13 October, 2006.

Which Made the Most Cash?
"Capote" made the most money by a long shot, it earning $28 million domestically and $49 million worldwide. "Infamous," due to its limited release, made only $1.5 million domestically and $2.6 million worldwide.

What Sets Them Apart?
The only notable difference between the two is in terms of tone. "Capote" has a very cold and almost unsettling ambience about itself, while "Infamous" is much warmer; indeed, you can see this even in the two posters above.

What's the Better Movie?
It's unfortunate that "Infamous" was so overshadowed by the success of "Capote," as it is a very good movie in its own right, but I do believe that "Capote" is superior; how could you not just love Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance as the effeminately-voiced eccentric? You could hardly even recognise the man.

(2006) "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige"


What's the resemblance? 
Both "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige" are set at the turn of the 20th Century, with stage performers in the leading roles. What do they perform? Magic and illusions, shows of trickery and deception, which it turns out they use off-stage as well.

Which Came First?
"The Illusionist" waved its wand first on 18 August with a limited released then a wider release on 1 September, followed by the wizardry of "The Prestige" on 20 October.

Which Made the Most Cash?
"The Illusionist" pulled $39 million out of its hat domestically and $87 million worldwide, while "The Prestige" conjured up $53 million domestically and $109 million worldwide.

What Sets Them Apart?
"The Illusionist" is a love story, while "The Prestige" is a mystery thriller. "The Illusionist" sees its magician protagonist falling for a woman who is out of his reach, while "The Prestige" tells the story of two co-performers who end up in an intense, violent rivalry. Also, "The Prestige" contains actual magic, while "The Illusionist" does not.

What's the Better Movie?
"The Prestige" is a slightly more intriguing movie than "The Illusionist," which is nonetheless wonderfully directed and beautifully acted. Under the direction of Christopher "The Dark Knight" Nolan, "The Prestige" is dark and absorbing, crammed full of twists, turns and sleights of hand that the audience never sees coming; it also contains David Bowie, which is always a plus.

Honourable Mentions: (1996) "Independence Day" and "Mars Attacks"; (1998) "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Thin Red Line"; (2005-2006) "├ćon Flux" and "Ultraviolet"; (2009) "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" and "Observe and Report"

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

And so it ends. Eight movies, all glorious; millions of fans, all utterly devoted; billions of dough flooding the bank, all very much deserved. The "Harry Potter" franchise truly has become a gigantic staple of contemporary popular culture, each magical movie wonderfully adapted from the beloved series of bestselling books written by celebrated British author J. K. Rowling. And it is with great sadness and grief that we slide off our pointed wizard hats, raise our wands in the air and light up the sky to bid farewell to this magnificent saga as it takes its grand final bow.

Yes, it's all over for Harry Potter and his wizarding pals, but there's no use crying over spilt pumpkin juice. Okay, maybe just a few tears (they are characters with whom many have grown up, after all). We last saw speccy, redhead and bookworm on a sandy beach at the end of "Part One" of the "Deathly Hallows" double, where poor little house-elf Dobby had just fallen fatal victim to a knife flung by bitch-of-a-witch Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech").


"Part Two" picks up soon after this tragic affair, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) planning their next move against the monstrous Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, "In Bruges") and his nefarious companions, the savage Death Eaters. The trio also continue their search for the rest of the Horcruxes, which those who have paid attention to the series should know are different parts of Voldemort's wicked soul, and they all need to be destroyed if he is to finally meet his maker.

Last year saw "Part One" of the epic conclusion to this superb film franchise receiving some mild criticism for its slow-moving pace and general lack of action (much of the runtime was set in a tent, after all). Some exclaimed that it was not exciting enough, and that the consistency of thrills was insufficient for a fantasy blockbuster of this sort (I must say I completely disagree). But if anything, "Part Two" provides us with every ounce of excitement and exhilaration we've come to yearn for when setting eyes on a "Harry Potter" film, and then some; action set-pieces run rampant in this electrifying finale.


If you were to call "Part One" a drama, "Part Two" is very much an action flick; it's mind-boggling that both instalments were filmed at the same time. Dialogue takes a bit of a side-step in favour of rather loud banging, crashing, wand-zapping and heartless child-murdering (fun for all the family!). Indeed, the film will leave you breathless, energised and much more satisfied than "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" ever would or could.

Firstly, there's Harry, Ron and Hermione's risky break-in to the goblin-crowded Gringotts Wizarding Bank in an attempt to unearth a possible Horcrux in the vault belonging to the tricky Miss Lestrange. And lying within the entrance to this vault is a fire-breathing dragon, which promptly takes a bit of a building-destructing stroll across the rooftops of London. It's a marvellous sequence, but it serves only as preparation for the action-packed extravaganza that is soon to follow.


This stimulating spectacle is the battle to end all battles: the last stand between brave Harry Potter and evil Lord Voldemort, who unfortunately now has the all-powerful Elder Wand in his possession. Harry arrives at Hogwarts School, which is now run by grumpy git-gone-bad Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"), and is met with vocal threats from He Who Must Not Be Named. Soon enough, standing outside the gothic castle is an overwhelming army of Voldemort's loyal cronies, all thirsty for the blood of the young wizards and witches standing and waiting within the grounds and hallways of Hogwarts School.

What follows is a dizzying array of astonishing special effects, as the students and teachers of Hogwarts defend the magic school to the death (and there are many deaths to be seen). Wands zap away, wizards stampede and lumbering trolls hurl guards made of stone off towering bridges, all the while Harry, Ron and Hermione run about the corridors of Hogwarts, trying to destroy every last Horcrux so that Harry may at last kill Voldemort once and for all.


And in amongst all this eye-pleasing explosive action lies heart-wrenching drama, as characters we've come to know and love are tragically lost in the larger-than-life clash between good and evil. Shockers and bombshells run afoul throughout, whether they be unexpected demises or a sudden changed perception of a supporting character (a scene in which Snape's memories are accessed is a thing of cinematic beauty). Many surprises and revelations are certainly in store for those who are yet to read Rowling's climactic novel, so please try your hardest not to spoil it for them, faithful bookworms!

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is an incredibly elegant blockbuster. Every aspect of its runtime (which is the shortest of all the films in the franchise, clocking in at just over two hours) is polished to absolute perfection. The action is breathtaking, the special effects are jaw-dropping, the emotional impact is deep and moving, filled with characters we care so much for having to fight for their lives against unimaginable forces of relentless evil. With a franchise so widely adored and cherished as "Harry Potter," an ending as astounding and fulfilling as this is an exceptionally fitting conclusion for its international fans. As the saying goes, "Harry Potter" has went out with a bang. So long, Potter. We shall miss you dearly.

10/10

End note: I saw the film in eye-popping 2D, so I cannot comment on the quality of the post-converted 3D, though I have heard many negative remarks about it. Still, I can confirm that the film is absolutely gorgeous in just two dimensions, with sights such as the Quidditch field going up in flames and Hogwarts castle having a protective force field crafted around its walls certainly easy on the eyes (Eduardo Serra is a wonderful cinematographer).

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Bad Teacher

It is the job of a teacher to introduce you to the whole wide world and all its wonders. You're young, you're naive, you're impressionable, and your teacher is most likely the only adult authority figure outside of mummy and daddy. You see them five days a week, six hours a day, are under their control and are taught everyday skills by them. Amongst your absorption of grammatical correctness and mathematical equations, you are being trained by someone who is essentially a role model. And thinking of Elizabeth Halsey as a role model is an unnerving thought indeed.

Elizabeth is the protagonist of Jake Kasdan's comedy "Bad Teacher." Played by Cameron Diaz ("Knight and Day"), she is what I suppose you would call an anti-heroine, though she's as lazy a heroine as you will ever stumble upon. She's a teacher at a junior high school, a position she assumedly received through lying and deceiving, judging by her behaviour in the film.


What is her behaviour like in the film? Well, Elizabeth is characterised as lazy and vulgar, uncaring and unruly. Expletives shoot out from between her lipstick-smeared lips with expert precision, and alcohol and marijuana appear to be part of her five-a-day. And this is the recurring joke of "Bad Teacher": a person as irresponsible and untrustworthy as this is the teacher of your children, their role model and guidance for the future, in spite of all her hysterical ignorance; the "too cool for school" stereotype is playing teacher. It's a humorous prospect, but it's only after a while that this joke starts to become stale.

Instead of filling her students' growing heads with useful knowledge of the modern-day world, Elizabeth will just flip on a movie (such as Wes Craven's "Scream") for their bright little eyes to gaze upon as she snoozes at her desk and waits for the bell to rouse her from her half-drunk slumber. She is also far more concerned with the size of her breasts, as she attempts to raise money (through conning, swiping, and sexually arousing men) to pay for surgery to enlarge them. And her jar labelled "NEW TITS" is becoming increasingly green.


In the school car park, she smokes weed. In the school corridors, she avoids students who are crying. In the school cafeteria, she ignores bullying. Mandatory meetings are deflected, students are exposed to harsh language, cookies baked for her by students are unappreciated, the school curriculum is completely neglected, and items from her students' houses are stolen; on Christmas Day, no less.

All this ignorance is entertaining enough until your mind begins to analyse the consequences of what this woman is doing to her students, at which point you begin to dislike and despise this irresponsible protagonist. While the students in Mike White's "The School of Rock" of 2003 were at least getting something valuable out of Jack Black's classroom shenanigans (musical talent can come in handy), the students under the authority of Cameron Diaz are receiving absolutely nothing. And when you begin to realise what this may mean for these innocent children's future, your feelings for this unlikely teacher are eradicated in an instant.


Across the hall from Elizabeth is disturbingly chirpy redhead Miss Squirrel (the astonishing Lucy Punch, "Dinner for Schmucks"), whose students are treated with juicy red apples as they play charades and watch their zany teacher with ample bemusement. Her goody-two-shoes personality soon reveals a hard-as-steel determination, Miss Squirrel quickly turning into Elizabeth's arch-nemesis and uber-competitive rival. Punch's character is supposed to act as the villain of the film, which I suppose would work better if our main character didn't already come across as a villain herself.

Another supporting character used to enhance Elizabeth's irresponsibility is Lynn (Phyllis Smith, "The Office"), a fellow teacher who's timid as anything, but giggles at Elizabeth's refusal to be decent and appropriate. Still, she would never willingly copy her rebellious nature, although Elizabeth forces her to do so on several occasions. There's also Scott (Justin Timberlake, "The Social Network"), the sweet and innocent new teacher on campus, all naive and kind and bespectacled, his favourite book being Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love," though it turns out he's a little kinky in the bedroom. And there's Russell (Jason Segel, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), the PE teacher who's almost as vulgar as Elizabeth, just with more control over his actions.


These characters fade in and out of the story whenever they are needed or not needed, and don't necessarily do too much, aside from the nutty Miss Squirrel (see what I did there?). They supply some laughs, say some things, react to Elizabeth's foulness, and then disappear for a few scenes. They're momentary distractions from the troublesome nuisance that is our wild protagonist more than anything else.

"Bad Teacher" does cater to the funny bone on occasion; Elizabeth's indecency and foul language is the source of some rib-tickling comedy. But with a main character as unengaging as the one we are presented with here, the film's taste is dry, and Elizabeth's lack of any comeuppance or actual development as a person leaves it an unsatisfying watch. I'm not a fan of predictable plot formula, but a character such as Elizabeth deserves to plummet back into reality and have to clamber her way back up with genuine niceness and helpfulness and caring and sharing; without this, why should I care?

4/10

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Top Five Movie Trees

To celebrate the UK release of Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or-winning “The Tree of Life,” in cinemas July 8, I have decided to compile a list of the most awesome trees ever to feature in a film. Why trees? Because the word “tree” is in the title of the movie, silly. That makes sense, yes? Yes. And I’m sure there are trees featured in the film at some point. I think. Anyway, here is my selection of the top five trees from the world of cinema. And no, you may not piss on these trees, drunken kebab-chewer; some of them are a little homicidal.

5. Treebeard from “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)


First up is a walking, talking, Orc-crushing tree with a big bushy beard growing from his craggy wooden face (hence the incredibly inventive name). Treebeard is the elderly and noble leader of the Ents, a species of tree that are very much alive and can stomp about in Middle-earth like it’s nobody’s business. We first meet the towering plant when yellow-bellied hobbits Merry and Pippin stumble upon his roots while outrunning a murderous Orc in Fangorn forest. Soon enough, Treebeard gets into battle mode, violently stampeding along with his splinter-inflicting buddies against the vicious soldiers of Isengard, a fortress which they all flood together. With his voice provided by John Rhys-Davies, Treebeard immediately gives the impression that he is not one to joke around with, especially if you’re a small ugly Orc chasing a couple of hobbits in the woods.

4. The Whomping Willow from the “Harry Potter” franchise (2001-2011)


Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry really is a dangerous place for school kids, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve got massive spiders trying to eat people in the woods, a giant snake slithering through the pipes, a sport in which kids fly about unsupported at a hundred miles an hour on a broomstick, and soul-sucking monsters roaming around, acting as a happiness vacuum. And to top it all off you’ve got a tree which fucking kills anyone who ventures anywhere near it just standing out in the open, no barriers or anything around it for reasonable protection. This is the Whomping Willow, a man-slaughtering tree which we first meet in “Chamber of Secrets,” in which Ron and Harry crash the flying Weasley family car into the branches of the tree. Almost immediately, the two young wizards are very nearly crushed to death, as the tree forgets all about its anger management classes and thumps its thick branches against the vehicle while Harry and Ron are still sitting inside. If a dog were to ever try to take a piss on this thing it’d get a quick neutering, free of charge. Well, aside from its penis.

3. The Rapist Trees from “The Evil Dead” (1981)


Now, I’m sure trees that violently swing their branches at you might seem like a scary prospect, but how about trees that sexually assault you? Yep, in Sam Raimi’s low-budget splatter-horror flick “The Evil Dead,” there are trees that have a tendency to casually rape passers-by. I’m not kidding. After a bunch of college kids accidentally unleash a horde of evil demons in the woods, some plants in the forest are seemingly possessed and as a result get a little wood (ha!). And it’s poor frail Cheryl who is the victim of this infamous scene from this fabulously gory video nasty when she ventures out into the forest after hearing a voice. The trees wraps their twigs around her arms and legs, pull her down onto the grass below, tear off her clothes and ram a single branch into that spot between her legs. She promptly escapes their grip, but I’m wondering if the tree actually finished its, ahem, business. I also wonder what their children would look like. Keira Knightley, maybe? Geddit? ‘Cause she’s a wooden actress? Tee hee, I’m so funny.

2. The Child-Eating Tree from “Poltergeist” (1982)


Another evil tree here, but this one thankfully is not a vicious sex pest. Instead, this one gobbles up little children for a midnight snack. Actually, is that worse? I don’t know. Anyhoo, it’s the large tree that stands in the backyard of the newly purchased suburban home of the Freeling family in Tobe Hooper‘s horror “Poltergeist.” While at first innocent-looking (ie, not moving or showing any signs of being, y’know, alive), the tree suddenly springs to life one stormy night, its branches bursting through the children’s bedroom window and yanking little Robbie from the comfort of his bed. The tree is then revealed to have a mouth, out of which the upper half of Robbie is soon dangling, his little feet kicking away at the tree’s wooden tonsils. His father quickly rescues him, and the tree is sucked up into a tornado. And it soon turns out the tree was just acting as a distraction from the daughter being taken into another realm by the spirits haunting the house. Oh that tricky tree…

1. The Apple Trees from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)


And planted right in the number one spot are the douche bag apple trees from Victor Fleming’s musical classic “The Wizard of Oz.” Why are they douche bags? Well, when sweet and innocent Dorothy Gale approaches their still bodies and plucks a juicy red apple from one of their branches, the tree from which she pinched the fruit wakes up and reacts in a not particularly friendly fashion. The grouchy plant slaps her hand, asks her what she thinks she’s doing, is mocked by the scarecrow and proceeds to hurl its own apples at the both of them, which I guess is the tree equivalent of throwing your poop at someone. I love these trees because of how mean they are, how they just start furiously throwing apples at two virginal bystanders, completely defeating the purpose of not having their apples taken away from them. And I’m sure many kids will have been terrified at the thought of going anywhere near apple trees ever since they set eyes on this scene, lest they are violently attacked and beaten to death with a handful of apples. It could happen!