Debate: Best Movie We Saw for the First Time in 2012

2012 has come and gone and it was quite a year for movies. Instead of focusing on just the movies that were released in 2012, Josh and I decided to do something a little different. This pseudo-debate is about the best movie each of us saw for the first time, regardless of said movie’s release date. Curiously, we both picked movies that were, in fact, released in 2012, however we each have a movie or two in our honorable mentions category from years past.

HARRISON’S PICKS

2012 was an amazing year for movies. There were a lot of quality new releases that reminded myself an others that creativity still exists in the world of cinema. Not only that, but it seemed like I kept catching up on one great movie after another that I had neglected to watch in previous years.

When I complied my raw list for the best movies I saw for the first time, it contained 40 entries. I’d say about half of them had serious contention for what I considered to be the ultimate best. In a week if you ask me this question again I’ll probably change my answer. But right now my gut says the best movie I saw was Looper.

LOOPER

What’s great about Rian Johnson’s Looper is that it’s not a movie that gets caught up trying to out clever it’s own clever idea. The time travel mechanic in the movie serves as a catalyst for a movie about the choices characters make. It’s not a movie with cardboard cutout characters who are only on screen so the filmmakers can showcase how smart their premise is.

Similarly, Looper is the rare type of genre picture that is not solely focused on the genre. It’s definitely a sci-fi movie. It’s definitely an action movie, but that’s not all it is in its DNA. Again, the main focus in Looper is on the characters portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt.

In recent times it feels as if any sci-fi movie has to be a big budget space opera. While there are certain examples of those type of movies that are phenomenal, it seems as if the low key sci-fi movies have fallen by the wayside. Again, thanks to Looper we have a refreshing reminder of what a low key sci-fi movie can accomplish.

The movie does not present a world with spaceships, aliens, nanotechnology, or any other future tech so often found in sci-fi movies. However, when watching Looper, there is no question that it’s a movie set in the future.

The cast is phenomenal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis give amazing performances of the same character. But of course, due to the wonky nature that is time travel, they’re not quite the same character. The audience is given a glimpse into how a person’s desires and personality can change due to circumstances.

It’s also worth singling out Emily Blunt. This is a movie that does not dismiss or under utilize its actress. Blunt plays a crucial role in the movie that indirectly affects Willis’ character. There’s a sense of responsibility that runs through her performance.

Emily Blunt LooperThen there’s Pierce Gagnon who plays Cid. Gagnon gives one of the best child actor performances I’ve seen in a movie. The role he plays is sweet, menacing, curious, and funny all at once. The kid is like five. It’s incredible.

Looper is one of those movies you have to support. You have to celebrate it. It’s a genre picture that does not come across as immature. It’s one of those movies that reminds everyone that creativity and inventiveness is still alive in the Hollywood system.

The Oscar nominations just came out as I’m writing this. Looper didn’t recieve a single nomination. That’s okay though. Looper is going to go on to be one of those movies that people remember with a certain awe in their voice. The funny thing about Oscars is that everyone will remember the winners in the future, but a lot of the nominated movies will fall by the wayside. Meanwhile, movies like Looper will go on to be remembered for a long, long time. The people who determine the Oscar nominees might be wary of genre movies like Looper, but the audiences will give it a life for years to come.

Honorable Mentions

DRIVE

I see Drive as a kindred spirit to Looper. For many of the reasons I listed above that makes Looper great makes Drive great. It’s a genre movie that doesn’t settle for just being a genre movie. Ryan Gosling’s subdued performance and Albert Brooks’ explosive performance create a great yin yang for the movie.

It’s a retro cool thriller movie that both honors it’s ancestry and rises above it. Since 2007’s double feature Grindhouse there has been a revival of shocking, gory, exploitative movies. Drive isn’t a revival movies like that. It’s a revival of small, intimate crime thrillers. Much like how in the 60s there were an influx low budget horror flicks, the 80s were populated with low budget crime thrillers. Drive perfects that type of movie.

13 TZAMETI

I more or less stumbled upon this movie on accident. The fact that I knew nothing about the movie before popping it in directly leads to how much I liked it.

I implore you to do the same. This movie is one of those movies that reminded me how magical and thrilling and shocking films can be.

Just get the movie and start watching. A few caveats before you do so. If any of these seem like red flags it might not be the movie for you.

  1. It’s a French movie.
  2. It’s in black and white.
  3. The beginning is actually kind of slow. About 15-20 in is the big reveal and from that point on it is so intense I’m having a hard time picking out words to describe it.

-Harrison

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JOSH’S PICKS

I’ve never been very good at going to the movies and keeping up with film in the theater. My family was not small and we didn’t have a lot of expendable income to use on weekend trips to the local movie theater. That’s why Harrison and I opened up our usual best of 2012 to movies we saw. I only ventured to the movie theater a handful of times but when I saw this trailer from Leos Carax I knew I had to see it:

HOLY MOTORS

Holy motors is an amazing film. It combines scenes that intrigue, confuse, and ultimately entertain the audience. Leos Carax manages to make a postmodern masterpiece that revels in the “language of cinema,” and is equal parts an entertaining and confusing film. It’s a shame that hardly anybody will actually see this film due to its limited release, its complicated structure (or lack thereof), its French language, and its sometimes off-putting violence and sexual content, all of which will most likely scare away the average viewer. It’s a shame because I believe it’s the best film of 2012 (that I saw) and I recommend that you see it in 2013.

The film starts with the man entering a limo not unlike another 2012 film, David Cronenberg’s, Cosmopolis. Unlike Cosmopolis, there is no the narrative, no plot, no cohesive story to unite the scenes that take place inside and outside the limousine with the exceptions of their position in the film and the omnipresence of the films lead actor Denis Lavant. Lavant, who transforms himself from businessman to dying man to beggar to vicious-homeless troll, gives an amazing multifaceted performance. Quite simply the film is magical. Check out these scenes from the film and try and fit them together:


Most fans of on-screen entertainment are turning to TV for their major fix and I can’t say I blame them because TV is experiencing a golden age right now. TV finally discovered what was good at: serialized, character driven drama and comedies taking over the cable networks and influencing network television as we speak. Film can’t compete with that it’s just not possible temporally, Film only has two maybe three hours to do what TV can do in 8-16 hours including commercials. This doesn’t make film inferior, just different. This film has returned film to its roots by bringing the focus on the medium’s strenghts – spectacle and communal experiences. Holy Motors abandons narrative, mostly and embraces a vignette approach. Where TV can use its breadth to delve deeper, Holy Motors uses its brevity to veil deeper meaning. This film is an intellectual exercise that is enhanced by the collective viewing experience. The film also embraces the artifice of cinema embracing the makeup the long shot and the musical number. All of these things are enhanced by the silver screen. Carax describes the film as a science fiction film that is about a lifetime: “It’s about experience, the experience of being alive. In one day, if it succeeds, you supposed to see all the feelings and emotions that you usually experience in a lifetime.”

The one resignation I have about Holy Motors is the fact that Carax was not able to afford to use film stock instead opting (surrendering) to digital for cost reasons. It doesn’t and won’t affect the film for most viewers but knowing how strongly he has advocated celluloid filmmaking in the past, I know it wasn’t the film makers true intention. Holy motors is not for everyone so I’ve included two other films that I thoroughly enjoyed this year.

MOONRISE KINGDOM

A close second for me is Moonrise Kingdom which is another magical film. It’s probably Anderson’s best work and one in which his style finally works totally in support of the film. The whimsy ingrained in Anderson’s filmmaking makes sense in this preadolescent Romeo and Juliet.

TAKE SHELTER

Take Shelter is my other pick and is a fascinating film about the disconnect between prophecy and mental illness. Quite possibly it features the best performance of the year, which will go completely unrecognized by the year-end awards. Shannon plays a man afflicted with terrible dreams and visions who also has a family history of mental illness. He struggles with whether or not to trust his own mind. Also fans of the Man of Steel trailer should check out Michael Shannon who will play General Zod this year.

What was your favorite movie you saw for the first time in 2012? Comment below!

Debate: Best Movie with Red in the Title

Christmas is nearly two weeks away. Josh and I wanted to do a themed Christmas debate. However, instead of doing a dry “What’s the best Christmas movie” debate, we decided to get a little more conceptual. Red and Green are the colors of Christmas, so we decided to use that as the basis of debate. When Josh first picked Crimson Tide, I knew that the only honorable choice would be the Hunt for Red October.

Without further delay, here is our Christmas Submarine Debate:

Harrison: Of the two Christmas submarine movies, The Hunt for Red October is clearly superior. It’s best quality is that it’s a tight, taught thriller movie. It’s a movie that preys on the fear of the cold war but subverts it in the process. It’s not a movie about Russians attacking us, it’s about a Russian who wants to defect to the United States.

Josh E: Let’s get one thing straight. Crimson is a type of red. Now the debate proposed to me was best movie with the color red in the title, not best movie with “red” in the title, so before anyone disqualifies my movie realize that i do fall within the rules of the debate. Interestingly enough, we are debating two movies with the color red in the title, two movies about submarines, and two films about nuclear war (basically every submarine film post WWII has to be about that on some level). What makes Crimson Tide superior is its engagement with the American position in the Nuclear world. The film asks the question: “So what does that make us, since we’re the only nation that’s ever dropped a nuclear bomb on anybody?” Tony Scott who is one of the most underrated filmmakers of all time has made a action film (thriller) that condemns the action about to take place.

Harrison: I agree that if you make a submarine movie it’s gotta involve nukes. I also would like to point out that the movie is probably gonna feel claustrophobic. However, I think the main misstep of Crimson Tide is that it tries to be an action movie. The setting of the submarine confines the action too much. There isn’t enough room for any particularly thrilling to happen. Hunt for Red October, however, plays to the strengths of the submarine setting. Another problem with Crimson Tide, that HfRO does better, is use the Russians as a villain. By 1995 when Crimson Tide was released the cold war was effectively over

Josh E: I think it’s a misstep to say that Crimson Tide suffers because it tries to be an action film. In effect it’s shot like an action film. Scott refuses to play to the cliche of the submarine is claustrophobic instead focuses on the people on board. The conflict between the old regime and the new regime and the usefullness of Nuclear War in an era where there is no giant Russian victim. The question is can a superpower drop a bomb on an enemy? Captain Ramsey says no Lt. Commander Hunter says no. The enemy is not the Russians but “war itself”.

Harrison: It’s interesting that both movies have subversive ideas about war and submarines. One thing I really find interesting about HfRO is that it’s not quite about two superpowers in the cold war. Rather it’s about a Russian who wants to defect and the lone American who realizes this. In effect, both Jack Ryan and Captain Marko Ramius are subverting their respective countries’ desires in their actions. Also, I’d like to point out that John McTiernan directed HfRO. He also directed Die Hard and Predator. Just saying.

Josh E: I’m in no way saying HfRO is a bad film, and it’s probably the second best submarine move of all time and it features (like CT) an amazing action filmmaker in their prime, but I believe that however subversive HfRO is it doesn’t pull off the amazing allegorical narrative that Crimson Tide pulls off

Harrison: HfRO might not have a deeper meaning to it, but I find its storytelling is a little more complex than CT. In CT it’s basically shoot the nukes vs. don’t shoot the nukes. In HfRO there’s a lot of different characters jockeying for position and power. The plot is a little more tangled (but not unintelligible) than CT.

Josh E: Are you arguing that a complicated plot is superior to a simple one?

Harrison: Bad choice of words. HfRO feels more robust than CT. That’s probably because HfRO was a really long novel. Like have you seen a Tom Clancy novel in person. You could kill someone with it.

Josh E: I would agree and I think that Crimson Tide has been stripped down by its writer (who also wrote the novel) to nearly stageplay sparseness. The only thing that Crimson Tide wants you to focus on as a viewer is the conflict between the Captain and the XO.

Harrison: Good call on the stageplay. I’ll concede that. It’s a surprising choice by Tony Scott, Jerry Brukhiemer, and the late Don Simpson.

Josh E: What’s so remarkable is that these films feel entirely different even though they were about similar things and were only 4 years apart. I think the biggest problem I had with HfRO is the casting. Certain actors I can never believe are going to do bad things. Sean Connery is one of them. At no point did I feel he was going to start world war 3 because I’ve only known him to be the protagonist of films. I think if Sam Neil played the commander the suspense of the film would have worked better for me.

Harrison: Yeah… I gotta concede that too. Dammit. Speaking of acting, if I had to fault CT it’s because the actors are pretty much typecast in their respective roles. Denzel plays the intelligent, determined guy. Gene Hackman is craggy and angry. James Gandolfini is a bit scary.
What they do is great. But none of it is surprising.

Josh E: I would agree with the Denzel Washington typecasting, but I have to say that Hackman is expertly cast in his role. He has the credibility to be the grizzled Captain but he is also intelligent enough and empathetic enough so that it’s hard to agree with Denzel Washington outright. He plays the character of the Captain with enough sympathy so the audience doesn’t hate him, rather they disagree with him.

Harrison: Meanwhile with HfRO I think Alec Baldwin does a good job with his character. At that point in his career he was playing a lot of suave characters. He pulled off the intelligent guy with no real world experience really well. Scott Glenn was good as the US sub captain. I’ll never forget Sam Neill’s “I wish I could have seen Montana” line.

Closing arguments

Harrison: Crimson Tide and Hunt for Red October are two great submarine movies. They both subvert the genre and politics surrounding submarines. However, I believe that Hunt for Red October wins out because it feels more expansive and robust. Not only that but it’s a thriller that expertly know how to navigate around the submarine movie. It’s probably the most “pure” submarine movie there is.

Josh E: I agree that HfRO is a taught thriller that uses the submarine to it’s advantage, but I think that Crimson Tide is superior because the drama that takes place inside the submarine reflects the drama taking place “outside the submarine.” The action film takes on complex political and moral themes that are epitomized between the conflict between the XO and the Captain. Not only that it is the model for submarine movies in the Post Cold War Era (watch Crimson Tide then the first season of the now cancelled Last Resort). This is why Crimson Tide is truly the best movie with the color red in the title.

Which movie do you think is better? Crimson Tide or The Hunt for Red October? Do you have a movie with a red (or red synonym) in the title? Sound off in the comments!

Mini-Debate: Best Movie President

Well Folks, it’s November and the election has come and gone. Whether or not you’re a fan of the result we here at MovieDebaters would like to keep the Presidential debate season going. We’re going to switch the focus of these debates from the economy to cinema and examine the Best President portrayed on film. Sure there is a plethora of great candidates including such respected actors as Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Sir Anthony Hopkins but we’re going to pick out two maybe lesser known choices: Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day and Peter Sellers’ President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Harrison: There has never been and I doubt there ever will be a real life president like Bill Pullman’s Thomas J. Whitmore from Independence Day. Sure there were larger than life presidents like Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt but to be the president today requires a deft touch, an ability to connect to everyone in the country. So I freely admit that Bill Pullman in Independence Day is a cartoony, unrealistic president, but dammit if that isn’t someone who I’d love to see in office. He’s the type of president who will quite literally fight for his country and his people. It’s over the top, but awe inspiring.

Josh E: President Merkin Muffley is not the toughest president nor is he the coolest, rather he is the most mild mannered, unsure, wobbly character to ever hold the highest political office in the United States – making him a perfectly hilarious choice to lead the United States in a Cold War Doomsday scenario in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Harrison: Here’s what I like about President Whitmore. He’s a guy who holds one of the most, if not the most, powerful political office in the world. It’s not an easy job under normal circumstances. Then he has to deal with an alien invasion. And not only does he manage to rally his fellow Americans in a time that should be filled with mass panic and record low morale, he fights along side other soldiers to push back the aliens.

Josh E: We can’t disagree that there has been fewer more directly heroic presidents in the history of cinema and it’s plausible that the innocuous appeal of Bill Pullman could be an asset in the election but I have to bring up two points he doesn’t have a good command of the job and give maybe the worst speech in the history of American cinema

Harrison: Heretic! President Whitmore’s speech is one of beauty. As a True American, I listen to it every Fourth of July.

Josh E: I think if you asked people who could remember any quotes from Independence Day it would be Will Smith’s famous one liner:

Harrison: I’m not claiming Independence Day is a good movie. In fact, it kind of sucks. Despite that, President Whitmore is an awesome fictional president. If I remember correctly, he let’s random civilians into Area 51. Screw national secrets! People are in need! Let ’em in.

Josh E: Truly what is the point of Area 51 when the aliens blow up the major us cities and the white house. My point is this: Independence day didn’t need Whitmore flying around in the f22 at the end. Dr. Strangelove needed Merkin as a comment on the lunacy of the nuclear stalemate that was the cold war. See my evidence:

Harrison: So you’re saying that in this fictional world it’s good that there’s a buffoon in the Oval Office so that the citizens of the U.S. could see the lunacy of the cold war before they meet their demise?

Josh E: I’m saying that in the world that the film creates, Merkin Muffley is the man for the job. The film is a satire on Cold War Paranoia and what better way to show the pointlessness (word?) of the era than to show two buffoons (the USSR premier Demitri doesn’t seem like the best ruler either) with their hands on red buttons? In Independence Day, Whitmore is supposed to be one of the characters we rally around when really he’s not very admirable. He’s wishy washy, drab, and doesn’t really do much until the last few minutes.

Harrison: Our arguments are slightly out of alignment. I’m saying if you plucked these two fictional presidents out of their film worlds and had them run for office. Or, even better, let’s say run for a second term. President Whitmore beats out Muffley every day of the week.

Josh E: Maybe after the alien invasion.

Harrison: I agree that President Muffley is a good sounding board, a good platform to show the inherent silliness that was the cold war. That means he’s a good character. But as a fictional president, he seems highly ineffective.

Josh E: If you’re talking about putting these two up against each other it’s Nixon Kennedy part two. People are going to vote for the handsomer more rousing speech giver Bill pullman. However, Merkin Muffley is the RIGHT man for the job. He’s a nerdy thoughtful leader who takes his time to come to the correct decision and relies on his trusted advisers.

Harrison: Ah. So here’s a monkey wrench in our arguments. Basically each president is the opposite of each other and through the course of their movies, they react in the opposite way you’d expect. The empty president Whitmore rises to the occasion and defends his country. The thoughtful president Muffley panics and freezes up when his country needs him.

Josh E: I don’t think it’s necessarily a monkey wrench, we just need an out.

Harrison: President Thomas J. Whitmore is the exact person needed in office to lead our country (and the world) through an alien invasion. He’s there to give hope to the survivors and will power to fight back the alien oppressors. He leads through his words and actions. Through speeches and jet planes. He’s a True American Hero.

Josh E: I think the people of America in Independence day are lucky that Whitmore got his shit together in act 3. Damn lucky. In fact he doesn’t really do much more than allow the true hero of the film (Randy Quaid playing himself) to ram a fighter jet into an alien spaceship. This is where President Merkin Muffley succeeds. he’s a thoughtful intelligent peace loving president who would have gotten the US through the Cold War if those stupid Commies didn’t build a ridiculous doomsday machine. He isn’t afraid to take charge and end conflict:

Who do you think is the best movie president? Comment below!

-Josh E. and Harrison

Debate: Best Use of Zombies on the Screen

It’s October and time for another thrilling debate. Since this will be our only debate before Halloween we wanted to look at one of October’s favorite genres: zombies. This month’s theme is the best use of Zombie’s onscreen so in lieu of a traditional Friday debate Harrison and I wanted to time this with the Walking Dead season premiere. Harrison will be defending the romantic comedy with zombies, Shaun of the Dead, while I’ll be defending AMC’s the Walking Dead.

Harrison: First off, full disclosure. I’ve seen and read a lot of zombie fiction. But what I realized while deciding on what fiction to defend is that I don’t really like zombies. To me there isn’t enough variety in the genre. Most zombie fiction is about how humans are savages once society beings to break down. Most zombie fiction is about a rag tag group of people (most of which are not the types to prepare for disaster scenarios) who survive through awful experiences. That’s why I decided to pick Shaun of the Dead. It’s a zombie movie that has something to say that bucks the trend of most other zombie movies.

Josh E: I have to admit I’ve thought about that before, but I think there’s something to be said about the consistency of the zombie genre. These movies became popular in turbulent times when we were scared of the dissolution of society and they are resurgent now. What I think most zombie films lack is the essential element of time. The zombie apocalypse is forever and that’s why I think the Walking Dead is the best use of Zombies in television right now and the best use of Zombies on a screen.

Harrison: What I really, really like about SotD is that it’s not about society crumbling. It’s about a guy who could be considered a man-child who learns — because he has to survive the zombie apocalypse — to grow up a little (but not a lot). At the end of the movie he still sneaks away to play video games. This is a movie that uses a zombie outbreak (it’s contained by the end) to tell the story of one guy. I really think the fact that the story is so intimate to one guy and one neighborhood that it takes the zombie genre and does something novel with it.

Josh E: I agree that Shaun of the Dead is about a man learning how to become a man but that could be said about say 28 Days Later. Sure it contains a rag tag group of survivors but it too features a young man (20s-30 maybe) who is forced to grow up and become an adult to survive the end of humanity. However just because something does something that’s already been done doesn’t mean it isn’t good. There’s more nuance in the zombie genre than that. This is where the Walking Dead excels – we aren’t confined to 2 hours, but roughly a dozen hours a season over at least 4 seasons to allow the group of survivors, fight evolve, lose members, and gain members. It’s about the human drama, the inability of characters to communicate which is the root of all human drama.

Harrison: I have to disagree a bit. The serialized format of television has the potential for the best showcase of the zombie apocalypse. Much like the characters, the viewers have an indefinite amount of time to experience this zombie apocalypse. However, I feel that the Walking Dead has squandered much of its potential. Episodes fluctuate between being great pieces of television to having me wonder why I am still investing time watching the series. Many times the show has featured cliched, wooden, and directionless writing. Shifting gears, another thing about SotD that I thought was great is that embraced the parts of zombie fiction that work and lampooned the parts of the genre that have become stale. Zombies bursting through windows to grab a victim is a great trope that is almost always effective and that scene is in the movie.

Josh E: I don’t disagree with your criticisms. It’s not the best television show on right now and it’s not the best zombie IP made. What I’m arguing is that the using the zombies in the serialized format is the best way to enhance the strengths of the genre, which is watching a group of humans crumble psychologically while they’re being chased by flesh eating mobs of humans. It’s all about the semantic argument we’ve put forth.

Harrison: This is true. We seem to be at an impasse with the exact way to interpret this debate. I’m gonna argue that Shaun of the Dead is the best utilitarian use of zombies. In the movie, zombies are what sets off the character of Shaun to mature and take stock in how to live his life. Again, I think serialized storytelling is potentially the best way to tell a zombie story. But what I’ve seen so far in The Walking Dead is not the best.

Josh E: Maybe the best way is to get a firm definition of use.

Harrison: This is dangerous. The definition could swing too far in favor of one’s argument. My initial interpretation of this debate is what is the best way zombies have been used in narrative fiction? In other words, how did zombies contribute to this story?

Josh E: I think the comprehensive definition for best use has three levels: content, narrative, and genre. The Zombies have to enhance or elevate the character of the zombie (content) elevate the story (narrative) or enhance the genre as a whole. In this case I believe that Shaun of the dead use of Zombie’s clearly enhances the narrative. I think the Walking Dead enhances the zombie genre as a whole as well as the narrative of the story.

Harrison: I can work with this definition. I’ll say that Shaun of the Dead loses marks in the category of elevating the character of the zombie. The zombies in the movie are fairly generic. But it’s a mistake to think this movie does not elevate the genre. It’s a meta-movie. One that could not exist without a storied history of past zombie fiction. In my opinion when a movie comes around like SotD, it exists to lampoon and embrace the genre it’s in. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg clearly love zombie movies. Even though the movie makes fun of the genre it comes from a place of love. This type of movie is important because it helps point out tropes and cliches that have become stale. By poking fun at these tropes, it’s as if the filmmakers are saying, “We love these movies, but now it’s time to start changing up the genre.” Lampooning begets innovation.

Josh E: I would disagree. I don’t think Shaun of the Dead does anything to elevate the zombie film genre. Instead I think what it truly did was elevate the genre of romantic comedies. I think it’s a mistake to see Shaun of the Dead as a zombie movie but rather a “romantic comedy with zombies” like the poster reads.

Harrison: Of course Shaun of the Dead is a romantic comedy. But I think it’s too dismissive to completely disregard the zombies in the movie as meaningful to the genre. Isn’t it possible that the filmmakers felt that infusing zombies with a romantic comedy would be a good way to contribute to the genre. Perhaps they realized there wasn’t anything terribly novel to say within the genre and that’s why the mashed it up with a romcom. It’s beyond clear to me that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have a deep appreciation to zombies. Maybe they thought the best way to contribute to the genre was to frame it in a different light.

Josh E: I think that they proved that zombies can be funny. I’m not a believer in the idea that parodies are helpful to the genre. I don’t think Scream helped slasher films and I don’t think Shaun of the Dead helped Zombie films. The Walking Dead has done multiple things to help the zombie genre: fit’s mainstreamed it utilizes the perfect medium for telling the zombie story, and it revives several tropes from the Romero zombie world.

Harrison: Interesting. I do think Scream helped the slasher genre but that’s a debate for another time. The Walking Dead is wildly, wildly popular. I tend to think of it more as the culmination of a half decade’s worth of resurgence efforts starting with 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake.

Josh E: This debate, unlike most (if not all) of our others isn’t about the best film/tv show. This is about the use of a group of characters/genre/conventions for storytelling purposes. I believe that the Walking Dead is the best use of zombies for three reasons. It is the perfect medium for a movie about the zombie apocalypse, allowing us to see something we’ve never seen before (with the one exception being Romero’s dead films) the prolonged drama of the end of the world due to a zombie outbreak. Two it revived one of the best and most forgotten tropes of Romero’s zombie films SPOILER AHEAD the idea that the people become zombies after they die, even if not bitten or scratched. Third this show has made the genre mainstream which allows more zombie films to be made and more interesting takes on zombie films to come.

Harrison: I’ve defended Shaun of the Dead chiefly for one reason: it has separated itself from the pack of other zombie fiction. In my opinion the zombie genre never really moved past the groundwork George A. Romero put forth in Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Just about every zombie fiction since then has utilized aspects, themes, and content from those two movies. SotD, however, shrunk the focus down from humanity to one human. Its story is about a man who finally learns to mature. It just took a zombie outbreak to get him there. It certainly helps that Shaun of the Dead also functions as a love letter to the genre from the filmmakers. But the movie’s strengths lie in the fact that they subverted traditional ways to go about telling a zombie story.

What do you think is the best use of zombies on the screen? Comment below!

Josh E. and Harrison

Debate: Best Movie to Re-Release in IMAX

This past week saw a limited re-release of Raiders of the Lost Ark in IMAX. Next summer, Jurassic Park is slated to be re-released in IMAX 3D. This is a trend that Josh and I are very much supportive of. Movies are meant to be viewed in theaters. Certain movies greatly benefit from the IMAX experience. Additionally, IMAX re-releases allow fans to revisit their favorite films and spawn new generations of fans. So which older movie would be most worthy of a re-release? I’ll be defending Akira. Josh will be defending Blade Runner.

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Debate: Best TV Show Cancelled Too Soon

You may have noticed that MovieDebaters has been spending a lot of time talking about TV lately and you would be right (hint hint Another TV article is in the works). We have been focusing on the small screen more these days because though we love the movies, Harrison and myself are devotees to good narrative, whether that’s on the silver screen, the tv screen, or the computer monitor. With that, Harrison and I bring you tonight’s debate The Best TV Show Cancelled too Soon. Harrison will defend Terriers and I will defend Sports Night.

Harrison: I don’t think there’s been any other show in the past 10 years, hell, ever, that pains me to think about as Terriers does. It was such an amazingly written show with deeply defined characters and rich plots. And it got cancelled after one season. We only got 13 episodes of the adventures of Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) and Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond James). But they are 13 of the most awesome hours of television ever. The main reason it pains me to think about this show is because at its core, it is a detective show. There are limitless possibilities. Maybe under different circumstance the show would have outstayed its welcome. As it stands now, we only get a fleeting look into the universe of Terriers.

Josh E: The same thing that makes television great is the same as it’s weakness: they extend the length of the narrative to allow you to build and maintain compassion for its characters. The problem with television, you must produce the ratings to stay on the air. Some of the better shows on television don’t build the ratings quick enough and die a quick death. The best example of this is Sports Night. It’s the pinnacle of Sorkin’s writing: a romantic comedy series about sportscasters that has its roots in production code era quick talking classics like His Girl Friday. It had a bigger run than most television shows, but I believe if it was given a bit more time it would have become a high watermark in broadcast television.

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Debate: Best Summer Blockbuster

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

I find that Summer Blockbusters are a fairly contentious part of the world of cinema. Some people deride the blockbusters as the prime example for the downfall in current quality. I, however, love these types of movies. The best Summer Blockbusters are like theme park rides/roller coasters/exotic trips all rolled into one. Of course, I’d like to point out that this isn’t an admission that all I want out of a Summer Blockbuster is cheap thrills and loud explosions. Story matters too. Story matters because without it, the Summer Blockbuster does feel like an empty experience. With a good story you remember the action scenes in context to a story you have immersed yourself in and have bonded with.

And then, of course, there’s the idea that a Summer Blockbuster is an event. Audiences line up outside the theater. Billboards, commercials, tie-in products reach a critical mass. The movie becomes so ubiquitous that it is inescapable. This sort of culture does not lend itself to high dramas like Atonement.

Keeping this in mind, there’s no better Summer Blockbuster than Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  T2 has a lot going for it as a Summer Blockbuster.

One, it is a sequel. Right now sequels, prequels, franchises are a bit tiresome because the market is over saturated with them. But flash back two decades ago, and the idea of a sequel was exhilarating. The idea that you were going to get even more adventures with characters from a pre-existing movie was awe inspiring. And as a sequel T2 understands a basic rule: bigger and better. The villain of the previous movie is now the hero? Awesome. The hapless waitress is now a badass militant? Amazing. The new villain is even scarier than the previous? Perfect. Story-wise instead of preventing one person’s death, now the plot is about preventing nuclear Armageddon. I’d argue that T2 is the movie that absolutely perfected the idea of sequels being bigger and better.

And just to reiterate: The story of T2 is captivating. Nothing about the action or movie as a whole feels empty.

Two, the special effects in the movie were revolutionary. Not only was T2 a bigger and better sequel, but as James Cameron is wont to do, his movie was a showcase for a new paradigm shift in computer effects. Every couple of years a movie comes along that reinvigorates the idea that cinema can take you to new worlds and show you new things. The CG involved with the T-1000 character was nothing short of mind blowing. The T-1000 could be considered the baseline test for our CG. If the CGI in a movie is worse than in T2, it has failed miserably. If it’s better then it can be considered a success. Of course, having good CG isn’t indicative of a good movie, but if 1991 technology can make the T2, then a modern movie better be at least at the same level.

Three, its epic scope. As mentioned before T2 is a great movie that feels like a ride. The story is about protecting the eventual savior of humanity, John Connor, and stopping a corporation from setting down a path leading to the apocalypse. As the story unfolds, the movie takes on this presence that feels enormous. As an audience member you are going along on this adventure to save humanity. Because the action feels mostly grounded (no spaceships, superheroes, or future tech; the action is all about guns and explosions), you feel such a strong connection to the movie. You feel like you are helping to save humanity.

What separates T2 from Jaws is simple: T2 was intentionally created to be a Summer Blockbuster. Jaws was a very, very happy accident. I have nothing against sleeper hits. I think it’s great when movies unexpectedly become massive hits. Even if I don’t particularly like the movie, it shows that you can never predict what sort of movie is going to strike a chord with audiences.

That said, I feel like the act of intentionally developing a movie to be epic in scope with lots of action, and a great story is much harder than making a movie that happens to become a huge hit. The former requires skilled filmmakers to craft a movie that hits all the requirements for a Summer Blockbuster. The latter is about making a movie and putting it in the hands of the audience to promote. No matter what type of movie it is, making a movie is hard, hard work. I just can’t help but think using a 100-200 million dollar budget to make a movie that does not suck is infinitely more challenging.

Jaws may be the granddaddy of all Summer Blockbusters. Just because it’s first, doesn’t mean it’s the best.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the movie I use to check against all other Summer Blockbusters. It’s the perfect blueprint to follow. The action is bold, the story is sublime, the thrill of movie is unparalleled. It’s the ultimate Summer Blockbuster.

Harrison

Jaws

It’s very hard to root against Jaws as the best summer blockbuster. Not only was it one of the first summer blockbusters, (I’m going out on a limb to say that) it was one of the best films of all time.

Before I have to substantiate that claim, let’s talk about summer blockbusters. They began around the seventies (with Jaws and Star Wars being the earliest examles) and have continued since. The summer blockbuster is the high budget, tentpole feature that the studios base their budgets around. If a blockbuster does well, it can fund a whole lot of films. This years best examples are The Avengers (which will keep Disney afloat forever), The Dark Knight Rises (WB), and Skyfall (MGM/Paramount). These films will bankroll tons of other films if they perform as expected. What makes a good summer blockbuster involves two things: what we expect from them and what they do for the film industry. The second part is easy, they have to perform well at the box office to perform their function.  So let’s examine our expectations.

Summer blockbusters must do two things: entertain and provide an element of spectacle. In other words, the film must be visually appealing and good enough that most people enjoy. These categories are vague. I’m sorry, but it’s almost impossible to create a formula for summer blockbusters. If there was one Hollywood would have bored us with it by now. So at the very least blockbusters must occupy our eye, or contain an element of spectacle.

Spectacle literally means anything presented to the sight or view, especially something of a striking or impressive kind, Jaws succeeds. %%SPOILER ALERT%% The shark is something that modern film audiences take for granted but it was amazing when it debuted.  It allowed people to observe a 20-25 foot shark devour a human being. It was amazing.

Spectacle apparent  in both Terminator 2 and Jaws. So what makes Jaws better? I think it’s the story. Jaws gets to the heart of human struggle. Not only is it visually entertaining and financially successful but it displays the triumph of man against nature. Brody and Hooper triumph against a beast they never should have. It’s an epic struggle of good versus evil in its most blunt form. It’s also directed by one of the best in Steven Spielberg, who is an expert at getting people to feel emotions. It doesn’t hurt that John Williams composed and epic score that everyone knows.

Jaws is one of those films that happens every once and a while where it puts its fingers on the pulse of a culture. It’s an amazing escape from the summer heat into a summer environment where man is pitted against nature in a fight to the death for the right to swim in the ocean.

Happy swimming.

Josh E.

Mini Debate: Best Movie Everyone Else Hates part 1

There’s lots and lots and lots of movies that are not well liked. They’ve got bad reviews. Audiences sneer at the mere mention of their title. They probably (but not always) bombed at the box office.

But which movie with a bad reputation is the best? That’s what Josh and I are here to figure out.

We’re splitting up this debate into two parts. First up we’ll be discussing Jersey Girl.

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Debate: Best Superhero Movie

In recent years the “Comic Book Movie” has become a regular event during the summer blockbuster release schedule. Often times these films feature classic superheroes and beloved icons like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man et al. We’re interested in examining the phenomenon of the “Superhero” movie in order to decide which Superhero movie is the best.

Note: Our reflections upon the superhero movie are focusing on the “movie” and do not reflect, in any way, our favorite superheroes.

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