Movies · Scene It, See It Again

Scene It, See It Again: X-Men: First Class – “Magneto the Nazi Hunter”

Inspired by the Ringer’s Rewatchables podcast, I present to you unforgettable scenes that demand repeat visits. The movies, shows, or books these scenes are part of don’t necessarily have to be all-timers. Even mediocre media can surprise us with a haymaker. That being said, these scenes only elevate their respective stories. Read below, then queue up the classic scene. Again, and again, and again.

X-Men: First Class isn’t perfect, but it reset the X-Men movie franchise in a big way, recruiting talented young actors like Michael Fassbender and Rose Byrne. Sadly, the rebooted franchise sputtered out and fell back on Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine to remain relevant. That disappointment can’t take this scene away from us, though.

Erik Lehnsherr (later known as the supervillain Magneto) had everything taken away from him in the Holocaust. The man he blames the most is his fellow mutant Sebastian Shaw. Erik journeys to an Argentinian bar and finds two German men connected to Shaw. Then the fun begins.

There’s so much I love about this scene. The Germans are jovial until Erik points out his parents didn’t have names, only numbers. The musical score is absolutely perfect, a slow build with a percussive flourish as Erik reveals his own number. In a short three minute scene the characters speak three different languages: greetings in Spanish, the reveal in German, and Erik’s motivation in English (Fassbender makes the Frankenstein line sound so sinister). My favorite part of the hunt is Erik could easily kill all three men using his mutant powers, but instead he blocks a knife attack and disarms the pig farmer using physical prowess.

Here’s something I didn’t think about until writing this feature – Erik is not the aggressor in this fight. That sounds untrue considering all the killing he does. But watch the scene again. Erik talks about his tragic family history, shows his number, and he’s attacked. Sure, he might have killed these Nazi bastards regardless, but that’s beside the point. Speaking of Nazi bastards, this is only one of two Nazi killing bar scenes Fassbender has been a part of. The Inglourious Basterds scene is more bloody and brutal (it’s Tarantino, natch), but Fassbender doesn’t make it out of that one alive. Though I enjoy X-Men: First Class, I’d prefer a Magneto film focused solely on retribution. I could watch Fassbender hunt Nazis all day.

Best quote: “Blood and honor. Which would you care to shed first?”

Movie Reviews · Movies

Movie Review: The Last American Virgin

What the heck is this movie? The Last American Virgin is about teenagers in high school, but it’s not a straightforward comedy. It does begin as a comedy, though. The 1982 movie follows three horny buddies – Gary, Rick, and David – on a constant quest for girls and booze. It’s all fairly lighthearted until pizza delivery boy Gary catches a glimpse of Karen and instantly falls in love. Gary manufactures a meet-cute and gives Karen a ride to school while “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon plays (a great bit of foreshadowing). A different movie would wallow in Gary and Karen’s teenage romance. Instead, Gary’s suave buddy Rick swoops in and sweeps Karen off her feet. Then Rick impregnates her.

Heavy, eh? I won’t ruin the ending, but The Last American Virgin is the sort of movie you need to talk about after the credits roll. It’s more true-to-life than most movies, specifically teen movies. Nudity, debauchery, prostitution, abortion, infatuation, manipulation – this is teenage life. The Last American Virgin isn’t as twisted as Kids, but it lacks the rosy glow of most teen flicks. And I appreciate that. I also appreciate the excellent soundtrack. I wouldn’t place The Last American Virgin on the list of all-time best teen movies, but it might be a must-see experience. That ending hits like a sledgehammer. I wish I’d watched this movie back in high school. It would have crushed me.

Key Characters · Movies

Key Character: Captain America (MCU)

We all have favorite fictional characters. They can be inspirational, sagacious, heroic… or they can be relentless villains who are just so damn charismatic. In this feature I celebrate fictional characters who make their worlds much fuller.

All due respect to Iron Man and Thor, but I’m a Captain America guy. Some people consider the character bland or old-fashioned. Chris Evans himself felt reluctant about picking up the shield and representing an original American icon. I’m sure glad he took the role, though. Evans’s version of Cap is humble, empathetic, tough as nails, and a leader through and through. The other Avengers are cool and all, but Cap is the one guy I’d want backing me up in a fight.

Before beefing up with the super soldier serum, Steve Rogers felt the call of duty. He tried his best to sneak into the military during WWII despite his status as a “90 pound asthmatic.” In basic training Rogers showed his intelligence (why climb a slick flag pole when you can just unbolt it?) and an undeniable mettle. Most recruits leapt away from what they thought was a live grenade. Rogers covered the grenade with his small body and warned everyone away. Rogers has an innate desire to protect others, and he’s willing to sacrifice himself to do so. He’s special with or without a serum.

It says a lot about Cap that his weapon of choice is a shield. He’s a defender, and he stands up for what’s right even when it creates powerful enemies (including half the Avengers and the US Government). It’s easy to start a fight against someone you know you can beat. It’s much more difficult to take on an opponent who could beat you into oblivion. But I get the sense Captain America prefers to fight those out of his weight class. He spent most of his life being outmatched, so that’s where he’s most comfortable. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Cap is his moral compass. Power has a corrupting effect on humans; that’s beyond debate. But Cap never abuses the power of the serum. He has the same good heart he always did – the serum just gives him better odds in a brawl.

There are so many awesome Captain America moments to gush over. He broke up a fight between a metal man and demigod using only his shield. He went hand-to-hand against the Winter Soldier in a superbly choreographed battle straight out of a Bourne movie. He perplexed Thanos by holding back the fabled Infinity Gauntlet, if only for a moment. Then there’s the big one. Captain America saving Thor and becoming a thunder god is an unforgettable cinema moment, right up there with the emergence of the T-rex in Jurassic Park. I watched The Avengers: Endgame with a smaller theater audience, but when Cap proved his worthiness and picked up Mojiner, the room erupted with cheers and applause. We all knew we’d witnessed something special. Captain America called down the lightning and paid off decades of comic book history while simultaneously making movie history.

Captain America creates the perfect bridge between grounded hand-to-hand combat and galactic throw downs. And at the end of the day he’s just a kid from Brooklyn doing his best (and saving the universe). He may be old fashioned, but pushing back against bullies is never out of style. That sounds like a lame PSA, doesn’t it? That’s alright; I think Cap would appreciate it.

Movie Reviews · Movies

Movie Review: Warrior

I could have sworn I’d written a review for Warrior on a previous blog, but I couldn’t find any evidence of it. No big deal. I rewatched the movie recently, and it’s still fantastic. The plot can be shaky, with two amateur fighters somehow managing to find themselves in an MMA tournament alongside the best fighters in the world. Regardless, the characters and beatdowns make Warrior one of the great sports movies of the past few decades.

Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and his little brother Tommy (Tom Hardy) are estranged and couldn’t be more different. Brendan is a school teacher who can take a beating and surprises his opponents with submissions. Tommy is a stoic Marine who brutalizes anyone and everyone he fights. They’ve both made mistakes in life, and their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) knows plenty about regret. I appreciate that the boys’ history isn’t told in flashbacks; it reveals itself naturally through conversation. It’s easy to understand and empathize with the characters, and most of the conflict is based on years of physical and emotional pain.

I should point out I don’t care much about MMA or the UFC. I’ll happily watch a good fight while sitting at a bar, but I couldn’t tell you much about the sport or its stars. On the other hand, I love the battles of Warrior. Watching Tommy beat down Mad Dog doesn’t get old. Then we have the unbeatable Koba, played by one of my favorite WWF wrestlers, Kurt Angle. The first time I watched Warrior, I eagerly anticipated the fight between Tommy and Koba. It would have been like watching a classic Godzilla vs. King Kong flick. Instead it’s Brendan who must survive a match against Koba. And Brendan’s tenacity, inventiveness, and unwillingness to break a vulnerable Koba make him someone to stand up and cheer for.

Without its emotional core and family tension, this movie would be forgettable. And without the well choreographed and exciting fights, it would be a failure as a sports movie. Warrior uses its strengths to tell a moving story about family and forgiveness. Sure it carries its share of sports movies cliches, but there are few movies that can match the catharsis of watching two brothers mend their relationship by beating the hell out of each other.

Movie Reviews · Movies

Movie Review: Eternals

Eternals is fascinating. It it feels like a religious epic, it explores philosophical themes of morality, and it’s been been savaged by professional critics (it’s the worst reviewed MCU movie). The critics are wrong. Eternals has enough issues to keep it out of the MCU top tier, but it is far from the worst Marvel movie.

Perhaps the most impressive feat of the movie is it introduces a plus-sized superhero team and turns most of them into rounded characters, all without the benefit of tie-in media. It’s also beautifully shot, and I’m glad I watched it in theaters. Witnessing a massive celestial holding a tiny eternal within its palm took me back to the wonder of gargantuan statue Talos chasing humans in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Jack Kirby’s cosmic imagery mixes so well with Chloé Zhao directorial eye.

Eternals is a story of demigods, and all of them are imperfect beings. The movie is at its best when it lives in the gray area, when team members argue and fight about the best course for humanity. The razing of Tenochtitlan splinters the group, and the classic Marvel formula is complicated by characters who question their purpose. The deviants – ancient enemies of the eternals – almost achieve a level of complexity as well; sadly in the end they simply become something to punch.

If it hasn’t been made clear, I love Greek mythology and human myths in general, so Eternals lines up well with my interests. That being said, the movie is overly long, and the multiple flashbacks bog down the forward momentum of the narrative. And as cool as it is to have a deaf superhero, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) is much too invisible before the climactic battle.

I wish this movie leapt to the top of the MCU rankings. No other Marvel movie has captured the heartbreak of humanity so beautifully and tragically (I’m thinking of both the Tenochtitlan and Hiroshima scenes). And watching demigods/angels choose the fate of humanity is a tale that’s ages old. But there’s always the sequel. The real test for Eternals will be whether or not there will be significant repercussions for the heroes’ decisions and disobedience. Now we have the perfect setup for a galactic threat like Annihilus to come forth and confront those who dared to deprive billions of lives to save one species. That’ll be a fight worth watching.

Movie Reviews · Movies

Movie Review: Predator

John McTiernan has to be my favorite action movie director, for two reasons alone: Die Hard with a Vengeance and Predator. The combination of guns and adventure just doesn’t get better than those two movies. Let’s focus on Predator today, though.

Predator begins like a cliché action romp with the beefy American commandos killing nameless, hapless opponents in a Central American jungle base. But everything changes when an invisible hunter begins picking off the Americans one by one, instilling a new kind of fear within them – the fear of prey. It’s a fantastic premise, with the straightforward action genre taking on elements of science fiction, thriller, and horror. The cast is unforgettable, and it’s always a bummer to lose the larger-than-life characters as they’re impaled and pulled apart. Still, the individual deaths are all classic moments (Billy – the death we don’t see – might be the best one).

Then there’s the Predator himself. He’s a monster similar to the shark in Jaws, an unstoppable and unknowable force of nature. His full reveal in his final battle against Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a jaw dropping moment in cinema. And that final battle just makes the movie even better. There’s Dutch’s primal scream to begin the fight, his ingenuity in creating death traps (expanding the guerilla warfare vs. superior force theme), the Predator learning how to throw a punch, and the creature’s final maniacal laughter. It’s all brilliant.

If there’s one thing I’d cut from the movie, it’s the opening scene showing a spaceship traveling to Earth. I haven’t seen it much, because you never catch the beginning of a movie when you’re watching it on cable or HBO, but I’d much prefer the viewer to be in the dark regarding the Predator’s origins, piecing things together as the characters do. That’s a slight critique though.

It’s a testament to the quality of the original that no sequel has ever come close to matching its exceptional cast, its cryptic antagonist, or its timeless one-liners. So, when is it a good time to watch Predator? “Anytime.” Good answer, Mac.

Top Ten

Top Ten: Podcasts

At some point in the last five years I started listening to podcasts more than I listen to music. It began with Serial (more on that below), and then I tried a variety of genres before solidifying my subscriptions. There are some I used to listen to that are now defunct (Why Oh Why and A Cast of Kings), and there are some mini-series I’d recommend (S-Town and The Dropout). The list below is narrowed down to ten, but I also subscribe to WTF with Marc Maron, ChallengeMania, and On the Line (they’re good, just not my favorites).

With that out of the way, here are my favorite podcasts, ranked from good to better.

10. Lore

Monsters, ghouls, aliens, they all fascinate me. Start telling a scary story and I’m all ears. Host Aaron Mahnke gleams history to find the most interesting stories to capture and disturb his listeners, and he’s an excellent storyteller. He’s the trusted voice speaking over the campfire assuring you this really happened. And if it didn’t happen, wouldn’t it be crazy cool if it did?

Listen to: “Episode 137: Elusive,” a retelling of the Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter when aliens invaded a farm in 1955 rural America.

09. Serial

With its first season Serial introduced thousands of people to the world of podcasts. The murder of Hae Min Lee revealed cracks in the criminal justice system and launched dozens of true crime podcasts. Seasons two and three didn’t recapture that same magic, but not every hit can be a grand slam. I would like to hear more of Sarah Koenig’s long-form reporting, so hopefully 2021 brings about a new season. At least for now we have Nice White Parents.

Listen to: “Episode 01: The Alibi,” the one that started it all.

Continue reading “Top Ten: Podcasts”
Movie Reviews · Movies

Movie Review: Everybody Wants Some!!

I’m convinced that not nearly enough people have watched Everybody Wants Some!! Maybe it didn’t get much attention because it’s not a direct sequel to Dazed and Confused – it’s a spiritual successor – but it stands right alongside Linklater’s high school haze cloud of nostalgia.

Whereas Dazed and Confused threw together every social group to see them mix and mingle, Everybody Wants Some!! is focused on college baseball players in Texas as they galivant around town the weekend before classes officially begin. Freshman pitcher Jake leads us into athlete dorm life, but he’s a main character similar to Randall “Pink” Floyd. He’s a decent guy, but his buddies are all more interesting. There’s Jay, the antagonistic pitcher who believes he’s bound for the big show. McReynolds is captivating as the natural athlete who’s overly competitive, a natural leader, and a complete asshole when he chooses to be. And we can’t forget Finnegan who fills in the Mathew McConaughey role of resident ladies’ man who combines laid back confidence with intellectual repartee.

Most of the movie is spent watching the guys bond, argue, debate, compete, and chase women. I hesitate to call this a sports movie, but the one practice we get to watch is a definite highlight. Anyone who played baseball in high school or college will recognize the power struggles and silly fun of practicing without supervision. Everybody Wants Some!! is a good, rewatchable movie, but watching it makes me wish it were expanded to a TV series. It could make a perfect transition from big screen to small.

One minor complaint is the romance subplot between Jake and Beverly is a bit of a drag at the tail end of the movie. Not to say it’s bad, but the movie is at its best when it’s an expanded cast party. Everybody Wants Some!! works as a college movie, sports flick, nostalgia trip, early 80’s mixtape, and bong rip. C’mon, it’s Linklater. Of course weed is involved. Now go watch it.