overused songs in film and television


Pop music and films are like peanut butter and chocolate – well, maybe not quite. That implies some sort of undeniable cosmic, fated force drawing the two together like soulmates. Pop music and films are more like peanut butter and banana – still pretty damn good. There’s something about the perfect pop song synchronized beautifully with a key moment or epic montage that can prove iconic. Stealer’s Wheel will never sound the same after Quentin Tarantino got his hands on “Stuck in the Middle With You.”

"It's time you got over 'Taking Care of Business,' Hollywood."

But what about when several filmmakers grasp on to the same catchy ditty? What songs have been so overused that they border on cliché? Some of these songs are used so repeatedly that they become shorthand for what the scene in the movie is supposed to encapsulate. It’s a shame, as many of these songs were used brilliantly the first time, or even the first few times. After awhile, though, these songs are so overused that they are almost expected; they can’t even be used without irony. They are parodied so often that the parody itself becomes a cliché, and that parody gets parodied, and that parody gets parodied and so forth in an ever-rambling hall of postmodern mirrors. In effect, the song gets ruined. Or is in great risk of being ruined.

Thus, without further rambling, I present my list of 10 songs I think are overused in film and television. The artistic value of these songs is extinct, or else greatly endangered, which is regrettable as most of these are pretty kick-ass tunes:

10. The Clash – “London Calling”

As seen in: What a Girl Wants (2003), Die Another Day (2002), Billy Elliot (2000), Friends (1998).

How endangered? On par with the whales. Yeah, they’re endangered, but they’re still so awesome, majestic, and demanding of respect that it’s hard to imagine the world without this juggernaut of… er, awesomeness. How does the greatest punk band of the 70s become equated with the lowest point of Colin Firth’s career? Easy. When “London Calling” somehow because the go-to song for blasting over the establishing shots of London as the annoying American protagonist crosses the Pond. It quickly eclipsed “Rule Brittania” once that got the parody death-knell via Austin Powers, and a new generation of uninspired filmmakers grasped in vain for that hipster edge.

Honourable mention: “Should I Stay or Should I Go”

9. Jimi Hendrix – “All Along the Watchtower”

As seen in: Watchmen (2009), Battlestar Gallactica (2009), Withnail & I (1987), Rush (1991)

How endangered?  As long as filmmakers continue to use “All Along the Watchtower” respectfully (Does anything beat the way it was used in BSG? Although one would argue… no, I won’t go there.), this one should manage to pull through, kinda like a tiger. Hendix is equated with instant cool, and this tune is a smoky motif of the dark frontier of the counter-culture. Where is there to go next? The mystery is instantaneous but recognizable, and as long as this one manages to squeak through another ten years without gracing too many soundtracks, its beauty should remain intact.

Honourable mentions: “Foxy Lady,” “Voodoo Childe,” “Purple Haze”

8. Elton John – “Rocket Man” (suggested by Megan Maliszewski)

As seen in: Cold Case (2005), The Astronaut Farmer (2006), Life on Mars (2007), Nip/Tuck (2003), Six Feet Under (2003), K-PAX (2001), The Rock (1996)

How endangered? Like William Shatner’s career. Which isn’t that endangered, if we’re talking about pure survival. “Rocket Man” will be around awhile, but our respect for it? Hm, that’s another story. So, someone’s ascending into space/about to do something really epic or stupid – and you need a song to underscore it. You have two options, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” or Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Which one do you pick? “Space Oddity” is likely to scare the children, so here’s your answer, “Rocket Man.” Yes, O great song beloved of Shatner, “Rocket Man.”

Honourable mentions: “Benny and the Jets,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

7.George Thorogood – ”Bad to the Bone” (suggested by Shannon Grant)

As seen in: Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008), Las Vegas (2005), Joe Dirt (2001), 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001), The Parent Trap (1998), Problem Child (1990) AND the sequel (1991)

How endangered? Like an elephant. Whenever you see a giant herd of elephants stampeding towards you, it’s natural to get a little afraid (I’m assuming, as I’ve never actually had the pleasure of seeing a giant herd of elephants stampeding towards me. One can imagine, though.). I suppose this fear is what the original intent of “Bad to the Bone” was, but its application towards everyone from children to Chihuahuas to David Spade really only dregs up some long-lost semblance of fear that isn’t really recognisable as anything remotely frightening. Just large and lazy.

Honourable mention: Nothing as soul-suckingly overused as “Bad to the Bone.”

6. Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin’” (suggested by Scott Baitz)

As seen in: Glee (2009), Bedtime Stories (2008), Scrubs (2003), The Comebacks (2007), The Sopranos (2007),  Monster (2003)

How endangered? A song as stereotypically uplifting as “Don’t Stop Believin’” will always have a soft, mushy, might-be-going-off part in people’s hearts. Like the Panda bear, its black and white view of sentimentality will keep you emotionally hooked, which is quite a feat for something that lacks any real depth. You can keep believing, but that doesn’t really mean anything. You’ll just feel like it does.

Honourable mention: “Open Arms”

5. Steppenwolf – “Born to be Wild” (suggested by Megan Maliszewski)

As seen in: Recess: School’s Out (2001), Connie and Carla (2004), My Name is Earl (2005), Herbie Fully Loaded (2005), Borat (2006), Dudley Do-Right (1999), Six Feet Under (1999), Home Improvement (1991), Knight Rider (1982), Easy Rider (1969)

How endangered? As the natural environment of the late-sixties rebel slowly erodes and is replaced with the more tepid waters of the snivelling pre-schooler (i.e. from Easy Rider to Rugrats in several easy steps), Steppenwolf’s classic will have lost all its bite and will only live on in captivity… like the polar bears. Cue all the “born to be mild” puns.

Honourable mention: “Magic Carpet Ride”

4. Alice Cooper – “School’s Out”

As seen in: Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth (2000), The Faculty (1998), Scream (1996), Reality Bites (1994), Dazed and Confused (1993), The Simpsons (the Kamp Krusty episode!) (1992), Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

How endangered? Every kid – at least the ones I knew – sang this song as they skipped home on the last day of school. Even at the age of occasionally wetting the bed we knew to sing it with a sense of irony. “School’s Out” is nothing but a stab in the back. School’s never out forever, children. Only for the summer (as Alice reminds up in his Staples commercial). Something in the bitter growl of Alice’s voice reminds us of this inevitability; that joy is fleeting. With the song’s inherent darkness, it became perfectly synched to wide shots of jaded youth everywhere. This “inherent darkness” of course inevitably meant cheesier and cheesier horror flicks before crashing and burning with pure spoof. “School’s Out” is a California Condor, an endangered vulture: full of ancient mystique but something of a ridiculous horror cliché.

Honourable mention: “No More Mr. Nice Guy”

3. 2 Unlimited – “Get Ready for This” (suggested by Andrew Brown)

As seen in: Bride Wars (2009), The Office (2006), How to Eat Fried Worms (2006), South Park (2004), Bedazzled (2000), Bring It On (2000), Flubber (1997), Friends (1996), Space Jam (1996)

How endangered? “Y’all ready for this?!” Not quite. Well, I was ready, but then I got bored and took a nap. This song doesn’t quite keep me awake and pumped up like it used to. Perhaps that’s due to it being used – repeatedly – as a the national anthem of Team Underdog as they prepare themselves for the almighty death-or-glory battle of a lifetime. We were interested, but now we don’t care because it’s just so passé. Kinda like the bison: a historical artefact that somehow is still kicking around like an unmatched sock in the laundry basket.(“What do you mean they’re not extinct yet?”)

Honourable mention: “Twilight Zone”

2. Marvin Gaye – “Let’s Get It On” (suggested by Jagoda Janik)

As seen in: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), High Fidelity (2000), Scrubs (2003), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason (2004), Crank (2006), Blades of Glory (2007), and more.

How endangered? Like the Baiji dolphin, assumed extinct. Obscure reference, I know, but fitting. The baiji dolphin – a victim of industrialisation along the Yangtze River – has not been seen for years, much how any ounce of artistry this song once had has been quashed by the reams of lazy filmmakers who couldn’t find anything more original. Its use in Austin Powers is the perfect example of something so clichéd that all irony has been sapped out of it. It’s just… dead. Even if we’re reluctant to admit it.

Honourable mentions: “Sexual Healing,” “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “What’s Going On?” and pretty much every song Marvin Gaye ever recorded.

1. Carl Douglas – “Kung Fu Fighting” (suggested by Megan Maliszewski)

As seen in: Kung Fu Panda (2008), Rush Hour 3 (2007), My Name is Earl (2006), Epic Movie (2007), I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), That 70s Show (1999), Beverly Hills Ninja (1997), Bowfinger (1998), Daddy Day Care (2003)… so pretty much every comedy about ninjas ever… all three of them.

How endangered? Dinosaurs. And don’t give me this “dinosaurs are still around, they evolved into birds” crap (technically, you are correct, I know), but unless “Kung Fu Fighting” evolves into…. wow, there’s nothing I can think of that I can evolve into that will somehow be new and original. Nothing.

Honourable mentions: Did he have any other songs? That has to be the lowest blow of them all, your only hit is a now a cliché. I guess that must be expected when you write a catchy disco-type number about ninjas.

P.S. Assignment: Pirates are way cooler than ninjas and everyone knows it. Discuss.

Other Honourable Mentions: Green Day – Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) (suggested by Alana Peters), Queen (feat. David Bowie) – “Under Pressure” (suggested by Becca Strom), Simon and Garfunkel – “The Sound of Silence,” James Brown – “I Got You (I Feel Good),” The Specials – “Ghost Town”

Thank you great people of the interwebs for your suggestions! There are countless songs that have been overused by Hollywood. What are some more?

excerpts from an interview with myself

Okay, exciting, I know. Transcript/rip-off of my interview with Whohub.com (from sometime last spring). I was discussing my writing process with someone today, and it made me want to blog about it (naturally). Then I remembered this interview, so I thought I would share this instead. I wrote all the answers, so I feel no guilt in repeating them here.

What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I first read the back of milk cartons. But I mostly just looked at the pictures. It made the story easier to understand. Even at such a young age, I got it. The cows like eating daisies, they smile, while blinking their pop art eyelashes. They are happy to have their teats violated for me. I think from here I moved on to picture books, but those memories are all a little hazy. Must have been all the Children’s Tylenol I was jacked up on.

I began to write in kindergarten. I had just learned a new skillset: the proper etiquette for eating paste. I was a sick kid (all the paste, of course) and spent about three weeks in hospital, during which I completed my opus. It was magnificent; something about a dinosaur. It glittered. I made a cover out of cardboard, which my mother had to sew together as the doctors had banned all paste.

What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
I spend days, weeks, months, even years letting something fester in my mind. I have premises, plot point, characters, and cliches in my head that have been there for so long, they are now more a memory of a dream I had once. Some I will likely never actually get around to writing, and these characters will live on in my head like old imaginary friends. I think it borders on psychosis. I call this phase the Dreaming Phase (I just named it that right now).

I usually make random pages of notes, outlines, or even whole passages. Sometimes I draw crappy pictures of the characters. It makes me feel like a fangirl of my own unwritten work. I’m a scatterbrain stereotype. I have tons of stuff half-finished in draft form, random pieces of paper or napkins shoved in folders, scribbles, index cards. One day, I tell myself, I will organize all this. I call this the Literary Vomit Phase (not as idealistic as the Dreamer Phase, I know, but accurate).

After awhile, when there is one project that I am particularly persuaded by, I will take all this Literary Vomit and attempt to organize it into something recognizable to humans. Usually this involves more scribbly notes and diagrams, but I’ve since developed a fancy system of index cards. I learned this trick when writing term papers in university. I write each plot point or imagined scene so far on a separate index card, put them in a sensible order, then simply fill in the holes until I’ve fleshed out the story. (I call this the Way-To-Get-My-S**t-Together Phase.)

After that, I write. (The Hallelujah Phase)

After that, I edit. Obsessively. Sometimes for years. (The Purgatory Phase)

When satisfied, I will publish. Either online or in print. (The Rolaids Phase… very relieving)

What type of reading inspires you to write?
Usually something that makes me shoot whatever I happen to be eating/drinking out my nose. Kidding. I have friends who are inspired by plot and subject matter, which I love, but I must admit, it’s just a well-wrought sentence that gets me.

For a story of any kind, structure and organization is incredibly important. This, you can teach. A good editor can help you with this. With strict guidance and good self-awareness, any writer can create a well-plotted piece. Yet, when you break writing down to the base elements, like sentences and word choice, you just can’t teach that. Some are born great… and the rest haven’t a hope in hell. You can try to be Douglas Coupland, but you likely won’t succeed. My entire life is living up to this unattainable goal.

What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Baking Soda and/or Powder (depending on the genre).

What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
For fiction, I like reading third person, but I like writing first person. I find that when I write, I have a third-person voice and tone that is distinctly different from my first-person voice and tone. More serious. More godlike, perhaps? My first person is lighter. Self-deprecating.

For non-fiction, I like reading first person, but write (unless blogging) third person. I think this is an academic hangover from university where you got the strap for using the subjective “I”. This always bothered me, as all writing, non-fiction or not, is subjective. I like journalists that acknowledge their perspective. It contains a self-reflexivity that is lacking in a lot of media.

Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
No. I’m terrible. I applaud the written word because I am much more charming in print.

What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
They must have some frame of reference within the reader’s existing knowledge, whether through realism or intertextuality. This is best achieved through solid character development and a strong character arc, but I like to cheat and that means cheap cultural references and/or ripping off famous characters.

In my defence, one can argue that in our postmodern condition, there is no such thing as original characters or “real” characters, only the tangled intertextual references that make up our knowledge of the world and literature, so I’m not really cheating, I’m living up to the standards to which our society has degraded.

Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I think myself… and my imagined public. I’ve been writing since before I can remember even writing. I think I just assumed that, since books existed, everyone wrote them. To be honest, I don’t even question why I write, I just do it. To stop now would be worse than quitting heroin or losing a limb. It would be the same as ceasing to eat real food and just getting all your nutrients from Soylent Green. Yes. It would be exactly the same as that. Well, no. It would be as if my eyes suddenly stopped being blue.

Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
I don’t write with the goal to solve a personal crisis, but it works out that way anyway. You can’t help but pour yourself into each and every character. They are a fragment of your psyche, good or ill. So many things I’ve written, finished, unleashed unto the world, then read awhile later only to think, “wow, I remember exactly what I was going through then.” I can see in the characters. The conflicts they overcome, the story archs they go through, whether literal or allegorical, they are some conflict you see within your own life. It’s really escapism for the author, not the reader. This never really clicked with me until I read Aristotle’s Poetics, and I completely connected with his notion of Catharsis. It completely bridged the 3000-year gap. I think Ari and I would be good drinking buddies.

Does reader feed-back help you?
Screw the bastards. No one really understands me. Kidding. I do listen. I just don’t usually act on the constructive criticism until after I’ve burned all their photographs.

Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
No. I think I should, but I’ve yet to find someone I really trust to give me an honest answer. Perhaps, also, I’m afraid they WILL give me an honest answer and I don’t want to hear it.

Do you believe you have already found “your voice” or is that something one is always searching for?
Your voice changes as you do. I’m only twenty-six. I’m still growing into myself. I look back on work I’ve written when I was an angsty teenager, and I definitely see a different voice there. It is still me, but just like the paste-eating kindergartener was still me.

What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
Ha ha, “discipline,” that’s a good one. I am reminded of a Douglas Adams quote: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

The only schedules I’ve had to adhere to are ones imposed on me by others I’m working with. When I do create a schedule or deadline or goal, that immediately causes me to work against it. Call me a self-saboteur, but it’s the rebellious streak I just can’t break. I will even miss appointments I’ve made for myself, then giggle with a revolutionary fever as I look at my watch knowing I’ve skipped it. I then feel a slight thrill as I stub out a cigarette, straighten my black beret and untuck my Che t-shirt.

What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
The Chicago Manual of Style, so I can spot errors like “help your concentrate”.

a badly timed april fools’ joke.

“Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” sounds like just that, a straight-to-video crapfest that you would imagine starred Steven Segal and was filmed in somewhere like Calgary. If this press release came out on April 1, I would have totally thought it was a joke.


First of all, Willem Dafoe was killed off in the first one, so what the hell are you playing at?

I’ve seen Boondock Saints once. I liked it. My sister is obsessed with it. She does, of course, harbour weird and twisted deep feelings for Willem Dafoe, so I’ve generally come to question her taste on most things. Awesome actor? Yes. Would I kick him out of bed for eating crackers? Hell yes, I would. Who the hell eats crackers in bed anyway? My god. That’s what kitchen tables are for. Anyway, it was a good movie, typical of all those post-Tarantino gangster/vigilante type movies the late 1990s were rife with, but a good one at least.

And now we have another stellar entry on the list of Completely Unnecessary Sequels, in the “Subtitles Cheesier than Softcore Porn” category: sandwiched between Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. It ranks higher on this list than Ace Ventura because at least Ace Ventura taught my childhood self what guano was, and ranks lower than Cinderella, because how do you make a shitty straight-to-video sequel for a story that’s been around since 900 AD? “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” sounds like just that, a straight-to-video crapfest that you would imagine starred Steven Segal and was filmed in somewhere like Calgary. If this press release came out on April 1, I would have totally thought it was a joke.

Guess who joined the cast? Surely as an attempted replacement for Willem Dafoe…. Judd Nelson. That’s right. I’m sure you just said, “The guy from The Breakfast Club?” I said that. So did my sister when I told her. I feel kinda bad ripping into this film when I haven’t even seen it. For all I know it could be freaking awesome. A total mastubatory gigglefest. Perhaps they should have hired a more original marketing team, however. When this is the best poster you can get…

Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day

… and I didn’t hear about this film until September 2009, and it’s been in production since early 2008… that’s a problem. I just don’t understand this need to create unprovoked sequels. Sure they make a little money, but let’s be honest, the films that have formed full franchises that actually work are far and few between (e.g. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars – the original trilogy at least, James Bond – well, some of them? Okay, so maybe very, very, very few actually work). In my perspective, these sequels work because when the first film was produced, the wider story had already been conceived. The story was already more than one film. It’s just when the proverbial “they” take a stand-alone story and try to shoehorn in a sequel; it’s tacked-on and it’s obvious. 

What about you? Are you excited for this, or dreading it? Are there any other sequels that make you cringe as though you just downed your fifth shot of tequila only to find out that you also just swallowed the worm?

out of 25,000 readers, only 71 will leave comments, and 2/3 of them will be jerks

IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, does a list (a “Hit List”) every day of several different articles appearing around the Interwebs. I usually submit my different articles (the more interesting ones) that I write at Celluloid Heroes, mostly because the odd person reads through the thread of suggested links. However, today (which I, as a blogger, will always remember as The Day), IMDb chose to put MY ARTICLE up on their Hit List! I squeeeeeed louder than the world’s collective fangirls would if Stephanie Meyer herself finally slash-fic’ed Edward and Jacob.

In the – I would guess – eight to ten hours the link has been up on the IMDb homepage, I’ve had over 18,000 hits on my blog. Most, obviously are directed towards My Top Ten: Antiheroes, the article in question. I did have one guy who read my rant on breaking the fourth wall (adapted from an earlier tirade posted at this blog), and said:

I have no idea how you managed to write an entire article on such a tiny thing, but you did and I was thoroughly entertained, enlightened and, er, endangered. No, that’s not right…

This was delightful in the face of the forty+ comments on the Antiheroes post that ranged from everything from mere further suggestions of antiheroes (“Cool Hand Luke not being mentioned makes this list not worth looking at.”) to a grad student writing a master’s thesis on a similiar topic and wanting to bounce ideas off each other to “None of you seem to know what an antihero is, even the guy who says what an antihero is – doesn’t know what an antihero is…” Oh, dear. I can only think he’s referring to me. I can assure you, dear lad (name listed as ‘jake’ but I prefer to call him ‘troll’.), without any pretension or arrogance, that I do indeed know what I’m talking about. I’m a little confused by this, though. It seems that in light of gender ambiguity on behalf of the author of this piece, most have assumed I was male. Hrm. This gives me an ambivalent feeling. On one hand, I’m really unnerved by the fact that people automatically assume male. Is it because it’s about film and most people working in or writing about film are male? Or is it just a generalization based on a patriarchal throw-back? On the other hand, I feel kinda flattered that the style and tone of my writing is gender neutral. I’m only saying neutral because obviously my writing didn’t scream “woman” like a few guys’-I-know handwriting does. Maybe my writing voice comes across masculine? I don’t really know.

I do feel when I write that I do have two competing voices inside me. Very yin and yang, I know. There’s always been my “serious” writing voice, and my “slightly more sarcastic, and actually quite glib” voice. Perhaps this former voice comes across female, while the latter male. It’s an assumption based on preconceived gender constructs, but there it is, nonetheless. Depending on the project, the story and the tone, one voice usually wins out. I’m finding, however, that the older I get, the more they blur together. I think, within themselves, they’re maturing as well. It’s interesting, and I don’t really know what else to say about it.

the twenty most epic moments in Lord of the Rings

Ah, The Lord of the Rings. The epic to end all epics. Cinema experienced a resurgence in the epic genre during the nineties and early noughties, which really culminated in LOTR. Can you think of anything more epic or more recent? Nothing can top it.

Ah, The Lord of the Rings. The epic to end all epics. Cinema experienced a resurgence in the epic genre during the nineties and early noughties, which really culminated in LOTR. Can you think of anything more epic or more recent? Nothing can top it.

In an attempt to get some work done yesterday, I put The Lord of the Rings on in the background. I got through the entire trilogy over the course of the day. I was over-caffeinated and far under the average levels of human normalcy. During nearly twelve long hours, as I got some writing done, and my roommate went about the course of her day – coming and going, leading a far healthier social life than me – we geeked out just a little bit too much. The progress tracked on Twitter, I’ve come up with the 20 Most Epic Moments in The Lord of the Rings. Without further ado:

20. Arwen’s Watery Horsies Take Out the Nazgul

I know, some people have their beefs with Arwen, but she is pretty kick-ass in the first film. This moment shows just how powerful she can be. It’s a perfect introduction to the elves in general: their calmness, their grace, and their quiet-yet-frightening magic.

19. Frodo Gets By With a Little Help From His Friend.

On the slopes of Mount Doom, as Frodo collapses, Sam epically bellows: “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” as he hoists Frodo into the air, and I always expect the soundtrack to kick into Whitney Houston: “And I-I-I-I-I-I will always lo-ove yoooooou!”

18. Mourning Gandalf

After Gandalf is supposedly taken by shadow and flame, the most heartbreaking moment occurs on the rocky hills outside. The brightness of the snow-covered landscape stands in perfect contrast to the dark and fiery pits of Mordor, and we – along with the Fellowship – slowly let sink in what just happened.

17. Eomer Finds Eowyn on the Battlefield

One of the best additions in the extended edition: Eomer finds his sister, apparently killed in a battle he never knew she was a part of. Karl Urban rocks this scene, brining a tenderness and humanity to Eomer that was previously masked by his attempts at macho chauvinism.

16. Nature Kicks Ass: the Ents PWN Isengard

The Last March of the Ents truly epitomizes Tolkien’s theme of nature vs industry in the most base way. I also love the one little ent who runs into the water and puts out his flaming head (at 4.11 in this clip).

15. Bilbo Resists Temptation – Barely.

If you saw this in theatres back in the day, you must remember how many people screamed as the shadow passes over Bilbo when he’s tempted by the ring around Frodo’s neck. I remember seeing this for the second time with a friend and my sister (her first time). We grabbed her wrist at this moment and she literally screamed. It would have been hilarious if she was the only one, but she wasn’t! This moment really hammers home just how powerful the addiction of the ring is. (This video was the best I could find.)

14. Legolas: Two Orcs, One Arrow

Admittedly, I was a little put off by the way Legolas’s killing sprees had to one-up themselves each film. The two orcs, one arrow was clearly the best and most realistic one. Surfing down the stairs and taking down two mumakil is pretty damn close to jumping the shark. The moment I’m talking about occurs at 0.30 in the video.

13. From The Tallest Tower to the Depths of Hell

Best. Shot. Ever. From Galdalf trapped atop Orthanc, the tower at Isengard this brilliant shot swoops down the side of the tower right down into the depths of the cavernous pits where the Uruk-hai are being born.

12. Gandalf Battles His Foe Through Shadow and Flame

What an amazing way to start The Two Towers! Perhaps the most epic duel since Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. ‘Nuff said.

11. Wormtongue Realizes His Mistake… Whoopsie-doodles.

As Saruman addresses his legions of deformed soldiers, Wormtongue hovers in the background. That terrified look on his face shows his realization of how totally, utterly, majorly, epically he’s cocked-up.

10. Gollum Finally Gets the Ring Back… with a side order of Death.

The joy and elation of Gollum’s face when he’s finally reunited with his precious, followed by the sudden shock that he’s a split second from death, form a perfect ending for such a tragic figure. (Okay, so the only video I could find of this scene is set to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Apologies/”You’re Welcome”s)

9. Boromir Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking… well, for awhile

Boromir’s death scene was quite epic. Not many dudes can take that many arrows to the torso and keep fighting. It made me respect just that little bit more.

8. Pippin’s Lament for Faramir (and all those nameless soldiers we don’t care about riding into Osgiliath)

Peregrin “Pippin” Took: great comic relief, but not the guy you want on your side in battle. Good thing he’s got the voice of an angel because nothing says “dude, we’re gonna die” like an American Idol-worthy hobbit singing a teary ballad as you depart. It’s almost like he doomed them, isn’t it?

7. The Opening Battle Scene

All kinds of epic. From the vast armies sweeping over the hills to Elrond’s terse battle calls, the opening scene of the trilogy really made you sit up and go “Holy F- -K!” How they were able to top that is anyone’s guess. (This video is set to the Benny Hill music. Again, apologies/thanks)

6. Gandalf Performs the Facelift of a Lifetime

As Gandalf casts the spell of Saruman off of Theoden, the special effects are seamless: we see Theoden perfectly transition back from the Cryptkeeper to Bernard Hill. With the clever cut to Saruman slamming back to the floor in his little lair in Orthanc, the scene is brilliantly magical, without puffs of smoke and bolts of lightning.

5. Haldir’s Death… weepies.

What is it that’s so awesome about Haldir? We don’t really see him all that often, yet your heart breaks when you see him taken down during the battle at Helm’s Deep. *tear* (What is it with the elves, that all I can find on Youtube are tribute videos?)

4. Gollum’s Conversation With, er… himself?

The clever camera work here is what really makes this scene. The two sides of Gollum – Gollum/Smeagol – are perfectly characterized and this really underlines what a fantastic achievement Gollum was from a filmmaking perspective. You never feel you’re watching CGI.

3. Theoden’s Heart-Stirring Pre-Battle Morale Boost

You’d have to be a corpse not to be moved by this speech. And a pretty dead one, too. Not a freshly dead one. Here we see a king who truly realizes that everything is on the line here. You get a feeling that he’s aware of the fact that this is his last day on earth. Love the clanging of his swords against all their spears, too. Nice touch.

2. “I am no man!” Eowyn FTW

This scene is proof that Eowyn is the most badass character in LOTR. With the exception of Sauron, The Witch King of Angmar is the biggest baddie of them all. And, since no one actually kills Sauron in hand-to-hand combat (and it took an ENTIRE ARMY and a bunch of hobbits to bring him down), the fact that Eowyn makes the Witch King her bitch like you wouldn’t believe makes her pretty badass. I always keep expecting the Witch King to shriek: “I’m melting! I’m melting!” as well.

1. The Lighting of the Beacons

The stirring music! The swooping across the mountain tops! The call for help from one kingdom to another! The knowledge that yes, Rohan will answer! Yes, men will unite! Evil will be vanquished! And some poor Rohan employee – whose ENTIRE JOB is to notice when the beacon is lit – has his thunder stolen by Aragorn, the damn king of men. What a jerk.

my top ten antiheroes

Ever since Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, there’s always been a certain je ne sais quoi about a well-wrought antihero. Whether cheeky rogue or bloodthirsty tyrant, an antihero is a welcome deviation from the white-hatted norm. At once both appalling and subversive, a good bad guy / bad good guy always proves a more interesting character than the morally unambiguous square-jawed hero. Here we count down the top ten!

Ever since Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, there’s always been a certain je ne sais quoi about a well-wrought antihero. Whether cheeky rogue or bloodthirsty tyrant, an antihero is a welcome deviation from the white-hatted norm. At once both appalling and subversive, a good bad guy / bad good guy always proves a more interesting character than the morally unambiguous square-jawed hero. There’s something relatable in their flaws, something endlessly intriguing in their motivations; unique in each of their psyches that layers their story, that gives extra weight to their performance. We can learn their lessons or appreciate their many dimensions.

There are a few different antihero tropes, but they all seem to relate to the interplay between humanity and corruption: the good-at-heart but stuck in a corrupt world; the good-once-upon-a-time but corrupted through greed or a quest for power; the satirical embodiment of a corrupt or malicious aspect of humanity. There is something in us that identifies with the antihero: with the feeling of trying to be a good person in a bad world. Is there some level of wish fulfillment as we watch them buck the system and stick it to the man? Is there some tragic identification as we watch them fail? Is there some horrified, looking-at-a-car-crash reaction to seeing the most base elements of our society personified? Really, the protagonist is the person in whose shoes we place ourselves. There’s something deeper and more satisfying about walking in the shoes of an antihero.

The more time passes, exact definition of “antihero” seems to widen, casting a larger and larger net of what we deem antithetical to the traditional hero. Perhaps that’s just postmodernism taking its toll. From the narrowest sense of the aforementioned Prince of Darkness, we’re at the point where even a character like Arthur “all I want is a cup of tea” Dent (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) could be considered an antihero. I guess it’s all in how you look at it. With that in mind, I’ve tried to limit this list to characters that are leading roles (or close to), and who seem to fit the more traditional sense of the title “Antihero.” Regardless of why we love the bad good guys, we can’t deny that we do. I mean, who do you like better, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo? Han Solo, of course, unless you’re under the age of eleven. Perhaps this proves something about developmental psychology, but let’s just leave it at that.


10. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)
Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (2003, 2006, 2007)

Captain Jack SparrowNot the traditional leading hero, (that honour would go to Orlando “Legolas” Bloom) Captain Jack is indeed the heart and soul of the Pirates movies, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees with you. Why else would Disney being flogging this dead horse with On Stranger Tides? Jack Sparrow, for all his debauchery, law-breaking, womanizing, drunkenness, and moral grey areas, is one of popular cinemas most endearing and lovable characters. Ever. His own crew can’t even be sure whether or not he is in fact a “good man” but they still sail to the afterlife to rescue him. And you can see him not once, but three whole times on the original ride at Disneyland. Rest assured, you have heard of him.

9. The Narrator/Tyler Durden (Edward Norton/Brad Pitt)
Fight Club (1999)

Tyler Durden / The NarratorIf you think these are two characters, you clearly didn’t watch the movie hard enough. In the relationship/conflict between the Narrator and Tyler Durden, we see the wonderful dichotomy between “good” guy and “bad” guy that exists in every antihero played out in the most literal sense. In the anarchy and violence espoused by Tyler Durden we see a dangerous violence void of humanity – made frightening by an extreme lack of regard for other people and no concern for the consequences. He is balanced by the Narrator, who questions Durden; who cannot escape his own morality despite his disillusionment with the world around him. The cognitive dissonance between the two personifications of this character pulls us in but frightens us: you identify with his disillusionment but fear his instability. At what point does a freedom fighter become a terrorist?

8. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)
American Psycho (2000)

Patrick BatemanAn antihero in the most Miltonic sense, Bateman is an actual serial killer – but not even a killer with a misguided sense of morality like, say, Dexter Morgan. Bateman is remorseless and chilling. What makes a character like Patrick Bateman resonate so well, and prove so cultish, is the pure essence of everything he personifies. With the wonderful hindsight we now enjoy, what self-respecting individual these days is not repulsed by the ego-driven, Reagonomics, “greed is good” ethos of the 1980s? The antihero of Brett Easton Ellis’s novel (and Mary Harron’s film) should satisfy conservatives and liberals alike as he literally takes a sharp knife to everything yuppie.

7. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh)
Gone With the Wind (1939)

Scarlett O'HaraScarlett O’Hara has stood out for seventy years as one of the most interesting characters – female or not – Hollywood has ever produced. Charming, wealthy, resourceful but rich, spoiled, selfish and vain, Scarlett may have her family’s best interests at heart, but still she steals her sister’s man, and steps on many others in her pursuit of her goals. The fact that she stands as the sole woman on this list, argues three points: 1. The lack of good female roles in Hollywood, 2. Very few anti-heroes are women, and thus 3. Anti-heroes are indeed the most enduring characters.

6. Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Alex De LargeAlex is really only one step shy of Patrick Bateman in terms of treachery, and that’s only really because his body count is lower. Let’s face it, Alex is only really an antihero because he’s the protagonist, but in essence, he’s just an out-and-out villain. Robbery, rape, Beethoven – just a usual day’s galavanting. He’s frightening in the same way Bateman is: he’s a psychopath. Remorseless and cruel, he finds sheer delight in torture and he knows full well just what a horrible human being he is. But what is it that about him that people connect with? Why do you always see at least one person dressed as Alex every Halloween? How do we feel sympathy for someone like this when he is cured of his violence? Is it the irony in the forced violence of the cure? Is there something about Alex – and this kind of antihero – that possesses a kind of freedom we can never have?

5. Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro)
Taxi Driver (1976)

Travis BickleThe tortured vigilante of Scorsese’s Palme D’Or winner presents an interesting moral dilemma, as most vigilantes not riding in a van with Mr. T tend to do. Bickle fits all the aforementioned tropes of an antihero: he feels he is trying to do good in a corrupt world; yet, he slowly becomes corrupted during his quest; and he is iconic of post-Vietnam disenchantment. His protection of a teenage prostitute is honourable…and his killing spree…? Well, that’s a little more ambiguous, isn’t it? Is it honourable because of Bickle’s rationalization of it, or is it a commentary on society that we can somehow find honour in murder?

4. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino)
The Godfather trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)

Michael CorleoneThere are very few falls from grace as iconic as Michael Corleone’s. Perhaps a very strong part of what makes The Godfather Part II such a compelling sequel (the only one ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture) is that we see Corleone fully transitioned from hero to antihero. Like the true slowly corrupted good guy, he becomes what he was so originally set against: an execution-ordering mafia don. From the kiss of death for his own brother to watching his daughter killed in front of his eyes, it’s pretty clear: crime doesn’t pay.

3. Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton)
Beetlejuice (1988)

BeetlejuiceI’ve always loved Michael Keaton. My childhood crush on Batman not withstanding, he’s always been an excellent character actor and Beetlejuice is the pinnacle of his career – there’s simply no more to it. I firmly believe that this character is the reason for Tim Burton’s career: it was the surprising success of Beetlejuice that gave Burton Batman and everything that followed. Beetlejuice is a little like Jack Sparrow, only you’re pretty sure he’s a bad dude. He frequents brothels, tries to marry an underage girl, and is generally tricksy and mischievous… and charming as hell, despite the creepy teeth. Say his name three times. Go on, I dare you.

2. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Daniel PlainviewIt’s going to be interesting to see how time handles Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic. Its literary quality far outstrips its potential for a cult following, but every character Daniel Day-Lewis touches proves iconic. Daniel Plainview is the essence of There Will Be Blood, and any lesser actor could not have brought the required charm, sensibility, or deep-seeded cold-hearted ambition together in a way that was anything but a retread of the classic ambition-leads-to-downfall story arch. Anderson and Day-Lewis create a character that so fantastically blends together a million different themes and methods that, rather than being hit over the head with moralising, you get a pure, instinctive sense of the many things a man like Plainview makes you feel: fear, disgust – yet acceptance. An antihero par excellance, Daniel Plainview works on so many levels. He is far more charming than Michael Corleone or Patrick Bateman, but it’s this charm that makes you simultaneously admire and despise him. You want to trust him so badly, but have that strange nagging that you shouldn’t. He is so wonderfully realized but we’re never entirely sure what makes him tick or why.

1. Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles)
Citizen Kane (1941)

Charles Foster KaneNot only did Welles’s masterpiece change the face of film for every other reason in the book, but it also presented us with one of the first truly great antiheroes. Modelled not-so-subtly on William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane follows the life of Charles Foster Kane from financially lacking child to billionaire a- -hole. We see his career pass from strident idealism to selfish greed; moving from kindness and compassion to cruelty and loneliness. His dying word of “Rosebud” frames the story, as we seek to understand its meaning over the course of his life. Kane’s professional ascent mirrors his personal descent, as we learn the golden truth: his dying thought was one of nostalgia and regret for his youth, as simple, loving, and poverty-stricken as it was. Titling his film “citizen” Kane, Welles seems to strike at that deepest chord of the antihero: it could be any one of us.

Honourable mentions: Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca, 1942), Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry series, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1983, 1988), Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Star Wars trilogy, 1977, 1980, 1983)

top ten animated films

I watched The Triplets of Belleville for the first time a week or so ago, and, as expected, I was blown away. “That makes the top ten,” I instantly thought, which led me to consider what my top ten animated films actually would be. This list is skewed towards animated films as best enjoyed by the grown-up audience, that me, a twenty-something, can enjoy without needed to pry out that Freudian inner child. With that said, maybe I am rather childlike to begin with, as I love a good poop joke.

I watched The Triplets of Belleville for the first time a week or so ago, and, as expected, I was blown away. “That makes the top ten,” I instantly thought, which led me to consider what my top ten animated films actually would be. I had to think long and hard about this, and I intentionally tried to cut down on my Disney. Disney films usually are pretty good, but they’re just so… (to borrow a phrase from my roommate)… vanilla

First things – this list is by no means an attempt for a holistic, omnipotent judgment swung down on animated films everywhere, this is simply the top ten animated films as chosen quite subjectively by me. There are gaps in my cinematic experience (i.e. I’ve yet to see Waltz with Bashir, and my knowledge of Japanese animated classics is regretfully limited). 

With that said, this list is skewed towards animated films as best enjoyed by the grown-up audience, that myself, a twenty-something, can enjoy without needing to pry out that Freudian inner child. With that said, maybe I am rather childlike to begin with, as I love a good poop joke. 

10. A Scanner Darkly (2006)

A Scanner Darkly

I remember watching Waking Life awhile ago, and, while impressed with the technical and artistic achievements of the animation, it was distracting. While animation does leave so much room for artistic showing off, when it distracts from the story, characters and dialogue, it’s hard to emotionally commit. Luckily, Waking Life was a trial run for this film, and Richard Linklater seems to have learned this lesson. The style services the story and character (with Robert Downey Jr. giving perhaps my favourite performace of  his career). The visuals are impressive, if slightly awkward and alienating, which is really the point of it all. You can see Keanu Reeves, but you can’t connect with him fully; it’s scraping fitfully to pull itself out of the Uncanny Valley but not quite escaping it. The emotional distance is appropriate – like an elliptical orbit, at times you can connect and at times you can’t. But it works. Those moments when you do connect are all the more powerful because of the distance. Life lesson learned.

9. An American Tail (1986)An Americal Tail

So much of my love for this movie harkens back to childhood nostalgia, and fond memories of the giant banana slide at Universal Studios theme park. Watching the film now, it’s intriguing to see the wonderful levels of culture embedded (or zealously shellacked) across this film. A classic retelling of the “streets are paved with gold” motif (in this case, the streets of New York are paved with cheese), the American Dream ideology is perpetuated of course, but there’s something remarkable – and Art Spiegelman-ish – about the fact that the protagonist is a Jewish-Russian mouse. If Disney is vanilla, this film is Spumoni (vanilla, chocolate and pistachio). 

8. Shrek 2 (2004)

Shrek 2

I have never laughed so hard at an animated movie – or any movie – as I did seeing Shrek 2 for the first time. A rare sequel that trumps the original, this CG film was the closest anyone ever got to giving Pixar a run for their money. With just the right postmodern mix of timeless fairy tales and 21st century pop culture, and each character fantastic and memorable in their own wonderful way (my personal favourite being Jennifer Saunders as the Fairy Godmother, even though Antonio Banderas’s Puss in Boots deserved all the credit he got), the Shrek franchise never wore out its welcome… that is, until Shrek the Third

7. Robin Hood (1973)Robin Hood

Time Out agrees with me on this one. In junior high, when one of my friends drunkenly admitted to me that she – beyond all comprehension – used to have a crush on Disney’s heroic outlaw when she was a kid, I felt all kinds of relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one. Can you blame us? He’s fox-y…. (ba-dum, chiss! Sorry.) This film combines the best of what makes Disney marketable popular: dashing hero, unplussed heroine, heartfelt narration, a weepy song (“Not in Nottingham”), firm moral lesson about helping the poor, cute poverty-stricken child with a lisp, a hilarious villain (he’s a lion who sucks his thumb and whines for his mother! Brilliant!) and his even better sidekick, Sir Hiss, and an impromptou American football game in the middle of medieval England. Again, it’s Disney.

6. The Halloween Tree (1993)

The Halloween Tree

I’m pretty sure this was only ever on TV, and I had to search the depths of e-Bay to find a copy for my sister (on VHS no less). It’s a clunky but charming Cartoon Network gem that combines Leonard Nimoy with Ray Bradbury and cooks up a fun adventure through time and space to learn the truth about Halloween. It’s also genuinely scary. Four friends are on a quest to the save the soul (not just the life – the soul) of their best friend, while accompanied by a creepy-as-f*ck old man who may or may not be Satan. Hm. Good times. Wild anachronisms, historical inaccuracies, and cultural assimilation aside, it’s better than thinking the best of Halloween is the latest in the Saw franchise. In essence, though, while journeying across time and place exploring the rituals and festivities of different cultures’ associations with death, we get a handy “we are the world” life lesson: Everyone is scared sh*tless of death.

5. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)The Triplets of Belleville

What else can I say? The DVD I watched of this didn’t have English subtitles, but that – and my high school French – was utterly irrelevant. This film showcases everything that is sublime about the contemporary French aesthetic; competing and complimentary senses of melancholy and whimsy in the sombre-yet-brilliant colour palette,  the unique-but-not-alienating character designs, the subtle moments of humour – from the dog chasing its tail to the grandmother’s thick orthotic shoe, and not to mention the catchiest song I’ve heard in far, far too long. I loved that the protagonist was a subdued-but-determined little old lady, aided along the way by three other – yet, far weirder – old ladies. Watch as they take on the mob and win. It’s epic!

4. Persepolis (2007)


I first caught this film at the Whistler Film Festival a couple of years ago, and loved it even then. The graphic memoirs of Marjane Satrapi had long been favourites of mine, and I was so pleased with this adaptation – which Satrapi herself co-directed. The events of the Islamic Revolution colour Marjane’s life, but they do not define it: she is a product of her country, but an individual nonetheless. The monochromatic animation really does look like the book come to life – and despite (or even due to) the hand-drawn quality, this coming of age tale is far more honestly rendered than any live-action production could have been.

3. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Okay, so this is obviously not entirely animated, but this is a brilliant interlacing between the darkness of the classic film noir detective story and the lightness of the screwball animated comedy short. This film was likely to be any child of the eighties’ introduction to both film noir and the “behind-the-scenes in the golden age of Hollywood” micro-genre. Looking back now, it was a clever commentary – dare I say “deconstruction” – of the familiar Hollywood “types”. By blowing these types up into the caricatures of Jessica “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” Rabbit et al, we’re able to see just what kinds of roles we cast each other in as well.

2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas

There’s something sad about walking past a Disney store and seeing reams of Jack Skellington merchandise in the windows. Honestly, though, can you think of any other film that you watch festively for both Halloween and Christmas? Not actually directed by Tim Burton (but Henry Selick) – but forever associated with him – it bears his neo-Goth familiarities. With its classic conventions of vintage horror, from evil scientists to severed heads, Nightmare presents us with the nostalgic Halloween tropes of our youth. The neatly compartmentalised Halloween Town, and all the other holidays living in their own worlds, reminds me of the way that, as a child, you fictionalize what you know of the world to bring some kind of sense to the senseless traditions. Watching this film now, when Jack breaks into the “real world” masquerading as Santa Claus, it feels like the happy memories of one’s childhood rearing back on you. It’s scary, and sadly beautiful. You want to cry for Jack as his sleigh is shot down and those memories of childhood fade away.

1. Toy Story (1995)Toy Story

Toy Story earned John Lasseter an honourary Oscar the same year it was released. That sort of clinches its legacy right there, doesn’t it? Without Toy Story, there would be no Wall-E, no The Incredibles, no Finding Nemo. I still find Toy Story tops them all. It’s brilliance lies not just in its animation, but in its story. It single-handedly ended the reign of the princess-and-dragon era of Disney films. Its sequel is almost on par, and has many great additions, like Jessie the cowgirl, and Al’s Toy Barn, but the original has what makes it a classic: the timeless banter-turned-bromance between Woody and Buzz. The heart-breaking moment when the duo find themselves abandoned at the gas station, and Woody’s terrified gasp: “I”m lost!” In that moment, you really understand what’s on the line. Buzz’s realization that he is in fact a toy is even more heart-breaking – and frighteningly relatable, like that moment in your childhood when you realized you probably weren’t going to grow up to be Prime Minister or play in the NHL. As Lasseter pulls back we see Buzz at the top of the stairs – indeed not a muscly, heroic space ranger, but a tiny little toy. It’s a masterpiece.

it’s so dreamy… oh fantasy free me…

On Halloween, I managed to avoid the usual cliche of a dreary, drunken party and handed out candy with my family, and took my little cousin, Noah, out for his first trick-or-treat. Cute, mildly entertaining, not wild.

Then, however, Roommate Shannon and I went out to a Midnight Movie: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I hadn’t seen the film in over ten years (and I thought it was whacked-out then), but I’ve always wanted to go to a midnight screening. For some reason, this deeply hidden urge has managed to stay off my to-do-before-I-die lists, just like the underrated classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure manages to stay off the best films of all time lists. (Although it did make it onto this one.) Perhaps – like Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan, RHPS is one of those perverse personal goals that one is almost ashamed to own up to. Well, not ashamed, but in putting it on any sort of list of allegedly important personal achievements said list is somewhat cheapened?

Maybe I just forgot?

Anyway, it was an absolute blast. Something I recommend to anyone and everyone, and something I will definitely do again next year, except next year I’m putting a lot more effort into my costume!