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There’s something to be said for superhero movies these days that aren’t Marvel or DC produced, genrebusting film, and anything made by James Gunn. So allow me — Super, Gunn’s most recent directorial feature, is easy to get into, hard to watch, and extremely difficult to parse out. Even that assessment isn’t entirely accurate; it isn’t hard to watch like Crank 2 nipple cutting or Dune, but the violence is unexpectedly brutal, and the tone vaccilates wildly. Of course, this is a James Gunn movie, so the violence is just right, as is the immorality and profanity, and everything else that makes for a fun time. It’s got the premise to go far, and yet I must be restrained in my praise — it won’t be glowing, but it will be. The movie is very, very entertaining, but it’s also highly demented, just as knocked in the head as everyone says. The problem is that it clashes with preconcieved notions about the story and where it’s going, and this extends even to the morality of the story.

We follow a down-on-his-luck loser, Frank D’Arbo, played by Rainn Wilson, as his wife is stolen by the scheezy Jacques, Kevin Bacon no less, and decides to turn to masked vigilantism for empowerment. This is one of those goof-ball origin stories, no? So all of the resulting trial and error and crime-bashing montage is par for the course — this is familiar territory. Why then is it veering off-course, settling on the road, veering, settling, and veering again so often? I’m not just referring to the surreal sequences of being touched by God or “Bombs,” or anything — there are more than a few moments of pure what the hell in this movie, both good and bad, depending on your disposition.

If you liked Slither, you’ll probably like this movie. A better comparison though would be Kick-Ass, though I’ve yet to see that movie. Woody Harrelson was also recently in a movie like this — where there are triple A superhero blockbusters, there will persist the indie scene, and independent superhero movies like Super can’t exploit special effects and CGI for ticket sales, and they certainly don’t have the marquee value of brand names like X-Men and Spider-Man. So Super decides to go the old-fashioned route. Or does it? It’s hard to decide just where Gunn was going with this movie, what he was trying to say or what emotions he wanted the audience to feel at any given moment.

It isn’t enough for a filmmaker to simply make a movie that’s fun, whose sole purpose is to be fun, because that doesn’t always yield ‘fun movie,’ as a result. Though Machete could’ve benefitted from that formula, I suppose. The problem with Super is that it feels unfocused, but not in the usual way a movie like this could be, it’s more in an abstract area that’s difficult for an audience member like me to pin down — the actual development. This is a script that’s been sitting in James Gunn’s desk since 2002 (so no, guys, there’s no base for controversy with this and Kick-Ass, which was published in 2008), so it’s very possible that it’s been through a number of revisions, or drastic changes correlating to James Gunn then and James Gunn now.

I don’t know what the answer is. Here’s the chief issue: While I know truly nothing of superheroes or the comic world, I can gather that after Watchmen, stories about superheroes were either the genuine article or post-modern. Super is neither, though we assumed one of two going in. We think we understand what we’re watching during the first act, that Super is a slightly less zany and much more violent Scott Pilgrim–especially after that credits sequence–but as the movie goes on, we don’t know what’s coming next. Like, to the max. I figured that when his brain was touched by God, ‘we don’t know what’s coming next’ meant crazy moments, but in reality, it was sacred elements like story elements and tone and theme. Even Scott Pilgrim gets the (correct) girl at the end, but with Super, who knows what’s gonna happen.

I must applaud a film for being so audacious, though this can easily be confused for laziness, unfortunately, but it’s difficult for me to run out and hold Super over my head on the African cliffs like Simba because it’s not that the movie goes in unexpected places that counts, it’s the places themselves, and by the end of the film, we’re expecting a point. We get one, but it’s not satisfactory. I decided before the movie was over that it was an ending and a point satisfactory to the character, which would make Super doubly akin to Scott Pilgrim, because this is a movie that sort of happens in the dude’s head, and why can’t a resolution be fine just for the character? But — then we have a last shot that’s similar to the ending of A History of Violence and Oldboy. In fact, it’s the identical shot. It’s one of ambiguity. What’s going on?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Just let yourself go and let Super wash over you. It’s a fun movie, with a few good lol out loud moments, like the wheelchair lady, D’Arbo explaining why Robin was named after a bird (because… they’re loyal), and Ellen Page expressing discontent at the villains knowing D’Arbo’s identity. While the action isn’t exactly John Woo, when it’s got Verhoeven levels of blood and gore, it doesn’t need to be. There’s a good amount of it, but the real reason to watch Super is for the characters. The writing is priceless, and I was invested in seeing just where all of these guys were going, from the main character D’Arbo right down to the henchman played by Michael Rooker, another in the cast of James Gunn familiars.

The cast is excellent, even in those I didn’t at first recognize, like James Gunn and Rob Zombie (though after seeing Dazed and Confused and not recognizing Ben Affleck or Cole Hauser I find I’m pretty oblivious when it comes to people). I could’ve stood to see more Nathan Fillion and Kevin Bacon, but the moments they had they reveled in. The standout however would most certainly have to be Ellen Page. I’d been pretty indifferent to Ellen Page up until this point, seeing her only in Inception and five minutes of Juno, but this movie’s convinced me of her brilliance. You can tell an actor’s going all out when the accent pokes through; she handles the complicated character Libby quite well, and she’s one hell of a character. She starts out pretty normal, and by the time the movie’s over she’s been through quite a range: off-the-wall enthusiastic, psychotic, rapist, and crybaby. A number of pretty bold modes.

Super? Check it.

“They know your secret identity? FUCK!”
– Libby


When I was a kid there were three things that scared me: Ghosts, demons, and aliens. I didn’t really know what exactly a demon was, so I got over that one quickly. Ghosts are still scary to me. Please, refrain from asking why. I reversed on aliens almost instantly, and I cherish the opportunity to watch alternatively green and grey-headed aliens doing their green and grey day-to-days.

There remain, however, a few aliens. A few aliens indeed, that continue to scare the piss out of me. Let’s count down (eight, really), and just in time for Halloween…

10. Tralfamadorians (Slaughterhouse-Five)

Kurt Vonnegut’s aliens have a neat perception of life and death. And yet, they still die…

9. Na’vi (Avatar)

The idea of somebody putting their dingle into a giant blue cat makes me shiver in the night.

8. Martians (Mars Attacks!)

The fear I felt over the comedic aliens from the comedy Mars Attacks! ran so deep, I still have yet to see the film. That’s definitely the prime reason, though my general dislike of Tim Burton (outside of Ed Wood) doesn’t help. These aliens, which probably shook me the most out of any on the list, rank lower for a number of reasons, but the chief among them is, simply, I haven’t even seen Mars Attacks!. And I won’t let them control me.

7. Grant Grant (Slither)

Yes, mouth mutation will get you pretty far. It’s a little freaky; the cherry on top of this fleshy, pink blob from outer space–or your local podunk town. It’s Grant Grant, who’s been recently transformed by a tiny alien needle into a zombie hivemind.

Kill me Pardy.

6. God’s Very Own Aliens (M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs)

I’m a painful Shamhammer apologist. Granted, I haven’t seen too much of The Happening, skipped The Village, and will never touch The Last Airbender, but… well, that deflates my argument. Lady in the Water was good, that’s all I wanted to say. It’s not a horror movie, it’s a fairy tale–oh, I don’t care.

Signs on the other hand is very much a horror movie. It’s also a great scifi movie, and a solid story about faith and God. Here to help Mel find the word of the Lord are aliens, and they like to hide in scary places, like the TV. Look out

5. Tripods (The War of the Worlds)

Spielberg’s The War of the Worlds is a highly effective movie. The aliens, high and mighty in their damn tentacle-tanks, destroy everything. If they see you, and they emit that horrible fog-horn, you’re as dead as fried chicken. Chase scenes see buildings shattering like fried chicken, and boats topple over like they was made a paper. The scope of these creatures is immense, and I was held in high suspense of the reveal of the actual aliens. They weren’t as scary as I had imagined, but whatever.

The thing about The War of the Worlds is that when I first saw it in the theatres, I was very ignorant. In this case, ignorance paid off, based on some perspectives. I believed that The War of the Worlds, probably written by Jules Verne, found everybody killed by aliens at the end. Obviously this was before I Am Legend came out in 2007, where the idea that screenwriters might adapt a book’s story–or ending–faithfully was fully out the window.

So I was sitting there the whole time expecting aliens to win. When they didn’t, it actually felt pretty triumphant of them humans. Maybe that’s why I have such a favorable opinion of this movie. It’d be like seeing The Sixth Sense in the year 2000 and not knowing the end. You’d be watching from under your rock, but it’d work.

4. The Xenomorph (Alien)

While personally not frightened by the classic Drone/Warrior/Alien/Xenomorph, I was. Back when I was five and thought maybe aliens were real, I went to a Planet Hollywood, and on display they had a massive Alien Queen display. For some reason (perhaps I was ten) I could identify it as an alien, and was horrified: this is an alien that’s tangible, I thought. But since, I’ve made peace with the Aliens, and have seen every Alien movie, even the last one, AVPR: Aliens versus Predator Rated-R.

Spoiler olert… I liked it…

3. Killer Klowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space)

It’s not necessarily their design, because they’re essentially just trolls in clown costumes/makeup. It’s what they do, all the twisted perversions of classic carnival imagery–which itself is benign but strangely dark. Klowns use their silly ray guns to encase people in flesh-melting cotton candy, throw flesh-melting pies, and eat flesh. A pattern.

The rescue mission at the end of the movie is shockingly suspenseful, because there’s been an established balance: how much we know about the Klowns, and how unpredictable they are. The team of intrepid heroes enters an incredibly hostile environment, and we simply do not know what to expect, but we do know that it’ll be horrific.

Killer Klowns is a horror/comedy. While it is very funny, I wouldn’t necessarily rank it up there with Shaun or Return of the Living Dead (or Tremors 2, if I ever get around to revisiting that one). It’s just a little too… eerie.

2. The Thing (The Thing 1982)

I’ve already spoken at length about The Thing, so I’ll say this in addition: the two Thing movies offer a whole to me as a fan of science-fiction film. In terms of the monster, The Thing ’82 satisfies the film fan half, while The Thing ’11 satisfies the sci-fi fan half. Because the movie guy appreciates spidery-heads and twisty dogs that make people go crazy, but the sci-fi fan loves a good monster.

Also, the blood test scene, the defribulator scene, and the dog scene are all extremely intense. The Thing is such a good freaking movie.

1. The Friends of E.T. (E.T.: The Ride)

If you’re wondering why there’s no picture of aliens for this one, I couldn’t bear to enter “ET the Ride,” into Google Images. This is an interesting one, because it’s very rare that images in a movie will legitimately frighten me (most recently this happened in Naked Lunch, with the parrot cage ‘sex’ that looked like a cruel mixture of Dante’s Inferno and Videodrome), but when you’re strapped into a ride, it’s a different dynamic.

First of all, you go into a building called “ET the Ride.” The scariest ride you’ve been on so far is T2 3D: Battle Across Time, because you’re now convinced that that twelve minutes you just spent were better than the 677 minutes of Terminator 3. You’re in Spielberg territory now, and you know what that means. ET is his most lovable creation, the candy-eating little bugger who just wants to get on home.

Whatever you do, don’t follow him there.

On ET the Ride, you and your group takes a bike ride through the forest to evade the government, who pops through the trees every once in awhile in their cars. A neat little diversion, and what I imagined to be the bulk of the journey. Then you fly over the moon, look at how high you are over the city, like Peter Pan.

And then you go to ET’s homeworld, and I think my father said it best: “I didn’t realize ET lived in Hell.”

There are aliens that have wrinkly holes for eyes, aliens that look like rotted pumpkins that got just so rotten they started spontaneously growing half-formed near-human faces, as if pumpkins, in some horrible far-flung Lovecraft universe, did that. It would be scary enough if there were two of these things, but they line the walls–for a long time. Orange steam is blowing and you’re touring slowly as they chant in unison how happy they are you’ve brought their friend home.

How happy they are he’s brought dinner.

Seriously intense stuff. I didn’t know if I was gonna make it, and if you think I’m joking–or a pussy–I shall pay for your roundtrip tickets to Orlando.

Feel like you’re getting the better end of that deal….

I was gonna do something more thoughtful for my 100th post, but I don’t have a job right now and can’t buy the entire David Cronenberg library from Amazon, or the Dollars Trilogy on Blu-Ray. Those posts will have to wait.


Death Threats

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