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Five Things they Got Wrong in Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 WTFSpider-Man 3 seems like a shoo-in to join Spider-Man 1 and 2 in the top ten highest-grossing films of all time, but reviews have been mixed. Right now it's running about 60% positive at Metacritic and 61% positive at Rotten Tomatoes. So is it any good? I thought so, but this isn't a movie review. As an internationally-recognized expert in Spidey Studies, I thought it would be important to point out where Spider-Man 3 gets it right, and where it get things wrong. I'll start with the bad news first, with the good news to follow in the next day or two. Please note: this is not a series of gripes over deviations from the "cannon" of the original Amazing Spider-Man comic books or anything like that. Spider-Man, like many of his his comic book and other literary brethren, has been written by many different people over the years in many different media. Instead, I hope to point out where Sam Raimi deviated from the crux of the characters or missed opportunities that presented themselves.

1. Spider-Man is never that popular.

As the film opens Spider-man has been embraced by New York as one of their own. After a dramatic rescue of the police chief's daughter, he gets even more kudos. The problem is that Spider-man never gets that much praise. Oh, he might occasionally save a falling construction worker and get cheered by a crowd, but he's invariably doubted and dogged by naysayers. And not just the muckrakers at the Daily Bugle. He certainly doesn't get the key to the city and a marching band. This is one of the reasons he's such a great character. I understand that the plot required some overconfidence on Pete's part so he would miss how troubled Mary Jane had become, but it shouldn't take much to make Pete feel appreciated, given all the negative press he's used to. Near the start of the movie Peter Parker notices his alter-ego on a jumbotron TV screen and is soon joined by a gaggle of cheering children. When the clip ends, the kids run off, not nearly interested enough to wait for it to start over. This is a perfect example of how Spider-Man's popularity has been treated in the comics for virtually his entire career - kids and the occasional falling construction worker might love him, but the powers-that-be (and the many people just opposed to vigilantism) are generally sour on Spider-Man no matter what he does.

2. Eddie Brock is too shallow a character to be interesting

Venom has seen some pretty dodgy writing over the years (i.e. "I want to eat your brains"), but as a general rule, villains are much more interesting when they have a little character development behind them. Lots of little hints about motivation were dropped, but we spent so little time with Edward Brock, Jr. that it was hard to see anything more than "I'm shallow paparazzi guy, hate me." Brock did not have to be a sympathetic antagonist, like the Sandman, but with a little more development we could have gotten a better idea of how he could hate Peter so much and see himself as the victim.

3. Unexplained psuedo-scientific super powers good, ridiculous coincidences bad.

Action movies almost always require a little suspension of belief, and comic book movies draw from that well often. That's fine. I'm more than willing to buy into a genetically-engineered spider bite causing super-strength, a completely unexplained physics experiment turning a man into living sand, and a malevolent alien goo bonding to a human host. But when the alien goo just happens to arrive on earth via a meteorite that just happens to land in New York City just 10 feet from the one-and-only Spider-Man, I call foul. There are plenty of perfectly reasonable ways for Pete to come into contact with the symbiote - maybe it was discovered and brought to the science lab at his college, or maybe it moved from person to person before finding Spider-Man and becoming attracted by his potential for violence. Whatever. The point is that the introduction of the symbiote seemed like a last-minute addition, "oops we forgot to mention where the thing came from, just have it land in his pocket." How does this violate the spirit of Spider-Man? One of the interesting things about Spidey is despite having several titles devoted to him, he is almost never shown as the center of the world. Super Man might have supporting characters like Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, but ultimately everything happens in his life and he always saves the world/universe. Spider-Man's supporting characters have always been more independently interesting than that, and very often he's just a bit player in stories (and world-devouring menaces) much bigger than himself. Pointless coincidences undermine that.

4. Harry Osborn needs to grow a pair

The rather abrupt flipping from enemy to amnesia-addled best friend to enemy and back to friend of Harry Osborn actually fits the treatment of his character in the comics fairly well. Green Goblins are constantly forgetting who they are and whether or not they hate Peter Parker due to bumps on the head, effects of the goblin serum, or even just continuity hiccups. When Peter asks Harry for his help saving MJ, though, the film goes down the wrong route. Instead of facing his conflicted feelings for MJ, Peter, and his father, struggling to face his father's influence, and deciding to act, his butler just tells him "your dad killed himself so forget all the emo crap and go fight the bad guys."

5. Spider-Man 3 should have been two movies

Like Batman before him, Spider-Man has caught a case of multiple-villain disease. The cause is pretty easy to understand - characters that have been in print for over 40 years build up a backlog of rouges and story arcs, while most movie franchises end at three or four films. It can be tempting to try to cram more in, but it's a mistake. The end result is that we don't have enough time to adequately explore Harry / Green Goblin, the Flint Marko / Sandman, or Eddie Brock / Venom. The fight sequences in Spider-Man three are all amazing, thrilling, a joy to watch, but with so many fights to get in they don't necessarily lead up to a climax. Here's how it should have worked: Spider-Man 3 - The first one starts on a high note, with Spider-Man getting a bit of positive press for the first time and MJ starring on Broadway. With Harry's memory gone, Pete even has his best friend back. But MJ is fired, Pete finds out that Marko is the real killer, and try as he might Spider-Man can't defeat the Sandman. To add insult to injury he loses a staff job to Brock. Despite his misgivings, Pete uses the strange black substance to augment his powers and take on Sandman. With the black costume, Spider-Man is able to seemingly kill Marko, a hollow victory since he has compromised his principles along the way. The movie ends with MJ breaking up with him and Harry regaining his memory and putting his plans back in motion. Spider-Man 4 - To start the second movie, Pete lashes out as his troubles by exposing Brock and humiliating (and striking) MJ. Shocked at himself, Pete tears off the suit, leading to creation of Venom. Pete returns to red and blue costume, apologizes to MJ. In the mean time, Brock goes through something similar to Pete in Spider-Man 1, discovering his powers, but he doesn't have the basic human decency and attitude about power and responsibility that Pete does. He goes after Spider-Man, and Pete can't seem to beat Venom. Venom lets him go, making it clear he's toying with Spidey and can attck again at any time. Harry continues to drive a wedge between Pete and MJ and makes sure Venom is mistaken by police for Spidey. Finally, Brock kidnaps MJ. Pete starts to figure out how to fight Venom and is just getting an edge over him when the Sandman appears. Harry has a crisis - he does care for MJ, is he just his father's puppet? He comes to realize that he should be his own person and flies in to help. Then everyone cries. The end. The advantage of breaking it into two parts is pretty clear - you can devote an arc to a single main villain in each movie, with large arcs for Pete, MJ, and Harry. In addition there's the change to end the first part on a low note, like Star Wars did in Empire Strikes Back or Lord of the Rings in The Two Towers. So enough complains. Coming soon: five things they got right in Spider-Man 3.

Go to the Theater and See Hot Fuzz Right Now

Hot Fuzz Perhaps you shouldn't go right now, since I'm writing this at midnight on a weekday, but go at your earliest convenience. Hot Fuzz is the latest film by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the guys who made Shaun of the Dead. If you haven't yet seen Shaun of the Dead, go out and get it - it's one of the funniest, most clever movies I've seen in a long time. You may not have heard of Hot Fuzz, it doesn't seem to be getting much advertising and didn't open in a large number of theaters. If you've seen a review, you might have heard that it's a buddy cop action movie spoof. Really, it isn't a spoof so much as an homage wrapped up in a bunch of postmodern cleverness. It's also a damn good film in it's own right. Let me explain. The movie doesn't just mock and ape other cop movies, like lame "comedies" such as Epic Movie. It is much to well written for that. At the same time it's much more specific, recreating iconic scenes from Point Break and Bad Boys 2 shot-for-shot after after characters have described the scenes just a few minutes earlier. It works and it's amazing how they pull it off. It reminded me of The Days of Rice and Salt when Kim Stanley Robinson slowly revealed how his characters wrote their own story in a form that describes the book itself. Like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz starts Pegg and Nick Frost. These guys play really well off each other and make a better "mismatched pair of cops who learn to rely on each other" than Lethal Weapon, Tango and Cash and Turner and Hootch combined. It's also one of the few movies where IMDB's Trivia and References pages are obviously not complete. Just go see the movie already!

Turkey’s Top Export? Comedy

If you take a look at the CIA World Fact book, you'll see that Turkey's top exports include apparel, foodstuffs, textiles, metal manufactures, and transport equipment. What the United States government doesn't know, or doesn't want you to know, is that Turkey tops the world in a commodity not listed here: comedies. In our ongoing quest to discover the greatest comedies of all time, I decided to take a look at what IMDB had to say. IMDB does have an official list of the top 50 comedies, but I wanted more. Many lists include 100 movies, so I went to the Advanced Search and searched for all movies in the genre "comedy", with at least 1000 votes, excluding TV movies, TV shows, and direct-to-video releases. The first thing I noticed is that IMDB's search is broken, apparently "ignore TV series" really means "litter the results with lots of TV series." The next thing I noticed is something even the CIA couldn't discover: Turkish dominance of the top 3 comedies of all time. At number 1, with a rating of 9.2, is Babam Ve Oglum (2005), also known as My Father and My Son. At number 2, with an 8.9 rating, is Tosun Pasa (1976), with Hababam sinifi (1975) just a notch below at 8.8. The Turkish dominance is finally interrupted by Dr. Strangelove (1964) at the number 4 spot. I have never seen any of these films, or any Turkish comedies for that matter. But these aren't just simple flukes - they each have more than 1000 votes, and it's hard to see why they are not included in the official top 50. What makes these films so funny? Let's take a look as a memorable quote from Tosun Pasa:
Saban: [Scared] Who are you? Real Tosun Pasha: Ibrahim Pasha from Cairo is in your order, Sir! Saban: [Seriously] Who made you a pasha, sir? Real Tosun Pasha: It was with your order, Pasha! Saban: So I made you a pasha, Mr. Ibrahim? Real Tosun Pasha: Yes, Pasha! Saban: [Mockingly] Hey Ibrahim, are you Seferoglus' pasha? Real Tosun Pasha: Sorry, you lost me, sir. Saban: [Laughs] Come on Ibo, you can't fool me!
Ha ha ha heh... heh... Hmm. Perhaps there is a cultural divide. You see, pasha is a title granted within the Ottoman Empire. It was an honorific originally limited to military commanders but later used for civilians as well. Pashas rank above beys and Aghas but below khedives and viziers. There have been a number of important Pashas, for example Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt put down a rebellion of Wahhabis in Arabia and later fought in the Greek War of Independence. He was the adopted son of Muhamad Ali, though few people know that since it was left out of the film. Let's take a look at the plot summary for Babam Ve Oglum:
Sadik is one of the rebellious youth who has been politically active as a university student and became a left-wing journalist in the 70's, despite his father's expectations of him becoming an agricultural engineer and taking control of their family farm in an Aegean village. On the dawn of September 12, 1980, when a merciless military coup hits the country, they cannot find access to any hospital or a doctor and his wife dies while giving birth to their only child, Deniz. After a long-lasting period of torture, trials, and jail time, Sadik returns to his village with 7-8 years old Deniz, knowing that it will be hard to correct things with his father, Huseyin. (source)
Now that sounds funny. I can only imagine the death-during-childbirth scene takes place in fast-motion with a "Benny Hill" soundtrack, much like the examples Mr. Wallz has uncovered. I kid. Actually, all three of these movies sound pretty interesting, and if I ever finish my thesis, I'll try tracking them down. I do have to suspect, though, that their high ranking is due in part to a small, but sizable Turkish minority on IMDB who very passionately love their domestic film industry. Has anyone seen any of these three? Any Turks or Cypriots out there care to clue me in? I'd like to know: what's so funny about Turkey? [youtube]vsQrKZcYtqg[/youtube]

The Greatest Comedies of All Time

A few weeks ago JessB mentioned she had seen a list of the 100 greatest comedies (I think it was Bravo's list) and that it was pretty lacking. The full list can be seen here, in Manroom Magazine, and no, I didn't just make up Manroom Magazine, it actually exists. At the time a few of us remarked that although constructing a definitive list would be difficult, we could come up with 100 that were, on average, much better than the Bravo list and even the fancy important AFI list. So I am issuing two challenges:
  1. To all Unsought Input writers: I am seeking your input to a list of the greatest comedies. Write a follow-up post with some of your picks.
  2. To all UnsoughtInput readers: give us suggestions and critique our choices in the comments section.
The rules:
  1. They have to be filmy, theater-style movies. No short films, made-for-TV movies, etc.
  2. They don't have to be American like the AFI list, but they do have to have actually played somewhere in the U.S. at some point, available on DVD, etc. Art house is fair game, but "screened at Professor Lindski's seminar class on Polish cinema of the 1920s and 1940s" is not.
This won't be easy. Comedy is very subjective, and we're not even going to further constrain the judging criteria by asking for the "funniest" or the "most biting social satire." To get us started, I'll throw out a few picks of my own. Here are ten movies I would put on the list, in no order. I'm sure I can come up with more. We'll decide on the final list through a scientific process of bickering. Waiting for Guffman (1996) - In my opinion, this is the best of the Christopher Guest mocumentaries, even though Spinal Tap was more influential and A Mighty Wind and Best In Show both made more money. Blazing Saddles (1974) - Nothing is funnier than racism. Hey, where the white women at? [youtube]yZF_zPkWbhY[/youtube] Ghostbusters (1984) - When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child, and I loved Ghostbusters. When I became a man, I put aside childish things, yet I still think Ghostbusters is a brilliant movie. I think Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis just disproved the Bible. Sullivan's Travels (1941) - A film producer sees the suffering of his fellow man and decides to abandon his comedies and make a moving film about the plight of the poor. Eventually he discovers that escapist entertainment really is valuable. Although it might seem like the film ends on a high note, I've always thought it was ambiguous - the protagonist learns this while watching cartoons with fellow inmates in a starkly-lit scene filled with exaggerated, haggard laughter. I put this one in to show I'm more cultured than you. Rumble in the Bronx (1995) - For all the Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton on other lists, I can't understand why Jackie Chan never gets any love. He is the best physical comedian alive and has incredible timing. This movie has the perfect intersection of these talents, vague ideas about American culture, and poor dubbing. Watch Jackie fight the most ethnically diverse gang in the history of New York City: [youtube]-rEwedJNQ4A[/youtube] Being John Malkovich (1999) - A movie about a puppeteer and a sweaty portal into an actor's head. In my opinion the chase scene through Malkovich's subconscious is the best chase scene filmed. Rushmore (1998) - I liked The Royal Tenenbaums and Bottle Rocket, but I think this is the best Wes Anderson film. Co-written by Owen Wilson. I can't think of a comedy that makes better use of music, or better use of Bill Murray. [youtube]rWjXBJf3fGo[/youtube] Roujin Z (1991) - I've enjoyed a number of anime movies and series, but I tend to find comedic anime somewhat tiresome. Perverts trying to obtain panties... nerds getting embarrassing nosebleeds around women... women stumbling in such a way that you see their panties, causing said nosebleeds... it's only funny so many times. Roujin Z, on the other hand, is sort of a parody of the giant robot / mecha genre of anime that takes jabs at how modern society treats the elderly. What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) - I was really considering not mentioning any Woody Allen movies because they fill up everyone else's lists faster than a page fills an Congressman's heart with lust. So out of spite I am recommending What's Up, Tiger Lily?, one of the few Woody Allen movies that doesn't show up on any lists and the only Woody Allen movie to make me actually laugh out loud. Shaun of the Dead (2004) - This movie manages to reference every zombie movie ever made, get you really interested in the characters, kill off almost all the characters, and still be as funny as hell. Seriously, if you are ever really looking to kill some time, read the IMDb trivia page for the references to other movies. There we go - ten movies to start us out. Now post more of the best comedies and get bickering!